I Timothy 6:17

Are you arrogant? Do you think highly of yourself and find it hard to–or even believe you shouldn’t–accept those who don’t live up to your standards? You may be right–you might be an accomplished individual who has worked hard to get where you are, or whose family has–but is it right for you as a child of God to look down on others?

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant…” (1 Timothy‬ ‭6:17‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

God’s Word teaches us to “…not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. (Romans‬ ‭12:3) NIV‬‬

What does this mean?

I suspect that one of the most difficult parts of following Christ is to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him, and I fear many who genuinely believe they are Christians might not, in fact, actually be doing so. In our flesh, our humanness, we want to assert our identity in who we are; the entire advertising industry is, in fact, predicated on this aspiration! We seek distinction (how many times have you heard that word in a car commercial?)–but in a way that reveals us better than others. We look for it in, yes, the car we drive, the clothes we can afford, the schools we attend, the neighborhood we live in, the profession or job we have, the vacations we go on, even in our intellect–and so on and so forth.

Christ, on the other hand, calls us to find our identity in who He is, in “…nothing…except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians‬ ‭2:2‬ ‭NIV‬‬), and this goes against everything the world does. Do you see it? My flesh wants to carve out its identity apart from Christ; He calls us to find our truest meaning in Him.

The world not only seeks to find its identity in status; it rejects and condemns those who don’t fit in at their level–and this rejection can occur because of any one of a number of reasons. We may not even realize it, but we intuitively form opinions of people based on various criteria. We judge others and are ourselves judged by them according to how we speak, what we wear, where we live, where we went to school, what we do for a living, and other defining criteria. To complicate things further, we also judge and get judged based on who our parents, spouses, and even children are and have accomplished!

Do you see it in yourself–do find yourself subliminally ranking the people you know into “important” and “not that important?” Do you consistently make sure to “like” some Facebook posts, while skimming past others that seem irrelevant? Are you honest enough to admit that it’s difficult not to do so? Now, think about the times you felt slighted–the times you yourself didn’t live up to the standard of whomever you were trying to relate to? How did it feel? Not very good, did it?

Yet these are the ways of the world–of those who do not know Christ. But those of us who cling to Him are instructed, “…because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear.” (Romans‬ ‭11:20‬ ‭KJV‬‬) We who belong to Christ are not to be arrogant against anyone!

The only hope we have, after all, is Christ, and He is available to all who call on Him, regardless of wealth, education, ethnicity or any other criteria. We have nothing to boast of except Jesus Himself–who He is and what He did. We, of all people, see most clearly that apart from Christ we are all mired in the hopelessness of our sins, that “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah‬ ‭64:6‬ ‭NIV‬‬) Regardless of whatever we have accomplished in life, we need to see ourselves and others with God’s eyes!

But what of our accomplishments? Do they count for nothing? And to extrapolate this a bit further–should we then not even bother trying to achieve anything of substance? At this point we must distinguish between accomplishment for self and accomplishment for Christ. I will probably never forget a little plaque my mother kept beside her bed that embodied the truth of Scripture–“Only one life, ’twill soon be past; Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

So the question becomes: whom are you doing whatever it is you’re doing for–for whose glory? The same action can be done for self or for Christ. Are you buying that car to favorably distinguish yourself from your neighbors, or to get to work to support your family? Are you seeking to bring glory to Christ through your accomplishments, or to yourself?

The apostle Paul, of all people, had human status–if anyone could feel accomplished, he could. Yet this was his attitude:

“…I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians‬ ‭3:8-14‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

So, are you arrogant? Do you somehow feel worthy because of who you are or what you have done, or are you completely focused on finding your value in Him and in everything He is?

Dear Lord,

Help me “not think of…[myself] more highly than…[I] ought, but rather think of…[myself] with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to…[me].” Amen.

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2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Why do bad things happen? Why do people, for example, get attacked, or get cancer, or get into accidents? Why do little children die unexpectedly of something as absurd as influenza, or develop serious congenital issues before they’re even born? Why do families fall apart? Why do people slip on the ice and break a hip or fall down the stairs and become paralyzed? Why does God sometimes let spouses be unfaithful or abusive, or parents not be the people they should be? Why do friends let us down? Why can people be unkind or unwelcoming; why do we get looked down on and thought less of for things we can’t really control? Why is there scarcity in life? Why is there war? Why is there oppression? Ultimately, in whatever shape or form it touches our lives, why must we, as human beings, experience pain?

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians‬ ‭4:17-18‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

The short answer as to why there is pain is that it is because of the presence of sin in this world, but there is more, and that pertains to how we respond to the pain that enters our life–what its result is in us. Whenever bad things happen we have two choices–1) we can pull further away from our heavenly Father, or 2) we can draw closer. We can become angry at Him. We can mistrust Him. We can question His judgment. We can doubt His love for us. We can pull back and even become alienated from Him. Or–we can run into His loving arms. But what determines what our response will be? It all depends on the quality of our relationship.

Let’s use my marriage as an example. If I have a strong relationship with my husband–if I know he loves me very much and is always concerned about my well-being, and if he has always been faithful and there is a good explanation for everything he does–I will not panic if he unexpectedly drops off the grid for an hour or two because I know he is trustworthy and there is a good reason why I can’t reach him at the moment. If, on the other hand, he has shown himself unworthy of my trust–well, I probably won’t respond in quite the same way. Do you see? It all depends on his character.

It’s the same with God. If I have a strong intimate spiritual relationship with Him based upon a significant investment in His Word and prayer, I will know my God. I will know that He is–utterly and completely beyond any shadow of a doubt–trustworthy. I will be convinced both of His love for me and of His ability to successfully effect whatever it is He is working out in my life–and I will not fight Him. To the contrary, I will run to Him, and like the apostle Peter I will say “…Master, to whom would…[I] go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. [I’ve]…already committed…[myself], confident that you are the Holy One of God.” (John‬ ‭6:68-69‬ ‭MSG‬‬)

And that is the crux of the issue: do I know Him well enough to respond with a confidence like that? Do I recognize–and genuinely believe–“…that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate…[me] from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans‬ ‭8:38-39‬ ‭NIV‬‬)? Do I remember that He has declared, “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah‬ ‭32:27‬ ‭NIV‬‬)?

Trust in any relationship is predicated on a previous track record of proven character. God, however, is always good; I just may not have invested enough in my relationship with Him to recognize this yet. But if, as the result of an ongoing vibrant relationship with Him, I have come to recognize that He is always good, loving, trustworthy, faithful, omnipotent, omniscient and wise; if I have been able to personally, “Taste and see that the Lord is good…” (Psalm‬ ‭34:8‬ ‭NIV‬‬); if I remember that He has never failed me before; if every time I obeyed Him I found that things have worked out–in other words, if I know from personal experience, “…that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans‬ ‭8:28‬ ‭NIV‬‬)–then I will be more inclined to cling to Him in faith, and trust Him in this situation too.

But why do bad things actually happen? I’m convinced that God allows pain to enter our lives to drive us to Him–to cause us to seek more of Christ, which is not something most of us naturally do. When all seems well we might be content to close our hearts off from God and attempt to navigate life apart from Him; it is only when confronted by that which is bigger than us–that which injures us, or which we cannot solve or get through on our own–that we recognize our need.

I am furthermore convinced that most of us do not comprehend through how much we will have to pass before we get to eternity. The Word of God confirms this. In Acts 14:22, Paul and Barnabas affirmed that, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God…” (Acts‬ ‭14:21-22‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Each of us has a separate path, but it is the path our Lord has given us and we must walk it. Just as John’s was not Peter’s, yours is not mine and mine is not yours–each is uniquely ours: “Jesus answered, “If I want him to…[fill in another’s path] what is that to you? You must follow me.” (John‬ ‭21:22‬ ‭NIV‬‬) But if we will use the trials and difficulties and pain God allows to enter our individual lives to seek Him more–to “gain Christ and be found in Him,” it will serve its intended purpose of refining us and drawing us closer to Him “…until Christ is formed in you.” (Galatians 4:19)

Dear Lord,

Help “our light and momentary troubles…[achieve] for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” Help us “…fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Amen.

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Romans 8:27

Why do I believe in Jesus? That’s a great question, and I’d love to answer it, but first let me ask you why you believe in the wind? You haven’t ever actually seen it, have you? Of course you see what it does–leaves swirling and trees bending–but you’ve never actually seen the wind itself. You might think you’ve heard it, but scientists tell us that’s just the vibrations from the wind blowing past various objects. Neither have you touched it or tasted it or smelled it. So why do you assume it exists; why can you say with certainty it’s there without seeming ridiculous?

“And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans‬ ‭8:27‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Well, obviously, because you’ve seen what it does! It may be invisible, but it’s effects are not. They are clear to anyone observing. And I’m not just talking about rustling leaves; it’s effects can be momentous–just ask someone who’s lived through a hurricane.

That’s why I believe in Jesus–because I can clearly see what His Spirit does in someone who doesn’t know Him. I can see someone who doesn’t yet believe and is still lost to God–the deadness in his eyes, the sadness and hopelessness, the life of quiet despair. Then, after Christ gets ahold of him, after he is born again of God’s Spirit, everything changes! The deadness is gone–there is life! There is hope, and a future, and even though he may not know very much about God, he knows enough to know he is Christ’s and Christ is his! And it’s not the excitement of someone who’s gotten enamored with a new preoccupation–it’s literally like the difference between a corpse and a living human being!!

I also know the miracles God can work through people who have surrendered themselves to Him and obey Him–the seemingly nonsensical things others don’t get because they don’t understand the concept of working for eternal treasures. Like spending your life, resources and energy creating a home for recovering addicts. Or moving to Calcutta to minister to the forgotten. Or taking in deformed babies and raising them as your own. Or any one of the “so-selfless-there’s-no-explanation-but-Christ” things He does through His people submitted to Him. The list is endless, but they all involves losing your life for His sake–giving up your pursuits to further His.

Most of all, I believe in Him because I know Him. That, I can honestly say, is the real reason I believe in Jesus–because I know Him. The other reasons are great for convincing those who don’t yet know Him, but at this point of my walk with Him you couldn’t convince me Christ isn’t real anymore than that you could convince me my husband isn’t. And it isn’t because of some kind of altered perception, it’s because of two experiential reasons–things which I’ve personally experienced myself.

The first is answered prayer. So imagine I were to pray to a great frog who’s holding up the earth on its back. How many times would you expect me to get what I’ve asked for? Statistically speaking I’d expect a favorable response 50% of the time, right? Because there’s a 50/50 chance something could happen or not, correct? But praying to God isn’t like praying to a nonexistent entity like a great frog–God’s real! That’s why He actually answers my prayers–and during the course of my life it’s been way too often for this to be mere coincidence!

The second reason is because of His Holy Spirit. It’s Romans 8:16–“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” What does that mean? It means that as we fellowship with Him in prayer–as we come before Him and seek His presence, we get it–we really truly experience His presence, as well as confirmation of our status as His children!

Actually, let’s put that verse into its proper context to understand better:

“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “ Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans‬ ‭8:5-17‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans‬ ‭8:26-27‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

When a child of God prays, something miraculous happens–we are brought into the very presence of God!

So, why do I believe in Jesus? More accurately, how could I not?

Dear Lord,

Thank You that You are real; thank You that Your Spirit intercedes for me according to Your will; thank You that I can cry, “Abba, Father,” to You; thank You that You show Yourself freely to those who want You; please help me want You more than anything else! Amen.

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Psalm 42:1-2

Do you fellowship with God? “To fellowship” is one of those old religious terms we don’t typically use much outside of church anymore, but it simply means to spend meaningful time with. And while we certainly fellowship with other people who know and love God, the dearest and most intimate of spiritual relationships for a child of God is–or ought to be–with the Heavenly Father Himself, and with Jesus whom He sent.

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm‬ ‭42:1-2‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

King David got it–he had a close and intimate spiritual relationship with our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer God, as evidenced by his longing to meet with Him in today’s verse. Yet many professing Christians don’t seem to, if the amount of time they spend in private prayer and Bible study is any indication. Our pastor once asked how we can want to go to heaven to spend eternity with God if we don’t want to spend any time with Him here, and it is true. How can we? It’s like agreeing to marry someone you avoid associating with–it makes absolutely no sense! Yet I suspect that those who avoid Him most are those who know Him least–and sadly, it is those who have not made the effort to spend time getting to know Him who know Him least!

It is true that there seems to be something within us that tries to push us away from seeking out and spending time with our God in prayer and His Word, but that is the vestige of our old self that seems to be “allergic” to God–that doesn’t like Him and wants to avoid Him. Yes, our “old self” has been crucified with Jesus on the cross, but we sometimes joke that it keeps wanting to get back down again! Yet we must resist its impulses; we must not let it: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians‬ ‭4:22-24‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

And if we overcome that initial hurdle of beginning our Bible study or our time of seeking God’s presence in prayer, He meets us and we actually get to be in His very presence! This is what the letter to the Hebrews means when it encourages us: “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews‬ ‭4:16‬ ‭NKJV‬‬)

That is what we are actually doing–we are approaching the throne of grace; we are approaching God! We, mere human beings, have the privilege–the highest honor and blessing–to bask in the presence of Holiness, of Grace, of Goodness! What an incomparable joy!!! But, we will never get to experience it if we don’t come! And that is the irony. Before we become accustomed to spending time in God’s presence we don’t particularly think we want it; yet once we’ve spent time there we recognize there is no better place to be!

But, like every relationship, it take planning and effort. We have to set aside a specific time to meet with our God daily, and keep the appointment, just as we do with other less important commitments!

So, do you fellowship with God? Have you ever–really worshipping Him “in spirit and in truth,” as Jesus said the Father seeks for us to worship Him? If you haven’t yet, will you? It will be SO worth it!

“But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.” (John‬ ‭4:23‬ ‭NASB‬‬)

Dear Lord God,

Help me long for you as the deer longs for water; help me worship You in spirit and in truth; help me come boldly to Your throne of grace! Amen.

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Matthew 13:44

What does being a Christian involve? Is it merely some kind of initial “spiritual experience” and then not much else, or is there something I have to actually do–is there real work involved? Put another way, is being a Christian a passive process in which something is done to us, or an active one in which we are to be busily engaged?

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (Matthew‬ ‭13:44‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

If you make the effort to personally sit down and study your Bible with integrity of purpose (rather than simply relying on what you hear) you may not be so inclined to assume it’s the former. We’ve heard “accept Christ in your heart” so often that we assume that’s all there is to it. Then we’re surprised and taken aback that so many who have “accepted Christ” fall back into their old lives and leave the church. Or they are functionally indistinguishable from non-Christians. Or our youth are leaving the church because they see no other call or purpose than sitting in a building week after week and socializing with a particular group of people. We have missed the full portent of what it means to accept Him as our Lord and Savior–the implications of what it means for Him to really rule over every aspect of our lives, and the full extent of what he’s saving us from. Granted, we do typically recognize that those who are born again have a sensitivity to the things of God, but in all fairness–so did the rich young ruler who went away sad after Jesus said he still needed to sell all and come follow Him. Yet most of us haven’t given up all we have for Christ–so how are we any different? If being a Christian doesn’t require any further action on our part, if it doesn’t change our life much, if we simply add Him onto our existing life–onto who we already are–have we really accepted Him as our Lord and Savior?

The point is that Christ came not to better our lives or enhance them, but to replace them! He doesn’t pour out His Spirit into our dead “I-want-nothing-to-do-with-Him hearts of stone–He only fills with Himself new, spiritually reborn-to-Him living breathing hearts of flesh (the “we don’t pour new wine into old wine skins” parable). Remember He said,“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John‬ ‭10:10‬ ‭NASB‬‬)

And while we do need to accept Him as Lord and Savior, I believe we in the post-modern church have committed a grave error in diluting the Biblical definition of what a life “…redeemed…from…[the] futile way of life inherited from your forefathers” (1 Peter‬ ‭1:18‬ ‭NASB)‬‬

looks like.

But to begin with, let’s clarify that salvation isn’t “Christ and;” it’s just “Christ.” Period. Jesus paid the penalty for every sin ever committed by mankind on the cross and there is absolutely nothing we can or need to do to add to it. His work salvation is complete; “it is finished,” paid in full–tetelestai–as He declared on the cross. But that isn’t the issue.

The issue is what we believe He has saved us from. I think we as a culture are so sin-driven–so completely immersed in it–that all our guilt-ridden consciences can focus on is the Divine retribution we so rightly deserve. So when we think of salvation from sin, what we are really thinking is that we will escape eternal damnation as punishment for our sins. And that is part of it, but it is only a part.

When we read that Christ came to “save His people from their sins” we need to understand the full context of our picture–of the sin-infected world we live in. The effects of sin on humankind are so pervasive that we typically cannot comprehend how far short of true rightness we have fallen. We are so thoroughly enmeshed in our own sin and the sin around us that we cannot even see straight–we cannot see ourselves as God sees us. We need God’s sight; we need a power above and beyond anything we can muster. We need Him.

And the problem with believing that all Jesus saves us from is the penalty of sin is that we miss the forest for the trees–we miss the fact that He also desires to work on us now, to save us from ourselves–from “the sin which so easily entangles us.” An essential aspect of His work of redemption is filling us with His Spirit to show us how to live now, to “conform us to the image of…[Himself].” He doesn’t add onto our lives–complement them or make them better–He gives us Himself–He makes us into different people completely transformed through association with Him!

And this is not a passive activity–it requires work on our part–obedience, commitment, perseverance, having what it takes to make it to the end. Prove it, you say. Okay. How about Jesus’ own words?

“Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn’t finish.’

Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can’t, won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce?

Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple. Salt is excellent. But if the salt goes flat, it’s useless, good for nothing. Are you listening to this? Really listening?”

‭‭(Luke‬ ‭14:28-35‬ ‭MSG‬‬)

Most translations render verse 33 similarly to the NIV “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke‬ ‭14:33‬ ‭NIV‬‬) but the Orthodox Jewish Bible, which can sometimes provide valuable insight, says “So, then, none of you can become my talmid if you do not renounce all your [idolatrous] holdings.” (Lukas‬ ‭14:33‬ ‭OJB‬‬)

The issue is idolatry; nothing can come before Christ and following Him–no association, no property, no pursuit, no love. Do you see that 1) there is a cost involved? Jesus speaks of being able to finish the Christian life you commit to–having the wherewithal to go the distance, being willing to sacrifice everything to gain the priceless treasure, HIM–unlike the rich young ruler who would not.

2) There is also a mission. It is the great commission:

“So go and make followers of all people in the world. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything that I have taught you, and I will be with you always, even until the end of this age.””

‭‭(Matthew‬ ‭28:19-20‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

We are to spend our lives calling others to a life of self-denial and commitment to Christ and His kingdom.

3) And, there is labor–there is actual, real work involved. It may involve pastoring, missionary work, teaching, serving in your church. It maybe constructing churches or homes, providing medical services, or digging wells. But it will certainly involve personal and private labor–what used to be called the spiritual disciplines, which now seem to many like a relic of an archaic practice, but which are absolutely essential and without which there is no growth in Christ–no moving forward!

It will involve studying the Word of God–reading it, spending time in it–so you hear God talk to you. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans‬ ‭10:17‬ ‭NKJV‬‬)

It will also involve spending extended time wrestling with God in prayer–worshipping Him, seeking His presence and will, interceding for others. An extended time. Not a quick “Good morning, Jesus” or even a rote Lord’s Prayer. A real fellowshipping with Him–if you ever want to progress beyond Christian “baby-dom.”

No, committing to Christ is not a passive activity, but we have made it appear to be so. It is not something extra you tack onto your life; if you follow Him, Christ becomes your life–you hand in your old one and He gives you a new one. It requires great personal sacrifice and much hard labor.

And that’s why we’re losing people–because by omission, we’re lying to them as to what following Jesus is. In our desire to “save souls”–to pack our churches–we’ve watered down Christianity so much so that first century believers would no longer recognize it. They lost their property; some had to flee for their lives, some gave not only their own lives but also the lives of their children. The church in China and the Muslim world is growing because they understand the cost–in so many cases it really does mean prison or death, and certainly a loss of comfort and standing in the community.

Remember Paul’s statement in Philippians 3:8?

“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians‬ ‭3:8‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Following Christ cost Paul everything; should we expect Him to require nothing of us—no personal sacrifice, no working for His kingdom , no effort for growth? I don’t believe we can–not if we take “gaining Christ and being found in Him” seriously!

Dear Lord,

Give me Yourself, Life–and give me It abundantly! Amen.

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James 4:4-5

Are you an adulterer? I’m not asking if you’re unfaithful to your spouse; what I’m asking is if you’re unfaithful to your God. And as deleterious as adultery is to a marital relationship, adultery toward our relationship with God is so much more so because of its eternal portent.

“You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit he has placed within us should be faithful to him.” (James‬ ‭4:4-5‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

I sometimes think about what the world must have been like in the days of Noah that only eight people were spared, or in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah that none but Lot’s family were saved. Then I think about our own times and wonder if we’re any better. The problem with objectivity is that you tend to lose it if you’re in the middle of whatever it is you’re trying to be objective about, and all of us are smack dab in the middle of this day and age.

Yet “the world”–the thought patterns and sinfulness commonly practiced by mankind since sin infected our existences–has always been there. The specialness of Christ is that He “…gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,” (Galatians‬ ‭1:3-4‬ ‭NIV‬‬) Not to keep us in it–to rescue us from it.

Yes, we’re in it to begin with, but when we correctly understand His call on our lives, He pulls us out of it. Not physically, of course; we’re still alive. But emotionally, mentally, spiritually. And it doesn’t somehow happen “magically”–our sanctification is a very common sense process that happens as we obey how He instructs us to live and pull out of the “gook.”

But the problem is that most of the time we don’t really want to be pulled out of it. I just finished a wonderful time of fellowship and prayer earlier today, only to turn on Netflix’s The Crown–complete with its depictions of sins of various varieties. And I felt the call of Christ’s Spirit telling me not to, but did it anyway, rationalizing that it’s entertainment (or alternately at other times that we need to relax, or it’s history, or whatever other justifications we tell ourselves). And even though I didn’t approve of the sin–and tried to get past the “bad” parts–I grieved the Spirit; it injured my relationship with my God. And it was not good. And I sinned.

But am I alone? Am I the only one who has done this? I say this not to justify myself, but to show the strength of the pull of our “flesh”–and it can be strong, depending on how often we feed it. If we are accustomed to gratifying our every whim, it will be harder to say no. But if, through prayer and the ability God gives, we begin saying no to ourselves, we will get better at it.

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”

‭‭(Romans‬ ‭8:12-13‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Make no mistake, this is serious business because habitually giving in to that pull will result in our eternal death. Yet this is why Christ came–to save us from our sins, to give us the freedom to not give in. Granted, we will not be 100% sin-free this side of eternity, but even a superficial observation of the many giants of the faith reveal how much room there is for our own growth.

But why should I resist my urge to “enjoy” sin–to partake of it in any of the many forms it presents itself in? Because I cannot continue fellowshipping with it and fellowship with God too! It is like trying to have two husbands, like the nation of Israel that worshipped the true God in the temple, only to then go worship the idols in the groves. It doesn’t work! You can’t become the person God wants to make you into that way!

Yet somehow, today, even those of us in the church make excuses for ourselves as we try to sit on two horses. But we can’t–really; we can’t. At any given moment, we can turn to Christ or we can turn to the world; we can immerse ourselves in the pursuit of God, or we can immerse ourselves in the pleasures and distractions of sin. Distractions from what, you ask? From God, and our impoverished condition before Him, of course!

So, are you an adulterer or adulteress? Or are you going to take steps to actively get yourself out of whatever it is you’re into that is keeping you from growing closer to God? “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded…Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

‭‭(James‬ ‭4:8, 10‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Dear Lord,

Help me draw near to You so that You will draw near to me! Help me be faithful to You!! Amen.

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Philippians 3:10

How much do you pray? Not how many words do you utter, but how much do you actually crave for and actively seek out fellowship with the Father and our Lord Jesus through His Spirit? More to the point, do you earnestly desire to know our heavenly Father, and Jesus Christ whom He sent (which, if you recall, is the literal definition of eternal life given in the Bible)? If you do not, why do you suppose that is?

“I want to know Christ…” (Philippians‬ ‭3:10‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

God desires our love and genuine devotion, not an act–whether to impress others or even Him. David said, “As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God.” (Psalms‬ ‭42:1‬ ‭NLT‬‬) Another translation says, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” (Psalm‬ ‭42:1‬ ‭NIV‬‬) Do I pant for God like a thirsty deer pants for water? Do I long to know Him, to spend time with Him? Or, as is more often the case, if I do seek Him out in His Word and prayer, do I avoid Him until the very last possible minute, as if being with Him were something unpleasant?

I was blessed earlier in life to be spiritually mentored by a devout spiritual leader devoted to prayer. He is no longer with us, but his influence remains–as does that of all godly individuals whose example God allows to touch our lives. I remember him speaking of a man of God who spent four hours in prayer each day, and couldn’t grasp how anyone could pray for that long. Yet as I am maturing in my faith, I am coming to understand that extended prayer with the One “from…[Whom] and through…[Whom] and for…[Whom] are all things” (Romans‬ ‭11:36‬ ‭NIV‬‬) is not only possible—-it is essential!

Listen to a wonderful description about why we should long for and spend time with our Lord:

“Much time spent with God is the secret of all successful praying. Prayer which is felt as a mighty force is the mediate or immediate product of much time spent with God. Our short prayers owe their point and efficiency to the long ones that have preceded them. The short prevailing prayer cannot be prayed by one who has not prevailed with God in a mightier struggle of long continuance. Jacob’s victory of faith could not have been gained without that all-night wrestling. God’s acquaintance is not made by pop calls. God does not bestow his gifts on the casual or hasty comers and goers. Much [time] with God alone is the secret of knowing him and of influence with him.” (https://www.biblebelievers.com/em_bounds/em-bounds_ch07.html)

This explanation is an excellent one, but even it focuses on the gifts–the benefits–of extended prayer. Yet I believe what God desires most from us is for us simply to love Him–to seek Him out because we long for Him, because we want Him, the greatest gift of Himself, not merely because of the other gifts He can give.

Listen to the remainder of today’s passage:

[Those who press forward in Christ:]

“I want to know Christ…Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.

[Those whose destiny is destruction:]

For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.

[Back to those who press forward in Christ:]

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:10-21 NIV)

So, do you enjoy spending time with God? Do you like to pray, to talk to and fellowship with Him and worship Him in prayer and seek His heart? If not, why don’t you ask Him for a desire for this? Remember that whenever we ask for something God already wants for us–for something that is according to His will–He “…gives generously to all without finding fault…” (James‬ ‭1:5‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Dear Lord,

Help me long for You as the deer pants for water; help me to know You! Amen.

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