Why do I have 9 arms?

Photo by J. Epperson

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!

“I coulda been a contender…”

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.

TK

Life Darkening Shades

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.

Strenuously Contending

Growing up I heard the word “strenuous” used very rarely but it was almost in relationship to some form of really labor intensive work that was going to pretty much take up my whole Saturday! I expect many of us think of the words strenuous and contend in a less than positive light. Perhaps this passage will change our thinking a bit and create in us a deeper awareness and appreciation for the things we pour ourselves into.

In Colossians 1:28-29 Paul writes to the church and expresses his purpose and passion as concisely and fervently as possible.

He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

The Greek word for contend used here is where we get the word agonize. That is a pretty strong image of how fervently Paul engages in his efforts to teach and share the truth of Jesus Christ. Reading this passage I was personally challenged to think about the things that I strenuously contend for. Family, work, hobbies, church…what is it that I am willing to agonize for?

While we may not be called to the same teaching ministry that Paul was called to, it is an ongoing effort in our lives to make sure that we are strenuously contending for the things that God puts before us and calls us to engage in. We do this not in our own strength…but like Paul we do it with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in us.

Amen…

Rhythm and Rhyme

When you hear “eurythmics” you might, if you are of a certain age, recall that it is the name of a musical group. What you might not know is that it is also a method for teaching and reinforcing musical rhythm. According to the website Dictionary.com, eurythmics is also “the art of interpreting in bodily movements the rhythm of musical compositions: applied to a method invented by Emile Jaques-Dalcroze, a Swiss composer, aiming to develop the sense of rhythm and symmetry.” In more generic terms, eurythmics helps folks understand and develop rhythm.

Why on earth did would I bother looking that up? Well, today while watching the incredibly talented drummer at our church seamlessly and passionately play the beats that provided a steady tempo and emphasized the words and phrases of our worship song, a thought…more like a concept…went through my mind. First, I thought how awesome it is when the drummer plays a consistent, unrelenting rhythm and sets the pace of the song and keeps us in sync with the worship leader. At other times the drummer will build in volume and stroke so as to reinforce and drive home the power and meaning of the words being sung. At other times he sits silently so that the words alone have an opportunity to be heard and their emphasis allowed to settle on our hearts without interruption or distraction.

While I stood listening and being led in song, I started thinking that there is a part of our spiritual lives that is a constant presence; a personal presence that helps us to keep in sync with the Leader, to grow through steady faithful reminders; a wise comforter that provides spiritual understanding and emphasizes spiritual truths and that is always providing a spiritual rhythm…a heartbeat…in our lives. That personal, living presence is the Holy Spirit.

John writes in his gospel letter: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (John 14:26)

Later he writes “…when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.” (John 15:13-15)

The Holy Spirit teaches us and guides us in truth. His work in our lives helps us to understand the mind of God himself. Much like the drummer that helps to keep rhythm and provide emphasis, the Holy Spirit works in our lives to provide a constant presence and heartbeat of God in our lives. He works in our hearts and minds to disclose the truth of God and emphasize the areas in our lives that need to grow in understanding.

Praise God for the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Loving Learning to Learn

As our church starts another semester of small groups in a couple of weeks, it is so exciting to see people getting more and more excited about every part of what small groups is about. The fellowship, the group study, and the commitment to loving and serving others is awesome…it is infectious.

One of the things that excites me is seeing people grow in their faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ. What excites me almost as much, is seeing people learning how to learn better. That may sound a bit odd but it is true. Seeing and hearing how people are figuring out how better to study God’s Word, how to dig in deeper and put the pieces together, how to find tools and approaches that will help them to get the most out of their time in the Bible is awesome.

So it is with each of us as we continue to grow and mature in our Christian faith that we continue to love how to learn how to learn better. We continue to commit ourselves to a lifetime of learning how to learn better, to grow deeper, and to mature from walking to running…from sipping milk to chowing down on some solid food of God’s Holy Word.

We should never be satisfied as learners; not just in what we learn, but in how we learn too. Our Lord is immeasurable and our desires should echo the words of Paul in Ephesians 3:18-19 where he prays that others might: “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

As we all continue to grow in our knowledge of Christ, let’s not get sedentary in our approach to our study. Rather, lets challenge ourselves to be better learners, working hard to become “excellent” students (Colossians 3:23-24), growing and maturing so that we might be effective and productive in our knowledge in our knowledge of our Lord and Savior (2 Peter 1:5-8).

His follower and student

A Teacher Through & Through

“In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.”
Titus 2:7-8 NIV

These verses are not a “stretch goal” for teachers of the Word of God. They are the model for strong, biblical teaching. They set the bar where it needs to be because the truth of God’s Word demands and deserves no less.

Wisdom and Will

For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God…” Colossians 1:9-10

That is what I want…I want to be filled with the knowledge of His will but want more than just head knowledge. I want to know His will “in all wisdom and spiritual understanding“. I am convinced that it is not until I have that kind of God-given knowledge and understanding that I will be able to walk and live in a way that is fully pleasing to the Lord; in a way that produces that “fruit of righteousness” (James 3:18), and that continues to increase my passion and my knowledge of God.

Wisdom From Above

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. ” James 3:17

One of the key factors that contributes to the success of any local church leadership is the fervent prayers of the church. Great godly leaders will strive and endeavor to seek, know and obey the will of God with love, in humility, and honorably. They are deeply aware of the important purposes to which they have been called. As a church we are called to lift them up in prayer (1 Timothy 2:2), to encourage them (1 Thessalonians 5:11), and to not cause them grief (Hebrews 13:17).

I have recently been studying through James and recently found my mind focusing on the need to pray specifically for the wisdom of God for those in leadership of my own church. James writes that true wisdom, the wisdom from above…that comes from God alone, is pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, and without hypocrisy. A leadership team in a church that demonstrates that kind of wisdom would be a powerful, God-honoring group, capable and empowered to do great things for His kingdom.

Our prayers for those in leadership should absolutely include a fervent, impassioned plea to God for His wisdom that will be evidenced by these types of interactions and characteristics. We pray that as they lead and shepherd the “sheep” of the church, you know…all of us that are prone to wander, to be needy and messy, the ones that sometimes are more sheep-like than we care to admit (guilty as charged), we pray that the leadership is abundantly blessed with a God-given wisdom that results in their joy and unity, and in our being blessed by godly leadership as we serve the Lord together.

TK