So if our shared life in the king brings you any comfort; if love still has the power to make you cheerful; if we really do have a partnership in the spirit; if your hearts are at all moved with affection and sympathy – then make my joy complete! Bring your thinking into line with one another. Here’s how to do it. Hold on to the same love; bring your innermost lives into harmony; fix your minds on the same object. Never act out of selfish ambition or vanity; instead, regard everybody else as your superior. Look after each other’s best interests, not your own. [Philippians 2:1-4 (NTE)]

gulls - clam passYesterday, I wrote about koinonia or what I called the art of Christian community. Writing about Christian fellowship, however, can be easier than actually living in it. Just as a family has a vast array of different personalities, temperaments, and gifts, so does the church. In fact, with our sheltering in place, social distancing, working from home, having children home all day, and parks, playgrounds, gyms, and beaches all closed, some of us might be having more difficulty maintaining a spirit of fellowship with one another in our own homes than in our churches!

The Greek word used for “one another” was allelon, meaning reciprocally or mutually. Often translated as “one another,” “themselves,” “mutually,” “yourselves together,” or “each other,” allelon is used 101 times in the New Testament. 59 of those occurrences are found in specific commands teaching us how we are to relate (or not to relate) to one another. It is in those 59 commands that we learn how to have true koinonia in both church and home.

Sixteen of those allelon commands are to love one another which, at times, can be easier said than done. The other forty-three allelon commands show us what that Christian love looks like. Many have to do with empathy, compassion, and understanding. While rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep isn’t technically a “one another” command, it is followed by one that tells us to be like minded with one another. Often translated as “live in harmony,” Paul isn’t saying we all have to agree on everything; he’s telling us to adjust to one another. While we don’t have to sing the same note everyone else is singing, our song should harmonize with theirs! Along this same line, we’re told to care for and encourage one another, be kind and tender-hearted, and bear one another’s burdens.

Several allelon commands have to do with controlling our emotions. We’re told to be patient with one another, bind ourselves together in peace, warned not to grumble about one another, and cautioned to beware of destroying one another. Of course, to do that we need to overlook what we don’t like and focus on what we do. Cautioning us not to pass judgment, we’re told to bear with one another, which means treating one another with kindness and grace. Rather than demanding perfection, we are to endure the quirks and peculiarities of others. Along with the many commands about forgiving, we are told to be humble, serve one another, take delight in honoring each other, and clothe ourselves with humility. While most of us find it easy to pray for one another, confessing to one another is a bit harder; none of us want to admit being wrong and yet we often are!

“We are not strictly bound to ‘like’ one another,” wrote Thomas Merton, but he prefaced that statement with the words, “We are obliged to love one another.” Whether it’s getting along with our church family or our own family, we may not like everyone, but we can love them and seek the best for them. Rather than a warm fuzzy feeling, the love we have for one another is a lifestyle and a choice. It comes down to what Jesus said was the essence of the Law and the Prophets: loving God and loving one another. Try as we may, we can’t do it on our own strength—only through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is when we are secure in God’s love that we can share it with one another. In the spirit of true Christian fellowship, let us love one another!

What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort. Christians come together because they have all been loved by Jesus himself. They are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake. [D.A. Carson]

Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son to be the sacrifice that would atone for our sins. Beloved, if that’s how God loved us, we ought to love one another in the same way. Nobody has ever seen God. If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is completed in us. [1 John 4:10-12 (NTE)]

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pelicans - royal terns - clam passGod is faithful! And it is through God that you have been called into the fellowship of his son, King Jesus, our Lord. Now I must appeal to you, my brothers and sisters, through the name of King Jesus our Lord, that you should all be in agreement, and that there should be no divisions among you. Instead, you should be fully equipped with the same mind and the same opinion. [1 Corinthians 1:9-10 (NTE)]

Because there are various Christian fellowship associations, our churches have fellowship halls, and they sponsor fellowship meetings, meals, and events, we tend to associate Christian fellowship with friendship and socializing. Christian fellowship, however, is a great deal more than simply spending time with other believers. The Greek word commonly translated as “fellowship” is koinonia. While it does mean fellowship, association, community, and communion, it also denotes intimacy, participation, or a share which one has in something. No one English word fully captures all that koinonia encompasses.

Signifying more than merely associating with each other, the sharing of food and necessities, or even joining together in the celebration of the Eucharist, Paul used koinonia to include the fellowship Christ’s followers have both with one another and with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the church’s sharing of Jesus’ sufferings, and their combined effort both to serve one another and to spread the gospel with the funding of missions work. In that light, koinonia (Christian fellowship) is far more than filling a pew for an hour a week, gathering for coffee before services, or bringing a dish to a church potluck. Rather than a membership in a club, koinonia is more like the commitment a businessman makes when he forms a partnership and it was during a video Bible study with N.T. Wright that I first heard koinonia translated as “partnership.”

Perhaps, because my husband has been involved in several business ventures with partners, the word “partnership” resonated with me. His partners were more than just acquaintances, friends, or colleagues and their partnerships required an investment of some kind. In some cases that was a capital investment but, in others, it was sweat equity through a service that added value. Along with financial responsibility, his business partners shared the same vision and goals, were passionate about their venture, and motivated in pursuing it. Seeing themselves as a team, they didn’t base decisions on their individual wants but looked to what was best for the business. They knew and appreciated both their own strengths and weaknesses and those of their partners. Because his partners were committed, ethical, honest, and dependable, his ventures succeeded.

Sometimes, we mistakenly think of ourselves as customers and the church as a business we patronize; if we like the ambiance, approve of the message, and enjoy being with the other patrons, we continue to support it. That, however, is not koinonia! We may not get the minister’s or worship leader’s paychecks, but we are partners with them and with each other. If anyone is the customer in this scenario, it is God! He is the One we all serve and the one we are supposed to please. He is the One who matters and He, as the only customer, is always right!

Simply put, koinonia is the art of Christian community. In the spirit of koinonia, rather than “members,” many churches have what they call “partners.” With membership, people are inclined to ask, “What do I get from this group?” but, when we become partners, we ask “What do I bring to this group?” Partnership means a commitment (and not just to regular attendance). It’s a commitment to study, serve, and support. It means living an authentic Christian life both in and out of church, growing in God’s word, praying with and for others, focusing on commonality rather than differences, sharing spiritually and materially, and reaching out to others. In koinonia, our connection to Jesus connects us to one another and we become partners in Christ!

The winning word in the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee was koinonia. Knowing how to spell it or even knowing what it means is useless, however, unless, as Christians, we live in koinonia!

My prayer is this: that the partnership which goes with your faith may have its powerful effect, in realizing every good thing that is at work in us to lead us into the King. [Philemon 1:6 (NTE)]

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white-lined sphinx mothYou must not steal. [Exodus 20:15 (NLT)]

The wicked borrow and never repay, but the godly are generous givers. [Psalm 37:21 (NLT)]

Pay it Forward is more than the title of a novel or a film and today happens to be “Pay It Forward Day:” a worldwide celebration of kindness that takes place every year on April 28th. The pay it forward movement began with Catherine Ryan Hyde’s novel in which a young boy starts with the idea that, by doing a good deed for three people and then asking them to “pay it forward” to three more people, a human chain letter of kindness would be created that could go on forever. Paying it forward, however, is a long-standing philosophy. More than one hundred years ago, novelist Lily Hardy Hammond wrote, ”You don’t pay love back; you pay it forward,” and, in 1841, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that, “The benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody.” We can trace the idea back further to Benjamin Fanklin but the source of the concept is found in Scripture.

We’re all familiar with the prohibition against stealing in the eighth commandment. Most of us think of stealing as a criminal offense. Since we’re not likely to rob a bank, mug an old lady, break and enter, or even defraud people of their life savings, we probably feel pretty self-righteous when pondering this commandment. Reading Psalm 37, however, brought me to a wider interpretation of theft: “The wicked borrow and never repay…”

After a little thought, I think we’ll agree that if we borrow money, a lawnmower or even a book and don’t return it, we’ve stolen the item. But, what about other things that we might have taken from our family, friends and neighbors? What about the time someone spent teaching us to knit, change a tire, or use a computer? What about the guidance someone gave during a difficult time in our lives? What about the mentoring we received from teachers or fellow workers or the assistance offered by a neighbor when we were laid up and couldn’t fend for ourselves? What about the person who took a risk, trusted our ability, or gave us a valuable opportunity? Granted, the people who offered these things never expected payment in return. Moreover, in most cases, they don’t need those lessons, guidance, mentoring, assistance or opportunities returned. Regardless, don’t we still have a debt to settle? If we’ve received the gift of a good deed, don’t we have the obligation of repaying that debt to someone else in need?

Paying it forward means far more than just buying coffee for the person behind you at Starbucks. Perhaps it’s time to give that eighth commandment some serious thought. Is there a debt we haven’t yet repaid? And yet, even if no one ever did anything kind to us, we are still called to pay it forward. By God’s grace, we are saved and there is no way we can ever repay our debt to Him. Nevertheless, we can pay it forward by extending His grace and kindness to all we meet. Rather than just doing kindness, let us live it!

I do not pretend to give such a deed; I only lend it to you. When you … meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro’ many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money. [Benjamin Franklin, written on April 25, 1784]

Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. [Matthew 7:12 (NLT)]

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Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools, or you will become as foolish as they are. Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools, or they will become wise in their own estimation. [Proverbs 26:4-5 NLT)

owlSince they’re not hard and fast rules, some proverbs are contradictory. Perhaps the most glaring contradiction (and one non-believers love to mention) is found in Proverbs 26:4-5. First, we’re told not to answer the foolish argument of fools but then we’re told to do that very thing!

Proverbs 26:4 reminds us never to stoop to the fool’s level, which can mean anything from answering vindictively or hurtfully to resorting to half-truths or misinformation. Foolish arguments often come from out of the blue. Unanticipated, we rarely are prepared with specifics, facts and evidence to answer intelligently. I recently had such a situation during a casual dinner conversation with a fervent global warming denier. I thought him a “fool” and his “facts” misleading and incorrect but, at the time, I wasn’t armed with decisive evidence of my own. Replying, “I’m not so sure about that,” I moved on to another, less controversial, topic. When we imitate the style of a fool, we become fools ourselves and, had I entered into a debate at that time, I would have looked as foolish as did he!

On the other hand, Proverb 26:5 tells us there are times when foolishness and absurdity must be brought to light and rebuked: that fools should be dealt with to prevent credibility being given to their words. While we can ignore the fool in trivial situations or on negligible issues, the fool should be answered on issues that matter, especially in a more public setting. For example, there were several of us together when one person made a sweeping and offensive generalization about a minority. In that case, his incorrect and offensive statement required an answer, both to correct him and to make clear his opinion was not shared. When remaining silent supports a fool’s position, his assertion should be answered, especially if there is a possibility of enlightening him.

The New Bible Commentary describes fools as “students who have accumulated knowledge but not acquired the ability to apply it: like someone who has a dangerous weapon but does not know how to use it.” We would be fools if we thought one proverb covers every situation. Life is complex and there is no one solution to every problem. How we respond to foolish, irrational, obtuse, fatuous, thoughtless, or futile arguments depends on the circumstances. The point of Proverbs is to teach discernment and the truly wise do more than recite proverbs; they know how and when to apply them. Regarding these two contradictory proverbs, Ecclesiastes tells us, there is “a time to for every activity under heaven.” If we’re not sure which time it is, the Apostle James reminds us to ask God for wisdom.

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. … A time to be quiet and a time to speak. [Ecclesiastes 3:1,7b (NLT)]

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. [James 1:5 (NLT)]

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Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. [Psalm 100:1-2 (ESV)]

The surest mark of a Christian is not faith, or even love, but joy.[ Samuel M. Shoemaker]

great blue heronWhen we retired, we joked that our pill boxes were the only way we knew the day of the week. Now that we’re sheltering in place, that is more true than funny. For young and old alike, the days are blending one into the other with the only difference between yesterday and today being the news (which just seems to gets worse).

While COVID-19 is an enemy lurking at our door, chances are another enemy has already entered our lives: common garden variety depression—what I call the glums and gloomies. As the days wear on, it’s harder to see the bright side of life. Built for community, we now live in a world where kisses are weapons and we show our love by staying away from one another! Instead of hoarding toilet paper and bleach wipes, we wish we’d stockpiled hugs. We’d happily trade a bottle of hand sanitizer just to cuddle with a grand for a minute or shake a friend’s hand.

This prolonged isolation reminds me of a winter spent at our mountain home back in 1997. Having broken my knee the first day on the slopes, my mobility was severely limited. In spite of having hung up my skis for the season, I maintained good spirits until my husband and son departed for two weeks on business. Although they left me well stocked with food and a stack of library books, it was just me, my crutches, and the four walls for the duration and the glums and gloomies descended in full force. In one of those beautiful God-incidences, I happened upon an Oprah show about keeping a gratitude journal. Since my days were all the same, writing down five things for which I was grateful every day was a challenge at first. But, once I started, it got easier as I found joy in little everyday things: seeing a cardinal on the back deck, getting a phone call, reading a good book, or sipping cocoa by the fire on a snowy night! That gratitude journal was my life-line to sanity (and continues to be one today) because it moved my focus from me and my misery to God and His goodness.

When the glums and gloomies visited one of my friends fourteen years ago, she made a list of the things that gave her joy and ended up with about fifty things—none of which cost money. As with my gratitude journal, her entries weren’t deep spiritual thoughts: just simple things like hearing her little grand’s giggle, balancing her checkbook on the first try, or seeing her golf ball miss the water hazard. Although she’s made a few revisions and additions to the list through the years, she still pulls out her catalog of joy whenever she feels depression knocking at her door! I imagine she’s been looking at it a lot nowadays.

It’s easy to be grateful when life is good but, when life takes a downhill slide into discouragement or despair, gratitude doesn’t come naturally—certainly not easily. Nevertheless, it’s worth the effort. Even though the world has gone topsy turvy, we can be thankful because our sovereign God, a God who loves and cherishes us, is firmly in control. We can be thankful that, even though we are apart from one another, we are not alone; we are united in Christ with other believers. We can be thankful because we have the hope given to us by Jesus. We may not feel grateful for all that has occurred but we can be grateful by choosing to look beyond our circumstances. We don’t have to be thankful for this pandemic but we can practice being thankful in the midst of it.

Between the horror of this pandemic and the sameness of our days, we must be intentional about gratitude and joy and open our eyes to God’s many blessings. An attitude of gratitude, even in our trials, is what distinguishes us as Christians. What would you write in a gratitude journal today? What would be in your catalog of joy?

The Christian who walks with the Lord and keeps constant communion with Him will see many reason for rejoicing and thanksgiving all day long.[Warren Wiersbe]

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.  [Psalm 100:4-5 (NLT)]

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Children, let us not love in word, or in speech, but in deed and in truth. [1 John 3:18 (NTE)]

lilyEven though we live 1,400 miles away, I still stay in touch with our northern church; after all, it was our church home for forty-six years. Over the last several months, I’ve joined them in a weekly abundance exercise, the purpose of which is to realize the abundance in life promised by Jesus. Reminding me that “love is an action word,” my abundance assignment was: “Be love to a family member or an old friend you haven’t spoken to in a while.” I was to call or visit someone with whom I’d fallen out of touch and the reconnect was to be more than a quick note or text. Since my calendar was already crowded with meetings, guests, deadlines, chores, and other obligations, I griped that the last thing I wanted or needed was another task (even if it was as simple as meeting an old friend for lunch). With an abundance of items on my to-do list, I certainly didn’t need one more to have an abundant life! I figured this exercise could wait for a more convenient time.

That was my frame of mind when, the following day, I learned that the pastor at my northern church has metastatic cancer. There’s nothing like a cancer diagnosis to put things into proper perspective. While I’d been complaining that showing a little love to someone was inconvenient and disruptive, he’d been given a diagnosis that truly was inconvenient, disruptive, and life-changing!

While grumbling about the inconvenience of the exercise, I’d missed the whole point: love. Indeed, love is an action word and rarely is there anything convenient about it. Selflessness, generosity, patience, kindness, bearing all things, and enduring all things: none of that sounds convenient and sacrifice always comes with a cost! In the ultimate act of love, God sacrificed His only Son for us yet I dared to grumble about arranging a lunch date! Out of love, Jesus laid down His life for us sinners but I didn’t seem to have time to spare for a friend! Yes, love often is inconvenient, even challenging, but we must never consider love to be a burden.

The pastor’s troubling diagnosis and the unexpected news I received the next morning that my sister died are vivid reminders of why we should reconnect with those we’ve let drift away. We don’t know if there will be a more convenient time tomorrow, next week, or the week after because we don’t know what the future will bring either for them or for us. There never will be a better time to be love to someone than today! Ann Voskamp said, “You love as well as you are willing to be inconvenienced.” Is there someone to whom you should be love? There’s no better time than right now to do it!

Three keys to more abundant living: caring about others, daring for others, sharing with others. [William Arthur Ward]

“I’m giving you a new commandment, and it’s this: love one another! Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another. This is how everybody will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for each other.” John 13:34 (NTE)]

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