LETTUCE

The writer of Hebrews serves up a good salad. Three times. Let us draw near, let us hold fast, let us consider how. He has just written brilliantly that Jesus tops the superstar Moses, that the new covenant far surpasses the old. Then it’s time for a meal. Therefore…

LET US DRAW NEAR

Why wouldn’t we? Because we know that we have failed. We have made promises we have not kept. We resolved in 2018 to read the Scriptures and kept putting it down for a novel. We have wanted to reach our neighbors, but we are cowards. How can we draw near?

One way: the blood has done its work. We can come “in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22). We can say, “Father” with courage, because “we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus” (19). Good news! Even though we have blown it often, we can still feel like winners instead of losers, victors instead of victims. Come on in!

LET US HOLD FAST

It’s one thing to hold on, another thing to keep holding on. Sometimes pressures wear us down. We feel like giving in. We have fought the battle of purity too long. And we hear the writer saying, “Hold fast.” How can we when things around us are collapsing? Everything that can move is. Stability is elusive. When things are going our way, we’re on the team. When multiple problems shake our foundation, we wonder if giving in might take some of the pressure off.

The writer lets us know that we can hold fast “without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (23). Good news! Sounds likes it’s more up to Him than up to us.We can hold on because we are being held. The knowledge of forgiveness, cleansing, right standing, an inheritance, and a sure future enable us to not lose our grip.

LET US CONSIDER HOW

Meanwhile, we are not here to collect toys. Better to endure than to enjoy. Who enjoys warfare? We are in a battle, not on a picnic. Like Jesus, we are here to serve the purposes of God, not to settle down and think this is all there is. This is a test, the prelude before the main event. We are living for what is not yet. We put all our marbles in the age to come. We live strategically. “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, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (24,25).

Got it, I think.  We are here on mission, not maintenance. We are not trying to get by. We are influencing others. It’s not about ourselves. When we’re just trying to hold on, it is about us–our needs, our stability, our happiness. That’s not how the kingdom of God works. We die to ourselves and live for others. That means we show up for church with the goal of blessing others, not getting blessed! Please pass the salad!

UNITY AND DIVISION (part 2)

Paul loved unity so much that he confronted disunity when he saw it. Euodia and Syntyche were two strong women who had worked with Paul. He had learned to walk toward tension, not away from it, which people typically do. He confronted it rather than avoiding it.

We don’t know if the sisters were reconciled, but if they were not, don’t blame Paul. He gave it his best shot, exposing the problem for the whole church to know–as well as the church down through the centuries. Paul’s two-verse admonition (Philippians 4:2,3) says much about restoring damaged relationships and making unity a standard:

  1. Confront conflict. Don’t let it grow by choosing not to address it.
  2. Treat broken relationships as serious. If unity convinces the world of the message of the gospel, disunity shows them we can’t get along. The world scoffs because the church is in constant skirmishes with itself. If we say, “Not that big a deal” and let disunity simmer below the surface, the dis-ease of disunity grows. Others will take their cue from a silent leadership and not take it seriously. Pardon me, but you’re singing off key!
  3. Treat the group as more important than the individual, a highly important and oft- neglected truth. If someone on a music team can’t sing but has been on the team for five years and parents are generous supporters, you may think to ignore the issue. Wrong! The well-being of the group overrides the feelings of an individual. Confronting the issue helps honest people work toward harmony. This is needed in the family–and in the church family! Everyone has a part to play. Leaders help people find it.

Wow! How embarrassing! Didn’t Paul care at all for the feelings of Euodia and Syntyche? Looks like he shamed them by going public. These two gals didn’t know their feud would be famous–for two millennia! Had they known, they might have taken their disagreement more seriously. Was Paul right in doing what he did?

Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother…” (Matthew 5:23,24). Right relationships lay a proper foundation for right worship and for strategic evangelism. Disunity taints corporate life. If you want to improve the quality of your worship, strengthen the quality of your relationships (Thank you, Graham Cooke).

Paul was right. The division was serious. These were not new Christians, and they had locked horns. Others were needed to bring them into agreement: “Yes, I ask you also, true yokefellow, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel.” This was not a personal passing issue to overlook. They needed encouragement from the outside to see the seriousness of division and the high priority of unity. The church desperately needs what Paul saw. Make unity a higher priority than personal feelings–and you’ll enjoy the harmony that is created. Guaranteed.

UNITY–A PRIORITY (part 1)

When my father was close to death, every word counted. He met with his six children one by one to speak life into us. I’ll never forget his words to me. Relatives came, and those who needed an admonition got it. Even the maid dusting his room was challenged to live for eternity.

Last words can be monumental. So what did Jesus say just before going to the cross? He prayed that the family might be one just as He and the Father were, “so that the world may know that you sent me” (John 17:20-23). He said it twice for emphasis. If Jesus had unity on his mind, should it be on ours as well?

WHAT DOES UNITY LOOK LIKE?

Paul used the human body to talk about unity: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (I Cor. 12:12). The body does not compete with itself. Like a football team working together under one coach, it operates in unity. Like a well-trained symphony orchestra, each person or part functions in harmony under one conductor. Unity is deeply satisfying.

HOW IS UNITY CREATED?

“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” We’ve been singing that song since 1955. How’s it working? Wars have escalated. Unity comes by way of the cross: “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:12).

We can’t make it–but we are called to maintain it: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3). Humility is needed to walk in unity.

SO HOW DO WE MAINTAIN UNITY?

UNITY REQUIRES DIVERSITY. Diversity is essential for harmony, but it must be orchestrated by heaven, not by personal desire. Diversity without direction is disaster. The world wants diversity, but on its terms, and it creates terrible disharmony.  “There are varieties of activities (diversity), but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone (unity). To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (I Cor. 12:6,7). Imagine an orchestra without a director, each playing the composition his own way without a score. Call it diversity.

UNITY IS NOT UNIFORMITY, which is leveraged from top-down leadership to restrict personal freedom. In music it is unison–one note. Gets boring after a while. Harmony is more satisfying to the soul. Uniformity is an abusive leader wanting everyone to think and act like him.

DISUNITY IS ADDRESSED. “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord” (Phil. 4:2). We must desire unity so much that we address disunity whenever it appears. We show more concern for the whole than the individual parts. Disunity grows when it is either ignored or called diversity and celebrated. Disharmony ruins the whole song, and the world says, “I don’t know what you’ve got, but I hope I don’t catch it.” (More to come).

5 FACTS ABOUT SONS!

Ladies, if we men can be a bride for Christ, then you get to be sons of the Father. Home is meant to be the closest thing on earth to heaven. For many, it is closer to hell. Even with good families, we can be left with love deficits and the feeling that we are not truly valued. Many carry these thoughts throughout their life. If we want to understand God’s Father love, we need to grasp sonship. Stick with me!

Paul writes to the Romans, showing the difference between living by the law and living by faith through the work of the Spirit. He uses the word “law” twenty-three times in Romans 7, showing the futility of a “we try harder” mentality. We can’t pull of the holiness thing by resolve. It brings a strong inner tension. How can I win over sin? Chapter 7 ends with Paul feeling enslaved.

Chapter 8 breaks out with a different reality: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” How? The Spirit is mentioned 22 times, demonstrating God’s answer to human effort. He writes that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship (“adoption”). And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The  Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings, in order that we may also share in his glory” (8:13-17).

 

  1. SONS WIN OVER SIN.

It is received, not achieved. Paul had done well by human standards, but it was all effort. Then he traded the merit system for the mercy system. He got to shed his performance mentality by going low and received status as a son by faith in Jesus Christ.

  1. SONS ARE LED BY THE SPIRIT.

The Father leads His kids step by step into their appointed destiny. We don’t have to make it up as we go. We are guided. Call it the GPS of the Spirit. And it works. Sons prove their relationship with the Father by the Spirit’s guidance (13). The inner compass is a Person.

  1. SONS ARE FREED FROM FEAR.

They have a family–for ever. Sin left us feeling guilt, shame, and condemnation. We wondered if the cycle could change. It did. We are forgiven, cherished, valued, and appointed to represent a good, good Father.

  1. SONS HAVE A FATHER AND A FAMILY.

We discover that we belong. We’re on the inside, not the outside. Slaves have a boss, not a father. They are unsure about their future. Sons have an inheritance, because the Firstborn shares His with us. We are called co-heirs. Glorious future. John Wesley described his conversion as exchanging “the faith of a servant for the faith of a son” (quoted in F. F. Bruce’s Commentary on Romans, p. 167). We learn to say, “Abba” and receive His love!

  1. BEING SONS GIVES MEANING TO SUFFERING.

Present hardship only reminds us of what is to come. Short-term pain will be translated into long-term gain. I get it!