Lay Down Your Hurt


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the following passage: “He (Christ) was numbered with the transgressors” (Mark 15:28, cf. Isaiah 53:12). I believe that in our own way we too are called to be “numbered with the transgressors,” and that it’s a key to moving past our old life and into the life Christ intends for us.

Because . . . well, let’s start with a simple truth: We are among the transgressors.

This isn’t to dismiss or excuse some of the truly horrific sins that others perpetrate upon us or others; however, for the majority of us, most of our lives aren’t about those kinds of transgressions. They’re about responding to everyday hurts—insults, gossip, other inconsiderate acts—or even “bigger” but not necessarily deeper sins committed against us—deliberate acts where we’re deemed inferior or just not good enough, or slanderous words against our reputation. It’s also about responding to every person we meet and resisting the urge to judge and deem them not good enough, whether it’s for “good” reasons or for nonexistent ones we just came up with on the spot.

Even in more extreme cases, though, I think this idea of being numbered with the transgressors applies. Every so often, we’re surprised by a news story about an act of extreme forgiveness. Many of us think it can’t possibly be legitimate—that they’re just saying it but that they really still harbor anger or resentment. Or maybe we just resign ourselves to the idea that we’re incapable of that degree of forgiveness in the face of that kind of abuse or injustice. Fortunately, God knows both the good and the bad we’re capable of far better than we do. He will equip us to face those moments.

Jesus lived a perfect life and died for every one of those sins—even the ones committed against us. And he calls us to follow him and “be perfect” (Matthew 5:48), by learning how to die to those sins—and the hurt we’ve suffered from them as well.

When we allow ourselves to “be numbered with the transgressors”—that’s when God can work. I don’t mean sheepishly shrugging, “Yeah, I’m a sinner just like everyone else,” but looking straight at the people around you who carry sins that offend and maybe even repulse you, and admitting “These are my people, too; I really am like them except for Christ, and he chose to be numbered with them.” It means checking our pride and self-righteousness at the door. When we do, we are opened to the opportunity to overlook the sins of others—again, not excusing or denying them, but understanding they’re part of the same mess we’re in—truly forgiving them, and replacing our revulsion with compassion.

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. (John 5:2–15)

You might be wondering, “What’s the connection between this passage and what you were just saying?” But did you notice something in this story? No-one’s terribly motivated for this guy to get well—including the man himself. But Jesus is.

This scenario seems to run counter to the conventional wisdom around us. However, this is how we really are, both in terms of ourselves and those around us. We’d rather read a self-help book and feel healed, than actually be healed. We’d rather stick with the status quo, no matter how much it actually hurts, than encounter the fear of the unknown that comes with truly being healed—or in seeing other “invalids” in our lives healed. We’re a lot more like these nitpicky Pharisees than we’d like to admit.

Jesus asks the invalid at the pool, “What do you want me to do? Do you want me to heal you?” Think about this in terms of your own “internal injuries.” Would you rather identify yourself by your hurt, your blindness—say it: your willfulness in withholding forgiveness—or would you rather get on with your undiscovered future, by growing into your new life and identity in Christ?

The beginning of healing is admitting you’re hurt. That’s true of your internal state, and it’s just as true about all the broken relationships around you. So lay down your hurt. Take Jesus’ yoke. Be numbered with the transgressors. You’ll start to see them differently. And more importantly, you’ll let Jesus bring healing and grace to you—and them.

Lay It Down Today

I’ll keep this simple: Where do you need to be “numbered with the transgressors” today? Is it an act of forgiveness? Is it treating some “weird” or annoying person you avoid with the same dignity you’d want? Does it involve reaching out somehow to the more marginalized of society—not just by being charitable but by being present and available?

You know what you felt as you read today’s entry, so I won’t get in the way of what God wants to do with it. But start making it happen today. Respond to what God’s trying to tell you.

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Strawberry Parenting


Learn how to grow kids for the harvest. . . .

Strawberry-Parenting-1c-final_smaller-194x300Nate Davis, M.Ed. Strawberry Parenting: Grow Kids Who Thrive! 160p.,$13.99, Deep River Books.

Though Scripture is full of principles for parents to follow, the moment-by-moment application of those truths is often shrouded in mystery and intrigue. Christian parenting is not as straightforward as we had hoped.

With four children, thirty nieces and nephews, and hundreds of students, Nate Davis has been making daily observations of child development for nearly three decades. Filtering these invaluable observations through his understanding of the Bible and of farming, Nate illustrates principles that will help illuminate the mysteries of parenting. . . .

Strawberry Parenting is filled with real-life examples of modern-day heroes. The author combines the eternal principles of God’s Word with the ancient Laws of the Harvest to help you embrace the startling mysteries of parenting. Divided into 30 devotion-length chapters with study questions, Strawberry Parenting is perfect for a small group Bible study or personal devotional time.

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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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