Abiding in Christ

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I was reading 1 John recently when the word “abide” caught my attention. Abide is a word we don’t use much anymore. The word abide started me down a biblical concordance rabbit hole.

The Greek word for abide is Meno (Strong’s 3306), which means “to stay in a given place, state, relation, or expectancy.” Meno is also used for the word dwell. Upon further study, I came upon some interesting tidbits about the word abide:

Abide is used 31 times throughout The Gospel of John, 1 John, and 2 John and only 18 times throughout the rest of the New Testament.

The same word for dwell is used 11 times throughout John’s writings, but only once in the rest of the New Testament.

Bonus fact: For you King James readers, Meno is also translated as “continue” 5 times in John’s writings and 6 times in the New Testament.

Now that we have established the meaning and usage of the word abide, what is its context? John’s writings use abide to indicate a continuous relationship with Christ. Thus, we are staying in a given place with Christ, similar to staying in a marriage or friendship. For the believer and the non-believer alike, what does abiding in Christ entail? This is not a comprehensive list, but I would encourage you to study this on your own as well.

The Holy Spirit comes to abide in us when we receive Christ

“If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever-the Spirit of truth…”                  (John 14:15-17a, NKJV).

*See also 1 John 2:27.

We will have joy and we will perfect our love for others

“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you , that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:9-12, NKJV).

We will be fruitful in our walk with God

“Abide in Me,and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine,neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”(John 15:4-5, NKJV).

We will not live in spiritual darkness

“I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.” (John 12:46, NKJV).

“He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.”              (1 John 2:9-10, NKJV).

We will be able to separate truth from error

“If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free…Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:31-32, 36, NKJV).

As with any relationship, whether it’s spiritual, romantic, or friendship, the more time you spent with someone, the better you get to know them. The more you get to know them, the more you will be able to separate the real person from an impostor. This same principle applies to our relationship with Christ. The more time we spent with Jesus, whether its through prayer, fasting, or personal study, the more we come to know the authentic Jesus. In this day and time, we need more discernment than ever. God bless.

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Learning to Live in Grace

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Faith and grace often rise up during our lowest times. My walk with Christ has enabled me to overcome and work through very dark and difficult situations, such as sickness, family issues, mental health, career and financial struggles, and the dissolution of my marriage, all of which have taken a physical, mental, and spiritual toll. I haven’t been perfect in my faith or responses, but I am learning to live in grace.

My church is doing a series called “90 Days with Jesus,” where Monday through Saturday, we read one chapter of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I am halfway through Mark, which is just action packed with miracles and powerful teachings from start to finish. What has always struck me about the gospels is how a person’s lifetime of physical or emotional suffering came to an instantaneous end when they encountered Jesus. However, if many of us were to be honest, we’ve read these stories and petition God as to why He’s never healed us or a loved one of an affliction, why He’s not listening to our prayers, we wonder where are you, God?

God’s grace provides us with the strength we need to face our daily difficulties. Grace and faith should be realistic-not every situation is going to end in a miracle. There will be dark times, there will be struggles, but we must remember to rely on God’s strength to carry us through those times.

The Apostle Paul faced what he called “a thorn in the flesh,” which was a constant struggle in his life. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talked about his struggle and how on three different occasions he prayed God would take it away, but God did not. Some people  would argue Paul was physically sick, others would state Paul’s thorn was the constant persecution he faced. I personally lean toward the persecutions as his thorn. Even spiritual giants such as Paul had their struggles and that should comfort us. We must remember that God is working to perfect our character and prepare us for long-term growth, even if it comes at the expense of our perceived short-term comfort, as Paul wrote:

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to  torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!  Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.  And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, NASB).

So as we go about our day and our lives, let us remember that during the weakest moments, God’s grace is to be our strength. We must change our mindset concerning our suffering and difficulties and look for God’s guidance and direction. As we look toward God, our faith will increase. God bless you all.

Step Out of the Boat

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To start off the new year, my church is doing a 90 Days with Jesus Bible study, where we read one chapter of a Gospel each day Monday through Saturday. One of this week’s readings I found intriguing was Matthew 14:22-32.

Matthew 14:22-32 tells the story of Jesus walking on the water. Jesus earlier in the day had taught, healed, and miraculously fed more than 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. After the events of the day, Jesus tells His disciples to get in the boat and go to the other side. After Jesus dismissed the crowd, He prayed late into the night on a mountainside.

While the disciples were in the boat, a storm came up on the lake. Just before dawn, the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water toward them, but they were fearful, saying,”It’s a ghost.”(Matthew 14:26, NIV).

“But Jesus immediately said to them:”Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27, NIV).

Peter throughout the Gospels is often portrayed as the most impulsive disciple in the group, as he often speaks and acts without thinking, is not waiting for Jesus to come to him, as he says:

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”(Matthew 14:28, NIV).

“Come,” He (Jesus) said. (Matthew 14:29, NIV).

Peter gets out of the boat and starts walking on the water. However, Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus and notices the storm around him, in which he begins to sink. Peter cries out for Jesus to save him, which he does, and rebukes Peter for his lack of faith. The wind dies down and the two men get into the boat, where all of the disciples worship Jesus, proclaiming Him the Son of God.

In my twenty years of being a Christian, I’ve heard this story taught numerous times. The teaching always boils down to rebuking Peter for his lack of faith in taking his eyes off of Jesus. Peter, of course did so, but what if were to look at the story from a different perspective?

The text tells us that only Peter called out to the Lord and went out on the water- not James, John, Andrew, Thomas, Bartholomew, or anybody else-only Peter got out of the boat. Yes, maybe Peter’s thought process was rash, but he was the only one who stepped out. Peter took a literal step of faith when no one else would. I would like to think over time, Peter internalized the times he fell short with Jesus and it strengthened his faith.  The Book of Acts tells us it was Peter who stood up at Pentecost and proclaimed the Gospel, to which 3,000 souls were saved. Not bad for a fishermen who couldn’t walk on water.

What I glean from this story is that no matter the obstacle around us, we must be willing to take the first steps toward change. We have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and face the possibility we will not get it right the first time. This lesson can be applied in any aspect of our lives. Are you wanting to get back out and date after a divorce or break-up? We must step out. Are you changing your diet and exercising to improve your health? You have to get started. Are you trying to advance or change your career? You must take the steps to put yourself in the best position to succeed.

If we seek to grow deeper in our relationship with God, Jesus is telling us “Come,” the same as He did with Peter. Jesus could have easily teleported Peter out of the boat, but He didn’t. Jesus watched Peter make the effort to come to Him. Remember this day that Jesus is in the midst of your storm, but you have to take the steps. God bless you.

It’s on the Cards

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Mailing out Christmas cards to family and friends is along held tradition for many people. Even in the age of social media, I still receive cards in the mail. I’ve never been much of a card sender (I’ve given cards out in person at family gatherings), but I still enjoy receiving cards.

This Christmas season, however, things are different. My divorce became final on November 29, 2018. Every card I received is addressed to me only, another subtle reminder of “the new normal.”I’m not saddened by it or anything, it’s just feels weird. My ex-wife and I lived in this same house for sixteen of our eighteen years of marriage and the Christmas cards came with both of our names on them. Now it’s just me.

I know getting over a divorce or any other life changing event is a process- spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally, and financially. I am making adjustments day by day to be a better person and to find my way on my own. I have taken this time to count my blessings- my family has been very supportive, friends have reached out, I’ve joined a men’s group at church, I am more open and social at work, my ex-wife and I are on friendly terms, and my dogs are still crazy about me.

The holidays are often a depressing time for so many people and I’m trying to avoid that fate. I might be lonely, but I know I’m not alone. I will survive this Christmas and I know I will thrive in the new year.

Jesus Crosses Social Barriers

“Now he had to go through Samaria,” John 4:4 (NIV).

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Have you ever tried to avoid driving on a certain stretch of road or try to bypass traffic in a particular city? What if going through said stretch of road or city was the shortest, most direct route to your destination? Would you still avoid it? Is there some long-standing bias or bad memory associated with the road or city?

During biblical times, the average person walked everywhere or they may have rode a donkey, camel, or perhaps a horse. When there are great distances involved, especially while traveling on foot, you would want to walk the shortest route possible. In one instance, Jesus took the shortest route and crossed a major social barrier.

Jesus and his disciples were traveling from Judea to Galilee and went through Samaria, which was the shortest route. “Now he had to go through Samaria,” seems like a pretty innocuous statement for a 21st Century reader, but in Jesus’ time, Samaria was controversial among the Jews of Israel. In fact, many Jews tried to go places by avoiding Samaria all together.

The controversy dates back to the Old Testament. Samaria was the capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel, while Jerusalem remained the capital of the southern Kingdom of Judea.  The Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom in 722 BC and deported many of the Jews. The Assyrians brought in Gentiles (non-Jews) to settle the land. These Gentiles intermarried with the remaining Jews, which created a “mixed race,” which the Jews of Judea did not recognize the Samaritan as “authentic Jews” for lack of a better term. The Samaritan Jews also believed Mount Gerizim was the holy site for sacrifice, not the Temple in Jerusalem, and recognized only the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) as Scripture.

Understanding the conflict between the Jews and the Samaritans gives a different context to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, which probably would have angered many in his Jewish audience that a Samaritan would be hero of the story.

I will not go through the entire story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well (John 4:4-42), but I want to discuss some of the highlights. We live in such a divisive time, where people only read and listen to what confirms their confirmation bias, from which they do not budge. Let us take a look at the barriers Jesus crosses in this story:

-Jesus goes directly into what many consider “hostile territory.”

-Jesus, a Jew, speaks with people who are Samaritans.

-Jesus, a man, ministers to a woman.

-Jesus does not condemn the Samaritan woman for her past.

-Jesus does not debate doctrine, cast judgment, or threaten anyone with hell.

-Jesus brings a message of hope for all people, regardless of their background.

-Jesus breaks down the barriers of  institutional racism.

After Jesus ministers to the woman, she goes back and brings people of the town to see Jesus. Jesus and the disciples end up staying in Samaria for two days and many Samaritans come to faith in Christ.

I recognize that during my more fundamentalist days, I was a very divisive Christian. I have seen the error of my ways and I am now trying to break down these man made barriers. I believe the church and all of society can benefit from this example of Christ. Just because someone isn’t the same skin color as you, believes a different political philosophy, goes to a different church, or lives a lifestyle you don’t agree with, that doesn’t make them bad people. Everybody is just like you, in search of love and acceptance, which we need to provide. There is no need to condemn anyone for their past, because we all have a past. Let’s quit treating each other like dogs and rubbing our noses in each other’s mess. If we as Christians want to be more like Jesus, we need to be tearing down these superficial barriers instead of building  higher and higher walls.

 

 

Psalm 62: God is our Defense

Psalm 62
https://dailyverses.net/psalms/62/2

I haven’t been myself for a long time. I have been wearied and weakened in my faith by the barrage of recent events in my life and those of my loved ones. Getting up everyday and living life is not for the faint of heart- it takes true courage to rise everyday when you know what’s waiting for you. At times it feels the dread of knowing you will encounter a bully on the way to school- you can’t seem to avoid him, no matter what you do. If you aren’t careful, this constant stress will affect you physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

The bombardment of life can and will chip away at the strongest of foundations, as we will lose ground little by little until we are buried in a deep hole. In our minds and spirits, we in a sense become theological toddlers, asking God “Why?” “Why?” “Why?” Before long confusion and doubt set in and we become more and more miserable, maybe even questioning God’s goodness or His existence.

I left for work earlier this week and I let God know my frustrations. My exact prayer was: “Lord, you’re going to have to make this path as obvious as the yellow brick road in The Wizard of Oz, because I can’t see it.”

Psalm 62 is what I heard in response. The Psalms are often my go to book, but I couldn’t remember what Psalm 62 was about. I drove on to work and pulled into a parking spot. I was a few minutes early, so I pulled up the Bible app on my phone and read Psalm 62. Right word. Right place. Right time.

Psalm 62, like many others, is attributed to David.

“Truly my soul waiteth upon God: from Him cometh my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be greatly moved.” -Psalm 62:1-2, KJV.

The Hebrew word used for “defense” is Misgab (Strong’s #4869), which means a cliff or other inaccessible place, a refuge. In the King James text, Misgab is translated as:

Defense (7x) -Psalms 59:9, 59:16-17, 62:2, 62:6, 94:22, and Isaiah 33:16.

Refuge (5x) -Psalms 9:9(twice), 46:7, 46:11, 48:3.

High Tower (3x)-2 Samuel 22:3, Psalms 18:2 and 144:2.

Fort (1x)-Isaiah 25:12.

*As a side note, Misgab is used directly in Jeremiah 48:1 to refer to mountains in Moab.

In Psalm 62 verses 3, 4, 9, and 10, David discusses his enemies, who are going after him. David doesn’t worry about his position because his hope is in God. God is David’s refuge. David’s relationship with God serves as a metaphorical fortress that cannot be seized by any enemy. Psalm 62 is twelve verses long, eight of which David uses to praise God and only four verses to outline the conspiracy against him. David literally spent twice as much time talking up God as opposed to discussing his enemies. No wonder David had the confidence to stand up to a giant who was nine feet tall.

The Scripture doesn’t give us a context as to when David wrote these verses, but David speaks with confidence that God will deliver him from trouble because God has done it before. What has God brought you through in your life? God might have seemingly dragged you kicking and screaming, but He took you through it. You’re still standing. You’re still here. We want so desperately to be in complete control, but not all things are in our control and that’s why it takes faith.

Maybe you’re like me and have wandered off the path and God is trying to call you back. Stop where you are and listen for Him. I know there are times when it seems like we are spending all of our time battling on the offensive that we don’t have the strength to raise our shields to defend ourselves. Retreat to the high ground and you will have a better view of the battle. To quote a famous song, “The God of angels armies is always by my side.”

“My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation: He is my defense; I shall not be moved. In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in Him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before Him: God is a refuge for us. Selah.” -Psalm 62:5-8, KJV.

God bless you all.

Enduring Hardships with Strength

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https://motivationgrid.com/11-powerful-bruce-lee-quotes-need-know/

A common literary device rooted in human existence is the hero’s journey. The hero’s journey has been part of mythology, fairy tales, epic poems, plays, legends, even to our modern day equivalent of novels and movies. All of these stories follow an similar three act structure. Act 1-Introduce the hero. Act 2- Put the hero in the most adverse/perilous situation. Act 3- the hero overcomes the situation, gets the girl, fulfills his destiny and lives happily ever after.

If our lives were only that simple.

If you have lived for any length of time, you know that “happily ever after” is often reserved for stories and not our lives. Life is a constant struggle, an ebb and flow, the highest of highs and the lowest of the heart-breaking lows.

Just when we think we have slayed the dragon, turned Darth Vader back to the light side of the Force, found our purpose, peace, or forgiveness from God, we find ourselves facing a new or recurring difficulty. After years of struggle and sacrifice to get a hold on the family finances, a lay off, a forced retirement, or sickness occurs. You believe that you have overcome depression and anxiety, only for circumstances to throw you back down to the pit. After being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, you do the best you can to be compliant with your care plan, only to suffer a flare-up or relapse. It feels as if all progress is lost.

We say and think such things as It isn’t supposed to be this way. This isn’t fair. I’ve already been through this. Why is God allowing this?

One of the things we must change when we go through difficulties is our perceptions, or judgments. We work under the assumption that life is fair. Do good, get rewarded. Do bad, get punished. We expect instant blessing for ourselves because we all perceive ourselves as good, while we expect the perceived evildoers to receive instant punishment.  Unfortunately, the innocent suffer and the wicked are rewarded. We live in an imperfect world that doesn’t always make sense.

Neither Jesus nor anyone else said it was going to be easy. Jesus told us that we have to “take up our cross.” That cross at times will get heavy as we walk through this life.

Numerous times throughout his epistles, the Apostle Paul compares being a follower of Christ to the life of a soldier. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul encourages him to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ.” (2 Timothy 2:3). A casual reading of the New Testament and its emphasis on suffering and persecution certainly deals a resounding defeat to the claims of the so-called “prosperity gospel,” where God grants all of our desires like a genie freed from a lamp, and life will be free from difficulty. Faith doesn’t free you from difficult times, it helps you get through them by creating within you a resilience, a persistence, the strength to fight no matter the circumstances.

Difficulties serve as a mirror as to our true reflection, our true strength, and whether we get tough when the tough gets going.

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus parallels the Apostle Paul’s statement to Timothy, but uses the analogy of being a wrestler.

“The true man is revealed in difficult times. So when trouble comes, think of yourself as a wrestler whom God, like a trainer, has paired with a tough young buck. For what purpose? To turn you into Olympic-class material. But this is going to take some sweat to accomplish. From my perspective, no one’s difficulties ever gave him a better test than yours, if you are prepared to make use of them the way a wrestler makes use of an opponent in peak condition.”1

In another discouse, Epictetus discusses an how to develop an acceptance of what God brings our way, a way to develop a sort of indifference to circumstances, or “going with the flow.”

“Lift up your head, like a person finally released from slavery. Dare to face God and say, ‘From now on, use me as you like. I am of one mind with you, I am your peer.’ Whatever you decide, I will not shrink from it. You may put me where you like, in any role regardless: officer or citizen, rich man or pauper, here or overseas. They are all just so many opportunities to justify your ways to man,by showing just how little circumstances amount to.”

Though it does seem counter-intuitive, the Apostle Paul, Epictetus, and Bruce Lee all concur- don’t  pray for difficult circumstances to flee, but ask God for the strength to get through the hard times. You will be a stronger and better person for it. God bless you all.

 

1Epictetus, Discourses and Selected Writings, Translated and edited by Robert Dobbin. London: Penguin Books (2008):56.

2Ibid, 116.