“Community” is the place where the person you least want to live with always lives, says Henri Nouwen. Often we surround ourselves with the people we most want to live with, which forms a club or a clique, not a community. Anyone can form a club; it takes grace, shared vision, and hard work to form a community.
The Christian church was the first institution in history to bring together on equal footing Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slaves and free. The apostle Paul waxed eloquent on this “mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God.” By forming a community out of diverse members, Paul said, we have the opportunity to capture the attention of the world and even the supernatural world beyond (Eph. 3:9–10).
In some ways the church has sadly failed in this assignment. Still, church is the one place I visit that brings together generations: infants still held in their mothers’ arms, children who squirm and giggle at all the wrong times, responsible adults who know how to act appropriately at all times and those who may drift asleep if the preacher drones on too long.
If we want the community experience God is offering to us, we have reason to seek a congregation of people “not like us.”
My granddaughter’s favorite tune is one of John Philip Sousa’s marches. Sousa, the “march king,” was a US composer in the late nineteenth century. Moriah isn’t in a marching band; she’s only 20 months old. She just loves the tune and can even hum a few notes. She associates it with joyful times. When our family gets together, we often hum this song along with claps and other boisterous noises, and the grandchildren dance or parade in circles to the beat. It always ends in dizzy children and lots of laughter.
Our joyful noise reminds me of the psalm that implores us to “worship the LORD with gladness” (Ps. 100:2). When King Solomon dedicated the temple, the Israelites celebrated with praises (2 Chron. 7:5–6). Psalm 100 may have been one of the songs they sang. The psalm declares: “Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth; worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. . . . Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name” (vv. 1, 4). Why? “For the LORD is good and his love endures forever”! (v. 5).
Our good God loves us! In grateful response, let’s make a “joyful noise unto the LORD”! (Ps. 100:1 KJV).
During our granddaughter’s school band concert, I was impressed by how well this group of 11- and 12-year-olds played together. If each of them had wanted to be a solo performer, they could not have achieved individually what the band did collectively. The woodwinds, brass, and percussion sections all played their parts and the result was beautiful music!
To the followers of Jesus in Rome, Paul wrote, “In Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us” (Rom. 12:5–6). Among the gifts Paul mentioned are prophecy, service, teaching, encouragement, giving, leadership, and mercy (vv. 7–8). Each gift is to be exercised freely for the good of all (1 Cor. 12:7).
One definition of in concert is “agreement in design or plan; combined action; harmony or accord.” That’s the Lord’s plan for us as His children though faith in Jesus Christ. “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (v. 10). The goal is cooperation, not competition.
In a sense, we are “on stage” before a watching and listening world every day. There are no soloists in God’s concert band, but every instrument is essential. The music is best when we each play our part in unity with others.
After I confronted my friend by email over a matter on which we had differed, she didn’t respond. Had I overstepped? I didn’t want to worsen the situation by pestering her, but neither did I want to leave things unresolved before she went on a trip overseas. As she popped into my mind throughout the following days, I prayed for her, unsure of the way forward. Then one morning I went for a walk in our local park and saw her, pain etched on her face as she glimpsed me. “Thank you, Lord, that I can talk to her,” I breathed as I approached her with a welcoming smile. We talked openly and were able to resolve matters.
Sometimes when hurt or silence intrudes on our relationships, mending them seems out of our control. But as the apostle Paul says in his letter to the church at Ephesus, we are called to work for peace and unity through God’s Spirit, donning the garments of gentleness, humility, and patience as we seek God’s healing in our relationships. The Lord yearns for us to be united, and through His Spirit He can bring His people together—even unexpectedly when we go walking in the park.
Have you experienced an unexpected encounter that revealed God working in a situation? How might you work toward peace and unity today?
Singing changes the brain! Some studies show that when we sing, our bodies release hormones that relieve anxiety and stress. Other research indicates that when a group of people sings together, their heartbeats actually synchronize with each other.
The apostle Paul’s writing encourages the church to speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19). And the Bible repeats, “Sing praise” more than fifty times.
In 2 Chronicles 20, we read a story of God’s people demonstrating their trust in God by singing as they marched into battle. Enemies were heading toward the people of Judah. Alarmed, King Jehoshaphat called everyone together. He led the community in intense prayer. They didn’t eat or drink, but only prayed, “We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (v. 12). The next day, they set out. They weren’t led by their fiercest warriors, but by their choir. They believed God’s promise that they would be delivered without having to fight at all (v. 17).
While they sang and walked toward the conflict, their enemies fought each other! By the time God’s people reached the battlefield, the fighting had ended. God saved His people as they marched by faith toward the unknown, singing His praises.
God encourages us to praise Him for good reasons. Whether or not we are marching into battle, praising God has power to change our thoughts, our hearts, and our lives.
Caricature artists set up their easels in public places and draw pictures of people who are willing to pay a modest price for a humorous image of themselves. Their drawings amuse us because they exaggerate one or more of our physical features in a way that is recognizable but funny.
Caricatures of God, on the other hand, are not funny. Exaggerating one of His attributes presents a distorted view that people easily dismiss. Like a caricature, a distorted view of God is not taken seriously. Those who see God portrayed only as an angry and demanding judge are easily lured away by someone who emphasizes mercy. Those who see God as a kindhearted grandfather will reject that image when they need justice. Those who see God as an intellectual idea rather than a living, loving being eventually find other ideas more appealing. Those who see God as a best friend often leave Him behind when they find human friends who are more to their liking.
God declares Himself to be merciful and gracious, but also just in punishing the guilty (Ex. 34:6–7).
As we put our faith into action, we need to avoid portraying God as having only our favorite attributes. We must worship all of God, not just what we like.
When I visited a museum in Chicago, I saw one of the original Striding Lions of Babylon. It was a large mural-type image of a winged lion with a ferocious expression. Symbolizing Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of love and war, the lion I saw was an example of 120 similar lions that would have lined a Babylonian pathway during the years of 604-562
Historians say that after the Babylonians defeated Jerusalem, the Hebrew captives would have seen these lions during their time in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. Historians also say it’s likely that some of the Israelites would have believed Ishtar had defeated the God of Israel.
Daniel, one of the Hebrew captives, did not share the doubts that might have troubled some of his fellow Israelites. His view of God and his commitment to God stayed steady. He prayed three times a day—with his windows open—even when he knew it would mean entering a den of lions. After God rescued Daniel from the hungry animals, King Darius said, “[Daniel’s God] is the living God and He endures forever . . . He rescues and He saves…” (Dan. 6:26–27). Daniel’s faithfulness allowed him to influence Babylonian leaders.
Staying faithful to God despite pressure and discouragement can inspire other people to give Him glory.
When my husband and I go for nature walks, we bring our cameras and take close-ups of the plants at our feet, which are like microcosms of the world. What amazing variety and beauty we see, even in the fungi that spring up overnight and dot the woods with splashes of bright orange, red, and yellow!
The snapshots of life…
Even though my friend Mickey was losing his eyesight, he told me, “I’m going to keep praising God every day, because He’s done so much for me.”
Jesus gave Mickey, and us, the ultimate reason for such never-ending praise. The twenty-sixth chapter of Matthew tells us about how Jesus shared the Passover meal with His disciples the night before He went to the cross. Verse 30 shows us how they concluded the meal: “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”
It wasn’t just any hymn they sang that night—it was a hymn of praise. For millennia, Jews have sung a group of Psalms called “The Hallel” at Passover (“hallel” is the Hebrew word for “praise”). The last of these prayers and songs of praise, found in Psalms 113–118, honors the God who has become our salvation (118:21). It refers to a rejected stone that became a cornerstone (v. 22) and one who comes in the name of the Lord (v. 26). With mystery, we can now understand, they sang, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (v. 24).
As Jesus sang with His disciples on this Passover night, He was giving us the ultimate reason to lift our eyes above our immediate circumstances. He was leading us in praise of the never-ending love and faithfulness of our God.