“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8, NIV).
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:8-10, NIV).
You have no doubt heard the expression Beware the Ides of March popularized by William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar(1599). Whether or not Caesar was actually warned by a soothsayer to stay home on the 15th of March (as depicted in the play) we do not know, but that day was indeed Caesar’s last. He was betrayed and murdered by his closest friends on the way to the theater. Most would agree that his fate was justified.
Historically, the Ides of March was simply the days in middle of March, but in the calendar of Rome during the time of dictator Caesar (about 40 years before Jesus was born); March was the first, not the third, month of the year. And according to religious and social practice at the time, it was a day of reckoning observed by paying your debts to start your new year with a clean slate, a fresh start, a new beginning. Not a bad idea, really.
Paul, the Roman citizen apostle, knew the dangers of unfulfilled promises, elapsed opportunities, ignored invitations to do good, and all the weights and encumbrances that held up progress and growth. Writing to the communities of faith in Rome who met in houses and shops, he said, “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:7-8, NIV). To Paul, and to Jesus, love motivates caring spiritual practice.
The motives of nonprofit and charitable organizations (like communities of faith) are fundamentally different from their for-profit counterparts. Charities, foundations, and churches are motivated to deliver their mission to individuals and families in their communities. All nonprofits are established to serve a socially valuable purpose for the public good. Churches should fulfill that “public good” purpose. Though the interests of the public change over time based on shifting contexts and community needs, the motives of a congregation should be clear even during tumultuous and disruptive change, and especially during our transformation process.
Learn about your community. For example, we are discovering that many of our neighbors are increasingly facing serious financial stressors as they care for their families. In addition, our research shows that many nearby residents are reluctant to get involved with a church fearing judgement, or thinking the activities are either too boring or irrelevant to their own life experience. We also have learned how debilitating health factors are made worse by the abuse of pain medications. Gaining these and other insights about our neighbors can motivate us to do something in response. How can your church be known as a welcoming and judge-free place for people of all ages? The leaders and our other teams and groups can positively contribute to how we are viewed in the community. March can be a “new year” for us to make new, informed, connections through our services and ministries of caring.
The “Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood” (Jn. 1:14). Since we are in the neighborhood too, we can make a difference as our lives are transformed as we become representatives of Christ (1 Thes. 1). As we show God’s love, we welcome the entire community to experience the Good News of Jesus Christ in faith who “gave his life a ransom for many” (Jn. 3:16-17, Heb. 9:15). What an exciting mission to fulfill. We need to puts words into action!
This March is a great time for a health check. How are you feeling physically? During your next doctor’s visit, you may want to ask for recommendations to increase your physical activity. Exercise is critically important to our improved health. But in addition to a medical doctor check-in, we should pay attention to our financial, emotional, mental, and spiritual health, too. We may need a financial check-up with a financial advisor. There are volunteers available who can assist you with getting a financial check-up, or assist with the free preparation of your income taxes. (Want to know more? Just ask me and I’ll get you in touch with those who can help!)
Do you need an emotional check-up? Are you feeling overwhelmed? If so, you should know that most everyone from time to time feels that way. If you’re feeling discouraged being alone, why not do something about? Take a step today. It may mean for you to have a heart to heart talk with a family member, trusted friend, or spiritual guide or pastor. You can gain perspective and seek out resources to improve coping skills and discover better ways to enjoy each day. One way is to get involved in public worship. And when you’re away, stay connected online. You may want to listen to messages from God’s word, children’s messages, and even the music group selections by visiting your church’s website. (Here’s ours: http://coldspringchurch.com/sermons.)
Exercise the mind, body, and spirit in March!
Or, perhaps you are feeling under-utilized. Not quite sure how to help or get more involved. You may be looking for new opportunities to “serve the public good” as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Have you considered volunteering? Or you might enjoy being a mentor? (Consider Cape Christian Academy. The school welcomes caring people to work with a child who would benefit from a caring adult mentor. Maybe its you!) Use your gifts. Get involved, whether for an hour a week, or a few hours a month. Serving others not only benefit those you serve, but will energize your own spirit! And be sure to celebrate the hours invested in caring spiritual practice.
While the Ides of March may have been a tragic, if still much-deserved day of reckoning for a selfish dictator named Julius, March can be totally different for us.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:8-10, NIV). God created you to do good works.
Join me in making March the amazing month of caring spiritual practiceas we continue on our Lenten journey toward the hope of Easter.