Thursday, October 27, 2016

Loyalty to Promises or Politics?

You are My friends, if you do what I command you... I have made known to you everything that I have heard from My Father." John 15:14-15 NRSV

In the early first century, Roman emperors expect the people to declare their loyalty to Caesar  acknowledging him as the supreme power. This annual public declaration of loyalty requires every citizen to place an offering on the altar saying, "Caesar is Lord!" Those who refuse, such as Christians who profess their loyalty to Christ, are frequently mocked, arrested, tortured and killed. Under Nero, one of the cruelest Roman emperors, Peter and Paul are put to death, crucified upside down and beheaded respectively, for spreading the Gospel message. The message of the Jesus-followers explains there is a kingdom greater than Rome, directly in opposition to the Roman world view. 

Everyday, the outward expressions of our values conjoin with our commitments to demonstrate where our deepest loyalty lies. When material possessions, political affiliations, and social rankings become priorities, when want replaces need, when spiritual riches dwindle, divided loyalty exposes us. The very first of the Ten Commandments clarifies, "You shall have no other gods before Me." Jesus tells us, "No one can serve two masters for either he will hate one and love the other or he will be devoted to one and despise the other." In another lesson, Jesus reminds that just like you can identify a tree by its fruit, you can identify people by their actions. Loyalty becomes the fruit of our fellowship. 

The Old Testament uses the word hesed for loyalty 249 times, and according to Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary it "is one of the richest, most theologically insightful terms in the OT," Meaning "unfailing love, kindness and devotion," this kind of loyalty usually grows within a relationship, often in a covenant relationship. A covenant relationship involves a promise or vow, whether between God and a person or between individuals.When we enter into a covenant relationship with God, His divine, everlasting promises of reconciliation with Him and victory over sin lavish us with Grace. Remaining in fellowship with God develops our spiritual understanding of trusting Him. This trust blossoms into love evidenced in our lives - in our relationships. The Kingdom of God is greater than Rome, greater than the world, greater than this universe. Does your public declaration of loyalty declare "Jesus is Lord" of my life, my everyday, my every moment? ~ dho

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Patient Living

They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.  Acts 1:14

After Jesus ascends to Heaven, the disciples gather in Jerusalem and wait! The believers, including the disciples, the women, Mary the mother of Jesus, the brothers of Jesus, meet together fervently praying and waiting. There are now 120 believers (Acts 1:15). The disciples need to replace Judas Iscariot, the one who had betrayed Jesus. Considering the parameters, to be a witness of the resurrection (Acts 1:21-22), after prayer Matthias becomes the 12th disciple. These days of waiting are the beginning of the Christian church. For now, they wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

In the waiting, Jesus words, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes likely replays in their minds, enters their discussions, and holds a prominent place in their prayers. In the waiting, perhaps they wonder exactly when and how this will happen. As they welcome Matthias into the inner circle, maybe they retell Jesus' words before He ascended into heaven or discuss what being witnesses "to the ends of the earth" might look like or perhaps they even recall those other times that Jesus had told them about sending the Holy Spirit. While waiting for something they could not fully grasp, for a power they could not exactly define, for a moment they could not completely predict, they pray.

Henri Nouwen writes about waiting as moments "pregnant with possibility" and "giving up all my attempts to control". Describing waiting as "a period of learning", Nouwen is not defining waiting as passive, rather as an active period of time, a vital and engaged time, a time of patience. He says, "patient people dare to stay where they are. Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there." The new believers of the first church actively wait in prayer and preparation, together in community and fellowship, with an assurance from Christ. I long to be better at waiting, to be more present in the moments of hope, to be patient in the silences, to find freedom in allowing the Spirit of God to lead me. How about you? How do you WAIT?  ~dho 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Rest...Even in the Middle of Chaos

"True silence is the rest of the mind;
it is to the spirit what sleep is to the body,
nourishment and refreshment."
William Penn

In these recent days of hurricane winds and waves, fury and floods, the body and the mind of many have found mostly chaos and uncertainty. Destruction seems to take delight in its plunder. The concerns of life, full of noise and anxiety, all compete at the same time for every weary mind! In the world there is little silence; there is not much true rest for the mind.

Jesus tells us, "Come to Me. Get away with Me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me and work with Me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace ...(Matthew 11:28-30 The Message)

Jesus lived the example of spending time in prayer ~ away from the crowds ~ alone with the Father. This is how He demonstrated real rest ~ rest for the mind, the body and the spirit ~ rest in the middle of chaos ~ rest in the presence of God. Listen to the words of Jesus; seek Him, even in the middle of the chaos ~ learn [His] unforced rhythms of grace. ~dho

Psalms 55:18 The Message
I call to God;
    God will help me.
At dusk, dawn, and noon I sigh
    deep sighs—he hears, he rescues.
My life is well and whole, secure
    in the middle of danger.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Treasure the Moments

A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need. 

December 1963
Every autumn, every year, my heart remembers a time of personal and spiritual growth. After a brain tumor surgery, my grandmother retains her abilities to comprehend situations, but can no longer verbally express herself. Recalling the summer of 1974 finds me thankful for these last months of sharing, both through tears and gestures, but always laughter was louder. Reflections of my paternal grandmother's last stage of living always bring to mind an unusual demonstration of friendship. Her friend remains faceless to me. She's just a name that I heard from time to time over the years. And, just as mysteriously, for nearly 5 months, a red rose arrived each day.

A Remnant of Love

Once long, long ago, who knows just when,
            greetings were exchanged.
Neighbors for a while, some say, these two
            strangers became friends.
Conversations of yester-year gone
            and unrecorded,
How I wish I could go back in time
            to find the secret
Of such enduring friendship, a gift
            of the heart for life . . .

Sunny skies and death, together, cast down
            shadows on my soul.
Precious as gold, time seemed all too short;
            she would soon be gone.
Silent tears of helplessness inside;
            laughter was louder.
Old stories retold became treasures,
            priceless memories.

Although miles and miles apart, friendship
            did not notice, and
Always, a token of remembrance
            was placed by her side.
Gentle reminder, gesture of love,
            each day one red rose.
Only once did she speak to me of
            death, my constant thought.
Relentless, calloused foe of mortal
            life took her last breath . . .

Her body lay empty beneath a
            blanket of roses.
I stood beside her grave in sorrow
            for my loss; I wept.
I remember taking one red rose,
            a final farewell.
For me it was a symbol of her
            friend’s tender heart,
Of such enduring friendship, a gift,
            a remnant of love.

Although more than a decade has passed,
             I still think of her.
Those priceless memories come to mind
            as if time stood still.
Each year when autumn breezes whisper,
            tears seek revival.
Beneath the sadness I remember
            laughter was louder.

And my heart is blessed as I recall
            her final months, when
Always, a token of remembrance
            was placed by her side.
Gentle reminder, gesture of love,
            each day one red rose.
How I wish I could go back in time
            to find the secret
Of their enduring friendship, a gift 
of the heart for life.
(written 1987, Donna Oswalt)

I wrote this poem more than a decade after her death, words eluding my emotions until then. And still, when I think of such friendship, the best definition I can think of is "each day one red rose." What an amazing heart-gift! What a demonstration of love and loyalty! The Life Application Study Bible says, "The greatest evidence of genuine friendship is loyalty." Over nearly four decades later, I have learned this kind of friendship is extremely rare.

God never asks us to do something without having demonstrated it Himself. Jesus tells us to love one another and demonstrates this rare kind of love with His life, death and resurrection. By definition loyalty manifests itself by devotion, honesty, sincerity, and support. God models His loyalty to us though His constancy, incorruptibility, steadfastness, and truth. Genuine relationships understand the value of sharing life events; to remember the beginnings, to treasure the laughter, to honor the celebrations, to bear the disappointments, to experience the ordinary, and to love through the endings. God promises to love forever! 

Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1 Corinthians 13:7 NLT) God's love is much more than a token of remembrance or a gesture of love. Christ's unmatched sacrifice becomes God's matchless grace. This holy gift of enduring friendship redefines loyalty's unfailing love as Perfect Love. I have learned this friendship is the rarest of all! ~ dho