Times are Changing

I’ve been reading a lot lately about change and the concept of liminality. Liminality (from the Latin word līmen) means “a threshold.” It is the quality of ambiguity which occurs at the beginning of a major change, and it can be disorienting. During a liminal stage, one is standing between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way which has not yet been revealed or accomplished.

This is exactly where I’ve been since my husband retired a little over a year ago. He is no longer the pastor of our home congregation, and we are attending there only sporadically. We have given up the plethora of duties and roles we assumed there, and although we have not been idle, I feel a lack of permanence. This is scary, but also exciting. What will I do next? What does God have planned? Can I still be useful during this late stage of my life?

This transitional spot I’m standing in reminds me of chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews (my favorite book). It begins with:

” Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

Then it lists many heroes of the Old Testament, describing the things they did in obedience to God’s call (this has been called the hall of fame of faith). It ends by saying:

“These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” Hebrews 11:39-40

You and I are part of that “great cloud of witnesses.” I don’t know where God is taking me next, but I know He has a plan– a plan that is better than anything I might dream up for myself. I may not feel comfortable, but I’m comforted! You should be, too.

For more posts about change see:

Are You Willing to Change?

A Generational Change

Fanning the Flame #10 — Creating a Culture For Change

By Faith

The sermon I heard this past week was based on some of my favorite passages of Scripture– the 11th and 12th chapters of Hebrews. These verses speak of some of the great heroes of the faith, those who have gone before us (and by the way they were also just regular folks with plenty of flaws). Even those who came before the birth of Christ were counted among the faithful because they were looking forward to the One to come, they believed in the promises of God.

 “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

One of the hymns went right along with the message. It’s by the Gettys (wonderful contemporary hymnists) and I know our readers will love it as I do.

F

For more contemporary hymns see these posts:

A Favorite New Song

Leaving a Legacy

New Song #2

Conference Theme

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6, NIV)

The theme for the recent AFLC Conference was “God rewards the faithful” based on the Bible verse from Hebrews above. I’ve been puzzling over this. What is our reward? Some proponents of the “prosperity gospel” would have us believe that if we’re faithful we’ll receive worldly rewards — plenty of money, a great house, good health and so on. Others may assume that faith will ensure a happy family life and good relationships. Obviously, that isn’t true. And a careful reading of the context of this verse (the hall of fame of faith, it’s been called) lists people who suffered in a variety of ways. Yes, some were healed or spared from injury or saw miracles, but others:

… were tortured…. faced jeers and flogging…were stoned… sawed in two…persecuted and mistreated…” Hebrews 11:35-37

Doesn’t sound like a great reward, does it? In Chapter 12, we see the rest of the story. When we endure suffering for God’s sake, because of our faith:

“…it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace…” Hebrews 12:11

Our reward is reconciliation with God through the imputed righteousness of Christ. If you’re wondering what this is here’s a definition:

“Imputed righteousness” is the doctrine affirming that the personal righteousness of Jesus Christ is instantly transferred to a sinner at the point of “saving faith.” Accordingly, the believer ceases to be the sinner he was and forthwith becomes a new creation–a perfectly righteous person.

When through faith, we become righteous, we will also be fruitful. Not prosperous in the things of the world, but in the things of God. We can be peaceful because we know that God is in control of our lives and will work all things out for our good, and the good of others. What reward is better than that?

For more posts about the book of Hebrews see:

Interactive Bible Study-Hebrews Chapter 13

Thankful for Leaders –Hebrews Chapter 13

Thankful for Faith -Hebrews Chapter 11

Behold the Man #2

I posted earlier this month about a phrase that caught my attention —Behold the Man!–this is what Pilate said when he brought Jesus out to face the crowd demanding his crucifixion. God evidently isn’t done with teaching me about this yet, because it came up again, in a different form.

My husband and I watched a miniseries entitled North Water. It tells a dark and disturbing story that I didn’t especially enjoy. However, the first episode was called “Behold the Man!” so that got my attention. Now, this series has nothing to do with Jesus. It focuses on the depravity of man. The main character, a surgeon named Patrick Sumner, suffers betrayal and is exposed to all sorts of difficult experiences. He encounters thievery, perversion, murder, selfishness, addiction and more. He almost dies as the result of the sinful behavior of others. He starts out as a “good” person who wants to do the right things, but by the end of the story he also kills a man and steals his money. Some would say his behavior was justified because he was trying to right the wrong that had been committed against him, but sin is still sin.

So, what is my takeaway from this? The comparison between the human being Christ was (sinless) and the human being I am (sinful). Christ was able to suffer many of the same things Patrick did. He was betrayed, deserted, mocked, beaten and finally killed. Yet, as the Bible tells us:

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” Hebrews 4:15

Patrick cracked under the strain of sin. He couldn’t be righteous. He needed a Savior. So do you and I! Behold the man Christ, and behold yourself. Be thankful He could do what we cannot.

For more posts about the atonement of Christ see:

The Ultimate Sacrifice

Most Certainly True

Interactive Study Blog – Hebrews Chapter 10

Behold the Man!

As part of my morning devotions, I’ve been reading through the gospel of John. Recently I came to the section of the passion account when Jesus comes before Pilate. Pilate has had Him flogged but finds no reason to punish him further. He brings Jesus out to the crowd, hoping they will agree to releasing Him. Here’s the way the scene is described:

“So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the man!'” John 19:5

After finishing with John, I turned to the next chapter in a book about art I had been using (Rembrandt is in the Wind by Russ Ramsey–Book Review). Imagine my surprise when the painting being discussed was Ecce Homo (it means Behold the Man) by Caravaggio! It’s a picture of the very same event I just read through in my Bible!

This was too much of a Godcidence to ignore, so I’ve spent some time meditating about it. Here’s what I’ve concluded. The disciples and other people from the time of Jesus had a hard time seeing Him as God. They knew Him as the son of Joseph and Mary, a carpenter, a teacher. They were constantly forgetting (even right after the fact) that He could perform miracles. He told them he would die and rise again — more than once–but they still had trouble believing it.

Fast forward to 2022 — we’re in the opposite predicament. We’re so accustomed to understanding Jesus as the Son of God, that we often forget that He was also fully human, just like we are. During the week of His passion, He was repeatedly flogged, spat upon, betrayed, demeaned. We don’t stop to think how difficult that was for Him to bear in His humanity. How would we feel? Would we be able to keep our focus on God and His Holy Will? Probably not. Almost certainly not.

So, it’s good to remember during this period of Lent, just how much Jesus suffered for us. He couldn’t brush it off, just because He was God. The pain and suffering was exactly the same for Him as it would be for any of us. Never take that for granted! Behold the man!

1For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” Hebrews 4:15

For more about Christian art see:

Praying with Art

Contemplative Vision by Juliet Benner–Book Review

Shades of Light by Sharon Garlough Brown–Book Review

What Stands Out–Nehemiah

Recently I’ve been using the M’Cheyne Bible reading plan to read several chapters of the Bible each day. Because I’ve become used to reading in a slow, meditative way (lectio divina), I’m finding that even when I read more quickly, certain things stand out. Here’s what stood out for me in the book of Nehemiah.

“We will not neglect the house of our God.” Nehemiah 10:39b

In case you don’t know, or don’t remember, the book of Nehemiah is the last historical book in the Old Testament, and it is a record about how the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem after their captivity in Babylon. They rebuilt the walls of the city and revived the worship life of the nation. Reestablishing the temple required sacrifice. The people (according to God’s law) were to give a tithe (one-tenth) of all they produced for the support of the Levites (their priests) and to maintain the place of worship. After 40 years of exile, they were more than willing to do this.

This verse makes me think about my own commitment. Of course, this does mean money. Am I happy to give one tenth of my income to take care of God’s house? Or do I sometimes regard this as a hardship? Do I think of supporting the chuch as a joy and a privilege, or do I grouse about how little others give? Do I give my first fruits, or just what I have left over after doing what I want to do?

We can neglect the house of God in other ways, too. During this time of the pandemic, many of us have become accustomed to avoiding church services. Watching the Pastor preach on Zoom or YouTube services may be better than nothing, but should not become a continual substitute for meeting together, as Paul urges us to do in the book of Hebrews:

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another ….” Hebrews 10:24-25a

Meeting together encourages us to love and serve others. It fosters accountability and Christian action; it reminds us that we are not alone in our Christian walk. How lucky we are to have a church building and a church family!

In our country, it’s easy to take our churches for granted. I do it sometimes, and you probably do, too. The people of Nehemiah’s time knew what it meant to enjoy God’s law in God’s house. Take a page from their book — don’t neglect the house of the Lord. It’s a privilege we should never take for granted.

For more about the church see:

Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered by James C. Wilhoit

We (the Laity) Are the Church

Do I help or hurt the Church?

What My Faith Means to Me #3

This was written by husband for one of his seminary classes, and I thought it went along well with the earlier posts by our daughters when they were confirmands.

When I think about God I think first of the awesome wonder of a Being who can create all that is from nothingness, simply by willing it into existence. It is so far beyond my understanding that simply trying to establish boundaries for this act of power, to express parameters for such a God is impossbile. My mind can conceive many wonderous, Wonderland-like things, but creation, ex nihilo, is so frar from my understanding of what is possible that I can only accept it on faith.

The author of Hebrews describes faith as …the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (11:1). Hope and evidence, yearning and established fact. It is in this faith, this gift of God that I can come to terms with that which is beyond knowing. The Hidden God reveals Himself to His creatures in ways which we can only dimly comprehend. In this realm of the poorly understood Truth, we are forced to become like children, guided toward places we can only imagine, trusting the choices of the loving Father who leads us.

When I was a child my father would take our family on Sunday afternoon drives in the country. After leaving our neighborhood I would be totally lost, unable to recognize any reference points in the landscape around me. Yet I never worried about the unfamiliar homes, fields and woods that we saw. My trust in my dad’s ability to bring us safely back to our home was absolute.

distant man driving fancy red cabriolet along town street

Just so my faith in the loving heavenly Father is absolute. As my father’s repeated ability to find our home again reinforced my trust in him, so the long record of God’s faithfulness and care for His people reinforces my trust in Him. In Scripture, in the lives of people I have observed, and in my own life, God’s faithfulness is always apparent, always comforting, always objectively true.

To be continued …..

For more about faith see:

What Does It Mean to Walk by Faith?

What My Faith Means to Me #2

What My Faith Means to Me

Jesus, the Word of God

It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, which is the true word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers will bring us to him. ” C. S. Lewis

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1

 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” Hebrews 1:1-2

Our High Priest

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin .”Hebrews 4:15

When we are challenged by the difficulties of life, it may help to meditate on the verse above. Jesus, although God, was also fully human and experienced many of the same situations that we do. For example:

  1. He was betrayed by a friend (Judas)
  2. He felt overwhelmed by His mission (in the Garden of Gethsemane)
  3. He grieved when His friend Lazarus died
  4. He was rejected in His home town
  5. He was tempted by the devil in the desert
  6. He became angry with the moneychangers in the Temple
  7. He allowed Himself to become weak and be arrested
  8. He suffered when he was beaten
  9. He was ridiculed by the guards
  10. He appeared to be a failure when he died on the cross

How did he manage to endure all this without sin? He prayed; He turned to the Scriptures; He trusted God; He kept His mind of His mission and His goal, instead of the esteem of the world.

We’re not perfect, like Jesus. We will sin. But we can follow His example, and be comforted.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2

Grade Yourself #3

I’ve been thinking a lot this month about grading yourself honestly on how you are doing spiritually — is it possible (see Grade Yourself)  and who/what should you compare yourself to in assigning a grade (see  Grade Yourself #2 ).  I concluded with input from a friend, that each of us should be “graded” against ourselves.  How have we matured in our relationship with God, our good works, our understanding of Scripture over the past weeks, months or years.

Recently I did another spiritual exercise that had to do with imagining my own death.  How would I want to be remembered?  What would I expect to be said in my eulogy.    What are my life goals and have I met them?  This too, is a kind of “grading” or evaluating.  Of course, it is my faith and not my works that save me, but will I feel at all  worthy to hear these words?

‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!'”  Matthew 25:23

I thought hard about this.  Looking back on my life, trying to grade myself, I would consider three things.  The first is my life verse(actually it’s two verses):

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2

Second is my personal mission statement What’s My Mission?:

“”To keep in mind that I am a pilgrim on a journey to draw closer to God’;  to recognize and respect this pilgrim quality in others and use my God given talents, insights, and resources to encourage them;  to enjoy the life, friends, family and work with which I have been blessed and to be a peaceful and harmonious influence in all of these places.”

Finally, my core values (L. A. T. C. H. On To Your Core Values):

  • Learning
  • Attentiveness
  • Teamwork
  • Creativity
  • Honesty

These are the things I would use to “grade” my life–this is what I would use to see if I had worked toward being the kind of servant God created me to be.

If you haven’t done any exercises like these, I would encourage you to do so.  Knowing what you’re aiming for will help you persevere.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:

“If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.”