A word of introduction: Earlier this year I challenged the congregation that I partner with in ministry, First Baptist – Columbus, IN – in a sermon on the Lord’s prayer to use this prayer as a guide in their own prayer practice from that day until Easter. I know some have taken my challenge as they have reported to me what their experience has been thus far. It is my intent to blog through this familiar prayer of Jesus during the Season of Lent, in hopes my reflections further encourage participation in the challenge. We will further engage as a congregation in the study of Jesus’ prayer through a post-Easter engagement with the book The Revolutionary Power of the Lord’s Prayer by Alice Greene. Now – on to this week’s blog . . . . .
They are among the first words spoken by a child – “da da”, “papa”. Easy perhaps in their short syllable and repetitive sound, but important for the intimacy and relationship they signal. When Jesus responded to his disciple’s request “teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1), this is the first word he gave them. In the common Aramaic language of his day it’s the word “Abba.” Most often it is translated “father” but to our ears this is perhaps a bit too formal. No, this is “da da” or “papa” God. It conveys an approach of complete trust and affection that we too soon grow distant from, embarrassed that others might think we’ve a childish faith or devotion.
When I was a kid, I remember a couple of family reunions we attended. These were usually held on a hot summer day in our local city park. It was one of the few times each year we came into the town park, and it was one of the few times in my (as then) short lifetime that I met most of these “relatives”.
I remember being rather astounded to discover we were related to so many people, of such variety. At least they seemed varied to me – not at all like my family of origin that was rather polite and reserved in demeanor. Not these relatives, at least the ones that left a memory mark. They were different. Bear in mind these memories come many years removed from who I was then – a child of 7 or 8 years. Still, the fact I remember suggests an impression was made.
How could you not remember, though, the man (somehow related) who hovered over the food tables insisting that you try the dish that his wife made? In his mind it was not optional. Everyone was required to eat a bit of the Mrs.’ dessert or salad, and then make a complimentary remark about it!
Or what about all those elderly relatives who insisted on pinching my cheeks, or commenting on my growth spurt, or saying how much I looked like my Grandpa. I’m sure they meant well, but what little boy of 7 wants to be told he looks like his Grandpa? What are you supposed to do with that?
Then there were Grandpa’s brothers and nephew who were as loud and brash as he was quiet and reserved. I could never quite work out in my mind just how they were possibly related. In fact, I would have bet on adoption had it not been for the fact that they looked so much alike.
Family. “You don’t get to choose your family.” Or do you?
The Apostle Paul uses several family references and terms when writing to the churches of the first century. He calls his fellow Christ followers “brothers and sisters”, talks about our “adoption” into the life of the Spirit, and says that we are “heirs” with Christ. Why so much family verbiage?
The family or “household” unit in first century Greco-Roman society was the primary unit of the society. A household, however, was not limited to one’s immediate relatives, but likely included several others: slaves, servants, hired laborers, clients, business associates, and extended family. It was a relationship of dependence, not mere kinship, that constituted the household. All of the individuals were in some way dependent upon one another in sustaining a day to day way of life.
Might Paul have had this reality in mind as his prototype when he writes to house churches about their family units? Society already provided something of a diverse model in terms of socio-economic status within a household; but under the grace of Jesus, Paul extends this diversity to include: Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female (see Galatians 3:28). The family of God, or household of faith, was to become a place where divisions were broken down and persons of different backgrounds came together in the common identity and mission of Christ. You choose to become part of this family by virtue of your profession of faith, but you still do not choose who your family members are – you simply grow to understand and celebrate their differences within your common household of faith.
The new tag line we have adopted at First Baptist Columbus, complimenting our new logo is “Come join our family of faith.” During the season of Advent I will be preaching a series under the theme “A First Baptist Family Christmas”. This Sunday’s message is titled: What is (God’s) Family?
I hope you can join us for worship (9:30 a.m.) in person or via live stream.
If all that we have is a gift from God (Psalm 24:1a), including the gifts we each are given by the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:3&6); what is our proper response to this? I believe it is gratitude. In Christ Jesus we are invited to live a life of gratitude – to “give thanks” in all circumstances (I Thes. 5:18). Do you do this? It is easier written than accomplished, that is for sure. But living a grateful life and practicing the basics of gratitude is something we can aspire toward.
In her book Grateful Diana Butler Bass suggests that gratitude can be both an emotional response and an intentional choice. We feel grateful in response to things that happen in our lives. That feeling leads us to want to express thanks and appreciation. Much more than being a transaction of debt or duty, our gratitude comes from our response of having received a gift. This gift may have come from a friend or family member, or from God. We express gratitude in return as a natural expression of what we feel.
But gratitude, according to Bass, is also an ethic or choice. We practice habits of gratitude (such as volunteering, giving, worshiping) that further instill a spirit of gratefulness in our being. By making the choice of gratitude we begin to live a grateful life. Gratitude then grows within us, as a part of our being, and is naturally expressed in our interactions with others, including God.
If we wait to engage gratitude when we feel like it, leaving it in the emotional response only category, the frequency with which it is expressed may suffer. However, if gratefulness is cultivated as a practice – a daily choice – then it will become a more known quantity in our life.
I frequently engage in an ancient spiritual direction practice called the examen, or examination of conscience. In this practice one collects all that has happened over a period of time – let’s say the past day – and reflects on it. One of the questions I use in my practice of the examen is: “What am I grateful for?” I will then list off those things, giving thanks for each of them. I will also sometimes ask: “What am I not grateful for?” Forming that list creates the opportunity to ask why, and consider if I might choose another response. I bring this time of reflection to a close with a final question: “What, if anything, is God inviting me to do or be?” That is, in response to my gratitude, or lack thereof, am I being directed, or re-directed, to respond in some way?
By practicing the examen I am making the effort to look at life through a lens of gratitude. When I do, I am reminded of the many gifts I have been given. Gifted and grateful are two fundamental actions of stewardship involved in the practice of faith.
I believe I first took a spiritual gift inventory nearly thirty years ago. I discovered then, and have had it reconfirmed since, that my primary spiritual gifts are administration, leadership and teaching. What are yours? Do you know?
Psalm 24:1a says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it”. I take this to mean all that we have in this life is a “gift” from God. This includes not only our material possessions, but also the abilities we have been given. The Apostle Paul writes about these abilities in the New Testament, calling them gifts from the Holy Spirit (See Romans 12:3-8, I Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4:11-16 and I Peter 4:10-11). These spiritual gifts, found in each follower of Jesus, are given for the purpose of building up the Body of Christ (the church), so that through the church we can be engaged in God’s mission. Continue reading →
All Saints Day (November 1st) is a celebration of all Christian saints, particularly those who have no special feast days of their own, in many Roman Catholic, Anglican and Protestant churches. Here at First Baptist – Columbus we celebrate All Saints Sunday on the Sunday closest to All Saints Day (November 4th this year).
Our celebration is a remembrance of those who have died over the prior twelve months – both church and family members – to join that great cloud of witnesses described in Hebrews 12:1.
The Apostle Paul used the word “saint” to refer to anyone who is in Christ. This usage removes the expectation of one having done miraculous acts in order to be canonized as a saint, as is the case in some religious traditions. In Paul’s understanding, we are all saints when we come to follow Jesus.
On All Saints Sunday we have the opportunity to give thanks for those saints in Christ who have gone before us. It’s a reminder that death is not the end of life, but the continuation of life eternal because of the redemption we know through Christ.
For All The Saints (Hymn Lyrics) For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed; thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest. Alleluia! Alleluia!
You are invited to join us for worship, in person, or via Live Stream, this Sunday at First Baptist Church, 3300 Fairlawn Drive, Columbus, IN at 9:30 a.m. (EST).