Tag Archives: faithfulness

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.

Spiritually Fit and Ready to Go!

So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives.  Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing.  You didn’t know any better then; you do now.  1 Pet. 1:13-14 (The Message)

If you have accepted responsibility for your spiritual fitness and established intentional strategies that have led you to a richer relationship with the Lord, the next question is “Where do I go from here?”  After reaching a personal goal, physical or spiritual, the next difficult task is in maintaining the new behavior.  How do you continue to do the “right thing”?  The Apostle Peter’s message is both timely and fitting for believer’s who desire to maintain their spiritual fitness in spite of living in the 21st century.

This epistle was addressed to believers throughout Asia Minor (Modern Turkey).  Hostility and suspicion were mounting against Christians.  These believers’ presence was becoming an offense to the pagan world with their life-styles and talk of “another Kingdom”. The stage was being set for greater persecution and even martyrdom in the near future.  Peter encourages these believers to maintain obedience to God and resist the temptation to return to their previous way of living (1 Pet. 1:13-14).  This is still God’s directive to believers today.

As believers become more “spiritually fit”—conformed to the image of Christ—they will demonstrate behavior that puts them in harm’s way with the world, especially as they resist conformity to postmodern thinking (Rom. 12:1).  They will be called “narrow–minded” and “bigoted” because believers in Christ look very different from the rest of the world.   So how are believers, even those who are spiritually fit, expected to maintain their walk of faith?

Align their purpose with God.  Believers are to walk in assurance that their life has changed and that they are following the path God has established for them from the foundations of the world (Ep. 2:10).  There are many good things believers can do with their life, but the “best things” are those lived in humble submission to the will of God.

Walk in their identity in Christ.  As joint heirs with Christ, believers share not only in His purpose, but they also share in His privilege and power.  The believer’s spiritual fitness includes the ability to successfully resist old temptations and tendencies that were part of their “old nature” before becoming one with Christ (Col. 3:1-4).

Manage their expectations of the world.  The Apostle Peter encouraged his readers to prepare their minds for action, discipline themselves, and set all their hope on the grace of Jesus Christ.  Believers know that Jesus has overcome the world, God is still on His throne managing the events of the world including His Church, and our inheritance awaits us in eternity future.

Believers, whether living in the 1st or 21st century, are to live as “lights shining in the world among a crooked and perverse generation” (Phil. 2:15).    Spiritually fit and ready to go, we move forward in newness of life (Rom. 6:4), “proclaiming the mighty acts of Him who called us out of the darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet.2:9).

Becoming World Class Believers

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world.”   1 John 2:15-16 (NRS)

It is truly inspirational to watch not only the various sports events, but to also hear the athletes’ stories as to what it took to reach this point in their career.  Many had shown a natural “gifting” in their particular sports field, apparent even as young children.  However, the trait that had brought them to success was their acceptance of the reality of what it would take to become world class athletes.  It would take mental focus, personal sacrifice and physical discipline, just to name a few.  Believers must be continually aware of the realities that tend to “bend them” toward the world’s view of life versus God’s expectations of Christian behavior (James 1: 13-15).

The first reality believers must face is that the world is a hostile environment for the believer.  Persecution and suffering are inevitable for believers (John 15:18-21).  Remember the sharp looks you received when you blessed your food at your favorite restaurant?  What about those scowls you experienced from friends when you refused to watch that “questionable” movie with them?  How were you perceived by your coworkers after the last staff meeting when you challenged their use of racial slurs or questioned that unethical business practice your manager recommended for the company?  The reality is that the believer will encounter resistance as they move away from the influence of the world and daily become conformed to the image of Christ.

The second reality believers must face is the influence of Satan on the believer’s life.  Although Satan is not as powerful and mighty as God, he is a reality that believers must acknowledge and understand if they are to become spiritually fit.  Satan seeks to destroy (John 10:10), is the father of lies (John 8:44), and seldom changes his strategies.  When I think of Satan, I liken him to Lucy of the Peanuts comic strip who is relentless in tempting Charlie Brown to kick the proverbial football.  She uses no new distractions to humiliate him—the same old football and the same old promise, “I won’t move the ball”.  And guess what, poor old Charlie Brown cannot resist.  He will trust Lucy one last time.  He kicks!  Lucy moves the ball.   Charlie Brown is lying flat on his back.  What is the football that Satan uses to entice and tempt you away from God’s purpose?  What is the promise that Satan keeps making that you know is a lie?

Finally, we as believers must face the reality of dealing with our own “unredeemed” flesh (Rom. 7:18-20).  Hebrews 12:1 encourages believers “to set aside every weight and the sin that besets or entangles us”.  “The sin” may be prayerlessness, unbelief, or even failure to trust God.  “The sin” might be that you’re a gossiper or you tend to judge people.  “The sin” may be fragments of your “old nature” that you have refused to “let go” (Ep. 4:25-31).   It is usually “the sin” versus sins that keeps believers from reaching their full spiritual potential.  Do you want to know what your “sin issues” is?  Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal it to you.  He will not condemn you but He will convict you by revealing God’s truth about you including His purpose for your life.

Believers in Christ must deal with the realities of living in the 21st century with its trials and temptations.  Spiritual fitness will require godly focus, personal sacrifice and spiritual discipline.  Sound familiar? Believers must also remember they are not alone on this journey to spiritual fitness.  The Holy Spirit is our PST—Personal Spiritual Trainer—to insure that “He (God) that began a good work in us is able to perform it in us” (Phil. 1:6).  Our part in developing spiritual fitness, in becoming “World Class Believers”, is to “press for the prize of the high calling of God” (Phil. 3:14).  If we are successful, there is a crown of glory at the finish line (James 1:12).

Are You Spiritually Fit? Part 1

“For, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”  1 Timothy 4:8   (NRS)

For the last 90 days, I’ve been on a journey to wellness.  It began as a result of a minor physical irritation that eventually developed into a major restructure of my diet and exercise commitment.

One of the new tools I now use to assist me in developing a healthier lifestyle is my FitBit, a wireless, activity tracker that continually monitors and measures data such as the number of steps walked, heart rate, quality of sleep, steps climbed, and other personal health metrics.

Imagine if we had a “spiritual” Fitbit that would do the same.  What would be the data that could be gathered to indicate our spiritual fitness?

Fitness is defined as the state or condition of being “qualitied” for a specific purpose, physically or intellectually.  This is the definition we’re most familiar with seeing, however there is also an expansion of that definition to include “suitability and appropriateness”.

Spiritual is that which deals with the part of man that extends beyond the physical and is eternal in nature.  It exists forever, even when the physical body ceases to live (Heb. 9:27).

I’d like to use both definitions and put forth the proposition that in order to be spiritually fit, believers need to be both “qualified” and “suitable” for the purpose that God has designated for their lives (Ep. 2:10).  Spiritual fitness is the state or condition of being qualified and suitable for the purpose that God has identified for believers both individually and as the collective Church.  The disciple Peter was spiritually “unqualified” when Jesus identified him as key to the building of His future Church (Matt. 16:18); however, after the testing of the Calvary, the apostle Paul was more than “suitable” for the purpose of Pentecost (Acts 2:14).

Next week, we will discuss why believers should be concerned with spiritual fitness in the  21st century.  In the interim, I have a simple assessment to help you “check” your spiritual fitness.

(1) Do you feel spiritually weak and defeated in your efforts to walk holy?

(2) Do you find your choices and life style inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus the Christ?

(3) Is it becoming increasingly more difficult to living out your walk of faith?

If you answered yes to any of these three (3) questions, then it’s time to work on your spiritual fitness. See you next week.

Faith to Persevere

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off,

and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and

confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

Hebrews 11:13   (NKJ)

To persevere requires one to continue despite difficulties, opposition, or discouragement. This requires not only spiritual power but also faith.  Our friends and family try to reassure us by telling us to “hang in there” or “tough it out” but unfortunately, encouraging words do not always succeed in moving us forward.

That is where “persevering faith” comes in.  Not “saving faith” that we associate with our initial salvation, but the ability to see through difficulties and press forward for the prize (Phil. 3:14).  I’m talking about “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).  Faith that perseveres looks to the future and visualize the promises of God, in all their fullness.  It was this “forward looking faith” that helped the Faith Hall of Famers to persevere.

“Having seen the promises afar off.”   The word “promises” is a metonymy—a figure of speech in which one word is substituted for another with which it is closely associated.  The word “promises” is a metonymy for the “things promised.” Literally, the Faith Hall of Famers “had received” their individual promises—whether it be deliverance from destruction, children to a barren couple, or a future homeland (vv. 10, 14,16). The “things promised” were the spiritual blessings of the Gospel dispensation and the future heavenly inheritance.  Each one died in the firm expectation of the promised Messiah and in believing views of the heavenly glory.  In their “mind’s eye”, they had an inner awareness of what the promises meant—in all their “fullness.”      

“were persuaded of them, and embraced them.” To be “persuaded” means to convince someone to believe something and to act on the basis of what is recommended. In this case, it is God who provided the promises.  The Hall of Famers confidently believed based on the veracity of God.  To “embrace” means to salute or greet.   Based on God’s assurance, they “eagerly welcomed” (versus acquiesced to) their destiny. They moved forward with full confidence.

confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”  To “confess” implies expressing openly one’s allegiance to a proposition or person. The Faith Hall of Famers desired more than this world had to offer, especially after seeing the promises afar off.  They fixed their eyes on those things which are above where Christ is seated (Col. 3:1).  If they regarded themselves daily as earthlings, they would not have retained the vision of faith and may have been tempted to turn back.      

The order of the aforementioned verbs teaches us an important practical lesson on developing persevering faith.  First, we must envision the promises of God.  Then, based on the Giver of the promises, we confidently accept, believe, and rest on the reliability of God’s word. It is here that our faith becomes grounded.  Lastly, faith “sees” with understanding, is “persuaded” in the heart and “embraced” by the will.

In a society where instant gratification is the norm, faith that perseveres requires a daily commitment to “forward looking” faith.  This letter to the Hebrews was to press upon them and us, the critical need for a faith that would last, wear, overcome obstacles, and endure until the end.  Like the Faith Hall of Famers, the eyes of our heart must see the blessings God has promised and be persuaded that in due season, they will be ours.  We are to joyfully anticipate our future as opposed to present advantages.  Faith that perseveres single-mindedly looks to the future with an eye on the Provider who “according to His divine power has given us exceeding great and precious promises” (2 Pet. 1:3, 4). 

 

SELAH: Ask God to share with you His plan for helping you to persevere in your faith.  What does God want you to “see” with your understanding, be “persuaded” in your heart, and “embrace” in your will?

The God of Possible

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible,

but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”  Mark 10:27 (NKJ)

When facing the challenges of life, the first question that comes to mind is whether we are able to handle them.  This response is based on our ability or power to alter or control the circumstance.   Either we have it or we don’t.  Those things we feel unable to master we describe as impossible.   As we continue our series, “In God We Trust”, it good to know that we serve the God of Possible.

The Greek rendering of the word “impossible” is adynatosThis word indicates that, a person or thing lacks the ability to do a specific action.  In our text today, this word is used as an adjective and means “powerless or impotent.”  However, what is impossible for unaided human beings is “possible” or dynatos with God.  God is more than able—excelling in power.

The Old Testament is replete with passages that illustrate human limitations.  Many times Israel called upon Jehovah to intervene on their behalf.  It was Jehovah Jireh (The Lord who provides) they called upon in time of need (Gen. 22:14).  After successfully crossing the Red Sea it was Jehovah Ripah (The Lord who heals) they promised to faithfully follow (Ex. 15:26).  In the time of battle, Israel lifted their voices to Jehovah Nissi (The Lord who is our banner) as their source for victory (Ex. 17:15).  Every name given to God in the Old Testament revealed His unalterable power and ability to handle every circumstance Israel faced.  From Genesis to Malachi, God proves Himself to be the God of possible.

The New Testament carries over this Old Testament view of human inability contrasted with God who is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask and think” (Eph. 3:20). Because of his inherent nature, God is able to help those who come to Him (Heb. 2:18), to save completely those who trust in Jesus (Heb. 7:25; Jude 24) and in short, to make every grace abound toward us (2 Cor. 9:8).    Man, though created in the image of God, apart from God is impotent—able “to do nothing” (John 15:5).

In an age where self-sufficiency is valued, it’s common to minimize God’s ability to do the impossible.  This belief may be held by those who feel there is no one who can understand their unique situation or problem.  They may feel embarrassed or even ashamed.  God’s love invites them to “cast their burden on Him because He cares for them” (1 Pet. 5:7).  Perhaps people view their challenges as insurmountable.  To them, The Creator of the universe responds, “I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27)  Perhaps individuals are burdened by sin—sin they feel is unforgiveable.  For that group, Jesus gladly responds with open arms of acceptance and says, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”   The next time you’re faced with an impossible task, place your trust in God and shift your focus from your inability to the all-powerful, loving God of possible.

 Good to the Last Byte…  

What are the impossible things mentioned in the New Testament? Here’s a brief sampling for your personal study:  Matthew 19:26, Luke 18:27; Acts 14:8; Romans 8:3 and Hebrews 6:4.  It is of course impossible for God to lie, for His nature lacks that capacity (Heb. 6:18).  That should bring us great comfort and assurance in His Word.

The God Who Keeps

“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling.” (Jude 24, NKJV)

Economic upheaval and social strife at home.  Civil wars and natural catastrophes aboard.  All these cause us to continually feel anxious, apprehensive, and nervous.  The belief that God keeps us gives comfort and assurance at a time when both (comfort and assurance) are greatly needed.

In the Old Testament the most popular use of keep is nastar and shamar.  Nastar means to guard, protect, or preserve.  We see this in Isaiah 27:3 when God speaks of His protection of Israel, “I the LORD do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.”   Shamar is similar in meaning—the sense is one of “watching over someone or something.”  It is likened to a hedge strategically placed for protection.  In Number 6, the LORD uses shamar in the priestly blessing for the children of Israel.

The LORD bless thee, and keep thee:

The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:

The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.

The New Testament continues this thought of protection and preservation with its Greek meaning of keep—tereo.   In John 17:11-12, 15, Jesus prays to the Father to keep those He will leave in the world.

Holy Father, keep (protect) through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.  While I was with them in the world, I kept (protected) them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.  I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep (protect) them from the evil.

God’s also extends His keeping to our emotional and spiritual needs.

You (God) will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You.  (Isa. 26:3) 

 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:7)

God’s promise to keep us in “His reach and watchgives us blessed assurance that cannot be matched.  We can confidently “trust in God” without fear for He has set Himself as our sentinel and watchman.  He is the God who keeps. (2 Tim. 1:12)

Good to the Last Byte…

The aforementioned blessings can be a great source of comfort to those who are experiencing uncertainty in their life.  The next time you are asked to pray for someone, bless them by giving them God’s promise of His keeping.

Hold Fast to the WORD

“Preach the Word…” 2 Tim. 4:2 (NKJ)

The Word of God is the truth by which believers are to successfully navigate this world.  “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right.  It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NLT). As believers operate in these end times, it is critical that they are able to stand fast in their faith and boldly proclaim the truth of God’s Word.

Current worldview has created an atmosphere where biblical principles and practices are continually challenged, if not totally ignored.   The demand for social and moral freedom has set the stage for denial of biblical truth and authority. The Bible is seen as neither God speaking nor the actual Word of God. Instead, it is seen as an inhibitor to self-determination and self-gratification.  In 21st century vernacular, the Bible is a “buzz kill” taking the “edge of people’s fluff.”[1]

College students relegate the Bible to the status of “glorified fairy tales” with little substantive value. (Lord, help them!) These individuals will be our future workforce, leaders, and yes, our Church. Gen Xers and Millennials, seeking answers on how to live purposeful lives, discount the Bible as “irrelevant and inadequate” for the challenges they face. These generations are a formidable influence in the shaping of not only our current political and social policies but also in determining the religious beliefs of generations to come. And who will direct these groups to the “light of God’s Word” (Ps. 119:105)? Current believers and the Church? There is little difference between them and the aforementioned groups. They seldom read their Bibles, let alone use it as the final authority on truth with their families or in their personal life. They look no different than the rest of the world.

These patterns of disbelief should not come as a surprise. Paul in his letter to Timothy exhorted him:

“Preach the word of God. Be persistent, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to right teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever they want to hear. They will reject the truth and follow strange myths.”                                                                                                                                                                 2 Timothy 4:2-4 (NLT)

The Word of God will continue to be challenged by the World and yes, even the Church. It is because of this fact that believers are to stand firm based on the power, sufficiency, and authority of the Word of God.  Paul’s instructions are still pertinent for believers today.  We are to boldly proclaim, without excuse, the supremacy and sufficiency of Scripture over the worldview. How do we prepare for this challenge? Read books to help you defend your faith. Listen to Christian teachers who can help you answer frequent questions people have about God and His Word. Finally, ask the Holy Spirit (your Personal Teacher) to help you respond to challenges and push back you might receive. Remember, “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).  Hold fast to the Word!

[1] Urbandictionary.com