Are You Running the Race in Vain?

raceChristianity has often been referred to as a marathon.  Compared to sprints, marathons are longer and require that you pace yourself so that you have enough endurance and stamina to last throughout the whole race.  If you plan on being a Christian until you die, you most certainly have to pace yourself for the next 30, 40, or 50 years! In the book of Galatians, the Apostle Paul said that he wanted to make sure that he was not running his race in vain (Galatians 2:2).  How do you know you’re running in vain?  We can learn a few lessons from our ancestors:

“For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as [the Israelites] did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not combine it with faith.” Hebrews 4:2

The only way to not run in vain is to turn away from your evil ways despite everything you’ve already done.  As Samuel said to Saul, “Do not be afraid…You have done all this evil yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart” (1 Samuel 12:20).

Saul Didn’t Want to Wait (1 Samuel 13:1-15)

Samuel instructed Saul to wait for him.  Saul waited seven days but when Samuel didn’t come “on time,” Saul jumped the gun and did what he wanted.  Even after God took the kingdom away from Saul (1 Samuel 13:14), Saul was given a second chance to repent when he was instructed to destroy all the Amalekites, but instead of following every instruction to the tee, Saul did what he felt best.  He even justified his actions and was thoroughly convinced that he was obeying God (1 Samuel 15:19-23).

It is totally possible to believe you are obeying God with all your heart yet still not be right with God.  Scary, right??  We are living in the New Testament times and Jesus’s blood has cleansed us of our sins if we put faith in His sacrifice.  The scriptures also say that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  There is nothing we can do to earn salvation but Jesus’s expectation of our obedience is just the same as it was for the Israelites, our forefathers of the faith, in the Old Testament.

The Israelites who never made it to the Promised Land did not combine the message with faith.  Today, you can look at the Bible and think that it’s a bunch of fairy tales written by man, or you can put faith in the scriptures and believe it to be the inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16), thereby backing up your faith with action (obedience).

 What Lack of Faith Can Do

  • You can amaze Jesus with your lack of faith (Mark 6:6)
  • You can be your own miracle-stopper (Matthew 13:58)
  • You can make it impossible for yourself to please God (Hebrews 11:6)
  • Lack of faith gives way to fear (Mark 4:40; Matthew 8:26)

Warning against Drifting Away

“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.  For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” Hebrews 2:1-3

No one is perfect.  Nobody’s going to run this race without injuries, pain or obstacles.  However, we have plenty of examples in the Bible that teach us so we don’t have to repeat their mistakes.  As long as we cling to Christ and allow the Word to cut our hearts, put our sins behind us and press forward to drawing closer to God, everything will be all right.  The biggest clue that will tip you off is when you want to manipulate the scriptures to justify personal gain instead of wholeheartedly obeying God with no ulterior motive.  If you obey God from a sincere heart, you then are not running this race in vain.

#integrity #sincerity #obedience #race #marathon #Christrianrace #musingz4life

Happiness Is Fulfilling Your Raison d’Etre

frankl“It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.” Viktor Frankl, Austrian neurologist/psychologist, Holocaust survivor

We think we’d be happy if we received everything we ask for in life.  Living the American Dream means fulfilling your purpose and desires in this lifetime – landing the right career, marrying the right person, having the happy family in the right neighborhood.  There’s nothing wrong with the aforementioned goals, but the problem with it is that if you do not achieve a certain milestone by a certain date within your timeline, you could potentially set yourself up for misery.  Herein lies the danger: you don’t feel happy until you reach that milestone.

What happens in the meantime?  What if it takes so long to attain the goal that you begin to think it’s never going to happen?

Each human being has his or her own reason for being, but Jesus gives us the ultimate purpose:

 “[W]hoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom to many.” Matthew 20:26-28

With His own life, Jesus demonstrated His reason for being, and that was to serve others, not to be served.   

 “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work, we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than receive.’” Acts 20:35

The everlasting cure to your current unhappiness is living for Jesus.  Serving the poor, helping the less fortunate according to your talents and abilities, and living to serve others for the common good will do more for your soul’s contentment than simply reaching the goals that satisfy you individually.

“For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 2:21

“No one should seek their own good but the good of others.” 1 Corinthians 10:24

“Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” – Romans 15:2

“For I am not seeking my own good, but the good of many, that they may be saved.” 1 Corinthians 10:33

There’s plenty of research to back up these biblical teachings.  In a TIME Magazine article, Jenny Santi wrote:

Scientific research provides compelling data to support the anecdotal evidence that giving is a powerful pathway to personal growth and lasting happiness. Through fMRI technology, we now know that giving activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex. Experiments show evidence that altruism is hardwired in the brain—and it’s pleasurable. Helping others may just be the secret to living a life that is not only happier but also healthier, wealthier, more productive, and meaningful.

Everybody who’s anybody in your life can benefit from a helping hand extended by you.  They could be your friend, a family member, a colleague, a stranger, an old lady crossing the street, the beggar standing at the corner when you exit the freeway ramp… If you make it your mission to serve others with Jesus’s best interest at heart, you will have a rich and satisfying life!

 “The thief’s purpose is to steal, kill and destroy.  My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”  John 10:10

#happiness #commongood #Jesus #Christ #musingz4life #serveothers #serve

 

Are You Extinguishing the Flaming Arrows or Holy Spirit?

holy-spiritIf some men in the Bible were referred to as “full of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:3), this implies that not everyone has the same measure of the Spirit.  In fact, you can actually extinguish the Holy Spirit after you become a Christian.

Do not quench/stifle/extinguish the Holy Spirit. – 1 Thessalonians 5:19 (I extracted 3 different verbs from various translations)

This command suggests that the presence of the Holy Spirit can fade away to the point that you no longer recognize His voice.

 “Why do you not understand what I am saying?  It is because you are unable to accept my message.” – John 8:43

Definitions:

Quench – to subdue, destroy or overcome

Stifle – to suppress, curb, withhold, crush, or end by force

Extinguish – to put out, bring to an end, annihilate, obscure, eclipse, wipe out of existence

 

Before extinguishing the Holy Spirit, ask yourself if you are currently grieving the Spirit:

 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. – Ephesians 4:30

What does it mean to grieve the Holy Spirit?

The mind of the flesh is death but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace. – Romans 8:6 (Berean Study Bible Version)

Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on things of the Spirit.  The mind of the flesh is death but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind of the flesh is hostile to God: it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so… Romans 8:5-7

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation – but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it.  For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. – Romans 8:12-13

Let me just say first of all that living to please God is not easy.  Obedience to the scriptures requires supernatural help, but that’s why God gave us the Holy Spirit to help us when we are weak.  Obeying God begins with the mind; if you set your mind on pleasing God, the Holy Spirit will help you obey Him (which is why you put to death the misdeeds by the Spirit).  Have you ever felt that battle between your flesh and spirit, when you know you want to do what’s right but you do wrong anyway?  That is the classic struggle as described in Romans 7:7-12.  God understands our human nature.  But He always provides a way out of temptation and His Spirit enables you to obey the scriptures which go against the human grain.

Day by day, you have a choice – to live according to the flesh or to crucify your sinful nature.  Every day, you can choose to build upon the foundation of the Spirit or you can slowly extinguish the Spirit with your actions.  Every choice comes with a consequence:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”  – Galatians 6:7-8

We are caught in the midst of a spiritual battlefield, and Satan wants your soul.  Until the day you die, he will continually fire flaming arrows at you, especially in the areas where he knows you’re weak.  You can shield yourself from the devil’s arrows with your faith:

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. – Ephesians 6:16

It is with your faith that you can extinguish the devil’s flaming arrows — not just some of the arrows but ALL of the arrows!

How can you get more faith?

“Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word about Christ.” – Romans 10:17

Keep feeding your faith instead of your doubts.  Keep digging into the Word, study out topics, ask lots and lots of questions, and surround yourself with people who will help you grow spiritually.

#faith #HolySpirit #FanIntoTheFlame #obey #truth #musingz4life

Fear of Man Proves to Be a Snare

lionOn a conscious level, many people take pride in the fact that they don’t really care what other people think of them.  Their opinions don’t define them; they live freely as they choose, and they walk confidently forward on any path they take.  I believe, though, that deep down inside we are all the same – we do care how others think of us, and other people’s opinions of us can drive us to do things that we ordinarily wouldn’t do in our right mind.  Sometimes, our perceptions of others shape how we think we’re perceived, and we act accordingly even if it’s not based on fact or truth.

To a certain extreme, we can allow other people’s opinions to hold us back from doing what we should do.  For example, have you ever felt “trapped” because you want to stand up for yourself but you’re too afraid of sticking out like a sore thumb or becoming a “nag” to other people?  You allow your fear of man to ensnare you in a pit of passivity – you know what you ought to do, but you don’t do it because you’re afraid.

Fear is a normal part of life.  Everyone feels it, but it is the courageous that feel the fear and still move forward in spite of it.  How much does fear rule your life?  If you’re not sure, count the number of times per day that you hesitate from doing/saying something due to a reason related to what others may think of you.  Do you live fearlessly or do you live in your own cage like a tamed lion?

“The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” Proverbs 28:1

“Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” Proverbs 29:25

What does it mean to NOT fear man?

  • You will live boldly and confidently, because you know your identity is found in Christ.
  • You will entrust the outcome of your words and actions in God’s hands.
  • God is your security and safety net.
  • You will not back down if someone treats you unfairly.
  • You will humbly stand up for yourself without being demanding.
  • You will take on Jesus’s spirit of humility in the face of opposition or undeserved treatment.
  • God’s opinion of you far outweighs what people think of you.
  • You don’t feel trapped by virtue of your own thoughts or perceived reality.
  • You lean more on God’s Word than your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5)

Being bold as a lion is about fearing God above all things, and then your fear of man’s opinions of you will subside.

#bold #courage #fearless #fearGod #musingz4life #fearofman #snare #trap

What does it mean to “work out your salvation with trembling and fear”?

endTherefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling….Philippians 2:12

Surely, we are saved by grace and not by works, so what does Philippians 2:12 really mean?

  1. Make sure your life matches your doctrine.

 “Watch your life and doctrine closely.  Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).  It’s not enough to just claim that Jesus is Lord.  Your life – your decisions, your thoughts, and the motives behind your actions – must be centered on pleasing God.

  1. Be diligent in these matters and absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all (1 Timothy 4:15).

 You’ve heard it said many times before that people’s opinions don’t matter.  At the end of the day, they don’t, because ultimately, God’s the judge.  However, the Bible still does not entirely discredit the importance of reputation and progress.  How’s your walk with God going?  Is your progress evident to all, or has someone told you lately that you’ve been stagnant?

  1. Persevere until the end.

“These [trials] have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:7)

In God’s eyes, your faith is precious, and it will be tested over and over again to see if it’s genuine.  Will life’s worries and problems weigh you down and choke your faith?  If you don’t get what you want in your timing, are you going to take matters into your own hands that are out of God’s bounds?

  1. Build upon your foundation with quality material.

 The foundation is Christ, but how you build your life upon the Foundation will be shown for what it is on the Last Day. In your day-to-day routine, are you nurturing your relationship with quality prayer times, deep study of the Word, and applying the Word to your life?  Or are you barely spending any time with God?  Are you going to finish strong or barely escape the flames?

 10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.  (1 Corinthians 3:10-15)

The older we get, the longer we’ve been a Christian, the easier it gets to take God for granted.  If you’ve been going to the same church for years and years, you know the drill, you know all the songs, and Christianity doesn’t seem “exciting” like it used to be.  However, it’s up to you to determine the level of “excitement” in your own walk with God.  How will you change things up and illuminate others’ lives with your spiritual revival?

#firstlove #salvation #trembling #fear #loveGod #foundation #Christ #workoutsalvation #musingz4life

 

 

 

Refusing God’s Help: Humility or Lip Service?

wrongIn times of crisis, God will always provide a way out so you can get relief in a way that is still pleasing to Him. You have two options: you can accept help from God or you can get help from the wrong sources. Your intentions may even be in the right place, but if you’re resorting to unethical methods to achieve a result, your plan will often backfire, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

King Ahaz’s Story: A Message for Ahaz  (2 Kings 16; 2 Chronicles 28; Isaiah 7)

Ahaz, King of Judah, heard that two nations were going to attack Judah. God spoke through the prophet Isaiah and told Ahaz not to worry or fear “those two burned-out embers, King Rezin of Syria and Pekah son of Remaliah.” God promised that the invasion would never happen, BUT “unless your faith is firm, I cannot make you stand firm” (Isaiah 7:9, emphasis added).

God promised all this on the condition that King Ahaz stand firm in his faith. God even invited Ahaz to test Him: “Ask the Lord your God for a sign of confirmation, Ahaz. Make it as difficult as you want — as high as heaven or as deep as the place of the dead” (Isaiah 7:10-11).

Ahaz’s response sounded pious: “No, I will not test the Lord like that” (Isaiah 7:12), but his actions showed that he was just paying lip service. Instead of taking God’s offer to help, Ahaz turned to the gods of his enemies (2 Chronicles 28:22-23).

Reasons for Rejecting God’s Help

Today, we could make the same mistakes as King Ahaz did.

22 In his time of trouble King Ahaz became even more unfaithful to the Lord. 23 He offered sacrifices to the gods of Damascus, who had defeated him; for he thought, “Since the gods of the kings of Aram have helped them, I will sacrifice to them so they will help me.” But they were his downfall and the downfall of all Israel. (2 Chronicles 28:22-23)

Notice that Ahaz relied on his own understanding.  He turned against God because of his faulty logic.  Our flesh turns against God when we should be turning to God in our time of need.  In what ways do we rely on our own understanding?

Pride – Thinking, “I’m good.  I got this; I don’t need his help.  I can [do it/resolve my own problems/take care of it] on my own without anyone’s help.”

Low self-esteem – Believing you don’t deserve someone’s gracious generosity or kindness

Lack of faith – Allowing doubt or self-doubt to get in the way of belief

In my life, I have observed that God sometimes offers His help through people without my asking; other times I had to ask and cry out to God and wait for Him to come to the rescue.  God always delivers if you trust Him, but as Isaiah 7:9 states, unless your faith is firm, no one can make you stand firm.

“So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help.” Isaiah 30:18

#deliverance #Godrescues #trust #faith #prayer #seekGod #musingz4life #Godhelps

 

Following God unto Unknown Tomorrows

transform“Everywhere, people wish to be settled, but Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us that only insofar as we are unsettled is there any hope for us,” said Pico Iyer, essayist for Time magazine and professor at Chapman University, in one of his Ted Talks.

I can speak from personal experience that feeling unsettled is one of the most uncomfortable experiences of humanity.  One wanders the earth in search for a place called home, and it could be in the form of a relationship, a safe haven where we reside, or a community group such as a church or common interest group.  We cannot stop until we find something in which we can anchor our soul, and unfortunately sometimes we anchor our souls in transient things rather than the Eternal.

There is nothing greater than putting your hope in God, the Overseer of our souls.

“The Lord is good and does what is right.  He shows the proper path to those who go astray.  He leads the humble in doing right, teaching them his way.  The Lord leads with unfailing love and faithfulness all who keep his covenant and obey his commands.” ~ Psalm 25:8-10

The mark of a believer is his ability to follow God’s lead, especially unto areas of the unknown such as his future – whom he will marry, where his career path will go, and if he will have children.  The future is scary, and if things haven’t been going as planned, the unknown seems full of darkness, uncertainty and gloom.

We can use this time of uncertainty to draw close to God, for “[m]ost of the time we’re in the dark, and that’s where real intimacy lies,” as Mr. Iyer put it.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” ~ Psalm 23:4

As we move forward to the future every time we wake up, we get an opportunity to start fresh with God as our Shepherd.  Even in dark valleys, you do not need to fear what will happen to you because God is right there with you, walking beside you, comforting you with His staff, which for us today is the Word of God.

“You are my strength, I watch for you; You, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely.” ~ Psalm 59:9-10

If you have been disappointed many times by others, it’s understandable that your ability to trust in God may also be shaken because you can’t really see Him and you’re not really sure if He will come through for you.  However, the scriptures testify that God is indeed reliable, and if you put your trust in Him, you will not be disappointed.

“To You they cried out and were delivered.  In You they trusted and were not disappointed.” Psalm 22:5 (NASB)

Nestled in our comfort zones, we don’t fully know who we are until we’re pushed unto the darkness where knowledge gives out.  When you don’t know what to do next, do you rely on your own understanding or do you pray and let God lead you?

Self-described as a full-time writer for the past 30 years, Pico Iyer said that the one thing he’s learned is this: “Transformation comes when I’m not in charge…We’re reminded of the first law of travel and, therefore, of life: You’re only as strong as your readiness to surrender.”

#trust #surrender #followGod  #picoiyer #tedtalk #wisdom #prayer #Christ #knowledge #ignorance #illusionofknowledge #relyonGod