Time for Atonement

This week the Jewish people are remembering Yom Kippur, which is also known as the Day of Atonement. I find it interesting that while we Christians may talk about it from the book of Leviticus, it’s not a day we set aside as holy. We look at Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Easter, and the Ascension, but not Yom Kippur. If it is the holiest day for the Jewish people, and obviously from a part of the Bible that we as Christians read, why isn’t it something we Christians really talk about?

Let’s start with what atonement means. Atonement is defined as making amends, reconciling, or reparation for wrong doing. Atonement is what people do when they have to pay a fine for a traffic ticket or do community service, and we also say ‘I’ll make it up to you’ on a regular basis. The issue or difference comes in because atonement isn’t always a step we take or a step we know we take in the forgiveness process, but I think it’s one we could take and recognize more often. Especially when it comes to relationships, it’s may be the difference between being able to work things out and repair them versus throwing them out and not trying to or being able to fix things.

So where does atonement fit in to our lives as Christians? Galatians 1:4 (ESV) says “Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live.” We know that Jesus died to forgive us for our sins, to make our slate clean, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t recognize when we sin, shouldn’t ask for forgiveness for our sins, shouldn’t atone for our sins, shouldn’t learn from our sins and do/say differently if and when there is a next time.

There’s more shame in pretending you’re perfect and hiding your sins than admitting you have sinned and working through the aftermath. Admitting you have sinned means you’ve got the opportunity to be forgiven and be able to be healed of that sin and make changes going forward, which is way better than trying to live under an ever-increasing mountain of sin. Not every sin needs fixing, some need to be forgiven and forgotten.  But in the situation where it’s appropriate to atone and there’s a chance to make things right, grab that opportunity to get your life headed back in the right direction and showing that you’re as good as your word when you apologized.

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The Freedom To Love

This past month I’ve been looking into a lot of church marketing, growth, health and support topics and seminars. It’s got me thinking again about how people see the Church (any faith organization that fits under the ‘Christianity’ heading), and the people who attend. The world around us has done some serious changing over the past few decades and the Church hasn’t fully caught up. I can understand because it raises fears and questions of healthy boundaries and what is/isn’t secular/spiritual and how it all works together, if it does. But in many ways these fears and the slow and lacking transformation that have accompanied them have held the church back from embracing and investing in the digital mission field.

So going back to how people outside of the church view those inside of the church as well as the church itself, many see it as a restrictive and boring thing, with serious walls between church people and those outside the church, where you can’t do anything wrong (even though forgiveness is a discussed topic). And there is some truth in all of this, especially in churches that have a very old school culture and aren’t interested in making changes. For those of us in the church, the limitations and rules sometimes may feel restrictive, but often they result in bigger and better freedoms than those outside the church ever experience.

One of the most notable is one that’s very prevalent this week, and that’s the topic of love. One of the things we’re called to do, and free to do as much as we want, is to love others with the love that God teaches us about and Jesus modeled for us during His ministry. The word love is used throughout the Bible over 600 times depending on the translation, and is something that Jesus specifically challenges us to do. So as you work through the rest of this week including Valentine’s Day, I would encourage you to pick up that challenge and show love to those you interact with, in both big and little ways.

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” Galatians 5:13

A Fruitful Year

With the beginning of a new year there’s a lot of talk about what we all want to do differently or how we want to have a better year than previous years. Those are great things to think about, but more than just the things you’re going to do, what about who you’re going to be this year? What changes are you going to make in your heart, mind and soul this year? What changes and experiences will God bring you through to help you grow and bring you closer to becoming the person He’s created you to be? I think a great starting point for who we’re going to be this year is Galatians 5:22-23a:

“The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

One of the best changes you can make in your life and goals to have is to become a more loving, joyful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and/or self-controlled person because this will overflow into other areas of your life improving them as well. You’ll have better relationships, improved self-esteem, a better attitude and deeper connection with God when you make the Fruit of the Spirit an active part of your life. Yes, it’s great to work on improving your finances, getting a better job/career, having a healthier relationship, losing weight or spending more time doing the things you love, which is what many people choose as their resolutions, but they’re all directly impacted by other people and the world around us. While the Fruit of the Spirit are things that you work on in your life, without needing any agreement, support, allowance or input from anyone else.

You can choose to work on them all at the same time, pick one to focus on all year, work on one each month, or pick one out of a hat or box each day to work on that day. Plus, there are lots of great devotionals that you can read throughout the year as well to support you in learning about and growing in these Fruit. Will you join me in incorporating the Fruit of the Spirit into your life this year?

The Choice of Unity

As we think about this month’s topic of help and of all that is going on around the US and the world, today I want to take a minute to talk about the topic of unity. It’s where people come together over something that essentially erases barriers. It’s when people who are rich and poor are both affected by a flood. It’s when people who are of multiple spiritual practices come together to say a prayer for healing in a city after a violent attack. It’s even when kids of various cultures, races, and sexes come together to play on a playground before school. Unity doesn’t mean that the differences don’t exist, it means that they’re ignored for a reason and/or for a time.

The Bible is interesting because there were some pretty clear divisions in the early books, but after the birth and death of Jesus some things changed. Take a look at these passages from Ephesians and Galatians:

“So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family.” Ephesians 2:19

“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

What became clear after Jesus death, and what Jesus emphasized through His ministry, is that faith is more important than your heritage, your race, your political beliefs, your economic status or where you call home. Being different is the way God made us, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t focus more on the things that bring us together, and the things that God has called us to, than the things that would separate us.

This week I encourage you to look for and encourage opportunities of unity, opportunities to work together and help each other. If we want to see more unity and more teamwork in the world, that has to be our focus instead of our differences.

Creating a Habit of Love

This month as we talk about the topic of freedom I thought we would start with a great verse from Galatians. Galatians 5:13 says “Use your freedom to serve one another in love.”

We’ve got a lot of choices that we have to make as we navigate through each day of our lives. Sometimes we make choices because we’re tired or frustrated or annoyed or we don’t like someone or someone was mean to us. In those cases we are known to make some snap judgments and say things that we may not necessarily mean. Yes, there are things we can do to reduce those issues and increase our freedoms, and we’ll talk about that in another post. But the question is if there’s one thing, one habit, that we can take on that will make our lives and choices better what would it be? Galatians reminds us that it’s love.

Love is a persistent theme throughout the Bible. It’s not something that the Bible is shy about or paints as one dimensional. In fact the Bible can be pretty graphic about it, certainly so for a book that’s read by kids and adults alike. And while the Bible may not offer specific advice about certain situations we find ourselves in some 2000+ years after it was written, I can confidently say that there are a few things that haven’t and won’t change, including Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection which forever changed the futures of all who believe, and the importance of love in our lives.

If you’re looking for a little freedom in your life, for your life to start improving, for your relationships to get better, or even for a way to serve God more, I would encourage you to work on creating a habit of love in your life. It’s not something you’re able to get overnight like you can get a t-shirt or other special delivery, it’s something that you have to work on developing through changes and commitments in your attitude, heart, and mind. Not only will you benefit from choosing love in your life, so will the others you interact with. Will you choose love this week?

Supporting Each Other

This week I’ve been thinking again about my place in this world, and yours too. It’s challenged me to really consider who I am, what I’m good at, why I’m here and how my imperfections work into all of it.  If you can’t admit that you struggled with something this week, shame on you.  Unless you buried your head in the sand for the whole week, I know that you’ve been challenged by something this week.  I’ve really been challenged by how much I can’t do.  I’m OK with it, but at the same time, not being able to excel at everything gets to me occasionally.  If I’ve had a particularly bad day lists of my faults and failures can parade through my mind without my permission.   Maybe you’ve dealt with some of these insecurities too.

These struggles really reminded me why it’s so important that we let others in our lives, that we not try to get through this life alone, that we make the effort to build relationships and support those we come in contact with.  Often it’s those relationships and those other people that challenge us the most, but they also make life the most rewarding.  So how do we get past the challenges and let others into our lives, let others take control in areas that we’re not so strong or capable in and they are?

First, I think we have to be humble and admit that we aren’t alone in the world and need others. It’s not easy to admit that you have weaknesses, especially if you have an image with someone.  But opening up and admitting that you’re not perfect creates an opportunity for you to grow a deeper relationship with them.

Second, Galatians 5:22 says “But the fruit that the Spirit produces in a person’s life is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.”  When we choose to enter into relationships, and sustain relationships, with the fruit of the spirit, not only will we pave the way for a satisfying relationship on our end, the other person will benefit too.

Finally, find the point of reference, point of unity, or common ground you two have.  Everyone has something in common.  It may take a while to discover it, but it’s there.  For many people, a common point of interest is faith, especially faith in Christ.

Our relationships should make us stronger because they force us to work together, make us learn how to work together, and to learn how to communicate what we need and want.  This week I encourage you to be honest with yourself and the people who matter most to you in life about what’s going on in your life, where you stand and what you need.  Most people would be thrilled to step up to the plate for you and give you a hand if you would just ask.

Changes for Easter

Easter was yesterday and as has happened in past years the weather was a little more drab and dark.  It doesn’t always feel like Easter when it’s not warm and the sun is shining, but with it as early as it was this year, despite spring being early itself, it’s not surprising it wasn’t really warm or sunny yesterday.  Easter is always to me a festive occasion, Christmas is more of a quiet celebration, while Easter is bigger and more of a cheerful celebration, especially since it’s after Good Friday.

Easter is all about new life.  If you attended church or watched a service online the pastor probably encouraged you to look for the areas of your life where you need to make changes and encourage new growth.  There are lots of ways to encourage new growth in your life, but with growth of any kind usually comes change.  So I was thinking about how we could make the transition to new life and new growth through the necessary changes a little easier and Galatians 5:22-23 came to mind:

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”

It’s not easy to make big changes in your life like jobs, relationships or location, so what if we started with something a little less involved but no less challenging: changing our attitude and how we treat others.  It’s not easy to look at people you’ve known for a long time in a new light, nor is it easy to not fall into old habits and rhythms. But God challenges us to let the Holy Spirit guide us into better relationships and better hearts.

So what will your choice be after this Easter?  Will you choose to start turning over a few new leaves in your life?