Midweek Reflections

Walls and Fences

Read: Ephesians 2:14-22

Earlier this month at the Mennonite Convention in Phoenix the whole concept of tearing down walls and making peace between people was one of the main themes. In fact this passage from Ephesians 2 was one of the focus passages that was used.

It talks about how Jesus came and “his purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace.” It goes on to say that true reconciliation is possible through Christ who is our chief cornerstone.

Reconciliation is often hard to come by. We hear cases like this in the news all the time. Recently it has been the Martin-Zimmerman case in Florida, sometimes it is the Israel-Palestine situation, and as each week passes there seems to be something else in the news that depicts wall, fences, and misunderstandings between people.

In fact, we don’t have to turn on the news, we often can just look at our own relationships. Unfortunately we do a pretty good job ourselves of wall and fence building. It reminds me of the story about two farmers from Alberta, Canada.

In Alberta you can find two parallel fences, only two feet apart, running for a half mile. Why are there two fences when one would do? Well, this is where Paul and Oscar come in. These two farmers had a disagreement that erupted into a longstanding feud.

Paul wanted to build a fence between their land and split the cost, but Oscar was unwilling to contribute. Since he wanted to keep cattle on his land, Paul went ahead and built the fence anyway. After the fence was completed, Oscar said to Paul, “I see we have a fence.”

“What do you mean ‘we’?” Paul replied. “I got the property line surveyed and built the fence two feet into my land. That means some of my land is outside the fence. And if any of your cows sets foot on my land, I’ll shoot it.”

Oscar knew Paul wasn’t joking, so when he eventually decided to use the land adjoining Paul’s for pasture, he was forced to build another fence, two feet away. Oscar and Paul are both gone now, but their double fence stands as an unfortunate monument to the high price we pay for stubbornness.

You see, Christ came not only destroy the wall of sin that separates us from God, he also came to show us how to reconcile our differences with each other. When we place reconciliation above our own selfish preferences we learn to find peace and contentment with each other. Jew, Gentile, and whatever other differences are represented.

Let’s live by Christ’s example and work at tearing down the walls and fences that keep us divided and opposing each other. Let’s work at peace, reconciliation, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Make it personal: Who comes to mind when you think of walls and fences? Make an effort this week at taking those down and moving towards common ground. Read the Ephesians 2 passage and others that give testimony of the Jesus way.

Have a great week,
Glen Rhodes, Minister of Discipling and Community Life, Arthur Mennonite Church

You have the first piece!

Read: Proverbs 3 and Mark 12:41-44

One day two little boys were each given a box of chocolates by their grandfather. The first boy took the package into his bedroom, tore into it, and stuffed the candies into his mouth until he had it smeared all over him. The other boy unwrapped his package in front of his grandpa, opened the box and looked at all the candies, then raised the box to his grandfather and said, “Thank you for giving me this candy! Here, you have the first piece!”

The ideal of firstfruits giving is evident throughout the Bible. In Exodus 34:26 it says “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.” in Proverbs 3:9-10 it says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barn will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”

The word wealth in that verse is relative. What I mean by that is that firstfruits giving to God is something that should be practiced no matter how much one makes. Jesus gives the perfect example of that in Mark 12 when he tells the story about the poor widow who gave all that she had.

When we give to the Lord it should be with the attitude that the second boy in the story above had. He was overjoyed with what he had been given and he offered the first of it back to the giver, his grandpa. When we have a heart that gives to God freely we find ourselves blessed beyond measure.

Those blessings may not always come in things or money, but true joy is not found in those things. True joy comes to us when we know we have taken the first and the best of what God has given to us and given it back to him as an act of worship.

J. Oswald Sanders once said, “The basic question is not how much of our money we should give to God, but how much of God’s money we should keep for ourselves.” That put’s it into a very helpful perspective for us.

The Lord wants us to have the provisions we need. He cares for us, provides for us, and blesses us at times with abundance. But when we see it as the Lord’s, first and foremost, it makes it much easier for us to give with a thankful and worshipful heart.

Make it personal: The next time you sit down with a paycheck or income of some sort start by giving to God, and then pay your bills and buy your other things. People who practice this act of firstfruits giving most always report the blessings that come from saying, “Here God, you have the first piece!”

Have a great week,
Glen Rhodes, Minister of Discipling and Community Life, Arthur Mennonite Church

From Sorrow to Repentance

Read: 2 Corinthians 7:10-13

When we are truly sorry for something we have done against God or against another person it usually brings forth a repentant heart within us. That repentance then leads us to an “eagerness” to clear ourselves as this passage proclaims.

Most Illinois basketball fans have bad memories of the way the 1989 season ended. The Flying Illini were ranked #1 in the country and picked by most to win the championship. Then in the final four they were upset by a Michigan team that they had beaten during the regular season.

I heard a story this week about Rumeal Robinson who played on that Michigan team. Apparently earlier in the season he had missed two free throws late in a game against Wisconsin that would have won the game for his team. He felt so bad about this that after each practice for the rest of the season he vowed to his team and coaches to shoot 100 extra foul shots before heading to the locker room.

Rumeal was then ready when he stepped to the foul line to shoot two shots with 3 seconds left in overtime in the national championship game. He made both and Michigan won the National Championship that year. Rumeal’s repentance had been genuine, and sorrow motivated him to work so that he would never make that mistake again.

When we are sorry for something we have done that sorrow should lead us to ask Christ to help us do better. If we say that we are sorry and continue to repeat the same behaviors then we are doing little to become better.

In this passage Paul says, “At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.” When true Godly sorrow leads to repentance this should be our desire. To not only receive God’s grace but to allow it to change us from the inside out.

Perhaps you have heard the phrase, “Don’t become bitter, become better.” Jesus can help us in that endeavor for sure. When we fail, his forgiveness is there for us, and his desire is to see us grow through that failure and become closer to his desire for our lives.

Make it personal: The next time you are sorry about something and seek repentance, ask Christ to help you overcome the attitude or temptation that led you down that road in the first place. His grace and his strength are sufficient!

Have a great week,
Glen Rhodes, Minister of Discipling and Community Life, Arthur Mennonite Church

Splendor and Majesty

Read: Psalm 104

Last week I was blessed to stand at the edge of one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. At that moment I truly understood the Psalmist’s words when he says, “He stretches out the heavens like a tent.” It was both awesome and humbling to stand at the Grand Canyon and view it’s splendor and majesty.

I was also impressed by the many cultures I rubbed shoulders with there. As I walked the trail and did other things I noticed the variety of languages and countries that were represented at this National Park. A true reminder that God’s creation worldwide is a blessing for all of us to enjoy.

It took me back 20 some years ago when I was a visitor to Austria and Switzerland and I marveled at the splendor and majesty of God seen in the Alps of Europe. Sure, these awesome sights have changed and evolved over the many years, but they are still the work of our God, the Creator.

The reason I was in Arizona last week was for our church convention. As a part of this convention Mennonite Church USA passed a resolution about caring for God’s creation. It was a reminder that we are to do what we can, and are called to do, as God’s people in caring for what God has blessed us with.

Several articles of our confession of faith speak to this…
Article 5 on Creation and Divine Providence says, “We believe that the universe has been called into being as an expression of God’s love and sovereign freedom alone.”

Article 6 on The Creation and Calling of Human Beings says,
“Human beings have been made for relationship with God, to live in peace with each other, and to take care of the rest of creation.”

And Article 24 on The Reign of God says, “We believe that the church is called to live now according to the model of the future reign of God. Thus, we are given a foretaste of the kingdom that God will one day establish in full. The church is to be a spiritual, social, and economic reality, demonstrating now the justice, righteousness, love, and peace of the age to come.”

These beliefs are rooted in scriptures throughout the Bible if you want to take the time to read them. (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; Galatians 6:15; Colossians 1:20; Revelation 21:5; Isaiah 19:23-24; 2 Peter 3:13; And those are just a few.

As we sing “How Great Thou Art” and say, “O Lord, My God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds Thy hands have made…” How can we not have a sense of responsibility to care for the things that we have been so blessed with.

I realize that seems overwhelming when we consider the size and expanse of the whole earth but really it can start with us and where we live. I maybe can’t care for the Grand Canyon National Park but I can take care of the things within my reach, and in turn make a difference for God’s creation as a whole.

Make it personal: So often when people hear of creation care or care of the environment they think in political terms. Let’s think of this in spiritual terms this week. Why are we called to care for God’s creation? What does that mean for us in our everyday lives? Allow the Holy Spirit to help you answer those questions and then follow God’s lead.

Have a great week,
Glen Rhodes, Minister of Discipling and Community Life, Arthur Mennonite Church

Citizens of God’s Kingdom

Read: Psalm 24:1; Romans 5:1-5; Philippians 3:20-21; Ephesians 2:14-22

I am writing this week from Phoenix, Arizona where Mennonite Church USA is holding their convention. The theme this year is “Citizens of God’s Kingdom, healed in hope” and the passages listed above are the scriptures that we are focusing on during the convention.

It has been a wonderful reminder that despite borders, countries, and continents, we are all a part of God’s kingdom together as Christians and followers of Jesus Christ. No passport is required, no proof of identity, or customs are needed to be a part of this kingdom.

The hope and healing of Jesus Christ is what binds us together and connects us as his children. It is interesting that one of the theme passages for this week is Ephesians 2:14-22, a book in the New Testament that our church recently studied in the month of June. That scripture says….

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”

Sometimes those barriers or dividing walls seem hard to overcome for us in the flesh. We allow hostility and regulations to stand between us instead of destroying those in the name and cross of Jesus Christ. This week has been a reminder of our need for Christ and our common bond in his kingdom.

One phrase that especially impacted me this week was from a song we sang at the opening worship session. We sang the song “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” and in one of the verses it says, “ponder anew what the Almighty can do.” That single phrase has been challenging me the first couple days of this convention.

When our human flesh doubts what is possible, we need to ponder with a new fresh perspective what the Lord might be ready to do in our lives and in our relationships with God and each other. With humans the possibilities are limited, but with God they are beyond our imagination. They are unlimited!

I am excited about the rest of this week and I am especially excited about how this new epiphany might shape our perspectives, especially my own. Will you join me this week in “pondering anew what the Almighty can do?” I hope so! Blessings to all of you who are a part of this wonderful Kingdom of Heaven.

Make it personal: What new thing are you needing in your life? A new perspective? A new attitude? A new outlook? A new realization of God’s love for you? A new appreciation of your place in God’s kingdom? Whatever it is I hope you will look to God and consider what the Almighty might be ready to do in your life.

Have a great week,
Glen Rhodes Minister of Discipling and Community Life, Arthur Mennonite Church

Redeeming Your Past

Read: Romans 8:31-39

For the past several years I have been going to the local nursing home every other week to read to the residents. I have covered many books during that time and the one I am reading now is especially captivating.

It is entitled “A Grace Revealed” by Jerry Sittser. Jerry writes about how God redeems the story of our lives. He writes from a very personal experience in which he lost his mother, wife, and daughter in one evening some years ago in a car accident. He was left to raise their other young children.

In the most recent chapter that I have been reading (Chapter 7 entitled “Time, Timing, and Timelessness”) he writes about memories and how they can sometimes be good and at other times keep us from living in the present. Here is what he writes.

“Memory enables us to experience the past, however indirectly, as it unfolds over time. It can’t change the past, of course; but it can keep it alive, if only in the head. In that sense it is a useful instrument. Without memory, we would become products of a past we can’t recall and will never know, and thus strangers to ourselves.”

And then he continues… “But memory does not always serve a useful purpose. At worst, it can actually keep us from living in the present moment. That can happen in at least two ways. For one, our memory can idealize the past so much that we want nothing more than to return to it. We remember the ideal marriage we had until something happened that changed it all… We remember the ideal family we had before… We remember the ideal job we had until… Those memories might be entirely accurate and reasonable. Still, what good is an ideal past if it immobilizes rather than inspires, awakening longing but never leads to fulfillment, makes us wish we could go backward rather than forward.”

Jerry shares some other thoughts before he says, “We have the power to choose how we remember and respond to the past, which enables us to engage the present moment in a redemptive way. How can we remember the past in a way that frees us to live, truly live, right now?

What a great challenge to think about! I encourage you to read this entire book if you get the chance, he has many more wonderful thoughts like that from his own experience that I believe can help all of us in our own experiences.

In Romans 8:37 it says, “In all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Through the grace and power of Jesus Christ we can truly engage our present moments through the redemption offered to us in Christ. My prayer this week is that all of us would choose to conquer the bad memories of our past in the name of Jesus and live the present and future within his perfect will.

Make it personal: Jerry Sittser’s story is truly a story of redemption in the midst of much pain, struggle, and suffering. If you read his book and his story I believe it can help you to find God’s redemption in your life as well. When he talks about his life now you can truly tell he has found this redemption that he speaks about.

Have a great week,
Glen Rhodes, Minister of Discipling and Community Life, Arthur Mennonite Church

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