Remember who you once were and embrace your new identity

At the end of a sermon series called “Living Deep,” my pastor handed out a list of practical steps to help us go deeper in our faith. He called the ninth step, “learn from your history and get wiser.” When I read this phrase, I thought he meant, learn from your mistakes. But after reading the Bible verses he shared, I think he was saying: “remember who you once were and embrace your new identity.”

One of the verses on the reading list was Deuteronomy 7:6, which says “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.”

Although the Old Testament story of God’s chosen people of Israel is not my history, I can relate to it and learn from it. It is a story of rebellion and disobedience, of second chances and God’s unfailing love. In Psalm 105, David reminded the descendants of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that God would forever remember the covenant he made. The prophet Jeremiah said that the Lord would make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah.

After reading about God’s chosen people in the Old Testament, I read the Parable of the Wedding Banquet in the New Testament. The last verse, Matthew 22:14, struck me as significant because it says: “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

The “All about Jesus” website explains what the parable means. Jesus was alluding to the history of the people of Israel. The invited guests who refused to come to the wedding banquet are the descendants of Abraham who turned away from God to worship other gods. God sent deliverers to turn the hearts of his chosen people back to him. Even though his people rejected him, God kept trying to get them back. He warned them. He disciplined them. They were stiff-necked, refusing to repent. God sent messengers or prophets to warn his chosen people that they would be punished. In response, the Israelites killed God’s messengers.

Even so, God – the king who prepared the wedding feast – did not give up on mankind. We are his beloved creation. He made us and he loves us. See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1) He loves us so much, he continues to invite the world to his banquet: This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9)

Jesus fulfilled the promise of a new covenant and made the old one obsolete (Hebrews 8:13). For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:15)

Those of us who have accepted the invitation to the wedding feast have a new identity in Christ.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are,  so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

– 1 Corinthians 26-31

I remember who I was before Jesus – a shy, young girl. I wasn’t special. I certainly wasn’t of noble birth. I felt like I wasn’t good enough. Christ Jesus became my wisdom from God. God values the meek and the lowly. As a young woman, I wandered away from the God who had always been with me. Then about twenty years ago, something bad happened that reminded me how good God is. I remembered who I am in Christ. In him I find my worth, in him I find my identity.

Reading List

Psalm 105
Deuteronomy 7:6
Job 14:5
Isaiah 46:3-4
1 Corinthians 1:26-31 
2 Corinthians 5:17
Colossians 1:16
1 John 3:1; 4:9

You Say (Lauren Daigle)

I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough
Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up
Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low?
Remind me once again just who I am because I need to knowYou say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
And You say I am held when I am falling short
And when I don’t belong, oh You say I am Yours
And I believe, oh I believe
What You say of me
I believe

The only thing that matters now is everything You think of me
In You I find my worth, in You I find my identity, o-ooh

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
And You say I am held when I am falling short
And when I don’t belong, oh You say I am Yours
And I believe, oh I believe
What You say of me
Oh, I believe

Taking all I have and now I’m laying it at Your feet
You have every failure God, and You’ll have every victory, o-ooh

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
You say I am held when I am falling short
When I don’t belong, oh You say I am Yours
And I believe, oh I believe
What You say of me
I believe

Oh I believe
Yes I believe
What You say of me
Oh I believe

Shema: Hear and Understand

My husband complained recently because I often ask “huh?” or “what?” when he speaks to me. I tried to blame it on age but I really can’t blame my habit on an inability to hear what he said. As he pointed out, after saying “huh” I will then respond to his question or comment. The problem is, my ears hear but my mind is not focused on his voice. It takes a moment for me to switch gears, focus on and digest what he said.

The Hebrew word shema was the sermon topic at my church today. My pastor broke down the meaning of each of the Hebrew letters of the word shema. The first letter resembles teeth biting down. The second letter stands for the unknown and the third means to see. Taken together, the word shema means press into + unknown + to see. Or put another way, bite down and understand.

Shema is more than hearing; it is listening and paying attention to the words so that you can understand and obey. It is active, not passive, listening.

The Shema is a Jewish prayer from Deuteronomy 6:4-9:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.

Jesus quoted from the Shema when he was asked to name the greatest commandment. I read that the Shema prayer is like a pledge of allegiance to God. It is hearing God and being fully committed to him. It is listening and writing his word on your heart.

Jesus knew that you can hear and not hear intelligently. He knew that just because you have ears to hear, does not mean that you will understand. You can hear God’s word and not act obediently.

Jesus knew that his words would be heard yet not take root in every heart (Matthew 13:19-21).

When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.

Jesus often spoke in parables because his words had a meaning that many people would not grasp.

In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’

 

Whoever has ears to hear, let him understand. Let Jesus sow his word deep in your heart.

Dive deep & immerse yourself in Scripture

I am ever so slowly making my way through a list of steps my pastor gave the congregation to help us go deeper in our faith. I read the verses Pastor Brad provided to support the eighth step, “Immerse yourself in Scripture” and thought it would be easy to write about the verses. Instead, I found myself wrestling with a verse that Christian frequently quote.

2 Timothy 3:16

According to the New International Version translation of the Bible, the apostle Paul wrote that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” Christians often quote 2 Timothy 3:16 as evidence that every word of the Bible was inspired by God. In other words, the Bible is infallible.

Is every word of the Bible really infallible? If every word of Scripture is God-breathed, how do we explain inconsistencies? Did God, the supremely intelligent Creator, give Moses the inspiration to write a simplistic account of creation? When was Genesis written and why does it matter?

I searched for commentary on 2 Timothy 3:16 to find out what other people think of it. I found a long article written by Frank W. Nelte, The Real Story Behind the Translation of 2 Timothy 3:16.  He believes that the original Greek was mistranslated; Paul’s statement is more accurately translated as “Every writing that has proceeded out of the mouth of God…” This translation is consistent with The New Testament translated by Richard Lattimore, who endeavored to keep the meaning as close to the Greek text as possible.

Every writing that is divinely inspired is also useful for teaching, for argument, for correction, for education in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete and equipped for every good work.

In addition to wrestling with the issue of whether the entire Bible is inspired by God, I struggle to see the usefulness of much of the Old Testament writings. The Old Testament includes the Pentateuch (The Law of Moses), books on prophesy, books on the history of Israel, and poetic and wisdom writings. While useful in understanding the big picture themes of the Bible, I learn and grow more by reading about Jesus and the good news of the gospel.

I remember reading that Thomas Jefferson compiled his own version of the Bible (The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, now known as the Jefferson Bible) by editing out the parts he didn’t like or believe to be credible. According to Wikipedia, Jefferson had high regard for the moral teachings of Jesus but did not believe in miracles or the supernatural. While I don’t want to use Jefferson’s approach to studying the Bible – picking and choosing my favorite parts, I do want to study Scripture intelligently.

Immerse yourself in His Word

Now that I’ve reflected on the meaning of 2 Timothy 3:16, I have fine-tuned my pastor’s advice for going deeper in my faith. Immerse yourself in God’s word. Every word that comes directly from the mouth of God and every word inspired by God is useful for growing spiritually.

His word teaches me.

His word corrects me.

His word penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of my heart.

His word endures forever; it stands the test of time.

Every word from his mouth sustains me. I treasure it more than my daily bread.

His word accomplishes the purpose for which he sent it.

He sent his Word to heal me.

The Word is my rock and my foundation.

The Word is alive and active.

The Word lives in me!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Reading List

Job 23:12
Isaiah 40:8; 55:11
Psalm 107:20
Matthew 4:4; 7:24-27
Luke 11:28
Colossians 3:16
2 Timothy 3:16 
1 John 2:14

The Good Lord’s Whistle

At my church, we sing a prayer of illumination before the sermon asking God to make us receptive to the message he wants us to hear. Sometimes as I listen to the sermon, especially if I pick up on subtleties, I wonder how the message is received by others. Do they hear God’s whistle?

What I’m calling God’s whistle is a message from God that can only be heard by people who are receptive to hearing his voice. God whistles to his children to gather us in.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:

And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. (John 10:27-28)

A pastor is to be like a shepherd, helping and feeding the Lord’s sheep. Some pastors are false teachers who lead the flock astray. For pastors who are genuinely committed to following Jesus, it must be difficult to lead people who have fallen under the influence of deceptive, misleading voices. A pastor may have to be very subtle to get God’s message across to those who have been led astray.

A member of my church who is also a professor of theology delivered the sermon while our pastor was on a mission trip. He preached about the Hebrew word for the sin of rebelliousness against God, pesha. Dave said that among all religions, Christianity should be the most realistic about sin. Christians should call what is evil evil and what is good good. We should celebrate what is good and push back against evil. Christians today do not speak out against sin as they once did.

As Dr. Dave pointed out, we all sin and should focus our attention on our own sinfulness and not on the sin of others. After all, Jesus said, “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

It is difficult to speak out against sin because no one wants to be accused of being judgmental. But if we don’t speak out against evil, our silence sends the message that abhorrent behavior is acceptable.

It especially saddens me when Christians refuse to speak out against hate in all its forms. Silence in the face of evil is sinful. When we speak out against bigotry, racism, and other sins that harm others, we are being obedient to God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and anti-Nazi dissident, said this:

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.

Dr. Dave said that pesha is crossing boundaries – the boundaries that God placed on our behavior so that we could enjoy a healthy relationship with God and with others. He said that when wicked people are in power, pesha increases. Those who rebel against God have no fear of God. They do not submit to God’s authority. They selfishly assert themselves against God and his boundaries. They are hotheaded and angry.

When I heard Dr. Dave’s message, I hoped that those who have turned a blind eye to wickedness would hear God’s whistle. God has shown us what is good. When we see behavior that is evil, we should speak up. Watch out for wicked people in power who have crossed God’s boundaries.

Let us be strong, courageous, and obedient. Call what is evil evil. Call what is good good. Hate is evil. Love is good. If you hear God’s whistle, you know this. Fighting is evil. Peacefulness is good. If you hear the good Lord’s voice, you know this. Lies are evil. Truth is good. If you hear God’s voice, you know this.

Simplify your life and make time with God a priority

At the end of a sermon series called “Living Deep,” my pastor handed out a list of steps to help us go deeper in our faith. The seventh step on his list is “simplify your life and make time with God a priority.” I can see why he phrased it the way he did. Our lives can become so full and complicated that it’s hard to make time with God a priority. But you simply can’t go deeper in your faith without spending time in prayer, worship, and spiritual reflection.

Simplify your life

One way to simplify your life is to stop chasing things that don’t really satisfy. Solomon wrote, whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. So much of what we do with our lives is meaningless. The pleasures of life are fleeting.

Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.  – Ecclesiastes 2:11 (NIV)

Jesus said we shouldn’t spend time worrying about even our most basic needs like what we’re going to eat or what we’re going to wear. God cares for us and he knows what we need.

To simplify your life, find contentment and joy in the basics of life. Be content with less.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. – 1 Timothy 6:6-8

When you simplify your life, your priorities change. You stop serving money. You stop trying so hard to prove your worthiness. You stop loving this world and the superficial things it has to offer.

Between work, family, recreational, social, and other activities, our days fill up quickly. These days, it seems like everyone is busy. Being seen as busy has almost become a form of competition or a badge of honor. What does our need to seem busy really say about us? Do we need reassurance that our lives have purpose? Just as we should stop trying to find meaning in things, we should stop trying to fill the void or sense of emptiness, with meaningless activities.

I work full-time but busyness is not what keeps me from making time with God a priority. During my downtime, I am distracted by social media and television. My mind is led astray from my sincere and pure devotion to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3).

When I think about the impact of distractions on my spiritual life, I’m reminded of the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13). When the farmer scattered the seed, some of it fell among the thorns which choked out the plants. The worries of the world and the meaningless ambitions of this life can keep the message of Jesus from bearing fruit in us. They can keep us from making time with God a priority.

Prioritize time with God

Jesus said that our first priority should be to seek his kingdom and his righteousnessWhere your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21, 33). Apart from God, I have no sense of well-being (Psalm 16:2). Apart from God, my heart is restless. My soul hungers and thirsts for God.

Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee. – Augustine

I want to make time with God a priority because the Lord restores my soul. He is my refuge and my strength. He fills me with shalom, the inward sense of completeness or wholeness. With God, I can sing, it is well, it is well with my soul!

Come all who are thirsty. Why waste your money on bread that doesn’t give you strength and your labor on things that do not satisfy? Listen, listen to God for the life of your soul is at stake (Isaiah 55:1-3).

I want to make time with God a priority because the Lord redeems my life. Every day, he crowns me with love and compassion (Psalm 103).

I want to make time with God a priority because his word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path (Psalm 119:105). His law is perfect, refreshing my soul. His statutes are trustworthy, making wise the simple. His precepts are right, giving joy to my heart. His commands are radiant, giving light to my eyes. His ways are more precious than gold, sweeter than honey. (Psalm 19:7-11)

When I make time for God, his priorities become my priorities. When I live in accordance with his Spirit, my mind is set on what the Spirit desires. I want what is good. My ambition is to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with my God. This is meaningful.

I struggle to make time with God the priority that it should be. I talk to God every day. I read the Bible but usually don’t spend much time studying or reflecting on what I have read. I confess that I can be spiritually lazy.

Lord, I want to make it my ambition to lead a quiet life; to be in your presence; to listen patiently for your voice; to seek your face; to pause and reflect at the end of each day. May this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Reading List:
1 Chronicles 16:11
Psalm 46:10; 131:1-2
Isaiah 55:1-2
Micah 6:8
Matthew 6:21-33
Luke 16:13
John 6:35, 14:23
Romans 8:5-6
2 Corinthians 11:3
1 Thessalonians 4:11
1 Timothy 6:6-8
1 John 2:15-16, 28