We are a Whole Life Church

I shared this on Sunday before my sermon at Eastbrook Church and a few people asked if they could see it in print form, so here it is.

Dear friends,

It is hard to ignore the debates in our culture about current abortion law and what may be coming in rulings from the Supreme Court. Many of us may wonder what to think about this as Christians.

Mother’s Day provides us an important moment to remember we are a church who is for life across the board. Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). We are, in a sense, a whole life church.

We are for life for the unborn. Each child is “knit…together in [their] mother’s womb…. fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-14). We want to care for the least of these, particularly those with no voice. They are all significant and loved by God.

We are also for life for the mothers who carry children they do not want. We want to help provide support structures in their lives to help them navigate having a child. They are all significant and loved by God.

We are for life for the children born who have no one to care for them. That is why we support fostering and adopting children, as well as the families who step forward to do so. They are all significant and loved by God.

We are for life for the next generation in our church, seeking to help them grow with God and find a place of safety and nurture within our church community. They are all significant and loved by God.

We are for life for mothers who, as we remember this Mother’s Day, nurture life in their bodies, care for children in the earliest years, and continue to uphold their children in later stages of life. They are all significant and loved by God.

We are for life for the hungry and the thirsty, the stranger and those in poverty, the sick and the imprisoned. They are all significant and loved by God.

We are for life for our friends, but also for life for our enemies because Jesus Himself said in Matthew 5:44-45, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” They are all significant and loved by God.

We are for all of life from the womb to the tomb because Jesus is unabashedly for life.

Join me in being this sort of Jesus-centered community that is unashamedly for life—for all life—as we continue to shine His light in this day and time until He returns.

Let us pray.

The Insignificant are Significant to God: letting the widow’s copper coins speak

“As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘Truly I tell you,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.'” (Luke 21:1-4)

The giving of gifts or offerings at the Temple during Jesus’ time was often a public thing. It was a matter of celebration. When Jesus and His disciples visit the Temple in Jerusalem, they observe the rich giving much out of their wealth.

And then a humble widow brings her simple gift, in the form of two lepta. These two lepta are a very small gift, literally 1/100th of a day’s wage, which known as a denarius. By the standards of the day, this woman’s gift is not noteworthy. She is not the MVP of the giving campaign. She is not offering the most valuable gift…at least by one measure.  

But Jesus notices the insignificant gift. Not only does He notice the gift, but He gives special preference and value to her and her gift, adding that she has “put in more than all the others.” Without a doubt, when assessing the value of dollars and cents this woman’s gift was small, if not insignificant, in comparison with others. But even more clearly, by the value of God’s kingdom, this woman’s gift was greater than others.

There is a theme in the gospels that Jesus describes this way, “It is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest” (Luke 9:48). The measures of God’s kingdom are not the measures of this earth.

That is good word for you and me, who often feel afflicted by our own insignificance. We are not insignificant to God. He notices us and cares for us. This is a good word us in another way. At times we see others through the wrong measures of assessment. We assess by worldly measures rather than kingdom measures. God reminds us that when we see others who may seem insignificant by worldly measures, they are not insignificant to God. In fact, the insignificant are significant to God.

What is All Saints Day?: a brief summary

Today, November 1, we celebrate All Saints Day. All Saints Day is a feast day in the church year that follows All Hallow’s Eve (October 31). All Saints Day offers an opportunity to remember all those saints who have gone before us in the faith and to celebrate the reality that we stand amidst a great cloud of witnesses.

The epistle to the Hebrews offers one of the most comprehensive examples of this in chapter 11, which traces the history of great people of faith who have gone before us. As the writer holds before us example after example of faith, he helps us see how their lives with God are examples to us in our daily living but also encouragement to keep going in the way of faith. Closing that great passage out, the author writes:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Not only does All Saints Day hold before us the people of faith from past times, it also offers an annual reminder of our connectedness as Christians today. In times of fracture or disunity, as well as in times of peace, All Saints Day reminds us that all who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation are brought together as one new community by faith in Him. It is in light of this that the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians:

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:3-6)

Not only does All Saints Day lead us to look back to believers who have gone before us and around us to the believers we share communion with in Christ, but it also points us forward to the reality that we will one day gather around the throne of God. While we live here on earth, believers are spread throughout many times and places, but there will come a day when we will all be brought together into the eternal presence of the Lord. All Saints Day reminds us of that reality described in Revelation 7:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10)

Here is a traditional prayer often used for All Saints Day:

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical Body of your Son: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Centering Ourselves in Appropriate Fear of the Lord

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all who practice it. His praise endures forever!” (Psalm 11:10)

“Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments.” (Psalm 112:1)

Fear of the Lord centers our lives. When we are centered in God with appropriate fear of the Lord, we are at the same time not centered in anything else, whether our joys or troubles, our desires or trials. The Lord is the One who reigns on the throne of all creation and He is the center of all things.

When we live in right reverence of and holy wonder before the Lord, the other things that try to be the center or those things we tend to put at the center are rearranged and put in their place. The fear of people, circumstances, the future, or the unknown often comes naturally to us.But we must practice letting that god, laying it down into God’s hands, and leaving it there continually. In its place, as Psalm 11:10 says, we must practice the fear of the Lord for this will truly lead us into the way of wisdom.

So join me today in a simply practice of prayer. First, take some time to lay down before the Lord all the things or people or desires that strive to be central in our lives; those things that take the place of the Lord. Perhaps you can be still and simply pray like this: Lord, I lay this ______ at Your feet today. I admit that I have given it/them a place that it doesn’t deserve in my life. Please help me to continually release it into Your care.

Second, follow that time of releasing prayer with an invitation to God to be at the center of Your life. If we do not choose to put God on the throne of our lives, something or someone else will take God’s place. Be still and pray something like this: Lord, I want You to truly be the Lord of my life. I lay myself down before You. I am Your servant and child through Jesus’ saving work at the Cross. May I walk worthy of that calling and find my identity and meaning from You. As I continue in this day, please live as the centerpoint of who I am and keep me in appropriate reverence of you all day.

Guess What? You’re Blessed: Exploring the Beatitudes in Matthew 5

P. Solomon Raj, Luke 4: The Lord Remembers the Hungry, 2016.

It’s in the context of all the everyday people with everyday problems gathered around Him that Jesus begins to speak about the good life in Matthew 5:3-12.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (5:3)

Contrary to appearances, the broken down and poor in spirit, actually belong in God’s kingdom – they are flourishing with God because they know their need and are looking to God.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (5:4)

Those who lament and cry out have the promise of comfort because God, the comforter, is near at hand. In the future, He will wipe away all our tears, and in the present, He is the God of all comfort. He will “bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning” (Isaiah 61:3).

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (5:5)

Those who depend upon God instead of their own strength, who don’t throw their weight around, but wait upon Him with meekness will find their fortunes reversed because God is their provider in the future and for today. “The lowly will possess the land and will live in peace and prosperity” (Psalm 37:11, NLT).

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (5:6)

Those who are hungry in their spirits for what God desires often will see what’s lacking in the world. Those who look with a clear-eyed desire for things to be made right – for God’s deliverance to come – for justice to roll on like a river and righteousness like a never-failing stream (Amos 5:24) – oh, Jesus says, those will be filled. The day is coming when God will make all things new (Revelation 21:5), but even now God’s kingdom is at hand in Jesus. You’ll be stuffed to overflowing with God’s righteousness and justice. But you’re blessed now even though you’re hungry…live into that blessing now.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (5:7)

When you have a generous heart, even toward those who don’t deserve it, you’ll be shown that same generosity from others, but also by God. For our God is a God who is slow to anger and abounding in compassion, mercy and steadfast love (Exodus 34:6).

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (5:8)

Those whose hearts seek after God actively, who move beyond just outward actions of ritual purity, and toward undivided hearts set on God above all others, they’ll see God. Even if it’s not acknowledged by others, we will experience a transforming vision of God in our lives. “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (5:9)

In a world of strife and division, where hatred and violence abound, those who promote peace, who listen with ears of love, get messy in the midst of conflicts to bring the soothing presence of God’s shalom, are blessed. Such people look like their Father. They’ll enter the everlasting kingdom of peace, but even now they will be kept in perfect peace because their minds are steadfast as they trust in God (Isaiah 26:3).

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (5:10)

Those who live for what God requires, shouldn’t be surprised when opposition comes. That opposition isn’t a curse from God but the reality of a world opposed to God. It means such people have made the decision to enter the blessing of God’s flourishing kingdom more important than worldly blessing.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (5:11-12)

With this last of the Beatitudes, Jesus personalizes the statement, helping His disciples know that in this world they – and all future followers – will have trouble, but they can take heart. The prophets, who lived and spoke for God and His blessed life, also faced the same thing. These are the heroes of the faith, who looked for God’s kingdom and lived in the now in light of that kingdom reality. That’s what it means to flourish and be blessed, even if persecution comes.

Jesus says to all those people gathered around Him, the everyday people with everyday problems, “Wake up, turn around, pay attention. God’s kingdom is right here. Come on in and find your place. God is bringing a blessing in the fullness of time. But even now you are blessed. In God’s kingdom your life is a μακάριος life: fortunate, flourishing, happy…blessed.  Live now in light of that reality.”