Wednesday, June 3, 2020

DEVOTIONAL: Philippians 1:1-3


1Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons
2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi is one of our best-loved, with so many “memorizable” verses that bolster our faith!
It’s amazing when you consider who he is writing to, and under what circumstances.  Paul is imprisoned, under Roman guard – and he’s writing to the believers in Philippi, which was a colony of retired Roman soldiers! 
But those retired Roman soldiers, made new in Christ, became his friends and supporters for the rest of his life – and his reason for writing to them was to thank them for the collection they took, and sent to him via the man named Epaphroditus, mentioned in the last chapter, to help him.  (In those days, jailers didn’t provide anything to prisoners – you had to have your own resources, or family, to care for yourself.)
These former soldiers are living examples of the truth that Jesus makes us new and Jesus makes us family to one another.  Under other circumstances, you can imagine that Paul wouldn’t trust these folks, and they’d consider him worthless, if he’s been imprisoned! 
But they know the truth of the new life Paul preached to them when he was in Philippi.  And he knows that they are indeed “born anew” by the Holy Spirit – and so he remembers them with joy and prays for them as partners with him in living out and telling out the good news of life in Jesus.
This is a good lesson to us if we are tempted to write anyone off as too-far-gone or not-worthy of the love of God, the grace of Christ, the renewing of the Holy Spirit!  That God is all about reconciling us to Him AND to one another is the very center of this good news.
And then Paul gives them, and us, even more good news, in one sentence, because he says he’s confident (Latin: “with faith”) about it: 
He who began a good work in you WILL CARRY IT ON TO COMPLETION until the day of Christ Jesus.

Who began the work?  GOD did!  The new life in me and you, is God’s project: we don’t make it, we don’t earn it. 
And God doesn’t walk away from his projects!  God is on a mission in you and in me, and he will keep it up until it’s done, until we are indeed “made holy” – made to be all we were meant to be, in Christ.
And it will be complete, when Jesus comes again for us.  There’s a date on God’s calendar, so to speak, for our complete redemption, the fullness of our “newness,” the unveiling of the real me, and the real you.  Paul says in Colossians, that who we really are will be revealed THEN.  I’m pretty excited to see that!
Paul can call these hardened, formerly brutal, Roman soldiers partners and brothers, because he knows that God is making them new.  And Paul, who confesses his own role in pursuing and jailing followers of Jesus in his own former life, knows that he is being made new, too.   The writer and the readers have been reconciled to God by Jesus, and they have been reconciled to each other, too – and something new and beautiful is coming to life instead. 
And God isn’t going to give up on it until it all comes to pass in its fullness.

God’s not giving up on us, either.  And it’s probable he has some surprising new brothers and sisters for us in this new family!   May we trust the Lord to do this new thing in us and in others, and BETWEEN us, for his glory.

Let’s pray:  Father, in your mercy, you shocked Saul of Tarsus with your glory, and brought him into your new covenant.  In your mercy, Paul brought the good news of Jesus to former Roman soldiers in Philippi  who became his partners in your work!  In your mercy, bring us to a confidence like Paul’s, that your work of making people new will not stop until it is done, in us and in others.  Give us faith like Paul’s that this is a real change, enough to befriend even our former enemies (or they, to befriend us).  May we live in the power of such faith.  In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Thoughts in the wake of George Floyd's murder

The central thing we have to think about, before we can talk about anything else going on right now, is the murder of George Floyd.

I know, that it was a murder is still to be adjudicated.  But we saw from many angles that Mr. Floyd was not resisting arrest.  We saw close up, that he was cuffed.  And we saw the police officer press his knee into Mr. Floyd's neck while he protested that his breathing was being cut off, until he went limp - and then for almost three minutes more.  The man was murdered.

On one level, I think we have to consider that possibility that the police has something wrong with him, as an individual. I mean, I suspect he has sociopathic tendencies.  I'm not a doctor and I've never met the officer, but who could calmly press his knee into another human's neck until he died, like that?  No one with any empathy.

Or, perhaps the office has been trained in the ways of war.  Soldiers are trained to be able to kill like that, I think.  But first, they have to view that "other"  they are killing as "enemy," as therefore in fundamental ways not human, not in the same way. 

Is that what happened to that officer?

Because so many police killings of black people lend some credence to that idea:  that for various reasons police officers have been trained, or maybe habituated, to think that black men are not human in the same way as white men.  And after all, that's certainly what slaveholders believed - that's how they justified owning other humans, treating them like livestock, having them do the hard work in the sun:  they're not like us.  They were made for that work.  They need us to survive. 

And that's why we have to look hard at what happened.  At all the "what happeneds."  Anti-Blackness lives in our history.  It lives in parts of our culture.  And it lives in our hearts, whether we want it to or not.  I have read that even Black people struggle to overcome the inherited idea that their bodies are worth less than White ones.  I don't want to believe it, but it's true.  And the most scrupulously careful White person has had a moment where we discovered in our assumptions something we didn't know was there:  a racist thought, unbidden, rises to our consciousness.

So we have to believe this all is true.  And we have to repent of it, all the time.  We White people have the luxury of walking away and forgetting about it, but even if we do that - it won't go away.  And we who follow Jesus do not have the right to exercise that luxury, because our Lord has commanded us to love one another as he loved us, and that means the brothers and sisters of all races.  We must ask the Lord to cause to rise to the top of our awareness the racist assmptions we have living in us, and we must ask the Lord's help so that we can repent of them.

Repentance, in the New Testament, is a translation of a Greek word that means to "change your mind," or better, "to change out your mind" - the old one, for a new one. 

We desperately need a new mind, that we could begin to see things as they are, and not as the poison of racism has tinged them for us.  Paul tells us we need the "renewing of our minds" so that we can tell what the will of God is.  Yes, we do.

So let us pray for that for ourselves, and for one another.  Please pray for it for me!  This is the only way for us to "be the change" we hope for, that we know we need, so that we will no longer be a multi-level society, where we reserve the best of the goods for only some of us, only those who by virtue of genetics have white skin.  Where we deliberately ostracize and belittle others merely for having more melanin.  Where we embue authority in some to freely kill others, because somehow it seems right.  Lord, have mercy on us.