“Godly gratitude – treating others as God has treated us”

Deuteronomy 24: 10-22
~ Exodus 23:14-19

Thanksgiving. Cooking turkey and dressing. Visiting family. Watching football. Shopping on Friday. Volunteering. Donating. Giving thanks. This holiday season is overlaid with multiple meanings. It can be difficult to keep them all straight. We are invited to donate at the stores where we are shopping – often by people wearing Santa hats. Spending time with extended family can be both a source of joy and of stress. We may be grateful to have them in our lives, and also grateful that they don’t live any closer.

Exodus 23 briefly summarizes three festivals – the festival of unleavened bread, ending in the celebration of the Passover meal, the Spring harvest of first fruits at Pentecost (the name, 50, representing the number of days after Passover), and the fall harvest festival, the festival of booths or tabernacles. These instructions are presented to Israel in the early days of their journey to the promised land, not long after they left slavery in Egypt. They are people on a journey, not people planting and tending crops. The instruction assumes that a day will come in their future when things will be different, more settled, better. At that time, then, they will be able to look back on this instruction and remember what the Lord had instructed them on how to give thanks for the harvest.

Have you ever received or given instructions that would only be useful sometime in the future? Did your parents ever say to you, “Now, when you get there… remember…”? Moses repeatedly told the people on God’s behalf, “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you… remember…” (NUM15; DEUT26) “When you get to school, remember…” “When you get to camp, remember…” “When you get to that party, remember who you are…” “When you get to college, remember what we taught you…” Most of our education is precisely this – equipping us with knowledge, skills, understanding and wisdom for a future day when we will need it. We know how important this is. We also know how easy it is to ignore, to tune out, to think, “When am I ever going to need this…?” I wonder if that happened to the Israelites.

Our other text from Deuteronomy 24 specifically discusses how to harvest. By the time this teaching is given, the original generation of adults has died in the wilderness because they refused to trust God and go forward into an uncertain and scary future. The people wandered aimlessly for 40 years in the wilderness, gathering manna and eating quail and livestock and whatever wild plants they could gather. Now, finally, they have again come to the Jordan River and are given another opportunity by God to step into the dream and promise of their blessed future. All the instructions in Deuteronomy are presented as a single monologue by Moses, rehearsing and reinforcing the teachings of the past 40 years. They are close to being able to plant and reap their first harvests, so it becomes more important to give specific instructions.

Moses gives a wide variety of instructions here on how to establish a settled community that is peaceful, righteous and just. In the midst of these rules on worship, marriage and divorce, punishment, handling a corpse… We have this refrain: Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this.  The instructions on how to harvest have embedded within them provision for the poor, the stranger, and the foreigner in our midst, because we were once as they are. In our harvesting, and in our thanksgiving, we must remember those who are where we have been. And this we is generational. It is not just where you personally have been. It is about where we as a people have been. We were slaves in Egypt, and foreigners in a strange land. We were the poor and downtrodden. We were the vulnerable and the oppressed. And because this is true, we must treat with honor and respect those who are currently so.

“What does it mean for us to leave gleanings in the field?”

Are you someone who has financial resources? You are commanded by God to share with those who do not, as an act of thanksgiving in your own receiving. This shows that you realize that what you have is not only by your own making or doing.

How else might we apply this principle?

Consider Sandra, who has healthy relationships? How might she bless others who are less fortunate? What would it mean for her to leave a gleaning in the field of relationships? Sandra gives others the benefit of the doubt if they offend her or act foolishly. She is quick to forgive and refuses to harbor resentment. She offers offer mercy and grace because she at one time needed mercy and grace from another.

What about Jack, who has real talent and ability? How might he leave sheaves in the field? He has extra patience with those less competent? He gives some of his time to teach others what he knows. He donates his ability to those who cannot afford to pay and are not able to learn and do what comes easily to him.

Jackie is someone with a deep and humble faith. The grace of God flow through her so that she have an abiding faith and trust that guards her heart and mind from anxiety and worry and fear? How can she leave some fruit of the Spirit on the vine of her life so that others may take and eat and be nourished? She is praying for others to also find the peace that passes understanding? She is offering encouragement to others so that they might hear God’s voice? She is not busy trying to convince others that she is right about what God wants them to do. Rather, she allows room for the Holy Spirit to work in them as it does in her. She is not impatient to fix others, for God is patient with her.

Sarah is someone who has a good head for numbers and is skilled at managing finances. At the same time that she is prospering she seeks to bless those who do not have the same innate talent or learned abilities? Sarah mentors others in business and family finances. She teaches budgeting classes and makes micro venture loans to people trying to start small businesses. She guides young adults and those recently divorced or widowed who have never learned financial management.

Again, the question is: “What does it mean for us to leave gleanings in the field?” Few of us actually have fields or vineyards or olive trees that produce a livelihood.  We are being asked to leave a gleaning from our life’s work. What labor supports your household? What skills and abilities enable you to earn a living and support yourself and those who depend upon you? The commandment we receive is to leave the gleaning from our labors so that those who lack access to skill, knowledge, training or the means of production may feed themselves.

Dignity through work: An equally important principle within this commandment is that those receiving must be given an opportunity to labor as a way to maintain their dignity. The story of Ruth is a wonderful example of how this teaching was lived out. Ruth was a poor young widow, and a non-Jewish foreigner. Her mother-in-law Naomi, also a widow, sent her to the fields of Boaz to glean. Boaz was a kinsman, so Naomi hoped that they would receive some extra measure of grace in his eyes. The fact that this was even necessary may indicate that the commandments from Deuteronomy 24 were not uniformly obeyed. Regardless, Ruth did find favor in Boaz’s sight. She had shown herself faithful, and so he extended extra favor on her beyond the commandment as a reward for her goodness.

Limited control: Another principle embedded in this commandment is that who receives and how much they receive is our of our control, even though the resources are under our stewardship. At times this may be difficult for us to understand or accept. There is no guidance given for setting exclusionary limits on the gleaners – i.e. to curtail people from taking advantage. We might want there to be some. We might even decide to implement some. But God did not see fit to suggest any such boundaries. Remember the underlying premise – we do this because we were once also slaves, poor, vulnerable, oppressed. We also once had no control over the means of production. Those who own the land and the resources and the tools control who gets what. To be poor is to lack sufficient access and control over the resources of production.

This is the very definition of a “company town”. An area is so isolated that one family, group or company controls the entire economy. When this happens, others are excluded by this very structure. The Israelites were about to take over land and distribute it among tribes and families, according to the people in each tribe as described in the book of Numbers. But not all people are skilled farmers. Not all people are financially responsible. Not all people stay healthy so that they can work. Not all people _________. Fill in the blank. Some people need a helping hand – just as the Israelites did when they were slaves in Egypt. They had not become slaves by some inadequacy, fault or failure. It happened subtly, slowly, over time – similar to the Nazi pogroms against the Jews leading up to the Holocaust.  But once they were in that situation, they needed rescuing. Once the Jews were slaves, they needed rescuing. When people lack the basic resources for life, they need help. And we are commanded to help them because we once needed help.

Initiative AND Assistance: Now, I don’t want to get deeply into the “We built this,” “You didn’t build that,” political debate. I will simply say this, “YES.” Yes, people built businesses, and Yes they had help from lots of other people, including societal resources like public infrastructure and education. Great. The same would have been true for Israel. They had some resources to start with, and some people made better use of them than others. Jesus taught that this would be so, “Some yielded thirty, some sixty, and some one hundred fold.” (MK4) Some are apparently naturally better at business and finance: “To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, each according to their ability.” (MT25) Acknowledging this is true, we still return to the command that those who have are to share with those who have not. This rests on the fact that at some point each of us needed help from others.

A human baby cannot raise itself to healthy adulthood. It will starve unless another being cares for it, feeds it, cleans it, protects it from harm. We have heard rare stories of wild children being raised by wolves or apes. Even these usually got through their early years with humans supporting them. And when they returned to civilization they required a great deal of assistance. We cannot learn language on our own. We do not learn survival skills on our own. We do not learn the math we need for financial management on our own.  We were once slaves to ignorance and weakness and someone provided for us and instructed us and led us out. As children and adolescents (and sometimes as adults) we have been aliens in the adult world of society. The behaviors and attitudes and customs, the expectations and assumptions of others are strange and unknown to us. We are foreigners, aliens, strangers in a strange land. Every one of us who live in North America came from somewhere else, or our ancestors did. All of us are immigrants here, just as the Israelites were. So might we still be under the same commandment to treat the alien among us with compassion and justice, for we were once like them?

Saved by grace: Finally, and most importantly, we were once enslaved to sin (RM7; GAL4) but now have been set free (RM6:18) as Pauls says: 17 But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, 18 and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification. 20 When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Remember again our teaching from Deuteronomy – we are to leave gleanings from our abundant harvest so that those without the benefits we have may take their fill and be nourished. “What does it mean for us to leave gleanings in the field?” What does this mean spiritually? It means that we who have found peace with God through Jesus Christ are to treat those who lack such peace with overwhelming compassion and tender mercy. Remember that you were once slaves to sin and aliens to God. Your salvation is entirely the work of God. (EPH2). Christ restores the relationship between God and Humanity. With the coming of Jesus the reign of God was ushered into human history in a new way. This is the Gospel for which we are to prepare ourselves through repentance and in which we are to live here and now. Not all have heard or received this Good News. Ours is not to judge why. Ours is simply to go and share what we have received.

The Commandment we have been given is to show compassion, justice and love to those who are as we were. We should live our faith so that others are nourished. Does your spiritual life with God produce enough good, rich, nourishing fruit of righteousness (HEB12) so that you can feast and also provide for others? Or is your field, your vineyard barely giving enough for you to eek out a meal now and then. Are you spiritually malnourished because you have not been tending your spiritual gardens? How can you let your spiritual life nourish and feed others? If you are dwelling with Christ in prayer and study, if you are serving others in humility, if you are loving neighbor and enemy as you love yourself and God with all you are and have, then your life will bear the Fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (GAL5). When these are abundantly present in your life, then others can glean and be nourished until their own spiritual gardens and vineyards begin producing the fruit of righteousness.

We give thanks for what we have, whether material, relational, emotional, mental or spiritual, by sharing with those who lack. This is not about handouts – it is about giving free access to what we have received so that others might work out their own salvation. God commands us to do this while we enjoy the fruit of our lives and the bounty we have received. Godly gratitude includes allowing others to be nourished by our lives and not to assume that everything we have is for our own enjoyment. Freely you have received. Freely give. (MT10)


Within the universal church we receive the gift of ministry and the light of scripture

Within the universal church
we receive the gift of ministry
and the light of scripture.

“The gift of ministry and the light of scripture…” These could easily stand alone as independent messages, as both carry significant importance and there is much to say. Let us consider first a few words about each one separately, and then the pair of them in relation to “the universal church.”

The gift of ministry is found throughout scripture. Adam and Eve are given to tend the garden and serve as shepherd stewards of all living things (GN1 & 2). Abram and Sarai are commissioned to bless all people (GN12 & 18). Under the leadership of Moses are appointed Elders (EX18), Priests (EX28) and Levites (perhaps like New Testament Deacons?) (NM8) along with Skilled Craftspeople (EX35). All the Israelites were commanded by God to love family, friend, neighbor and stranger alike as God loves them (LV19).

In the Gospels we of course witness the ministry of Jesus who preaches that the time has come for all people to experience the kingdom of God (MK1) and that this kingdom means liberation, freedom, healing and peace (LK4). As evidence of this kingdom Jesus’ manifests the power of the Spirit of God in healing the blind, deaf, mute, cripple, lame, sick, epileptic, mentally ill, demon possessed, dying and dead (MT11). Jesus feeds the hungry (MT15) and calms the storm (MK4). When he teaches, it is almost always in metaphor or parable that are open to various interpretations, and at times he explicitly does not want his hearers to catch on right  away (MT13). This is a curious ministry indeed.

We learn that all followers of Jesus are a part of one another, together forming one Body of Christ on earth, and that we have gifts for ministry to church and world as part of this body (1COR12, RM12).  Because we are reconciled to God, we have the ministry of reconciliation (2COR5). Together with the people of Israel, we are a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation (EX19, RV1).

In the image of the church as a body we clearly see that not all skills, gifts, tasks or ministries are for all people. All are deserving of equal honor and worth, regardless of appearances or the human measure of importance. This was true in Israel, and is true also in the church. These ministries do not belong to a sect or denomination, not to the traditionalists or the reformers or the charismatics, not to the spiritual or the intellectual or the physical. The belong to the whole people of God. I particularly appreciate how Paul describes this relationship in Ephesians 4:12: “…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ…” The “saints” are all followers of Jesus. The work of ministry belongs to all of us and is meant to build all of us up – not some, or part, or those we choose. ALL.

The light of scripture is another phrase that has a complex meaning. The Old Testament (also called the Hebrew Scriptures) does not include the word “scripture”. It speaks of “The statutes and the ordinances and the law and the commandment that [Moses] wrote for you” (2K17:37). We read about other scrolls of history, such as “the annals of the kings” (1K14). Within the Hebrew Scriptures themselves there seems to be less emphasis on the written word than on the spoken word as preaching or  teaching on the Torah, often interpreted as “law” but more accurately translated “teaching and instruction” (EX13). Psalm 119, the longest book in the Bible and the middle of the bible, is an acrostic poem praising the importance of God’s word for people of faith. It includes the well-known verse “your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (PS119). Again, the focus is less on written text than the message the text conveys that is heard, lived, and shared (DT11).

Somewhere along the way Israel forgot God and God’s ways, and turned to worshipping things made rather than the maker (2K17). They had stopped reading the scrolls of Torah/Instruction. This seems to have played a part in their falling away and being taken into captivity (2K22). Reading the record of God’s relationship with Israel is important to our continuing to worship, love and serve God. When Israel returns to the land from their captivity in Babylon, they also return to studying the scrolls of the Torah. We read: “They read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” (NEH8) Study requires reading, hearing, interpreting and explaining in order to experience understanding and thus have the text “mean” something and “do” something in our lives and through us in the world.

Jesus does some interesting things with the scriptures. In his preaching he reinterprets old texts to have new meaning, using the phrase, “you have heard it said…but I say to you…”and that he had not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (MT5). Yet in fulfilling it, he does change if not abolish it. When “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy” becomes “love your enemy” that is a significant shift in meaning. He takes old stories and uses them as metaphors in new ways, such as the story of Jonah representing the death and resurrection of Jesus (MT12).

John’s gospel makes the most provocative shift when he says that the Word of God – which had meant the direct communication of God through the Spirit to various leaders of Israel – has now become a living human being (JN1). This is a very different form of direct communication. The word itself becomes the human mediator from God to humanity, rather than the priests, prophets and kings. In the Hebrew Scriptures the phrase “Word of God” is not used in reference to written scrolls, but to name the message conveyed from God in whatever form it comes. The Word of God is the content, not the instrument. The situation changes in Jesus, when the content and the instrument become one. It is similar to our saying that “God is love” (1JN4).

Paul gives us the most familiar New Testament passage regarding scripture:          All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (2TIM3:16). This is a beautiful and strongly worded statement. What does it mean? In order to understand its meaning we must look at the larger context. Paul is writing to Timothy about a conflict in the churches over the interpretation of scripture and what it means to be a faithful believing Christian. Some in the church are guilty of, as he says, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power (v5). He refers back to his experience in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra. To understand this we turn to Acts 14 where we read that he traveled through this region teaching in the Jewish synagogues that Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Messianic hopes. He did this by studying the Hebrew Scriptures with them and teaching out of those texts. The point, Paul says, is which scriptures “are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (v15).  For Paul everything focuses on Jesus, on his death and resurrection, and on our faith in him. In his ministry he fought against people who tried to completely ignore the Law, claiming that “salvation by grace through faith” (EPH2:8) was all that mattered. He also resisted those who came and tried to enforce a legalistic reading of the law, what he here describes as “an outward form of Godliness.” For Paul, Christ is the beginning, middle and end. Anything that draws our attention and conversation away from Christ is to be avoided. At best it is a distraction, at worst it is destructive.

When Paul says that “all scripture is inspired by God” his original intent did not include to the New Testament writings, because they did not yet exist. The bible read by first century Jews was the Septuagint – the Greek Translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, which included these books not found in most Protestant bibles, though included in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Bibles, and in protestant bibles as the Apocrypha. Most importantly, perhaps, is that when Paul, or Jesus, spoke of the scriptures, they would have meant the Septuagint. So the Bible that Jesus read included books not in our bible, and of course did not include books in our bible, namely the New Testament itself. (A good resource is here.)

We should note too that the word bible is actually a translation of the word biblios, which means library. The bible is a collection of books, originally scrolls contained in a box. Different communities would have different scrolls in their boxes in the synagogue, in part because of the great cost of transcribing one book, which could take months or years.

Paul’s argument could be taken in at least two ways. He could be stating things that are true of those writings already mutually agreed upon as scripture. There was wide agreement, and the Septuagint represents that. Alternately, he could be saying, “If you want to know what should be considered scripture, then look for these qualities: “Does it live and have power as though it is inspired by God? Is it useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness? If so, then you have scripture before you.” This is exactly what the church has done in deciding what would be considered part of the mainstream orthodox New Testament canon. Those decisions were made in the second through 4th centuries, long after anyone who knew anyone who knew Jesus was gone. No one could say, “Yes, this is exactly as Matthew described it when we were together.” Why four gospels? Why these and not others? Why not the gospel of Thomas, for instance?

One early impetus for deciding which Christian writings were authoritative was the need for a response to Marcion (c140) who taught that the God of Jesus was different from the God of the Jews as described in the Hebrew Scriptures. Thus, in order to affirm the continuity between the God of the Jews and Jesus, work began on forming a canon. Irenaeus (c175-195) led this campaign by seeking to identify those writings that could reasonably be taken as having been written by the apostles – Matthew, John, Peter – or companions of the apostles – Mark, Luke, Paul. Irenaeus, Tertullian and others developed an early list that represents the core of what came to be the agreed upon New Testament Canon, though several generations would pass before the matter was settled. Among second century writers the criteria was whether a book clearly represented the apostolic authority and teaching passed down from Christ and the apostles, based on the oral tradition that accompanied the texts over the preceding 150 years. In the third and fourth centuries the primary criteria became how these early church fathers treated the authority of writings  – whether Irenaeus, Tertullian and others considered them scripture.(A good article for further study is here.)

For us as Christians, the central question is how the text of scripture helps us to understand who God is and who we are. Jesus is the center of that conversation – he speaks of divinity to humanity, and of humanity to divinity. The writings contained in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Apocrypha, and the New Testament present the record of human reflection on the revelation of God through the Abrahamic covenant as fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. By hearing, reading, studying, and praying these texts we are formed by them. The reading and hearing of them is the primary place where the Holy Spirit’s work is revealed as words on paper come alive and have the ability to give us life, if we will but receive it. We also can be deaf, dumb, blind and lame, even dead to the life-giving power found in them. They are an indispensable source of guidance for the Christian life.

Within the universal church…There is one church on earth. “4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (EPH4) We divide by geography, and by culture, and by language, and by doctrine. All of these divisions existed in the first century, as illustrated in the different descriptions in the Acts of the Apostles, in Paul’s letters, and in Revelation 1-3. There is little indication as to whether these distinctions are bad or good. They simply are. They become bad when we make them of more importance than our common faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. When we stop looking to Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith (HB12), then we end up where the Israelites did when they stopped listening to the Word – in a cycle of idolatry that leads to destruction (MT7).

Paul writes that we must learn to “discern the body” (1COR11:29) by which he means that we must recognize that all followers of Jesus are part of Him, and thus we are part of each other. “We are the body of Christ, and individually members one of another.” (1COR12) We all belong to God, so we belong to each other. And the Ministry and the Scripture are God’s, not ours. Because they are God’s, God gets to choose to whom they are entrusted. God did not name this group or that – no culture or language or ideology gets to say that they are the keepers and trustees of the truth. We all, together, are the keepers. We need each other, because each of us see and hear new things. Each of us are also blind and deaf. When we call someone a heretic and refuse to listen because we disagree, we have failed to discern the body. When we reject their voice, what they hear and see, we are rejecting them. When we reject them we reject God. Pentecost is about each of us learning to hear in our own language; it reverses the chaos of Babel. It is much easier to claim our truth as truer and purer. But this is to set ourselves as God, and to claim the ministry and scriptures as our own possession.

They are entrusted to us, but are not ours to possess, any more than we can possess Christ or the Holy Spirit. They possess us. The ministry possesses us. The scripture possesses us. We are to be possessed by God. This is what it means to follow Jesus Christ. When we follow him, “within the universal church, we receive the gift of ministry and the light of scripture … so that we may serve the one whose kingdom has no end.”


Circles of relationship, circles of care

The following conversation is based in the notion that being faithful to these texts requires that we get to know our neighbors as well as we know ourselves. Otherwise, how can we know what it means to love them? And how can we share the Good News of God’s love with them if we do not know what they consider Good News?

For surely I know the dreams I have for you, says the LORD,
Dreams for your welfare, and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.
When you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.
When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.

The great commandment in Matthew 11 tells us:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength
Love your neighbor as yourself.
All the law and the prophets are summed up in these.

The great commission from Matthew 28 lets us hear Jesus say:

Go into the whole world
Make disciples among all nations
Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you
Remember I am with you always

Earlier in Jeremiah 29 we hear the instructions that the Lord gave to the people while they awaited the fulfillment of their redemption:

Build houses and live in them;
plant gardens and eat what they produce
Take wives and have sons and daughters;
Take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage,
that they may bear sons and daughters;
multiply there, and do not decrease.

Seek the welfare of the city,
And pray to the LORD on its behalf,
For in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Intimacy, Influence, Affiliation and Acquaintance

In an effort to get to know our neighbors by listening to and hearing them, we will describe four different kinds of relationships. These are broad categories. There may be others, and some of our relationships may shift from one kind to another and back again over time. All of that is ok, and does not prevent us from understanding ourselves and one another better through this image.

We can think of all the people we know as falling into one of four concentric circles moving outward from ourselves. These are circles of intimacy, influence, affiliation and acquaintance.

Think about your life. Envision all the places you go, and all the people you know. These relationships are opportunities for you to both encounter Christ and to share Christ with others. Paul says that together as disciples of Jesus we form Christ’s Body (RM 12, 1 COR 12). Jesus says that when we serve others, we are serving Him (MT 25). To be His disciples is to let his life live through us in our world.(JN 15, GAL 2).

Circles of Intimacy: Remember that Jesus’ siblings seemed to think he might be crazy (Mk 3:21), and his hometown-hero parade turned quickly into a lynch mob (Lk4). Those who knew us as children often have trouble accepting who and what we have become as adults if it is anything other than what they would have dictated for us given the chance. Not so easy sharing the good news on your doorsteps sometimes. Paul suggested that even in difficult relationships and situations we can witness by our quiet life, and sometimes that is all we can do, and is enough (1 Cor 7:13-17). In other instances we are called to do more.

What are your circles of intimacy?

Circles of Influence: The next group of people are those with whom we have some shared influence – there is a mutual respect and appreciation, or a strong bond through common history, interest or passion. For Jesus, this group included the disciples of John, who he knew were already anticipating the coming of the Messiah and had a deep hope and interest in what God was about to unfold in their day (JN 1:19-51). You know their dreams.

What are your circles of influence?

Affiliation: The next group is those who you interact with perhaps on a daily basis. They are folks we know fairly well, but perhaps not who “remember us when”. These people have a familiarity that brings a level of comfort and credibility, making it easier to earn the right to be heard. They are people you know well enough that you would be aware when they were sick or had a family crisis. You know about some of their relatives. You know their hobbies and interests.

What are your circles of affiliation?

Acquaintance: The next area is our community and region, those with whom we cross paths during the month. Consider where you go in your week that you see the same people repeatedly. You know them by face, and they you, but may not know their name or much about them. You’re not exactly strangers. They would not be surprised if you walked up to them and started a conversation. You know something about them.

What are your circles of acquaintance?

Understanding our circles – seeking deeper knowing

Who is in your circle

What do you know about them that might help to make a “God connection”? What is going on in their lives? What relationships are they in? What are their interests, fears, hopes, struggles, dreams?

Who is in your circles of intimacy?
Who is in your circles of influence?
Who is in your circles of affiliation?
Who is in your circles of acquaintance?

Fishing Ponds ~ Making New Relationships

Fishing Ponds

Jesus said: “I will make you fishers of Men”

“Go into all the world” ~ “You are the Light of the World”

We want to listen to those around us to hear and see God at work. We are also called to go. God calls us to move beyond our circles of relationship. It is time to go fishing.

Fishing Ponds: Jesus came to Simon, Andrew, James and John and said, “I will make you fishers of men.” (Mk 1:17) Sometimes folks will think, “Everyone I know already goes to church, or I’m certain they aren’t interested.” Certainty about such things is questionable – perhaps they just haven’t been given the right kind of opportunity. And besides, we’re not looking to get people to church, we are wanting to join with others as we seek God by following Jesus together. So “fishing ponds” are places we go to turn strangers into acquaintances. We will discover affiliations of common interest or experience, which then will lead to deeper conversations about life and loss, hopes, fears and dreams. This, then, is the place to engage conversations about faith. We can create fishing ponds at the church – Central Christian Church, Dallas has a dog park and FCC Arlington has a community garden. You can also go find a “fishing pond” in your community or beyond. Join a club. Frequent a local watering hole. On campus “Invite Events” like a BBQ, Car Show, VBS, and Fall Festival are “fishing ponds”. Our mission work can serve the purpose of building relationships in this way. These activities include Family Promise, Allen Seniors Luncheon, Habitat for Humanity, Visiting Nursing Homes, Adopt a grandparent or grandchild, Neighborhood Park Ministries, and Mission Trips. What things can you dream up?

Where will you “GO” to “BE” and “SHARE

In the space below, write or draw activities, interests, places, and spaces where you might engage others. Is there a hobby you have always wanted to try? Or perhaps you want to get involved in a service club, book club or other group. Would you change the restaurants or stores you frequent so that you could meet a new group of people and listen for where God is at work in their lives?

“Don’t call us ladies”

My mother raised me to address
with respect,
honoring dignity,
“Lady,” indicating recognition
mature, articulate, confident

Mother, Grandmother, Sister
Graduate educations
Professional mentors
Community leaders

They heard, I suppose,
deference born of superiority,
denying equality,
suggesting weakness,
implying frailty and delicacy.

I could not hear why
they could not hear why
I did not hear
as they desired to be heard.

What if I had stayed, waited
Anxious, vulnerable, uncertain
Curious, open, receptive?
What if I had asked to hear?
Teach me to listen.

I never knew what I didn’t know,
a different language –
vocabulary and structure.

Reference frames shift
as shadows with the passing sun
or is it the turning earth?

Can symbols be redeemed? Perhaps.
But not without hearing the pain
Witnessing the wounds
Bearing the crosses.

Only then may there be
Grace and mercy enough
For rolling away the stones.

© KenGCrawford, 2012