What does it mean to live in a community?

Living in a godly community such as a church brings challenges and affects holiness to all that participate wholeheartedly in the community.
Learning to Love
Living in an intentional community points one toward the great commandment to love God and our neighbors (Matthew 22:37). The love we are called to is a self-abandoned, self-sacrificial, without expectations. Too often our expectations cause us to be disappointed and not to love. When we place our own agenda on a brother or sister we are always let down. That is one of the reasons Paul was inspired to write, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3).
Learning to Forgive
12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12-14)
The Lord who forgives all our sins demands that we forgive the sins of others. Forgiveness is the heart of the gospel. Christ died to forgive us our sins so that we are able to forgive others.
Learning to forgive is learning fully to accept forgiveness from God, learning not to focus on the speck in my brother’s eye instead of the plank in my own eye, and learning to count other’s greater than me.
The story in Luke
I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Learning to Participate
18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12:18-19)
There is no such thing as a lone Christian. Christians are designed, gifted and blessed to be in a community with one another. Each of us needs one another in order to fully function as Christ would have us function. It is sinful to think that we can watch church on TV and be a part of the body of Christ.
In order to be a part of the body of Christ we must mutually submit to one another; be willing to encourage and instruct one another in our Christian journey; to fellowship with one another through the Holy Spirit, and to share in Holy Eucharist with the worshiping community. (Acts 2:42)
To not be a participant in the body of Christ is to effectively excommunicate oneself from the blessings God has in store for each of us.
In our house we have learned to live in community and to receive the blessing from God. There is no one person who carries the entire household. We share with each the duties of the house. We do not shy away from contributing where we can (especially when asked). It is the same in the church. Each of us has an ability to contribute to the life of the church and to participate in the spiritual instruction offered. God is getting ready to grow Legacy as he already has and it is incumbent upon each one of us to participate in the body of Christ, to love one another, to forgive one another and to prefer one another above our own desires.

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People of the Resurrection

Easter is the celebration of the resurrected Christ-Jesus our Lord. As we join the celebration we leave behind Lent and our Lenten disciplines. We eat sweets, drink cokes, stop fasting for a season, etc. We are filled with joy as we are reminded that Christ has won the victory, he has triumphed over death by being resurrected by God.

We, as his followers, share in his victory. Sin has lost its grip; death has lost its sting; and Satan is defeated. Yet we still sin; we will die one day; and Satan prowls around like a lion seeking to devour its prey. The question then is, “how do we live as victorious people and followers of the resurrected Christ?”

In the hymn, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” we sing, “the cross before me, the world behind me.” The way to live as people of the resurrection is to constantly put before us the cross. On the cross of Christ, all my sins and transgressions were nailed along with Jesus (Col. 2:14). On the cross Jesus died for my sins.

On the cross I am reminded that I daily need to die to self and walk in the resurrection. To live totally sold out to Christ is a difficult task which no person could do perfectly. However, by the power of Christ and his spirit in us, we can daily die to the sin in our lives becoming more Christ like.

Walking as people of the resurrection is not about being perfect. It is about being real with one’s own self and knowing our short comings. Being more self aware allows us to confess our sins, avoid temptations, and flee idolatry.

Yes the victory is won; death has lost its sting; and Satan is defeated. But the pockets of resistance to Christ’s Lordship are still prevalent. We may give up our Lenten fasts but we can ill-afford to let down our guard to the wiles of the devil.

Walking in the resurrection means to daily die to self and to walk victoriously. Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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Prone to Wander

It is the middle of Lent and you may have slipped by eating what you gave up for Lent or you may have gotten off track one way or another. Do not be discouraged but be encouraged to continue on, not looking back, but pressing on toward the end.

In our journey with the Lord, we may have similar experiences. I think all of us run hot and cold with Jesus. We may have times when our relationship is close; we feel Jesus in our lives; we are disciplined and reading God’s word. There may be periods in our life when we attend Wednesday nights on a regular basis, help out with different ministries, or volunteer in church. Then there are times in our lives when we feel too busy for church stuff;  we do not take time with God during the day; we do not give of our time, talent, or treasure; we simply are not motivated towards God. Our relationship and walk with God is neglected. Like the hymn we are, “prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” (Robert Robinson 1735-1790)

When you have wandered, ask God to forgive you. Do not let your spiritual walk fall prey to distractions, and keep your eyes on Jesus.

Forget the Past (mostly)

The Apostle Paul counts his personal accomplishments as rubbish (Philippians 3:5-8). Sometimes we take too much pride in the past or rely too much on the past and neglect what is ahead of us.  We may have the attitude that we have been there done that and do not need to do it again, or that we have already taken our turn teaching Sunday school or leading the youth. All our past accomplishments pale in comparison to the grace of God at work in our lives.

On the other hand, we do not need to beat ourselves for our past sins. The price has been paid for our sins and we do not need to leave a tip. We feel remorse, which is natural, but we ask for forgiveness and move forward. God refuses to bring up our past sins (Rom. 4:7-8). We need to follow His example.  

Looking back at how great we were or how bad we were does not add to the future relationship with God through Christ.  There are times, however, when we should look back. We look back at the great things God has done in our lives. God’s activity in our lives encourages us in our current struggles and needs to be remembered and celebrated.

Resist Distractions

Moses told God’s people wandering in the desert, “You shall be careful therefore to do as the Lord your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.” (Deut. 5:32-33)

Life is full of distractions, both good and bad; but we need to focus on God’s best for us. There is a lot of good that can be done in the world but what is God’s best for our walk with him? There are worries and cares of the world that distract us. There is temptation and sin that distracts us. There is our desire for rest or sleep that distracts us. Turn not to the left or to the right but keep your eyes focus on what lies ahead.

Focus on the Goal

Focusing on the future and where we are going with the Lord and our relationship with God is all that matters. Everything else in our earthly existence is secondary to developing and maintaining a relationship with the Lord.

Do not grow weary of the distractions and the past but be encouraged to stay the course and fight the good fight. Recommit yourself to your spiritual journey and ask God to help you to the end. “Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above,” is the last line of the hymn by Robinson. It is never too late to recommit yourself to your spiritual walk with the Lord. 

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Put Christ in the Center

When I was in high school I took a class on gun safety at the police station. I took this class as a part of NJROTC. After the class we were invited to the shooting range in the basement of the police station. We were taught how to aim the rifle while standing, kneeling and in the prone position. Always we aimed for the center of the target.

God, in his divine wisdom, placed Christ Jesus in the center of our salvation. He is the source of salvation (Hebrews 5:9).  Without Jesus there is no salvation. Without Jesus there is no hope. Without Jesus there is no forgiveness of sin. All of creation owes their grace-filled existence to the one redeemer of the universe the only begotten Son of God, Jesus the Messiah.

Upon first realizing the enormity of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we begin a new life, changed for eternity. No longer are we nobody with no hope, but we are a people. We are sons and daughters of our heavenly Father. With our new identity, we begin to live no longer for ourselves but for him who died for our salvation (2 Corinthians 5:15). Empowered by the Holy Spirit we carry forth the work of Christ as his ambassadors.

Living for Christ and not for ourselves means that we live not to succumb to our fleshly desires, but “we live by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20). When we live totally for the Son of God our decisions are influenced by him. The way we relate to others is influence by Christ; how we take care of our bodies is influenced by Christ; how we handle our money is influence by Christ; how we discipline our children is influence by Christ. Our entire life is to be influenced by Christ.

What do we do when we make poor decisions and don’t live godly lives? When we find ourselves in the middle of sin or about to sin, we can call on Jesus and put him in the center of our life at that moment. When we cry out to Jesus we cannot continue in the sin as Christ takes away the desire and we walk away.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV)

When Christ is the center of our lives, our attention, our focus, then all else loses its power. When our thoughts turn negative and we start blaming others or ourselves, call on Christ. When we feel that we need to “stretch the truth,” call on Christ. When we feel sickness coming on, call on Christ. When we begin to worry, stress, obsess about something or someone, call on Christ.

Each one of us should be able to fill in the blank. “When I am feel _____________, I will call on Jesus.” He died on the cross in order to save us and to become the center of our lives reconciling us to the Father.

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Hold Fast the Hope of Everlasting Life

Conflict and stress seem to creep up on us during the holidays. The extra commitments-socially, financially, and interpersonally add to the stress of the season. We have to go here; we need to get this done; we need to get it mailed; etc. All or some of this is swirling in our heads.

On top of it all our world is rapidly changing and is challenging. Our nation is facing a “financial cliff” added healthcare costs, and possible tax increases. Rising prices, less disposable income, and a future that appears to be unstable and lacking security. Not to mention the attacks on Christianity and Christian values which seem to become popular at this time of year.

Every year we read about individuals in court challenging the public display of Nativity scenes, Christmas trees, or other Christian Christmas decorations. We have observed a push to remove the word Christmas and replace it with Holiday-happy holidays, holiday parade, and holiday tree to name a few examples. Christianity in America is being attacked slowly and incrementally. Without Christian “watch dog” groups and publications I don’t think many of us would stop and critically evaluate what is going on. But the days are getting darker and the pressure on the Church to give in to the prevailing culture is enormous.

A friend of mine’s son, who is in college, has a male classmate who comes to class wearing a dress and high heels. We see television shows that have two men who want to raise a child together. Lesbian talk show hosts continue season after season. The show “Will and Grace” portrayed an alternative lifestyle as acceptable and funny. Movies, TV shows, miniseries, etc. portray unmarried relations frequently. Children are portrayed as the smart and clever character while the adult is portrayed as the goofy and out of touch old fool. These types of behaviors are being touted as the “new normal.” This catch phrase seems to be intent on moving our society away from Christian values and morals that made America great and exposing a generation to believing that what was referred to as deviant behavior is now the “new normal.”

With our rapidly changing culture one might wonder how Christians should respond. May I suggest four things to consider?

First, on our own we are not anymore righteous than the world is, save the righteousness that comes from Jesus Christ.

In Romans we read, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12) “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (verse 23).

A self-righteous attitude will not go over very well with those in the world. Instead we acknowledge that “there but for the grace of God go I.” In other words, without God’s divine mercy I, too, might suffer the same.

Acknowledging that we as Christians aren’t better people, but we are people who have received forgiveness, mercy and grace helps our overall attitude in reaching out to the lost. The Ladies of Legacy who volunteer to feed the hungry at the Friendship Mission certainly know the value of serving the least of these in our society.

Christians are to be a blessing to those around them. Churches are to bless the communities in which they minister. A humble, caring and loving attitude towards others is what Jesus emulated for his followers. An attitude such as this will go a long way in earning the right to share the gospel with those outside the Church, which is the Great Commission for all of Christ’s followers (Matthew 28:16-20).

Second, we are not to buy in to the “new normal.”

Christians need to stand firm in the truth of the gospel. We need to know and understand how we are to live or lives. The only way to know and understand is to be well versed in the bible. Holy Scripture has been preserved for us. We need to take advantage of the availability of God’s Word. As the Anglican Collect states,

“Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: help us so to hear them, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word, we may embrace and for ever hold fast the hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.”

Knowing God’s Holy Word will strengthen our resolve to do what is righteous in God’s sight. It will protect us from being swayed by worldly agendas and deceptions. And it will embed in our souls hope that does not disappoint us.

Third, remember our hope is in Jesus Christ and not the world and its leaders.

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:9-10)

There is one Lord and Savior and our hope is in him. Our hope is not wishful thinking or good wishes but it is a hope that delivers us, preserves us and brings us to our heavenly home. Hope which is place on that which is seen is no hope at all (cf. Romans 8:24-25).

Fourth, be prepared for the oncoming darkness.

We need to be prepared for the onslaught of spiritual darkness. We need to not be beguiled by the seemingly innocuous eroding of Christian morals and biblical truth. We have to set in our minds and hearts where the plum is concerning our Christian conviction. Otherwise we will eventually be lured into complacency and mediocrity. Stand firm, therefore, in the spiritual battles that we will be called to fight through prayer and unwavering conviction in Holy Scripture.

In conclusion, we should always let the love of Christ rule not only our hearts but our mouths, in dealing with those outside the Church. Any response or position that we take we need to take in humility and love. Those who know they have received mercy, are secure in what they believe, are grounded in hope, and girded in prayer, are able to lovingly respond to the pressures that society is imposing on Christianity.

 

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It’s Your Dance

By Sam Whatley

My daughter, Summer, was three years old when she asked to take ballet lessons. We thought she was a little young, but many of the girls in her class were taking ballet, so we gave in. She also showed an interest in art and music and soon there were lessons in many things; but at first, it was just ballet.

As months went by, our family would spend Sunday afternoons at the park, the zoo, or the museum. One such afternoon at the museum, Summer and I stood spell-bound before a large multi-media painting. It depicted a field of flowers waving in an imaginary breeze against a puffy, gray sky. The work seemed almost alive with energy.  Thinking this might inspire her to explore art, I asked, “Summer, if you look very carefully at this picture do you think you could draw it when we get home?”

To my surprise she answered, “No, but I could dance to it.” And so she did, with a flurry of pirouettes and improvised movements that helped me feel what the flowers felt in the wind before the storm. I was stunned. Rather than copy the shapes on the fabric, she was imitating the very spirit of the painting.

Years have passed. The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts has been moved across town, and the bouncing little girl with golden ringlets is now a statuesque piano teacher. Some years later, she and I stood again before this same painting. We smiled, remembering that time long ago, and I could see the flash of that dance in her eyes.

We all have a dance within us. God has made sure of that. He has given each of us a unique way to express our love for Him. Let me give a few examples.

One lady I know made delicious cakes. Her cakes were so good that they were auctioned at the annual church supper. One of them sold for $75.00! What a gift!

A friend of mine, a digital camera buff, goes to church events during the week. He takes photos, prints them out on his computer, and has a professional-looking collage set up on the church coffee table by Sunday morning. Voila, instant church history.

Then there are those who invite others into their favorite hobby. One man took small groups sailing on the Gulf for a few days. It gave non-mariners a chance to get away from their normal stress and spend some time studying the Word.

Another takes a similar group spelunking into Alabama caves. He loves to have team members cut off their flashlights and try to imagine how they would get to the surface without light, illustrating vividly our dependence on God’s guidance.

Whatever your God-given gift, you have a special dance. It may not be what others expect, but in your heart you know what it is. As we give these gifts back to the Lord, we find our joy. Let’s dance.

 

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Rest & Be Still

“Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.” (Psalm 37:7-9 English Standard Version)


Anger is a primal response to pain or hurt. When one feels that he is being hurt, that person may lash out in anger in response to the pain being delivered or the perceived pain being received. Anger is a reptilian response that does not need rational thought to bring it about. It is often irrational and reactionary.
Anger may stew in one’s heart for a while before it comes out in destructive ways, either through actions or words. In the story of Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve, Cain was upset with God because Abel’s offering was acceptable and Cain’s was not. Cain stewed in his anger until he murdered his brother Abel. God warned Cain that he was being tempted to sin and that doing the right thing would make him acceptable to God. God was rational and Cain was not. He was angry.
In Psalm 37 we are warned to refrain from anger and forsake wrath. The psalm is speaking specifically about anger toward God. The anger toward God is due to the irrational hurt that the wicked are prospering and the child of God is suffering. The person feels slighted by God.
Anger toward God is ill-founded and born out of mankind’s sense of what is fair and what is not. It is not fair that Polly Pagan should receive more than Charlie Christian. That may be a belief of some Christians. “Why do the wicked prosper and your children suffer,” one may ask God.
The answer is not to compare oneself to others, but to wait patiently for the Lord to reveal the fullness of his blessings to his people. Having patience with God is the antidote for our frustration with God or others. God will bring about what he desires in his time and does not follow our timeline.
Are you struggling with your finances and wonder why others have it better than you? Wait patiently for the Lord to move. Are you struggling with anger issues toward someone? Wait patiently for the Lord to move. Are you sick and tired of being sick, depressed, lonely, sad, etc.? Wait patiently for the Lord to move.
In the King James Version, verse 7 says, “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him.” The Lord desires for us to rest in him and be still before him. When we get to the place where we can completely trust in the Lord, resting him and being still, then we will no longer be frustrated or angry with him or our situation. He will do what is best for his children in his time. “The evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.”

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