Category Archives: Spiritual Maturity

Watch and Pray

“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;” Ephesians 6:18 (KJV)

“Watch and pray” has been a rally call for the saints since the recording of biblical history.  Whether the call came from Nehemiah and the builders of the Jerusalem wall (Neh. 4:9) or those who would stand for the LORD (Jer. 51:12; Hab. 2:1), dedication to these two activities has been a recipe for victory.  In our text today, watching and praying become a critical strategy to employ as believers engage in spiritual battle against Satan and his evil minions.  While this letter was written by the Apostle Paul to the church of Ephesus over a thousand years ago, it still holds wise counsel for believers today.

Paul writes this letter from prison concerning conflicts which have risen between the Jewish and Gentile believers.  Rather than maintaining every effort to maintain “unity in the faith” (Eph. 4:3-4), these new Christians had forgotten that the real enemy was Satan—“not flesh and blood, but the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12, NLT).  They are exhorted to “stay alert and be persistent in their prayers for all Christians everywhere.”

This rendering of “watching” (agrpneo) is used in the New Testament only four (4) times with three distinct definitions.  The first two citations are found in the Gospels (Mark 13:33; Luke 21:36).   In these accounts Jesus is speaking to his disciples concerning the signs of the end of time. Here, watching is defined as “being circumspect, attentive, and ready.”  Jesus further illustrates “watching” through the parable of the fig tree to ready them for His imminent return.  In Hebrews 13:17, “watching” means “to exercise constant vigilance over something”; the image is one drawn from shepherds and their watch over their sheep.” The Hebrew author uses this rendering of “watching” to convey the seriousness with which spiritual leaders (“those who have rule over you”) are to exercising constant vigilance over their human flock. 

In our study text of Ephesians 6:18, “watching” means “to be intent upon a thing”—in this case it is prayer.  And for who?  The saints of God.  Satan hates the church, collectively, and believers, individually.  Satan especially targets the Church and believers for his attacks in order to discredit our witness, to discourage our service for the Lord, and to destroy us—spiritually, physically, and emotionally (1 Pet. 5:8). 

Jesus was intent upon prayer for his disciples (Matt. 26:4; Luke 22:31).  His intentionality extended His prayers to His future Church who “believe in Him through their word” (John 17:20-26).  Are we then exempted from responsibility to pray for one another?  Are spiritual and moral failures within the church a result of human frailty or are they the casualty of “our failure to pray” and cover our brothers in Christ?  Let us in our daily prayers include those who battle alongside us for the Kingdom of God.  Let no believer fall from Satan’s attack as a result of our failure to “watch and pray.”

Good to the Last Byte…

How does the conflict in Ephesus play out in the modern church?  I will address the impact as it relates to both the universal and local church because the effect is pretty much the same.  Forgetting who the real enemy is and failure to “watch and pray” result in denominational squabbles and competition for memberships versus battling for human souls.   The 20th century comic strip character Pogo, was once quoted, “We have met the enemy and it is us!”  It’s time to wake up and return to the unity of the faith Christ envisioned for His Church!

Confusing Maturity for Complacence

Is He continually calling you out of sin (elementary) or is He empowering you to remain pure and lead others ill to holiness (maturity)? Is He continually telling you to increase your faith (elementary) – or are you using the faith you have to step out in the area of miracles, signs and wonders (maturity)? Is He continually reminding you of the infilling of the Spirit of Jesus you received at your baptism (elementary) – or is the Spirit in you collaborating with Him to change the world (maturity)? Is He continually reminding you of His resurrection power (elementary) – or are you living in it every day (maturity)? Is He continually reminding you that there is a judgment that will be eternal (elementary) – or are you living your life open before the throne of God (maturity)?

We all have become content with far less than what God has for us. It is no wonder that so many people approach Christianity as an obligation or even as boredom. We have lost the excitement of exploration with God in His Kingdom. When did spiritual maturity begin to mean that you don’t dance and leap for joy in His presence? Or that you must not show any physical signs of surrender and delight in worship? Or that you must only whisper in church? Who made these rules? Surely not God! Instead, He encourages His people to praise with abandon, with extravagant worship, with shouts, singing, dancing, demonstrations of love and adoration.

When Michal, David’s wife, saw him worshiping God exuberantly, she scornfully criticized him, embarrassed by his lack of dignity. The last word the Bible says about Michal is that she was barren the rest of her life. Besides the fact that she bore no children, there is a spiritual principle here. Our scorn of exuberant worship causes something to die within ourselves. Each time we criticize, we put to death our child-like capacity to be fully present with the Lord, without self-consciousness and without fear of man.

Question Him in your quiet time today. Ask Him what more He has for you. Ask Him to show you open doors. Ask Him to give you that child-like heart to live in awe and wonder at what He is and what He does. Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4) Ask Him for the desires of your heart!

What did the Lord say to you today?

  1. Is God speaking to your heart?
  2. Are you inviting Him to change your life and make you whole?
  3. What new potential blessing has He been prompting you to taste spiritually?
  4. What opportunities to be in His presence have you neglected?

Taste and see that the Lord is good. (Psalm 34:8)

Signa Bodishbaugh from Divine ConversationsThe Art Of Meaningful Dialogue with God

 

In God We Trust

“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)

There is much to fear as we look around today.  The daily news is replete with things that cause us to be “fearful”.  We face “tribulation and distress, persecution and famine; nakedness, peril, and sword” (Rom. 8:35); not to mention “pestilence that walk in darkness” (Ps. 91:6).  How are we to respond?  I offer you an alternative to fear—put your 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 championed the killing of Goliath of Gath when he was only a young shepherd boy (1 Sam. 17).   Since then, he had been anointed by Samuel the prophet as the heir apparent to the throne of Israel receiving praises from the people for his many conquests (1 Sam. 18:7).  However, those praises had resulted in a death wish from King Saul who now sought David’s life.  Now 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.” 

I have put my trust” is translated in Hebrew, batach, which 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?”  I wonder if his mind reflected back on God’s mighty hand of deliverance in his earlier battle with fear as he faced Goliath.  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 we face the many challenges of life that tend to shake the very foundation of our faith, let us “put our trust” in the one who is able to deliver us from all harm (Ps. 46:2). Remember those times that God stepped in to deliver you and bring you to a point of safety.   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.”

 

The Subtlety of Sin

Lent1

“…And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”  Genesis 4:7 (NRS)

They say that if you put a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will leap out to escape the danger. But, if you put a frog in the same pot filled with water that is cool and pleasant then gradually heat the kettle until it boils, the frog will not become aware of the threat until it is too late.  Sin is like this illustration; unrecognized and underrated it will grow in strength until it’s too late. This week’s Lenten study will examine the subtlety of sin.

One definition of subtle is “to operate deceptively.”  Dr. Karl Menninger of the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, wrote a book titled Whatever Became of Sin? In it he discusses from a psychiatrist’s point of view the tendency in our society to ignore sin, calling it by many euphemisms rather than recognizing sin for what it is.  By using this technique, sin becomes “socially acceptable.”   Therein is the subtlety of sin.

Sin is a riddle, a mystery, a realty that eludes definition and comprehension.  Perhaps we most often think of sin as wrongdoing or transgression of God’s law.  Sin, also includes a failure to do what is right.

From Judges to Kings, we see that Israel failed to do what was right and forsook the Lord who had brought them out of Egypt and established a covenant with them.  They first followed and worshiped the gods of the nations around them (Judg. 2:10-13). The water was cool and pleasant.  Sometimes they conceded to religious idolatry and paganism in exchange for political favors, agreements, and alliance.  The water was comfortably tepid.   Solomon attempted to serve both God and the Baals at the same time. He built high places for his “strange wives” (whom God told him not to marry).  Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, “Because you have done this, and have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant” (1 King 11:11).   Solomon failed to do the right thing.  The water was boiling and the frog was dead.

Like the frog caught in slow boiling water, mankind is currently exposed to sin deceitfully hidden in language and life style choices that will result in both alienation from God and spiritual death.  Like the kings of the Old Testament, believers are being tempted to accept sin under the banner of the “new normal” when in reality, it is nothing more than the same “old sin.”  Let us strive to combat the subtlety of sin by doing what God has told us is right!

 Good to the Last Byte…

The story of the frog in the boiling water is a warning against acceptance of social trends and values that are outside the will and plan of God.  Sin left unchallenged and unopposed will ultimately lead to death.   Let us “not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up” (Gal 6:9).

Identity Crisis, Part 2

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,

which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”  Ephesians 2:10 (NKJ)

 Last week we explored the challenge of maintaining one’s identity in Christ while living in the midst of the 21st century.  We discussed the temptations offered by Satan, the influence of worldview, and willfulness of self.  How then are Christians to maintain their identity in light of these tests?  How do we protect ourselves from spiritual identity crisis?

 Overcoming identity crisis, from a worldview perspective, can be accomplished by employing the following key actions.  First, accept that you are no longer the person you wish.  This will help you begin to identify the things you want to change based on what you like and don’t like about your life.  Second, identify what’s important to you.  Then work on developing those things that make you feel good about yourself and invigorate your life.  Lastly, learn to contemplate and reflect on what you want.  Let go stringent goals and absolutes. Your next steps will then become obvious.  If these actions don’t help, the individual is encouraged to talk to a friend or a mental health professional for support and encouragement.  Unfortunately, the worldview solution is flawed in that it is dependent on a “weak link”—self, which hasn’t worked up to this point.  Identity based on self, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life”, is built upon a foundation that is doomed for failure.  Such a plan is not of the Father but is of the world, which is passing away” (1 John 2:15-17).      

 Jesus left us the best model for dealing with identity crisis.  Although others, including Satan (John 4:1-11), continually questioned Jesus as to His identity, His response reflected three (3) key beliefs that kept Him firmly grounded.  First, He knew who He was.  He was God’s Son and the Son of man (Matt. 3:17; Mark 8:31). Secondly, He knew His purpose.  He was sent by the Father to die for man’s sins (John 3:16).  And finally, He knew who He was to serve—God and man (John 5:30; Matt. 20:28).  If we are to avoid spiritual identity crisis, we would be well advised to follow Jesus’ example.   

  • Know who we are.  As new creatures in Christ all things are of God (2 Cor. 5:17-18).  We now possess our Father’s DNA—His divine nature and righteousness (1 Pet. 2:24).   Knowing God’s truth gives us the assurance and boldness to counter the false identity offered by Satan and the world. 
  •  Know what our purpose is.  We are to be conformed to Christ’s image (Rom. 8:29).  Just as Jesus came to serve, we also are to be servants of God, answering His call to duty.  Just as Jesus was attentive to His Father’s call, through spending time in prayer and meditation, we also must listen to God’s leading to fully realize our purpose. 

  • Know who we serve.  Our identity in Christ necessitates our allegiance.   In Christ, we are no longer “slaves of unrighteousness but slaves to righteousness” (Rom. 6:12-13).  As children of God (Rom. 8:16) we are obedient to our Father.  We are to have the mind of Christ, who was obedient, even unto death (Phil. 2:8). 

Good to the Last Byte…

As believers our identity is founded in Christ Jesus.  It has been revealed in God’s Word and is a reflection of His love for us.  (Read Neil Anderson’s, “Our Identity in Christ”).  Our identity is based on a firm foundation that is eternal and abides forever (Ep. 1:4).  Jesus has made it possible for us to become partakers of God’s grace and power.  Knowing our identity, we are able to hold firm our “confession of faith without wavering” (Heb. 10:23).  CAUTION:  If we as believers are unable to accept the identity God has communicated to us, we need to enter into a time of prayer and examination as to why we choose not to believe God (choosing rather to believe the lie of Satan, self and the world)

Identity Crisis, Part 1

“Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises:

that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature,

having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”  2 Peter 1:4

Identity denotes that set of characteristics that constitutes individual personality—our essential self. Last week we talked about our spiritual identity and the need to protect it from “theft” by Satan and the world.   This week, we will begin to examine another aspect of our identity also at risk in this “present age”—identity crisis.

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

Satan challenges our identity in Christ Jesus by first targeting our mind.  He uses as his weapon lies that are designed to deceive and discourage.  Satan’s purpose is to make us ignorant of God’s will and plan for our life.   The world also attacks our mind and our body.  It creates an insatiable desire for “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16).  Lastly, self contributes to spiritual identity crisis by demanding freedom to exercise its personal will.  The desire to rule self and operate independent of God leads to self-promotion, self-elevation, and selfishness.  Left unchecked, man’s attention shifts from “what God desires” to “what feels right.” 

 While identity deals with personal uniqueness, it also describes a person’s sameness with others.  For example, one’s identity may be tied to a particular area (Midwesterner, New Yorker), a certain group (Boomers, Gen-Xers), or a cause (Save the Whales).  For believers, our identity is rooted and grounded in Christ Jesus (Col. 2:7).   Through His work of redemption, we have been reconciled to the Father (Rom. 5:10).  “In Christ Jesus” we are now sons and daughters of God (John 1:12), endowed with a new identity and power.  Through spiritual regeneration (2 Cor. 5:17), we have become partakers of His divine nature, the Holy Spirit, who is daily conforming us to the image of Christ (2 Pet. 1:4). 

As believers in Christ Jesus we are not to experience identity crisis.  Our identity in Christ Jesus has releases us from not only the penalty of sin, but also its power and influence.  We no longer identify with Satan, the world or self.  We are to reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive in Christ (Rom. 6:11-13).   We know not only “who we are” but also “whose we are.”  Our spiritual identity is in Christ Jesus, who is our “wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30).

 Next week we will continue this discussion on identity crisis with more detail as to how to reverse this threat facing believers living in the 21st century.

Identity Theft

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  Galatians 3:26 (KJV)

 The recent security breach of the million dollar merchant, Target, has left many of us extremely nervous concerning identity theft.   It has become a lucrative business as personal information is illegally accessed and sold to the highest bidder whose intent is to defraud and swindle.   It is an event we pray never happen to us.   Similarly, theft of our spiritual identity can be a costly event. 

 The identity thief, in this case, is Satan.  Our true identity was established in the Garden of Eden.  There man was created in the image of God and shared unbroken fellowship with the Father.  He was given authority over all creation and total access to limitless resources (Gen. 1:28).  That was God’s identity for man—beloved creature and ruler—until his identity was “stolen” through deceit and deception.    Satan took man’s glorious identity, given by God the Creator, and robbed him of his “good name”, leaving him “spiritual bankrupt.”   Why is spiritual identity important?

First, our spiritual identity “in Christ Jesus” connects us to our source of life, God the Father.  In Christ Jesus” we are reconciled to God.  Now we are “children of God” and His “son” (John 1:12; Rom. 8:14).  Understanding our spiritual identity, we can access those rights and privileges that are rightfully our “birthright”.   Our identity, which was loss in the garden, was restored at the Cross.

 Secondarily, our spiritual identity “in Christ Jesus” replaces the distorted view we have of ourselves communicated by Satan and the world, and through unhealthy attachments and relationships.  It is here that we develop “false identities” of who we are.  These false identities leave us broken hearted and emotionally damaged.  God’s truth, our identity in Christ Jesus, is needed to replace the lies we believe (John 8:32; 10:13).

 God, in His mercy and love, sent Jesus to retrieve and strengthen our true identity that was stolen in the Garden.  “In Christ Jesus” we have been given a new name and new blessings to be enjoyed now through eternity.   Our true identity is now safe and secure, “theft resistant” because of that which Christ accomplished on the Cross.

 Good to the Last Byte…

Want to take back your identity?  REJECT Satan’s attacks on our identity in Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).  RENOUNCE Satan’s presence and power over you (James 4:7).   RECKON yourself dead to sin but alive to God (Rom. 6:11).   Actively engage in proclaiming and pursuing your true identity in Christ.  

Learning to Forgive

“…bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you,  so you also must do.”   Col. 3:13 (KJV)

  To forgive is not easy.  It’s antithesis, unforgiveness, is usually  entwined with the emotions we felt (or still feel) during the original offense–anger, shame, or fear.  Regardless, it is still an expectation of God that we forgive (Matt. 6:14-15). 

 In the parable of the unmerciful servant, Jesus makes the point that human beings are obligated to forgive because God has forgiven them (Matt. 18:23-35).  Jesus contrasts the “forgiving” heart of the father in the prodigal son story with the “unforgiving” older son.  It is a study in the stubborn refusal to forgive that is characterized by hardness, a demand for revenge, and arrogance.  Unforgiveness often causes as much pain as the original offense. The older son’s self-justified indignation and smugness “over being right” was causing just as much pain and separation between himself and his father as was caused by his younger brother. 

 It has been said that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.  The damaging effect of unforgiveness is seen not only in the emotional and physical health of people but also in their broken relationship with others and God.  Forgiveness is an act of the will (versus what we feel) and as believers, we are to forgive as an act of love and obedience to the Lord (John 14:15).

 Refusal to forgive indicates a rebellious, stubborn heart that has “not drunk deeply of the water of grace and mercy at the well of God’s forgiveness” (Luke 7:47). While forgiveness is not easy, God has provided His Spirit within us to show us how we can be freed from the death grip of unforgiveness.  Ask Him to set you free.

Divine Transformation

If we want to be “divinely transformed”, we must begin with “First Things First”.  We need to build a framework of FAITH, whereby we are able to continue on the path and purpose that God has planned for us.  We must: 

 F Have Faith in the truth of the Gospel (2 Cor. 5:17). “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Faith in the gospel places the believer “in Christ,” where everything becomes new.  Your new identity is characterized by faith and solidarity with Christ in his resurrection so that “we might bear fruit to God” (Rom. 7:4b; cf. Rom. 6:1–11; Col. 3:1–4).

 I Take on the Identity of Christ (Rom. 6:6). “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” Formally, the transformation by faith is immediate, but we must work to bring about changed thinking or behavior.

 R Develop a Relationship with the God of glory (2 Cor. 3:18). “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”  It is being in His presence that we are changed (2 Cor. 3:18).  Your relationship with God now must takes precedence. 

 S – Strive to live as Sanctified people of God.  (Col. 2:6) “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him.”  We now choose a lifestyle of holiness controlled (filled) by the Holy Spirit (Col. 2:6-7) Believers are to “pursue” sanctification (Heb. 12:14). God will judge any person claiming identification with Christ while not actively engaged in pursuing sanctification (Matt. 7:21–23).

 T – Trust in the finished work of the cross (Phil. 1:6) “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”  Trust is living in the light of everything that characterizes the “new man,” even if it doesn’t “feel” right. All of this is done in hope, or forward-looking faith—confidence that God will carry out his sanctifying purposes to the end.