Tag Archives: spiritual maturity

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: The Answer for Best Life

The Answer for Best Life Options for best life

The 21st century offers many options for our lives.  That is why it is important that we, as believers, discern what voice we “actively” listen to.  This is especially true when it comes to determining what living our best life should look like.

In our series, we determined that some individuals make their choice based on who they are and what’s important to them.  Last week we attempted to identify what best life looks like.  We determined that the essence of best life can be based on our human needs and things we most desire.

So, what is the answer for best life!  I concluded last week’s teaching with a statement that will help to set the context for best life for believers in the 21st century.  Which choice most accurately represents “best life for us”?  For believers, we are to go to The Source, Who is to be the final authority on everything we do (or it should be).  That authority is God and His Word.  It is now time to consider the number one question, “what does God say about best life.”

The Dividing Line

The believer’s life is to look vastly different from the world we live in.  We are to seriously demonstrate and witness to our new life in Christ.  That being the case, our best life should reflect a life lived for Christ.

The Barna Institute reports the increasing difficulty in distinguishing believers from the unsaved world.  Unfortunately, we are not seen as living any differently than our unsaved family, friends, and acquaintances.  We have basically lost our saltiness and our light (Matt. 5:13-16).

This lack of distinction could be attributed to a number of factors including fear of abuse, lack of spiritual discipling, or spiritual immaturity. Some believers have even walked away from the traditional Church because of personal wounding or disillusionment with leadership.  What the future Church looks like, especially after COVID-19, is yet to be determined.

However, the imperfect nature of the Church does not negate the expectation that God has for His people.  We are to continually examine ourselves to insure we are living a life of faith under the direction of Jesus’ Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:10).  What does best life look like for believers?

Caution

Jesus shared what best life “was not” in the Sermon on the Mount Discourse.  He gives a command that will provide us a framework for identifying what best life looks like.  Jesus begins with his first instruction (Matt. 6:19-21).

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus closes with this requirement (Matt. 6:33).  

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

The verb “seek” is an imperative in the Greek language.  An imperative expresses a command to the hearer to perform a certain action by the order and authority of the one commanding.  What Jesus gives is not a casual invitation but an absolute command requiring full obedience.  “All these things” lovingly includes not only our needs but also the desires of our heart (Ps. 37:4).

Jesus knows we have needs.  It is His desire that we not worry nor become preoccupied with possession of things.  By faith we know that we will be cared for.  Focusing on Christ lessens our anxieties as we attempt to live during these uncertain times (Phil. 4:6-7).

Moving to best life

The Apostle Paul further clarified Jesus’ teaching to the church at Colosse.  He pointed them to how to find best life (Col. 3:1-2).

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.   

Seek and set are also verbs that are in the imperative.  As with Jesus’ use in Matthew, it expresses a command to the hearer to perform a certain action.  It is not an invitation.  Both verbs are in the present tense which means it is a fact or reality occurring in actual time.  Therefore, we are commanded to keep seeking and keep setting our attention.  Where?

Notice the place where the “things and the affections” are found.  They are not on this earth but in heaven.  This directs our attention to those things that have eternal value and heavenly consequences.  Unfortunately, 21st century technology has created vehicles to capture the lusts of our flesh, our eye, and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-17).  We are continually bombarded with marketing messages and media that focus our attention on what we don’t have versus what is of greater value to the kingdom of God.

In the remainder of Colossians 3, Paul maps out the essence of best life for Christians.  Best life for Christians is life lived in Coram DeoCoram Deo summarizes the idea that Christian living is lived in the presence of, under the authority of, to the honor and glory of God.

We will conclude this study next week as we decide what best life looks like for each of us.

Livin’ my Best Life: What is best for me?

Livin' my best life

What’s best life for me?

In this series, we’ve seen what best life looks like for a variety of people.  It is evident, at this point,  that best life looks differently to others based on who they are and what is important to them.

For some, best life means the ability to “give back” to the world.  For others it’s about being authentic and true to their beliefs.  And to many, it is simply a whimsical phrase similar to that used by the meerkat, Timon in Lion King: “Hakuna Matata” or “no worries”.

We’ve examined the views of others in hopes that it will assist us as we attempt to formulate what best life looks like for each of us.  Now it’s time to begin forming our own definition.

What are we looking for?

I think we can all agree that best life is purely subjective.  Because of that, it is difficult and would be presumptuous for me to define best life for individuals.  Instead, I’d like to offer a way to begin to capture the essence of best life.

The essence of best life could be summarized using two perspectives: (1) what are people’s basic needs, and (2) what are the things people want in life but can’t seem to get?  In answering these questions, we might begin to decide what our best life might look like.

What do we need?

What are people’s basic needs?  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is used to study how humans are motivated by defining their basic needs.  Maslow used the terms “physiological”, “safety”, “belonging and love”, “social needs” or “esteem”, and “self-actualization” to describe the pattern through which human motivations generally move.

Perhaps best life includes those things that address people’s needs.  Best life for a homeless person would be found in the physiological category.  Food security, clean water, and shelter would be as good as it gets.  For the person experiencing isolation due to any number of factors, being accepted and belonging is the best life they could imagine.

What do we want?

What are the things people want in life but can’t seem to get?  The Huffington Post asked that question and the answer resulted in ten items.  The key question this survey probed was this: “If you could say in one word what you want more of in life, what would that be?”

  1. Happiness
  2. Money
  3. Freedom
  4. Peace
  5. Joy
  6. Balance
  7. Fulfillment
  8. Confidence
  9. Stability
  10. Passion

In review of this list, it is surprising to note that of the ten items, there is only one that is tangible.  The remaining nine are intangible.  Something intangible can’t be touched physically, but most of the time it is understandable or even felt in the heart.  In accounting, an intangible asset is something that provides long-term benefit.

It is important to know that this survey was completed prior to the COVID pandemic.  However,  I’m sure the answers are still very relevant today.  Please note what people see as the “biggest challenge” to getting what they want.  Perhaps these “unmet needs” could be added to the list that may represent best life.

Basic needs or intangible wants?  Which most accurately represents “best life”?  Especially for me.  To this point, our examination has considered the world’s view of best life.  It’s now time to consider what God has to say.

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.

The Surrendered Life and Sin

The Surrendered Life and Sin

Who do we choose?

Sin and surrender have more in common than their first letter.  Sin has at its core the stubborn resistance to surrender oneself to the authority and rule of God.  Remember Adam and Eve?

We all have used the excuse, “the devil made me do it” but someone had to open the door and invite him in!   As a child I accepted Jesus as my savior.  I bought the fire insurance but lordship?  That came much later in my adult life.  After much sinning and denying Jesus’ rule in my life, I surrendered to His lordship.  Thank God for His mercy and His glorious grace (Ep. 2:1-6).

Often time we fail to see the spiritual reality of two conflicting influences in this world—God and Satan. Each day we, unknowingly or knowingly, choose the one we will surrender to.  We give them rule, control, and influence in our life.  Paul makes clear this truth to the church at Rome (Rom. 6:16).

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 

The surrendered life in Christ, is by far the best choice.  But as Jesus cautioned, it is important that we consider the cost.

“Everyone need not apply!”

Jesus in His teaching on the cost of discipleship was brutally honest about His expectation of His followers.  There was no mincing of words or changing of position to make the offer more appealing to His listeners (Matt. 16:24; Luke 14:33).

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

“So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.”

Deny or forsake?  It’s still good-bye!

Intimate relations with Jesus require that we “deny self and forsake all”.  Such was the case during His earthly ministry 2000 years ago.  Jesus’ ministry continues today with us as His disciples.  His expectations have not changed.  

Deny has two meanings: (1) to affirm that one has no acquaintance or connection with someone and (2) to lose sight of oneself and own interests.  Matthew uses the second definition to explain Jesus’ rebuke to would-be disciples unaware of the cost to follow Him.    

Luke chose to express the same idea using the word forsake.  To forsake adds further to the ideal of departure from one’s old self and habits.  It means to renounce or bid farewell to.    

As we deny our own interest and forsake our past self, we must also reject our love for this world—“the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16).  All these create within us a divided heart which cannot love Jesus well nor surrender to His leading.

The surrendered life

The world, Satan, and our flesh are not big on “denying or forsaking.”   They encourage us to place our desires above the Lord’s.  They deceive by whispering, “You can have it your way right now.  Jesus can wait another day.”  Jesus replies, “I am The Way” (John 14:6) and offers instead His love (John 3:16), salvation (Heb. 2:10), forgiveness (Ep. 1:7), freedom (Ps. 146:7), and peace (Col. 3:15).

The surrendered life in Christ results in great joy and wisdom.  There is great confidence in knowing we have made the best choice in choosing “the Pearl of Great Price” (Matt. 13:46).

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.

A Message for Fearful Times

A Message for Fearful Times

Historical trauma

Last week we witnessed in our Capitol something that has left us breathless.  We’ve seen many horrible events in the tapestry of our nation’s history during the past century—wars, assassinations, and terrorist attacks.  January 6th, 2021 can now be added to that infamous list.

There is no need to add to the rhetoric that now fill the airwaves of the world and every corner of cyberspace.  The reality that our nation’s democracy is under siege is evident.  The trauma and fear associated with that day linger on after experiencing the event “real time” on our screens.  I daily ask Jesus to remove those terrifying images from my brain.

But I come today with a message of encouragement and hope from the God who sees and Who is in complete control of what appears to be “out of control.”

Keep Your Eye of God

It is important during these troubling times to keep our eyes on the Lord.  As believers, we are aware that in this world we will have tribulation and trials (John 16:33).  But we are also reminded to take heart because Jesus has overcome the world.  One writer reminded me, “it is the tension between ‘overcome’ and ‘taking heart’ that cause us problems.”

Our trust in the Lord is not the result of positive thinking or some new age approach to stress management.   Brian Morykno with Renovaré encourages believers during fearful times to follow King David’s example of magnification.

Imagine David, with the war cry of enemies rising all around, settled of soul and unafraid.  How was that possible?  It’s not that David was out of touch with reality; he was in touch with it.  David understood magnification.  He knew that what we dwell upon becomes large in our spiritual field of vision.  And David dwelled upon God (Ps. 95:3-5).     

Our reality is this.  God is sovereign and is moving forward with His plan of salvation God is not the cause of riots and rebellions like we experienced last week.  Such events come from “heart issue” of sinful men (James 3:16-18) and the work of Satan (Eph. 6:12; John 10:10).

For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.   But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

A Plan for These Times

To help us move through these times, I offer this, three (3) prong approach to help us navigate through these difficult times.

Prayer.  This should be our first response to the troubles we face.  We are told to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17).  The reason for this mandate is because our prayers connect us directly to God—the Power Source who can resolve our dilemma.  The “only wise God” (Rom. 16:27) is there to guide and direct our steps, comfort our heart, and ease our stress (Phil. 4:6-7).

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  (Romans 12:12)  

Practice the Presence of God   We are never alone regardless of the situation we face.  He alone can make good on His promise that He will “never leave nor forsake us” (Gen. 28:15).  He is ever-present.  Regardless of external appearances, God is with us even amid our trouble.

Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? 

If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. (Ps. 139:7-8)

Praise.  Yes, I said praise.  Why?  Because it is the quickest way to experience the presence of God (Ps. 22:3).    Ruth Meyer, author of the book, 31 Days of Praise, offers this insight on the power of praise.

As you praise and pray, you make your circumstances and your life a test tube that demonstrates the existence of a personal God, a God who is present and involved and who controls the natural Universe. It turns your attention to spiritual and eternal values versus the pleasures and success mentality of our age, which resists all pain and discomfort and delay.

A Message for Fearful Times

As we continue our walk of faith, we will be faced with trials.  Although these may be difficult, we have the blessed assurance that we are not in these things alone.  Neither are we powerless.

Political and social upheaval will continue as long as man leans on his own understanding (Prov. 3:5-7).  I don’t know how these tumultuous times will end but I do know that God has the final word (Ps. 119:89-91).  God is and will continue to be the Creator and Sustainer of all things (Col. 1:16).

What I Learned in 2020

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

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

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

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

2020 Responses:  We Long for Many Things

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

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

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

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

A Year of Grieving

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

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

A Year without Relationship

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

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

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

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

So what have I learned?

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

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

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

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

God’s Plan of Salvation 

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

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

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

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

Holiday Season 2020

Holiday season reflects God's purpose

Symbols of the holiday season are everywhere.  We are ready for that golden-brown turkey, giblet dressing and cranberry sauce.  Christmas decorations appear at the mall, at our favorite grocery store, and in our neighborhoods.

Most importantly, the holidays are about enjoying relationships.  Friends and family gather to share stories and to “love on each other.”  Everyone is invited to come and enjoy time together.  However, this year relationships will feel different.  Holiday season 2020, specifically, will be very different in the midst of the pandemic.

This season will be different

As the number of people infected with the virus increase, our nation struggles to find ways to “fatten the curve”.  How do you do that during the holidays?  We are warned to wear our masks, practice social isolation—”stay at home” and exercise social distancing—”stay apart”.

The holiday season is most often depicted by images of merriment and joy.  However, this year those images have been replaced with news broadcasts showing long lines to food pantries and food giveaways.  The financial impact of the pandemic has become the face of poverty.  Joblessness, hunger, and homelessness are new experiences for many who have previously lived comfortably.  To our shame, it is far too familiar for others.

My favorite representation of Thanksgiving is the plenteous cornucopia, bursting forth with ripened fruit from its wide and ample opening.  It is this image that has caused me to evaluate my own personal fruitfulness.  Especially during this “season of COVID-19”.   If I am “rooted and built up in Him” (Col. 2:7), am I bringing forth fruit pleasing to Him?  Am I fruitful?

A season for reflection

Fruit is the product of fruitfulness.  It is used metaphorically of work or deeds (Eph. 2:10; Phil. 1:11; 2 Pet. 1:8).  While works are evidence of Christian activity, it does not always tell the whole story.  Jesus’ teachings often encouraged listeners to look beyond what they could see with their physical eyes and to examine the motives and intentions behind the deeds (Matthew 7:16-20).

You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles?  Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Therefore, by their fruits you will know them.

Fruitfulness is not “busyness for the Lord” but “transformed living” resulting in the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5).  Fruitfulness reflects the heart and mind of our beloved Lord and Savior, in whose image we are to be daily conformed (2 Cor. 3:18).

A season for fruitfulness

God has placed us in this historic moment to reflect the heart and mind of Christ.  We were created for such a time as this (Esther 4:14).   It is our responsibility to align ourselves with God’s purpose and perform that which He has given us to do.

    • Am I doing all I can to share the grace and love of Jesus with those in need?
    • How can I demonstrate Jesus’ compassion during this season of COVID?
    • How can I personally help others who are “weary and hopeless”?

We can be Jesus’ eyes that see the needs of others.  We can be Jesus’ hands that move beyond sympathy to action.  As Jesus’ disciples, let us no longer live for ourselves but live for Him who saved us (2 Cor. 5:15).   God has “seeded” us into history to be fruitful.  It is here we are to take root, grow, and be fruitful.

Discovering our fruitfulness

This holiday season will look and feel very different in the midst of the pandemic.  Let us do our part to make it the beginning of something better.  Something that lasts beyond the holiday season.  Let it be the beginning of REAL LOVE for God and for others, even our enemies.  Amid the pandemic, let us create a world that honors God, that celebrates Jesus, and that brings real “comfort and joy”.