Don’t Rebuild Walls Christ Destroyed

Scripture Focus: Ephesians 2.11-22
11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. 

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Reflection: Don’t Rebuild Walls Christ Destroyed
By John Tillman

Paul’s writings counter the cultural pressures to separate along racial lines and his ministry shows us how he resisted this pressure. 

Paul traveled with, taught alongside, and ministered to Jews, Greeks, men, and women. He associated with Roman government officials, wealthy businesswomen, common laborers, and runaway slaves. Paul referred to all these people as “co-laborers” in the gospel. Paul declared and demonstrated that Christ takes foreigners and strangers and unites them as one people. The way of the world is hostility and enmity. The way of Christ is love and unity.

Paul is unavoidably clear that Christ destroyed the dividing wall of hostility between people of different ethnic backgrounds. There is no redlining in the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us not, therefore, allow some Christian voices to entice us to rebuild these walls.

A growing belief in evangelicalism, Kinism, holds that God sovereignly ordained “races” and that we are to maintain them, keeping them separate. This heretical view is simply the warmed-over and renamed theology of the Klu Klux Klan, repackaged in softer, more academic-sounding language. Underneath, it is the same deadly poison leading to the same deadly outcomes.

Those who promote Kinism wrap it in a cloak of nationalistic patriotism mixed with Christian duty. They defend it by twisting scriptures and embrace Christian authoritarianism to enforce their beliefs. They claim that “loving one’s neighbor” applies primarily to one’s own race,  discounting the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10.29-37) They call justice “reverse racism.” They call mercy effeminate (meaning it as an insult). They call humility weakness. (Micah 6.8)

More than a theological heresy, Kinism is a recipe for violence and never peace. In the United States, “White Replacement Theory,” is the direct outcome of Kinist logic. This theory, promoted by some pastors, media voices, and politicians has motivated violence targeting Blacks, Asians, and Jews in recent years. This violence is driven by enmity arising from Kinism.

Rather than enmity, Christ brings unity that transcends culture, race, gender, politics, or any other typical determinant of affinity. Christians don’t like only one another because we like the same things. We love all people because all people are loved by God.

Bad theology and thinking precede bad action. Therefore protecting against violence requires speaking out to counter Kinist lines of thought, whether spread by Christians, politicians, or the media. Before the next violent act, raise your voice.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
O Lord, watch over us and save us from this generation forever. — Psalm 12.7

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 24 (Listen 4:13) 
Ephesians 2 (Listen 3:10)

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Time Tested Devotion

Scripture Focus: Colossians 4.2-6
2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Reflection: Time Tested Devotion
By John Tillman

One time-tested way of devoting oneself to prayer is the prayer of Examen. First published in 1548 in the Spiritual Exercises, by Saint Ignatius, this prayer has been used throughout the Church, by both clergy and laypersons.

There are many versions of the Examen, including the version at this link. The Examen is adaptable and customizable. As you implement it and get it into your memory, you can use the prayer at any time.

Pray the Examen regularly and it will tutor you in practicing the presence of God. When you are more sensitive to his presence and leading, you can become a reliable source of God’s influence and action, no matter where you go.

For a simple, short version of the Examen, use the following five actions: Awareness, Analysis, Admission, Acceptance, Anticipation.

Awareness: Pause. Relax. Release any concerns your mind is holding. Become aware that you are in God’s presence and have been continually…when you are settled peacefully, thank God for his presence and ask for his grace to be more aware of him, especially in the next few minutes.

Analysis: Review moments from the past day or week in which you sensed God’s presence with you. When and how did you sense him? How did you interact with God or act on God’s prompting or on God’s behalf? … Celebrate moments in which Christ’s grace, love, and righteousness shone through you. Humbly acknowledge that these moments were empowered by the Holy Spirit and not yourself. 

Admission: As you review you will also recall shortcomings and failures. Confess sins with the knowledge that Jesus has forgiven you. Confess not just actions of sin, but motivations behind them. (Not just that you shouted in anger but that you have an unhealthy desire for dominance and control rooted in a failure to trust God…)

Acceptance: Celebrate that, through Jesus, you are forgiven, reinstated, and accepted. This is the good news, the gospel! In addition, celebrate that Christ is at work in and through us for our sanctification and perfection.

Anticipation: Look forward to tomorrow with faith and anticipation of the presence of Christ going before you and being with you. Ask for grace to be more aware of his presence with you going forward, and close with the Lord’s prayer or another prayer chosen from scripture.

The Lord’s Prayer:
Our Father in Heaven, holy is your name.
Your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Amen.

*We will return to prayers from The Divine Hours, next week.

Image Note: In today’s image is NGC 4565, known as the “Needle Galaxy” for its profile. This edge-on spiral galaxy is about 30 to 50 million light-years away. When we practice God’s presence through prayer, we are in the presence of the God who cared about Paul’s chains and who placed this galaxy in the sky for us to find.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 21(Listen 5:29)
Colossians 4(Listen 2:21)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ezekiel 22(Listen 4:58)Philemon(Listen 2:52)
Ezekiel 23(Listen 7:48)Ephesians 1(Listen 3:10)

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For Better or For Worse

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 20:32-33, 37
32 “‘You say, “We want to be like the nations, like the peoples of the world, who serve wood and stone.” But what you have in mind will never happen. 33 As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I will reign over you with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath…
 37 I will take note of you as you pass under my rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant.

Reflection: For Better or For Worse
By Erin Newton

Israel was bound to God and God to them in covenant. It was a relationship in which God is glorified and the people receive his blessing. It was bound by the immutable word of God himself.

Despite the infidelity of Israel, her idolatry and oppression of the weak, God never released them from that covenant. They chose other gods to worship and corrupted the whole concept of monotheism. Yet through it all, nothing could separate them from God.

In Ezekiel 20, God reminds the people of this bond. The people have openly rejected him and declared their intention to worship something else. They want to punt the faith. “What you have in mind will never happen.”

Can you reject God and flee from his presence? In our minds we think it’s possible. Psalm 139:7-10 echoes the impossibility of departing from God.

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.

Like Israel, we have been covenanted with God. It is the new covenant, sealed by the Spirit, sealed upon our hearts. There is much talk about deconstruction with some defining the term as the rejection of the faith entirely. Yet we see in Ezekiel that when God has given himself in a covenant, it is unmovable.

For Israel, the people needed to deconstruct the way they had been practicing religion. Their so-called worship of God was corrupt and manipulated. Priests and leaders had allowed faith to turn into idolatry.

Israel wanted to move on to some other form of worship not realizing their God had been with them all along. Return to him. That is the message for Israel. God would say the same to us today.

Is our deconstruction leading us to different idols or are we searching for true, undefiled worship? Can we see how God will be with us in our wandering? Through pain, the Israelites will return to the Lord. Refining our faith can be painful. This is a call for us to examine what exactly we are trying to reject.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Cry of the Church
In the evening, in the morning, and at noonday, I will complain and lament, and he will hear my voice. — Psalm 55.18

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 20(Listen 9:25)
Colossians 3(Listen 3:09)

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Israel thought it was God’s nation…They confronted anyone who questioned their narrative as unpatriotic.

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A Dirge from God

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 19:9, 14b
9 With hooks they pulled him into a cage
and brought him to the king of Babylon.
They put him in prison,
    so his roar was heard no longer
    on the mountains of Israel…

14  “…This is a lament and is to be used as a lament.”

Image Note: Today’s image is taken from Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem by Rembrandt. View a high-quality image of the painting at this link.

Reflection: A Dirge from God
By Erin Newton

Jesus wept. When Lazarus died, Jesus grieved. We know Jesus was fully human and he experienced the same feelings as we do. We often think that Jesus’ experiences with grief created the means for God to understand our sadness and sympathize. The incarnation of Christ highlights his experiences with grief. Yet, God has been nurturing and guiding people through their sorrow for centuries before Jesus. He can sympathize with our sorrow, but he has also been anticipating our sorrow and providing guidance on how to process these difficult emotions.

Much of the poetry in the Bible expresses the emotional aspect to our spiritual lives. We often think of Psalms in times of distress, hoping for words that resonate with our souls. Surprisingly, we sometimes find such poetry in the prophets.

God gives Ezekiel words for the nation’s lament. He utilizes the imagery of a mother lion and her cubs. One cub is captured and taken away. The next cub is reared but captured and taken to Babylon. These cubs are the kings of the northern and southern kingdoms. The lament speaks poetically about God’s people being uprooted from the fertile land and cast into the desert. God declares that these verses be used as a lament.

This particular word for lament, qina, specifically indicated a funeral hymn, a dirge. For many chapters, we have read about God’s coming judgment upon the people because of their unfaithfulness. Time after time, we could see that whatever was coming was their fault. But God considers their emotional well-being. Judgment has come but he guides them in their lament.

God speaks to us in our humanity. Life with God is not cold. Other laments and psalms reveal the depths of emotional pain. To live a Christian life is not to be void of emotion. We should cry, weep, and lament…even if it was partially our fault.

There is a temptation to shame people amid their pain. “They deserve it.” In the case of the Israelites, “God warned them.” We scoff, roll our eyes, and mutter, “Well, I don’t feel sorry for them.” But this lament in Ezekiel tells us that no matter who it is, people are free to feel.

It is through the deep wells of emotions that we often meet God. No facades of strength. Just our authentic, emotional selves. In aiming to be strong, we forget the God-given duty to grieve.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves. — Psalm 126.6-7

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 19 (Listen 2:12) 
Colossians 2 (Listen 3:27)

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The Gospel-Spreading Strategy of Suffering

Scripture Focus: Colossians 1.9-14; 24, 29
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 

24 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church….29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

Reflection: The Gospel-Spreading Strategy of Suffering
By John Tillman

Colossians, like Philippians, shines with joy, despite being written from confinement. 

Paul challenged the Colossians to live as those belonging to the “kingdom of light” who have been rescued from the “dominion of darkness.” Like Jesus, Paul referred to a kingdom that is not “of this world.” (John 18.36) Paul challenged them to continue spreading the light of the gospel, as Epaphras had spread it to them, but however dark the dominion of Rome was, Paul wasn’t requesting rescue from an earthly empire.

Paul had already been rescued and delivered by God the Father into the kingdom of Jesus from the kingdom of sin. (Colossians 1.13) When Paul, in his own hand, signs this letter, “Remember my chains” (Colossians 4.18), he wasn’t asking for a jailbreak. He’s reminding his readers, including us, what it might take to spread the gospel.

Paul rejoices in his sufferings. He sees them not as something to be freed from but as part of his work on behalf of Christ’s Church. (Colossians 1.24) Today’s church needs this challenge. Especially in the United States, Western Christians know little of suffering for the gospel. We seem to think the gospel depends on our being freed of all constraint, inconvenience, oppression, or mistreatment. How far from Paul’s gospel strategy we have come!

If we are in Christ, we are already in the kingdom. We are ambassadors, not invaders. The kingdom is revealed when we live the life Paul described—one of joy, wisdom, understanding, bearing fruit, doing good works, growing in the knowledge of God, and having power not for conquering but for the patient endurance of suffering. (Colossians 1.11) Like Christ in the garden, we don’t need to be rescued or to conquer by force. (Matthew 26.52-54) Like Christ, and like Paul, our gospel-spreading strategy depends more on what we are willing to suffer than who we are willing to conquer.

Are there freedoms we are fighting for that, if abandoned, would free us to serve the gospel or the church? Are there sufferings we are avoiding that, if accepted and rejoiced in, would show the power of God in us?

Not all sufferings spread the gospel and we certainly shouldn’t seek suffering to gratify our pride or make ourselves feel “righteous.” But let us remember Paul’s chains, and those of fellow Christians around the world, by considering what we are willing to suffer in spreading the gospel.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “I tell you, if anyone openly declares himself for me in the presence of human beings, the Son of man will declare himself for him in the presence of God’s angels. But anyone who disowns me in the presence of human beings will be disowned in the presence of God’s angels.” — Luke 12.8-9

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 18(Listen 5:26)
Colossians 1(Listen 4:18)

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