The Strength of My Heart

Doctor

My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart;
    he is mine forever.

(Psalm 73:26)

Illness, disease, health-care: We’re hearing a lot about this in the news lately. Some of us are genuinely concerned.

Many more of us, however, are struggling with very real consequences of illness right here and now. I have two very good friends who have recently put a parent into a nursing home; one with dementia, another with Alzheimer’s. Friends who struggle with mental illness, friends who are dealing with aging parents, friends who have cancer. The list goes on. Sometimes it seems overwhelming.

But God remains the strength of my heart. Our relationship with God, and our experience of God’s love, cannot be diminished by disease or old age. God’s love is not dependent on our health but is instead found in what Christ has done for us. Christ’s resurrection means that one day we – and our loved ones – will experience the resurrection as well. And the presence of the Holy Spirit means that our relationship with God is eternally secure. “The Spirit is God’s guarantee,” Ephesians 1:14 reads, “that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people.”

One day, we will all experience perfect health. And yes, I believe divine healing is the right of every child of God. But in the here and now? Sometimes our health does fail. Sometimes, our spirit will grow weak. But God remains the strength of our heart. And sometimes, like right now, I just need to remind myself of that.

A Victorious Faith

surrenderI’ve been hearing a phrase in my spirit for the last few days – “Your faith must be victorious”. Not, “should” be, or “could” be, or “will” be, but must be.

Some days, though, my faith doesn’t feel victorious. Days when I have 16 hours of work to fit into a 12 hour day. Or days when I’m under stress, or days when I’m not feeling well. Days when all I seem to find are closed doors, stop signs and roadblocks. I feel a lot of things on days like these, but triumph isn’t one of them. On days like these, my prayer is usually reduced to “Lord, help me!”

Yet I keep hearing this word, “must”.

No matter what life throws at me, I have to remember that my victory over sin, my victory over evil, my victory over death, has already been won. This battle was won by Jesus at the cross, won by the power of the Resurrection, won by the Spirit at Pentecost. The battle over all of these things is already won. My victorious faith isn’t in what I do, or what the world does to me, or how I respond to trials and troubles. My victory is in remembering that “All things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Sometimes, a victorious Christian faith looks like taking a deep breath and remembering that God is bigger than my problems. And sometimes, a hurried and a harried prayer of “God help me!” has more power than we can ever know or imagine.

Love Feast

daily bread churchOn the third Sunday of every month we share a meal together. At some point during that meal we will have communion. We call these Sundays  “Love Feast”. Why do we do this?  Well… the following Encyclopedia Britannica entry on the word “agape” provides some insight:

agape, Greek agapē ,  in the New Testament, the fatherly love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God. The term necessarily extends to the love of one’s fellow man. The Church Fathers used agape to designate both a rite (using bread and wine) and a meal of fellowship to which the poor were invited. The historical relationship between the agape, the Lord’s Supper, and the Eucharist is still uncertain. Some scholars believe the agape was a form of the Lord’s Supper and the Eucharist the sacramental aspect of that celebration. Others interpret agape as a fellowship meal held in imitation of gatherings attended by Jesus and his disciples; the Eucharist is believed to have been joined to this meal later but eventually to have become totally separated from it.

Did you catch that? “The Eucharist is believed to have been joined to this meal but eventually to have become totally separated from it.”  We’re reclaiming a practice of the earliest Christians, who shared meals and communion together. Later, when the Church deemed that only a priest could administer communion, the practice was taken from believers.

“Communion” and “community” share the same origins. The act of sharing a meal together is our first and primary act of community, and we want our communion with Christ to be at the center of our gathering.

Everyone hungers for food, companionship and God. A shared meal is the only place these three needs can be met at the same time.

 

community_danceEric Geiger leads the LifeWay Church Resources Division. This quote is pulled from his blog.

“Community means common unity. It essentially means to unite around something that we have in common. What we have in common, what unites believers, is so much deeper than any other common unity. True Christian community is strong and lasts because it is built on the foundation of our eternal King who offered Himself for us. It is built on a foundation that does not shift and is everlasting.”

I really like the definition that “Community means common unity.” Of course, ‘unity’ doesn’t mean we will all look and sound the same, nor does it mean that we will always agree with one another. Unity means that there is something larger than ourselves that brings and holds us together. In our case, that is the person of Jesus Christ, as expressed in the Holy Spirit.

Full blog post is here.

 

Share His Divine Nature

hard hat sign

And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge,and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. (2 Peter 1:3-9)

Three times Peter uses the term ‘excellence’, and twice tells us he is referring to moral excellence. “In view of all this,” Peter says, “make every effort to respond to God’s promises.” What is he talking about? What promises?

The promises Peter is referring to are found in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. In short, when we live a life of personal holiness, God has promised to be with us, to be present in our lives as a loving parent with their child.

The word ‘excellence’ is the ancient Greek word arete. It literally means excellence, and can refer to anything – a chair or a bowl of hummus can exhibit arete. The New Living Translation Study Bible adds another dimension to the word, telling us it can also refer to a manifestation of God’s power. We might understand this in two ways. The first is that moral excellence is an example of God’s power at work in us. As fine as this statement sounds, it implies that moral excellence is not possible except as a work of God. Although I won’t completely deny that implication, I want to push-back on it a little bit. Morally upright actions are always the result of a choice, a decision that we alone make.

Another way to understand this secondary meaning of arete is say that when we live a life of personal holiness God’s power becomes manifested in our lives. That is, we begin to see the miraculous in our everyday life.

Make Every Effort…

hard hat sign

“…make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with  knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness,  and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (2 Peter 1:5-8)

“Make every effort,” Peter says. Too many of us treat our spiritual journey as something that just happens, never giving it much thought or effort. “Make every effort,” says something altogether different. It says we need be invested in our journey. We need to invest energy, effort and attention. We need to have some kind of plan.

In a cafe yesterday I saw a young woman with a tattoo running the length of her forearm. It read, “Live With Intention.” Do I live with intention? Is prayer a practice that I make a time and place for, or is it something I do only when I’m in a crisis? Is worship, immersing myself in the Word, meeting with other Christians something I do as intentional practices or are these things I do haphazardly?

“The more you grow like this,” Peter says, “the more productive and useful you will be…”  In other words, if I don’t make every effort, I might very well turn out to be unproductive, and completely useless  to God.

Half measures avail nothing.

Seasons

psalm one

Oh, the joys of those who do not
    follow the advice of the wicked,
    or stand around with sinners,
    or join in with mockers.
But they delight in the law of the Lord,
    meditating on it day and night.
They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
    bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither,
    and they prosper in all they do.

(Psalm 1:1-3)

There are other places in the bible that use trees as an illustration, but these few verses are particularly lovely. Those of us who invest our hearts, minds and lives in the Lord are promised life. Our ‘leaves’ will never wither, and we will prosper in all we do. This is because our roots – the deep, unseen parts of our heart – are connected to the river of life that is Jesus, flowing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

We will bear ‘fruit’ this psalm says, “each season.” What this phrase “each season” tells us is that there will be periods of time when we are not obviously or evidently bearing fruit. There will be seasons in our life when nothing much seems to be happening spiritually, when we seem to be spinning our wheels, or just going through life without seeing miracles, or the power of God in our life. These quiet seasons are the times when we must remain faithful to God. We must keep praying, keep ourselves immersed in the Word, keep on being faithful. These ‘quiet seasons’ are the time God is preparing us, or preparing the place he would have us to be next. God is still at work, but at a level far below the surface of our life.

There is a time and a place for everything, the bible tells us. The River is always flowing. God is always at work, and patience and faithfulness are virtues that God still rewards.

Be still, and know that he is God.

 

Which of the following…

From  S.J. Mattson’s tumblr:

Which of the following statements is the most inspiring?

I’m a religious person.
or
I consider myself to be Lutheran.
or
I’m a Christian.
or
I try to live like Jesus.

As Christians, we can identify ourselves by many labels, communities, belief systems, theologies, traditions, and doctrines, but nothing is as profoundly powerful as simply emulating the life of Christ.