2015 Verse of the Week #30: Romans 5:1-5

I’m excited for this week’s passage because it’s one of my big-time favorites. It is just good, good, good stuff. Seeds Family Worship has a song for it called “The Character Song,” and it’s track 10 on “Seeds of Character.” Read it below (ESV):

Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

In my New Testament class I was taught that when we read “Therefore” it’s good to go back to look at what the proceeding statement is “there for” in light of preceding statements. Thankfully, Paul helps us out by reminding us of what he just said- that we are justified by faith. In chapter 4 he used the faith of Abraham to illustrate how God kept his promises to Abraham and to us, sending Jesus as justification for all who believe. I packed that into a pretty small nutshell, so feel free to read Romans 4 yourself to gain a deeper understanding.

I love the flow of this passage. Paul is showing us how one thing clearly leads to another and how all of these things work together in our lives as part of God’s redemptive plan: Justification through faith in God brings peace with God through Jesus. Through faith in Jesus, we stand in God’s grace and the hope of his glory.

As monumental as it is to possess justification, peace, grace and hope, Paul tells us, “Wait! There’s more!” And the more is that we can rejoice in our sufferings. This is one of the major ways that we as Christians are set apart; it is counter-intuitive and counter-cultural to rejoice in our sufferings. To be sure, our culture does embrace the concept of suffering leading to greater things in life, but when I read this passage I see God calling us to something greater and– as is usually the case– stranger.

I see that suffering is not merely something to get through in order to achieve a greater end, but that suffering in itself is an opportunity for God to reveal himself, to teach us, to refine us, to plant things in our hearts that could not take root were the ground not broken.

I have found this to be true in my life. Whether it’s a run-of-the-mill bad day or a long, uphill climb through the mud of uncertainty or pain or disappointment, God’s Holy Spirit is present in my mind and my heart. He keeps me from sinking by reminding me that I am justified, at peace with God, walking in grace each day, given hope of God’s glory, and that the God who has given me all of this is at work in those deep, dark, muddy moments of suffering. He is planting and fostering in me a light that cannot be extinguished: the power of the Spirit producing Christ-like character in undeserving ME.

Isn’t that amazing? What a gift of love from our holy God. Romans is full of these amazing concepts, and is a book every Christian should study in-depth more than once. My favorite study of Romans was with a small group a few years back. We went through chapter by chapter, discussing each verse and memorizing key passages together. I saw the Spirit working in our lives as we sought to understand the deep truths presented to us in this portion of God’s Word. I still don’t fully understand it all, but just that one study (in addition to the other times I have studied Romans in part or whole) fueled my mind and heart going forward.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this passage and the ideas it presents!

a sketch to help me remember these words

a sketch to help me remember these words

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How Do I Look?

A simple thought has been tumbling around in my mind lately as I see different articles & pictures here and there about beauty and self-image, and as the subject comes up in conversation with other women.

The thought is this: my beauty does not depend upon how much more [fill-in-the-blank] I am than somebody else.

Feeling, looking, or being ___________-er than the next girl (or boy) is not a healthy place to turn to for our confidence. I would also say that we should be wary of basing our self-image upon how close we get to looking like the images we are bombarded with every day. These mental patterns are associated with comparison and competition, both of which are deeply rooted messages in our culture, not just now, but in the past. The medium may change, but these messages have been around for generations. 

We humans are naturally inclined to categorize and compare; it’s part of how we make sense of the world, and in many ways it is necessary to do this! But in a fallen world there is a dark side to everything, and I believe that the enemy of our souls loves to see women and men trapped in the lie that you’re only beautiful or worthwhile if you measure up to impossibly high standards. I think we are making strides toward healthier attitudes about self-image, and I am pleased to see broadening definitions of beauty, creativity, coolness, success, etc. but as long as there are definitions (and there always will be), people will be excluded from them. Basing our worth on measuring up will always cause us to come up short.

The truth is that each of us was created wonderfully and uniquely by a loving, all-knowing God (Psalm 119 is a great place to start exploring this idea in Scripture). Each of us has worth, beauty, gifts, talents… things to offer the world.

I’m sharing this today because I recently caught myself, once again, stuck in the comparison trap. I glanced in the mirror as I headed out the door to walk the dog and thought, “I look cute!” BUT. A scary process happened in my head in that split second, and I thank God for the wherewithal to recognize it: the image I saw in the mirror lined up with images I had seen over time that are associated with cultural standards of beauty, and that was what led to my thinking I looked good. My brain scanned my reflection, looking for matches in its digital library of other people and went “check, check, check….” for each matching characteristic.

Here’s where I get super deep (haha): that made me sad. 😦 I want to be at peace with how I look and who I am because of how God made ME, not how I stack up against others. And I think it truly was the Spirit who helped me recognize the false self-esteem calculation that was going on in my mind, so I will rely on him to renew my thoughts in this area. Looks don’t matter as much as our hearts, our minds, and our actions, but self-image is still a piece of the puzzle, and when it’s out of place we can get distracted from what matters most.

I created a cheesy little image (using Rhonna Designs, such a cool app!) that I hope will provide inspiration as we head into another summer weekend. There is so much to do and so much to enjoy! But as you head out to enjoy this world and this life, take a quick look at what makes you YOU, and embrace it! Look at yourself as someone beautiful and gifted in his or her own right, because you are. I think looking at ourselves this way can make a difference in our own minds and hearts, and in the way we see others, but it will also make a difference in the world around us.

the image is my own. text and decorations are from the Rhonna Designs app.

the image is my own. text and decorations are from the Rhonna Designs app.

2015 Verse of the Week #29: Colossians 3:12-14

I took last week off from the blog. I am determined to continue sharing a verse every week for the rest of the year, but I’ll admit I’m losing some of the steam I started out with. I felt kind of bad for dropping the ball on my verse-a-week challenge, but the reason I didn’t post was that I was involved in our church’s vacation Bible school. We were also hosting a super-cool day camp that rolls into town with inflatable slides, archery, 9-square and all kinds of other games, decorations, and (most importantly) endlessly energetic college-aged counselors. The day camp age range is 7-12, which leaves our kids ages 3-6 with nothing to do. So we put on a morning VBS for them, and I was so happy to be a part of it. I taught the Bible portion and enjoyed introducing the kids to each day’s theme: God is real, God is love, God is forgiving, and God is forever. We were able to really get into God’s love for his creation, the story of Jesus, and the complete gospel.

So it’s not like I wasn’t meditating on the Word or the character of God! Over the years I have seen that God works in my heart whenever I teach the Word to others, even the youngest of children. Last week was a workout for my mind as I tailored the lessons to suit our unique group of kids. The curriculum we used was great, but as we got going it became clear that our kids already had a lot of background knowledge, so I included more of the gospel message and tried to encourage the kids to connect the dots of what they already know. I also had to rely on God for the energy to do this! We were competing with the sounds of day camp floating into our classrooms and wanted our kids to feel special, too. But God came through as he always does, and we had a great week (actually 4 mornings) with the little ones.

If you are memorizing along with me and want to reach the 52-verse mark by the end of the year, the verse I had planned to share last Monday was Ephesians 6:1-4. I have this one memorized already thanks to Seeds! Their song for the passage is called “Children and Fathers.”

The verse for this week is Colossians 3:12-14. The Seeds Family Worship song, “Put on Love,” includes verse 12 and 14a. It’s track 9 on “Seeds of Character.” Here is the complete passage in the ESV:

Colossians 3:12-14

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness,humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

These verses tell us some important things about God, but also some important things about us.

First, God, because he always gets to go first. He chooses us! And his choosing us makes us holy and beloved. So he is holy and he is loving. His choosing us also empowers us, information that we have from earlier in this chapter, like verse 1, “If, then, you have been raised with Christ” or verse 5, “Christ who is your life,” and of course from elsewhere in the New Testament when we learn from Jesus and his apostles that it is God’s power at work in us, enabling this change of character, empowering us to “put on” this long list of noble traits. Just yesterday I had the honor of teaching some 3- to 5-year-olds about this very concept through the story of Peter and John healing a lame man.

But we see this lesson in the Old Testament, as well, in every leader God ever chose for his people from Abraham to Moses to David to Solomon… every king, every judge, and every prophet… human strength is insufficient for the call to holiness. It is our holy and loving God who enables his people to be holy. He does not call us only to leave us dangling from the thread of our own incomplete strength. This is the character of our God, and what sets the Christian faith apart from others: God comes to us and provides everything we need to obtain righteousness. He did this once by sending Jesus the Son to live a perfect life, die a sacrificial death, and give salvation and righteousness to all who accept him; God continues to provide us with his Spirit so we can work out our salvation and share the truth of God’s redemptive love with others.

Now, us. We always get to go after God. We are to put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and forgiveness. When I look at my own life I’m tempted to think I’m doing okay with compassion and kindness and patience, growing in humility, and pretty forgiving overall.

But do I really allow for opportunities to forgive, as this verse calls me to? I don’t know. And I don’t think I’m alone. How many times do we as Christians brush our “complaints” under the rug in order to avoid conflict? Or live with the sinking feeling that we may have wronged someone? We endure the feeling until our paths just don’t cross anymore and we can keep our minds occupied with other things. The Bible calls us to live at peace with one another, but is simultaneously calling us to deal with our conflicts so we can practice forgiveness. I think we have bought the lie that we’re at peace if we don’t bring things up to our brothers, but in reality we are not at peace, we are living in a state of un-forgiveness, and our holy God has given us clear and strong words about refusing to forgive.

I don’t quite know what to do about this. I know I need the Spirit to renew my mind, heart, and actions in this area; and that will be a focus of prayer this week as I look at (and listen to) this passage.

Thankfully, our pastor just taught on this subject (from a different passage) yesterday. I was hanging out with the little ones during the sermon, but I will be downloading it and listening this week. You can, too! (Click “Launch media player” and select July 19th to stream or download.)

I took a minute to read all of Colossians 3 while I was writing, and I would encourage you to read it, as well. It contains so much good teaching on living the Christian life!

How do these verses challenge you?

image found on hamiltoncrc.com/verse-1-for-memory-work-colossians-312/

 

2015 Verse of the Week #27: John 13:12-17

The passage this week corresponds to the Seeds Family Worship song, “The Perfect Example,” which is track 7 on the album “Seeds of Character.” Here it is (in ESV):

John 13:12-17

12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example,that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

I have the phrase, “you also ought to wash one another’s feet” from the song stuck in my head. I hope it will stay there as an encouragement to find ways to serve, and do so with humility. In this brief passage, Jesus tells the disciples three times that they should do as he did. There is no room for doubt: we need to serve one another.

As with many passages in Scripture, when I dig into it I do find myself asking questions about what the words truly mean. There is a clear call to action in the passage above, but we are also to “know these things.” And do I really know them? Through study and discussion and asking questions? For example, I find myself asking if the instruction to “wash one another’s feet” means I should focus my service on the church before serving the greater community. I don’t yet have a satisfying answer for that. But as I look for one, I should not shy away from serving; neither the Kingdom of God nor my own heart will suffer when I serve both brother and stranger, but both the Kingdom and my heart may suffer if I neglect to serve either party because I’m caught up in questions. Jesus’ story of the good Samaritan comes to mind– I don’t want to be the guy who asks, “But who is my neighbor?” to see if I can get off the hook for showing mercy.

I believe the best way to understand Jesus’ words is to continue reading them and living them out in the Spirit, growing as we go. As I learned in Galatians a couple of weeks ago, keeping in step with the Spirit is of utmost importance in obeying God by following the perfect example of his Son.

This summer I have had opportunities to serve my church and my community, sometimes simultaneously (which is my favorite). I have followed what I think the Spirit has called me to, and felt like I was in line with Scripture in the process. God is so gracious to give us insight into his plans and will! But I still have questions, and would love to hear from you. How do you serve? What do you think Jesus’ words really mean here?

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