Have you got good religion?

Have you got good religion?

Do we have it?

“Have You Got Good Religion?” is an African American gospel song which imagines a series of questions Jesus might ask believers.

After the opening query, “Have you got GOOD RELIGION?”, there are five (5) additional questions which Jesus asks.  The individual then answers with an emphatic response, “Certainly Lord!”  As there have been many renditions of this song, there also have been many modifications to the “original” questions.

For this teaching, I’d like to share the original verses:

  • Have you been redeemed?
  • Have you been to the water?
  • Have you been baptized?
  • Is your name on high?
  • Has your name been changed?

The occasion or background for this dialogue is not given nor is it even important.  But as I purview the Church in the 21st century and the role of each of us as believers, I find the questions very appropriate.

Do we have good religion?

What is religion?

The origin of the word religion is from Latin religio or religare which means “obligation, bond, or to bind”.   Modern classification describes religion as a particular system of faith and worship.  It is also belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power especially a personal God or gods. 

I’m sure one time or another our faith walk has been described in terms of how we pursue our “religion.”  As we share our beliefs as it relates to world events, we might be told, “you are taking this religious thing too far!” Or as we refuse to acquiesce to some immoral or dishonest act, we may be accused as being “too religious”.

So what is good religion?

I concur with both definitions of religion put forth earlier.  I worship only One God, the Creator and Sustainer of all life (Ps. 104).  He is the ruling authority in my life.  My Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ redeemed me and translated me from darkness into light (1 Pet. 2:9).  Jesus lives in me through His Holy Spirit who empowers and guides me in all things.  I am a Christian and I worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

We must be careful however, not to allow man-made rituals and practices to keep us from true righteousness—being in right relationship with God AND with each other.  Such was often the case with the Pharisees who often mistaken religious activities for true worship and love for God (Matt. 15:1-20). Sadly, we see this in our churches who cling to history and tradition.  These often result in the quenching of the Holy Spirit.

What’s in a song?

I think the questions put forth in the song, help us to define what “good religion” looks like.  Then we can begin to examine ourselves to see if we are still of the faith (2 Cor. 13:5).

    • Have you been redeemed? To be redeemed means we have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  We no longer belong to Satan but are now part of God’s family. (Titus 2:11-14)
    • Have you been to the water? Have you been baptized? Baptism is our public testimony to our willingness to follow Jesus.  It is our external witness to our allegiance to Him. (Rom. 6:3-4)
    • Is your name on high? “On high” refers to “heaven” where the Book of Life is kept until Judgment Day (Rev. 20:11-15).  In it are the records of all people considered righteous before God.  Our name is in the Book because we have Christ’s imputed righteousness. (2 Cor. 5:19).
    • Has your name been changed? Our name is the source of our identity.  Biblical name changes were the result of spiritual identity changes in the life of those who have been with God, i.e., Abram to Abraham, Sari to Sarah, Jacob to Israel.  Our spiritual identities are changed when we become new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).
How would we respond?

If God were to pose the six questions contained in our song today, can we say emphatically. “Certainly Lord?” What would be our proof?

F.B. Meyer, noted theologian shared this description on religion—I offer it as my definition of “good religion.”

In Matthew 15:16, our Lord teaches that true religion is certainly not a matter of eating and drinking or outward ceremony.  It is the intention of the soul, the continual drawing from Christ the life power needed for our work and ministry to others.  

Is our life a witness to God’s power and love?  Have we joined Jesus in His work to serve in this fallen world?   If we can say, “Certainly Lord!” then our life and works become a testimony of our “good religion.”  (2 Cor. 5:14-15).

Although and Yet: A Prayer of Faith

 

Although and Yet: A prayer of Faith

Wickedness leads to judgment

Last week we were introduced to Habakkuk the prophet.  Habakkuk lived and prophesized in the reign of king Manasseh, when wickedness abound.  Destruction by the Chaldeans was imminent.  God would use them as an instrument of His judgment.

If God were to assess the moral condition of our nation, would we be prepared to receive His punishment?  Last week, we listed the “sins of Judah” that resulted in its fall.  Disobedience is a slippery slide that leads to a continuum of sins (James 1:13-15).

What’s in a name?

Before being taken into captivity, Judah would experience the loss of all its material wealth and property.  All the blessings of God (Deut. 28:1-14) would be eliminated because of the wickedness and rebellion of Judah (Deut. 28:15-68).

How was Habakkuk to respond to God’s pending punishment on the nation of Judah? Habakkuk is an unusual name which means “to embrace or cling”. In the final chapter of this book, his name becomes apparent as Habakkuk chooses to cling firmly to God regardless of what happens to his nation.

Although and yet.  These two conjunctions reflect how devoted Habakkuk was to his God and the trust he would need to navigate through the dark days that lie ahead.

Habakkuk’s declaration

In the final chapter of the book, Habakkuk concludes with a prayer confessing his continuing trust in the rightness of God’s dealing with Judah (Hab. 3:17-18).

Though the fig tree may not blossom,

Nor fruit be on the vines;

Though the labor of the olive may fail,

And the fields yield no food;

Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,

And there be no herd in the stalls—

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,

I will joy in the God of my salvation.

May I digress and spend a moment on the grammar Habakkuk used in this prayer.  Though is a conjunction meaning “in spite of the fact that”.   When used at the beginning a phrase, clause, or sentence, it offers a contrast to the main sentence.   Yet is also conjunction that means, in this context, “nevertheless.”  What are you saying, Habakkuk?  Put it in 21st century language we can understand!

In spite of rising costs and inflation,

And drought burned crops and dying cattle in the fields,

In spite of fires, floods, and ravaging storms,

And our shrinking GNP and personal investment accounts,

In spite of doing more with less

And receiving little in return

Nevertheless, I will rejoice in my Lord!

I will be joyful and trust in God.

He is my salvation!

That is the kind of faith we need today. Our world continues to shift from the familiar to the unrecognizable.  These lead to uncertainty and fear.  How will we respond?  Take a moment and write your own declaration of faith.  What is your “in spite of” and your “nevertheless”?

Habakkuk’s faith

Habakkuk concludes his prayer by living up to his name.  He praises God’s wisdom even though he doesn’t fully understand God’s way.  Habakkuk chooses to cling firmly to God regardless of what happens to his nation.

That faith and trust is captured in his closing statement (Hab. 3:19, NLT):

The Sovereign Lord is my strength!

He makes me as surefooted as a deer,

able to tread upon the heights.

In the King James version of this verse, two different words are used for “make”.

  • “He will make my feet like hinds’ feet” or “to transform into”.
  • “He will make me to walk upon my high places” or “tread, bend, or march”.

The deer in this verse was not the domesticated goat we see on farms today but was a wild mountain goat that was equipped the move through the rugged terrain of the mountains.  Narrow openings and ledges, crooks, and jagged rocks.  This is where the deer lived, yet they moved confidently knowing they were created for that world.

Application for us.  Our sovereign God has created us for such a time as this.  He is transforming us and bending us so that we will be able to not only survive but thrive.  But our ability to walk upon “our high places” is dependent on our faith and trust in God—even if we don’t understand His ways.  We must live by faith (Hab. 2:4).  If we do, then we too will be able to walk on our high places (Hab. 3:19).

What’s Going On?

What's going on?

What’s going on?

One of my favorite songs (past and present) is by American soul singer, songwriter, and producer Marvin Gaye.

It was released on May 21, 1971, by Motown Records.  The narrative established by the songs is told from the point of view of a Vietnam veteran returning to his home country to witness hatred, suffering, and injustice. Gaye’s introspective lyrics explore themes of drug abuse, poverty, and the Vietnam War. He has also been credited with promoting awareness of ecological issues before the public outcry over them had become prominent (Mercy, Mercy Me).[1]

As I look around our nation and world, I ask the same question. What’s going on?  And I even ask where is God in all this confusion?  And why doesn’t God intervene?  Such was the case with the prophet Habakkuk as he looked upon the nation of Judah.

The consequence of sin

The prophetic book of Habakkuk shares the dialogue between a “gracious God” and an “anxious prophet”.  As is true with both the major and minor prophets, we are given great insight as to how a holy God deals with an unholy and rebellious nation.

Although the nation of Judah was God’s “covenant people” (Deut. 7:7), God was now prepared to meter punishment on them like they had never experienced. The prophet Habakkuk has been chosen for “such a time as this”—a time when time has runout!

Judah was guilty of extraordinary sins.  Habakkuk inquired of God how long He would allow the wickedness of Judah to go unpunished.  They would not go unpunished.  God would use the nation of Babylon as His “chastening rod”.

We often think that our wrong behavior is not being seen by others.  While that may be true for a moment, the fact is, God sees!  What is done in the dark, will always come to light (Luke 8:17).  Many of our ousted elected officials and fallen religious leaders can attest to that truth.  However, there are always consequences for sin and it’s usually not good.

The cost of sin

God lists for Habakkuk the sins of Judah in five (5) “woes”.  God “had” indeed taken notice of Judah’s crimes (Hab. 2:5-20).  They included:

      • greed and aggression (vv. 5-8)
      • exploitation and extortion (vv. 9-11)
      • violence (vv. 12-14)
      • immorality (vv. 15-17)
      • idolatry (vv. 18-20)

We live in a world like Judah.  Look at the woes!  We sin both individually and collectively, as a nation.  God’s standard for righteous living has not changed (Micah 6:8; Mal. 3:6). Does God see what we’re doing?  Of course, He does (Ps. 33:13-14; Ps. 139:8-12).  The question is, are we willing to deal with the consequences of our sins?  Are we willing to accept the cost?

The cost is being realized as we see the immediate impact sin has on our children, our families, and our communities.

    • The hungry. Hunger is a very real issue for 12% or 41 million people in the United States.
    • The homeless. Why are people homeless? Because of “lack”!  Lack of affordable housing, income, employment opportunities, and healthcare.
    • The abused. Domestic violence.  Sexual abuse.  Human trafficking.

But what do these impacts have to do with sin?  Re-read the “five woes” and see how they fit in our 21st century culture.  If we are not guilty by “commission”, perhaps we are culpable by “omission”—by what we don’t do to make life better for others (Prov. 3:27).

The just shall live by faith

Although God’s judgment was hard for Habakkuk to accept, he recognized the only “proper response” in the midst of this dilemma.  He was “to live by faith, not by sight” (Hab. 2:4).

As we look at the world we live in, it is easy to be disillusioned and in despair.  Just like Habakkuk, we may question how long God will tolerate sinful and evil behavior from both individuals and nations.

Regardless of who sits in the White House or State House, we as believers in Christ are to do our part to speak truth and justice.  We are to engage in our world to represent Jesus as He ensures God’s will is accomplished (2 Cor. 5:15).  We are to live by faith.

Like Habakkuk, we have an ordained purpose to accomplish (Eph. 2:10).  We are to pursue our purpose trusting that God sees and is always in control.  He is constantly, through every historic event moving us to His divine plan of salvation for mankind.

Knowing that, our purpose should not focus on our personal agendas.  But instead let us join God in His plan.  Like Habakkuk and Esther and all those who have gone before us, we were created for such a time as this.  Let us not be in despair but let us “go forth” in the strength of the Lord (Ps. 71:16).

[1] Wikipedia

Losing Our Mind

Losing Our Mind

Losing our Mind

In the 90’s there was a commercial that declared “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Its intent was to encourage the pursuit of higher education.

Unfortunately, a politician, hoping to win “kudos” and votes with potential constituents misquoted this saying resulting in the statement, “a mind is a terrible thing to lose.” That politician was not re-elected.

Mind management

In his letter to the church at Philippi, the Apostle Paul gives advice as to the best use of one’s mind. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5).  In other words, we are to set aside our way of thinking and replace it with the same type of thinking as Jesus.  And what is the results of doing this? Victorious living.

Victorious according to Webster is defined as having won a victory or characterized by victory. I’m not suggesting that our life will be perfect nor problem free.    Our victory comes in the knowledge that Jesus has already overcome every situation we now face in our life (Heb. 4:15; 1 John 5:5).  In Christ, we have everything we need to overcome the challenges of 21st century living (2 Pet. 1:3-4, RSV).

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion and become partakers of the divine nature.

How do we obtain the mind of Christ?

To have a mind of Christ we must…

Be willing to exchange our position and our plans, for the purpose God has designed for our life. Christ willingly joined God in His plan of salvation for mankind (Eph. 1: 4-6).

Trust in God and believe that all things work together for good to those called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).

Humble ourselves like Christ.  Our intents and actions should seek “no personal reputation” nor gain (Phil. 2:6-8).  Christ voluntarily set aside His privileges (“being in the form of God”) and accepted a lower status (“took on the form of a bondservant and made in the likeness of man”). Why? For us.  That we might be released from the bonds of sin and have eternal life.

Our victory

Finally, to have the mind of Christ, we must be obedient.   Obedience is the highest form of love. Because of our love for God, we must be willing to sacrifice our thoughts and actions to follow the instructions He has set before us (1 Sam. 15:22). Christ’s obedience was love of the highest caliber.  Jesus was obedient even if it meant death by the worst possible punishment, death on the cross (Phil. 2:8).

Paul shares with the Philippians God’s reward for Jesus Christ’s “mind” (Phil. 2:9-10):

Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Possessing the mind of Christ will empower us to “pull down strongholds and cast down obstacles that hold themselves up above the knowledge of God.  We can do this by bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:4-5)

A mind may be a terrible thing to lose” unless you replace it with the mind of Christ.  There is an old axiom that states, “You can’t lose what you never had.” Read the Gospel account of the Madman of Gadarenes (Mark 5:1-19) and see how losing your mind can change your life.

Two Boats and a Helicopter

 

Two boats and a helicopter

The choices we make

I’m sure you have heard the story about the man who faced imminent danger as a result of a flood that begun to ravage his community.  The flood waters became higher, forcing him to retreat to the roof of his house.  On two occasions, individuals in boats beckoned him to climb into their boats and save his life.  But he refused and shouted back from his roof, “I’m a Christian! God will save me!”

Finally, the waters rose to the edge of the roof.  Suddenly a helicopter appeared and begged the man to grab the dropped latter and be saved.  Well, you know what happened!  The man refused and ultimately died.  When he entered heaven, he demanded to see God.  “Why did you let me drown?”  Instead of striking him down with a lightening bolt, God calmly replied, “Hey, I sent you two boats and a helicopter.”

As we face the challenges and problems in our life, we often fail to watch and follow the leads that God sends us.  Many of these are given to us before we enter our trial.  However, when we’re in that dire situation, so is God!  God is there AND He wants us to use the resources He has provided for us.  Such was the case with Moses as he faced his first hurdle upon leaving Egypt for the Promise Land (Exodus 14).

After Moses and the Israelites left Egypt, Pharoah had “seller remorse”.  God hardened his heart and caused him to regret letting the Israelite slaves leave (S).  He probably felt like he had been duped.  Who would do the work that the Israelites did?  Egypt’s economy would probably suffer, not to mention their quality of life—who would cook, clean, and serve them?   So much for Pharoah right now, let’s return to Moses’ dilemma.

The dilemma

As Pharoah and his army approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Weren’t there enough graves in Egypt that you brought us out here to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?”

The complaints escalated.  Moses tried to reassure the Israelites that everything would be alright.  He tried to coach them to “stand firm” and “be still”.  God would fight for them! (Exod. 14:13-14).  Moses told them that they would see the salvation of the LORD on that day.  But all they could see were Egyptians bringing up the rear fast.  They could not see God!

As I read this passage, I saw myself when facing hard times and challenges.  I tend to see only what I can look at with my physical eyes—loss of health, injustice, change in relationships, economic uncertainty.

It’s even harder for me to “be still”.  I need to fix this situation and now.  I see only me standing before the Red Sea.  But all is not loss—I’ll tell you why in a few.  Back to Moses.

“Any old help will do.”

I’m sure Moses cried to God.  Exactly what he said is not included in the scripture text.  But the Lord used this moment to speak directly to Moses.  Was God going to tell him that help was on the way?  Was He sending two boats and a helicopter?

The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward” (Exod. 14:15).

Moses probably thought, “Really?  Red Sea before me and Egyptians behind me.”  Sometimes when we pray, God’s answers don’t always make sense to us at first. But that’s where our faith in God—His greatness and His goodness—reinforces the need to obey His instructions (Heb. 11:1).

God gave Moses an answer he didn’t expect: “Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.” (Exod. 14:16)  

Moses had the answer to His dilemma “right in his hand” PLUS the power of God.  Moses and his staff would be the conduit God would use to not only deliver the Israelites but also glorify God.  This act of deliverance would spread throughout the countryside including to the potential tribes in the Promise Land whom the Israelites would need to conquer (Exod. 14:18).

When you need help…

From this study, I came to the following conclusions about what to do when I need help.

    1. Assess what I currently have available to address my problem. I will not only inventory what I have with my “physical eyes” (my mind and my intellect) but also with my “spiritual eyes”.  When I read God’s Word, especially His promises and follow that with prayer, I can expect God to show me what to do.  I have learned that God’s ways, methods, and timing are not the same as mine (Is. 55:8-9).  THEY ARE BETTER!
    1. “Lift up to God” the resources He has already provided for my solution. Moses failed to remember that God had told him that He would go with him on the journey to the Promised Land. He had forgotten how God used Moses’ staff in the court of Pharoah (Exod. 4:3).  Sometimes I refuse to move forward until I have “all the information and answers”.  When that happens, it is important for me to call to remembrance (Is. 46:9,10) where God has stepped in to join me in my battles (2 Chron. 20:6-7, 12).
    1. Move forward. I am still learning each day to move forward when directed by God.  I guess it’s part of being human.  I am learning to move “more quickly” when God directs me and learning to trust Him more.

In my moments of prayer and meditation, I ask God to show me those areas of my life where I sin by being prideful or self-reliant.  He uses that time together to gently redirect my attention away from my problems and look to Him.  God is greater than any problem we may face and better equipped to solve them.  Only God can guarantee our success!

When God created us, He not only placed His purpose within us but also placed the ability to complete that purpose (Phil. 1:6).  As God prepares our path, He also prepares us for the path.  It is our responsibility to believe, to trust, and then obey.

Conclusion

The next time you need help, deliverance, or an answer for life’s challenges, don’t always look for a miracle from God.  He doesn’t need to come to our rescue.  God is always with us.  We daily live not in God’s miracles but by His lovingkindness and grace.  He is there to help us see the resources He has already provided for our escape (Eph. 1:17-20).

Prayer:  O Heavenly Father, grow within us the faith we need for the challenges we face.  Train us to look at our problems as opportunities to partner with You in their resolution.  Forgive us when we lean on our own understanding.  Place in our heart an expectation that You are with us and will always act on our behalf.  Lord, finally, help us to “Go forward” in Your name and by Your power.   Amen

Opportunities in Uncertainty

Opportunities in Uncertainty

 

Josh’s opportunity

Josh had experienced much turmoil and strife during his current job assignment.  There was frequent upheaval among his peers against current management.  Those efforts, fortunately, had been squelched.  As a result of that effort, many of his team members suffered great loss and were not allowed to move forward with the organization.

Earlier in his career, Josh was chosen to be part of a special team to evaluate next steps for his organization.  Because of Josh’s loyalty and his credentials, he was now a candidate for a new opportunity.

Because of the earlier “coup attempt”, many of the older, seasoned members were no longer there.  What remained was a young and inexperienced group, who needed guidance and support in moving the organization to new heights that had been promised to them.

And now, he was being offered a promotion as head of the organization.  But was he ready?  What did he need to move forward?  Was there an opportunity in this uncertainty?  These were possible  questions asked by Moses’ replacement, Joshua (Deut. 31:7).

Ready for an opportunity?

How would we respond if offered the opportunity set before Joshua?  That was the question I asked myself during my morning devotion as I read Deuteronomy 31:1-8 and Joshua 1:1-18.  In both scripture texts, Joshua is repeatedly told several things that would prepare him for his new leadership role.

The first dealt specifically with his reaction to the opportunity.  What were the emotions he felt knowing what lie ahead of him?  Joshua was told to “be strong, fear not, and be of good courage” (Joshua 1:6-9).   But how was he to do that?

He had seen Moses as he dealt with this group of stiff-necked and disobedient people.  He remembered the frustration that Moses often felt in trying to keep them faithful to God and His commandments.  Moses was the great mediator between these people and Yahweh, Almighty God.  Would he be able to do the same?

Fear or dismay?

As I studied these texts, I asked myself (and my husband) this question.  Which is worst—fear or dismay (discouragement)? Is there a difference? Fear is anxiety caused by approaching danger—real or imagined.  Discouragement is described as depression of one’s spirit.  It can be caused by a heavy burden, defeat, an apparent failure, or even sickness.

Both fear and discouragement would be unique challenges that Joshua would need to manage as he moved forward.  Both could potentially lead to failure in Joshua’s assignment to take the Israelites into the Promise Land.  And not only entrance into the land that God promised, but to also conquer the current inhabitants.

Fear or discouragement?  Which one is our biggest threat as we face the challenges of living in these times of uncertainty?  How are we to manage the stresses of life that come both rapidly, continuously, and often violently?

Fear and discouragement are Satan’s “weapons of choice” to hinder and even stop us as we move into God’s purpose for our life.  Satan will often focus on the largeness of the problem and/or the smallness of our ability to stop us in our tracks.

That’s why we need the intervention of Someone who is bigger than the problem and able to do exceedingly above all that we can ask or need (Eph. 3:20).  That Someone is God our Father, made available through His Son Jesus the Christ, and made manifest in our lives through the Holy Spirit.

God’s Promise

In his new leadership role, it was critical that Joshua remembered what God had promised:  It is the Lord who goes before you; He will be with you, He will not fail you or forsake you (Deut. 31:8). 

Despite the difficult times experienced living in the Wilderness, Joshua saw firsthand God’s love and faithfulness to His people.  God had chosen Israel to be His treasure (Deut. 7:6) and He would make good on every promise He made to them (Joshua 1:5-7).

Joshua had seen God’s great power as evidenced through His miracles and works:  The ten plagues in Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, and God’s provision during Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness (Deut. 8:3-4). God’s promise to Moses was the same promise He now made to Joshua:  God would go before him and with him.  God would not fail nor forsake him.     

We daily face changes and challenges, turmoil, and threats.  They are as great and as real, for us, as Joshua’s new leadership opportunity.  But like Joshua, we can rest assured that we can depend on and trust in the promises of God.  God goes before us and with us, wherever the circumstances of life may lead us (Heb. 13:5).

God is more than able to handle whatever may come our way.  He is “Alpha and Omega, the beginning, and the ending…which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8).  It is in His presence, and under His authority that all things are possible (Matt. 19:26).   So be not afraid nor be dismayed, we are not alone.  There is always opportunity even amid uncertainty when God is with us.

How’s your joy capacity?

Joy Capacity

Joy and strength

Upon returning from exile, Nehemiah told the builders of the new wall of Jerusalem that “the joy of the Lord would be their strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) The type of joy Nehemiah was alluding to was only possible from our Almighty God Who would sustain them through the direst of circumstances.

What sustains you?  In the midst of all our challenges as a nation, in our communities, and in our families, how are you holding up?  How is your joy capacity?  Is the joy of the Lord still our strength today?  Yes!  The principle of joy still resonates even in the 21st century (James 1:2-3; Phil. 4:4).

What exactly is joy?

Joy is defined by Webster as a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.  This definition, however, fails to explain the importance of joy in building resiliency, or our ability to “bounce back” from the challenges of life.  It is joy that increases our emotional capacity to handle the difficulties we face while we live in this fallen world.

Joy nuggets

Although we may feel like we have little or no joy left, we must be diligent to “refill” our joy tanks.  I’d like to share just a few “joy nuggets” nuggets so you too can increase your JQ–joy quotient.

We increase our joy when we are in relationship.  I’m not talking about sexual relationship (although that is important) but I mean when we are in fellowship with others.  God said it is not “good for man to be alone.” In response, God created woman to be in relationship with Him. (Gen. 2:18) God Himself was in relationship with the first married couple.

In relationship, joy comes from knowing that the person you are with is happy to see and be with you.  Relationship was key to Christ as we observe His relationship with His disciples and His close circle which included Peter, James, and John

We increase joy when we are in community.  Social restraints and changing technology have made archaic the idea of a physical community.  Remember Mrs. Branch who taught the girls how to play the piano?  Or Mr. Johnson’s “show and tell” sessions about his adventures in the Army.  Or Mrs. Mott’s homemade cider and gingerbread at Halloween.

Community offered familiarity, authenticity, and validation.  Joy was found in acceptance and genuine interest in the individual.   Join a community that can offer these benefits.  Remember the television sitcom, “Cheers”.  At Cheers “everybody knows your name and their all so glad you came.  We want to go where everybody knows your name!”

 We increase joy when we reflect on moments of appreciation.  Think about a person that you appreciate and a time you felt especially grateful to be with that person.

Describe the emotion you felt when you were with them.  Describe what your body felt like when that person was present.  Doing this exercise regularly will raise your joy level.  

Let your joy flow

Although joy might appear to be a fleeting emotion, it really requires that we be intentional in our pursuit of it.

My joy begins first with God, my most important relationship.  It is in time of prayer, reading His Word, and fellowship through worship that I feel my greatest joy.   With Him, I feel safe, calm, and connected.  I feel joy.

Next, I find great joy with family and friends.  It is in sharing meals, recounting stories, and in creating new memories that I find joy.  These times together help me put into perspective what is important and “joyful.”  I share joy.

How is your joy capacity?

Throwback Wednesday: Remember to Press In!

Throwback Wednesday: Press In

Welcome to Throwback Wednesday

We close June with Throwback Wednesday.  It is an occasion to look back and rediscover truths that we may have forgotten.  In reading this WordBytes, I was challenged to place its insights in the context of today’s realities.

I’m sure many of you, like myself, are fatigued by the continual bombardments of bad news, emerging crisis in our nation, and the challenges to make sense of a world that seems to have lost its way.  Regardless of the circumstances and events of the day, I invite you to “press in”.  Press into God and feel His presence which will help us continue with hope and renewed energy.

I have always shared with friends and family, that God has purposed our lives for times such as this.  Our resiliency and our ability to move forward need to be connected with the power, presence, and promise of God.  He will not leave us nor forsake us.  We need only “press in!

“You will find me when you seek Me.”  Jeremiah 29:13

We have explored on many occasions the biblical truth that God is in and among us—continually, without interruption, 7 by 24.  We experience God through our personal fellowship with Him and through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

However, there may be times when we don’t “feel” God.  We feel estranged from Him, alone, and unable to hear His voice.  Be assured, this is a common experience for believers.  The resolution for this spiritual occurrence, however, is not to curb our prayer life or cease in reading His Word.  During those times, it is imperative that we “press in.”

Disturbing Quietness

There are seasons in my life when it is extremely difficult to hear God’s voice.  I’m not talking about unanswered prayer but times of “disturbing quietness” when l must strain to hear Him—if I hear Him at all.

As I shared this experience, I found other believers had been through similar seasons of silence.  Interestingly, we all described it as a period when we “didn’t hear His voice.”  

In Search of an Answer

When I first experienced this quietness, I began to the search my heart for sins I might have committed yet failed to confess.  It was the sin of Adam that separated him from fellowship with God in the Garden of Eden.  Later Adam and Eve would experience the physical death of their body—the final separation from the world God had created for them.  I asked God to forgive me of my sins, yet I still felt disconnected from my First Love (Rev. 2:4).

My next effort was to examine my devotion time with Him.  I would increase my time of reading His Word.  Psalm 119 became my “song book” as I sought to hear His voice.

    • I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. (v. 16)
    • I recounted my ways and you answered me; teach me your decrees. (v. 26)
    • Yet you are near, O LORD, and all your commands are true. (v. 151)
    • May my cry come before you, O LORD; give me understanding according to your word. (v. 169)

I would rise early to pray—leaving more time to “listen” and less to speak.  I would “draw near” with a sincere heart with expectations that He would do likewise (James 4:8; Heb. 10:22).  I would dedicate my day to praise and worship.  If God inhabits the praises of His people (Ps. 22:3), He will surely respond to me as I emptied myself to Him.  Yet with all the modifications to my devotional time, I couldn’t hear Him.  After many days of silence, I finally experienced a breakthrough.

Learning to Press in

In Secrets of the Secret Place, Bob Sorge shared his insight into my situation.

Many of us feel like we move in and out of God’s throne room. We have times of great connectedness, and then we suffer periods of disconnectedness. We can’t always analyze exactly why a distance has developed in our hearts toward the Lord, but most of us feel like our relationship with Christ is a roller coaster ride of feeling close, then far, then close, then far, then close again. In and out.  And we hate it. We were created for constant intimacy, and anything less drives us crazy on the inside. It is at those times that we need to press into God like you never have in your life! Allow the desperation of your soul to help you pursue God with absolute abandonment. 

God’s periods of quietness were an invitation to draw closer to Him—to “press in.”  More than proximity, He desires to establish an intimate friendship with us that is walked out through the course of our everyday lives. He is not looking for a segment of our day nor a day of the week.  He desires unbroken communion with us.

So on those occasions when it appears that “you can’t hear God”, press in!  Be of good courage for He is ever near (Ps. 73:28).  Press in!  Eagerly and unabashedly pursue Him, the Pearl of Great Price (Matt. 13:46). Press in!

SELAH:  Read Psalm 63:1-8.  Write in your journal the ways that David “pressed in” to God during his time in the wilderness.  Read the text again using a different translation or paraphrase.  Then ask the Holy Spirit how He wants you to “press in”.     

What is fellowship with God?

What is Fellowship with God?

God in and among us

There are two (2) biblical truths that should motivate us to live our  lives “more fully and abundantly” (John 10:10).

The first truth is that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, presently lives within us.  Jesus promised this to us who “believeth on and in Him” (John 14:16-17).

The second is that we live continuously in the presence of God (Ps. 139:7).  There is never a time nor is there any circumstance in our life where we will find ourselves outside God’s love and purview.

Both truths are “spiritual blessings” gifted to us from our heavenly Father (Eph. 1:3).   But even with God’s commitment to be in and among us, we have a responsibility to draw “near to God” (James 4:8) by entering into intentional fellowship with Him.  God will not force His presence upon us.  He will, however, invite us into fellowship with Him.

What is fellowship?

What does “fellowship with God” look like in our life?  Fellowship has been described as the sharing of experiences with likeminded people.

However, fellowship with God is much more, because “who has known the mind of God?” (Romans 11:34) Our fellowship with the Father is dependent upon accepting His Son as Lord and Savior.  It is through Jesus Christ that we begin to “know by experience” God’s heart and mind.

Such was the case with the Apostle John and the disciples who were uniquely privileged to witness, first hand, the person and works of Christ.

“That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.   And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.”    1 John 1:3-4

Can I get a witness?

  • “That which was seen” included the many miracles of Christ; miracles that would attest to the coming of the promised Messiah (Matt. 11:2-5). 
  • “That which was heard” were truths that Christ declared concerning the kingdom of God and His offer of eternal life (Luke 4:43; 9:11).
  • “That which was looked upon and our hands handed” recounted the disciples’ examination of Christ’s glorified body after the resurrection (John 20:27).

All of the disciples’ senses were engaged as Christ manifested (revealed) Himself and the Father.  Since Father and Son are one (John 17:11, 22), the disciples concurrently experienced fellowship with the Father (v. 3).  The disciple’s experience with Christ was not viewed from a distance but up close and personal.

Unending communion

Fellowship (koinonia or koy-nohn-ee’-ah) is translated as “communion” and “joint participation in a common life.”   John’s personal witness was an invitation to the early church to participate in a lifestyle that centered on relationship–an unending communion with God the Father and the Son.    Therein is the basis for John’s reason for sharing about fellowship with God:  so that their “joy may be full” (1 John 1:3-4).

Joy (pleroo or play-ro’o) means “to fill to the top so nothing is wanting; to complete”.  Joy can also be explained as “God’s will obeyed” and “God’s promises fulfilled”.   Joy begins and ends with fellowship with the Father and the Son (Luke 4:21).

Fellowship with God as a lifestyle

Ask yourself these questions.  How would I describe my fellowship with God?  Have I seen, heard, and looked upon Christ’s presence in my daily walk of faith?  Do I have joy and is it full?

Many times, we miss opportunities to fellowship with God. Perhaps we have become distracted by competing priorities and the busyness of life. Have our sinful behavior patterns and unhealthy influences interrupted our fellowship with God?

We are to walk daily in fellowship with God, armed with the knowledge that we are no longer “slaves to sin”.  Instead we are to be “servants of righteousness” producing fruit of holiness (Rom. 6: 22).

Get up close and personal!

Though John’s letter was written thousands of years ago, its message is still relevant for us today.  Therefore, it is an invitation for us to participate with the only true Source of joy.

Jesus invites us to draw near with faith (Heb. 10:22) and learn of Him (Matt. 11:29). In return, we can enjoy glorious fellowship with Him.  Let us be faithful witnesses to what it means to live in fellowship with God.

In the Presence of God

 

“Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.”

Psalm 139:7-8 (NRS)

Unseen influences

Our life consists of more than “flesh and blood”.  It includes our assumptions, beliefs and behaviors that regulate our personal preferences and pursuits.  These can be “of the world” or “of God.”

These assumptions, beliefs and behaviors eventually influence the choices we make daily and are ultimately reflected in our life style.

It is important that God’s influence is evident in our lives.  This begins by our acknowledging His glorious presence.  In Psalm 139 David shares the effect such knowledge can have in the life of the believer.

Where can I go?

In Psalm 139, God’s presence is demonstrated through several of His key attributes.

In verses 7-12, from which our text for today is found, David speaks specifically of God’s omnipresence.  God is everywhere all the time.

In Jeremiah 23:23-24 this characteristic is spoken of by God Himself.  “Am I a God near by, says the LORD, and not a God far off?   Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the LORD.”

Acknowledging God’s Presence

The impact of living in God’s presence offers extraordinary benefit for the believer.

First, knowing God is everywhere offers us great comfort.  The new norm for living in the 21st century requires us to be ever vigilant—watching for potential risks and dangers that may threaten us physically, financially, and/or socially. To know that we are never out of the presence of God should settle the faint-hearted.  God alone can make good on His promise that He will “never leave nor forsake us” (Gen. 28:15).

Secondarily, believers living in the presence of God possess great confidence knowing that God is ever-present. Even in the most routine of transactions, recognizing that the “only wise God” (Rom. 16:27) is there to guide and direct our steps, releases us from unnecessary stress and concern (Phil. 4:6-7).

Finally, living in God’s presence provides us great clarity as to how we are to live in this present age (Titus 2:11-13).  This acknowledgment requires that we live obediently according to His Word and under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Living in God’s Presence

God’s Word, especially the New Testament, describes God’s expectation of our conduct in light of living in a fallen world. Our  behavior is different from the world’s view (Rom. 12:2; 1 Pet. 1:13-16; 1 John 2: 16-17)

As believers in Christ, our reality recognizes that God is the center of our universe and it is God who sustains us and keeps us (Ps. 3:5; Heb. 1:3).  We joyfully seek His will—the divine purpose of the ever-present God.  Our life and reality is derived from knowing we live continuously in the presence of God.