Category Archives: Spiritual Maturity

Slavery, Death, and Obedience

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?  Romans 6:16 (NRS)

In the next few weeks we will enter into the Passion Week, which recounts the suffering and death of Jesus Christ as He journeyed to the Cross.  During that week, Jesus was very intentional and direct as He prepared his disciples for the gruesome ending of His physical life.  Jesus was to die for our sins and receive the penalty we deserved.  His substitutional death would fulfill God’s decree formulated before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4) yet revealed to man in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:15).  In the end, Jesus Christ would declare His obedience in a different garden—The Garden of Gethsemane—to die and release us from the bondage of sin.

Jesus announced His arrival as the promised Messiah in the synagogue at Nazareth—the one anointed to “release the captives and to let the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18). Jesus accomplished that purpose on Easter Sunday, when He rose from the dead, breaking the power and the penalty of sin in our lives—sins we committed in the past, in the present, and in the future.  When we reach heaven, we will finally be delivered from the presence of sin.  Because of Jesus’ victory over sin, we are free, able to grow in grace (2 Pet. 3:18), and obediently serve the Lord.

So why are we still acting like slaves?

Paul challenged the young church at Rome to follow in obedience the word of Christ which had been delivered to them.  I guess you could call them “hokey-pokey” Christians in that they had “one foot in the Church and one foot in the world.”  That is the same “obedience challenge” we face daily while still in our earthly flesh.  Until we are delivered from the presence of sin, we must doggedly declare “ourselves dead to sin and alive to God” (Rom. 6:11).  We must exercise our freedom in Christ to leave behind sinful patterns and influences which move us away from God.  We must not take God’s glorious gift of grace for granted and continue in sin through our disobedience.

Paul described the reversal of sin’s slavery in Romans 6:15-18:

“What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!  Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slavesyou are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?  But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin,  have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted,  and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”

During this season of Lent, many of us are practicing the discipline of fasting—that is, giving up for a period of time, some habit, practice, or “vice” and replacing it with new activities that draw us closer to Jesus.  This includes more time in prayer, studying the Word, or solitude.  It is a period of denying our “flesh” and of self-reflection, hopefully leading us to greater spiritual maturity and obedience.

But let’s be honest, aren’t there some things we should stop doing beyond Lenten season?  Some sin(s) that are keeping us enslaved to the world and Satan?  Are you choosing to remain “shackled” by sin when Christ has set you free from sin’s power and penalty?

“You are slaves of the one you obey.”  Who are you obedient to?

Obedience Matured

“Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah saying, “Go at once to Nineveh and cry out against it.  But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.” Jonah 1:1-3 (NRS)

Last week we opened with this question:  Is obedience the outcome of our faith walk or is it the means by which spiritual maturity is accomplished?   The answer is—it is BOTH.  During our faith walk (which will continue until this life ends), our choice to either obey or disobey God will result in “life lessons” that will make us stronger instruments of God.  Through these lessons we “grow” or mature spiritually.

Oswald Chambers shared this thought on obedience and spiritual maturity.

“Spiritual maturity is not reached by the passing of the years, but by obedience to the will of God. Some people mature into an understanding of God’s will more quickly than others because they obey more readily; they more readily sacrifice the life of nature to the will of God.”

Let me detail the correlation between obedience and spiritual maturity with the following illustration.  A toddler, immature physically and mentally, has one basic desire—to satisfy their immediate needs.   They will do just about anything to have their way, disregarding safety or well-being along the way.  This includes climbing up on high counters or grabbing objects that are dangerous to their health, i.e., laundry pods.  Toddlers show little concern for their own safety or well-being as long as the result is physical satisfaction. They are best served and protected by their guardian who will provide for and protect them.  Toddlers must be taught to obey the direction of their guardian who will help them to gain a healthy fear of the world they live in.

Is obedience only for children?

 

Spiritually, this is also true for believers.  Often time, we live in the moment—desiring what will immediately satisfy our needs.  In that moment perhaps the Holy Spirit is directing us to “pray and wait” or to seek godly counsel through others or the Bible.  Many times, we will even fain obedience (fake it) by responding “I’m praying about it” when we already know what God has directed us to do.  Ours is just to obey.

Jonah was reluctant to bring God’s message to Nineveh, the capital of Israel’s hated enemy, the Assyrians.  Foolishly, he fled from the presence of the Lord (Psalm 139:7-10). The Lord however, did not allow him to escape his calling.  Jonah accomplished God’s purpose when the city repented.  Unfortunately, Jonah failed to understand the nature of God and His mercy (Exod. 33:19).  Jonah failed to receive God’s life lesson on obedience and in the process, failed to mature spiritually (Jonah 4:3-4).

God is our heavenly Father who always has our best interest at heart.  Because God is “all-knowing, seeing, and powerful”, He is in the best position to direct our life.  Our response should be complete obedience to His instruction.  Believers, like the rambunctious toddler, are best served by our Heavenly Guardian who both provides for and protects us (Prov. 3:1, 5-6).

Are you running from the presence of the Lord?  Is God asking you to respond obediently to His divine purpose for your life?  Does God’s request appear to be more than you can handle?  Want to understand God’s will for your life?  Begin by quickly obeying His will.  Obey-Go-Grow!

The Character of Obedience

“And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” Heb. 5:9 (NKJ)

Obedience—is it an outcome of our faith walk or is it the means by which spiritual maturity is accomplished?

A discussion of obedience seems most appropriate for the Lenten Season.  As I read the accounts of the apostles and other great propagators of the faith, it is evident that obedience played a major role in their faith walk. The hallmark of obedience is modeled by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Christ is the perfect model as we too journey to the Cross.

The Apostle Paul uses the Greek word for obedience, hupekoos.  Hupo mean “under” and akous means “to hear”.  Christ was under the direction and conviction of God.  He was obedient to the law of God that stated that without the shedding of blood there could be no remission of sin (Heb. 9:22).

We see the character of obedience displayed through the humility of Christ.Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”  Philippians 2:5-8

In this text, the Apostle Paul uses the Greek word hupekoos.  Hupo mean “under” and akous means “to hear”.  Christ was under the direction and conviction of God.  He was obedient to the law of God that stated that without the shedding of blood there could be no remission of sin (Heb. 9:22).   He humbled Himself as Deity and as a man, shed His blood for our sins.

We see the character of obedience displayed through the submission of Christ.  “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.  For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” Romans 5:18-19

Here obedience is the Greek word hupakoe which means “attentive harkening, compliance or submission”.  It usually refers to obedience to God’s will in a “special sense”—of willing subjection.  Unlike the animals used in previous sacrifices, Christ came willingly to the Cross.  He expressed His submission to God’s will in the Garden of Gethsemane as He repeated “not My will but Your will be done” (Matt. 26:39, 42; Mark 14:32-36).     

We see the character of obedience displayed through the suffering of Christ.  “(Jesus) who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.”  Hebrews 5:7-8

Hupakoe is still the translation of obedience here.  Through His suffering, Christ met the need for a human who could fit God’s righteous requirement (Matt. 5:13) and prove to be the perfect sacrifice to take the place of sinners (1 Pet. 3:18).  He “learned” obedience to confirm His humanity and to experience humanities’ suffering to the fullest (Luke 2:52).

“And having been perfected, He (Jesus) became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Heb. 5:9).  To obey or hupakova is the manifestation of faith as revealed in the humble acceptance of the Gospel message.  This is our opportunity to display obedience.  Acceptance of the Gospel requires acceptance of Christ as not only Savior but also as Lord of our lives.  We no longer live for ourselves but for Him (Gal. 2:20; 1 Peter 4:2).  In obedience, we learn to have the “same mind of Christ”—obedient in humility, submission, and in suffering.

In a world where defiance and noncompliance is encouraged and revered, Christ offers a different model for living.   Just think, through His obedience two-thousand years earlier, He changed the “eternal outcome” to “all who obey Him” (Heb. 5:9).  Once destined to an eternity in hell, we now are partakers of eternal life (John 3:16).  That’s something to shout about!

Obedience: An Invitation to Hear

Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I believe in your commands.  Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.  Psalm 119:66-67 (NIV)

In book, “Think Like Jesus,” pollster George Barna tackles a formidable topic, “How do Christians develop a “biblical worldview” in a fallen world?  But more than that, why is it important to do so?  How is it possible to be “in this world but not of this world”?  (John 17:14-15)

Believer’s struggle with this dilemma is evidenced by the world’s inability to distinguish believers from itself.  In a world that labels Christian beliefs as intolerant and antiquated, believers find it easier to “go along to get along.” The salt is no longer salty and the light is growing dim (Matt. 5:13-16).

Barna offers several scriptural principles to guide believers as they create a biblical worldview for their life—one of these principles is the importance of obedience to God.  “Obedience is more than just following the letter of the law; it is discerning what God would want – His will for us – and choosing to seek that outcome.”

Lenten season with its focus on self-examination and self-denial is a good time to study this topic of obedience and how it impacts our personal relationship with God.  What is it and why is it important?  And much like Barna’s study, how does obedience to God (of lack of it) affect our “worldview”, our relationships, and our belief systems.

When you read or hear the word obedience, what comes to mind?  lf you are like me, you may instantly  think of its opposite—disobedience and the consequences that go with it.  According to Webster, obedience is defined as submission to authority.  Operating with that definition, people view obedience as harsh and demanding.  Their response is generally one of resistance that is anchored in the human desire to control their own destiny and live independent of God’s rule in their life.  This, unfortunately, misses the true intent of godly obedience.  That is why a biblical view of obedience is needed.

In the Old Testament, obey means to hear.  It stresses not only hearing but also understanding. As God spoke through His revelation (His ways and works), His people were able to hear and understand His desire for them—“plans to prosper and not to harm, plans to give hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11).

In the New Testament, obey was not only connected with hearing but also means to convince or to persuade.  A person who is persuaded to obey a demand obeys it (James 3:3). Obedience is spoken of as an attitude (2 Cor. 2:9) and most particularly as a faith-rooted disposition (Phil. 2:12).

Jesus’ teaching of obedience flows out of a personal relationship with God and is motivated only by love.  The obedience of Jesus is held as the ultimate example for believers as we strive to adopt a Christ-like attitude in our daily walk. “He humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:8) Obedience is the outward response of a heart that loves God.

God’s call for obedience is a loving invitation to experience His best. Man’s response to God’s invitation is a heart that hears and turns to Him.  Obedience, properly understood, is never a cold or impersonal command that arouses resentment. Our response of obedience should flow from a heart that hears God’s Word, feels God’s love and turns to Him.

Are You Spiritually Fit? Part 2

How did you do on your spiritual fitness assessment?  Are you spiritually flabby?  Do you need to add a few more exercises to help build up your spiritual muscles?  Like physical fitness, if you want to grow stronger, spiritually, you’ll need to be intentional in your “workouts”.  But why?

 Why should believers care about being spiritually fit? 

Because we live in a postmodern world.  Postmodern or post modernism is a philosophy that says there are no absolutes (no rules / no truth) and that all viewpoints are equally valid.  Such thinking reduces all religion to the level of opinion.  With that thinking, the basic tenets of the Christian faith are dismissed and rejected including the Bible as the authoritative Word of God and Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation.  And what is left to guide the human soul?  Truth is determined by the individual’s viewpoint or “spiritual bentness”—the degree to which one ascribes to the worldview on how life is to be lived  and away from God’s instructions for holy living.  It’s a matter of personal belief and personal choice.  But remember Jeremiah’s warning:   “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?”  (Jer. 17:9)

 Why do believers need to be spiritually fit?

First, being spiritually fit determines the believer’s outlook on life.  The cry of believers living in a postmodern world dominated by materialism, sexual immorality, and wickedness is “how are we to live?” (2 Pet. 3:11)  The Apostle Peter describes us as “peculiar people” (1 Pet. 2:9).  That means we don’t look like the world.  Our worldview is shaped by “who we are” and “whose we are”.  Believers live according to the authoritative Word of God—every “jot and tittle” and we know that by no other name, under heaven or earth, can one be saved but by Jesus Christ (Acts 4:11-12).  Bottom-line, the believer’s outlook is shaped by God, from whom we derive our meaning and our reality.

Secondly, being spiritually fit determines the believer’s output in life.  As believers we know that our lives were purchased for a price and we live as the redeemed of God (Ps. 107:2).  We no longer live for ourselves, existing only to gratify our fleshly needs like the world.  Our purpose and all our efforts are directed by the Holy Spirit.  It is in Him that we live and move and have our meaning (Act 17:28).  We know that the things of this life are fading away.  Therefore believers focus their energies on those things that have eternal value and benefit (2 Cor. 4:17-18; Matt. 7:24-29).

Finally, being spiritually fit determines the believer’s outcome after life.   Whether people believe in God or not does not dismiss the reality of existence beyond our life on planet earth.  It is called eternity. The choices made in this life will result in where one will spend eternity.  As believers become more spiritually fit and mature, they realize that the time in which they currently live is set in the framework of eternity.  As we become daily transformed by the Word of God and conformed to the image of Christ, our priorities and desires shift from this passing world to things above where Christ dwells (Col. 3:1-2). We proclaim like Paul, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).

Join us next week as we answer the question, “What does spiritual fitness look like?”

Thank You from the Hamilton’s

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father,

who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace,

comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work.

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (NKJ)

Dear Friends and Family of In the Word Ministries,

Words cannot express Ron and my gratitude for your prayers and comforting words as our son Rhone experienced his second stroke.  It was your prayers that consoled our hearts and God’s grace that sustained us during this difficult period.  On Monday, June 11th, our prayers for total healing were answered as Rhone transitioned to heaven to be  forever with the Lord.   Yes, I said “total healing” for Rhone is no longer dependent on machines and medical knowledge for restoration and is now transformed to the beautiful and awesome man God created him to be.  He is totally and completely healed!

Although our hearts are truly broken, Ron and I hold fast to God’s hand, “full persuaded” that we will see Rhone again and that the Healer of Broken Hearts holds our family in His bosom.  God knows our pain.  Rhone’s passing did not catch God by surprise.  Rhone had successfully  completed his 47-year assignment.  He has completed his race!

As we finalize plans for Rhone’s Celebration of Life in July (Praise the Lord, Rhone will not be joining us), God has left me a Word (four to be exact) to share with you.  As I read Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica, the word “consolation” stood out:  “everlasting consolation, good hope by grace, and comfort for our hearts.”  I asked Jesus, “how do You comfort my heart especially at this moment when it is breaking?”  The Holy Spirit answered!

By Release.   Through my tears, I fall forward into the arms of God.  I cannot busy myself forever but must now face the void left in my heart when Rhone took his last breathe.  My expressions of sorrow–lack of appetite, periods of sadness, and difficulty in rising some mornings, are all signs of my need to depend on God during this time of loss.  I now “cast my burdens on the Lord because (I know) He cares for me.” (Ps. 55:22)

In Rest. I must be intentional in getting physical rest–a mid-day nap is the answer for the emotional exhaustion I feel as I restart my life after my time in Denver.   God has blessed both Ron and I with nightly sleep so that we can continue the journey God has set forth for our lives.  We cannot stay in the valley.  “He leads me besides the still water.  He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23: 2-3)

Through Remembrance.  Remembering the special times Ron and I shared with our son gives me the opportunity to “re-experience” the joy of that moment.  Exploration of shared memories and experiences helps me “return to joy”.   “I thank God in my remembrance of you.” (Phil. 1:3)  Thanks Kimmie for teaching me this priceless spiritual practice.

In all these, God is present.  We never walk alone–God carries us! God allows all our emotions (which He has given us) to surface as we freely grieve with our family, connect with our community, and receive the love of our friends.    Lastly, God comforts me…

Through a Reminder.  The reminder of my future.  The future which I draw closer to with each passing day.  My future home in glory.  I am reminded that “if this earthly temple is destroyed, I have a building of God, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1).  I am reminded that “I have an inheritance reserved for me in heaven” (1 Pet. 1:4).   I am reminded that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6).  What wonderful reminders God has left in His Word.

Again thank you, my family in Christ, for your love and prayers.  Keep them coming.  To God be the glory!

Eileen

In But Not of this World

“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil.  And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 5:21-23 (KJV)

It’s not easy to live in this world as a Christian.  By world, I don’t mean the landmass represented by the globe of the earth but to its people, perspectives, and practices.  When we say that God loves the world, we mean all people.  While God loves the people, He does not love the principles and practices that belong to the “prince of this world” (John 12:31) who is Satan.  That’s why believers are told not to love the world (1 John 2:15-17).  How then are believers to live in the world yet not be of the world? Do they segregate themselves from the world and from nonbelievers?  The answer can be found in God’s Word.

By renewing of the mind.  Roman 12:2 exhorts believers to be “transformed by the renewing of the mind.”  We renew our minds by reading God’s Word and listening to His Holy Spirit within.  The outcome of a renewed mind is knowledge of “the good, acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”  Renewing of the mind also requires careful monitoring of what we see and hear.  The “eye gate” is a key portal to the soul (Matt. 6:22-23).   What we allow to flow through our physical senses becomes part of our essence (our memory) the moment we encounter it.  Therefore, believers may want to exercise greater caution in their media selections (2 Cor. 10: 3-5). 

By exercising spiritual discernment.  Peter warned the early church to “be sober and vigilant because the devil wants to devour you” (1 Peter 5:8).  Satan destroys people by offering sinful choices that lead to spiritual and sometimes, physical death (James 1:14-15).  Our world has become “desensitized” to sin. Those who challenge immoral behavior and practices are often ridiculed and viewed as small-minded and intolerant.  The pursuit of personal satisfaction and instant gratification has blurred the line between right and wrong.  “Be careful!  Watch out for attacks from the Devil, your great enemy” (1 Peter 5:8, NLT). 

By witnessing to God’s truth.   Hebrews 10:23 reminds us to “hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering.”  We “hold fast” by boldly witnessing to God’s truth—His love, His power, and His purpose for those who believe.  Because we live in a world (people, perspectives and practices) that is controlled by the Father of Lies, Satan (John 8:44), it is incumbent upon believers to counter Satan’s   distortions, and deceptions with God’s truth.  The source of God’s truth is His Word (John 17:17) and the Holy Spirit (John 16:13).  It is only through God’s truth that the world can experience true freedom (John 8:31-32).

While it may not be easy to live in this world as a Christian, it is possible.  Christ has shown us the way.  Let us trustingly follow His lead.      

SELAH:  Are you in the world or in God’s kingdom?  During your quiet time, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal those areas of your life that do not reflect the purpose and priority of God’s Kingdom.

If you need help beginning this exercise, take a look at your calendar, your checkbook, and your immediate goals.  These areas are an indicator of where you may be today.

In God We Trust-2018

“Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.  In God (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me?”  Psalm 56:3, 4 (NKJ)

As I prepared to write this week’s WordBytes, I searched the web for topics that were trending in the news—items that would give me a hint of the “heartbeat of the country”.  What I discovered was amazing yet not surprising; the trends included “life, conspiracy, hip hop culture, marijuana, motherhood,” and yes, I even found Jesus Christ in the trend.  This wasn’t the total list but what my spirit was drawn to was an earlier WordBytes I had written that seemed to offer a response for the current trending topics.  Interestingly, this particular WordBytes ranks as the most read in the history of WordBytes. With that, I present the most viable and fail proof option for whatever your concern today—trust in God.

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As Election Day 2016 draws near, I thought it would be appropriate to spend some time reaffirming the true source of our confidence—God.  Campaign advertisements continually bombard us via social media, telephone, and television; each candidate promising to serve faithfully and with integrity.  How ironic that our discussion on trust should follow our recent series, “In Search of Truth” as we listen to “half-truths” and “outright lies” presented by all political parties on the ballot.  Who is one to trust?  Our text for today summarizes the best place to put our trust—in God.

The background for today’s Psalm can be found in 1 Samuel 21:8-15, where we are told of David’s escape to Gath, the stronghold of the Philistines, arch enemies of Israel.   The Philistines were well acquainted with David for he had killed their champion, Goliath, when he was only a young shepherd boy (1 Sam. 17).   Now because of King Saul’s jealousy, this young man runs for fear of his life to a place of even greater peril and sure death.  He now stands captured by his worst enemy, the king of the Philistines.

Psalm 56 is identified as a song for the distressed.  We would agree that David was in distress.  We sometimes describe it as being “between a rock and a hard place.”   Like David, we sometimes find ourselves wedged between many rocks and brutal hard places.  Sometimes this happens as a result of others, like Saul, and other times it is the result of our own disobedience and waywardness.  In those times of distress and fear, we are to call out like David—“In God, I have put my trust.”

Trust (batach) in Hebrew means “bold and confident”.  The description means to literally “throw oneself down, extended on the ground, upon his face.”  Can you imagine that picture?  David, literally throwing himself on the mercy of God, fully confident and bold; defiantly proclaiming, “What can flesh do to me?”  Did he recall the many times God intervened on his behalf as King Saul sought to capture and kill him?  His eye was not on the source of his fear but on the Deliverer of his soul. David’s spirit was humbled, cast down in full confidence and trust in Almighty God for his life—not the Philistine king.

As you face the many challenges of life that tend to shake the very foundation of your faith:

  • Put your trust in the One who is able to deliver us from all harm. (Ps. 46:1)
  • Remember those times that God stepped in to deliver you and brought you to a point of safety. (Ps. 91:1,2)
  • Exchange your fear for bold confidence. (Ps. 20:7)

Stretch out on “mature” faith, like David, and expect miracles, signs, and wonders.   Although we flippantly have inscribed on our coins, “In God we trust”, it’s now time to write upon our hearts the Psalmist’s words, “I have put my trust in God.”

SELAH:  Is there something I your life that is causing you great distress? Perhaps your stress is being generated by things you have no control over—the state of the economy, unending political wrangling or social injustices that are currently in news headlines.  Maybe it’s your health or the changing needs of your immediate family.  Perhaps your anxiety is as a result of your own poor decisions or relational conflicts you must deal with.   Regardless of the source, go to God.  He cares for you.  Declare the following prayer and know in God you can always trust.

God of creation and God of salvation, I put my trust in You.  Though the earth may tremble and the mountain be carried into the sea, I put my trust in You.  Though life may be hard and the challenges daunting, I put my trust in You.  I trust in You and You alone because You are MY GOD and MY FATHER. I am Your child.  These things I ask in the powerful name of Jesus Christ.

Things I Learned in 2017

“But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the LORD.”

Jeremiah 9:24 (NKJ)

 

Who’d a thunk it?  (Yes, that’s what I said.)  We are rapidly approaching two decades into the 21st century.  My, how time flies!   When people ask what I’ve been doing, it’s hard to respond:  “Just taking it one day at a time.” or “Putting one foot in front of the other.”  It’s hard to find words.

So it is with writing this year’s “Things I Learned”.  What have I gleaned from my faith walk this past year?  As I “examine myself, am I still of the faith”? (2 Cor. 13:5)  “Have I studied to show myself approved?” (2 Tim. 2:15)  Have I sought the “kingdom of God first” (Matt. 6:33) and am at “peace with all men”? (Heb. 12:14)

“Things I Learned” is written to share my major “ah ha’s” this year with regard to what I learned about God, about myself, and my faith. No judging or regretting. No New Year’s resolutions or personal improvement plans, only silent contemplation about how God has revealed Himself to me from eternity to time we called 2017.  What are the things I learned in 2017?

  • God is faithful and will do everything He can to aid in my success (Jer. 29:11-13). It is, however, my responsibility to insure I am aligned to receive His grace and power. I must exercise caution and be aware of those things in my “human nature” that can impede my “spiritual progress”—fear, doubt, pride and envy.  In my daily walk, I must recognize and “set aside the weight and the sin that so easily seeks to ensnare me” (Heb. 12:1):  the busyness of the day, the distractions of the urgent versus the important, or the spirit of unforgiveness I may harbor.  Lastly, to be successful in accomplishing God’s purpose, it is critical to understand the will of God.  While God’s will can be found throughout Scripture, the time I spend in prayer and meditation are key in understanding both His way and His will (Ps. 103:7).
  • God is in control regardless of what I see happening around me (Ps. 46:1-3).  Nothing catches God by surprise whether it is political wrangling, social disparity, or an ecological disaster.   Scripture teaches us three truths to sustain us in times of uncertainty and confusion:  God is completely sovereign, God is infinite in wisdom, and God is perfect in love.  Jerry Bridges writes in his book, Is God Really in Control:  “In His love, God wills what is best for us, in His wisdom He always knows what’s best for us, and in His sovereignty He has the power to bring it about.”  God has a plan for mankind which was created before the foundation of the world (Ep. 1:4, 10) and each day we are moving to the culmination of that plan.  There is no one or nothing that can thwart God’s plan.
  • God’s Word is critical for victorious living and spiritual transformation (Ps. 19:7-8). Why?  Because the Scriptures expresses the very mind of God.  It is God speaking directly to us.  How?  The “word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. God’s Word exposes us for what we really are” (Heb. 4:12, NLT).   God’s Word also renews our mind so that we begin to think like Christ (Phil. 2:5) leading us to be conformed to His image–the image God had originally designed for us in the Garden of Eden.  Through this process of “exposing and renewing”, or sanctification, we become true children of God (Phil. 2:15).  Investing time in God’s Word—devotional reading and systematic study—yield returns that are priceless, in this world and in the world to come (Ps. 19:10-11).
  • In 2017, I rediscovered the special blessing that can be found in Scripture memorization or as I prefer calling it, “writing God’s Word on my heart.” Oh, the things God has revealed to me about His goodness and His greatness as I’ve “planted” large passages of scripture in my spirit such as Psalms 19 and Ephesians 1.  As I memorized each line, I prayed that it would “take root and bear much fruit (Matt. 13:23).  This spiritual discipline is not about speed or quantity (how many verses I can learn) but in experiencing the “depth of the riches of His grace” God reveals to me.

What are the things I learned in 2017?  I learned that God is God and I’m not, and I’m more than okay with that.  However, the Prophet Jeremiah did a much better job in describing what is really important for us to learn in order to live victorious, successful lives:

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty man glory in his might, Nor let the rich man glory in his riches;  But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the LORD.  (Jer. 9:23-24)

SELAH:  What are three (3) things you learned in 2017—about God, yourself, or your faith walk?

How to Untangle a Knot

When He was alone with His Disciples, Jesus went over everything, sorting out the tangles, untying the knots.  Mark 4:34 (The Message)

The crowds and the Disciples were amazed as Jesus taught (Matt. 7:29; 13:54).  He was “never without a story” and used them to help His audience gain a greater understanding of God and to resolve real-life problems.  Mark describes this as “sorting out tangles” and “untying knots.” We conclude this month’s series, “Returning to our First Love”, with an examination of the benefit of listening to God’s voice through His Word to sort out the tangles and knots in our life.

Learning to Sort out My Tangles

Have you ever been faced with a knotted shoe lace or tangled necklace?  It can be frustrating trying to find the biggest knot that will results in the ultimate resolution to your problem.  Knots can impede the full use and benefit of a person’s possession or ability i.e., knots in a tie or tangled chords of a wind chime.

How did you learn to untangle and untie knots?  While I can’t remember my “first knot” or most “frustrating tangle”, I do recall that if I had problems with either of these, my mother was always available to help me based on two things:  First, I had to realize my limitations—I was unable to resolve this challenge on my own and secondly, trust that she was both available and able to help me with my problem.

Life is Full of Knots and Tangles

Our world is full of knots and tangles—the challenges of life that appear to us as “insurmountable messes” we seem unable to resolve.  Life cycle knots—work, family, and relationships.  Personal tangles—financial challenges, health problems, dying and death.  Societal snarls—turmoil, instability, and uncertainty.  Some knots and tangles are the natural result of living in a fallen world; others may be of our own creation. What is the answer to these kinks and twists of living?  How are we to manage these real situations in our lives?  It’s all in the Word.

It’s In the Word  

There’s an old gospel song entitled, It’s All in the Word that retorts:  “The answer to your problems, if you haven’t heard…it’s all in the Word.”  The Psalmist put it more eloquently in saying that God’s Word is a “lamp to our feet and a light to our path”—in close proximity to keep us from stumbling yet broad and sufficient to protect us from potential danger and pitfalls (Ps. 119:105).  Psalm 19:7-11 speaks to the great worth of God’s Word.  “Warning and reward” are key benefits in embracing God’s Word.

The world offers futile solutions to life’s knots and tangles.  It suggests resolution through substances (alcohol, drugs, and food), through systems (affiliations, power, and influence) and through stuff (materialism and riches) (1 John 2:15-17).  These answers are temporary and subject to change (2 Cor. 4:18). However, God’s Word is eternal and provides needed insight into His nature and the realities of life, inviting believers to trust, peace, and contentment (Ps. 37:1-6, 23-27).

For those who are willing to listen to Jesus’ voice, there are many promises and privileges (John 10:27).  As believers stay connected to God through His Word and the Holy Spirit, we have access to wisdom and knowledge so desperately needed to navigate these perilous times (Eph. 1: 8).  God may not choose to always remove the knots and tangles in the believer’s life.  They may be needed to mature and strengthen those who chooses to be “trained” by them (Hebrews 12:11).  However, believers can depend on God to always be available and ready to help us “find the big loops” (John 16:33).

Also read:   In God We Trust

SELAH:    Jesus is ready to help you with the tangles and knots of your life.  What are the things that you’ve been unable to resolve?  Draw near to Him is willing and able to help you.