Pondering the Passages: Hebrews 10:19-25

(in red):  19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

What motivates you day in and day out to stay true to God and His Word? What is it that keeps you walking the walk of a believer even when life becomes confusing? As I pondered this passage this week, these are 2 of the questions that it addressed for me.

v 22: The author encourages us to “draw near to God… in full assurance of faith” – I don’t know about you, but sometimes my faith gets a little wobbly.I don’t always have “full assurance.” Sometimes I have lots of questions that I want to ask God. Sometimes I even wonder if God is actually really there. Sometimes I don’t want to draw near to God. And you thought pastors never waver and have faith that moves mountains. Think again.

v23: Unswervingly. What a great word. I have this picture in my mind of me driving down a straight road but having to fight the wheel to keep the car on the road because I keep swerving. Do I have an unswerving hope? Not all the time.

v:24: Hmmm! Not so sure that I do a great job of spurring others on toward love and good deeds. Maybe spurring others on to play more disc golf. Maybe to read their Bible more. Maybe to be at church. But toward love and good deeds. Not so much.

v25: Okay, I’ll admit I’m not bad at the first half of this verse. In fact I think us Baptists pretty much have this one down pat. Meeting together. We’re good at that. But how good are we at the encouraging others part of the verse. When you leave church do you come away feeling more courageous as you seek to live for Christ (that is what it means to be en-couraged. To have courage built in to you) or do you leave 1) hoping God is happy with you cause you did your duty of going to church, 2) tired because the sermon went just a little longer today, 3) disgruntled because the music wasn’t quite what you were hoping for, or 4) angry because nobody said anything to you or even noticed you were there. And while you are thinking about yourself, think about this – how many people did YOU build courage into while you were at church.

So what is it that should energize us to draw near to God, to unswervingly hope, to spur others on, and to build courage into others? There are actually  2 answers given in this passage. The first answer is in v 19-21. These verses are a summation of the gospel. Jesus shed His blood to provide a way for us to have unhindered access to God and to enter His presence with confidence. A daily reminder of what Christ has done for us at the cross ought to motivate us to live for Him. This is why Jerry Bridges (President of the Navigators) says that he preaches the gospel to himself everyday. The other answer is in verse 25. Because the Day is a’comin! The Day when we will stand before God and give an account for how we lived out our faith. The Day when we hope to hear from God “Well done”. The Day when we don’t want to face our Lord with a life full of regrets and if onlys.

Thinking back and thinking ahead. Remembering the past and looking forward to the future. These are the ways that we stay grounded in the present and motivated to live a life holy and pleasing to God.

I’m just sayin’!

Next Week’s Passage: 2 Peter 1:3-4
Next Week’s Memory Verse: 2 Peter 1:3

Pondering the Passages: Matthew 7:24-29

This Weeks Passage and Memory Verse (in red): 24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”  28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

Jesus was an amazing teacher. He had a way of teaching that made people want to listen. He was one of those preachers that people would walk away from still talking about what they heard instead of talking about what they wanted for lunch. He was one of those preachers who who could call you a fool – but do it in such a way that you applaud him rather than berate him. That’s kind of what happens here.

Jesus has just finished preaching the longest recorded sermon in the gospels. He has covered a wide variety of topics ranging from how to be happy, to divorce, adultery, finances, giving, worry, prayer, etc. Some pretty hot topics even back in those days. No doubt in a crowd the size he was preaching to there were people who were dealing with each of these and everything in between. And yet, our passage this week says that “the crowds were amazed at his teaching.” Not offended by what he said. Not bored. Not angry. But amazed. So what made Jesus an amazing teacher? What differentiated his teaching from that of the teachers of the law? Here are a few things I see:

He lived what he taught. In other words, he had credibility. There wasn’t anything that Jesus taught that he did not live out himself. People could hurl stones at him because they thought he was a heretic but they could never hurl stones at him because he was a hypocrite. He didn’t preach about adultery and then go hook up with one of the temple prostitutes. He didn’t tell people not to judge but then point fingers judgmentally. He practiced what he preached.

He had a connection with people. He was not an arms length kind of guy. He did not sit in his study and craft the perfect sermon only to emerge on Sunday to preach a few times and then disappear. He was with people everyday getting to know them, caring for their needs, listening to their problems, laughing at their jokes. He loved people. So when he preached, people listened because they knew that he cared for them.

He spoke in a way that made people want to listen. Jesus was an artist with his words. He painted pictures that people could see through his storytelling and then hammered home powerful truths that people could wrap their hearts around. He found ways to engage their emotions as well as their minds. People would be on the edge of their seat waiting for a punchline and then Jesus would look them in the eye and confront their sin. If Jesus was speaking at the synagogue there would be standing room only because people knew they would hear a word from God that would feed their souls and challenge their lives.

He connected theology to real life. He did not speak in platitudes and principles that had no connection to life. He always connected doctrine and theology with life and practice. People would walk away from his teaching not only knowing more about God but also knowing more about how to live in a way that would honor and please God. Nobody ever walked away from a sermon of his saying “So what?”

He challenged people to think and he inspired people to change.  The best books  that I have read and the best sermons I have heard do two things. They challenge my heart to change and they challenge my mind to think – or maybe to say it better … to re-think. That’s the way that Jesus preached. People could not help but to think about and talk about what he said. He was the topic of many a conversation around the dinner table as people would grapple with and try to wrap their minds around what he said. But when you look at the gospels you also see time after time where Jesus would pierce people’s hearts and they would be so convicted that they would radically change their whole lifestyle.  And the change he affected in people did not wear off after a day or a week – it lasted a lifetime.

Hmm… so as I think about preaching in a few weeks (September 4) I’ve got a lot to think about. How can I be more like Jesus in my teaching and preaching? Those of you who read this now and then hear me then – perhaps you could give me a little feedback after I preach (even anonymously by commenting on this blog). I don’t want to take the task of preaching for granted and I don’t want to waste your time. The message is too important for that.

I’m just sayin’!

Next Weeks Passage: Hebrews 10:19-25
Next Week’s Memory Verse: Hebrews 10:24

Pondering the Passages: 1Thessalonians 5:16-18

This Weeks Passage and Memory Verse (in red):
 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.
 23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

There are several things in this passage that capture my attention. Verses 16-18 are pithy yet very meaty. Let me add my own translation of these: “Always rejoice! Always pray! Always give thanks!” And then Paul says that this is God’s will for us. We may not know God’s will about a lot of things but we do know God’s will in these matters.  And it seems to me that if we get these right then the ones that are not so clear will begin to come into focus.

1) So always rejoice. Not because everything that is going on in your life is peachy keen but because “you have been rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into the kingdom of the Son He loves.” (Colossians 1:13) And because nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:39) And because “we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works.” (Ephesians 2:10) So rejoice always!

2) So always pray. How is this even possible when there are jobs to do and people to talk to and life to live? Here’s my take on it. I think it starts by having such a close relationship with God that it is as if you are always “streaming” prayers no matter what else is going on. The Scripture word for this is “abiding”. (I blogged about this back in February). So as I’m working, I’m also praying. As I’m in conversation I’m also praying. When we are abiding in Christ prayer becomes a lot like breathing. It is something we are always doing no matter what else we might also be doing.

3) So always give thanks. When you go through life with an attitude of gratitude then you are guarded against things like jealousy, resentment, and selfishness. Things that “uglify” you. Henri Nouwen said this: “Gratitude … goes beyond the “mine” and “thine” and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.”

Verse 19 goes on to say, “Do not quench the Spirit” or “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.” We have a tendency to squelch what God wants to do in and through us both as His people and His church. We don’t really mean to but I think we often allow the Spirit’s fire to be quenched. Jim Cymbala, the pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle in NYC, wrote a book called Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire. One of the best quotes in the book for me expresses what I think most of us want for our church as well as our lives. He said:  “I despaired at the thought that my life might slip by without seeing God move mightily on our behalf.” In other words, he wanted the Spirit’s fire to “burn, baby burn!”

I love the salutations that Paul often sprinkles through his letters. I will close this post with the one he uses here as a way of echoing his prayer for you and me.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

I’m just sayin’!

Next Week’s Passage: Matthew 7:24-29
Next Week’s Memory Verse: Matthew 7:24

Pondering the Passages: Revelation 21:1-8

This Week’s Passage and Memory Verse (in red): 1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

Here’s a word that you may or may not be familiar with: eschatology. It is the branch of theology that deals with the end times. The passage this week is an eschatological passage. Perhaps you recall the book by Steven Covey The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. Habit #2 stated this – “Begin with the end in mind.” I think that one of the reasons why we have the Book of Revelation is so that we have a clear picture of what the end will be. As believers we need to constantly be reminded that when all is said and done we will be on the side that wins. We will be in a place that is  unimaginably beautiful. We will enjoy Life the way that it was designed to be enjoyed. We will be with the One who gave His life for us. We will experience joy unspeakable.

So as we endure the present life we live with the end in mind. Why?

1) Life is often hard – we need the assurance that it will get better. This is what hope is all about. People without hope live lives of quiet (and sometimes overtly loud) desperation. Desperate people are dangerous people.

2) The end for believers should motivate us to persevere in the present as we seek to live holy lives and as we strive to demonstrate to a dying world what the kingdom of God is like.

3) The reality of Heaven and Hell is rooted deep into people’s souls. People intuitively believe that in the end justice will be done. Therefore eschatology is a powerful tool for evangelism.

The one word in this passage that captures my attention is in verse 7. “Overcomes”. It comes from the Greek word that sounds like Nike. It means to gain the victory. “He who gains the victory will inherit all this.” The word overcome is an important word in the The Revelation (see chapters 2-3 especially). Believers are to be overcomers. No matter what life in this world throws at us we have what it takes to overcome because we know the One who has overcome everything. Think about what Jesus endured in His life: jealousy, prejudice, hatred, poverty, physical suffering, rejection, betrayal, death. He endured and He was an overcomer. And now through the Holy Spirit He indwells us to strengthen us and provide for us what we need to overcome anything that comes our way.

That’s why we live with the end in mind – because we know that one day He will make all things new, and as overcomers we will be there to enjoy every bit of it. So whatever you are going through right now, never forget that as a believer you are an overcomer!

I’m just sayin’!

Next Week’s Passage: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Next Week’s Memory Verse: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

30 Years And Counting – An Anniversary Post

Whew! When I actually say it out loud it sounds like a long time. 30 years. I have been married a whole lot longer than I have not been married. And the good news is that I have been married to a wonderful woman. So those 30 years have not only gone by fast but they have been fun and full of great memories. So here are a few snapshots of us through the years as well as a few comments along the way.

December, 26, 1980

We began dating in 1979 in Galveston TX where we met when we were both involved in a summer beach project with Campus Crusade For Christ. We spent most of our dating time in different parts of the country. The first year I was in New Orleans finishing up my senior year at Tulane University and she was in Greensboro at UNC-G. Then the last 6 months I was in seminary in New England while she was in Raleigh at NSCU working on her Master’s in Education. I proposed on Christmas Eve 1980 at her parents home. I had Linda read a poem that I had written called This Poem Is A Prayer. (This picture was taken the day after Christmas in Charlotte at a family gathering.)

This Poem Is A Prayer

This poem is a prayer
So as you read you ought to pray.
I thought it best the Lord should hear
These words I have to say.
This poem is a love song
So as you read you ought to sing.
You can praise the Lord our God
Who’s given life to you and me.
This poem is a dream
Which I have waited to come true.
I had been asleep for many years
But awoke when I found you.
This poem is an ending
To the two of us apart
And it culminates a miracle
Which brought love to my heart.
This poem is a beginning
To a never ending life
Where two can live as one
And both can live in Christ.
This poem is an answer
To a prayer prayed long ago
As it brings us both together
To a life we soon shall know.
This poem is a question
Which I cannot let you read
But if you’ll look into my eyes
I’ll ask you…

And when she looked up I said “Will you marry me?”

It is easy to remember our anniversary – 8.1.81. We were married at the Sedge Garden United Methodist Church in Kernersville, NC – which is the town that Linda grew up in. Then we honeymooned in Bermuda for a week. Don’t you just love the big fat tie.

August 1, 1981
August 1, 1981
Bermuda Honeymoon

We lived in Raleigh for the first year that we were married while Linda finished up her graduate studies at NCSU. Then we packed up all our worldly belonging and moved to Massachusetts where we spend our first anniversary – and where we had our first “child” – Cassidy, a golden retriever from Salem, MA. We called her the witch dog the first few months of her life because she was so destructive.

1st Anniversay, Ipswich MA
Our first puppy - Cassidy

After graduating from seminary we moved to Raleigh where we spend from 1983-1993. We were in ministry at Providence Baptist Church. Then we transitioned to Durham where we have been for the last 18 years at Ridgecrest Baptist Church. Here are a few more pics of us on some of our anniversaries. You can watch us as we age ever so gracefully.

Anniversary 5 - just had our first child Christy
Anniversary 10 - St Thomas. Scott and Tucker had been born
Anniversary 20 - our first cruise... in the Bahamas
Anniversary 25

Here’s a picture from last year when we were in Peru on an International World Changers Trip and then also a recent picture of our family.

Peru, 2010
Christy, Chad, Tucker, Scott, Shay and Linda

So 30 years has gone by really fast. We are both 53 years old now, starting to feel like we might be approaching middle age but still very young in our hearts. We have been incredibly blessed through the years with 2 great churches to serve in, 3 awesome kids and now a wonderful son-in-law, terrific friends, and above average health. We have had the chance to travel a lot and see this beautiful world but mostly we have been able to enjoy and serve the God who created this world.We are looking forward to what lies ahead of us because we “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God”. If you are reading this, thank you for being a part of our journey. As I often sing… It’s a great day to be alive!

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