Just How Bad Could It Hurt?

20170604 - 1HBSJust as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles or slaves or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
(1 Corinthians 12:12-13)

Today’s passages:
Psalm 33:12-22
Ezekiel 11:17-20
1 Corinthians 12:4-13
John 20:19-23

I do not know where I heard it or even if there is someone who can be identified as the author, but I heard someone once say: “Anyone who thinks there are inconsequential parts of the body has never stubbed their little toe.”

Think about it, is there anything that hurts worse, especially given the size of the offending object? You are walking through the house after everyone has gone to bed and you discover that the dresser sticks out from the wall more than you thought it did. Since it is late at night, you do not want to wake anyone up, yet between the noise of slamming your foot into the dresser and your muffled screams as you fall to the floor in agony (and perhaps your spouses laughing at the dramatics), everyone within three city blocks are probably awake at this point.

The next morning it still hurts and you try to walk without a noticeable limp, because it is your little toe, after all, but that little toe hurts beyond belief. NFL players sit out of professional football games due to “turf toe,” so the pain must be bad, right?

It is easy for us to forget the importance of the little things in our life. We spend so much time and energy trying to make a (big) name for ourselves and accomplish (great) things, the small joys we can find in simple things escape us.

This is true in church, too. We come to worship or Bible class and resign ourselves to sitting quietly in the pew because we know we are “not as important” as the preacher or the teacher. If we were asked to speak, we would just stumble around and be too embarrassed to say anything important or say it in a way that made a difference to someone else. We do not have the right gifts, or at least it seems at times certain gifts are important for a body of believers and other gifts, well, they are of the little toe variety.

Read carefully the words Paul pens to the Corinth church. Even if you have already read them, go ahead and read them again, start to finish. Now, in just a couple of words summarize what Paul stresses as important.

I don’t know what your words were, but as I read through this passage, I keep zeroing in on the idea of oneness or sameness. How many times does Paul use the word “same?” The emphasis Paul seems to be making here is even more than the little things (or gifts in this context) are important. All of our unique gifts and abilities—“big” or “small”—all come together in the sameness of God’s Spirit. It is the Spirit of God that takes the differences we all inevitably have and melds them together for the common good of one another. Your gift, my gift, his gift, her gift, all of them.

Next time you gather with your church family, look around the room. Look for who looks different, talks different, acts different, and maybe even believes some different things than you do. As you take inventory of everyone else, say a prayer of praise that God has called them—and you—together as his family, as his body.

 

Questions:

•“No king is saved by the size of his army.” How well do you think the people you know receive this passage from Psalms? What about the people who are our governing authorities? What is the point the psalmist is trying to make to us in this psalm? How can we better understand the power of God in comparison to our own power and might?

•In what ways do you feel you have an undivided heart? What are the things that divide you? Søren Kierkekgaard famously stated: “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” Similar to the undivided heart of Ezekiel 11, how do we will one thing? How does God help us be pure of heart?

•When you read through Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians, what role does the Spirit play within the body of Christ? Specifically, what does Paul say about the sameness of the Spirit in connection to the uniqueness each one of us have? How can you live today more in the understanding of the unifying actions of the Spirit?

•Jesus tells his disciples in John 20 that he is sending them out in the same way he was sent out. On what way was Jesus sent and how does this impact how you live a life of faith today? What did you do today that was the result of you being sent? What can you do as a result of that “sentness?”

Blessed is the one…

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Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the Lord.
Blessed are those who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart.
(Psalm 119.1-2)

You need a new saw. So, you go down to the nearest box hardware store and buy you a new saw. A good one, but not too expensive. Sort of middle of the line type saw. And, truthfully, one very similar to the one you had before.

You get your saw home, open the box and, because it says everywhere “Read Instructions before Use!” you go ahead and read the instructions. Once.

Think about it. For most of the products you purchase, do you ever read the instruction manual more than once? I have a whole file drawer full of manuals and except to perhaps find a part number when I need to re-order the air filter on the mower or the vacuum cleaner belt, I never look at them again.

It is not fair to call the Bible an “Instruction Manual,” but it is also not wrong to do so. Much of what scripture tells us is the story of God and how following him gives us what is often called a “blessed” life. But what if we treated God’s word in the same way we treat our Weed Eater manual. A quick glance through it, then off to the files you go.

We cannot live life to its fullest with an occasional reading of God’s word. That is one of the reasons we are encouraging everyone to read along at least weekly, if not daily in this 1 Home Bible Study series. The more time spent in the word, the better you understand what it means to follow God.

So how about it? This week will you delight in God’s decrees and not neglect his word?

 

Questions:

•We at times want the “blessed” life the Psalmist writes about to mean our life has no troubles or turmoil, yet we recognize this is not always the case. Describe a time when God’s word helped focus you on your blessed life even in the midst of turmoil and storms.

•In what ways have you seen church members act in divisive ways like you hear Paul describe in 1 Corinthians 3? How can we work to avoid these kinds of divisions?

•“You have heard it said…” Jesus takes laws his listeners would have known (and followed) and moves the focus away from just doing the law to the heart that drives the actions related to those laws. As you face the challenge of knowing it is easier to act in the right way versus have a heart that desires the motivation be right, how do you strengthen your heart so that you do have the proper motivation to follow God?

•In what ways does God’s word help you address the issue of divisiveness and motivation?

Famous One

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Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.
(Habakkuk 3.2)

If you could be famous, what would be the talent or ability you had that would make you famous? (OK, I realize I am assuming you are NOT famous, but just go with me for a second.) What would you like to be able to do that caused people all around you to know who you were and recognize you in a crowded room?

You may have dreamed of one day being famous, having people surrounding you, hanging on every word and watching your every move. One the one hand, there is quite an appeal that causes us to desire fame.

But then again, how fun would it be to know that every moment of your life was broadcast to a world anxious to see what you had for breakfast, or what you chose to wear on your night out? The world would help turn every dull moment in your life into a viral sensation, seen everywhere and discussed in all the gossip columns.

So perhaps fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe instead of longing to be known by everyone, we think: “What an awful way to live life!” While we are in some ways entranced by the glamour of the celebrity life, we are also repelled by it, too.

Having fame means you are known and most often that widespread knowledge comes from having done something great or outstanding. People begin to talk about your accomplishments. Even without the help of social media, people share those accomplishments with others and your fame, as it were, begins to spread.

Habakkuk wants the fame of God—his accomplishments—to be spread and talked about. Habakkuk, however, wants that fame to be known during some trying circumstances. Read carefully chapter 3 and you discover that God’s wrath is being poured out on the earth, that is, the punishment of God is coming on those who are punishing or oppressing God’s people. If you look at the entire book of Habakkuk, you see that God has used the Babylonians (think: really bad people) to punish God’s people for their sin. While Habakkuk is not thrilled to see someone as bad as the Babylonians be used for God’s punishment (especially on God’s people), he also recognizes that the “Lord is in his holy temple” or stated in another way: God really is in charge.

So in the midst of this turmoil, Habakkuk cries out for God’s fame to be known again, to be discussed in our time. (Funny thing about fame. One moment you are on top of the world, the next no one knows you, right?) More importantly, Habakkuk asks God to show his mercy, that for which he is most famous, in the midst of a world that would appear to be falling apart.

Chris Tomlin has a song titled “Famous One.” I love Chris Tomlin’s songs, but I remember the first time I heard that song. I thought: “That’s an odd way to talk about God.” Given the negativity and images of unneeded excess we sometimes apply to celebrities, being famous does not seem to strike us as God’s way of doing things. But if being famous means that people are talking about you and the great things you have done, being famous is not such a bad description for God, is it? And if Habakkuk can plead with God to show his mercy in a troubled world, shouldn’t we desire God’s fame to be known today?

 

Questions:

•In what ways do you seek to “dwell in the house of the Lord” all of the days of your life? How does trouble in your life get in the way of you seeking God? What things can you do to continue to focus fully on God even in the midst of the struggles going on in your life?

•While listening to Chris Tomlin’s song “Famous One,” you and a friend hear the lyrics: “You are the Lord, the famous one, the famous one.” Your friend asks you: “What’s so famous about God?” How would you answer them?

•Recall the troubles Paul experienced in his life, yet he is able to write: “These happened so we would not rely on ourselves, but on God.” How have you been able to use troubles in your life to seek God more, rather than have them push you away from God? In what ways have you been able to—or might you be able to—use your troubles to comfort others who face similar circumstances?

•How have you been a light to the world, sharing the good deeds and glory of God? How can you do a better job of being a light?

•In what ways can we encourage one another in the midst of troubles, so that God can better strengthen us, even in the midst of these troubles?

What Do You Require?

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No, O People, the Lord has told you what is good,
and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right,
to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.
(Micah 6.8, NLT)

Reading through scripture can be a challenge, especially when your reading plan is a listing of passages that are defined for you as opposed to ones that you can pick and choose. We often would like to stick to the passages that say things like: “God loves you,” or “Praise God for his blessings.”

Read enough of the positive, uplifting passages, and just about the time we realize that perhaps we can blend our lives with God’s call on us in such a way that we change, but not too much, he throws out a passage like the one above:

Do what is right.

Show people mercy.

Be humble.

But that’s not all. This week’s readings also reveal this:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(Matthew 5.3-12)

The problem with passages like these is not determining the proper interpretation. The problem is we KNOW the interpretation, we just cannot seem to live like the text calls us to live.

I remember late night talk show host Jay Leno talking about “The Bible Code,” where someone claimed that if you lined up the Hebrew scriptures in the right order, you would find a secret code that could be read vertically through the text. Leno joked: “I can’t even do the things I know I am supposed to do when I read it normally, now you tell me there is a whole additional set of secret things to do?”

Actually, Leno’s comments were too true to be funny. One does not have to dig deep in news reports or social media postings to realize a basic sense of love, mercy, justice, and humility has escaped us. Those who are poor, who mourn, or are meek? They seem to not even be a blip on our radar screen. One might claim that has been the case forever, and one might have a point, but when it is those you most expect to follow the instruction of scripture and they do not, it is discouraging.

This week, as you read through the listed texts, spend some extra time just going back over them again and again. Then ask yourself the following questions:

Questions:

•Am I living the way God is calling me to live?

•How can I do a better job of doing that?

 

Lord, You Know Me

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You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
(Psalm 139.1)

Have you ever wondered what God’s Privacy Statement looks like?

We live in a day and age where we have grown accustomed to fighting for our right to privacy. While many of us use Facebook daily (hourly?), we have also wrestled with trying to balance the benefit of sharing our lives with “friends” (both online and “In Real Life” friends) versus the dangers and forfeiture of people knowing too much about us.

Don’t believe it is an issue? Go to Google or Amazon.com and search a product—just for fun, let’s say lawn sprinklers—and then count how long it takes for those products to appear in the sidebar of your Facebook page or some other web site you frequent.

There are some anecdotes floating around the Internet about individuals being targeted with custom ads (think: coupons for diapers for someone who is pregnant) based solely on their buying habits, not the customer revealing to the store their pregnancy and fathers (think: pregnant daughters) getting angry only to later discover the actual truth.

[Want to know more? The most commonly cited of these stories and the methods stores (in this case, Target) use purchase history can be found in an article from Forbes here and  the NY Times Magazine here.]

When discussing this strategy, an analyst for Target was quoted as saying (in the Forbes article cited above): “If we send someone a catalog and say, ‘Congratulations on your first child!’ and they’ve never told us they’re pregnant, that’s going to make some people uncomfortable,” Pole told me. “We are very conservative about compliance with all privacy laws. But even if you’re following the law, you can do things where people get queasy.

Um, yeah, they would. We are pretty cautious about people knowing too much about us. Even if things are above board and a company is simply trying to gain our business, we do get a little “queasy” about anyone knowing too much about us.

We don’t want people to know when we sit or when we rise up. We do not want people to perceive our thoughts, from near or far. We don’t want people to know what we are going to say before we say it.

Those words sound familiar? If not, perhaps you need to read through Psalm 139 again. They are words penned by the psalmist that cause us to receive comfort. If it had been a supermarket that said those things, back to queasy feelings, no? So what’s the difference?

We need to keep two things in mind here. First, when God says he knows everything about us, he should: he was the one who created us. Before we were ever born, God knew us and in fact, “knit us” together in our mother’s womb, the psalmist writes. Sovereignty has privileges and knowing us inside and out is one of them.

The second thing is even more important. When a store uses information about us to encourage us to purchase an item, however legal and innocuous that information may be used, the ultimate benefactor of the information is … the store. When God knows information about you that no one else knows, his “use” of that information is in your best interest.

Why does God know you and search your thoughts? So that he can remove those things that keep you from knowing and following him better. God’s desire is for us to love him more and he wants nothing more than to be able to remove those things that stand between him and us.

You may justifiably want your privacy, but trust me, God’s not one you want to try to hide from. Him knowing you is best for you.

Questions:

•If God did a complete searching of your heart, what would he find? What would he want to remove? What is preventing you from letting that happen now?

•We do not like to think about the punishment that comes upon God’s people (or us), yet his prophets often foretold of just that. Why does Amos describe punishment coming on God’s people Israel? Was this punishment unjustified? Why or why not? What do you think Israel could have done to prevent this?

•Why are divisions amongst God’s people such a barrier to faithful living?

•What do you think Peter and Andrew were thinking they were getting into when Jesus called them to “fish for people?” What other analogies could be used to describe the process of bringing people to Jesus?

•How would you describe Jesus’ activities as he went around preaching, “the kingdom of heaven came near?” How does his activities compare to the things we do today as his church? What do we need to change to better match what he did?

Where are you staying?

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I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.
(John 1.34)

Where are you staying?

Ask yourself: If Jesus had just been pointed out to you in a crowd or perhaps at a busy market, how would you begin a conversation with him? What would you say when you first walked up to him? Even if you did not fully understand or even believe his power, his reputation alone might cause you some hesitation as you approached him.

For many of us, the moment we find ourselves in front of someone famous or someone with a lot of power, we find ourselves dumbstruck. All the great things we were going to say fly out the window. We stutter and stammer, barely able to communicate anything. We finally blurt out some word of praise or awe, but even that comes across strange.

Perhaps the awkwardness of the moment impacts our ability to think clearly. We don’t know what to say exactly, so we compensate by saying something … anything. Like walking into a hospital room and asking a patient who is in critical condition or perhaps near death: How’s it going? (Well, not so good, but thanks for asking!)

These two disciples of John find themselves in a similar situation. They are with their teacher, when Jesus, the “Lamb of God,” passes by. This would not have been the first time these men heard of Jesus, for John spent his life pointing out the coming of the Messiah to those who would listen. And John was obviously successful at what he came to do because these two start to follow Jesus. This was the plan all along: “He must be greater; I must become less.” (Jn. 3.30) To John’s disciples, there must have been a sense of awe in finally coming face-to-face with this man. At this point, following him seemed like the only logical choice.

When Jesus realizes they are following him, he asks: “What do you want?”

“Where are you staying?” they reply.

Most of us (scholars included) want to know: did these two know what they were asking or was this just another bumbled introduction?

On the one hand, we might expect a question like: “Can we follow you?” or “Will you teach us?” Perhaps they might want to know the most important command of the law or secrets to a faithful life. As men of faith (remember, they were disciples of John), we certainly expect some sense of recognition of the greatness of Jesus, God’s Son.

Yet on the other hand, their question may get at the heart of what it means to truly follow Jesus. First, learning from Jesus is a life-long process. It involves day-in and day-out examples of what it means to live under the Lordship of him. Hearing the good news of Jesus’ salvation may only take a moment, but the implications of fully realizing how salvation affects our actions takes a long time. So it would make sense that John’s disciples wanted more than just a “quick word” with Jesus.

The other thing that I imagine is going on is that when you are introduced to the “Lamb of God,” the savior of the world, you want to spend extended time with him. A conversation with someone like Jesus takes more than a moment or two. You cannot simply visit over dinner and call it good. Days and months and years must pass to really get to know him and every moment you have with him adds to the joy of knowing him. Like that young couple in love, when you hang up at night, you count the seconds until you can visit again. If this is true, then asking where are you staying makes complete sense.

What about you? When you meet Jesus, what is your question? A stumbling, awkward attempt to praise the Son of God or a request to spend time—extended time—with God?

Where are you staying?

 

Questions:

•How does knowing the ways God has rescued you—lifted you from the pit, the psalmist says—give you a new song of praise to God? In what ways do people see and fear God because of your praise? How can you do a better job of praising him so that others know him?

•In several places in scripture we are told God knew us, by name, before we were even born. How does this knowledge help you better understand the power of God and his love for you?

•What ways do you struggle with your faith, thinking that you are not good enough to live a Godly life? How does Paul’s admonition that you “do not lack any spiritual gift” help you recognizes the abilities God has given you to live for Him?

•What was the first thing you did when you learned about Jesus? How does your reaction compare to the actions of Andrew? How can our knowledge of Jesus propel us to share that with those closest to us?

•What practices can we engage in to help ourselves know God better? Once we know him better, how can we be sure to share him more with others?