Ephesians 4:2

1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. (NASB)

Because Paul is asking the Ephesians to walk in a manner worthy of their calling, that implies that we can, as Christians, walk in a manner that is not worthy of our calling. Wow! I have to ask myself, am I walking in a worthy manner or an unworthy manner?

Verse 2, which was the verse I was to read today, records the characteristics that will define a worthy walk: humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance and love. Those certainly are characteristics that I should cultivate in my life. I know that those are some of the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit, and know that I want my life to display those attributes.

However, verse 3-6 interested me more. Verse 3 tells us we are to walk with those characteristics, so that we can diligently “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Am I walking to diligently preserve unity and peace with my Christian brothers and sisters?

Who are my “Christian brothers and sisters?” Verses 4-6 makes it clear that there is only one body of Christ. No matter their denomination, their political leanings, their race, their belief on a biblical matter that is not doctrine, and even their belief on doctrines that are not the gospel. If they believe that Jesus died for the payment of their sins, was buried, and was resurrected, so that we might have new life, they are my brothers and sisters in Christ. As such, I am to diligently preserve unity and peace with them.

How do I do that? This brings me back to verse 2. I am to be humble, so I must not arrogantly assume that I am right. I must acknowledge that I have something to learn from them. I am to be gentle, so that means that harsh words (and the attitudes behind those words) are to be eliminated. I am to be patient. This means that it will take time. I have to allow that time, and not give up on the process. I am to be tolerant in love. That means that even when I do not agree with them, I have to give them the same dignity that I want for myself. The dignity to allow the Holy Spirit to work in their lives and teach them truth.

Mark 12:30-31

30 AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ 31 “The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (NASB)

This is Jesus answer when asked about the greatest commandment. The scribe asking it agreed with Jesus answer, and the scribe commented that God wanted this obedience more than all sacrifices. Jesus told the scribe that he was close to the kingdom of God.

For the Jews that he spoke to, this would have been a summary of the Old Covenant Law. This was their standard, and anything short required repentance and sacrifice. The scribe’s comments seem to indicate that he understood the concept that sacrifices were not an end unto themselves.  They were required, because we could not keep this law perfectly. God preferred obedience, rather than sacrifice. Knowing this, the scribe was close to accepting who Jesus was. Perhaps when Peter spoke at Pentecost, this scribe accepted the Gospel and became a believer.

How can we apply this passage as New Covenant believers? We are not under a law of rules and regulations, but under the law of love. Does this passage not detail the “requirements” of the law of love? We, too, cannot keep this law perfectly, but our sacrifice has been made by Jesus, God Himself. Therefore, we are free to live this out (with the Holy Spirit’s help) without the shame and guilt of condemnation.

Christmas Letters

I have been thinking on the tradition of Christmas letters. I was first introduced to the tradition by good friends of our family. They were like second parents to my brother and I. For years, they were the only one that I knew that sent them.

Fast forward to my college years. My roommate for two of the years in college was Lori. Her mom sent out Christmas letters each year. After she got married, she continued the tradition, as did her sisters. I enjoyed keeping up with my friends in this way, so I was inspired to begin the tradition. I don’t do it faithfully, but I do get it done in some years. Lori passed away 11 years ago, but every time Christmas comes around and I get letters from her mom and sisters or I actually get a letter out, I know she smiles down from heaven.

This year, I did not get it accomplished before Christmas, so a I am going to break with tradition, and send out a “New Year’s” letter. It has been several years since I sent a letter, and I don’t want to wait until next year. Perhaps I will start a whole new tradition…Or maybe I’ll go back to the pre-Christmas timeframe for next year.

Transparency is Hard

With the beginning of a new year, I have started trying to journal some of my thoughts. Just two days in, this is what I wrote in my journal. It made me think that I needed to start my blog back up again.

12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. – 1 Timothy 4:12-16 (ESV)

This passage was part of my Bible study this morning. Verse 15 stopped me in my tracks. “So that all may see your progress” was the phrase that caught my attention. I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

Progress, journey, improvement, or the theological word “sanctification” are all words use to describe that time in our life after we are saved, and before we die: that time where God is in the process of making us look more and more like Christ. God uses many varied circumstances in our life to accomplish this purpose. Some days are easy. We have time and energy and motivation to spend time in prayer, and Bible study, and with people of faith. We “feel” closer to Him. Then the other days come. The tough days. It might be circumstances that cause suffering for us, watching our loved ones suffer, or some person who makes us want to lash out in anger and frustration. Either way, those are the days that show us the real progress that we are making on this journey to be more like Christ.

What caught my attention about the passage in 1 Timothy is that this progress is supposed to be where everyone can see it. Wow! I don’t know about anyone else, but I certainly don’t like the idea if everyone seeing me make this progress, because that means they are going to see me struggle and fall. They might see the ugly pride and selfishness that still tries to hide in the corners of my heart.

I want to wait for the results of the progress, and then let everyone see it. Let them see just the good, that part if me that God has already molded to look like Him. After all, if they see the other parts, won’t they think that I am a hypocrite. What will they say about Christianity? Will they see my behavior and conclude that Christianity doesn’t work? Will they give up on “organized religion” because I or others can’t live up to the standard that we have set for ourself?

But then I see 1 Timothy 4:15 – “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.” Paul’s advice to the young leader, Timothy. I hope I am still young enough to take this advice.

Magnolias

My mom forwarded this story to me today, and I just had to share it.

I spent the week before my daughter’s June wedding

running last-minute trips to the caterer, florist,

tuxedo shop, and the church about forty miles away.

As happy as I was that Patsy was marrying a good

Christian young man, I felt laden with

responsibilities as I watched my budget dwindle . .

So many details, so many bills, and so little time.

My son Jack was away at college, but he said

he would be there to walk his younger sister down

the aisle, taking the place of his dad who had died

a few years before. He teased Patsy, saying he’d

wanted to give her away since she was about three years old!

To save money, I gathered blossoms from several

friends who had large magnolia trees. Their

luscious, creamy-white blooms and slick green eaves

would make beautiful arrangements against the rich

dark wood inside the church.

After the rehearsal dinner the night before the

wedding, we banked the podium area and choir loft

with magnolias. As we left just before midnight, I

felt tired but satisfied this would be the best

wedding any bride had ever had! The music, the

ceremony, the reception – and especially the

flowers – would be remembered for years.

The big day arrived – the busiest day of my life –

and while her bridesmaids helped Patsy to dress, her

fiancé Tim walked with me to the sanctuary to do a

final check. When we opened the door and felt a

rush of hot air, I almost fainted; and then I saw

them – all the beautiful white flowers were black.

Funeral black. An electrical storm during the night

had knocked out the air conditioning system, and on

that hot summer day, the flowers had wilted and died.

I panicked, knowing I didn’t have time to drive back

to our hometown, gather more flowers, and return in

time for the wedding.

Tim turned to me. ‘Edna, can you get more flowers?

I’ll throw away these dead ones and put fresh

flowers in these arrangements.’

I mumbled, ‘Sure,’ as he be-bopped down the hall to

put on his cuff links.

Alone in the large sanctuary, I looked up at the

dark wooden beams in the arched ceiling. ‘Lord,’ I

prayed, ‘please help me. I don’t know anyone in

this town. Help me find someone willing to give me

flowers – in a hurry!’ I scurried out praying for

four things: the blessing of white magnolias,

courage to find them in an unfamiliar yard, safety

from any dog that may bite my leg, and a nice person

who would not get out a shotgun when I asked to cut

his tree to shreds..

>

As I left the church, I saw magnolia trees in the

distance. I approached a house…No dog in sight..

knocked on the door and an older man answered. So

far so good. No shotgun. When I stated my plea

the man beamed, ‘I’d be happy to!’

>

He climbed a stepladder and cut large boughs and

handed them down to me. Minutes later, as I lifted

the last armload into my car trunk, I said, ‘Sir,

you’ve made the mother of a bride happy today.’

No, Ma’am,’ he said. ‘You don’t understand what’s

happening here.’

‘What?’ I asked.

‘You see, my wife of sixty-seven years died on

Monday. On Tuesday I received friends at the

funeral home, and on Wednesday . . . He paused. I

saw tears welling up in his eyes. ‘On Wednesday I

buried her.’ He looked away. ‘On Thursday most of

my out-of-town relatives went back home, and on

Friday – yesterday – my children left.’

I nodded.

‘This morning,’ he continued, ‘I was sitting in my

den crying out loud. I miss her so much. For the

last sixteen years, as her health got worse, she

needed me. But now nobody needs me. This morning I

cried, ‘Who needs an eighty-six-year-old wore-out

man? Nobody!’ I began to cry louder. ‘Nobody needs

me!’ About that time, you knocked, and said,

‘Sir, I need you.’

I stood with my mouth open.

He asked, ‘Are you an angel? The way the light shone

around your head into my dark living room…’

I assured him I was no angel.

He smiled. ‘Do you know what I was thinking when I

handed you those magnolias?’

‘No.’

‘I decided I’m needed. My flowers are needed. Why,

I might have a flower ministry! I could give them

to everyone! Some caskets at the funeral home have

no flowers. People need flowers at times like that

and I have lots of them. They’re all over the

backyard! I can give them to hospitals, churches –

all sorts of places. You know what I’m going to do?

I’m going to serve the Lord until the day He calls

me home!’

I drove back to the church, filled with wonder. On

Patsy’s wedding day, if anyone had asked me to

encourage someone who was hurting, I would have

said, ‘Forget it! It’s my only daughter’s wedding,

for goodness’ sake! There is no way I can minister

to anyone today.’

But God found a way. Through dead flowers.

‘Life is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the

way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes

the difference.’

A Day on the Road

I had a good drive from Florida back to Georgia today. The vast majority of it was just normal traffic. However, there was one incident that stood out.

After filling up the gas tank in Cordelle, I was getting back onto I-75. On the ramp in front of me was a tanker truck. There were two lanes on the ramp, but the right lane was labeled to merge onto the left lane before merging. The tanker, which was accelerating slowly, moved to the right lane. The drivers let me accelerate past him, then he slid back to the left lane to continue up the lamp.

Such a simple gesture of politeness. He obviously knew that he would be slow up the ramp and that he could easily let me by. I was surprised by it, and it dismayed me that I was surprised. Simple politeness in traffic is so rare, and that really is a shame. Like this truck, most of the time politeness wouldn’t even cost us any time or real trouble. It just takes thinking about those around us.

I hope this experience reminds me to think about the other drivers around me, and to think of their needs, rather than just my own.

Lessons in the Storm

We had a storm with very strong winds in our area this past week. As I watched the winds blow the trees around before the rain came, some random thoughts came to mind.

I first noticed the storm coming in, because of the movement of the trees in the backyard. The wind was blowing harder than I had seen it blow in some time. Also, the trees were bending back and forth, which we don’t see very often. I saw that we already had a broken limb that had come out of our maple tree, and was hung up on a limb on a nearby pine tree. That pine tree is about 60 feet tall, and the top 20 feet or so was swaying back and forth about 45 degrees from vertical each way.

The trees fascinated me. That a large pine tree could bend so far and not break amazed me. And yet, the maple tree already had a broken branch. It reminded me that I can bend with the winds of life, or I can break. But, how do I make sure I am bending, and not breaking?

Pine trees like to grow straight. I also have a direction that I like to grow. It may be a particular way of life or standard of living. It may be a church or ministry in which I have invested my time and talents. Whatever it is, I certainly don’t enjoy it when the winds of a storm blow me away from that direction.

If I refuse to bend, like the brittle maple branch, I am in danger of breaking. However, if I give up my pre-conceived notions about my life and bend with the winds, I can survive the storm unbroken. When the storm was over, the pine tree continued to grow straight. Many times after the storms in my life, I have been able to continue growing in the direction that I started.

However, even when I believe I have bent, a storm has permanently changed the direction of my life. I trust that these new directions are where God wants my life to go next. I think part of the bending process is the willingness to stay bent. For me, the hardest part is not knowing whether the bending is temporary or permanent. I struggle to trust God that He knows how much bending that I can handle before I break.

And sometimes I have broken. But thankfully, God is faithful to repair the damage like an expert arborist. Like the maple with the broken branch, I will always bear the scars of the breaks. However, like the maple I will continue to grow and flourish. Unlike the maple, I can learn and change, and become better at bending in the further.