Sunday, September 24, 2017

What Does it Mean to be Holy?

As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written; “Be holy because I am holy.”
1 Peter 1:14-15 (NIV)

One of the first things I’ve learned in seminary that holy (or sanctified) doesn’t mean perfect, except when referring to God. To be holy means to be set apart from something else - to be distinct. God is set so far apart from anything else, He is ultra, super duper, beyond comprehension holy. He is perfect.

So, please reread today’s scripture replacing the word holy with ‘set apart’.

With the understanding that you are distinct because you are made in God’s image and He is unlike anything else, read this story about two friends, Lax and Thomas, taken from Thomas’s autobiography*. At the time, Thomas was a graduate student studying English at Columbia University in NYC. I quote:

Lax and I were walking down Sixth Avenue one night in the spring. The street was all torn up and trenched and banked high with dirt and marked out with red lanterns where they were digging the subway, and we picked our way along the fronts of the dark little stores, going downtown to Greenwich Village. I forget what we were arguing about, but in the end Lax suddenly turned around and asked me the question:

“What do you want to be, anyway?”

I could not say, “I want to be Thomas Merton the well-known writer of all those book reviews in the back pages of the Times Book Review,” or “Thomas Merton the assistant instructor of Freshman English at the New Life Social Institute for Progress and Culture,” so I put the thing on the spiritual plan, where I knew it belonged and said:

“I don’t know; I guess what I want is to be a good Catholic.”

“What do you mean, you want to be a good Catholic?”

The explanation I gave was lame enough, and expressed my confusion, and betrayed how little I had really thought about it at all.

Lax did not accept it.

“What you should say” – he told me – “what you should say is that you want to be a saint.”

A saint! The thought struck me as a little weird. I said:

“How do you expect me to become a saint?”

“By wanting to,” said Lax, simply.

“I can’t be a saint,” I said, “I can’t be a saint.” And my mind darkened with a confusion of realities and unrealities: the knowledge of my own sins, and the false humility which makes men say that they cannot do things that they must do, cannot reach the level that they must reach: the cowardice that says: “I am satisfied to save my soul, to keep out of mortal sin,” but which means, by those words: “I do not want to give up my sins and my attachments.”

But Lax said:

“No. All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”

With your cooperation, God will make you holy. (tweet this)

Does being holy feel impossible?
Does it help to think about being holy as being set apart for God?
Do you believe God can make you holy?
Will you agree to let Him try?

*The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton

#SeedsofScripture #ThomasMerton #Iwanttobeasaint

Thursday, September 21, 2017

An Appropriate Portion of Humble Pie

Image created using Typorama
And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe in the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 3:6 (NLT)

I was confident.

I thought I knew enough Bible to test out of the Old and New Testament overview classes. I’ve led a study that covers 85% of the Bible eight times in addition to several other studies. “I’ll study a little” I thought, “and save a few bucks by skipping two classes.” My well intentioned friends affirmed my confidence saying, “You’ll sail through the test.”

But I failed with flying colors. I know something, but not nearly enough. I swallowed some much needed humble pie.

I’ve had other prideful thoughts. Entering as an older student I thought, “What meaningful life experiences could these ‘kids’ possibly write about in their personal statements?” Again, God exposed my pride. Students come here from all over the world, Brazil, Africa, South Korea, Nebraska, Texas, Tennessee, California…. They have life experiences I can’t even imagine.

The word that’s blinking neon at me from today’s scripture is ‘equally’.

Paul was celebrating that through Jesus the Gentiles are equal heirs in a unified family. The Jews don’t hold any advantage; they are not superior. Jesus was humbling the Jews and I am duly humbled.

That’s not to say I bring nothing to the conversation, just that I am not better as I have secretly thought. God gathered these particular students to learn from and challenge one another.

It’s comforting to know I’m not alone. Even Henri Nouwen, famed theologian, wrote:

Have mercy on me, a sinner. I am impressed by my own spiritual insights. (tweet this)

Have you caught yourself having prideful thoughts?

#SeedsofScripture #HenriNouwen #pride

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Devil Nearly Won

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, He will show you a way out so that you can endure.
1 Corinthians 10:13 (NLT)

The devil nearly won this round.

Gordon-Conwell Seminary offered me a generous $5000/year scholarship. Thank you God, right? I simply had to maintain an acceptable GPA and attend full time - 4 classes spring/fall and 2 over the summer. Even better, 10 was the minimum – I could gobble up as many classes as I wanted at no additional cost.

When applying, I planned to dip my toe into seminary by taking one class per semester. That quickly became two because I could schedule them together and maximize my hour commute. As my excitement over the course descriptions grew, three courses sounded feasible. One more would make me full time. Why not accept the scholarship and dive in?

The scholarship was enticing.

My thoughts wavered daily. The workload would be tough but I’d save $15,000 getting my degree. I investigated weekday housing options to reduce commute time. I consulted friends and attended orientation undecided.

After “Where are you from?” orientation discussions shifted to “Why are you here?”

That was the decisive moment in my battle with the devil’s temptation. God, in the form of fellow students and professors, helped me resist the lure of money.

I’m in seminary to delight in His Word, absorb the knowledge and let it transform my soul. Plus, I hope to maintain my writing and share my discoveries with you. I don’t care about the degree, I want to revel in the process. A frenetic pace would ruin everything.

Today’s score: God 1, devil 0.

God helps us avoid temptation. (tweet this)

How is the devil luring you away from God’s purpose for your life?

#SeedsofScripture #leadusnotintotemptation

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Good Fear of Missing Out

Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
Romans 12:2 (MSG)

I encourage you to embrace FOMO – the fear of missing out.

FOMO has gotten a bad rap as we over-commit ourselves by not wanting to miss out on the conversation… the experience… the culture. We join clubs, accept invitations, watch television series, and follow social media pages, then complain that we’re exhausted.

The one thing deserving FOMO is God’s best for our lives. (tweet this)

However, one thing deserves our fear – missing out on God’s design for our lives. It is God who brings out the best in us. He created us with a purpose and only through Him can we experience maximum fulfillment. We ought to fear missing it.

I resisted God’s nudge toward seminary for 10 plus years. I was afraid. The student in me knew I’d love it. I longed to learn Greek so I could dig into the original New Testament text. Excitement surfaced whenever I considered studying more deeply.

God was calling, but I made excuses.

My children needed me. I was busy teaching and writing. The commute was an hour without traffic. I was too old.

In reality, I was scared of not measuring up, being graded, being wrong, failing. Heck, it’s the first week of classes and I’m still scared. But I’m stepping out in faith.

Are you allowing God to bring out the best in you?
Is He calling you to something that feels uncomfortable?

#SeedsofScripture #FOMO

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Like a Splash of Cold Water

I have called you friends.
John 15:15 (NLT)

Like an icy cold splash of water in my face, the lyrics awaken me to the stunning truth.

The One who reigns forever,
He is a friend of mine.
- Chris Tomlin

It’s beyond comprehension.

The God who created mountains and oceans and galaxies also thought the world needed one of me. The glorious, perfect, everlasting God listens to my prayers and walks beside me. The One who provided nourishment and protection for the Jews as He led them toward the Promised Land guides my steps too. The God who clothed Himself with skin so that it could be bruised and bloodied knows my name.

He calls me friend.

The One who reigns forever is a friend of mine. (tweet this)

My icy splash was a worship song by Chris Tomlin called Whom Shall I Fear. It’s no coincidence that God jolted my awareness of His love with this song - I have concert tickets to worship with Chris Tomlin in October.

#SeedsofScripture #heisafriendofmine #ChrisTomlin

Whom Shall I Fear [God of Angel Armies]
Chris Tomlin

You hear me when I call
You are my morning song
Though the darkness fills the night
It cannot hide the light
Whom shall I fear?

You crush the enemy
Underneath my feet
You are my sword and shield
Though troubles linger still
Whom shall I fear?

[chorus] I know who goes before me
I know who stands behind
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side
The One who reigns forever
He is a friend of mine

My strength is in your name
For you alone can save
You will deliver me
Yours is the victory
Whom shall I fear?

[chorus]

And nothing formed against me shall stand
You hold the whole world in your hands
I’m holding on to your promises
You are faithful
You are faithful

[chorus]

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

My Bursting Heart

Shout with joy to the Lord, O earth! Worship the Lord with gladness. Come before Him, singing with joy.
Psalm 100: 1-2 (NLT)

My son is home.

I rushed to him at passenger pickup with a big squeezy hug and a bursting heart. My excitement surprised me since he’s only been away 6 weeks. I’m very happy we’re together again.

Which got me thinking….

When was the last time I was this excited to be in God’s presence?

I enjoy attending weekly services and I love to study scripture. I often feel overwhelming gratitude for God’s love, forgiveness, and blessings. But when have I been giddy for the chance to be near God? When have I run to Him smiling from ear to ear as if I’d hold Him tight?

Why do I take His presence for granted? Why don’t I fully appreciate the privilege it is to know Him personally, to have the Spirit dwelling in me, to know His presence in worship, and to meet Him at the communion table. When two or three are gathered, He is very close. Why am I complacent?
 
I want to praise God with authentic, uncontrollable joy! (tweet this)

I want to wake my senses up to the wonder of God. The Creator who reigns over the universe knows my name and wants to spend time with me. His love is unconditional and unfailing. The same God who led Abraham, Moses, and King David guides my life. Jesus, who left heaven to walk among us, blots out my sin with His blood. He is infinitely greater than anything else that excites me. 

God deserves my joyfully unrestrained praise! (tweet this)

Does your praise reflect your appreciation for Him? If not, what needs to change?

#SeedsofScripture #praiseGod #HeIsWorthy

Monday, July 31, 2017

They're For Your Own Good

Your regulations remain true to this day, for everything serves your plans. If your instructions hadn’t sustained me with joy, I would have died in my misery. I will
never forget your commandments, for by them you give me life.
Psalm 119:91-93 (NLT)

Nothing good happens after midnight.

Are these your mother’s words? Have you spoken them to your teens?

This was our family mantra as my children became teenagers and wanted later curfews. We weren’t trying to be killjoys, but hoped to steer them away from the kind of mischief that often happens late at night. We were helping them avoid awkward and/or dangerous situations, difficult choices, and actions they might regret.

The midnight curfew was meant for their good.

It’s the same with God’s commands. We often think of them as limiting our freedom. But they’re meant to lead us away from temptation and toward a fulfilling life.

God’s instructions guide us toward fullness of life. (tweet this)

We can still choose to ignore God’s instructions, but we’ll face unnecessary difficulty. Consequences.

Real joy and peace can best be lived by following God’s way. (tweet this)

What do you think? Are Biblical instructions still relevant? Are they limiting or life-giving?

#SeedsofScripture #followGod #fullnessoflife