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

20170820 - 1HBS

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

20170813 - 1HBS

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?

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?”

Be Compassionate and Humble

20170521 - 1HBSWho is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?
(1 Peter 3.13)

Today’s passages:
Psalm 148
Isaiah 41.17-20
1 Peter 3.8-18
John 15.1-8

If you live long enough, you will probably make someone mad at you. (I know, for some of us, it didn’t take that long, did it?) You don’t mean to, it’s just that the tosses and turns of life at times rub people the wrong way and you end up on the wrong end of their ire.

My grandfather lived well beyond his 90th year and to my knowledge, he never had anyone who disliked him. (Obviously I am both biased and somewhat sheltered from all of the negatives, but when we rehearse family stories, a conflict with someone else is never a part of those stories.) You couldn’t. He was calm, kind, gentle, and always sought the best in others. He was so busy doing good, he really didn’t have time to rile people up and if he did, he was so busy doing good you wouldn’t have wanted to stop what he was doing.

I am sure I get more joy of thinking about my grandfather than you do, since you did not know him, so let me make this a little more personal for you. When you read Peter’s words: “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble,” who comes to mind?

And as you continue to read, who is a person who would never repay evil with evil?

Let me make this even more personal still: Are you a person of whom someone would say they always repay evil with a blessing, never an insult? That is easy to long for, yet I find it incredibly hard to do. We seem to be conditioned at an early age to hit back as soon as someone hits you first. (Ever hung out in an elementary or middle school cafeteria and listened to the banter?) If someone talks bad about you – true or not – we seem to understand it as a license to return the favor.

We could discuss all day long why we do this. It may be an act of protection, avoiding getting our feelings completely destroyed by someone else. It may be an act of aggression, trying to one up someone else so that every knows who’s “boss.” It may be that we are just mean.

Whatever the case, Peter says it’s wrong. Rather than try to fight back, we should be eager to do good. Who’s going to come after you if you are spending your time doing good for others? (Want to bring a “cut-down” session to a screeching halt? Agree with the insult and then say something nice. It’s not nearly as fun to argue with someone who agrees with you!)

Peter goes on to say: don’t be wishy washy or back down from answering people about why you have hope in the Lord, but when you answer them, do so with gentleness and respect. It is a rare but valuable commodity to be able to disagree with someone but do it in such a way that they feel loved and cared for in spite of their dissenting view. If we could figure out how to do this more, the world would be a better place.

 

Questions:

•When the psalmist calls on us to praise the Lord, he does so because we understand the Lord as the one who made us. Why does knowing that the world came from God change our perspective about how we view him? If God made the world and everything in it, why would we not want to praise (i.e.: give him the honor he deserves) him?

•In what ways has God given you water and caused rivers to flow when you need it most, when you were “on barren heights?”

•Most of us try to avoid suffering at all costs because we assume if we are suffering, we must be doing something wrong. Peter argues that if we suffer, we are simply following in the example that Jesus gave us. How do you feel about suffering and how it relates to living a life a faith in Jesus Christ?

•What does it mean to “remain in Jesus” and allow yourself to continue to be connected to the vine? What are some specific ways you can be connected to him today, tomorrow, and this week?

You Alone are the Lord

20170507 - 1HBS1You alone are the Lord.
(Nehemiah 9.6)

Today’s passages:
Psalm 23
Nehemiah 9.6-15
1 Peter 2.19-25
John 10.1-10

This week’s study is going to be a lesson in doing.

Sometimes we spend time in a lesson like this trying to squeeze out the truths of the passage, hoping for something we can readily use to help of live for God better. Other times we discover a passage like Nehemiah 9, which we almost have to ignore it to NOT see the ways this passage calls us to action.

Nehemiah 9.6-15 is interesting, because it is a praise of God right in the middle of a chapter containing a confession of sins to God. That seems almost contradictory. I think of times when I had to confess a wrong to my parents. I can never remember a single time I came into their presence shouting their praises. No, I spent more of my time timidly approaching them not saying anything for fear of some sort of wrath.

We learn some valuable insight about God in this passage. Whatever confession of our own wrongdoing we need to make is overshadowed by the greatness of God. (This is actually true whether we have a confession to make or not.)

So the Israelites confession goes something like this: God, you are great and you have done incredible things all throughout our life with you and God, we are sorry, but we forgot those things and thought we were great. We did our own thing, thinking it was somehow more important than what you called us to be or at the very least, we thought it would work out better for us. It didn’t and we repent.

So what if we reversed this pattern. What if, instead of forgetting about the greatness of God until after we had done our own thing, we spent all of our time reciting the great things God has done so that there would be no need to try to come up with a plan on our own? God’s plan and his goodness would be so ingrained in our daily lives that we had no room for anything else but him.

What if we spent a week trying to do that?

 

Exercises:

•Spend time everyday reading through Psalm 23. Remind yourself often that the Lord is your shepherd.

•Make a praise list for this week. Keep this list with you at all times and write down the things you see God doing in your life and in the lives of people you love. At the end of each day, spend time in prayer thanking him for what he has done that day.

•We often assume that because we follow God, everything in our life will be wonderful and if we find ourselves suffering, we must be doing something wrong. 1 Peter reminds us this is not the case. If you find yourself suffering this week, thank God for the opportunity to follow Christ’s example.

•As you go through these exercises, you may discover you are in conflict with how you want to live your life. Remember that Jesus is the good shepherd that his sheep follow him because they know his voice. Who’s voice are you listening to?