Child of God

August 11, 2020

“We are all God’s children.”

This is a phrase I’ve heard many times both in comments by those in my social circle and by those more famous than anyone I know (i.e., actors, politicians). Most recently, a cruise director said this as she talked about inclusivity and being “one big family.”

Yet, the phrase is simply not true. We are all loved by God (see John 3:16), but we are not all his children. How do we know this?

“All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (Romans 8:14)

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

“For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” (Galatians 3:26)

So, God loves everyone, but his children are only those who believe in Christ for salvation. While this is not a politically correct or even comfortable statement, it is the truth. And while not everyone is God’s child, everyone can be his child.

For additional study:

Wait & Follow

August 4, 2020

At mid-life, it’s sometimes hard for me to think about future plans and goals. I feel like I should be in the midst of realizing the plans and goals set in my youth, not creating new ones. Then I read again about Abraham who was not young when God set him on a new path that led into an unknown future (Genesis 12:1-4). The story of Abraham gives me a new perspective for reflecting on Scripture I’ve studied many times.

With this new perspective, I am again reminded of where to place my focus and how to let God direct my steps even as I plan my way (Proverbs 16:9). Here are just a few examples:

Further, I realize that waiting on God and living by His word is the only way to really solidify the direction of my life even as I live within its halfway point. I am forced to live what I’ve told others many times:

Never stop learning and growing and hoping and achieving.

God is good, and he still wants to do good in my life. And so, I wait for him and follow the path he sets for me.

“For since the world began, no ear has heard, and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him. You welcome those who cheerfully do good, who follow godly ways.” (Isaiah 64:4-5)

Horror Vacui

July 28, 2020

Nature Abhors a Vacuum

A Greek phrase for “fear of the empty,” horror vacui is found in every area of life and gets at the idea that an empty space does not remain so for long. Simply said, empty spaces get filled.

Let’s look at some examples to help better understand “horror vacui.”

  • In Physics, Aristotle postulated that nature contains no vacuums because the denser surrounding material continuum would immediately fill the void.
  • In visual art, “kenophobia” is the filling of the entire surface of a space or a piece of artwork with detail.
  • In business, Parkinson’s Law says work expands to fill the time available for its completion. It also says data expands to fill the space available for storage.

The idea that emptiness does not remain so for long makes sense to most of us. We’ve probably all experienced it with a living space that seems to eventually be too full of stuff or even with our electronics that seem to always run out of storage space.

No matter how much something is cleaned, an empty space won’t remain unoccupied for long. Dust and dirt accumulate, data, information and other stuff accumulate until the space is no longer empty.

Out With Bad. In With Good.

The Bible gets at this concept in a few places. Two especially stand out for me. The first is in a parable that Jesus told.

Parable of the Empty House

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.” (Matthew 12:43-45)

Spiritually, this means we can get rid of bad things (in this case, an evil spirit) but it will eventually (usually very quickly) be replaced.

The second is found in instructions for Christian living given to us by Paul.

Off With the Old. On With the New.

Before continuing, please read Ephesians 4:17-32.

Paul tells us to “put off the old self” and “put on the new self.” To connect with the empty house analogy Jesus used, Paul is telling us clean out old habits and characteristics and to fill the empty self with Godly characteristics and activities.

These two portion of Scripture are telling us that simply avoiding evil and eliminating bad habits are not enough. They must be replaced with something else. If they aren’t, the empty vacuum will suck in a much worse situation.

Further Application

I realize that Jesus was talking about an impure spirit inhabiting someone, and Paul was talking about living by the Holy Spirit’s power versus not, but they essentially make the same point. They both give a spiritual application for concept of horror vacui. Sweeping out lives and minds clean of evil spirits or bad habits (i.e., “putting of the old self”) won’t do us good for long if we don’t “put on new” habits.

How do we do this?

  1. Get right with God. Confess sins and repent.
  2. Focus on Jesus. Focus determines reality.
  3. Pray often. Ask for the Holy Spirit’s help.
  4. Study Scripture daily. Learn about God and his standards.
  5. Memorize Scripture. Let the Living Word transform your mind.

We get rid of the bad and replace it with good by letting God work in us. As we do this, we are making the choice to not be like the evil world around us but to instead be transformed by the God within us.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

Focus on Others

July 21, 2020

As I reflect on the successes and failures in my relationships, I understand how focus determines reality within them. When I sought (i.e., focused on) getting my own needs met, no lasting progress was made. But when I purposed to meet needs and to prefer others over myself, genuine connection and authentic affection resulted.

For me, this focus on others involves a genuine motivation to show I value them. In other words, if I force myself to do whatever because I know I should, the relationship lacks authenticity. But when I act out of a desire to please God, authenticity flourishes.

The Bible points toward this type of authenticity in our relationships in a variety of ways.

“Love each other with genuine affection and take delight in honoring each other.” (Romans 12:10)

“Don’t be selfish; don’t live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. Don’t think only about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and in what they are doing.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

When I read instructive verses like these, I like to list all that I am to do. It helps me focus on how to live out what God desires. For example:

  • Genuinely love others by showing fond attachment, devotion, and love.
  • Don’t be selfish and focus on my own reputation.
  • Be humble and focus on meeting the needs of others.
  • Be interested in others and care about what they are doing.

Reading about Jesus’ life and ministry (i.e., the four gospels) motivates me toward focusing on others because of the example he set of doing just that. He also loves me in these ways, and loving others similarly is a way for me to show my gratitude for what he’s done for me.

Act Your Age

July 14, 2020

Reflecting on Aging

Age is just a number.

You’re only as old as you think.

We’ve all heard these or similar sayings. I think I get the sentiment they express – age shouldn’t hold you back from being, accomplishing, and doing. At the same time, midlife has begun to show me that age does impact all these areas.

It’s not that I can’t accomplish and be productive; it’s that my body and mind function differently than they used to. In other words, I don’t operate the same mentally or physically as I did in my 20s, 30s, or even just a decade ago. I shouldn’t, either. Not only that, but in many ways I don’t want to be the same as I was in my younger days. I don’t want to think and act the way I did when I was less mature.

Admittedly, I would like some physical reboots, but I wouldn’t trade what I am today in total for what I was at any point in my past. Though I might redo some aspects, I wouldn’t change most things. Even cherry picking from parts of me would be difficult because of the intertwining of all aspects of who I was with who I have become.

The Bible & Aging

Before just a couple of years ago, I honestly never paid attention to Bible verses about aging. Now, though, they are ministering to me in surprising ways. Here are some examples:

2 Corinthians 4:16 – While I’m physically wasting away, my inner self is renewed daily. In a sense, then, I’m not aging at all.

Proverbs 16:31 & Proverbs 20:29 – Splendor is found with gray hair. All that comes with aging produces something otherwise unobtainable.

Job 12:12 – Wisdom and understanding come with age. I didn’t know how much I didn’t have when I was younger.

Psalm 92:12-15 – The righteous bear fruit in old age. Rewards come from living for Jesus.

Titus 2:3 – Be appreciative and respectful and teach others. There’s still work to do.

Isaiah 46:4 – God sustains me all the days of my life. He’s never failed me and never will.

Though I’m not sure what “act your age” means right now, I am sure that God still has purpose for me. Rather than having my best years behind me, they are in many ways still ahead.

A negative mental habit that is often a struggle for me is ruminating. My thoughts  often dwell too long on what has happened. In other words, I play events over and over in my mind and relive the emotions and regret over and over again.

Before this became a struggle, it was something that defeated me. It continually wore me down and lived at the root of many depressive episodes and sleepless nights.

Then God’s word got a hold of me. Specifically, two portions of scripture.

“I am focusing all my energies on this one thing. Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

“But forget all that – it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do a brand new thing. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness for my people to come home. I will create rivers for them in the desert!” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

As I have revisited these verses over the years, I gradually moved from being defeated by ruminating and dwelling to struggling toward victory. These verses regularly pull me out of a downward spiral that threatens like a storm on the horizon whenever life comes at me in full force.

Together, these verses provide a formula of sorts for helping me to “strain to reach” and to find the “pathway through the wilderness” instead of returning to defeating and depression.

Forget: Don’t let failures and disappointments weigh you down. Don’t be held back by past success, either, by thinking the best is behind you.

Look Forward: Look for what God has planned. Seek the newness he has in store. Be thankful for what he has done, then focus on what lies ahead.

Receive: Keep making progress as you aim for the perfection of Heaven. Follow the way that seems impossible, but that God makes clear with every step you take toward him.

God ministers to me in new and increasing ways through these verses. He never fails to lead me in the path of his will through them. Now, as I enter the mid-life, empty-nest season, he once again is encouraging me through them, and I am grateful.

Be Persistent

June 30, 2020

What is persistence?

Persistence In the Bible

The Bible talks a lot about persistence, especially about being persistent with God.

One of the more well-known instances even often has “persistence” as a heading.

The Parable of the Persistent Widow

“Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: ‘In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’ And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’” (Luke 18:1-8)

Another well-known one is Luke 11:5-10. There’s also Paul’s final instructions in 1 Thessalonians 5 that includes simple, “Pray continually” in verse 17.

Be Persistent

Persistence with God is important because it means we’re communicating (i.e., asking, pleading, requesting) through the various emotions we experience. It means we believe God listens when we’re happy, sad, tired, encouraged, discouraged, and frustrated.

It means that what we believe and ask for when our faith is up is also what we believe and ask for when it’s not. In other words, persistence shows we believe God never changes even though we do.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)

Perfect Peace

June 23, 2020

That’s it! That’s what I want. Perfect peace. Don’t you?

Our ideas of what perfect peace might look like probably differ. The way to obtain that peace, though, is the same for everyone.

“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, whose thoughts are fixed on you.” (Isaiah 26:3)

When I read verses like this, I immediately start asking God, “How?” I want to know how to trust in him in a way where I “keep in perfect peace,” and I want to know how to keep my thoughts fixed on him.

How to Keep in Perfect Peace

Fortunately, God answers those questions elsewhere in the Bible. Here are just a few examples.

Keep short accounts.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for the whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-30)

This verse may at first seem out of place here but just hang in with me for a minute. It’s getting at the idea of keeping short accounts by stopping mental sins. In fact, it’s telling us to be brutal in doing so because if we can keep them from becoming actions, we’ll save ourselves and others a lot of pain.

In other words, keep short accounts with God. Admit and repent of any and all sin as quickly as possible. Doing so is necessary for perfect peace.

Be transformed.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

Instead of conforming to the pattern of the world and living out what we conceive of in our thoughts, we are to be transformed. This happens as we let God’s Holy Spirit renew us from within by directing our attitudes and intentions toward God’s will.

When we are transformed by God, we find our places within his will. And within his will is where perfect peace is found and kept.

Get the mind of Christ.

“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such person is not subject to merely human judgment, for ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16)

Through the Holy Spirit, we can see life from Christ’s point of view. We can operate based on his values and desires. This also means we can think God’s thoughts instead of thinking how the world thinks. The Holy Spirit leads us to humility, compassion and dependence on God, all of which Jesus lived out during his time here on earth.

Fix your thoughts.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Notice how all of this (meaning, this point as well as the other three) takes place within our minds. That in itself is significant since it tells us that so much of the battle and growth and struggle as well as victory we have as Christians takes place in unseen places.

Specifically to this point, though, comes the idea of how focus determines reality. Whatever we focus on will create the reality of our lives. Christ is all of these things, so focusing on him will direct our reality toward the perfect peace our heavenly Father offers.

Pursuing Christ

Only by daily dwelling in God’s word do we find the answers to our questions. In his word, he tells us how to “keep in perfect peace,” and he tells us how to fix our thoughts on him. Simply spending time with him leads us to the answers we need.

Keeping in perfect peace comes through pursuing Christ. It comes by letting our minds be saturated with all that he is and offers us through his Holy Spirit.

Whatever your vision of perfect peace looks like, I can promise you it can only happen through Christ.

Be Persistent

June 16, 2020

Every spring, birds try to build nests in the nooks and crannies of our log home. In particular, they like the front and back porches. We’d prefer they not built their nests there. Droppings and dive bombs and all that, not to mention the chirping once the eggs hatch.

And every spring, my husband persistently encourages the birds to move their nests. They start building, he relocates them. This back and forth continues until it’s time for the eggs to come, and the birds presumably find another location out of desperation.

The birds are persistent in building and rebuilding their nests. My husband is more persistent, though, in relocating them. He refuses to quit because he knows if he holds out just a little longer than the birds do, they won’t bother us for another year.

Don’t Give Up

This springtime battle between my husband and the birds reminds me of a biblical principle I need to stay mindful of year-round.

“So don’t get tired of doing what is good. Don’t get discouraged and give up, for we will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time.” (Galatians 6:9)

Discouragement often leads me to want to give up, and sometimes I do. But when I see others being persistent even in small ways, I am reminded that blessing is coming when I don’t give up in my pursuit of God’s will.

“So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and steady, always enthusiastic about the Lord’s work, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Not only must I not give up, I am to also to be:

  • Strong and steady
  • Enthusiastic

These are hard to maintain when discouragement hits. Yet, being in God’s will means that what I do has significance. It’s on that truth I need to focus, not on my mercurial feelings.

Find Joy

Mixed in with all this is the promise of personal satisfaction, not because I outdid anyone but because I pleased God. My joy comes when I know he is pleased.

“Be sure to do what you should, for then you will enjoy the personal satisfaction of having done your work well, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct.” (Galatians 6:4-5)

Persistence. Strength. Steadiness. Enthusiasm. Joy.

Yes, birds building their nests remind me of what I am to pursue and be. They point me to the idea that persistence leads to blessing.

This all happens not because of me but because of the persistence of God in guiding me down the path of his will. He relocates me, if you will, from pursuit of my feelings to pursuit of him.

Lessons from Joseph

June 9, 2020

What lessons can we learn from Joseph? Not the Joseph with the colorful coat, jealous brothers, and string of bad luck, though there are many lessons we can learn from him as well. The Joseph who was Jesus’ step-father.

We don’t know a lot about this Joseph, but he still provides a Godly example we can follow

Before reading the rest of this post, please read Matthew 1 and Matthew 2.

Specifically, let’s look at what we can learn from Joseph based on Matthew 1:18-25.

  • Joseph “considered” the situation. In other words, he gave it a lot of thought. He wasn’t hasty and did not base his decision on emotions.
  • God directed Joseph by telling him exactly what to do.
  • Joseph obeyed. When he woke up, “he did what the angel of the Lord commanded.” He didn’t second guess.

A simple truth emerged when I read these verses, ones I’ve read and heard many times over the years. In fact, it’s a simple process we can all use in our determination to do God’s will.

  1. Think – Consider the situation before taking action.
  2. Listen – Find God’s direction.
  3. Act – Move forward confidently.
What would happen if we simplified our approach to obedience within this same process?

“A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps and makes them sure.” (Proverbs 16:9)

What other verses reflect this same principle?