A Bullying Spirit

When I drop my granddaughter off at school in the mornings, I stand outside the fence and pray.  I pray over the students and the teachers, for safety and protection from invasive evil, physically, and from the philosophies of this world fueled by the lies of the enemy.  I pray for the administrative staff, the cafeteria staff, custodial staff and all the other employees on this grade school campus, that they would be infused with Godly wisdom and perception.  I pray that God would station mighty warriors at all the gates, not allowing dangerous people to enter.  And I also pray that He would commission His warrior angels to protect the children in their classrooms, in the cafeteria, and on the playground, particularly from bullies and bullying spirits. 

This is a battle I am more than happy to engage in—in the place where it is most effective, the spiritual realm.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV)

I think most people, if we were to ask them, would find the actions and activities of bullies appalling—particularly the affects it has on those who are bullied.

Bullying behavior often includes ridicule, intimidation, dominance, or perceived threats—frequently intentional, and sometimes insentiently. 

Yet, if adults and parents oppose bullying, where then do children learn to be bullies? 

My daughter picked up Eugenie from Girl Scouts a few weeks ago and heard some young girls speaking very derisively against the current administration in the United States.  I’m sure those who hate him, and his politics, would applaud them (though, considering their age, my curiosity is piqued about what they think they know about the president or the political climate in this country); I can only assume that the girls were echoing their parents’ words and the opinions they’ve expressed.

Now, this blog is NOT a political statement, because whoever is in office, there will always be those (even Christians) who criticize and demean not only the ones holding office, but also everyone who voted for them. 

But I have been thinking of political memes (cultural items in the form of images, videos, phrases).  …there are so many! – and they become especially prolific before, during, and often after emotionally charged, politically themed or activated occurrences.  From what I’ve observed, political memes are not created to convince anyone of anything, they are mostly intended to intimidate those who disagree with their creator’s political stance—I’m pretty sure that, rather than fact-based, they are primarily meant to bolster those who agree with their premises and ridicule anyone who disagrees.

It is so difficult to not engage in some way or another in such a passionately charged culture, and with the insinuations of spiritual bullying!  It is difficult not to have our attitudes tinged with frustration, intimidation, …or self-righteousness when social media is cluttered with these “clever” images! 

So, how are we, as Christians supposed to respond (or are we?) to the taunts of those who oppose us?  It is critically important that we not forget that the battle is waging in the unseen realm!

“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.  Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication…” (Ephesians 6:13-18 ESV)

This is our duty (not complaining, criticizing, or arguing!): “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4 ESV)

These are to be the defining characteristics of our behavior as Christians: “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people(Titus 3:1-2 ESV)

The Reason?  “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.  BUT when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to HIS own mercy…. (Titus 3:3-5 ESV)

I’m pretty sure the enemy seeks to upset us, hoping to corral Christians into a place of defensiveness; however, God does not need defending nor does He commission us to protect His honor in any other way than the manner in which we live.  The Holy Spirit instructs us: “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.  Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”  (Colossians 4:5-6 ESV)

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“Who is wise and understanding among you?  By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom…. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”  (James 3:13, 17 ESV)

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Strongholds

Writing about strongholds is not easy; in fact, I think for most of us, acknowledging areas of vulnerability in our lives is quite unsettling.  However, it usually isn’t long after receiving Jesus as our Savior that we are confronted with ample evidence—from our words, our attitudes and thoughts, and our behaviors—that, even though we have the assurance of a home awaiting in heaven, we are far from perfect!

In the Old Testament, a study of the word “strongholds” presents a picture of defensible positions, not easily conquered, though untenable before the purposes and might of God (see Isaiah 23:11; Ezekiel 33:27).

God is also a stronghold for those who trust in Him: “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:2 ESV)

The word “strongholds” is only used one time in the New Testament: “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4 ESV).  [Works based religion, used as a back-up plan to salvation by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), causes us to confuse will-power with divine power—and when that happens we may end up bruised and feeling defeated or self-righteous and condescending.]

The Holy Spirit, through the apostle Paul, also in his letter to the Ephesians, indicates an approach the enemy uses to gain access to our lives.  “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26-27 ESV) Not confessed sin, rather, cultivated sin grants the enemy access to our lives; fortunately, we have an advocate with the Father who intercedes for us… “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.  But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  He is the propitiation for our sins…” (1 John 2:1-2 ESV)

Also, we are reminded that Jesus “…holds his priesthood permanently because he continues forever.  Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:24-25 ESV)

It is the effects of sin that opens doors to the enemy, giving him access to our lives.  And this is where I have struggled.  Guilt is a gift that draws our heart to Jesus and to repentance—it is a pathway, not a destination.  Unfortunately, abuse—both childhood and adult—tends to cement an abiding sense of guilt and shame into the souls of those wounded by the sin and brokenness of others.

We are inclined to see our own brokenness as irreparable, making us of little value or usefulness for the kingdom of God; and the enemy eagerly whispers into our thoughts words of hopelessness, discouragement, or condemnation to perpetuate those lies.  Shame is very confining, and when demons initiate pockets of fear and shame (they seem to go hand in hand), then the gospel of grace is restrained from shining through—because satan is effectively hindering us from recognizing the fullness of God’s amazing grace.

Scripture acknowledges the driving force behind fear as spiritual (demonic), not coming from God; “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:6)

Sometimes, there is another unsuspected “guest” lurking behind shame, one that took me by surprise because it seems so incongruent—Pride!  I can’t exactly explain how it managed to grab a foothold in my heart, but when a situation came up where I needed to ask for help, it wasn’t only shame that tugged on my heels, pride also jumped out from behind a corner.

I am so grateful to have the Bible and the words of Jesus to speak forgiveness and restoration to the souls of all those whose confidence is in Him!  He also speaks compellingly through His silences: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7 ESV)

“Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, ‘Are you King of the Jews?’  Jesus said, ‘You have said so.’  But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer.  Then Pilate said to him, ‘Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?’  But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.” (Matthew 27:11-14 ESV)

It was our sins that led Him to trial; and in His silence, He bore our shame!

Jesus, on our behalf, faced the very worst that could happen (and the very treatment we deserved), and sin was crushed, fear was defied, pride was subjugated, guilt was borne, and shame was dismantled.

That is our freedom.  That is the truth and it destroys the lies of the enemy and the strongholds where he attempts to lay claim in our lives.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

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If it Fits…

It’s funny watching my bulky cat attempt to fit into a small box; when I watch her, the motto, “If it fits, it sits!” comes to mind.  Now, I know that isn’t exactly how the saying originated, but many cat owners recognize their precious pets’ propensity to give a different spin to the saying.  “Flufferbelle” steps in gingerly and, with her feet and legs inside, she settles her ample body down, with calico fluff bursting out all over the edges.

Lately, I’ve been feeling that way—in my mind I have created a box that my life fits into, but as I settle down, I have a sense that God is bursting me out of my perceived boundaries and limitations.  I think it’s been over ten years since I began writing Bible-based prayer journals, the fruit of my quiet times and study.  I am by no means finished with writing and praying through every book of the Bible, and I have considered rewriting the New Testament journal, but at some point this past December, I realized that God is doing something new, something different in my relationship with Him—specifically something deeper in my prayer life.  …that may not be all, but I know that is where it begins.

Sometimes, I think we need a reminder of who God is:

“…the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever.  Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17)

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers…. Who is this King of glory?  The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle!” (Psalm 24:1-2, 8)

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Hebrews 1:1-3)

Sometimes when I gaze up at the star-lit night sky, my spirit is briefly touched with the magnitude of our God, the God who spoke the universe into existence, who also touched lepers, who turned water into wine, and felt the faintest touch of one who, in the midst of a crowd clambering for His attention, reached out a trembling hand towards His robe.

But more often than not, my thoughts and my life revolve around dirty dishes, folding laundry, and yes, scooping the cat’s litter box.  My day starts with a treasured time in God’s Word and prayer, and then I get out of bed and life happens.  There is a constant battle for my attention and struggle to eat enough of what is good for me and not so much of what isn’t.

I forget that there is an all-powerful, all-knowing, invincible God living inside of me!

And that “in him [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and [I] have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.”

He’s here! Inside of me, inside of us (those of us who have accepted Jesus and His sacrifice for our sins, anyway) by faith—the very same way we received Him!

“…I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19)

I want that kind of life, the “surpassing” type of life where the fullness of God resides— experiencing the Holy Spirit engaging my thoughts, transforming my attitudes, influencing my words, and the fruit of the Spirit demonstrated through my actions.  I recognize those dynamics begin with faith, believing that it is possible because the Holy Spirit lives inside of me.  I also know that Bible study strengthens faith, and when we are committed to our relationship with Jesus Christ and to reading and meditating on God’s Word, then mustard seed-growing, mountain-moving faith is possible!

I also acknowledge that we have an enemy bent on our destruction, who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy, who prowls around like a lion looking for his next meal, who does not want us to live in the privilege and power of heaven, and who makes cunning attempts to divert us from our first love.  We must equip and arm ourselves each day for battle, waging war by destroying his lies, tearing down strongholds, and taking our thoughts captive to Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).

But God…

         …is in us and He is greater than all others. (1 John 4:4)

         …is rich in mercy and He loves us. (Ephesians 2:4)

         …is the King of glory, strong and mighty, and He’s mighty in battle! (Psalm 24:8)

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He Promised Hope!

The spiritual and emotional journey of Jesus’ disciples could veritably be considered epic—from uneducated laborers, their society’s nobodies and rejects, to intimate friendship with the Creator of the Universe!  Though they did not initially comprehend just who He was, they grew in their understanding of His identity and mission through spending time with Him.  They did not grasp the significance or purpose for His death until after the cross; and they had varying responses to His cautioning them of things to come.  All, except for one of Jesus’ closest friends, were confronted with the death of the cross and came out, after encountering the resurrected Messiah, dynamically changed.

When I started this post, I planned on going a different direction with my writing.  But since then, several friends and acquaintances have died, and my heart was pierced with grief. 

These words come to mind when I am faced with the grief of death: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55) And my immediate response is “it’s in my heart!” …and the hearts of all those who are grieving, that’s where!

However, death has no sting nor victory for those who have left us, who placed their lives and their hope in Jesus Christ!

“For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:53, 54)

We don’t deny grief because we know Jesus grieved; the best-known instance is when he wept with Mary and Martha over the death of their brother.  He knew that He had resurrection life within Himself, yet in those moments His heart grieved with them.

Jesus also knew that in coming days He would endure a tortured death.  To His disciples He disclosed, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem.  And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” (Matthew 20:18-19)

No hidden messages, just straight forward, “this is what is going to happen.”  They couldn’t grasp what He was saying, though; in fact, they were “greatly distressed” (Matthew 17:23) They couldn’t see beyond the immediate or the cross.  They were either rejecting the death or resigned to its finality … “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” (John 11:16)

There is a personal death that we wrestle with on and off throughout our lives; it is not an inevitable death, rather, a voluntary one.  Jesus taught, “…if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)

Self-denial in a self-indulgent society does not come easily!  In a time when people are demanding “personal rights,” a willingness to give up any perceived entitlements for the sake of the gospel is threatened by what society considers necessary for one’s emotional or physical well-being.

Sometimes we, like the disciples, cannot see beyond the cross; and surrendering our hopes, our dreams, our time, and the things we want or think we need, to “Thy will be done,” seems to present a landscape of certain death with no hope of life to follow.

I am quite sure the enemy of our souls heightens our fear of losing possessions, of giving up particular lifestyles or relationships, or reliance on anything or anyone other than Jesus, by emphasizing loss and clouding our perspective about what we gain in following Jesus—life that won’t end (John 3:16), peace (Isaiah 26:3), joy (Romans 15:13), provision (Matthew 6:25-33), community (1 John 1:7), and love (1 John 3:1-3).

There was a time when I (mistakenly) thought that when one initially decides to become a Christian, the battle was over, the giving up was done and now we could peacefully sail off into the sunset of our salvation.  Not so!  The Holy Spirit persistently challenges us to “…grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ;” and often that means deeper trust in and intimacy with Jesus—and turning away from things that hinder our spiritual growth.

The Holy Spirit admonishes and encourages us through the apostle Paul, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.  And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:7-9)

 

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How are Christians Supposed to Live?

Most people, even those who are not believers (or I should say, especially those who are not believers), have opinions about how Christians are supposed to live.  Problems arise when people (Christian or not) make assumptions based on personal opinion but are not intimately acquainted with Jesus or know how he lived.  We can cite some of His characteristics such as love, patience, and compassion, hoping to emulate His life; however, if the Holy Spirit hasn’t done major renovation in our secret inner lives, can we truthfully say that we are living as He intended?

If you’ve read many of my posts, I am sure you know that I am deeply opposed to legalism that binds one into constricted behaviors.  At the same time, I believe that born-again believers are new creations in Christ, our lives are being transformed, and the good work God has begun in our hearts He will carry on until we see our Savior face to face (because the Bible says so—see 2 Corinthians 5:17, 3 Corinthians 3:18, Philippians 1:6).

The climate of this world is growing increasingly hostile to Christians and Christianity, though.  Many accuse us of intolerance and hatred because we oppose lifestyles that deviate from God’s intended plans established at Creation, or our defense of every unborn child’s right to life conflicts with their “right” to choose whether a child lives or dies.  I, also, am not naïve enough to think that all who profess to be Christian accept that the Bible is infallible and the revealed Word of God, nor do they believe that God condemns many of the life choices lauded by this world.

Jesus cautioned, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’  If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:18-20)

Living or working in a hostile environment is not easy!  But where we live is not so much the concern as how we live—no matter where it is.  Scripture instructs:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17) 

Our salvation, our faith in God and His righteousness, are foundational to how we live—in our homes, our communities, and our nation.  Trusting the loving-kindness and faithfulness of God enables us to face hostile people or situations knowing that our Father is fully capable and willing to work all things out for our good.  Therefore, we don’t need to respond to hostility with hostility, or anger with anger, or disappointment with frustration.

When I began this post, I did a study on the word “live” and my thoughts (I realize now) centered mainly on how believers in Jesus were supposed to behave and the things they weren’t supposed to do.  And then I read this passage in Romans and in my mind, it clarifies what it means to live by faith:

“Let love be genuine.  Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.  Love one another with brotherly affection.  Outdo one another in showing honor.  Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.  Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.  Never be wise in your own sight.  Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’  To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:9-21)

Daunting?  Absolutely!  Yet we have this assurance, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Peter 1:3-4)

 

 

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That’s Not True!

I love going to church and hearing teachings that are clearly Holy Spirit anointed!  Characteristics of such sermons declare both the character of God and convey truth spoken from the Word of God.  The Good News is that the Bible tells us of God’s love for fallen, broken humanity; and it also relates encouragement, hope, correction and conviction.  However, condemnation born of legalism is not a characteristic of the Holy Spirit or truth.

The fact is, not every word uttered from a pulpit (and I’m not speaking only of cultic or offshoot type churches) is Holy Spirit breathed. …which makes it necessary for all believers to be well acquainted with the scriptures and in an intimate relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit.

Our pastor’s message recently made my heart sit up and take notice because what he said directly confronted an inaccurate teaching I’d received in the past; and though I may not consciously believe it, the presentation of truth came up against a stronghold (lie) of the enemy in my subconscious and became a work of spiritual demolition.

This was not just misguided teaching from my religious past in a dubious denomination; it has also echoed from the lips of impassioned evangelicals.

It is the notion that if we don’t share the gospel with anyone or everyone, some people may miss the opportunity to be saved.

Perhaps you’ve heard this teaching and rejected it as false; or maybe, like me, you’ve heard it and moved on past it because the guilt and condemnation just didn’t sit well in our spirits—I write about it now because I realized that it was still lurking in my subconscious.

I picture Atlas with the weight of the world on his shoulders.  It is a weight much to heavy for a human to carry, but Jesus did bear the weight, the sin of the world, because He was more that human, He was also God.  He carried the sins of humanity because of Love and He is not willing that any should perish.

“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

“Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” (Ezekiel 33:11)

This is the character of God: “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7)

The question is, if we don’t tell someone about Jesus, could they be separated from God, lost from all eternity?

No!!!

God’s plan, the hope for redemption through the Jewish nation seemed to teeter on the decision of one young, reluctant queen—although she chose to risk her life and honor God (and we know that now), there was a moment where she could have chosen otherwise and hoped for the best.  Did that mean God’s purposes for the nation of Israel and the heritage of the Messiah were in jeopardy?  Not at all!  “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place…. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

There is a defining line between legalistic compulsion in “witnessing”, and the Holy Spirit indwelling, testifying to the goodness and grace of God through our lives.

Jesus’ imperative for our lives is this: “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

The Holy Spirit, through the apostle Paul, also reminds us that we each are uniquely gifted for serving God and serving others: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)

This changes our focus from what we think we need to do for God, to all He has done for us, and what the Holy Spirit accomplishes in and through our lives—that is the basis for our redemption, our confession, and the hope abiding within us!

 

“How beautiful upon the mountains

are the feet of him who brings good news,

who publishes peace, who brings good

news of happiness, who publishes salvation,

who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’”

Isaiah 52:7

 

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Pressing On…

“Not that I…am already perfect, but I press on…. One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)

I confess that ending a year with regret and beginning a new one with apprehension is a familiar response for me.  Many broken resolutions later, I approach the New Year with a mixture of trepidation and hope—reservation about setting myself up for failure and hope that I will experience some real, concrete changes in my life.  My desire is for inward changes, though—the type of transformation that happens in my soul and is evidenced outwardly in my life.

So, I wondered how scriptural it is to make resolutions.  …and I found three interesting and powerful instances of personal resolve in the Bible:

“But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank…” (Daniel 1:8)

It is always good and right to resolve in our hearts not to be defiled by the “food” of this world, its passions, and philosophies—that is a resolution we can be confident that the Holy Spirit will support.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”  (Titus 2:11-14)

“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)

In another instance of “religious” resolve, God sent an angel with an opposing message—even though Joseph’s resolve to divorce Mary quietly spoke of compassion, it also echoed with fear and legalism.

“And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.  But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:19-20)

I think a lot of my past broken resolutions had more to do with legalism and what I thought was the right thing to do instead of being conceived by the Holy Spirit!

There is another story of resolve in the book of Acts.  After ministering extraordinarily in the city of Ephesus, with the word of the Lord continuing to “increase and prevail mightily” (Acts 19:20), the apostle Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, ‘After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” (v. 20)

These three men in their relationships with God, encapsulate my hope, my vision, my resolve for this new year:

  • I resolve to not allow the world, with its desires, its passions, and its philosophies, to sweep my heart away with it. My plan for staying undefiled from the things that create enmity with God is to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, allowing Him to guide my heart into prayer and Bible study.  “…Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. …Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:4, 7-8)

 

  • I resolve to practice the grace of Jesus, towards myself and others—I do not want legalism or self-righteousness to quench the tender life of Christ in my heart or the hearts of anyone else. Again, the only way I know to fulfill that resolve is through intimacy with my Savior.  “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

 

  • And finally, I resolve to allow the Holy Spirit to have administrative control of my life, to go where He leads and do what He tells me to do, even when I do not understand. This one, I confess, I have difficulty with; fear lurks around corners and in the hidden places of my heart—I really need God’s Spirit to release me from my expectations, my reservations, and the things that hold me back from complete surrender to Him.  I find encouragement in these three facts:

 

  1. God loves me! “…for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (John 16:27)

 

  1. Fear is not from God and I must not give it a place in my life! “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7); and…

 

  1. God’s Spirit will not lead me where His peace does not fill me. “…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
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