All Lives Matter to God

Here is the latest episode of The Christian Life in Progress podcast.

https://anchor.fm/michael-raley/episodes/All-Lives-Matter-to-God-ej9j7m

Do Not Dwell on the Former Things

Nostalgia is a double-edged sword. While we can look back fondly on childhood memories and the “good ol’ days” in general, nostalgia often clouds our judgment of past events and can be exploited by others. In the United States, politicians and political movements rise because of nostalgia. In a world of increasing technological, social, and political change, these politicians play upon the fears of people, speaking in general terms of how if elected, the country will go back to a simpler time, before all of these changes happened. In essence, they will turn back the clock twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty years.

Nostalgia is also big business. One of the constant complaints about Hollywood is “They’ve run out of ideas. It’s all sequels, reboots, and comic book movies.” Of course, not every film will be financially successful, but marketers know that if there is a built-in audience for a movie, that audience will go see it and maybe bring along the next generation. It becomes a vicious circle when audiences reject movies with new and different themes or stories, so Hollywood then has to go back to what makes money. For me personally I too am film nostalgic, as I grew up in the late 1970s/1980s and watched the original Star Wars trilogy over and over. To this day, I can almost quote the movies word for word and I look forward to the new movies in the upcoming years.

If we are not careful, we can fall victim to a “spiritual nostalgia,” where we long for our days before Christ. I know in my personal life the circumstances that brought me to Christ seem less daunting today than what I have gone through with Christ. I do not long to go back to a time when Christ was not in my life. If you are honest with yourself, was high school really that great? Do you really want to go back to the days of brokenness, pain, addiction, hopelessness, and frustration? Probably not. In your “BC” days, you were comfortable in your slavery to sin. Satan had you where he wanted you.

The Israelites complained about how they had it better in Egypt, they had food and water, and how Moses led them out to the desert to die. While the Israelites complained about their current situation, their nostalgia glossed over the fact they were slaves back in Egypt. For over 400 years, the Israelites and their ancestors broke their bodies building monuments of Egypt’s power and glory. Everyday served as a reminder of “We’re great, you’re slaves.” Why would they want to go back to that? Keep in mind that these are the same people who crossed the Red Sea. We must not allow nostalgia for the past to override the present moment. Even in your days before Christ, God’s prevenient grace allowed you to get through the hard times and you will get through this. Once we have crossed our Red Sea, there is no going back to Egypt.

The Apostle Peter fell prey to spiritual nostalgia. John 21 tells the story about how Peter decided to go fishing. Some of the other disciples joined Peter. Keep in mind that this event occurs after Jesus’ resurrection and previous appearances to the disciples. The Bible does not give us details about Peter’s inner dialogue, but maybe it went something like this:

This whole thing with Jesus was nice while it lasted. I left my livelihood and gave up three years of my life to follow Him. What am I supposed to do now? I failed. I failed miserably. I denied Him just like He said I would. One time He even told me ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ Maybe I’m not cut out for this whole ministry thing. I’ll go back to being a fisherman. If nothing else, I know how to fish.

However, Peter had an encounter with Jesus and his life and the world has not been the same since. Just weeks after seemingly giving up, the Holy Spirit empowered Peter to preach a sermon that led to 3,000 people to Christ. Peter was also the first apostle to share the Gospel with the Gentiles.

As Christians and as the Church, we must understand that while God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He also does not want to get caught up in the religious bondage of man’s past traditions. We must be spiritually attuned to God’s voice and what He wants to do today. God’s methods may change, just as Jesus did not always heal people or raise people from the dead the same way every time.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19, NIV).

As we go forward with God, let us not long for the past nor fear the future at the expense of the current moment. Let us be mindful and present as to what God is saying to us now. 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 2: Our Identity before Christ

In the previous post, we looked at Ephesians chapter one and how the sovereignty and purposes of God played the defining role in our salvation and identity as Christians. To read the previous post, click here:  https://triumphantinchrist.wordpress.com/2016/08/27/ephesians-1-gods-role-in-our-identity/

Of all of history’s recorded events and notable people, I believe the most influential person in the history of the world is the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection represent the ultimate expression of God’s love for humanity as Christ died for our sins. The entire Christian religion hinges on the historic event of the resurrection of Christ.

In fact, for centuries, historians marked the passage of time with the era “Before Christ” (BC) and “In the year of our Lord,” commonly referred to as AD. Of course, secular historians now use the terms “Before Common Era” and “Common Era” to refer to time.

No matter how historians mark the time, all Christians can point to the before Christ time in their lives. We can look back with shame, pain, and regret at our past lives, or we can bask in this current day of our Lord, who has forgiven us for all sins and transgressions, past, present, and future.

In Ephesians chapter one, Paul beautifully explains God’s purposes, plan, and grace toward us in our salvation. In Ephesians chapter two, Paul pivots and contrasts the Ephesians’ identities were before and after Christ.

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” (Ephesians 2:1-3, NIV).

Paul metaphorically takes the Ephesians, and by extension, you and I back in time to remember who we were:

*We were dead in our sins.

*We followed the world and Satan.

*People in the world still live sinfully.

*We used to be like them and lived and did as we pleased.

*Everyone, including us, deserves God’s wrath for our sins.

Here comes the “AD” part:

“But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions- it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in this kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-7, NIV, italics mine).

Compare our previous position with who we are now:

*God’s mercy and grace has made us alive, when we were dead in our sins.

*We no longer take our seats with Satan and the world, for we are seated with Christ.

*We are living examples of God’s grace to our generation and those who follow.

If we try to live our faith by ritual, we develop a religious mindset and rely on our abilities and traditions to carry us. While there are steps we can take to become better people in our thoughts, words, and deeds, our salvation is solely the work of God.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by work, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10, NIV, italics mine).

*We cannot earn our salvation- it is a gift that must be received.

*Our boasting does not impress God.

*God has created us and saved us to fulfill His purposes in our lives,

All of us at one point have faced the sting of exclusion and rejection, though by varying degrees and circumstances. Paul drives home to the point that the Ephesians were at one time:

*Gentiles by birth, therefore excluded from citizenship in Israel and the promises of God. Therefore, the Ephesians had no hope and did not have God. (Ephesians 2:11-12).

*Now, all, regardless of birth, Jew, Gentile, nation or status, have been reconciled by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13).

*Christ has broken down all walls that separate us, and reconciled them by the cross, and now we all have access to God by the same Holy Spirit that lives in each of us. (Ephesians 2:14-18).

*We were once strangers and foreigners, but now we are members of God’s family and household. Christ is our cornerstone and the foundation is also built upon the apostles and prophets. (Ephesians 2:19-20).

*The temple of God is no longer about a physical building or a group of people, but we, our bodies, our spirits are God’s temple. God through the Holy Spirit dwells in us. (Ephesians 2:21-22).

Though we are no longer part of this world, we remain in this world until either Christ comes back or He calls us home. As we interact with our brothers and sisters in Christ and those who do not know Christ, let us treat them with compassion, for we were once sinners who needed grace. Do not grieve who you were in the past, but rejoice in the future God’s grace has given you.

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.

 

 

But If Not…

To have true biblical faith takes strength and courage, even in the worst of life’s circumstances. I believe that faith is not simply a belief that everything will work out, but that everything will work out for the best. We must hold onto the belief that God is God and He has our best interest at heart, no matter the diagnosis, the turmoil, the rejection, the pain, the loss, or the proverbial cross we must bear.

Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (KJV). Thus, faith is not seeing, but believing. In fact, the Greek word for “substance” is Hupostasis (Strong’s #5287), which in this instance means, “a standing under…that which stands, or is set, under, a foundation, beginning, hence, the quality of confidence which leads one to stand under, endure, or undertake anything.” Faith serves as the foundation of our spiritual house, with Christ being the chief cornerstone. As with our physical homes, if the foundation is strong, the house will stand strong. However, if our foundation is cracked or destroyed, our house faces the possibility of falling down.

If we pray for something that is in God’s will, He hears us and answers our prayers (1 John 5:14-15).  We pray with confidence that God will say “yes,” but will we have the same confidence if God says, “No” or “Not yet?” With humanity’s modern knowledge and technology, we sometimes live under the impression that we have complete control over our lives and environments. Of course, we know that life has a not so subtle way of reminding us who is in charge.

The Bible and history are full of examples of people who kept their faith in God and continued to hope in the worst of circumstances. Three such people were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the Book of Daniel. The Book of Daniel takes place during the reigns of the Babylonian and Mede-Persian empires. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, along with Daniel, were Hebrew youths sent into exile in Babylon to serve King Nebuchadnezzar, but the four men faithfully continued to serve God.

Daniel chapter three details how Nebuchadnezzar set up a large golden statue that everyone within the Babylon Empire had to worship when they heard the sound of music. If one did not worship the golden statue, that person would be thrown into a fiery furnace. One day it is brought to Nebuchadnezzar’s attention that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego have refused to worship his golden statue. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are brought before Nebuchadnezzar to face their charges. Nebuchadnezzar reminded them of his authority as king and the punishment they faced for not worshipping the statue. What follows is an example of true faith.

“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O King. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18, NKJV, italics mine).

This statement enraged Nebuchadnezzar and he ordered the furnace to be seven times hotter than usual and had the three men thrown into the furnace. However, what happened next was a miracle as Nebuchadnezzar saw a fourth man in the fire (a pre-incarnate Christ) and that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were unharmed by the fire. This experience humbled Nebuchadnezzar and he made a decree stating that there was no one should speak against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were also promoted due to their faithfulness.

In the case of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, God intervened supernaturally to deliver his children, but the three men were willing to make their stand no matter the consequences. But if not. What is your but if not? It was not doubt or a lack of faith displayed by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, but a solid belief in God and acceptance of His will, not matter the circumstances, no matter the cost.

Is your foundation strong? Do you have the faith to endure the trials of ongoing sickness when you have prayed for supernatural healing? Do you have the patience and discipline to recover from a job loss or being on the brink of financial ruin? Will you continue to pray for wayward spouses and children who may be prodigals who do not come back home? Do you have the faith to stand up for Christ while facing a fiery furnace, a gun, or the edge of a sword? Do you have the courage to say, “But if not” and continue to praise and worship God?

A word of caution: under no circumstances should we as believers ever question anyone’s faith. The Bible teaches that everyone is given a measure of faith, which does not indicate the same amount of faith. To say to a struggling brother or sister, “If you only had more faith,” is not only devastating, but also insensitive. Making such a statement as “If you only had more faith,” could invite discouragement and condemnation into a believer’s life.

We must examine faith from the perspective that we will go through unending trials. We may navigate the raging sea only to learn that we must climb a mountain. We cannot control outside events, we can only control our responses to the events. Let us find inspiration in what we have overcome to this point in our lives. Let us look to Christ, to the Apostles, to Job, Daniel in the lion’s den, Jeremiah, and the “faith hall of fame” in Hebrews chapter 11.

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2, NKJV).

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.

 

The Second Act of Life

God’s existence transcends our mortal limitations and understanding of time and space. Therefore, age is of little consequence to God. The Bible says Noah was 600 years old when God commissioned him to build the ark. God promised Abraham children when he was seventy-five and his wife, Sarah, was past typical child-bearing age. Abraham was 100 when Isaac was born. Moses was eighty when he led the Israelites out of Egypt. Caleb, well advanced in years, fought the giants off of his mountain.  Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, was also past child-bearing age when she became pregnant. Conversely, God called Gideon, David, Josiah, Jeremiah and Timothy in their youths to defeat enemies, slay giants, lead spiritual revivals, give prophetic words, and preach.

Contrast God’s view of age with how modern American culture views age. In American culture, some people worship at the altar of youth and take drastic steps to slow or stop the hands of time- spending billions of dollars on “plastic surgery,” miracle creams, exercise equipment, putting off adult responsibilities as long as possible and so on and so forth. Age is seen as a barrier for the young and old alike. When we are young, we often think others will not take us seriously. As we age, we believe the lies that we have nothing more to offer or that we are too old to start or learn something new. The adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” becomes ingrained in our minds.

The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca made observations about age and purpose:

“You cannot, therefore, accept a hoary head [gray hair] and wrinkles as proof of a long life; the man has existed a long time, he has not lived a long time.”[1]

“…the worst fate of all is to be stricken from the roster of the living before you die.”[2]

However, I believe that as long as we have breath, we have purpose. Every day is a gift and we must cherish it. We must keep in mind that while we have been given another day to live, others have not. Make the most of what we have. We must live the fullness of life as we seek God’s will.

“You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11, NKJV).

In American culture, we spend the prime years of our lives working hard at our jobs and typically retire in our early to mid-60s, where we draw Social Security and/or our retirement pensions. For many, these “golden years” can be a difficult transition as people lose purpose or deal with illness and disease. Unfortunately, many elderly people are discarded and not valued for their wisdom and what they can teach the next generations. Though families and society may disregard us as we get older, God does not forsake us.

“…even to your old age, I am He, and even to gray hairs I will carry you! I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.” (Isaiah 46:4, NKJV).

“Do not cast me off in the time of old age; Do not forsake me when my strength fails…Now also when I am old and gray-headed, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come.” (Psalm 71:9, 18, NKJV).

“Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bear fruit in old age; They shall be fresh and flourishing, to declare that the Lord is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.” (Psalm 92:13-15, NKJV).

Brothers and sisters, let us throw of the self-imposed and societal barriers that have been placed on age and live to the fullest. There are plenty of people outside of the Bible who have not let age deter them from making their second act of life just as memorable and accomplished as the first act. Everything that has happened to you up to this point has prepared you for the next stage of life. Seize the moment. Seize the day. This is your time. God bless you.

 

[1] Moses Hadas, The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca, “The Shortness of Life.” New York: W.W. Norton & Company 1958: 56. Brackets mine.

 

[2] Moses Hadas, The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca, “On Tranquility.” New York: W.W. Norton & Company 1958: 87.