There’s something healing about water and our life in Christ…

By Matt Sapp

Water is necessary to life. 40% of the world’s population lives within 65 miles of the coast, and 90% of us live within 6 miles of a surface source of fresh water.

Water is a central element of scripture, too.  In Amos, justice rolls down like waters.  Baptism happens in water. Water is used to destroy in the flood.  The waters part asunder to save the Israelites in the Exodus and come together again to swallow up Egyptian armies.  Jesus meets a woman drawing water at a well to offer himself as living water.

There’s something sacred about water. Water heals. Water cleanses. Water destroys. Water irrigates. Water quenches. Water purifies. And water puts out fires.

Life along the Nile River at night/Picture from NASA

Life along the Nile River at night/Picture from NASA

It’s been a hot summer so far—literally and figuratively.  As temperatures have risen across the United States so has the heat around the important issues facing our country.  There is undeniably a new—and warmer—air of tribalism in our national discourse, and it has me worried about the health of both our churches and our country.

Ever since last week, I’ve been wanting this sense of dis-ease inside me to go away.  It hasn’t.  I have this sense that we are even now retreating into our respective corners, hardening our positions and our hearts, readying our arguments, stockpiling our resources and preparing for battle.

I pray I’m wrong, but I have a sense that the hottest days of summer may still be ahead of us.

So I wonder if we could use some water. Water to quench our thirsts. Water to irrigate some withered promises. Water to heal some festering wounds. Water to destroy some latent evils. Water to cleanse and purify. Water to put out some fires. Maybe even water than we can rise out of into new life together.

Each morning during the summer we pack lunches at the church to distribute to hungry children. But before we pack lunches, our Summer Lunch Program leader, Virginia Land, leads us in a brief time of devotion.

This morning she read scripture from Philippians chapter 2. It was like a cool drink of water on a hot summer day. 

Your life in Christ makes you strong, and his love comforts you. You have fellowship with the Spirit,[a] and you have kindness and compassion for one another.  I urge you, then, to make me completely happy by having the same thoughts, sharing the same love, and being one in soul and mind.  Don’t do anything from selfish ambition or from a cheap desire to boast, but be humble toward one another, always considering others better than yourselves.  And look out for one another’s interests, not just for your own. The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had…

I’m not sure anything could have quenched my thirst in that moment quite like those words did. So as the summer wears on and the heat ramps up, I hope you’ll remember these five things:

1.      Our life in Christ—and not anything else—is what makes us strong. When we put other agendas ahead of Christ, it makes us weaker.

2.      Kindness and compassion for one another always beat anger and suspicion. Remember that God loves the person you’re suspicious of and that God demonstrates compassion toward the person at whom you are angry.

3.      Our greatest comfort isn’t in winning an argument or in being “right.” It is in being loved by God. Incidentally, that’s where our greatest power to influence comes from, too. We will influence our culture for Christ—and comfort it—by demonstrating God’s love.

4.      As Christians, we are clearly, repeatedly, and unequivocally called to look to the interests of others, not just our own. One of the most dangerous things for our nation is our shrinking ability to put ourselves in someone’s place or see things from another person’s perspective.

5.      We should always consider others better than ourselves. Always.

Paul’s words from Philippians came to me like water on a hot day. Maybe they’ll have a similar effect on you.

It’s getting hot out there. The world is catching on fire. We can fan the flames or we can be water.

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Final Farewells and wishes of peace

Paul in prisonBy Joe LaGuardia

The following article is reprinted from The Rockdale Citizen.  Please note that although Joe LaGuardia will no longer publish in the Citizen after April 29th, he and a community of Baptists will continue to publish for Baptist Spirituality and other publications.  Please be sure to subscribe to our blog to keep up on our inspiring and thought-provoking publications. 

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Over the last week, I’ve been reading the “farewell remarks” from St. Paul’s epistles.  Although he writes to a variety of communities, each remark sounds similar, such as the one penned in his second letter to the Corinthians:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell.  Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you” (13:11).

In others, he includes a challenge for the saints to be an encouragement one to another, to speak with words of wisdom rather than malice, and greet each other with a holy kiss.

As I plan to depart from Conyers and move to Florida next week, I can’t help but keep Paul’s farewell words in mind.  That doesn’t mean I consider myself to be like Paul–he’s a saint for a reason, you know–but I do think his concluding challenges are something to ponder.

For one, he encourages churches to live in peace.  Too often, our communities are so fractured that people cease to speak to one another or get together.  We forget that, like families, churchgoers fight every now and then, but are expected to reconcile.

Reconciliation is not the same as reprimanding.  The world is good at reprimanding: our justice system and courts tell us what we’ve done wrong, and we are reprimanded as punishable by law.

Reconciliation provides the space for people to speak with each other, confront each other, and open a space for repentance.  Without the opportunity to repent and apologize–to ask forgiveness–true reconciliation does not occur.  Our peace may be a false one otherwise.

I learned this the hard way after my father’s death.  The person who shot my father and two other people at a town hall meeting some three years ago was sentenced to three life sentences.  The perpetrator will never get out on parole and he escaped the death penalty only because his state governor put a moratorium on capital punishment.

As I have worked through my grief, I have forgiven the man and moved on.  But that is not reconciliation.  Until he repents of his crime and apologizes (he gave a sort of apology when he was sentenced in court, but refused to take full responsibility for his crimes), he has robbed me (and himself) of reconciliation.

Being the church means being places of peace and peacemaking.  We are to follow Jesus’ example by putting others before self, reaching out with unconditional love, and forgiving rather than retaliating against others.

A second challenge that Paul gives the church is to be people of encouragement.  Christian encouragement does not originate from a “You’re okay, I’m okay” mentality.

Rather, encouragement originates from a deep-seated confidence and knowledge that we are blessed by God and are, in turn, called to bless–and be a blessing–to others.

Encouragement comes from the words we speak.  We are to avoid chatter and gossip, and distance ourselves from those who do. God’s blessing–his love and peace–are to shape our words and actions towards others.

After all, as Christians, we’ve inherited God’s promise to Abraham so long ago, an inheritance to be a blessing to all the nations of the world (Genesis 22:18).

Last, Paul challenged the church to greet each other with a holy kiss.

I don’t recommend this action these days any more than I recommend living by all the 600 laws as outlined in the Old Testament book of Leviticus.  Nevertheless, there is a truth behind this statement.

We are to make sure that our departure from one another–whether we part permanently or temporarily–is inspired by our willingness to embrace each other the next time we meet.

No matter how much Christians fight, disagree, celebrate, praise and pray, we are to look forward to that next meeting, in this world or the next.

A holy kiss is but a cultural gesture of that embodied peace, a sign that the community is under the lordship of Christ.  It implies that we are family and suggests that we are not saying “Goodbye,” but “See you later.”

It is as the old hymn states, “God be with you ’till we meet again, by his counsels guide, uphold you.”

Thanksgiving Reflection: The Fragility of Life and Gratitude

give_thanks_with_a_grateful_heart

By Joe LaGuardia – A Thanksgiving reflection.

Reflecting on the fragility of life and the significance of gratitude, the poet of Psalm 39 wrote, “Hear my prayer, O Lord . . . for I am your passing guest, a sojourner, like my ancestors” (v. 12).

This author is not alone in facing the finality of life, the gloom of grief, and the dark of night.  Most of us, be it at a funeral, in solitude with God, or even driving down the interstate while in prayer, have contemplated the brief existence that all of us share on our tiny planet in the cosmos.

When that realization comes, people take one of two paths:  Some take the path of despair and resignation, forgetting to give thanks to God.  They brood on the morbid and slowly isolate themselves under the dark clouds of negativity and regret.

This path often ends at the bottom of a spiritual well, where the only light that provides any rescue is far overhead.

The second path is that of gratitude and appreciation.

Even when great calamity strikes, these folks ride above the storms of hardship and thank God for every breath that comes with the gift of life.

Things are not perfect, but hope is accessible.   There may be doubt, but that does not lead to despair.

Happiness may be hard to find, but joy continues to define a life well-seated in trust and faith in God.

People on that second path know that all of life is a movement of worship, even when worship is expressed in lament.  (It is unfortunate we forget that lamentation is a part of worship, not solely reserved for funerals or memorial services.)

St. Paul is an example for those who choose to follow in the second path.  He made an intentional effort to approach all of life in a state of worship even when conflict and the threat of death overshadowed his desire to spread the Gospel of Christ.

In the second letter to Corinthian churches, he wrote, “Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.  For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2:14-15).

A pleasant fragrance passes through space and time briefly.  A person enjoys it for a moment, and it dissipates as soon as one feels its breezy touch.  The author of Psalm 39 wrote, “You have made my days a few handbreaths…we go about like shadows” (v. 5, 6).

From Paul’s perspective, even a moment in the presence of God provides an eternity of bliss and fulfillment.  Each passing instance was a gift from the Lord.

Do you see life (as fleeting as it is) as a breath that passes through the universe or like a sweet fragrance rising before the very throne of God?

In his commentary on Psalm 39, scholar F. B. Meyer noted that the good news in this poetry, even for those who face uncertain days and have but miniscule joy, is that God will never leave our side:  “We are sojourners ‘with God,’ he is our constant companion…We may be strangers [in life], but we are not solitary.  The Father is with us.”

After spending many years in ministry and too many days beside the beds of loved ones facing hardship, I have come to realize that all of us face a choice each day: Will this day be lived out in desperation and self-centered striving, or will the day be welcomed as a gift to be enjoyed, one filled with the promise of hope and gratitude, held firmly in the embrace of the God who promises eternal life?