by Steve Norby
I joyfully anticipate two major times of the year. The first is Christmas. Each year, we get an opportunity to enter into the wonder of the birth of God’s Son. God showed up in flesh and made Himself known. When I think of Christmas, it’s full of joy and nostalgia.
The second time of year I find myself anticipating is Easter. Easter is the rest of the story. God not only showed up in flesh—He came with a divine purpose. He came to atone for our sin by His sacrifice on the cross.
When I think of Easter, it’s a different kind of joy from Christmas. This is the happiest sad story ever told. It grieves me that the perfect, sinless Son of God was crucified for our wrongs. But the resurrection of Jesus, that follows His suffering and death, turns sadness into joy. It’s a sad story with a happy ending.
I watched with amazement the births of our six children. Each time, the moments leading up to delivery were full of pain and anxiousness. But, once the child was born, everything changed so quickly. The pain was soon forgotten (easy for me to say!), replaced with joy. In a similar but even greater way, there was much suffering in the passion of Jesus, but ever since the Resurrection, there is great joy!
I think we humans tend to experience joy when we see a wrong righted or an unlikely success. As I consider the joy of the Resurrection, I think its source goes much deeper than reasons such as these. The Resurrection was such a tangible demonstration of the power of God. Jesus says, in John 10, that He has the power to lay down His life and the power to take it up again. When I see this power of God poured out, it causes me to rejoice.
The grave could not contain Jesus. The power of God prevailed, and Jesus was raised. The power of God to raise the dead brings joy to me. I cannot stand up against my enemy Death, but God can. The bullies on the block—sin and death—met their match. The Bible tells us the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in us. The older I get, the more meaningful this has become to me. Death has lost its sting. Death has lost its grip on me. God’s power at work in me brings me great joy.
As we progressed through Holy Week, we walked from the celebration of Palm Sunday to the grief of Good Friday, when we paused to remember Jesus’ crucifixion. And then we turned back to celebrating—praising God for the Resurrection on Easter Sunday morning! This was the emotional roller coaster experienced by those present with Jesus. It’s good for us to remember this. Even in the dark moments of a Good Friday service, the joy of the Lord is rumbling in my soul—because I know and celebrate that the same power at work in raising Jesus from the dead is at work in me. And that’s a reason to keep celebrating year ’round!
Early in the COVID-19 crisis, as communities all over the nation reeled from sudden shutdowns and social distancing, I saw a meme I can’t forget. It said, “Welcome, extroverts, to the anxiety introverts experience all the time.”
Read that again. Seems we’ve all felt a bit out of place—#alonetogether, anyone?
Meme-worthy insights aside, the implications of avoiding contact are troubling, even for an introvert like me. No one wants to be seen struggling, pandemic or no pandemic. This instinct goes all the way back to the Garden, when the very first result of sin saw Adam and Eve ashamed—covering themselves up and hiding in the bushes (Genesis 3:7-8), acting out on the separation they now sensed between themselves and God.
Still sensitive to that isolating sense of apartness, when things go wrong in our lives, many of us tend to hide or cover up, till we can be “presentable” for others. But going it alone is a struggle in and of itself. Complicating matters today, for a year now, togetherness has been associated with health risks. It’s easy to feel cut off when everybody’s supposed to isolate. Welcome to the anxiety…
But isolation feels especially devastating in the Church—and for biblical reasons. In Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, we see a picture of unity in body life: just as all the many parts make up one body, all the many members make up one Church. Every part has its own function, and every part belongs to a whole. We’re in this together. There’s no saying, “I don’t need you!”
If a finger is cut off, for instance, it’s still a finger belonging to a body. It’s just disconnected from the life of the body now. What happens when a finger is lost? Well... the body can get by without a finger. The body suffers a disability, but it’ll live. The finger doesn’t do so well on its own, though, does it?
Remember, the apostle Paul isn’t talking about body parts in these passages. He’s talking about people. If we have a healthy relationship with our body, we don’t pretend some parts don’t exist or they don’t belong—even “unpresentable parts” (1 Corinthians 12:23) are given special consideration.
You see, when the parts are properly functioning, there’s no separation. Each part does its part, and the whole functions the way it’s supposed to function.
This is the ideal state of homeostasis for the Church—“the body of Christ” (4:12) Paul talks about in his letter to the Ephesians and elsewhere in Scripture. Here, Paul describes the parts given, by God’s grace, as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, “to equip His people for works of service.” In other words, these parts are designed to build up the other parts, so that all work together for the good of all, “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (4:13).
What does this mean for you? Well, God has placed you in the body, just as He wanted you (1 Corinthians 12:18). So how do you relate with other parts… maybe those you consider “less honorable” (12:23), for instance?
Maybe you’re the one feeling “unpresentable” yourself right now. Maybe you’re overwhelmed by the aftermath from this past year, and you don’t want anyone to know. What does it mean to give grace when it feels like you’ve got nothing to give?
What if it’s as simple as letting someone else be an eye to see, or an ear to hear? Every part is indispensable. Without you—without your part in the whole—the body is less than it’s made to be. “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). Without your part, someone else misses out on being the part God made them to be.
So who are the parts you’re connected to? Can you think of three people you haven’t heard from for a while? We all have a list of contacts in our phones. Pick three of them. Call them. Maybe they’re feeling cut off by pandemic issues or other life situations. Maybe calling this week will remind them they’re not “apart from,” but “a part of.”
In this season of Lent, even as we reflect on the realities of sin and separation in our world, we also look forward to Easter and the fullness of Christ, witnessed in His resurrection from the dead! And we remember, by the power of His Holy Spirit in us, by the same power that raised Jesus from the grave, we are given freedom from sin and freedom to serve. Yes, YOU are given God’s grace, “to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1).
So how has God positioned you to benefit other parts of the whole? As ones who’ve been GIVEN GRACE, we are called to GIVE GRACE in turn.
Who comes to mind when you think of the body of Christ? If God is putting someone on your heart, chances are you’re the one He has in mind to bring His grace to bear in their life. As Pastor Steve challenged us a few Sundays ago, “Will you respond in obedience, or will God have to raise up somebody else to do it?”
To speak with someone about finding your part in the body of Christ here at GracePoint, you can get in touch through the “Ways to Serve” form. Or you can take some time to better understand the ways God has uniquely gifted you to serve through the “Spiritual Gifts Test.” And if you’d still like to dig deeper in reflection this season leading toward Easter, you can download the “Lent Guide” for prayer and consideration about what God might be asking of you right now.
Just think… if everyone cares for everyone, everyone will be cared for. And someone has to go first.
Ash Wednesday begins the Lenten season. The observance of Lent has changed over the centuries. The early church observed Lent for only a few days before Easter and, instead of a small smudge of ash on the forehead, ashes were sprinkled over the person’s head. Over time, the length of the season grew until it was several weeks long. In the seventh century, the church set the period of Lent at forty days (excluding Sundays) in order to remind people of the duration of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness that preceded the beginning of His earthly ministry.
In the early church, baptism was only performed on Easter Sunday—an entire year’s worth of converts to the faith would be baptized and brought into the church on that day. Lent was the time before Easter in which these converts would fast and pray, preparing themselves to be members of Christ’s church.
As the years went by, the church began to baptize people on days other than Easter Sunday. Lent was no longer a time of preparation for these events, but it remained as a special time of prayer and fasting. After the Protestant Reformation, the discipline of Lent focused on personal introspection and repentance. Preserving Lent as a time of self-sacrifice, the church leaders encouraged people to give up something they enjoyed during Lent. It still can be a very meaningful experience to give up, for the Lenten season, something that you enjoy, or something that may take a lot of time but really gives you little lasting value.
Lent is also an opportunity to commit to something important that you may have neglected. During the 40 days of Lent I plan on reading through the New Testament and reading two books a week that will fuel my faith. I challenge you: What should you give up for Lent (fasting some meals, TV, a hobby...) and what should you pursue? Maybe, like me, you could read through the NT, or perhaps set aside a prayer time each day. The Wesleyan Church has published a Lent Guide for 2021 with short daily readings to consider.
Lent is an opportunity for you to become more self-aware in order to experience deep formation and transformation. Some of the greatest moments we experience as followers of God are when we still ourselves before God in honest vulnerability and seek His face. Jesus said in Matthew 6:5-6, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Lent is an opportunity to shut the door and pray to God. Lent is a time of reflection and preparation for Easter. Not just a long lamenting experience, instead, it is an acknowledgement of life as we know it. The traditional statement associated with Ash Wednesday is "Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust" - a reminder of the frailty and mortality we all experience in life. I always thought this seemed a bit harsh. "Hey man, you are dirt," isn't exactly uplifting. But that is precisely the point. Before we can appreciate the new life of Jesus Christ we must place it in stark contrast with what we know. And what do we know? Well, just watch the news, listen to your neighbors, or check your bank account. We know scarcity. We know fear. We know dashed hopes and brokenness. We know ashes.
The true reward waiting at the end of Lent is not that our piety will be rewarded, but that our ashes are precisely the material God will use to bring new life. It is a time to shut the door and seek God.
Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus: the early Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church that before the Easter celebration there should be a forty–day season of spiritual preparation during which the church was reminded of the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the need we all have to renew our faith.
I invite you, to observe a holy Lent beginning this Ash Wednesday and leading to Resurrection Sunday: by self–examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self–denial; and by reading and meditating on God's Holy Word.
Love in Christ,
Ash Wednesday Bible Readings
"For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline… He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace.” (2 Timothy 1:7, 9)
How are you doing with those New Year’s resolutions? Some surveys say four out of five people will break their resolutions, and a third of them will do so in the first month! Many of us were ready for 2020 to be over, but have we put much prayer or consideration into what we hope to see in 2021? While the beginning of a new year can come with a new sense of motivation, purpose, or direction, what does it take to follow through the rest of the year?
In short, the answer is discipline, but we’re not exactly born with that. If we were, we wouldn’t be having this conversation! Maybe some people can wake up one day, say, “I’m going to get in shape this year” and actually do it, but for most of us, there’s a difference between the idea of making resolutions and the disciplined process of setting attainable goals. Have we been intentional about what this means for us in terms of spiritual development?
A couple of years ago, around this time, The Wesleyan Church posted “10 Personal Questions to Start 2019 Well.” In 2021, as we pause to look back and look ahead, these reflection questions are worth revisiting. Especially when little on this earth seems certain, where do we find a firm foundation to build on? Author Dan Reiland states, "My advice is not to make a list too long. That can be overwhelming. If you do make a long list, then prioritize it and start with a short list of the most important things first.”
If nothing else has come of this long COVID season, I hope we can all agree God has used these circumstances to bring our attention to what really matters. So, as we consider the beginning of this new year, what will be essential... foundational... to the way we approach these next 12 months of our lives?
This month, in the Intentional Foundations seminar, we have identified some important building blocks to answer that question. (The final seminar is January 20. Find the session recordings and notes HERE) As the Lord God Almighty says in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
What does it mean for all God’s people to humble ourselves, pray, seek His face, turn from our wicked ways? Maybe it feels like that list could get really long, really fast, and become overwhelming before we’ve even begun.
I don’t know about you, but I like to have a goal. I have long-term goals, short-term goals, in-between goals… And, about every six months or so, I end up re-evaluating, re-prioritizing, and re-focusing on the goals that are most important. Otherwise, I can lose track and never make much progress on any goals. We can never do everything all at once, but we can always do something to move in the right direction. So I’m continuously re-learning to start wherever I’m at.
That ties in with our Big 3 philosophy about starting points for church connection...
This can feel frustrating at first, when we want to get involved, make a difference, and see big changes right away. We want to go all in! But discipline—and discipleship—builds on itself. Discipline in one area of life builds discipline into other areas of life. And we can’t rush discipleship. There’s no life hack to spiritual formation.
So, how do we decide which goals, or which areas of growth, are the most important at any given point? Sometimes, God leads me to set a major life goal that determines many decisions and takes years to accomplish (like walking the path to ordained ministry, a 2020 goal set way back in 2013). Other times, though, I hear myself throwing around a lot of vague, guilt-based, half-hearted goals, like “I really need to start working out again” or “I’ve really got to work on that savings account” or “We should really stop eating out so much.” When I catch myself, I have to stop and ask, “Am I honoring the Lord in this area of my life?”
Then it’s not about how I feel or what I want or what you think I should do. Then it's about being called to honor the Lord with my body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), be faithful with the resources He’s given me (Luke 16:10-11), and encourage others to good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25). And it usually doesn’t take very long in prayer before an area emerges that needs my attention.
God’s will has a way of simplifying a lot of decisions. "Is what I'm doing honoring to God?" Yes? Well, do that, then. No? Then change that. Here’s a way to start...
Part 1: Set a SMART Goal.
"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won't you first sit down and estimate the cost...?” (Luke 14:28)
Once you’ve identified a change that’s important enough to follow through, let’s get “SMART” about it. A reason most people fail to achieve goals is we don’t set specific goals to begin with. The advice is given so frequently it sounds cliché, but the fact is, creating a written set of goals can be a first step toward actual, tangible progress. After all, if you’ve never written down your goals, and you do that today, then you’ve already made more progress today than you have before. Ta-da!
Effective goal-setting is outlined in the SMART model:
To develop a SMART goal, don’t be afraid to dream—embrace God’s potential for your life! Now articulate...
Part 2: Create an Action Plan.
“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans.” (Proverbs 16:3)
When we break down a “big” goal into a series of “small” goals, change starts to look sustainable. For instance, it might feel overwhelming to say, “I want to read the whole Bible in a year.” But this is actually a quite specific, measurable, attainable, right, and time-bound goal. With this SMART goal identified, an action plan provides a set of logical steps to follow. For example:
With a SMART goal broken down into an action plan (even one this simple), it doesn’t look so overwhelming after all! And the smaller we break down the action steps (for example, book by book or even chapter by chapter), the quicker we gain momentum.
To draft an action plan, first picture your end result: the completion of the goal you’ve identified, in the time you’ve set to complete it. Now, work backward from there:
Moving forward means taking the first step, then the next step after that, and the next step—and so on. So, what's the next step you can see from where you’re at right now? (Don’t worry, we’ll always be asking God to adjust the course as needed, as we go.)
Maybe the first step, right this moment, is to stop and pray about it. Ask the Holy Spirit to bring your attention to an area where you need God’s help to be intentional in discipleship this year. Then ask for His power to do it!
What specific, measurable, attainable, right, and time-bound goal has God given you in the year ahead?
“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone…” (Hebrews 12:14a)
What does it mean to “make” peace—to be a peace “maker,” rather than a peace “keeper”? To “make” means to create something where it wasn’t before. It means we’re actively engaging… bringing peace to situations that are not peaceful otherwise. Can you think of situations right now where peace is needed?
These days, with ongoing COVID-19 restrictions on face-to-face gatherings, more of our communication is taking place online than ever before. Particularly on these (highly visible) platforms, Christians have a lot of opportunities to engage with culture in ways that model the peace of Christ. That can feel pretty challenging sometimes, especially in a global pandemic—or an election year.
In a recent perspective called “Peacemaking in a Polarized Society” https://www.wesleyan.org/peacemaking-in-a-polarized-society on The Wesleyan Church blog, Pastor Andy Merritt observes
“Social media is beginning to feel like the middle-school lunchroom. There are sides to pick everywhere, and whichever table you sit at will draw criticism from someone. ‘Sitting’ with one person or group means you can’t possibly be friends with another.”
But we’ve seen a different way from the Prince of Peace—Jesus, Friend of Sinners, Who sat with crooks, prostitutes, political zealots, and religious authorities alike.
These are acts of peace “making”—not “keeping the peace”—that change lives that change the world. These are the kinds of acts which require us to lay down our lives, our conveniences, our personal preferences—to check our egos at the door and be willing to be misunderstood for the cause of Christ. These are acts as simple as knowing when to engage and when to not.
And, in many ways, these are the kinds of acts that can happen at any time, in any place, with anyone who happens to be there, in person or out in cyberspace.
It doesn’t mean we should all delete our personal profiles or declare a social media fast. But maybe it means we’re quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). Merritt continues
The conclusion of peacemaking is long and difficult, but acts of peacemaking are
On any platform, peacemaking isn’t a glamorous undertaking. Peacemaking doesn’t win us the last word as much as it leaves us feeling, frankly, used or abused at times. Remember, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself stood under all sorts of unfair interrogations and outrageous accusations, wherein He “gave no answer” (Matthew 27:12) and “made no reply” (Matthew 27:14). That had to hurt!
“Blessed are the peacemakers,” He says, but notice peacemakers are listed in the same ranks as the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who are persecuted, and all the rest who suffer hatred and humiliation for the gospel. These ones aren’t of a highly esteemed lot—they’re those whose ways of victory and freedom from sin make no sense in the eyes of a mocking, ungodly world.
But peacemaking isn’t the way of the world. It doesn’t go along with the crowd but dwells with the outcast. It rejoices with those who rejoice and weeps with those who weep—wherever they come from and whoever they voted for.
Peacemaking is a courage of good humor and grave consequence. It’s a voluntary displacement from the preoccupations of cancel culture. It’s sitting with people in holy moments of confusion and loss and betrayal with no thought of what others might think.
It’s holding an open posture for the insults to pass through, ungrudgingly, so we may welcome the stranger and love our annoying, sinful neighbor because “they” are a part of “us.”
It’s a tedious, tireless practice of taking the slings and arrows, covering over a multitude of sins, absorbing griefs and offenses, lowering oneself as Christ lowered Himself and trusting God to search our hearts, to see what’s done in private—including what we were tempted to say, but didn’t.
Peacemakers aren’t pacifists. Peacemakers aren’t always popular. They’re intercessors, negotiators, strategic thinkers, bridge builders, mercy givers, forgiveness seekers, truth tellers, wrongs righters, active pray-ers, reconcilers.
Peace isn’t made via long-distance verbal skirmishes, with careless words grenade-launched into unseen lives. Peace is made person to person, one by one, heart to heart, day by day. Peace is made where doors are opened, tables are shared, rest is found—whether we agree on everything, or especially if we don’t.
Peacemakers don’t blend in. They stand out. They’re noticeable. Of all those Jesus calls “blessed” (Matthew 5:3-10), it’s these ones—the peacemakers—who “will be called children of God” (v. 9). It’s these ones who will be recognized as sons and daughters of the Almighty Himself. This ascription alone tells us peacemaking is no minor add-on to our spiritual lifestyle, but a testament to the Holy Spirit power of the Lord, our Christ… the power it takes to actually live this way, on earth as it is in heaven.
To “make” peace doesn’t mean a “peaceful,” trouble-free life. After all, it was in foretelling His own crucifixion and the persecution of His followers that Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you” (John 14:27). His peace comes to us in the most paradoxical ways. His peacemakers are witnesses of the most culturally contradictory sort.
“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
And so, may we be known as His by the lives we live—yes, even online as we are in person.
“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
What do you think when you hear the word “ordinary”? Does ordinary mean plain, ho-hum, run-of-the-mill, boring, same-old-same-old? Well, let me ask… When you read the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) or the story of the early Church in the book of Acts, what do you think the “ordinary” life of the Christian is like? What is it about these “ordinary men” who were with Jesus—everyday followers—that left rulers, elders, and teachers of the law “astonished”?
Lately, I’m noticing that word “ordinary” a lot, in connection with daily disciplines and spiritual practice. How do we view an ordinary day, and how does Christ call us to make the most of every opportunity? Are we cultivating a way of life—a way of paying attention, being aware, and noticing God’s Holy Spirit presence in the middle of the seemingly mundane?
Recently, I picked up a book called Living Christ: Embodying Jesus’ Life in Worship Through the Christian Year by Wesleyan author Daniel L. Rife. In this book, Rife applies an understanding of the Christian calendar to our everyday, seasonal rhythms of Christian living. Rife connects our sense of time with the life of Christ and the life of His Church, outlining ways Christians have traditionally observed our “ordinary” year together.
This might already sound boring to you. Perhaps you’re generally familiar with some dates of the Christian calendar, as many are—aware of terms like Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter, maybe without always understanding exactly what these seasons or their associated customs represent. Personally, I’ve learned a lot since God called me toward ministry back in 2012, but most recently, Rife’s book has introduced me to a fresh look at the period in our Church year called “Ordinary Time.”
This is the time after Pentecost (a day which commemorates the Holy Spirit’s outpouring of power on the early believers), continuing till the first Sunday of Advent, which we’re approaching in a few weeks. Although it tends to get lumped as “the rest of the year” outside major holidays, Ordinary Time doesn’t equate to boring time. As Rife writes,
“Ordinary Time is anything but ordinary… [Professor] Constance Cherry explains it like this: ‘Ordinary refers to the ongoing work of the church to spread the message of Jesus Christ—his teaching, healing, restoration, reconciliation, forgiveness, etc.—the ordinary work and ministry expected of Christ’s followers.’ Ordinary Time reminds and exhorts us to live out of Christ’s basic, fundamental, ordinary expectations of us.
How do we celebrate a season of commitment? There’s something about this time of commemoration, in daily practice with one another, which seems particularly precious in conjunction with the long COVID-19 season we’re experiencing. Even as we’ve undergone stressors of health risks, social distancing, and many economic uncertainties ahead, we’ve also had an unequaled opportunity to remember our connection to our community and to the universal Church—both around the world and throughout Christian history.
Another book that’s come my way this fall is called The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World. There’s that word “ordinary” again... In this book, author Rosaria Butterfield describes the critical, here-and-now urgency of opening our doors to the people around us, engaging in the hard and holy work of welcoming actual humans into our actual lives. She writes,
“Who else but Bible-believing Christians can make redemptive sense of tragedy? Who can see hope in the promises of God when the real, lived circumstances look dire? ... And where else but a Christian home should neighbors go in times of unprecedented crisis? Where else is it safe to be vulnerable, scared, lost, hopeless?”
If we see ourselves as ones positioned by God Himself in a world where so many are experiencing such a time of unprecedented crisis—how, then, shall we live? That’s where the “ordinary” life of the everyday Christian lights up like a radiant beacon for an astonished world to see. Having given His people the power of His Holy Spirit to break out of our captivity to sin, Jesus extends the invitation—no, He has issued the commands—to “Love one another” (John 13:34) and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Jesus spells out for us in no uncertain terms that freedom from sin means commitment to the wellbeing of others. Butterfield continues,
“[H]e did not leave us there, little isolated agents of grace, running our own ‘random acts of kindness’ campaign. No, he gave us his bride, the church—his church—to which we who believe are called to make a covenant of membership, to become a family, to be both set apart from and missionally placed in the world, to take care in a daily way of our brothers and sisters in Christ... to draw others... into our homes, families, and churches…
God has positioned His people in ordinary places as agents of His extraordinary power and grace. Together, we are the body of Christ—His healing, merciful presence among hurting humankind. Wherever we are and whatever we’re doing, each and every one of us is uniquely gifted and equipped to welcome the stranger and love our neighbors as ourselves. These are “good works” prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).
Maybe you feel impatient with this, thinking there must be something “more” or “better” for you out there. But in God's economy, it’s the small things, over time, that add up to the big thing in the end: a life conformed to Christ, for His glory, for the sake of others.
That makes the small things into big things. Every single day—with all of its tasks, errands, and interruptions—presents a dazzling array of invitations to live and move and have our being in the Lord Jesus Christ. In Him, the simple act of going about our day becomes a training ground for spiritual exercise, seeing the world the way God sees it.
After all, this is the God of all Creation—Maker of heaven and of earth (Genesis 1:1)—the God Who sees every sparrow (Matthew 10:29), Who numbers every hair on your head (Luke 12:7), Who points to the flowers of the field (Matthew 6:28) and the ants going about their labor (Proverbs 6:6) to teach us about our way of life as His people. What is it about these ordinary things that we have so much to learn from?
It’s a question I hope we’ll keep asking ourselves. As our current season of Ordinary Time turns toward the season of Advent to come, in the month ahead, I pray God opens our hearts and our minds to the convergence between the two—the life of the Church welcoming in the life of Christ. I pray we aspire to be ordinary people ever more attuned to the extraordinary work of God, Who keeps us encountering grace, growing in grace, and giving grace all year round. May our whole understanding of what is "ordinary" be radically reoriented the more we seek God’s will for us each day, as committed members of the body of Christ.
(If you’d like to learn about church membership as a next step of commitment, you can sign up for our Nov. 8th Membership Class here or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Have you ever met a smartypants adolescent whose answer to everything you say is “I know”—when obviously, they don’t? The attitude comes with rolled eyes, big sighs, and pure disdain for all other points of view... especially a grown-up’s! As DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince once observed, “There's no need to argue / Parents just don't understand.” Oh, really?
In fact, the “know-it-all” phase is such a mark of early development, it’s produced a cliché of parenting experience. As wisdom tells us, kids spend years constantly asking, “Why?” and expecting parents to have the answers... til suddenly, one day, kids are teenagers, and everything their parents say is “stupid” and “embarrassing.” But don’t worry, parents—when your kids are about 26, you’ll start to know a thing or two again. ;)
What’s with the know-it-all-ness? Well, as children grow into different stages of life, they gain new information and skills, which brings a sense of esteem and self-identity. When demonstrating what they’ve learned, kids experience feelings of value. (And parents experience prayers for patience every time a kid insists, “I can do it MYSELF!”)
So showing off how much one knows is a normal part of development. But it can get pretty annoying when kids think they know everything—or when they refuse correction. It’s even more annoying when kids carry that attitude into later life. (Any adults you know coming to mind right now?)
Immaturity of this kind is easy to spot. Kids aren’t the only ones to assume they’ve seen everything under the sun—and the consequences of immature reactions become more serious over time. As Proverbs 16:18 observes, "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." (NIV)
How often do husbands, wives, friends, family members, or you yourself express some version of the following?
I know what I’m doing.
I know where I’m going.
I know what’ll happen.
I know what I want.
I know better than you.
How often do we say these things while we’re making errors in judgment? Somehow, being told, “You need to grow up!” doesn’t seem to make us more mature.
So what does it mean to “grow up” in faith? Jesus extends an invitation for us to trust beyond what we think we know—to come, follow, and find all He has in store. In other words, Jesus calls us to obey first, understand later.
Our “Grown-Up Faith” series began with an invitation to a “bigger” life. This invitation is drawn from John 10, where Jesus speaks of life “to the full.”
Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:7-10)
These are verses many Christians have heard before. We might read right past what Jesus is saying without a second thought. But then someone asks, “Why?” Suddenly, we wonder… do we have the answers? Perhaps we’re facing hard questions of our own and can’t get past what’s right in front of us.
To see the bigger picture Jesus is describing, it usually takes more than a verse or two. Would you ever pull one sentence out of a novel and assume you know what the book is about? Good study habits keep us asking questions of each passage. What do we think we know? How much don’t we know yet? What else should we consider?
I mean, what does a Bible passage about sheep have to do with the idea of immature, know-it-all kids? What do either of the analogies mean for you and your faith as a Christian?
These are great questions to ask, as we consider the “big picture” of God’s Word—and how seemingly unrelated ideas can help us connect the dots.
Reading John 10, we hear Jesus speaking of Himself as the “gate for the sheep” (v. 7) and the “good shepherd” (v. 11). What’s He getting at? Those who come to God through Him are His sheep, we’re told—those He has saved. Jesus is the way in and the One devoted to their wellbeing. As the good shepherd, He cares for His sheep, and through Him, they “find pasture” (v. 9).
There’s a thought. What does pasture look like? Wide open spaces, rolling hills, acres of greenery... imagine leaving a sheep pen and finding yourself in that place! In the next sentence, Jesus is talking about providing “life… to the full.” Read those verses again.
I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:9-10)
What do sheep know about life? Well, in this picture, they know Jesus. With Jesus as their Good Shepherd, His sheep have a life they wouldn’t experience without Him. Through Christ, the sheep find pasture—lush places where they can be fed and enjoy. Without Jesus caring for them and guiding them into good places, the sheep wouldn’t know there was pasture, much less where to find it.
Imagine yourself as one of those sheep Jesus is describing. How many of us think we’ll come up with our own way to get where we’re going?
The thing is, sheep don’t know what’s best for them. Left to their own devices, sheep are actually quite destructive creatures. They just react to what’s happening around them. Often, we humans live the same way. We don’t know what we don’t know. We often can’t see beyond what’s right in front of us.
But Jesus shepherds us into more—into the unknown, and the unknowable. He knows where to find pasture. He knows where we will experience life that is fuller and bigger than we’d ever dream on our own.
Hebrews 6:1 says, “Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity…” We can’t fathom what maturity will mean for us, as long as we are yet immature. Actually, a pretty immature assumption is to think we’re mature enough already!
Have we submitted our mind, heart, and will to the care and leading of Jesus Christ, letting Him guide us into better places? Or are we wandering according to our own impulses, wondering why we keep ending up in the same spots?
Christian maturity is what we’re referring to this fall as “Grown-Up Faith.” We don’t grow up overnight. Maturation is a process. It takes time. Day after day, step by step, we accept Jesus’ invitation to a place we know not where… following Him into new meaning we can’t comprehend, experiencing a life bigger than we could imagine.
To grow up, the mind requires biblical knowledge, the heart requires spiritual intimacy, and the will requires holy obedience, as we come to see the bigger picture God has revealed to us. Sometimes, the simplest way to learn is in James 1:22—“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
So when Jesus says, “Come, follow Me,” do we roll our eyes and say, “I know”—or do we get up and actually go?