The Politics of Jesus

The Lord Jesus Christ is the most influential figure to have ever lived. From His sacrificial death and resurrection to His teachings, billions of lives have been changed. The principles Jesus taught and exemplified have also been sources for great social and personal change. If our salvation in Christ is supposed to influence every aspect of our lives, how does this influence our political beliefs for the upcoming Presidential election?

In this post, we will examine the politics of Jesus. However, I will not make the Lord out to be a card carrying member of any political party nor will I be pushing for any particular agenda or platform. Also, keep in mind that there are no perfect candidates nor are there any perfect elections. This current election cycle has a lot of people holding on to their affiliation’s ideological extremes, perceiving to vote for the lesser of two evils, or just tuning out in general. But if Christians are to vote along biblical principles, what exactly does the life of Jesus illustrate in this regard?

For an examination of how a Christian is to respond biblically to their government, I would encourage you to check out my post, “A Christian’s Civic Duty.” https://triumphantinchrist.wordpress.com/2015/09/19/a-christians-civic-duty/

When Jesus walked the earth, Israel was a territory of the Roman Empire. However, Jesus’ harshest criticism was not directed at Caesar, but against the Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees- the religious leaders of the day. Jesus openly exposed their hypocrisy in placing barriers in front of so many people, while neglecting the teaching of the most important aspects of the Law. Jesus came to earth to die for our sins; He did not seek to start a theocracy. Jesus’ kingdom was as He said, “Not of this world.” Jesus also downplayed the political ramifications of Him being the Messiah. In the Old Testament prophecies, there are no clear distinctions as to the verses that mark the first and second coming of the Messiah. Many people believed the conquering Messiah would come first and overthrow Rome, when the suffering Messiah came first.

Political power can corrupt, but Jesus could not be swayed by the allure of political power. Jesus emphasized devotion to God over allegiance to worldly things and agendas. Jesus crossed cultural barriers, as the Gospels record Him ministering to Gentiles. Jesus also elevated the status of women, as with the examples of the Samaratian woman at the well, the woman with the issue of blood, and the woman who anointed Him with the alabaster jar of perfume. Jesus also welcomed and cared for children.

Jesus also ran social programs, as He feed the hungry, treated the disabled, the sick, and the mentally ill. Jesus believed that we should love and treat each person with dignity and respect. Jesus emphasized blessing (speaking well of) our enemies, or those who seek to criticize us. Jesus broke down social conventions and man-made traditions to reach people with the Gospel or healing. Jesus reached out to those who were cast off by society- prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors, the possessed, and other “sinners.” Jesus also taught fulfilling our civic duty and pay taxes to our earthly government. Jesus’s teachings and deeds are vast, and as John put it, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.” (John 21:25, KJV).

Who or what you vote for is between you and God. I just want to emphasize that as Christians, we must be spiritually discerning of the things that go on inside and outside of the church. We must not be swayed by false promises or fear-inducing rhetoric. We must no longer demonize our political opponents or those whose life choices are different from ours. Jesus taught us to love and forgive all people as He has loved and forgiven us. As this election nears, let us all pray for God’s will to be done and that He would give us the wisdom to go forward. God bless you all.

Book Review- As a Man Thinketh

In an ongoing series, I will be reviewing and sharing some of the influential books that have helped me on my life’s journey.

Originally published in 1902, James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh is one of the classic works when it comes to the importance of managing our thoughts and perceptions concerning our current situations and how our thoughts shape our circumstances, health, character, and our hopes and aspirations.

Allen’s inspiration for the book title is Proverbs 23:7, which states “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (KJV). Allen’s premise is also congruent to the adage attributed to Marcus Aurelius and Shakespeare, “All thinking makes it so.” Allen’s premise also agrees with Jesus’ statement of “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34). I will share nuggets of wisdom found within Allen’s writing.

Thought and Character

“A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.”[1]

 “A noble and Godlike character is not a thing of favor or chance, but is the natural result of continued effort in right thinking, the effect of long-cherished association with Godlike thoughts. An ignoble and bestial character, by the same process, is the result of the continued harboring of groveling thoughts.”[2]

 “…Man is the master of thought, the molder of character, and the maker and shaper of condition, environment, and destiny.”[3]

Thought and Circumstance

“Man is buffeted by circumstances so long as he believes himself to be the creature of outside conditions, but when he realizes that he is a creative power, and that he may command the hidden soil and seeds of his being out of which circumstances grow, he then becomes the rightful master of himself.”[4]

“The outer world of circumstance shapes itself to the inner world of thought, and both pleasant and unpleasant external conditions are factors which make for the ultimate good of the individual. As the reaper of his own harvest, man learns both by suffering and bliss.”[5]

“Circumstance does not make the man; it reveals him to himself.”[6]

Thought and Health

“Clean thoughts make clean habits.”[7]

“If you would perfect your body, guard your mind. If you would renew your body, beautify your mind.”[8]

Thought and Purpose

“A man should conceive of a legitimate purpose in his heart, and set out to accomplish it. He should make this purpose the centralizing point of his thoughts.”[9]

“He who has conquered doubt and fear has conquered failure.”[10]

Thought and Achievement

“All that a man achieves and all that he fails to achieve is the direct result of his own thoughts…His suffering and his happiness are evolved from within. As he thinks, so he is; as he continues to think, so he remains.”[11]

Thought and Vision

“Cherish your visions; cherish your ideals; cherish the music that stirs in your heart, the beauty that forms in your mind, the loveliness that drapes your purest thoughts, for out of them will grow all delightful conditions, all heavenly environment; of these, if you but remain true to them, your world will at last be built.”[12]

“The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good…Self-control is strength; Right Thought is mastery; Calmness is power. Say unto your heart, ‘Peace, be still!’”[13]

I have read As a Man Thinketh multiple times throughout the years and I can say that every time I read it, I gain deeper and deeper insights. No matter your stage of life, no matter your situation, take control by how you are thinking about the situation, and correct the course. Gaining control of our thoughts will be a daily battle, so do not give up; do not surrender. God bless you all.

[1] James Allen, As a Man Thinketh. New York: Barnes and Noble (2007 edition): 3.

[2] Ibid, 4.

[3] Ibid, 5.

[4] Ibid, 11.

[5] Ibid, 12.

[6] Ibid, 12.

[7] Ibid, 28.

[8] Ibid 28.

[9] Ibid, 33.

[10] Ibis, 36.

[11] Ibid, 39.

[12] Ibid, 48.

[13] Ibid, 56-57.

The Prodigal’s Brother

In Luke chapter 15, Jesus tells the parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son (or Prodigal Son if you prefer), which illustrate God’s grace and the lengths He will go to save lost souls. Jesus’ audience represented a spiritual dichotomy of sinners and tax collectors with Pharisees and scribes. Jesus spoke these three parables as a response to the criticism leveled by the Pharisees and scribes of how Jesus sat in the company of sinners. We will look more specifically at the story of the Prodigal Son.

The story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) is a familiar one to Christians and the phrase “prodigal son” is used as a euphemism to describe someone who has wandered away and returned. There are two brothers and the youngest brother goes to his father and demands his share of his inheritance, while his father was alive. Typically, an inheritance can only be received once someone has died. The father, knowing the social meaning of his son’s request, and divided his estate among both brothers.

In a tale similar to today’s news reports of celebrities, actors, and athletes squandering king’s fortunes and going bankrupt, the Prodigal Son partied like a “rock star” and blew all of his money. It was all gone. The Prodigal was busted, broke, and bankrupt. A famine soon after came upon the land and the Prodigal was hungry and desperate. The Prodigal went from living “high on the hog” so to speak, to literally the hog pen as he had to get a job feeding swine. The Prodigal comes to his senses and decides to go back home to his father, not as a son, but as a servant.

“And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.” (Luke 15:20-21, NKJV).

The story then pivots on the contrasting reactions of the father and oldest brother.

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. And they began to be merry.” (Luke 15:22-24, NKJV).

The older brother was working in the field and heard the party taking place. The father explained that they are having a party for his brother who has returned home. The older brother refused to go to the party and justified his actions to his father:

“So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I could make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’” (Luke 15:29-30, NKJV, emphasis mine).

The older brother’s statements consist of “I have done this, I have done that.” “Where’s my party?” I stayed here and did what was expected of me.” The older brother refuses to acknowledge his brother, simply calling him “this son of yours.” It is certainly easy to read self-righteousness into the older brother’s statements, but does he on some level have a point?

Everybody has worth and wants to be appreciated. Nursing homes are full of sick and elderly people who simply want someone to spend a few minutes with them. Parents want to know that their children appreciate their sacrifices for them to have a better life. Dedicated and faithful employees want to know that their work is appreciated and serves a greater purpose than getting a paycheck. This is not about vanity or seeking the approval of others, but we want to know we are on the right track and we are making an impact in life.  If we do not perceive that we are appreciated, then we get discouraged, which leads to self-righteous comparison when we see “someone less qualified or deserving” get the blessing we seek.

The older brother could have gone off on his own adventures, but he chose to stay home. The older brother was wise and responsible with his money and continued to work. However, when we grow discontent with our situations in life, we often overlook the tremendous blessings we do have. At the end of the story, the father gives the oldest son a different perspective on the situation:

“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:31-32, NKJV).

The older brother has always been in the presence of the father and he also received his share of the inheritance, while the younger brother wandered from the father. Though the older brother did not see a physical reward for his service to his father, his father did notice his faithfulness. The older brother did not perceive that he had his father’s approval. The same principle applies for those of us who have been saved for many years in that we often lose the meaning of having our Father’s presence in our lives at the expense of what God’s presence means for others.

We should serve God and others with a servant’s heart, but we must not make the mistake of the older brother and serve with a “religious works” mindset. If we see serving God as a means to an end, we will lose the perspective that we are sons and daughters of God and not simply servants. Let us not try to value ourselves by any fleeting external measures such as money, recognition, titles, or family status. Instead, let us see ourselves first as children of God and draw our worth from there. God bless you all.

 

The Throne of Our Thoughts

In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul, like a great trial lawyer, goes point by point to build his theological case. Romans serves as one of the foundational books that explains the Christian faith and is also one of the primary books Christians use to share the Gospel with others (also known as the “Romans Road”). Paul’s theology in Romans is like his other Epistles in that it is practical and can be applied to everyday life. One of the important areas Paul stresses is the need for us to renew our minds and change our thoughts.

Paul uses five different Greek words to describe our minds and the pattern of our thinking. What we think has a direct effect on our lives. If we try to think in more positive terms, we will be able to adapt to the constant change that is life. However, if we continuously focus on the negative, the hurt, the rejection, we will live a life of self-defeat, fear, and anxiety. As I have stated in past posts, we cannot control what happens to us, we can only control our responses to what happens.

Our Thoughts Represent our Power and Authority

As Christians, we believe in and serve a living and powerful God. However, we must also contend with our very real enemy, Satan, our own sinful natures, and daily interactions with others. Think of your mind as a throne. A throne represents a seat of power and authority for a king or queen. If a monarch chooses not to rule with their given authority or if they abdicate their throne, they are no longer in charge. To what and to whom we choose to think about determines if we are really on the throne of our minds. In fact, the word used the most for mind in Romans is the Greek word Nous (Strong’s #3563), which means, “The intellect- the seat of the will, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings.” The following verses speak of a matter of voluntary surrender, good or bad, when it comes to our minds and our wills. Thus, in order for our thoughts, wills, and lives to line up with what the Word says, it is a matter of choice.

“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient.” (Romans 1:28, KJV).

“But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7:23-25, KJV).

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2, KJV).

Our Thoughts Shape our Spiritual Reality

Throughout Romans, Paul makes the use of contrast between the renewed spiritual life we have in Christ and the continuous war of the carnal life we live within our sinful natures (or flesh if you prefer). The Greek word Paul uses is Phroneo (Strong’s 5426), which means “to be minded in a certain way” concerning our opinions and sentiments.

“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.” (Romans 8:6, KJV).

“Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.” (Romans 12:16, KJV).

Our Thoughts are Seeds

Paul switches words from Romans 8:5 to Romans 8:6, to show the contrast. Here, Paul uses the word Phronema (Strong’s 5427), which means “what one has in mind or thought.” We have to think of our thoughts as seeds. No matter what type of seed it is- all seeds need the proper amount of light, soil conditions and water to grow. Our thoughts are no different, what we allow to grow in our minds can change a beautiful garden into a dried-up wasteland.

“For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be…And He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:6-7, 27, KJV).

Our Thoughts Should Bring Harmony

It is a given that we will encounter difficult people. It is easy to find an everyday occurrence where we can allow someone or a situation to make us angry. We can choose to hold onto bitterness and not forgive others. However, we are not living life in the Spirit if we follow our carnal inclinations. Instead, our thoughts toward our brothers and sisters and our fellow man, in order to bring glory to God. The word Paul uses in Romans 15:6 is Homothumadon (Strong’s #3661), which means to be “unanimous, in one accord.”

“Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like minded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:5-6, KJV).

 The Battle for our Thoughts and our Mission

With every day we are blessed enough to live, we will have a raging battle for our minds. Just because you fight of a negative thought on Monday does not necessarily mean you will not have to fight it on Tuesday or any other day. Our minds are like muscles and we must keep them strong and in shape. We can fortify our minds not only by reigning from the throne of our thoughts, but by remembering every battle we have won. In essence, we need to remind ourselves daily of the victories and God’s grace. The word used to describe this situation is Epanamimnesko (Strong’s #1878), which means “to remind again.” We must remember our mission in this life.

“Nevertheless, brethren, I have written the more boldly unto you in some sort, as putting you in mind, because of the grace that is given to me of God. That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost. ” (Romans 15:15-16, KJV).

 

Book Review: The Practice of the Presence of God

In an ongoing series, I will be reviewing and sharing some of the influential books that have helped me on my life’s journey.

If you desire to be a better athlete, musician, public speaker, writer, artist, chef, or anything else in life, you need continuous practice. Natural ability and talent can go so far, but to further hone one’s skills, one must take the time to practice. Brother Lawrence in his book, The Practice of the Presence of God, humbly and brilliantly shows us how to increase God’s presence in our lives through our daily practice of living.

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection (1614-1691) was born Nicholas Herman and served God as a lay-brother in a Carmelite monastery in Paris, France. The Practice of the Presence of God is a combination of conversations, letters, and spiritual maxims Brother Lawrence had with various people and was compiled and published after his death by his friend, Joseph de Beaufort.

Brother Lawrence states, “The presence of God is the concentration of the soul’s attention on God, remembering that He is always present.”[1]

The principles put forth are so simple and profound, we can easily overlook them in the overly busy, overly frustrating, and overstimulating days that make up our Twenty-First Century lives. You do not need advanced theology to understand that God is omnipresent, always with us, but do we take the time to acknowledge Him during our day?

“Brother Lawrence insisted that, to be constantly aware of God’s presence, it is necessary to form the habit of continually talking with Him throughout each day. To think that we must abandon conversation with Him in order to deal with the world is erroneous. Instead, as we nourish our souls by seeing God in His exaltation, we will derive a great joy at being His.”[2]

No matter if he worked in the monastery kitchen, the monastery shoe repair shop, or just going into town to get supplies, Brother Lawrence dedicated everything He did to God. It was out of his love for God that Brother Lawrence sought to please God, not to be rewarded, but to show adoration for God’s grace in his life.

“He [Brother Lawrence] was content doing the smallest chore if he could do it purely for the love of God.”[3]

We often think that we need to do great things for God in order for Him to love us. However, Brother Lawrence insisted that we can bring God and ourselves joy in the simplest of chores. Imaging cooking for your family and how often that is a thankless chore we can come to dread. But, what if we were to view cooking for our family as a way to show God thankfulness for the family that we have? What if we were to take a lesson from Brother Lawrence and thank God before we began a chore and thank Him afterwards for the opportunity?

“Brother Lawrence declared that he felt much closer to God in his day-to-day activites than most people ever believed to be possible.”[4]

Another way Brother Lawrence practiced God’s presence was to speak to Him openly and frankly, as if he was talking to his best friend. It was said that Brother Lawrence went to God in all matters great and small and discussed them with Him.

Of course we know our modern world is full of distractions- smart phones, the Internet, television, movies, video games, and other sources of entertainment. These distractions, if we allow them to, will take our energy and focus away from enjoying God’s presence. According to Brother Lawrence, we must direct our thoughts toward God and God’s presence. If we do get distracted, we can simply repent and begin again. Overall, The Practice of the Presence of God shows a tremendous spiritual depth at the relationship between the Lord and Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence describes how God had blessed him so much when he made the habit of seeking God’s presence out of love and devotion. What if we were to praise God just because He is God and has saved us? Are we capable of seeking God without the hope of a material reward? If we practice God’s presence, God will give us the grace and strength we need to overcome life’s difficulties.

Brother Lawrence’s book concludes with the three blessings we receive from God’s presence:

“The first blessing that the soul receives from the practice of the presence of God is that its faith is livelier and more active in our lives. This is particularly true in difficult times, since it obtains the grace we need to deal with temptation and to conduct ourselves in the world…Second, the practice of the presence of God strengthens us in hope. Our hope increases as our faith penetrates God’s secrets through practice of our holy exercise…The third blessing is that this practice causes the will to rejoice at being set apart from the world, setting it aglow with the fire of holy love. This is because the soul is always with God, who is a consuming fire, who reduces into powder whatever is opposed to Him.”[5]

For anyone who is seeking a deeper relationship with God or is starting out in a relationship with God, I would encourage you to read Brother Lawrence’s words because they, like Scripture, have much to say regarding a more spiritual life. God bless you all.

 

[1] Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God. New Kensington PA: Whitaker House (1982): 67.

[2] Ibid, 12.

[3] Ibid, 14.

[4] Ibid, 21.

[5] Ibid, 71-72.

Ephesians 1: God’s Role in our Identity

Who am I? This is one of the fundamental questions of human existence. The question, “Who am I?” has inspired countless theologians, philosophers, poets, thinkers, and everyday people since time immortal. “Who am I?” has launched countless discussions, religious pilgrimages, great works of literature, deep soul searching, and the occasional mid-life crisis.

It is inherent in our human nature to believe in something greater than ourselves, to believe in a world beyond our own where someday every wrong, slight, or injury, we perceive has been perpetrated on us will be corrected or explained. We often think, What’s the point of all this suffering? or Is this all there is to this life?

While living out our day-to-day lives, we are simultaneously attempting to forge our own identity, trying to answer the question of “Who am I?” We attach sociological labels to ourselves in an effort to forge an identity. We can identify ourselves by age, race, education, marital status, social standing, occupation, sexual orientation, nationality, or religion to name a handful. For those of us who believe in God and identify ourselves as being Christians, what role does God play in our identity?

I have over the years heard it preached that we need to know “Who we are in Christ,” meaning our identity in Christ. Paul in the Book of Ephesians, lays out a good foundation for God’s role in our identity. As you read through Ephesians, it is easy to focus on the blessings God has given us and not look as to how we have obtained our identity in Christ.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” (Ephesians 1:3, NIV).

Paul goes on to make it very clear that our new standing with God and our identity in Christ is based on the acts of God’s sovereign will.

“For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love, He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will- to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves.” (Ephesians 1:4-6, NIV, italics mine).

Paul makes several points concerning our identity in Christ and our responsibilities concerning our standing in Christ:

*We have been chosen by God.

*God chose us to live holy and blameless lives.

*We are only God’s adopted children through Christ, which aligns with God’s pleasure and will.

*We are to praise God for the gift of His grace through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

The format of the following verses play out much the same as the introductory verses. For example:

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment- to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” (Ephesians 1:7-10, NIV, italics mine).

Thus, we are forgiven of our sins solely because:

*The riches of God’s grace.

*God gave us the wisdom and understanding to know His will- to be saved and believe on Christ, thus God’s will is no longer mysterious.

*God is working in these last days to reconcile (bring together) the world and universe under the Lordship and rule of Jesus Christ.

Paul goes on further to elaborate on the purpose of God’s will and one of the benefits of living the Christian life:

In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will, in order that we who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of His glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him, with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession- to the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:11-14, NIV, italics mine).

Once again, we learn of the plan of God:

*God is working out everything to conform to His will.

*God brings us to Christ that we may bring Him glory.

*God included us in His plan when we said, “yes,” to the gospel.

*God has empowered us with the Holy Spirit to live until we are called home to heaven.

Ephesians chapter one concludes with Paul’s prayer for the church, which also serves as a reminder that God does not simply save us and leave us to figure things out, but rather God seeks to keep us rooted deeper in Christ by:

*Giving us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation that we may know God better. (Ephesians 1:17).

*That we would understand fully the depths of our hope and inheritance as God’s people. (Ephesians 1:18-19a).

*To realize that the same power God use to raise Christ from the dead resides in us. (Ephesians 1:19b-20).

*God’s purposes have placed Christ head over all on heaven and earth. (Ephesians 1:20b-23).

May you seek to grow and understand your identity in Christ.

 

Using our Liberty in Christ

Our spiritual freedom in Christ is one of God’s greatest blessings. Being in Christ, we are as the Apostle Paul stated, “free from the law of sin and death.”(Romans 8:2). We are spiritually free from our past, and we can go forward knowing there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. We are free from eternal damnation because we have eternal life in Christ. In knowing that we have been given this freedom in Christ, how are we using it?

Are we striving to become better people? Are we hiding behind the façade of grace to live as we wish? Do we use God’s Word to draw ourselves and other closer to God or do we use the Word to bring division? I am not teaching works-based theology-I am simply stating that we should be cultivating and bringing forth fruit worthy of our repentance and God’s grace. No matter our age or station in life, we should always seek to mature and improve in Christ.

The book of 1 Peter addresses the issue of Christians remaining faithful in the midst of trial and persecution. Peter writes an instruction manual concerning Christian conduct in the world in which they live, even in the face of extreme trial, persecution, or suffering. If our focus is not on Christ during our trials, it is very easy to grow resentful and bitter about our circumstances and the world around us. However, Peter urges us to live wisely as servants of God, no matter the circumstances, no matter how people treat us, no matter who is the leading the nation. As Christians, we must remember this is not our home- our home is in heaven.

“Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evil doers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:11-17, NASB).

As we go forward, let us remember that even in the most seemingly evil and corrupt times, God is still in control. God is being patient and is giving everyone the chance to repent. We must live our lives to point others to Christ, not to condemn them. Remember, it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict the world of sin, not ours. God bless you all.

Philippians 1: Remaining Steadfast

You are a work in progress. You are the marble slab in the hands of the Master sculptor. You are the canvas in front of the Master painter. The days, years, and events of your life may look and feel like random brush strokes, but when you take a look back, they are pieces of a mosaic that form a larger, grander picture.

The Apostle Paul understood that God is an artist when he wrote to the Philippian church, “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6, NKJV).

Did Paul write these words while on a successful missionary journey or when everything in his life was going great? No. Paul wrote these words from prison in Rome. I have never been to prison, but I cannot imagine the depths of despair people sink into as they are locked away from society. Or think about how the elderly and disabled are often discarded when society and their family deem them as no longer serving a purpose. Everyone has purpose. No matter your current station in life, God has a plan for you. The final chapter has not been written in your life’s story.

During our trials and tribulations, we can focus outwardly and reach others, as Paul did with the Philippians.

“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11, NKJV).

As we go through difficult times, it is easy to pull out the victim card and cry “woe is me!” We always face the temptation of giving up. However, if we understand that God has allowed this trial in our life, we can ask, “How can I glorify God in this situation?”

“But I want you to know brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ, and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14, NKJV, italics mine).

What a testimony Paul had in the midst of his circumstances. Everybody knew he was imprisoned for preaching Christ and it encouraged others to preach Christ without fear of the consequences. Of course, some were trying to cause more problems for Paul, but Christ is being preached. Think of how your testimony could empower someone else through their trials. What has God brought you through that you can pass on to the next generation?

Paul’s confidence and faith were in God alone, thus he was ready to accept his fate whether he would become a martyr or walk out of prison a free man. Paul was willing to be called home if the Lord desired it, but he was still willing to reach others.

“For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or death.” (Philippians 1:19-20, NKJV).

Paul gets to the heart of the matter: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.” (Philippians 1:21-24, NKJV).

Paul’s heart was still directed toward his mission and if the Philippian church needed him to further develop them as disciples, Paul was willing to do that if it would bring rejoicing to their hearts by seeing him again (Philippians 1:25-26, my paraphrase).

Paul ends this section of his letter with a reminder of how the Philippians were to act whether he were to be present or absent: “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel.” (Philippians 1:27, NKJV).

Paul goes on to emphasize that our suffering for Christ is a privilege and proof of our salvation.

“And not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.” (Philippians 1:28-30, NKJV).

Brothers and sisters, we are in Christ and we are not of this world. We may live in different towns, cities, states, and countries, but our citizenship is in heaven. There is no external possession in this world that compares to the glory of Christ. During our struggles, let us focus on the eternal rewards and live for Christ. God bless you all.

 

 

Resting During the Storm

My dog, Henry, is terrified of thunderstorms and fireworks. Henry, before and during the storm, will get jittery, pace around the house, and seek comfort from me and/or my wife. A thunderstorm rolled through this afternoon and I took to our dog calming ritual of turning on the space heater and sitting with Henry in our home office. Within minutes of reassuring Henry it was going to be alright, he fell asleep at my feet. I smiled and thought about how we are supposed to sleep at our Heavenly Father’s feet during the storms of life. Just as my presence and the warmth of the space heater comforted Henry, so too are we to be comforted in the warm embrace of our God’s presence.

Somewhere right now on our planet, people are experiencing both meteorological and spiritual storms. Rain is essential for life on earth. If it did not rain, crops would not grow, which in turn would hurt the world’s food supply. All of us will experience spiritual storms in our lives, whether it be overwhelming grief, illness, family issues, financial stress, a loss of faith, or all of these trials at once coming at us with the force of a hurricane or tsunami. God can uses these storms to grow us and to feed our faith.

In the midst of our pain and suffering, we cry out and pray to God for relief, yet, there are times when the rain keeps coming with seemingly no relief in sight. However, your storm will pass. Just as the storm that terrified Henry was over in a few minutes and the sun came out, so too will your dark clouds give way to the sunshine on the horizon.

The big questions we ask during a storm is “Where is God in all this?” “Why doesn’t He do something?” “Why doesn’t He just stop it?” Be honest, you have posed those questions. I know I have. Believe me, you are not the first person to pose such questions, for The Bible gives us multiple examples of people weathering storms.

Probably the most famous biblical example is Jesus quieting a storm as recorded in the gospels of Matthew (8:23-27), Mark (4:35-41), and Luke (8:22-25). Matthew and Mark place this event after Jesus spent the day teaching a crowd of people on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Night came and Jesus said to His disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” (Mark 4:35b, NIV). Jesus and His disciples left the crowd on the shore and began their trek to the other side. Mark’s Gospel describes the scene: “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.” (Mark 4:37, NIV).

Notice Jesus’ approach to the storm compared to that of the disciples, four of whom- Peter, Andrew, James, and John- were experienced fishermen and I am sure weathered many storms while on the water.

Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke Him and said to Him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’” (Mark 4:38, NIV, italics mine).

This must have been quite a storm to upset such experienced fishermen, but these are the same disciples who saw Jesus perform many miracles- healings, exorcisms, and raising people from the dead! The disciples’ reaction is not really that much different from ours, as we question God, asking Him, “Don’t you care about me?” or “Why did You let this happen?”

“He [Jesus] got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be Still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to His disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!” (Mark 4:39-41, NIV).

The storm did not catch Jesus off guard, just as He knows when the storms will come in your life. Man with his radar technology tries to predict when storms will come in and determine their path. However, despite our technological advancements, the weather predictions do not always pan out, due to circumstances beyond our control- the wind could shift the weather front. God’s “radar” is never wrong.

Just as Jesus and His disciples had contrasting reactions to the storm, my dogs have different reactions. My other dog, Maggie, is older than Henry and has seen many storms. Being the older, more experienced dog, Maggie can sleep easy through the strongest summer thunderstorms. As we grow older in our faith, we can rest easier with each passing storm, because we know the Lord has carried us through so many storms before.

Our response can determine the length of the storm. If we have right thinking and are standing on the Word of God, we can stand upright. We go through storms so that we may be a future comfort to someone else. Jesus knew He was going to quiet the storm. He knew His disciples had not built up their faith to ride out the storm. Jesus also knew something that the disciples did not know- that there was a demon possessed man on the other side of the Sea of Galilee who needed to be delivered. The disciples went through the storm so another man could be delivered from a legion of demons and proclaim Jesus’ work.

Just as God spoke to Job in the midst of his “whirlwind,” so too can God speak and comfort us in our storms. God will also sustain us in the storm.

“When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever.” (Proverbs 10:25, NIV).

The Lord will also guide us out of the storm:

“Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and He guided them to their desired haven.” (Psalm 107:28-30, NIV).

God bless you all.

Taking a Step Back in the Moment

In the closing moments of Super Bowl 23, the San Francisco 49ers trailed the Cincinnati Bengals 16-13. The story goes that as the 49ers huddled to begin the final drive Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana looked to offensive lineman Harris Barton and asked “Hey H, isn’t that John Candy over there eating popcorn?” Barton looked over and saw the late actor John Candy in the stands eating popcorn. Barton could not believe that in the final minutes of the Super Bowl Joe Montana was looking at celebrities in the crowd. However, Joe Montana made a career of being cool under pressure. With thirty-four seconds left in the game, Montana threw a ten yard touchdown pass to wide receiver John Taylor and the 49ers won 20-16.

Being able to take a step back under the enormity of the moment or the circumstances is something everyone has the potential to do, but very few put the skill into practice. A lesser experienced quarterback may have made a mistake on the final drive, but when you have the right system and the right players at the right time, the chances for success increase dramatically. When faced with the odds, what do you do? Dust yourself off and get up? Do you retreat in fear paralyzed by inaction? Do you seek refuge in a bottle of alcohol or pills? Do you play the blame game? Do you resign in despair and hopelessness?

Adversity can come in the form of one major obstacle or it can come in gradual waves, but the results are often the same and we are faced with what psychologists call “the fight or flight response.”

The persecution of the early church, more specifically, the Apostle Paul, is well documented in the New Testament. However, instead of shirking in fear or compromising on the message of the Gospel, the Apostles and other believers pressed on and within a few decades, Christ was preached to the far reaches of the Roman Empire. The early church is an example of pressing through when the times get tough.

“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:6-9, KJV).

When we seek to share Christ, set a new goal, go back to school, change careers or whatever the circumstances, we will face opposition, it is part of life. People around us may discourage us, telling us our dream is impossible or that we are too old. Maybe we have an idea when our personal finances are not in the best of shape to make a move. Maybe even Satan and outside spiritual forces try to talk us out of what we want to achieve. However, if God has placed the idea in your heart, if you have the personal drive and talent, to go forward, go forward. You cannot control the circumstances, only your response to the circumstances. Unfortunately, we may never have an “ideal” time because the time is now. While we live with eternity in our hearts, we must focus on the moment at hand. Obstacles can be opportunities.

“Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.” (Ecclesiastes 11:4, NIV).

If someone were to give you an expensive gift, wrapped with beautiful paper and ribbon, that person would expect you to open the gift in front of them and show gratitude. Depending on culture, the gift giver may feel insulted if you were to say, “Oh, that’s nice,” and never open the gift. God is the ultimate gift giver. Not only has God provided us with life and salvation, He has gifted us with talents, skills, ideas, character, and the gift of time. Some of the gifts and talents are not revealed until we reach down in the worst of life’s circumstances and draw from the deep well that is our capabilities.

“The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.” (Proverbs 20:5, NIV).

God bless you all.