Category Archives: Our Faith Walk

What I Learned in 2015

 

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.” 2 Corinthians 13:5 (NIV)

As is my habit at the start of each year, I’d like to share in this first WordBytes of the year my list of things I learned in 2015. Socrates, the great Greek philosopher stated that, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” A bit strong for me, but what he was inferring was that human life has great value and is worthy of thoughtful inspection.

The Psalmist invited God to examine not only his actions but also the motivation behind them (Ps. 26:2). In the church at Corinth, Paul urged new believers to examine their character and beliefs to insure their continual walk of faith (1 Cor. 11:28; 2 Cor. 13:5). Thoughtful reflection brings great insight into what God is saying to us as we move through life.

Standing now on the backside of 2015, I share my lessons learned.

#1. Be content with such as you have. (Heb. 13:5) Life is short! Enjoy what God is giving you right now versus fixating on what you ultimately desire. Hidden in this teaching is the practice of gratitude. One of Satan’s favorite weapons is to create dissatisfaction with our lives and to turn our focus on “what could be.” Our commerce system thrives on discontent. Instead of complaining about “what isn’t”, we need to spend more time appreciating “what is”—the blessings God is currently providing.

#2. Seek first the kingdom of God. (Matt. 6:33) There’s never enough time to do everything you want to do! Planning and prioritizing won’t always work when the number of tasks exceeds the available hours in a day. Instead I have learned to go to the Creator of time and asked Him to help me identify the “critical few” that will make the greatest impact for the kingdom of God. The lesson for me in this activity is the practice of peace. I am not to worry but I trust in the Lord to lead me in the way I need to go (Ps. 25:4-5) and to establish the work of my hands (Ps.90:17).

I invite you to share what you have learned in 2015 with the ITWM Community. At the bottom of this post, share what you learned in 2015.

Good to the Last Byte…
As you read my list, you will notice that the common theme is time and personal energy—both of which affect our ability to accomplish the purpose that God has designed for us. As you create your goals for 2016, ask God to help you select those activities that would glorify Him and His kingdom. God will then give you both time and energy to accomplish the task.

Experiencing the Fullness of God in the New Year

“… that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:19b (NKJ)

In last week’s WordBytes, I recounted some of the things I had learned in 2014. It was freeing to reflect on how the Lord had used circumstances and relationships to shape me into the person He has purposed me to be. Upon sharing these insights, I am now ready to develop specific goals and strategies for 2015, especially with regard to my spiritual growth. My chief goal is to “experience the fullness of God” in my life and in ministry. If I am successful in accomplishing this goal, what will it look like? Here is my “short-list”.

Love given freely. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” 1 John 4:7

Love is both a description of who God is and also a key attribute of His goodness. It was through His love that He revealed Himself to mankind. God could have chosen to first disclose Himself as our Creator or as our Righteous Judge, but instead He chose to show Himself as the Lover of Our Soul. God loved us before we loved Him and because of that love for us, He sent His only begotten Son that we might live (1 John 4:9). Should we not love others in the same way? “He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8). I experience the fullness of God through His love.

Joy that fails expression. “Though now you do not see Him (Jesus), yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” 1 Peter 1:8

Warren Wiersbe, noted theologian and Bible teacher, described joy this way: “Joy is not something that we manufacture for ourselves; joy is a wonderful by-product of our fellowship with God.” Joy originates from gratitude and contentment regardless of circumstances. It culminates in unbridled praise and worship as we show our appreciation for God’s abiding presence. Jesus taught the meaning of this kind of joy through His illustration of the “True Vine”. By abiding in Him, like the branches to the vine, they would have fullness of joy (John 15:11). I experience the fullness of God through His joy.

Peace that passes human logic. “You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You.” Isaiah 26:3

Peace can best be defined as a sense of wellbeing. “Wellbeing” goes by many names—happiness, comfort, security, welfare, and safety. These are used to describe the “feeling” generated within our soul when all is “going well.” These feelings, unfortunately, are “circumstance-dependent”. In contrast, the peace that is provided by God is based on His faithfulness and infallibility, regardless of the circumstance. We need only to pray and in return, we receive His peace to “guard” our heart (Phil. 4:6-7). God is the source of our peace (Ps. 55:22). I experience the fullness of God through His peace.

It is not surprising that my list mirrors the first three “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-23). Experiencing the fullness of God begins with the “filling” of the Holy Spirit. As the Holy Spirit controls more of our mind, will, and emotions, the fruit grow and bear witness to a changed life—conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29; 12:2) and transformed into the persons God would have us to be (2 Cor. 3:18). The fullness of God is evidenced by the fruit we produce (Matt. 12:33). With Him, we are guaranteed “good success” (Jos. 1:8).

Good to the Last Byte…
These expressions of God’s fullness are not impossible. They can be attained through the work of the Holy Spirit resident within believers. He is “the critical factor” in successful living. We need only “trust and obey” (Isa. 26:4).

Never Alone

“And the LORD God said, “It is not good that man should be alone.” Genesis 2:18a (KJV)

We are never alone because God has promised always to be with us (Heb. 13:5).  This seemingly simple affirmation concerning God’s presence reflects our assurance that in spite of present circumstances or situations, we are never in it by ourselves—we are never alone.

In the Old Testament, God’s presence was associated with specific places.  After witnessing God’s messengers ascent and descent upon heaven’s ladder, Jacob humbly responded, “Surely the LORD was in this place and I did not know it” (Gen. 28:16).   Jacob then erected an altar to acknowledge God’s presence and named that place, Bethel, which literally means “House of God”.  Jacob realized he was never alone.

During Israel’s journey to the Land of Canaan, God revealed His presence in “smoke and fire”—first at Mt. Sinai (Exod. 19:18).  Later when the Tabernacle was erected, the Israelites would observe (from afar) the Presence of the Lord descend as a pillar of cloud and stand at the door of the Tabernacle as the LORD talked with Moses (Exod. 33:9).  Even in the wilderness, the Israelites discovered they were never alone.

The Temple in Jerusalem would ultimately be the place where the Nation of Israel would worship Jehovah.  It was there that “God dwelled’ and where His people would journey to observe the three Hebrew feasts—Passover (Lev. 23:5-8), Pentecost (Exod. 23:16) and Tabernacle (Lev. 23:34-44). The Temple and the city of Jerusalem were often referred to as Zion (fortress).  Zion was used figuratively of God’s spiritual kingdom where He dwelled (Ps. 125:1).   Those who worshipped God had to go where God dwelled.

“God with us” (Immanuel) was fully realized through the incarnation of Jesus (Matt. 1:23). This was the first time since the Garden of Eden that man would again experience fellowship with God.  This time it would be through His Son.  Imagine then, after three years of unbroken fellowship, the sense of abandonment Jesus’ disciples must have felt as they prepared for His departure.  But Jesus promised that He would not leave them comfortless or alone (John 14:17).  After His ascension into Heaven, Jesus would send the Holy Spirit to be their Comforter, Guide and Teacher (John 14:8; 15:26; 16:13).  On the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4) they received the full measure of God’s presence through the Holy Spirit and with it the power and boldness to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The Apostle Paul wrote of his unwavering confidence in God’s presence even in the midst of persecution for his faith (2 Timothy 4:16-17).

“At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.   But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me…”

The Apostles knew they would never be alone.  Believers must echo that same confidence knowing that Deity resides within each of them.  Today we can experience the fullness and power of God’s Presence through His Holy Spirit.  God is with us in unbroken fellowship and joyful intimacy (John 17:22-23).  During this time of transient relationships, it is reassuring to know that God is and will always be with us.  In spite of trials and tribulations, we are never in it by ourselves—we are never alone.

Good to the Last Byte…

With each new dispensation, God revealed His presence in different ways that reinforced the fact that His chosen people are never alone.  Throughout the writings of the Psalmists, God’s presence was recognized to extend beyond the spatial limitations of tabernacles and temples.  In Psalm 139:7-10, God’s immensity is featured:

“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?   If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.   If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me.”

Sure Facts, Overwhelming Odds, and God

“But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”  Genesis 50:19-20 (KJV)

What do sure facts, overwhelming odds, and God have in common?  These are factors which often determine a person’s chance of success in the world.  While these may be actual considerations, they are not the final word.  We must always factor in the sovereignty and providence of God to not only level the playing field, but also to become the obvious advantage.

Sure facts take into consideration those elements we are born with or born into.  They include our “family factors”—our race, our gender, family structure (i.e., parental influence, number of siblings, birth order) and socio-economic position.  We had little control over their selection.  In the case of Joseph, he was born into the family of Jacob as the second youngest of thirteen children.  Jacob had two wives (Leah and Rachel) and two handmaidens (Bilhah and Zilpah) who bore his children (Genesis 30) but Joseph was Jacob’s favorite (Gen. 37:3).  This created an unhealthy and toxic environment for child rearing marked with sibling rivalry and jealousy.

Overwhelming odds are circumstances that minimize the possibilities of success in life and relationships.  They sometimes affect one’s ability to earn a living, care adequately for one’s family, or to live safely and confidently.   Joseph was sold by his jealous brothers to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver and was brought to Egypt.  Being a Hebrew slave, the odds of Joseph rising above his new found station in life was slim to none.  The odds became even smaller when he was thrown into prison as a result of the lies of Potiphar’s wife.  When it appeared release from prison was nigh, Joseph became the victim of the baker’s forgetfulness further obstructing any hope of freedom (Gen. 40:23).  But God was about to do exceedingly above all that Joseph could ask or think (Eph. 3:20).

God was on the scene for Joseph as the Holy Equalizer and Change Master.  What appeared to be sure facts and overwhelming odds for Joseph soon became “biblical history.”   God, the Holy Enabler and Way Maker, reversed the circumstances for Joseph whose journey began as a slave from Canaan but ended as a powerful ruler in Egypt.  He went from servant to savior for his people who would have perished from the famine in their land.  Joseph could have used the 16th Psalm as his personal testimony:  “O LORD, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot.  The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Yes, I have a good inheritance.”

Succumbing to what we believe are “sure facts and overwhelming odds” in our life can only result in despair and hopelessness.  Belief and trust in our God becomes the refreshing promise of rescue and provision regardless of the circumstances we face.  God’s plan and purpose for our life supersedes indisputable facts and devastating odds (Habakkuk 3:17-19).  Our future is not dependent on our family history or our personal past, but on Who we serve.  So the next time you’re weighing your options based on “facts and odds”, remember to factor in God.  God always has the final word.

 “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we will remember the name of the LORD our God.” Psalm 20:7

A Trilogy of Faith

“Then he touched their eyes and said, “Because of your faith, it will happen.” Matthew 9:29 (NLT)

We live in a world of skepticism—doubt as to the truth of something.  Our skepticism is reflected in the phrases we often use to reflect our disbelief:  “If it seems too good to be true, it usually is”; “nothing is free—everything comes with price”; “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck!”

Skepticism is not unique to the twenty-first century.  During Jesus ministry, many refused to believe He was the Son of God and the promised Messiah.   Doubt about Jesus was expressed in a local colloquium of that day:  “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46)   Although all His actions supported who He was, there were those with hardened hearts who refused to believe.   Skepticism operates on the theory that certain knowledge is impossible.  Let’s explore three (3) situations where faith and belief defied both skepticism and the impossible. 

Matthew 9:18-29 records the healing of three individuals by Jesus—the ruler Jairus’ daughter, the woman with the issue of blood, and two blind men.    Three separate stories—a dying daughter, a decade of disease, and life lived in darkness.  Three situations viewed from man’s vantage point as impossible, irreversible, and hopeless.  The ruler and the woman, entered into their encounter with Jesus believing He was able to solve their dire situation; the blind men simply requested “mercy”, dependent on the integrity of the promised Messiah—His genuineness (He was who He said He was), His veracity (He could do what He said He would), His faithfulness (He would do what He said)—to make their healing a reality.   And how did they make their requests known?  The father humbly yet confidently asked Jesus to come.   The blind men called out and followed Jesus into the house.  The woman, disregarding the risk of discovery by the crowd (death by stoning) simply “reached out and touched”.  Jesus’ reaction was predictable, for no one will He ever turn away (John 6:37).  In response to Jairus, “He arose and followed Him” (verse 19); later Jesus cautioned Jairus to, “Be not afraid, only believer” (Mark 5:36).  To the woman with the issue of blood, Jesus gently spoke, “Thy faith has made thee whole” (verse 22).  To the persistent blind men, Jesus touched their eyes and said, “Because of your faith, it (your healing) will happen.”  And their eyes were opened (verses 29, 30).

As believers it is important that when we approach God we come with an expectation of belief that He is the solution for whatever our impossible situation.  He will never turn us away. “He who comes to Him must believe He is (God, the Great I AM) and is a rewarder of those who diligently (sincerely) seek Him “(Heb. 11:6b).  These desperate characters in Matthew’s trilogy of faith earnestly sought Jesus knowing He would reward their belief with healing.  

As believers let us enter every personal encounter with God believing He can do the impossible.  Because of the integrity of God, we need never doubt nor fear.   Because of the love of God—His benevolence, grace, mercy and persistence—our faith in Him will enable us to stand fast in the most difficult of circumstances.  The characters in Matthew’s trilogy of faith exchanged their impossible situation for the God of possible (Mark 10:27).  That exchange is available to each of us who believe.  For with God nothing shall be impossible Luke 1:37). 

When God Closes Doors

“But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt,

to the end that he should multiply horses:forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you,

Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.” Deut. 17:16 (KJV)

My favorite aunt gave me a small wood plaque to hang on the wall in my office. On it were written these words, “When God closes a door, He opens a window.” The inference is that God in His wisdom and providence will always provide a way for us. The question then is, why does God close doors?

 For our benefit. Closed doors often lead to new opportunities in our lives. Closed doors force us to try new options, meet new people, and exercise spiritual gifts and talents that may never have been used. Joseph faced many closed doors in his life. The first door closed when his brothers sold him into slavery; the second door slam in his face when Potiphar’s had him falsely imprisoned. The final door, he thought, shut tight when the cup bearer forgot him for two years. Though the closed doors were first “used for evil, God used them for good.” (Gen. 50:20)

 For our spiritual maturity. Closed doors result in the strengthening of two important spiritual muscles–“trusting by faith” and “learning to wait.” In Hebrews 11 we see the “Faith Hall of Fame”, made up of those individuals who trusted God even when the doors appeared closed. (Hebrews 11 :4-31) Though the closed doors were first viewed as obstacles, they trusted in God’s promises and waited … even unto death. The results were both rewards and “great faith.”

For God’s glory. Closed doors position us to accomplish God’s purpose and plan for kingdom building. The Holy Spirit forbade Paul to preach the word in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). God had a different plan for Paul that would first take the gospel to Macedonia. (Acts 16:6-10) Though this door was first viewed as a detour from proclaiming the gospel, God expanded Paul’s ministry beyond anything he could have imaged; his epistles would become part of Holy Scripture, read and preached in countries around the world.

 In the game show, “Let’s Make a Deal,” contestants choose from “prize doors” that offer either a rich reward or an ugly, disgusting “zonk”. Knowing this, contestants must choose to open the right door and leave others closed. Our omniscient God doesn’t operate like this game show. Whatever door He closes can only lead to our good and His glory.

 Good to the Last Byte…

We are often in need of special assistance from influential people to help us with our request. We may ask them to help “open the door” byway of introduction or getting access to someone or something on our behalf. Are we, in like manner, able to trust God Him to close doors on your behalf” Has He closed doors that resulted in your good? 

Do Men and Women Sin Differently?

In the latest Barna study, the data was put forward that for the most part, men and women admit to being tempted by the same things at about the same level.  There are a few temptations that seem to affect men and women differently.
 On the men list
  •  Pornography (28% versus women 8%)
 On  the women list
  •  Gossiping or saying mean things about others (29% versus men 22%)
  •  Jealousy or envy (68% versus men 20%)
  •  Eating too much  (58% versus men 52%)
  • Spending more money than you have or can afford (39% women versus men 32%)
 I personally think eating and spending more money are really close and should be called a “temptation tie.”

The Top Lessons GOD Taught Me in 2012

God is the greatest teacher in the universe.  He began when He walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  I can image He shared with them what He wanted them to know about Himself along with how He wanted them to behavior while living in the garden.  The most painful and consequential lesson was what obedience looked like.  Adam and Eve learned that lesson the hard way!
God continues to teach us today.  He uses our life experiences and relationships to conform us to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29), to transform our minds (2 Cor. 3:18), and to renew us in knowledge of Him (Col. 3:10).   God also teaches us through the tutorledge of His Holy Spirit, who lives within us (John 16:13).
As I reflect on 2012, I am always obligated to assess my spiritual growth the past year.  To that end, God has put it on my heart to develop a list of the “Top Lessons God Taught Me in 2012.” While I didn’t initially assign a “specific number”, it did result in a list of 20 items–and the list continues to grow.  For the purposes of “sharing” I will list my top 10 items.  It’s been fun reviewing the Scripture God has led me to memorize and become part of my personal “rhema.”

  1. What it means to forgive. 
  2. How to prayer daily for those who “do spitefully use and mistreat you.”
  3. The value of Christian community (outside your local church)
  4. I don’t have to have it “my way”!
  5. What it means to love like God.
  6. Daring to believe God for greater things than I can imagine.
  7. How extraordinary the gift of salvation really is and to read Scripture about it daily.
  8. God’s Word is the final word.
  9. What submission to God’s will looks like. 
  10. Learning to silence myself, listen for God and follow His leading.   
 Like Paul, “I do  not claim to have apprehended.” (Phil. 3:13) I will continue to embrace these lessons and learn from them until either The Rapture or God calls me to heaven.  Now it’s your turn.  We will make it easy only asking for three bt feel free to further expand your list for your own “spiritual review of 2012.”

Examine Yourself

 

This morning I had the opportunity to listen to one of my favorite Christian radio shows. The show is formatted to resemble a Bible study session, where there is an open discussion of a particular Bible passage, character, or faith principle.
Before closing, one of the study member said something that really resonated with me–so much that I had to share it with you.  The question was this, “Do people think well of God from being around me?”  This is a question worth some discussion.

We are told, in Scripture, who we are “in Christ”.

  • We are children of God (John 1:12).
  • We are His workmanship–His handiwork–born anew in Christ to do His work (Ep. 2:10).
  • We are partakers of Christ; We share in His life (Heb. 3:14).
  • We are ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20).

Since Christ has done so much for us, we should be the ultimate “poster child” for Him.

  • For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him  (2 Corinthians 5:20).
  • Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil (Hebrews 2:14).
  • In whom we have redemption through the blood, even the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:14).
As followers of Christ, we are to be “salt and light” in a dark world.  Our light should “shine” before men, that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.  We are not to be conformed to this world–darkened by “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.  All this is  passing away.  But he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:16-17).
So, now, your response.  “Do people think well of God after being around you?  If your answer is “yes”,  glory be to God.  Hold fast to your profession of faith, in both word and deed.  If your answer is “no” then it may be time to examine yourself to determine, “why not?” (2 Cor. 13:5)

 

Faith that Perseveres: THE APPLICATION

 Read Hebrews 11.  All the Faith Hall of Famers “died in faith not having received “the promises” but having seen them afar off were and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth (Heb. 11:13).  The word “promises” is a metonymy for “the things promised.” This speaks specifically to the promised Messiah and future heavenly inheritance.  
As “partakers of God’s glory”, we have begun to receive the promises of God on “this side” of eternity”(2 Pet. 1:3-11) with the glorious assurance eternal life on “the other side.”   Informed with the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 4:6) and empowered by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8), we can move forward with that which God has set before us “being fully persuaded, that what He (God) had promised, He was able also to perform (Rom. 4:21). 
 
Here are key principles we can learn 
from the Faith Hall of Famers on persevering faith.
 
1.      We must believe that He who promises faithful.  This requires you know Him in a personal way—in relationship.  This includes daily communion and fellowship with Him to better understand His will and His ways.  Would you put your life in the hands of someone you don’t know personally?  Confidence comes from knowing Him.
2.      We must understand His promises for our life.This begins by acquainting oneself with the promises of God.  Some scholars cite 365 promises of God for His people—one for every day of the year.  “Seeing afar off” requires visual acuity beyond our physical sight resulting in seeing beyond what we can see.  It is with spiritual eyes and the assistance of the Holy Spirit that we are able to “see afar off.”   
3.      We must look past our experience here on earth and look forward to the effect of our work on the greater effort of “kingdom building.”   We must actively declare ourselves as “pilgrims” traveling through this temporary thing called “time.”  We have an assignment from our King (Matt. 28:19-20) to complete while here on earth.  But we must never forget our home is heaven.  We must, like the Faith Hall of Famers, declare ourselves as “pilgrims on this earth.”