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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BEGGARS CAN’T BE CHOOSERS

Give us this day our daily bread… Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Matthew 6:11,26 (RSV)]

BIG CYPRESS FOX SQUIRRELThere’s an old proverb, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” meaning don’t find fault with something received as a gift or favor. Another adage that goes along with it is, “Beggars can’t be choosers.” I thought of those sayings when a friend told of walking into a taco stand when a street person sitting near the entrance asked him for money. Instead of money, my friend offered to buy him a burrito. Once at the counter, he ordered two bean burritos only to hear his homeless dining companion complain, “I ain’t eatin’ no $%2#!* bean burrito—I want a steak one!” My friend has little money to spare but, since the man was getting vociferous, he ordered the steak burrito for his guest and a bean one for himself. Apparently, the man wasn’t familiar with the above proverbs or with the one about a half a loaf being better than none!

Recently, I came across a cartoon drawn by Lynch. It showed Jesus, with piles of loaves and fish, surrounded by a multitude of people calling out to Him: “Is it gluten-free? Is there a vegan option? Are there nuts in those loaves? Was the bread baked locally?” and “Does the fish contain mercury?” While it is just a comic, I imagine some people actually may have muttered things like, “Isn’t there any falafel? I wanted olives! Aren’t there any grapes or figs?” or even, “Is this the best He can do?”

Jesus’s miracles of feeding thousands reassure us that God cares for His people. Moreover, shortly after teaching us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” He reassured us that, since God cares for the birds, He surely cares for us. Although God is concerned about meeting our necessities, sadly, our vision of what is necessary is usually far different than His. We don’t understand what our daily bread is or isn’t. It’s not brioche, a gluten-free all-natural blueberry muffin, one of the $20 deluxe loaves found at New York farmers’ markets, or the £21 ($28) English Shepherd Loaf made from organic Somerset spelt flour, Cotswolds spring water and Cornish sea salt. Moreover, our daily bread probably doesn’t include the extras like Nutella©, honey, fruit preserves, pate or avocado spread. Daily bread is what’s necessary and nothing more.

The words, “We are beggars; this is true,” were written on a scrap of paper found in Martin Luther’s pocket when he died. We are no different than the homeless man at the taco stand or the hungry people gathered on a hillside and probably no more appreciative. Let us reach out and gladly accept God’s love, forgiveness, mercy, Holy Spirit, and daily provision on His terms, not ours. Perhaps, after asking God for our daily bread, we might want to add another prayer: “Help me recognize my needs and appreciate your provision.” Let us remember that beggars can’t be choosers.

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. [Matthew 6:31-32 (RSV]

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WHOSE SIDE?

When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and demanded, “Are you friend or foe?” “Neither one,” he replied. “I am the commander of the Lord’s army.” [Joshua 5:13-14 (NLT)]

red-shouldered hawk

The Israelites had just crossed the Jordan River and were preparing to conquer Canaan when Joshua came upon an armed man. Joshua was a stranger in a foreign land and I wonder if he brandished his sword when asking, “Friend or foe?” Neither Canaanite nor Israelite, the man identified himself as the commander of the Lord’s army. As to whether he was friend or foe, he said his loyalty was to neither side. His allegiance was to God and the only side he was on was God’s! Recognizing him as a divine being, Joshua fell to the ground.

Jump ahead 500 years to King Asa of Judah. Under attack by the Ethiopians, Asa turned to God for guidance. Rather than ask God to be on his side, he prayed that Judah’s side was God’s. In spite of overwhelming odds, Judah’s army was victorious, not because God was on their side but because they were on God’s. Asa then committed his kingdom to seeking God with all their heart and soul. Unfortunately, twenty-one years later, the King forgot whose side he was on. He depleted his nation’s treasury by committing himself to an alliance with Ben-hadad of Aram. Although the alliance at first appeared to be a success, the prophet Hanani rebuked the king for violating his covenant to seek the Lord. His foolishness meant that Judah would continue to be at war for generations. Asa, so sure he was on the right side, never bothered to find out if he was on God’s side.

During the Civil War, one of Abraham Lincoln’s advisors commented that he was grateful God was on their side. The President replied, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

Whether the dispute is ours or someone else’s, getting involved eventually means taking sides. It’s not a question of which side we’ll support. It’s a question of prayerfully determining which side is God’s and understanding there’s a good chance that God has a side all His own. Perhaps, we should take a lesson from Joshua and Asa before taking sides, drawing lines in the sand, making threats, burning bridges, creating alliances, waging battle, or committing ourselves to a cause. It’s not who’s on whose side that matters; it’s simply a matter of whether or not we’re on God’s!

The Lord will stay with you as long as you stay with him! Whenever you seek him, you will find him. But if you abandon him, he will abandon you. [2 Chronicles 15:2b (NLT)]

The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. [2 Chronicles 16:9a (NLT)]

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KNOWING WHY (Discipline – Part 2)

As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever? [Hebrews 12:7-9 (NLT)]

water dropwortSeveral years ago, there was a popular television program in which “Supernanny” Jo Frost would visit a home to help parents deal with the behavior problems of their children. She emphasized the need for both discipline and forgiveness. If children misbehaved or broke a rule after receiving a warning, they served a time-out on the “naughty step.” The parent clearly explained the reason for the discipline and the length of time they’d be sitting there. Once the sentence on the step had been served, the parent offered a second explanation for the discipline. An apology was requested which, once offered, was followed up by a kiss and cuddle and the incident was over and done.

I thought of the nanny’s insistence that an explanation for the discipline was essential. After all, what good is discipline if we don’t understand the reason for it? In yesterday’s devotion about Aravis and Aslan, it was not the wounds that changed Aravis; it was understanding the connection between her wounds and her callous behavior that did. In real life, however, we don’t have a talking lion to explain our wounds. Moreover, God’s discipline involves far more than a few minutes in “time out” and can be more painful than the cuts received by Aravis.

We live in a fallen world and troubles will besiege both the righteous and sinner. As the Book of Job illustrates, not all trouble, hardship, sickness, and disaster come from God’s discipline. Nevertheless, we’re usually more than willing to blame the world rather than ourselves when life goes awry. When we dismiss our troubles simply as bad luck or complain about them without realizing we could be reaping the consequences of our own sin, we miss the point of enduring them. The one thing troubles aren’t is mere chance or fate. All that happens to us is part of God’s providence; there is a reason for the storms of life whether it is direction, inspection, protection, perfection or correction.

Unlike the Supernanny, God doesn’t sit us on the naughty step for as many minutes as our age. If He did, I might spend hours each day sitting on the stairs! We’re not toddlers but even toddlers know when they’ve misbehaved. As for me, with just a little Scripture reading and prayerful thought, I usually know when my troubles are of my own making. Rather than mistakenly asking Him, “Why?” the question should be, “What do you want me to learn from this?” God is far wiser and loving than even Jo Frost and He’ll be sure to tell us! God will sit us on that step, the Holy Spirit will convict us, and Jesus will forgive us. Like the toddler’s error, the incident will be over and done with as far as He is concerned.

For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. [Hebrews 12:10-11 (NLT)]

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FAITHFUL FRIENDS

Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.” … “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” [Mark 2:4b-5,11 (NLT)]

monarch butterfly - cannaJesus had returned to Capernaum and the word was out—the rabbi from Nazareth could heal. People were flocking to Him and the crowd followed Jesus right into the house where he was staying. Four friends of a paralyzed man carried him to see Jesus but the house was so full they couldn’t get through the door. Determined to get to Jesus, they carried the paralyzed man up the outside stairs to the rooftop and started to dig through the thatch. Picture the scene. The room is jam-packed when a disturbance is heard overhead. Dried mud and straw start to fall into the room, a head peaks through, more straw and dirt come spilling through the opening, a mat is dropped, and then four men lower their paralyzed friend down to the ground right at the feet of Jesus.

Rather than heal the man, however, Jesus forgave his sins. Then again, Jesus always put first things first; even more important than health is the forgiveness of sin! Scandalized, the scribes thought His words blasphemy since only God can forgive sins. To prove His authority to forgive, Jesus then healed the paralytic. While the forgiveness of the man’s sins couldn’t be demonstrated, the scribes couldn’t refute the validity of his healing when the once paralyzed man jumped up, grabbed his pallet, and walked. Imagine the gasps of the astonished people as he worked his way through the crowded room to the door.

This story tells us we must be stretcher bearers. When our friends are weak, we should bring them to God as did those four men when they placed the paralytic at Jesus’s feet. We often think that Jesus healed the man because of his faith. Look more carefully at the words; Jesus healed the man because of the faith of his friends! They were so sure that Jesus could heal him that nothing discouraged or stopped them. Like them, nothing should stop us from carrying our friends (or even people we don’t know) to God in prayer. Yet, how often do we offer to pray for someone and pray just once, haphazardly, or not at all? Our faithful prayers can make a difference!

For the last several months, I’ve been praying for a toddler with metastasized cancer. Hundreds of us, many of whom don’t even know her (including fifty from my Tuesday Bible study), have joined in bearing her stretcher and placing it at Jesus’s feet. What looked absolutely hopeless in October looks hopeful today; her scans are good and she’s begun physical therapy. Knowing she still has to face a transplant, radiation, and immunotherapy, her stretcher bearers will continue to carry her until the day she lifts up her pallet and goes home—which brings me to another lesson from this story. It is God, and God alone, who has the authority both to forgive our sins and to answer our prayers. No matter how deep our faith, not everyone whose stretcher we bear will be healed. Some may pick up their pallet and go home to their family but others will pick up their pallet and go home to God. Nevertheless, let us never forget that before Jesus healed, He forgave; while health is not guaranteed, forgiveness is. Thank you, God, for your saving grace!

Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. [Romans 12:12-13a (NLT)]

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