Simple life in Christ

Small verse, big changes…

 

Autumn brings spectacular change. Falling temperatures remind us to open our windows and invite the cool air inside. Hay bales and mums decorate porches. And, of course, the leaves begin to display their fine autumnal hues. The change in the colors of the leaves is a complex bio-chemical process that boggles the mind. Thankfully, not all beautiful change is complex. In fact, deep and dynamic personal change can take place through a simple process; it is outlined in Jeremiah 26:13:

“Now therefore, amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God…”

 

In Jeremiah’s admonition to God’s people he described how God-honoring change takes place. Let’s take a look at it together.

 

First, God-honoring change requires us take a hard look at ourselves. None of us enjoys this, but it is the intial step toward lasting change. Before we can “amend our ways and doings,” you and I must compare ourselves to the standard of God’s Word. We are to not compare ourselves to others (that’s self-justification) or compare ourselves to a standard that we have no intention of keeping (that’s hypocrisy). We must compare ourselves to God’s standards. Ouch! Hold on, there is good news. The gap that exists between your everyday life and God’s eternal standards is bridged by His grace to you in Christ. So, with courage, and encouragement, go ahead and take the floodlight of God’s Word and shine it onto your thoughts, motives, and attitudes knowing that His grace covers failures and forges change.

 

Second, the truth about ourselves produces a desire to change our ways.  “What needs to change?” you ask. According to Jeremiah 26:13 it’s our “ways and doings.” We are to amend our ways — the way that we think and live. Once we dial in on correcting our ways we will then see a change in our deeds. To attempt to change your actions apart from changing your ways is to ignore the inner problem of our sinful nature. The Pharisees were experts at this. If you intently focus God’s Word on your mind and heart long enough your ways will begin to change, then, so will your doings.

 

Third, continue to focus on and follow God’s Word. That sounds easy. It’s not. Your responsibilities at work and home, activities with kids, stresses and frustrations, and tight schedule can crowd out your consistent time in God’s Word. Busyness can create an un-focused and un-still mind that is dulled to what God is doing through His Word.  Beware, unless time and attention are devoted to God’s Word each day you won’t sense His direction and walk in His “ways.” You know what becomes of your “doings” if you aren’t walking in His “ways.” We’ve all been there before.

 

To summarize, take an excuse-free look at yourself through the lens of the Bible, make difficult changes in your ways and doings as God points them out, and thank Him for His grace that forgives our sins and forges our change.

 

Thankfully, oaks and hickories do not demand to hold on to summer’s greenery. If they could, and did, we would be robbed of autumn’s splendor. Is there some of God’s splendor that you do without by holding on to your old “ways” and “doings?” It’s worth looking into…

 

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Bible study

Heroes begin humbly …

Oftentimes we lean on others for advice and direction. This is good. Proverbs 11:14 and 15:22 promote it. Suppose that tomorrow the tide turned and your boss or a public leader wanted your advice? How would you prepare for such a moment? A snippet from the life of Elisha found in 2 Kings 3:11 provides the answer.

 

“And Jehoshaphat said, “Is there no prophet of the LORD here, through whom we may inquire of the LORD?” Then one of the king of Israel’s servants answered, “Elisha the son of Shaphat is here, who poured water on the hands of Elijah.” 2 Kings 3:11

 

Before Elisha spoke to kings, he was a prophet; before he was a prophet, he was an apprentice to Elijah; while he was an apprentice, he was a humble servant.

Following Elijah’s chariot-of-fire-ride to heaven, Elisha became his successor. Although Elisha suddenly took on Elijah’s role he had not instantly become a prophet. Over time he had learned how to serve as a prophet under the tutelage of Elijah. It is fitting that Elisha’s first supernatural feat was one that he had just learned from Elijah prior to his departure  to heaven (2 Kings 2:13-14). While serving the prophet Elijah, young Elisha had watched him walk with God, deal with people, handle adversity, and fulfill his role. Elisha had learned as he served.

It’s easy for each of us to want “better” — a better job, a better situation in life, etc. Those things can be good so long as they are kept within the confines of God’s will and Word. In our spiritual lives we often want more as well. We desire to know God intimately, pray fervently, read the Bible consistently, and live wisely. Each of these from the “better things” to spiritual growth will not arrive without work. Sadly, we live in a culture that seeks advancement without effort. The term for that idea is “entitlement.”

It’s easy to spot entitlement. Those who feel “entitled” will think, and often foolishly say, things such as “I deserve, I want, I should get…” If selfishness and laziness married and had a child its name would be “Entitlement.” It is not a great leap of logic to see that entitlement is the opposite of service. Entitlement stamps it feet and says, “I deserve this because I am me.” Services reflects and remembers, “I receive because of Who God is, not because of who I am.” Let that sink in. Think back on the last week and recall which of those two attitudes you demonstrated most often.

Now, back to Elisha to show us that entitlement has no place in the life of a servant-leader.  2 Kings 3:11 employs a simple and moving picture of Elisha’s relationship to Elijah, as well as the theme of his training to be a prophet, “(Elisha) poured water on the hands of Elijah.” He was Elijah’s assistant and had handled the most humble of chores, evening washing the prophet’s hand before meals. As Elisha had served Elijah, he had learned from him; as he had learned, he then served more faithfully. That model and attitude is to be ours as well. We serve, then we learn.

 

For you to follow this example it requires a few “musts”:

  • You must know your role and find contentment in doing your best in it.
  • You must appreciate that what you learn in your current role prepares you for your next one. To attempt to hurry the process is to short change yourself and walk by sight, not by faith.
  • You must come to realize that you do not write out God’s plans or get to hold His watch. God designs, builds, and completes on His time, not yours.

Our culture urges us to claw and climb for what we want as we see fit. Elisha did it God’s way — from being a humble servant of a prophet to learning to be a prophet. Like many other heroes of the faith he served, learned, … and then led. Would you like to become a leader and do it God’s way? The process is simple, but slow: humbly serve, patiently learn, … then lead.

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Bible study

Words of Grace, and Granite…

Most folks enjoy a sweet snack. A chocolate chip cookie, a scoop (or two) of ice cream, or a slice of pie is a fine treat. We like sweets. Our BMIs prove it.

You may be thinking, “that last sentence wasn’t very sweet.” But, we will see in a moment that it actually is a style of “honey-word” that the Bible demonstrates for us. Now, you may be thinking, “what does a comment about my BMI have to do with the Bible?” Excellent question. Enter Proverbs 16:24; it provides the answer, and so much more.

“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”

This verse in Proverbs shows us that a certain kind of words are “like a honeycomb,” and that they have a beneficial effect upon us. First, let’s see the effects that they have on us. Then, we will see what those words look like.

Proverbs 16:24 lists two of the general effects of “gracious words.” These words “sweeten the soul” and bring “health to the body.” They improve both spiritual and physical health. The goal of gracious words is to solidify, not to “be sweet.” In other words, that which is healthy for the body and soul may not seem “sweet” at all. (You already can feel the hard right turn coming can’t you?)

In order to identify and enjoy “words of grace” we must know what they look like, or better, how they are packaged.  The following list points out the different packages that they come in. Some will cause you to nod in agreement while a couple of them might leave you shaking your head.

First, a definition. “Gracious words” are discussions that are wise, discerning, grace-based, and soul-building. The Bible lists several kinds of “gracious words.”

Here is a summary of some of them:
1. Words of grace are words of encouragement. They are words that are meant to help, comfort, or build up others. The Greek word in the New Testament that we translate as “encourage” means to pour courage into the soul of another. Perfect word picture.
2. Words of grace are words of truth. The teaching of God’s Word plants seeds of grace in the soil of the soul. In Psalm 119:29 the psalmist asked God to “graciously teach me your law.” Grace and truth are partners. Grace without truth is sentiment; truth without grace is condemnation. When God’s truth is shared or taught it is an expression of grace that instructs us to further depend upon God’s grace.
3. Words of grace are words of correction. When a Christian lovingly corrects a fellow Christ-follower it is grace-based speech. A love that does not correct isn’t love at all. A handy example of this is from parenting. We encourage and teach our children, but for both to have any substantive effect we must also correct them. This rough-cuts across the grain of a society obsessed with protecting feelings and bent on being acceptable to all, by all.

 

There are numerous examples of biblical correction that are gracious, yet also stout, stern, and satirical. Here are some of them from the mouth of Jesus:
A. Stout – From Matthew 16:23, “But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Jesus loved Peter, and at times demonstrated His love for him by sternly correcting him. That may not seem gracious to us, but it was for Peter’s ultimate good. Allowing Peter to continue on in error may have been “nice,” but it wouldn’t have been grace-based or truth-based.

B. Stern – Check out Jesus’ response to James and John when they asked to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand in glory: “Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:38).

Think of this not as “Aw shucks guys, you are confused about this,” but more like, “Guys, in your prideful and selfish request you have no idea of what you are talking about.” True. Stern. Loving. It’s grace honed with the edge of truth. Jesus went on to use the stern correction of James and John as a lesson on servanthood for the group. The loving and stern correction of two of them became edification for all of them. He called them out in order to build them up.

C. Satirical – This one is foreign to the church today, but was widely used until the last century. Satire is the use of humor to point out an error, bad judgement, or misbehavior. Think of it as sanctified smart-aleckry. As you become aware of satire as a teaching device you will notice as it leaps to life all over Scripture, particularly in the word pictures in the Book of Proverbs and teachings of Jesus.

Jesus regularly used satire. In fact, he used it so frequently that it’s almost shocking. Here are some of his sledgehammer-like satirical lines found in Matthew 7:3-5: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Emphasis added)

That is satire! It points out error, corrects it, and does so with humor and grace. (For some hard-hitting satire, and fine use of holy metaphor, check out Jesus’ correction of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23.)

You might be wondering how this post began with sweet words and ended with stout and satirical ones. Here’s how. To weave all of this together we must: 1. Remember that a growing faith is not based on feelings (temporary) but on truth (eternal), and when consistently applied the truth is usually like sand paper to our feelings. 2. Pursue that which promotes long-view growth, not short-term goodies (feeling fuzzy, acceptance by others, etc.).

To summarize, words of grace build others up through encouragement, instruction, and correction. The correction ranges from gentle rebuke to strong satire. All are necessary; each balances the other.

If you want to build up others try sharing some words of grace with them this week. You may need to give someone a verbal pat on the back or a spiritual poke in the ribs. Both are biblical; both are needed. Using the right words in the right manner at the right time always requires … wisdom. So, pray before — preferably, long before — you speak.

Until next time, a great way to learn to use satire as a means of grace-based corrrection is by practicing on your in-laws, or boss, or …. on second thought, start with encouragement and work your way through the others first!

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Engaging, in an engaging way…

A cultural storm has been brewing in America for decades. Certainly, the clouds have darkened over the past few years. What we have seen over the past few months — Bruce Jenner, Rachel Dolezal, the Supreme Court ruling on you-know-what — is the first round of lightning, thunder, and hail (or brimstone). A long, hard rain is coming.

So, we can sit back and gripe until our tonsils ache, or figure out how to be obedient, effective Christ-followers in this downpour. The wise approach is to head straight to the Gospels and read with a keen eye toward the methods that Jesus employed in teaching the truth to folks who opposed it. Jesus was the master teacher, he talked to and engaged people among all classes of his society from religious leaders and rulers to tramps and tax collectors. He did it perfectly. He did it with remarkable deliberation, as stated in John 12:49:

“For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment- what to say and what to speak.” (ESV)

Let’s crack this verse open and discover things that are urgent for us to understand today:

  • The message came from above. God the Father had given Jesus the message, and it was not man-centered or earth-based.
  • The message had specific content that was unchanging.
  • The methods of sharing the message would vary. I don’t want to get too technical, but, “what to say and what to speak,” has the hint of “what to say and how to say it.” This provides insight into how Jesus interacted with people as he taught them. And, it will help us too.

Jesus never changed the message, but he would share the unchanging Gospel in different ways with different people. He would not speak the same way to a Pharisee and a leper, and shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t either. Jesus, being fully God, was the master of knowing the condition of his hearers. We should follow his example by discerning the mindset and attitudes of those that we speak to as well.

The pinnacle of Jesus’ means of teaching and reaching others was his use of parables. Given what we have just seen, you can appreciate why parables were used so frequently in Jesus teaching — they applied to all walks, stages, and positions in life. They were almost universal in scope. Brilliant!

Here are some examples:

“And he was teaching them many things in parables…” Mark 4:2 

“With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.” Mark 4:33-34 (Notice that he taught two different groups in two different ways — one with parables, and one by instruction.)

So, what are we to do with this?

From this we learn that we cannot use formulaic methods, cookie-cutter presentations, or tired, wheezy methods from the days of sideburns and leisure suits. We have to take up the example of Jesus and prayerfully and studiously get our message from above (the Gospels and entirety of Scripture), learn the message inside and out, and engage others relationally by using varied ways with different people. Like Jesus did. Sounds like a lot of spiritual and mental homework, right? It is. And, if we had done this all along we might not be sitting in this societal slop.

Here are some practical first steps:

  1. Do not assume that others want to hear God’s Word. Most don’t. They want things their way. Take heart, this is the same response that Jesus received many times over. Pray for God to open the hearts and minds of those around you.
  2. Do not rely on recipe-style methods. The “Roman Road” or “ABCs of the Gospel” may work with our children in Bible school, but it won’t work with that angry, worldly, Bible-hater that sits two cubicles down from you at work (Drat, he just hung up his rainbow American flag).  Outlined presentations can be a starting point, but discussion and interaction have to follow.

Here’s a verse that punches cookie-cutter methods right in the snout:

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” John 6:63  

This verse shows why methods will fall short; methods cannot convey spirit and life, only God’s Word can.

3. In following number two, learn your Bible inside and out, particularly the Gospel message from the four Gospels. Ponder how Jesus spoke to and engaged people.

4. Read some solid books on basic doctrine and apologetics (the study of how to explain and defend the Christian faith), and read them slowly. I recall hearing a conference speaker back in 1997 suggest that the days of simple evangelism were ending, and that the days of apologetics as a means of evangelism were beginning. Yep.

Here are few good books to get you started: Concise Theology by J.I. Packer (a must read, it’s short and stout), Everyone’s a Theologican by R.C. Sproul, Fool’s Talk by Os Guiness, and Christian Apologetics by Douglas Groothuis (longer, read the others first).

Here’s a summary of our four points: understand your hearer, do not lean on a spiritual cane from the past, learn God’s Word, and study and think. The good news is that God will honor all of this. He is the one who puts people directly into our lives. He is the one who gives us wisdom and leadership by his Holy Spirit. He is the one who brings people from darkness into the Light. We are to be faithful farmers sewing the right seed, runners training for our race, witnesses sharing the evidence, soldiers practicing the art of engagement, and disciples learning from and imitating Jesus.

It’s work, but it’s worth it. What could honor Christ more than us learning from and imitating him as we share God’s Truth with a broken, lost world?

“Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” For they no longer dared to ask him any question.” Luke 20:39-40

See, told ya!

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Welcome to …

It is the Eve of Independence Day, and one week after the Supreme Court ruling regarding you-know-what. I don’t want to give the decision the dignity of even being mentioned by topic or name. Like you, I have pondered this culture-changing event, and its dreadful implications. There are folks more qualified to speak about this than I am. Yet, I do want to sprinkle a spoonful of thoughts into the mixing bowl. They are submitted on principle, not for sport.

There are two thoughts that I will present to you: where we are and what we can do (really what we should have been doing all along).

First, welcome to Pseudo-America, your current locale. It is called Pseudo-America because it isn’t the USA that our forefathers intended, and it isn’t the country that stood for two centuries upon pillars that set it apart from other countries in its political, moral, and spiritual standards. As you know, “pseudo” refers to that which is false (untrue) or fake (not real). I have chosen that term carefully. Why? Because this new America craves an illusion over reality; it’s a contrived country.

Here is the creed of Pseudo-America:

  • Let us suffocate our past, along with it’s traditions and ideas of morality.  We will no longer be restricted by what was, rather we long for what will be … based upon our fickle desires.
  • Let us state that we are slaves of our own chromosomes, victims of our own biology who want no key to free us, or rules to inhibit us.
  • Let us declare that those who oppose these views are hate-filled, and hateful by opposing us, because Pseudo-America’s mission is done in love, and in the name of love.

This new creed must be recited in a loud and shrieky voice so that it will drown out the voices of reason, good sense, and decency.

I hope that you are sighing and rolling your eyes. I also hope that you are thinking. My bit o’ satire was intended to provoke thought, not for amusement. Looking back, the distance from America to Pseudo-America seems to have been a long one, but a quick trip. It was intended to feel that way by the Pseudo-American chauffeurs that hurried us here.

Now that we are here — and it looks like there is no going back — what do we do? Three passages of Scripture provide a summary of how we are to camp in this desert.

First, while this is our homeland, it is not our home. As Christ-followers we look to an eternal home, not an earthly one. 1 Peter 2:11 describes us as “pilgrims and sojourners,” some translations refer to us “sojourners and exiles.” A jarring reminder that we do not belong here for long, but we are here for good.

Second, even though we are to look forward to our home with Christ in heaven, we are also to be disciple-makers, truth-declarers, error-correctors, and faith-defenders while here. Paul told Timothy to declare God’s Word and to be ready in season and out of season. For the record, “out of season” refers to the time when people do not want to hear God’s Truth. We are definitely in the “out of season” era. “In season”  is a light year behind us. The point to ponder in this verse is Paul’s command to “be ready.” It has the idea of being prepared against sudden and forceful attack. (Wow, it’s as if the Bible knows what is coming and what to do about it.) So, get ready. Read your Bible, study it, study sound books on doctrine, brush up on apologetics (defending the faith and sharing the truth with non-believers), pray for opportunities, and then use all of this as you have opportunities to share or defend the Christian faith. Colossians 4:5-6 prescribes it thusly:

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (ESV)

You might be thinking that this sounds like a lot of spiritual and mental work; it is, and the lack of it in the past is what has gotten us into this mess. Apathetic Christians, party of millions, your table is now ready.

Third, live a life that honors Christ and demonstrates the Gospel. Paul describes this in Colossians 1:9-10

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (ESV)

It’s as if these principles have been in the Bible all along. Ahem, they have been. So, dust off your Bible, read it, soak it in, ask God to give you insight, and follow the Holy Spirit as he gives you encounters for sharing truth, correcting error, serving others, sharing true love, and living a life that imitates and honors Christ.

In closing, I would like to offer a sincere Happy Fourth of July to America (wherever she is)!

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Bible study

All Aboard, or Self-Control?

This post was born at 5:24 a.m. My preferred activity at that time, and for the 45 minutes after it, is sleep. The irony that the thought for a blog-post on self-control would poke its head out at 5:24 and demand to be written is stellar. And, as such in content and approach, this post will have the subtle and poetic nature of a dental cleaning. Please keep in mind that the composing and editing of this post took place prior to any intake of caffiene.

The original thought that spurred me on was the lack of self-control that exists in our culture, and among Christians nowadays. We hear a great deal of media howling about self-awareness (right now someone is becoming self aware of something that they shouldn’t be and will soon redefine themselves with the word “trans.”). Once self-aware, that person will be obligated to begin heralding their new discovery through self-expression. Once self-expression arrives on the scene, self-justification and self-promotion are soon to show up. They are a noisy and pushy bunch.

Two questions yawned into my head about this at 5:24. One, what does the Bible say about this? Two, how are Christ-followers to avoid this type of behavior, or lifestyle? Galatians 5:22-23 provided the answer to the first question:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

You know that the fruits of the Holy Spirit are virtues and character traits that are not present in us and must be developed by the Spirit of God through prayer, walking in God’s Word, and following the Spirit’s leadership. In short, they are un-natural to us and supernatural in nature. Pay special attention to the fact that “self-control” is the final one mentioned. I am not going to suggest that it is at the end because it is the least important, I do assert that it could be the final one because the others are necessary for its development.

The answer to our first question is that the Bible promotes self-control, not self-discovery. Skim through the Book of Proverbs and you will see this repeatedly. Yet, when you do, you might get the idea that self-control is a trait that we possess and simply need to exercise it. Wrong, very wrong. Self-control is produced by the Spirit of God in us and is exercised by the wise living prescribed in Proverbs. Self-control is created by God’s Spirit and driven and informed by His Word.

As an aside, self-control is the mother of spiritual discipline. And, of all discipline, for that matter. The choices that we make about food, sleep, money, words, attitudes, etc., are made within the presence or absence of self-control. For the record, self-control does not mean self-deprivation. Think of self-control as the bridle in a thoroughbred’s mouth. It does not stop him from doing what he is best at. Rather, it brings all of his strength, passion, and energy into focus and guides him in the right direction. The Bible makes much, and says much, about self-control.

On to the second question, how do we avoid this type of self-izing that the world lauds? Let me illustrate where this type of “self” living ends up, and then apply some Bible salve to it.

Here is the “self-awareness” travel log. In order to board the world’s train of Self-Discovery you have to abandon self-control at the baggage check; it’s not allowed as a carry-on, or allowed at all. As you pull out of the station, the conductor will announce in a voice that sounds strangely like that of Joel Osteen, “next stop Free Choices.” This town was formerly known as “Lack of Accountability.” Once you visit Free Choices you are well on your way to the second leg of the journey — Freedom-ville (formerly known as Irresponsibility). There are many folks who make their home in Freedom-ville. The migration there is steady and oh-so easy. Remaining there is effortless.  But, those truly committed to self-ing eventually re-board ole’ Self-Discovery and chug down the tracks to Self-Justification. This town has never changed its name despite the many attempts of its citizens to do so. The ruling class feels that the name is appropriate, sends a strong message, and reminds its dwellers that they should feel proud of themselves, their journey, and stand up for where they reside. Once fully self-justified, folks eventually make the final few miles of the trek to I-am-here-and-you-all-drove-me-here (formerly known as Victim’s Corner). Once here, people usually saturate themselves in many sorts of “self” activities and philosophies. They do so without guilt, fear, or remorse because they really believe that someone else put them on the train, paid the fare, forced them to go, and will not allow them to return. Period. End of normalcy.

It is obvious that the Bible, if you have ever even buzzed through some of it — especially Proverbs, James, and Philippians — shows that God doesn’t allow his own to live at Victim’s Corner. Why? Victim’s Corner rejects all of the things that move us to know his grace, depend upon him, and develop the disciplines to know and follow him more fully. (see 2 Corinthians 7:8-10 for a good poke in the eye)

To prove the point let’s re-write some story lines of famous Bible folks as victims:

  • Job – “This should not be happening to me, it’s not my fault, this is all because of how people treated me, and, because the world was jealous that I had a nice family, land, and wealth. This is the world’s way of getting back at me.”
  • King David – “Psalm 159 – A Psalm of King David — Why, oh why, does this happen to me. I deserve more than this. Enemies surround me, and pursue me. If only God had not chosen me to be king, how lovely my life would be. Oh, the pressure to write these psalms. Oh, the agony of ruling. If only I could return to my fields, tend my sheep. If only I had not slain Goliath. I would be free, and free to be me. Free to cloak myself in the soothing blanket of old feelings. Selah.”
  • Paul – “The difficulty of this life is great, I should have never journeyed to Damascus. Then, my life would be more pleasing. I could have focused on becoming a better Pharisee. But, alas, I will make the best of this as long as I can. I will submit to God’s plan, and suffer through it, perhaps through my suffering others will feel better about themselves.” 1 Ridiculous 2:7-8 (Oprah’s favorite verses)
  • Jesus – Well, I can’t. It would be too disrespectful, and blasphemous. The point here is that Jesus never complained about his mission to fully obey and fulfill the will of God the Father, die for the sins of others, and love and sanctify those for whom he had died. That would make a great victim story, but, it would have dishonored God the Father and undermined Jesus’ mission. It will do the same in your life and mine.

So, stay off of the train of Self-Discovery. Instead, walk the Shepherd’s trail. He is the Good Shepherd. He will provide all that you need, give you abundant life, and through self-control empower you to be who He designed you to be, not who you or the world hopes to fashion you to into.

In closing, a good first step toward self-control begins with this verse:

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, – 2 Corinthians 10:5
Kill every lofty opinion (the world’s ways and opinions) and take every thought captive to obey Christ? Yep. Self-control starts in your mind.

By the way, that Bible salve that I mentioned is a gritty emollient containing mint, cayenne pepper, and pumas stone. But, you see and feel it working already.

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Bible study

 

In the previous post I suggested that we approach the “one-anothers” of the New Testament like a walk along a fence row that separates the sheep from relationally odd sheep. Now underway, we will find that Jesus’ words in John 13:35 create a higher, tauter fence than we first imagined. This fence actually separates disciples from disobedient believers and non-believers, or sheep from fence-straddlers and goats.

This passage contains truths that are worthy of fine attention. And once pondered they jolt our senses. Rather than carve up these verses and pass around a portion for all, I will instead provide a sample along with some thoughts. This will allow you to take the passage, and dig in for yourself, which is best.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

Jesus states in John 13:34 that he is giving the apostles a new commandment. This is an intriguing statement because in the Old Testament God’s people had been commanded to love in the Law of Moses. They had been told to love God wholly (Deuteronomy 6:5) and to love one’s neighbor as himself (Leviticus 19:18). To love was not foreign to them. So, this command was not new in the sense that it had never been prescribed, it was new in what it expected of them.

To be specific, it is the not the “love one another” part of Jesus’ imperative that was new. It was the scope and empowerment necessary to obey it that were new.

The scope and depth of that command are staggering. We are to love other believers “just as,” or in the same manner that Jesus loves us. This doesn’t allow for a micrometer of wiggle room, or for any excuses, or for negligence. We are to love one another “just as” Jesus did, and displayed. It is a love that is evident and sacrificial.

To offer that type of love to other believers seems impossible. It is impossible; we cannot do it on our own. To fulfill this command requires that we depend upon the operative work of the Holy Spirit and the word of God. Only the Spirit of God can bring the love of Christ to reality in our lives, and then extend it outward to others (Romans 5:5). What begins to come into focus is that growth in the “one-anothers” is a deliberate and precise way of fulfilling Jesus’ command to love one another.

While the analogy of our walk along the pasture fence began as one that was homespun, now with Jesus’ words from John 13:35 woven in it grows more serious, and surgical. Namely, the thought stands up, clears it throat, and asks, “Can one’s approach to and practice of the “one-anothers” authenticate one’s claim as a Christian or negate it?” The affirmative answer hushes the room.

John 13:35 provides an excellent mirror for self-inspection of our attitudes as well as a magnifying glass for dissection of our behaviors and service to other Christ-followers. There is more than weight to these words of Jesus, there is a density to them as well. Instantly these words, and their implications, kindle our consideration, examination, contrition.

We ponder on those words and use them as motivation to lead us on our uphill walk through the “one-anothers,” which will define and describe how life is to be among Christians. We do this arriving at the realization that love is the barbed wire that connects and supports the “one-another” posts in the fence row.

Along the way we will see artifacts marking the barbed wire: sack cloth and blood, rust, and bits of hair. Each are from those who have walked this fence before us. The sack cloth and blood from those who have climbed over from the non-love side remind us of their courage, which became repentance and obedience. The rust advises us of the rains and seasons of our walk, and that many hands have held onto the fence and catalyzed corrison from one side or the other, while deciding whether or not to cross.  The bits of hair alert us to be on guard as we walk in love; there are enemies of love, wolves among sheep. The strands of hair — the bristled back hair of wolves — doesn’t signal to us from the top strand of the wire. They rest snagged in the bottom strand.  Wolves have their own way of crossing, low and slow.

The fence is only part of the terrain. Before we survey the rest of the scenery in the first leg of our trip, let’s make note that the barbed strands serve as a means of separation and protection. Both are essential.

Barely into our stride we can see that one side of the fence boasts of a calm pasture, flowers, and a kind path smoothed by millions of steps. That leisurely side is not the side of Christ-like love.

The other side has brambles, rocks, and tall grass, with a faint trail, hardly visible. This one is the way of love; it is the way of Christ-fueled desire and discipline that follows him and loves his sheep.

Closing out these stout verses is a crushing thought: Our love for one another will be the mark of our true faith in and following of Christ. In other words, our love for fellow believers becomes an authentication of our discipleship … a disciple’s watermark.

You were warned that this trek would be a tough one — lots of sweating, straining, and aching. The sun is behind us. Grab your things. Set your mind; we have a long walk ahead.

The barbed wire that binds…

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