Tag Archives: kingdom living

Our Theology of Suffering: Where does it come from?

 

Our Theology of Suffering: Where did it come from?

Suffering is part of life

I know you probably don’t want to hear this, but suffering is part of living in this fallen world.  Suffering is the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship. As humans, we continually look for every possible way to either avoid suffering or move through suffering as quickly as possible.

As we discussed last week, Satan introduced sin in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:16-19). Suffering is a natural consequence of sin.  However, we often direct our frustration, not at its source, sin, but instead we ask, “Why did God let this happen?”

However, if we look behind the pain, distress, or hardship, we will discover “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16).  These things make up “the world system” that is at enmity with God.    Take a moment and reflect on the latest sufferings.  Even the extreme weather can now be attributed to man’s abuse of the ecology.

Our theology shapes our view of suffering

Our theology of suffering is shaped by our understanding of who God is.  It is important to know who God is and conversely, who He is not.   While God IS all powerful, all knowing, and everywhere present, God does not exist to act as our Superman, or Wonder Woman, or Batman—running from here and there stopping evil.

God is the rightful ruler and authority over His universe (Col. 1:16). His divine plan of salvation and redemption of mankind is constantly at work.  God is the sure foundation on which we can stand in times of uncertainty and times of suffering (Hab. 3:17-19).

Our trust in God shapes our view of suffering

Trust in God is another key factor that shapes our theology of suffering.  In review of the biblical record, there are many incidents of suffering—pain, distress, or hardship.  Incidents which required the Lord God to show Himself strong on behalf of His people.  Sometimes God would remove the object of suffering.  More often, however, God allowed the suffering to continue to grow the believer’s trust and faith in Him (2 Cor. 12:7-10).

In his letters to the new churches, the Apostle Paul often spoke of the need to trust and believe God, regardless of their current suffering.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Rom. 8:28, NLT)  

 All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory. That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! (2 Cor. 4:15-17, NLT) 

Our worldview shapes our view of suffering

Our worldview—our beliefs, values, and behavior—also influences how we view suffering.  Many of us believe that we are in control of the events and circumstances in our life.  We go to great efforts to manage and manipulate those things, which we feel, are in our control.  That, however, isn’t always true. Remember COVID 19?

The Preacher (King Solomon) makes this assessment of “control” in Ecclesiastes 9:11. Regardless of personal capacity or ability—speed, strength, wisdom, cleverness, or skill, “time and chance” happens to us all.  Suffering nullifies both personal capacity and ability.

Believers operate from a different worldview.  We operate from God’s “Kingdom” worldview.  As followers of Jesus Christ, we are citizens of God’s Kingdom, though we “temporarily” reside on earth (Phil. 3:20).  This view acknowledges the reality of sin and suffering but offers an “alternate” response to the suffering we face.

The kingdom view recognizes that:

    • God always loves and cares for His children (Ps. 23).
    • God sovereignly rules over the universe (Ps. 103:19).
    • God is always with and for us (Gen. 28:15; Matt.28:20).

Holding this view, we are able to persevere and live confidently even amid suffering.

Conclusion

Suffering is a reality of living.  We will be better equipped to deal with suffering when our theology is correct.  It begins with: (1) the correct view of God, (2) placement of trust in the “right” Person (The Triune God), and (3) an “eternal” Kingdom worldview.

Next week we will look at suffering:  its purpose and possibilities.

Our Theology of Suffering: An Introduction

Our Theology of Suffering: An Introduction

No suffering please

How do you feel about suffering? What are your beliefs about its cause and effect?  Its purpose and possibilities.  I, for one, am not volunteering for any unnecessary pain.  However, if it hasn’t become evident at this point in our life, suffering is part of our journey as human beings.

Suffering was not part of God’s original divine plan.  However, Satan’s introduction of sin in the Garden of Eden resulted in its creation (Gen. 3:16-19).  As humans, we continually look for every possible way to avoid suffering.  And if we can’t avoid it, we try to move through suffering as quickly as possible.

That’s why it is important for our spiritual growth and development to understand the what and why of suffering.  This includes learning to best strengthen our resolve and focus when suffering occurs.  Because “I guarantee you” that we all will suffer in the future.  But the question is, what is your response to suffering?  How well do you manage your pain?

What is suffering?

Suffering is the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship. As we look around, we might conclude that we are living in a continual state of suffering.

Pain, whether it be physical, mental, or emotional is evident in our society by the number of individuals seeking relief through food, drugs, and alcohol.  Distress is extreme anxiety and sorrow.

Anxiety disorder is the class of mental disorder in which anxiety is the predominant feature. This disorder, an illness characterized by constant and boundless worry that interferes with the daily life, is the most common psychiatric illness in the United States, affecting 40 million American adults.[1]

Hardship (deprivation) is caused by any number of reasons:  acts of nature resulting in loss of life and property or man-made (political/social/economic agendas and policies).  Hardship presents itself in the growth of the lower economic class, which is one-third of where Americans are today.

The lower economic class, also known as the working class, is the socio-economic group with the least income. They are often categorized as families whose income falls below poverty line. These are the people who live hand to mouth, or paycheck to paycheck. They barely earn enough to cover their expenses and a huge expense often sends them into debt.[2]

What do we learn from the definition of suffering?  Suffering affects more than our physical well-being.  Suffering is not just episodic.  It occurs more frequently and “routinely” than we want to admit.  We have, unfortunately, accepted it as “part of life”.  And to some degree it is part of life BUT how we respond and manage it, makes the difference between successful living and thriving OR stressful living and surviving.

Pain management

When we experience pain that cannot be alleviated with medication, surgery, or rehabilitation, our physician will often prescribe pain management treatment.  The intent is to teach us strategies which will help us maintain control or influence over our pain.  This might include for example, breathing techniques or mindfulness-based therapies.

Key to successful pain management treatment is the realization that the pain will not be eliminated, however, we can exercise control over the degree the pain will hinder or disrupt our life.

For believers, our pain management for suffering lies with our knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord (2 Pet. 1: 3-4).  Since we live in a fallen world, suffering will continue.  However, armed with knowledge of God, we can live confidently, trusting in His goodness and His greatness (Ps. 27:1-3).

This is especially true during difficult times—times of suffering—when fear and doubt challenge our faith.  When this happens, we can stand firmly on what we know about God and those things which He has revealed to us as His children (Rom. 8:17).

Knowing these things can not only help us better respond to the suffering happening in our life but also react appropriately to the disruptions in the world around us.  How we respond to things revealed become the entry point for God to provide His power, His provision, and His presence.

Next week, we will continue to discuss and develop our theology on suffering.

[1] Pew Research Center

[2] Ibid

 

When life turns left

 

When life turns left

Bad news

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

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

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

Suffering in Faith

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

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

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

Reality when life turns left

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

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

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

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

Turn on the Light!

Turn on the Light!

Jesus is the Light

Last week, we asked, “Where’s the light?” The answer to that question is Jesus.  Jesus is the Light of the world, in whom there is also life. Jesus’ light dispels the darkness that is so prevalent in our world:  the deceitfulness of sin.  Because of The Light, we have spiritual discernment and are able to see truth clearly in a world where there are no absolutes nor standards of integrity.

How is that possible?  Through the transformation that begins when we became “new creatures in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17).  Each day, we become more like Christ—a light that is to shine in a darkened world.

Light transformation

In Ephesians 5:8, Paul explains the extraordinary transformation Christ makes in the life of His believers.

Paul accomplishes this by contrasting the believer’s old life with their new life.  Paul borrows an example from nature that would be easily understood by his readers—light and darkness.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Walk as children of light.  

“For you were once darkness.”  This statement of conclusion describes the state in which current saints found themselves before Christ.  Darkness (skotos) described their past condition.

We were not “in darkness” but we actually “were darkness”.  Metaphorically this describes individuals in whom “darkness becomes visible and holds them sway.” They are morally darkened by sin, spiritually bankrupt, and desperately in need of salvation (Rom. 3:23).

Who are you?

“But now you are light in the Lord.”  What caused the change between “once darkness and now light”?  Salvation!  God’s plan of salvation provided a change in status—from darkness to light.

Light (phos) is used figuratively to describe truth and its knowledge, together with the spiritual purity (in contrast to vv. 3-5) associated with it.  God took us (sinners) who were “foolish, disobedient, and deceived and according to His mercy, He saved them (us)” (Titus 3:3-5).

Life as a light bearer

“Walk as children of light.”  As new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), a new relationship emerged.  No longer in fellowship with darkness, we became children and joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17) with all its power (Ep. 1:19) and privilege (Ep. 2:6).

In addition, our lives were redirected to God’s purpose—to walk as children of light.  As “light bearers” we now offer to the lost the same light we received when we walked in darkness.  By hearing our personal witness and the Gospel, the darkened world will be attracted to The True Light, Jesus Christ (John 8:12; 9:15).

As you plan your daily activities remember to embrace your identity as children of light.  Look for opportunities to “turn on the light” in dark places and “show others the goodness of God, for He also called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9, NLT).

Losing Our Mind

Losing Our Mind

Losing our Mind

In the 90’s there was a commercial that declared “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Its intent was to encourage the pursuit of higher education.

Unfortunately, a politician, hoping to win “kudos” and votes with potential constituents misquoted this saying resulting in the statement, “a mind is a terrible thing to lose.” That politician was not re-elected.

Mind management

In his letter to the church at Philippi, the Apostle Paul gives advice as to the best use of one’s mind. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5).  In other words, we are to set aside our way of thinking and replace it with the same type of thinking as Jesus.  And what is the results of doing this? Victorious living.

Victorious according to Webster is defined as having won a victory or characterized by victory. I’m not suggesting that our life will be perfect nor problem free.    Our victory comes in the knowledge that Jesus has already overcome every situation we now face in our life (Heb. 4:15; 1 John 5:5).  In Christ, we have everything we need to overcome the challenges of 21st century living (2 Pet. 1:3-4, RSV).

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion and become partakers of the divine nature.

How do we obtain the mind of Christ?

To have a mind of Christ we must…

Be willing to exchange our position and our plans, for the purpose God has designed for our life. Christ willingly joined God in His plan of salvation for mankind (Eph. 1: 4-6).

Trust in God and believe that all things work together for good to those called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).

Humble ourselves like Christ.  Our intents and actions should seek “no personal reputation” nor gain (Phil. 2:6-8).  Christ voluntarily set aside His privileges (“being in the form of God”) and accepted a lower status (“took on the form of a bondservant and made in the likeness of man”). Why? For us.  That we might be released from the bonds of sin and have eternal life.

Our victory

Finally, to have the mind of Christ, we must be obedient.   Obedience is the highest form of love. Because of our love for God, we must be willing to sacrifice our thoughts and actions to follow the instructions He has set before us (1 Sam. 15:22). Christ’s obedience was love of the highest caliber.  Jesus was obedient even if it meant death by the worst possible punishment, death on the cross (Phil. 2:8).

Paul shares with the Philippians God’s reward for Jesus Christ’s “mind” (Phil. 2:9-10):

Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Possessing the mind of Christ will empower us to “pull down strongholds and cast down obstacles that hold themselves up above the knowledge of God.  We can do this by bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:4-5)

A mind may be a terrible thing to lose” unless you replace it with the mind of Christ.  There is an old axiom that states, “You can’t lose what you never had.” Read the Gospel account of the Madman of Gadarenes (Mark 5:1-19) and see how losing your mind can change your life.

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 2022 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 2022.

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.

What I Learned in 2021

Where to Begin

In past years when I did this exercise, I would go to several sources for input.  This includes my daily journal, and scripture memorization cards.  They were reminders of the paths I walked with Jesus throughout the year.

My journal included my thoughts during my time of inquiry of the Lord.  Bits and pieces of this and that:  theologian quotes, bible study notes and miscellaneous thoughts about life and the world I live in. Topics that caught my attention, would later become personal studies, WordBytes or Morning Reflections.

My scripture memorization cards, with date recorded at the top, would remind me of how the Spirit renews my mind with God’s Word.  His Word would prove to either strengthen my heart or tell again of God’s inexhaustible grace: grace that covers my human weakness and brokenness.  It most often than not encouraged me to be more patient and longsuffering.

As I reviewed my information, I came to this realization.  It is vital that believers continually develop a personal relationship with God.  Not religion but relationship.  It should be our goal to be “intimately connected” with the Lord.

Relationship with God

God has always desired to be in relationship with man.  Adam was first to experience the joy and freedom of an intimate connection with God.  Imagine daily walking and talking with God about the events of the day, your hopes, and fears, and hearing His plan for your life.  Guess what?  We can experience that in our life right now!

Today we, as believers in Christ, have continuous access to that same intimacy Adam experienced in the Garden but with even greater privilege.  We have His Presence, through the Holy Spirit living within us (John 14:16-17).

As I read God’s Word, pray, and exercise the different spiritual disciplines, I become one with Him.  Jesus invited His disciples to abide in Him (John 15:4).  That invitation is extended to us today.

F.B. Meyer writes about the privilege of being one in Christ and the intimacy that comes with that relationship.

We must be one with Christ: we must be in Him as the sponge is in the ocean.  We must be in Him, not only in our standing, but also in our daily walk.  We must be in Him as the branch is in the vine and the vine-sap in the branch.  This must not only be in theory, but an hourly experience.

My 2021 Epiphany

I became a Christian when I was nine-years old.  I bought the “fire insurance” and knew I wasn’t going to hell.  However, as I grew older, I still didn’t feel the connection I thought believers were supposed to have.  Although I went to church weekly and served in various church functions, something was missing.

I was a carnal Christian until I was 40.  Then something happened.  I rededicated my life to Christ.  No more “hooky pokey” Christian life for me.  What happened?  Why the change?

A student from my Senior High Sunday School class had chosen to become a minister.  We were excited to welcome him back to his home church where he was to bring the Sunday morning message.

This was especially exciting for me in that, as a teenager, he hated to review the lesson on behalf of our class.  He would grumble and groan and swear never to come back to Sunday School if I made him do it.  He eventually agreed to my request.

In his morning sermon, he shared his personal witness of how his intimacy with God led him into ministry.  It had nothing to do with my teaching or my coaxing him to review.  He found what it meant to be IN RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS.  It wasn’t religion.  It was relationship.

That was it for me.  My Sunday School student helped me understand what it meant to have a “personal relationship” with God.  So even today I seek a deeper and closer relationship with Jesus.  And every day with Jesus is “sweeter than the day before”.

Go deeper in 2022

Most interesting about my epiphany is that Jesus just recently revealed this memory to me.  Why now?  I don’t know.  Maybe He felt it was time to share it with you.

Daily we have the opportunity to practice His presence as we daily address the challenges of 21st century living.  In God’s presence we experience His love, power, and wisdom.   As we go deeper in our relationship with God, we can better understand His ways and see with spiritual eyes.

Let us deepen our trust in Him.  When we do, we aren’t shaken by the latest news stories or the challenges we face in 2022 and beyond.  We know whose in control!

As members of God’s family there is nothing that can separate us from His love.  And we have the blessed assurance that our relationship with God will extend into and throughout eternity.

I invite you this year to go deeper in your relationship with God.  Become “like the sponge in the ocean”.  Live and abide in Him.

No extra reading this week so please share with us what you learned in 2021.  Thanks for reading.

A Better New Year’s Resolution, Part 1

A Better New Year's Resolution

It’s that time again

The Christmas holidays are winding down.  Special parties and family celebrations will culminate with the ringing in of a new year.  There is only one more thing to do.  It’s time to make our New Year’s resolution.

Who created those things anyway?  Whatever their origin, regardless of our success or our failure in their creation, resolutions are intended to set a better pattern for living our lives in the upcoming year.  This may include new purpose that relate to our health, our finances, and even our relationships.

It is a time to reflect on what worked or what could have worked better.  New Year’s resolutions give us an opportunity to put our best foot forward in the coming year.  But this year, I’m taking a different approach.

This year, instead of being dependent on my resolution, I’m going to strengthen my connection with the One who can help me make more than a superficial change.  I’m going to choose a better way (Phil. 3:8-10).  I choose transformation that is only possible through Jesus Christ.

Why attempt to identify a “better way” when Jesus has provided us “the best way” (John 14:6).  Through Christ we are new creatures indwelt by His Holy Spirit.   The only thing we need to do is to embrace our identity.  In Christ, we can do better everyday in the new year.

In search of a better way

The Book of Colossians records the letter from the Apostle Paul to the Church in Colosse.  He was concerned with the reports he had received from a local evangelist, Epaphras, concerning the possible “encroaching heresy” threatening this predominately Gentile church. (Col. 1:21, 27; 2:13)

In their search to find the best way to live in their world, they were now considering a new religious system that combined elements from Greek speculation (Col. 2:4, 8-10), Jewish legalism (Col. 2:11-17), and Oriental mysticism (Col. 2:18-23).[1]    

This threat to Christ’s church is still present even now, in 2021.  It is called syncretism.

Syncretism is the combining of different beliefs and various schools of thought. Syncretism involves the merging or assimilation of several mythologies or religions, thus asserting an underlying unity and allowing for an inclusive approach to other faiths.[2]

 A better way or led astray?

As Christians, we must be careful to avoid societal pressures to combine Christianity with “other things”.  To do so can subtly lead us away from the basic tenets of our faith.  Seeking to be “socially and politically correct”, we might be led to compromise or minimize God’s truth.

The nation of Israel fell prey to this practice (1 and 2 Kings).  This practice resulted in idolatry, disobedience to God, and weakening of their faith.  Take a look around.  Do we see a similar thing happening in our world today?

Are you ready to change?

In Colossians 3:5-9, Paul admonishes these young believers to “put off” their old man.  The old man represented the person they use to be before coming to Christ.  That old man walked according to the influences of the world and the weakness of their human flesh (1 John 2:15-16).

The 21st century has mastered the art of influence.  Media (social and otherwise) tells us how we are to think and act.  We invite them into our homes and offices.  They are the uninvited passenger in our cars as we drive here and there.  Marketing bombards us with messages on who we should be.  They create great dissatisfaction with what we have, how we look, and what we know.  (That’s how they keep us spending money).   Social messaging keeps us “in our current state” by telling us what we can or can’t do.  They remind us of our weaknesses and our vulnerabilities.  So much so that we are fearful to move without their validation.

Old “dead man” walking

“Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction.” (Gal. 6:8a, NIV)

We must guard against the defiling touch of the world, of sin, and of the old self-life. We stand between two worlds, each solicits us: let us yield to the influences that pull us upward, and not to those that anchor us to this sinful and vain world. Our eternal blessedness has begun, let us walk in it.  In Christ we profess to have put off the old man, i.e., the habits of our former life; now let us actually do so, in the power of the Holy Spirit.[3]

Even as Christians, we still tend to depend on our self-discipline, self-will, and self-motivation to live a sober, righteous, and godly life (Titus 2:11-14).  Just like our New Year’s resolution.  We try and try.  But we usually fall off the wagon by Valentine’s Day.  What we need is not a new syncretic way nor a more disciplined approach.  We need transformation.  We need to “put on the new man”.

[1]  The Times of Colossians, The New Open Bible Study Edition.    

[2] Wikipedia

[3] F.B. Meyers, Through the Bible Commentary, Colossians 3

Looking beyond what we can see

Looking Beyond what we can see

Anatomy of the human eye

As we consider looking beyond what we can see, it might be helpful to review how we see physically.

The human eyes work very similarly to a camera. When you look at an object, the light it generates enters your eyes. The light first passes through the corneas, which begin focusing the light. It then passes through to the pupils. The size of the pupils changes to regulate the amount of light entering the eyes.

 The light is then focused through the lenses and onto the retinas. The retina is a light-sensitive layer in the back of the eye that contains highly evolved cells called rods and cones. The retina then changes the image into electrical and chemical impulses, which are transmitted along the optic nerves and into the visual center of the brain. It is when the image reaches your brain that vision occurs.[1]

Man is a remarkable creation of God. He is made physically perfect for the lifetime God has designated for him (Ps. 90:10).   However, as remarkable as Creation is, God’s work of salvation has resulted in our ability to see spiritually, the things we would normally overlook.

Seeing supernaturally

I love the Old Testament because of its value in capturing the wonders and works of God.  As I prepared for this series, the scripture text that came quickly to mind was the account of the prophet Elisha in 2 Kings 6:8-23.  This passage shares the incident in which the King of Syria, enemy of Israel, sent raiders to capture Elisha.  You will enjoy reading the entire text as it shows the confidence of Elisha as he prepares to meet this great army that surrounded the city of Dothan.

2 Kings 6:15-17 is most relevant to our discussion on seeing with spiritual eyes.  We may find the advice Elisha offered his servant relevant to us as we face the challenges of 21st century living.

And when the servant of the man of God arose early and went out, there was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”  So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”  And Elisha prayed, and said, “LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

The chariots of fire that the servant saw were heavenly hosts primed to do battle with the Syrian army on behalf of Elisha.  Elisha saw the heavenly army and recognized that there was no need to fear.  He saw past the potential danger and saw God at work. After Elisha’s prayer, the servant, through God’s enablement, saw that the mountain was full of God’s presence.  He looked beyond what he could see.  He looked from God’s perspective.

Kingdom reality

Seeing with spiritual eyes begins with understanding who God is and our position in the Kingdom of God.

Broadly speaking, the kingdom of God is the rule of an eternal, sovereign God over all the universe. Every authority that exists has been established by God (Romans 13:1). So, in one sense, the kingdom of God incorporates everything that is.  More narrowly, the kingdom of God is a spiritual rule over the hearts and lives of those who willingly submit to God’s authority.[2]

 God is the Almighty Sovereign who manages the affairs of the world from heaven. Through His providential will, God orchestrates every event in our lives. Our position in Christ elevates us to God’s children and joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:16-17). We are the recipients of His promises, His privileges, and His presence (Eph. 1:3-5).

Kingdom reality does not deny the presence of sin and its outcomes on the world.  We are sadly aware that we live in a fallen world.  However, we know three things.  First, Jesus Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33).  Secondly, we are overcomers, too. (Rom. 8:37; 1 John 5:4).  Finally, we know how history will end.  WE WIN! (Rev. 21:1-8)

Looking beyond what we can see

Looking beyond what we can see allows us to “reframe” our experiences through the lens of kingdom reality. Closed doors are seen as God’s protection.  Waiting is seen as God’s time of preparation—either of us or our desired end.

Seeing this way equips us to move forward in the midst of trouble versus being overwhelmed.  We do not lose hope.  Instead we look past what we see physically.  We see God (2 Cor. 4: 17-18).

It’s not that we spiritualize everything that happens to us, but we truly believe what the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Rome: “All things work together for the good of those who love the Lord who are called according to His purpose.”  (Rom. 8:28)

Seeing with spiritual eyes is not “mystical” like a third eye.  Nor is it “recreational” like fortune telling or a Ouija board.  It is “relational”. Just as the light helps the physical eye to focus, so our focus on kingdom reality helps the spiritual eye to see from God’s perspective and power (Luke 1:37; Jer. 32:17,27).  Just as the retina physically changes the image we see into sight, the Holy Spirit informs us as to what is truth and what is error (Acts 26:18).  Bottom-line is this.  Looking beyond what we can see is dependent on the Source of Light who is Jesus Christ.  “In His light we see light” (Ps. 36:9)

[1] www.ceenta.com/

[2] Gotquestions.com, “The Kingdom of God”

 

Seeing with Spiritual Eyes, Part 1

Seeing with Spiritual Eyes Part 1

An invitation

When I begin my daily devotions, I open with Psalm 119:18:  Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law. My favorite teacher, Alistar Begg, often begins his bible study sessions with this prayer, “Make the book come alive to me.”

Our intent is the same though our approach may differ. We invite the Holy Spirit to join us as our Teacher, as we seek God’s instruction for our life.   Doing this, we are better able to navigate in this post-modern world where there are no absolutes nor acceptable standards of rightness.

As we examine our current society, it appears what is right or wrong is left to the judgment of the individual. In the absence of a common standard of right and wrong, anything goes.

The Heart wants what the Heart wants

People reject a standard for truth because of their greater desire to do “that which seems right in their own eyes”. But what is right?

A recent Barna Research study, The End of Absolutes: America’s New Moral Code, found no agreement on the definition of morality today.

What is it based on? Where does it come from? How can someone know what to do when making moral decisions? According to a majority of American adults (57%), knowing what is right or wrong is a matter of personal experience. This view is much more prevalent among younger generations than among older adults. Three-quarters of Millennials (74%) agree strongly or somewhat with the statement, “Whatever is right for your life or works best for you is the only truth you can know,” compared to only 38 percent of Elders. And Millennials (31%) are three times more likely than Elders (10%) and twice as likely as Boomers (16%) and Gen-Xers (16%) to strongly agree with the statement.  

People want “what they want” including freedom to choose what fits their preference and lifestyle, even if it means disobedience to God.  [1]

The need to see spiritually

What then are we to do? It is critical that we as followers of Jesus Christ, develop an “eye” for what is truth versus what is error (1 John 4:1).  We began this discussion in 2020 in our series on spiritual discernment.  However, during these end times, we must be even more intentional, vigil, and alert by “seeing” our world through “spiritual eyes” (1 Pet. 1:13).

This 21st century challenge is similar to what the Disciples and the early Church faced. They encountered a society that was “hostile” to the things of God and where men “leaned to their own understanding” (Prov. 3:5).

The Disciples had to develop a “new view” of the world. Jesus taught them that view in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). It was the “Kingdom view”. Believers would have to “see” things differently than the rest of the world.  They would learn to see with spiritual eyes.

Through the leading of the Holy Spirit, the Disciples ultimately proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ. They participated in ushering in the Kingdom of God.  We have that same opportunity today.

Next week, we’ll talk more about gaining spiritual eyes.

Time to Practice

I invite you to begin “practicing” seeing with spiritual eyes. Following are (3) scriptures to read and meditate on this week. Feel free to use different translations and paraphrases. Get your journal out as you read and invite the Holy Spirit to join you.

Jeremiah 5:21-29

Matthew 6:22-23

1 Corinthians 2:13-16

Answer these questions for each scripture you read:

  1. How does this scripture relate to my personal walk with God?
  2. How does it influence my view of 21st century society?
  3. What “new” insight did the Holy Spirit reveal to me in this scripture?

[1] Spiritual Discernment:  Light for Darkened Eyes