You Are What You Eat

O fear the Lord, you his holy ones,
    for those who fear him have no want.
The young lions suffer want and hunger,
    but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Come, O children, listen to me;
    I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Which of you desires life,
    and covets many days to enjoy good?
Keep your tongue from evil,
    and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil, and do good;
    seek peace, and pursue it.

(Psalm 34:9-14, New Revised Standard Version)

you are what you eat 2 

You’ve likely heard the phrase “you are what you eat.”  Of course, this doesn’t mean that when you look at me you see a delicious strip of bacon.  Rather, it’s meant to convey that the kind of food we ingest, whether it is physical groceries or spiritual sustenance, is of great importance and significance.  Eating unhealthy stuff makes you unhealthy.  Conversely, ingesting healthy things helps one to maintain proper health and vitality for functioning and thriving in life.

The psalmist encourages us to seek the LORD because in going after God we will be filled with goodness.  Using our tongues for good and not evil; our words for encouragement and not for forming lies; our constant verbiage for uplift and support and not with the poison phrases of evil; and, our voices for pursuing peaceful relations and not for disharmony; are all beautiful buffet foods of health and goodness to fortify our souls.

Back when I was in seminary (in a galaxy far, far away) it was difficult to keep up with the bills.  Finances were tight in our young family.  Despite working sometimes up to three jobs at a time, our budget had no budge to it.  In one unusually and particularly hard month, we were down to our last groceries.  In fact, on one summer evening we all had a bowl of Wheaties for supper.  The refrigerator was empty.  In our bedtime prayers with our girls, my wife and I voiced and expressed our need to God.

As Mary and I readied ourselves for bed, it was raining cats and dogs outside.  At 10pm, we heard a knock on our back patio door.  We looked at each other as if the other would know that we’re expecting someone.  We weren’t.  As I pulled back the curtain, there stood a sweet little Puerto Rican neighbor holding two large bags.  I quickly ushered her into our little apartment.  Her next words to us I will never forget:

“I went to bed at 9:00 and quickly fell fast asleep.  At 9:30 the Holy Spirit woke me up and told me to fill two bags with as many groceries as I could get in them; then, go and give them to the Ehrhardt’s.  So, here I am.”

All my wife and I could do was look at her and each other slack-jawed and simply say, “Thank you.”  No one knew our need.  We told no one about it; only God.

My family learned an invaluable lesson that stormy night, one you can’t learn any other way but being in a place of desperation.  The spiritual food that we eat is so important that Jesus put it this way:

One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

Many years later after that rich spiritual feast, I told this same story in a congregation on a Sunday morning.  Afterwards, a middle-aged man came up to me and said something that initially took me aback: “So, how do you justify being in such a state of deprivation and not taking care of your family?”  After gathering my thoughts, I gave him this retort:

“You have asked me an honest question.  I will ask you one before I answer yours: Have your teenage kids, you, and your wife ever been in a situation where you needed God and cried out to him for something?”  Long pause…. “Well, no, not really.”  “Then, sir,” I replied, “I like the lessons my encounter with want and privation taught my kids better than the lessons your kids have never learned.”

You see, my friends, you are what you eat.  This obsession we have with being independent, self-sufficient, and our compulsions about money has spawned an entire generation of folks who just don’t know they need God.  Then, parents wonder why their kids abandon God.  God is simply irrelevant to them.  After all, why serve a God who has never touched my life in any significant way?  If we eat from a table of our own making, then the Table of the Lord becomes only a dusty piece of furniture in an empty church.

When we come and eat the bread which the Lord offers us we find satisfaction and fulfillment.  When we allow God to serve up a delicious spiritual meal we discover hospitality and joy.  When we accept the invitation to seek the Lord we find that little is much when God is in it.  In God’s upside-down kingdom, the poor are rich, and the rich are poor.

Good days of plenty don’t come because we ingeniously orchestrate it all.  Yes, of course, planning is both necessary and important.  Yet, all of our best laid plans are just that.  The outcomes belong to God, not us.  We have because God gives, and not because we figured out how to work harder, or smarter, or better.

you are what you eat

The one who truly fears the Lord has learned to first receive from Him.  Open-handed reception can only result from a heart posture of humility and need.  Close-fisted folks only know how to figure things out on their own and are not in the position to receive anything.

Whichever way you slice the Old Testament bread of poverty and the New Testament teaching on being poor in spirit, the rich are typically not in the best place – the poor are.  Being a spiritual beggar who recognizes his/her need for God, and who is desperate for Jesus is the one who has found the narrow entrance to where the Lord dwells.  And, upon entering, finds a lavish spread that is worthy of the marriage supper of the Lamb.

The Desert

 

footprints in the desert 2

Every one of us must take this journey.  No one is exempt.  It is a pilgrimage that takes us into uncharted territory.  Lack of certainty, the unknown, and mystery are the companions along the way of this nomadic travel.  The harrows of this trip might seem to be the outward troubles and circumstances which surround you, but the real test is the journey within – it is the walk across the desert and the aridity that seems to exist in the soul, as if there are no familiar resources to draw from.  There is only one way, and that way appears so fearful that you and I try and avoid it like the plague.  But we cannot.

When times are tough, and when we find ourselves in the midst of circumstances that we didn’t see coming or have no desire to experience become the desert journeys which both demonstrate and define who we are as people.  The rock hard vicissitudes of this fallen world are no respecter of persons.  They come to all, whether rich or poor, black or white, privileged or underprivileged, introverted or extroverted, hard working or the just-getting-by, as well as the young or the aged.  What truly separates one person from another is how they handle the inevitable desert journey with its dryness of soul and seemingly endless barrage of trouble.

You cannot avoid it.  Eventually, someone you love will die – maybe even several of them in a short amount of time.  If not now, there will come a time when your financial budget will no longer budge and you’ll wonder what in the world you are going to do.  Even if you have never known poverty or want, the prospect of what will happen in the future might occur, with its lost investments and/or the slow erosion of economic resources because of circumstances out of you control.  There will come a time when you will be betrayed, become the victim of a verbal hate crime, or lose your reputation.  If relationships are presently serene, there is coming a day when it will not always be this way.  Strained friendships, difficult relations with co-workers, marriage troubles, and family squabbles aren’t just things that happen to other people.

Perhaps at this point you no longer wish to stick with me on this journey of words.  It’s a downer.  Maybe there isn’t enough positive thinking and you’d like to break off this train of trouble.  That is your prerogative.  But it doesn’t negate the fact that there is either right now something going on under your nose that you’re ignoring or in denial about, or a turn in your life that is coming down the pike.  Then what will you do?  Will you have the inner resources to face it?  Is your soul in a state that can sustain a loss, even a minor one, tomorrow?  Are you ready for adversity?

If you have ever felt alone, lost, hopeless, empty, and in the dark, as if you are sinking in quicksand, I want you to know that this is a journey that we all must undergo.  It is tempting, when going through such a time, to look backward and long for the good ol’ days.  But those days are gone.  They aren’t coming back.  What worked for you back there probably won’t work for you now.  So, here is the thought that I’d like you to think:

The desert is the perfect place for transformation; the wilderness journey is the means to a new and better life.

The ancient Israelites were slaves in Egypt, hard pressed and in agony.  Through a series of miraculous events God redeemed them out of that place and sent them on a journey… into the desert.  Yes, that’s right.  It might have seemed to the Israelites that they were jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.  Here they were out in the middle of nowhere without water, food, and basic necessities.  It’s endemic to the human condition to complain and seek to blame someone for your trouble.  Moses took a lot of crap from the people.  Yet, God had his own purposes and plans for the inner redemption of the people as well as outward freedom.

God put his people squarely in a place where they could not go back, couldn’t go around, and most definitely could not stay put where they were.  Nope.  They had to go through the desert.  There was no other way.  Moses made it through those years of living in the desert by reminding the people that there was a future for them, a better future than Egypt or the desert – a hope of the Promised Land.  God also shaped the way they were to think about the past through an annual rehearsal of the deliverance out of bondage, the Passover.  For the daily and ever present activity of desert living, God enabled Moses to delegate the practical situations of being together in a desert situation by gifting others to help and walk with him.  And this was all formed through the covenant experience of Sinai – the giving of the Law, the Promise that God would always have his loving loyalty upon the people.

Going through your own desert journey will require the same resources of Promised Land, Passover, and the Law of Promise.  That is, viewed through the lens of the Christian, God is forming within us a deep spirituality based in the promises of His Word, the sustenance of the Lord’s Table, and the confident expectation of Christ’s return and the hope of His reign to be manifested in everything from small family structures to large corporate systems, and humungous governments.  In short, the kingdom of God is near – if we have the eyes of faith to see and the ears of belief to hear.

It is imperative that you and I connect with Holy Scripture in a healthy and consistent rhythm of hearing God and responding back to him.  It is most necessary that our perspective of both the past (Christ’s cross and resurrection) and the future (Christ’s return and reign) is formed through regular spiritual practices which remind us of what is most important in life, not to mention how these spiritual resources can sustain us through dark times.

To survive the desert, one must walk through it – not around it, not going backward away from it, and not sticking our spiritual heads in the sand.  To make the trip, we must deliberately walk with others who will remind us of healthy ways of seeing ourselves, our past, and our coming future.  Faith, hope, and love are the practical necessities which need to be in our backpacks as we go forward.  They will be our food and our drink.

Travel well, my friend.  May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with you as the Spirit hurls you into the desert to experience the love of God in new and profound ways.

Hebrews 3:1-6 – Jesus Is Better

 

Loving-Gods-House

“Therefore, brothers and sisters who are partners in the heavenly calling, think about Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession.  Jesus was faithful to the one who appointed him just like Moses was faithful in God’s house.  But he deserves greater glory than Moses in the same way that the builder of the house deserves more honor than the house itself.  Every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant in order to affirm the things that would be spoken later.  But Jesus was faithful over God’s house as a Son. We are his house if we hold on to the confidence and the pride that our hope gives us.” (Common English Bible)

It’s hard to be patient, difficult to persevere.  If the Christian life were a piece of cake, then there would be no need for the strengthening of faith and the development of perseverance.  But faith is a muscle.  If unused, it atrophies.  Faith needs exercise, and it must be tried in adverse circumstances to grow and mature.

The reason the author of Hebrews wrote his letter to Jewish Christians is because they were losing their grip, faltering in their faith.  The hard circumstances of those Christians were leading them to entertain the notion of returning to their old ways of life, apart from Christ.

It can be tempting to think of the past as “the good old days.”  But if you think about it for any length of time, you know better.  You’re just struggling in the present, and our minds turn to filter all the crud out from the past to make it look like things were better back then.

“Better” is what the book of Hebrews is all about.  The writer consistently and persistently insists that Jesus is better than anything from the Hebrew Christians’ past.  Moses was one the most respected and impressive figures of Old Testament history.  Jews revered him.  The book of Hebrews acknowledges that respect for Moses, but points-out and reminds the people that whereas Moses was faithful within God’s house, it is Jesus who is the Master over the house.  Jesus is better than Moses.

What’s more, we as believers and followers of Jesus are the house.  Jesus Christ is Lord – not Moses, or anybody else.  Jesus cares for and protects his house.  It might be tempting to believe that a previous house we lived-in in another city or town was better.  But the reality is that we live today in God’s house.  Therefore, we must hold on and not let go of the confidence we have in Jesus and the pride and privilege we have in living where we presently live.

When life is tough, reminiscing about the past is easy.  For sure, you can find all kinds of things you miss from your previous days somewhere.  Yet, trolling your personal history, like a time-wasting galavant on the computer, doesn’t do anything for your need of faith and perseverance.  But today, Jesus has a hold of you.  Today he wants to walk with you through your trouble, and not just transport you to the past.  Now is the time to follow Jesus into all the situations that are in front of you.  You are not alone.  You can do this.

Lord Jesus, you are sovereign over my past, present, and future.  Today has its situations and problems.  Help me walk into and through them with your gracious protection so that perseverance is developed within me and my faith in you is strengthened for tomorrow.  Amen.

Genesis 22:1-19 – The Lord Will Provide

abraham and isaac

Abraham named that place “The Lord Will Provide.” And even now people say, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

The biblical character of Abraham is synonymous with faith.  And for good reason.  God had told Abraham that he would have a son with his wife Sarah.  This wouldn’t be unusual except for the facts that the couple were well advanced in age, and Sarah was incapable of having children.  Infertility isn’t just a modern problem; it has always existed.  But Abraham believed God.  Years later and with a mix of patience and impatience from the would-be parents, the promise from God was realized.  Abraham and Sarah had a son, Isaac.

“The child of the promise.”  This was Isaac’s moniker – which makes the command coming from God so perplexing: Take your son, the child of the promise, and go to the mountain and sacrifice him there.  Huh? What the…!  But it only seems strange and super-weird to us.  We get no reaction from Abraham, no questioning, no talk back.  He just goes about the business of saddling up the donkey, chopping some wood for the sacrifice, and takes his only son with him on the journey to the mountain.

We can wonder what might be going through Abraham’s mind through all of this.  While you and I might try and figure out if we really heard God or not, Abraham had a history of talking with God.  He knew God’s voice as well as he knew his own.  Abraham was well down the road of relationship with the God he served.  We get an insight from the author of Hebrews into Abraham’s thought process, a line of thinking that is consistent with a person who has a regular habit of talking with God:

“Abraham had been promised that Isaac, his only son, would continue his family. But when Abraham was tested, he had faith and was willing to sacrifice Isaac, because he was sure that God could raise people to life. This was just like getting Isaac back from death.” (Hebrews 11:17-18, CEV)

Abraham didn’t try and figure out God’s mind.  He didn’t get into a debate with God about the contradiction of ethics he was being asked to do.  He simply obeyed. He reasoned that it didn’t matter if Isaac were killed because God could raise him from death.  This, of course, is not what happened.  It was all a test of faith.  Abraham knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is the Lord who provides.

You and I don’t always know why we are facing the circumstances we’re enduring.  We don’t always know what in the world God is thinking.  Yet, like Abraham, if we have a spiritual history of walking with God and hearing his voice, we don’t hesitate to respond.  We are convinced that God will provide.  Obedience for the follower of Christ is not a burden; it’s a privilege, even when we are being tested beyond our seeming emotional ability to do it.

Sovereign Lord, your ways are sometimes strange.  Yet, I know that everything you do is always right, just, and good.  It is to your gracious and merciful character that I know you will provide.  My allegiance is to you; in the Name of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Romans 4:13-25 – Christianity 101

promise to abraham

“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (New International Version)

Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of why we are here and what we are really supposed to be doing.  There’s just so much stuff going on around us all the time that it seems like we have spiritual ADD and can’t focus on what’s most important.  Certain people irritate us, we scramble to making a decent living, there never seems to be enough time to accomplish everything, and there is adversity and obstacles all along life’s way.

There’s a lot going on in the book of Romans.  At first glance, like our lives, it seems complicated.  The Apostle Paul had all kinds of words for the Christians: hope; faith; righteousness; and, justification, just to name a few.  But all those ideas funneled to and pointed toward a singular focus: the Lord Jesus.  Everything in church and life comes down to Christ.

The church was losing sight of why they existed.  Within the church at Rome were both Jews and Gentiles together as one people of God.  They didn’t always see eye-to-eye on everything.  The Gentiles thought the Jews were stuck in tradition and needed to move on.  The Jews had centuries of history behind them of God working through them; they thought the Gentiles needed some solid Old Testament law to bolster their primitive spirituality.  Would the church take their cues on life from the Gentiles, or the Jews?

Paul essentially told the church that they were focused in the wrong direction.  The issues and problems of living the Christian life were to take a back seat to faith in God.  To prove his point, Paul went back to Abraham as Exhibit A of what it means to live with and for God.

It went down like this: God made a promise to Abraham of progeny in his old age; Abraham believed what God said; Abraham demonstrated his faith by having the confident expectation (hope) that God is good for his promise; and, God declared (justified) Abraham to have a right relationship with himself (righteousness).

In other words, the heart of Christian faith and practice is: God makes promises; people respond in faith, hope, and love.  Law and the willpower to keep it doesn’t even come into the equation.

Christians are the spiritual children of Abraham.  All God’s promises are fulfilled in Christ.  We respond to God by believing in Jesus. The redemptive events of Jesus make us just and right.  So, what does this mean for you and me?

We are not to get sidetracked with trying to make others like be like us.  Instead, we are to proclaim the promises of God in Christ so that others might respond by believing and embracing those promises.  Furthermore, we have no need to try and get God to like us, notice us, and/or listen to us.  God has already made and kept promises to us, demonstrating his love, mercy, and grace through his Son, the Lord Jesus.

Our lives are not to center in our abilities, or lack thereof, to live a godly life.  Rather, our lives are to revolve around the person and work of Jesus Christ through faith, with the hope that God will always hold to his promise to be with us, which frees us to love others.  This is Christianity 101.  This is the faith we embrace.

Righteous God, you have made and kept promises to me.  My ultimate deliverance from sin, death, and hell isn’t through my ability to keep the law, but in your Son’s life, death, and resurrection.  Help me to live by faith in Jesus who loved me and gave himself for me; in the strength of your Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Romans 3:21-31 – 8 Words That Can Change Your Life

cross of christ

“But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because… he himself is righteous and he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.” (NRSV)

500 years is a long time.  It was that long ago when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg Church door.  It sparked the flame of Reformation, a legacy we still live with today.  Protestant Christians have a rich spiritual heritage in acknowledging and affirming the veracity of Holy Scripture and its central message of Christ’s good news of salvation.

8 words changed Martin Luther’s life, changed the course of history and Christianity, and can change our lives, too.

1. Law

The role of the law is not to save nor to sanctify, but to reveal the true state of our hearts.  The law can only condemn; it cannot save you.  Obedience is important yet cannot be done by sheer willpower.  Deliverance does not come by turning over a new leaf; that approach only gets you caught in cycle of regret, promising not to do it again, and returning to it.  Law makes us feel the great weight of our darkness.  We need to feel and know what that darkness really is….

2. Sin

Sin means missing the mark, falling short.  We must agree with God about what sin really is, without sugar-coating it.  We tend to think of sin as some terrible action like assault or murder, yet sin is primarily thought of in Scripture as not giving God his due – of de-godding God and replacing him with something else.  You and I need to be realistic about the bad news of sin before we can ever receive the good news of forgiveness.  You can’t be forgiven unless you can admit that you have done, or not done, something that warrants needing to be forgiven.  Moving forward in hope can only happen when we possess…

3. Righteousness

Righteousness means right relationships; unrighteousness means broken relationships.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for right relationships.  Like illegal aliens who cannot make themselves citizens, God grants us spiritual amnesty because we can’t make ourselves legal or righteous.  Through righteousness God has made it possible for us to live in harmony.  Holding onto bad relationships is like a dog returning to its vomit; there is no need for it because God has given us…

4. Justification

This term is a picture of the court of law.  It communicates for us that righteousness comes because God justified us, that is, he did for us what the law could not do – he sent his Son to be a substitute for us.  You can’t justify yourself by obeying the law or simply by being sorry.  Without the next word, we will wallow in our guilt because we need this for our justification to really live….

5. Faith

Faith is a gift given by God.  We do not generate faith within ourselves because sin estranges us from God.  We need God to act.  God’s righteousness can only become operative through faith.  You must hold out your hands and receive a gift to possess it.  You must come to the end of yourself to exercise faith.  You need to see that your sin is bad enough to have made your life unmanageable and that you have dug yourself in a hole too deep to get out of yourself.  If you think you can handle it, you are going back to the law, living in denial and not by faith.  We also need…

6. Grace

Faith must have an object, and that object is the cross of Christ.  It’s grace which gives faith and saves us.  Our denial is so great about our sin that we can’t reach out to God unless God acts.  Even while we were sinners, Christ died for us.  Opening the gift given to us, we find that we are given…

7. Redemption

Redemption is a word referring to a slave market.  We are slaves to sin.  We need someone to purchase our freedom.  The blood of Christ paid for my sin.  He bought me through his death.  Jesus has taken care of the sin issue through…

8. Propitiation

“Sacrifice of atonement” is the meaning of propitiation.  It is the satisfaction of God’s wrath against sin.  Because God loves, God has wrath; he is not okay with sin running amok in this world.  We are forgiven through the blood of Christ.  We are free to live into the gracious joyous life of God in Christ.  Yet, not all of us do so.  For example:

If the institution that gave me my car loan came along and forgave or satisfied the debt I have on my car, it would be weird if I kept making loan payments.  But that is what many people keep doing with their lives because they don’t really believe they are forgiven and loved by God.  We think God is constantly upset or, at least, agitated with us since we screw-up so often.  So, we live by law hoping that God will applaud our sincerity and our effort, wishing that everything will be okay.  But everything won’t be okay with that approach because God wants our faith, not our promises to be better.  His question to us is:

Do you trust me?  Do you trust me to deliver you from your sin?  Do you trust me to work out the situation that you’ve made a mess of on your own?  Do you trust me to provide for you everything you need? 

Live into your spiritual heritage. Don’t return to the law. Bask in the gracious gift of your freedom in Christ.  Live and enjoy Jesus because you have been made righteous, justified, and redeemed through the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

Own Your Struggle

sisyphus struggle

In this social media driven world, we know all too well the temptation to sanitize our respective life experiences and stories.  Even the cloistered folk who refuse any social media will often not give you a straight answer when asked the sincere question, “How are you doing?”  “Fine” is not an acceptable answer, in my book.  The reason I say we need to be more honest in our responses and presentations to one another is:

Hiding large swaths of our lives and stories from others is not the path to spiritual wellness, emotional healing, and personal peace.  However, owning our internal struggles through embracing weakness, humility, vulnerability, and faith opens to us the way of grace.

Far too often you and I have ongoing struggles within because we don’t own them.  We struggle because we don’t struggle.  I’m the expert on stuffing feelings.  I learned it well early in my life.  Yet, feelings never evaporate just because we ignore them.  Just the opposite, like a forgotten half-carton of cottage cheese in the back of the fridge, our feelings only gather moldy bacteria and crust over with nastiness.  We need to understand that feelings really do have an expiration date to them.  If not openly confronted and dealt with, they’ll fester into bitterness.  It’s much better to get down and dirty with our present struggles instead of living with the wishful thinking that they’ll just go away.

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Holy Scripture and 2,000 years of church history have given us a path to wholeness.  Lent is the season which draws out grand themes of the Christian life from the Bible.  Prominent is our need for confession, repentance, faith, humble prayer, and forgiveness.  Spiritual disciplines exist to put us in a position to confront our deepest struggles – even ones we didn’t know we had.

There are 52 references to “one another” in the Bible.  “Love one another” (John 13:34-35); “Be kind to one another” (Ephesians 4:32); “Show hospitality to one another” (1 Peter 4:9); “Forgive one another” (Colossians 3:13); “Encourage one another” (Hebrews 3:13); and “Bear the burdens of one another” (Galatians 6:2); are just a few of the exhortations Scripture gives us to “spur one another on” (Hebrews 10:24) toward spiritual well-being and healthy community relationships.

help one another

Nowhere in Holy Scripture will you find references to hide from one another, pester one another, or put up a false front toward one another.  Some folks live as if the author of Hebrews said, “Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting together for worship and edification, so just let them go, slackers they are.  Forget about that encouragement thing, especially since Jesus is coming soon anyway.”  Here is what the verse says, for real:

“Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that.  We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer”. (Hebrews 10:25, CEV)

There were confessing believers in the ancient church who drifted away and dropped out.  They had legitimate internal and external struggles with outward persecution and inner doubt.  What they needed most was an infusion of faith and perseverance, which would only come if they owned their struggle through sharing it with others.  Like a charcoal briquette which falls off the pile and loses its fire, so there were individual Christians who separated themselves from the warmth of genuine fellowship and lost their faith.

hot charcoal

The ancient believers had some of the same struggles we had.  They just couldn’t make sense of why things in the world were so bad.  The people had little money, no respect from government authorities, and, most of all, family who were telling them they were crazy for following Jesus.  It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  Rather than embrace the struggle and work through it, they just sat in the back of the fridge, I mean in the back pew of the church, and slowly gathered mold.  Doing nothing is usually a bad idea.  If you try and fail, there is grace.  But if you do nothing, there is only nothing.

Freighted within the definition of biblical faith is risk.  Faith is stepping out and taking a chance on love, encouragement, help, support, comfort, and kindness.  No risk it, no biscuit.

“Keep on being brave! It will bring you great rewards.  Learn to be patient, so that you will please God and be given what he has promised.  As the Scriptures say, ‘God is coming soon!  It won’t be very long.  The people God accepts will live because of their faith. But he isn’t pleased with anyone who turns back.’  We are not like those people who turn back and get destroyed. We will keep on having faith until we are saved.” (Hebrews 10:35-39, CEV)

william penn quote

God desires you and me to take a risk on betting the farm on Jesus.  Embracing Christ involves owning our struggles, to him and to one another.  Yes, you may argue that it isn’t helpful to wear your feelings on your sleeve.  But I’m not talking about emotional diarrhea; I’m talking about something far worse: emotional prostitution, where we sell ourselves to others in a cheap façade of who we really are and how we are really doing.  We want to be liked and we want to be loved, and we mistakenly believe that keeping up false appearances will get us what we long for.

You might fail? Join the club. I’m willing to wager that I’ve been fired or let go from more jobs than you’ve even had in your life.  I’ve some wild ministry successes, and I have had some spectacular failures.  I have been at the lowest of the low in a major depression, and I’ve been at the top of the mountain where every prayer gets answered.  I have had God be silent for months on end, with me having no clue as to why.  I’ve had literally no money to my name, and I’ve had plenty in multiple accounts.

So, here’s the humble observation: It doesn’t matter whether your circumstances are to your liking or not, whether you have all you feel you need, or don’t ever seem to have enough, whether you have well-behaved kids and family, or wayward children and messed up uncles and cousins.  What matters is faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:6).  It takes risk to have faith.  It takes two (or more) to have love.

Own your struggle.  Don’t live in denial.  Grab it and face it squarely.  Face it with God.  Face it with others.  If you’re mad as hell at God, tell him so; he’s big enough to take it (please go to the psalms and pray them as your own).  If you need prayer and/or help, ask for it.  Don’t just expect someone to read your mind or your emotions.  If someone asks you to pray, stop what you’re doing and get on your knees with that person and pray like there’s no tomorrow.

no-risk-it-no-biscuit

Life is too short to sleepwalk through it with a constellation of emotions that need dealing with.  Being overwhelmed is common to the human condition.  “How are you?” “Busy!” Tell me something I don’t know.  It takes no relational effort to give a pat answer.  Let’s get down to why you feel you constantly need to express how busy you are, even when you’re not really all that busy.

I think you get the idea.  Scripture doesn’t call us to hide, but to love one another enough to both give and receive God’s grace.  Maybe you don’t need to let it all out on social media, but there is a place and a context for you to bring your struggles before God and others.  Take advantage of the privilege and the opportunity which has been provided for you through the cross of Jesus Christ.