When Storms Close In (Charmaine Smith Miles guest blog)

(Written prior to yesterday’s shooting at Townville Elementary School in our county.)

News of riots ripping through city streets, of gunshots claiming yet another child of God, and another round of seemingly empty promises from politicians.  It all seems overwhelming. We — God’s people — are waiting.  We ask:  Why and what next?

We pray, Lord, have mercy.  Maybe some of us have given up on prayer.

Is God still at work?  Is God there? Is God even listening?

Yes. God is.

This is the promise that comes to us in the Word, in God made flesh.  God is at work, has been and always will be.  Even when our noise, our violence, our brokenness threatens to drown out the work of the Almighty.  God is there. In Psalm 23, we are not assured of a peaceful, easy life.  We are assured that even though we walk through the “darkest valley,” God is with us.  Over and over and over again, God tells us through the Word that God will not be without us.  The whole of Scripture testifies to this one truth.

Lutheran pastor and Nazi resistor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said this in the wake of what he knew to be true about Adolf Hitler’s regime:  “I believe that God can and will bring good out of evil, even out of the greatest evil.  For that purpose, God needs men and women who make the best use of everything.  I believe that God will give us all the strength we need to help us resist in all times of distress.  But God never gives it in advance, lest we should rely on ourselves and not on him alone.” [emphasis added]

God is indeed at work — in the world and in us.

The question is, can we see it?  Are we looking?  Are we listening?  Or are we letting the noise and the fear that comes with it overtake us.

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Discipleship’s “F progression”

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His invitation seems simple enough at first —

Jesus says, to an outcast of all people, FOLLOW me (Luke 5:27).  The resurrected Jesus says, to a deserter of all people, FOLLOW me (John 21:19).

This invitation to follow is the start of our new and renewed lives as his disciples. We are Christ-followers first.  As disciples follow along, we try to listen to Jesus’ words, learn what Jesus did, look at how Jesus worshipped and worked, and join others in trying to follow his way of living. Following Jesus will be anything but simple.

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Jesus says (to an assortment of poor, troubled souls), You are my FRIENDS if you keep my commands (John 15:14).

As followers, we receive the Spirit that Jesus sends, and this Holy Spirit draws us nearer to Jesus and to one another.  Disciples grow into friendship with the living Christ and with each other.  Time together transforms us, lifts us, spurs us on.

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As we grow closer to Jesus, followers find a deepening friendship with him and his body, the Church. But followers and friends of Jesus also become part of his family.

Jesus says (to friends and enemies alike), Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother (Mark 3:34).  Jesus tells a story of judgment in which our response to others in need is watched and weighed.  In Jesus’ story, the judge says, Truly I tell you just as cared for one of the least of these who are members of my FAMILY, you cared for me.

Christian disciples are followers of, friends to, and family with Jesus.  His way, the way of discipleship, is seldom a smooth, linear, or easy progression.  In truth, following, befriending, and abiding with Jesus as brothers and sisters brings sacrifice, suffering, and hard-fought change.  Discipleship is anything but simple.

But our teacher, friend, and brother — Jesus the Christ, the Lord and Savior, also says to you and me, to us and them, I am with you always (Matthew 28:20).

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