Tag Archives: kingdom living

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

Don’t get it twisted!

 

Don't Get it TwistedWe love superheroes.

I love to watch movies about superheroes. Whether it’s Wonder Woman or Iron Man, I like to see them in action.  They offer themselves unselfishly as they battle intruders from space, another dimension, or the giant mushroom that mutates into some incredible threat.

I am especially drawn to those who band together to save the world. The Marvel superheroes including the Avengers and the X-men hold my attention for hours. Every month it seems a new movie is released highlighting new superheroes who appear to save the world from some horrific ending.  This month’s offering is The Eternals. 

We often seek ways to escape the stress of everyday living. We retreat to a world where “superheroes” share our humanity yet possess mystical abilities to overcome the monsters that threaten the world. Unfortunately with superheroes, we must be careful not to believe their “hype”. It is important to keep reality separated from fantasy.

Health pandemics, economic uncertainties, and erosion of social consciousness leave us longing for someone to “fight our battles”.  If we aren’t careful, we may be misled to believe that superheroes will appear to save the day. But “don’t get it twisted”. Translation:  don’t mistake fantasy for reality. There are no superheroes. But there is, however and more importantly:  The King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God. (1 Timothy 1:17)

Who is God?

To avoid getting it twisted, it is important that we first possess a correct understanding of who God is.  This can be accomplished through learning about His attributes.

Attributes are a window through which we can think about who God is. God’s attributes are first introduced in the biblical record through His mighty act of Creation.  Triune God banded together to create the world!

God ultimately reveals Himself through Jesus who was made, “a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death…that He might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9).  Jesus came to save the world from a horrific ending!

Understanding God is more than “head knowledge”.  God desires that we have a personal relationship with Him.  As we experience the challenges of 21st century living, we learn more about who God is.  Through His presence and His power, we learn to trust and depend on Him (Ps. 89:13).

Eugene H. Peterson writes in Practicing Resurrection, the importance of keeping our focus on the reality of God and His work in the life of the believer.

When we squander life on anything less than the God revealed in Jesus, and made present in the Spirit, we miss out on life itself, resurrection life, the life of Jesus.

Keeping it Real

Once we know who God is, it is then critical that we develop a Christian worldview. The term worldview is used to describe a core set of values and principles through which the world is understood.  It is our reality. 

Our worldview consists of our beliefs (what we view as true) and our values (what we view is good).  Our worldview impacts every decision.  It will ultimately determine our behavior (what we will do).

As Christians, our worldview is seen through Jesus’ eyes (John 14:6).  It is the determining factor in all we do, how we live, and how we react to life.  We form our worldview based on His life and teachings.  It is the only way to navigate through this world.

Don’t get it twisted

When we know who God is and develop a Christian worldview, we are less likely to “get it twisted.”

God’s Word, His promises, and His Spirit help us keep it real.  While we love superheroes we never are confused “where our help comes from” (Ps. 121:1-8).  The King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God is our real Superhero.

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.  

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.