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.

One Degree

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” I just spent some time reviewing my 2020 personal growth goals and noted that some of them are making a repeat appearance from my 2019 goals. I’m not a lazy person, and I’m typically pretty disciplined in most areas. So, what’s the problem?

One problem is that I usually set too many goals. I’ve decided that while I’m going to hold onto my current list, I’m also going to whittle it down to five key goals for 2020. It’s a lot easier to keep five things on my mind and work toward their accomplishment.

I’ve also considered the fact that I’ve got to do something different. I can’t live the same way in 2020 as I did in 2019 and expect a different outcome. For example, I want to be a healthier person. This can start by choosing one change I want to make in my life. It doesn’t have to be a big change. A small change is like a pilot flying to London making a one-degree course correction as he flies over Atlanta. One degree may not seem noticeable ten miles out of Atlanta, but it could make the difference between landing at Heath Row or in the middle of the English Channel.What’s your one-degree change? I’m going to come up with five and see where I land in 2021. Why don’t you come up with five one-degree changes, write them down, and share them with someone as you begin your new year?

Mountain Climbing

“Did you enjoy your hike?” I bet I’ve been asked that at least 50 times since returning from my most recent backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. My first answer is “No!” I didn’t enjoy my trip because it was a really tough hike. The definition that comes to my mind with the word enjoy is “to take delight or pleasure in.” On this last hike, I covered a section called the Roller Coaster, and I don’t think the name does it justice – especially when the region was experiencing a heat wave that made five of the eight days feel like a hot summer day in July, and the last three days were cold and windy with driving rain.

I started some years ago trying to accomplish the goal of hiking the entire 2190 miles of the Appalachian Trail one section at a time. With this last hike of 100 miles, I have made it from Springer Mountain in north Georgia to the Pennsylvania state line. When I first started, I would hike only 3 or 4 days a year, but now I’ve started trying to hike at least a week or more at a time. Unfortunately, I get older every year, and I don’t want to have to climb Mt. Katahdin in Maine with a walker.

I looked up enjoy in the dictionary and discovered that I did enjoy my hike after all. The second definition says that enjoy means “to possess and benefit from.” The fact is that hiking 100 miles on the A.T. brought me great benefit: I’m closer to accomplishing my goal, it was great exercise, I faced a tremendous challenge and won, I did a lot of praying, I met some great people, and I got to spend time with my father, who met me at the end.

I reminded myself numerous times through my hike that life is not just about having fun. It is about personal growth, victories, character, and facing challenges. It is about becoming the person God wants me to be. The fact is that we can’t become the person God wants us to be without struggle and pain. God wants to shape our character, and mountain climbing is part of the recipe for personal growth. Your mountain may come in the form of financial struggles, parenting challenges, or setbacks with your health. We’ve all got mountains to climb, and they’re all part of God’s divine plan to help us to become the person that not only He wants us to become but also the person we want to become.

Are you climbing a mountain right now? Is life kind of difficult in this current season? You’re probably in just the right place, so enjoy it.

If You Always Do What You’ve Always Done…

I just watched the University of Georgia score another touchdown against Alabama increasing their lead to 20-7. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I happen to be at a restaurant which is playing a rerun of the college football national championship game. I happen to know that Alabama came back to beat Georgia, so I don’t think the outcome of the game I’m watching today is going to change what I know to be a sad history.

Do you ever do the same old thing hoping for a new outcome? We do it all of the time. We eat the same fattening food hoping that this time we can enjoy calories without consequences. Unfortunately, it’s no different this time than it was last time. We pull out plastic to pay for something we shouldn’t buy promising to pay it all off at the end of the month. The problem is that we find that we have more month than money. That happened last month, too. We walk precariously on the pinnacle of temptation hoping that this time we can maintain our resolve and not fall into sin. Oh, well. Our resolve doesn’t seem to be any stronger this time around as it was last time.

Here’s the lesson I’ve gained by sitting here watching Alabama slowly come back on Georgia and take the lead. If you want the outcome of the game to be different, you’ve got to change the plays. What plays do you need to change in your life so that today is not a rerun of yesterday?

 

Personal Growth Plan

sapling-154734_1280Usually, by now, I have completed my personal growth goals and plans for the upcoming year. With my preparations for my mission trip to Mexico and Christmas activities (among other things0), I’m a little behind. I started writing out an annual plan for personal growth many years ago as a teenager, though back then, it was not nearly as formal and detailed. When I was a kid, my family sat around the table sometime toward the end of the year and talked about our plans for the upcoming year. We shared our goals with one another and some of our plans for accomplishing those goals. I eventually began writing these goals down and getting a little more specific with my plans. This eventually developed into my annual plan for personal growth.

I came to the realization that while growing old is automatic, growing up is not. For example, instead of being thirty-five years old, a person could be one-year-old thirty-five times. As a matter of fact, I’ve met a number of fifty plus year old people who still needed a pacifier. I have to confess that I rarely accomplish all of my goals, but because I give it a great deal of thought and write out my annual plan, I’m a lot closer to accomplishing my goals than I would be otherwise. Writing out my goals for personal growth not only helps me to know what to do to grow in six areas of my life, but it also helps me to know what NOT to do. For example, there are so many books out there to read (over a million new books are written each year), but not all of them are worth reading. I have many people suggest books to me. Some of the suggested books are excellent, while others may have been meaningful to the person, but it wouldn’t apply to my life and ministry very well. Planning my reading, which is part of my growth plan, helps me to be more intentional with what books to read. It also helps me to be more balanced in my reading.

I plan growth for six areas in my life: spiritual, family, physical, financial, leadership, and ministry. These are broad categories, and I fit a number of unique areas of growth under the various categories. For example, I want to grow as a writer, so I put that particular area of my life under “ministry.” Remember that this is a plan for personal growth. Even though I typically include various goals under each category, the idea is to create a plan that will help me to personally grow in that area. I will typically go into greater detail on general goals for various areas in a different place. For example, I have an Evernote notebook on my computer where I create detail plans and goals for my ministry through my church, my writing goals and plans, and other details of my life. A plan for personal growth is about growth. The key is to HAVE a plan for personal growth.

Under each broad category, I usually make a general statement of what I want to accomplish in that area and then make a list of books I want to read, people I want to hang out with, conferences I want to attend, or groups I want to join so that I will have personal growth in that particular area. I add some additional goals that may not fit so neatly into one of those smaller categories.

 

How do you plan to grow in 2017? Have you given it some thought? I encourage you to spend some time before the end of 2016 working on your plan for personal growth. When you finish your plan, share it with a few people in your life. When 2017 comes to a close, you may find that you didn’t accomplish everything, but you will accomplish a lot more because you have a plan. Someone once said, “He who aims at nothing hits it every time.” What will you aim at in 2017? Do you want to share some of your 2017 growth goals below?

Singing Anyone? Part 2

microphone-1209816_1920In my last blog, I asked the question: “What if I don’t want to sing?” It’s a valid question. We’ve all faced times where we had no song, but the problem is that God commands us throughout the Scripture to sing. I mentioned two causes for not wanting to sing. If you didn’t read my last blog, you may want to stop and read it now.

Whether we don’t sing because we think we can’t or because a sad circumstance has stolen our song, the solution is simple: sing anyway. God only wants a joyful noise, and we’ll find that singing may be God’s prescription to pull us out of the doldrums. It is amazing that while worship is directed to God, we benefit significantly. As we sing to God, he heals our hearts.

Another reason we are to sing has to do with people around us. You may think you’re doing the people around you a favor by not singing. Actually, you’re not. Colossians 3:16 commands us to sing to one another because our singing has mutual benefit: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Have you ever considered the idea that the person sitting next to you in worship is benefiting from your singing? Imagine a man beside you in worship next Sunday who may be struggling with a matter or a problem. He desperately needs help from God, and then he hears you singing with gusto and conviction about the faithfulness of God. Your song encouraged him with truth from God’s Word. Before long, he begins to join in with you in giving praise to God. This is one way Colossians 3:16 can be lived out in our lives. Though worship is for God, our singing can certainly bless others with spiritual encouragement. 

We can also teach others through singing by intentionally singing about theological truths. I’ve taught children how to share the gospel by putting music to the “Roman Road to Salvation” scriptures. I learned about the Old Testament story of Israel’s great revival of 1 Samuel 7 because I sang the old hymn “Come Thou Fount.” I had to look up the “here I raise mine Ebenezer” part, and read a wonderful story about God working in the lives of his people. Singing can have great value in teaching us God’s Word.

What if I don’t want to sing? Sing anyway. It honors the Lord, and someone in your life needs to hear it. You will benefit greatly by lifting your spirit and by opening up your hearts to spiritual truths. Music is a wonderful gift from a loving God, so, tilt your head back and sing for the glory of God.

 

Be Transformed

One tree in field

Transformation! At my church, we have begun a fall spiritual growth campaign called “Transformed,” and I’m really excited about how God is going to use it in our lives. I’ve been thinking a good bit about how God is in the transformation business. It began with Adam and Eve and it continues today in me and you. He takes that which is bad or useless and transforms it into good and useful. One thing that strikes me about transformation is that while God is in the business of changing lives, it really depends upon our willingness to change. I stressed in the first two messages of this series that God is the One who does the transforming, not us, but we have to put ourselves in the place of transformation. This “positioning” requires several things I would like to share.

First, we must long for transformation. We must ask ourselves if we are “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Transformation is not easy. It is often times painful. When was the last time you lost a significant amount of weight? That’s transformation, and it’s not easy. We must be able to see ourselves as we really are and long for what could be.

Second, we must be willing to incorporate the steps necessary to bring about transformation in our lives. It’s possible that we know what to do to transform our marriage or our finances, but it’s also possible that we’re not really sure. Over the next several weeks, I’m going to share some principles that will help us with this process of change in my weekly sermon (you can listen to these messages online), and a number of books and resources are also available to help us with needed change in our lives. You don’t have to be an expert, but you do need to be willing to learn from others that God may place in your lives.

Third, we should set some goals in our lives for transformation. Based upon our reading, listening, prayer, and study, we should establish some S.M.A.R.T. goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time framed). I always encourage people to write out their goals. What are some goals you have in your life regarding spiritual transformation? What are some things you can do to place yourself in a position of transformation? For example, you could set goals to meet with God every day in Bible reading and prayer or attend worship at your church. What about transformation in your health or finances? What could you do to place yourself in a spot where God can bring transformation in your marriage, your family, or your career? Write out some goals. The series at SonRise will deal with transformation in the following areas of our lives: spiritual, physical, mental, emotional, relational, financial, and vocational. Are you willing to set some goals in these areas and see what God can do through your life?

Communicating with God

communicationThere once was a time in my life when you wanted to communicate with someone, you could call them, and hope they were home. The invention of the answering machine was a marvel, and a caller could leave a message expecting a return phone call in a day or two. Even the pager was a great improvement, but the return phone call was still delayed at times. Today’s technology does open the door for instant access, but we all know that concept is not exactly accurate. The person you are calling may not be available, or his or her phone battery may have died. Voice mails can be left, but they may go unnoticed for a few days. I am so glad that in communicating with God, there is no delay. When we pray, we don’t have to leave a message and hope our Creator gets around to it in the next few days. Prayer is an instant line of communication with our Heavenly Father Who is waiting to hear from us. The prophet Jeremiah was reminded of God’s availability with this command from God found in Jeremiah 33:3: “Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” Do you see the command in this passage? God urges us, and commands us, to call out to Him through prayer. The promise of this passage is that He will answer and tell us things that we did not know. Our knowledge and understanding are limited but God’s is fathomless. Our perspective is fixed, but God’s is eternal. The SonRise Baptist Church family, of which I have the privilege of serving as pastor, is beginning a week of focused prayer. I invite anyone reading to join with us in calling out to God. Begin now making a list of things beyond your ability to either understand or resolve. Call to God. He will answer you and show you unimaginable things which you do not know.

Using Scripture in Prayer – Prayer Day 7

prayer5God tells us that His Word is useful. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 states that “all scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” We have often thought of scripture being useful for teaching or correction, but how can scripture be used to equip us for the work of prayer? There are several ways.

Scripture reveals God to us

In order for our prayer life to be effective, we must have a growing relationship with God. As we consider the value of scripture in our prayer life, we must acknowledge its worth in helping us to get to know the Father. Through careful study of the scripture, we come to know His wonderful attributes which help us to know how to relate to Him. Also through this understanding, we know better how to praise Him. We can even use those very passages which teach us about God as the content of our prayer. This passage could easily find its way into our prayer of praise, “O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth.”

Scripture contains prayers

Scripture is also valuable in our prayer life because he contains specific prayers to God that can become our own expressions. As we read the prayers of the saints of old, we not only see a model of communication with the Heavenly Father, but we can even say those very word back to God. An example of this would be where David confessed his sin to God in Psalm 51. As we deal with a particular sin in our life, we could use the very words of David to seek God’s grace and mercy through repentance. One could even use Paul’s prayer for the church at Philippi as they intercede for their brothers and sisters (Philippians 1:9-11).

Scripture can stimulate

As we read the scripture, we are stimulated to think the thoughts of God. As we think these thoughts, we many times need to express ourselves to the Lord in response. One might could read Psalm 23 and then express himself to God by saying, “Lord, you are my Shepherd and I have no need. It is as if you make me to lie down in green pastures as you provide my daily provisions. You lead me beside the still waters as you bring refreshment to my soul and peace to my troubled mind.” This same passage could be used in intercession: “Lord, I pray that you would help ________ to come to understand what it means to relate to you as Shepherd. Help him to realize that as he submits to your leadership and guidance that he will have no need. I pray that you will allow him to see that apart from your provisions he will never lie down in green pastures or find the peace in his life of still waters.”

Regardless of the application, scripture is very useful in many areas of our life, including our prayer life. As you journey together with God through His Word, allow Him to stimulate you in discovering new ways to make His Word profitable in your life.

Confidence in Prayer – Day 6

prayer4Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have all your prayers answered? I know that God answers all of our prayers with either yes, no, or wait, but what if we knew how to pray in such a way that God’s answer was always yes? This is actually possible, and God tells us how to do it in 1 John 5:14-15: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” Did you see the last phrase of this verse? It says, “we know that we have what we asked of him.” Prior to that it says, “whatever we ask.” God is clearly telling us that it is possible to pray in such a way that God always responds positively to what we ask for.

God actually sets the first part of this passage up by saying that we can pray with confidence knowing that God will answer. This sounds like New Testament praying. It is reminiscent of Jesus calling Lazarus from the grave or Peter saying to the lame man, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” How can you have that kind of confidence in your prayer life? I do not like putting prayer into a formula, because it is a relationship, but there is a formula suggested here in this verse. God says that we must first ask according to His will. The first step of effective praying is to determine the will of God about a matter. Our first prayer then should be to ask God how to pray about a certain issue and then go about seeking to determine His will regarding our request. This will lead us into searching the Scripture, seeking advice from godly friends, and spending time in quiet meditation and prayer. Once we have discerned God’s will about a matter, then we can pray about it and “know we have what we asked of Him.” Let’s not be so quick to read off our prayer list to God. It would do us well to apply God’s revealed truth, the Bible, to our prayer life before we ever ask of God. When we know the will of God, our confidence in prayer rises, and we will see God acting to accomplish His will on earth.