The nine armed sea star is a crazy looking critter. I recently had the delight of finding one while searching for sea shells with my son. I had never seen anything quite like it before. Unlike five armed sea stars (or star fish as I used to call them), it has nine arms that are used for feeding, digging, and moving around. Why nine arms and not five is beyond me. What I do know is that God, in his perfect design, chose to create them that way. This little critter obviously does not sit there and ask “Why do I have 9 arms?” It just lives and does what it was designed and intended to do and be.
As humans we are all created in God’s image and God has made us each as unique individuals. As believers we also know that we each have a unique role and purpose in this world and we need to be doing what He has called and purposed us to do. The way we understand His will and purpose for our life is to draw close to him, to dig in and study His word and pray.
Romans 12:1-2 gives us a crystal clear insight into how we go about knowing His will for our lives.
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
As we determine to be transformed by God, and not be conformed to this world, we are able to “prove” or know what God’s perfect will is. Let’s start asking God what he wants us to know about himself and get busy living our lives for Him!
That was one of the famous lines from the movie “On the Waterfront” starring Marlon Brando. Sometimes we may find ourselves looking back at a season or struggle and perhaps think that we could have been a contender; that perhaps we could have been more or done more. Today is a new day…today is the day we can choose to be a contender. But what are you going to contend for?
Contending…it is a strange word, not used very often, but powerful in it’s meaning. Often associated with sporting events, the word brings to mind the image of a prolonged battle or struggle. In the letter of Jude in the Bible, Jude has a change of focus with regards to the content of the letter and changes from a focus on the topic of his shared salvation with the readers, to a plea, an exhortation for their contending for the faith that they share.
“Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” Jude 1:3
What does it mean to contend earnestly for the faith? The Greek word for “contend earnestly” is the word epagónizomai from which we get the word agonize. We are to agonize earnestly, contend with all we have, for the faith. Jude was not writing about contending with boxing gloves either. Jude is writing because there were enemies in the church and the best thing that they could do is to contend earnestly for the faith…for the gospel truth of Jesus Christ. What is amazing about Jude’s instructions is that he does not encourage them to do what we might expect…to fight. Rather he is going to give several instructions to them which are still just as applicable today as we battle false teachers, persecution, and attacks on the truth of the gospel.
In Jude 1:20-21 it says: “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.“
The original Greek language only has one imperative in this sentence and it is found in the command to “keep yourselves in the love of God”. Jude provides three ways that they and we are to keep ourselves in the love of God.
First, we are to be “building yourselves up on your most holy faith”. That “most holy faith” is the Word of God…the collection of truths that make up the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is most holy because it is from a most holy God. This verse looks back at verse three and reinforces that that this is what we are to be contending for…this most holy faith that has been given to them. We are to be building ourselves up…to be growing and maturing in our understanding and knowledge of the those most holy teachings…that most holy faith.
The second way by which we remain in the love of God is by “praying in the Holy Spirit”. If we are not praying constantly as individuals, our small groups, and in our churches, how are we to be keeping in the love of God? As spirit filled believers we should long to pray and to be close to our Lord. In Ephesians 6 Paul writes regarding the armor of God. He says there “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.”
The third way that Jude gives by which we continue in God’s love is to be ” looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” That is our hope and our longing. It is both our temporal desire to be close to our Lord, but it is also our eternal desire to spend an eternity in the glorious presence of our Savior. Keeping that eternal perspective, looking forward expectantly and anxiously for the ultimate act of mercy from Jesus Christ, our eternal salvation being realized in the presence of Christ himself, that truth helps us to continue in God’s love. That truth gives us assurance of the hope that is in us to get through those difficult times in our lives. How powerful is the hope of our salvation…the truth of a future outpouring of the mercy of Jesus Christ on those that are His children.
Are you contending earnestly for the faith? Are you contending daily to keep yourself in the love of God by by digging into His word, by praying in the Holy Spirit to the one true God that hears and answers, and are you looking expectantly for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life? These are the ways we keep ourselves, they way we abide in the love of God, and by doing so it is how we can endure the trials and persecution of this world as we await His glorious return.
Be a contender for the faith! Agonize to abide in the love of God.
Room darkening shades are designed specifically for the purpose of eliminating as much outside light as possible so that a room can be as dark as possible. Sometimes those kinds of shades are used to create darkness that is needed for sleeping. Sometimes they are used so that the lighting in a room can be controlled specifically for video purposes. Whatever the need, there are lots of different kinds of room darkening shades and a boatload of reasons for using them.
Sin is like a room darkening shade…only it is at work in our spiritual lives. Sin in our lives will work to make our lives darker and darker and if not addressed will darken the true light in our lives. Sin comes in different styles and patterns. It can be decorative, like pride, or functional, like hatred. Sometimes we open the shades of sin in our life and let the light in, other times we pull the shade tight and let the darkness reign. But we control the shades.
Jesus Christ will return one day. As believers we look forward to that day with great anticipation. Peter asked a somewhat rhetorical but pressing question in his second letter saying this “Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless…” (2 Peter 3:14) To be found by Him at peace, found without spot and blameless, we need to be addressing the darkness of sin in our lives. But first we have to expose that sin in our lives with light…true spiritual light.
Jesus said to his disciples “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12) Jesus is the only true spiritual light in this world. Peter also wrote in 2 Peter 1:19 “And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
Jesus is that light that shines in a dark place and the light cannot be extinguished by the life darkening shades of sin. In Psalm 119:15 it says “Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.” Jesus is the light of the world and God’s Word is a light to our life guiding us and revealing to our how we are to live in the light.
Today, if you are wresting with sin in your life, sin of any type, come to Jesus and confess your sin. He is faithful and just to forgive those sins. (1 John 1:9) Let His light shine brightly in your life and let His Holy Word do a mighty work in your life. Tear down those life darkening shades of sin and let His light of righteousness flood your life.
In the midst of this election season I wanted to remind myself of biblical truth and divine purpose for my Christian walk. So here is some Biblical passages that remind me of how I am to live today, tomorrow, and the days ahead.
Living in Unity
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” Ephesians 4:1-6
Being a Blessing
“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.” 1 Peter 3:8-9
“Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for
“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:5-7
Praying Fervently…Regardless of the Outcome
“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle—I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying—a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” 1 Timothy 2:1-7
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6
Rejoice, Pray, & Give Thanks
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Live Christ-like and Obediently
“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” James 1:19-27
Love One Another
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
Pray that God’s Will is Done
“Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.” Matthew 9:10-13 (KJV)
Prayer to God Leads to the Peace of God
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
I recently had the opportunity to visit my home town of Duxbury, Massachusetts. One of my favorite spots to visit is the Duxbury Beach. You can get there by going over the Powder Point Bridge shown in the picture. As a kid I would walk across the bridge to fish, jump in the bay, and at times just to get to the beach. At low tide the smell was unmistakable. The mud flats in the bay were a perfect breading ground for quahogs, razor clams, and horseshoe crabs. The sandy beaches were amazing places to clam for soft shell steamer clams too! Once across the bridge, and after crossing over the dunes to the ocean side of the beach, the Cape Cod Bay and Atlantic Ocean spread out to the horizon.
When I went to visit this time and went to cross out onto the beach, the smell of the ocean instantly brought to mind the countless times I spent on the beach. I recalled memories of my childhood having family lobster and clam boils on the beach. I remembered times spent in the heart of winter watching massive waves crash on the beach and eating away at the precious sand of the beach. I recalled times spent walking with my mother and looking for sea glass amongst the rock piles created by the waves. I remembered standing chest deep in the surf casting a fly line in pursuit of monster striped bass with special friends that shared the passion. In an instant the simple, unmistakable smell of the salt air brought to mind a myriad of blessings and events that I will treasure as long as I am able.
God is truly amazing in that he has created in us the ability to associate a simple smell with such precious and diverse events in our lives. In Romans 1:20 Paul wrote “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead…”
In the same manner that our sense of smell can trigger vivid memories, when we encounter the created world around us, whether by sight, smell, or sound, we should instantly be reminded of our Creator God. Of His love for us. Of His eternal power and Godhead. Perhaps most significantly, as believers, we will remember the immeasurable gift of our salvation through faith in Christ alone.
The next time you smell the sweet smell of rain, see the brilliant colors of fall, or even hear the sound of waves crashing on a shore, you will remember Him.
“Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” Colossians 4:12 NKJV
One of the amazing blessings and privileges we have as bondservants of Christ is to pray for one another. As Paul is wrapping up his letter to the believers at the church in Colosse, he includes remarks pertaining to the active work of the believers in the church to support and encourage each other.
Epaphras is only mentioned twice in Scripture, once here in the letter to the Colossians and also in Paul’s letter to Philemon. In this passage Paul specifically speaks of Epaphras as “…always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” What an incredible statement of the Christ-like character and behavior of Epaphras. His steadfast commitment to prayer for other believers is commendable all on its own. But Paul states the specific nature of Epaphras’ prayer stating that he was burdened to pray for more than just the day-to-day things that fill another believers days, but that these fellow bondservants would “stand“, or be completely confident, unwavering in their faith, and in the knowledge and purpose of living a life completely yielded to the will of God.
What an incredible blessing that must have been to be a part of the church in Colosse and to know that there is a fellow believer praying fervently for them that they might be living a confident, faith-filled life in the perfect will of God.
Perhaps this is something each of us can consider and commit to making a part of our personal prayer lives in the days ahead. Perhaps we can commit to pray for our own churches, for the fellow believers in our life, and perhaps even for a church that we used to attend. Perhaps we can pray specifically that they “…may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.”
For the past 10 weeks or so I have been recovering from ankle surgery and every day since I have been using a knee scooter to get around. I have unknowingly developed habits of how best to approach certain doorways, how to back in to my favorite chair so that getting up is easier, and when to use the brake so that I don’t lose control and tip over. There was no training course, no teacher, just day to day living that influenced my thinking and actions and that created habits that are now almost instinctive.
Perhaps that is part of the reason for why I woke up this morning thinking about habits and patterns in my life. I have a feeling it is more likely because I have just 2 days left at a job that I have worked at for more than 33 years. I have been thinking that the pattern of my days, the weeks, the months, is all about to change radically. Everything from the invisible push to “get ready for work” in the morning, to the sense that my “lunch break” is over and I need to “get back to work” will change. The ever present drive to perform and grow, to meet a standard of performance, doing all things as unto the Lord because that is who I serve.
They say that you can develop habits in just 30 days…I expect that there is some truth to that. I can only imagine what habits I have developed in more than 30 years of working at the same place. There are habits and patterns of thinking that have become instinctive through the years that I don’t think I have even noticed. How I approach relationships with people, time management, even how I deal with stress. All of them have, over time, perhaps become a bit too familiar and unconsciously have become my “normal”. Just because it is normal, may not mean it is good though.
When I finished my masters degree and the intense class work was finished, I experienced what I like to call “school withdrawals”. For several weeks I had this voice in the back of my mind that seemed to be reminding me that I needed to be reading, preparing for a test, or writing another paper. The years of concerted, intense effort had created in me a “normal” state that was abruptly stopped…but my mind still thought it needed to perform at that level and in that way.
During this current pandemic perhaps I have developed new patterns of behavior, new habits in my day-to-day, that have changed the way I view different areas of my life…for better or for worse. How about you? Has the new normal somehow impacted how you relate to the Lord? Has it changed your spiritual walk with the Lord? Those changes have happened in a fairly short period of time and may have developed a new normal that is familiar and comfortable. But is it a good normal?
The impending changes in my life have served as a reminder to me to commit myself more fervently to those disciplines that develop godliness in my life. Prayer, study in the Word, gathering together, worshiping and other habits that will bring glory to God. First Timothy 4:7-8 God’s Word says this: “…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
It is never too late to make changes. It is always a good time to remind ourselves what God says are to be the most important things in our lives. It it always a great day to commit to making our new normal a pattern of life that develops godliness in us and brings glory to Him!
I have been reading through the book of Daniel this week. As I read through chapter two I came upon Daniel’s prayer of blessing to God for revealing the truth about a dream. The declarations that Daniel makes about God’s sovereign direction and will are so encouraging.
“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, For wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise And knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, And light dwells with Him.
“I thank You and praise You, O God of my fathers; You have given me wisdom and might, And have now made known to me what we asked of You, For You have made known to us the king’s demand.”
It is such a privilege and blessing to serve a God that is control, that gives wisdom to those that seek Him, that reveals His will to those who ask and seek His face.
Praise God for His immutable character. Unchanging and enduring forever.