Tag Archives: God’s will

Six Months to Live

Six months to Live Six months to live?

What would you do if after your annual physical exam, the doctor shared the sobering fact that you have six months to live?  This is not a scenario I would wish on anyone.  However, in reality, we don’t know how much time we have left in our frail and finite lives (Ps. 90:10-12).  It really could be six months, six days, or six years.  So what’s my point?

We have passed the midpoint of 2021.  Taken in a larger context, we have moved passed the events of 2020, with its losses and human volatility.  BUT GOD has brought us safely to this point in time  (Prov. 18:10).

And what will we do with the time that remains?  What will we do with our next six months?  Will we follow the purpose God has for our lives?   Or will we live our life as if there is no tomorrow?  Will we live each day with gratitude and intentionality?

Living with gratitude and intentionality

Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation and thankfulness for what one has.  Regrettably, we often miss the mark in articulating gratitude.  In the busyness of living, we take for granted those things God provides through His grace.

Intentionality is the fact of being deliberate or purposeful.  Living with intention means that we consciously direct our thoughts, beliefs, and actions toward some object or situation.  For believers, this object is Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

A second invitation to abundant living

Both gratitude and intentionality are key in moving us closer to the abundant life God has designed for each of our lives (Ep. 2:10; John 10:10).

As we examine our lives (with six months to live), it might be helpful to revisit the blessings God has for us when we practice gratitude and intentional living.

Abundant Living is a great reminder of God’s possibilities for the time He is giving us.   What will we do with our next six months?

Livin’ my Best Life: The Answer for Best Life

The Answer for Best Life Options for best life

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

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

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

The Dividing Line

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

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

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

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

Caution

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving to best life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Livin' my best life

What’s best life for me?

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

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

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

What are we looking for?

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

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

What do we need?

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

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

What do we want?

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

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

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

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

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

Livin’ my Best Life: You asked for it!

Livin' My Best Life: You asked for it!

From basics to best

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

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

Messaging, media, and marketing

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

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

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

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

Oprah’s best life

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

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

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

Best life views

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

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

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

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

 Developing our own view

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

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

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

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

  • Psalms 34
  • Ecclesiastes 11-12
  • Matthew 6

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

Livin’ my Best Life: What is it?

 

I'm Livin' My Best Life

“I’m livin’ my best life!”

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

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

The worldview of best life

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

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

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

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

Why is this important?

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

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

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

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

Best life guidelines

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

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

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

More to come

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

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

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

The Surrendered Life and Sin

The Surrendered Life and Sin

Who do we choose?

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

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

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

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

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

“Everyone need not apply!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The surrendered life

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

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

Certainty in an Uncertain World: Epilogue

Certainty in an Uncertain World-Epilogue

We close this series by reviewing what we have learned and by identifying next steps that will bring us greater certainty in an uncertain world.

What have we learned?

#1 We do not like uncertainty.  “It is like a type of pain, something to be avoided. Certainty on the other hand feels rewarding, and we tend to steer toward it, even when it might be better for us to remain uncertain.”  Uncertainty makes us uneasy.  We feel it is something we need to control (Prov. 3:5-6).

#2 Uncertainty is as sure as death and taxes.  The sources of uncertainty will not go away.  Such is the result of living in a fallen world.  Uncertainty is a “sure thing” that we must learn to manage (Eccl. 9:11).

#3 God is the only reliable source of certainty.  He provides us with divine certainty.    He alone has both the desire and the capability to address whatever may come our way.  And God never changes and is forever faithful (Lam. 3:22-23).  Because of God’s character, we can place our confidence and trust in Him.

Equipped with this information, how do we incorporate these realities into our lives?  How do we build spiritual muscle to contend with the uncertainties of life?

“Holdfast to your faith.”

Hebrews 11:1 gives us a point of reference to begin addressing uncertainty in our lives.  Our writer states in the opening verse: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”   This statement comes after an appeal to the readers of this letter to “hold fast.”   (Heb. 10:19-39)

It is here that the author begins to cite individuals in biblical history who earned a place in the Faith Hall of Fame.  While the object of what they hoped for was temporal, it was their faith that helped them to holdfast.  For our discussion, I will focus on one member of this notable group, Abraham.  Let’s examine how Abraham’s faith helped him deal with uncertainty.

“He hoped against hope.”

Paul used Abraham as an example for the church at Romans.  In chapter 4, the apostle continues to teach the point that it is faith—belief in Jesus Christ—that individuals receive salvation.  It is in the closing verses (Rom. 4:16-25), that the Apostle Paul, like the writer of Hebrews, testifies to the faith of Abraham.

Paul magnifies the strength of Abraham’s faith in several expressions used in this text.

“Who against hope believed in hope.”  Upon hearing God’s promises, Abraham had to “bring into captivity every thought” (2 Cor. 10:5) he had concerning ‘what was possible’ with God.  Every rational explanation of how parenthood and leadership of a nation was possible (human hope) had to become “subservient” to the supernatural reality of God (divine hope).  Such hope is reliant on understanding the power and sovereignty of God (Rom. 4:17).

 “He considered not his own body.”  When Abraham did consider his own body, he birthed Ishmael with Sarah’s Egyptian handmaid, Hagar (Gen. 16).  That was not God’s plan.  It was God’s plan for Abraham and Sarah to birth a child when both their bodies were considered “dead”.   Once Abraham accepted God’s plan, he “didn’t focus on his own impotence and say, ‘It’s hopeless. This hundred-year-old body could never father a child. Nor did he survey Sarah’s decades of infertility and give up’ “(Rom. 4:19, The Message).  Sometimes God does things “His way” so we understand HE IS GOD and we are not.  Translation:  God is sovereign.

“He staggered not…”

“He staggered not at the promise of God.”  Some translations use the word, waver instead of staggered to describe the resolve of Abraham’s faith.  To stagger means to be at variance with oneself, to hesitate, or doubt (James 1:6).   Such was not the case with Abraham.  To the contrary, his acceptance of God’s promise resulted in the strengthening of his faith.  Some translations also share that this strengthening of Abraham’s faith resulted “in bringing God glory” (CSB) or that Abraham’s faith grew stronger “as he gave glory to God” (NRS).   When we trust God, not doubting, we are strengthened, and He is glorified.

 “Being fully persuaded.”  The literal reading of this phrase is “being fully assured.” Abraham was convinced that God was able and willing to make good on all His promises.  Such faith can be described as “God-centric”, in that, the accomplishment of the promises to Abraham were totally dependent on God.  In this case, the promises of God would depend on God’s ability to perform them—not man’s capability.   Abraham’s role, like ours today is to exercise our faith and believe God.

The impact of unbelief

Unbelief can cripple our faith.  It can cause us to make bad choices and interrupt God’s purpose for our lives.  Remember Abraham and Hagar?  One commentator wrote this about unbelief: “Unbelief dishonors God by making Him a liar (1 John 5:10).  Faith honors God by setting to its seal that He is true.”[1] 

Our unbelief is often caused by viewing a problem or situation from our ability to resolve it.  Unbelief is “shortsighted” seeing only our own capacity or ability to resolve.  We seldom factor in God until our plans go awry.  Many biblical failures occurred because of unbelief.  Remember the Garden of Eden?

The old elders of the church were often questioned about their faith in God.  They never attended theological institutions nor studied with great scholars of the Bible.  They would humbly respond, “I just know what I know!”  Translation:  They believed without a doubt who God was and they believed that God would do ALL that He promised.  For these elders to “know” was synonymous with their “belief”.

Conclusion

As we look around and see our world in a state of uncertainty, it is easy to become anxious and fearful.  It is difficult to understand what is happening around us.  Pandemics, civil unrest, financial insecurity.   Uncertainty has become commonplace with little hope of eliminating it. Who are we to believe?  Who do we trust for the right answers?

There is a solution for times of uncertainty in our life.   We can begin by embracing the divine certainty of God, His promises, and our position in Christ Jesus.  However, these certainties can only be realized through our intentional response of faith.

It is important that we as believers move past simply “intellectualizing” our faith.  We must “internalized” it.  Our faith in God must become “second nature” to us as we deal with our fears and our challenges.  Not pie in the sky but total reliance on the goodness and greatness of God.  This requires that we walk closely with Lord and practice His presence.

Let us rely on the power and sovereignty of God.  Don’t focus on your own impotency.  When we trust God, our faith is strengthened, and He is glorified.  Let us not stagger.  Let us be “fully persuaded” knowing God is in charge and the Source for all our needs.   God is our certainty for uncertain times.  God is our hope and our peace—our exceeding great reward (Gen. 15:1).

Closing Prayer

Father God, help us to trust You in all we face in these days of uncertainty.  Make our faith real and active.  Let us not walk by sight but by faith.  We praise You and glorify Your holy name.  We stagger not at Your promises knowing You are more than able.  And not only are You able, but You are willing.  We ask these things in Your darling Son’s name, our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  AMEN

 

[1] Matthew Henry Commentary, Romans 4

Holiday Season 2020

Holiday season reflects God's purpose

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

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

This season will be different

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

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

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

A season for reflection

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

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

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

A season for fruitfulness

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

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

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

Discovering our fruitfulness

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

The Danger of Unbelief

 

John R. W. Stott (1921 – 2011) is known worldwide as a preacher, evangelist, author, and theologian. He wrote this about unbelief:

Unbelief is not a misfortune to be pitied; it is a sin to be deplored. Its sinfulness lies in the fact that it contradicts the Word of the one true God and thus attributes falsehood to Him. 

The second warning listed in the Hebrews letter reflects similar passion regarding the danger of unbelief (Heb. 3:7-4:13). Does it begin with drifting (neglect) and ends with doubting (unbelief)?

The writer of Hebrews frequently used Old Testament quotations and images to support their argument for remaining steadfast in the Christian faith.  The author cited historical accounts from the Old Testament to remind the readers of the danger of giving in to outside pressure rather than “holding fast to their faith” (Heb. 10:23).

Unbelief for the Hebrews

In this second warning the author outlines the danger of doubting and disbelieving the Word.  He uses the background of the exodus of Israel from Egypt and their experiences in the wilderness to explain their unbelief.

It was not God’s will that Israel remain either in Egypt or in the wilderness. His desire was that the people enter their glorious inheritance in the land of Canaan. But when Israel got to the border of their inheritance they delayed because they doubted the promise of God.  Therefore, the people went backward in unbelief instead of forward by faith.  They missed their inheritance and died in the wilderness.[1]

The “wilderness” for believers today is this current “season of uncertainty”.  Instead of the Promised Land, we are facing nonstop change and upheaval in our daily lives. This is a result of many factors affecting our nation including the current health pandemic, social inequalities, and civil unrest. The fallout from this season of uncertainty is fear, disruptions, loss, and fatigue.

Let’s be honest! Our personal faith is also being challenged.  We question, “What is God going to do with all these problems?”  We object, “When will God intercede on our behalf?”  Emotionally and spiritually, we are tired and need to see a “light at the end” of this long tunnel.  Can you imagine what it felt like living in the wilderness for 40 years?

21st Century unbelief

What does unbelief among Christians look like today?  Unfortunately, it looks like the Israelites’ unbelief in the wilderness.  It resembles the behaviors that resulted in the hardening of their hearts.

    • Distrust in God’s power.  We murmur and complain.  Although we desire our lives to be trouble free, it just isn’t reality. The reality is this–we live in a fallen world (1John 2:17).  There will be trials and tribulations. However, Jesus encouraged us by telling us He has overcome the world (John 16:33).  We can trust God’s power to handle whatever happens in our lives.
    • Dependence on self and others.  Scripture warns us “not to be wise in our own eyes” (Prov. 3:7).  However, since we distrust God’s power, we tend to seek answers from the world.  We foolishly place our trust in human leaders and political agendas. “Instant” access to information through technology makes us believe all our answers can be found on the Internet.
    • Departure from the “living God”.  God was grieved with Israel during the entire forty years because of their unbelief (Heb. 3:12).  God is saddened today as He sees the same thing happening with His followers.  Their hearts have become hardened.  In addition, the deceitfulness of sin has caused believers to rebel against God.  They desire to return to their “Egypt”.

Unbelief left unchecked

The danger of unbelief is “loss”.  Not the loss of our salvation. The believer in Christ is completely secure (John 10:29; Rom. 8:31-39; Ep. 2:4-10).

However, when we practice unbelief, we miss out on our inheritance today and must suffer the chastening of God (Heb. 3:12-19).

Unbelief is a thief that robs us of the blessings God has promised–promises that are our today (2 Pet. 1: 4).  We lose the peace and joy that can only be found in trusting God (Ps. 16:8-9).

Still the best choice

In our humanity, we might be inclined to depend on our own strength.  Amid our trials, we might be tempted to try some “nouveau” spiritual approach The question we must ask ourselves is, “what can be better than Jesus?”

The writer of Hebrews presented the best case for “choosing Jesus” over returning to Judaism.  As we look around at the issues we face, our best option is still Jesus.

Jesus, Son of the Living God, possesses all power on heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18).  Jesus is omniscient–knowing all things (1 John 3:20).  He is omnipotent–unlimited in power and authority (Daniel 4:35). Jesus is omnipresent–in all places at all times (Jer. 23:23-24).

Most importantly, Jesus loves us and has proven His love by dying for us so that we might have eternal life (John 3:16).  He is the Righteous and Just One (Deut. 32:3-4).  Jesus is all this and so much more.  Jesus the Best and Only Choice for all generations

[1]  Hebrews, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary

How am I to pray?

 

Where do I begin? I believe in prayer and have made a commitment to be more intentional in it along with fasting.  As I asked Jesus to help me know how to better hold that time with Him, this question came to mind, “How am I to pray?”  More specifically, how am I to pray during these tumultuous times?  What is to be the area I focus on during my time with Him?

Finding the right fit

Several years ago, I joined a prayer group that prayed for our nation.  In the center of the prayer circle, in which we sat, was a picture of the president of the United States.  Later we prayed for the world.  The president’s picture was then replaced with a map of the world.

I’m sure we used the circle to help us focus our attention and prayersThe Lord already knew who the president was.  And since God created the world (and everything in it), I’m sure geography wasn’t an issue for Him.  Thank God for leading us in how to pray because sometimes we really don’t have a clue.

What does the Bible say?

The Bible provides some general areas for our prayers.  Here are a few to help point us in the right direction.

Who are we to pray for?

  • our leaders (1 Tim. 2:1-2)
  • our enemies (Matt. 5:44)
  • the saints (Eph. 6:18)

How are we to pray?

  • without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17)
  • believing (Mark 11:24)
  • according to the will of God (1 John 5:14-15)

Why are we to pray?

  • so people will come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4)
  • so God’s kingdom will be realized (Matt. 6:10)
  • to keep us from temptation (Matt. 26:41)

Let the Holy Spirit lead

In Romans 8:26-27, the Apostle Paul makes the case for relying on the Holy Spirit to guide our prayers.

(In the same way) the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings.  Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of God.

Prayer circles are helpful and important to the Kingdom, but sometimes it’s best to let the Holy Spirit lead us in our prayers.  For example, He may lead us to pray for specific people or circumstances.  All the while leaving the outcome to His sovereign will.  This type of prayer, intercessory prayer, invites us to cry out on behalf of another.

“I just want to testify”

In March our church prayed for a baby born prematurely.  The hospital saw this child’s chances of survival as slim to none.  But our church prayed without ceasing.  The hospital was in awe as the baby not only survived but ultimately thrived.   Our baby went home in August as a witness to the power of intercessory prayer.

In April, we invited friends and family to pray for New York City.  They were, at that time, the epicenter of the COVID pandemic.  We prayed, and I tell you, things shifted the following week.  Now New York City is viewed as the model for managing during this pandemic.  And they praise God for His mercy and grace.

At the end of July, our small group prayed that the violence in our city would cease.  While I haven’t been able to access the impact with monthly statistics, I believe our prayers made a difference.  Why? Not because I have the numbers to prove it but because of what God says in His Word.  John writes in the close of his epistle about the certainties of faith, including our prayers.

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.   1 John 5:14-15

We asked according to God’s will.  We are commanded not to kill (Exod. 20:13).  It is the Lord’s will that we love one another (Rom. 12:10) and be reconciled to each other (Matt. 5:23).  This is God’s revealed will.  We therefore believe God heard our prayer and that we will have the petitions that we asked from Him.

Pray for this moment

Prayer changes things, especially when guided by the Holy Spirit.  God alone knows where He wants us to join Him in His work.  In doing so, we get the opportunity to observe His glory and His power.  This strengthens our faith and encourages us to pray without ceasing, even when we don’t see immediate results (2 Cor. 4:18).

The failures and faults of 21st century living require more than man can provide.  Why?  Because the problems we face deal with the conditions of the human heart—selfishness, hate, jealousy, envy, and covetedness—just to name a few.

The prophet Jeremiah accurately described our current condition in the world when he said “the heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable​—​who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9) Man’s heart has not changed.  Only God can heal what ails us.

As we look at the conditions of this world, know that God is ever present and vigilant.  He neither slumbers nor sleeps, and is aware of the people, places, and plans that need our prayers (Ps. 121:4).  Our task is to be more intentional and disciplined in our prayer life.

As a nation we need God’s direction and intervention.  While politicians and special interest groups have their place, we need to place our full confidence in God.  He is the only One who can lead us to His desired outcome for the world (Jer. 29:11).  Let’s put God and His will in the middle of our prayer circle and see where He leads us.