Tag Archives: Knowing God

Reclaiming Our Life through God’s Presence

Reclaiming Our Lives thru God's Presence

Who’s in control?

On a scale of one to five, how do you feel?  With one, being “totally overwhelmed” and five, being “confidently optimistic”?  Do you feel like your life is slowly slipping away?

Well join the club!  Many of us feel that the life we had planned is being delayed or demolished as a result of the pandemic, the economy, and the social/political gridlock we find ourselves in.  Disruptions, interruptions, and conflicts seem to be intensifying rather than diminishing.

The Mental Health Association researched the impact of living in our “new normal”.  Here is a brief sampling of some of their findings:

    • The number of people looking for help with anxiety and depression has skyrocketed. From January to September 2020, 315,220 people took the anxiety screen, a 93 percent increase over the 2019 total number of anxiety screens. 534,784 people took the depression screen, a 62 percent increase over the 2019 total number of depression screens. 
    • Young people are struggling most with their mental health. The proportion of youth ages 11-17 who accessed screening was 9 percent higher than the average in 2019. Not only are the number of youth searching for help with their mental health increasing, but throughout the COVID-19 pandemic youth ages 11-17 have been more likely than any other age group to score for moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety and depression.

These statistics are alarming to say the least.  However, they help us quantify the emotional toll and brokenness our nation must now address.

Striving to Cope

While we are striving to cope with what’s happening around us physically, we must recognize the impact to our mental health and well-being.  As our world shifts, there is a way to not only cope and survive but also reclaim our life (Joel 2:25).   We can begin to combat the mental trauma and stress we face by strengthening our spiritual resiliency.

Resiliency is the ability of an object to “rebound or spring back” to its original shape after being stretched or compressed.  Spiritual resiliency, however, is more.  It is about not only bouncing back but also gaining greater strength and capacity than originally possessed.

As believers, we understand that it is God in us (1 John 4:4) that provides us the ability to not only bounce back, but to come back even stronger than before (2 Cor. 4:16-18).  God is greater than anything we may face today or tomorrow.

Life lived in God’s Presence

To build spiritual resiliency, we must put ourselves in the presence of God.  The psalmist understood this when he confidently penned Psalm 139:7-10 (NLT).

I can never escape from your spirit! I can never get away from your presence!  If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the place of the dead, you are there.  If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me.

God’s presence offers extraordinary benefit and impact for believers for today and beyond.

First, knowing God is everywhere offers us great comfort.  If we have learned one thing from this pandemic it is that we must watch for potential risks and dangers that may threaten us physically, financially, and socially.  To know that we are never out of the presence of God should settle the faint-hearted.  “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear.” (Ps. 46:1-2).

Secondarily, believers living in the presence of God possess great confidence knowing that He is ever-present. In these critical times, recognizing that the “only wise God” (Rom. 16:27) is there to guide and direct our steps, comforts our hearts, and eases our stress (Phil. 4:6-7).  Our faith is strengthened because of who God is.  In, out, or through the storm, we know we are not alone.

Finally, living in God’s presence provides us great clarity as to how we are to live during these tumultuous times (Titus 2:11-13).  This acknowledgment requires that we live obediently according to His Word and under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Yes, even amid this pandemic! (Rom. 12:2; 1 Pet. 1:13-16; 1 John 2:16-17)

The Believer’s reality

Our worldview is based on the reality that we live in the presence of, under the authority of, and to the honor and glory of God.  We know that God is the Creator and Sustainer of life.  He has kept us in the past, is keeping us now, and will keep us in the future.  (Ps. 3:5; Heb. 1:3)

In the presence of God we will find not only what we need to survive today but also prepare us for tomorrow.  By acknowledging the presence of God, we can regain our life.  We can move through the challenges we face mentally resilient, emotionally strong, and spiritually fit.

Will our lives ever be the same?  Probably not.  But our lives can be lived confidently and with hope (Ps. 42:5) because we know we are continually in God’s presence.  Wherever we are, God is there with us.   Therefore, we can move forward and begin to reclaim our lives.  (Jer. 29:11)

Praying with Purpose: Intercessory Prayer

Intercessory Prayer

What’s the work?

To close this series on prayer seems incomplete because the topic of prayer is so wide and diverse.  Out of curiosity, I placed the word “prayer” in my browser to see what would pop up.

The first thing my search engine offered was “prayer for healing”.  It’s not surprising this would be the first response.  There are so many people sick both mentally and physically.  Regardless of social standing or political position, sickness places us all on the same level.

“Prayers for strength in difficult times” was third on my list (after “prayer”).  There’s so much happening in our world.  We’re concerned with wars, terrorism (foreign and domestic), and global warming.  We continue to struggle with the COVID pandemic with all its “side effects”—uncertainty, volatility, and insecurity.

The work at hand

At this juncture in both our personal life and in our nation’s history, prayer is critical.  What is needed is prayer that is focused on others.  More importantly, this type of prayer, intercessory prayer, is centered on God’s will (Matt. 6:10).  The result is prayer that is intentional, strategic, and purposeful.

Intercessory prayer begins with our understanding God’s will.  God’s will can only be understood through developing a personal relationship with Him.

The man who would know God must give time to Him. He must count no time wasted which is spent in the cultivation of His acquaintance. He must give himself to meditation and prayer hours on end. So did the saints of old, the glorious company of the apostles, the goodly fellowship of the prophets and the believing members of the holy church in all generations. And so must we if we would follow in their train.[1]

The Model Intercessory Prayer

In reviewing prayers of the Bible, the one I like the most is John 17.  To me, this is the model for intercessory prayer.  We recommend you add it to your future study list.

This prayer comes at the conclusion to the Upper Room discourse of chapters 14-16. It is the closing verse (John 16:33) that introduces this extraordinary prayer: “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

Jesus Prays

First, Jesus prayed for Himself (John 17: 1-5).  This however was not a prayer for self but the request that God would be glorified.  God is glorified when His name is honored, and praise is given to Him for His works and His ways.  Jesus’ work of salvation and glorious resurrection would “finish the work which God had given Jesus to do” (v.4).

Next, Jesus prayed for His Disciples (John 17:6-19).  This is called the High Priestly Prayer These petitions were for the Disciple’s empowerment.  Through His parables and teachings Jesus had shared who God was (v. 6, Your name).  As they went into a hostile world, Jesus prayed that God would “keep” (guard) them and “sanctified” them (set apart) by God’s truth.  Believers today are kept by the same power of God through our faith regardless of the trials we may face (1 Pet. 1:5-7).

Lastly, Jesus prayed for future believers who come to faith through hearing the gospel (John 17:20-26).  This petition was for love and unity among Christ’s Church.   Christ prayed that believers would experience the same unity He knew with God the Father.  This unity would be reflected in the love believers showed to God and to each other.

The Work of Prayer

Jesus’ prayer presents us with an opportunity to “pray outside the box”.  Let our prayers focus not only on our needs but the needs of the world around us.  We need more prayers for healing (physical, spiritual, emotional, and relational).  Every prayer counts as we deal with these difficult times.

Let us expand our prayers beyond the lust of the flesh, eyes, and pride of life (1 John 2:16-17).  As we grow in our knowledge of God, may our prayers become more intentional, strategic, and purposeful.  As we pray, may God’s will be done, and His name be glorified forever.

[1]  A.W. Tozer, God’s Pursuit of Man: Tozer’s Profound Prequel to The Pursuit of God

Praying with Purpose: A New Prayer Attitude

A New Prayer Attitude

Knowledge of God and prayer

Every day I understand why it is important to “grow in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9-10).  Who can know the mind of God?  God is so awesome and beyond anything I could ever imagine.

Paul shared my awe of God in Romans 11:33, when he exclaimed:  O the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God; how unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!

This wonderment of God has expanded my curiosity.  Who is He and what is His will?  These questions have increased my desire for greater intimacy with Him.   They have presented me with new opportunities for a richer prayer life.

A new attitude

As I mentioned last week, this era of change and challenge, requires that we be intentional and strategic in use of our spiritual disciplines.  Spiritual disciplines are a critical part of both our life and our lifestyle.  They aren’t meant to be used only to learn more about the Bible or how to live a holy life.

Spiritual disciplines are designed for us to experience the totality of God—Father God, Savior God, and Spirit.   Through these experiences, we are encouraged, empowered, and enabled to fulfill God’s will and purpose (1 Pet. 4:1-2).

We also need a new attitude about prayer.  This attitude requires a change in our mindset.  We must think and act differently than the rest of the world.  This is often counterintuitive to what we may feel.  However, as new creatures in Christ, we are required to pursue “a more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31).  Jesus made that clear on the Sermon on the Mountain (Matt. 5-7).   This new attitude also suggests that we revisit how we think about prayer and its outcomes.  Our prayer life must become intentional, strategic, and purposeful.

Past experiences with prayer

What has been your experience with prayer?  Who do you pray for and when?  If you’re like me, I tried to follow the “biblical playbook” on prayer.  I prayed for God’s will to be done and for forgiveness of sin.  I prayed for family and friends and my life in general.  I really prayed when things got shaky.

When others asked for prayer, I would promise to do so.  I later learned to stop “at that moment” and pray with them.  Fortunately, in my lifetime, I’ve only had one person ask me not to pray for them.  I honored their request without question.

I am cautious as to who I ask to pray for me.  It stems from the old saints’ warning, “be careful who prays for you—especially if you don’t know who they pray to.”   As I sometimes discover later, that advice served me well.

I have been blessed to be part of several communities of believers who help me regularly exercise my prayer discipline especially in the area of intercessory prayer.  For several years I was part of a soul healing prayer group where we prayed as a team for individuals.  For several hours we prayed, listening to the Holy Spirit as He guided individuals to spiritual healing and release.  It was so powerful.  It was so needed.  It still is.

The Power of Prayer

Today I stand to witness to the power of prayer especially when it is approached with intentionality and strategically. 

Prayer not only changes circumstances but prayer also changes us.  Prayer teaches us patience and trust in the Lord.  It increases our emotional capacity so that we are able to rebound from traumatic events in our life.  Prayer connects us to God when we feel we can’t go on (Ps. 42:11).

The thing we must recognize is the true source of prayer’s power.  Prayer is powerful because it is underwritten by God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe (Ps. 104:5-9). Prayer is the connector to the dunamis power of God.   Engaging in prayer instantaneously takes us into the throne room of God.

Prayer is so much more

Over my lifetime, I’ve personally experienced God’s power through prayer.  Though the circumstances and situations may have been different, God’s presence has been undeniable.

Prayer connects us with so much more than God’s deliverance or provision. Prayer releases God’s grace, promises, and power from the spiritual realm into our physical world. 

Much like the features of that new car or computer we purchased, I’m sure we are under utilizing the power and potential available to us through prayer.    So, for the next few weeks, let’s explore new ways to expand our prayer capacity.  How can we become more intentional, strategic, and purposeful in our prayer life?

Praying with Purpose: Standing in the Need of Prayer

Standing in the Need of Prayer

Standing in need

Last week you were invited to join us in a Season of Christian Reboot This invitation was based on the importance of doing those things that help us to strengthen our faith.  This is critical especially in these tumultuous and uncertain times.

As we move forward, we must accept the obvious.  Our ability to accurately predict our future is a challenge.  Health pandemics, polarization and division, and economic uncertainty plague our nation.  These are but a few of the areas that affect our personal lifestyles and habits.    The good old days are gone never to return.

Living in this new era of change and challenge, we must do more than “fan the flame” of our spiritual gifts.  We must be intentional and strategic in using our spiritual disciplines as we embark on this new way of living.  The best place to begin being both intentional and strategic is standing in prayer.

It’s me

The song writer wrote, “It’s me…it’s me oh Lord standing in the need of prayer…not my mother…father…sister…brother but it’s me standing in the need of prayer.

I love this song.  It truly communicates my need for prayer.  However, for our prayer life to be strategic and intentional, we need to think of prayer with a broader outlook than our own personal needs.  If we as believers are change agents for God, we need to look beyond ourselves in our prayers.

Since the introduction of WordBytes, the teachings receiving the most attention are those that deal with prayer.   We are told to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17).  Why?  Because our needs are so great.

Are we serious about prayer?

At the beginning of this health pandemic, we launched prayer calls focusing our attention on the epicenters of the disease.  We prayed for healthcare workers and those battling the disease on the front line.  God answered our prayers, and the numbers began to decline.

People boldly asked the nation to pray that a vaccine would be discovered that would end the ravages of this disease.  We have four vaccines today and numerous opportunities to receive this preventative solution.

We have witnessed the extraordinary power of prayer in the situations we face as a nation.  Are we still praying?  The needs are greater than ever.  There are many more battles to be won on our knees.  And what are we praying for?  Wisdom, grace, patience, deliverance?  Who are we praying for?  Ourselves, our family, our enemies?

We need the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide our prayers (Rom. 8:26-27).  With God’s Spirit as our Helper, we are able to move the agenda of God forward in this world and care for the needs of His people.

Praying strategically

God’s Word tells us to pray for EVERYBODY!  Why?  So that “we may live quiet and peaceable lives” (1 Tim. 2:1-3).  Jesus stressed the importance of being in right relationship with all people (Matt. 5:44).  Imagine the potential of prayer for our divided nation?

We need prayer for EVERYTHING!  Why?  Because prayer changes things.  (James 5:16)  Now is the time to pray not only for our immediate sphere of influence but also for our world.

Imagine the potential of prayer!  Do we have the courage to connect to the awesome power of our God? (Ps. 19:1-3)

ABC’s of intentional prayer

How do we begin to pray intentionally?  By praying…

 According to God’s will.   

 And this is the confidence which we have in him, that if we ask anything according to His will he hears us.    And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made. (1 John 5:14-15)

Believing in God’s ability.  

  And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen. And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”  (Matt 21:21-22)

Committing to God’s outcome.

Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will exult in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer and makes me tread upon the heights.  (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

When we pray intentionally and strategically, we trust in God’s love, His faithfulness, and His sovereignty.    God will answer our prayers in a way that glorifies Him AND is good for us.

A New Song

Perhaps pursuit of our spiritual disciplines—prayer, Bible reading, and worship—have “cooled” because of COVID-19.   Has our inability to “gather together” darkened our ability to see God (Heb. 10:24-25)?  Has our identity in Christ been clouded by the challenges we face today?  Have we forgotten that we are the Church?  Wherever we are, God is!

If ever there was a need for intentional and strategic prayer, it is now.  Not self-focused, self-promoting prayers (God hears those, too) but prayer that changes hearts, minds, and circumstances.

We need prayer that calls down the power of God expecting Him to respond mightily to our requests (2 Chron. 16:9).

God Speaks through Circumstances

God speaks through Circumstances

Under our circumstances

In our culture, it is not unusual for people to greet one another with the inquiry, “How are you?”  In response, a multitude of replies are available.  However, my favorite is, “I’m doing fairly well under the circumstances.”

This is my opportunity to respond, “Why are you under your circumstances and what are you doing to get back on top?”  Circumstances are conditions or facts that affect a situation.  These can be either positive or negative.  They define a state in which an individual, group, or even a nation may find itself.

As we daily face “tumultuous” circumstances—pandemics, social strive, economic uncertainty—it is important to remember that God sees.  Even in our worst of circumstances, God is present (Ps. 139:7-10).   God sees, God cares, and God speaks.

Circumstances for all times

There are many biblical examples that illustrate how God used circumstances to speak to His people.  Circumstances dictated that Moses would be set adrift in the Nile.  It was there that he would be found by the king’s daughter and adopted into the royal household by the ruling Pharaoh (Exod. 2:1-10).

God later spoke to Moses after his “40-year circumstance” of working for his father-in-law Jethro the priest of Midian (Exod. 3:1).  God then re-directed him to deliver His people Israel, who were dealing with their circumstance of bondage.

In the book of Acts, God speaks to the early church by using the political and social circumstances around them.  Jesus had clearly articulated the scope of the church’s ministry:  “and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

While it was within their “comfort zone” to stay in Jerusalem, God spoke through the circumstance of persecution to move the gospel to a larger audience.   Throughout the Bible we find God speaking to people through special favor (1 Sam. 1:20), through personal loss (Ruth 1:3-5), or through miraculous deliverance (Acts 23:30-31).  God spoke to them through their circumstances.

Circumstances today

God still speaks today through circumstances.  He will use conditions and situations from our everyday life to place us in a position to hear His voice.

Does God create circumstances to make us do His will?  No, God has created us as freewill agents and desires that we choose to live within His divine plan. But God will allow circumstances to flow into our life to accomplish His glory and our good (Rom. 8:24).

Conforming circumstances

God permits circumstances in our lives that will mature us and grow our faith (1 Pet. 1:5-7).  What may appear at first to be a “stumbling block” may, in actuality, turn out to be “steppingstones”.

God also speaks through closed doors as well as opened doors, this includes delayed prayers. While the Apostle Paul wanted to share the gospel in Asia, he repeatedly found the way blocked by the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:6-10).

What our passage suggests to me is that God may close one door of ministry in order to open a better one. Paul was thinking locally—Asia and Bithynia. God was thinking more globally—cross the Aegean Sea into modern-day Europe. Divine redirection demands that we trust divine omniscience: we would have made the same choice if we knew what God knew. Through God’s providential redirection, Paul was able to plant churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and Corinth. What a great open door![1]

As we proceed in this Christian walk, we must remember that the intent of our life is to glorify God and to accomplish His purpose on earth (2 Cor. 5:15). That is why it is important to be intentional in prayer and reading God’s Word especially during difficult and challenging times, regardless of the circumstance (Phil. 4:6-13).

As we develop our personal relationship with God, we will understand that He loves us and can be trusted with every aspect of our life.  Sometimes our circumstances will take us out of our comfort zone, but we can be assured we are not in them alone (1 John 4:4).

Next time you feel “under your circumstances”, ask God what He is saying to you.   

[1]   “Live with a Mission”, Timothy Berrey with the Gospel Fellowship Association.

 

What keeps me from hearing God?

What Keeps me from hearing God?

Is God speaking to me?

God speaks.  For many people this is hard to understand and even more difficult for others to believe.  I’m often asked, “How do I know if God is speaking to me?”   Perhaps the more appropriate question is, “are you listening?”

Wrong tapes in our head

Many people, even people of God,  do not believe that God speaks to them.  Their disbelief in God’s speaking is sometimes tied to “false narratives” (wrong tapes playing in our head) about Who God is.

Some see God as an indifferent creator looking down on us ready to punish us for doing wrong.  Others see God as a benevolent grandfather patiently waiting to indulge our every need.  Unfortunately,  both views are incorrect.   Who is God and why does God want to speak to us?

Why would God speak to me?

First, God wants to be in relationship (not religion) with us (Isa. 49:15-16).  When we spend time with Him, we begin to understand the love He has for us.  During those intimate moments together, we discover His ways (how He operates in the world) and His paths (how He operates in our individual lives).  (Ps. 25:4-5)

Secondly, God desires that we live free from the bondage of sin (Heb. 2:14-15).  Satan and the world want to keep us in darkness through lies.  These lies result in guilt, shame, and fear.   God, however, wants us to know the truth—His truth concerning our identity (heirs of God and children of light) and our destiny (eternity with Him).  It is this truth that sets us free (John 8:32).

Lastly, God longs for us to walk in the purpose He has ordained for our lives (Jer. 29:11).   We are God’s workmanship (Eph. 2:10) created for “good works” which include service to others.   True joy in the Christian life is found in discovering the plans that God has for our lives.  All things are possible with God (Mar. 10:27).

What keeps us from hearing?

Although God desires to speak to believers, we have, unfortunately, developed “habits of behavior” that often hinder our ability to hear Him clearly.  As we move through life, we have, metaphorically, “gotten on the wrong BUS”—a bus that frequently takes us away from God and toward the things of the world.    

Busyness robs us of both energy and our ability to hear.  Busyness most often is the result of wrong priorities.  As a rule, we place importance on the things we value.  Hearing from God deserves first priority. It’s hard to hear God when you’re multitasking; He gets caught between our thoughts and His voice becomes “muted”.

Unbelief houses all the lies we hold about ourselves and about God.  We believe that God speaks to others but not us.  We attribute this excuse to “being humble” but in reality we don’t believe that God is (His existence) or God can (His power) or God will (His promises)—so why talk to Him?  There is always a “lie” in unbelief.

Self (sin, too) keep us from hearing from God.  This happens when “self” (versus God) rules our life—self-righteousness, self-esteem, self-sufficiency, self-promotion.  When self is on the “throne of our heart”, God finds no place for Him to sit (except on the outside).  Sin separates us from a holy God.  When sin dominates our life, God won’t talk or listen (Gen. 17:1).  This condition, however, can be corrected (1 John 1:9).

How much do we want to hear God?

Bob Sorge offers these thoughts concerning hearing God’s in his book, Secret of the Secret Places.

Hearing the voice of God is largely a matter of the will.  We must choose to hear Him.  We must make the choice of setting aside time to listen quietly.  This hearing is a today thing that we do.  Hearing His (God’s) voice is conditional—built upon the condition of quieting our hearts to listen.

Want to hear God speak?   Have the courage to get off the BUS!

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: 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.  

Memorial Day Gratitude: Throwback Wednesday

Memorial Day Gratitude

 

Time for gratitude

While preparing for the next WordBytes series, I was stopped by this thought, “It’s time to thank God.  Before moving on to the next “thing”, stop and express gratitude for today!”

If you’re reading this WordBytes, guess what?  God has blessed you with life. Who could have imagined?  After 604,000+ COVID deaths, we are still standing.  God has kept us during this global pandemic.  Yes, we’ve loss friends and family but for some reason God has extended  mercy to us (once again).  2020 and 2021 have been challenging years never before imagined.

But God

Jeremiah wrote these words as he lamented the tragic destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian armies (Lamentations 3:18-23, New Living Translation).

I cry out, “My splendor is gone! Everything I had hoped for from the LORD is lost!”  The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.  Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:  The unfailing love of the LORD never ends! By his mercies we have been kept from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each day. 

But God.   In tragedy and loss, God was faithful.  Guess what?  God is still faithful!  In the aftermath of the COVID pandemic, in the midst of economic uncertainty, in the quagmire of social injustice, in the throes of food insecurity and homelessness, in the fallout of global warming, God is faithful.  Therefore, we will have hope.

Throwback Wednesday

To express our gratitude this Memorial Day, we’d like to do “Throwback Wednesday”.  The WordBytes we’ve chosen is Discovering God in the Psalms:  Forget Not God I invite you to formulate your personal Memorial Day gratitude. As we celebrate our loved ones from the past let us, also, “forget not God” for all He is doing for us right now.

Resurrection Understanding, Part 2

Resurrection Understanding, Part 2

The Reason for our hope

If someone were to ask us about Jesus’ resurrection, what would we say?  Could we give a good reason as to why we believe in the resurrection?  But more importantly, are we able to witness to an unbelieving world why we follow Jesus?

It is not my intent to teach apologetics.  However, as followers of Christ, it is important that we “be ready to always give an answer to the reason for our hope” (1 Pet. 3:15).  Understanding the resurrection will inform our life—our identity, our power, and our purpose. To do this, like the disciples, we need to clearly understand the “what and why” of resurrection.  The Gospel of Luke captures Jesus’ teaching this truth as He prepared the Disciples for their commissioning.

After the resurrection

The gospel of Luke gives us insight into Jesus’ teaching of the resurrection to the disciples.  Written to a Greek audience, this gospel was written to convince readers of the truth of the things they had heard of Jesus (Luke 1:4). The most controversial event being Christ’s resurrection.  In Luke 24, we see how Jesus deals with the unbelief of His disciples.  He then seeks to reverse that unbelief by broadening their understanding.  Within this chapter are two (2) accounts for our learning.

On the road to Emmaus (vv. 13-33), two disciples of Jesus (Cleopas and one unnamed) were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus on resurrection Sunday.  Joined by Jesus (whom they didn’t recognize) they proceeded to tell of the crucifixion and the recent report of Jesus’ empty tomb.  Jesus would use this time with the disciples as a “teachable moment.” He gave a lesson on the prophecies of the Old Testament which were fulfilled in His death and resurrection. “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” (Luke 24:27) After Jesus’ departure, the disciples then understood because Jesus “opened” the scriptures to them.

Likewise, when Christ appeared to the ten disciples (vv. 36-49), a similar understanding was needed.  After several proofs that He was alive, Jesus “opened” their minds to understand the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:45).   Opened in these two (2) encounters means to rouse in one the faculty of understanding.  While the disciples may have heard this teaching before in the synagogue or through other teachers, Jesus caused them to make the connections from Scripture and the events they had recently experienced.   In addition, they had Holy Scripture and prophetic proof that the resurrection of Jesus was a reality ordained and empowered by God Himself (Eph. 1:19-20).

The essentials of the resurrection

It was critical that Jesus solidify with the disciples their understanding of the resurrection.  The resurrection was more than an historical or miraculous event.  It was the promise of new life and a blessed hope. (Luke 4:18-21)

Unfortunately, we have allowed the busyness of our calendars and distractions of the world, to reduce the resurrection to a “one and done” attitude.  We celebrate Easter Sunday, acknowledge the resurrection, eat the eggs, and then go back to our daily routine on Monday.

We have reduced the resurrection to a “transaction”—an event that occurred thousands of years ago.   “Jesus rose from the dead therefore I am free from sin.”  To think of resurrection this way limits the impact it can make in our daily life.

Resurrection is not transactional.  It is transformational and relational.  Resurrection for believers is the beginning of a life changing, intimate relationship with God the Father, Jesus our Lord, and the Holy Spirit.

Resurrection understanding in 2021

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 (Gal. 2:20).  It is in the resurrection that victorious living begins.

This season of Easter (Eastertide) affords believers the opportunity to celebrate more than the grace and mercy of God on Good Friday.  As important, we can depend on God’s power and Jesus’ victory beginning on Resurrection Sunday AND extending through out eternity.

Spend time during this season learning more about the resurrection and the extraordinary blessings that are now ours.  Let the Bible and the Holy Spirit (as your Teacher) “open” your mind to the resurrection.  Begin with the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  Then explore the prophetic proofs found in the Old Testament.  These will expand your understanding and help you answer the questions that begin with “why”.