Who Would Hide Me?

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8

“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:3

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God… Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another… So we have come to know… the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him… We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:7-11,16,19

A wealthy business titan tells the story of a concentration camp survivor who said upon meeting someone, her determination of whether she could trust them was, “Would they hide me?” His point was that success in life is measured not by our possessions or fame, but by the number of people who would hide us, who truly love us. For that to take place we need to be lovable, and this should be our motivation over any other endeavor. Yet, in God’s eyes, while we might feel valued by being loved, repairing our behavior to earn love is no guarantee for security or success.

First of all, because of Eden, we are at the root unlovable. Our worth is in the fact that God made us in His image and Jesus died for us while we were still sinners. There’s no earning here, only innate value appointed by God’s grace, and no proving, only precious redemption through Jesus’s blood. Believing by faith is setting aside self-effort and promotion, and depending wholly on Jesus. (Genesis 1:27; 3:1-6; Isaiah 43:1-4; Ephesians 2:4-5; 1 Peter 1:18-19)

Secondly, no matter how hard we try, focus on ourselves will not change our orientation or behavior. The mysterious exchange of the Christian life is that we must decrease and Christ increase for sanctification to occur. Christ in us is our hope of glory, and it is He indwelling who personifies love and loveliness. Winsomeness is marked by a Christ-ward mindset and others- centered living, not self-absorption, even if we pretend it’s for self-improvement. (John 3:30; Colossians 1:27)

The blessed truth is that in Christ we are hidden, never to be shaken or forsaken, and His unconditional love secures us in the abundant “success” of eternal life in His presence forever. Held in that boundless love, we find fulfillment loving Him and others through Him in limitless measure. Our life aim is not to be loved, but to love, serve, and spend ourselves and all we have for Jesus’s sake. (Matthew 20:28; John 10:28-29)

So are we loved? Yes! Vastly! Who would hide us? Jesus our perfect Savior already has, and in that we find our greatest worth. We are His treasure for eternity.

Father, may my security in Your love compel me to value and love others as You do.

In These Days He Prayed All Night

“He entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Come and stand here.’ And he rose and stood there. And Jesus said to them, ‘I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?’ And after looking around at them all he said to him, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.

“In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: Simon Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

“He came down with them and stood.., with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon,  who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all.  And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: ‘Blessed are you..'” Luke 6:6-13,17-20

Jesus lived His public ministry in constant pressure. He couldn’t even feed His friends or exhibit compassion and heal without being criticized. The Pharisees were relentless in accusation and schemes, the needy crowds relentless in their pursuit of magical relief. In these strain-filled days, long hours that required wisdom, clear thinking, and physical energy, He spent all night in prayer. When the press around Him was greatest, His need for grace and mental acuity was greatest, and as Son of Man, He sought His supreme Source. (Luke 6:1-5)

Up on the mountain, Jesus was unfettered and quiet. Up on the mountain, He drew close to heaven to gain holy perspective. Up on the mountain, He understood the long view, and was reminded why He had come and what was His mission. It’s easy to get distracted, and dissuaded from your purpose, in the noisy crowd of the valley. (John 6:38; 10:10)

Coming down off that mountain, out of that time to refocus and refresh, Jesus was filled with power to discern, effectively call, minister, teach, and bless.

What activities and demands fill my days? Do they rule me? Do I let them inextricably consume my thoughts and emotions? Do they deplete me of vitality? Do they distort my far vision and focus? What could the Lord do in my nights— my time of alone, reflection, away from worldly glare, season of communion with Him— that would adjust and correct my daily perspective? Will I take advantage?

Father, keep me in balance with my coming and going, my mountain soak and valley tension, my quiet and noise, my filling and pouring out. Help me guard and value my nights with You during the frenziest of days.

Press In, Put Out, Plod On

“On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’ And Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.’ And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’ For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.’ And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.” Luke 5:1-11

Order makes a difference to our Lord, and so do effort and motivation. One of the qualities so ripe for refinement in these fisherman was their patient perseverance, learned over long hours of offering bait. But Jesus would teach them, and show with visual aid, that self-effort and temporal reward would not yield what was eternal. Pressing in to hear His word, then putting out per His instruction, as stewards responding to the Master’s call, would result in a far greater catch. It would make them marvel at His bounty, and be ashamed at their own pride. It would reorient their life-purpose, as they put honed skills to use in a new, redeemed way to make a lasting impact. It would keep them astonished, willing, surrendered, and dependent as they plodded on following Him.

Are there areas in our lives where we toil busily, but fruitlessly? Do we feel spent, with nothing to show for our efforts? Where might Jesus steer us in a new direction or venue through His word– a deeper faith, a new conviction, a fresh place or pace of ministry?

Do I clamor to hear from Jesus, pushing aside every distraction to hear His voice? And when I hear, do I hesitate, make excuses, or quickly obey? How has my obedience been blessed in such a way that my confidence in Him has grown, and propelled me to deeper trust and fuller surrender? Where and how is God’s marvelous hand humbling me? What is the Lord calling me to let loose so I can follow Him unfettered?

Lord, call me away from wayward efforts toward new fruitfulness. Grant me boldness to put out in new waters, and keep on for Your purposes and glory.

Bold Fear, Brave Faith

“Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, ‘Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’ Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens… But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.

“Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, ‘When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.’ But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live… So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong.” Exodus 1:8-17,20

“By the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil.” Proverbs 16:6

“They said before the king, ‘Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or the injunction you have signed, but makes his petition [in prayer] three times a day.’” Daniel 6:13

“Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.'” Acts 5:29

Knowing who God is and how He works, begets bold, reverent fear of Him. And bold fear of God begets brave faith in the face of any kind of challenge, threat, or opposition. When we know that we know God as King, both benevolent and sovereign, we gladly, humbly, and without fear of man serve Him and His instructions. When He has our full allegiance, no other tempts.

Why are we so weak in the world, so soft to hurt and offenses, touchy and self-coddling? Certainly, we have constant pressure from media, our culture, and academia, to elevate and pamper ourselves, and let feelings dictate reaction and decision. But the Bible says, fear God first. Reverence His throne that is above any other, His power that is superior to all, His ways and thoughts that rule far beyond our temporal ones. The midwives feared God more than man because He was worthy of it. (Isaiah 55:8-9; Philippians 2:9)

How do we develop this bold fear of God that is the beginning of wisdom? (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; 9:10) How do we transform warped thinking and allegiances and affections into godly priorities? If we would love and embrace wisdom and instruction, and practice it, we gain knowledge of the Holy One. The devil will entice us toward self, but our Lord says He must be first. (Luke 4:5-8)

What, and whom, do I fear? Have I enthroned any foreign entity where my Lord rightfully belongs?

Father, may I fear and worship You rightly, and live out each day in brave faith.

No Room for Cocky

“But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree,  do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.  Then you will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.  And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.

“Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” Romans 11:17-25,29

It is man’s flesh tendency to want to earn favor with God, and therefore take credit for it. Where I was born, how I was raised, the quality of my faith, all I do. We are either proud of our spiritual credentials, or we try to clean up, work up, and show up others so we stand out or shoulder our way ahead. We want to be a favorite. Even when we know there is nothing we must contribute to our salvation, it seems we slip into thinking we did or can contribute. There is much folly in forgetting who our vinedresser is.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser… I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:1,5

There is no room for cocky in a heart that recognizes we are nothing without Christ. We are either broken branches, as were the Jews, temporarily set aside (cut off), or wild, contrary shoots, alien Gentiles who would die apart from the Vinedresser’s merciful hands grafting us in. All kindness and credit belongs to Jesus, the Root from which we draw life. We are wobbly, helpless, fruitless, without Him. All salvation is a mercy to those saved, and in humble faith and gratitude, there is no gloating. (Isaiah 11:1)

How might it change our sense of self-importance, and our attitude toward others, if we daily remembered who we were, and whose we are? That our only spiritual lifeline is Christ? With fresh, sober assessment of what is true about us all, how will we live out God’s grace in our world? (Romans 12:1-3)

Lord, keep me in awe at Your wondrous salvation. From You and through You and to You are all things. To You be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

When Mindset is Spirit-Set

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free… from the law of sin and death… For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you… If Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Romans 8:1-2,5-11

“He rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’” Mark 8:33

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8

“If… you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Colossians 3:1-2

The mind is easily impressionable, and many forces in this world pander and cajole to make their mark. Religious beliefs, prejudices, scientific hypotheses, academic studies, popular opinion, social media, all have offerings that entice and take up mental room, that shape and dictate how we process information and make decisions. So what is a Christian to do? How does an image-bearer of God determine the mind of Christ in a godless culture? By fostering the mind of the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:16)

We are not born with a mind of life and peace. We are anything but righteous, and our mere flesh has stained our thinking through and through. But when we are born again, and have been raised with Christ into new life, and His Spirit dwells in us, we are no longer hostile to the mind of the Spirit. We warm to the things of God, and seek out spiritual truth as daily food. Our deepest hunger may be slow to transform, but holy desire is awakened, and by practice we begin to seek what is above, and recount what is true, noble, right, and pure. By discipline of our will, we set our minds on things of God, and camp there.

What old cravings of the flesh, and habits of self-loathing and condemnation, need to fade? When we recognize rebellion’s poke, do we ignore its come-on by submitting to the Spirit instead? How are we nurturing a mind of the Spirit?

Lord, infuse and shape my mindset with Your Holy Spirit. May I daily reckon myself dead to the flesh, and fully alive to You. (Romans 6:7-11)

Fully Forgiven, Fully Forgive

“When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.’  So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, ‘Your father gave this command before he died: “Say to Joseph, ‘Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’” And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.’ Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, ‘Behold, we are your servants.’  But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” Genesis 50:15-21

Though Joseph had revealed himself to his brothers with affection, a full measure of grace for their misdeeds, and bountiful provision, his brothers couldn’t grasp the forgiveness God had wrought in his heart. Still burdened with guilt, they feared retribution, assuming his kindness was meant only to honor their father while he lived. But that very assumption was based on their own unwillingness to take hold of the Lord’s mercy. While they acknowledged their mistreatment of their younger brother, they were not freed from its burden. It took being forgiven for them to recognize the lavish grace of God. (Genesis 42:21-25; 45:1-15)

Without humbly receiving God’s full forgiveness, it is hard to accept it from, and extend it toward, others. The Lord had used Joseph’s harrowing experiences to teach him Who really ruled, and to mold his deep faith in the long view of His goodness and plan. Had his brothers never asked his forgiveness, Joseph had already settled it in his heart by an act of will. His God had orchestrated all things for His redemptive purposes. Joseph’s attitudes and actions were grounded in God’s promises, not the antics of people or the worst of circumstances. (Romans 8:28-30; Philippians 4:6-7)

When we honestly confront the cross of Christ, we are changed. Once it has its way in crucifying our flesh, we live with new perspective, and no longer nurse old wounds. Instead, in freedom and joy, we long to express and exhibit the cross and its power, especially to those who’ve wronged us. (1 Corinthians 2:2-5; Galatians 2:20)

Are we among those who say, “I know God forgives, but I can’t forgive myself”? This reveals a pale understanding of God’s rich grace, and espouses the power (and control) of me. Once we’ve received Jesus’s cleansing blood, His Spirit interprets that truth personally, and we’re released to forgive and be forgiven. (1 Corinthians 2:11-13)

Do I still fear punishment for past sins? Am I still nursing sins of others against me, and using them as an excuse, a weapon, a banner? Either way, I know not the forgiveness of Christ. Once freed by His forgiveness, we are free indeed to love and serve others. (John 8:36)

Lord, apply the full force of Your grace in me. May I ever rejoice in Your forgiveness, and the freedom it affords to forgive and bless others.

Nothing Like Fire

“The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.” Exodus 13:22

“For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” “Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you.” Deuteronomy 4:24; 9:3

“Behold, the name of the Lord comes from afar,
    burning with his anger, and in thick rising smoke; his lips are full of fury,
    and his tongue is like a devouring fire;
his breath is like an overflowing stream
    that reaches up to the neck;
to sift the nations with the sieve of destruction…

You shall have a song as in the night when a holy feast is kept, and gladness of heart, as when one sets out to the sound of the flute to go to the mountain of the Lord, to the Rock of Israel. And the Lord will cause his majestic voice to be heard and the descending blow of his arm to be seen, in furious anger and a flame of devouring fire, with a cloudburst and storm and hailstones.” Isaiah 30:27-30

“Our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:29

There is nothing like a fire. Nothing like crunching over icy snow, stomping off boots, and coming through an open door to warmth, to sit by a fire. There is nothing like the blaze and glow that dances, mesmerizes, continually changes, that thaws harshness and cares of the day, and flickers into motion dreamy meandering. The stone hearth beckons, the fireglow captivates, the heat soothes as it sinks in.

But fire has its harsh side. As the holy blaze of light draws us near, we see the consuming fire as hotly jealous for us, full of fury at all that steals our affection from Him. In righteous anger, this fire goes before us to destroy the enemy, and sometimes is so close we get burned. God as our consuming fire is worthy of respect. (Exodus 13:21-22)

The Word’s fire guides, and guards. It teaches us the pain of catching a wayward spark, and the hypnotic paralysis of looking too long without acting on the light we glean. It convicts of sin, and goads us to righteousness. God as our constant fire is worthy of trust. (Psalm 119:11; Jeremiah 20:9; 23:29)

The Spirit’s fire burns away rebellion and resentment, softens hearts of stone into flesh. As it warms it melts resistance into repentance, guilt into freedom, and shame into acceptance. It envelops, enlightens, and encourages. We absorb its blaze of insight, warmth of compassion, and power of divine love for the unlovable. It attracts others to Jesus’ light by our peaceful countenance, patience, and lovingkindness. God as our spiritual fire is worthy to be sought and savored. (Ezekiel 36:26; Acts 9:31; Romans 8:1; Ephesians 1:16-18; 1 Peter 2:9)

From what cold does God’s fire beckon? Have my love for God frozen because of my suffering? Have I coddled a cold heart toward one who has wronged or hurt me? Have I abandoned my spiritual fire to fizzle by neglect and busyness? Do I put off friends who would stoke faith embers back to life, choosing instead to relish my sin? When will I return to the hearth?

Lord my fire, separate from me the dross of sin, lead me by Your light, and burn brightly to all around as the splendid glory in my midst. (Zechariah 2:5)

Even When, and Because, We’re Tired

“And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?.. Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him...

“And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

“That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons…

“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him,  and they found him and said to him, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ And he said to them, ‘Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.’” Mark 1:21-26,29-38

Immediately. Immediately again. That evening. All who were sick. The whole city. Many. Very early in the morning. Everyone. Let us go. We feel the press, the tyranny the urgent. There was much ‘immediate’ every day for Jesus. His was no cushy life, no rolling over and pulling covers over the day’s demands. His was a heart thumping with, and a life fully yielded to, His Father’s will: be all there for every needy person, each challenging situation, within His parameters, according to His plan.

He taught and healed and spent Himself for others along His way and into the night. Then He arose before dawn to pray. Only alone, and quiet, could He receive and rely on the spiritual direction, fuel, wisdom, and stamina His Lord would give. Here was He refreshed, and sustained.

The fatigue of Jesus did not slow or alter the mission of Jesus. Just as His food was to do the will of His Father, His rest was in staying in the center of His will. Crowds and requests clamored everywhere, but when He sought His Father, He knew where to stay, what to do, when to go. This day, following His lead, centered in His wake, He would not be pulled off course by the demands of the begging. (John 4:34)

Even when, and because, we’re tired, we need time with Him. Even when, and because, we’re tired, we’re called to serve His will. Even when, and because, we’re tired, we keep on. The Lord Jesus is our cause, our sustenance, our end. He is sufficient, and always enough.

Lord, keep me following Your example and Your lead, even and especially when I am tired. May my prayer, attitude, and deeds exalt the truth that You are my All in all.

Comrades in the Fray

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many…

“Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life… Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and fellow prisoners… Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys…  Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well… Greet one another with a holy kiss…

“Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive… I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil… The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

“Timothy, my fellow worker, greets you… I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord. Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you.” Romans 16:1-9,12-13,16-23

The personal greetings Paul dictated from a Roman prison highlight a varied and special team of comrades in faith who stand and work together in the fray of the world. Servants, workers, the bold and beloved, mentors, care-givers, stenographers, hosts, teachers, and number-crunchers- all contributed significantly to a healthy church. Their passionate bent to serve the Lord, not themselves, unified them in holy affection.

Living in the world, we will always have opposition, individuals and movements that niggle into our brains with dissension, disrupt harmony in fellowship, and perpetuate division in relationships and churches. Alone, we are vulnerable to the enticements of the flesh, the whispers of ill-will and falsehood, the allure of stroked pride and gossip. But as the church, we can be firmly planted in truth, supported by communal prayer, and sharpened by the wisdom and deep faith of others. Together, we can lock arms, sharpen each other, and sing in unison to dispel the smooth talk and flattery of those who would divide us. (Psalm 34:3; Proverbs 27:17; Ephesians 2:19-22)

When was the last time I voiced appreciation to another who has served well? Written a letter to or prayed for, by name, a fellow worker? How willing am I to help in whatever way is needed? How am I expressing affection for the Lord’s children, even the prickly ones? How hard do I work? To what older, wiser one do I gratefully listen, and learn, and in whom am I gladly investing my time and experience? Do I regularly greet my spiritual siblings with love, and warmly welcome them into conversation, fellowship, my confidence?

Lord, may I do my gracious part in blessing the church amidst the culture’s fray, building up and loving Your people with the affection and unity of Christ.