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

Ambition is a Dragon

I’ve found myself grappling with surges of ambition for the past few months, and I haven’t known what to do with it. At times, I’ve been frustrated, almost angry, because I know I could accomplish so much more, were I free to do it. At other times, I’ve been despondent, wanting to give up, because my efforts appear futile without the potential for real accomplishment.

Ambition is a dragon: hard to manage and never completely understood.

In 1960, no one had gone to the moon. What made people want to do it? Sure President Kennedy declared the goal, but the desire went beyond making a name for the scientists, astronauts, or country (Encyclopedia Britannica). I believe it was about seeing just how far humanity could go…about achieving something astounding primarily for the sake of achieving it.

Does ambition exist for its own sake. I don’t think so.

When I finally confronted my own ambition, I started by pushing and pulling on a definition for ambition, trying to understand this dragon that has awakened. Continue reading

We Don’t Have to Understand Everything

The treasure chest bulged between its straps and strained against its clasp. I paused, my eyes wide, and savored the moment. There was no lock on the clasp, so I heaved open the lid. It clanged back as gold coins spilled all around. I reached in, burying my arms in the treasures yet never hitting the bottom of the chest. I scooped out as much as I could hold and fell into a nearby chair. The chest remained full.

When we open our Bibles, we lift the lid on a limitless treasure trove of greater eternal value than any pirate’s booty—treasures we understand and enjoy now along with treasures we won’t understand until Heaven. What sort of treasures, you ask? Treasures of wisdom and knowledge, of perfect judgments and plans. The Apostle Paul knew about these treasures. The thought of such treasures struck him so that he paused in the middle of Romans to declare,

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!  –Romans 11:33 Continue reading

There’s good, then there’s Good

“You’re good people.”

I heard it again last weekend. What do you say to that? “Umm…thanks?”

I live in the south, and most of us are good…at least we’re polite and nice. Our mommas told us, “Be good!” every time we went out the door. We wait our turn; we try to help people; we give Christmas gifts to our mailmen and garbage collectors. We try our best to be nice (except on college football Saturdays, but that’s another story). Continue reading

How Much More

A wobbly number line stretched across the classroom board, drawn without the help of a straight edge. Zero was near the center. To the left, the negative numbers. To the right, the positive numbers. You remember it from elementary or middle school, don’t you? For me, it was a green chalkboard and a teacher who was allergic to chalk. “Occupational hazard,” he said. At each end, the line was capped by an arrow just before the edge of the board. The arrow meant we hadn’t really arrived at the end of the line—that it continued into infinity in both directions.

As I read through Romans 5 this week, that number line returned to my mind. Four times in this chapter, Paul says “how much more.” It’s not a question but an exclamation, like when I (frequently) say, “What was I thinking!” or “How could I have forgotten that!”

I dug into the Greek a little. The phrase is pollō mállon (thank you, BibleGateway.com and my Complete Word Study Dictionary). It means simply “much more;” we add the “how” to get the right meaning in English. This word pairing comes up rather often in the New Testament, most notably (I think) in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus said,

If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  -Matthew 6:30 (emphasis added)

Much more.

With these words, the speaker (Jesus, Paul, etc.) creates a comparison between two concepts. There’s a first thing, which may be positive or negative, but the second thing so far exceeds the first as to make the first thing insignificant.

Like when David said, “My cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5), the image here is abundance, excess, extra to the point of wastefulness.

In the number line of life, we start out in the negative, somewhere to the left of zero. God’s generosity (saving us through Jesus’ death) doesn’t just return us to zero. It goes far beyond, bypassing even that arrow at the edge of the board on the positive side, into infinity or, in our case, an infinite eternity.

Let’s look at Paul’s how much more comparisons in Romans 5.

Since we have now been
justified by his blood,
how much more shall we
be saved from God’s wrath
through him! For if, while
we were God’s enemies, we
were reconciled to him
through the death of his
Son, how much more, having
been reconciled, shall we
be saved through his life!
Not only is this so, but
we also boast in God through
our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have now
received reconciliation.
Romans 5:9-11

How much more are we saved from God’s wrath (v. 9)

Jesus’ blood gives us the right to be in God’s presence (justification), but it’s more than that. Because of Jesus’ death, we don’t have to worry about the final judgment. God will not release his righteous anger on us.

Jesus gave us an excellent example of this. When the prodigal son returned to his father (Luke 15:11-32), the father could have said, “Yes, you’re my son, but you need to be punished.” He didn’t. The younger son not only returned to his status in the family, but he was also saved from his father’s wrath.

How much more are we saved through His life (v. 10)

We’ve also been brought into a healthy relationship with God (reconciliation), but He doesn’t stop there—oh no! Jesus’ continuing life in and through us, both saved us and continues our sanctification (the “shall we be saved” of this verse). We have an on-going, deepening relationship with God through Jesus.

Again, from Jesus’ parable: The prodigal’s father could have said, “I forgive you, now get out of my sight,” but he didn’t. He pursued a renewed relationship with his long-lost son, starting with a big celebration.

Next in Romans 5, Paul introduces the idea of the “one man” Adam and the “one man” Jesus Christ. This section is full of comparisons, but twice he uses our pollō mállon again.

But the gift is not like
the trespass. For if the
many died by the trespass
of the one man, how much
more did God’s grace and
the gift that came by the
grace of the one man, Jesus
Christ, overflow to the
many! Nor can the gift of
God be compared with the
result of one man’s sin:
The judgment followed one
sin and brought condemnation,
but the gift followed many
trespasses and brought
justification. For if, by
the trespass of the one man,
death reigned through that
one man, how much more will
those who receive God’s
abundant provision of grace
and of the gift of
righteousness reign in life
through the one man,
Jesus Christ!
Romans 5:15-17

How much more does grace overflow to many (v. 15)

Before Jesus came, many people died because of sin—Adam’s original sin instilled in them. But many more than that will live eternally because we get grace (our saving factor) through Jesus’ singular death and subsequent resurrection.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.  –Ephesians 2:8

How much more will grace-receivers reign through Christ (v. 17)

Because of Adam’s sin, death reigns in our lives. When we receive God’s grace, He dethrones death and sets us up to reign in this life through Jesus.

How much more is there to say? (I mean this one as a question.)

I hope you can see the type of comparison Paul makes in these four verses. In the first two, he says, “What you know is good, but the reality is so much better!” In the second pair, he says, “If this is bad, the converse is not just good but amazingly good!” Every time, God goes the extra step to make our situation beautiful and remarkable.

Let’s end with a related “immeasurably more” from Paul.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.  –Ephesians 3:20-21

Why does he give us much more? For His glory. We can draw a heavy line all the way across our number lines on the board and off, into infinity.

number line 2
(c) Carole Sparks

God isn’t playing a zero-sum game with our eternity. He gives us “much more” every time. My #more is #NotAboutMe via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Can you think of a good image to help us understand God’s “much more”? My number line is just one example. Have these verses impacted your life in a particular way? In either case, we would love to hear from you in the comments below. Let’s glorify God with a discussion of His Word!

Authentic Generosity Springs from Humility

We get so we can give.

Why does God give us things (tangible and intangible)? First, because it’s in His nature. God is generous. But second, we get so we can give.

From my car to my children to the love I show my neighbor, everything I have is, in a sense, on loan from God and on its way to someone or somewhere else. I am the conduit of His blessing for others. The things He gives me are mine for the time it takes them to pass through my hands, through my circle of influence. Like an earthen ditch flowing full of water, some of God’s blessing soaks into the earth over which they pass, and so I am blessed as all these things pass through me.

That last paragraph is where I want my mindset to remain. I’m not often there, which is why I write this month about the connection between humility and generosity. Continue reading

Hope Let Me Down

The nurse met us in the sterile, grey hall again. “We weren’t able to do the procedure, but there’s one more thing we can try.” At least three times, one nurse or another met us in the hall with essentially the same statement. At least three times, my heart grabbed onto that slim chance and held on…hoped on.

I left the second, bigger hospital, sure that this new facility with different doctors and fresher equipment would make a difference. But when the phone rang the next morning, I had to face the facts: even our last option hadn’t worked. Continue reading

On Worship

A lifestyle of worship has been on my mind for awhile. It arises partly out of my study in Psalms and partly out of…well, a bunch of stuff. Anyway, I am glad to share some thoughts on worship this week with my blogging friend, Vanessa. Read the first bit here or click straight over to her blog and start from the beginning there.

As much as I am tempted to sleep in on Sunday mornings, I love worship time with my church. You see, we lived in a place without churches or church services for more than six years. Our corporate worship time involved gathering in the living room with some praise choruses pulled up on a computer screen. I think God was honored in those moments, but it was nothing like adding your voice to a few dozen (or a few hundred) other believers, singing out in praise and accompanied by talented musicians. Corporate worship and preaching fuel me for the week ahead.

But Sunday mornings are not the only time I worship.

I have learned that worship shouldn’t be a noun. It’s not a person, place, or thing; it’s an action. Sometimes it’s an active verb, like on Sunday mornings when we worship together. And sometimes it’s more like a state-of-being verb, a mindset that pervades everything else.

Dig into God’s call to worship–including some gleanings from Romans–at Vanessa’s blog. Otherwise, what do you think of as worship and when does it occur? Share your thoughts there or in the comments below.

One Foot in Front of the Other

Uphill. How long had she been trudging uphill? One foot in front of the other. One foot. No stops. No detours. Some people raced along the road, excited about what lay beyond the next slow bend. She’d been around enough bends to know the only thing awaiting them was more trudging uphill. So she kept walking. One foot in front of the other. Uphill.

She stayed in the middle
and tried to be good.

She tried to stay near the middle of the road even though the crowds were thickest there. On her right, the edge of the road topped a steep cliff. She once saw a whole family fall, but she turned away before they hit the bottom. Better not to see. On her left, a high wall bordered the road. It was smooth, sometimes even warm, but she could imagine herself crushed against it if the mass of people swelled. So she stayed in the middle and tried to be good. One foot in front of the other.

The movement of her own feet sometimes mesmerized her. She’d once gotten dizzy from staring down at them. Better to look ahead, look where she was going.

But where was she going?

“No idea,” she said aloud. A few people turned in surprise. She shrugged and lowered her eyes.

Maybe she was turning into one of those crazies who stood on the walled side of the road and waved at people. They always looked friendly, but why did they wave instead of walking? A few didn’t wave. Instead they screamed or held signs, but their words—spoken or written—made little sense. “Repent?” “Believe?” “Kingdom?” What Kingdom? Would a king stop the uphill trudge? Would a king explain the point of walking? Would a king let people fall off the edge of the road? A bunch of crazies, that’s what they were. All of them.

But some seemed so sincere. She was almost tempted to stop once when some guy gestured to her and pointed at a crack in the wall. He’d thought they could escape through the crack. He said it was a gate. Still crazy. That had been a long time ago. Why was she thinking of it now?

Her eyes were
drawn to the wall.

“One foot in front of the other, Jeanne.” This time, she muttered so that no one else heard. But her eyes were drawn to the wall even as her feet continued their steady rhythm. She made eye contact with one of the crazies. Uh-oh.

Instead of waving or yelling or pointing, this woman stepped into the crowded road and weaved toward her. Without asking, she reached for one of Jeanne’s heavy bags, but Jeanne hesitated and the woman smiled. Why did she trust this woman already? Jeanne released the bag. The woman fell into step beside her, even pointed out a pothole to avoid.

After a while, she began to talk. Her name was Mary, and her story felt both strange and familiar to Jeanne. They laughed together. How long had it been since she laughed? The woman talked about a gate that would lead them out of this never-ending uphill drudgery. She had found it and gone through it. When she experienced the peace and lack of struggle on the other side of the wall, she knew she had to come back and show people the gate.

“So those crazies along the wall… Oh, sorry!”

“No, that’s okay.” Mary smiled. I used to think they were crazy, too, but they’re telling the truth. They just have…unusual…ways of saying it.”

Jeanne continued. “There really is a gate? There really is another way? There really is a better life?”

“Yes, yes, and yes.” The whole time they talked, Mary had been steering Jeanne very gradually toward the wall. Now they stopped. A couple of people behind them grumbled and jostled around them. “Look, Jeanne.”

Jeanne had to tear her eyes away from Mary’s glowing face. Mary was pointing at the wall. But it wasn’t a solid wall anymore. There was a clearly a gate. Jeanne did a double-take. Yes, definitely a gate. Why hadn’t she seen it before this moment? “Is this the gate you went through, Mary?”

“Yes.”

“But you joined me back there,” Jeanne pointed down the road, “and the gate is here…,” her voice trailed off.

There’s only one gate.

“There’s only one gate, Jeanne. It appears when you’re ready to see it, but in reality, it’s always been right beside you.”

“That’s weird.”

“I know. I don’t exactly understand it myself, but that doesn’t stop it from being true, does it?”

Jeanne’s voice belied her hesitation: “I guess not.”

“Come on. Let’s go!” Mary was already touching the gate, but Jeanne felt rooted to the spot. The uphill trudge might not be exciting, but it was familiar. She knew what to do and how to manage. Beyond that gate…well, who could know for sure?

Mary turned toward Jeanne without taking her hand off the gate, patience and desire somehow mixing on her face.

Jeanne slowly filled her lungs with air. On the exhale she moved her right foot toward the gate. One foot in front of the other, into new life.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.  -Matthew 7:13-14

Jesus said, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.”  -John 10:9

…And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  -Romans 10:14

One Foot in Front of the Other: Bible-based #flashfiction to challenge all of us. (click to tweet)

Any thoughts? How does this image sit in your mind? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

When “For the Good” Doesn’t Feel So Good

The conversation shifted from subject to subject, circling back, leaping forward, in the way conversations with good friends often do. My coffee was finished, and my friend had an appointment soon. It was almost time to go when she mentioned something about a women’s ministry team at our church. This team was established and had already planned an event.

I love women’s ministry! I think we, as women, need time together outside the regular routines of life, and we need spirit-filled relationships within those routines. I’m passionate about one-on-one discipleship. I’ve spoken at women’s events. I led the women’s ministry at our previous church in another state (a bigger church than where we go now). I mean, it just made sense for me to do this. How could I have been overlooked?!? Why wasn’t I asked to participate?!

I blurted, “Oh, you should have asked me to be on this team,” hiding my hurt with a smile.

She looked at me blankly, as if the thought had never occurred to her and replied, “Yeah, we should have.”

Everything I felt started with ‘I’.

As I backed out of the driveway a few minutes later, my heart was on fire. I felt ignored, insulted, isolated…and probably some other things that start with ‘I’.

I would have said ‘yes.’

My next stop was that really large department store where we all pay our dues even though we hate buying tires and tater tots under the same roof. (Okay, maybe that’s just me.) It was about ten minutes away. As I drove, I laid my aching heart before the Lord, asking Him why my friends overlooked me or perhaps even rejected me. I told God that I wanted to be asked so I would have the chance to pray about it, to decide if it was part of His will. (Does everyone see the fault in my logic here? Does everyone see the pride that still consumes me?) Then I realized that I would have probably said ‘yes’ to being on the team.

God led my mind toward the inevitable consequences of that ‘yes’: multiple evening meetings, time away from family, tasks to complete, phone calls, brain power and emotions depleted because I can’t do anything at 50%. He gently reminded me of my callings in this ‘season’ of life. Besides the ongoing and superlative tasks of being a wife and mother, I am supposed to write. That’s where I need to spend my time and energy. I need to be home with my family in the evenings. I need to pour my heart into discipling my children. I need to reserve some attention for my husband. And I need to wear my fingers out on this keyboard.

My inevitable ‘yes’ would have put
me outside the will of God.

If I had said ‘yes’ to the women’s ministry team, I would have done good work. I would have felt positive about my contribution to our church body. It would have looked Christ-like, and I would probably have garnered praise from others in our church. But I would have rejected my very-real calling as a Bible study writer. I would have been outside the purposes of God. By causing me to be overlooked, our wise Heavenly Father protected me from myself and from a pattern of disobedience that would have eventually affected all my relationships—especially my relationship with Him.

I pulled into a far-away parking space (because I can always use the extra steps) and just sat there in the car, praising God. In ten minutes, He took me from complaining and questioning to thanksgiving; isn’t that fantastic? When he prevented my invitation to the women’s ministry team, He did something good for me; it just didn’t feel so good.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. –Romans 8:28

#Confession: Sometimes “for the good” doesn’t feel so good in the moment. #NotAboutMe #GodsWill (click to tweet)

God was working this situation for my good even when it didn’t feel very good. When have you seem Him work “behind the scenes” to protect or promote you? How have you experienced the truth of Romans 8:28?