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?

 

May the Lord Bless You

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May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us.
(Psalm 67:1)

Today’s Passages:
Psalm 67
Isaiah 56:1-7
Romans 11:13.32
Matthew 15:21-28

When you think about God blessing you, what do you want to receive as the result of that blessing?

It’s hard not to have a desire for a better life, which we often describe as fewer troubles—in our jobs, our marriages, our families, and our finances. At times, perhaps we assume that God’s blessing translates into our “team” winning. Obviously, winning could be defined in a multitude of ways, many of them having nothing to do with sports or games. Maybe God’s blessing for you is for a desire for peace in your life. The Old Testament writers would have called this “Shalom” and it referred to more than peace as an absence of war, it meant something along the lines of everything being just like it was created to be.

Psalm 67 begins with an echo of the priestly blessing found in Numbers 6:

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace. (Number 6:24-26)

Nothing in this blessing would cause us not to think of the ideas we first mentioned about what a blessing would (or perhaps we might say should) look like for us.

But in verse 2, the psalmist turns an unexpected corner:

“so that your ways may be known on earth,
your salvation among all the nations.

It would seem that the blessing of God has little to do with what we receive, or at least in this moment, the writer of the psalm understands that more important than what he receives is the awareness (publicity is probably an appropriate word, although we may find ourselves uncomfortable using it) that God receives because of the great things he has done.

Which brings up a question: What if we asked God to bless us in ways that we could use to share his glory with others? What if, instead of asking for better jobs, marriages, families, or more money, we asked God to give us what we need to be a mouthpiece for him?

 

Questions:

•Spend a few minutes writing down all of the things you would like to “ascribe” to God, that is, list the great things that God has done in your life.

•How does your life communicate to others that “Salvation comes from the Lord?” How can you do a better job telling others this?

•Describe a time when you have felt intense grief for those you love who have turned their back on God. How have you expressed this grief to them and also to God?

•It is interesting that Jesus chose to spend time alone praying to God. Why do you think this was so important to Jesus (who came from God, after all) and what does his actions say about how we should also approach God in prayer?

•When have you heard Jesus tell you to “Take courage!” and really needed the courage that only he can bring?

Man Overboard

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In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me.
(Jonah 2.1)

Today’s Passages:
Psalm 29
Jonah 2:1-9
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:22-33

What do you do when the bottom falls out and everything goes wrong?

I do not mean necessarily when you see evil in the world around you, although “What do you do and say?” is a highly appropriate question, especially today.

I mean more what do you do when your choices have created in your life a scenario where there is nowhere to go but up, although you are not convinced up is even possible.

If you have spent time as a part of a faith community growing up, chances are good that at some point you have turned your back on what you know you were taught to do and when you examined the wreck of your life, you thought: “Wow! I have made a mess of things and I know exactly why I am in the place I am.”

If you have never had that instruction of faith to serve as a foundation for your set of beliefs and actions, you still probably have found yourself in a place where you know things are not good and have an inkling that you wrong choices or lack of choices have somehow played a role in your life.

Imagine how you would feel if you were Jonah. Told to go serve as God’s messenger (and from that, I am going to assume he knew what God expected of him), Jonah decides to run as far away from God as possible. Get a map and find the city of Ninevah and the city Tarshish. Spoiler Alert: they are on opposite ends of the map. If you have read Jonah 1, you discover that Jonah’s decision to run did not end well. It involved a storm, being thrown overboard, and a very large fish.

Given the circumstances, how would you have reacted if you were Jonah? His prayer in Jonah 2 is a fascinating insight into how to handle that moment when you fully realize your decision to run away from God, rather than toward him and the implications that decision holds.

Instead of breaking it down for you, let me ask you to do this. Spend time every day this week praying Jonah’s prayer. Whether you find his prayer misses the mark of where your life is at this moment or if you are looking around waiting for someone to throw you overboard, I believe you will find this prayer a powerful testimony to the goodness of God, especially when wonder about your own goodness.

 

Questions:

•Spend a few minutes writing down all of the things you would like to “ascribe” to God, that is, list the great things that God has done in your life.

•How does your life communicate to others that “Salvation comes from the Lord?” How can you do a better job telling others this?

•Describe a time when you have felt intense grief for those you love who have turned their back on God. How have you expressed this grief to them and also to God?

•It is interesting that Jesus chose to spend time alone praying to God. Why do you think this was so important to Jesus (who came from God, after all) and what does his actions say about how we should also approach God in prayer?

•When have you heard Jesus tell you to “Take courage!” and really needed the courage that only he can bring?

Genie in a Bottle

20170730 - 1HBS - LampSo give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?
(1 Kings 3:9)

Today’s passages:
Psalm 119:121-136
1 Kings 3:5-12
Romans 8:26-34
Matthew 13:31-49

You are walking along the beach and stumble across an antique lamp. As you rub it to try to dust off the sand, suddenly a genie appears and grants you a wish. It’s the kind of thing dreams … and jokes are made of.

Like the one where three ladies are stranded on a deserted island and find a bottle with a genie. Each is told they can have one wish, so the first wishes to go back home to her husband and family, whom they have not seen during the years they have been stranded. The second wishes for the same. The third woman, however, starts crying. “What is it?” asks the genie. “I just wish I had my friends back” she replies.

How do you think you would answer the question: If you could have anything in the world, what would you ask for?

Now, I’m not trying to imply that God is a genie—far from it—but when we read in 1 Kings 3 that God appears to Solomon and tells him he can ask for anything he desires, you get the sense that the sky’s the limit on what can be asked.

The fact that Solomon asks for wisdom (the NIV calls it a “discerning heart”) says something about him, doesn’t it. Again, I do not want to assume anything about what you might ask for, but I am fairly confident wisdom would not be on the top of my list.

If you read the passage carefully, you see that Solomon knows three things.

First, he recognizes how he got to the position he was in. There is no sense of how hard he worked to accomplish so many great things. He knows that it was “God’s kindness to my father David” that Solomon sits on the throne.

Not only does Solomon recognize his position, he also understands his standing in comparison to God and the task set before him. Whereas another man might have been tempted to assume that he was placed in his position because of the skills, talents, and abilities he possesses, Solomon knows that he is “just a child” faced with the task of performing duties far beyond his abilities.

Finally, Solomon knows the importance of his role because of the importance of the people he leads. Too many leaders turn that perspective upside-down and assume that the organization or nation or even church exists because of the greatness of the leader and those below him or her should be grateful for the leader’s benevolence.

“Who is able to govern this great people of yours?” Solomon asks. It indeed takes wisdom to understand the importance of God’s people and the need to ask for his guidance in those things that we do.

So I ask our original question again, altered for this context: If you had a chance to ask for one thing that you knew God would give you, what would you ask?

Questions:

•The Psalmist asks God to deal with him “according to your love” and then he goes on to say: “teach me your decrees.” How do you see the connection of the love of God and our understanding his decrees? In what ways would the love of God help us understand Scripture better?

•In what ways would a “discerning heart” help Solomon lead God’s people? In what ways would such a heart help you as you live a life of faith today? While God may not have come to you in a vision to ask you to request whatever you want, how often do you pray for discernment and wisdom?

•If God is for us, who can be against us?

•If you were going to describe the kingdom of heaven to your neighbor or perhaps someone at work, what words and images would you use to do so? How does your description compare to those of the passage we read in Matthew 13? What do you learn about the kingdom of heaven from these descriptions?

Why Have You Forsaken Me?

2017.04.09 - 1HBSMy God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me?
(Psalm 22.1)

Today’s passages:
Psalm 22.1-22
Isaiah 45.21-25
Philippians 2.5-11
Matthew 26.36-75

I wonder how many times Jesus asked himself the following question in the week leading up to his crucifixion: Why am I having to go through this?

Sometimes I think we have this assumption that Jesus spent his life going through the motions as if reading from a script.

“Let’s see… Today I am to go down to Galilee and heal some people when I get there. Oh yes, then tomorrow it looks like the schedule says I need to teach some people.”

I think taking such a view removes some of the significance that Jesus was divine, yet he was also fully human. I cannot explain how that happens, but I believe the humanity of Jesus caused him to not only be tempted in every way like we are (Hebrews 4.15) but to also have some control over the ways he lived his life. If this is true—and I think the gospels demonstrate that it is—then Jesus’ last week must have been one that was full of anxious anticipation. He knew what was to come and quite frankly, I am not sure he was excited about the consequences at hand.

If you know the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, you know that one of the seven last words he spoke was a quotation of Psalm 22.1, as seen above. He did not quote the entire psalm, just the first half of the first verse: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

One can take this in a couple of different ways. The first would be to assume the abandonment by God in the precise moment that Jesus died. There are all kinds of theological arguments made for such a view, each trying to point out that Jesus suffered while going through death for our salvation.

The second thought about this quote of Jesus is that when one would quote a portion of a psalm, that entire psalm would come into the minds of those who heard the quotation. If this is the case, then we cannot simply stop at the idea of abandonment, but must also include the psalmist’s words that God is “enthroned as the Holy One” (v. 3) and that the writer would “declare [God’s] name to [his] people.” (v. 22) This second view probably gets closer to what Jesus was expressing with his quote on the cross. This idea is further enhanced when we look at the Philippian passage from today’s reading.

Many of us are familiar with these verses, which many scholars believe was originally a song that Paul used within his letter. The gist of the song goes like this: Jesus was God (we read this truth expressed all throughout Scripture) yet, he did not hold on to his “godness.” Instead, he gave it up (literally: emptied himself) so that he could be a sacrifice for us. This was an act of obedience, by the way. We might assume that if we knew we were to be glorified after the fact (see verses 9-11), then it would be easy to give up the life we currently have for the moment. I believe—whatever Jesus knew about what was to come—he was willing to give up his life, even if there was no guarantee for something in the future.

Which brings us full circle to my original question. How many times have you asked yourself: Why do I have to go through this? It is easy for us to assume that our lives, once we have committed to following Jesus, suddenly become heavy with the responsibilities of being good and not sinning and the like. We can also swing to the other side of the pendulum and assume that because we follow Christ, our lives will be nothing but joy and pleasantries. If something goes wrong, we think that God must have abandoned us. Both ways of thinking are filled with the dangers of overgeneralization, as well as the possibilities of missing God at work.

Perhaps a better question to ask, then, is: How can I remain obedient to God regardless of the circumstances that present themselves to me throughout my day?

 

Questions:

•Would you say you spend your time more in the first part of Psalm 22 (the one lamenting God’s forsaking you) or the latter part (where you rejoice in the assembly, praising God)? Why is this the case? In what ways have you been able to find a balance between these two extremes?

•How do Isaiah’s words that deliverance comes “in the Lord alone” provide comfort for you? In what ways have you tried to find deliverance in other things besides God? How has God shown himself as the only one who provides you deliverance and strength?

•How have you been able to take on the same mindset as Christ in your relationships with one another?

•As you read through our reading from Matthew, what stands out to you, even if you have read these verses many times before? How do you see Christ’s humility displayed in these verses?

•How do you remain obedient to God regardless of the circumstances that present themselves to you throughout the day?

You’re An All-Star

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I want to know Christ, yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining the resurrection from the dead.
(Philippians 3.10-11)

What is the most valuable thing you own?

You can measure value is several different ways. You might answer that the thing you value the most is the relationship you have with your spouse or perhaps your children. You might think of something that has sentimental value to you: something owned by a parent or grandparent. One could also think purely monetarily and identify the thing that would cost the most money to replace. Whatever the case, we all have something we would say is “valuable.”

How valuable is your relationship with Jesus?

Most of us would probably say very valuable, but at times, that dedication can be tested, can it not? We live in a culture that encourages the very things that are contrary to a life of faith. What your friends and co-workers define as valuable often runs head-on into the attitudes and behaviors Jesus instructs his followers to have.

Paul understands that tension. In the verses just prior to the section we are reading today, he lists the things the people around him would find as valuable (Philippians 3.4-6). Think of it as a Who’s Who list of being a good Jew. By all accounts and standards, Paul should be an All-Star.

Notice his reaction to these things, however. He considers them garbage. Everything the world, society, the people around him thinks is valuable … Paul rejects in no uncertain terms. Speaking of uncertain terms, the word Paul uses that the NIV translates “garbage,” is describing the sewer that is thrown outside the city gates. Paul is not holding back here.

Paul instead claims the righteousness that he has and that Jesus demonstrates, is the thing he finds most valuable. What is most valuable to Paul? It is knowing Christ and being like him, even if it means suffering.

It is a process. It does not come naturally—how can it when the world is screaming for you to value just the opposite—nor does it happen instantly. But we consistently move forward, seeking that which Christ gave us.

What is the thing you consider most valuable?

 

Questions:

•If we are people who exalt God and worship him, we need to also be people who value justice. In what ways can you demonstrate God’s justice to others around you this week?

•What do you think it would have been like to go up on the mountain to receive God’s law? How do you think you would have felt coming into the presence of God’s glory and how do you think that would have changed how you lived your life from that point forward?

•What things do you have in your life that make it difficult for you to value Christ above everything else? How can you find ways to steadily move forward to Christ, instead of being caught up in the apparent value of these things?

•If you had been Peter on the mountain when Jesus was transfigured, how do you think you would have reacted to what was happening around you? In what ways are we casual or flippant about the glory of God?

•How can our lives better demonstrate God’s glory and our desire to place him above all other things?

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?