Impossible To Empowered

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus outlined a “game plan” for His followers. He showed us how to correctly apply the Scripture to our daily lives with this repeated pattern: “You have heard it said [God’s Word], but I tell you [real-life application].”  Smack-dab in the middle of this sermon Jesus drops this on us, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). 

You might say, “But ‘perfect’ doesn’t really mean perfect, does it?” 

Actually, it does. The Greek word telios means the end goal of being complete in various applications of labor, growth, mental and moral character. In other words: complete in body, soul, mind, spirit—just like Jesus. 

Think about it: Jesus never misspoke, He never waited too long to act, He never acted too quickly, He never overstepped God’s boundaries, He never needed to apologize. 

Again, you might push back with, “Yes, but He is Jesus. He is God!” 

You are absolutely correct, but—miracle of miracles!—Jesus chose not to use His deity while He was on earth (Hebrews 2:17; Philippians 2:6-7). He lived a perfect life as a human, not playing His “God card,” to show us that it was possible. Jesus demonstrated that He needed to rely on the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:21-22, 4:1, 14; John 5:19-20, 12:49-50). 

This is what Jesus wants for us as well, which is why He told His disciples to wait for the empowerment that came with the baptism in the Holy Spirit. On our own, perfection is impossible. But when we baptized in the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to live perfectly. 

Remember the definition I gave for perfect (telios): complete in body, soul, mind, spirit. That’s exactly how Dr. Luke described Jesus, and it’s also how Jesus described our perfect love of God (Luke 2:52, 10:27). 

On our own: this is impossible. But with the baptism in the Holy Spirit: we are empowered for perfection. 

Don’t stop at salvation—press on to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. If Jesus was so reliant on the Holy Spirit, what would make us think we could live with anything less?! 

If you missed any of the other posts in this series, you can find them all listed here. 

Remember … Reorient … Rejoice … Repeat …

…remember… (Deuteronomy 16).

As Moses called the Israelites to keep three main feasts each year—Passover, Weeks (or Pentecost), and Tabernacles—he said the purpose was to remember.

Closely linked to all three of these feasts was another important word: celebrate (vv. 10, 13, 15). 

This remembering and rejoicing on a regular schedule was to keep God’s people aligned with God’s intimate and ongoing involvement in their lives. As a result, an attitude and an action should become just as ongoing in the lives of God’s people—

  • The attitude: joyful gratitude (vv. 11, 14)
  • The action: joyful giving (vv. 10, 15, 17)

These three set times were to be a time of reorientation. They were not supposed to be the only three times God’s people remembered what God had done, celebrated His goodness, let joy overflow their hearts, and let giving overflow to others. These reorientation times should excite us to live like this every single day! 

That’s why Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). 

What celebrations can you build into your life that will help you 

Remember … Reorient … Rejoice … Repeat …

Child Of God

You are the children of the Lord your God… (Deuteronomy 14:1). 

I am a child of the King of kings.
He is the King of Endless Supply.
He has no lack, no deficiencies, no quotas. 
He IS Abundance! 

So why would I live like a pauper—scraping by and scrambling to provide for myself? Why would I live like an orphan—with a scarcity mindset? 

My Heavenly Father knows what I have need of before I even ask, and He has already promised to supply for all of my needs (Matthew 6:8; Philippians 4:19).

As a child of God, I should have a joy-filled, peace-filled, abundance mentality. With this mindset I can…

I’m not trying to build a bankroll here. My inheritance is secure in Heaven. As a child of the King of kings, I can expect Him to provide all I need. 

I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. (Psalm 37:25) 

With the same measure I use to bless others, I will be blessed. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. (Luke 6:38) 

I need to live as a child of the Abundant King, not as a helpless orphan with no one on whom to call for help! 

On Living In A [COVID-19] Age

In 1948, World War II had come to a close and the nuclear age had dawned. The Cold War was beginning to ratchet up and the fear of nuclear annihilation was gripping people’s hearts. 

In this environment, C.S. Lewis wrote an essay entitled On Living In An Atomic Age. I have changed the word “atomic” for “COVID-19,” and I think you will see the relevance. 

In one way we think a great deal too much of the COVID-19 virus. “How are we to live in a COVID-19 age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the COVID-19 virus was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by the COVID-19 virus, let that virus when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about viruses. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

For Christians, I would urge you to think in ways in which I am certain C.S. Lewis would agree: 

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:2) 

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8) 

Be joyful because you have hope. Be patient when trouble comes, and pray at all times. (Romans 12:12)

4 + 4 Strategies To Eliminate Distractions To Your Prayer Time

There’s a quote that has been the theme for this series on prayer: “Prayer pursues joy in fruitful fellowship with Jesus, knowing that God is glorified when we bear fruit in answer to prayer. Why do God’s children so often fail to have consistent habits of happy, fruitful prayer? Unless I’m badly mistaken, one of the reasons is not so much that we don’t want to, but that we don’t plan to.” —John Piper 

And unless I’m badly mistaken, the most obvious thing we need to plan to eliminate is distractions. 

Some people say they can juggle a lot of things at once. “I’m a really good multitasker,” they say. But science says differently. MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller concluded that our brains are “not wired to multitask well…. When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost.” What is that cognitive cost? “Multitasking can drop IQ as much as 15 points, essentially turning you into the cognitive equivalent of an 8-year-old” (Inc. Magazine). 

If the devil can make you think you can multitask prayer with other things, he has seriously inhibited the effectiveness of your prayers. 

Jesus was not a multitasker—but He was singularly focused on His Father’s plan. And yet He accomplished more in His three years of public ministry than anyone else in history! 

Here are 4 strategies to help you get ready to pray:

  1. Try to have your prayer time in the same place and at the same time. Your brain likes routine and it will help you zero-in during your scheduled prayer times. 
  2. Silence your cell phone or other noisy distractions. 
  3. Keep a notepad handy for random thoughts that pop into your head. Writing them down will keep your brain from switching back-and-forth to them.
  4. Focus on listening, not on talking—Eugene Peterson said, “Prayer is first of all a means of listening. Prayer is an act of attention.” 

When we get right down to it, prayer is spiritual warfare (2 Corinthians 2:11; Ephesians 6:10-18). In the context of warfare, the word strategy means the maneuvering that takes place prior to the battle. The devil is a masterful tactician, and he will do everything he can to keep you distracted. 

That’s why three times Peter tells us to be clear-minded and singularly-focused in our thoughts SO THAT we can pray without the hindrances of distractions (1 Peter 1:13-14; 4:7; 5:8-9). And Paul tells us to take all our thoughts captive, so that no un-Christlike thoughts are inhibiting our prayer time (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). 

Here are 4 strategies to help you stay focused in prayer:

  1. A—adoration. Enter into God’s presence with a Psalm or worship music. 
  2. C—confession. Deal with unconfessed sin, unforgiveness, or relationship strife as quickly as possible (Psalm 66:18; Matthew 5:21-24). 
  3. T—thanksgiving. Paul counseled us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition WITH thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).  
  4. S—supplication. Intercede for your brothers and sisters in the battles they are facing (James 5:16; Job 42:10; Ephesians 6:18).  

Remember—

Prayer isn’t preparation for the battle; prayer IS the battle! Let’s not be distracted from that!

Is There Room In Your Heart For Jesus?

I think all of you can finish this poem: ’Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. 

Haddon Sunbldblom’s painting for Coca-Cola

This poem was written in 1837 by Clement Moore. Most people assume the title of the poem is the first line of the poem, but Moore’s original title is actually “A Visit From St. Nicholas.” And we all know what St. Nicholas (aka Santa Claus) looks like, right? Actually, this well-known painting of Santa Claus is the creation of Haddon Sundblom for Coca-Cola in 1930, but it’s not too far off from the original St. Nicholas. 

Nicholas of Myra

Nicholas of Myra was a Christian bishop who lived in the 3rd century AD. It was discovered by some of his peers that he would anonymously throw bags of money through the open windows of the poor people in his town. Some of the coins landed in these poor families’ shoes and socks as they were drying by the fireplace. The myth grew that without your stockings hung by the fireplace you wouldn’t receive any gifts. After Nicholas died in 342 AD he was declared a saint, so his popular practice of blessing the poor spread and took on a life of its own. 

I’m struck by a contrast from the line in Moore’s poem that “the stockings were all hung by the chimney with care.” This tells us how well people prepare for the “arrival” of St. Nicholas each Christmas, but let’s contrast that with how ill-prepared—if they even know they need to prepare!—people are for the absolutely certain fact of the arrival of King Jesus! 

Just as the vast majority of Israelites weren’t prepared for the Messiah’s first Advent in Bethlehem in the 1st century, how many people are still unprepared for His second Advent which could occur at any moment? 

Think about the contrasts between the legend of St. Nicholas (i.e. Santa Claus) and the certainty of Jesus Christ:

  1. St. Nicholas was a poor monk who has now become richer than imaginable. Jesus is the King of kings who left all His riches and kingly rights to become poor. 
  2. St. Nicholas was a servant who has now been elevated to royalty status. Jesus is Absolute Royalty who became a servant. 
  3. St. Nicholas lives in a castle at the North Pole; there wasn’t even a room for Jesus at His birth, or even later in His adult life. 
  4. St. Nicholas is a fable that people venerate; Jesus is the Truth that people mock. 
  5. St. Nicholas left a legend with nothing of lasting value; Jesus is Absolute Reality and He is coming again (see Hebrews 2:14; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 2:7; Matthew 8:20; Acts 2:22-23).

There was no room in any inn, although Joseph knocked and knocked. Jesus is still knocking today, except today it’s on the door of your heart (Revelation 3:20). Will you let Him in? Or will you continue to allow your heart and mind to be dominated by myths and legends? 

Advent is a time for reflection. I don’t think we could ask a more heart-searching question than this—

Am I more prepared for St. Nicholas than I am for King Jesus?

Killing Discontentment

Fading gratitude is a terrible thing. Not being thinkful of our past not only keeps us from being thankful, but it also keeps us stuck in the past. And allowing gratitude to fade also sucks the life out of our every-day experiences.

Asaph told us about the manna that God provided for the Israelites to eat every single day that they were in the wilderness. He called it the bread of angels. But even this wasn’t enough for people who weren’t thinkful nor thankful. Instead, they craved more (Psalm 78:25-30). 

The dictionary defines forgetfulness as “ceasing to think about something.” Gratitude, then, is to continue to think about Someone—that “Someone” being God who daily provides for us.

Fading gratitude brings two ugly realities: 

(1) Discontentment. The dictionary calls this “a restless desire or craving for something one does not have.” In other words, it’s counting up what you don’t have instead of being grateful for what you do have. 

(2) Entitlement. This is discontentment’s sickly twin sister. Where discontentment counts up what it doesn’t have, entitlement says, “I deserve what I don’t have!” Jesus told a story about entitled people who had been given land, a vineyard, and everything they needed to be successful with their farm. Yet when the owner of the farmland asked for his rightful payment, the renters thought they were entitled to keep it all. 

There are serious—and potentially eternal—consequences for our unchecked discontented entitlement. Jesus said, “What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others” (Mark 12:9). And Asaph reported that for the discontented, entitled Israelites, “God’s anger rose against them; He put to death the sturdiest among them, cutting down the young men of Israel. … So He ended their days in futility and their years in terror” (Psalm 78:31, 33). 

One of two things is going to happen: either we kill discontentment, or discontentment will kill us! 

It’s not complicated to kill discontentment, but it is hard work. We kill discontentment with contentment. We learn to separate the dis from discontentment with the sword of gratitude! 

The apostle Paul wrote “…I have LEARNED to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have LEARNED the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13). 

One way to learn contentment is to keep reminders around you of all the things which with God has blessed you. Don’t let your gratitude fade for one moment! 

Next week we will be wrapping up this series by considering what can happen to our future outlook if we let gratitude fade from our hearts and minds. I hope you can join me! 

Honoring Veterans The Right Way [repost]

Disclaimer: I’m a patriotic crier. I love the United States of America, and proudly call her the greatest nation in history. So whenever I watch a patriotic movie, or serve at a veteran’s funeral, or even sing the national anthem before a Cedar Springs football game, I get misty.

I believe we owe a huge debt of gratitude to our veterans. But I also believe we may not be honoring that debt in the right way.

We usually honor our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have given “their last full measure of devotion” by playing taps at their funeral, firing a 21-gun salute, or even putting a flag in the sacred ground of their burial site every year at Memorial Day.

But what about our vets who are still living? Don’t they deserve more than just an occasional visit on Veterans Day?

In many ways, we treat Veterans Day like we do Thanksgiving Day: it’s just one day on our calendar to take care of our obligations to be grateful, and then we can continue on with business-as-usual until the next year.

Wouldn’t it be more fitting for us to treat Veterans Day—like Thanksgiving Day—as a culmination of another year full of gratitude? After all, it’s very likely that we wouldn’t even be able to enjoy our business-as-usual lives if it were not for the sacrifices of our veterans.

The Apostle Paul gives us a good pattern to follow. Four times in his letters he says, “I thank God for you every time I remember you” (Romans 1:9; Philippians 1:3; 2 Timothy 1:3; Philemon 4). In these times of thanks, he is remembering others who put their lives on the line for freedom, just as our veterans have done for us.

Here are at least three things we can learn from Paul’s thankfulness to apply to our gratitude for our veterans —

  1. Keep mementos of remembrance around you. Perhaps it’s an American flag, or a picture, or a Veterans Day program. Simply find something that will jog your memory frequently about the debt of gratitude we owe to our vets.
  2. Pray for our veterans. Paul often told his friends that when he was filled with thoughts of gratitude about them, he turned those thoughts into prayers for them.
  3. Turn your feelings into actions. When you see one of your mementos and say a prayer for a veteran, take it a step further. Jot a note to a vet, send an email, send flowers, or take them out to lunch. Perhaps you could invite a veteran into your home for Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter, or “adopt” a veteran on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.

The point is this: Let’s not make honoring our veterans something we only do on November 11. Let’s remember them often, be thankful for them always, and turn those thoughts and gratitude into action all year long.

Practicing And Preaching In Difficult Times

…the things which happen to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel (Philippians 1:12).

About 4-5 years before Paul wrote this, he wrote to the church in Rome: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). 

Paul said, “All things” were being used in God’s plan for his life.

If I was one of those Philippian Christians I might respond, “Even in imprisonment?! C’mon, Paul, your liberty has been taken away and you can’t travel and preach anymore—can God use even that??” 

Paul would give me an emphatic “Yes! 

A mark of a godly leader is one who practices what he preaches.

Paul said even his imprisonment was being used by God…

  • … the palace guards heard the gospel  
  • … others became bolder in their Christian testimony
  • … more people began preaching the good news about Jesus (see Philippians 1:13, 14, 18)

It’s still true today: God has a plan for your life, which He will work out even in the most difficult trials. 

How powerful it is when a leader continues to practice what he preaches even in the toughest of circumstances!

This is part 40 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

Favorable Influence

Twice the 80th psalm declares—Restore us, O Lord God Almighty; make Your face shine upon us, that we may be saved (Psalm 80:19). 

But if we are already a Christian that has been saved from the penalty of our sin and saved to an eternal reward, then that also means that God’s face IS already shining on us, He HAS already restored us, and He HAS already given us His favor. 

I like how the Amplified Bible renders this verse: Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; cause Your face to shine in pleasure, approval, and favor on us, and we shall be saved! 

What we have received is too wonderful for us to keep to ourselves, so we must let His pleasure, approval, and favor now shine out of us! 

“If the result of our experience of God does not compel and propel us into global mission, it is doubtful whether we have really encountered the God of the Bible.” —Dick Brogden 

Jesus stated His mission simply and then sent us out on the exact same mission (Luke 4:18-19; John 20:21). We do this best by living closely among people so they can also see us shine with God’s favor.

Paul called us to shine as well: Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people (Philippians 2:15). I believe this is a perfect definition of the word influence. The origin of the word meant the supposed flowing of ethereal fluid from the stars thought to affect the actions of men. Christians that let their good deeds shine in the darkness can influence the entire culture around them!

“Radical Christianity is not going on a missions trip or a big conference. Radical Christianity is staying steady for decades.” —Mike Bickle 

Being a person that shines with favorable influence requires staying involved for the long haul so that you can build trustworthiness. It’s being in visible places not to get glory, but to let people see God’s glory. When they see His glory shine on you and out of you, they will want what you have too!

Solomon said, By the blessing of the influence of the upright and God’s favor—because of them the city is exalted (Proverbs 11:11). So, my fellow Christian, let me ask you: 

  • Has God shined on you?
  • Are you letting Him shine out of you? 
  • Are you living a noteworthy, trustworthy, visible life in your dark community? 

“It’s your choice: You can be a part of your city’s elevation or its deterioration.”

—Craig T. Owens

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