Salad Scriptures?

The overarching theme of Hebrews is encouragement. Encouragement to a group of fledgling Christ-followers living in a hostile Rome where folks would rather revert back to or claim Judaism and be protected than risk their lives as ‘Christians.’ The book argues that Jesus Christ is better than angels, Moses, the law, the priestly order of the Levites, and the blood sacrifice of goats and bulls. Four warnings pepper the thirteen chapters—each with reminders of how Jesus was the promised Messiah and that buying into that message brings both joys and sufferings.  The book ends with this statement--“Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter” (Heb 13:22). Short letter? The word ‘exhortation’ here and the ‘urge’ to begin the sentence are in the same root words--the cognate family of parakaleō. Which can be translated as ‘urging, encouragement, consoling, comfort, exhortation.’  The author uses a ‘let us…’ motif to rally the community together. Throughout the book there are sixteen uses of ‘let us…’ in English encouraging the listeners to do specific things. The list may seem long, but definitely doable and a strand in our X/N DNA. Since they are scattered throughout the book, I thought it might be fun and succinct to put them together in one list. Meditate on this list as a fundamental aspect of our community together. If all of us do these things, we are a force to be reckoned with. Let’s change our town for Jesus by inculcating these ideas firmly in our lives.  1. 4:1 Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands,   let us   be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.  2. 4:11   Let us  , therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.  3. 4:14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God,   let us   hold firmly to the faith we profess.  4. 4:16   Let us   then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.  5. 6:1 Therefore   let us   leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God,  6. 10:22   let us   draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.  7. 10:23   Let us   hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  8. 10:24 And   let us   consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  9. 10:25   Let us   not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but   let us   encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  10. 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,   let us   throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and   let us   run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  11. 12:2   Let us   fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  12. 12:28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken,   let us   be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,  13. 13:13   Let us  , then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.  14. 13:15 Through Jesus, therefore,   let us   continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise - the fruit of lips that confess his name.  My challenge for you today is to read through these ‘let us…’ scriptures and ask yourself various questions (but limited to these certainly): What is the author saying to the community? Is there a theme to these exhortative statements? Do I need to repent for something I am omitting from my life? Do I need to repent of something I am committing which I ought not? Are all of these exhortations reasonable and/or possible? Are any of these rubbing me the wrong way? Do I need to add a community group to my life to help me be more like the person the author wants me to be? Are there any community groups in my area I can join? If not, I will pray about starting one myself.  Whatever we all do, the Hebrew author is speaking to a community in which everyone must pitch in. It was true then and it is true now. Church is not about watching or letting others do the things that we are all called to do. All of us must be fully bought in and getting the work done. Otherwise it is not a church; rather a movie, a bench to warm, a place to consume, a place to criticize, and all about me.

The overarching theme of Hebrews is encouragement. Encouragement to a group of fledgling Christ-followers living in a hostile Rome where folks would rather revert back to or claim Judaism and be protected than risk their lives as ‘Christians.’ The book argues that Jesus Christ is better than angels, Moses, the law, the priestly order of the Levites, and the blood sacrifice of goats and bulls. Four warnings pepper the thirteen chapters—each with reminders of how Jesus was the promised Messiah and that buying into that message brings both joys and sufferings.

The book ends with this statement--“Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter” (Heb 13:22). Short letter? The word ‘exhortation’ here and the ‘urge’ to begin the sentence are in the same root words--the cognate family of parakaleō. Which can be translated as ‘urging, encouragement, consoling, comfort, exhortation.’

The author uses a ‘let us…’ motif to rally the community together. Throughout the book there are sixteen uses of ‘let us…’ in English encouraging the listeners to do specific things. The list may seem long, but definitely doable and a strand in our X/N DNA. Since they are scattered throughout the book, I thought it might be fun and succinct to put them together in one list. Meditate on this list as a fundamental aspect of our community together. If all of us do these things, we are a force to be reckoned with. Let’s change our town for Jesus by inculcating these ideas firmly in our lives.

1. 4:1 Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.

2. 4:11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.

3. 4:14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.

4. 4:16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

5. 6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God,

6. 10:22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

7. 10:23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

8. 10:24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.

9. 10:25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

10. 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

11. 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

12. 12:28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,

13. 13:13 Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.

14. 13:15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise - the fruit of lips that confess his name.

My challenge for you today is to read through these ‘let us…’ scriptures and ask yourself various questions (but limited to these certainly): What is the author saying to the community? Is there a theme to these exhortative statements? Do I need to repent for something I am omitting from my life? Do I need to repent of something I am committing which I ought not? Are all of these exhortations reasonable and/or possible? Are any of these rubbing me the wrong way? Do I need to add a community group to my life to help me be more like the person the author wants me to be? Are there any community groups in my area I can join? If not, I will pray about starting one myself.

Whatever we all do, the Hebrew author is speaking to a community in which everyone must pitch in. It was true then and it is true now. Church is not about watching or letting others do the things that we are all called to do. All of us must be fully bought in and getting the work done. Otherwise it is not a church; rather a movie, a bench to warm, a place to consume, a place to criticize, and all about me.

Water and Sunlight

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A year ago or so, I was working in the shed in the backyard. It was spring when it is time to bring out the pots readying them for the next years annual planting. The usual suspects of pots were stacked up from the season prior. The pots full of soil were so dried out, it would seem impossible that even a good soaking would revive them. But alas, enough water can bring nearly any pot of soil back to supporting plant life. As I pulled one pot off of another, a ghostly sight appeared. A plant had not been completely pulled out of a pot prior to storing it for the winter.

 I can’t tell you the scientific name of the plant, but I can tell you that I recognized it as one that typically was dark green. Instead though of being dark green, it was pale yellow, emaciated, and gaunt. But it was trying. Trying to grow in a place where it was nearly impossible to grow—squished between pots, dark, a cold winter, and NO water. This sight gave me insight into the life of a Christ-follower.

 Just as a plant needs both water and sunlight, we humans need both communion with God and community with one another. Paul uses the imagery of a body to describe the unity among believers. We need one another to function properly. I need the love, care, spiritual wisdom, correction, and encouragement that other believers provide within the church context. To attempt a life of faith apart from the church is like placing a plant in a dark room. It will do what it is intended to do, yet is in no way healthy. We need the radiance of Christ that shines from other believers so we don’t lose heart.

The Spirit makes us alive and works in our lives through the Word, obedience, and the fellowship of the body. Just like my plant that reaches for the sun, may we actively turn our hearts toward Christ, finding nourishment and strength as we abide in him. And dually, reaching out in fellowship with other believers. It is only then, can any of us walk in loving God, loving people, and serving the world. 

Slay me...

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In reading through the book of Job this morning as part of B90X 2019, this verse jumped out at me—

“Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” Job 13:15

What do you think of it? Does it sound harsh? How does the Lord slay us? What is the point of Job’s question? What are we to get from this statement?

I have no dependence on anything else by God.
Though things fall apart around me.
Though people may betray me.
Though my world does not function as I would like.
Though it feels like the Lord is not answering my prayer.
Though I am exposed to calamity and darkness.
Though I become impatient.

Though, though, though…

I will trust the Lord.
I will put my hope in him, even when things don’t make sense.
I am determined to adhere to Him. Regardless.
I will not dwell on the “why” questions that cannot be answered.
I will believe God when things are dark and bleak.
I am a friend of God.
I will not doubt that He will ever leave or forsake me.
I will not be moved or shaken.
I am settled on who is my Lord.
My faith, belief, trust, reliance, assurance, conviction,
credence, and hope are all in the Lord God, the maker
Heaven and Earth, regardless of what happens to me.

Thoughts on the Incarnation

I have been thinking quite a bit lately about the incarnation. Not quite sure exactly why… maybe its the time of year?? The theological concept that the divine Christ, who created everything we touch and see, chose to leave all he knew in glory to be a member of the human family, is mysterious, salvific, and awe-inspiring. One of the purposes of his coming is to show us the culture of his home, the culture of his heavenly family. A possible way to live life without sin, without pain, without crying, and without death or disease. He left that place in humility and longed to go back. As quietly as he came, he went.   I have asked lots of folks in lots of circles what the incarnation means to them— my family, staff, community group, and fellow pastors. The answers have been fascinating. I have had to dissect the idea that Jesus had a sheet of cheat-codes and could get out of any situation. I have had to dispel the concept that Jesus was God more than man and couldn’t have possibly lived a sinless life. Somehow Jesus was not a third being. Divinity is not blue and humanity yellow and somehow the mix is a person who is green. No way. His humanity was fully human. He was not some kind of kinnara or centaur. He was as man as man can be. Yet had the faith to live his life dependent on Holy Spirit and his Heavenly Father.  As Chalcedon put it, the nature of each was preserved completely. In no way did they cancel each other out or morph into something else. The hypostatic union was maintained with complete integrity. It had to or the whole event is a charade, a complete farce. Jesus had to be human in order to know how to save us from our sins. Yes he was omniscient, but he had to be human without the God-button to turn his chair around saving him from some temptation. He knows us now. Like he never knew us before.   “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:7-10).

I have been thinking quite a bit lately about the incarnation. Not quite sure exactly why… maybe its the time of year?? The theological concept that the divine Christ, who created everything we touch and see, chose to leave all he knew in glory to be a member of the human family, is mysterious, salvific, and awe-inspiring. One of the purposes of his coming is to show us the culture of his home, the culture of his heavenly family. A possible way to live life without sin, without pain, without crying, and without death or disease. He left that place in humility and longed to go back. As quietly as he came, he went.

I have asked lots of folks in lots of circles what the incarnation means to them— my family, staff, community group, and fellow pastors. The answers have been fascinating. I have had to dissect the idea that Jesus had a sheet of cheat-codes and could get out of any situation. I have had to dispel the concept that Jesus was God more than man and couldn’t have possibly lived a sinless life. Somehow Jesus was not a third being. Divinity is not blue and humanity yellow and somehow the mix is a person who is green. No way. His humanity was fully human. He was not some kind of kinnara or centaur. He was as man as man can be. Yet had the faith to live his life dependent on Holy Spirit and his Heavenly Father.

As Chalcedon put it, the nature of each was preserved completely. In no way did they cancel each other out or morph into something else. The hypostatic union was maintained with complete integrity. It had to or the whole event is a charade, a complete farce. Jesus had to be human in order to know how to save us from our sins. Yes he was omniscient, but he had to be human without the God-button to turn his chair around saving him from some temptation. He knows us now. Like he never knew us before.

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:7-10).

The killing of the innocents

Matthew is the only biblical author who records the story of this mass execution. It is so easily skipped over. Take a minute and see if you can recreate what this scene may have looked like. Read Matthew 2:16-18 and ponder the sights, the sounds, the emotions, and the aftermath.

Are there significant events in our lives that we skip over somewhat like this? Maybe not exactly, but affect those involved for the rest of their lives? Today is the anniversary of a car accident that has left a young man in a wheel chair the rest of his life. I can skip over it without much thought or consideration of the ensuing results. The family has been changed forever.

If you have an opportunity to minister to someone today whose life is change forever because of a brief moment, do so. Your memory of it and thoughtful interaction with them will mean a ton.

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This historical scene is so easily skipped over…

Be Amazed

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Last week, I was reading through the New Testament book of Luke. There is a series of words I have highlighted in my Bible which are found in Luke and Acts.

They are “wondering, astonished, filled with awe, wondered, marveled, amazed, amazement, perplexed, marveling, and surprised.” They are all translated from 4 or 5 Greek words. They show up all over the place in all sorts of stories.

Here is the deal—- Luke is the only Biblical author who is not Jewish. For him, the Jesus/Messiah story is new and amazing. As Jesus is coming on the scene, one of the ways Luke describes this incarnation is with words like amazed and astonished. To him the story is so cool. At the same time, to him, the Jews don’t seem too interested in the reality of the Messiah standing in front of them. Luke is over the top explaining the reaction of some in the crowds Jesus is talking to. They are shocked that Jesus speaks and acts the way he does. Had they been reading their Bibles, they would have known how cool Jesus was going to be.

I can remember when I first gave my heart to Jesus and started following him. I was amazed at most everything I read about him. There was a zeal like no other. I talked to all sorts of people about Jesus. I even got myself in trouble because I didn’t have the answers to some of the questions people had for me. But I didn’t care. I was amazed at Jesus and wanted everyone to know him.

How long have you been a Christ-follower? Has the walk become routine? Have you lost your amazement about Jesus? I suggest you find the time and vehicle to get it back. Ask the Lord to re-open your eyes at the beauty and coolness of Jesus. That is part of the full life Jesus wants you to walk in. “I have come that they (read ‘I’) may have life, and have it to the full" John 10:10.

Happy Birthday to me.

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Today is my birthday. You may or may not know that. If you would like to put it in your calendar for next year, that would be great. I enjoy Home Depot and restaurants. 

To start my birthday, I went for a 3.5 mile run. A favorite place to run is right outside our front door and down the street behind the school and methodist church. The little hilly, forested area is affectionately called 'the sanctuary.' More often than not, I am all alone on the trails up and down the hills. I have literally pounded the same dirt thousands of times and logged thousands of miles memorizing every turn, rock, and jutting root which can trip me up every time I pass. Many of those steps are taken on Sunday mornings prior to preaching at CRBC. Many prayers have been prayed, tears have been cried, joys have been experienced, plans have been made, and hoping wishes will come true.

As I was trudging up a hill, panting 'as a deer pants for the water,' the most glorious, marvelous, and ethereal thought rushed through my head at light speed that lasted for about 1.5 seconds. The.Gift.of.Life. The fact that I was alive instead of not. The ability to breath oxygen in and carbon dioxide out. A heart that beats relative to how much energy I exert. Muscles that contract and relax so quickly my legs and arms move in ballet like synchronicity moving my body along without even thinking. A mind able to think, create, solve, and dream ideas and thoughts about yesterday, today, and tomorrow. A gratitude beyond words. A recognition that a divinity loomed larger over me than can be comprehended. A sense of my mortality in the midst of love and grace. All in 1.5 seconds. 

As I floated home in glorious beauty, I couldn't get my Bible open fast enough to read Psalm 139.  Enjoy it for yourselves:

1 O LORD , you have searched me and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; 
you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD . 

5 You hem me in-behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. 

7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 

11 If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. 

13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, 16your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. 

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! 18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you.

 

Father's Day

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Father's Day

I have heard it said that Father’s Day is a made up holiday by the Hallmark Card Co. just to get people to spend money. I don’t know about that.

There has been a day to celebrate dads all the way back to the Middle Ages. In the Catholic tradition, there is a celebration to the man Joseph, the step-father of Jesus. Joseph is called the Nutritor Domini(Nourisher of the Lord).  The Coptic Church has a ‘father’s day’ tradition that dates back to the 5th century. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers, designating the third Sunday in June as Father's Day. Six years later, the day was made a permanent national holiday when President Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972.  Hallmark may be capitalizing on something already in play.

The role of fathers in the lives of their children is one of the two most important roles in a child’s life. Moms and dads have the most important task and privilege they will ever have in their lives. It ought not be taken lightly, however, too often it is. Children don’t raise and train themselves. Moms and dads have the unique place in life of doing all they can to make young people into the best adults they possibly can. 

In the biblical book of Proverbs, Solomon, the son of David, lays out wisdom for how to live life. Some of the advice is paragraphical while a majority is done through pithy statements. Solomon is deeply personal with the son he is addressing. While we don’t know specifically which son he may be talking to, maybe the word son is left general enough that the material is addressed to anyone who reads it and is interested in learning and growing in wisdom. Twenty-six times in the book Solomon speaks directly to “my son.” Predominantly at the beginning of the book, Solomon is interested in his son’s success, therefore is pointed in his direct and honest instruction. Solomon’s teaching and training has no boundaries —everything from money, to loans, to the use of our tongues, how we think, how we are to deal with sexual fidelity, how to be discreet, how not to be a fool, instead how to be a righteous, honorable, and life-giving person. 

As moms and dads we really don’t need to reinvent the wheel on what to teach our children, Solomon pretty much lays it all out just fine. Let’s use the book of Proverbs as a road map for our parenting and child rearing success. It is all over before we know it. And really our kids are only on loan to us for the time they are in our home.