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Friends in Christ Weekly Message
May 8, 2004

But I am giving you a new command. You must love each other, just as I have loved you. If you love each other, everyone will know that you are my disciples.
John 13:34-35 (CEV*)

The gospels show the disciples as people who had a sense of the importance of Jesus, but who often failed to understand his message. They were also subject to other human failings, such as vying with each other over rank and falling asleep when they were asked to pray with Him. Not long after Jesus gave them this command, they would largely disappear upon his arrest, with Peter staying close but denying Him three times.

Despite their many failings, Jesus never abandoned them. His love for them overflowed, and was able to forgive much. No matter how much they disappointed Him, He continued to regard them as His own.

Here Jesus sets up the way He loved the disciples as a model for how they should love each other. It can be assumed that the model was not just for this small band, but for all of His followers in all places and all times. This love is to be our mark, so strong and vital that it will show everyone that we are followers of Jesus Christ.

As we associate with other followers of Jesus, we will find that they often fail to truly understand the message and have various foibles and failings. Likewise, others will find the same about us. It is easy to get exasperated and impatient with other believers, but we need to remember Jesus' command and always be filled with love for them.

It is well for each of us to consider from time to time how we are doing at fulfilling this command of Jesus. Am I loving other believers, including those I find most exasperating, like Jesus loves me?

Bill Samuel

* Contemporary English Version ©1995 American Bible Society.

©2004 Friends in Christ, Inc.

January 3, 2004

     This is why I, Paul, am in jail for Christ, having taken up the cause of you outsiders, so-called. I take it that you're familiar with the part I was given in God's plan for including everybody. I got the inside story on this from God himself, as I just wrote you in brief.
     As you read over what I have written to you, you'll be able to see for yourselves into the mystery of Christ. None of our ancestors understood this. Only in our time has it been made clear by God's Spirit through his holy apostles and prophets of this new order. The mystery is that people who have never heard of God and those who have heard of him all their lives (what I've been calling outsiders and insiders) stand on the same ground before God. They get the same offer, same help, same promises in Christ Jesus. The Message is accessible and welcoming to everyone, across the board.
     This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to this Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God's way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.
     And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ.

Ephesians 3:1-8 (Message*)

I think the power of this passage is highlighted by Eugene Peterson's translation into modern colloquial English. It's hard for us to get the impact when other translations speak of Jews and Gentiles - the latter a word we never use except in Bible discussions. From the standpoint of "the chosen people" out of which Paul and most of the other Biblical writers came, it really was about insiders and outsiders. Outsiders is a good translation for Gentiles.

When I was a small child in the early 1950's, in response to a leading, my parents moved us South and we bought a small farm outside Plains, Georgia. We put up a sign identifying it as Brotherhood Acres. This became controversial when the people realized, as one said, "You mean everybody." Yes, we did, and we got this conviction from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It doesn't matter whether it is Jews and Gentiles, whites and blacks, Tutsis and Hutus, rich and poor, or whatever the most visible division is in your area, Christ's message is "welcoming to everyone, across the board." Although people try to water it down and distort it, the true Gospel message is empowering to the oppressed and often seen as threatening by the powerful. This has a lot to do with why Jesus and most of the early apostles were executed - and why many Christians today are still being executed.

Another message in this passage is that what we are called to do may not be what we seem well suited for. Paul emphasizes that he was an unlikely person for the work to which he was called. But he points out that "God saw to it that I was equipped." For me, what this means is that I can not dismiss a leading from Christ because I don't seem to have the skills and experience for the task. I must follow the leading, trusting God to equip me for it.

Do we work for "God's plan for including everybody," and refuse to make the invidious distinctions between insiders and outsiders that the world does? Do we accept our calling from God, recognizing that God equips us for it no matter who unsuitable we may seem for it?

Bill Samuel

* The Message version ©2002 by Eugene H. Peterson.

©2003 Friends in Christ, Inc.

October 18, 2003

     "You've observed how godless rulers throw their weight around," he said, "and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It's not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served - and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage."
Mark 10:42b-45 (Message*)

We're used to people throwing their weight around when they get power. When people are in positions of authority and leadership, they often seek to show they're of higher status than others, and expect others to serve them.

Jesus modeled and taught a very different approach to leadership. He went about meeting the needs of others. He responded to the poor and the outcast. He didn't have fashionable clothes, expensive jewelry or a plush office. The model he set for Christian leadership was one of servant leadership.

When put in a leadership position, may each one of us follow Christ's example of servant leadership. May we seek not the trappings of power, but rather how we can best serve others - including and perhaps even especially those who have low status in our society.

Bill Samuel

* The Message version ©2002 by Eugene H. Peterson.

©2003 Friends in Christ, Inc.

October 11, 2003

     What God has said isn't only alive and active! It is sharper than any double-edged sword. His word can cut through our spirits and souls and through our joints and marrow, until it discovers the desires and thoughts of our hearts.
Hebrews 4:12 (CEV*)

When God speaks, the message is alive, active and powerful. This applies both to God speaking directly to us in new words, and to God speaking to us through the scriptures that have come down from centuries past.

God's word can penetrate all our defenses, the ways we use to hide the deepest truths about us - even from ourselves. It can expose our true desires and thoughts. When our real selves are opened by the light of God's word, it can be a catalyst for our transformation. We can be forced to face truths we've sought to escape, and we can be opened to ways we need to follow God's will that our limited, selfish human wills have tried to close off.

This process can be a painful one, as we are forced to confront hard truths. But ultimately it liberates us to be the persons God would have us be, and brings us the true joy of abiding in Christ.

However, we know that many people read the words of the Bible without being changed. It usually requires some degree of openness on our parts for the power of God's word to be manifest in our lives. I pray that we each will be open and receptive, allowing the sharp sword of God's word to pierce us and to spark our transformation into living testimonies of God's Truth.

Bill Samuel

* Contemporary English Version ©1995 American Bible Society.

©2003 Friends in Christ, Inc.

August 30, 2003

     Don't fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don't act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.
     But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God - the free life! - even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action.
     Anyone who sets himself up as "religious" by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.

James 1:22-27 (Message*)

What is faith? The central point of the book of James, well illustrated in this passage, is that faith does not mean just intellectual assent but is something that transforms us so that we live differently. Sounding religious is pointless in itself. We must live what we profess to believe.

We are deceived if we think we are truly Christian by going to church each week and sounding pious. If our faith doesn't impel us to act on it, it is not real. If we truly have faith, we will delight in reaching out to the poor and needy. We will show Christ's compassion through our concrete actions as His followers, and the integrity of our lives.

Dear Lord, may we not just hear your Word, but do it as well. May we not dishonor you by proclaiming our faith in you, but living superficial lives which do not demonstrate your power to transform. May all of our lives demonstrate your love and power and purity so that others may see what you are like by our example.

Bill Samuel

* The Message version ©2002 by Eugene H. Peterson.

©2003 Friends in Christ, Inc.

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