Monday, May 20, 2013

Romans 12:9-13...part one

For the blog today, I am going to share how I worked through the passage in Lectio Divina style.

Read - I start out by quietly sitting in my office chair and trying to "still" my mind. I like to turn on my fan because the ambient noise drowns out the other office noise around me. I close my eyes and focus on emptying my mind. Today there are thoughts about what I need to do later bouncing around in my head, and I mentally chase them down and get rid of them. "I will deal with you later," I say to each thing that pops into my mind, "This is my time with God." When there are particularly annoying things that keep coming into mind, I start to say the name of "Jesus" over and over...I call on the help of God and ask Him to fill my mind so that nothing else can intrude. Once I get to a place of peace and quiet internally, I slowly read through the passage out loud a few times. It is actually more difficult for me to read out loud and still comprehend the passage, so I also read through it silently a few times. There is one phrase from the passage that I cannot get out of my head. Each time I read through it, "Be devoted to one another in love" jumps off the page at me. I know that God really wants me to hear these words today.

Meditate - Because I will be contemplating this passage all week, instead of meditating on the entire passage, I spend time meditating on the simple phrase that jumped out at me before - "Be devoted to one another in love." I think about this very short verse from every angle that I can. What does it mean to be devoted? It means - committed, faithful, loyal, dedicated. What does it mean to devote yourself to something? It means that you are willing to sacrifice other things so that you can focus on the one thing that you are going to devote yourself to. To devote yourself to another person is to make sacrifices to ensure that the relationships grows in a healthy way. What does "one another" mean? Specifically in this passage I believe it means fellow Christians. Paul is not just saying that we can commit ourselves to our spouses (We should be doing that anyway!) or people who are just like us - we are supposed to be committed to fellow Christians. I spend some time thinking about whether or not I live a life devoted to fellow Christians. I think that I often devote myself to the work of ministry, but not necessarily other Christians. That doesn't sit well with me. What is love? The Greek word for love used in this passage is the world "philadelphia," which means brotherly love. This is a love that Christians should have for one another. This is a love that causes us to live our lives like Christ. This is a servant love. This is a sacrificial love. Love is about commitment and not affection. It is about dedication and not about warm fuzzy feelings. This is a love that says, I am going to put your needs ahead of my own.

Pray - After meditating on the passage, I spend some time in prayer. I pray that God will really drive the message of this passage into my heart and out through my life. I pray that I will be a better and more dedicated friend. I pray for the strength to open up to people outside of my family and to love more deeply. I also spend some time praying for the rest of the day, but I will not list those prayers here.

Contemplate - To close out the Lectio Divina, I once again sit quietly. I ask God to take everything I have read/thought about this morning and give me a direct challenge. I want to become more Christ-like on a daily basis, and to do so I must be in-tune with what God is calling me to be. I need to listen for His voice...focus on the way He is moving and shaping my heart. I ask Him to meet me and to speak to me, and His truth comes through with great clarity...

I have got to be a better friend. I fill my life with so much ministry many extracurricular family much "veg" time in front of some sort of technological device...that I am not devoted myself to my Christian brothers as I should (I'll leave the devoting to Christian sisters to my's less awkward that way!). There are so many times when I have been unwilling to make sacrifices in my life, so that I could pour into another person's life. My whatever...get in the way and keep me from being a Christ-like friend. God is calling me to truly care about what is going on in the lives of my friends. To truly care, I have to spend time with them. To truly care, I have to listen...really listen, not just wait for my turn to talk about my stuff. I have to care more about what is going on in their lives, then what is going on in my life...and that is so hard for me. God is calling me once again to be a living sacrifice. To sacrifice my time, my selfishness, my that I can be a true friend.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Romans 12:3-8...Part One

Verse 3...

Why does Paul say that it is because of the grace given to him that he is going to speak to his audience? Well first of all, what is grace? In my mind it is undeserved forgiveness and love. Grace was shown to us by Jesus dying on the cross. He paid the price for our sins...he took away our shame...we did nothing to save ourselves. That is incredible grace. So why does "grace" enable Paul to speak tough words of warning ("Don't think too highly of yourself")? He wants the people reading his letter to know that he is coming from a place of grace...he is addressing them with love not judgment. His warning about not being arrogant is born from love, with the best interest of his audience at heart. Paul is saying, "Hey, I know what it is to be forgiven...I know what it is to be showered in the mercy of God. Because of that, I want you to know that I am speaking to you as one flawed person to another. And as one screw up to another, here is what you need to hear - don't be a self-absorbed idiot. People obsessed with themselves deny their need for God's grace and refuse to use their gifts to serve the kingdom of God." (Brandon paraphrase, obviously) In healthy Christian community, followers of Jesus should be able to speak hard truth to one another in love. They should be able to say tough things from a place of mercy, and they should be able to hear tough things graciously. Is that what your community looks like?

We should be able to look at our own lives with a sober judgment that is born from our faith? What does that mean? What does that look like? Well, first of all, it is a judgement that grows out of faith - so what is faith? Hebrews 11:1 tells us very clearly, "Faith is being sure of what you hope for an certain of what you do not see." Faith is having certainty in is understanding that this world is not our home - this is not our end goal. Faith is understanding what really matters. So how does faith drive sober judgment of ourselves? When you have a foundation of true faith, you can look at your life honestly. Faith helps to remove the defensive pride that often blinds us to the flaws within our own character. Sober judgment that comes from faith makes it so that you don't have to be don't have to be can be honest about who you are and where you fit in the workings of the Body of Christ. Why? Because your faith in God has showed you who you are - you are not in a constant competition to be better than everyone prove your worth...because you know what you are worth to God. Faith offers us the freedom to look honestly at ourselves and to see what needs work and to understand how deeply we need God's mercy. When you look at life through the eyes of faith, you can ask other people for can celebrate other peoples' victories...everything is not a competition - you can function in community! It is a beautiful thing.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Romans 12:1-2...Day Four

"Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will..."

I got an e-mail from a friend the other day, who had just read through Romans 12:1-2,  asking, "Does this mean that God needs our approval? That doesn't sound right." There is a good reason that doesn't sound isn't right! I think we can all agree that God does not need the approval of mankind. So what is this verse talking about?

Let's review what we have been talking about all week...
- When you experience God's mercy truly, it changes you
- This mercy drives people to lay down their own life to live fully for God
- Living sacrifices refuse to buy into the lies of the world and allow themselves to be shaped by God's love
- When you live like this, you are walking in God's will

But what about all that testing and approving of God's will stuff? Well, when you are walking in God's will...experiencing His will...seeing His will for your WILL approve of it. It is that plain and simple. God does not need your approval. In fact, this verse does not say that we will "give our approval" simply says, "You will approve." That is the only response possible when you really experience what it is like to walk in God's will. Approval is the only option because God's will is good...God's will is pleasing...God's will is perfect. Those are the facts about what God's will is, so it is understandable that when human beings come in contact with it they respond with approval. There is no other possible response, because His will is flawless.

God's will is right. We were made to be in God's will...God's will is our is where we belong and we will know when we get there.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Romans 12:1-2...Day Three

"Do not conform."

"But be transformed."

6 very powerful words...6 words that have really been challenging me this week. Here are some of the thoughts that came from my time in contemplation today - I would love to read some of your thoughts on this passage as well...

It all goes back to God's mercy. God's mercy is is is is transformational. To think that we loved like the Bible describes by the Creator of all things is overwhelming to say the least.

When we come in contact with that incredible mercy, we cannot help but offer ourselves as living sacrifices. It is the only suitable response. What else can we give...what else can we do before such love and mercy? We offer ourselves. We become living sacrifices. This is not a one time deal, it is a continual process of sacrificing my way for His way - because the incredible depth and value of His way demands it.

Being a living sacrifice means that you do not conform to the world. Why? Because conforming is all about self-worship...not God worship. Conforming is denying who God created you to be by trying to become something that the lies of this world have convinced you will make you happy...will satisfy you...will fulfill your deepest desires. Conforming is the opposite of sacrifice...conforming is selfishness. Conforming is saying, "God you don't know what you are doing. You don't know what is best for my life. Becoming just like everyone else is what I need to be happy." That is conformity and it is a one way ticket to empty brokenness, yet we all find a way of spending time on that train!

Living sacrifices allow themselves to be transformed by the loving mercy of God. They allow God's love to fill show them the truth about who they are. The lies of the world absolutely shatter when they come in contact with the solidity of God's grace. Have you let that grace fill you and shape you and direct you?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Romans 12:1-2...Day Two

"Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God - this is your true and proper worship."

I couldn't get this section of our passage out of my head today. Such meaning and power and truth is carried in these few words...

First, did you notice how the plural of "bodies" becomes a single living sacrifice? What does that mean for us as Christians? For me it is a reminder that we are not alone. So many Christians act as if their faith is simply a matter of their own individual relationship with God. Some of them believe that they do not need community...that they are fine operating as loner Christians who only need God. Guess what? That is not the picture painted in the New Testament. The earliest Christian writers saw Christianity as a communal experience...saw faith as a product of people in community offering their lives to the one true God. We must rely on each other...push one one another...that is how we will be able to most effectively offer ourselves sacrificially to God.

Second, the word "holy" really stands out to me. Holy means to be "set apart." The act of becoming a living sacrifice is about setting ourselves apart...setting ourselves aside for God - to please God. We are called to set ourselves in opposition to a culture and world that is absolutely at war with God. That doesn't mean that we live in Christian compounds and have no contact with the world - that would remove the light that is so desperately needed. What it means is that we are supposed to be a culture within a culture. A holy people in the midst of an unholy world...shining as a beacon of truth and light.

Third, why is sacrificing ourselves so "pleasing" to God? Because, greater love has no one then he/she who would lay their lives down for a friend. Self sacrifice is the ultimate picture of love held up for us by scripture. When we offer ourselves as living sacrifices, we are laying down our lives completely for God. We are saying that there is nothing more important than Him...that He is the absolute and total love of our lives...that nothing matters more - not money, not sex, not power, not fulfillment, not achievement - NOTHING! My daily self sacrifice is an act of devotion towards God. When I set myself apart...when I refuse to bow to the temptations of this world...when I deny my own selfish desires to more fully serve life becomes a love song to Him. He deserves so much more, but all I have to give is all that I am. That is how we say, "I love you" to the God who loves us, and that is why it pleases Him.

Finally, this definition of "worship" seems so different then what we usually believe. Worship is not simply about singing songs, dancing for joy, listening to sermons or anything else on the Christian checklist. Dying. Dying is our true and proper worship. Dying to self and living for God on a daily basis...what could possibly be a more meaningful act of worship? What could possibly show our love for God more?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Isaiah 40:27-31

Another famous section of scripture...this has been turned into quite a few songs, but I think the songs often miss out on the point of why these amazing statements were said about God...

You'll notice in verse 27 that the people have been complaining about God. They says, "God, can you see what is going on down here!?" When life is going perfectly, they want to blame God. "This is not the way I want the world to work God. You are not working on my timetable God. Why are you doing this God? When are you gonna consider what I want God?" We have all been here haven't we? We have all had the arrogant audacity to question the Creator of the universe, as if He doesn't know what He is doing.

Well, the famous verses in this passage are God's answer back to the complaints of the people of the world (Through Isaiah of course). This reminds me a lot of God's response to the complaints of Job. God questioned Job - "Where you there when I laid the foundation of the earth? Were you there when I created the great sea creature?" God was basically saying to Job, "What right do you have to question me...I am the maker of everything...I am holding it all together?"Here Isaiah reminds us that God is everlasting...He is infinitely wise...He never takes a break...He doesn't miss anything that happens on the earth...and when you add all of that together with the rest of God's awesomeness, you get a being that knows a lot more about how things should operate on earth than you or me. Right?

Instead of questioning God, we should place our hope and trust in the fact that He knows what He is doing. When life is hard...when things are going terribly...we should take solise in the truth that God is working all things for the good of those who love Him and who have been called according to His purpose. As we wait on the we make the choice to trust in Him...we will be given the strength we need to handle anything this world has to throw at us.

Romans 12:1-2...Day One

After reading through this weeks passage in the Lectio Divina fashion, one phrase was burned into my mind..."God's mercy." As Paul writes, laying out a pattern for Christian living, it all hinges on God's mercy. What is God's mercy? It is God's unrelenting, never-failing love for us. It is the way that God pursues you and me - broken, sinful, screwed up people. He just keeps loving us...He doesn't give up on us...He offers forgiveness that is like nothing we can fully comprehend...He died for us. The Creator God of the universe felt such love for His creation that He was willing to become one of us. Not only was He willing to become one of us, but He was willing to die at the hands of people He had created so that we could receive forgiveness. That is mercy!

Paul lays it all out for us - nice and simple...
- God's mercy drives us to become living sacrifices.
- Living sacrifices are people who do not conform to the ways of this world.
- Living sacrifices are people who are transformed by the love of God and the Way of Jesus.
- And when we offer ourselves as living sacrifices, we will be able to see God's will for our lives.
That's Christianity 101 right there!

Today God has burned into my heart the desperate need I have for His mercy. When I contemplate my life...when I think about the things I live for and chase after, I can see the lies of the world creeping in. There are cultural values and lies that go against the heart of God that are leaking into my heart and shaping my life. Can you see them too? The worldly values that you have allowed to come between you and truly faithful living? What are they - think about it? As Christians we must allow the incredible mercy of God to overwhelm our transform our fill our hearts. Then we will be able to see the emptiness of the things of the world and the beauty of the will of God for our lives.

Friday, May 3, 2013

I Corinthians 1:1-17

1:2 - "Called to be saints together with all those in every place who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ." This is what true Christianity look like. We see ourselves as members of the universal body Christ. This is not a is not about whose denomination is is not about who can grow the biggest church or who has the coolest pastor...Christianity it about the unified priesthood of believers. Do we operate like this? Do we celebrate the victories of our brothers and sisters in Christ? Do we pray for them? What needs to change in our interactions with Christians outside of our church?

1:5 - The grace that comes from God should filter down into every aspect of our lives. When God's amazing, undeserved grace gets a hold of us: our actions change...our words change...our minds change...our hearts change. The grace of God enriches and transforms all areas of our lives...the grace of God shapes us to be more like Christ. If this reality is not taking place in your life, then maybe you have not fully embraced the enormity of God's grace.

1:17 - This is really important for Christians to hear and understand. You do not have to b able to speak the perfect words to represent the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You do not have to be eloquent. You do not have to have a Bible college degree. You don't have to be an ordained minister. You don't need any special training. Christians must simply be ready to allow the power of the cross to speak for itself through their lives. You don't need a special Christiany acronym, you just need to tell your story. Tell about the transformation you have seen in your life and the lives of others...tell about how the cross brought life from death...righteousness from sin. So many Christians fail to preach the good news of Jesus with their lives because they don't think they can...they don't think their ready. But here's where they go wrong - it isn't about isn't about their communication skills or their personality. The cross does it's own talking...God's grace is sufficient...all we have to do is make ourselves available to what God is going to do through our lives - He takes care of the rest.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Psalm 15

15:1 - Who is allowed to rest in the presence of the Lord? How do you know when someone is walking in the midst of God? They have characteristics like these...

- They do what is right
- They have integrity...there is a wholeness to the way they live
- They do not tear others down, they build them up
- They do not do evil to others or hope that evil befalls others
- They honor the faithful and oppose the wicked
- They hold to their word no matter matter the cost
- They do not take advantage of others
- They cannot be bought or corrupted

15:5b - These are the characteristics of men and women who walk in the presence of the Lord...of believers who are filled with the Holy Spirit of God. These characteristics are foundation stones of a life of faith...a life that cannot be rocked...a life that cannot be moved...a life that cannot be shaken. These are the life marks of men and women who are anchored in God. The question is - are they the marks of your life?