Tag Archives: Growth

The Lesson of Irony

Hebrews 9:28 BibleGateway Verse of the Day [VOD]
…so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

I said to myself “I’ll just take it easy and let BibleGateway tell me what to read and write about for a while using their daily verse as a starting point.” I’d worked through Hebrews. I’d found inspiration in some places but struggled for days in others to write down what I thought I was being taught; sometimes right up to the last minute before posting to this blog. Hebrews was a challenge to my “little gray cells.” I’d finished it up and couldn’t wait to get to something easier.

Surprise! Look what that very first VOD was! I couldn’t help but think irony must one of God’s tools. My hours of thinking and writing are important but not as important as this one verse from that book I’d declared “finished.” That Lesson of Irony was my reminder that God determines “finished,” not me. Got it!

Making a Connection

Hebrews 10
22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

The first thing that came to my mind when I read “not giving up meeting together” was Sunday School. I’m not talking about “school” where you sit and someone tells you what you’re supposed to know. I’m talking about a Sunday place where we actually have the opportunity to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” It’s easy for us to see the value of Sunday School for children but for many adult believers, Sunday school is not on their radar. That’s a missed opportunity.

The success story of a recent adult Sunday school class became these words of Jesus; “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” What was it we were supposed to deny ourself of? Was taking up that cross only about personal sacrifice or did it include the burden of personal flaws as well? Was that cross meant to just be a discipline or was it something that connected us to Christ and each other?

One woman shared her personal experience of learning from Christ what it was like to take up her cross and follow him. She pleaded with him to take her cross and he did, because it was too big and heavy. She chose a much smaller cross instead and for a while that seemed good. After a time though, that cross started to feel too big and heavy too, just as the original one had. She went to Christ once more and he agreed to let her leave that heavy cross with him again and choose the smaller one again. That was when Jesus spoke this truth to her; the cross that seemed so small to her…now…was the original one she’d left with him before. Think about that.

That Sunday school discussion went beyond agreement to become a lesson in faith. Christ is ready to help us deal with our cross, over and over again. That’s “the full assurance that faith brings…for he who promised is faithful.”

That kind of Sunday school is where one person’s faith can add insight that encourages your own. That’s growth.

That kind of Sunday school is about the opportunity to give the depth of personal experience with Christ a face other than your own. That’s intimacy.

That kind of Sunday school is Making a Connection with Christ and other believers.

Oh, and there’s donuts and coffee too! Hope to see you there this Sunday.

Simplicity and Complexity

Hebrews 10
1. The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship…8 First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. 9 Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

The challenge of so many words of simple truth repeated in slightly different ways made this chapter seem complicated to me. I finally had to re-read these 14 verses in the light of a 3-point philosophy of writing I learned way back in junior high. My “aha” moment came when I realized that Simplicity and Complexity have to coexist in the life of a believer.

1 – Tell them what you’re going to tell them:
• “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—…”
2 – Tell them what you want to tell them:
• “…we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
3 – Tell them what you’ve told them:
• “For by one sacrifice he [Christ] has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”

There’s more to these words than just reading and agreeing. The simple part is the truth that “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” The complex part is recognizing that within us the deep and mysterious truth of “once and for all” and “made perfect forever” coexists with the reality of our life; we are still “being made holy.”

The Safety of a Useful Crop

Hebrews 6:4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age 6 and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. 7 Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8 But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

These people are “enlightened,” thought, decision and discipline are key to their faith. They’ve “tasted the heavenly gift.” Their faith has also included feeling and experiencing the power and goodness of God. These people “have shared in the Holy Spirit” and yet they “have fallen away” and there’s no going back. Why hasn’t their faith kept them safe?

How in the world do rain and crops fit in? Maybe knowledge about God is like the rain. It falls often, and broadly, over the land preparing large portions of it to be able to grow. Our faith may be our personal plot of land drinking in the rain and prepared to grow…but there’s a big difference between a muddy field and a useful crop. Maybe our blessing is The Safety of a Useful Crop.

Bottom Line of Confidence

Hebrews 4:14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Dictionary Connections:
con·fi·dence –
1. the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust.
2. a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.

This dictionary turned out to be the key to my thoughts again this morning. Those two parts of the definition of confidence point out something we deal with in our daily lives; knowing the difference between confidence and self-assurance.

I know other versions of the Bible use the word “boldly” in place of “confidence” but I prefer this one. There are times when my grip on being able to live my faith as well as I speak it has been reduced by weaknesses to the Bottom Line of Confidence.

Those are the times when approaching the throne of Grace and getting to Jesus has very little to do with my boldness or self-assurance. The Bottom Line of Confidence looks more like a determined belly crawl through enemy lines, knowing I need to get to that throne no matter what. I may arrive there looking much worse for the wear but I’ll be there. There…where receiving mercy and finding grace become the reality of what I’m confident in, not how capable and self-assured I am on the approach.

The Mystery of Rest

Hebrews 4:9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

It’s interesting to me that sometimes just adding a dictionary definition to the study of the Word can enhance it’s meaning.

• re·mains – the parts left over after other parts have been removed, used, or destroyed.

What if God is reminding us that Sabbath-rest is an untapped resource that still remains after we’ve read, studied, prayed, taught and served in his name? Those are all good and essential things to do but I think Sabbath-rest is more complicated.

I know how difficult it is to get a handle on rest. Rest in my daily life often becomes the leftover time to do things I don’t have time to do when I’m busy working on something else.

I wonder if the Mystery of Rest is that God defines my work as that which keeps me too busy to dedicate my primary time to him? I do know this “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest…” It’s available. I don’t want to miss entering God’s rest by giving him only the leftovers after I’ve done everything else.

The Crescendo of a New Beginning

John 19:28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Jesus’ words “It is finished” are an important reality of our life in Christ. I thought about their importance to the personal drama of my own “first” Easter with Jesus. It felt so big, so dramatic, so epic…and so complete…but it had just barely begun.

I wonder why it’s so easy to look at epic moments in our life of faith as finales when beginning right there on that cross, our hope lies in exactly the opposite being true. That’s the truth of Jesus words “It is finished.” Easter was not an epic finale but The Crescendo of a New Beginning.

Way Beyond Your Expectations

John 20:11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white,seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!”(which means “Teacher”).

Remember the chorus of a country music song from awhile back?
I was lookin’ for love in all the wrong places
Lookin’ for love in too many faces
Searchin’ their eyes, lookin’ for traces
Of what I’m dreamin’ of…

This Scripture reminded me of that chorus and how easy it is to miss a new encounter with Jesus because of mistaken identity or because we’re looking in all the wrong places. We think we know just what to expect of him, but…

Jesus may not always always look like what we’ve imagined he would…or even should…look like. We may find him in places and situations we never expected we would see him. That would certainly describe this early morning encounter between Mary and Jesus. Look how her awareness of the world changed when he spoke her name.

This is Easter morning, 2016, the most important reminder of your spiritual life.  Remember hearing Jesus first speak your name? That was Continue reading

Blessed By – The Beatitudes

I began this Lenten journal on Ash Wednesday with what seemed like the bitter end: Judas betrayal of Jesus. The reality of his story is a reminder of the beginning he missed. Repentance is a “who” to repent to instead of a “what” to repent of. Isn’t that just what Easter is all about? Out of the Ashes of what we “were,” we are being Blessed…

• Blessed By knowing it’s not our spirit that sustains us. Self has Fallen Through the Cracks of life and in the process caught a glimpse of a promised new kingdom of heaven.

• Blessed By realizing that in the Unfamiliar Reality of the emotions of mourning God is replacing the need to cope in unbearable circumstances with the release of comfort.

• Blessed By an undeserved and unearned inheritance and an eternity to explore and understand what submissive, yielding and obedient is. Meek is the mystery of God moving us into position to fulfill his plans as we learn the difference between Be-ing vs Choosing.

• Blessed By Jesus using something as basic and daily as our body’s craveing for nourishment to remind us there’s Another Kind of Life to crave: long for, yearn, desire, want, wish or need – a life of righteousness.

• Blessed By the mercy of Jesus and The Perfected Golden Rule: “Do unto others…as I have done unto you.”

• Blessed By the power God and the life of Jesus to create pure hearts by chiseling away stony pieces to bring us One Pebble Closer to being able to see God.

• Blessed By peacemakers who go Beyond Just Fixing to create opportunity for those in conflict to explore the reality of truth as God means it to be: a path to unity not separation.

• Blessed By a new perspective on Jesus words and the fullness of one Greek word. What once seemed focused on “persecuted” now includes “blessed because they “pursue” righteousness.” In Each Case theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

It’s not over yet!

One Pebble Closer – The Sixth Beatitude

Matthew 5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about hearts and how God changes them. That’s what led me again to Ezekiel 36:26 & 27 – “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.Pebble jar

I think Ezekiel’s words are what Jesus is honoring with this Beatitude. Purity of heart is a slow but sure promise of the power God and the life of Jesus to chisel away at a stoney heart, pebble by pebble, and replace it with life and his Spirit.

Consider this idea. Find a lovely glass jar you’d be comfortable to have in a prominent place in your home. Either buy or gather a supply of small pebbles to have on hand. Every time you feel God tug at your heart, put another pebble in that jar. It may or may not be a big event but it’s an important one to remember; another pebble has fallen loose.

God is at work changing your heart from stone to flesh and you’re One Pebble Closer to purity and the blessing of seeing the reality of God.