Category Archives: Spiritual Maturity

Livin’ my Best Life: The Answer for Best Life

The Answer for Best Life Options for best life

The 21st century offers many options for our lives.  That is why it is important that we, as believers, discern what voice we “actively” listen to.  This is especially true when it comes to determining what living our best life should look like.

In our series, we determined that some individuals make their choice based on who they are and what’s important to them.  Last week we attempted to identify what best life looks like.  We determined that the essence of best life can be based on our human needs and things we most desire.

So, what is the answer for best life!  I concluded last week’s teaching with a statement that will help to set the context for best life for believers in the 21st century.  Which choice most accurately represents “best life for us”?  For believers, we are to go to The Source, Who is to be the final authority on everything we do (or it should be).  That authority is God and His Word.  It is now time to consider the number one question, “what does God say about best life.”

The Dividing Line

The believer’s life is to look vastly different from the world we live in.  We are to seriously demonstrate and witness to our new life in Christ.  That being the case, our best life should reflect a life lived for Christ.

The Barna Institute reports the increasing difficulty in distinguishing believers from the unsaved world.  Unfortunately, we are not seen as living any differently than our unsaved family, friends, and acquaintances.  We have basically lost our saltiness and our light (Matt. 5:13-16).

This lack of distinction could be attributed to a number of factors including fear of abuse, lack of spiritual discipling, or spiritual immaturity. Some believers have even walked away from the traditional Church because of personal wounding or disillusionment with leadership.  What the future Church looks like, especially after COVID-19, is yet to be determined.

However, the imperfect nature of the Church does not negate the expectation that God has for His people.  We are to continually examine ourselves to insure we are living a life of faith under the direction of Jesus’ Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:10).  What does best life look like for believers?

Caution

Jesus shared what best life “was not” in the Sermon on the Mount Discourse.  He gives a command that will provide us a framework for identifying what best life looks like.  Jesus begins with his first instruction (Matt. 6:19-21).

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus closes with this requirement (Matt. 6:33).  

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

The verb “seek” is an imperative in the Greek language.  An imperative expresses a command to the hearer to perform a certain action by the order and authority of the one commanding.  What Jesus gives is not a casual invitation but an absolute command requiring full obedience.  “All these things” lovingly includes not only our needs but also the desires of our heart (Ps. 37:4).

Jesus knows we have needs.  It is His desire that we not worry nor become preoccupied with possession of things.  By faith we know that we will be cared for.  Focusing on Christ lessens our anxieties as we attempt to live during these uncertain times (Phil. 4:6-7).

Moving to best life

The Apostle Paul further clarified Jesus’ teaching to the church at Colosse.  He pointed them to how to find best life (Col. 3:1-2).

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.   

Seek and set are also verbs that are in the imperative.  As with Jesus’ use in Matthew, it expresses a command to the hearer to perform a certain action.  It is not an invitation.  Both verbs are in the present tense which means it is a fact or reality occurring in actual time.  Therefore, we are commanded to keep seeking and keep setting our attention.  Where?

Notice the place where the “things and the affections” are found.  They are not on this earth but in heaven.  This directs our attention to those things that have eternal value and heavenly consequences.  Unfortunately, 21st century technology has created vehicles to capture the lusts of our flesh, our eye, and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-17).  We are continually bombarded with marketing messages and media that focus our attention on what we don’t have versus what is of greater value to the kingdom of God.

In the remainder of Colossians 3, Paul maps out the essence of best life for Christians.  Best life for Christians is life lived in Coram DeoCoram Deo summarizes the idea that Christian living is lived in the presence of, under the authority of, to the honor and glory of God.

We will conclude this study next week as we decide what best life looks like for each of us.

Livin’ my Best Life: What is best for me?

Livin' my best life

What’s best life for me?

In this series, we’ve seen what best life looks like for a variety of people.  It is evident, at this point,  that best life looks differently to others based on who they are and what is important to them.

For some, best life means the ability to “give back” to the world.  For others it’s about being authentic and true to their beliefs.  And to many, it is simply a whimsical phrase similar to that used by the meerkat, Timon in Lion King: “Hakuna Matata” or “no worries”.

We’ve examined the views of others in hopes that it will assist us as we attempt to formulate what best life looks like for each of us.  Now it’s time to begin forming our own definition.

What are we looking for?

I think we can all agree that best life is purely subjective.  Because of that, it is difficult and would be presumptuous for me to define best life for individuals.  Instead, I’d like to offer a way to begin to capture the essence of best life.

The essence of best life could be summarized using two perspectives: (1) what are people’s basic needs, and (2) what are the things people want in life but can’t seem to get?  In answering these questions, we might begin to decide what our best life might look like.

What do we need?

What are people’s basic needs?  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is used to study how humans are motivated by defining their basic needs.  Maslow used the terms “physiological”, “safety”, “belonging and love”, “social needs” or “esteem”, and “self-actualization” to describe the pattern through which human motivations generally move.

Perhaps best life includes those things that address people’s needs.  Best life for a homeless person would be found in the physiological category.  Food security, clean water, and shelter would be as good as it gets.  For the person experiencing isolation due to any number of factors, being accepted and belonging is the best life they could imagine.

What do we want?

What are the things people want in life but can’t seem to get?  The Huffington Post asked that question and the answer resulted in ten items.  The key question this survey probed was this: “If you could say in one word what you want more of in life, what would that be?”

  1. Happiness
  2. Money
  3. Freedom
  4. Peace
  5. Joy
  6. Balance
  7. Fulfillment
  8. Confidence
  9. Stability
  10. Passion

In review of this list, it is surprising to note that of the ten items, there is only one that is tangible.  The remaining nine are intangible.  Something intangible can’t be touched physically, but most of the time it is understandable or even felt in the heart.  In accounting, an intangible asset is something that provides long-term benefit.

It is important to know that this survey was completed prior to the COVID pandemic.  However,  I’m sure the answers are still very relevant today.  Please note what people see as the “biggest challenge” to getting what they want.  Perhaps these “unmet needs” could be added to the list that may represent best life.

Basic needs or intangible wants?  Which most accurately represents “best life”?  Especially for me.  To this point, our examination has considered the world’s view of best life.  It’s now time to consider what God has to say.

Livin’ my Best Life: You asked for it!

Livin' My Best Life: You asked for it!

From basics to best

As we discussed last week, best life is something that seems to have the attention of many people.  Each generation has made it its pursuit as they moved forward in time.

In the 19th century, our desire was for the basics—food, shelter, and security.  In the 20th century that desire morphed into a good job, a reasonable mortgage (so we could still travel), and a healthy 401K.  Now we have our eyes on electric cars that drive themselves and tickets into space.  Sorry, but we all can’t be Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos.  I guess their “best life” means more than being a billionaire.

Messaging, media, and marketing

The 21st century has introduced for our consideration, a variety of views as to what best life is.  The range of differences in its description demonstrate the subjective nature of this topic.

Cultural messaging, media, and marketing are successfully redefining what best life looks like.  Our expanded technology has now positioned companies (we don’t even know) to “popup’ advertisement as to what they think will appeal to our “unique definition” of best life.

The difference in best life views can depend on any number of factors.  Many authors and musicians have used the best life mantra to help us develop a definition that best fits our life and circumstance.  Even WikiHow got into the act.  Author, Guy Reichard, offers a four-part blueprint for designing our best life.

Last week we offered the belief that, for the believer, best life is dependent on our reality, our identity, and our purpose.  We now share, for your consideration, some other “views” on best life.

Oprah’s best life

“Live your best life.” These four simple words, made famous by Oprah Winfrey, give a single instruction to follow for happiness and success. While the quote is priceless in its meaning and simplicity, it leaves much to our individual imagination as to what that includes.

While there are more descriptions contained in her book, Live Your Best Life, Oprah offers some clarity to her best life description.

I learned when you use the energy of why you were born in service to something that is bigger than yourself, then goodness and greatness come to you.  Because that’s where the real power lies.  When you can use your personality to serve others rather than yourself. 

Best life views

Since the initial citing of the phrase in Oprah’s book in 2005, there have been many other “opinions” added to the contemporary tapestry of American life.   The Urban Dictionary[1], most popular definition for best life was this.

A stupid phrase that is used, commonly on Instagram, to give the false reality that you can wake up and choose which “life” you want to live. Perhaps you want to be a lazy dog, or a human facing the challenge of whether to have avocado on toast or a green smoothie for breakfast. Either way, it’s got to be the best (breakfast) life you could possibly be living.

Comedian Lil Duval earned his first No. 1 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart with his debut solo single “Smile (Living My Best Life)”.  The feel-good track features Ball Greezy and Snoop Dogg.  Sorry but I really can’t include the exact wording from the song.  You might ask your children or grandchildren.  When asked to give his definition of best life, DuVal shared these thoughts.

Just living in your means. Living with whatever you have at that point. Being happy with it — and when you’re happy where you are, you can grow even more. You’re not chasing somebody else’s perception.

 Developing our own view

I close with input from a fellow blogger (which I usually don’t do).  But I feel their description might be helpful in developing our own view.  They write to a “20 somethings” audience which, in my mind, is an important generation for our future.  They open referencing Oprah’s original casting of the best life phrase.

Her (Oprah) personal brand and mantra is centered around self-growth, reaching new heights, and finding meaning. These are all ideas that we, as a society, constantly try to work towards, and I think these are concepts that can truly help us elevate and live more fulfilling versions of our lives. 

Thus, I think the most beneficial and realistic explanation of what “living your best life” means is as follows:  One that encompasses reaching new levels of self-awareness and self-growth, that ultimately leads to taking actions that help you to discover and hone into your interests, talents, and passions.  Living your best life is truly subjective, so an explanation such as this one allows for the unique life experiences that everyone has.

I invite you to spend some time this week thinking about your personal definition of best life.  Without one, we are subject to the influence of others who may not understand God’s will and purpose for our life.  Choose one (or all) of the following readings to help you begin formulating what your best life looks like.  Listen for God’s Spirit as He speaks to your spirit.

  • Psalms 34
  • Ecclesiastes 11-12
  • Matthew 6

[1] Urban Dictionary is a crowdsourced online dictionary for slang words and phrases, operating under the motto “Define Your World.” The website was founded in 1999 by Aaron Peckham. Originally, Urban Dictionary was intended as a dictionary of slang or cultural words and phrases not typically found in standard dictionaries, but it is now used to define any word, event, or phrase.

Livin’ my Best Life: What is it?

 

I'm Livin' My Best Life

“I’m livin’ my best life!”

When you hear this statement, what comes to mind?  During a recent conversation with a dear friend, she shared that her son was visiting California.  When asked how he was enjoying his trip, he replied, “I’m livin’ my best life!”

Therein marks the genesis for this new series.  As I listen to radio talk podcasts and television talk shows, this statement is frequently given as a response to current living.  But what does it mean?  It is my intent to explore with you what “best life” looks like.  Viewed through both contemporary and biblical lenses, we hope that we as believers will walk away with a better understanding of the “best definition”.

The worldview of best life

In the 21st century we live in, we are continually bombarded with information.  This includes what “best life” looks like.

Reality television has given us an “upfront” yet distorted seat of what the best life looks like.  We can quickly access via our devices how celebrities and luminaries live their lives.  Unfortunately, these personalities have a great influence on how we think life is to be lived.  Right or wrong.

In the 20th century, we were busy trying to “keep up with the Joneses.”  This is the 21st century!  Forget about the Joneses!  Let’s keep up with the Kardashians, Housewives of whatever city, or the young people Growing up Hip Hop.  If I did not list your favorite “go to show” for seeing how the other half lives, I’ll let you fill in the blank.

Of course, these “made-for-tv” realities don’t show the other side of that golden coin.  We later see the impact of the “best life” played out in the media as we see broken relationships and the emotional carnage left behind.

Why is this important?

Our view of “best life” can impact every area of our life.  Pursuit of the best life (ill-defined) can lead us down paths that will result in bad decisions, unrealistic expectations, and wasted energy.  Even more risky is when the quest is for something that can never satisfy (Is. 55:2).

This best life journey usually begins with misleading us into believing how quickly we can have it.  Credit cards, payday loans, and quick financing make our best life just a click or signature away.  “Why wait when you can have it now?”

When taking a look at how specific types of debt have shifted since 2019, mortgage loans, auto loans, student loans and personal loans all reached new record highs. Student loan debt saw the largest growth (12%), followed by mortgage debt (7%) and personal loan debt (6%), according to Experian data from Q3 2020.

 From a faith perspective, the pursuit of best life, creates spiritual tension for the believer.  We are told to seek first the kingdom of God first (Matt. 6:33) and to set our mind on things above (Col. 3:2).  Does that mean we cannot pursue our “best life”?  No.  Remember Jesus came that we might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).  That sounds like best life to me!

Best life guidelines

First, we as believers, operate from a different reality than the world.  Our reality is based on God’s goodness and God’s greatness.  We do not depend nor trust on material gain to experience our best life.  God is our exceeding, great reward (Gen. 15:1).  To focus on the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:15-17) can potentially lead us to sin and other moral failures.

Secondly, we remember our identity and who we are in Christ.   When we became believers, we were adopted into the kingdom of God (Eph. 1:5).  That new relationship came with many blessings and promises that provide for our livelihood (2 Pet. 1:3-4).  Best life is defined by what God has outlined in His Word.  The Holy Spirit uses that Word to reform (renew) our hearts and minds so that we look and act like Jesus.  When people look at us, they should see Jesus (not what we have or who we are).

Finally, we strive to achieve the purpose which God designed specifically for our lives.  Before the foundations of the world, God identified the purpose for our lives (Ep. 2:10).   The Holy Spirit empowers us to accomplish that purpose (Act 1:8).  It is our privilege to walk in God’s purpose.

More to come

Livin’ our best life is more than a catchy phrase or personal mantra.  When we speak of our best life, we are revealing what is most important to us.  It is also an indicator of who is in charge of our life.

In Colossians 3:1-4 (NLT), the Apostle Paul gives good advice on discovering our “real best life”:

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits at God’s right hand in the place of honor and power.  Let heaven fill your thoughts. Do not think only about things down here on earth.  For you died when Christ died, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.  And when Christ, who is your real life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.  

The Surrendered Life and Sin

The Surrendered Life and Sin

Who do we choose?

Sin and surrender have more in common than their first letter.  Sin has at its core the stubborn resistance to surrender oneself to the authority and rule of God.  Remember Adam and Eve?

We all have used the excuse, “the devil made me do it” but someone had to open the door and invite him in!   As a child I accepted Jesus as my savior.  I bought the fire insurance but lordship?  That came much later in my adult life.  After much sinning and denying Jesus’ rule in my life, I surrendered to His lordship.  Thank God for His mercy and His glorious grace (Ep. 2:1-6).

Often time we fail to see the spiritual reality of two conflicting influences in this world—God and Satan. Each day we, unknowingly or knowingly, choose the one we will surrender to.  We give them rule, control, and influence in our life.  Paul makes clear this truth to the church at Rome (Rom. 6:16).

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 

The surrendered life in Christ, is by far the best choice.  But as Jesus cautioned, it is important that we consider the cost.

“Everyone need not apply!”

Jesus in His teaching on the cost of discipleship was brutally honest about His expectation of His followers.  There was no mincing of words or changing of position to make the offer more appealing to His listeners (Matt. 16:24; Luke 14:33).

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

“So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.”

Deny or forsake?  It’s still good-bye!

Intimate relations with Jesus require that we “deny self and forsake all”.  Such was the case during His earthly ministry 2000 years ago.  Jesus’ ministry continues today with us as His disciples.  His expectations have not changed.  

Deny has two meanings: (1) to affirm that one has no acquaintance or connection with someone and (2) to lose sight of oneself and own interests.  Matthew uses the second definition to explain Jesus’ rebuke to would-be disciples unaware of the cost to follow Him.    

Luke chose to express the same idea using the word forsake.  To forsake adds further to the ideal of departure from one’s old self and habits.  It means to renounce or bid farewell to.    

As we deny our own interest and forsake our past self, we must also reject our love for this world—“the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16).  All these create within us a divided heart which cannot love Jesus well nor surrender to His leading.

The surrendered life

The world, Satan, and our flesh are not big on “denying or forsaking.”   They encourage us to place our desires above the Lord’s.  They deceive by whispering, “You can have it your way right now.  Jesus can wait another day.”  Jesus replies, “I am The Way” (John 14:6) and offers instead His love (John 3:16), salvation (Heb. 2:10), forgiveness (Ep. 1:7), freedom (Ps. 146:7), and peace (Col. 3:15).

The surrendered life in Christ results in great joy and wisdom.  There is great confidence in knowing we have made the best choice in choosing “the Pearl of Great Price” (Matt. 13:46).

Are you a Truth Teller?

Are you a Truth Teller?

Are you a truth teller? 

We (believers) define truth as the meaning and reality of life defined by God versus truth shaped by postmodern thinking.  The believer’s source of truth is presented by God Himself in His Word and through the direction of the “Spirit of Truth”, the Holy Spirit.

Truth defined by God becomes the compass by which believers are able to discern truth from error (1 John 4:6) therefore allowing them to live out their God-ordained purpose (Ep. 2:10).

How well am I doing with being truthful?

Following God’s truth may result in rejection and personal persecution.  Inside the safety of the church walls it’s easy to agree with the ethics and morality inherent in God’s truth.

However, once outside the “physical boundaries” of the church, it is the “heart” which must reflect God’s truth.  It is the heart that directs the mind, will, and emotions (the soul) to sieve the noise of the world through the filter of God’s truth.

Truth and obedience are closely connected as believers must choose between God’s instructions or man’s acceptance (Matt. 10:28).

Does the world want to know the truth?

We discussed this question earlier as to the world’s readiness for the truth.  Often the world’s responses make the truth appear to be a remnant of the 20th century—no longer relevant in today’s fast-paced, high tech world.    Unfortunately, truth is often defined by what’s trending on social media.

To further complicate the search for truth, corporate/community leaders and aspiring politicians create “untruthful” responses to difficult social issues that simply satisfy people who don’t really want to know the truth; so the community and nation are given a lie (instead of truth) to make them feel better.

Unfortunately people would rather believe a lie than the truth—think about that for a minute!  Are people really being deceived or are they simply choosing to believe a lie? It’s easier (2 Tim. 4:3-4).

Am I ready to be a truth teller?

In Psalm 119:46, the writer speaks of their unfailing dedication to the truths offered by  God:  “I will speak of Your testimonies also before kings.  And will not be ashamed.”  Testimonies speak of witnessing.  In Scripture, it relates specifically to divine testimonies or truth directly from God.

We must ask ourselves why we sometimes choose to believe a lie rather than the truth.  The truth may be related to our life style, our family, or even about us personally.  Perhaps we are judgmental, critical, or unforgiving.  That’s why it is so important to regularly pray that the Holy Spirit expose those areas that interfere with receiving the truth of God.

The gold standard for truth tellers

To be a truth teller requires boldness to stand for holy “rightness” (Heb. 13:6) and to proclaim what is God’s truth versus what is politically or socially correct (Luke 12:4-5; Ps. 119:46).

When Jesus taught the Beatitudes to His disciples, He established a new standard of truth that was to be actualized in the life of the believer—a standard that would result in holy and sanctified (set apart) living.

Paul declared himself to be a truth teller.  While it resulted in his persecution and polarization from the mainstream, he boldly proclaimed:  “None of these things [persecution and prison] move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I can finish my race with joy.” (Acts 20:24)

Let us follow the examples given to us by God.  Dare to be a truth teller.

Truth: The Divine Perspective

Truth: The Divine Perspective

Truth is an incredibly significant concept.  Our view of truth shapes not only our personal lives but also our society.  It especially impacts our relationship with God including our view of Scripture.

Our definition of truth is affected by what we watch, what we read, and even the opinions of our friends.  Add to that the sway of social media, your “truth” is being adjusted with every post and tweet you receive.  Imagine there are 500 million tweets sent every day[1].  Scary isn’t it.

Let’s face reality!  We live in an age where we are being bombarded by varying opinions as to what is or isn’t truth.  Because of these deceptive trends, it is important that we have a reliable and trustworthy compass by which to navigate in this world.  We need guidance from God.  We need God’s divine perspective.

God’s perspective of truth

In the Old Testament, truth is rendered as true or faithful.  In either case, the Hebrew concept communicates reliability and trustworthiness.   This trustworthiness is frequently used to describe God’s divine faithfulness (Ps. 31:5; Jer. 42:5).

In the New Testament, truth emphasizes reality as God has revealed it in creation (Rom. 1:18) and in the gospel (Eph. 1:13; Col. 1:5; 1 Tim. 2:4).   God’s perspective of truth is given to us through His Word and through the Spirit of Truth—the Holy Spirit.  Armed with these divine gifts we are provided a continual source of truth.

Truth in action

Adherence to the truth was critical during the formation of the early Church. Pressured by the Judaizers to continue with the practice of circumcision, the church at Galatia was in danger of spiritual error.  They were rejecting the truth (salvation through Jesus Christ alone) to avoid persecution.  We at one time or another have been guilty of quietly accepting error versus being truth tellers.  That is to our shame.

In Galatians 5:7, Paul poses a question to this young church: “You were getting along so well. Who has interfered with you to hold you back from following the truth?”

Paul continues by stating emphatically, “This persuasion does not come from the One who calls you.”  When we drift from the truth that God has revealed, we can be assured of its origin—the puppeteer of deception and lies, Satan.

Coram Deo is a Latin phrase translated “in the presence of God”.  It has its origin is Christian theology which summarizes the idea of Christians living in the presence of, under the authority of, to the honor and glory of God.  Truth is to be lived coram Deo.

Practicing God’s divine perspective

Truth is to be practiced not only within the church but also outside its four walls. Imagine the impact that error has on every aspect of our society—in our homes, in the workplace, and in our institutions.  Practicing God’s divine perspective acknowledges the importance of sharing truth in every sphere of our life.

Using God’s revelation, we have access to reliable knowledge—divine truth—about God, about ourselves, and how we are to live in relationship with our fellow man.  Unfortunately, we often separate our “faith walk” from our “lifestyle”.  God’s truth should permeate every area of our life.  Practicing God’s divine perspective requires that we walk in God’s truth continuously. 

Our dependence on God’s truth is not based on emotional sentimentalities but firmly grounded in the nature of God (Deut. 7:9).  We walk in accordance with His moral realities and act in harmony with His divine revelations (Ps. 26:3).   Practicing God’s divine perspective recognizes God’s trustworthiness.

Knowing the reliability of God and accepting the reality of God, we can begin to operate from God’s divine perspective.  God’s divine truth becomes the vehicle by which we can successfully navigate in this 21st century postmodern society.

[1] Brandwatch.com

Holiday Season 2020

Holiday season reflects God's purpose

Symbols of the holiday season are everywhere.  We are ready for that golden-brown turkey, giblet dressing and cranberry sauce.  Christmas decorations appear at the mall, at our favorite grocery store, and in our neighborhoods.

Most importantly, the holidays are about enjoying relationships.  Friends and family gather to share stories and to “love on each other.”  Everyone is invited to come and enjoy time together.  However, this year relationships will feel different.  Holiday season 2020, specifically, will be very different in the midst of the pandemic.

This season will be different

As the number of people infected with the virus increase, our nation struggles to find ways to “fatten the curve”.  How do you do that during the holidays?  We are warned to wear our masks, practice social isolation—”stay at home” and exercise social distancing—”stay apart”.

The holiday season is most often depicted by images of merriment and joy.  However, this year those images have been replaced with news broadcasts showing long lines to food pantries and food giveaways.  The financial impact of the pandemic has become the face of poverty.  Joblessness, hunger, and homelessness are new experiences for many who have previously lived comfortably.  To our shame, it is far too familiar for others.

My favorite representation of Thanksgiving is the plenteous cornucopia, bursting forth with ripened fruit from its wide and ample opening.  It is this image that has caused me to evaluate my own personal fruitfulness.  Especially during this “season of COVID-19”.   If I am “rooted and built up in Him” (Col. 2:7), am I bringing forth fruit pleasing to Him?  Am I fruitful?

A season for reflection

Fruit is the product of fruitfulness.  It is used metaphorically of work or deeds (Eph. 2:10; Phil. 1:11; 2 Pet. 1:8).  While works are evidence of Christian activity, it does not always tell the whole story.  Jesus’ teachings often encouraged listeners to look beyond what they could see with their physical eyes and to examine the motives and intentions behind the deeds (Matthew 7:16-20).

You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles?  Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Therefore, by their fruits you will know them.

Fruitfulness is not “busyness for the Lord” but “transformed living” resulting in the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5).  Fruitfulness reflects the heart and mind of our beloved Lord and Savior, in whose image we are to be daily conformed (2 Cor. 3:18).

A season for fruitfulness

God has placed us in this historic moment to reflect the heart and mind of Christ.  We were created for such a time as this (Esther 4:14).   It is our responsibility to align ourselves with God’s purpose and perform that which He has given us to do.

    • Am I doing all I can to share the grace and love of Jesus with those in need?
    • How can I demonstrate Jesus’ compassion during this season of COVID?
    • How can I personally help others who are “weary and hopeless”?

We can be Jesus’ eyes that see the needs of others.  We can be Jesus’ hands that move beyond sympathy to action.  As Jesus’ disciples, let us no longer live for ourselves but live for Him who saved us (2 Cor. 5:15).   God has “seeded” us into history to be fruitful.  It is here we are to take root, grow, and be fruitful.

Discovering our fruitfulness

This holiday season will look and feel very different in the midst of the pandemic.  Let us do our part to make it the beginning of something better.  Something that lasts beyond the holiday season.  Let it be the beginning of REAL LOVE for God and for others, even our enemies.  Amid the pandemic, let us create a world that honors God, that celebrates Jesus, and that brings real “comfort and joy”.

God is still speaking

 God is still speaking

E.F. Hutton was one of the most respected financial firms in the United States during the latter part of the 20th century.  It was known for being cutting edge and innovative including it’s iconic marketing campaigns. The slogan “when E.F. Hutton talks, people listen,” became a cultural touchstone.  It is even more important for believers that when God speaks, we listen!

The writer of Hebrews opens their letter with the clear declaration that although God spoke to man in the past through His prophets, He was changing His method of communications.  God was doing a new thing.  God would now speak through His Son, Jesus Christ.

This new way was the gospel message of Jesus Christ.  Jesus offered a more excellent, effectual, and eternal way of providing salvation to mankind.  In the progression of Hebrews, the writer proves that Jesus is superior to angels, a High Priest superior to Melchizedek, and the Mediator of a superior covenant (The New Covenant).

Warnings along the way

The warnings through Hebrews 10 attempted to address the spiritual erosion of the believers in receipt of this letter.  Their behaviors constituted real dangers that could seriously damage their ability to serve and remain faithful to Christianity.  They included negligence, unbelief, spiritual immaturity, and drawing back.

Their actions, once viewed as exemplary, were now approaching indifference.  This resulted in several reminders to the readers concerning their ministry responsibilities in outreach (Heb. 13:1-2, 16), teaching (Heb. 5:11-13), and worship (Heb. 10:25).

Are we experiencing warnings along our Christian walk?  Have we become lax in our commitment to our spiritual giftedness?  Are we sloppy in our worship and praise?  Are we negligent in our service to the Lord, regardless of how small or large it might be?  Has our witness become “silent” for fear of rejection or reprisals?  Are we indifferent to the needs of our community and fellow man?

A Call to Faithfulness and Endurance

In Hebrews 11 the writer exhorts their readers to faithfulness and endurance.  They connect with their audience by sharing the experience of the heroes of Old Testament history.

The writer first spends time sharing the importance of faith.  Its value and worth can be summarized in that faith is:(1) based on confident convictions, (2) certainty about unseen hopes and realities, and (3) is honorable, in that the saints were commended for it.  (Heb. 11:1-2)

Since the readers are presented with “so great a cloud of witnesses” who demonstrated faith and endurance, they can also be expected to do the same (Heb. 12:1).

The final warning

The author concludes the basic argument of this epistle (the excellency of Jesus Christ) with a final admonition and warning (Heb. 12:25-29).  The warning points to the danger of refusing God.

This final warning cautions against apostasy or behaviors which may lead in that direction. This was discussed in earlier warnings to the readers who were in danger of “falling away” (Heb. 6:4-8) and “drawing back” (Heb. 26-39).  Although they had initially accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ, they were still in danger of “turning away” (apostrepha) from or rejecting God’s new way of relating to His people.

We are receiving a kingdom

The author, knowing the tendency of their readers to spiritual weakness, uses Old Testament examples and contrasts to warn their readers to “see to it that they do not refuse Him who speaks” (v. 25). The warning is this.  If the Israelites did not escape God’s wrath as He spoke on earth, how much worse the punishment would be as God speaks from heaven?  (Heb. 12:25)

God sent His Son Jesus to speak for Him (Heb. 1:2).  More importantly, Jesus would provide a “more excellent way” to God through His substitutional death and sacrifice.  The power of sin would finally be broken. Jewish sacrifices and offerings were temporary.  They could never offer the promises and privileges of the Gospel. Jesus offered the power of heaven and the permanence of eternity in Mt. Zion (Heb. 12:26-27).

The writer closes this warning with a message of hope.  The message is this–believers were “receiving a kingdom which could not be shaken” (Heb. 12:28).  The verb receiving is in present tense meaning the action is a “fact of reality occurring in actual time”, historically and remaining even into the present.  This meant believers were part of God’s kingdom that would never change and were partakers of His generous grace (Heb. 3:14).

Within this new community “believers are to serve God with reverence and godly fear” (CSB, awe).  A believer who departs from God’s magnificent privileges invites God’s retribution (Heb. 12:29; Heb. 10:29).

The Message of Hebrew for the 21st Century 

The warnings contained in Hebrews are also appropriate for believers today.  Especially if we desire to remain faithful to the gospel and hope to persevere during this period of history when our faith is constantly under fire.

There are many factors which threaten our ability to “hold fast” our profession of faith (Heb. 10:23). Many are “heart-issues”.

    • The hardened heart. Our refusal to accept the teaching and guidance of God’s Word.  “Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”  (Heb. 3:15)
    • The darkened heart. Our continuance in sinful behavior although delivered by Jesus Christ.  “If we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sin.”  (Heb. 10:26)
    • The misguided heart.  Our lack of wisdom and truth needed to discern right from wrong.  “Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:12-13)
    • The divided heart.  Our lack of faithfulness resulting in the choice of the world over God.  “Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings; for it is well that the heart be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited their adherents.” (Heb. 13:9)

Be not discouraged by the admonitions of Hebrews.  Its writer has also included many promises for believers that desire Christ and choose to serve in the kingdom of God.  These promises are built on the excellency of Jesus Christ–the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8).   They are the “more excellent way” (Heb. 5:9; 6:19; 7:19; 7:22; 8:1-2,10).  God is still speaking.  Are we listening?

Making the Right Choice

Maing the Right Choice

The warnings included in the letter of Hebrews were written to believers who were being tempted to return to the Jewish religion and traditions.  In their actions, they were not only choosing Judaism but in their choosing they were also rejecting the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Such is the case in all decisions we make.  When we say “yes” to one thing we simultaneously are saying “no” to its alternatives. In addition, with each decision there are consequences.  Good or bad.  Right or wrong.  Regardless, there are consequences.

Such is the case with this fourth warning.  The choice to return to Judaism contained dangerous consequences which the author attempts to convey in this fourth exhortation.    

Danger! Danger!

The writer of Hebrews has been diligent to warn of the dangerous behaviors being exhibited by the readers of this letter.  Behaviors that are leading to spiritual erosion. They include neglect, unbelief, and spiritual immaturity.

Hebrews 10:26-39 contains the fourth warning to the readers of this critical epistle.   This exhortation deals specifically with the “danger of drawing back”.

The writer continues this serious discussion which first began in Hebrews 6:4-8 with the danger of “falling away” (from Christianity).[1]   This verb is found only here in the New Testament.  The writer is picturing people who have been numbered among the followers of Christ but now leave that company.

Dangerous behaviors and consequences

The behaviors and consequences of “falling away” and “drawing back” are a real and present danger to believers.  We are to take these warnings seriously.   They highlight our need to remain steadfast and faithful (Heb. 10:38).

Behaviors and consequences (are)

Hebrews 6:4-8 

“Falling away” 

Hebrews 10:26-39 

“Drawing back”

Intentional

“with knowledge”

“Those who have were once enlightened, who tasted…who shared” (vv. 4 and 5)

“If we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of truth” (v. 26)

“Recall the former days…after you were enlightened” (v. 32)

Irreversible

“unable to restore”

“It is impossible to renew to repentance” (v. 4)

“no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (v. 26)

Irreverent

“of God’s grace and Jesus’ sacrifice”

“They are recrucifying the Son of God and holding Him up in contempt” (v. 6)

 

“a certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation” (v. 27)

“Trampled the Son of God…the blood counted a common thing…insulted the Spirit of grace.” (v.29)

 Apostasy by any other name

The writer’s admonition begins with calling out the willful sin of the readers (Heb. 10:26).  Our sins are often the result of our deliberate choice to impose our desire over God’s leadership (James 1:13-15).

This warning deals with the sin of apostasy, an intentional falling away, or defection. Apostates are those who move toward Christ, hear and understand his gospel, and are on the verge of saving belief, but then rebel and turn away. This warning against apostasy is one of the most serious warnings in all of scripture.[2] 

The fourth warning is contained in the final verses of this chapter (Hebrews 10:38-39).

Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul. 

“The just shall live by faith” is a quotation from Habakkuk 2:1-4.  Who are the “just”?  The just (RSV, my righteous one) in this passage is the person God accepts as righteous who will live by faith. In this verse, the writer is drawing attention to the fact that faith and drawing back are opposed to each other.

To “draw back” means to withdraw self or to shrink from declaring.  It is clear that God is not pleased with the one who draws back (Heb. 10:38). It is important for believers to go forward in the path of faith. To draw back offers the worst consequence–perdition which in some translations is interpreted to mean destruction.  The best choice is to persevere in our faith and be saved.

21st Century Danger

We continually make choices.  Some are simple.  Others may be more complex.  As we make our choices, we, as believers, must also be mindful of potential consequences.  This is especially true of those that affect our spirit man and our walk of faith.  Are we making decisions that cause us to “draw back”?  How are we to respond?

We are to remember when we first came to faith and the gratitude we exhibited in the gift of salvation (Heb. 10:32).  We boldly witnessed the goodness and greatness of God.  We eagerly served and engaged in God’s work (Heb. 10:33).

It is important to know “that we have a better and an enduring possession in heaven” (Heb. 10:34). We should include in our daily routine the reading of Scripture that reminds us of our eternal rewards and destination (Eph. 1:13-14).

Let us refuse to “cast away our confidence” (Heb. 10:35).  To “cast away” conveys the thought of a reckless rejection of what is valuable. Only Jesus Christ holds the pearl of great price (Matt. 13:45-46).

Through Jesus, we have received all spiritual blessings (Ep. 1:3) and great and precious promises (2 Pet. 1:4).  These enable us to endure struggles, reproaches, and tribulations (Heb. 10:32-33).  Because of this, believers can boldly proclaim, “We do not draw back to prediction but are of those who believe to the saving of the soul”.  (v. 39)

 

[1] Such cannot be brought back to repentance. Notice that he does not say cannot be forgiven or cannot be restored to salvation or the like. It is repentance that is in mind, and the writer says that it is impossible for these people to repent. This might mean that the repentance that involves leaving a whole way of life to embrace the Christian way is unique.  It cannot be repeated.  There is no putting the clock back.

[2] The MacArthur Study Bible