Romans 12:1-8 – Healthy Group Dynamics

Transformed

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will. 

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (NIV) 

Every person is important. Everyone is needed. Each one, according to this New Testament lesson, is to offer their entire lives to God through worship and the exercise of their spiritual giftsPeople are designed to be active in building up one another. 

When I was growing up, we had a fine china set that my parents kept in a beautiful china cabinet.  The set and the cabinet are old and were a prominent part of our living room. However, we almost never used it. I can only remember once or twice that my Mom got the china out to use. God is not looking for fine china that sits unused. He is looking for rough-and-tumble clay pots—the kind that can be used every day. God wants ordinary table-wear that can be handled in a crash-and-bang world.  

Followers of Jesus Christ were never meant to be a china cabinet, where precious pieces are safely stowed out of harm’s way. Instead, humanity is to be like a working kitchen, where well-worn pots are filled again and again to dispense their life-giving contents to a thirsty world; and, where common plates and cups are used again and again to provide a hungry population with the Bread of Life. 

Cup and Plate

Within the ancient Roman Church were both Jews and Gentiles – two groups vastly different from each other.  They tended to keep to themselves and only operate within their familiar and comfortable circles of friends and relatives.  But the Apostle Paul wanted them to be united by exercising their spiritual gifts for the benefit of the entire congregation, and not just certain persons. 

We are strongly encouraged to give ourselves in service to one another because of God’s mercy in Christ.  Since God has saved us from sin, we are to gratefully respond to him in worship that is dedicated to serving everyone.  The word “worship” in today’s text is where we get the word “liturgy.”  That is, Paul’s vision for the church was to have a daily liturgical rhythm of spiritual worship, not just on Sunday when we might pull out the fine china and impress people. 

Paul’s appeal was not to guilt people into serving but is an exhortation for all Christians to appropriately respond to God’s grace by offering their lives in sacrificial service. This is a form of saying “thanks” to God. To be oriented in a sacred liturgy that is fit for the daily will of God, our minds must be renewed. Through saturation in Scripture we discern our spiritual gifts, know what God wants us to do with those gifts, and use them effectively in the church and the world.   

Grace has been given to every believer in Jesus, not just a select few. We all have different gifts and have been graced with abilities for the benefit of others. When everyone collectively uses these spiritual gifts, there is the ability to know the will of God in any situation for any group of people. All the pronouns used in today’s verses are plural. There is to be a group dynamic which seeks to give minds and bodies completely to God in worship, using our spiritual gifts for building up one another, and discovering the will of God together. 

All believers in Jesus must share and work together by utilizing God’s grace, instead of getting burned-out because others are not serving. Grumbling about what others are not doing begs the question of whether we are over-functioning, or not. It could be that we have succumbed to the danger the Apostle Paul warned us about: thinking so highly of ourselves that we believe our gifts are superior to others, so we need to maintain our control and hegemony in the group. This is a terribly misguided notion.   

Body of Christ

We belong to one another.  Therefore, one major way of giving to God is through offering ourselves to each other with equity and without favoritism.  We must not separate Christ from his church.  To say that we need God, but do not need the church is to really say that we do not need God because the two are inseparable. Nowhere in Holy Scripture do we find individual Christians doing their own thing, isolated from a committed group of people, the church.  

When Jesus called people to follow him in service to God and a world in need, some gave him excuses that they were busy and had other pressing matters to attend to before they could follow him. Jesus simply left them and told them they were not fit for the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:57-62) 

When people were preoccupied with building wealth, or gaining power, or jockeying for influence, Jesus told them to stop it, exercise some faith, and seek first the kingdom of God.  Build your treasure in heaven, Jesus said, because it will be permanent; and, not on earth where it is temporary. (Matthew 6:19-34)  

We are graced by God with abilities which God fully expects us to use. “Cheap grace” is merely embracing Christ as a personal Savior but not welcoming him as the Lord in whom we must sacrificially give our lives to service in the church and the world. Spiritual health and vitality cannot exist apart from every person using God’s given grace to contribute to the functioning of the Body of Christ.   

spiritual gifts

The list of spiritual gifts Paul provided is not exhaustive but represents a combination of speaking and serving gifts necessary to bless humanity. Paul exhorted the church to not restrain people’s exercise of gifts but let them go at it, full bore:  

  • “Prophesying” is not foretelling the future but a word meaning “inspired speech” from God that addresses what God’s people are to do considering his Word.   
  • “Serving” is a generic word referring to all types of hands-on service.   
  • “Teaching” is needed to instruct the faithful in all the revealed will of God.   
  • “Encouraging” involves both speaking and serving, as the one gifted in encouragement comes alongside others and helps them to do something with both verbal coaching and tangible help.   
  • Giving” specifically refers to the person who lives a simple life to be able to give generously and contribute to the needs of others.   
  • “Leading” is the ability to get out in front and show the way in obtaining the will of God.   
  • “Mercy” is the much-needed ability to see down-and-out hurting people and be a conduit of God’s grace to them. 

Here is a simple observation: There is no one person who possesses all these gifts. That is why everyone must work together to have a spiritually healthy community.  A spiritually toxic community is the inevitable result of only a few people using their gifts. 

The Apostle Paul communicated some important truth about what faithful Christians must do to be transformed by a renewal of the mind: exercise godly sacrifice; commitment to worship; intentional unity; and, an awareness of our spiritual gifts. The following are some thoughts on becoming aware of our spiritual gifts:   

  1. Pay attention.  Every spiritual gift reflects God’s grace and character, and so, you will find joy and satisfaction in expressing it. Your spiritual gift will be a place of deep spiritual formation and growth in your life, as God uses it both to powerfully connect you to him and to expose areas of your soul that need his forgiveness and redemption.   
  2. Try.  Give it a whirl.  Take the step to connect with a service or ministry, or just try doing what you feel might be something God wants you to do.  Gifts are discovered more from others observing and affirming your gift and less than going through a research process.  The encouragers among us will be happy to affirm the gifts of others. 
  3. Develop.  All spiritual gifts must be cultivated and developed.  Paul told his young protégé, Timothy, to fan into flame the gift of God.  Put yourself in a position to be taught and mentored. 

We were designed by God for worship and service. We will find our greatest delight in life through engaging those two activities. The result is a spiritually healthy and thriving Christian community that loves God, loves one another, and loves the world. 

God of grace, I come before you today praying for your Holy Spirit to stir up the gifts already placed inside your people. God Almighty, I pray that whatever gifts your Holy Spirit has decided to give and put within me and those around me that those gifts be activated and used for your glory and the edification of others.  I pray for peace and joy in the community, that no one will be jealous or covetous about anyone else’s gifts. Lord God, I pray also as these gifts grow and develop that the fruit of the Spirit will be manifested, to ensure the gifts are ministered in love. May you receive all praise honor and glory from the gifts you give, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen. 

A Damaged People

Legacy Museum in Montgomery Alabama
This verse of a Maya Angelou poem is on the outside of the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration in Montgomery, Alabama

I am an aging white male Protestant minister. From the inception of colonial America through the first one-hundred years of the United States, my kind ruled the roost.[i] We established schools and universities, advised governors and presidents, and held the reins of power. We were at the vanguard of the nation’s spiritual and moral development.[ii] Even after much of American society became increasingly secularized and more pluralistic, we white men of the cloth wielded a great deal of influence. We still hold respect (albeit less respected than earlier times in American history) and are typically given the benefit of the doubt in most situations.

For all the good we have done throughout American history, we also turned a blind eye to the slave trade and even championed slavery as a good for black Africans throughout most of the United States. Even in the North, where abolitionists could be found, far too many of us preached against slavery not for the inherent evil it is but because of fear that blacks might integrate with the more enlightened white society. Using their influence, ministers got behind efforts to send blacks back to Africa. Hence, the modern-day country of Liberia.[iii] Although today’s white male ministers are more diverse than ever in their theology and practice, there yet remains for us all a collective wound, a putrid abscess of a racialized society.

Something else to know about me: I have two academic degrees in history and did my graduate thesis on slaveholder religion in the antebellum South. I continue to keep abreast of historical research pertaining to my own expertise.[iv] I am both a church pastor and a hospital chaplain. Spiritual and pastoral care of parishioners, patients, and their families are the stuff of my workaday world. I exist in the lived world of people’s struggles, joys, hopes, and desires – bearing witness to all their myriad experiences of heartbreak, miracle, and everything in between.[v]

As both an historian and ordained minister, I agree with religion and social history professor, D.G. Hart, when he said, “There is a long history going all the way back to slavery, of white Americans not trusting black perspectives as truthful.”[vi] Indeed, this has been my own experience in discussing racism. I have come to expect that if I am in a room full of white male ministers, the subject of racism will not be broached – unless I bring it up. I am usually met with defensiveness and an insistence about not being racist; and, a rebuke of bringing up politics in the august clerical group. The assumptions in the room are that we, ministers, are color-blind (“I don’t see a person’s color when I preach.”); and, that racism means a specific political agenda (“All lives matter, not only black ones….”).[vii]

It would be untenable and unethical if I entered a patient room as a chaplain and spent my time providing for the nurse’s emotional and spiritual well-being. Yes, she has needs, too, and a good chunk of my job involves care of staff. Yet, in this scenario, it is the sick person we are both attending to. It will not do for me to argue, “I don’t see a person’s health when I look at them – I am health-blind.” And it would be ludicrous for me to insist that “all lives matter, not just sick ones,” and nonsense to say, “healthy lives matter.”

Yet, this is happening every day. It is as if a person is struck by a car and lies bleeding in the street while the ambulance and first responders rush to the driver who hit the person saying, “Are you okay? That must have been traumatic running over a person!” Yes, the driver is in shock and will likely need therapy to deal with what happened. However, this is not the primary need and focus of the moment.

Black men die in our streets and we focus on the unruly aspects of demonstrations and riots. Black women disproportionately lose their lives in maternity wards, along with an infant mortality rate more than twice that of whites.[viii] Black families on average have ten times less the annual income than white families, with little to no inherited property or wealth (due in large degree to widespread twentieth century zoning laws which excluded blacks from certain geographic areas and neighborhoods).[ix]

We need not look to other nations of the world for human rights violations. “Physician, heal thyself,” comes from the Gospel of Luke. Immediately after Jesus proclaimed that the poor, the prisoner, the blind, and the oppressed matter, he received pushback from the establishment to maintain the status quo. The good news of freedom and recovery is still subversive and scandalous today as it was all those centuries ago. The gospel still elicits anger from the privileged when resources are focused toward the underprivileged.[x]

I once had a fellow old white Protestant minister throw up his hands in exasperation after speaking with him about race saying, “Well, what do you want me to do about it!?” Indeed, what shall you do? How then shall we live?

The short answer: care. The following are a potpourri of practices I have personally engaged over the past few decades. Perhaps and hopefully you will find some ways to put a voice and some hands and feet to the caring:

  • Seek first to understand rather than be understood. Be informed. Read. Listen to another, without mentally arming yourself with a response. If you cannot state to a person you disagree with their position in a way they would say, “Yep, that’s it, that’s my position,” then you have not done your due diligence in listening well. The bibliography below are just a few books I have found helpful for me as a white person seeking to understand.
  • Engage in self-awareness. Explore what implicit bias and microaggressions are and take a fierce moral inventory of your own life regarding them.
  • Find out what the needs are in your local community. Projecting what you think the needs are of a place or a people is not the same as discovering what the needs really are. Many of my fellow whites cannot see past the demonstrations of black folk on the streets to the needs behind those demonstrations. People demonstrate because they have legitimate needs which are not being fulfilled and they possess little power to change the system which keeps those needs unfulfilled.
  • Exercise humility and repentance. Have a teachable spirit. Be willing to say when you are wrong without beating up yourself. True repentance is not shame – it is changing course when you see your previous path was down a damaging road. More than once I have stuck my foot in my mouth and said something racist that, at the time, I did not realize.
  • Embrace your power, position, or privilege. Use what you have for the benefit of those without. And, more difficult to do for most of my white brothers and sisters, share your power. If a round table discussion of all nice old white male Protestant ministers talk about what to do about race, we will only get a nice old white male Protestant minister answer about how to deal with it. Furthermore, token procedures and policies, as well as token representation will do diddly squat.
  • Keep the main thing the main thing. There are many things which require our (white) attention, including talking to our kids about race, common decency, etc. Yet, when black lynching continues in more modern and sophisticated forms, this requires our immediate attention. The white lady in the car is not bleeding in the street, so keep focused on the main thing.
  • Dedicate effort and resources to dismantling systemic and structural racism. We white folk built it. We can destroy it. The only assumptions we ought to be making is that racism exists everywhere and in every institution in some way, shape, or form. I define racism as vastly more than overt individual discriminatory words or actions – racism primarily exists as covert inequities which maintain white control of institutional power and decision-making, thus, making it more difficult for people of color to have access and opportunity to quality education, jobs, housing, healthcare, and equal treatment in the criminal justice system.

When one of us is wounded, we are all wounded. It is unacceptable we would ever refuse to weep with our brothers and sisters of color who weep. Until we, whites, can individually and collectively find it within ourselves to grieve and lament the loss of human life beside people of color, then we shall continue to be damaged together as one people. Pastors and faith leaders can play a special role in healing our wounds if we find within ourselves a commitment to such a worthy task.

Bibliography of Selected Works

Brown, Austin Channing I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Colorado Springs, CO: Convergent Books, 2018.

Carter, J. Kameron Race: A Theological Account, New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Coates, Ta-Nehesi Between the World and Me, New York: One World Press, 2015.

Cone, James H. The Cross and the Lynching Tree, New York: Orbis Press, 2013.

DiAngelo, Robin White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Boston: Beacon Press, 2018.

Douglass, Frederick The Complete Works of Frederick Douglass, Madison & Adams Press, 2018.

DuBois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folk, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014.

Glaude, Eddie S. Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul, New York: Broadway Books, 2017.

Guelzo, Allen C. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.

Kendi, Ibram X. How to Be an Antiracist, New York: One World Books, 2019.

Rah, Soong-Chan Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church, Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2010.

Swanson, David W. Rediscipling the White Church: From Cheap Diversity to True Solidarity, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020.

Tisby, Jemar The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 2019.

Endnotes

[i] E. Brooks Holifield, Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003): 1-4.

[ii] Sydney Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1972): xiii-xvi.

[iii] Edwin S. Gaustad, ed. A Documentary History of Religion in America to the Civil War (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1982): 485-490.

[iv] I have a B.A. in history from the University of Northern Iowa and an M.A. in 19th Century American Religious History from Western Michigan University – as well as an M.Div. from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.  For a survey of recent historical research approaches, see Jay D. Green, Christian Historiography: Five Rival Trends (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2015).

[v] I am the Staff Chaplain at Aurora St. Luke’s South Shore Medical Center and the Pastor of the New Life Community Church, both in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

[vi] D.G. Hart, The Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism (Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2016): 46.

[vii] These statements have been said to me by several white ministers in the past ten years from various denominations, theological traditions, and geographical locales – enough for me to form anecdotal evidence regarding common presuppositions of race.

[viii] Cigna Health and Life Insurance Co., Report on African American Health Disparities, 2016.

[ix] Kriston McIntosh, Emily Moss, Ryan Nunn, and Jay Shambaugh, Examining the Black-White Wealth Gap (The Brookings Institute, 2020).

[x] Luke 4:14-30 in The Holy Bible.

Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24 – Known by God

known by God

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you….

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. (NRSV)

It is no wonder that so many people struggle with self-image today.  Beautiful people dominate the television shows and movies; the rich and powerful are highlighted in the media; and, people with perfect teeth and immaculate attire are splashed in front of us in the daily barrage of advertisements.  Meanwhile, the rest of us 99% of the population quickly notice that we do not measure up to such a standard.  It only takes a few minutes of people-watching at the local grocery store to realize that the vast majority of persons have less than perfect bodies and do not have much of a budget to live like the other less than 1% of the famous.

Into this abyss of feeling depressed about one’s image enters the biblical truth that each one of us, no matter our station in life is known and accepted by God.  The Creator God took great care to make us and form us just the way he wants us.

God knows us intimately, inside-and-out, and he does not condemn us or shame us but loves us wholly.

So, rather than wasting our emotional energy and our mental faculties on wishing we looked different or were more like so-and-so who seems to always have it all together, we can bask in the understanding that God is with us – there is no place we can go where God isn’t. The Lord is with us in our good times and bad; when we are at are best in loving others and when we are at our cranky worst; and, in our joy, as well as our anxiety. God is there for it all – no matter the state of our heart or our geographical location.

No matter who we are, the entire race of humanity has been created in the image of God, and, on that basis alone, we have inherent value, worth, and majesty.  Let us, then, treat ourselves and others with the yardstick of grace.

How do you talk to yourself?  You know what I mean.  The kind of speech that goes on inside your head.  The things which you say inside your heart that no one knows but you.  You will perhaps agree with me that you are rather hard on yourself.  In the reclusive parts of your mind, you speak to yourself in ways that you would never say to others, nor tolerate others saying about someone else.  Only you know the depth of your own sorrows, hurts, fears, insecurities, and worries.  Except….

God.  He knows it all.  He knows it all intimately.  And He is not repulsed.  God knows that the answer to all the doubts about yourself is His loving gaze upon you.

You have the freedom to plumb the recesses of your heart and soul – to bring out all that is inside the cluttered closet of your mind and heart without fear of God calling you what you call yourself.

I encourage you to slowly read, out loud, these verses for today several times.  Allow the presence of God to wash over you with grace and understanding.  One of the theories of human psychology is that people are driven by two primary needs: to intimately know another person; and, to be intimately known by another.  God knows us even better than we know ourselves – and he still loves us!  There is nothing about us that God does not already know.  No human relationship can even come close to the level of knowledge and understanding that God has for us and about us.

To know God is likely the greatest and highest pursuit we could ever enjoy.  God is so big and infinite that we will spend an eternity getting to know him and will never get to the end of knowing him completely. That is the kind of God we serve.  Be encouraged today and always with the reality that you are divinely known and can know God.

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen. – Book of Common Prayer

2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5 – A Life-Giving Message

OakTreeUnknownArtist
“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18)

We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as first-fruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts, and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

As for other matters brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. (NIV)

As with most sections of Holy Scripture, if we merely focus on this singular passage from the Bible and seek daily to live into its message, it is likely we would live a consistently rich and full spiritual life. As the Apostle Paul said to the Thessalonians, and indeed to us, standing firm and holding a solid grip on apostolic teaching will mean a daily life of loving words and actions.

Notice the many elements of this Scripture for us to spotlight for our spiritual lives: gratitude; salvation; sanctification; truth; spiritual calling; sharing in God’s glory; love; grace; hope; encouragement; prayer; faithfulness; perseverance; and, deliverance. We could even highlight just one of these words and, if seeking to do a deep dive with it, could spend unending days learning and living into its multi-faceted dimensions.

I want to pause here and do a bit of a check-in with you. How we approach this passage of Scripture, as well as any other verses which encourage us to hold onto sound teaching and living, will likely determine our level of joy, satisfaction, confidence, and success. It all begins with our view of self. If we come at the Christian life and Holy Scripture with a view of self as a mere tool or object for God’s use – then we are truly objectifying ourselves.

The key point of awareness to realizing whether we have such an objectifying view is if we continually “should” ourselves. The word “should,” brings self-hatred. We primarily see only shortcomings and original sin – and are blind to the majesty of being in God’s image. In such a view there is typically boat loads of shame for not living up to the ideal form of a devoted Christian. Belittling ourselves inwardly only transfers outwardly to looking down on others for their failures. Any exhortation from me or anybody else would be seen in this view as a demanding duty.

OakTreeTomBrown
“The gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.” (Colossians 1:6)

Instead, we can come to Scripture’s admonitions, encouragements, and exhortations with the glasses of grace. After all, our text for today says that God loved us and by his grace gave us this teaching. The dense amount of Christian living in such a few verses, when viewed through the lenses of grace, are merciful words communicating support. God wants to strengthen us with grace just because he loves us. God does not objectify us by seeing us as pawns in some twisted divine game for his own cosmic pleasure. Rather, God is looking to direct our hearts toward a delight in his love. Because it is only with love and grace that we can really persevere throughout our Christian lives.

Not everyone has faith, and that saddens the heart of God. It also puts us, at times, in awkward situations. Again, the love of God does not leave us alone. Divine love will strengthen and protect us. The Apostle Paul never wags his finger and levels the “should” on us like some uptight legalist. Paul expresses confidence, knowing that we most certainly have the capacity to live the will of God. The Scriptures are given to engender strengthening of faith and spiritual growth rather than self-hatred, which has a nasty tendency to come out sideways in a lack of compassion and grace toward others.

This letter was written by Paul to the church because they were finding it difficult to endure their hard circumstances. The Thessalonian Christians began longing for heaven to such a degree that they were losing their grip on living presently in the moment of now. This is part of the reason why Paul encouraged them to pray for him and his colleagues. The people needed to put some focus on the now of spreading the message of God’s grace.

To be rather frank, truth be told, the chief reason I write these daily reflections on Scripture is because I need God’s Word. Yes, I do write for the reader. I want to contribute to people’s growth in grace and I have a deep desire to make the message known. Yet, honestly, I write more for myself. This is a way for me to remind myself of God’s love and grace and utilize it every day.

When I hear Paul talking in biblical texts like these, I detect some of the same reason – Paul himself wants to continue growing in grace, and when writing to and for others he is very much writing to himself. The reading of the Bible and the dedication to living its message is meant to be life-giving, or rather, eternally life-giving.

So, today, I leave with this blessing:

May you take refuge in the wondrous grace of God, and all the little miracles of mercy which he bestows each day.

May you always be inclined to rush into God’s Holy Word and discover its life working within you.

May you imitate the flower as it opens to the day’s sunshine in receiving all that God has for you this day.

May you be in solidarity with brother stone, who sits in silence, calm and secure, and be excessively gentle with yourself.

May you wisely steer clear of those vexed in spirit with only God knows what; and, when in that space of others walking all over your boundaries, may your confidence surge and God’s protection deliver you.

May you return to the glory that is yourself, learning a new respect for your heart, and the joy that has always been there, given graciously to you by a God who has invited you to share in Jesus Christ.

Amen.