My pastor recently called the book of Romans the Magna Carta of Christianity, because it states what makes our faith unique and includes the details of our faith that are non-negotiable.
A perusal of Romans reveals the following non-negotiables:
The righteous will live by faith (Romans 1:17)
No one can be declared righteous in God’s sight by works of the law (Romans 3:20)
This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Romans 3:22)
Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11)
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39)
Have you ever heard of “Dunbar’s Number”? Discovered by British evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar, it is the human norm that the number of genuinely personal relationships a person can actively maintain is 150, give or take. Dunbar and his colleagues note that “150 people is both the approximate size of a typical small-scale human village and about the number of people who can live or work together without needing power structures to enforce cooperation. The group is small enough that social pressures can keep people in line” (“Does Your Pastor Need a Friend?” Christianity Today, October 2017, p. 62).
I find this interesting because at a recent conference I attended, the keynote speaker said that currently a majority of congregations in America have an average weekly attendance of guess what? 150 members.
It occurs to me that this is not simply a coincidence. 150 appears to be the sweet spot for most churches for the very reasons that research for Dumbar’s Number indicates:
It keeps the group manageable. People do not become just a number. People know them by name. Functions can happen without an overflow of people and not in an oversize room.
It keeps the group personal. Everybody knows each other and can keep relationships functioning. People care about one another because they know them well and see them often.
It keeps the group accountable. People notice when others are missing and can follow up with them. People can see when fellow members are straying and can bring them back into the fold. There is a sense that people are expected to be present at certain times and be there for one another in times of need.
One of my favorite songs on Christian radio these days is “Soul on Fire” by Third Day. Take a listen:
What I like most about this song is the strong beat and the positive uplifting tone. There is excitement and movement in being a Christian in the world that is sometimes lost in our often ordered and mannered worship.
The reality is that there is the fire of the Holy Spirit burning within our souls. And that Spirit’s fire needs to get out and spread to the people and circumstances around us.
And what helps us to release that Spirit’s fire from within us? As the song says, it is our desire through the Holy Spirit to be “running for (God’s) heart” and “longing for (God’s) ways.”
A new song by MercyMe is getting a lot of air play on Christian radio lately. The song is “Even If” and it is based on this passage from Scripture from the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace:
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” —Daniel 3:16-18
The faith of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego was so strong that they knew that even if God did not save them from the fiery furnace, God was still their God and loved them.
So often we think of God as some sort of genie who dispenses wishes. It is like we are saying to God sometimes, “Our wish is your command.” But that, of course, is not how prayer works and how God works. God knows what is best for us and he knows what we need more than we do and he knows what will impact the world in the most profound way. Sometimes the answer to our prayers is yes. Sometimes it is no. Sometimes it is not now, but later. And sometimes it is yes, but in a way you will not expect.
We all know the saying “An elephant never forget.” Christ Lutheran Church in Shreveport, Louisiana, used this saying to their advantage to start a program of sending elephant stuffed animals to sick children in the hospital. Each elephant can be colored and written on by friends and family of the hospitalized child. Each elephant also comes with a book with the message that “an elephant never forgets, and God never forgets you.” In the cold and sterile and often chaotic environment of the hospital, the elephant stuffed animal provides comfort and encouragement and a feeling of home. Approximately 800 children have received Forget-Me-Not Elephants through the program (“Forget Me Not,” Lutheran Woman’s Quarterly, Summer 2017, p. 28).
This story touched my heart because one of my sister’s favorite stuffed animals was a hand-made elephant named Ellie that she received as a baby from my mom’s best friend from high school. As the years went by, Ellie’s ears frayed at the edges, her nose was torn and stuffing pooched out from the sides. She even went through the wash a few times (sometimes by accident), which cleaned her up a bit. But nothing would stop my sister from keeping Ellie by her side when she went to bed at night—even into high school. Now Ellie has a special place in my sister’s daughter’s room.
In a recent article in Christianity Today on the increasing threat of automation in the workforce, authors Kevin Brown and Steven McMullen highlighted an expression from author and columnist David Brooks, who has talked about the difference between résumé virtues (marketplace skills) vs. eulogy virtues (human goodness and character) (“Hope in the Humanless Economy,” Christianity Today, July/August 2017, 36).
We as Christians are not to put all of our thoughts and energy regarding our lives and livelihood into the résumé virtues basket. Jobs change, skill sets become obsolete and our careers need not define who are at our very core. As followers of Christ, we, instead, need to focus on the eulogy virtues, those things that we have learned from our Savior about showing unconditional love to others, serving in humility those around us and being respectful and genuine toward one another.
On a garden tour I attended this summer, I learned about a plant called the moonflower. Believe it or not, this is a flower that only blooms at night under the light of the moon. Here’s how it is described on the Better Homes and Gardens website:
Moonflower is one of the most romantic plants you can grow in the garden. It’s a statuesque, ideal evening-garden plant bearing large trumpet-shape flowers that unfurl in the evening (or on overcast days) and stay open until the sun rises. Some are sweetly fragrant when open.
For some reason, that flower got me to thinking about how some of our gravest and most fearful moments hit us at night. How many times have we woken up with a start in the night in a panic, worried about an approaching deadline or an unresolved issue of some kind?
We sang the song “O Come to the Altar” by Elevation Worship a few Sundays ago in church, and I was struck by this refrain:
The Father’s arms are open wide.
As those words were woven into the lyrics and repeated throughout, the powerful meaning of that image filled me with comfort and confidence. No matter where I have been, what I have done, when I return to him in repentance, God’s arms are always open wide to receive me.
There is a moment in the youtube version of the song link below where the audience sings these words in unison, and I can feel the collective relief and unburdening in the people’s voices. Take a listen, if you have a moment here:
I am reminded of the scene in the story of the Prodigal Son when the father sees his wayward son from a distance and runs with arms open wide to embrace him. At the very heart of our relationship with God is a longing and desire to be wrapped in his embrace and surrounded by the peace, security and strength only he can provide.
Privatization is a social position that is becoming more and more prevalent in our society today. It is the philosophy of being noncommittal or uninvolved in anything other than one’s own immediate interests or lifestyle.
One of the greatest impacts of privatization on the Church has been the prevailing attitude that “Whatever you believe, keep it to yourself.” The result is that “it guts the energy out of the Great Commission and efforts to share the Gospel,” which are, of course, the main tenets of the Church (Schmidt, J. David, Choosing to Live).
A recent segment on 60 Minutes detailed the activities of “brain hacking” taking place among computer companies in the designs of their social media platforms and apps.
Programmers have developed algorithms that take advantage of the brain’s desires for pleasure, Responses to status updates from other users are often spaced out over a period of time to drive us to check our devices more. And “likes” are sometimes bunched up together so that our brains feel a greater sense of reward when they are revealed.
Beyond making me somewhat mad at Facebook and the like for playing with our minds like this, the story reminded me that there are many things that have a greater influence over our brains than we realize.