New Rules for a New Society (Ephesians 4:25-32)

We are part of the same body. Stop lying and start telling each other the truth. Don’t get so angry that you sin. Don’t go to bed angry and don’t give the devil a chance.

If you are a thief, quit stealing. Be honest and work hard, so you will have something to give to people in need.

Stop all your dirty talk. Say the right thing at the right time and help others by what you say.

Don’t make God’s Spirit sad. The Spirit makes you sure that someday you will be free from your sins.

Stop being bitter and angry and mad at others. Don’t yell at one another or curse each other or ever be rude. Instead, be kind and merciful, and forgive others, just as God forgave you because of Christ. (Contemporary English Version)

New life means being a part of a new society; and a new society means new rules to live by which benefit and uplift the entire community. Old destructive practices must be replaced with new encouraging and supportive ways of being together. Stop taking the broad easy road to destruction and start walking the hard path to life and contentment.

Stop Lying and Start Telling the Truth

Lying exists because people believe that being truthful and transparent is too traumatic. Many people don’t think that being open, honest, real, vulnerable, and genuine is worth the risk. They have believed the lie that they won’t be accepted, that they’ll lose face with others, or that people will just gossip about me if they really knew about me. So, we hide from others and avoid the truth.

In truth, we are responsible for one another – to make and keep promises to each other because that is what God does with us. Churches that love truth will make a safe place for the awkwardness of confession, forgiveness, and healing.

Truthful communities are places of hospitality where we are safe to be real. No one ought to ever suffer in silence, cry alone, or wonder whether others will forsake them. We belong to one another. Therefore, to have union with Christ is to have union with one another; you can’t have one without the other.

Stop Stealing and Start Giving

Theft comes in many forms, especially in our contemporary age. Embezzlement, shoplifting, fraud, plagiarism, and robbery are just a few examples of the ways in which we humans steal from one another.

Embezzlement is the theft of assets (money or property) by a person who has been trusted to keep those assets safe. Instead of embezzling funds, we are to steward those assets well, distributing them with care and a conscience – using them for the benefit of others, not simply ourselves.

Shoplifting involves stealing goods from retail establishments. Some people steal because they are in dire need. Many more steal because they can and want to. We must stop taking things we want, and learn to be satisfied with what we have. And we will only do this by using our own money to buy things for others who are in need.

Fraud is stealing that involves convincing the victim to surrender their money or property under false pretenses. This is nothing more than manipulating someone to get what you want. Work hard to defend the defenseless and ensure their justice, rather than commit a gross injustice against them.

Plagiarism is the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own. It’s cheap. It’s easy. And don’t do it, period. Someone else worked very hard to create what you may nonchalantly use for your quick benefit. Take the pains to credit someone else’s work and document the sources you use.

Robbery is a theft that involves using violence, intimidation, or threats to obtain property. Put the threats, guns, and false confidence away. In it’s place, do whatever it takes to do things right, hold a job, and give something back to society.

Stop All the Unhelpful Talk and Start Encouraging

Corrupt or dirty talk is totally unnecessary. It’s unwholesome and benefits nobody. Rather, make it your aim to use your words for good by encouraging others.

Encouragement involves strongly urging someone to do something with an equal commitment to lovingly come alongside and help. This requires both verbal exhortations and tangible assistance. Encouragement is the glue which holds a people together. Without it, a society degenerates into watching-out-for-number-one, and destructive personal survival tactics which will say anything to get what one wants.

Stop the Bitterness and Start Forgiving

Forgiveness is choosing not to hold another’s persons offensive words or actions over their head. It is:

  • Specific to an event, action, or words.
  • A process: it takes time to truly forgive.
  • Something anybody can do, regardless of race, creed, religion, etc.
  • Hard.
  • Freeing.
  • Ongoing.
  • Gracious.

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

Lewis Smedes, Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve

Bitterness, however, wants to hold onto a grudge and seeks to punish the one who has offended them. That’s the way of Satan, not God. Even if the person has set themselves up as your enemy, we have clear exhortations from Jesus to love our enemies and do good to them, not harm. (Matthew 5:43-48)

The world revolves on the axis of mercy, not judgment. The sooner we get in the groove of how things actually operate for us to live a good life, the better that our relationships and society will be.

Good and gracious God, we ask that you make our life journey safe as we choose integrity, not disintegration. Shed light on those who follow crooked paths. May their dishonesty be exposed so that corrections can be made before further damage occurs. Help our nations, neighborhoods, and faith communities choose a path of mercy and goodness, rather than the crooked way of lies, theft, vitriol, and grudge-bearing. May we see a new wave of integrity sweeping over our world, through Jesus Christ our Lord, by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Encouragement to Be Faithful (2 Timothy 1:3-7)

Orthodox icon of St. Timothy
Orthodox icon of St. Paul the Apostle

Timothy, I thank God for you—the God I serve with a clear conscience, just as my ancestors did. Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. I long to see you again, for I remember your tears as we parted. And I will be filled with joy when we are together again.

I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you. This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. (New Living Translation)

Every individual person I meet is interesting. Everyone has a story. Each person has values which are important to them.  

The Apostle Paul had quite the story of conversion to Christianity. And so, he understandably had a high value of passing on the faith to reliable and competent persons who would then do the same. Timothy was one of those persons, a protégé of his mentor Paul.

Paul reminded Timothy of his identity, rooted in a faithful family, and encouraged him to tap into that robust spirit which resides within him. The Apostle encouraged him to fully express that spirit without fear or timidity.

For example, I care about kids. Children are a high value to both me and my wife. When meeting and engaging a family for the first time, we will inevitably talk to the child before addressing the parents. We care about any issue in the world which has to do with children – and we have a strong sense of morality concerning children because we love kids.

Be faithful to your calling, and to the values and ethics which undergird it. Whatever is important to us is where our sense of morality and ministry lie.

“Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”

Jesus (Matthew 6:21, NLT)

Everyone is moralistic because everyone cares about something. And we will live and die by our code of ethics, grounded in the values we most cherish.

In Holy Scripture, although there are hundreds of laws in the Bible, the highest standard of ethics and morality is contained in just a few chapters: The Ten Words (Commandments) found in the Old Testament chapter of Exodus 20; and Christ’s Sermon on the Mount found in the New Testament chapters of Matthew 5-7. 

These few chapters can be distilled into a few short ethical phrases:

“Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” And “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

This means that every teaching found in the Bible comes down to love. (Mark 12:30-31)

Throughout the history of the church, the highest ethical values have always had to do with knowing and loving the Creator, Sovereign, and triune God – Father, Son, and Spirit – and the majesty of people who are created in the divine image and likeness.

The movement and trajectory of Holy Scripture is that a good and benevolent God makes and keeps promises to people. Even when they fall and try to create small petty worlds of their own, a gracious God is active, wooing lost people to return to the spirit which resides within them.

Therefore, the Bible is an unfolding drama of redemption in which a loving God goes out of the way to bring back straying, hurting, helpless people. (Luke 15)

Which is why, for me, attending to the inner soul, teaching people the words and ways of Jesus, and providing spiritual care to others is a very high value. I love God, and I love people. It’s easy to understand, then, why I treasure the following:

  1. Practicing solitude, silence, and other spiritual disciplines.
  2. Connecting with God daily in contemplative prayer and meditative Bible reading.
  3. Paying attention to hurting people and bringing them grace, mercy, faith, hope, love, and gentleness.
  4. Seeking to act with civility and respect toward others I disagree with, or just don’t like very well.
  5. Engaging others who don’t share my values of faith in God.
  6. Praying and hoping for people to be healed and whole.
  7. Pursuing the common good of all people, no matter who they are.

My deep conviction is that the care of the soul is just as important as the care of the body; that attention to exercising the mind with Holy Scripture is just as important to overall health and well-being as cardio workouts and sensible eating; and that the hope of the world resides with knowing Jesus Christ (and not with a lesser hope that wishes things will work out in the end if I’m sincere to my personal ethical beliefs).

Paul wanted Christians to engage in the care of souls, to fan into flame the spiritual gifts which already lie within us, even if they may seem dormant or non-existent.

So, be faithful to who you are, to what you have been called to, and especially to the good news:

For there is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time. (1 Timothy 2:5-6, NLT)

Great God and Father of all, remember the multitudes who have been created in your image but have not known the redeeming work of our Savior Jesus Christ; and grant that, by the prayers and labors of your Church, they may be brought to know and worship you as you have been revealed in your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Companions (1 Kings 19:19-21)

Depiction of Elijah anointing Elisha as a prophet, Aylesford Priory, Maidstone, UK

Elijah left and found Elisha plowing with a team of oxen; there were eleven teams ahead of him, and he was plowing with the last one. Elijah took off his cloak and put it on Elisha. Elisha then left his oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and mother good-bye, and then I will go with you.”

Elijah answered, “All right, go back. I’m not stopping you!”

Then Elisha went to his team of oxen, killed them, and cooked the meat, using the yoke as fuel for the fire. He gave the meat to the people, and they ate it. Then he went and followed Elijah as his helper. (Good News Translation)

Some background…

Elijah was a prophet during a very hard time in Israel’s history. Ahab, a terribly unjust and wicked king, had led the nation away from the worship of Yahweh and toward the worship of Baal. Things were bad – both religiously and meteorologically; there was a drought of rain and a drought of God’s words.

The prophet Elijah stepped out and took on the powerful king and his diabolical wife, Jezebel. As a result, he had to go into hiding and bide his time. For about three years, Elijah was mostly on his own, moving around, trying to avoid Ahab’s wrath, just trying to stay alive during the drought.

Although Elijah’s physical needs were cared for by the Lord, the years of aloneness took their toll.

Finally, things came to a head. There was a showdown between the hundreds of Baal prophets and the lone prophet of Yahweh, Elijah. It was a dramatic encounter marked by a huge victory of the Lord through Elijah’s faith and courage.

Yet, when it was all over, and spiritual revival was transforming the land, Elijah was physically and emotionally exhausted. In fact, the darkness of depression enveloped him.

So, Elijah had a “come-to-Yahweh-meeting” which was both gracious and much needed. The prophet took the time to sleep, eat, and experience the Lord.

But, going forward, things would be different. No more going alone for Elijah. He needed a companion.

So, God instructed Elijah to specifically go to Elisha and anoint him as the next prophet of Yahweh. Which is exactly what Elijah did.

Some help…

The prophet Elijah flat-out needed help; and God knew it.

Elijah had been in his own personal slimy pit experience of exhaustion and depression. The Lord helped him get out of it. God knows better than any of us that people need one another for encouragement, companionship, giving and receiving love, and being both a mentor and a mentee.

Sheer independence isn’t even what God does, so why in the world do any of us believe we need to be that way?

Christians serve a triune God of Father, Son, and Spirit. God is One, and God is also Community. As people created in the image and likeness of God, we were formed for unity and community with others. Therefore, it is necessary for us to have healthy dynamics of relational interactions. Elijah needed his inner balance restored through working with Elisha.

Some insight….

Not only does Elijah’s story enlighten our need for relational ministry, but Elisha’s experience also provides some insightful perspective on what it means to connect with others.

I can imagine what Elisha’s life must have been like before being anointed a prophet of the Lord. Having grown up on a midwestern American farm, I know the kind of work it takes. Elisha was out there every day. On one particular day, just like many of the other days of farm labor, he’s at the end of the work train – in the back slowly moving along with his animals, trying to get a field plowed.

Then, in the mundane dirty work of plowing, the prophet Elijah comes strolling along and puts his cloak on Elisha, thereby clearly communicating to him that he is being called to become a prophet himself.

Elisha immediately responds and goes all in with following Elijah. And with a demonstrative act of setting out on a new life, Elisha takes his means of making a living, the oxen, and kills them, cooks them over a fire made from the wooden plow and yoke, and feeds a bunch of people. He then walks away, for good.

Maybe Elisha was in his own slimy pit of depression, feeling like his life was going nowhere. We don’t really know. Yet, God chose Elisha, just like he chose Elijah, to be a prophet. Perhaps the Lord knew Elisha needed this as much as Elijah did.

Some reflection….

What, or who, do you need today?

I have found that it’s a common misunderstanding with many Christians that as long as they read their Bible, pray, and rely on the Holy Spirit, that everything will go peachy dandy. And when it doesn’t, they castigate themselves for being down or depressed or in dire straits.

It just could be that you’re trying to go it alone without the help of other people. It also could be that you have a history in which the folks you believe needed to help you, didn’t; and now you’re determined to do life alone without anyone hurting you again.

It might be that the Lord wants to use someone else besides the people you think ought to help. And it also could be that you’ve put limits on how God can work. But, really, who are you or I to tell God whom he can love us through?

Let yourself be open to the ministry of others. Be a companion.

Bless us with Love, O Merciful God;
That we may Love as you Love,
That we may show patience, tolerance,
Kindness, caring and love to all!
O Compassionate One, grant compassion to us;
That we may help all fellow souls in need.
Bless us with your Love, O God,
Bless us with your Love. Amen.

Stop the Bad, Start the Good (Ephesians 4:25-5:2)

We are part of the same body. Stop lying and start telling each other the truth. Don’t get so angry that you sin. Don’t go to bed angry and don’t give the devil a chance.

If you are a thief, quit stealing. Be honest and work hard, so you will have something to give to people in need.

Stop all your dirty talk. Say the right thing at the right time and help others by what you say.

Don’t make God’s Spirit sad. The Spirit makes you sure that someday you will be free from your sins.

Stop being bitter and angry and mad at others. Don’t yell at one another or curse each other or ever be rude. Instead, be kind and merciful, and forgive others, just as God forgave you because of Christ.

Do as God does. After all, you are his dear children. Let love be your guide. Christ loved us and offered his life for us as a sacrifice that pleases God. (Contemporary English Version)

All of us have a hard time breaking bad habits, even and especially destructive habits which damage us and/or others. Why, despite knowing better, is it so doggone hard to change? And why, even though having the best of intentions, does that person in my life never change because I tell them to?

Probably because our approach to change dooms us from the beginning. Here are a few approaches which, frankly, do not work:

  • Telling ourselves (or others) to stop. Barking commands may alter speech or behavior for a while but it won’t stick. That’s because people need affirmation, encouragement, and love in order to change – and not by mandated rules. Judgmentalism or shaming others never effects any sort of positive change. Neither our brains nor our souls operate that way.
  • Relying on willpower. This is really an over-reliance on thinking. Yes, it’s necessary to change our thinking. It isn’t, however, enough. That’s because we are not brains-on-a-stick. We also have a body, emotions, and a spirit which needs activation, as well. What’s more, our thinking doesn’t change by sheer force of the will. Our brains are literally not wired that way.
  • Believing in positive thinking. “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can….” “Dream it and do it.” “I believe in myself.” “Nothing is impossible.” I am not suggesting we indulge negative thinking or let a bad attitude take root. I’m saying that positive thinking has its limits. It’s helpful but is not the true agent of behavioral change.
  • Pursuing self-help. Yes, we must all help ourselves. After all, we are responsible for our own behavior. However, self-help alone doesn’t bring lasting change. By only going it alone, individuals come up with hackneyed homebrewed prescriptions that will not get the job done. That’s because we are hard-wired for community and any sort of effective change of habit happens with others.

To stop doing or saying something is only half the equation. We also need to start doing and saying something else altogether.

Change always involves both putting off and putting on, laying down and picking up, removing and replacing, starting and stopping.

The Christian tradition holds that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Life together is to be shaped around the person and work of Christ. Since Christians share a common confession of Jesus together, we are to share a common life together.

Therefore, we will stop non-Christian ways of relating to each other and start a Christian way of relating to each other – because we belong to one another and are inextricably connected as the community of the redeemed.

Stop lying and start speaking the truth

Too often, we put up a plastic false front. Pretending we are okay, when we are not, or even acting like life is hard, when it isn’t, is an untruthful presentation – it’s a lie. Secrecy and deception are tools of Satan, not God. Therefore, we must put off the bad habit of pretention, and put on the good habit of speaking truthfully to each other. 

Buying into the devil’s snake oil salesmanship leads one to believe we cannot be open, honest, real, vulnerable, and genuine; it’s not worth the risk. We worry about being rejected, losing face, or becoming a victim of gossip. Shame then takes the steering wheel of one’s life, instead of speaking truthfully.

We speak the truth in love because we are responsible to one another – not hiding in the shadows or avoiding the dark places of the heart – but stepping into the light and forsaking all fakery for the benefit of everyone’s needs. The only thing lying does is undermine and erode true community.

Stop stealing and start being generous

Thievery takes many forms: petty theft, identity theft, stealing intellectual property (copywrites, patents, trade secrets, etc.), fraud, plagiarism, robbery, burglary, embezzlement, shoplifting, and more. Gossip, slander, and defamation robs another person of their dignity and reputation. Likely the most insidious theft of all is the stealing and kidnapping other human beings.

Stealing will always be a way of life unless it is replaced wholesale with generosity. Learning to give back is the surest path to real change. And there a lot of ways of doing it.

We can give back to the community through donating our time, participating in charity events, volunteering at a school, hospital, or senior center, and even recycling or planting a tree, or giving blood.

Whatever it is you choose to do, connect it with the penchant toward stealing you may have. For example the one prone to gossip might replace it with gratitude; or the one who chronically steals another’s time might join an altruism group.

Stop the dirty useless talk and start encouraging others

Locker room talk and dirty jokes aren’t helpful. There’s also a lot of speech that’s just downright useless, such as: a preacher who pads the sermon with lots of unnecessary words; a relative who is vague and not specific with their words; a boss who always points out, with many words, what is wrong but barely says one word of affirmation to an employee.

Instead of tearing down others with words, replace those words with encouragement. Going out of your way to write an encouraging card or note to someone, bending down to look a child in the eye to say, “hi,” expressing sincere condolences to someone who lost a loved one, or just having a kind word for the harried cashier behind the counter or the waitress at the restaurant, are simple ways of embracing encouragement as a lifestyle.

Stop being so bitter and angry and start forgiving people

Many people either cannot or will not forgive because they want to hold onto their anger and bitterness. Somehow, in their twisted and darkened thinking, they believe that, unless they maintain their grudge-bearing, the offending person or group will get off the hook.

Please, lay down that crushing load of mental vengeance; and pick up the light backpack of grace and forgiveness.

Chances are, if you’ve been in the habit of being angry for a long time, you have a cardiologist you see on a regular basis. Do yourself a favor by changing yourself and saving your health, instead of expecting others to change and blaming them for your issues.

If you are not the person you want to be, then take a lesson from the Apostle Paul: don’t just try and stop something you don’t like but also start doing just the opposite of it, in helpful ways that are a blessing to others.

And if ever in doubt, love is always the best choice.

May the God of peace make you pure and faultless, belonging only to what is right, just and good. And may your whole self—spirit, soul, mind, body, and emotions—be kept safe and be blameless when our Lord Jesus Christ comes. Amen.