Category Archives: Our Faith Walk

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

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?

What I Learned in 2021

Where to Begin

In past years when I did this exercise, I would go to several sources for input.  This includes my daily journal, and scripture memorization cards.  They were reminders of the paths I walked with Jesus throughout the year.

My journal included my thoughts during my time of inquiry of the Lord.  Bits and pieces of this and that:  theologian quotes, bible study notes and miscellaneous thoughts about life and the world I live in. Topics that caught my attention, would later become personal studies, WordBytes or Morning Reflections.

My scripture memorization cards, with date recorded at the top, would remind me of how the Spirit renews my mind with God’s Word.  His Word would prove to either strengthen my heart or tell again of God’s inexhaustible grace: grace that covers my human weakness and brokenness.  It most often than not encouraged me to be more patient and longsuffering.

As I reviewed my information, I came to this realization.  It is vital that believers continually develop a personal relationship with God.  Not religion but relationship.  It should be our goal to be “intimately connected” with the Lord.

Relationship with God

God has always desired to be in relationship with man.  Adam was first to experience the joy and freedom of an intimate connection with God.  Imagine daily walking and talking with God about the events of the day, your hopes, and fears, and hearing His plan for your life.  Guess what?  We can experience that in our life right now!

Today we, as believers in Christ, have continuous access to that same intimacy Adam experienced in the Garden but with even greater privilege.  We have His Presence, through the Holy Spirit living within us (John 14:16-17).

As I read God’s Word, pray, and exercise the different spiritual disciplines, I become one with Him.  Jesus invited His disciples to abide in Him (John 15:4).  That invitation is extended to us today.

F.B. Meyer writes about the privilege of being one in Christ and the intimacy that comes with that relationship.

We must be one with Christ: we must be in Him as the sponge is in the ocean.  We must be in Him, not only in our standing, but also in our daily walk.  We must be in Him as the branch is in the vine and the vine-sap in the branch.  This must not only be in theory, but an hourly experience.

My 2021 Epiphany

I became a Christian when I was nine-years old.  I bought the “fire insurance” and knew I wasn’t going to hell.  However, as I grew older, I still didn’t feel the connection I thought believers were supposed to have.  Although I went to church weekly and served in various church functions, something was missing.

I was a carnal Christian until I was 40.  Then something happened.  I rededicated my life to Christ.  No more “hooky pokey” Christian life for me.  What happened?  Why the change?

A student from my Senior High Sunday School class had chosen to become a minister.  We were excited to welcome him back to his home church where he was to bring the Sunday morning message.

This was especially exciting for me in that, as a teenager, he hated to review the lesson on behalf of our class.  He would grumble and groan and swear never to come back to Sunday School if I made him do it.  He eventually agreed to my request.

In his morning sermon, he shared his personal witness of how his intimacy with God led him into ministry.  It had nothing to do with my teaching or my coaxing him to review.  He found what it meant to be IN RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS.  It wasn’t religion.  It was relationship.

That was it for me.  My Sunday School student helped me understand what it meant to have a “personal relationship” with God.  So even today I seek a deeper and closer relationship with Jesus.  And every day with Jesus is “sweeter than the day before”.

Go deeper in 2022

Most interesting about my epiphany is that Jesus just recently revealed this memory to me.  Why now?  I don’t know.  Maybe He felt it was time to share it with you.

Daily we have the opportunity to practice His presence as we daily address the challenges of 21st century living.  In God’s presence we experience His love, power, and wisdom.   As we go deeper in our relationship with God, we can better understand His ways and see with spiritual eyes.

Let us deepen our trust in Him.  When we do, we aren’t shaken by the latest news stories or the challenges we face in 2022 and beyond.  We know whose in control!

As members of God’s family there is nothing that can separate us from His love.  And we have the blessed assurance that our relationship with God will extend into and throughout eternity.

I invite you this year to go deeper in your relationship with God.  Become “like the sponge in the ocean”.  Live and abide in Him.

No extra reading this week so please share with us what you learned in 2021.  Thanks for reading.

Throwback Wednesday for the New Year

Throwback Wednesday for a New Year

It’s that time again.  Throwback Wednesday.  It’s the time when we choose  a favorite WordBytes from the past.  It’s also a time for remembering  that God never changes (Mal. 3:6).   It doesn’t  matter the year, God’s message is still one of hope, promise,  and possibility for  everyone who will hear it.

To align with the New Year, we’ve chosen a WordBytes that will encourage us to lay hold in 2022 to our rich inheritance in Christ.

Let’s begin this year knowing that we have everything we need to be successful in addressing the challenges we face (2 Pet. 1:3-4).  May this “blast from the past” move us confidently through the year.

Our Inheritance with Christ

Memorial Day Gratitude: Throwback Wednesday

Memorial Day Gratitude

 

Time for gratitude

While preparing for the next WordBytes series, I was stopped by this thought, “It’s time to thank God.  Before moving on to the next “thing”, stop and express gratitude for today!”

If you’re reading this WordBytes, guess what?  God has blessed you with life. Who could have imagined?  After 604,000+ COVID deaths, we are still standing.  God has kept us during this global pandemic.  Yes, we’ve loss friends and family but for some reason God has extended  mercy to us (once again).  2020 and 2021 have been challenging years never before imagined.

But God

Jeremiah wrote these words as he lamented the tragic destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian armies (Lamentations 3:18-23, New Living Translation).

I cry out, “My splendor is gone! Everything I had hoped for from the LORD is lost!”  The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.  Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:  The unfailing love of the LORD never ends! By his mercies we have been kept from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each day. 

But God.   In tragedy and loss, God was faithful.  Guess what?  God is still faithful!  In the aftermath of the COVID pandemic, in the midst of economic uncertainty, in the quagmire of social injustice, in the throes of food insecurity and homelessness, in the fallout of global warming, God is faithful.  Therefore, we will have hope.

Throwback Wednesday

To express our gratitude this Memorial Day, we’d like to do “Throwback Wednesday”.  The WordBytes we’ve chosen is Discovering God in the Psalms:  Forget Not God I invite you to formulate your personal Memorial Day gratitude. As we celebrate our loved ones from the past let us, also, “forget not God” for all He is doing for us right now.

Recognizing Our Sin

Recognizing Our Sin It wasn’t me!

Chuck Berry, guitarist, singer and one of the pioneers of rock and roll music, recorded a song in the 60’s that has become the automatic response when Ron and I accuse each other of some “mishap in the house.”  These lyrics have been modernized in a television commercial showing a child (hiding under the dining table) joyfully eating a cake obviously confiscated from the dessert buffet.  The lyrics are these: “It wasn’t me, baby!  No, it wasn’t me, baby!  Must have been some other body, uh, uh, baby, it wasn’t me.”

This is often the response we hear when people are confronted with their sin.  Listen to the news this week, this month, this year!  Rather than take responsibility and quickly confessing, we begin to distance ourselves from the sin.  Denial doesn’t remove the sin.  Instead, it allows sin to strengthen in our life.  Our willingness to accept responsibility for our sins is further complicated by living in a postmodern world where truth is relative.  This further numbs us to the presence of sin in our lives.

Because of these factors, it is critical that we take personal responsibility for our sinful actions.  This process begins with our being intentional in identifying sin in our lives (1 John 1:6-8, 10).

Living the Way of Jesus

This year as part of my spiritual development, I am reading Michaele Lavigne’s notable book, Living the Way of Jesus:  Practicing the Christian Calendar One Week at a Time.  The book is organized around the Christian calendar, using scriptural texts that follow the seasons of the Christian Calendar.  While Jewish celebration revolves around the Exodus from Egypt, the Christian Church year focuses on the life and ministry of Jesus.

Lavigne includes weekly practices that invite readers to the rhythms of the Christian calendar and to orient us to God’s reality.

We do not merely ask God to join our lives: instead, we are invited to participate in God’s life. Subtly and explicitly, this way of making time reminds us that we [Believers] are part of a story that is different from the stories we hear all around us.[1]    

This Season of Lent provides us an opportunity to walk with Jesus as He makes His way to the Cross and to gain a whole new understanding of what it means to be Christ’s disciple. This includes how we address sin in our lives—both subtle and obvious.

For Lent, Lavigne has suggested weekly practices that invite us to observe “who we really are and what the world is really like”.  Practices to date have included Silence, Honoring Others’ Requests, and Recognizing our Sin.  It is this last one that I share my personal reflections.  Perhaps you will find it helpful in your journey to becoming more conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29).

Where do I start?

I was invited to begin with prayer and to consider what Jesus may need to “clean out of me”.  Are there desires, activities, or decisions that are cluttering my life and preventing full worship of Jesus?  I was to write them down and then take them to the One Person who could help me with my “sin problem”.  I was to take them to Jesus.

Jesus alone could clear out and burn away the things that harmed me (John 2:13-22).  Jesus would shine His light of truth on those things that kept me from being in right relationship with God and with others.  I was to listen to anything Jesus might share with me during our time together.  That was the most illuminating part of this practice.   Once I confessed my sins, Jesus faithfully forgave me and cleansed me from my sins (1 John 1:9).

At the end of the week, I was to process what I learned from this practice of recognizing my sin.

What did I learn about myself?   About God?

I learned that there were things that cluttered my life and prevented me from spending quality time with the Lord.  I had allowed busyness to dominate my time.  My schedule was interfering with my time with my First Love (Rev. 2:4).

For me, even ministry work (externally focused) sometimes takes time away from prayer, reading God’s Word, meditation, journaling, and more.  Dedicated time with Jesus provides “sacred space” where He can direct, reproof, instruct, nurture, and correct me.  It is time when I can “d-r-i-n-k” from the fountain of life (Ps. 36:9).  And as I drink, I am being transformed (Rom. 12:2).

What did I Learned about God?  He never changes!  Hallelujah!  God is loving and patient.  Even in my foolishness and sin, He never gives up on me.  “The Lord will wait that He may be gracious unto me.” (Is. 30:18)

Recognizing My Sin:  The Conclusion

I close with this quote from F.B. Meyers concerning sin.  “We often expose ourselves to more anguish in our effort to retain and to restrain [our sins], than to remove them absolutely and forever.”   Where are you spending your efforts?

It is our responsibility to keep sin at bay in our lives.  While we live in this flesh, we must deal with the presence of sin.  However, we have been delivered from its power in our lives (Rom. 6:6-14).   The intentional practice of recognizing sin can draw us nearer to Jesus and becoming the people our Heavenly Father created us to be.

[1] Living the Way of Jesus:  Practicing the Christian Calendar One Week at a Time