Thursday, July 21, 2011

July 21 Be a Building Block

I Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Paul is bringing this letter to a close, and I love it that as he ends the letter with admonitions and advice, he also commends them...he affirms that he sees more than what they lack. He has caught them doing something good and tells them so.

I have been involved in the training of college residence hall staffs since 1984, and I often tell my staff to catch students doing something good. Build them up by recognizing what they are doing right or well, and they are much more likely to be able to hear your counsel where they need to learn something.

In this part of the letter Paul tells these young believers to encourage and build each other up. Remember, these are very young believers since the church itself was pretty young at the time of this writing. Paul believed these early and young Christians had something to offer each other...and it certainly was not going to be the advice we too often give, "Read your Bible more. Read other writers...Listen to tapes. Memorize the Word." - meaning the Bible. What we have to remember is that none of these things were even available to the early Church in the way they are to us today.

So how do we encourage and edify each other? Well, to be heard, it is helpful to have relationships. You have to have demonstrated that you do care about other people, and not for how they help you, but for who they are as a child of God and your sibling in the faith.

Then, remember we are self-centered people; really we are. And if you want someone to understand or learn something, you have to get them involved in the process. You cannot simply give them a lecture or a set of notes and expect them to believe they need this material. Yes, God sometimes uses those methods, but be sure it is in the minority of situations that this works.

So what does work? I think, and loads of experts support this, ask them questions. Get them thinking about what they need. In the 18th century, leaders of small study groups (not pastors) used the following four questions as the focus of what we might call Bible study or small groups: "How doth your soul prosper?" or how have you been doing in your personal walk with Christ this last week?

The second questions was "What advantage have you take of the means of grace?" or what are you doing to facilitate your own spiritual growth? The third question, "What opportunities have you had for service and witness and how did you avail yourself of them?" gave the group members an opportunity to share the blessings and challenges of ministry (serving others). The final question was this: "What temptations have you faced and how did you overcome them?" Do you see how even just the final question could bless the participants? As you shared how you were tempted and what helped you overcome, you are encouraging (by your transparency) and edifying (by sharing what worked for you and could well work for others) the body.< The four questions are found in One Conversation at a Time by Henderson, p67-68>

Sometimes I think we fear Bible studies and even witnessing or talking to other believers about spiritual things because we might be put on the spot and we might not have the right answer. But we don't have to have the right answer. The Holy Spirit will guide believers; John says he will teach you all things (John 14:26). And it all boils down to loving others and asking very simple questions.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

July 20 Out of your life

John 15: 5-11 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing...9 Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love...11 These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.

I know that I have heard it before, and probably have said it, but when I read this in One Conversation at a Time (55) I wanted to pass it on: "ministry is not something you go into, it's something that comes out of you. It's the overflow of your walk with God."

When I read these words in "Conversation" the passage in John came to mind as did Psalms 1: 3," And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither, and in whatever he does he prospers." The point is the only thing that will emerge from our being, our lives is what we have put in there. I often tell students that the Holy Spirit can only work with what we have taken in and made a part of us - what we have heard, read, learned or memorized. That's why it is so important to read with comprehension, to think through what we have read to make sure we "got" it.

As a grad student, I had to read hundreds of pages a week, and I confess, my eyes went over all the words, and maybe even registered them, for a short time. But I could not give you even a list of those books today, much less tell you what they were all about. Once in a while, I would come across a book or writer that I loved, and I read and reread those works, underlining and storing up the sense of them. And today I can still tell you about them.

So God wants us to see the value of His Word, His presence, knowing Him as a person, so that His mark is upon us. And, the more time we spend time with Him, the more we will be like Him. When we soak ourselves in God, root ourselves in His Person, we will begin to look and act like Him...and He was all about ministry - about serving because He loved first. And we will likewise find our pleasure in serving, in ministering - it won't be an effort, or something we have to think about. It will be what we call second nature...or maybe first nature.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

July 19 Use Your Words

I John 1:3-4 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Chris and these things we write so that our joy may be made complete.

I continue to work my way through One Conversation at a Time, and the chapter I just completed talked about being intentional in our conversations, always considering what we can talk about today that will "help us in our walk with Christ (43) and sharing vital "information that helps us get to our objective" (45).

John was nearing the end of his life when he wrote the books or letters we call First, Second and Third John. As I reread these books it is interesting that he states a clear purpose for each one, and you can sum that purpose up as driven by his love for the readers. In First John, he says his instruction to them is so that their joy might be complete. In the second, he tells them to walk in love according to his (meaning God's) commandments, so they would not lose the ground they have made in their spiritual walk but receive a full reward. In the third book, he tells them how they have encouraged him by their godly walk and faithful behavior. His further admonition is to bless the brethren, even strangers, who "went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support such men that we may be fellow workers with the truth."

Here John is, knowing his days remaining are few, but his focus is to use his last words to encourage and edify and bless the believers behind him. He believes that as they carry out his admonitions, they will have a different quality of life, one filled with joy. I wonder if my words would communicate such a clear message: this is how you live a life that will result in joy. Recently one of my classmates died, prematurely - six years fewer than her allotted three score and ten. In the news recently, I have read of many whose life ended long before that even that. We never know which words will be our last, but I do want my last words to accomplish what John's did: to edify for the purpose of encouragement and glorying God.

For those following this blog as part of a movement through the Bible chronologically, it appears I left my book in Virginia over vacation.  But, you are still invited to join me in my pursuit of God.

Monday, July 18, 2011

July 18 II Peter 1:2--5 Knowing About or Knowing ?

My pastor is doing a series from this passage in Second Peter, and I have been mulling over the words: knowledge of God and adding knowledge. The verbs translated knowledge here have the sense of knowledge and understanding. This made me think of Christ's words that I talked about in my last entry, "If you knew me, you would know my father also."( John 8:19)

I have been married over 40 years, and in that time, I have learned a lot, arrived at a lot of knowledge about my husband - just because I have lived so intimately with him. And, humanly speaking, I really like hanging out with him. I can recognize his voice in a crowded room, and I know, that though I may not agree with all of his decisions, he has my best interests at least most of the time.

Now for those same 40 years, I have been in a relationship with God, but I am ashamed to say, I have not consciously spent nearly as much time with Him. I say consciously because He has spent all that time with me, but I have not paid nearly the attention to His presence as I have to my husband's.

Another thing I have been thinking a lot about is how we allow others to set our agenda; we think more about pleasing other humans and measuring up to their priorities than we do to God's. We feel very comfortable telling people that we have spent a couple of hours watching a movie or some kind of sporting event or even cooking shows. We are not the least bit reticent about telling someone that we have spent an hour or more working in the garden or kitchen or in the gym. But, when it comes to telling them we spent an hour or more reading the Bible or studying it or reading some other spiritual-growth producing materials, it is another matter.

We fear that others might think we are bragging or trying to look spiritual (more spiritual than they are) or trying to appear better than they are, so we keep our mouths shut, about spiritual things. And everybody suffers! We do, because it is as we talk about spiritual matters, about what we are learning about the person God, that we are both encouraged and challenged and we encourage and challenge others. And others suffer because we are so afraid to be misunderstood that we refuse to be vehicles God might use to encourage others.

God gave me the opportunity to encourage an old friend today, and I took it. I sure hope that it wasn't just a once in a while thing, and that I listen more to Him than I do to anyone else, especially when it comes to not just knowing God, but passing it along.

Friday, July 15, 2011

July 15 Like Son, Like Father

John 8: 19 And so they were saying to Him, "Where is your father?" Jesus answered, "You know neither me, nor my father; if you knew me, you would know my father also."

First of all, you might say, "She's got that little quote all mixed up. Isn't is Like father, like son?" Yes, that is the way it is often said, but I think when we are looking to know God, this is an accurate rendition of that little aphorism. Jesus said it himself - if we want to know God, we must know Jesus.

Consider also John 8:38, "I speak the things which I have seen with my Father; therefore you also do the things which you have heard from your father." and verse 42, "Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on my own initiative, but He sent me." And on to verse 55, "and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him, and if I say that I do not know Him, I shall be a liar like you, but I do know Him and keep His word." And further on in John 12:44-45," And Jesus cried out and said, "He who believes in me does not believe in me but in Him who sent me. And he who beholds me beholds the One who sent me."

I guess the point is, and maybe you don't need any reminder of this, we can know God better as we consider Jesus. Among the first things that come to mind when I think about this is that Jesus felt. He had emotions. He wept over Jerusalem. He expressed grief during the time of Lazarus' death. He loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus, his friends. He cared for his earthly mother consigning her to John's care. He was so patient, enduring Thomas's doubts and blessing him. He knew what was ahead of him on the cross, the pain of separation from the Father, the physical pain of the cross, the bewilderment to overcome his followers, and he suffered. He sought the Father and in his prayers, so intense were they, that he sweat blood. It is the intensity of his feelings here that I want to consider, and even though He know how horrific is was to be for Him, He did it for us...self-sacrificially.

So like the Son, is the Father. He weeps when we sin, when we fail, when we hurt. And I have to think that He rejoices when we succeed, when we glorify Him, when we overcome - because those things bring us joy. God the Father sacrificed for me, as Jesus sacrificed for me. God the Father is patient with me as Jesus was patient with Thomas. God the Father perseveres in my life as Christ persevered with the disciples regardless of their infighting and failures.

I guess I didn't think through the reality of what it meant to know the Father by knowing the Son. Furthermore, I think I missed a lot when I started listing the attributes of God, like a lesson, rather than searching to know Him because He is a Person Who matters.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

July 13 Purpose-Driven Reading

II Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

I don't know how many times I have read or heard the words, "Just read your Bible." or "Be sure that you read the Bible every day." or "Reading the Bible is a part of your daily devotions, and you should do it every day.' Now that sounds really good, and I can hear you now, thinking she must really be messed up if she thinks there is anything wrong with that.

Just yesterday I was reading about what a student should do to read with greater comprehension and to move the material read into long term memory. The writer said the reader must think before and as he is reading, "How is this useful to me? How does it connect with what I already know?" The point is that the reader is reading actively, engaging purposefully with the material. But, when we tell people to read the Bible, how often have we added those words? Instead, it is almost as if we assume either they know that or magically, as they read those words, something will happen positively in their lives.

Now let me ask you, how many words have you read in the last couple days - think email, online material, the news, magazines, newspapers, regular letters or even books? Question two, how much of that do you remember? And why do you remember it? Was it because you saw value in reading it? You were reading it to answer some question you had?

Paul is writing to young Timothy to help him grow as a young believer and leader. In this letter, Paul tells Timothy about how valuable the Words of God are and why Timothy should pay attention to them. In the first part of the first letter we have preserved from Paul to Timothy, I Tim. 1: 18-19a, Paul says this, "Timothy my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience." Here in Second Timothy Paul says God's words are given and preserved so that Timothy would have what he needed to be perfect or complete, equipped to do all good works. So Timothy thereafter would read intentionally the words of God as preserved and handed to him, so that he would know how and what to do to glorify God.

So, perhaps as we read the words of God or as we talk to others about doing so, we should add or clarify why...and maybe do some of those exercises ourselves: why am I reading this? what can I find that will help me glorify God today? what can I find that will encourage or bless someone else as I share it?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

July 12 The Promises of God - Reconsidered

In One Conversation at a Time Henderson says that Jonathan did three things for David that we should do for our friends: 1. encourage their hearts, 2. remind them of God's promises, and 3. demonstrate your personal loyalty to them(22-23). Now what really caught my eye was the one about God's promises, largely because if you look up a list of God's promises, you will find a list of verses, but these are not necessarily promises we today can claim.

One of the first verses that we like to quote as a promise is Philippians 4:19, "And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." But this is not a promise from God to us; this is Paul's response to the Philippians as he writes to them to thank them for their ministry to him. The paradox of this verse became apparent to me in Africa. The Chadians ministered to us out of their want, serious want. The country was near the bottom of the list of poorest nations in the world, and the people among whom we ministered ate routinely only one meal a day, and during the rainy season, as they waited for the harvest, perhaps a meal every other day or more.

If we visited a church or ministered in a village during that time, they would give what little they had to create a meal of thanksgiving to us. BUT my God did not supply all of their needs, as we would define needs. A pastor died of rabies when medicine could have prevented that death. A nurse-evangelist died of kidney failure when a transplant or dialysis would have given her life. Bible school students went hungry, as did many pastors and believers during the rainy season waiting for the harvest. Malaria and hepatitis killed droves of believers when there was medicine to prevent and cure. SO where was God if Paul's words were a promise to all believers?

David, we think said in Psalm 37:25: I have been young, and [now] am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread. I remember being challenged with this verse as though it were a promise and no believer would lack food. Now how do we account for the myriad of believers around the world, either in Third World countries or even in prison for their faith who go hungry?

And more than one believer has struggled with Jesus' words to the apostles - not to us - in John 14:13-14, And whatever you shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in my name, I will do it. I don't know about you, but I was taught to pray in Jesus' Name, and I always did, and there were lots of things that I asked for that I did not get... In particular I remember praying for my parents and my best friend that they would be saved. Now perhaps they came to a relationship with Jesus that I never knew about, but I never had a clear understanding of them as born-again people who spoke the same spiritual language that I did.

So what is my point? I guess I am challenged to be careful about how I use God's Word, about what promises I share with my friends or acquaintances. James 5 seems to make it pretty clear that we as believers must expect affliction, weakness, even death. But James also reminds us that as we submit ourselves to God, as we resist the devil and draw near to God, He will draw near to us. (James 4:7-8) Oh, and James is writing to encourage his brethren, believers, then scattered all over the known world. So I think it is pretty fair to own his words here today and share these words with those who are hurting today, not the verses we are prone to claim as promises but which, in reality, are not. And we cannot, should not, black mail God into making them promises.

Monday, July 11, 2011

July 11, 2011 Checking Out Our Value System

I John 4: 7-8 Beloved , let us love one another, for love is from God and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

I am working my way, very slowly, through One Conversation at a Time by D. Michael Henderson, and something I read recently resonates with these words from First John: However, if we really love them, we will lay down the most precious commodities of our life for their spiritual welfare: our time, our resources, and our convenience. (21)

One issue is defining or illustrating love. A few years ago I told someone to stop telling people that she loved them and start just showing it. It was amazing the difference this little change made in her relationships. The focus was no longer on telling people that she cared, but on thinking about what she could do that would convince or at least show them.

As I think about this as it relates to our value system, I am not sure you could say that we love God or very many people very much. If we did really love or care about people, we would not have to worry about saying those words all the time. Note I say "all the time," because it is important to say it on occasion. Words are not everything, but they do mean something.

Maybe this is just a personal thing, a personal reflection on how much more I could do to show those in my life that I love them, and I am not just talking about family. I fear that I listen too often to the message, "You would not be welcome in his or her life. You would be interfering in their matters. You would be embarrassing them or yourself or making them feel judged when you bring up spiritual matters."

I remember a while ago, suggesting to my colleagues with whom I shared an occasional meal, that we should redeem the time and share spiritual blessings or talk about things of a spiritual nature - our victories and challenges. But them nobody did, and I didn't do a lot to take them to that reminder.

I guess all of this boils down to the need to spend some serious time considering what my life says about my value system and who I love.

Friday, July 8, 2011

July 8 Labor Saving Devices

Galatians 5:25-26 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.

Not to get personal or anything, but how many labor saving devices do you own or are able to access? Think things you might plug in for starters - like well, mixers came to my mind since I like to bake. I cannot imaging beating a dozen egg whites into a meringue by hand for an angelfood cake. Then my new favorite, my dishwasher (never had one that really worked when I had kids) or a vacuum cleaner or washing machine the ubiquitous cell phones, computers, ipads and iphones.

Think about how helpless you feel when the power goes out for even a few minutes, much less a hour or a day, heaven forbid. At first we are frantic, helpless without all of our labor saving devices...those devices unknown even a hundred years ago. It is interesting as I think about this, that no matter how many labor saving devices that one has, there are always more to tempt us, and we are no less busy. No more able to rest. In fact, we have become so addicted to our technology that many of the current magazines, journals and newspapers., not to speak of websites, address the issues of that addiction recommending that we fast from technology periodically.

I wonder if the motto of our current culture is more like : We live by technology and walk by technology and boast of what we have, challenging others to get more too.

The point I want to make is that all this technology neither makes life easier, less complicated or more restful. In fact, it winds us right up, enslaving us. Paul's admonition, here to the believers in the early church is even more relevant to us today. Let me go back to verse 22 of this passage: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace....." We can either live and be controlled by the values and technology of this world, or we can take charge of them by walking in the Spirit. This requires us to consciously lay all those labor saving devices down, maybe even every morning, to be still and listen to God. To reserve time first for Him, to soak in His presence and to seek His counsel before we hit facebook or email or text for the counsel of others.

Peace, beautiful restful healing peace is still possible, and God wants it for us. But we have to stop giving the power and control of our lives to technology and give it back to the One Who loves us.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

July 7 Losing Your Self

 Romans 6:11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.

It always interests me how God knits together the threads of our lives. In last might's evening reading, right now from Barbara Brown Taylor's book An Altar in the World, I came across these words: " When you live for God, your day begins when you lose yourself long enough for God to find you and when God finds you, to lose yourself again in praise."

Earlier in the book, she quotes Satanly Hauerwas words: "Christianity is to have one's body shaped, one's habits determined, in such a way that the worship of God is unavoidable." As I reflected on these two passages this morning, God brought a favorite old hymn to mind. Perhaps you recognize these words by Thomas Chisholm and CarL Lowden:

Living for Jesus

Living for Jesus, a life that is true,
Striving to please Him in all that I do;
Yielding allegiance, glad hearted and free,
This is the pathway of blessing for me.


O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to Thee,
For Thou, in Thy atonement, didst give Thyself for me.
I own no other Master, my heart shall be Thy throne.
My life I give, henceforth to live, O Christ, for Thee alone.

Living for Jesus Who died in my place,
Bearing on Calvary my sin and disgrace;
Such love constrains me to answer His call,
Follow His leading and give Him my all.


Living for Jesus, wherever I am,
Doing each duty in His holy Name;
Willing to suffer affliction and loss,
Deeming each trial a part of my cross.


Living for Jesus through earth’s little while,
My dearest treasure, the light of His smile;
Seeking the lost ones He died to redeem,
Bringing the weary to find rest in Him.

I wonder if the directions for losing our self or being dead to self are found in these wonderful words: Living for Jesus.  Then I must ask whether we are living for Jesus, wouldn't worship be our natural response? Our expression of loving Him back?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

July 6, 2011 Dead to Self

Romans 6:11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.

Have you ever found yourself growing angry at someone because he or she was opposing you, getting in your way, or refusing to see something from your perspective? Have you ever given your word, even if informally, that you would do something, then as your circumstances changed, you changed your mind? Oh, don't worry. I am not trying to corner you because I would have to answer yes to these questions as well.

This summer I had three student employees who had made a commitment to a task, who had signed on the dotted line, then inform me, several weeks later, that they no longer wanted to fulfill that commitment. I have been working with students since 1984, and this is the first time this had happened, and it caused m to reflect on others who seemed to find it easy to "change their mind" in relationship to a commitment. I thought of some people recently who had specific jobs or tasks delegated to them who simply chose not to fulfill those responsibilities. They had "excuses," but it boiled down to the fact that it was easier and more pleasant for them to do what they wanted to do than what their job description might require. And these were believers.

As I reflected on all of this, I began to wonder how deeply the believing world has been infiltrated by the philosophy of the world: do what feels good to you regardless of how it influences or affects others. And it also came to me how far we have distanced ourselves from living out our identity as dead to sin and alive to God. I wonder whether we have lost what it even means to be dead to sin and alive to God.

OK - let's start with dead to sin...or dead to man or dead to the old self. It has the idea of no longer being enslaved to sin or controlled by our lusts, our selfish or sinful desires. It's not that we won't ever have them, but we are free to overcome them, free to walk away from those desires. To illustrate, someone said something with which I disagreed, and I was sorely tempted to point out the error in their thinking, even knowing that they would be offended, knowing that I could feel superior knowing I was right, and they might feel put down publicly. My Self would have been satisfied for a moment, but the broken relationship would hurt and cost me.

Catching myself and recognizing this occasion as an opportunity to be alive to Christ means that I shut up. It means that I recognize that indulging in that prideful moment of pointing out the other person's error right then would be only be an exercise in pride, not in love, not in demonstrating the presence of God within, yielding my body, my words and actions to God's use.

I remember as a teenager begging God to show my how He wanted to use me - meaning vocationally. And then at other times in my life as God seemed to be closing one door, I begged Him to show me the next. But the more real issue here is not necessarily God's will vocationally, thought that is important, but God's will with every opening of my mouth, every step of my feet, every action of my hand. Am I all about being an instrument of God or more about satisfying my own desires?

And a final question or thought, do we even talk about this issue with young people? I don't mean preach about it because the bottom line, preaching is fairly ineffective. I mean just sit down and talk about it, in a conversation where we listen to them and share our struggles honestly, a place where we also explain God's desire for us, His plan that we might live a life filled with love and joy and peace. A place where we discuss what it means to be dead to sin and self and alive to Christ, to be His instruments. I fear that we might do one of two things instead: ignore their needs and sinful behaviors because we want their affection or we fear their rejection, OR we point out their sin without Pharisaical judges, feeling good about ourselves that we are different. I wonder what it really means to be "instruments of righteousness to God" in our world today.