Saturday, January 25, 2014

Do Not Neglect to Meet Together

It's been cold for a long time in Chicago. Let me rephrase that, it's been record-breaking, brutally, dangerously, thirty-plus-degrees-below-freezing cold in Chicago for weeks on end. Which can entice you to stay home, curl up under a blanket and wait it out. People are buying four gallons of milk at a time because they don't know when they will be up for leaving their house again. Because it's not just been cold, it's been snowy and when snow freezes it becomes ice. No one - not even in Chicago - likes to drive (or walk) on ice. So there's been a bit of cabin fever around here. And it's hard to talk yourself into going anywhere, let alone church.

That combined with a series of recent posts on other people's blogs have had me thinking about how easy it is to withdraw from fellowship. It's not just weather that keeps people away from their church services, or bible studies or Christian friends though. I've heard more stories of Sunday morning soccer and basketball games and football playoffs that start before church ends than I care to admit. To say nothing of the exhaustion and lack of sleep or lack of days off or lack of days to grocery shop or clean. There are many, many reasons not to meet together. And the reasons we find good enough to skip one week of fellowship can quickly become legitimate enough for 2-3 weeks off until the place we call our church is a destination we arrive at once a month at best. But hey, that's still better than the national average, right?

How easy it is to believe there's no harm in taking a break or even a good, long break from gathering together with the saints.

The problem is it's not true.

Tim Challies wrote about six great enemies of marriages on his blog recently. Number 3 was "Neglect of Fellowship"

"Another great enemy of marriage is a lack of fellowship—local church fellowship. Satan loves it when he can compel an individual to withdraw from the church; how much better when he can draw away a couple or a whole family. When a married couple leaves the church, or even pulls back to just doing the bare minimum, they are leaving the place where they are meant to see healthy marriage modeled, where they are able to worship together side-by-side, where they will find friends before whom they can open up their marriage so others can see and diagnose their struggles. Marriage thrives in the context of the local church and withers outside it."

A couple of nights ago my daughter's biology teacher assigned a list of words to memorize (along with their meaning) for a vocabulary test. She was rehearsing her list and came to "corp" which meant "body." She asked us for some examples and I said "corporate worship" is the body of Christ gathering together to worship God in song and prayer and reading/hearing His Word. I could almost see the light bulb over her head. She had heard me use the term a hundred times before (remember I work in the church) and never knew what I was referring to.

It reminded me of God's Word to us on the subject...

"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." Hebrews 10:24-26

When we make everything but meeting together a priority we lose out on encouragement, we miss out on love, we back off of good works and we become much more susceptible to sin.

I'm not saying there's never a time to take a break from a bible study or skip a church service or that God is keeping a tally sheet and docking points off your score. But I am saying that the answer to a Christian's struggles isn't less church.

So if you've been hesitating to join a church group or make a deeper commitment to regular attendance or if you've just been letting all the pressures of life keep you from the most blessed experience in a week, I'd challenge you not to neglect to meet together and see if you aren't stirred up by the extra time in fellowship.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Is it Covered?

I've been reading through the Psalms and taking my time doing it. There is so much to glean in these songs and poems, I seriously think I could read each one a hundred times over and see something new each time. That was the case the other day as I was reading Psalm 32. The title of that Psalm is "Blessed are the Forgiven."

Ain't that the truth.

What hit me this time when I read it (with the aid of a handy dandy footnote in my study Bible) was the use of the work "covered."

1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
5 I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

In verse 1 it says the one whose sin is covered is blessed. Blessed literally means happy or favored. In verse 5 it says I did not cover my iniquity. So if your sin is covered your blessed, but the the writer says he didn't cover his sin. Then later in the same verse it says 'you forgave the iniquity of my sin.' It was such a nuanced little thing that I missed so many times before.

When God covers my sin, I'm blessed. When I cover my sin (or try to) by keeping silent and hiding it, my bones waste away and I groan all day long. There's actually a physical experience of suffering judgment for the unrepentant heart. But as soon as I stop trying to hide my sin and acknowledge and confess it to the Lord, He is faithful (and quick) to forgive! By not covering up my sin, I make room for the Lord to cover it on my behalf.

A few days ago my husband was in a fender bender. The man who accidentally hit him was driving a borrowed care on a suspended license. Naturally when we looked at the damage one of our first thoughts (after is everyone all right) was "will it be covered"? Because when there's been an offense there's always a cost for damages. Fortunately the owner of the car had the kind of insurance that extended to other drivers of her vehicle and it looks like we won't have to pay to repair our car. But the point is there's a price to pay when a transgression has occurred. And in the case of the car accident, the offender didn't have the means to cover it.

Because my sins are always first and foremost committed against God (see Psalm 51:4) the damage is far more severe because the one I offended is perfectly holy and demands payment in full. And the cost is far more than I could ever afford to pay. The amazing thing is He also offers the full payment on my behalf. That's the assurance when you trust in Jesus. His death on the cross was the payment for every sin I've ever committed, past, present and future. All I have to do is acknowledge and confess instead of hide and groan.

And then I'm blessed.

That's really Good News.

Friday, January 10, 2014

What is the Measure of my Days?

I've been reading in the Psalms lately and this morning it was Psalm 39 which bears the title of this post. After a ridiculously busy couple of months leading up to Christmas, I had the good fortune of being off work for over two weeks while my kids were also off school and all extracurricular activities ceased. Even though there was some illness in the family during that time, the relaxation and refreshment we experienced was in a word...glorious.

But now we're all back to our regular routines and after opening the 100+ emails waiting for me at work I began to feel that familiar quickening of my heartbeat that tends to warn of incoming stress. It doesn't take long to revert does it?

One of the wonderful things I did with the extra time off was read more. Including a terrific new book by Kevin DeYoung called "Crazy Busy." The subtitle is even better, "A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem." It made good on it's promise and WAS short (only ten chapters) therefore not a very time consuming read, but it packed a lot of substance into those pages and helped prepare me to respond differently when the quickening heartbeat came the following week.

Another help was a recent post I read on the Desiring God blog called "How to Clear the Clutter in Your Life" by Jonathan Parnell. Ironically it was written November 24th and the title intrigued me so I saved it to be read at a later date. It took me over a month to get around to it. He shared the analogy of the dining room table being cluttered with so many things it's difficult to clear for the purpose it should serve (eating a meal). He may have been to my house one day when I wasn't home.

He took a cue from 2 Corinthians 5:9 and basically boiled the task of clearing the clutter down to one thing - make it your aim to please God. This was practically done by mentally inquiring "Does this please you Lord?" before adding or removing items, tasks, stuff, relationships, whatever from the surface of our life's table. Okay...well he didn't put it that way in the post, but that's how I took it. It's a helpful question because it reorients me to the main thing. Am I glorifying God?

As God often does, these themed messages tend to come to me in threes, and that was the case again this morning as I was reading Psalm 39, verse four:

"O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!" That cuts to the chase, huh? Twice in subsequent verses the scripture says "all mankind stands as a mere breath!" and then the word "Selah" follows which is often interpreted as "pause, and calmly think about that." I don't think God repeats himself in the Bible unless He wants to draw closer attention to the point.

Our life here is so fleeting. It's a few handbreadths (four fingers), a vapor, a mist, a shadow. I'm sojourning here, a guest like all my fathers (verse 12) and I need to remember this when I get crazy busy because it clears the table really quick. All I need to accomplish, all I really need to do is consider the measure of my days and ask "Does this please you Lord?"

One qualification though about what that question doesn't mean - this is taken from the blog post referenced above...

"Our aim in life is to please Jesus. That is the ambition of our every day, our every decision. Does Jesus take delight in this? Which, to be sure, has no determining function in our righteous status as God’s children. By faith alone, in Christ alone, because of grace alone, we are brought into Christ, justified in him, saved from God’s wrath, made his children forever (Ephesians 2:5–8; Romans 3:23–24; John 1:12–13; Romans 5:9). Don’t mistake “please” to mean placate, or appease, or propitiate. That work has been taken care of. We’re talking about joy, about delight — about pleasure, which Wayne Grudem calls an “essential component of any genuine personal relationship” (For the Fame of God’s Name, 279)."

I had some great joy over Christmas break just resting. I think maybe God took some joy in my rest. But now that I'm back in the swing of things, it seems knowing the brevity of my life can truly keep me from wasting time in turmoil trying to please everyone but my Father in heaven.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Let the Peace of Christ Rule

So it's been four months since I've posted anything and I think I may have finally chased off the dozen or so friends and family who had previously subscribed to and/or occasionally visited this blog page. But with a new year (and over two weeks off work) comes a new sense of energy - or at least enough refreshment to get back in the saddle. Ironically, the post below is something I wrote about three years ago. It was written shortly before Christmas as a devotional for a lunch gathering of the lovely women I work with and when I reread it a month ago I found myself encouraged during this holiday season.

So much of my walk of faith is an act of repetition. Constantly rehearsing what I know to be eternally true is the antidote to combat all things seen and felt while sojourning here. One of my favorite bloggers is Wendy Alsup (Practical Theology for Women) and she often claims to be preaching to herself while allowing her readers to be in on the conversation. That's more what I'm aiming for here going forward. So I will use this blog less as an update to those aforementioned family and friends and more as a reminder of God's faithfulness to me while "daily taking up my cross." I may lose a few folks with this new tactic and I may gain a few, but whether you're soon departing or coming on board, I'm grateful for the time you've given and hope you have been and/or will be encouraged from time to time.

Colossians 3:15-17 (NIV)
"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

There is so much packed into these three verses. Not the least of which is a picture of us encouraging each other, holding each other accountable and singing praises of thanks to God together as members of one body. But there are a few things that struck me as I contemplated these verses;

Let Peace Rule

“Let peace rule” is easy to say, but it’s not always easy to obey. And it comes across as a command, not a polite suggestion for getting through a rough day a little easier (although it seems that would be an added benefit)!

The word used for peace in the Greek is “eirene” and is defined in the NIV concordance as “peace, harmony, tranquility, safety, welfare, health; often with an emphasis on lack of strife or reconciliation in a relation, as when one has ‘peace with God.’”

•Isaiah tells us in 66:12 that peace flows like a river.
•John 14:27 quotes Jesus saying, “My Peace I give to you, not at the world gives to you, let not your heart be troubled or afraid.”
•Galatians 5:22 tells us peace is a fruit of the Spirit.
•Ephesians 2:14 says Jesus Himself is our peace.
•Phil. 4:7 talks about the peace of Christ transcending our understanding. It says this right after it tells us not to be anxious about anything, inferring that peace is the opposite of anxiety.

Pastor Chris Tiegreen notes in his devotional book The One Year Walk with God the following about this passage; “he doesn’t say let peace exist or periodically influence us, he says let it rule.”

The Ryrie study bible footnote on this passage says “rule” means to “arbitrate or umpire every circumstance of life.”

My daughter asked during a Bears game once why the refs don’t review every play in football when they had the tape anyway and showed it to the fans and often missed a call. My husband explained that not all plays were reviewable. This didn’t really satisfy her. Imagine an umpire in your heart that makes a determination on every play in your life, in your day, in your hour getting ready for work or running errands, when you're on the phone with a friend or trying to parent a kid struggling with homework - an arbitrator to immediately assess whether the right call was made or not before moving on with the game. The arbitrator would have to be the most just, wise and calm person in the world to get every call right. Like the Prince of Peace.

Imagine how different your decisions would be, your thoughts, actions and words if Christ’s peace was ruling every circumstance, every feeling, every relationship, every play of your life.

Let the Word of Christ Dwell Richly in You

Again, this sounds more like a command than a helpful hint for a better day. And again, it has the added benefit of making the day better when obeyed.

I took a cue from my devotional book and thought about what this doesn’t say. It doesn’t say the Word of Christ should take up temporary residence. It doesn’t say the Word of Christ should dwell in you when you remember to invite it or to the extent it doesn’t put a damper on your plans. It doesn’t say it should dwell long enough and deep enough to get you through a rough patch or give you an energy boost. To dwell richly means to dwell abundantly, to the full, not lacking at all.

The Word of Christ is made to dwell richly. Not insufficiently and not in a capacity less than what it is. The Word of Christ isn’t content to live in a reserve tank back behind our main arteries. The only way the Word of Christ doesn’t dwell richly in us is if we don’t let it.

Be Thankful

There are three phrases in these verses that tell us to ‘be thankful’, have ‘gratitude in our hearts’ and ‘give thanks to God’.

I just finished reading Nancy Leigh DeMoss’ book Choosing Gratitude. The first interesting point she makes is in the title. Gratitude is a choice. We don’t wait to feel grateful to be grateful. We can practice gratitude like any skill. The more it’s practiced, the more naturally it comes. The other point Nancy makes sounds an awful lot like a sermon from our Senior Pastor Colin Smith - the deepest sense of gratitude wells up as a response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ when we truly understand all He has done for us – our initial alienation from God and our reconciliation to Him through Christ’s work on the cross.

Let the peace of Christ rule.