CATHOLIC WITH A SMALL “C”

Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. [Ephesians 2:20-21 (NLT)]

We believe in…the holy catholic church. [Apostle’s Creed]

snowy egret - clam passAs a little girl, I remember asking a friend what her religion was. When she simply replied, “Christian,” I wasn’t satisfied. I wanted to know whether she was Protestant or Catholic and, if Protestant, was she Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, or Episcopalian. She, however, kept insisting she was Christian. Like many, I was confusing religion with denomination. As a youngster, when reciting the creed, since we didn’t attend the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I wondered why we said we believed in the catholic church when we didn’t go there. It wasn’t until my confirmation class that I understood what believing in “the holy catholic church” meant.

After two decades of membership in a Christian church in town, a friend recently left it to attend another one. As one of the “prayer warriors” at her previous church, she received a weekly list of prayer requests. Within a week of changing churches, however, she stopped getting the list. She contacted the pastor, shared that her love for her brothers and sisters in Christ did not stop when she changed her place of worship, and asked to keep receiving the lists so she could continue offering her prayers for their needs and praises for their blessings. Unfortunately, her request fell on deaf ears. Perhaps, just as I did when a child, the pastor has confused one’s place and manner of worship with what it means to be part of the church.

Our brothers and sisters in Christ may belong to different churches and worship in different ways, but we all are members of the holy catholic church. That “catholic” with the small “c” is not to be confused with the capital C as in (Roman) Catholic. To avoid misunderstanding, some Protestant churches prefer to say “holy Christian church” when reciting the creeds. Regardless of the term used, this catholic (or universal Christian) church is what’s left over when all the church buildings burn down and the priests and ministers leave town. The term originates from the first century and the words of Ignatius of Antioch: “Where Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church.”

Indeed, wherever Christ is, there we find the church. Without a doubt, Jesus tells us to pray and there is power in prayer. Why anybody would arbitrarily decide who is allowed to pray for someone or whose prayers God will hear is beyond me. I’ll gladly welcome any prayer sent my way, regardless of who prays it or where they attend church. If they believe in and worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, they are my brothers and sisters and members of my church—the holy catholic church—the church of Christ!

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. [Galatians 3:26-29 (NLT)]

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DAILY BREAD

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:19 (RSV)]

daily breadYesterday, I wrote that “daily bread” refers to our necessities. What, then, are the necessities of life? The most obvious meaning is the food needed to sustain us physically. In spite of the hunger that exists in our nation, with 36% of adults and nearly 20% of children considered overweight or obese (according to the CDC), most of us have more than enough bread. So, can those of us with plenty to eat skip this petition? Martin Luther would say, “No.” When he explained the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, he defined “daily bread” as the following:

Everything included in the necessities and nourishment for our bodies, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, farm, fields, livestock, money, property, and upright spouse, upright children, upright members of the household, upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like. [Small Catechism (Martin Luther)]

For Luther, the words “daily bread” encompass far more than whatever is necessary to sustain life. He expands it to mean whatever is necessary for a good life. In a mostly agrarian society, it’s easy to see why farm, fields, livestock, and good weather were a necessity to Luther’s congregations. Nevertheless, they’re still necessary in our increasingly urban society—without those, our grocery stores would be empty. When we continue to think in broader terms, Luther’s list makes as much sense today as it did in 1529. While we probably don’t have servants as members of our household, we may have employees or co-workers in business and we all depend upon other people’s employees when we dine out, bank, shop, visit the doctor, or take medicine. We may not have (or want) a spouse or children, but today’s children are tomorrow’s employers, judges, mechanics, police and office holders and we need strong and upright family units to raise them to be good ones.

After reading Luther’s list, I began to think seriously about what I considered necessary for life and it was far more than food, clothing and shelter. We all need friends and neighbors along with good government, peace, health, decency, and honor and yet I’d never thought of these necessities as daily bread until I read Luther’s words. Let us never forget that along with both our physical requirements and the less observable needs of life like friendship, there is yet another kind of bread for which we ask. When we ask for our daily bread, we ask for the true bread of life—Jesus Christ; the bread that satisfies our spiritual hunger. He is, indeed, a necessity for life both in this world and the next.

Our Father in heaven…give us this day our daily bread!

“For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” [John 6:33-35 (RSV)]

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MAKE IT SPECIAL

Lowdermilk Park - Naples FLRemember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. [Exodus 20:8-10a (NLT)]

I’ve always thought of the first four commandments as being about our relationship with God and the next six about our relationship with people. The fourth commandment, however, seems to be a bridge between the two sections. It has as much to do with us as it does with God or our neighbor. Reminding us that we have six days in the week to work, it tells us to stop work on the seventh and to keep the Sabbath holy by setting it aside and dedicating it to God. Knowing how mankind loves to bypass rules, we’re told not to miss the point by expecting others to work for us either. Rather than a “thou shalt not” law, this commandment is a gift to us from God—the gift of rest!

As happened with many of God’s commands, the Israelites took a simple law and, by adding their own restrictions and interpretations, made what was a blessing into an inconvenience. Since His hungry disciples plucked grain on the Sabbath and Jesus had no qualms about healing on that day, He often came into conflict with the Pharisees about His Sabbath observance (or lack thereof). When criticized, Jesus made it clear that the Sabbath was made for man and should not be an onerous legal requirement.

While Christians aren’t bound by the Old Testament directives, Jesus never said to ignore the Sabbath. For most Christians, other than attending church, Sundays seem much like any other day. Parking lots are full at the grocery and mall, cell phones and the internet keep us in touch with work, the kids have sports and homework, and Sundays have become the day to complete everything that didn’t get done during the week. With families scattered every which way, even the traditional Sunday dinner (complete with cousins and grandparents sitting at the table) is but a distant memory.

Being retired, my husband and I have six Saturdays and one Sunday in our week so we can rest any time we want! The Sabbath, however, is more than taking a nap in front of the TV. God said to make it holy which means to set it apart. We can do that by taking something away (as did the Israelites with work) or by adding something to it (as we are doing).

On Sundays, we’re attempting to disconnect from the world and connect with one another, family, friends, and God by consciously doing something out of the ordinary. It can be as little as playing Rummikub or doing a jigsaw puzzle together to a bags tourney with our neighbors or a barbecue for church friends. Trusting God for enough hours in the other six days, we’re deliberately setting aside time for relaxation, laughter, fun, and fellowship.

How Sunday can be set apart from the rest of the week, in a way that both honors God and nurtures us, will vary from family to family. It’s probably naïve to think children won’t do homework and working moms and dads won’t have to play catch-up with chores. Nevertheless, we must remember why God gave us this commandment. He wants us to recharge our batteries: to rest from the week’s busyness, to take a break from our daily routine, to connect one another, and to rest in Him. When we neglect the Sabbath, we neglect ourselves and turn whatever it is we do the rest of the week into tedium and drudgery. God doesn’t need a Sabbath, but we surely do.

Thank you, God, for Sundays. May we make them days of worship, renewal, rest, peace, and joy.

A world without a Sabbath would be like a man without a smile, like a summer without flowers, and like a homestead without a garden. It is the joyous day of the whole week. [Henry Ward Beecher]

Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!” [Mark 2:27-28 (NLT)]

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DOWN BUT NOT OUT

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. … Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. [Galatians 6:2,10 (NLT)]

damaged cypress trees - corkscrew swampHurricane Irma did quite a number on our southwest Florida bird sanctuary. Unfortunately, much of the boardwalk was damaged (some of it beyond repair) and there were several casualties among the trees, including two 100-foot cypress trees that proudly stood for over 400 years. Like them, many smaller trees were uprooted and now lie dead on the forest floor. Irma’s high winds did some violent and cruel pruning as it stripped bark, tore off branches, and splintered mature trees as if they were mere matchsticks. Cypress trees that were over 40-feet tall are now little more than stumps. Nevertheless, trees I thought were goners are recovering and greening up; new foliage is emerging out of their fractured tops and sides. In spite of the incredible damage they suffered, their roots still support and feed them with life giving water and they’re surviving. They may be down but they’re certainly not out.

I thought of the storms we endure in our lives; while some may be no worse than a noisy thunderstorm, others can be as devastating as a hurricane. Age and size certainly can’t keep us from falling. Nevertheless, the storm couldn’t defeat all of the trees and the setbacks and storms of life don’t have to defeat us. Like the damaged cypress trees with their new growth, we can stay rooted, survive and even thrive.

We do that through the church. Just as roots aren’t optional for trees, the church really isn’t an option for the Christian. I’m not talking about a building or a specific denomination; I’m speaking of a community of believers who belong to Christ and are bound together by both the gospel and the presence of the Holy Spirit. The church is what supports us when we start to fall, grounds us when we falter, and nurtures us with living water when we’ve been weakened.

God revealed himself to mankind when he became incarnate as Jesus Christ. As Christ’s followers, we reveal Him to mankind through the church—the church actually is Christ incarnate. As His hands and feet, heart and voice, we are the ones who keep, support, encourage, lift and comfort the broken and bruised. We are the ones who provide the nourishment and water that allow the damaged to grow and blossom once again. Like a tree that supports another one or the roots that ground and nourish it, the living breathing church is what makes it possible for our brothers and sisters to say, “I may be down, but I’m not out!”

 

All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. [1 Corinthians 12:27 (NLT)]

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SANCTIFIED

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. [1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NIV)]

This life, therefore is not righteousness but growth in righteousness, not health but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on our way. The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the end but it is the right road. At present, everything is being cleaned. [Martin Luther]

great blue heronI looked at my two sons and wondered when the tow-headed youngster’s hair darkened, his brother’s brown hair turned gray, and they both got those wrinkles around their eyes. At what point did the children who once thought Kraft mac n’ cheese to be high cuisine become gourmet cooks? When did my reckless boys become so sensible and wise? They matured into men so gradually that I wasn’t even aware of the changes as they happened.

When I look in the mirror each morning, I can’t see how I’m any different than I was the previous day but one look at my old photos tells me that, like my boys, I am not who I once was. Transformation, whether internal or external, is a gradual process; it seems almost impossible to spot as it’s happening. Nevertheless, it takes place.

When we accept Jesus, we are justified: set free by the blood of Christ, our sins are forgiven and we are spiritually reborn. Our work, however, has just begun because we still sin. Like babies who must learn to walk, we then begin the process of what is called sanctification and learn how to walk in the steps of Jesus. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we gradually transform from newborn Christians into mature ones. Growing in grace, we become obedient to God’s Word, understand His ways and, little by little, become more like Christ.

Although challenges are often accompanied by spiritual growth spurts, for the most part, we transform gradually and may not be conscious of it. If we look back, however, we’ll probably see the difference our growing faith in Jesus has made in the way we conduct our lives. Somewhere along the line, we developed enough patience to deal with our tiresome neighbor, wisdom to counsel a troubled friend, self-control to step away from an argument, or peace in the midst of turmoil. We’ll realize how the Holy Spirit has steadily produced bountiful fruit in our lives and matured us from baby Christians into adolescents and beyond. We’ve come a long way; yet, we have a long way to grow!

At my age, I prefer the face and body I had twenty years ago to the one I have now. On the other hand, I prefer the woman I am today to the woman of decades past. While I don’t look forward to seeing more wrinkles in the mirror, I do look forward to the changes the Holy Spirit makes as I continue the process of sanctification. I’m not who and what I used to be but I’m still nowhere close to the woman God wants me to be.

Yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was; a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” [John Newton]

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. [1 Corinthians 15:10 (NIV)]

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  [Philippians 3:12 (NIV)]

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HONOR THY FAMILY

mute swans and cygnetsThey [the Pharisees] asked him, “Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.” Jesus replied, “And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God?” [Matthew 15:1b-3 (NLT)]

When the Pharisees asked Jesus why his disciples ignored tradition and didn’t wash their hands before eating, theirs was not a sanitation or health question. Rather than dirt, they were concerned about defilement. More interested in washing their hands than purifying their hearts, they believed hands could become ritually unclean even by touching someone as “unclean” as a Gentile or tax collector. Eating with unwashed hands meant that the sinner’s impurity was passed to the food which would defile the person eating it. Some Pharisees even considered eating with unwashed hands as sinful as sex with a prostitute. Although Salmonella and E. coli can be passed along on someone’s hands to their food, someone’s sins certainly can’t.

Jesus responded to their question with one of His own when He asked the Pharisees why they violated God’s commandments. After all, breaking a man-made tradition is hardly the same as breaking one of God’s direct commands. The Pharisees had a tradition called korban (meaning “a gift” or “offering”).  When a korban vow was made, the Pharisee transferred all of his assets to the temple but retained the use of them until his death (sort of a “life estate”). Those assets could not be transferred or used to benefit anyone else. As a result, while the Pharisee could live quite comfortably, he could not help the poor, disadvantaged or even his parents. The commandment they were neglecting was the fifth one—that of honoring one’s father and mother. A wealthy Pharisee’s parents could be in dire financial straits and yet he could self-righteously ignore their pleas for help. As so often happened with the Pharisees, they supplanted God’s command of honoring parents with a law that gave them prestige and honored only them!

Willing to neglect their family responsibilities in the name of religion, the Pharisees had misplaced priorities. I thought of them when one of our pastors proposed we ask ourselves what things we value the most, in what order we put them, and how we allot our resources to them. He then shared his experience of being called into a council meeting at another church several years ago. When questioned about the amount of time he gave the church, his response was that he lost one family when he put the church first and he was not about to lose his new one the same way. Family would always come before the church. Note—he didn’t say God but “the church” and there can be a big difference between the two.

In effect, the Pharisees put the church or religion before both God and family. If we look at those Ten Commandments, the first four have to do with our relationship with God; the rest have to do with our relationship to other people and parents are at the top of that list. It would seem that, after God, our next priority should be family; after all, once done with creation, God created the family unit (and not the church).

While we probably won’t pledge our entire estate to the church while watching our parents lose their homes or beg on the street, I wonder if, as our pastor once did, we occasionally misplace our priorities. Do we allow our church responsibilities to overshadow our family ones? There are lots of worthy causes and, sometimes, we’re torn as to where to put our resources. While we’re never too busy for God, God work and church work aren’t always the same; there is a fine line between the two. Although I don’t pretend to know where it is, I think the Holy Spirit will let us know when we’ve crossed it. The Pharisees turned a deaf ear to the needs of their families; we must never do the same.

If God cared only about religious activities, then the Pharisees would have been heroes of the faith. [Francis Chan]

But those who won’t care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith. Such people are worse than unbelievers. [1 Timothy 5:8 (NLT)]

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