Tag Archives: kingdom living

Throwback Wednesday: Six Months to Live

 

Throwback Wednesday for a New Year

Where has the time gone?

It’s May, 2023.  In a few weeks, we will enter midyear.  And my question is this.  What have you done with the time gifted to you?  Did you squander it?

Have you rushed to do the routine rather than enjoying the uniqueness of each day.  The rich fool spent his time in the routine of planting, not knowing that his soul would be required of him, sooner than later.  (Luke 12:13-21)

Have you spent your time pondering over past hurts and offenses? There is little to be gained in such activities and definitely nothing that can be useful in accomplishing God’s purpose for our lives. The brother of the prodigal son was offended and jealous of the attention his brother received.  He chose to “cling” to his anger. He was offended and “would not come in.” (Luke 16:25-32)

If given the prognosis that you had six months to live, how would you spend your time?  This is the topic for discussion in this Throwback Wednesday. 

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 live our life as if there is no tomorrow?  Or 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?

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 today, 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 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 today.

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.

Jesus: The One for the 21st Century

Jesus: The One for the 21st Century

Is Jesus the One?

Yes, He is! I say that not based on my feelings or opinion but on what God has said about Who He is and how He operates in this fallen world.  I continue to use the phrase, “fallen world” to direct our attention to the condition that has led us to the pain and suffering we are experiencing in the world.  And that condition is sin.

It is easy to wonder why God isn’t more active in resolving the difficulties we face in our world.  Know this!  God cares and engages in every aspect of our lives (Matt. 10:29-31).  However, man’s “free will” allows him to choose those things that, many times, are outside God’s will and not in the best interest of others (which includes the world).

As we discussed last week, we often look to God to “zap the bad” and make it disappear.  Unfortunately, that isn’t how it works in a fallen world.  That’s why it is valuable to draw near to God (James 4:8) so that we can better understand His ways and His works.   When we do that, we can begin to understand why Jesus is the One.

What are our options?

So what have been our “options” to address the challenges of 21st century living?  We’ve tried to legislate, to mandate, and to regulate, just to name a few.  New beliefs, creeds, and convictions, offer no long-term solution to the various world crises we face.  No person, political platform, nor social movement has moved us closer to “the good life”, harmony or peace.  These are not the right solutions for our sin problem.

Why not choose Jesus?  Choose Him not for solving all the problems we experience during difficult time.  Nor for miracles Jesus can perform to address our human needs.  But choose Jesus because He is the One.  He is the One God has ordained to address the issue of sin and to give us life—life now and life in eternity.

Jesus knew.

Jesus knew He was the One.  As He arrived in Nazareth, He entered the synagogue on the sabbath day and stood up to read (Luke 4:16-21).  He read from the Old Testament book of Isaiah that prophesied of the abundant life that would be available to those who would believe and follow the promised Messiah (Isa. 61:1-2).

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,

Because He has anointed Me

To preach the gospel to the poor;

He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,

To proclaim liberty to the captives

And recovery of sight to the blind,

To set at liberty those who are oppressed;

To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” 

Jesus concluded His reading with a statement meant to remove any doubt as to who He was (Luke 4:21).

“Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus was the promised Messiah. Jesus was the One.

Recognizing The One

In our humanity, we are continually looking for someone or something to manage the challenges we face.  In God’s economy, believers understand that Jesus is The One.

  • Who better to guide us and to help us through the challenges that lie ahead than The One who is omniscient? The all-knowing One who can see today, tomorrow and into eternity.
  • Who better to protect us than the one who is omnipotent? All powerful. Not like the impotent idols we think will secure our life: wealth, status, or relationships.  All these and more, we foolishly depend on to make us feel safe and secure.
  • Who better to provide for both our spiritual and physical needs than the One who is omnipresent—”everywhere present”. Where can we go that Jesus is not with us? (Ps. 139:7-10)

Jesus is the great I Am.  Bread of life (John 6:35).  Light (John 8:12).  The Door (John 10:9).  The Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14).  Resurrection and Life (John 11:25).  The Way, Truth, and Life (John 14:6). The Vine (John 15:1, 5).

Jesus is the One!  He is the One we need for the challenges of 21st century living. He is the Only One.

Compassion: A Movement of the Heart

Compassion: A Movement of the Heart

Motivation for compassion

Throughout this series we have focused on compassion:  its definition, its motivation, and its costs.  We defined compassion as a willingness to relieve the suffering of another.  Compassion is generally motivated by an individual’s awareness of suffering and the effort it would take to relieve it.  Included in that assessment is the costs to become engaged in extending compassion.  The Parable of the Good Samaritan helped us visualize the different factors that impacted the extension of compassion.

How can I develop compassion?

There are various teachings in psychology and sociology that suggest that there are ways individuals can increase their compassion IQ.

One school of thought is that compassion is natural and it comes in the “flow of life”.  We have compassion for our friends who experience loss or groups of people who experience displacement due to a natural catastrophe.  “Feelings of compassion don’t need to be forced,” they say. Simply open your heart, let yourself be moved, and let compassion flow through.” They also recommend activities each day to “open oneself” to compassion’s flow.

However, as followers of Christ, we believe compassion is achieved by more than an intellectual assessment, the natural flow of life, or exercises we can practice. For believers, our display of compassion is motivated by something greater.

A meeting of the hearts

Brené Brown in her book, Atlas of the Heart, describes compassion this way.

Compassion is the daily practice of recognizing and accepting our shared humanity so that we treat ourselves and others with loving-kindness and we take action in the face of suffering.  Compassion is a “virtuous response that seeks to address the suffering and needs of a person through relational understanding and action.”

In her description, Brené captures the connecting link between us and those we see suffering.  It is our humanity.  It is important that we continually acknowledge the “humanity factor” and the fact that we each are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27) and therefore, are to be treated with both love and respect.  It is our humanity that extends beyond our intellectual lens of who are deserving of our mercy and kindness (Micah 6:8).

Compassion is a spiritual response.

The previous sources of compassion where intellectually derived.  In contrast, God’s compassion is spiritually based.  Can a non-Christian show compassion?  Of course.  The difference is the motivation that leads to their act of mercy and kindness.

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the first two travelers’ motivation to intercede was influenced by their flesh.  Their final choice was based on what best satisfied their “flesh”:  self-comfort, self-preservation, and self-importance.

The Good Samaritan, on the other hand, saw the need, and then resolved to help because he looked with “spiritual eyes”.  He looked at the man and saw his humanity.  Like himself, the beaten traveler was in the image of God and deserving mercy.  Setting his fleshly responses aside, the Samaritan then showed him compassion.

Are we ready to show compassion?

Compassion for the believer is motivated by two things: our identity in Christ, and our relationship with God.  Our spiritual position demands a “different response” to the situations and circumstances we experience in this “fallen world.”

To increase our compassion IQ, I recommend we become more like Jesus. Jesus’ compassion was extended to the helpless crowds (Matt. 9:36), the sickly masses (Matt. 14:24), the hungry people (Mark 8:2), and to all in need of “love and mercy” (Isa. 61:1-3).

The true center of Christian living is that we be extensions of Jesus to those in need.  These needs can be social, political, or financial.  They can be resolved through advocacy, philanthropy, sponsorship, or personal involvement.  Jesus’ compassion still flows to and through us today. As the elect of God, holy and beloved, we are to put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, and longsuffering (Col. 3:12).

Dear Jesus,

Help me to daily see the humanity in others.  Let me not be moved by my head but by my heart.  As You saw and were “moved with compassion”, let me be moved by love and bowels of mercy.  Help me be your hands and help those whom You send into my life.

Am I Compassionate?

 

Am I compassionate?

Ask me a question…I’ll tell you no lie.

This series on compassion was inspired by a question someone asked me.  “Do you think I’m compassionate?”  My first thought was, “why are you asking me this question?” Had I bored them with sharing the rigors of my last six-months including the death of my only sister?  Had they been overwhelmed with the traumatic events rehearsed continually on the evening news and social media?

I didn’t have an answer.   However, I thought it admirable that they cared enough to ask the question.

Do you think I’m compassionate?

That’s a good question to ask especially in this age when we’re often told to “suck-it-up and keep it moving’.  We daily are traumatized and stressed by events of our world.  We are awakened each morning with updates of the war in at least 2-3 countries, at least two “natural disasters” (one international and one nationally), and let’s not forget the threats “seen and unseen” (Psa. 91:5-6).  Perhaps these fears are the reason we emotionally “tune out” what’s happening to us in order to protect ourselves.  Why do we “shut down”?

Recently published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology is this insight about why people resist experiencing compassion for others, despite it being a generally positive feeling.

More people are finding it increasingly difficult to engage with each other, and as people are overwhelmed with the amount of suffering right now due to the pandemic, it may make compassion particularly difficult. 

The cost of caring

Without a doubt, showing compassion costs.  The cost is expressed in both emotional commitment and physical engagement.  The characters in the Parable of the Good Samaritan considered the cost.  This would include their understanding of the situation which would determine their engagement.  They would then consider the effort it would take to resolve the problem.  A little or a great deal?

The priest “saw the traveler and moved to the other side.” The priest evaluated the situation.  He probably thought the man was dead.  What would he do with a dead man on the road? Bury him?  Take him with him?  He didn’t even know him.  Too much work!   He also knew that involvement with a dead person would make him ceremonially “unclean” (Num. 9:7).  The uncleanness would last for at least seven days, until he could be purified again. He wouldn’t be able to conduct his duties at the temple.  He had to protect his job.  Based on the effort and his understanding of the situation, he left the man on the road. Do his responses sound like ours when we see someone in need?

The Levite “came and looked”.  He saw that the traveler wasn’t dead, so why didn’t he help?  The text doesn’t say, and we choose not to speculate.  Regardless, the result was the same as with the priest, the Levite “passed by the other side.”

What would we have done in this situation?  Hindsight is 20/20.  We know the back drop for the parable and how the story ends.  But in 2023, when we are faced with pain and suffering, do we also “pass to the other side”?  Do we need to understand all the details and effort required before we engage in others pain?

Compassion—a mental or spiritual challenge

Why was the response by the Samaritan different than the priest and the Levite?  What was the principle Jesus was attempting to share with the lawyer (Luke 10:25-29) and also to us living in 2023?  We are to show mercy and compassion, like the Samaritan.

The word compassion in the Luke 10 passage is used almost exclusively to describe Jesus’ response in the Gospel accounts.  It is a verb (action word) showing the deepest level of compassion (Luke 7:13).  It means to have the bowels yearn. When Jesus’ compassionate response was described in this way, the occasion was often the turning point in someone’s life (Mark 1:40-42; Matt 9:33-38)

Called to be compassionate

While there are mental processes that we use to engage in compassion, we must focus our responses on that which God expects.  God expects us to show compassion to those He places in our path and sphere of influence.  Jesus expects us to act like the Samaritan and “show mercy” (Luke 10:37).

God calls each of us to have compassion for others. That call is more than an appeal for us to “feel pity for the needy”.  It is a call to care enough to become involved.  Like Jesus’ compassion, we are expected to take action that will set others’ lives on a fresh, new course.

God’s Compassion: A Study in Contrast

God's Compassion: A Study in Contrast

Our Emotional Response (ER)

Last week, we described compassion as a willingness to relieve the suffering of another.  With that definition we introduced a series of emotional responses (ERs) to the pain and suffering we experience. The intent was to help us better understand the differences in our emotional response to the anguish and distress of others.

Our ER can fall on a continuum ranging from pity to compassion.  This is summarized below: 

As we survey our cities, nation, and the world, we appear to be more jaded in our feelings concerning the plight of others.  This cynical view has begun to infiltrate, not only our personal response but has become reflected in our reaction to the growing social issues and “human problems” we face each day.  For example, can we honestly say that our education, health, and social systems reflect compassion for the people they are to serve?  Are we REALLY our brother’s keeper (Gen. 4:9)?

I wonder what God has to say about our ER to the conditions of our world.  Does God view compassion in the same way we do?  This week we will explore how our view of compassion differs from God’s view.

Will the compassionate people please stand?

How would you describe a compassionate person?  Would you describe yourself as compassionate?  You may be sometimes and then at other times, not compassionate at all?   Why the difference in ER?

The Greater Good of Berkeley University define compassion as a mental state or orientation toward suffering (your own or others’) and includes four components:

    • Bringing attention or awareness to recognizing that there is suffering (cognitive)
    • Feeling emotionally moved by that suffering (affective)
    • Wishing there to be relief from that suffering (intentional)
    • A readiness to take action to relieve that suffering (motivational)

This explanation does not consider other factors that may also impact our ability to respond with compassion, such as understanding the nature of the situation and the effort required to resolve the situation.

Where’s the compassion?

If we look at Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:31-37), what were the orientations or mental states of the travelers, as described by The Greater Good.

Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise, a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came, and looked, and passed by on the other side.  But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.

Where did the train go off the rails?  The priest “saw”.  The Levite “came and looked.”  Only the Samaritan moved passed the cognitive response and moved directly to motivational.  “The Samaritan came where he was and when he saw him, he had compassion”.

So, he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

More like God

The Hebrew and Greek words sometimes translate “compassion” to have a broader meaning such as “to love” and “to show mercy.” Synonyms for compassion in English are “to be loved by,” “to show concern for,” to be tenderhearted,” and “to act kindly.”  Do these words describe you?

Compassion is an inherent part of God’s very being (Exod. 34:6).  In the Old Testament, God’s compassion was rooted in His covenant relationship with His people (2 Kings 13:23).

In the New Testament, God’s compassion is demonstrated in His Son’s ministry and among His people.  Jesus’ messianic compassion was extended to the helpless crowds (Matt. 9:36), the sickly masses (Matt. 14:24), the hungry people (Mark 8:2), the demon possessed (Mark 5:90), the unclean lepers (Luke 5:12-16), and to all in need of “love and mercy” (Isa. 61:1-3).

In our generation, Jesus has extended compassion to each of us—the hopeless sinner (Rom. 5:8).  While compassion is not a uniquely Christian response to suffering (Luke 10:33), Christians have unique reasons for nurturing our compassionate disposition.  God compassionately and truly cares what happens to us. We will talk more next week about how to develop a more compassionate disposition and its importance in navigating 21st century living.

What do you want for Christmas?

 

What do you want for Christmas?

Christmas past

What do you want for Christmas this year?  What’s your ask?  When I was a child, my anticipation of Christmas was so high.  I remember the special journey to see the animated Christmas displays in the store windows in downtown Kansas City, Missouri.  The shops on “Petticoat Lane” and the special baked goods at “The Cake Box”.  There was no sitting on Santa’s lap and sharing our list of wants, but endless nights of looking at the special Christmas catalogue from Sears, J.C. Penney’s, and “Monkey Wards” (Montgomery Wards).  What a wonderful and magical time!

But I’m no longer a child.  To the contrary, I’m a grandmother and family elder.  Now as I anticipate Christmas, I ask myself, what do I want?  What are my choices?  Things eternal or things of this world? Now I must look beyond Christmas Day with its torn wrapping paper and empty boxes.  I want something that lasts beyond Christmas Day.  Don’t you?  As we close out this year, I invite you to join me in answering this question for yourself.

What’s on your list?

Harry & David suggests we warm hearts with festive gourmet gifts and Christmas gift baskets.  That’s no surprise!  “Do it Yourselfers” ensure us that handmade gifts will be received with joy:  polaroid photo magnets (try finding a polaroid camera), beautifully packaged cookie mixes or pretty finger knit blankets.  Who has the time?

Topping the list of the 23 “hottest cool gadgets” for Christmas is a Black Bird drone with camera for $99.  “For the first time, ordinary people can capture crazy selfies and shots that were previously only possible with professional equipment.”  I’m sure our neighbors and friends will love sharing in on this gift.

But what do people really want?

Here are some things to consider as you plan your gift shopping.

In an article entitled The Top 10 Things People Want in Life but Can’t Seem to Get, I was amazed in reading the responses to this informal survey that probed “critical life and career questions.”  From my reading, I compiled (in their order of importance) the top five (5) areas people are feeling desperate about:  happiness, money, freedom, peace, and joy.   I’ve included a sixth, balance, since it is the focus of many Millennials and Genxers.  What was surprising was that most of the items were intangible, subjective (what I can feel), and internal versus external.

In the aftermath of COVID (before the variants), people wanted “relationship”.   A few verbatims are captured below recognizing the extraordinary power and satisfaction that can only be found through our connection with one another.

  • “Have a big family get together!”
  • “Go to a game and watch some sports!”
  • “See my mom in assisted living.”
  • “Make sure all my friends are cured too, then we’ll party!”

A new Barna Group report was released this month on trends in the Black church[1].  When asked what churchgoers wanted for their lives, the results were as follows:

  • 84% wanted good health
  • 83% wanted a close relationship with God
  • 77% wanted to provide for their family
  • 75% wanted a clear purpose for living

Note the focus of the three groups.  They were primarily, intangibles, subjective, and internal.

What I want for Christmas 2022

Challenges will continue in 2023.  Financial upheaval, political squabbles, shortages, rising social needs, hunger, and homelessness (regardless of the new names).  What do we need?  What do we want?

After conducting my personal survey among friends and family, I’ve created a revised “short Christmas list”.  Many of the items on this list have been sermonized during this season of Advent.  They are hope, peace, joy, and love.

    • Hope—”expecting a better future for the world, our nation, and our families”
    • Peace— “less hatred, division, and political strife”
    • Joy— “more contentment and gratitude regardless of our situation”
    • Love—”better relationships and greater compassion for others”

Reflecting on the various lists of “things” people desire, it is clear, God has already provided these and much more.  Happiness, freedom, and balance. God will provide it.  Relationship.  God will be whomever we need in our life.   Hope, peace, joy, and love.  In Him and in His presence, we will find more than we need (Eph. 3:20-21).   It is up to each of us to access our heavenly gifts through faith and obedience to God.  In Christ, all these things are currently ours.

Below are my “gift lists” available to us through relationship with our Heavenly Father, Who only gives “good and perfect gifts” (James 1:17). God’s gifts last beyond the torn tissue and open boxes.  They last beyond Christmas day through all of eternity.  With God and in Christ, every day is Christmas.

  • Ephesians 1:3-17
  • 2 Peter 1:3-18

[1]  This report was created in partnership with Black Millennial Café, Urban Ministries, Inc., Compassion International to celebrate the legacy of the Black Church in America and to pursue racial justice inside and outside the Church.  With that intent, there is no comparative study for White churches.

 

Our Theology of Suffering: Where is God in our Suffering?

 

Suffering Summary

We began our study on suffering by discussing its definition and its implication in the life of the believer.  While no one wants to suffer, it is a fact of life that we must manage every day. We mentioned early in the series how we try to alleviate our suffering. Living in a fallen world, however, we will experience some form of suffering.

We examined the practice of pain management and the strategies we use to ease our pain and suffering. For believers, we agreed that our pain management comes from our knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord. Armed with that knowledge, we can live confidently, trusting in His goodness and His greatness. (Ps. 27: 1-3).

We concluded that having the right theology of suffering will help us to not only manage the pain, but also sustain us through our suffering.   Suffering is best managed first, by putting our trust in God and secondarily, by having a Christian worldview.

Where is God?

With all we’ve discussed about suffering to date, there is yet one question we have.  “Where is God in the midst of our suffering?”  Through the COVID pandemic, in natural disasters, and during mass shootings; with these and many more events in mind, where is God?  This is where the right theology of suffering is important.  

If we believe that God is our spiritual “Superman” who will rescue us from suffering, then we will always be disappointed. God loves us and is intimately involved in every aspect of our lives. His glory and His power can best be recognized not in His rescuing us “from” our suffering BUT INSTEAD in His provision for us “during” our suffering. God is where He has always been and where He will always be—actively participating in our suffering. 

How does God participate in our suffering?   By sustaining us (Ps. 55:22; Phil. 4:19).  By strengthening us (Ps. 27:1; 2 Thess. 3:3).  By comforting us (John 14:7; 2 Cor. 1:3-5).  By providing and protecting us (Isa. 54:10).  God is not observing our suffering from afar. He is ever near (2 Chron. 16:9; Isa. 30:21).

As our Sovereign, God controls all events, people, and circumstances that flow into our lives. By faith we trust God, knowing that all things work together for good to those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).  And that purpose may include the experience of suffering (2 Cor. 12:7). Without God we can’t fit suffering into the fabric of life.

Look for Jesus in the midst

In reading God’s Word and through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, I have learned to not only, trust in God, but also, “look for God” during my suffering.

While working with a soul healing team, we witnessed how the Holy Spirit would reveal Jesus in the midst of a person’s painful experience.  The Holy Spirit helped individuals see Jesus during their situation.  They realized they were not alone.  Jesus was there with them!  Sustaining, comforting, strengthening, and protecting.

Jesus is always with us!    We must learn to practice looking for God during times of suffering.  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you see Jesus with you during times of suffering.  Look for Him with your spiritual eyes.

Closing words on suffering

F.B. Meyer, noted theologian, wrote these words about suffering.

Suffering in the will of God challenges us to persevere in our faith. God desires to use such suffering to advance his Kingdom and righteousness in many ways, including further conforming us to the image of God. We need to keep the right perspective about such suffering.

Andrew Murray had this to say about suffering:

 By faith alone are we able to bear suffering, great or small, alright to God’s glory, or our own welfare. Faith sees it in the light of God and eternity; It’s short pain, it’s everlasting gain; it’s impotence to hurt the soul, it’s power to purify and to bless it.

While I appreciate both writer’s input, I commit to memory the following from my Lord and Savior Jesus.  Especially its closing promise.

These things I have spoken to you, that in me you might have peace. In this world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. John 16:33

 

The Theology of Suffering: Purpose and Possibilities, Part 2

Our Theology of Suffering: Purpose and Possibilities, Part 2

Just the Facts

We understand that suffering is a part of life.  As we know, suffering is not part of God’s original divine plan but is a result of sin.  Because of that, Christians acknowledge that we live in a sinful, “fallen world.” As believers, our response to suffering—pain, distress, and hardship—is shaped by two key factors.  First, our trust in God (Ps. 62:5-8) and secondarily, our Christian worldview (Eccl. 9:11).

An “enlightened” response

The Bible also informs our response to suffering.  Although it offers no “magic pill” to overcome pain and distress, it does reveal how God operates on our behalf during difficult times (2 Cor. 1:3-5).   Jesus demonstrated how man can operate knowing he will suffer.  For Jesus, suffering was needful and “purposeful” (Heb. 2:10).  It resulted in the salvation of mankind and the elimination of the power of sin (Heb. 2:14-15).  In His suffering and death, Jesus modelled for us His trust in and obedience to God.

How we choose to respond to our suffering will determine its purpose and possibility in our life.  As I said earlier, our response to suffering can either make us “better or bitter”, it all depends on our trust in God and our worldview.  These create an enlightened, faith-based response.

Better or bitter?

In 2010, a well-known Bible teacher and speaker, Joni Eareckson Tada was diagnosed with breast cancer.  The thing that made this news so heart wrenching for me was the fact that Joni had for the last 43 years lived as a quadriplegic—and now this?  Questions raced in my mind.  “How much suffering can a person take?” She dedicated her life to Christ and helping others—and now this?  The old cliché came to mind.  “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Can any good come from suffering?

Certain types of suffering may result from our own wrong choices or because of the wrong choices and acts of others.  But regardless of the cause (sin), it is our personal response that really matters.  A faith-based response will not only enable us to cope during the suffering but also rekindle our hope (2 Cor. 4:7-9).  It will also strengthen our resolve and build our resiliency (2 Cor. 4:15-17).

Suffering—purpose and possibility

Our suffering is purposeful.  As a ship is proven seaworthy by the beating of the waves and the whipping of the winds, likewise, our suffering aids us in becoming mature Christians.

The Apostle Peter states that after we have “suffered a while, we will be perfect, established, strengthened and settled” (1 Pet. 5:10).  Paul eloquently witnessed to the value of his many suffering experiences and the future reward of his obedience and faith: “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).

How we respond to suffering is a witness to the power of God and His sustaining Presence (The Holy Spirit) in our life.  It will result in His praise, honor, and glory (1 Pet. 1:6-7).

Our suffering offers possibilities.  Possibilities is defined as “unspecified qualities of a promising nature”.  In Latin, possibilis means “able to be done.”  All things are possible, even in the midst of suffering, if we build our full reliance and trust in God.  Is anything, including our suffering, too hard for God? (Jer. 32:27)

Possibilities build our hope.  As Christ trusted Himself to His Father, so should we believers commit ourselves to our faithful Creator (1 Pet. 4:19).  He remains our strong tower and defense regardless of the challenges we face.  In addition, our hope is anchored in the firm expectation that we will reign in heaven with Christ (2 Tim. 2:12).   We are to fix our eyes on Christ and the future He has for us, even though we may suffer all kinds of trials in these present times (2 Cor. 4:17-18).

Can any good come from suffering?

What would Joni Eareckson Tada say?  How would the Apostles Paul and Peter respond?  If we read their writings, we’d find they would answer yes.  Why would they respond in that manner?  Because they had developed the right theology of suffering.

That theology was not based on their current condition (suffering) but on their trust in God and their Kingdom worldview.  We are told that in everything we are to give thanks (1 Thess. 5:18).  That includes our suffering.  We know that in that suffering experience we are guaranteed the presence of God to sustain us and the exceeding promise of His glory, both now and in the future.

Next week, we will conclude our study on suffering by answering this question, “Where is God in suffering?”