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I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Philippians 3:12

Perseverance is not about me. That’s my new discovery this morning as I think about the perseverance of Jesus Christ especially on the day of his brutal death.

I watched a little bit of The Passion of the Christ last night and woke this morning thinking of the pain Jesus endured and the emotions that he most likely experienced. We talk so much about how Jesus died for “me.” As I pondered his death this morning, I realized how self-centered even that thought is. Yes, his death benefited all mankind but he could not, and would not have persevered out of love for mankind without having an even greater passion for the purposes of God and the plan of life.

Jesus is fully God AND he is fully human. There was a humanness to Jesus that endured the pain. And it is the Spirit of God in him that strengthened his human flesh with the will to persevere. It is that same Spirit that strengthens me to persevere but I can’t want it for me. That purpose is not great enough. I must want it out of a love for God.

Like Paul, “I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of [that which Christ Jesus took hold of me].” But I want to want (yes, that wording is intended) to strain toward what is ahead. I’m recognizing more than ever that I don’t have it in my humanness to persevere for God’s plan. The humanness in me desires comfort far more than recognition for achievement. And I believe even if I were one who desired recognition, the perseverance for the sake of recognition would not be enough to satisfy. That kind of recognition seems to leave people still wanting something more.

Without love, all the good we do is meaningless (1 Corinthians 13). As wonderful as it feels to love other people, even that love can be rejected and limits our perseverance. Our love must first be for God. Our passion must first be for his plans regardless of how his plans impact my present personal comfort. Do I love God that much? Do you?

Take time today to think about the humanness of Jesus and his passion for God’s plan. His death allowed us to receive the Spirit of God by canceling out all mankind’s self-centered desire to achieve our own goals. We cannot live by God’s plan and our plan at the same time. We cannot live for God’s plan out of our own strength. It takes perseverance that is beyond our humanness.

As I said, I have not yet achieved this consistent reliance on the Holy Spirit but this one thing I try to do daily: forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead to win the prize for which God has created me. He has created me to love him above my own comfort and recognition. He has called me to receive the power that empowered Jesus Christ to endure unthinkable suffering. That same power is the power of God’s Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead and will also raise us from the dead to a life that is greater than we can imagine. It is worth the perseverance. Jesus showed us that in everything he did.

Read Isaiah 53 and Philippians 3 over this Easter weekend. Look at Jesus in pain. Try to feel the pain. It wasn’t first for you. It was first for God and the plan of life for all creation. Try to grasp the love of God’s plan that motivated the man Jesus to persevere.

 

Below are more sessions from what I am currently calling the Getting Familiar With The Bible series. It’s a very casual study/discussion for anyone who wants to get more familiar with the Bible. Sessions 4 and 5 do not have notes.

  • Session 4 Human Beings in God’s Plan: Adam & Eve “The Two Trees” Gen 3; Cain & Able “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” Gen 4; and Noah and The Flood “God Starts Over” Gen 6-9.
  • Session 6 Peter and the Pearly Gates – Why do people say Peter is standing at the gates of heaven? Found this blog post to explain Peter and the Pearly Gates. We discussed Revelation 21: We don’t go to heaven. Heaven is coming to us.

 

Click Here for links to the Intro and Sessions 1-3

Below are links to the intro and first three discussion guides I’m writing to help a friend who simply wanted to learn about the Bible because of so many references that are made to scripture in other literature and everyday conversation.

This material, I hope, will also be helpful for Christ followers who want to get reacquainted with the Bible, learn how to study it and how to share the Bible and your personal faith with others.

These are just discussion guides and I haven’t spent a lot of time developing them. If they help you, great! Feel free to use them.

Intro Session Why Read The Bible

Session 1 God the Creator

Session 2 Jesus the Image

Session 3 The Holy Spirit

To interpret scripture properly, we need to do as much as possible to understand the context of what we are reading. A lot of context can be understood simply by reading the text around the verses being studied – just like any other book. A couple of my favorite quick and simple references are:

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee
How to Read the Bible Book by Book by Gordon D. Fee

May the Lord add the blessing of understanding to the reading of His Word.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog. 1,500 sounds like a lot of readers to me. THANK YOU for reading this blog. It is my desire to encourage you and myself to keep GROWing in truth together so that we may SOW His love around us. May you sense the overwhelming depth and greatness of God’s love more and more in 2014.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,500 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 25 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Thanksgiving Prayer

David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying,

Praise be to you, Lord,
the God of our father Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.

Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power
and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
for everything in heaven and earth is yours.

Yours, Lord, is the kingdom;
you are exalted as head over all.

Wealth and honor come from you;
you are the ruler of all things.

In your hands are strength and power
to exalt and give strength to all.

Now, our God, we give you thanks,
and praise your glorious name.

1 Chronicles 29:10-13

These words were written in response to all that was given – gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, precious stones – for the future building of the temple. It was a huge collection. Even more amazing is that everyone gave willingly and with integrity. A few verses after this we read:

O Lord our God, as for all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name, it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you…. O Lord, God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep this desire in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you. 1 Chronicles 29:16,18

After the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we find similar words by Paul.

Oh, the depth of the riches of wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Romans 11:33-36

Here, Paul suggests something other than gold, silver and precious stones. In the next verse we read:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is true worship. Romans 12:1

Not only do possessions come from God, our existence is a gift from God.

For many, existence does not seem like a very nice gift. But if we get a glimpse of the existence God has planned, we will see with great joy the gift that our existence is. And there is more than existence even now. There is life.

In the first passage above, the presence of God was limited. Only designated people could be in God’s presence. Even after the elaborate temple was built, people had to GO to God and no one other than the priests could go into the holy of holies where the presence of God was so great that they tied a rope around their waist so they could be pulled out if they were struck dead in God’s presence.

In Christ Jesus, God has COME to man. His Spirit – His Life – has been given to us. It was poured out at Pentecost (Acts 2).  This Life includes His power and love. This allows our existence to be more than eating and breathing; more than just surviving until we die. His Spirit in us gives us true life that will last forever and ever. At some point there will no longer be evil and sadness. There will only be true life. And that is the gift God has given and why Paul urges us to offer not only our possessions but also our bodies – everything we are – back to God. This is true worship with willingness and integrity.

This Thanksgiving, will you choose to genuinely thank the giver of life? Regardless of your circumstances. Regardless of the strained relationships. Regardless of how great or how little possessions you have been given. Will you give your existence back to God and receive eternal true life? Let Him show you real Life. Life that was banned in the Garden of Eden. Life that has come in Christ. Life that will one day be without a curse of any kind.

I suggest you read 1 Chronicles 29:10-13 or Romans 11:33-36 as your prayer before your Thanksgiving meal. A brief silence after you read will allow you to sense God’s response to your praise.

**************

If you are giving your existence to God, find a spirit-filled, Bible-teaching church this weekend. Can’t do Sunday morning? Many churches gather on Saturday night and are casual dress. The Life God has given is meant to be experienced in community with others who have exchanged their existence for true Life. Otherwise, like a stick pulled from a fire, life will lose it’s glow.

Life: Genesis 3:22-24; John 14:6; Revelation 22:1-3

Wait! Are you hungry?

Wait for the Lord
     be strong and take heart
     and wait for the Lord.
                              Psalm 27:14

Thanksgiving. It’s my favorite holiday. No stressful expectations of gifts. Just quality time with a fabulous dinner.

There is one problem though. My family always has appetizers! Good appetizers! By the time we sit down to dinner, I’m not all that hungry. I’m ready to rest on the couch.

Rest. That word keeps coming up as friends pray with me. I’m somewhat of an introvert and quality time is my love language so “rest” is not a difficult word for me.

As one friend prayed, the word “rest” became “sabbath.” According to the New Bible Dictionary, “sabbath” is a biblical principle observed as a day set apart to God. Jesus states that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Exodus 31:17 refers to the sabbath as a time of being refreshed. A study on Nehemiah led me to the thought that the sabbath is a time to exercise our trust and dependence on God rather than on our own efforts.

But what do we do in this rest? This time set apart to God. This time designed to refresh us for our next cycle of labor. What is God doing in this time? Does he tuck us in and say “have a nice rest?” How does our soul rest?

For most of us, soul satisfaction comes in “doing” something. I believe this is because we are designed by God to contribute to life. So I asked God, after reading Psalm 27, “What am I to do in the wait?”

His answer:

Let your soul get hungry. I will satisfy your soul. Don’t fill up on junk. Be hungry when I feed you.

Someone has to “do” a lot before sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner. The meal is wonderful whether I’m hungry for it or not. But when I’m hungry, it satisfies not only my taste buds but also my hunger and my body’s need for nutrition.

I’m not sure how this picture will speak to you. For some, the dinner prep is the labor and the dinner is the rest. For others it is reversed. For me, it’s both. Setting apart time dedicated TO God does not mean going to take a nap. It is preparing myself for what God will feed me.

Primarily that means clearing out the clutter so that God has room to work. Somewhat like getting your house ready so that company has a place to sit. Or getting the kitchen ready for all the food prep. It’s not easy to get all the clutter out of sight. And, if I leave it out, I want to nibble on what looks “good.” If I nibble too much, I may enjoy the taste of his meal but it won’t be as satisfying. In fact, it might make me miserable.

If I’m not hungry, his food will feel like a burden or stress.

What does this look like more specifically for me? It’s taken me a long time to say this but I am a leader. I’m not outstanding at doing any one thing but I’m designed by God to encourage people who are gifted to work together for a greater good. Sometimes that’s through teaching. Other times it’s through being in a creative growth-oriented leadership role. When I’m not doing that kind of thing, I get antsy and want to nibble.

God has called me to rest for one year. My “resting” involves watching more closely what He is doing – not just in me but in those around me and in his greater plan for all creation. He hasn’t stuck me in a room to keep me from seeing the meal. He’s showing me the ingredients. One of which is patience. Ugh! He is also showing me how he works with those ingredients to make everything just right in texture, taste, appearance, aroma AND nutrition. It’s making me hungry!

I’m four months in to my one year sabbath. At first, all I could see was the raw ingredients. It wasn’t very appetizing and I wanted to help so it would get done faster. He said something like, wait until you smell my love.

The meal is starting to come together. It smells good. But it’s not ready yet. I have a feeling it won’t look exactly the same when it’s done. I’m trying to be patient so I can enjoy all that he has prepared.

What does it look like for you to wait for the Lord? Is he asking you to rest – maybe not a year. Maybe just a day or 1/2 a day. Will you trust him to work while you rest? Maybe you can start with waiting just five minutes. As you wait, use all your senses to observe as God prepares to satisfy your hunger.

Be still and know that I am God.
Psalm 46:10

Taste and see that the Lord is good.
Blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
Psalm 34:8

Words of Prayer

When I was a little girl
Grown-ups taught me how to pray
No one taught me how to listen
Only words to say

Are you there, Lord?

I’ve grown and life is tough
My heart is broken
My words are few
Rhymes no longer seem right for you

Are you speaking, Lord?

Your word, not mine,
Is a lamp unto my feet
Your word, not mine,
Is a light unto my path

I’m ready Lord…

Teach me now
How to pray
As I listen
To the words you say

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