Growing up in Christ–it’s a together thing

This week I’ve been mulling over something generated from last week’s ponderings.  When the writer to the Hebrews (5:11ff) faults them for being dull of hearing he goes on to say that they should be able by now to teach others but instead still require spoon-feeding with the basics of their faith.  In contrast to this are the mature who have trained their sensibilities to discern good from evil.  These folks are ready to move on to steak!  OK so I’ll admit it, I like to think this is me (except for the bit about being able to teach others–that thought intimidates me–maybe I too have some basics of the faith to fully digest!)

I was stopped short this week in my pious imaginings by Ephesians 4 with its reminder that we’re all in this Body together, intended to support one another on the path to maturity in Christ. It is most certainly true that I too am dull of hearing in ways I don’t detect(!) and I need you to point them out to me in love, even as I bravely open my mouth to bring truth to bear in areas where you need encouragement.  This is Christ’s intention for His Body–all of us reaching maturity by that which each of us has to offer.

“I urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love…there is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your calling—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” Eph.4:1-4 HCSB

Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please his neighbor for his good to build him up… Therefore accept one another, just as the Messiah also accepted you, to the glory of God. Rom.15:1,2,7 HCSB

But now God has placed each one of the parts in one body just as He wanted.—From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part. I Cor.12:18; Eph.4:16 HCSB

Speak the truth, each one to his neighbor because we are members of one another…but only what is good for building up someone in need so that it gives grace to those who hear. Eph.4:25,29 HCSB

…speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ—until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. Eph.4:15,13 HCSB

This weekend in Banff is the 40th annual edition of Melissa’s Road Race.  Forty-five hundred runners will swell the slushy streets to compete for prizes.  But this is not a picture of the church. We’re not running individual marathons in competition for first place.  We’re gifted and called as supporting ligaments, arms, eyes, ears and kidneys of the Bride of Christ.  And without the ‘proper working of each individual part’ there is not a functional Body!

I need the women I’d rather not be around.  I need the one who has more to say than I want to hear. And  I need to get over my complexes and be willing to speak the truth in love when it is called for, even if I fear rejection.

We’re all in this together, growing into the mature Bride of Christ, without spot or wrinkle.  And we can’t do it without each other.  That is something to ponder.

Thanks for being there, I need you.

Now Listen!

My ponderings have been all over the place this week–ranging from the melancholy of winter’s approach to the glory of Jesus coming again.  From how-to-keep-your-brain-sharp to the  beguiling simplicity of Mormon beliefs online.  I’ve squeezed in more audio time this week than usual, listening to everything from the quiet morning  hum of the fridge to the call of a pileated woodpecker, from an exposition on the glories of having Jesus as our High Priest, to an appealingly reasoned case for re-writing God’s ordering of roles in His church to fit our times.

But as I read, listen and interact a common theme keeps pushing to the top–LISTEN!

“…Mary, who also sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to what He said…you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice…” Luke 10:39,42

“Your beauty… should consist of what is inside the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable in God’s eyes.” I Pet.3:3

It is only when we have paused in airing our own thoughts and opinions that we can hear another’s.  And it is only in knowing God’s thoughts that we can measure the validity of our own or anybody else’s thoughts.  Listening well is essential.

But hearing and listening are two quite  different things. I saw this today in reading the angel Gabriel’s message to Zechariah and Mary respectively(Lk.1).  To both he said: “Now listen!” But for Zechariah there was a scolding: ‘You will become silent and unable to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.’ Mary’s response was quite different, she had questions about the details (How does a virgin have a baby anyway?) but she was fully assured by Gabriel’s explanation that by His Spirit God can do the impossible, and she gladly submitted to God’s Words and purpose for her life.

“I am the Lord’s slave, may it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk.1:38)

This is the kind of listening God is looking for–listening with  humble God-confidence, willing to be or do as He chooses.

Earlier this week I was studying Hebrews 5.  These hearers were faulted with being ‘dull of hearing’ and lacking the maturity of those ‘whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil’.  Consequently, a great deal of what the writer wanted to say was too difficult for them to understand. They had become lazy listeners, needing to be spurred on to imitate those who ‘through faith and perseverance inherit the promises’.  There’s definitely an active aspect to good listening…

The writer to the Hebrews had already urged them not to harden their hearts if and when they wished to hear God’s voice.  Hard hearts, dull ears, listless faith–these seem to go together and to be a primary impediment to experiencing the life and rest that God intends for His people.

For this good news–that God has prepared this rest–has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to God. Heb 4:2 NLT

A wise man will listen and increase his learning, and a discerning man will obtain guidance…the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline. Prov.1:7 HCSB

Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food. “Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life. Is. 55:2-3 NLT

If you’ve ever tried in vain to give advice to someone you care about only to have your hard-earned wisdom ignored or passed off as irrelevant, or worse yet–untrustworthy,  you have felt the effects of a hard heart. Is there anything more frustrating?  Even when spoken in love, truth has to be met with a soft heart if it’s to take root and be life-changing.  Knowing my own human frustration with this gives me a greater sense of God’s incredible patience with me when I am less than teachable and prone to doubt.  Being of infinite love and faithfulness He just keeps on…

In the face of our striving He calls:

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Mt. 11:28-29 NLT

Into the stupor of our self-sufficiency He urges:

I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.  Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.” Rev 3:19,22 NLT

And all down through time He bears patiently the arrogance and independence of His creatures who reject His designs and insist on their own ways, as He waits and woos and warns, unwilling that any should perish…But not forever.  

I’ve committed lately to getting a better personal understanding of Revelation so I’ve been reading and re-reading these chapters as though they were a book intended to be read and understood, written by a God who knows exactly what I need to know…

Really this book that marks the unveiling of God’s righteous wrath is a mercy.  God could unleash His wrath with no ‘heads-up’; He has every right.  But instead He reveals what’s coming and declares the one blessed who hears and ‘keeps’ His words.  For the one who believes God to be the rightful King of all the earth this book is full of hope and encouragement–your redemption draws nigh; hang on, no matter what. It will be worth it in the end (which is really only the beginning!) For the unbeliever who reads with an ear to hear, there is terror which if combined with faith may yet result in salvation.  But for the one who reads but doesn’t care to listen, the skeptic, this ‘hear ye, hear ye’ of what is coming on the earth will only prove God’s justice in judgment.

The theme of listening is threaded all through the book of Revelation. Not only does the book begin with a blessing to those who hear and keep its message, but the message itself is full of sound effects!  Trumpet calls and thunder, the sound of roaring water, multitudes singing in worship,  rebels crying out in terror, blasphemies and Hallelujahs… All this besides the multiple admonitions to ‘hear what the Spirit says to the churches’.  And as the book concludes this invitation is extended all who hear: “Both the Spirit and the bride say “Come!”…and the one who is thirsty should come…take the living water as a gift.”(Rev.22:17)

As we were out walking this week, a friend mentioned a book she was reading.  She was having trouble telling me what exactly it was about, so I asked ‘What was your take-away’?  And now I’m asking myself that right here as I try to wrap up these reflections on the art of listening.

It occurs to me that God is our role model.  He listens well.  And as the Son He has modeled well the voice that is heard.

Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard [to hear with assent] because of his reverence  Heb.5:7 ESV

What this passage goes on to say is that Jesus has become  “the source of eternal salvation to all who obey [listen obediently]  him.” (Heb.5:9 ESV)

When I looked up the different forms of the word ‘to hear’ in these verses I found this sweet tidbit. The word translated here as obey literally means ‘to hear under’ (as a subordinate).  It is the attentive listening used of a doorkeeper who watches at the door, waiting for a knock in order to come and listen to see who it is.

May we be that kind of listener, discerning who knocks, welcoming truth with soft hearts, ready to believe and to act at Jesus’ bidding.

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.–Jesus (Rev.3:20 NLT)

Speak Lord, your servant is listening.


The Audience that Matters is watching you!

In my Bible reading this week some lines from Job really jumped out at me: “What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him…you watcher of mankind?” (Job 7:17, 20 ESV) In the context Job was actually complaining, wishing God wouldn’t look so closely at him, and would be pleased to let him die; he was miserable. This got me to noticing other passages that refer to God watching mankind.  They’re everywhere, from beginning to end.  In the Garden, He spotted Adam and Eve hiding in their shame. And in Revelation Jesus is depicted with ‘eyes like a fiery flame’ (Rev.1:13-14)

Nothing escapes His notice…

No creature is hidden from him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account. 

Heb.4:13 CSB

Then all the churches will know that I am the one who examines minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you according to your works.

Rev.2:23 CSB

As one who has alwayed struggled with self-consciousness and people-pleasing these passages are a little uncomfortable. I still feel, for instance, the intimidation I felt as a young teen Candy-striping at a big hospital.  I must have volunteered to please my mom; she thought it a great opportunity.  But I hated being in the public eye, and those elevator rides up and down and those long hallways going to and fro with mail and lab samples–Shudder! This was not for me!  My experience lasted only as long as it took me to get the nerve up to disappoint my Mom and to get myself to the Head Office and quit!  But that sense of being ‘watched’ still dogs my steps some days when I’m out and about. 

I care too much what people think of me (despite my mom’s long-imbedded quip: “Who cares what thinkle peop?!”) despite my perceptive husband’s reminder that the whole thing is a delusion which assumes others even notice me, when likely most of them are thinking of themselves, not me!  But shaking this has been a matter of prayer lately and in the Word this week I see this hopeful truth– God is watching, and His is the only watchful eye that counts!  For there is a world of difference between being critically surveilled based on appearances and being protectively watched over by One who has your best interests at heart.  That difference is in the eye and the heart of the Beholder.

“For the eyes of the LORD roam throughout the earth to show himself strong for those who are wholeheartedly devoted to him.

II Chron.16:9 CSB

Though I may look at others with snap judgments,  measuring them up based on my own insecurities, as though the comparison could somehow boost my own ego…God does not see this way.  His assessment isn’t based on any agenda other than my good for His Glory.  The two are inseparable.  He is unruffled by appearances but cares crucially about my heart.  And even there He doesn’t look in order to shame, but in order to bring to light, in order that I can be freed to walk in that light with an eye only to pleasing Him.

Someone has coined the phrase ‘an audience of one’.  This One in whom ‘we live and move and have our being’ is the only One whose opinion of us ultimately matters.

I am my Father’s dearly loved child.  He watches over me to do me good.  To protect, to correct, to direct, to perfect, all on His loving timetable.  He is the guardian of my soul. 

For you were like sheep going astray, but you have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

I Pet.2:25 CSB

How vast is this difference between being watched and being watched over!

Because our God is both omniscient and all-loving we can trust Him with our hearts.  We can pour them out before Him. We can request that He search them and show to us what we most need to see, and the truth to counter it!  And we can walk with confidence knowing that He will accomplish His transforming work in us.

The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.

Ps.138:8 ESV

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Ps.139:23-24 ESV

If you’ve come by and shared this counseling session with me, I thank you and hope that you too have been encouraged to look to an Audience of One and find there a radiant smile. Oh how He cares for us.


I have a hope in God

I have a hope in God… that there is going to be a resurrection, both of the righteous and the unrighteous.

–Paul, Acts 24:15 HCSB

Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.… For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!

But as for me, God’s presence is my good. I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, so I can tell about all You do.

Come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, the sheep under His care.

Your Father knows [your needs]. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be provided for you. Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom…where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Zech. 9:12, 17 ESV; Ps.73:28 HCSB; Ps.95:6,7 HCSB; Luke 12:30-32 HCSB

I’m struck by what a difference it makes where our hopes are staked. When we’re really trusting God, the present circumstances don’t matter so much because they are not all there is. I know there’s a strong cultural trend right now to ‘live in the moment’, ‘be fully present’, and make the most of NOW. This has its merits. But sometimes, this is not enough to bring peace of mind. Consider the following scenarios. Without a focus beyond the moment these folks were in trouble!

God’s people are in a desert in want of WATER! They think they’re gonna die! Rather than trust their Shepherd with their needs they protest the wait and scheme about a return to slavery. They have not understood God’s ways. They’ve forgotten their great Hope. They will find no rest. (Ex.17)

God’s servant, Paul, is falsely accused by envious religious leaders and ends up in jail interminably. Instead of protesting, he shares his greatest hope at every opportunity, gaining audience with kings! It’s not about him.(Acts 25ff)

David is predestined to be the King of Israel but is still fleeing from the conniving King Saul who wants to see him dead! Hiding out in caves and foreign lands he waits and refuses every opportunity to bring about ‘justice’ and put himself on the throne. His hope in God is firmly fixed. (I Samuel)

Have you heard of Charles Templeton? He was once slated to be as famous an evangelist as Billy Graham (1940’s). But in the face of inexplicable suffering, modern “scientific” claims and the like he began to doubt. Gradually he allowed his reasoning to trump the Word of God until he came to renounce the hope he had once proclaimed. His 1996 book, Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith, came into my hands while sorting donated books at our local thrift store this week. What a sorry tale of abandoned hope.

Closer to home, two young church families have lost their fathers in our town this year. Their wives are left to face the valley of grief with little ones in tow. I’m praying that the sure hope of a coming Resurrection will anchor their hearts in this agonizing season, even while the God of hope walks with them through all the present moments.

These accounts remind me that it’s the tough times that show up where our hopes are anchored. Lousy harbors and poorly tied knots will do the job when all is calm. Meditating on the wonders of the present moment might even bring a certain peace of mind. But storms come. May we be counted amoung the faithful Hebrews 11 crew who endured all sorts of horrific things in this lifetime knowing they had a better hope coming!

To mix up the metaphor, may we run with endurance the racecourse especially marked out for us by keeping our eyes on Jesus, our Resurrected Saviour and our ever living High Priest!

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Heb.4:14-16 ESV

Who else is there?

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Jn.6:58 ESV

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

Blessed is the one who is not offended by me. –Jesus

Matt.11:2-3 ESV

But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed, but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…

I Pet.3:14-15

God grant that we be people marked by hope, beacons to the Resurrection and the Life!


P.S. I’m hoping to get back to regular posts here and would be very much encouraged to know you’ve stopped for a minute to read here today. ( :
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