Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Hebrews: A study where I toss the rules out the window

Sometimes we got to do what we got to do.

Sometimes we have to be who we have to be.

Sometimes we have to figure out what's most important and focus on that.

I started a new study this week about which I'm bouncing off the walls excited. I admit it - I'm a Bible geek. The thought of a new study - with new truths, new applications, and new insight into the heart of God Himself - is enough to get me going. I completed the first lesson and taught it a few days ago. I came away thinking, though, that can't be it. I want to do more with this.

A lot of publishers, editors, agents, and other experts have given me a lot of insight into what makes a good Bible study. Here is some of the advice I've received over the years...
  • Keep it short. No one cares after a few weeks of a particular study.
  • Have lots of personal stories. People find those more interesting than scriptural insights.
  • Make it all about the reader. People are only interested in how you can help them.
  • Put a well-known author's name on the front, whether he or she wrote it or not.
  • Make sure it's sexy. Yes, sexy. I actually had an agent tell me that one time.
Those five keys probably do help to sell books. After all, we've all heard "Sex sells."

When I began the journey of personal Bible study almost twenty years ago, my primary goal was never to sell books. My goal was to know the Creator of the universe; I instinctually knew He couldn't be as boring as many Bible studies try to make Him.

When I began teaching my personal studies and writing them into books and articles, my goal still wasn't to sell books. My goal was to not only know Him but to make Him known.

So, if my goal isn't money, then I'm going to toss those five tips out the window.


What's the new study?


I'm starting a new interactive study of the book of Hebrews. Not only that, but I'll be approaching it from an Old Testament perspective. You could say that the Old Testament will be the lens through which we'll try to understand the message of Hebrews. After all, the Hebrew author wrote the book to Hebrew believers who based their understanding on their only Scripture at the time - the Old Testament (aka, the Tanakh or the Law and the Prophets).

It's something I've wanted to do for years; God has brought me to the point where I see that now is the time. I'm doing it myself so I can better know Christ. I'm sharing it with you so I can make Him known. Plus, I can tell this is the direction in which He is leading Grow Barefoot right now.



Why Hebrews?


David Guzik, one of my favorite commentators, writes, "Hebrews is basically a book that exhorts discouraged Christians to continue on strong with Jesus in light of the complete superiority of who He is and what He has done for us." Let's break that down a little.

I know a lot of "discouraged Christians" right now. Persecution, disease, sickness, and violence are becoming rampant - domestically and internationally. We all see suffering in the lives of our loved ones and even in our own lives.

God calls us "to continue on strong." Over and over the New Testament tells followers of Christ to persevere - to push through until the end. For example, "For you need endurance, so that after you have done God's will, you may receive what was promised. For yet in a very little while, the Coming One will come and not delay. But My righteous one will live by faith; and if he draws back, I have no pleasure in him. But we are not those who draw back and are destroyed, but those who have faith and obtain life" (Hebrews10:36-39).

Life isn't about us. It's about Jesus - "who He is and what He has done for us." Much Christian Bible study has become little more than self-help groups. People attend to be encouraged and find a little nugget of truth that might help them feel better. Like much of our lives, we make it about us. We miss the point though if this is the extent of our reason for Bible study. Yes, Scripture encourages. It does give us little snippets of truth to make us feel better. I like to call them Bible Band-aids. Sometimes, however, we need to stop focusing on what makes us feel good and start focusing on Jesus. After all, He alone is the Word made flesh who left the glories of heaven, lived as a common man, humbled Himself unto death, and resurrected back to eternal life. He alone is the One who suffered so He might have an intimate relationship with you and me.


What's this mean for our weekly time together?


The blog will continue as it always has. I'll post a new article every Wednesday about various topics from world news, my personal life, and how God's Word helps me understand both of those things.

In addition, a new tab at the top titled "A Study of Hebrews" will offer the possibility for you to engage in this online, interactive study. The first section will be up in a day or two. I'll warn you now, though, that I'll be tossing those five rules I mentioned earlier out the window.
  • This will last more than a few weeks; it will probably go through most of 2015. Bible study, to be honest, requires more than a few weeks here and there. We get to know Jesus when it becomes a regular part of our lives.
  • I may throw in an occasional personal story but if you're coming to this site, it's because you want to interact with a community who's getting to know Jesus a little better. Remember, the goal isn't to know Christ and make me known.
  • If it's not about me, then it's not going to be about you, either. The goal also isn't to know Christ and make you known.
  • The importance of the author's name - well, the author of Hebrews didn't feel it was important to identify himself so maybe we don't need to value that quite so much either.
  • Let's be clear from the start on this one. This study isn't going to be sexy. I'm really not even sure why I have to clarify that one but apparently I do in our modern day culture.

If it's not any of those things, then what is it?


It's a place for followers of Christ and people considering Christ to come together and study His Word. No charge. No ego. No time-limit. No sex.

I'll post a new section each week. I'll be waiting for you to leave your thoughts, opinions, and questions in the comments section. We'll interact together on the passage and then move on to the next section. It's that simple. I'll also be trusting you to spread the word to others you might know who are tired of all the marketing and big names.

Remember, it's not about us. It's about Him - knowing Him and making Him known because people are hurting, society is crumbling, and we need to continue on strong.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Christian Hijab: Two signs that show you follow Jesus

I ran several errands in my local community the other day. While out and about, I noticed several women wearing a hijab (Muslim head scarf). My Christian friend wears a hijab since she lives in a Muslim country and works among Muslim people. She wears it as a sign of respect to their culture.
 
However, a woman only wears a hijab in the heart of Midwest America if she’s Muslim. She may wear the hijab out of a sense of obligation or the force of habit but – rather intentional or not – if she wears a hijab in my local culture, she is proclaiming her religious beliefs.

I stood in line at Target, considering one such woman in line behind me. I wondered to myself, “If I had to consistently wear something that so publicly declared my religious beliefs, would I do so? What would I wear?”
Would I wear my Christian hoodie with the clever tagline? Would I wear a cross necklace?

 
Would I wear it if my religious system made it a requirement? After all, I'm not very good at following the rules. Tell me I have to do something; it’s a sure fire way to keep me from doing it.

Here’s the reality, though. Following Christ doesn’t require any outer sign on my part. I don’t have to wear a head covering, fix my hair in a certain style, make any marks on my skin, or perform any other outer religious modifications to who I am.

I can be me.

You could place me in a line up with several other women and you’d see no distinguishing marks of my decision to follow Christ.

During the times of the Old Testament, God did require an outer mark – circumcision. “This is My covenant, which you are to keep, between Me and you and your offspring after you: Every one of your males must be circumcised” (Genesis 17:10).

Even during that time, however, God said that sign would eventually change. He later wrote of a then future time when “The Lord God will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants, and you will love Him with all your heart and all your soul so that you will live” (Deuteronomy 30:6). We’re living in the midst of that fulfillment now, but that’s another article.

This verse from Deuteronomy sums up a lot about signs of our relationship with Jesus. We base our relationship on two signs – an inner circumcision of the heart and a little thing called love.

Inner Circumcision of the Heart


Paul recalled Moses’ words from Deuteronomy when he wrote, “circumcision is of the heart – by the Spirit” (Romans 2:29). A cross around our neck isn’t a sign of our salvation; the sign is the presence of the Spirit of God within us. “When you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed in Him, you were also sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13).

He marks us as a follower of Christ in a way that’s more impacting and permanent than any tattoo could ever be.

Going back to the idea of placing me in a line up to pick out the Christian… The presence of the Spirit of God within us isn’t very visible to the world is it? That’s where love comes in.

It’s all about love


God left us with another kind of sign. This one also comes from inside us – love for God and for each other.

Jesus emphasized this transition from outer signs to inner transformation when a Jewish rabbi asked Him which command from the Old Testament is the greatest. He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and Prophets depend on these two commands” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Christianity doesn’t require me to wear a certain headscarf or any other outer modification or adornment. It asks that I love God. People aren’t able to see that one quite so easily, though, so it doesn’t end there. Jesus made it really clear when He said, “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). When you look at love in the Bible, you quickly realize that God’s kind of love looks a lot like service and sacrifice.

It flows with generosity.

It aches with compassion.

It's exhausted by perseverance.

It dares with kindness.

What’s my sign?


Wear a cross necklace if you want. Enjoy your Christian t-shirts with clever taglines on them. But those things aren’t going to reach the world. Your waitress or store clerk might give you a little, “Hey, I like your shirt” quietly indicating that they are a believer as well. That’s probably all your outer sign is going to accomplish.

The world is changed and lives are transformed when people see us serving and sacrificing – in short, loving – in a way that’s only possible by the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives. The sacrificial love of God will mark us as different.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Invest: How much is too much?

A friend of mine started Discovering Beautiful, a ministry designed to encourage individuals struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. As such, she stays up to date on what's going on in the fight against drug and alcohol abuse. I've often thought our ministries are similar; we both focus on helping people find freedom.
 
The state of Colorado recently legalized the use of marijuana. During a subsequent conversation, my friend told me about the extent of money invested by proponents of marijuana legalization. Those campaigning to legalize marijuana had invested over $12,000,000 at that time. Those who wish to keep marijuana illegal had invested $56,000 in the fight. Those supporting the legalization of marijuana invested 214x more money to make their case heard - and they won!
 
In other words...
 
 
Here was my take away from that conversation...
 

Are we ready to invest in the battle?

The above doesn't apply only to the fight against drugs. It applies in all areas - abortion, definition of marriage, human trafficking, pornography, education standards, etc. A secular worldview is fighting hard to gain victory in these areas; they are investing time, money, and resources to win their battle. Many in the American church don't even realize a battle is going on, let alone are they ready to fight.
 
Grow Barefoot focuses more on missions than the war on drugs. Lottie Moon was a missionary to China for forty years; her service ended only by her death in 1912. A friend gave me this quote from Lottie Moon a few weeks ago, "Why should we not ... instead of the paltry offerings we make, do something that will prove that we are really in earnest in claiming to be followers of Him who, though He was rich, for our sake became poor?" (Source)
 
Read her story and you'll soon realize that Lottie wasn't content until she was giving the full extent of what she had in service to God's kingdom. She taught others the Word of God, she encouraged the American church of her day to support more missionaries out on the field. She wrote letters and articles to plead the cause of mission work in China. She evangelized and discipled people. She gave all of her time, resources, and meager income until God called her home.
 
Lottie Moon realized a battle is going on; she committed her life to fight. She willingly invested all she had.
 
Some of us may go to places like China or other locations in the far reaches of our shrinking globe. God calls the rest of us to join the battle right here and now. He asks us to invest our time, money, and resources in the battle. The world won't change and lives won't transform until we do.
 
American church, I believe a time of testing may be on our horizon. God will say, "I've blessed you in abundance; now what are you going to do with it?" Did we build mega-churches or did we feed the hungry? Did we give the homeless a place to sleep or did we lock our doors? Did we reach out to the abandoned, the imprisoned, and the lonely or did we wait for them to come find us in our cushy pews?
 
 
Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
 
For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat;
 
I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink;
 
I was a stranger and you took Me in;
 
I was naked and you clothed Me;
 
I was sick and you took care of Me;
 
I was in prison and you visited Me.  ...
 
I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me' (Matthew 25:34-36, 40).

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Generations: Valuing the legacy of a godly heritage

December may be the month we celebrate Jesus’ birth, but apparently it’s also the month of death.
The passing of four people in my life have warranted mention on my blog – all of them died during the month of December. Perhaps the glow of Christmas lights on homes and trees paled in comparison to the opportunity to experience the enveloping and penetrating light of the glory of God. Perhaps heartfelt tender Christmas carols dulled when given the chance to hear the angelic choir of heaven. I’ve shared the passing of all four with you because each one had a profound spiritual impact not only on my life but on the lives of hundreds around them.

Each one had a story – a reason for which I shared their life with you. For one, her life was a testament to Christ’s power in breaking us free from the confusion of abuse. For another, his story reminded us that the hope of heaven reunites us with loved ones. The third revealed lessons learned from one who lived life serving God.
Yesterday I attended the funeral of Jimmy’s granddad.

None of us are born holy; Granddad was no exception. In fact, quite a few of life’s years passed by for Granddad before the message of God’s salvation started to pierce his soul and transform his life. Somewhere, someone reached out to him as a young man and shared the message of hope.

 
Granddad later became a preacher himself; I would venture to guess that his fifty years behind the pulpit have changed thousands of lives. But even that isn’t the impact I want to share with you.

As I’m spending time with Jimmy and his family, I see a different kind of lasting impact – the impact of a godly heritage. It may not extend far but it runs deep. Granddad was already married when he humbled himself before God to receive forgiveness for his sins. He and Granny would have raised a family, worked their jobs, and lived their lives even if Granddad had never accepted Christ. It would have looked different but they would have made it happen.
But Granddad’s life changed when he accepted Christ. He studied God’s Word so he knew its message and power for his life. He shared God’s Word so others may know that same message and power. He prayed God’s Word because he knew therein is our power.

He studied for, shared with, and prayed for his children. His influence led them to accept Christ as their Savior. The transformation of this one man spread to the lives of his two children.

It led his children to find godly spouses when they grew up and create Christian homes of their own. Within time, four grandchildren were born and raised in godly homes. What was one became two and then doubled to four.
God decided one of the granddaughters could come to heaven early; her short life ended in her teens. Even in the midst of such a painful tragedy, however, the message of the gospel promised the hope of resurrection and eternal life for the young girl. Salvation was already a truth in her life, despite her young years.

The remaining grandchildren grew to adulthood, married Christian spouses, and started families of their own. One man’s influence became two, which doubled to four, and now has grown to ten great-grandchildren. All ten greats (as Granddad always called them), are being raised in three different godly homes where they also are hearing the message of salvation and the importance of a life transformed in service to God. One by one they are responding to that message. While some are still babies and toddlers, almost all of them have claimed the name of Christ and accepted His salvation in their own lives.

My oldest daughter was the first of that generation. Granny and Granddad drove halfway across the country to visit her when she was only a few weeks old. He held her in his arms and spoke that he never expected her to remember him. He thought God would call him home before she would form any memories. Yet, God blessed him with a long life. That same great-granddaughter is now 16. She wrote on her Facebook wall when she learned of his death, "Today my Great Granddad got to go to heaven. He was the one person who no matter how he felt would always have something to say about God's grace and how much he loved his family. Though I don't have many memories with him, because of long distances, I can't wait to make some with him in heaven. Have fun Great Granddaddy. Love you!"
If Christ waits a few more years before His return, who knows what might happen from those ten greats. Will they all accept Christ? Will they begin ten different Christian families of their own? What impact will they leave on the world? How will God answer the powerful prayers of the Great-Granddad who left a legacy of a Godly heritage for them?

In our instant society, we want to see results now. We want to see broad impact. But let us not forget, we do some of the most important ministry in the home to an audience of our children.
"Know that Yahweh your God is God, the faithful God who keeps His gracious covenant loyalty for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commands” (Deuteronomy 7:9).

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Immanuel: All He ever wanted was to be God with us

Christmas isn’t about Santa, $5 gift exchanges at endless holiday parties, and elaborate trays of special cookies and candies.

I think we all know that.
Christmas isn’t about family either, though. It’s isn’t the blessing of being together with loved ones. It’s not a child’s eyes as she bursts into the living room on Christmas morning. It’s not dinner around the table with aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.

I’m not sure we all know that, though.
Perhaps that’s why the holidays disappoint for many year after year. We dread that one relative that will point out everything wrong in our family relationships. We stress over the one child who eagerly tears open the gift only to be upset he didn’t get what he wanted. We worry the table may not look like the pictures on Pinterest. We remember the family members who aren’t with us as bitterness and unforgiveness have pulled us apart.

We invest a lot of time, money, and energy trying to find fulfillment in areas that can’t fulfill. We place expectations on people and situations that can’t live up to them.

So What’s the Point?

Enjoy the blessings of Christmas – the joy of giving, the comfort of a special meal, the connection of beloved family members. You can enjoy these moments when you don’t enter the holiday expecting them to fulfill your dreams of a magical holiday.

We find the joy, the comfort, the connection, and the abundance of blessings when we focus first on Christmas as seen in one biblical word – Immanuel.

 

Immanuel

It’s a Hebrew word only used a few times in the whole Bible. God inspired Isaiah to call the awaited Messiah by the name Immanuel. Later, Matthew confirmed the fulfillment of the prophecy in his gospel when he wrote of Mary’s baby, Jesus. Matthew wrote, “Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel” (Matthew 1:22-23).

Immanuel; it translates to English as “God with us.” Hebrew is a pictorial language so sometimes we can see another level of significance in the letter pictures the ancient Hebrews used to form the words. This one has given me reason to sit and reflect as I write this article. The Hebrew shows pictures of a God who experienced chaos, life, and nails. Wow.

You see, God was in heaven enjoying the glory of ultimate, sinless beauty and perfection. Yet, He chose to leave that place of divine triune intimacy and experience the chaos of a world thrown out of whack by sin. He chose to experience life. The experience of life meant He would also experience death because of the permeation of that same sin corruption. He chose to experience the nails pierced through His hands and feet because of the condemnation of sin. He chose to be God with us in the midst of all of our chaos, sin, pain, life, and death.

God with us

That had been the plan all along, though. In the beginning, the plan of God with us didn’t include the chaos, death, and nails brought in by sin. In the beginning, He was God with us in a perfect garden free from the destruction of sin. It was there that God walked with Adam and Eve as they experienced relationship together. However, what was a place of peaceful interaction became a place of fear and hiding as Adam and Eve chose the pleasure of a sinful moment (Genesis 3:8). From the beginning, God desired to be God with us. We blew it.

So God inspired Isaiah to write that the Son of the virgin would be Immanuel. That way He could be God with us once again. Even if being God with us meant joining us in our own chaotic mess of life to experience the nails.
He became God with us in our mess to restore the peaceful interaction of our former garden relationship; to create the opportunity for that relationship once again in the glory of eternity. He became God with us to experience our chaos so that one day we will experience “God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).

God experienced the chaos, life, and death of the nails so that we wouldn’t have too. He experienced them so that He might remove them from our lives and someday wipe away our tears, grief, and pain. He became God with us so He could be the fulfillment of all our hopes and expectations.
“The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Joy to the World: Finding Christ in the songs of Christmas

Now that Thanksgiving is over, I can come out of the closet. I can admit the truth to people besides my daughters who were guilty accomplices right along with me.

Here it is – the Christmas music started early in our house this year. The first Christmas carol rang out from our iTunes Christmas playlist at least two weeks before we roasted the Thanksgiving turkey.

I worked around the house one day while “Silent Night” lulled out through the speakers. The second verse caught my attention – especially the last line of the verse.


How many times have we sung these words penned centuries ago? So many times, perhaps, that their power now falls on desensitized ears. The Christ – the Savior of our souls – is born! Four thousand years of prophesied waiting climaxed in the cry of a newborn baby!

I decided it’s ok to listen to Christmas songs early. Geez, listen all year if you want. These are some of the greatest praise and worship songs ever written! Why limit them to a couple weeks of the year?

“O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel…” along with those of us who are adopted in as children of Abraham.

“Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free…” for we long to live set free from sin – to live free in relationship with You.

“Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head…” Creator of the universe – humbled in a manger. The Word made Flesh – limited to the cries of a newborn.

“O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant…” for we have fallen so far away from the life of joy and triumph promised to the faithful.

“Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn King: Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled...’” because right now as always, we need to know your peace. We need to see sinners reconciled with holy God as only Jesus can do so they too may know peace.

And my personal favorite,


“Joy to the world! The Lord is come: Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room” for we need to receive Him more than any other gift this holiday season. He came – He gave all so that we might finally find the joy that nothing else in cursed creation can offer us.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Priorities: Finding a way to give thanks in a messed up world

As a family, we give thanks before each meal. We bow our heads and one of us – we take turns – prays a simple prayer of appreciation for the meal. I remember when my youngest could barely speak. She’d pray, “Baby Jesus, for this food. Amen.” We never figured out why she prayed to Baby Jesus, but she’s outgrown it now.

I doubt if any of us send up a prayer of appreciation for our clothes before we get dressed each morning. 
Or how about every time we get in the car and it starts? What about when we pay bills and the money doesn’t run out before we pay the last one. Do we think a prayer of thankfulness every time a thought of a loved one comes through our minds?

It seems so odd to me. We can be so rigid about the necessity of giving thanks before a meal but not express any appreciation the rest of the day.


What are some other things for which we can be thankful?

A lot of conflicting stories abound on every issue out there. I’ve learned to rely on Scripture to help me prioritize what’s important. Based on that, in no particular order, I’m thankful for…


  • The transforming power of the Word of God; 1 Thessalonians 2:13. (ß Spend some time in God’s Word; read the verses to help you prioritize your season right now!)
  • God’s gift – the sacrifice of His Son; 2 Corinthians 9:15.
  • The peace of the Messiah; Colossians 3:15.
  • The privilege to enter the presence of God; Psalm 100:4.
  • Victory, because it is all about winning when it comes to eternity; 1 Corinthians 15:57.
  • God’s grace and the privilege to pass it along; 2 Corinthians 4:15.
  • The hard times God uses to help me grow; 1 Thessalonians 5:18.
  • The part I have in God’s eternal kingdom; Colossians 1:12.
  • Wisdom and power of God that are available to me; Daniel 2:23.
  • Prayer that conquers worry; Philippians 4:6.
  • God’s eternal goodness and love; Psalm 106:1.
  • The amazing works of a loving God; Psalm 107:8.
  • God hears us, answers us, and saves us; Psalm 118:21.
  • The righteousness of Holy God; Psalm 7:17.
  • The unlimited power and eternal nature of Almighty God; Revelation 11:17.
  • The faith of believers all over the world who do their part in God’s kingdom; Romans 1:8.
  • The teaching of Christ who points us to all truth; Romans 6:17-18.


You see, it’s ok if you burn the turkey or dump a pie on the kitchen floor (already had that one happen this year). It will even be ok if one of your relatives isn’t able to be with you this year. News of riots, wars, and nuclear talk failures can't even stop thankfulness. Why? Because even in the midst of daily stresses, relationship difficulties, and world turmoil, we have much for which to be thankful. We are thankful because God reigns, He gave His Son to restore our relationship with Him, and He and His kingdom will stand victorious for all eternity.

May some of these be added to your list of thankfulness this holiday season.