Category Archives: Our Faith Walk

Clarion Word Classics: The Dangers of a Shallow Faith

 

What are Clarion Word Classics?

The Clarion Word Classics (CWC) is a learning series WordBytes has launched to share faith writings that will strengthen and enrich our spiritual lives and faith walk.  Some of our classics come from sage theologians.  Others introduce contemporary writers who offer spiritual answers to the challenges of 21st century living.

The word “clarion” comes from the Latin word that means “clear”.  Used as an adjective, it means “loud and clear”.  Our intent with this quarterly series is to make “loud and clear” what is ours in Christ (Rom. 8:17) and the relevancy of our faith for this present generation (Matt. 24:34).

This quarter CWC, will introduce A.W. Tozer, a self-taught theologian, pastor, and writer whose powerful use of words continues to grip the intellect and stir the soul of today’s believer.  He has authored more than 40 books, the best known are The Pursuit of God and The Knowledge of the Holy.  The Dangers of a  Shallow Faith is a never-before-published compilation.

How does it connect with our faith walk?

Lethargy is a lingering tiredness that is constant and limiting. Spiritual lethargy may be defined as a state of indifference or inertia with regard to one’s own spiritual growth and vitality.

The Apostle Paul urged the Thessalonians to avoid succumbing to spiritual lethargy: “so then let us not sleep as others do but let us be alert and sober” (1 Thess. 5:6).

Tozer describes this condition well: “there is little communion and little joy in the Lord. To have a cold heart with little pity, little fire, little love and little worship is spiritual lethargy.”[1] 

Some of the most common symptoms include any combination of the following:

  • Chronic indulgence in sinful thoughts and actions
  • Little or no desire to pray
  • Engagement in exclusively Christ-less entertainment
  • Avoidance of personal accountability
  • Decreased appetite for Bible study
  • Selfish and materialistic orientation
  • Reluctant and sporadic church attendance

Spiritual lethargy renders us “unserviceable” in God’s Kingdom.  Deceived by Satan’s lies, tempted by the world, and weakened in our flesh, we are, as the mothers of the church would say, “no earthly good.”  Satan’s most successful strategy is not to kill our faith but to silence our witness.

Tozer’s insights

Tozer urges us to be aware of the times in which we live.  We are to “gird the loin of our mind, be sober and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13).   While Tozer’s dangers were centered on the evangelical church, its application is “spot on” for us individually as we move from “glory to glory” in our walk of faith (2 Cor. 3:18).

In the Word Ministries provides CWC in our effort to “inspire authentic communities of faith, fellowship, and learning.”  It is in that spirit that we share this book.  This is not an endorsement or agreement with the views shared.  Here is an introductory reading  from The Dangers of a Shallow Faith:  Awakening from Spiritual Lethargy. 

[1] The Dangers of a Shallow Faith:  Awakening from Spiritual Lethargy. 

Our Faith Walk: Who are You? Part 2

Who are You? Part 2

Identity in crisis

Last week we presented identity as the set of characteristics that constitutes individual personality.  It is influenced by both internal and external factors.  Our identity is dynamic, in that it can be influenced by situations and circumstances that surround us.  Therefore, our identity is to be carefully guarded and protected.  This is especially true when we consider our spiritual identity (Prov. 4:23).

It is difficult to maintain our identity in Christ while living amid the 21st century.  Temptations offered by Satan, the influence of worldview, and the weakness of our human flesh, create conditions for a “perfect storm” that can negatively impact our walk of faith.  Considering these tests, how can we protect our identity in Christ?

A Change in Identity

Why do people change their identity?  Because of change.

Human beings have a complicated relationship with change. While it is both inevitable and essential for growth, change can also be deeply uncomfortable — especially if it feels involuntary, or out of our control.

As researchers focused on social change, we’ve spent the last ten years studying how people react to drastic changes in their lives. We’ve conducted hundreds of interviews with people who lost a desired identity, such as former white-collar professionals forced to move into lower-status careers, as well as with people trying to shed an undesirable or stigmatized identity, such as former prisoners working to reintegrate themselves in their communities.

Interestingly, regardless of whether the changes were ostensibly positive or negative, many of the people we talked to struggled to move on from their past identities and embrace their new selves. This feeling of stuck-ness — a phenomenon we call identity paralysis — often left people feeling angry, frustrated, and hopeless about their current situations.[1]

Changes in identity are normal and to be expected.  We live in a world of constant flux.  However, it is important to embrace those identity traits that best accomplish the plan and purpose God has for our lives (Jer. 29:11).   Why?  Because our identity influences how we live our life!

Our Behavior follows our Identity

Behavior and identity are linked.  In the Old Testament, God continually warned His people to remember who they were and their covenant relationship with Jehovah (Deut. 6:4-9).  God knew that their identification with the wrong things and people would affect their faithfulness.  They would be drawn away from the plan and purpose God had for their life (Deut. 8:11).  The same is true for us today.

In the New Testament, especially in the writings of the Apostle Paul, the Church in its infancy was continually reminded of their “new identity in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17).  Ministering in countries that didn’t worship God nor honor the teaching of Jesus would be challenging.   Their worldview would be very different, just as it is today in the 21st century (1 John 1:7).

Paul’s exceptional testimony of his previous identity as an Orthodox Jew, speaks to the transforming power of Christ to change our identity.  It is probably the most thorough testimony in Scripture.

Circumcised when I was eight days old, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews [an exemplary Hebrew]; as to the [observance of the] Law, a Pharisee; as to my zeal [for Jewish tradition], a persecutor of the church; and as to righteousness [supposed right living] which [my fellow Jews believe] is in the Law, I proved myself blameless. But whatever former things were gains to me [as I thought then], these things [once regarded as advancements in merit] I have come to consider as loss [absolutely worthless] for the sake of Christ [and the purpose which He has given my life].  (Phil. 3: 5-7, Amplified) 

Paul’s identity changed his behavior and his life forever.  What can we say about Jesus’ entry into our lives and the change it has made in our identity?

Do we know who we are?

Our identity is founded in Christ Jesus.  It has been revealed in both His living Word and reflected in His love for us.  It is based on a firm foundation that is eternal and abides forever (Ep. 1:4).  Jesus has made it possible for us to become partakers of God’s grace and power.  Knowing our identity, we can hold firm our “confession of faith without wavering” (Heb. 10:23).

CAUTION:  If we as believers are unable to accept the identity God has communicated to us, we need to enter a time of prayer and examination as to why we choose not to believe God (choosing rather to believe the lies of Satan, self, and the world).

[1] “When a Major Life Change Upends Your Sense of Self “, Harvard Business Review.

Our Faith Walk: Who Are You? Part 1

Who are you?

Who are you?

In the story, Alice in Wonderland, we are told of a young girl drawn into a world of contradictions and challenges to her way of thinking.  How did it start?  She chased a rabbit with a watch.  In the process, Alice falls into a “proverbial rabbit hole”, entering a new reality that tests everything she claims to believe.  My favorite character is the plump caterpillar who, positioned on a posh pillar, asks of Alice, “Who are you?”

Joseph, being sold into slavery by his brothers, found himself in new and perilous circumstances that challenged his faith and godly beliefs (Genesis 37-39).  Daniel and his comrades, exiled in Babylon where continually tested and dared to “hold fast to their confession of faith”, even at the potential loss of their life (Daniel 1-3).

One of the challenges in living in the 21st century is understanding, “who we are”.   Our identity.  Why is it important?  Who influences the choices we make daily?  There are rabbit holes, temptations, and risks to life we must acknowledge as we continue our walk of faith.  That’s why it’s important that we hold firm to our identity as followers of Jesus Christ.

Who do you identify with?

Identity is the set of characteristics that constitutes individual personality.  It is our essential self and our personal uniqueness.

Our identity is shaped by personal traits, talents, values, and beliefs. External factors such as friends and family, social groups, and cultural heritage also shape who we are.

While identity deals with personal uniqueness, it also describes a person’s sameness with others.  For example, one’s identity may be tied to a particular area (Midwesterner, New Yorker), a certain group (Boomers, Gen-Xers), or a cause (Save the Whales).  It can also be tied to a political affiliation or religious denomination.

Our world is daily challenging us to “choose” who we identify with.  The results are that we, as a society, are experiencing an identity crisis.

Identity crisis, in the psychosocial sense, is a condition of disorientation and role confusion as a result of conflicting pressures and expectations.   Identity crisis seeks a clearer sense of self and acceptable role in society.  Spiritual identity crisis is very similar, in that it occurs because of the conflict exerted from Satan, the world, and self.[1]

Unfortunately, rather than celebrating our God-given uniqueness, the world and Satan is using our identity to polarize us and to weaponize who we are.

Identity and our faith walk.

For believers, our identity is rooted and grounded in Christ Jesus (Col. 2:7).   Through His work of redemption, we have been reconciled to the Father (Rom. 5:10).

Satan challenges our identity in Christ Jesus by first targeting our mind.  He uses as his weapon, lies.  These lies are designed to deceive and discourage.  Satan’s purpose is to make us ignorant of God’s will and plan for our life.

The world also attacks our mind and our body.  It creates an insatiable desire for “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16).

Lastly, self contributes to identity crisis by demanding freedom to exercise its personal will.  The desire to rule self and operate independent of God leads to self-promotion, self-elevation, and selfishness.  Left unchecked, man’s attention shifts from “what God desires” to “what feels right.”

In Christ we are now sons and daughters of God (John 1:12), endowed with a new identity and power.  Through spiritual regeneration (2 Cor. 5:17), we have become partakers of His divine nature, the Holy Spirit, who is daily conforming us to the image of Christ (2 Pet. 1:4).

We must continually be on the watch for social, political, and yes, religious “rabbit holes” that challenge our identity in Christ. Next week, we will continue our discussion on identity and its importance in our faith walk.

[1]   https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/identity-crisis

 

Our Faith Walk: Keep Your Eye on God

A Message for Fearful Times

Historical trauma

We’ve experienced many horrible events in the tapestry of our nation’s history and in our personal lives.  Natural disasters, war, health pandemics, and social upheaval, just to name a few. These events create trauma and fear that must be navigated daily.

But I come today with a message of encouragement and hope from the God who sees and Who is in complete control of what appears to be “out of control.”  Keep your eye on God!

Keep Your Eye on God

It is important during these troubling times to keep our eyes on the Lord.  As believers, we are aware that in this world we will have tribulation and trials (John 16:33).  But we are also reminded to take heart because Jesus has overcome the world.  One writer reminded me, “it is the tension between ‘overcome’ and ‘taking heart’ that cause us problems.”

Our trust in the Lord is not the result of positive thinking or some new age approach to stress management.   Brian Morykno with Renovaré encourages believers during fearful times to follow King David’s example of magnification.

Imagine David, with the war cry of enemies rising all around, settled of soul and unafraid.  How was that possible?  It’s not that David was out of touch with reality; he was in touch with it.  David understood magnification.  He knew that what we dwell upon becomes large in our spiritual field of vision.  And David dwelled upon God (Ps. 95:3-5).     

Our reality is this.  God is sovereign and is moving forward with His plan of salvation.  God is not the cause of the terrible events we see in our daily social media feed and news broadcasts.  Such events come from “heart issue” of sinful men (James 3:16-18) and the work of Satan (Eph. 6:12; John 10:10).

Where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.   But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace (James 3:16).

A Plan for These Times

To help us move through these times, I offer this three-prong approach to help us navigate through these difficult times.

Prayer.  This should be our first response to the troubles we face.  We are told to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17).  The reason for this mandate is because our prayers connect us directly to God—the Power Source who can resolve our dilemma.  The “only wise God” (Rom. 16:27) is there to guide and direct our steps, comfort our heart, and ease our stress (Phil. 4:6-7).

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  (Romans 12:12)

Practice the Presence of God   We are never alone regardless of the situation we face.  He alone can make good on His promise that He will “never leave nor forsake us” (Gen. 28:15).  He is ever-present.  Regardless of external appearances, God is with us even amid our trouble.

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. (Ps. 139:7-8)

Praise.  Yes, I said praise.  Why?  Because it is the quickest way to experience the presence of God (Ps. 22:3).    Ruth Meyer, author of the book, 31 Days of Praise, offers this insight on the power of praise.

As you praise and pray, you make your circumstances and your life a test tube that demonstrates the existence of a personal God, a God who is present and involved and who controls the natural Universe. It turns your attention to spiritual and eternal values versus the pleasures and success mentality of our age, which resists all pain and discomfort and delay.

But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. (Ps. 22:3)

A Message for Trying Times

As we continue our walk of faith, we will be faced with trials and trouble.   Although these may be difficult, we have the blessed assurance that we are not in these things alone.  Neither are we powerless (Luke 10:19; Eph. 1:19).

I don’t know how these tumultuous times will end but I do know that God has the final word (Ps. 119:89-91).  God is and will continue to be the Creator and Sustainer of all things (Col. 1:16).

Lessons Learned in 2023: Remembering the Sankofa Bird

 

It’s that Time Again

As is our tradition with WordBytes, our first teaching each new year is a reflection on the things learned in the previous year.  What have we learned as we look back on 2023?

What were the “bought lessons” learned at great expense?  What were the “taught lessons” received with meekness and humility? More importantly, how will we use the knowledge and wisdom learned to better navigate both the challenges and opportunities of 2024?

Learn from the Sankofa Bird

The Sankofa Bird is a mythical bird with its feet firmly planted forward, but its head turned back to pick up an egg from its back. This symbolizes the importance of learning from the past and bringing that knowledge with you as you move forward.

The Sankofa Bird holds various significant meanings:

    • Honoring the past: It encourages us to learn from our history, both the good and the bad. By understanding our past, we can avoid repeating mistakes and build a better future.
    • Preserving cultural heritage: Sankofa emphasizes the importance of preserving cultural traditions and values. It reminds us that our ancestors’ wisdom and knowledge are still relevant today.
    • Personal growth: On a personal level, the Sankofa Bird can represent the continuous process of self-improvement. It encourages us to reflect on our past experiences, learn from them, and use that knowledge to grow as individuals.

For this year’s “lessons learned”, we would like to offer the Sankofa Bird as a framework for sharing what we’ve learned in 2023.  It will also help to determine what things are of value moving forward into this new year and what things are “useless baggage” best left behind.

Where do I start?  Where am I headed?

I looked to previous years’ learnings to begin my list.  I asked myself, “Has my faith grown stronger?”  “Have I grown in the knowledge of Jesus Christ?” (2 Pet. 3:18) “Was I becoming more conformed to the image of Christ?” (Rom. 8:29)

It was in reading previous learnings that I discovered my first lesson from 2023.  Like the Sankofa Bird, looking back helped me understand that spiritual growth or sanctification is a continuous process.  We never stop growing until eternity.

From this review process, “common themes” began to emerge.

    1. God should be the center of our lives. Seek Him first.
    2. The importance of relationships. With God and with others.
    3. Trust and Obedience. These are essential for a successful faith walk.
    4. God is faithful and true. His Word and promises never change.
    5. God is ever present. His Presence is always with us.

These themes helped to identify my second lesson from 2023:  the importance of learning more about God, His Kingdom, and our purpose in His plan of salvation.  This lesson is best captured in Eph. 1:17-19.

That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him,  the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,  and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power

Did I learn anything new?

My final lesson learned is probably the most impactful to me.  It was learned during our study on eternity.  Unless we intentionally focus on the importance of eternity to our spiritual welfare, it will remain nothing more than theological jargon we hear on Sunday morning.

Many Christians become disillusioned as their quest for peace and pleasure on this earth feel them with despair.  If you are one of these believers who senses you’re missing something—who have hoped for more—it may be that your perspective is distorted by your focus on this world. With heaven as our point of reference, we can learn to live a satisfying, balance, and victorious life even in a fallen world.[1]

My third lesson from 2023:  To know the true God and His Son Jesus Christ, it is important that we focus on eternity.  To live on lives with an eye on eternity, is the only “sure way” to live in the fullness of God today, tomorrow, and forever.

Carrying my egg into 2024

Like the Sankofa Bird, with my feet firmly planted forward, I’m carrying my egg into 2024 by:

    • Prioritizing my spiritual growth and development.
    • Increasing in wisdom and knowledge of God.
    • Focusing on eternity.

And what will I leave behind?  All the things (and people) that hinder my journey forward.

What will you carry into 2024?  What will you leave behind?

[1]  Dr. Joseph M. Stowell, Eternity:  Reclaiming a Passion for What Endures

What is Your Eternal Net Worth?

 

Spiritual return in heaven

Our recent study on eternity has awakened a sensitivity in me as to how I spend my time and resources.   Are the things I’m doing adding to the glory and honor of my King and His Kingdom? Or am I only concerned with what’s relevant to life right now?

Alstair Begg, noted preacher and theologian, added to my concern by questioning me (indirectly of course) as to whether I was more concerned with my IRAs (Individual Retirement Accounts) than my IEA (Individual Eternity Account).  Do I have an eternal net worth?

Net Worth by any other name

Net worth is a financial term used to describe the total value of all possessions minus all outstanding debt.  It reflects what we  earn for personal benefit.  If we apply this financial term to spiritual things, eternal net worth is the value of one’s works that will be accounted to our reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

What’s with the fire?

The Apostle Paul, in writing to the church of Corinth wanted them to be aware that the works done on earth would have a direct impact on the rewards they would later receive in heaven.

If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.  If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” 1 Cor. 3:12-15 (NIV)

The Day refers to the time of the Judgment Seat of Christ or the Bema Seat (1 Cor. 3:13).  It is there where we will receive our reward for the things done in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Cor. 5:10).

As the writer of Hebrew stated:  It is appointed to man once to die and then the judgment (Heb. 9:27). We will not be judge for our previous sins since Jesus Christ paid that price on Calvary.  It is here, however, where we will receive our eternal inheritance (1 Pet. 1:4,5).

A test by fire

At the Bema Seat, before issuance of eternal rewards there will be a “testing” of the worth of our completed works. The quality of our  work is judged on its eternal value. Works of eternal value result in expansion and extension of God’s kingdom on earth (Isaiah 61:1- 3).

If what we have built survives, there is reward.  One of God’s moral qualities is justice.  It is here where God will fairly evaluate, not only the end result of our work, but also the motives and the attitudes behind them (Rom. 2:16).  To receive reward, our work must pass the holy scrutiny of God’s evaluation (1 Cor. 3:14).

Loss of rewards

If our works are burnt by the fire, we will suffer loss.  Our salvation will not be loss but how sad it will be for us to see our worthless works burn in the holy fire of God.  We will leave God’s throne with no rewards.  We will have no crowns to cast at the Savior’s feet. (Rev. 4:10)

Our works, though not redemptive in nature, will however,  reflect our obedience and submission to God’s plan and purpose for our life.  Let us remember that we are God’s fellow workers and His field (1 Cor. 3:9).  I leave you with this question.   Are we creating worth for God’s kingdom?  What is our spiritual net worth?

Altars of Earth

An Altar of Earth

It’s all in the instructions

I am notorious for ordering items online.   When the box arrives, I’m excited to see my item in the perfect spot I’ve chosen for it.  However, when I open the box, all I see are parts and pieces in plastic bags with the INSTRUCTIONS on how to put it together.  Thank the Lord, I have such a kind and knowledgeable husband who is good with instructions.

Today we explore a  set of instructions God gave Israel following His presentation of the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:24).

An altar of earth you shall make for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I record My name I will come to you, and I will bless you.

 God’s  “thunderous” manifestation of his  presence  impressed upon Israel that He was the “Living God” and not some impotent idol they had worshipped in Egypt  (Exod. 20:18-20). God was the Creator and not the molded creations of man’s idolatrous mind.  God was moving closer to His people.  He would come to them and bless them.

Why an altar of earth?

An altar of earth, a simple structure, or of stone (unhewn), was  to be constructed. God wanted them to build a plain altar of stone with no engraving. I’m sure many of the Israelites had seen the engraving of the statues and monuments in Egypt.  They may have even been engravers themselves.  But God required a higher yet simpler standard that would recognize who He was.   The moment a tool was put to the stone, it would be considered “polluted”.

It should be noted that the primary purpose of the altar was for worship.  That worship was to include specific offerings—a burnt and a peace offering.  There was no mention of presenting a sin and trespass offerings which were given to Israel later.

The peace offering revealed man’s need for  sacrifice that would reconcile him to God.  Jesus Christ accomplished that by His blood on the Cross.  The burnt offering speaks of God’s  worthiness and ability to save.  Christ was the perfect sacrifice and the only one able to satisfy the righteous requirements of God (2 Cor. 5:18)

Where’s my altar?

Everywhere Israel journeyed,  they made an altar of earth.  The altar was to be placed  in those places where  “God recorded His name.” One commentary states it this way:   “cause My name to be remembered”.

God would reward Israel’s offerings in those places where God was worshipped in sincerity.

Afterwards, God chose one particular place (Jerusalem) to record his name.  But now that has been taken away under the gospel, when men are encouraged to pray every where.  This promise revives in its full extent, that, wherever God’s people meet in his name to worship him, he will be in the midst of them, he will honour them with his presence, and reward them with the gifts of his grace; there he will come unto them, and will bless them.  More than this we need not desire for the beautifying of our solemn assemblies.[1]

This portion of the Exodus text caught my attention.  I then began to ask myself the following questions.

Where are my “altars of earth” to the Lord?

Where are the places in my life where God has caused me to “remember His name”?

Am I watchful and recognize when I am “out of fellowship”with Him?

Am I presenting offerings that worship God?

Do I bless God for all His benefits? His presence,  power, provision, and  protection?

Altars and offerings are no longer needed to be in right relationship with God.  Jesus’ death and resurrection eliminated that requirement.  However, it is important that we Christians spiritually create our personal altars to worship God in recognition of His love and gift of life through Jesus Christ.

I close with the following  scripture texts in the hope that they  will “cause His name to be remembered” by each of us.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.(Rom. 12:1) 

Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. (Heb.13:15) 

Give to the LORD the glory due his name; Bring an offering, and come before him.  Oh, worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness!  (1 Chron. 16:29)

[1]  Matthew Thomas Commentary

When Life Happens

 

When Life Happens

How was your day?

You rush to the bank to make that critical deposit on Friday afternoon.  Your watch shows you have five minutes before closing.  As you pull up to the bank window; instead of the teller, you see the “closed” sign.  Your watch evidently was running slower than you knew.  Life happens!

You go for your annual mammogram examination.  The technician finishes with a smile and a promise to be right back.  She leaves to share your pictures with the attending physician.  She returns and somberly informs you that after dressing, the physician would like to meet with you.  Life happens!

Majoring in misfortune?

From minor irritations to upsetting reports, life happens.  These interruptions catch us unprepared for the inevitable. They are unexpected and usually, unfavorable circumstances that come to take “the wind out of our proverbial sail.”

In Ecclesiastes 9:11, The Preacher (King Solomon) makes the assessment that regardless of personal capacity or ability—speed, strength, wisdom, cleverness or skill, life happens.

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

He uses two words, time and chance, to create a figure of speech that represents “life happens moments”—we call it misfortune      (Ecc. 9:11b).  Misfortune nullifies both personal capacity and ability.  No one is exempt from misfortune.  We all have our day when it gains our full attention.

What is our response?

What is our response to misfortune?  “Why me?” We try to do the right thing, make the appropriate preparation, and make the best choices based on “what we know at the time.” So what happened? Life happened.

As inhabitants of fallen world, we are not immune to the affects and experiences which life presents. But while believers live “in the world”, we do not have to respond as the world when life happen moments occur.

A better way!

I’d like to recommend 3R’s that will help us manage life’s misfortune.

#1. REMEMBER our position. We are not our misfortune. Our hope and security lies in our position in Christ Jesus. In Christ, we are heirs of God and therefore, the object of His love. Therefore, in spite of misfortune, we stand firm on God’s promises and His power (Eph. 1:19).

#2. REFRAME our situation. We are not blind to misfortune but we know who controls all circumstances. Nothing happens to us that does not first pass God’s examination. Reframing begins with accepting God’s sovereign rule over our lives (2 Cor. 4:8-9).

#3. RECAST our response.  Recasting is accomplished by trusting God and looking for ways to transform misfortune into opportunities that enrich our spiritual life. These opportunities may be more time in personal witnessing, intercessory prayer, fasting, and Bible meditation.    We respond with confidence times of misfortune because we are assured of who will be with us until the end (1 John 4:4).

Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to memory a time when “life happened” to you.  How did you respond?  Using the three (3) principles listed in today’s teaching, journal how that moment or situation can now be understood differently.  Feel free to share your thoughts.

The next time you have a “life happens moment”, read Ecclesiastes 9:11. Better yet, commit to memorizing this scripture for future reference. Why? Because life happens!

When life turns left

 

When life turns left

Bad news

The morning headlines reads: “Man Loses Everything in Bizarre Disasters.”

Breaking News at 5 shares this update: “Doctors were seen leaving the victim’s home.  It is believed that now, even his health is beginning to deteriorate due to the shock of these tragic turn of events.  However, bad as things might be, he is currently being supported by his church and close friends.  While our victim was unavailable for comment, his wife was said to be angry and unsupportive.  Some even heard her tell her husband, “You ought to curse God for all that is happening to us.”

Well, as you can tell the “he” in this news event was Job.  He was described in Scripture as “blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil.” (Job 1:1) Job was a tribal chieftain, like Abraham who suddenly incurred total disaster—his wealth lost, children dead, and his health ruined.

Suffering in Faith

The book of Job analyzes the question how a righteous person like Job can encounter such enormous troubles.  Of course, as we read Job, we better understand why Job’s situation came to be (Job 1:6-12). More importantly, by the end of the book, we understand that, like Job, we cannot always understand why we suffer but we must endure our sufferings in faith.

What does it mean to “endure suffering in faith”?  In faith believes that despite our circumstance, we know that God is with us (Is. 43:1-2).  In faith we remain steadfast, even during tragedy (1 Pet. 4:1; 1 Cor. 15:58).   In faith our trust is anchored to Almighty God who is in control of all that is happening to us (Hab. 3:17-19).

One thing we must always remember (and never forget):  We live in a fallen world.  It is a place where everything is not always perfect nor is it always fair.  Life happens!  Sickness, disease, misfortune, and other “stuff”.  That’s reality.   But only ONE reality.

Reality when life turns left

If we lose everything we own, will we still love God?  Suppose we lose our only child, our family home, and our health.  Will we still serve God?  If everyone turns their back on us, will we still obey God?  When God is silent, can we still trust Him?   Such are the questions we ask ourselves when life turns left.  What, why, how?

As followers of Jesus Christ, we live in a reality based on “who we are” and “Whose we are”.  First and foremost, we are children of God and joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17).  Secondarily, we are in Christ (Ep. 1:3-14).  In Christ, we have the security of God’s presence, His power, His provision, and His protection.  Bad things may happen in our life (remember we live in a fallen world) but in Christ we are able to overcome the world.

This month we will spend some time on the theology of suffering.  Why? Because these times of uncertainty will often lead to suffering and pain.  We need to believe that regardless of our circumstance, we can live victoriously even during our suffering (2 Cor. 4:17).

To begin our journey, we invite you to read The Clue to Life’s Maze,” F.B. Meyer’s perspective on Job and life lived in the context of a fallen world.

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).