Sunday Scripture ~ 1 Peter 4:8

“And above all things have fervent love for one another, for love will cover a multitude of sins.”  (1 Peter 4:8 NKJV)

Fervent love is a choice, and it comes with effort. The word fervent means “to be stretched,” and has also been used to describe a runner, straining toward a finish line.

Some versions render the thought as a command to love earnestly. Earnest love endures with patience and forgives the unforgivable. It is an echo of the love we receive from God. In the Jesus Storybook Bible, Sally Lloyd Jones calls it God’s “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.”

Practicing this kind of love for one another is really the only way for us to be “the church.” This Sunday, as we prepare to gather for worship, let’s ask God to give us fervent love for one another. Anchored in the bedrock of our awareness of how much we have been forgiven, let’s strain to pass on that over-the-top love to others.

Grateful for God’s love and forgiveness,

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How Far Would You Go to Help a Friend?

I’m convinced that the mothers of boys view the world and read the Bible through a unique lens. For example, boy-mums recognize that two miracles took place on the grassy hillside where Jesus fed the five thousand. Of course, everyone is aware of the transformation of five loaves and two fish from Not-Enough to a Super Abundance, but it takes a trained eye to spot the secondary miracle of a hungry boy handing over his lunch in the first place.

That’s why I’m grateful for next week’s backyard opportunity to be teaching a group of kids the Luke 5 story of Jesus healing a paralyzed man. Without a single thing in the text to support my theory, I stubbornly cling to the idea that it was four brothers on the business ends of that stretcher, carrying a family friend who had been tragically paralyzed.

Jesus was inside the house, surrounded by so many listeners and critics that every door and every window was blocked. When “excuse me” and “pardon me” failed to clear the way to Jesus, things looked pretty hopeless. They were stuck outside, completely blocked off from healing and hope for their paralyzed friend, and if it were not for some creative problem solving, that would have been the end of a sad story, lost to history and never recovered.

To what lengths does a friend go to help a friend?

When horizontal measures were just not doing the job, this foursome thought vertically. Palestinian households utilized their rooftops as an extra room, so an external stairway and some teamwork facilitated the hoisting of their stretcher-bound friend to the tiled roof. Then, without so much as a conference or a committee meeting, the digging and dismantling began.

Tile fragments and falling dust would have alerted the non-omniscient occupants of the packed house that something strange was going on over their heads, but no one was prepared for the response of the only omniscient  fellow in the room. As the four warriors lowered their friend’s bed into the room, Jesus said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”

Did the four stretcher bearers roll their eyes?
Did the most outspoken open his mouth to clarify the “real need” as he saw it?
“Um, Jesus… Well, we sort of had something else in mind.”

Scripture tells us Jesus’s words gave the Pharisees what they came for that day:  evidence to initiate a blasphemy charge. For those who came with open hearts, however, it profoundly established Jesus’s identity as God the Son. And since restoring life to paralyzed limbs is a mere carnival stunt compared to forgiving sin, Jesus went on to heal the man, lifting in a flash his burden of helplessness and hopelessness.

High fives all around, and I’m sure the crowd parted for the guys this time as the newly-healed man obediently picked up his bed and went home, followed by his four satisfied advocates.

How far would you go to help a friend?

How much would you risk to bring a friend to Jesus?
Are you willing to make a scene?
Break social norms?
Break a sweat?

When God witnessed the helpless condition of humanity, he put a plan in place that cost him everything. There was no horizontal way out of our fallenness, so he thought vertically. Down he came, wearing a body that could bleed and die, because that was the only way to make things right again.

God’s great rescue plan set the stage for Paul, chief of the apostles and “chief of sinners,” to observe that “he who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) Having gone to such lengths already, what would God NOT do to win your heart?

Therefore, may I ask gently, having sat on the receiving end of such grace, having taken the “all things” of rescue and salvation from the God of the universe, how could we not also freely give?

Grateful for God’s great rescue plan,

Michele (1)

Just a Note…

My ministry focus next week will be right here in Mid-Coast Maine, so things will be quiet at Living Our Days. I’ll be working with the teens from my church who attended Christian Youth in Action, the training event I assisted with back in June. Together, we will be putting their experience to work in a welcoming backyard in Rockland, Maine. I’m looking forward to a front row seat to witness God at work in their lives as they teach and in the hearts of the children who will be attending. Lord willing, I’ll be posting updates to the Living Our Days Facebook page, so hope to see you there!

Photo by Alex Holyoake on Unsplash

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No Greater Message: God Is For You!

Given the word “God,” without self-editing or over-thinking, what’s the word or phrase that comes immediately to mind? If you’ve been schooled in the false gospel of ceaseless striving, you may come up with words like judgment, severe, or disapproving. After all, it’s clear that we are not equipped to measure up on our own to the demands of a holy God.

However, if you’re tuned in to the truth of Romans 8, you are living a better story for it begins with the soul-liberating truth:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

In If God Is For Us: The Everlasting Truth of Our Great Salvation, Trillia Newbell employs her gospel shovel to turn over the soil of Romans 8, revealing the fertile riches of major themes:

  • Life in the Spirit
  • Our role as heirs with Christ
  • The promise of future glory
  • Our assurance in the present moment
  • The everlasting love of God that is the foundation of our life with him.

A Favorite Chapter from a Cherished Book

The six-week in-depth study begins with an overview of the book of Romans and a flying trip through the first seven chapters to serve as background for the material in Romans 8. This is a sound practice to establish here and to carry forward into our independent study of Scripture, because context is crucial to a full understanding of what we read. Evangelical tradition often has us jumping right into application of a passage without a full knowledge of the author’s intent.

Insightful questions lead the reader into considering what the passage says AND what it means, urging a full engagement with the text and a deep dive into all that’s unknown before giving in to the temptation to consult with the “experts” through commentaries. Then and only then are we ready for application of the truth to our lives, and Romans 8 delivers in so many ways, for not only does it unpack the heart of the gospel, but it offers assurance to those who are “in Christ Jesus” that we can indeed, through the power of the Spirit, live in fellowship with God on this fallen planet he created and loves.

Free from the law of sin and death,

Many thanks to Moody Publishers for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.


I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase If God Is For Us: The Everlasting Truth of Our Great Salvation simply click on the title within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

 

Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

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Sunday Scripture ~ Philippians 1:6

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  (Philippians 1:6 ESV)

The work of salvation is ongoing, and this is good news for those of us who daily feel the rub of our own shortcomings against the standard of “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”

Growth is ongoing as the Trinity cooperates to apply the fertilizer of Truth to the garden of our hearts. We come to the written Word in Christ and, by the enabling of the Holy Spirit, we hear the voice of the Father.

This Sunday, let’s rejoice that just as the Word of God is living and active, our relationship with God is more than just what God has done. He finishes and perfects us as we cooperate with him.

Blessings to you,

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

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The Quiet Miracle of Roots and Leaves

The garden is running late this year. Cold nights (making for cold soil) have resulted in pea plants that sprouted on schedule, grew to a fixed point, and then sputtered and stalled out, stunted. The prophet Isaiah had things to say about who is in charge of growth, both in the garden and in the human heart:

“For as the earth brings forth its bud,
As the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth,
So the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.”   (Isaiah 61:11 NKJV)

Here, Isaiah is addressing a people who had been appointed to be a kingdom of priests, a reality which will be realized in its fullest sense when Christ establishes his Kingdom, but, for now, the role and the right spills over onto present day believers, the Church.

Gardening is a hint, a reasonable guess, directed at biblical mysteries around growth, fruition, and results. In real time, here on the ground, we are called to bear witness to the bringing forth and the springing forth, the budding and the blossoming of New Covenant righteousness in the rocky soil of human nature and in the weedy fields of inborn willfulness. If our purpose here on God’s green Earth is to “put down roots” and “put up leaf,”* it follows, then, that God is with us in all our sprouting–and even in all our wilting.

Celebrating God’s Presence and God’s Work

The miracle of Emmanuel, of God with us, shows up at every garden and at every graveside. He is present for both victory and disappointment, and, therefore, our calling is clear:  We are to celebrate the miracle of his presence.

There are no blinding Damascus Road beacons in my garden, no whiplash conversions from darkness to light. There is, instead, a quiet watering of work already begun, a gentle placement of stakes that support growth and encourage healthy formation.

Ten days with a hundred Christian teens bent on summer ministry can be a clarifying experience for a gardener who frequently questions the significance of her calling to teach and train believers. It turns out that a believing teen’s struggle with apathy and hypocrisy requires the same grace from the same Savior who longs to deliver less-catechized teens from drug addiction and immorality. The turn around from shallow faith and a safely-distant following of Christ is also a significant victory, and it is worth celebrating because God is present in this work.

Emmanuel is a horizon-filling name, and it is only in his power that the beloved of God answer the call to be saints. As the roots go down and the leaves grow up, they spring forth for his glory.

May the beauty of Emmanuel change your day and your life,

Michele (1)


Image Credit: The lovely image of my garden featuring Isaiah 61 was a special gift from my friend Abby (who is also a special gift). She writes and shares her giftedness with graphic design at Little Birdie Blessings.

*This delightful phrase is from Maxine Kumin’s To Make a Prairie, p. 7.

Subscribe to Living Our Days to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

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Will Your Faith Stand the Test of Hard Questions?

Pushing a middle-aged body out the door for a daily walk comes with its challenges, especially when I step up the pace to a jog/trot on the final hill leading home. I’m learning, though, that this discipline offers benefits beyond cardiovascular fitness and tending to the needs of a demanding dog. The impact of my feet against the road and the weight-bearing physical activity is actually strengthening my bones.

The push and pull of muscle and mortal clay against the resistance of gravity, inertia, and the furry beast on the other end of the leash all work together in the formation of new bone tissue. Something similar happens to my faith when it bumps up against the hard surface of doubt and principled queries, and while I am no fan of confrontation, Rebecca McLaughlin’s Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion lays down a foundation of sinewy truth that pushes back against the temptation of simplistic answers or the tendency toward complacent dismissal of thoughtful skepticism.

The truth is that Christianity will stand up to scrutiny, but Christians must also stand up and become informed adherents to our faith as we strive to love God fully–heart, soul, and mind. McLaughlin unpacks twelve questions, incubated in our post-Christian culture, to pound against the pavement of our well-loved orthodoxy:

1.  Aren’t we better off without religion?

An honest glance into history’s rear view mirror can hardly miss the positive impact of Christianity upon human flourishing. Biblical principles dovetail with findings of modern psychology and if you scratch the surface of many ethical ideals, there’s a Christian principle waiting to be found.

2.  Doesn’t Christianity crush diversity?

Actually, Christianity is the most “diverse, multiethnic, and multicultural movement in all of history.” (Loc 837)

3.  How can you say there’s only one true faith?

We’ve confused respect for other people’s beliefs with respect for other people. McLaughlin asserts that challenging another person’s beliefs is actually a sign of of respect, and it is logically impossible for two diametrically opposed belief systems to be equally true.  “Claiming that monotheism fits with an all-religions-are-one approach is like claiming someone can be in two places at one time: it’s possible, but only if you kill the person first and dismember the body!” (Loc 1069)

4.  Doesn’t religion hinder morality?

If Christianity had to stand or fall based on the performance of Christ’s followers, it was doomed before it ever began! However, “to be a Christian is to acknowledge your utter moral failure and to throw yourself on the mercy of the only truly good man who ever lived.” (Loc 1369)

5.  Doesn’t religion cause violence?

This question fails to take into consideration the breadth of religiously motivated violence beyond Christianity and the devastation that has been caused by non-religious (and anti-religious) ideologies bent on cementing their hold and wiping out their detractors.

6.  How can you take the Bible literally?

It is more important to approach the Bible literately than literally, meaning that, just as with any other written text, it is necessary to read with genre in mind. I would not apply Shakespeare in the same way that I apply a recipe book, and I should not read Psalms or a parable in the way I read the Gospels or the stories of the patriarchs in Genesis.

7.  Hasn’t science disproved Christianity?

Since Christians developed the scientific method and have been well-represented in scientific discovery throughout history, this misunderstanding is rooted in a deficient view of the purpose of science. “Christians and atheists are vulnerable to the same mistake:  the idea that science will either prove or disprove theism. A more fruitful approach is to look at the world around us and ask ourselves, does this seem coherent with the possibility of God?” (Loc 2533)

8.  Doesn’t Christianity denigrate women?

Criticism of the role of women in Christianity is often based in a poor reading of Paul’s epistles that equate his words with “traditional” gender roles and impose male “headship” in ways God did not intend. Having said that, biblical marriage is a metaphor soaked in mutual sacrifice and death to selfishness, and the role of Christian women in the New Testament church sets the bar high for us today to follow in the sandaled footsteps of our first-century sisters in Christ.

9.  Isn’t Christianity homophobic?

Throwing baby and bath water out the window in one fell swoop, evangelicals have elevated marriage at the expense of what McLaughlin refers to as “one-body unity.” Since “we who are many are one body,” (I Corinthians 10:16-17) friendship is “not the consolation prize for those who fail to gain romantic love.” (Loc 3217) However, the Bible is also clear that Jesus preached a morality that was (and still is) offensive to heterosexuals and homosexuals alike.

10.  Doesn’t the Bible condone slavery?

When the Bible describes a scene from history, it is often merely descriptive without being prescriptive. Having said that, slave terminology is used in the New Testament as a thing to be desired. Paul routinely rejects any higher title than “bond servant,” and when he refers to Onesimus, an actual slave who became a Christ follower, he calls him “a brother, beloved in the Lord.” It is a mistake to let the racism of white church leaders of the past define Christianity going forward.

11.  How could a loving God allow so much suffering?

This may be the most difficult question McLaughlin tackles in her book because it’s one that we all encounter sooner or later, and it’s easy to fall into error in our efforts to “excuse” God for the problem of evil on a fallen planet. She bases her examination of suffering in the death of Lazarus and the crisis of faith this caused for Mary and Martha. Jesus self-identification as “the resurrection and the life” is a statement to the grieving sisters that “your greatest need is not to have your brother back again. It’s to have me.” Suffering sifts our desires, and the instinct that rises first is to push back. It is in this pushing back that relationship begins to take root.

12.  How could a loving God send people to hell?

Neither heaven nor hell, in biblical terms, are geographic localities. While heaven is “shorthand for the full blessing of relationship with God,” hell is separation and rejection. The scandalous grace of God is all that stands between hell and every human rebel on the planet.


Perhaps you are one who bumps into a cocktail of these twelve questions on the daily. Or, maybe you (like me!) are happy for the insight they give, but are rarely pressed into a defensive stance. Thinking about what we believe helps to solidify our faith, strengthening the bones of belief as we resist the subtle slippage toward lazy theology. God is greatly glorified by a probing faith that puts truth on the table for a rigorous discussion that confronts doubt and comes away even stronger.

Many thanks to Crossway for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Because confrontation strengthens the bones of our faith,

 

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion, simply click on the title within the text of my review, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a very small commission at no extra cost to you.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Photo by Arek Adeoye on Unsplash

Sunday Scripture ~ Psalm 142:7

The epigraph for Psalm 142 reads:  “A contemplation of David.  A prayer when he was in the cave.”

How wonderful that David knew God could hear him from his gloomy hiding place.  

He knew very well that God was with him there in the cave.

I cry out to the Lord with my voice . . . I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare before Him my trouble, (verse 1).

What is your “complaint” today? God is a safe landing place for your words of sadness or disappointment–even if your disappointment is with God himself:

“Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise Your name . . . for You shall deal bountifully with me.”  (Psalm 142:7)

There are times when the future tense seems way too late, and we wait in our cave for a daylight that may take its time in coming.  While you wait there in the quiet darkness, remember God’s faithfulness in the past. Confess to Him that you are willing to have what he wills and to relinquish what he withholds.

O, LORD, you are the Light that shines in dark places, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts.

This Sunday, let’s rejoice in God’s faithful and unfailing presence, even when life sends us into a cave of waiting.

Thankful for light in darkness,

Michele (1)