Tag Archives: kingdom living

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: Best Life Recapitulated

Best Life Recapitulated

Recapitulated—-What have we learned?

Recapitulate means to summarize and state again the main point.

These past few weeks we’ve been attempting to define what “best life” looks like. We began by evaluating best life from a worldview.  In fairness to this overall process, we also considered the biblical perspective.  Before moving forward, a decision was needed as to which view believers were to follow.

It was at this point that a decision was needed.  Believers must draw a spiritual dividing line in order to insure that the influence of the flesh and the world cannot remove our distinctive difference.

Using the Bible as the final authority on what we embrace and follow in our lives, believers are to follow God’s definition of best life based on our new life and new allegiance to God  (2 Cor. 5:15-17).  We are also to focus on eternal things and “life outcomes” that are god-honoring.

Time to Decide

Based on what we have learned, there are two questions that may help us finalize our description of best life.

The first question was asked and answered last week: “What does God say about best life?”

The second question is this.  Of the two views (worldview and biblical view), which one is more likely to satisfy the longing that we may have? Self-directed or Christ-directed?

If we reach self-actualization in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, are we guaranteed that we will be content and fulfilled?  Those we see as “having it all” still deal with dissatisfaction in their life.  Self-actualization may not give all it promises as evidenced by the incidents of depression, substance abuse, and suicide among great artists, celebrities, and business moguls.

For those of us who identified with the things people wanted in life, the question is the same.  Does possession of any or all those items on the “wish list” guarantee contentment?  Remember there was only one tangible item on the list—money.  The rest were intangibles—unable to be touched or grasped but understood or felt in the heart.

Let’s find a Best Life SME (Subject Matter Expert)

At this point, what might be helpful would be to interview someone who had not only pursued best life but also attained it.  They had reached self-actualization and the one tangible (money) on the “10 Most Wanted” list.

In addition, this person should be familiar with “spiritual” options.  Let me introduce our special SME, King Solomon, the king of the United Kingdom of Israel.

Solomon was a fabulously wealthy and sensible king of the United Kingdom of Israel who succeeded his father, King David. Solomon was the biblical king most famous for his wisdom. God granted Solomon not only wisdom but also great wealth and fame because he did not ask for self-serving rewards. (1 Kings 3:7-14).

Solomon authored the book of Ecclesiastes, in which, he built the case to show that the pursuits of this world are vanity.  “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Ecc. 1:2).  Vanity in this context is the quality of being worthless or futile.  Ecclesiastes is located with the other wisdom literature of the Old Testament.

Chapter after chapter, Solomon (“The Preacher” as he identifies himself) presents the case that the vanities of this world are insufficient to make us happy.  He contrasts the vileness of sin, and its certain tendency to make us miserable, with the wisdom of being religious (godly and god-honoring).  Our well-being and satisfaction are only possible through our allegiance to God and our love for man.

In closing, Solomon, by way of exhortation, directs his readers (and us 21st century believers) to remember our Creator, to fear Him, and to keep His commandments.  Solomon gives no recommendation to pursue best life.

Conclusion

God alone can satisfy our hierarchy of needs—basic, psychological, and self-fulfilling.  God is our Jehovah-Jireh (Gen. 22:14).   Our intangible desires are readily available through God’s Spirit (Gal. 5: 22-23).

King Solomon, the Apostle Paul, and more importantly, Jesus have given us the essence of what best life looks like.  It is not a list of “dos and don’ts” but a standard of life.

Livin’ our best life is…

    • a life style that acknowledges the reality of God. God is the Creator and Source of all life who has been uniquely made known to us through His Son Jesus Christ.  We live confidently in the reality of His presence, His power, and His provision.   (Acts 17:28)
    • a life choice that recognizes the authority of God in our life. God’s will and purpose for our lives is revealed in His Word and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  We choose to trust in the goodness and greatness of God to direct our life’s journey. (Gal. 2:20)
    • a life vocation that commits to the purpose God has chosen for us. We are persuaded that the Kingdom of God has arrived in the coming of Jesus Christ and is imminent in Jesus’ return.  We, therefore, focus our energies on doing those things that honors and glorifies God.  (Phil. 3:12-14)

Livin’ our best life can only be realized through a relationship with God and in Christ Jesus.  Through this relationship, we have all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3-4) and blessings that exceed our expectations (Ep. 1: 3-14).  Therefore, in Christ, we are livin’ our best life.

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.  

Living the Resurrected Life

Living the Resurrected Life

Resurrected Living

Since Easter, we have embarked on the journey to gain a greater understanding of the resurrection.  More specifically, we have focused on its reality, its wonder, and its power in our everyday life.

Hopefully, what we have come to realize is that our “everyday life” can be lived more fully through the same power that raised Jesus from the dead (Eph. 1:19-20).  This power we learned is through the Holy Spirit that also dwells in us.  “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He (God) who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Rom. 8:11)

Living the resurrected life can be realized as we incorporate three (3) key principles to our understanding.  Resurrected life is: (1) transformational, (2) intentional, and (3) relational.

Resurrected life is transformational.

When we accept Jesus as our Savior, our life begins to change.  How does change occur?  By emptying ourselves of our agendas and replacing them with God’s plan.  We move from a “self-directed life” to a “Christ-directed life”.

Paul explains this transformation to the church in Galatia (Gal. 2:19-20, NLT):

I have been crucified with Christ.  I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  So I live my life in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 

Our transformation is the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.  It is our responsibility to cooperate with His instructions.  Each day we empty ourselves through our acts of obedience and by loving one another.   We then let the Holy Spirit fill that space in our heart (the filling of the Holy Spirit) and follow His lead.

As we empty ourselves, there is more room for the Holy Spirit to occupy.  In the filling, we begin to look and act more like Jesus.  We become conformed to His image (Rom. 8:29).

Resurrected life is intentional.

It begins with acceptance of resurrection as a “new way” of life.  When we accepted Jesus as our Savior, we did more than buy the “fire insurance”.  We spiritually “died with Christ on the cross”.  Part of that dying includes ending our “preoccupation” and “attraction” to the things of this world (1 John 2:15-16).

Paul explains this intentional behavior to the church at Colosse (Col. 3:1-5, NLT):

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. So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual sin, impurity, lust, and shameful desires. Don’t be greedy for the good things of this life, for that is idolatry.

Living intentionally is a process that doesn’t happen overnight.  That’s why we must be thoughtful and mindful in our pursuit of the resurrected life (Rom. 12:1-2).   This process should include disciplines which help us daily renew our hearts and mind, i.e., prayer, study of God’s Word, meditation.

Resurrected life is relational.

The Apostle John captures Jesus’ final hours with His disciples in the Upper Room Discourse (John 13-17).  Jesus knew that in less than 24 hours He would be on the cross.  After spending 3 ½ years in intimate relationship with His Disciples, Jesus would leave them on their own.  However, the Disciples would not be alone (John 15:7-15).

In chapter 15, Jesus takes time to stress the importance of relationship and preparation for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  The Disciples’ success would depend on their ability to stay in relationship with or abide in Him.  This “abiding” would be accomplished through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Abiding describes the “dwelling as it were within Jesus and to be continually operative in Him by His divine influence and energy.”[1]  This relationship is like that which Jesus experienced with the Father (John 10:30; 14:31; 15:10).  The Disciple’s power would come through developing a similar relationship with the Holy Spirit.

Our success in living the resurrected life is also dependent on our abiding relationship with Jesus (vv.1-11) and our demonstration of love for our fellowman (vv. 12-17).

Resurrected life in the 21st century

Resurrection is more than a one-time event.  While the resurrection of Jesus is a documented, historic occurrence that took place over 2,000 years ago, it is much more.  Its power continues to exert an unprecedented and recurring influence in the hearts and lives of believers around the world.  Even in 2021, when the Gospel is shared, people believe and become new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).

For believers, resurrected life is a time for transformation as we experience a new relationship with God the Father, Jesus our Lord, and the Holy Spirit.  Resurrected life is possible as we intentionally pursue God’s plan and will for His kingdom.  Resurrected life is an experience, from which, we will never be the same.

Why is this important for us today?  Because with Christ’s resurrection, we have an opportunity to “new life” that is found by our faith in Jesus Christ.  It is in resurrected life that victorious living begins. We can depend on God’s power and Jesus’ victory beginning on Resurrection Sunday AND extending throughout all of eternity.

[1]  Thayer’s Greek Lexicon

Living in Resurrection Power

Living in Resurrection Power

Resurrection Reality

“Christ has risen!” (Matt.28:5)   “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; He is not here” (Mark 16:6).  “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen” (Luke 24:5).  These are the biblical explanations to the reality of Jesus’ resurrection noted in the synoptic Gospels.

But one of the responses by Jesus’ followers (not recorded in the biblical record) might have been, “Ok, but what now?”  They had received the resurrection proclamation from the women who visited the empty tomb early Easter morning. They had personally seen the glorified Christ “behind shut doors” (John 20:19-30).  But, “what now?”

Even after this, the Disciples did not fully comprehend the implications of the resurrection and how it would change their lives forever. The Disciples and the New Testament Church would now face persecution and even death for their belief in Jesus Christ.   They would need to depend on resurrection power to achieve Jesus’ commission (Matt. 28:19-20).

Even now, in the 21st century, we as believers must come to terms with how the reality of Jesus’ resurrection impacts our lives every day.  To successfully navigate the challenges of today, we need resurrection power.

What is resurrection power?

Resurrection power is the supernatural power God used to raise Jesus from the grave (Eph. 1:19-20). It is this same power that has delivered us from sin’s power and penalty (Rom. 6:14).

Sin kept us in our brokenness and our bondage.  It manifested itself in our lives as guilt, shame, and misery.  These led us to dark paths of despair, depression, and feelings of hopelessness. However, as new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), we have access to the same resurrection power that raised Jesus from the grave (Rom. 8:11).  Satan has been crushed.  We are free (Col. 2:15).

Although we may be tempted, we are able to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4).  Even if we stumble or fall, we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:39).  We have been sealed with the Holy Spirit, our Guarantee, until we arrive in heaven (Eph. 1:13, 14).

Living in the power of the Resurrection

In the final days of His earthly life, Jesus hinted about this resurrection power.  He assured His disciples, “he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do” (John 14:12).

The Apostle Paul knew how to live in the power of the resurrection.  He wanted to not only “share in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings” but also, to know Him and the power of His resurrection (Phil. 3:10).  It was through the power of the Holy Spirit that Paul proclaimed the sufficiency of God’s grace through the “power of Christ that would rest on him” (2 Cor. 12:9).

How do 21st century believers live in resurrection power?

The early New Testament church gained its potency through the anointing and indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). Through resurrection power, we too, as 21st century disciples, can gain the same strength to accomplish God’s purpose.  In addition, it is through this power that we can find personal forgiveness, acceptance, and wholeness.

The Holy Spirit is the source of resurrection power.  It is through His presence that we are empowered for service to the Lord (John 16:13-15). The work that has been entrusted to us is destined for success because of the Holy Spirit working within us (Phil. 1:6).

The key to unlocking resurrection power is our willingness to cooperate with the Holy Spirit. Cooperation is critical in every endeavor a person may attempt.  If we are to live successfully in resurrection power, we must follow Jesus’ example who practiced obedience and humility.  Although Jesus was God’s son, He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross (Phil 2:8).   We must learn to cooperate with the Holy Spirit.

Opportunities for resurrection power

Easter 2021 is over.  Once again, we have received (through every form of media) the resurrection proclamation. We have personally experienced the glorified Christ through our new life in Him.  The question we must ask ourselves is, “what now?”

As I look around and reflect on the state of our world, it is more evident than ever, “we need supernatural power” to deal with our challenges.  The human needs of the 1st century still exist today.  The resurrection power of Jesus Christ is still as powerful as when He rose on Easter morning.  And we have access to the same resurrection power in 2021.

Let us begin today to access resurrection power on behalf of our families, our communities, and our nation.  Let us courageously intercede on behalf of those experiencing the effects of sin in our world—hate, hurt, and hopelessness (2 Cor. 5:15).  Jesus, teach us how to live in your resurrection power TODAY.

Are you a Truth Teller?

Are you a Truth Teller?

Are you a truth teller? 

We (believers) define truth as the meaning and reality of life defined by God versus truth shaped by postmodern thinking.  The believer’s source of truth is presented by God Himself in His Word and through the direction of the “Spirit of Truth”, the Holy Spirit.

Truth defined by God becomes the compass by which believers are able to discern truth from error (1 John 4:6) therefore allowing them to live out their God-ordained purpose (Ep. 2:10).

How well am I doing with being truthful?

Following God’s truth may result in rejection and personal persecution.  Inside the safety of the church walls it’s easy to agree with the ethics and morality inherent in God’s truth.

However, once outside the “physical boundaries” of the church, it is the “heart” which must reflect God’s truth.  It is the heart that directs the mind, will, and emotions (the soul) to sieve the noise of the world through the filter of God’s truth.

Truth and obedience are closely connected as believers must choose between God’s instructions or man’s acceptance (Matt. 10:28).

Does the world want to know the truth?

We discussed this question earlier as to the world’s readiness for the truth.  Often the world’s responses make the truth appear to be a remnant of the 20th century—no longer relevant in today’s fast-paced, high tech world.    Unfortunately, truth is often defined by what’s trending on social media.

To further complicate the search for truth, corporate/community leaders and aspiring politicians create “untruthful” responses to difficult social issues that simply satisfy people who don’t really want to know the truth; so the community and nation are given a lie (instead of truth) to make them feel better.

Unfortunately people would rather believe a lie than the truth—think about that for a minute!  Are people really being deceived or are they simply choosing to believe a lie? It’s easier (2 Tim. 4:3-4).

Am I ready to be a truth teller?

In Psalm 119:46, the writer speaks of their unfailing dedication to the truths offered by  God:  “I will speak of Your testimonies also before kings.  And will not be ashamed.”  Testimonies speak of witnessing.  In Scripture, it relates specifically to divine testimonies or truth directly from God.

We must ask ourselves why we sometimes choose to believe a lie rather than the truth.  The truth may be related to our life style, our family, or even about us personally.  Perhaps we are judgmental, critical, or unforgiving.  That’s why it is so important to regularly pray that the Holy Spirit expose those areas that interfere with receiving the truth of God.

The gold standard for truth tellers

To be a truth teller requires boldness to stand for holy “rightness” (Heb. 13:6) and to proclaim what is God’s truth versus what is politically or socially correct (Luke 12:4-5; Ps. 119:46).

When Jesus taught the Beatitudes to His disciples, He established a new standard of truth that was to be actualized in the life of the believer—a standard that would result in holy and sanctified (set apart) living.

Paul declared himself to be a truth teller.  While it resulted in his persecution and polarization from the mainstream, he boldly proclaimed:  “None of these things [persecution and prison] move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I can finish my race with joy.” (Acts 20:24)

Let us follow the examples given to us by God.  Dare to be a truth teller.

What I Learned in 2020

To depict the many challenges we faced in 2020What’s Different

In the past, my annual reflections on “what I learned” were typical for believers in Christ.  They were my experiences and observations as I progressed on my spiritual journey.  They included such things as how I experienced God’s goodness and what I would work harder on in the new year.  I always finished the year hoping I had deepened my relationship with Him.

So what’s different this year?  Everything is different!  Why?  Because 2020 was very different.  As my pastor said a few weeks ago, “There is no such thing as a ‘new normal’.  There is no normal.  Everything is dynamic.”  Life as we knew it has changed.  We now live in a constant state of change.

What I learned in 2020 requires that I go deeper than I normally would in order to fully express the range of emotions and responses to everything that has been happening around us. It’s been said “life will make you bitter or better”.  With 2020, the jury is still out.

2020 Responses:  We Long for Many Things

Most responses to 2020 have ranged from anger (dumpster burnings of 2020 in effigy) to appreciation for the opportunities presented as a result of the pandemic Stay at Home directives.

The variance in these responses may stem from our ability to accept, absorb, or assimilate the changes that are taking place.

Some people respond by retaliating for what they see as a loss of control or threat to their personal freedom.  Remember the initial responses to the pandemic?  The battle over wearing masks?  We are no longer able to “do what we want to do” without considering the impact of our choices on others.

We now more fully understand “our connectedness” and dependence on each other.  We will need each other to successfully navigate the world as it is in “a state of becoming”.  There is a saying that, “You can’t be a winner in a losing organization.”  That statement is never more true than right now.

A Year of Grieving

2020 has also given us much to grieve over.  The loss of life due to the pandemic is unbelievable.  I pray that we never become comfortable with the rising number of deaths within our nation and the world.  So complacent that we forget that each “number” represents a person, a family, a life no longer present with us.

Let us also continue to pray and support those who serve during these horrific times.  The medical professionals, public employees, and service providers who daily risk their lives for us.

A Year without Relationship

I think we grieve the most over our “disrupted relationships”.  We desperately miss being with our families and friends.   No hugs.  No kisses.  We’re left with Zoom calls, online worship, and elbow bumps, if we’re lucky.

This longing to be with others is evidenced by our nation’s inability to deal effectively with the coronavirus.  We desire to be with one another so much that we are willing to literally die for it (or cause someone else to die).

While we desire to be with family and friends, our relationship with others has suffered in 2020.  We have separated ourselves into tribes based on our political views and class distinctions.  We have set aside the basics we learned in kindergarten–play nice and share.  We are at war with each other!  But why?  Over what?  There will be no winners in the end—-only pain, anger, and resentment.

This is unfortunate especially since we so desperately need each other during these tumultuous times.  It is now that we need “to put on bowels of mercy, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering…and love” (Col. 3:12-14).

So what have I learned?

God is faithful (Deut. 7:9; Heb. 10:23)  and is able to see us through whatever problems we face.  Actually that isn’t something new I’ve learned.  However, 2020 revealed God’s faithfulness in a new context.

That context included a deadly pandemic, social injustice, economic upheaval, and civil unrest.  2020 was like a dystopia movie.  A dystoria is an imagined place or state in which everything is bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.

But God was everything He said He would be.  He was my provider (Phil. 4:19).  He was my  protector (Ps. 46:1-3).  Jesus was my peace–something we still need in 2021.  God’s presence was my comfort and assurance through all the madness of 2020.

You and I are living proof of God’s faithfulness in that we now stand on the other side of 2020.  And how did we get here?  How did we get to the other side?  God brought us through (Is. 43:2).

God’s Plan of Salvation 

There is so much I have learned (and continue to learn from 2020).  But the most important thing I’ve learned is to see life through the reality of God and His plan of salvation.  

God is purposefully executing His plan of salvation for mankind.   Eternal God is sovereignly exercising His purpose in the midst of our history.  Regardless of today’s  current events or who is currently in leadership, they must all defer to the rule and reign of God (Daniel 2:21).

God’s plan for mankind didn’t end with the arrival of Jesus Christ.  God is still manifesting His plan and we are part of that plan right now.  It is our privilege to join God as He manifests His purpose in the world.

So what have you learned in 2020?  I can’t wait to hear from you.

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”.

A Call to Maturity

Last week we introduced spiritual maturity as a process, a pathway, or a goal. Regardless of the means of achieving spiritual maturity, the result is to be a believer whose faith is founded on the Gospel and who is committed to ongoing growth (transformation).

Faith and growth work together to develop spiritual maturity in the believer which is critical in moving God’s kingdom forward.  Therein lies the urgency for a call to maturity by the writer of Hebrews.

Dull of hearing

It has been said that to make progress on a bike, you must keep moving forward.  There is no reversal nor standing still.  This is a good analogy in describing the dilemma the author of Hebrews faced.

Although these believers had been trained in the “elementary truths of God’s Word” (NIV, Heb. 5:12), they were not moving forward “on to maturity” (Heb. 6:1).   They had become “dull of hearing” (Heb. 5:11).

Hearing is difficult, not only for this audience but also for any audience.  Interestingly, the verb “to hear” (akouo) provides the root for the verb that means “to obey” (hypakouo) (Heb. 5:9; 13:17).  There could be any number of reasons why this group had become “dull of hearing”.

Distractions, fear of persecution, or loss in confidence of their leaders.  The writer of this letter does not say.  However, we do know the outcome.

The readers had apparently pulled back from their bold witness to outsiders and from exhorting and encouraging one another.  Through lack of use, faculties grow dull and the members regress to a former condition of immaturity.[1]

The writer’s dilemma

In Hebrews 5:11-6:3, the writer contrasts immaturity with maturity.  They use familiar “educational language” of that day to describe the believers’ lack of progress.  The Apostle Paul uses similar language in 1 Cor. 3:1-3.  “Milk” and “solid food” were common terms for referring to levels of educational development.  Here “milk” is an image of the “elementary truths of the God’s Word” (v. 12), while “solid food” is the “word of righteousness” (v. 13) which is the believer’s capacity  to distinguish between good and evil (v.14).

The writer’s dilemma is this.  Although these believers have previously received adequate teaching for their ministry work and purpose (Heb. 6:1-2), their failure to grow spiritually hindered them from understanding more complex teachings about Jesus Christ.  Specifically, Jesus’ excellency as High Priest.  A more excellent priesthood than the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:9; 6:20).

Immaturity leads to failure

The exhortations found in Hebrews are appropriate for us today.  Distractions and lack of spiritual discipline keep us stuck in the same position as when we first came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Statistics support the fact that believers today spend little to no time on spiritual formation.  It should not be surprising that these behaviors have resulted in believers who are “unskilled in the word” (v. 13) and churches who feel ill equipped to lead new generations to Christ.

Our failure to be spiritually mature results in our inability to accomplish God’s purpose for our life and for His Kingdom.  These include:

The ability to persevere.  Lack of maturity impairs our ability to remain faithful to God’s purpose for our life.  We are created specifically for God’s “good work” (Eph. 2:10).  This is true whether we work in ministry or in the secular world.  Our “stick-to-it-ness” is critical as we live in a world hostile to Jesus.

The ability to discern.  When we become “sluggish” and “dull of hearing”, we risk becoming disobedient.  In a postmodern world, it is difficult to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong (Is. 5:20-24; 2 Tim. 3:1, 3b, 5).  Unable to discern, we become targets for Satan’s deception. “To think between vice and virtue is a line clear and unmistakable is to embrace an illusion.”[2]

The ability to witness.  We have a clear mandate from Jesus to witness to a dying world (Matt. 28:19-20).  It would be impossible for believers to look around our world and not acknowledge that “the fields are ripe and ready for harvest” (John 4:35).  An informed and bold witness is needed as much in the 21st century as it was in the 1st: “Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).  We are in a battle for the souls of men.

Go on to maturity

When we became Christians, we received everything we needed for life and godliness through the knowledge of God who called us to glory and virtue (2 Pet. 1:3).  It is our responsibility to build upon the basics of that faith and move forward to maturity.

The Apostle Peter directs us to make every effort (with all diligence) to supplement our faith with virtue, knowledge, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.” (2 Pet. 1:4-8)

Being effective and fruitful in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus is the essence of spiritual maturity.  God is our resource, and all growth comes by grace through Him, but we are responsible to “go on to maturity” (Heb. 6:1).

[1] Letter to the Hebrews, Fred B. Craddock

[2] Ibid.