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Book - Walk On Water

Unfruitful Christians

Jesus tells the story of the sower who sowed his seeds in four places: on a path, on rocky ground, among thorns, and on good soil. The thorny place intrigues me the most because it “is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”1  These might be church-going people! The ones who hear sermons, who read their Bibles, who, when asked, would say they are Christians. They hear the Word of God and it takes root. And branches sprout but as fruit begins to grow, the thorns “grew up and choked them.”2 And they do not understand why this is so. They may, in fact, look at others whose lives are fruitful and wonder why God does not bless them as well! 😠

     It’s a good thing to wonder about and a good question to ask: Why do some Christians have fruit and others have thorns? 🤔 The answer is twofold: 1) fruitful Christians are better at not allowing “the cares of the world” to affect them. What are those “cares”? Life. You know, the stuff we all do each day. It is easy to become consumed with life. All those “cares” subtly encroach into our prayer time and our Bible study time. The “cares of the world” are all the little things we must do to keep our family intact. And 2) fruitful Christians are generally not fooled by “the deceitfulness of riches.” Oftentimes “the cares of the world” are directly attached to “the deceitfulness of riches.” Those people are busy working in order to pay for all the things they are taking care of!

     But I think the real thing that separates the fruitful Christian from the unfruitful one is this: the unfruitful Christian “hears the word.” The fruitful Christian “hears the word and understands it.”3 Understanding the Word of God is vastly different than just hearing it. How do we acquire understanding? Various ways. But the best way is to study God’s Word. Or to put it like the psalter: “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding . . .”4  God will give us understanding when we are willing to be taught.

     I find it quite interesting that this portion of Psalm 119 discusses the very things that Jesus was referring to in his parable. Read this: “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!”5  In other words, Don’t let me be deceived by riches! And then: “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.”6  In other words, Don’t let the cares of the world distract me!

     But I think the heart of the message is this: “Give me understanding that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.”7 Our “whole heart.” That is another area of life that unfruitful people need to address. When we do things half-heartedly, we are doing so because we are so distracted by “the cares of the world”!  We are often multitasking. Few things get our whole attention, our “whole heart.” It’s a problem. But when God gives us understanding of his ways, we will see the fruit from our labors and will want to live for him more and more. We will understand that his “rules are good.”8 and say: “Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life!”9

     Too much of our time is devoted to earthly things, things that do not last, things that give us temporary pleasure. Many of these things are not bad; in fact, some of them are quite fun!  God certainly wants us to enjoy our life, but first we need to get first things first! God is mostly concerned with most important things—eternal things. When that part of our life is in order, everything else seems to fall into perspective. It is so true that when we “seek first the kingdom of God and all his righteousness,”10 everything else falls in its proper place.

     To understand God’s Word is to meditate on it, study it, and then test it out. The person who does that “bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another case sixty, and in another thirty.”4  People who understand God’s Word are fruitful. So, to conclude: “Delight yourselves in the law of the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord. Trust in him and he will act.”11  I am tempted to explain this passage to you, but you know what? You need to do that yourself. Study this one. 🤓 And then do what it says. Then you will be fruitful. And you will understand.

     Guaranteed.

1Matthew 13:22    2Matthew 13:7   3Matthew 13:23   4Psalm 119:33-34    5Psalm 119:36    6Psalm 119:37    7Psalm 119:34    8Psalm 119:39      9Psalm 119:40    10Matthew 6:33   11Psalm 37:4

Falling in Love

For those people still hoping to fall in love, here is some unsolicited advice: Don’t fall for it! Don’t believe for one minute that falling in love is the prerequisite to a good relationship. Many people fall in love. And out of love.  I, myself, fell in love quite a few times—and lived to tell about it! But I have only lived with one man and that happened after I married him! And he was a man with whom I was deeply in love (and still am deeply in love after 34 years—35 in April)! I firmly believe that love is a decision, not an accident—like the phrase “falling in love” implies. Some people think that falling in love is uncontrollable—it just happens. No, it doesn’t. That, my friends, is the justification of many an affair. We didn’t mean for it to happen; it just did. Poppycock! 😠

The marriage “list” that many women and men carry around in their heads (and on paper) include mostly irrelevant things, such as physical beauty (including height & weight), age, education, status (including yearly salaries), temperament, talents, skills, and things they have in common. These are all fine and good, but frankly, they are temporary and transient things. All of them. 🤨 It might be a starter list, but it is not a final list for looking for a life-long mate.

A final list is found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Take the time to read it now. Go ahead. I’ll wait. 🙂. . .🤔. . .🙃. . .😐. . .🖐️. . .😶 If you are looking for someone to hook your wagon to, spend your life with, grow old with, marry—look for a person who has those qualities. If he/she does not, move on.

That is not to say to look for a perfect person, but look for someone who values that list and considers that the measuring stick for him/herself. And then look at other qualities that are important to you, spend a lot of time together—a lot of time together—and ask yourself two questions: 1) does he/she make me a better person? And 2) does he/she love me as much as I love him/her? That’s it. 😀

Even so. Here is the most important thing about Paul’s great list. Before we marry, we are to look for our life partner to exhibit and pursue those attributes of love. However. However . . . once we marry, we are to cease looking for those things in our mate. Wait. 😯 What? Yeah. Once we are married, we must stop measuring our mate against this list (or any list). Why? Because the decision has been made and it is final. Our choice. Vows have been exchanged. That’s why it is important to be sure about the choice! 

So, what happens after we are married?  Now we are to become the models of the list (as we should have been all along for our mate’s sake). We are the ones to be patient and kind and not envious or boastful, not arrogant or rude, or insist on our own way or be irritable or resentful, or rejoice when things go wrong for someone but instead rejoice when things go right for the people we don’t particularly like. We are the ones whose love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”1  And, perhaps most importantly, our “love never ends.”2  That should be us. Of course, this list is impossible to live up to! Which is why the most important thing to look for in a mate is that he/she is a child of God.  Only the Holy Spirit of Christ living inside of us can help us to love like that. And, by the way, it is best if Christ is the center of our marriage because he is the greatest example of love.

If that is true for both you and your mate—now that’s a good match! And there is nothing accidental about it! Falling in love is overrated. Looking for love and deciding that a person is someone we could believe in, hope in, endure things with, and love forever—now, that’s someone to decide to fall in love with! 😁 And it can be a wonderful life together.

11 Corinthians 13:7     21 Corinthians 13:8

Brotherly Affection and Love

The last two traits on Peter’s great list that God “has granted to us all”1 are brotherly affection and love. Although they might sound like the same thing, they are not at all. Brotherly affection is kindness. Kindness is always that thing that is never required, always unexpected, and rarely experienced. If mercy is unmerited favor, kindness is unmerited special treatment. When was the last time any of us did an act of kindness for someone else? And how often do we do those kindnesses? 😒    

     Did you know that there is a Random Acts of Kindness Organization? It was founded in 1995, started out in San Francisco and then moved to Colorado. Their mission? Make kindness the norm. If you visit their website, you can find RAK calendars, posters, bookmarks, coloring books, bingo games, quotes, videos, information on how to start a RAK club, how to infiltrate the workplace with RAK, etc. There are RAK designated days of the year, RAK activities, and an RAK Blog. It’s a thing! 🤪 And I applaud the foundation and its participants. I’m tempted to buy a calendar. Or make a t-shirt.

     But here’s what I have observed. Acts of kindness are intentional. The people receiving the kindnesses may be random, but the kindnesses themselves are rarely accidental. Kindness has purpose and thoughtfulness embedded in it. So, the people who have the characteristic of being kind have reached a high level of living. They are generally selfless people who are not hurried or flustered by things not going according to plan. There are very few kind people. Maybe some monks are kind. Even though I appreciate the RAK movement, I think their mission statement will never be achieved. Kindness will never be the norm. It just won’t. RAK people are demanding the impossible from humans. Humans are mostly self-centered sinners. Some of you might be touting, I’m nice! 😠 But that’s not the same thing. I can be nice! Nice is pleasing and agreeable. And might I add to the list bland and boring? 😶 But kindness? That always includes something extra.

     Of course, “the Lord is righteous in all his ways, and kind in all his works.”2 And “love is patient and kind.”3  And we are commanded to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”4  And the fruit of the Spirit includes kindness.5  So, we are to pursue kindness, but it is a high calling, right under the trait of love.

     Which is our last trait. And what can we say about love? Read 1 Corinthians 13 to get a big picture. But for the best example, go to Christ. For “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”6  Since I cannot add anything to that, I will stop. Although I think Peter’s traits are listed in a specific order from easiest to hardest, they do overlap. We can have moments of brotherly kindness while we are still mastering knowledge and times of self-control while we struggle with goodness.

     If Peter’s list of traits that God has granted to us feel unattainable, it is because they are; that is, we cannot achieve them by ourselves nor have much success in them for very long. That is why God has given them to us by “his divine power.”1  They are gifts. And they are ours to help us “escape the corruption that is in the world caused by evil desires.”7  But more so, they are ours to enable us to “become partakers in the divine nature.”7 They are only for believers but some believers will not exhibit these qualities because “he has forgotten he was cleansed from his former sins,”8  which means that he has not escaped “the corruption that is in the world.”7

     Even for those who understand we have been set free from our sins, it is confusing to know that we have received these great gifts, yet we still have to “make every effort to supplement [our] faith with”9  them. Then later, Peter adds that we must “be all the more diligent to confirm [our] calling and election,”10  to ascertain them. But we must realize that being “conformed to the image of his Son”11—and that’s what is going on here—is a life-long endeavor.

     God has not left us by ourselves, unarmed and unprotected and unable to live a godly life for him while we await our new heaven and earth. Instead, he has given us everything we need to become more like Jesus. And one more thing.  Peter says God’s promise is not that we will never fall once we perfect these qualities but that “if [we] practice these qualities [we] will never fall.”10  

     Let’s go practice! 🙂  

12 Peter 1:3     2Psalm 145:17     31 Corinthians 13:4     4Ephesians 4:32    5Galatians 5:22     6Romans 5:5    72 Peter 1:4     82 Peter 1:9      92 Peter 1:5       102 Peter 1:10     11Romans 8:29    

 

 

 

 

Steadfastness and Godliness

One of the things Peter says we have been granted is steadfastness. Other translations use the words endurance, patience, and perseverance. If self-control is the hardest trait to master on Peter’s list, steadfastness is a close second. Why? Because we love to quit. We abandon, grow weary of, lose interest in, and walk away from projects, programs, and people. And sadly, we give little thought to quitting. We justify our reasons and accept the consequences as if they mean nothing to us. And ironically, we are then pretty quick to start another project, program, or person! 🤪

Here’s a thought: why not stick with something/someone? Why not “run with endurance the race that is set before us”1 Why not commit to it? And if we stumble, simply get up and keep going! And when we feel discouraged, we need to read these words: “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”2 And then read them again. And write the words down and put them in our cars and on our desks and commit them to memory – at least the last part: “Do not be discouraged.”

Peter knew the people he was writing to were discouraged and so he said this: “Therefore I intend to always remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have.”3 It seems that most of us need reminding to not be discouraged. We are more acquainted with discouragement than perhaps any other quality. Which is quite sad because God has given us the power to overcome anything!

Jesus knew we would succumb to discouragement. He told his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”4 Other translations read: Be of good cheer! Cheer up! Be brave! Have confidence! Be courageous! Be encouraged! Which is the opposite of being discouraged. In order not to give up—to persevere—we must be courageous. That would be a great quality to nurture, would it not? It appeals to me—to be brave. To stand up, to fight through, to hold fast, to be steadfast.

This quality is so difficult that I believe it is the evidence that these traits are in order. Let’s backtrack. There is no way to achieve steadfastness until we master self-control. And self-control cannot be obtained until we are consumed with the knowledge of Christ. And our knowledge of Christ will be thwarted until we begin the work of ridding ourselves of bad behavior and instead develop good habits of being good people. One thing is contingent on the other. 🧐  So, the next thing on Peter’s list after steadfastness is godliness. Which sounds absolutely impossible, right? But actually, this is the second easiest of the traits (after goodness)! 😦 No, really. It is. Why is that? Because being godly is something we cannot produce of ourselves. It is the result of supplementing our faith with goodness and knowledge of Christ and the outcome of being a person of self-control and perseverance. It is not that we will consider ourselves as godly, but others will see us as godly. We will practice godliness unaware. The moment we think we are godly is evidence we are not. Godliness is something we are to ever be pursuing.

But we are always to be in pursuit of all the traits for we never arrive at perfection. We are a work in progress, and what Peter is explaining here is that the work is never done, for “if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from becoming ineffective . . .”5 So, it is apropos that we jump ahead a bit and read what happens to people who are not working on these traits, whose qualities are not increasing. Here it is: “Whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind . . .”6  So, what we have here is a blind believer! Hmm. 🤔 What do those people look like? They are the ones who have faith but are not adding to it, not supplementing their faith with the traits Peter has listed. They believe in God, but have not allowed God to infiltrate their lives.

Sadly, they have not escaped “the corruption that is in the world.”7 Instead they have been duped by it, lured into it, and deceived by ungodly people. This, by the way, is the very reason that Peter wrote this church. The believers were being led astray by false teachers. He warns them: “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.”8 To be “carried away” by the corrupted world is to live in a state of instability. Unfortunately, James explains the fate of unstable people: “For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”9

Once we begin to focus on being steadfast, we are on our way to being stable. And we will be looked upon by others as godly, which is hard to fathom. But it is true. However, we still have more to learn. Peter is not done! 😉

1Hebrews 12:1      2Deuteronomy 31:8      32 Peter 1:12      4John 16:33     52 Peter 1:8     62 Peter 1:9     72 Peter 1:4      82 Peter 3:17     9James 1:7

 

 

Self-Control

Self-control. Peter tells us to supplement our faith with—among other things—self-control, which can be defined as temperance or discipline or abstinence. Although it is an admirable trait, few really want to obtain this one.  It indicates giving up things and restraining ourselves from giving in to things. I don’t believe I have ever heard a sermon about self-control. Solomon (a very wise man) wrote that “a man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.”1  Hmm. 🤔 In other words, a man with no boundaries. That’s a dangerous man. 

Interestingly enough, self-control is really about liberation though, because creating boundaries ironically gives us freedom. For if we do not have control of our desires, they have control of us. In fact, we will be enslaved by them. 😦 Freedom is the ability to say no. But how do we access the power to say no? Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians. He writes, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”2 Hmm. 🤔 I’m a bit confused. Is the Spirit keeping us from doing the bad things we want to do or is the flesh keeping us from doing the good things we want to do? Perhaps both. After all, they “are opposed to each other.” At any rate, we do possess the power to resist the flesh. It is when we “walk by the Spirit.”

So, how do we do that? The Spirit, the holy Spirit of Jesus, lives in us and Paul gives us a list of the “fruit of the Spirit,” and included in that list is “self-control.”3 Self-control, then, is a fruit. As we allow the Holy Spirit to live more and more in us, this fruit begins to blossom and grow. And Jesus tells us how this happens, but let me warn you—his words are hard to hear! 😯 He says, “I am the vine; you are the branches.”4That sounds good, but there’s more. Listen carefully. “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes.”5So . . . let me see if I understand this correctly. If we do not bear fruit, we are cut off, and if we bear fruit we are cut down? 🤪 But pruning is the perfect analogy because there are several reasons to prune something. Pruning gets rid of dying branches, stimulates new growth, and revitalizes plants.

Growing in Christ is a process and sometimes we will not understand why it hurts so much, but it is always so that we “may bear more fruit.”5  And his promise is this: “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”4  Which brings us back to self-control. We cannot have self-control without the help of the Spirit. It might be the hardest of the things to manage on Peter’s list. You see, if we lose control of ourselves—our tongues (our temper and our language), our bodies (our lust for immoral things and food and drink), even our minds (our attitudes and our judgment)—we not only are miserable and enslaved—we jeopardize our testimony.

The key, then, is to abide in Christ. We are to immerse ourselves in his Word and “walk by his Spirit”6 by praying through our days. His presence and his power are enough. When Paul was struggling, he prayed to God for relief and God’s answer was this: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”7  So, when we recognize, admit, and confess our weaknesses (like our inability to control our desires), we can rest assured that God’s power will rescue us. And here’s the best part. Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”8  We serve a wonderful God. 🙂

1Proverbs 25:28    2Galatians 5:16-17    3Galatians 5:22    4John 15:5    5John 15:2    6Galatians 5:16    72 Corinthians 12:9    8John 15:7

Goodness and Knowledge

Here is the list of qualities we should pursue in order that we can be “partakers of the divine nature”1 of Jesus. It includes virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. I am not certain if these qualities are in a particular order, but it seems that they might be. 🤓

After trusting God with our very lives, and believing that he is trustworthy, virtue is the first thing we must add to our faith. What does virtue look like? It is goodness, moral excellence, and integrity. Although this appears to be very difficult (and it is), it is the easiest of all the traits for it involves outward behavior. As children of God and followers of Jesus, people will expect us to be good. And so, we must. The reason it is the easiest trait is that we can be outwardly good and inwardly still a mess! At times we will feel like hypocrites because people will think we are good and we know differently. You see, when we give our lives to Christ, we inherit his Holy Spirit who lives in us, and he begins his work of pricking our conscience. A lot! 😟

As unbelievers, we thought we were pretty good people. But when the Holy Spirit moves in, we suddenly realize that we are not! But that is a good thing—to realize we need help to be good. Lots of people are good but to be good like Jesus? Well, that’s a different kind of good. 🤨 Being virtuous is more than being good; it is being excellent—at everything we attempt. Not that we are perfect—but our effort is. As we practice the quality of being good, it eventually becomes our first instinct, actually our second nature—the “divine nature”; however, it always takes effort. That’s why Paul reminded believers of this: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”2  “Doing good” is the first thing we must master as believers for if we are not good, no one will listen to what we say.

Number two on the list is knowledge. Knowledge of what? “The knowledge of him who called us.”3  Peter mentions it twice in these nine verses, which is comprised of five sentences. The sad thing about this quality is that it is so neglected by believers. Many followers of Christ mistakenly believe that once they give their lives to Christ all they really need to do is be good. They stop there. Why is that? Because the quality of knowing Christ is solely self-initiated and completely secret. No one knows except us and God how well we really know Jesus. While being good is generally public, “knowledge of him” is privately attained. We may acquire knowledge about Jesus, but that is not the same as knowing him. The only way to know Christ is to pray and read his Word—to spend time with him, as we do with any people whom we love.

This quality is so important that the promise of not “being ineffective and unproductive” is linked specifically “to the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”4  You see, the end result that we “will never fall,” is not about never falling in our ministry or our careers or our attempts to do good things. Although that might be disappointing to realize this, it is the best news ever! Why? Because the more we know Jesus, the more he infiltrates our hearts, our habits, and our minds, which will impact our ministry, our careers, and our attempts to do good things! Our “knowledge of him who called us”3 is at the very root of being effective and productive. If we only practice being good, we will soon grow weary of it unless we are truly grounded in the “knowledge of him.” That’s why Paul wrote, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”5

So, let’s practice that today.😉

12 Peter 1:4    2Galatians 6:8-10    32 Peter 1:3    42 Peter 1:9   5Galatians 3:8

Secular Things

There is no secular part of our lives. There are no separate compartments in which we should categorize what is religious and what is not. And yet we do. We label some music as “Christian” and everything else as “secular.” So, are we saying that “secular” music cannot have a “Christian” message? 🤔 Of course, it can! Consider the song “Forgiveness” (the greatest song of all time!) by The Eagles (the greatest band of all time!). Here are a few of the lyrics.

The more I know, the less I understand.

All the things I thought I knew I’m learning again

 I’ve been trying to get down to the heart of the matter.

But my will gets weak and my thoughts seem to scatter.

But I think it’s about forgiveness, forgiveness.

Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore.*

Wow. I’m tempted to print the whole song, but its message is clear in that chorus.  Now, is Don Henley (singer/songwriter) a Christian? Maybe. But even if he is not, the song speaks of godly things and inspires me.

Another common “secular” category is with books. But cannot a “secular” book have a “Christian” message? 🤔 Of course, it can! Consider the book A Tale of Two Cities (the greatest book of all time!) by Charles Dickens (the greatest author of all time!). The story is about a man of ill repute who sacrifices his life in order to save a man who loved the woman he loved. Wow. Although that summary is a bit obtuse, I don’t want to be too clear in case some people have not read it (which everyone should!). Now, is Charles Dickens a Christian? Perhaps. But even if he is not, the book speaks of godly things and inspires me.

But I digress. The scripture reference today begins with 2 Peter 1:3. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.”1  Meaning, God is involved in our lives and our lives are meant to be godly. Peter mentioned it in his first letter: “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”2  So, to sum up: songs can be holy (even if they are performed by unholy people), books can be holy (even if they are written by unholy writers), and people can be holy (even if the people are you and I!).

Hmm. 🤔 I think this is where we get stuck. How can you and I “be holy”? Peter explains: God promises that we “may become partakers in the divine nature.”3  That is—as Jesus lives in us, we will become more like him, taking on his holy, his “divine nature.” But it’s not magical or mystical and certainly not automatic. It takes work. That’s why Peter implores us to “make every effort”4  to become more like Jesus.

Which brings us to the main point. We have everything we need to do this, for “his divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.”1  (Have I said this already? 😁)  So, how do we begin? What do we do? Peter gives us a great list of qualities to pursue, qualities that Jesus possessed. He writes, “make every effort to supplement your faith with . . . .”4  and I must stop there in order not to miss a very important point. Faith is not one of the qualities to pursue. Wait! What? 😦 Yeah, faith is what we bring to God. God does not give us faith. He gives us salvation and forgiveness and grace and mercy and love and a whole lot of other things . . . but not faith. Hmm. 🧐

Over and over again Jesus confirms this. He said, your faith has made you well.”5  “According to your faith be it done to you.”6  “O you of little faith.”7  “O woman, great is your faith!”8  “Have you still no faith?” 9 And the list goes on. Faith is absolutely essential, “for without faith it is impossible to please him.”10  but we are responsible for having it. We begin our journey in Christ with faith—faith that God loves us and forgives us of our sin and sent Jesus to die for us in order that we would live with him forever. What Peter is imploring us to do is to add to our faith, to grow our faith, to work on our faith, to practice it. 🤨

But most people don’t. 😯 They have faith but do not tend to it. They separate their faith from the rest of their lives. They categorize that part of their lives to the “Christian” thing that they do. Perhaps they go to church or own (and maybe even read!) their Bible. But because they have compartmentalized their faith, it does not seep over into the “secular” categories. And here’s where I must repeat: If we are people of faith, there is no “secular” part to our lives! God is in us wherever we go. And we find God in many things, even things that appear to be ungodly. Everything in our lives is “Christian” because we are Christians! So, this is a good time to take inventory. Do our lives—every part of our lives—appear to be “Christian” to others (who love to compartmentalize and categorize the parts of their lives)? Because either we are Christian . . . or we are not. There is no “secular” part.

12 Peter 1:3    21 Peter 1:16   32 Peter 1:4    42 Peter 1:5   5Matthew 9:22    6Matthew 9:29    7Matthew 14:31    8Matthew 15:28   9Mark 4:40   10Hebrews 11:6   *Songfacts, https://www.songfacts.com/lyrics/don-henley/the-heart-of-the-matter. Accessed 31 Dec. 2023.  

Resolution Advice

It’s a new year. And since it is a new year, many of us are inclined to start some new “thing.” It is a good thing—to reach a firm decision about, to change, to declare, to decide, to resolve—to start something good. So, let’s do it! Here we go! 🏃‍♀️ Let’s all vow together to start one good thing today . . . or maybe tomorrow. 😬 But seriously, pick one thing that you wish to change/start and write it down. I’ll wait. 🙂. . .🙃. . . 😴. . .🤨. . . We’ll do it (whatever it is) together! Afterall, people will ask us about our New Year’s resolutions, and if we do not have at least one thing to declare, we might feel pressured to make something up! Or worse, become defensive and obnoxiously philosophical about the futility of all resolutions and discourage those who have already begun working on (or have definite intentions to work on) their resolutions. Please, I implore you: do not be that guy! 🙁

But let’s be honest. Why do many (most) resolutions fail? I think it is because we lose sight of the finish line, the possibility of actually succeeding! Instead, we quickly become discouraged. And we quit. It is easy to begin things; it is hard to complete them. A wise man (Solomon) once said, “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit than the proud in spirit.”1  Hmm. 🤔 Now that I think about it, those who begin things often boast of their new outlook or plan or goal that is going to absolutely improve and change and enhance their lives, don’t they? And sometimes we listen to them and think, Wow. I wish I could do that! 😕 But mostly we listen to them and think, Yeah, right. 🙄  

However . . . are we so cynical that we do not believe change is ever possible? I certainly hope not. But it is hard to change, and many of us are weary of listening to the promises of yet another thing that guarantees success. Some people do succeed, though. How do they do it? Read Solomon again: People who complete things are “patient in spirit.”1  They stick with the plan. They keep their eyes on the goal. They never lose sight of the end. So, let’s start there—with the end of something and work our way back to the beginning of it and figure out how some people do what God’s Word tells us to do over and over again; that is, “Do not be discouraged.”2

Peter wrote a letter to discouraged believers about how to persevere. At the end of his instructions, he concluded, “if you practice these qualities, you will never fall.”3  Hmm. 🤔 Never fall”? That sounds like one of those empty promises! 😒 However, since this is God’s Word, it cannot be empty! God’s promise is that everything that comes from him “shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”4  So, whatever “these qualities” are, we need to study them! But before we even do that, note that the key to never falling is revealed in Peter’s closing words; that is, to “practice these qualities.”3 Practice the qualities. Work on them. To practice something means that there is an intentional effort in perfecting it—which takes time and persevering through many mistakes and setbacks. To “never fall” at something means a lot of practice has come before. It is the key to keeping any resolution.

But what do our resolutions have to do with Peter’s letter written to a struggling church around 62 A.D.? I mean, really.  🙄 Most of us are just trying to lose weight, or get out of debt, start a project, organize our files, simplify our lives, etc., and Peter is talking about spiritual things, right? Well, yes, but read his opening statement: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.”5  Did you hear that? God has given us his power to achieve “everything we need for life.” How about that! Here is the help we need for being successful at any . . . “thing.” And. And remember how Peter ends the passage? “For if you practice these qualities, you will never fall.”3 And also, remember—anything that comes from God “shall succeed in the thing.”5

Hmm. 🤔 Here’s my resolution advice:  let’s meditate on the promise that our resolutions are possible to achieve with God’s divine power. And those “qualities” that Peter itemizes (which we will tackle next time) are applicable to our desires as well. But it’s a lot to take in, so let’s pause. And start at the end; that is, let us take some time today to practice—i.e. work at—our “thing.”   

1Ecclesiastes 6:8    2Deuteronomy 32:8    32 Peter 1:10    4Isaiah 55:11    52 Peter 1:3

Knowing God

Paul exclaims, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”1  Wait a minute, then. 🤔 If God’s judgments are “unsearchable,” why bother to search for them? If his ways are “inscrutable” are not our scrutable efforts a waste of time? 😟 Does this passage give us permission to remain ignorant and apathetic and to resign ourselves to the old adage that God works in mysterious ways, and leave it at that? I think many believe that is exactly how we are to live our lives—God doing his mysterious thing, and we doing our mundane things, and perhaps occasionally the two things coincide, but when God seems obscure, our response should be to shrug our shoulders and say, Oh well. 😕

     I don’t think that’s how we are to live at all. God does not want to be distant and disconnected from our lives. He actually wants to have a personal relationship with us. He knows us. He has always known us. David proclaimed, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.”2  God really really knows us! 🙂

     Our response to that knowledge is most significant, for it invokes the question, Do we know God? Because he wants us to know him! It is the essential thing that God requires—far beyond the basic proclamation that God exists, which many people profess (as well as the devil!). Instead, God’s ultimate purpose is this: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”3

     This “knowledge of God” is accessible to us, but take heed. God is not asking that we learn about him, as if we simply need to sit in church and listen to others speak on his behalf. No, God wants us to have “steadfast love” for him! Many people, knowing that they should love God, pretend to!  But since they do not really know God, their “love” is not steadfast at all. And sooner or later, their “love” for God fades because it was not real. And it never was. It was merely their attempt to do a religious thing—like burning an offering—in hopes that God would be pleased with their “sacrifice.” 😕

     So, the question remains: Do we know God? Or perhaps the real question is Do we want to know God? Do we believe that knowing God is important? Our lives will reveal that answer. Knowing God changes us. If our lives are not changed by our knowing him—that is, if we do not seek to know God’s good purpose for us—then we do not know God at all, no matter what we say or how often we sit in church! 😕 Jesus made that very clear. He said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”4

     God’s will is that we would do his will!—which is to love him with a “steadfast love”! And “steadfast love” grows out of our knowledge of God. As we get to know God, we will “come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.”5 And ”the love that God has for us” is life-changing! Knowing God is a lifelong endeavor. So, how do we get to know him? We look for him. We seek him. He can be found through praying and reading his Word. When we invite him into our lives, God’s very spirit, his Holy Spirit, enters our hearts. 🙂 God promises that “you will seek me and will find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”6

     God, the creator of the universe and the creator of us, wants us to seek him out and get to know him and learn to trust him “for those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.”7  The “steadfast love” that the Lord requires resides in the hearts of those who truly know God. It is the natural and overflowing response from those of us who have experienced his love. We who are seeking to know God, know that even though he is mysterious at times, he is faithful, he is trustworthy, and he loves us with an everlasting love. So, “Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord.”8

1Romans 11:33     2Psalm 139:1-3      3Hosea 6:6    4Matthew 7:21     51 John 4:16      6Jeremiah 29:13      7Psalm 9:10      8Hosea 6:3

God Rest Ye Merry

God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen

Traditional

God rest ye merry, gentlemen

As I was researching this song, I found a website that I have copied and pasted above, written in green. So, my question for you is this: What’s wrong with this picture? 🤔

It’s the commas. Which way is correct? Does the comma go after “Ye,” or after “merry”? And I know some of you are thinking, What difference does it make? It makes a huge difference! 🤓  “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen” can only be interpreted as God give you rest, merry gentlemen or For all of you who are merry, may God give you rest. But what about those who are not merry? What about those guys? Does God give rest only to those who are merry?

But with “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” the interpretation is May God grant you peace and happiness, gentlemen. With that latter (and correct) punctuation, we must infer that the gentlemen needed encouragement. How do we know that? Because of the second line: “Let nothing you dismay,” which would be interpreted as Don’t be discouraged. If the gentlemen were already merry, they would need no encouragement!

This is my favorite Christmas carol ever. For three reasons. 1) As a retired English teacher, I love showing people that punctuation makes a difference!  2) It was made popular by Charles Dickens (the greatest author ever) when he made reference to it in A Christmas Carol in 1843.  And 3) As someone who is not always merry, I am encouraged by the message of the song.

And what is the message? Line 3: “Remember, Christ, our Savior was born on Christmas day to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.” The fact is, sometimes we are under “Satan’s power,” and sometimes we still go “astray.” So, no matter how we find ourselves this Christmas season, we need to remember to “let nothing you dismay.”

Which reminds me of what David told his son Solomon as he was instructing him on how to build the temple, an enormous responsibility and formidable task. He said, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.”1

To “be dismayed” covers a lot of emotions. It can mean to be upset or worried, irritated or annoyed, perplexed or distressed. And let’s face it: the Christmas season can cause any one of those emotions to surface. 🤪 So, our scripture and our song encourage us to “not be afraid” and “let nothing you dismay.” The good news is even though we might have “gone astray,” we can always return to the Lord. This actually is a great time for us to “return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on you, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”2  We need never fear that God will be angry or even disappointed in us when we return to him. He “waits to be gracious to you”3 —no matter what we have done or not done, no matter if we have “gone astray.”

The writer of our song (and no one knows who it is) repeats a wonderful line as a response to the news that Christ saves us when we have “gone astray”: “Oh, tidings of comfort and joy! Comfort and joy!”  And that’s why we are to “let nothing you dismay!”

So, “God rest ye merry, (ladies and) gentlemen.” 😀 May God grant you peace and happiness! The thought makes me smile . . . as does teaching a lesson on punctuation! 😉

11 Chronicles 28:20    2Isaiah 55:7    3Isaiah 30:18