Tag Archives: faithfulness

When life turns left

 

When life turns left

Bad news

The morning headlines reads: “Man Loses Everything in Bizarre Disasters.”

Breaking News at 5 shares this update: “Doctors were seen leaving the victim’s home.  It is believed that now, even his health is beginning to deteriorate due to the shock of these tragic turn of events.  However, bad as things might be, he is currently being supported by his church and close friends.  While our victim was unavailable for comment, his wife was said to be angry and unsupportive.  Some even heard her tell her husband, “You ought to curse God for all that is happening to us.”

Well, as you can tell the “he” in this news event was Job.  He was described in Scripture as “blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil.” (Job 1:1) Job was a tribal chieftain, like Abraham who suddenly incurred total disaster—his wealth lost, children dead, and his health ruined.

Suffering in Faith

The book of Job analyzes the question how a righteous person like Job can encounter such enormous troubles.  Of course, as we read Job, we better understand why Job’s situation came to be (Job 1:6-12). More importantly, by the end of the book, we understand that, like Job, we cannot always understand why we suffer but we must endure our sufferings in faith.

What does it mean to “endure suffering in faith”?  In faith believes that despite our circumstance, we know that God is with us (Is. 43:1-2).  In faith we remain steadfast, even during tragedy (1 Pet. 4:1; 1 Cor. 15:58).   In faith our trust is anchored to Almighty God who is in control of all that is happening to us (Hab. 3:17-19).

One thing we must always remember (and never forget):  We live in a fallen world.  It is a place where everything is not always perfect nor is it always fair.  Life happens!  Sickness, disease, misfortune, and other “stuff”.  That’s reality.   But only ONE reality.

Reality when life turns left

If we lose everything we own, will we still love God?  Suppose we lose our only child, our family home, and our health.  Will we still serve God?  If everyone turns their back on us, will we still obey God?  When God is silent, can we still trust Him?   Such are the questions we ask ourselves when life turns left.  What, why, how?

As followers of Jesus Christ, we live in a reality based on “who we are” and “Whose we are”.  First and foremost, we are children of God and joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17).  Secondarily, we are in Christ (Ep. 1:3-14).  In Christ, we have the security of God’s presence, His power, His provision, and His protection.  Bad things may happen in our life (remember we live in a fallen world) but in Christ we are able to overcome the world.

This month we will spend some time on the theology of suffering.  Why? Because these times of uncertainty will often lead to suffering and pain.  We need to believe that regardless of our circumstance, we can live victoriously even during our suffering (2 Cor. 4:17).

To begin our journey, we invite you to read The Clue to Life’s Maze,” F.B. Meyer’s perspective on Job and life lived in the context of a fallen world.

Have you got good religion?

Have you got good religion?

Do we have it?

“Have You Got Good Religion?” is an African American gospel song which imagines a series of questions Jesus might ask believers.

After the opening query, “Have you got GOOD RELIGION?”, there are five (5) additional questions which Jesus asks.  The individual then answers with an emphatic response, “Certainly Lord!”  As there have been many renditions of this song, there also have been many modifications to the “original” questions.

For this teaching, I’d like to share the original verses:

  • Have you been redeemed?
  • Have you been to the water?
  • Have you been baptized?
  • Is your name on high?
  • Has your name been changed?

The occasion or background for this dialogue is not given nor is it even important.  But as I purview the Church in the 21st century and the role of each of us as believers, I find the questions very appropriate.

Do we have good religion?

What is religion?

The origin of the word religion is from Latin religio or religare which means “obligation, bond, or to bind”.   Modern classification describes religion as a particular system of faith and worship.  It is also belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power especially a personal God or gods. 

I’m sure one time or another our faith walk has been described in terms of how we pursue our “religion.”  As we share our beliefs as it relates to world events, we might be told, “you are taking this religious thing too far!” Or as we refuse to acquiesce to some immoral or dishonest act, we may be accused as being “too religious”.

So what is good religion?

I concur with both definitions of religion put forth earlier.  I worship only One God, the Creator and Sustainer of all life (Ps. 104).  He is the ruling authority in my life.  My Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ redeemed me and translated me from darkness into light (1 Pet. 2:9).  Jesus lives in me through His Holy Spirit who empowers and guides me in all things.  I am a Christian and I worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

We must be careful however, not to allow man-made rituals and practices to keep us from true righteousness—being in right relationship with God AND with each other.  Such was often the case with the Pharisees who often mistaken religious activities for true worship and love for God (Matt. 15:1-20). Sadly, we see this in our churches who cling to history and tradition.  These often result in the quenching of the Holy Spirit.

What’s in a song?

I think the questions put forth in the song, help us to define what “good religion” looks like.  Then we can begin to examine ourselves to see if we are still of the faith (2 Cor. 13:5).

    • Have you been redeemed? To be redeemed means we have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  We no longer belong to Satan but are now part of God’s family. (Titus 2:11-14)
    • Have you been to the water? Have you been baptized? Baptism is our public testimony to our willingness to follow Jesus.  It is our external witness to our allegiance to Him. (Rom. 6:3-4)
    • Is your name on high? “On high” refers to “heaven” where the Book of Life is kept until Judgment Day (Rev. 20:11-15).  In it are the records of all people considered righteous before God.  Our name is in the Book because we have Christ’s imputed righteousness. (2 Cor. 5:19).
    • Has your name been changed? Our name is the source of our identity.  Biblical name changes were the result of spiritual identity changes in the life of those who have been with God, i.e., Abram to Abraham, Sari to Sarah, Jacob to Israel.  Our spiritual identities are changed when we become new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).
How would we respond?

If God were to pose the six questions contained in our song today, can we say emphatically. “Certainly Lord?” What would be our proof?

F.B. Meyer, noted theologian shared this description on religion—I offer it as my definition of “good religion.”

In Matthew 15:16, our Lord teaches that true religion is certainly not a matter of eating and drinking or outward ceremony.  It is the intention of the soul, the continual drawing from Christ the life power needed for our work and ministry to others.  

Is our life a witness to God’s power and love?  Have we joined Jesus in His work to serve in this fallen world?   If we can say, “Certainly Lord!” then our life and works become a testimony of our “good religion.”  (2 Cor. 5:14-15).

Although and Yet: A Prayer of Faith

 

Although and Yet: A prayer of Faith

Wickedness leads to judgment

Last week we were introduced to Habakkuk the prophet.  Habakkuk lived and prophesized in the reign of king Manasseh, when wickedness abound.  Destruction by the Chaldeans was imminent.  God would use them as an instrument of His judgment.

If God were to assess the moral condition of our nation, would we be prepared to receive His punishment?  Last week, we listed the “sins of Judah” that resulted in its fall.  Disobedience is a slippery slide that leads to a continuum of sins (James 1:13-15).

What’s in a name?

Before being taken into captivity, Judah would experience the loss of all its material wealth and property.  All the blessings of God (Deut. 28:1-14) would be eliminated because of the wickedness and rebellion of Judah (Deut. 28:15-68).

How was Habakkuk to respond to God’s pending punishment on the nation of Judah? Habakkuk is an unusual name which means “to embrace or cling”. In the final chapter of this book, his name becomes apparent as Habakkuk chooses to cling firmly to God regardless of what happens to his nation.

Although and yet.  These two conjunctions reflect how devoted Habakkuk was to his God and the trust he would need to navigate through the dark days that lie ahead.

Habakkuk’s declaration

In the final chapter of the book, Habakkuk concludes with a prayer confessing his continuing trust in the rightness of God’s dealing with Judah (Hab. 3:17-18).

Though the fig tree may not blossom,

Nor fruit be on the vines;

Though the labor of the olive may fail,

And the fields yield no food;

Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,

And there be no herd in the stalls—

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,

I will joy in the God of my salvation.

May I digress and spend a moment on the grammar Habakkuk used in this prayer.  Though is a conjunction meaning “in spite of the fact that”.   When used at the beginning a phrase, clause, or sentence, it offers a contrast to the main sentence.   Yet is also conjunction that means, in this context, “nevertheless.”  What are you saying, Habakkuk?  Put it in 21st century language we can understand!

In spite of rising costs and inflation,

And drought burned crops and dying cattle in the fields,

In spite of fires, floods, and ravaging storms,

And our shrinking GNP and personal investment accounts,

In spite of doing more with less

And receiving little in return

Nevertheless, I will rejoice in my Lord!

I will be joyful and trust in God.

He is my salvation!

That is the kind of faith we need today. Our world continues to shift from the familiar to the unrecognizable.  These lead to uncertainty and fear.  How will we respond?  Take a moment and write your own declaration of faith.  What is your “in spite of” and your “nevertheless”?

Habakkuk’s faith

Habakkuk concludes his prayer by living up to his name.  He praises God’s wisdom even though he doesn’t fully understand God’s way.  Habakkuk chooses to cling firmly to God regardless of what happens to his nation.

That faith and trust is captured in his closing statement (Hab. 3:19, NLT):

The Sovereign Lord is my strength!

He makes me as surefooted as a deer,

able to tread upon the heights.

In the King James version of this verse, two different words are used for “make”.

  • “He will make my feet like hinds’ feet” or “to transform into”.
  • “He will make me to walk upon my high places” or “tread, bend, or march”.

The deer in this verse was not the domesticated goat we see on farms today but was a wild mountain goat that was equipped the move through the rugged terrain of the mountains.  Narrow openings and ledges, crooks, and jagged rocks.  This is where the deer lived, yet they moved confidently knowing they were created for that world.

Application for us.  Our sovereign God has created us for such a time as this.  He is transforming us and bending us so that we will be able to not only survive but thrive.  But our ability to walk upon “our high places” is dependent on our faith and trust in God—even if we don’t understand His ways.  We must live by faith (Hab. 2:4).  If we do, then we too will be able to walk on our high places (Hab. 3:19).

What’s Going On?

What's going on?

What’s going on?

One of my favorite songs (past and present) is by American soul singer, songwriter, and producer Marvin Gaye.

It was released on May 21, 1971, by Motown Records.  The narrative established by the songs is told from the point of view of a Vietnam veteran returning to his home country to witness hatred, suffering, and injustice. Gaye’s introspective lyrics explore themes of drug abuse, poverty, and the Vietnam War. He has also been credited with promoting awareness of ecological issues before the public outcry over them had become prominent (Mercy, Mercy Me).[1]

As I look around our nation and world, I ask the same question. What’s going on?  And I even ask where is God in all this confusion?  And why doesn’t God intervene?  Such was the case with the prophet Habakkuk as he looked upon the nation of Judah.

The consequence of sin

The prophetic book of Habakkuk shares the dialogue between a “gracious God” and an “anxious prophet”.  As is true with both the major and minor prophets, we are given great insight as to how a holy God deals with an unholy and rebellious nation.

Although the nation of Judah was God’s “covenant people” (Deut. 7:7), God was now prepared to meter punishment on them like they had never experienced. The prophet Habakkuk has been chosen for “such a time as this”—a time when time has runout!

Judah was guilty of extraordinary sins.  Habakkuk inquired of God how long He would allow the wickedness of Judah to go unpunished.  They would not go unpunished.  God would use the nation of Babylon as His “chastening rod”.

We often think that our wrong behavior is not being seen by others.  While that may be true for a moment, the fact is, God sees!  What is done in the dark, will always come to light (Luke 8:17).  Many of our ousted elected officials and fallen religious leaders can attest to that truth.  However, there are always consequences for sin and it’s usually not good.

The cost of sin

God lists for Habakkuk the sins of Judah in five (5) “woes”.  God “had” indeed taken notice of Judah’s crimes (Hab. 2:5-20).  They included:

      • greed and aggression (vv. 5-8)
      • exploitation and extortion (vv. 9-11)
      • violence (vv. 12-14)
      • immorality (vv. 15-17)
      • idolatry (vv. 18-20)

We live in a world like Judah.  Look at the woes!  We sin both individually and collectively, as a nation.  God’s standard for righteous living has not changed (Micah 6:8; Mal. 3:6). Does God see what we’re doing?  Of course, He does (Ps. 33:13-14; Ps. 139:8-12).  The question is, are we willing to deal with the consequences of our sins?  Are we willing to accept the cost?

The cost is being realized as we see the immediate impact sin has on our children, our families, and our communities.

    • The hungry. Hunger is a very real issue for 12% or 41 million people in the United States.
    • The homeless. Why are people homeless? Because of “lack”!  Lack of affordable housing, income, employment opportunities, and healthcare.
    • The abused. Domestic violence.  Sexual abuse.  Human trafficking.

But what do these impacts have to do with sin?  Re-read the “five woes” and see how they fit in our 21st century culture.  If we are not guilty by “commission”, perhaps we are culpable by “omission”—by what we don’t do to make life better for others (Prov. 3:27).

The just shall live by faith

Although God’s judgment was hard for Habakkuk to accept, he recognized the only “proper response” in the midst of this dilemma.  He was “to live by faith, not by sight” (Hab. 2:4).

As we look at the world we live in, it is easy to be disillusioned and in despair.  Just like Habakkuk, we may question how long God will tolerate sinful and evil behavior from both individuals and nations.

Regardless of who sits in the White House or State House, we as believers in Christ are to do our part to speak truth and justice.  We are to engage in our world to represent Jesus as He ensures God’s will is accomplished (2 Cor. 5:15).  We are to live by faith.

Like Habakkuk, we have an ordained purpose to accomplish (Eph. 2:10).  We are to pursue our purpose trusting that God sees and is always in control.  He is constantly, through every historic event moving us to His divine plan of salvation for mankind.

Knowing that, our purpose should not focus on our personal agendas.  But instead let us join God in His plan.  Like Habakkuk and Esther and all those who have gone before us, we were created for such a time as this.  Let us not be in despair but let us “go forth” in the strength of the Lord (Ps. 71:16).

[1] Wikipedia

Two Boats and a Helicopter

 

Two boats and a helicopter

The choices we make

I’m sure you have heard the story about the man who faced imminent danger as a result of a flood that begun to ravage his community.  The flood waters became higher, forcing him to retreat to the roof of his house.  On two occasions, individuals in boats beckoned him to climb into their boats and save his life.  But he refused and shouted back from his roof, “I’m a Christian! God will save me!”

Finally, the waters rose to the edge of the roof.  Suddenly a helicopter appeared and begged the man to grab the dropped latter and be saved.  Well, you know what happened!  The man refused and ultimately died.  When he entered heaven, he demanded to see God.  “Why did you let me drown?”  Instead of striking him down with a lightening bolt, God calmly replied, “Hey, I sent you two boats and a helicopter.”

As we face the challenges and problems in our life, we often fail to watch and follow the leads that God sends us.  Many of these are given to us before we enter our trial.  However, when we’re in that dire situation, so is God!  God is there AND He wants us to use the resources He has provided for us.  Such was the case with Moses as he faced his first hurdle upon leaving Egypt for the Promise Land (Exodus 14).

After Moses and the Israelites left Egypt, Pharoah had “seller remorse”.  God hardened his heart and caused him to regret letting the Israelite slaves leave (S).  He probably felt like he had been duped.  Who would do the work that the Israelites did?  Egypt’s economy would probably suffer, not to mention their quality of life—who would cook, clean, and serve them?   So much for Pharoah right now, let’s return to Moses’ dilemma.

The dilemma

As Pharoah and his army approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Weren’t there enough graves in Egypt that you brought us out here to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?”

The complaints escalated.  Moses tried to reassure the Israelites that everything would be alright.  He tried to coach them to “stand firm” and “be still”.  God would fight for them! (Exod. 14:13-14).  Moses told them that they would see the salvation of the LORD on that day.  But all they could see were Egyptians bringing up the rear fast.  They could not see God!

As I read this passage, I saw myself when facing hard times and challenges.  I tend to see only what I can look at with my physical eyes—loss of health, injustice, change in relationships, economic uncertainty.

It’s even harder for me to “be still”.  I need to fix this situation and now.  I see only me standing before the Red Sea.  But all is not loss—I’ll tell you why in a few.  Back to Moses.

“Any old help will do.”

I’m sure Moses cried to God.  Exactly what he said is not included in the scripture text.  But the Lord used this moment to speak directly to Moses.  Was God going to tell him that help was on the way?  Was He sending two boats and a helicopter?

The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward” (Exod. 14:15).

Moses probably thought, “Really?  Red Sea before me and Egyptians behind me.”  Sometimes when we pray, God’s answers don’t always make sense to us at first. But that’s where our faith in God—His greatness and His goodness—reinforces the need to obey His instructions (Heb. 11:1).

God gave Moses an answer he didn’t expect: “Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.” (Exod. 14:16)  

Moses had the answer to His dilemma “right in his hand” PLUS the power of God.  Moses and his staff would be the conduit God would use to not only deliver the Israelites but also glorify God.  This act of deliverance would spread throughout the countryside including to the potential tribes in the Promise Land whom the Israelites would need to conquer (Exod. 14:18).

When you need help…

From this study, I came to the following conclusions about what to do when I need help.

    1. Assess what I currently have available to address my problem. I will not only inventory what I have with my “physical eyes” (my mind and my intellect) but also with my “spiritual eyes”.  When I read God’s Word, especially His promises and follow that with prayer, I can expect God to show me what to do.  I have learned that God’s ways, methods, and timing are not the same as mine (Is. 55:8-9).  THEY ARE BETTER!
    1. “Lift up to God” the resources He has already provided for my solution. Moses failed to remember that God had told him that He would go with him on the journey to the Promised Land. He had forgotten how God used Moses’ staff in the court of Pharoah (Exod. 4:3).  Sometimes I refuse to move forward until I have “all the information and answers”.  When that happens, it is important for me to call to remembrance (Is. 46:9,10) where God has stepped in to join me in my battles (2 Chron. 20:6-7, 12).
    1. Move forward. I am still learning each day to move forward when directed by God.  I guess it’s part of being human.  I am learning to move “more quickly” when God directs me and learning to trust Him more.

In my moments of prayer and meditation, I ask God to show me those areas of my life where I sin by being prideful or self-reliant.  He uses that time together to gently redirect my attention away from my problems and look to Him.  God is greater than any problem we may face and better equipped to solve them.  Only God can guarantee our success!

When God created us, He not only placed His purpose within us but also placed the ability to complete that purpose (Phil. 1:6).  As God prepares our path, He also prepares us for the path.  It is our responsibility to believe, to trust, and then obey.

Conclusion

The next time you need help, deliverance, or an answer for life’s challenges, don’t always look for a miracle from God.  He doesn’t need to come to our rescue.  God is always with us.  We daily live not in God’s miracles but by His lovingkindness and grace.  He is there to help us see the resources He has already provided for our escape (Eph. 1:17-20).

Prayer:  O Heavenly Father, grow within us the faith we need for the challenges we face.  Train us to look at our problems as opportunities to partner with You in their resolution.  Forgive us when we lean on our own understanding.  Place in our heart an expectation that You are with us and will always act on our behalf.  Lord, finally, help us to “Go forward” in Your name and by Your power.   Amen

Opportunities in Uncertainty

Opportunities in Uncertainty

 

Josh’s opportunity

Josh had experienced much turmoil and strife during his current job assignment.  There was frequent upheaval among his peers against current management.  Those efforts, fortunately, had been squelched.  As a result of that effort, many of his team members suffered great loss and were not allowed to move forward with the organization.

Earlier in his career, Josh was chosen to be part of a special team to evaluate next steps for his organization.  Because of Josh’s loyalty and his credentials, he was now a candidate for a new opportunity.

Because of the earlier “coup attempt”, many of the older, seasoned members were no longer there.  What remained was a young and inexperienced group, who needed guidance and support in moving the organization to new heights that had been promised to them.

And now, he was being offered a promotion as head of the organization.  But was he ready?  What did he need to move forward?  Was there an opportunity in this uncertainty?  These were possible  questions asked by Moses’ replacement, Joshua (Deut. 31:7).

Ready for an opportunity?

How would we respond if offered the opportunity set before Joshua?  That was the question I asked myself during my morning devotion as I read Deuteronomy 31:1-8 and Joshua 1:1-18.  In both scripture texts, Joshua is repeatedly told several things that would prepare him for his new leadership role.

The first dealt specifically with his reaction to the opportunity.  What were the emotions he felt knowing what lie ahead of him?  Joshua was told to “be strong, fear not, and be of good courage” (Joshua 1:6-9).   But how was he to do that?

He had seen Moses as he dealt with this group of stiff-necked and disobedient people.  He remembered the frustration that Moses often felt in trying to keep them faithful to God and His commandments.  Moses was the great mediator between these people and Yahweh, Almighty God.  Would he be able to do the same?

Fear or dismay?

As I studied these texts, I asked myself (and my husband) this question.  Which is worst—fear or dismay (discouragement)? Is there a difference? Fear is anxiety caused by approaching danger—real or imagined.  Discouragement is described as depression of one’s spirit.  It can be caused by a heavy burden, defeat, an apparent failure, or even sickness.

Both fear and discouragement would be unique challenges that Joshua would need to manage as he moved forward.  Both could potentially lead to failure in Joshua’s assignment to take the Israelites into the Promise Land.  And not only entrance into the land that God promised, but to also conquer the current inhabitants.

Fear or discouragement?  Which one is our biggest threat as we face the challenges of living in these times of uncertainty?  How are we to manage the stresses of life that come both rapidly, continuously, and often violently?

Fear and discouragement are Satan’s “weapons of choice” to hinder and even stop us as we move into God’s purpose for our life.  Satan will often focus on the largeness of the problem and/or the smallness of our ability to stop us in our tracks.

That’s why we need the intervention of Someone who is bigger than the problem and able to do exceedingly above all that we can ask or need (Eph. 3:20).  That Someone is God our Father, made available through His Son Jesus the Christ, and made manifest in our lives through the Holy Spirit.

God’s Promise

In his new leadership role, it was critical that Joshua remembered what God had promised:  It is the Lord who goes before you; He will be with you, He will not fail you or forsake you (Deut. 31:8). 

Despite the difficult times experienced living in the Wilderness, Joshua saw firsthand God’s love and faithfulness to His people.  God had chosen Israel to be His treasure (Deut. 7:6) and He would make good on every promise He made to them (Joshua 1:5-7).

Joshua had seen God’s great power as evidenced through His miracles and works:  The ten plagues in Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, and God’s provision during Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness (Deut. 8:3-4). God’s promise to Moses was the same promise He now made to Joshua:  God would go before him and with him.  God would not fail nor forsake him.     

We daily face changes and challenges, turmoil, and threats.  They are as great and as real, for us, as Joshua’s new leadership opportunity.  But like Joshua, we can rest assured that we can depend on and trust in the promises of God.  God goes before us and with us, wherever the circumstances of life may lead us (Heb. 13:5).

God is more than able to handle whatever may come our way.  He is “Alpha and Omega, the beginning, and the ending…which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8).  It is in His presence, and under His authority that all things are possible (Matt. 19:26).   So be not afraid nor be dismayed, we are not alone.  There is always opportunity even amid uncertainty when God is with us.

What does the Cross mean to Me?

 

What does the Cross mean to Me?

A time for reflection

The week before Easter is designated as Holy Week.  We join Jesus as He journeys to the Cross.  We experience His “human nature”, up close and personal.  The Gospel writers invite us to listen in on the conversations and vicariously join the activities that will ultimately end on Good Friday on a cross.

Hopefully this week, we will engage in activities that expand our understanding of the sacrifice and suffering that Jesus experienced (Is. 53:5).  It is also a time in which we can examine our obedience in following God’s will. Are we willing to sacrifice our life on the cross that lay before us?  What does the Cross mean to me?

The Cross and I

What does the Cross mean to me?  Is it an object on which Christ was crucified? Or is it a piece of jewelry that you wear? Our view of the Cross is critical in that it establishes the basis of our Christian belief and personal walk of faith.

In the routine of daily living, we often forget Christ’s work of grace on the Cross.  Unfortunately, some believers are only superficially drawn to the Cross.  We give attention to it only during the sacrament of communion or at Easter.  It is critical that we clearly define the Cross’ significance so that we might re-engage its purpose and power in our life.

At the Cross

Christian doctrine is founded on “the Cross.”  Our belief about sin and salvation begin and end at the Cross (Rom. 3:23; 6:23).  Our identity as children and heirs of God are established by our knowledge of what Christ accomplished on the Cross (Eph. 1:7; Rom. 8:17).

To Jesus Christ, the Cross signified lordship and commitment to Him.  He told those who would follow Him that unless they were willing to bear His cross, they could not be His disciple (Luke 14:27). Christ has not altered His requirement for discipleship in the twenty-first century. The Cross demands commitment. 

To Paul and other New Testament writers, the Cross represented the Good News (Gospel) of Jesus Christ.  This gospel was to be clearly articulated to those identified in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20).  Jesus Christ died for sin, He rose from the dead, and “whosoever believeth in Him” shall have everlasting life.  The gospel message remains the same in the twenty-first century.  The Cross is salvation.     

To Christians, the Cross recounts God’s extraordinary act of love.  “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  George Matherson penned in his hymn these words:

O Love that will not let me go,

I rest my weary soul in thee;

I give thee back the life I owe,

That in thine ocean depths its flow

May richer, fuller be.

God’s plan of salvation did not come as an “after thought” but was formed in eternity (Eph. 1:4-7).  Before the Fall, God set in motion His plan of salvation to return beloved man to Himself.   

Return to the Cross

Jesus was the decided Victor on Resurrection Sunday.  He disarmed and shamed Satan by His victory over death and over sin (Heb. 2:14-17).  Knowledge of this strengthens our faith and confidence in Him.

As believers in Christ, let us reverence the Cross, not as a material object seen in isolation, but as the instrument of Christ’s triumph and love (Col. 2:13-15).

Return to the Cross and Christ’s life-transforming love.  Re-discover its power that will never pass away.

Jesus, keep me near the cross

There’s a precious fountain

Free to all a healing stream

Flows from Calvary’s mountain

In the Cross,

In the Cross,

Be my glory ever,

‘Til my raptured soul shall find

Rest beyond the river.

Have a blessed Easter.  Hallelujah, He is Risen!

The Character of Obedience

The Character of Obedience

The nature of obedience

As we defined last week, obedience is submission to authority.  Is obedience an outcome of our faith walk or is it the means by which our spiritual maturity is accomplished?

Conversation about obedience seems especially appropriate as we enter the Lenten season.  As believers, we have committed to the lordship and authority of Jesus Christ.  How well are we doing?   Lenten season presents a “space in time” in which we can answer that question.  It is also a time to identify those things that keep us from our obedience to God.

Obedience actualized

Accounts of the apostles and other great propagators of the faith give evidence that obedience plays a major role in our faith walk.

Obedience is a constant theme in the writings of the Apostle Paul. He speaks of many relationships in which we are asked to offer our obedience.  These includes obedience exercised within a family (Eph. 6:1; 1 Cor. 14:34,35), between a master and their servant (Eph. 6:5), or to civil government (Titus 1:1, 3:1).

In his letter to Christians living in the first century, the Apostle John teaches on identifying genuine faith in Christ.  The test is linked to obedience.

“Now by this we know that we know Him if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.”  (1 John 2:3-5)

The great 17th century English preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon had this to say about obedience:

  • Love is the chief jewel in the bracelet of obedience.
  • That obedience which is not voluntary is disobedience, for the Lord looketh at the heart, and if He seeth that we serve Him from force, and not because we love Him, He will reject our offering.
  • You and I must be willing to do what God tells us, as God tells us, when God tells us, because God tells us, but only strong faith will be equal to such complete obedience.

Though these views come at varying times in biblical and church history, their message is still the same.  Obedience is an expectation for all believers.  It is not an option.

Jesus the Model of Obedience

The hallmark of obedience is modeled by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ especially as He journeyed to the Cross.  Jesus modeled obedience by His humility, in His faithfulness, and in His submission to God’s will.

Jesus humbled Himself as Deity by shedding His blood for our sins.

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.  Phil. 2:5-8

Jesus’ faithfulness is seen in His unflinching commitment to the Cross.

“(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.”  Heb. 5:7-8

Jesus submitted to the will of God.

“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

Let us hear

The Greek word for obedience is 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).

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).  Through obedience, we learn to have the “same mind of Christ”—obedience in our faithfulness, our humility, and our submission to God’s will.

While the world encourages defiance and applauds noncompliance, Christ offers a different model for living.  Through Christ’s 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 worth our love, our devotion, and our obedience.

Remember our opening question: “Is obedience an outcome of our faith walk or is it the means by which our spiritual maturity is accomplished?”  The answer is, “it’s both”!

Obedience: An Invitation to Hear

Obedience: An Invitation to Hear

The Believer’s Struggle

In his 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)

Our struggle with this dilemma is demonstrated by the world’s inability to see believers as being different from them.  The world labels Christian beliefs as intolerant and antiquated.  Because of that, we believers are often silent about our faith.  The result?  It is easier to “go along to get along.” The salt is no longer salty.  The light has grown dim (Matt. 5:13-16).

Obedience and the Christian’s worldview

Barna offers several scriptural principles to guide us as we create a biblical worldview for our 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 wants and choosing to seek that outcome.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season.  It is a time when we can focus on self-examination and self-denial.  It is also a great time to study this topic of obedience and answer the following questions:

What is obedience?

Why is it important in my faith walk?

How does obedience affect my “worldview”?

WIFM (What’s in it for me)?

What is obedience?

When you read or hear the word obedience, what comes to mind?  If you are like me, you may instantly think of its opposite—disobedience.  According to Webster, obedience is defined as submission to authority.

Operating with that definition, people immediately view obedience as harsh and demanding.  Their response is understandably, resistance.  Resistance is anchored in our human desire to control our destiny.  For the unbeliever (and believer, too) this desire includes living independent of God’s rule in their life.  This response, unfortunately, misses the true intent of godly obedience.  That is why we need a biblical view of obedience.

In the Old Testament, obey is interpreted as 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. (Jer. 29:11).

In the New Testament, obey is not only connected with hearing but also means to convince or to persuade.  Obedience is described as an attitude (2 Cor. 2:9) and a faith-rooted disposition (Phil. 2:12).

We hear, we are persuaded, and in an attitude of faith, we obey.  When we hear God speak to us (through His Spirit), our response should be to obey His instruction.  “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)

Obedience flows from the heart

The obedience of Jesus is held as the ultimate example for believers.  Jesus heard God’s instruction and “humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:8) His obedience flowed out of His personal relationship with God—He heard and knew the Father.  More  importantly, Jesus’ obedience was connected to and motivated by love.

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 (Ps. 14:2).

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 voice, feels God’s love, and turns to Him.  

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)

A Better New Year’s Resolution, Part 2

A Better New Year's Resolution, Part 2

A better new year

As we shared last week, new year’s resolutions are not the best way to create change in our life.  Strength of character and self-will, often fall short in taking us where we really want to be.  We determined that “the best way” to introduce real change in our lives is through our relationship with Jesus Christ.  We must put on our “new man”.  In Christ we have a new identity.

Embrace our identity in Christ

When I began my Christian walk, the meaning of “in Christ” was a mystery to me.  I tried to understand it based on those things I was familiar with.  For example, I established membership in the local church.  I was in fellowship with its members to serve and glorify God in my life.  But “in Christ”, what did it mean?

In Christ is the present experience of the risen Christ indwelling the believer’s heart.  By the Holy Spirit we take on the personality of Christ.  It is more than an imitation of the life and teaching of Jesus.  It describes the believer’s union with Christ as a result of the divine action of grace by God.  The result of that action is the believer is transformed into a “new man.”  (2 Cor. 5:17).

Renewed in knowledge

Knowledge is defined as general awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation.

However, in Colossians 3:10 knowledge means “precise and correct knowledge”.  It is used in the New Testament of the knowledge of things ethical and divine.  It is this type of knowledge that is needed today to navigate the challenges of our times.

Paul tells the church at Colosse to “put on the new man” who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.  “New man” and “old man” were terms introduced by Paul to contrast the believer’s new versus old behaviors and lifestyle (Rom. 6:6, Eph. 2:15; 4:22-24, Col.3:9-11).

So why did Paul tell the church to put on the new man? Because the new man has access to the “precise and correct” knowledge needed for righteous living (living in right relations with God and with mankind).  This knowledge is provided through the Holy Spirit living within the new man (John 16:13).  This is where transformation takes place.

In addition, this new man’s knowledge is further strengthened as a result of being created in the image of God.  In Christ we possess God’s divine nature—His DNA.  DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is a self-replicating material present in nearly all living organisms.  It is the unique string of characteristics that make us who we are—physically and mentally.  In Christ, we have been given a new spiritual DNA that equips us for the purpose and plan God has created for our lives.

True Knowledge

In Christ, we not only have renewed knowledge but also “true” knowledge.  Paul describes this in 2 Peter 1:2-4.

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

Knowledge (of God) protects us against error and deception, regardless of its source.  It helps us discern and use God’s truth to guide our life.  True knowledge sharpens our spiritual eyes to see not only potential dangers but also the possibilities that God has in store for us.

Promise of a better year

If we want a better new year, we must be intentional.  Our aim should not be wasted on things that never work.  Our focus must continue to be on the Person who has the authority and power to “make all things work together for our good.”  (Rom. 8:28).   That person is Almighty God (Ps. 97:1-2).

Our divine truth is this.  Being in Christ and knowledge of God will provide us with everything we need to be successful not only in 2022 but also all the way to glory. Let us diligently seek the Lord more this year than last.  This is the best way to a better new year.