The Necessities of Unity: 2. Christ in us

We’re watching Jesus pray for Himself, His disciples, and us on the night before He was crucified. His primary prayer for “those who will believe” (John 17:20) was unity, and He prayed for two things that would help us get there.

John 17:20-23.

  1. Pursue God’s Glory. Check last week’s post to explore this.
  2. Recognize Christ in us.
Continue reading

Spiritual Maturity and Sentence Diagrams

If you’re of a certain age, you remember diagramming sentences in elementary/middle school. If you’re a #wordnerd like me, you don’t just remember it, you enjoyed it! Yes, I am that weird kid who diagrammed sentences just for fun.

So when I showed up in New Testament Greek class and my professor started diagramming some of Paul’s sentences in Greek, I was delighted. A couple of them took up the entire board! (We were then using dry erase markers on white board, not the chalkboards of my grade school years. Ah, progress.)

When I come upon a long,
complicated sentence, I fall
back on sentence diagramming.

Paul could write some of the longest sentences. I often get lost in them. But when I do, I fall back to some mental diagramming. (Confession: if it’s extra-difficult, I might draw the diagram in my q.t. journal. Am I alone in this? Probably.) Hopefully, I’m not alone, however, in finding real spiritual truth in a well-diagrammed sentence.

Take this one, for example.

Colossians 1:9b-12.

It’s one sentence in my NIV, and the ESV includes the first half of verse 9 in the same sentence. If not periods, Paul could have at least used some bullet points in this section. I won’t force a sentence diagram upon you now because it might unearth long-buried nightmares, so let’s turn it into a list. We like lists, don’t we? I took a little time to dig out  the key words (watching for prepositions and paying attention to punctuation) then bulleted some questions I asked myself as I studied this.

4 Marks of Spiritual Maturity

One whose life is worthy of God and who pleases God (v. 10) will model these four traits.

  1. Bearing fruit
  • Is my life producing/causing good in the world?
  • Are people learning about Jesus?
  • Are needy people blessed?
  • Is my church better/stronger because of my service there?
  • Do my thoughts and actions honor the Lord?
  1. Growing in knowledge of God
  • Do I know more than I did last year about God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit?
  • Am I more familiar with the Bible now?
  • Do I know how to apply biblical truth to life situations (wisdom)?
  1. Being strengthened to have more endurance and patience
  • Does it take me longer to get angry now?
  • Can I withstand longer/harder trials?
  • Do I seek Him more often than I seek His solution to my problems?
  1. Giving joyful thanks to God
  • Am I perpetually thankful for my salvation?
  • Do I find ways to give thanks regardless of my circumstances? (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
  • Do I see God’s blessings in my life—the good parts and the bad?
  • Is my perspective on life characterized by joy?

2 Notes of Caution

I’m sure you know what I’m about to say, but it’s easy to overlook the bigger picture of God’s Word when we zoom in so tightly.

  1. Doing these things doesn’t qualify us for heaven. God qualifies us through Jesus (v. 12b). Instead, these “marks” are evidence of what God has already done in our lives.
  2. God doesn’t supply this list so we can judge others but to affirm for ourselves that we’re on the right track. This is one of many passages designed to encourage us.

There’s so much more to this set of verses. We could go in ten different directions with all the Truth Paul packs into one long sentence. My goal today was to give you (or remind you of) one tool for dissecting the Scripture. (Oops—I switched from English to Biology.) I don’t know about you, but turning Paul’s long sentences into bullet points (a sneaky half-diagram) helps me understand, remember, and apply the guidance God has given us through Paul.

This is not middle school English, but we can use sentence diagramming to clarify Paul’s super-long sentences. #BibleStudyTools #NotAboutMe via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Do you remember sentence diagramming? Have you used it in your personal Bible study? Any other good suggestions for understanding Paul’s grammar? Or more personally: How have these verses spoken to you? Is there a particular one of my questions the Lord has highlighted for you to ask yourself? Any way you’d like to answer in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!

Three Paths We “Walk”

Last week, I wrote about becoming more Christlike as we go through life.

The New Testament often uses the word walk to talk about the process of living. (In fact, the NIV uses “live a life” in place of walk in Colossians 1:10.) There wasn’t space, however, to unpack walk. Today, let’s revisit those verses and consider three paths in which we walk (because in follows walk all three times). Continue reading

The Ones Who “Also Ran”

The last two weeks, our entire schedule was disrupted. We don’t watch a lot of television, but we didn’t even change the channel during this time. We stayed up late, eyes glued to the screen. Breakfast found us checking news feeds for updates, and TV during dinner? Yes, for these two weeks, it was acceptable! As you probably guessed, we are Olympaholics! It doesn’t matter what sport or what level of competition (heats, semifinals, medal rounds), we watch it. We even have special words that only come out every two years (because we’re just as bad about winter Olympics). For example, eating during a good competition is an Olympicnic.

Of course, we rooted for the USA (final medal count: 121!), but we also cheered for anyone who was trying their hardest and anyone representing a country that hadn’t ever won a medal, such as Singapore in men’s swimming 100m butterfly.

What makes the Olympics so special?

  • The comradery: Bolt and De Grasse (sprinting) smiling and joking as they crossed the line in the semi-finals of the 200m.
  • The sportsmanship: Hamblin and D’Agostino (running) help each other up after a fall in the 5000m qualifying race, the USA women’s gymnastics team cheering each other on as they competed.
  • The patriotism: Ryan Crouse (shot put) at 23 years old, 6’7”/245lbs., with tears in his eyes as they played the national anthem; Michael Phelps (swimming) looking the same even after standing on the highest podium twenty-two times before.
  • The joy: Nijat Rahimov (weightlifting) of Kazakhstan dancing when he won gold.
  • The celebration of the human body’s ability rather than its appearance.
  • The platform for Christ: testimonies of Helen Maroulis (wrestling), David Boudia and Steels Johnson (synchronized diving), among others.

My favorite tweet from the Olympics:

The Olympics are rich with lessons for our spiritual lives, and you’ve probably read multiple articles to that effect. Let me add one more. *smile*

These guys got lapped.
In the Olympics.

The image that sticks in my mind even after the closing ceremonies is this: Mo Farah of Great Britain fell in the 10,000m finals then surged ahead to win gold—an amazing feat. As he ran around the track alongside the Kenyans and Ethiopians, they passed a couple of runners. These other guys got lapped. In the Olympics. Farah has been winning these middle/long distance races for years. He was the favorite, and most commentators could have predicted the top five, if not the exact order of their completion. How discouraging for the rest of the field.

What does an Olympic runner think when he gets lapped? (click to tweet)

It makes me wonder what was going through their minds in those moments, as they watched the backs of Farah and the others speed past them.

Did they regret their decisions to travel to Rio?

Was their effort worthless?

What was the point of running, knowing they would not win?

I don’t think they thought any of these things.

Paul told the Corinthian Christians, Do you not know that in a race all the runners run but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24…Is anyone surprised by my choice of a verse? I doubt it!). We need to be careful here to see what Paul intended and what he didn’t. He did not say, “Only run if you can win.” He also didn’t say, “Do whatever it takes—even cheating—to win,” or “Hey, everyone is a winner.”

When Paul said run in such a way as to get the prize, he meant run as if you will win, run your absolute best every time, put in the work to win even if you know you can’t.

But why bother?

Very few of us will reach the pinnacle of achievement in our given fields. As a Bible study writer, I will never be Beth Moore or Kay Arthur. That doesn’t mean I’ve missed my calling. It doesn’t mean I shut my computer and walk away. I will strive to be the best regardless of how much attention I get. Because somehow that’s where God’s glory lies: in my best effort. As my friend, Leigh Powers, put it in her post about the Olympics, “We are not defined by what we achieve but by what Christ has done for us.”

Mo Farah and Usain Bolt were designed to run, then they were cultivated to reach their peak potential. But so were those guys who got lapped. They may not go home with medals around their necks, but I believe they did their absolute best. They still made their countries proud. They are still Olympians.

At some level, the Olympics are no longer about the individual athletes but about their nations. In the same way, the things to which God calls us are not about us but about Him.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters… -Colossians 3:23 (Yep, Paul again.)

Even if you can’t win the prize, run (or whatever your version of running is) as if you were going to win. You were created to do it, you are called to do it, and now you are cultivating your ability to do it.

So run your race.

Represent your faith family and your God.

Relish the privilege of appearance regardless of the final standings.

I’m called to run my race regardless of the final standings because the race is not about me. (click to tweet)

What was your most inspirational moment in the Olympics? What made you think twice? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Update 9.20.16   Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern-day Olympics, established the Olympic creed after being inspired by a speech he heard (given by Bishop Ethelbert Talbot). Looks like he thought the same way we have here! This is it: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”