Friday, May 1, 2009

Be Sharp

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.

                        Proverbs 27.17

Something to Consider

The Hebrews letter is written for two main purposes: to instruct Jewish converts how to live by faith instead of conforming to code and inspire them to stay confident in their belief. God’s unmerited favor and the meaning of grace go beyond their religious experience and understanding. They live in a culture governed by Law, making them vulnerable to relapse into what they’ve always known. Because of this, the writer underscores why it’s unwise for any believer to go it alone. Discouragement comes too quickly and stays too long when there’s no one to help lift you out. The writer says, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10.24-25)

Although we live in nominally Christian communities, our situation closely compares with that of Hebrews’ original readers. The majority of our family, friends, and neighbors are content with being cultural Christians—i.e., accepting Jesus’s principles without practicing them. They’re governed by Christianity’s concept of a personal relationship with God, which many misconstrue as placating Him with lip service while living on their own terms. Our decision to follow Jesus in earnest puts us in the minority and often isolates us. It’s unwise to go it alone, which makes spurring one another’s commitment to Christ and reaching out to each other for encouragement something to consider seriously.

Mutual Benefit

An enormous spectrum of knowledge and experience exists between us—along with a bounty of gifts, talents, and life skills. It simply makes good sense to avail ourselves to what each of us can offer and make what we have available to others. Regardless where we are in our walk with Christ, we know believers further ahead of us and others not yet where we are. We look for advice and inspiration from those out front; we offer the same to those behind us. In either case, both parties gain mutual benefit by seeking one another out. As Proverbs teaches us, we sharpen each other in the same way that iron bars hone their edges. We approach sharper, stronger Christians for help with smoothing our contours to reflect God’s love and Jesus’s example more perfectly. We also improve substantially when less seasoned and confident believers look to us for help. Upholding one another in the faith always results in profit to either side, just as two pieces of metal end up sharper and cleaner after they’re rubbed together.

Monitoring Damages

When we’re apart, we can’t escape harmful exposure to corrosive elements and influences. Unattended, they eat away our substance, blunt our effectiveness, and discolor our appearance. It’s our responsibility to monitor damages we undergo very closely and reunite quickly with other believers to rub them out. This asks tremendous humility to identify the flaws and failures we need help with. James 5.16 exhorts us to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” The longer we keep to ourselves, putting off coming clean so we can become clean, the higher our probability of growing duller, weaker, and less pleasing to God.

Very rarely does someone abruptly decide to quit following Jesus and revert to his/her old ways. Such a dramatic break constitutes utter craziness, as Solomon explains in Proverbs 26.11: “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” Far more frequently, once-fervent Christians grow indifferent by gradual neglect and withdrawal from fellow believers. Fear of exposing their failure turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy, as concealing it ultimately leads to doing it and there’s no hiding failure after it happens. No scripture I know counsels us to be aloof, afraid, or ashamed with one another. Time and again we’re told to be incisive, fearless, and bold. We can’t be sharp and stay sharp on our own. For that we need to spur one another to love and good deeds, to encourage one another, to pray for and with each other.

Whether we need sharpening or we’re asked to help sharpen another, we come out cleaner, stronger, and more incisive in the end.

(Tomorrow: Pure Religion)

Postscript: Weekend Gospel

Thou Art a Shield for Me: Psalm 3 – Byron Cage & Purpose

Gospel aficionados around the world know Byron Cage as “the prince of praise.” Backed by his nine-member group, Purpose, he has carved his own niche as a superb singer and songwriter focused completely on drawing listeners into a spirit of worship. While most other leading gospel artists are inimitable, Byron’s calling requires him to be widely imitated by less accomplished musicians. Dozens of his songs are now praise-and-worship standards in churches of every size and spirit. Here he sets Psalm 3 from the King James Version in a lilting, pop-infused melody that resolves with a genuinely moving coda: “Thank You for lifting my head.” And evidence of Byron’s global impact becomes obvious by this video being originally broadcast in Brazil (ergo the Portuguese subtitles). Slightly mellower than normal, yet too marvelously rich to be missed. Enjoy!


Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...


I cannot imagine the struggle life has thrown at you or anyone,. I can only come from my own experience. I know that life can be ugly and filled with hate and yet I also know there is great beauty and love in the world as well.

But I fear I am lsong my self and my belief. Too many years gone wrong, too many things I wish to forget.

You have a great post here and as I read more and more, I see a beauty in it. Maybe that is why I am here again. There is something comfortable about what you place here.


Cuboid Master said...

Thanks again, Pastor Tim, for your uplifting sermons. Your blog is my church. You're right, however: We need community to fortify our efforts as sincere lovers of Christ. Have you ever considered staring a forum where your "congregation" can interact and share? Due to medical issues, I do not drive; and, sadly, there are no GLBT-friendly churches within walking distance. Most churches do not appeal to me, anyway, as I would prefer to focus on the love and example of Christ rather than church dogma and form. Your blog focuses on His life and example, and proves to us through elucidation of the Old Testament that He led a beautiful life as a devoted and righteous Jew. Anyway...thank you, as always. I don't comment often but I always read. I share your sermons with my son.

Tim said...

CM, to know you share these posts with your son thrills me no end--and touches me deeply, as so much of what's here reflects teaching I received from my parents as a boy.

(BTW, I just got an email from my mother, gently pointing out an error in this post: I originally cited the opening Hebrews reference from the wrong chapter. Mom wrote, "I know you must be extremely tired. This is not a correction, just a reminder. The ref. you made to Heb. 11.24-25 should have been Heb. 10.24-25; I'm sure those who read their Bibles caught it knew the ref. How easy it is to hit the wrong key." Next, I'll be writing her to say I corrected it...)

Actually, CM, I have been thinking about ways to get us together from time to time--not out any ambition to form/lead an online "congregation," but because so many incredibly bright, sincere, and loving people have collected here. Both the comments you all post and offline email and conversations with so many of you convince me we could all benefit (me especially) for an occasional "sharpening." (Case in point, your altogether lovely summation of Christ's life and its connection to the OT.) Your suggestion confirms something I've been feeling for a while.

There are several virtual meeting sites and I'm wondering if it might not be a great thing to have a monthly "real time" study/discussion, a sort of blended chat/conference call. Look for a poll about that soon and we'll see where it goes!

CM, please know how grateful I am for you and your son, that both of you remain always in my prayers, and that even though we hear from one another less frequently than when we first met here, having you (and him) here on these pages, praying and reading along with me, is a joy unto itself.

I trust God is keeping you as you bravely endure--and I hope the joys of spring's warmth and light are yours.

Remain steadfast and always blessed, my dear sister,

Tim said...

T, I believe any life lived--truly lived--brings great struggle and encounters much pain. But a life lived by faith comes through these struggles to find gain. In exchange for what is lost we're given much wisdom and empathy. We learn to take greater care of others and ourselves. And we understand the powers of patience and acceptance.

These are tough lessons, which can't be taught or learned in a weekend seminar. They must be experienced--endured is probably a better word, I think.

And here's the weird thing about it. The very things that threaten our belief are sent to bolster it. James 1.2-4 explains it like this: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must FINISH its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." It sounds crazy, but it also makes sense.

Be encouraged, T. What you've gone through--and what you'll go through--will eventually reward you with invaluable gifts you'd never receive by any other means. Because you can't see that now, your faith is more vital than ever. It's not a feeling, but a fact we cling to more than ever when everything else seems to slip out of our grasp. We live by faith, not by sight.

How glad I am to have you here, to count you as my sister, and to know you. And I apologize for the delayed response. For reasons no one can explain to me, comments from people with gmail accounts aren't triggering email alerts lately. They come in hours later as a spam blocker report. I'm trying to remedy that, but the mystery isn't yet solved. I hope you'll forgive the slowness of my answering your comment.

Stay strong and keep looking beyond what you see. And let's keep each other sharp, OK?

Big love and blessings,

Cuboid Master said...

A monthly "real time" study/discussion would be great! Count me in. Let me know how/if I can help?

Tim said...

Hey, CM--see, you've got the wheels turning! I'm going to put up a poll in the next couple days to see how many "takers" there are. Of course, all we need are two or three to get started, so I guess we're on our way!

Many of my clients use "virtual meeting" sites that allow for visuals (which will be useful in terms of having the text right in front of us) as well as on-line chat AND conference call capabilities. It's free to participants, and I'd like to check into securing a toll-free number, just so there's no concerns on any participant's side about racking up a huge long-distance bill.

I'll keep you posted about how this is coming along. I'm pretty excited about it!