Month: June 2014

A Cloud of Witnesses

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”  Hebrews 12:1

My daughter called me this morning looking for some help in understanding this verse in Hebrews.  The “coincidence” is that hubby and I had been talking about that same verse the night before.

Before I relate the explanation I gave my daughter, let me say that I am not a seminary-trained theologian.  I do not know Greek.  Over the years I have learned to use the inductive method of Bible study, and, more importantly, like every other Christian, I have the Holy Spirit as my teacher.

The first hint in Hebrews 12:1 is the word “therefore”.  When you see the word “therefore”, ask what it’s there for.  So we looked back at Hebrews 11 which is full of what God did through the faith of a whole group of men and women just like us.  They believed when it didn’t make sense; they conquered unbelievable obstacles; they endured unimaginable trials.  These people did all these incredible things but their lives were a testimony of the magnificent power of God, not their own.  God does whatever He wants and, inexplicably, He sometimes uses the weakest of people to do it.

This is the cloud of witnesses referred to in Hebrews 12:1.  What are they witnesses to?  Are they witnessing us in our trials and are they our heavenly cheerleaders?  I have heard this verse taught this way, but I have to disagree.  We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses to the power of God.  We tend to have an egocentric view of the Bible.  We have to remind ourselves constantly that the Bible is not about us and what God can do for us.  The Bible is about God – who He is and what He has done.  The cloud of witnesses constantly cries out for us to look at God.  Look at the One who did all these marvels through mere men!

Hebrews 12:2 says it quite clearly: “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”   The example of Jesus is the one the witnesses are calling us to follow – not their own.

And what is that example?  Looking beyond the sufferings and shame of His life on earth to the joy that was His because of what was accomplished through the suffering and shame.  We are to run our race, enduring whatever we must endure here on earth, knowing that there is joy to come.  Joy that makes the trial of our earthly lifetimes trivial and of no consequence.

Even as I write that last sentence, I am thinking, and you may be too, that seeing our trials and sorrows as trivial is not easy.  Again, look at verse 2.  Jesus is “the founder and perfecter of our faith”.  Faith is His gift to us, not something we work up on our own.  Just as He founded and perfected the faith of Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and did great things through them, He can perfect our faith and do whatever He wants with us too.

A List Worth Making

I’m not sure when my fascination with lists began.  I think that a long time ago I read a home organization book that had daily lists of tasks to be completed.  When I can remember back that far, I have a vague impression of a box of index cards labeled with tasks and the day of the week on which they must be done.  These days I think it may have more to do with being unable to resist buying interesting notebooks/paper.  Like this one from Anthropologie: notebook Who could resist a pretty notebook like that (ignore the dirt and the water splotches – I’ve been using this one a while!)?  Especially when it came in a set of three tied together with string? But back to the point – lists.  I keep several kinds of lists these days. 1. To-do list for my house.  This one is in an ordinary composition book – I love composition books.  There has got to be a better way of keeping a homemaking to-do list, but I like it this way.  Every page is a day.  First, I write down any appointments for the day.  Next, the list of tasks I must accomplish to keep my house in order – not perfect, just in order.  Next is a list of reading for the day.  After that is a short list of fun things I get to do that day like blogging and sewing.  And last is a check-off list of the water I drank that day.  I know that last one sounds silly, but I need to drink a certain amount of water every day and I am constantly losing track of where I am in that amount. 2. To-do list at work.  This one is in a green, faux-leather journal which looks good on my desk.  Again, a page for a day with meetings listed at the top and a running list of tasks for the day. 3. Book list. This is in the back of the green journal.  This is a much more interesting list.  Every time I hear I book recommended from blogs I follow or from friends, I add it to this list.  Then, when payday comes along I purchase at least one of the books on the list.  I have read so many more books this year than last year because of that list.  (I’ll talk about some of that list in another post on another day.) 4. Menus.  I love to write out my menus with the name of the cookbook and page number so that I can easily find the recipe and to keep me honest when it comes to cooking at home.  With only a 17-year-old at home, it is so easy to skip cooking and eat out.  I like to mark things off my lists so I am motivated to cook when I see my unused menu. 5. Short term projects lists. That sounds fancy, doesn’t it?  It’s not.  This is a short term projects list: summer list It’s just a list of extra things I would like to get done in a certain time period.  I may or may not get them done, but it’s a goal and a hope.  (By the way, three things on this Summer Projects list are finished and three others are started!) And the last list is my favorite: 6. God Is… list. I’ve only been making these lists for the last year.  I make these lists with my Bible open at whatever passage I am reading that day and I look for descriptions of God or of things He has done.  I write it all down, like this… God Is... List I like to look back at these lists to remember who God is and what He has done.  It is good for us to remember and then to celebrate Him.  I was looking for a way to display a list like this when an art project on Pinterest caught my eye.  As I looked at the idea, I saw how it could be used to put a “God Is…” list in my office.  The result was this:

God Is...

Inside each of those geometric shapes are many, many statements about God and His character.  For me this list is a daily reminder of the truth of who God is and what He has done and what He will do.  That’s a list worth making!

Update on the “Lifestyle Change”

I just re-read my first post on this subject and realize I didn’t tell you a thing about the program on which we have embarked.  It consists of eating only the freshly prepared foods provided, drinking a LOT of water, and weight training twice a week for twenty minutes.  Sounds pretty simple, huh?  It is!

First we went in for an evaluation – weighing, measuring (in seventeen different places), and getting pinched by that tool that measures fat (in three different places).  The trainer figured out just what percentage of our body weight was fat – depressing!  Then he figured out just how much weight we could expect to lose in six weeks – really, in six weeks I can lose eighteen pounds?  I would consider myself fortunate to lose eighteen ounces!  I was doubtful, but willing to try.

Now, every Monday and Thursday we run over to the food and fitness store after work and we huff and puff like crazy on a circuit of seven or eight (can’t remember how many!) machines.  Then we pick up a bag of food that lasts us until the next workout.  And we are committed to doing that for six weeks straight.

And the update?  After two weeks, the trainer re-measures three or four places, pinches the same three places and weighs us again.  I can hardly believe it but I lost 12.4 pounds of fat, gained 5.6 pounds of muscle for a total loss of 7 pounds.  I’m on track to lose that eighteen pounds!

I’ll let you know in four more weeks how it’s going.  I may even post before and after pictures.  And, yes, if the plan works as well as our friend assured us, I will let you know the name of the program – promise!


The Root of Perfectionism

Here’s a confession – I have always used perfectionism as a place to hide an even worse problem (really not a problem – a sin).  I seriously did not realize what was going on in my heart until last week when I was reading from two different, totally unrelated books – To Live Is Christ To Die Is Gain by Matt Chandler and The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith.  One is all about the book of Philippians and one is about home decorating and contentment.

Matt Chandler writes, “Pride says, ‘I have it figured out.  I’ve got this.’  It’s an assertion of independence and self-allegiance and special knowledge.”  Now, combine that with a quote from Sandy Coughlin which Myquillyn included in her book: “Excellence is working toward an attainable goal that benefits everyone, while perfection comes from a place of great need – usually the need to avoid criticism and gain praise and approval from others.”  Myquillyn adds, “…insisting on perfection is a self-centered act.”

Do you see it?  Pride says, “I can’t let anybody see my weaknesses.  I can’t let them know I’m not in control.  I have to be the best.  I have to make sure everybody sees only perfection.”  And if perfection cannot be achieved?  Or if there is even a suspicion that perfection cannot be achieved?  Simple – do nothing.  Put it off until it can be done perfectly.

Looking at it this way, perfectionism and procrastination are not harmless, humorous ways to excuse my lack of creativity.  Instead they are glaring symptoms that point to a disgusting sin.  Chandler quotes Proverbs several times to expose what God thinks of pride – all verses I have heard before.

Proverbs 6:16-17 – God hates haughty eyes

Proverbs 8:13 – God hates pride and arrogance

Proverbs 16:5 – the arrogant in heart are an abomination to God

James 4:6 – God opposes the proud

Chandler continues, “Are you getting the picture?  If you do things out of what Paul calls selfish ambition and conceit, God says, ‘You are my enemy.  But,’ God says to the humble in heart, ‘I’m with you.  And I am for you.”

I got the picture!  And repented!  God help me to turn from the sin of pride every day!

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