Blossoming

He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12-13, NASB)

It started with one Chinese man, a medical research scientist who came to our Sunday School class at the invitation of a co-worker. Soon his wife was attending with him, then two more couples, fellow scientists from mainland China.

They were spiritually and culturally curious. They wanted to learn more about the life and language of America. But having been raised in an atheistic society, they also came with spiritual questions.

We soon found that because of their limited language skills and biblical knowledge, our regular Sunday School class wasn’t enough for them. So we began meeting with them an hour before class. It was Bible 101. We started by introducing them to the scriptures from the ground up. Then we watched the Jesus film together, discussing each scene one by one. At the end, our version of the film addressed dozens of basic questions about the Christian faith. We used those questions to lead our friends into a greater understanding of life in Christ. Next, we began reading through Genesis together, talking and teaching as we went.

Those two and one half years were memorable in so many ways. I remember our first Christmas with them. We brought in a small manger scene, and from us they heard that magnificent story for the very first time.

I remember the Sunday we encouraged them to pray the sinner’s prayer along with us. With all the barriers of language and spiritual understanding, we wondered how much had gotten through to them.

But I particularly remember one man blossoming in his faith. In spite of a horrendous work schedule, Jinyu began praying daily. He read the Bible on his own, bringing in questions that showed he was thinking about it broadly and deeply. He began witnessing to his Chinese friends. He asked us about ancestor worship, knowing that when he next gathered with his family, they would expect him to participate.

But my favorite memory is the morning he came in beaming, saying that he had been asked to read scripture in our main worship service. We were pleased along with him, but also surprised. Jinyu was a gentle, sweet-spirited man whose English was less than perfect. Our church was large, and scripture readers were chosen for their speaking ability. We wondered how well his reading would be understood.

That morning service focused on missions. It included a parade of flags, special music, and a missionary speaker. When it came time for the morning scripture reading, a half dozen or so people came forward. Together they read Psalm 98, each one reading selected verses in a foreign language.

Jinyu read, not in English, but in Chinese, and we were stunned! We had only heard him speak in English, his second language. His speaking was always halting and broken. We had never heard the man who read that morning. He was bold, strong, and fluent. He was eloquent! He was speaking in his own native language. He was at home. He was fully himself.

As I reflect back on that morning, I think about the Body of Christ. I think about all the personalities and cultures that make it up, in all their God-given diversity. What would the Body be like if each of its members were fully, completely themselves? What if all that individuality could blossom into the beauty and variety intended by our Creator, yet still remain one in Christ? Squeezing living things into narrow, artificial molds is constrictive and stifling. It is unnatural. Becoming all our Creator intended us to be is wonderfully freeing and enriching, both to the individual and to the Body. An eye makes a better eye than it does an arm.

That freedom, that blossoming is coming. In fact, it is happening right now as the Holy Spirit nurtures and renews each individual. He assures us that the One who began this good work in us will complete it (Philippians 1:6). Each flower will blossom into its full uniqueness, lovingly nurtured by its Creator. Together, what a garden we will be!

Each of us will speak our own native language, fluently and eloquently. And in Christ all those individual expressions will blend into one universal language: the language of magnificent truth; the language of pure love.

At last we will be all that His love purposed us to be: His holy bride, stunningly beautiful, radiant in all His glory, perfectly prepared for an eternity of oneness with Him.

Father,
the believers around us are
 precious seeds that
You Yourself have planted.
Help us to
water and
nurture them
that they might be
abundantly fruitful in You.

Hymn: How Precious Are Your People

Epiphany Hymn

Matthew 2:1-11; 3:13-17; 17:1-8; Mark 1:9-11; 9:2-8;
Luke 3:21-22; 9:28-36; John 1:29-34

This hymn devotes a verse to
each of the major revelations that
anchor the season of Epiphany:
the coming of the magi;
the baptism of Jesus;
the transfiguration.
Two different musical settings are available:
the familiar REGENT SQUARE (“Angels, from the Realms of Glory”), and
a fresh tune, adapted from a traditional English melody (HELMSLEY 2).

Recording
Printed Music

God is light! The heavens open!
See the star announce the Son!
God transcendent lives among us.
See the distant nations come.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
All our race in Him is one.

God is light! The heavens open!
See our Savior bear our sin.
Dying here in Jordan’s waters,
See His sacrifice begin.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
All who come are cleansed in Him.

God is light! The heavens open!
Glimpse what eyes have never seen:
God the Son in all His splendor,
Flesh in heaven’s majesty.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
See our glorious destiny!

by Ken Bible, © 2017 LNWhymns.com.

Beyond This Life

Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling . . . For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Corinthians 5:1-2, 4-5, NIV)

While we are in this tent, we groan (v. 4). I groan, Lord, even though my body is relatively healthy and free from pain. I groan because of the earthly concerns that burden my mind and emotions. I groan because of a certain restlessness that churns deep inside me. Even when all is going well and my life and work are fulfilling, there is an unsettledness, a feeling that my heart is not home.

My longing for change, for the next stage of life, seems to grow out of this unsettledness. I have a good life, Lord, but the best this life has to offer is not good enough. It doesn’t satisfy. I am thrilled by beauty, but I can’t take it into myself or keep it with me. Attained goals don’t fulfill. The best of times and experiences passes so quickly.

I long to be clothed with my eternal dwelling, to be free from this life of restlessness and lingering death. I long to have a body designed for the being You created me to be, for the being You are making me in Christ:

  • a body that is never a hurdle for my spiritual life but a body that is one with that life, that nurtures it and expresses it and sets it free;
  • a body designed to do Your work throughout eternity, without weakness or hindrance;
  • a body that is Your holy temple, filled only with Your praise.

I grasp for satisfaction and permanency, and I find only You, Lord. Clothe me in You, Jesus. Unite us completely, body and spirit, life to life, forever and ever. I love You, my Lord. Come soon.

The moments of life filled with
waiting and helplessness,
desperation and futility,
remind us that Jesus Christ alone is
our life,
our hope, and
our future.

Hymn: Longing for Jesus

Full Assurance

Colossians 2:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:5; Hebrews 6:9-20; 10:19-25

Based on scripture, this hymn traces the
absolute confidence
God offers His children.
The melody is an adaptation of a familiar hymn tune.

Recording
Printed Music

With full assurance, Lord, we know
Your every word is true.
What peace to simply understand
That all of life is in Your hand!
What joy in trusting You!

This full assurance, Sovereign God,
Is sung by every star.
It shines through all reality,
A pledge of all that life will be,
Ensured by all You are.

Through life and death, Almighty God,
Our hope is strong and sure.
We hold to all that Christ has done,
To all our Great High Priest has won.
Our anchor is secure.

In full assurance, Lord, we come.
With boldness we draw near.
O Father, may our faith increase
And bathe our days in love and peace
Till Jesus Christ appear!

by Ken Bible, © 2020 LNWhymns.com.

Hebrews, Chapters 7-10

Fresh Views of Timeless Truths

For the next two weeks, reflect on Hebrews, Chapters 7-10 (the rest of the book of Hebrews will follow). This free pdf consists of scripture, prayers, reflections, and 13 new hymns for public and personal worship.

It is part of the new series, Fresh Views of Timeless Truth, focused reflections on key topics.

LINKS:
Free pdf of Hebrews, Chapters 7-10
Complete list of available volumes in Fresh Views of Timeless Truths

Anticipation

Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!”
And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you…”.
But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!”(Exodus 33:18-20, NASB)

In my office is a poster of a large whale’s tail. The tail alone is seen above the water’s surface, with the other 99% of the whale being out of sight.

I’ve enjoyed this poster for years. I’ve owned it since before I had a good place to hang it.

What draws me to it, I believe, is its promise. What I see is impressive. But what I don’t see intrigues me more. The whale’s tale suggests a bigger being, a completely different type of being, a deeper life, a greater realm. What I see is a promise of what I don’t see, and it fuels my longing to see and know more.

It reminds me of God. What I know of Him is spectacular, but everything I learn promises even more that I have not yet seen or experienced, that I cannot yet fully grasp. Hear God’s promise through Paul:

Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12, NASB)

God has poured out Himself, His own breath, His own life force, on all of us who simply trust Him. He has lavished on us His power, wisdom, and love, through the Holy Spirit of His glorious Son. But as great as this Gift is, it is only a down-payment, a deposit, a promise of His full gift of Himself to His people:

Having also believed, you were sealed in [Christ] with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14, NASB. See also 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5)

Consider the greatness of God’s gift of His Spirit. Right here and now He can be more and wants to be more than you have let Him be. But also, let this great gift fuel your anticipation for the greater gift that is yet to come: our complete and constant union with God.

Like children,
we don’t appreciate
our Father’s greatest gifts because
they are so far beyond our tiny experience.
He blesses us
in ways and
in realms that are
higher than we can dream.
We think “today”.
He gives forever.
We think “this physical life”.
He enriches our eternal reality.

Hymn: Longing for Home

All One in Christ

Matthew 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21;
Ephesians 1:9-10; 2:1-22; Hebrews 2:11; Revelation 5:11-14

Since God is our Father,
Jesus Christ is our Brother, and
all believers are one in Him.
Celebrate this wonderful truth!
 The tune is familiar.

Recording
Printed Music

Dead in sin, so lost and hopeless,
We were slaves to flesh and fear.
You, O God, so rich in mercy,
Raised us up and brought us near.

Refrain:
One in Christ, our holy Brother,
One in Christ, Your human Son!
Earth and heaven breathe one Spirit.
Now in Christ we all are one.

One with You, O God my Father,
Every moment face-to-face!
You, Most High, beyond all knowing,
Are my joy and resting place.

Every family, every nation,
Every heart with love aflame
Join to share in You forever.
Earth and heaven sing one Name!

by Ken Bible, © 2020 LNWhymns.com.

Holy and Faithful

To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ. (Colossians 1:2, NIV)

It’s easy to get distracted by the human side of the church and its people. We sometimes grow impatient with each other’s weaknesses and immaturities.

But notice Paul’s letters. The Christians in his day were surely as flawed and human as today. But he gives a different view of them. He always writes with such joy and deep affection for them.

Just read the openings to the letters. My favorite is the Colossians 1:2, To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ.

I wonder: if I had known those people, would I have described them this way?

As I think of those around me, do I focus on their human failings and limitations, or do I appreciate them for the persons they are becoming in Christ?

Even now, in their imperfections, our holy and faithful brothers and sisters strengthen us in ways we take for granted. Their testimonies, their struggles, their failures and victories—even their mere presence with us—bolster our faith and keep pointing us week by week toward Christ. Through their lives, we see God in action.

Remember that those around us are destined to become kings and priests and honored children of God. If you want an exciting thought, picture your Christian friends as fulfilled in Christ. Imagine them without their fears, insecurities, emotional scars, and human weaknesses. See them as having become all God’s love designed them to be and all His transforming power is able to make them. Rather moving, isn’t it? This will soon be reality. We have God’s Word on it.

Value your brothers and sisters now. Bear with them now. Encourage them, lift them up, forgive, and be patient with them. Love them the way Christ loves you.

Father, if we would look
beyond and through
all the people who have blessed our lives,
we would see You.
Every good gift comes from You.
Thank You, Father!

Hymn: I Thank the Lord for You

For You I Pray God’s Peace

This benediction prays
God’s peace
for those around us.

Recording
Printed Music

For you I pray God’s peace-
That deep and constant rest
That knows that He is always working for our best.
Receive His peace.

For you I pray God’s joy-
The music of a faith
That finds delight in serving Him and sings His praise.
Receive His joy.

May His grace
And His love
And His Spirit be within you.
Amen.

by Ken Bible, © 2002 LNWhymns.com.

Hebrews, Chapters 1-6

Fresh Views of Timeless Truths

For the next two weeks, reflect on Hebrews, Chapters 1-6 (the rest of the book of Hebrews will follow). This free pdf consists of scripture, prayers, reflections, and 13 new hymns for public and personal worship.

It is part of the new series, Fresh Views of Timeless Truth, focused reflections on key topics.

LINKS:
Free pdf of Hebrews, Chapters 1-6
Complete list of available volumes in Fresh Views of Timeless Truths