Growing

20170910 - 1HBSTherefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice…
(Romans 12.1)

Today’s Passages:
Psalm 119.33-48
Ezekiel 33.1-11
Romans 12.9-21
Matthew 18.15-20

One of the hardest things for me to discover is what I need to do to continue to grow in my faith. I want to follow Jesus and I know there are some things people say will help you be a better follower, but sometimes I find the practical, “Here’s what this should all look like” missing. I know being a part of a church and reading my Bible is important, but what changes should these activities bring in my day-to-day life.

This is what I love about the list we find in Roman’s 12. Now, I want to be the first to say that I do not in anyway think Paul wrote this list as a checklist to be graded by our spiritual mentors. (“Good! You completed 7 out of 10 tasks. That’s a passing grade in most places!”) But while we may not use this to ensure a winning percentage, I think it is helpful to evaluate our lives through the lens of these things. As we read and pray more, our lives should take on the things Paul lists here, so in that way, this is a helpful passage for me.

Let me encourage you to spend some time reading through this list. Ask yourself: Does my life show the fruit of these activities? Has my desire to follow Jesus produced these sorts of things in my day-to-day activities?

  • Love must be sincere.
  • Hate what is evil.
  • Cling to what is good.
  • Be devoted to one another in love.
  • Honor one another above yourselves.
  • Never be lacking in zeal.
  • Keep your spiritual fervor.
  • Serve the Lord.
  • Be joyful in hope.
  • Be patient in affliction.
  • Be faithful in prayer.
  • Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.
  • Practice hospitality.
  • Bless those who persecute you.
  • Bless and do not curse.
  • Rejoice with those who rejoice.
  • Mourn with those who mourn.
  • Live in harmony with one another.
  • Do not be proud.
  • Be willing to associate with people of low position.
  • Do not be conceited.
  • Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
  • Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
  • If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
  • Do not take revenge.
  • Leave room for God’s wrath.
  • “If your enemy is hungry, feed him.
  • If your enemy is thirsty, give him something to drink.
  • Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Questions:

•The first few verses of the Psalm 119 passage we are reading today appeals to the power of God to direct us. How would you compare seeking God’s power for understanding and direction with trying to tough your way through learning about and following God? How can you remind yourself to see God’s guidance more?

•Who is a watchman for you? Who keeps you accountable and keeps alert to ensure you are following God? For whom are you a watchman?

•When you see the list Paul writes in Romans 12 (listed above), what has he left off? What on this list surprises you? What from this list helps you follow him best?

•How comfortable are you at helping another see his or her sin? Why is this so difficult for many of us? Why is it important, however, that we do this, even beyond the fact that Jesus mentions it in this passage from Matthew?

 

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?”

From the Depths…

20170402 - 1HBS

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.(Psalm 130.1-2)

Today’s passages:
Psalm 130
Ezekiel 37.1-14
Romans 6.16-23
John 11.1-34

Perhaps you have seen a movie that shows a character falling into a body of water, a swimming pool or perhaps the lake where the family is taking summer vacation. There is an initial shock or struggle to swim, but eventually, the character resigns himself or herself to their “fate” and sort of drifts effortlessly along, as if taking a stroll in a water garden. Of course someone reaches into the water and saves the individual from their time of blissful peace, but for a moment, it was almost like life in the midst of certain demise was nothing but peace and comfort.

Psalm 130 is not that moment. In fact, none of the passages we read today are that moment. They are, collectively, moments of fear and doubt. They most likely include struggle in the face of what appears to be the end, but yet we long for that not to be the case. In our minds, there is no possible way life can change for us, yet we discover through the power of God, it does. Let’s look at each passage individually.

In Psalm 130, I get the picture that the writer is struggling against certain doom. He is in the depths because of his sins. The picture of “the depths” is an appropriate one, I believe. If you have ever been in a situation where you thought drowning was imminent (I have), there is nothing peaceful or blissful about it. You are in an all out struggle to find a way back to the top of the water. If you take lifeguard training, one of the dangers they repeatedly warn you about is not drowning itself, but the people who are drowning. They are in a panic and will try anything to keep from doing so, even if that means taking you down with them.

Notice the writer of the psalm does not blame poor choices or even a life in which he was dealt a lousy set of cards. No, the problem the writer is facing is of his own doing, yet he longs to find rescue.

Ezekiel is taken to a field of dry bones. Obviously life is not found in abundant in such circumstances, yet the Spirit of the Lord asks Ezekiel: Can these bones live?

Let’s think about that for just a moment. I am not sure how many “come-back-to-life” stories Ezekiel had experienced. I know there are some such stories mentioned in the Old Testament, but they do not seem to be an everyday occurrence. I do think, however, that no matter how many of these stories he might have seen, since the field was full of dry bones, life was probably the last thing on Ezekiel’s mind.

Paul writes in his letter to the Romans: “the wages of sin is death” (6.23). This is the same guy who just a couple of chapters earlier mentioned: “all have sinned” (3.23). So if all sin and sin leads to death, well, the outcome of this equation does not seem like a good one, does it?

Finally, Jesus comes to the tomb of Lazarus and seeks to bring him back to life. Martha, seeing the world through the only lens she knew to look through, that of her own experiences, is quick to point out her brother Lazarus has been dead for four days. You can read her mind: Jesus, if you had been her the first or perhaps the second day, maybe there would have been a chance, but four days into this death and you might as well be talking to a field of dry bones. It ain’t happening.

What would you have done in any of the four situations we find in the readings for today? Would you doubt the ability of God to rescue you? Would you have thought the odds were just too much against you for things to change? Would you have given up and tried to accept your fate in a scene of bliss?

Whatever your circumstances, remember these things. Though you may feel your sin is overwhelming and so numerous they drag you down, God can deliver you from them. Though you may see nothing but dry, dead bones in your life—in whatever situation you find yourself—God can bring life to that which has been given up for dead. Though your sins may seem deadly pulling you completely away from any hope of a relationship with God, nothing, absolutely nothing separates you from his love. And though every experience you are familiar with seems to indicate the impossible cannot be done, God hasn’t even started so take away the stone.

 

Questions:

•If God does not keep a record of sins, why do we spend so much time doing so? How can we better condition ourselves to trust God’s ability to redeem us from our sins?

•Describe a time in your life when you were as good as dried bones littering an empty field. How did God breathe his life back into your life?

•Do you think people often think about the wages of sin before engaging in them? Why do you think this is the case and how would things be different if they did? How can you cling to God’s gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus more?

•Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead is the seventh of seven signs he does in the gospel of John. Why do you think this sign resonates so much with the people who read John’s gospel for the first time and why do you think is resonates for us today? How do we keep from assuming that someone, some situation, or perhaps even our own faith is dead and so far gone it is doing nothing but rotting in a tomb?