No Fans?

Fanless football. If you would have told me a year ago that I would watch a Sunday afternoon football game where the Falcons would play in Mercedes Benz stadium with no fans in the seats, I would have told you you’re crazy. Turns out you’re not crazy. Well, you didn’t tell me that a year ago because you weren’t crazy a year ago (Maybe I’m crazy for wasting my time watching the Falcons loose yet again). No fans at the game makes for strange television. When the cameras pulled away from the field to show the empty stadium, I was a little stunned. I’d been hearing the crowd noise. As a matter of fact, the crowd was so loud that I couldn’t hear the announcers very well. Turns out, the crowd noise was a recording. Someone even had the crowd boo at one point.

Hebrews 12:1 tells us that the stadium in which we live our lives is not empty. It says we are “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” It’s like the saints of the past are cheering us on, and it’s not a recording. I don’t think that passage means that the saints from the past are watching us from heaven, however. It’s more likely that God is reminding us that the witness of the past saints is louder than a recording to urge us to faithfulness as we serve the Lord.

It’s easy during difficult times to stumble or even get a little disillusioned. Don’t! The witness of the crowd is getting louder in the midst of persecution and difficulty. Stay the course! Run the race! Live out your faith loudly even though our secular society is saying we should be seen and not heard. One day when we cross the finish line, we’ll hear our Heavenly Father say, “Well done!”

Visible Faith

“If something’s going to be done right, you’ve got to do it yourself!” Is that always true? Of course not. In preparation for the sermon I delivered yesterday, I came across an exciting passage of Scripture found in Colossians 2:7. I’ve read it many times in my life, but this time, I pulled out my Greek New Testament and considered the verbs and participles. I can already see your eyes glazing over. I know. I try not to get too excited about Greek grammar, but I think what I discovered will light your fire. It did mine.

First, here’s the text:

Colossians 2:6-7 “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith…and overflowing with gratitude.”

The command is to live every day in Christ but notice the words I underlined in verse seven. These are all participles modifying how we are to walk in Him. Participles, like verbs, express tense, voice, and mood. I know we’re reaching way back to our English class but stay with me.

The first one, rooted, is in the perfect tense, which means it is something that happened in the past but continues to have present and future impact. The action is not continuous, but the effect is. Isn’t that a great thought? You became rooted in the past when you surrendered your life to Jesus, and you will constantly enjoy the effect of being stable in Jesus—no matter what.

The next three participles, built up, established, and overflowing, are all present tense. This points to continuous action. In other words, as I follow Jesus and walk about in Him through my life, I am constantly being built up, continuously being established, and unceasingly overflowing with gratitude. Nonstop. Every day!

The last participle, overflowing, is written in the active voice. That means you are doing the action. You are choosing every day to live a life of gratitude. No one can make that choice for you. It is a choice we have to make. Right? Here’s the thing. Whenever you and I are obedient and walk about in Christ every day, we will be grateful.

Look back at the middle two participles: built up and established. These two words were inspired to be written in the passive voice. That means someone else is doing the action. Who? Jesus! We are just receiving the action. Jesus, through His Spirit, is building us up and establishing us in our faith. How many times have we tried and tried and tried to live right and follow Jesus only to fall on our faces? We can try to be godly, but the secret is to train to be godly and receive the consequences of placing ourselves in a position to receive God’s activity in our lives.

One writer compared our spiritual lives to piloting a motorboat versus a sailboat. You are required to control the motorboat. In other words, the outcome is up to you. You put in the gas. You start the engine. You steer the boat. Compare the difference with a sailboat. It is true that you hoist the sail and control the rudder (training to be godly), but you go nowhere without the wind. The wind determines your destiny.

God’s Holy Spirit is the wind who does the action of building us up and establishing us in our lives. It comes in our lives as we employ various spiritual disciplines, like Bible reading and prayer (hoisting the sails). God makes us godly, mature, and stable as we prepare ourselves to receive His wind.

So, if you are a Christian, thank God that you are rooted in Jesus, prepare your spiritual sails to be built up and established by the wind of God’s Spirit, and choose to constantly overflow with gratitude for all God is doing in your life. God will be honored. We will live out a visible faith. The world will be changed.

Is It Here to Stay?

“The virus is never going away.” I just read that statement in an article and felt chills run down my back—not from the virus, but from the dread. Fortunately, a vaccine will be developed, and world citizens will learn how to live with it, just like we have with the normal flu. Still, I’m weary—coronaweary. And you probably are, too. So, what do we do about it? Most of us can’t help with vaccine research, but we can take specific steps in our own lives that will help us cope. In previous articles, I addressed coping with this challenge spiritually and emotionally. Today, I’d like to address one more area: physically.

I’d rather skip the medical precautions we’ve all heard about daily since mid-March: six feet apart, masks, etc. My concern right now is to think about what physical challenges are we experiencing because of our spiritual and emotional struggle, and what can we do about it?

Sometimes, the most spiritual thing we can do is take a nap. I hesitate to say that because a lot of lazy people in our country need not be such sloths, but many Americans are burning the candle at both ends. Rest is an important part of our physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. At one time, doctors viewed sleep problems as symptoms of some forms of mental illness, but now, they recognize it as a possible cause. A representative from Harvard Medical School wrote, “Neuroimaging and neurochemistry studies suggest that a good night’s sleep helps foster both mental and emotional resilience, while chronic sleep deprivation sets the stage for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability.”

Since I’m beating the health drum, I should also underscore our need for exercise. Most Americans are fat! Okay, it’s easier to take if I say we are health challenged, not reaching our weight indicators, or at worse, overweight. 

God made us to move, and when we don’t move, we suffer. I know 1 Timothy 4:8 is some people’s life verse (“exercise profits little”), but Paul was comparing it to disciplines leading to godliness. And let’s face it, Paul walked everywhere he went. I suppose if we walked five to ten miles a day as a normal course, we wouldn’t need more exercise either. We cannot be at our spiritual, emotional, and physical best without exercise. We don’t like to admit it, but overeating and general unhealthy living is a sin. Being healthy is one of the greatest stress defeaters available to us, and it doesn’t cost anything to walk a brisk two miles in the morning.

Do you want to pull yourself out of the coronaduldrums? Go take a walk or a nap…and lay off the fast-food while you’re at it.

Emotionally Healthy or Coronaweary?

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the challenges presented by coronavirus and be tempted to crawl into a hole somewhere until next spring. The pandemic has caused a serious physical health condition for some people, and it’s affecting a lot of people’s emotional well-being. Emotional strength comes from a variety of places, but it’s not always replenished automatically. Emotional fortitude can be threatened by stress, trauma, sorrow, and loss. Fear, loneliness, and burnout can also threaten our emotional wellness. What do we do about it?

Working on our emotional health is just as important as staying in good physical condition. Our bodies are the temple of God, which includes our emotions. The Bible says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.” It’s difficult to bless the Lord with your emotions when you are emotionally unhealthy.

The Bible addresses being emotionally healthy. For example, Philippians 4:6-7 tells us not to worry about anything but pray about everything, and Proverbs 17:22 says, “A joyful heart is good medicine.” I’d like to mention a few things we can do to find emotional strength during challenging times.

  1. Exercise – Doctors tell us that regular exercise is helpful for our emotional well-being. It reduces stress and enhances our perspective. What can you do to add ten minutes of exercise to your day?
  2. Meditation – I’m not thinking of mysticism or eastern religions. I’m considering biblical passages where we are called to ponder the truths of God’s Word and open our minds to the voice of God. Consider passages like Joshua 1:8 and Psalms 1:2. The Psalmist told us to be still and know God (Psalm 46:10) and Philippians 4:8 offers a list of things that should occupy our minds.
  3. Community – The bottom line is that God made us for relationships, and our relationships provide fertile ground that strengthens our emotional health. The Bible gives us 59 “One Another Commands,” which requires us to be in meaningful relationships with other people. I think that one reason God commands us to love one another, for example, is that He knows that we are the beneficiaries of such love. I think you’ll find all of the one another commands replenish your emotions. Proverbs 27:9 tells us that the sweetness of friendship refreshes the soul.
  4. Service – Although serving others is one of the one another commands, I want to emphasize how serving others really replenishes our emotional well-being. Serving helps us to take our minds off of ourselves and think about others. It gives us a fresh perspective and helps us to plug into God’s purpose for our lives.
  5. Laughter – Proverbs 15:13 says that a glad heart makes a cheerful face. Ninety-seven-year-old actor, Carl Reiner, told the Washington Post, “Laughter is my first priority. I watch something every night that makes me laugh. I wake up and tickle myself while I’m still in bed. There is no greater pleasure than pointing at something, smiling and laughing about it. I don’t think there is anything more important than being able to laugh.” I’m not sure I’d agree that nothing is more important than laughing, but laughter might make my top twenty most important things to do.
  6. Worship – Even as worship strengthens us spiritually, it also fortifies us emotionally. It’s amazing what focusing on God can do for our personal well-being; after all, loving God is an emotional experience. An article published by the AARP links regular worship to lower rates of depression. Scientists tell us that singing releases endorphins in our system that encourages joy and hope. Psalm 42:11 calls us to declare God’s praise in times of emotional struggle, and we will find hope in God.

What will you do to exercise, meditate, make a friend, serve others, laugh, and worship? Your emotional health is waiting for a boost.

Coronaweary

I’m coronaweary, and I have a feeling you are too. I’m not saying that we’re tired of coronavirus, though we probably are. I am saying that we’re weary because of the overload this pandemic has caused. I feel hesitant to make this declaration because some people have gotten the virus and even died with it, so my weariness doesn’t compare. At the same time, there are a lot of people working many hours and dealing with stressful conditions because of the impact of Covid-19. You may be feeling the stress simply because you can’t spend time with your family or friends like you used to or maybe just wearing a mask all of the time is starting to get to you. You may be overloaded because your job is considered “essential,” and you are working a lot of extra hours. So, what do we do about it?

I’d like to suggest three areas in your life that need care: spiritual, emotional, and physical. I’d like to address a prescription for coronaweariness over the next few blogs. First, let’s address our spiritual needs.

We are spiritual beings, so everything about our lives has an impact on our spiritual nature. How do you replenish your soul? Psalm 42:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Time with God is the only soul replenisher I know. Time with God should include reading His Word and prayer, but we can also experience God through things like meditation upon God’s Word, community with Christian friends, and reflecting upon God’s nature.

One of the greatest experiences for a follower of Jesus is worship. Through worship, we focus on God’s nature and not our issues. Our sole focus in worship is God and not ourselves. Other than God’s prompting about dealing with anything in ourselves that is not Christlike, our attention is solely on the One who loves us and gave Himself for us. Worship is like leaving the smog-filled city and taking a breath of fresh air from atop a tall mountain in the middle of the wilderness. It’s refreshing and invigorating. It gives us a great perspective and reminds us that God is great and more than sufficient to meet our every need.The first step to overcoming coronaweariness is to change your focus. Look up. Our help comes from above. Pray, worship, read Scripture, and love God with all of your heart. It’s better than two aspirin and a phone call in the morning.

(Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash)

The Real Problem…

We’ve never seen anything like it! I could be addressing the global pandemic, political polarization, racial tension, unfettered anarchy, spiritual apathy, antagonism toward the church and Christianity, or a number of other topics. Everyone has opinions about how to solve our problems, but the source of our trouble goes deep—real deep.

The real problem is a spiritual one! The only thing that will change people’s hearts is the Heart Changer—Jesus Christ. It must start with the church, however. I don’t think there are too many Christians out pillaging the land in the name of social reform, but a lot of Christians have hidden, or not so hidden, prejudice in their hearts toward other races. A lot of us struggle with political hatred toward people in a party different than the one with which we most closely associate. We need a sweeping movement of God, and it has to start with the church.

Second Chronicles 7:14 says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” I hate to say it but the fault of spiritual deprivation in our land falls squarely on followers of Jesus because we haven’t been following Him quite as we should. For many years, we haven’t been the salt and the light Jesus called us to be, and we are now reaping the consequences of our negligence. As we prepare to celebrate our country’s birthday, let’s celebrate it on our knees. Let’s get our hearts right first as followers of Jesus and then pray for our land. Let’s put some feet to our prayers and repentance and work to build relationships with people who are not like us in some way, and let’s openly share the wonderful message of the gospel with people who are hungry for real change. Our country is dying to know Jesus.

What Do You Recommend?

Many are “sheltering at home,” but what should we be doing during this time? God wasn’t surprised by the coronavirus, and He wants to use this time in your life. This is not a parenthesis in your life. No one hit pause. Actually, God wants to use this unusual experience to grow you to be more like His Son. Not only can we accomplish some things around our home we’ve been putting off, but we can also work on our own personal growth and spiritual life.

We should focus on several activities that will help us to grow. I urge you to spend time in prayer, reading your Bible, worshipping the Lord, and playing with your family. I also encourage you to read books. You will find many wonderful books God can use to feed your soul, speak hope to your circumstances, develop your mind, and lead you to laugh.

A member of my church suggested I put together a list of good books to read while many stay at home. I read a lot of books on many different topics. Although some would interest you, others would not be beneficial. I will share with you a list of a few books I think would be helpful to anyone, regardless of their unique interests.

I’d love to hear back from you on additional books you’ve enjoyed that I didn’t include on my list. I’m creating a list of “The Ten Books Everyone Should Read” for a book I’m writing now called “How to Cultivate the Fruit of Success.” Please share with me your favorites.

I read a lot more nonfiction books, so my list of fiction doesn’t come from a hefty repertoire of books. I’m also confident I’m forgetting a title that’s awesome, but I’ll do my best. So as not to make this blog too long, I’ll share my suggestion of nonfiction books today, and I’ll write about a few fiction titles in my next blog. I’m including links to Amazon where you can read more about them, but I’m sure they’re available from any retailer that sells books. After the list, I’ll share a few thoughts about each book.

Nonfiction Books:

Knowing God by J. I. Packer is possibly my favorite theological book on the character and nature of God. It’s a little heavier book to read, but it’s well worth the effort. Every Christian should read it. Prodigal God by Timothy Keller was eye-opening for me when I read it a few years ago. It has a powerful message about God’s nature and our reaction to His immeasurable love! Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozier is also an excellent book on God’s nature and easy to read as a daily devotional.

You will find many wonderful books on living the Christian life. One of my favorites is Joseph Stowell’s Following ChristI found that Lifetime Guarantee by Bill Gillham presents one of the clearest pictures I’ve seen of what it means to live the “crucified life.” Nik Ripken’s The Insanity of God will challenge you to live the Christian life faithfully as you read a true story of believers who have given everything to follow Jesus. God has used Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life (the new edition is called What on Earth am I Here For?) in a phenomenal way to lead people to trust Christ and to consider what it means to live out your purpose.

One of my favorite books on spiritual growth is John Ortberg’s The Life You’ve Always Wanted (I’ve enjoyed every book of Ortberg’s I’ve ever read). I loved Richard Foster’s The Celebration of Discipline many years ago and was profoundly impacted by it, and I found Ortberg’s book to make the idea of spiritual disciplines a lot more accessible. I recommend both books. Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala will lead you to celebrate the power of God and long for a fresh movement of God in your own life. A friend recommended I read The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. I read it after hearing Mark speak at a conference. It’s a powerful book on prayer.

It would help everyone to read Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It is a practical and applicable book on personal growth, life management, and discipline. You’ll want to study the principles and determine how you will live them out in your life. Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover will change your life and guide you into debt-free living. Finally, Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis should be read and studied by every human on the planet. It offers a powerful presentation of the meaning of Christianity.

I’ve written a few books you may also find encouraging. Some are a resource for spiritual growth and will help you grow a passionate relationship with Jesus. I’ve also written a few books to help writers be more effective as an author. You can find them described here

I’d like to hear from you. Please share in the comments titles of additional books that you think should make the list. Happy reading.

15 Days of Faith – Day 15

Choosing faith is a life-long pursuit. We sometimes relegate Christianity to only a choice in time. Don’t get me wrong. It begins with a choice in time, and once you choose Jesus, you are His. However, I want us to understand that Christianity is also a daily choice of following Jesus. Salvation has not only a past tense where we were saved from the penalty of sin, but it also has a present tense where we are being saved from the power of sin in our lives and a future tense where we will one day be saved from the presence of sin.

Faith can also be viewed in three tenses: we had faith that saved us, we have faith that is delivering us, and we will have faith that will transport us into the presence of Almighty God.

How do we keep choosing faith? First Timothy 6:11-12 offers the solution: “But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

Look at the three commands of this passage: flee, pursue, and fight. Flee from something that is hindering your walk with Christ, pursue everything that strengthens your relationship with Christ, and fight anything that is threatening your victory in Christ.

Do you see a common thread with each of the three commands? Flee, pursue, and fight all call for intensity, effort, and commitment. If you’re going to really trust Jesus, you need to be all in! Just testing the water doesn’t work in Christianity. Giving God one day a week or two days a month is not real Christianity. True faith, saving faith, is 110%.

I urge you to jump into the deep end of the pool. Go after Jesus with everything in you, and you’ll find that He’s already given everything to go after you.

I share some more about this topic on today’s 15 Days of Faith video.

15 Days of Faith – Day 14

Old dusty well-used bible on timber table with golden background

Have you ever been as determined as ever to have faith but found yourself wavering? I have. What do you do? Where do you go to find faith? Consider the words of Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.”

Notice in this passage, we are admonished to go to the Scripture. In today’s 15 Days of Faith video, I talk about finding faith from the Word of God. Look carefully at this passage and see an additional idea.

First of all, imagine the Apostle Paul being inspired to write this passage. What do you think he had in mind when he said that faith comes from hearing the Word of Christ? We naturally imagine a leather-bound copy of God’s Word. That’s not what Paul had in mind. Of course, this passage definitely points to the Bible, but it also points to more.

Whenever Paul chose a Greek term for “word,” he didn’t use a term that would have pointed to the written, inspired Scripture. The Greek word refers to a spoken word. Now, I know that the Bible is God’s spoken Word to us put in a written form, but I want to emphasize the fact that God is speaking His truth.

Growing in our faith means that we not only need to read God’s Word, but we also need to listen. God wants to speak truth to our hearts. He’ll use the written Word, but He’ll also speak His truth in the stillness of our hearts. If we want faith to grow, we need to listen.

You can find today’s video here.

15 Days of Faith – Day 13

The Bible uses the word “sovereignty” to talk about God’s reign as the King over our lives and over the world. God is the one true King. Colossians 1:16-17 refers to God’s supreme, sovereign place in our lives and the world:

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

Since God is the Sovereign King, we should always submit to His authority. This calls for faith and obedience. Sometimes, our faith is challenged, but we should trust Him anyway. In today’s 15 Days of Faith video, I share some thoughts about the Old Testament story of three young men who were challenged to trust God even when it could mean their deaths.

As we consider the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, is your understanding of total trust challenged? I mention in the video that these three young men showed total faith in God’s ability and total trust in God’s agenda.

We know that God is able, right? He’s God! What does it mean to trust God’s agenda? Well, it means that God is God and you are not. It means that since God is sovereign, and you’re not, that you will follow God’s agenda and not your own. Following God’s agenda can be challenging. It shouldn’t be challenging because we understand that God knows everything, and His ways are always right and best. 

Why do we ever prefer our own agendas? Great question. The problem is that I don’t know the answer other than we’re stubborn and obstinate. Maybe I should throw in the word “sinners” as well.

I think this global pandemic is calling us to a closer walk with God. Will you choose to submit to God’s sovereign rule over your life today?

You can watch today’s video by clicking this link.