Lay Down What’s Done 


Last week was about you receiving forgiveness. This week, it’s about you extending it—to others, and ultimately to yourself as well. So yes, this week we’re still more focused on the “negative” pieces of our lives, but the bigger focus is on finding our way past those pieces.

So let’s pick up where we left off. This time, though, rather than dwelling on the things that have caused us deep shame—and for now, the need to forgive others in those areas—let’s go broad instead of deep. Let’s explore the width and breadth of all those “little” things from our past that nonetheless work together to hold us back from believing in God’s best for us.

And let’s start here: The person least immune to all of this is me. By laying out all these issues before you, I’m also taking a buzzsaw to the undergrowth in my own life.

As I finished the previous devotion (“Lay Down Your Shame”), I was confronted by my own accusations—not by shame, but by all the negative things in my past that I nevertheless allow to define me. To be sure, some of my counter-reactions to those negative things have had some very positive results. You’re reading one of them right now.

Yet, there’s a part of me—no doubt bigger than I realize, even now—that spends an inordinate amount of time identifying myself against those negative things in the past that I’m not. Seeing this in other people’s lives—and I think it’s even truer for those trapped by shame—I observe what I like to call a “spiritual Stockholm Syndrome.” That is, the penchant to identify ourselves with—and perhaps excuse but not truly forgive—those who have hurt us deeply.

I, too, am often just as trapped by it.

Our experiences, to a large degree, have made us who we are. But we are more than our experiences, let alone our negative ones. There’s a life in Christ waiting for us that goes beyond what we would limit ourselves to. “Laying down what’s done” doesn’t mean we forget the things in our past. And it certainly doesn’t mean we stop feeling anything when they come to mind, although hopefully we learn to move on more quickly. It does mean that we no longer allow ourselves to own those things, and that we no longer allow them to own us.

God can use the things of our past to create something far better than the prison those things have often become for us. (That goes for positive things as well; we’ll spend more time there in future weeks.) Very often, as we share how God has changed us in those areas, God brings deliverance and transformation to others—as well as through our vulnerability in confessing our willingness to be changed, as we continue to work through those issues.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

Let’s face it: We’re all “pieces of work” in some way. And yet, all of us are also works in progress. By being willing to lay down our baggage, we give God full permission to get on with the work he’s prepared us for since the day we were created. And we might be surprised by how far-reaching that work will become.

Lay It Down Today

1) Take a chunk of time right now to think about how God has transformed one or more areas of your life. Thank God for the changes he’s already brought about through that.

2) Perhaps this devotional has stirred up something you’d really thought/hoped you’d moved on from, but where God needs to do an even deeper work. Spend some time giving that issue up to God. Allow him to transform it into what he wants.

3) Either way, think about this: How could sharing about your past enable someone else to get past theirs? If someone came to mind, make time to share with that person. Remember: If something truly required—or requires, if you’re dealing with it right now—God’s intervention, it’s already important. That’s enough. So look for an opportunity to let God speak through your life, and let God take it from there.

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Best Bible Books: New Testament Resources


That should be self-explanatory enough. For pastors, teachers, and other Bible scholars who want to know where to dig deeper….

Best Bible BooksJohn Glynn. Best Bible Books: New Testament Resources. Michael H. Burer, ed. 336p., $27.99, Kregel Academic.

There are thousands of excellent resources in the field of New Testament studies. But which tools are best for sermon preparation, topical study, research, or classroom study? In Best Bible Books, the authors review and recommend hundreds of books, saving pastors, students, and scholars time, effort, and money.

Glynn and Burer examine commentaries on every book of the New Testament, describing their approach, format, and usability; they then rank them on a scale of good, better, and best. Other chapters survey special studies for each New Testament book as well as books in related disciplines such as historical background, language resources, and hermeneutics. Also included are helpful chapters on building a must-have personal library, and identifying books that comprise the ultimate New Testament commentary collection. This is an indispensable resource for any serious student of the Bible.

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Lay Down Your Old Life: a small-group session


Laying Down Your Day (15 minutes)

Leader: Note that the italicized sections of text below are for you to read aloud. Feel free to use your own wording, or just use what’s here (that’s why it’s here, after all).

Old pair of used black leather shoes

Have everyone take their shoes off before entering your meeting area. If this is your first time together, ask group members to introduce themselves and share what they’re each hoping to get out of this study. (You can ask this second part even if you’ve been together for years.) Then dive into your discussion time:

We all bring a lot to this group, so let’s begin our time together by recognizing that—by sharing a little about where God has already taken each of us. As you came in today, you took off your shoes. In Day 1, we read that every place we encounter God is holy. We want our time together to reflect that—because we too are gathering before God. Turn to a partner and take about five minutes to discuss this question:

  1. What’s your holy ground—in other words, the places where you know you’ve encountered God? How have you been changed by those encounters?

 

After five minutes, regain everyone’s attention. Ask for a few volunteers to share their experiences.

What you’ve just shared is one of the most significant things you’ll ever share in this life. We’re preparing for an eternity with Christ, and our encounters with God give us a small taste of what’s to come—and help others see and taste it, too. What’s more, those encounters change us and prepare us for that eternal life. We have a new identity in Christ, right now. This week has been about laying down our old identity so we can put our new one on. Let’s begin exploring that together.

Laying Down the Word (25 minutes)

Ask for a volunteer to read Romans 12:1–2.

  1. Practically speaking, what does it mean to be a “living sacrifice”?

 

  1. How does that transform us so we can know God’s “good and pleasing and perfect” will—and actually do it?

 

Have someone read the following excerpt from “Lay Down Your Sin.” Then discuss the question that follows.

 “[W]hen we talk about laying down your sin, it’s not just, ‘Hey you, stop doing things God says are wrong.” . . . It’s also laying down the sin you want to openly express but don’t. It’s laying down the sin that has been expressed upon you, by others—even the sin that hasn’t been expressed but you know is there. It’s saying Jesus died for all of it, and beginning to live in that truth.

  1. Which sins are harder for you to lay down: the ones you commit outwardly, the ones you want to commit outwardly but don’t, the ones committed upon you, or the sins you just know are out there waiting to get you? Why?

 

Ask someone to read Galatians 2:20–21, then discuss:

  1. What holds us back from living like this is really true?

 

  1. What things or actions do we tend to substitute for living by faith? How do those things reveal how we’re depending on ourselves instead of Christ?

 

Thanks for your willingness to share so far today. These are tough questions, especially for a first session, but no-one ever said dying to self would be easy. The fact is, it’s a process. It’s something we have to do each day. As we lay down the “obvious” stuff in our lives, God brings up even deeper things to us—and we’ll need to lay those down, too. Don’t feel bad if the answers come too easily—and don’t feel superior if they haven’t, because your time’s coming. So let’s move forward, by re-opening a “case study” from last week.

Laying Down Your Life (15 minutes)

Have a couple volunteers read Luke 5:1–11 and John 21:4–7. Then discuss:

  1. Which version of Peter do you identify with more right now—one who’s overwhelmed by sin or the one who’s overwhelmed by Jesus despite his sin? Why?

 

Ask everyone to find a partner, and to put some space between them and the other pairs. If you have an odd number of group members, putting three people together is OK. Allow a minute for group members to partner up and make space, and then continue.

Earlier this week, you reflected on your “life passage,” as well as a few questions including, “What’s the one thing that most needs transforming in my life—that God wants me to lay down right now?” We’re going to take that a step further today.

The person(s) you’re sitting with will be your partner(s) throughout this study. Of course, the rest of the group is here for you as well, but the people you’re with right now will be helping you lay down that one thing—or more. You’ll partner up at the end of each session, so use your time well. Also, try to find ways to connect with each other during the week. Then, watch what God does with it.

In your new groups, read the following excerpt from “Lay Down Your Old Identity,” and Romans 6:814. Then discuss question 8 together. Make your answers your prayer for one another throughout the week; try to pray for each other today, if you have time. We’ll come back together in ten minutes.

“We have not died with Christ because we think we have, or because we agree that we have. We have died with Christ. Our old life is done. We need to truly realize that, and live in that new reality.

“The tough part is living this out on a daily basis—or rather, dying it out.”

  1. What’s one area of your life Jesus is calling you to “consider . . . dead” (Romans 6:11)—and leave dead—right now? Share as much as you’re willing.

 

Bring everyone back together. Then, pray for your group members. Ask God to help each of them to lay down the “one thing” they shared about today, and to be open to what God is trying to do in each of them. Pray also for the new relationships that they’re forming, and for what God wants to do through them.

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Alive: Gospel Sexuality for Students


A high-school/young adult curriculum for the not-faint-of-heart. . . .

Alive - Gospel Sexuality for StudentsCooper Pinson. Alive: Gospel Sexuality for Students. 136p., $15.99, New Growth Press.

In a changing culture where feelings about our identity inform our sexual choices, this ten-week small group resource from Harvest USA, applies biblical truth in a compassionate way to sexual struggles.

Cooper Pinson, with years of experience working with students, aims to bring the theological truths of our union and communion with Christ into the world of sexuality. Students are met where they are and encouraged to talk about the issues that are part of their everyday world. At the same time, they are guided to learn robust, deep, and strengthening theological content that will help them follow Jesus in how they express their sexuality.

Out of this framework, topics addressed include God’s good design for sexuality, gender-related issues, singleness, dating, marriage, masturbation, pornography, and same-sex attraction, among others. Students are shepherded to understand their sexuality in the light of who Jesus is and to approach these issues with truth, faith, and compassion.

 

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Lay Down Your Shame (Part 2)


It’s not all work and struggle, though. Let’s circle back to Peter, because God uses him to give us a great “before and after” picture. Three years later, mere days after Jesus’ resurrection and appearance to the disciples—and for that matter, Peter’s repeated denial of Jesus—we see almost the exact same scene as the one in Luke 5, this time in John 21. Peter, James, and John go fishing again; this time they’ve got Thomas, Nathanael and two other disciples with them (and after all the bickering throughout the Gospels, it’s nice to see them finally starting to work together). Again, they have another bad night of fishing.

This time Jesus shows up on the shore—close enough to yell, but far enough that they can’t yet tell it’s him. He tells them to cast out their nets, and again, the nets can’t hold all the fish they catch. Peter’s been here before; he realizes it’s Jesus.

But what’s Peter’s reaction this time? He throws himself into the sea and swims as fast as he can toward the shore. He doesn’t wait for the boat to dock—or freak because the guy he’d betrayed only days earlier is maybe a hundred yards away, back from the dead, and knows how to walk on water. This time, Peter’s going as fast as he can to Jesus. Clearly Peter’s still an impetuous kind of guy, and “a sinful man!”, but equally clearly he’s learned something about his relationship to Jesus. Peter, quite literally, is shame-less.

Now it’s our turn. Whatever has happened in our past is an opportunity for Jesus to transform it, and us, if we’ll let him. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). You are in fact already blessed because you don’t deserve grace, and no matter who you are or where you stand with Jesus at this moment, his grace is offered to you anyway, right now. Therefore, the challenge now becomes to receive and rejoice in that grace. The past is gone; let it stay gone. We’ll look more into that next week.

Lay It Down Today

What issues from your past came to mind as you read today? Get a piece of paper and write them down. Then bury your past—literally.

First, take some time to pray, giving over to God whatever you’ve written down, and asking the Spirit’s help to empower you to keep letting those things go. Then, take your paper and bury it (or tear it up). Thank God for your past—because it’s made you who are today, and in brand-new ways you’re now willing to let him reveal—but let whatever shame that remains in your past die, so your future can live.

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A Commentary on the Book of the Twelve


Aka more commentary about the Minor Prophets than you can shake a stick at. . . .

Book of Twelve.jpgMichael Shepherd. A Commentary on the Book of the Twelve: The Minor Prophets. 528p., $38.99, Kregel Academic.

The books of the twelve Minor Prophets are some of the least studied by Christians today, but they contain some of the great themes of Scripture, such as God’s mercy and judgment, His covenant with Israel, the day of the Lord, and the coming of the Messiah. Arguing for a canonical unity that recognizes the Minor Prophets as one cohesive composition, Michael Shepherd explains the historical meaning of each verse of the twelve books and also provides guidance for application and preaching. Pastors, teachers, and serious students of Scripture will find a wealth of insights for understanding the Minor Prophets.

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 Lay Down Your Shame (Part 1)


“Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8, NIV)

One of the very first things Peter says to Jesus captures a huge issue for many of us. After a night of fishing and catching nothing, Jesus blesses Peter, James, and John with more fish than they can handle—and all Peter can see is how short he’s fallen of God’s perfection.

Which, in itself, isn’t a bad thing. It’s not unusual for us, either, to react this way when we first encounter Jesus; and we always need to remember the truth in Peter’s words. But Jesus didn’t come just so he could “go away.” Instead, he calls us to lay down a life that’s often consumed by shame over who we are or what we’ve done.

The things we’ve done—and the evils done to us—are done. We can’t undo what happened, but we can undo the hold of those things upon us. We can own our sin without it owning us. Jesus’ response to Peter, James and John confirms this: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” (Luke 5:10). Jesus calls each of us to lay down our shame, and follow him forward instead.

If we continue to base our identity in our past instead of allowing it to die, we will never approach God—or more to the point, we’ll never let him in; God is already approaching us. Instead, we’ll do just about anything to fill the hole that the Spirit should be occupying. We believe we need to be successful, popular, powerful, constantly entertained, or occupied, because what we are and what we have isn’t good enough. That’s where the power of temptation lies: in the idea that who God created us to be, and what he’s created us for, isn’t good enough. That God got it—and us—wrong.

This brings us full circle: Letting go of this old, false self, and embracing who we were truly meant to be in Jesus, is what this laying-down process is all about. We’re called to acknowledge our guilt and move on, not to take up permanent residence in our shame and hurt.

In a (hopefully not blasphemous) sense, Jesus has carried and shared in our guilt all the way back to the garden of Eden. The fall could have been prevented—but it wasn’t. Like the first Adam, Jesus chose to look on instead of stopping those events from occurring. But let’s not forget another incident, in another garden several thousand years later, which Jesus also could have stopped from happening but didn’t. Jesus stopped in Gethsemane—and saw through at Calvary—what began in Eden.

The cross removes our guilt. All of it. However, it leaves responsibility. Jesus says to us, just as he did the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11). And, to “take up the cross, and follow me” (Mark 10:21, KJV).

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