Tag Archives: spiritual maturity

A New View of Surrender, Part 2

 

 

A New View of Surrender, Part 2

What, why, when, how… to surrender?

It is not easy for us to surrender.  It is, therefore, important to understand how surrendering operates in our daily lives.  This is where we will begin today.

As we stated earlier in this study, to surrender means to give up power, control, or possession of a thing.  For believers, that thing is us!  Spiritual surrender is the relinquishing of our will to the will of God.  Each day we are tempted by our flesh, the world, and Satan to give up power, control, or possession of our life (1 John 2:15-17).  That’s why it is important to be alert and watchful to decisions that lead us to death or to obedience (Rom. 6:16).

Why surrender?

This question, for me, was a game changer!  To truly understand “why” surrender, it is important to understand what it means to be “filled by the Spirit”.   While the definition of “filling” or “indwelling” of the Holy Spirit may vary based on one’s denomination, I will share the most common understanding by theologians.

The filling of the Spirit refers to a continual process of spiritual growth and maturity, where believers are constantly controlled by the Holy Spirit in their mind, emotions, and will. It is not a feeling or emotional experience, but rather the yielding of one’s life to the Lord. The filling of the Spirit empowers us to live the surrendered life.

When to surrender?

At the moment of salvation, we surrender to the Holy Spirit who brings us to repentance (John 16:8).  The Holy Spirit regenerates our spirit and we become new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:16-17).  It is at that time that the Holy Spirit takes permanent residence in our life (1 Cor. 3:16).

We continue this process of surrender so that we will “act more like Jesus” or “be conformed” to His image (Rom. 8:29).   This is only possible through our obedience to the Holy Spirit.

How to surrender?

As we stated earlier, the Holy Spirit’s filling is the yielding of our life to the Lord.  Key to this definition is the word, yielding.  Yielding implies an act of cooperation by us as recipients of the Spirit.  Unlike our initial salvation, it is a continual process in our spiritual growth.  This is the daily work of surrender (2 Cor. 3:18).

I offer three “R’s of Surrender” to help us practice this critical element in our Christian walk.

    • Repentance.  Continually examine our life to identify those things that act as idols and influences.  Be brutal in discarding those things that hinder our absolute surrender. (2 Cor. 13:5-6)
    • Realization. Depend wholly on the directions and leanings of the Holy Spirit.  Surrender cannot be accomplished by our “good works” or best efforts.  It is the work of God. (Luke 18:27)
    • Relationship. Understand the will of God by spending time with Him.  Prayer, meditation, and His Word are direct paths to surrender.  Practice His presence throughout the day. (Psa. 42:1-2)
God blesses when we surrender

To live in the fullness God has planned for our life, it is important that we surrender to God.  This means we must give up those things that hinder the Holy Spirit’s work in our life.  This includes not only personal sin, but our self-will, self-confidence, and self-effort.

I close with these insightful words from Andrew Murray as to the blessings associated with our surrender to God.

I say again, God will bless you. You have been praying for blessing. But do remember, there must be absolute surrender. At every tea table you see it. Why is tea poured into that cup? Because it is empty and given up for the tea. But put ink, or vinegar, or wine into it, and will they pour the tea into the vessel? And can God fill you, can God bless you if you are not absolutely surrendered to Him? He cannot.[1]

To be filled, we must empty ourselves.  We must surrender.

[1] Absolute Surrender, Andrew Murray

Clarion Word Classics: The Dangers of a Shallow Faith

 

What are Clarion Word Classics?

The Clarion Word Classics (CWC) is a learning series WordBytes has launched to share faith writings that will strengthen and enrich our spiritual lives and faith walk.  Some of our classics come from sage theologians.  Others introduce contemporary writers who offer spiritual answers to the challenges of 21st century living.

The word “clarion” comes from the Latin word that means “clear”.  Used as an adjective, it means “loud and clear”.  Our intent with this quarterly series is to make “loud and clear” what is ours in Christ (Rom. 8:17) and the relevancy of our faith for this present generation (Matt. 24:34).

This quarter CWC, will introduce A.W. Tozer, a self-taught theologian, pastor, and writer whose powerful use of words continues to grip the intellect and stir the soul of today’s believer.  He has authored more than 40 books, the best known are The Pursuit of God and The Knowledge of the Holy.  The Dangers of a  Shallow Faith is a never-before-published compilation.

How does it connect with our faith walk?

Lethargy is a lingering tiredness that is constant and limiting. Spiritual lethargy may be defined as a state of indifference or inertia with regard to one’s own spiritual growth and vitality.

The Apostle Paul urged the Thessalonians to avoid succumbing to spiritual lethargy: “so then let us not sleep as others do but let us be alert and sober” (1 Thess. 5:6).

Tozer describes this condition well: “there is little communion and little joy in the Lord. To have a cold heart with little pity, little fire, little love and little worship is spiritual lethargy.”[1] 

Some of the most common symptoms include any combination of the following:

  • Chronic indulgence in sinful thoughts and actions
  • Little or no desire to pray
  • Engagement in exclusively Christ-less entertainment
  • Avoidance of personal accountability
  • Decreased appetite for Bible study
  • Selfish and materialistic orientation
  • Reluctant and sporadic church attendance

Spiritual lethargy renders us “unserviceable” in God’s Kingdom.  Deceived by Satan’s lies, tempted by the world, and weakened in our flesh, we are, as the mothers of the church would say, “no earthly good.”  Satan’s most successful strategy is not to kill our faith but to silence our witness.

Tozer’s insights

Tozer urges us to be aware of the times in which we live.  We are to “gird the loin of our mind, be sober and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13).   While Tozer’s dangers were centered on the evangelical church, its application is “spot on” for us individually as we move from “glory to glory” in our walk of faith (2 Cor. 3:18).

In the Word Ministries provides CWC in our effort to “inspire authentic communities of faith, fellowship, and learning.”  It is in that spirit that we share this book.  This is not an endorsement or agreement with the views shared.  Here is an introductory reading  from The Dangers of a Shallow Faith:  Awakening from Spiritual Lethargy. 

[1] The Dangers of a Shallow Faith:  Awakening from Spiritual Lethargy. 

Our Faith Walk: Who Are You? Part 1

Who are you?

Who are you?

In the story, Alice in Wonderland, we are told of a young girl drawn into a world of contradictions and challenges to her way of thinking.  How did it start?  She chased a rabbit with a watch.  In the process, Alice falls into a “proverbial rabbit hole”, entering a new reality that tests everything she claims to believe.  My favorite character is the plump caterpillar who, positioned on a posh pillar, asks of Alice, “Who are you?”

Joseph, being sold into slavery by his brothers, found himself in new and perilous circumstances that challenged his faith and godly beliefs (Genesis 37-39).  Daniel and his comrades, exiled in Babylon where continually tested and dared to “hold fast to their confession of faith”, even at the potential loss of their life (Daniel 1-3).

One of the challenges in living in the 21st century is understanding, “who we are”.   Our identity.  Why is it important?  Who influences the choices we make daily?  There are rabbit holes, temptations, and risks to life we must acknowledge as we continue our walk of faith.  That’s why it’s important that we hold firm to our identity as followers of Jesus Christ.

Who do you identify with?

Identity is the set of characteristics that constitutes individual personality.  It is our essential self and our personal uniqueness.

Our identity is shaped by personal traits, talents, values, and beliefs. External factors such as friends and family, social groups, and cultural heritage also shape who we are.

While identity deals with personal uniqueness, it also describes a person’s sameness with others.  For example, one’s identity may be tied to a particular area (Midwesterner, New Yorker), a certain group (Boomers, Gen-Xers), or a cause (Save the Whales).  It can also be tied to a political affiliation or religious denomination.

Our world is daily challenging us to “choose” who we identify with.  The results are that we, as a society, are experiencing an identity crisis.

Identity crisis, in the psychosocial sense, is a condition of disorientation and role confusion as a result of conflicting pressures and expectations.   Identity crisis seeks a clearer sense of self and acceptable role in society.  Spiritual identity crisis is very similar, in that it occurs because of the conflict exerted from Satan, the world, and self.[1]

Unfortunately, rather than celebrating our God-given uniqueness, the world and Satan is using our identity to polarize us and to weaponize who we are.

Identity and our faith walk.

For believers, our identity is rooted and grounded in Christ Jesus (Col. 2:7).   Through His work of redemption, we have been reconciled to the Father (Rom. 5:10).

Satan challenges our identity in Christ Jesus by first targeting our mind.  He uses as his weapon, lies.  These lies are designed to deceive and discourage.  Satan’s purpose is to make us ignorant of God’s will and plan for our life.

The world also attacks our mind and our body.  It creates an insatiable desire for “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16).

Lastly, self contributes to identity crisis by demanding freedom to exercise its personal will.  The desire to rule self and operate independent of God leads to self-promotion, self-elevation, and selfishness.  Left unchecked, man’s attention shifts from “what God desires” to “what feels right.”

In Christ we are now sons and daughters of God (John 1:12), endowed with a new identity and power.  Through spiritual regeneration (2 Cor. 5:17), we have become partakers of His divine nature, the Holy Spirit, who is daily conforming us to the image of Christ (2 Pet. 1:4).

We must continually be on the watch for social, political, and yes, religious “rabbit holes” that challenge our identity in Christ. Next week, we will continue our discussion on identity and its importance in our faith walk.

[1]   https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/identity-crisis

 

Our Faith Walk: Keep Your Eye on God

A Message for Fearful Times

Historical trauma

We’ve experienced many horrible events in the tapestry of our nation’s history and in our personal lives.  Natural disasters, war, health pandemics, and social upheaval, just to name a few. These events create trauma and fear that must be navigated daily.

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 on God!

Keep Your Eye on 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 the terrible events we see in our daily social media feed and news broadcasts.  Such events come from “heart issue” of sinful men (James 3:16-18) and the work of Satan (Eph. 6:12; John 10:10).

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 (James 3:16).

A Plan for These Times

To help us move through these times, I offer this three-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.

But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. (Ps. 22:3)

A Message for Trying Times

As we continue our walk of faith, we will be faced with trials and trouble.   Although these may be difficult, we have the blessed assurance that we are not in these things alone.  Neither are we powerless (Luke 10:19; Eph. 1:19).

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).

The Knowledge of God: We Shall Know!

 

We Shall Know!

What to know about God?

What does God want us to know about Himself?  What does up close and personal look like?  God wants us to know truth.  About Himself, who He is, and truth concerning His plan for our life.  Knowledge of truth is enlightenment.  That is the reason it is important to practice spiritual disciplines: to draw near to hear the revealed truths of God (2 Cor. 4:6).

Paul’s prayer for the Colossians outlines what knowing God looks like:

So, we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. (Col. 1:9-10, NLT)

What does knowing God look like?  Knowledge of Him, wisdom, understanding, and spiritual growth (maturity).  And armed with these things, what will be the results?  A life that honors and pleases God and produces “good fruit.” We must remember that God has created us for “good works” (Eph. 2:10) and has spiritually invested in our lives.

In addition, through knowledge of Him and His truth, we will be strengthened with power that will increase our spiritual endurance, joy, and perseverance (Col.1:11).    Armed with God’s knowledge, is there anything we cannot do?  Are there any challenges we cannot overcome?

How will we know if we know?

Knowledge of God in the Old Testament was expressed through mediators and agreements that acknowledged what was expected by each party.  Such was the case with the various covenants God entered into with Israel (Isa. 1:2; Deut. 11:1-25).  Included in those covenants were expectations on how those entering into agreement with God were to live.

In the New Testament, knowledge of God became more personal.  No longer would God use mediators or special agreements.  It was Christ who would make God known to man (John 1:18).  Knowing God was no longer an intellectual exercise or contractual agreement, but an individual response of faith and acceptance of Christ as Lord and Savior.  

Biblically to know God is not to know about him in an abstract and impersonal manner, but rather to enter into his saving actions.  To know God is not to “struggle philosophically” with his eternal essence, but rather to recognize and accept his claims. It is not some mystical contemplation, but dutiful obedience.

We shall know fully.

Besides practice of spiritual disciplines, another way to grow in our knowledge of God is to fellowship with other believers who can share their personal experiences with the Lord.  As we grow, we are to reveal our testimonies with others, so they can come to know God as well.

For now, our knowledge of God is limited. “Perfect” knowledge of God is reserved for us in eternity future (1 Cor. 13:12).  God has, however, revealed what we need to know through Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 2:16).

The believer’s knowledge of God in Jesus Christ is only provisional. It is sufficient for recognizing and trusting the object of faith (John 17:3; Rom. 10:9). Without answering all our questions, it provides an adequate light for the journeyer in this darkened world (2 Pet. 1:19). But this knowledge is only a foretaste of knowing God “face to face” in the hereafter, when the day dawns and the morning star arises in our hearts (2 Pet. 1:19)[1].

What has been revealed to date is more than enough to garner our trust and our allegiance.

[1] EDBT, Timothy R. Phillips.

The Knowledge of God: Grow in the Knowledge of God, Part 1

 

Grow in the Knowledge of God, Part 1

Knowledge of God Recapped

To know or knowledge (yada) in the Old Testament means to: (1) know by observing and reflecting (thinking) and (2) to know by experiencing and being acquainted with.  Yada represents both the intellectual and experiential side of knowing.

In the New Testament this same thought is continued with the Greek words, ginosko and oida, which recognizes an increase in knowing or knowledge.  The word epiginosko (epi, “upon”) expands knowing to full knowledge through a special participation and uniting with the object (Col. 1:6).  This is the experiential side of knowledge.

Knowledge of God accomplishes three things in our life as believers: (1) it establishes the moral authority and inspiration in our life, (2) it results in purposeful living, and (3) it enlightens us as to what God has given to us.

Knowing God and knowledge of God are both part of the same coin.  Our knowledge of God paves the way to knowing God AND knowing God creates a desire to increase our knowledge of Him. 

Peter’s blessing

In Peter’s second letter to God’s elect, he expressed concern about false teachers in their cities.  He opened with a special blessing that would offer both favor and protection against the error being communicated at that time.  Peter prayed that grace and peace would increase abundantly to meet the challenges they faced.  How?  By continuing to grow in the knowledge of God AND Jesus their Lord (2 Pet. 1:2, NKJV).

Like the elect receiving Peter’s letter, we too are surrounded by false teachers.  I use this term more generally to describe those who perpetrate disinformation and misinformation.  Their sole purpose is to create false narratives, perpetuate divisiveness, and seed dissension for gain.  Social media continues to invade our thoughts resulting in unhealthy influences, high anxiety, and fear.  AI with its many benefits also brings new threats of abuse and misuse.

Peter contends that through knowledge of God, we have everything we need for living godly and prosperous lives.  This knowledge is made available to us through God’s Word (Psa. 19:7-9) and through His Holy Spirit.  In addition to God’s “exceeding and great promises”, we are also partakers of His “divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:3-4).

Even in the direst of circumstances, we must remember and declare that we have the victory through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior (Rom. 8:35,37; John 16:33).  Our knowledge of God is the filter through which we respond to 21st century challenges and live triumphantly even in a fallen world (2 Cor. 4:14-18).  Next week we will detail how we can grow in our knowledge of God.

Closing Reflection

Truth time.  Do we want to come to a knowledge of God?  Do we want to increase our knowledge of Him?  Or are we satisfied with what we know today?

A.W. Tozer in his book, “The Dangers of a Shallow Faith,” shares his observation of the modern Church in their search for things of “this world” rather than knowing God.  After reading this short excerpt, let’s ask ourselves, “what are we seeking as a substitute for the knowledge of God?”

The Early Church was in wonderment at Christ. He dazzled them and stirred within such feelings of amazement that they could never get over Christ. All they talked about was Christ. All they thought about, from morning to night, was Christ. Christ was their only reason for living, and they were more than willing to die for Him. Now we looked to celebrity to dazzle us. For some reason we assume that carnal entertainment is the appropriate replacement for the sanctified adoration of the Most High. No cheap thrill can ever replace the ecstatic joy of knowing Jesus Christ.

 

The Knowledge of God: Grace and Peace in the Knowledge of God

 

Grace and Peace in the Knowledge of God

Knowledge of God.

In his second letter to God’s elect scattered throughout what is now modern Turkey, the Apostle Peter expressed his concern about false teachers.  The area in which these Christians lived was a hotbed for philosophies and teachings that challenged their belief in Jesus.  Are these concerns still a threat in 2024?

Peter opens his letter with a special blessing, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you through the knowledge of God and Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:2, NKJV).  He knew that knowledge of God was key to truth and protection against error—whether it be religious or secular. And it still is!

What is it?

To know or knowledge in Old Testament Hebrew has a wider meaning than in our English language.   To know is not to be intellectually informed, but to experience it as part of one’s reality.  Divine-human relationships are often expressed in this term.  The Lord knew Moses “by name.” (Exod. 33:11, 12, 17)

In the New Testament, the thought continues that knowing God is not simply an intellectual exercise.  The difference lies in the fact that knowing God is a response of faith and acceptance of Christ (John 14:7; 17:3)

There is more to be said about the difference between knowing God and having a knowledge of God.

Knowing or Knowledge:  What’s the Difference?

The difference between knowing God and knowledge of God is a subtle but deeply important one, touching on the very nature of faith and belief.

    • Knowledge of God refers to intellectual understanding and information about God. It can come from studying religious texts, attending sermons, learning about different doctrines and philosophies. You might possess a vast amount of information about God’s attributes, actions, and teachings.
    • Knowing God goes beyond mere intellectual knowledge. It’s about a personal relationship and experiential understanding of God. It’s about encountering God in your life, feeling his presence, and having a sense of connection with him. This isn’t achieved solely through information but through practices like prayer, meditation, and living a life guided by faith.

Consider this analogy:

    • Knowing about a tree: You might know its species, leaf shape, and how it photosynthesizes. You could even recite poems about trees.
    • Knowing a tree: You’ve spent time under its shade, climbed its branches, felt the wind in its leaves. You have a personal connection and understanding beyond textbook knowledge.

Similarly, knowledge of God is like the textbook, while knowing God is like experiencing the tree itself.

Knowing or Knowledge:  Which is better?

So, is knowing God better than having a knowledge of God?  For me, both are part of the same coin.  Each is important in developing a complete and personal reality of God in our life.

Our knowledge of God paves the way to knowing God.

Knowing God creates a deep desire to increase our knowledge of Him.

 That being the case, we will continue our study to know more.  I leave you with several insights from other notables of the faith who continue their pursuit of the knowledge of God.

“May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord” (2 Pet. 1:2, NLT)

 

The Christian is strong or weak depending upon how closely he has cultivated the knowledge of God.   A.W. Tozer

Intimate knowledge of God is possible if we habitually search His Holy Scriptures and translate what we find into obedience.  George Mueller

 

Too many Christians are fighting graduate school sins with grammar school knowledge of God.  John Piper

 

How can we turn our knowledge about God into knowledge of God? The rule for doing this is simple but demanding. It is that we turn each truth that we learn about God into a matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer, and praise to God.   J.I. Packer

 

 

 

The Knowledge of God: Begin with the Basics

 

Begin with the Basics

Learning from our experiences

In last week’s teaching on “Lessons Learned in 2023”, I shared those things I will take with me as I moved forward into 2024.  The “egg” I will carry includes spiritual growth, eternity, and finally, my knowledge of God.  It is in this last area that I’d like to begin a new series, “The Knowledge of God”.

Knowledge of God has always been one of the foundational tenets that forms the framework for our teachings and programs that support our mission of “Transforming lives through teaching God’s Word.”  The other tenets include knowing our identity in Christ (Gal. 2:20) and in remembering that our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20).  We are part of the Kingdom of God.

Why is knowledge of God important?

Our knowledge of God…

    • Establishes the moral authority and inspiration in our life. We look to God to provide us with truth needed to guide us in this fallen world.  God gives us peace, joy, and hope needed during troubling and uncertain times.  He is our strength and deliverance (Ps. 18:1-3).
    • Results in purposeful living. We are God’s workmanship, created to do good works which He identified at the foundations of the world (Eph. 2:10).  To live out the purpose God has for our life, it is critical that we are obedient to God’s directions.  Living purposefully, the goal is spiritual maturity and ultimately, conformity to the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29).
    • Enlightens us as to what God has given to us. As believers, we have everything we need to live godly in this world (2 Pet. 1:3).   First and most importantly, we have eternal life.   In addition, as children of God, we have access not only to Father God, but also to all the blessings and promises that go with this special relationship (Eph. 1:3-14).

All these things and much more are ours today.  But it requires correct knowledge and understanding of who God is—His goodness and His greatness.

The journey begins.

The rise of humanism in our world, has caused man, incorrectly, to believe he is the most important and knowledgeable creature on the earth.

Humanism primarily focuses on human flourishing in the present world, emphasizing social progress, ethical living, and addressing immediate concerns. This may not automatically lead to a focus on knowledge of God unless individuals actively seek to connect those values with their spirituality.

In his groundbreaking work of faith, Your God is Too Small, J.B. Phillips encourages Christians to redefine their understanding of who God is.  Phillips explains that the trouble facing many of us today is that we have not found God big enough for our modern needs.

Many women and men are living, often with inner dissatisfaction, without any faith in God at all. This is not because they are particularly wicked or selfish or, as the old fashioned would say, godless, but because they have not found with their adult minds a God big enough to account for life, big enough to fit in with the new scientific age, big enough to command their highest admiration and respect, and consequently they’re cooperation.[1]

We invite you to join us as we expand our knowledge of God.  Let’s learn how God is “big enough” to meet us where we are today, even amid the complexities of 21st century living.

[1] Your God is Too Small, J. B. Phillips

Lessons Learned in 2023: Remembering the Sankofa Bird

 

It’s that Time Again

As is our tradition with WordBytes, our first teaching each new year is a reflection on the things learned in the previous year.  What have we learned as we look back on 2023?

What were the “bought lessons” learned at great expense?  What were the “taught lessons” received with meekness and humility? More importantly, how will we use the knowledge and wisdom learned to better navigate both the challenges and opportunities of 2024?

Learn from the Sankofa Bird

The Sankofa Bird is a mythical bird with its feet firmly planted forward, but its head turned back to pick up an egg from its back. This symbolizes the importance of learning from the past and bringing that knowledge with you as you move forward.

The Sankofa Bird holds various significant meanings:

    • Honoring the past: It encourages us to learn from our history, both the good and the bad. By understanding our past, we can avoid repeating mistakes and build a better future.
    • Preserving cultural heritage: Sankofa emphasizes the importance of preserving cultural traditions and values. It reminds us that our ancestors’ wisdom and knowledge are still relevant today.
    • Personal growth: On a personal level, the Sankofa Bird can represent the continuous process of self-improvement. It encourages us to reflect on our past experiences, learn from them, and use that knowledge to grow as individuals.

For this year’s “lessons learned”, we would like to offer the Sankofa Bird as a framework for sharing what we’ve learned in 2023.  It will also help to determine what things are of value moving forward into this new year and what things are “useless baggage” best left behind.

Where do I start?  Where am I headed?

I looked to previous years’ learnings to begin my list.  I asked myself, “Has my faith grown stronger?”  “Have I grown in the knowledge of Jesus Christ?” (2 Pet. 3:18) “Was I becoming more conformed to the image of Christ?” (Rom. 8:29)

It was in reading previous learnings that I discovered my first lesson from 2023.  Like the Sankofa Bird, looking back helped me understand that spiritual growth or sanctification is a continuous process.  We never stop growing until eternity.

From this review process, “common themes” began to emerge.

    1. God should be the center of our lives. Seek Him first.
    2. The importance of relationships. With God and with others.
    3. Trust and Obedience. These are essential for a successful faith walk.
    4. God is faithful and true. His Word and promises never change.
    5. God is ever present. His Presence is always with us.

These themes helped to identify my second lesson from 2023:  the importance of learning more about God, His Kingdom, and our purpose in His plan of salvation.  This lesson is best captured in Eph. 1:17-19.

That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him,  the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,  and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power

Did I learn anything new?

My final lesson learned is probably the most impactful to me.  It was learned during our study on eternity.  Unless we intentionally focus on the importance of eternity to our spiritual welfare, it will remain nothing more than theological jargon we hear on Sunday morning.

Many Christians become disillusioned as their quest for peace and pleasure on this earth feel them with despair.  If you are one of these believers who senses you’re missing something—who have hoped for more—it may be that your perspective is distorted by your focus on this world. With heaven as our point of reference, we can learn to live a satisfying, balance, and victorious life even in a fallen world.[1]

My third lesson from 2023:  To know the true God and His Son Jesus Christ, it is important that we focus on eternity.  To live on lives with an eye on eternity, is the only “sure way” to live in the fullness of God today, tomorrow, and forever.

Carrying my egg into 2024

Like the Sankofa Bird, with my feet firmly planted forward, I’m carrying my egg into 2024 by:

    • Prioritizing my spiritual growth and development.
    • Increasing in wisdom and knowledge of God.
    • Focusing on eternity.

And what will I leave behind?  All the things (and people) that hinder my journey forward.

What will you carry into 2024?  What will you leave behind?

[1]  Dr. Joseph M. Stowell, Eternity:  Reclaiming a Passion for What Endures

Keep Hope Alive: Hope that Won’t Disappoint

Hope that Doesn't Disappoint

Experiencing real hope

Last week we concluded our teaching, with the secret to experiencing “real hope” in our lives.  

It is important that we are intentional in claiming what Christ has already obtained for us through His sacrificial death and powerful resurrection.  We know that as believers in Christ we live continually in the presence of God who is the great I AM.  It is God who provides us with what we need for the challenges we face (Isa. 43:2). 

We recognize and acknowledge that God alone is the true source of our hope and salvation (Psa. 62:5-12).

Hope that is true

Ultimately, the question of what the world should places hope on is a complex one. There is no easy answer, and different people will have different beliefs.

We hope that technological advances will solve many of our problems, such as climate change, disease, and poverty. We also place our hope on human ingenuity, believing that humans have the ability to solve any problem they set their minds to. Those with gentler dispositions hold on to the hope that the world’s problems will be solved through love and compassion.

How does God’s hope compare with that which this world offers?  Is God’s offer of hope better?

The cluster of attributes (of God) which we classify as “integrity” relates to the matter of truth.  There are three dimensions of God’s truthfulness: (1) genuineness—being true—”He is what He appears to be” (Isa. 45:5-6); (2) veracity—telling the truth (1 John 5:20) — “He tells the truth” (John 17:17, 19); and (3) faithfulness— “He proves true” (Num. 23:19).[1]    

As believers, our hope rests fully on the integrity of God—His genuineness, His veracity, and His faithfulness.

Hope that does not disappoint

Through Jesus sacrificial gift of life, we have a hope that “does not” and “will not” disappoint.

Therefore, having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.  Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.  (Rom. 5:1-5)  

The Holy Spirit reassures us of God’s love.  This provides us with a steadfast foundation for hope. This love is unconditional and everlasting, providing security and assurance even in the face of trials and tribulations. (Heb. 6:17-19)

Hope kept alive

How do we keep hope alive?  Not by might, nor by power, nor by strength (Zech. 4:6).  Not by the wisdom of man nor the understanding of scholars (1 Cor. 1:27-29).  These offerings of hope are temporary and subject to change—change brought about by the reality of time and the ultimate demise of life as we know it (2 Cor. 4:18).

But we keep hope alive through the Spirit of wisdom and revelation of the knowledge of God (Eph. 1:17).   Armed with this we have access not only to life on this side of heaven but also throughout eternity.  Through the love and grace of God, we can keep hope alive.  May we forever rest and abound in the God of hope.

Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  (1 Pet. 1:13).

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 15:13)

[1] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology.