What should WE do?

Sometimes I read the Bible and struggle with knowing how to apply it to my life. That doesn’t happen with Luke 3:7-14.

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

After John exhorts the people to basically live like they’ve been redeemed, the crowd wants to know what’s next. John then gives them very specific examples of how to produce the fruit of a repentant person, and he does so through three different groups of people.

  1. Be generous.
  2. Be honest
  3. Be content.

What’s especially interesting is that these three directives are the activity for us as Christians still today. In other words, any life dedicated to Christ will be on filled with generosity, honesty, and contentment.

Is yours?

A Simple Approach to Bible Study

Take a few minutes to read through Philippians 4 with the purpose of answering one, simple question:

How does it apply to me?

Don’t worry about getting deeply spiritual or even too specific. Just use the words given to list points of application.

Assuming you’ve made your list, compare it to the one I’ve made. Think of this like what you might discuss as you sit with a group of friends discussing God’s word.

  1. Stop worrying.
  2. Be full of joy in the Lord.
  3. Pray about everything.
  4. Fix your thoughts.
  5. Put God’s truth into action.
  6. Follow Godly examples.
  7. Let God’s peace reign.
  8. Learn to be happy regardless of circumstances.
  9. Christ gives the strength you need, sometimes through others.
  10. God meets every need.

This simple activity is a great way to begin discussing Scripture with friends. Add in asking “What does it say?” (looking at context) and “What does it mean?” (bringing in other Scripture), and it won’t take long before the Bible comes alive like never before for you.

IN Not OF the World

While not a direct quote, quite a few verses in the Bible focus on what it means to be IN the world but not OF the world.

“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:19)

“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” (John 17:14-16)

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.” (1 John 2:15)

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-11)

IN the world but not OF the word means…

  • Being chosen by Christ
  • Being hated by the world
  • Being protected by God
  • Not being attached to the things of the world
  • Not associating with those who call themselves Christian but who live like the world

Essentially, IN not OF the world means pursuing God’s will and not conforming to the world’s patterns or ways of doing things.

“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)

Two definitions at this point are helpful.

  1. The world = the world system and philosophy headed by Satan.
  2. Conform = act in accordance or harmony; comply; act in agreement with the prevailing standards, attitudes, practices, etc.

These definitions help bring an even deeper understanding of what being IN not OF the world means for Christians.

Conforming to the world makes you an enemy of God.

“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

Being transformed to God’s will, however, puts you in a place of victory over Satan and the world.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

Being transformed puts you in a place where you can receive that which the world cannot give.

“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psalm 16:11)

No Middle Ground

How do we open ourselves up to the transformation that involves mind renewal and being on the path to God’s will?

  1. Recognize the enemy. (Ephesians 6:12)
  2. Rely on God’s power. (Romans 8:37)
  3. Overcome by the blood. (Revelation 12:11)
  4. Choose to be separate. (2 Corinthians 6:17)

We must choose to step out of the “course of the world” (Ephesians 2:25). To not do so, to take no action either way, is to choose conformity to the world. There is no middle ground.

Overcoming Discouragement

Discouragement happens for a variety of reasons. Maybe that’s why it’s addressed so frequently in the Bible.

  • Job was discouraged because of his family and friends. (Book of Job)
  • Elijah became discouraged after a huge victory. (1 Kings 19)
  • Jeremiah was discouraged with God. (Lamentations 3)
  • Jesus’s disciples were discouraged after his death. (Luke 24:20-21)
  • Peter was discouraged with himself. (Matthew 26)

The insight gained from these individuals along with other Scripture gives us valuable instruction for dealing with our own discouragement.

Honestly acknowledge feelings. This happens with all of the individuals listed above. Being honest with yourself is crucial for opening your mind and spirit to encouragement and hope. In fact, it may just be the first requirement for transitioning from being discouraged to being encouraged.

Take care of yourself physically. God sets the example for this with Elijah. Before addressing Elijah’s discouragement, God makes sure Elijah is nourished, hydrated, and rested. We simply cannot overcome discouragement without taking care of ourselves physically too.

Think about what you’re thinking about. Both Jeremiah and Elijah do this, and we are encouraged to do so as well both through their examples and through other Scripture that addresses our thought lives.

“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)

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Retrain your brain. This is especially important if discouragement has become like a shadow. Retraining your brain essentially involves cleaning out unhelpful thought patterns and replacing them with ones that promote growth and open you up to encouragement.

A mindset that is able to ward off continued discouragement is one that acknowledges and accepts that life is hard and that focuses on knowing that God will create value and purpose out of what you’re going through.

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-18)

“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. (Philippians 1:12-14)

Press in close to God. Life is hard. People disappoint. And, God’s ways aren’t always clear or make sense. Pressing close to God acknowledges your trust in him regardless of circumstances.

“The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.” (Nahum 1:7)

Chase out negative feelings. Getting rid of negativity is important, but it only works long term if we replace it with thankfulness.

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

When I get discouraged, I revisit the stories in the Bible of others who also experienced discouragement as well as the many verses that speak to how to defeat a mindset of discouragement. Doing so reminds me of God’s activity as well as gives me specific ways to move away from a mindset of negativity and discouragement and toward one of hope and peace in Him.

Do Your Part

When I think of interacting with difficult people, my first instinct is to avoid them. Sometimes, when I feel especially unable to respond well, I actively shut them out even if we’re in the same room. While this may be necessary from time to time (it’s sometimes better to say nothing than to say something hurtful), it’s not a healthy long-term approach. So, what is?

“Do your part to live at peace with everyone, as much as it is possible.” (Romans 12:18)

Between the lines of this verse is the idea that I can only do my part and that living in peace with others is not fully up to me. The next natural question for me, then, is… What exactly is my part?

The four verses just before Romans 12:18 provide some answers.

  1. Bless others even if they’re difficult. (v. 14)
  2. Share with others in good and bad times. (v. 15)
  3. Don’t let pride get in the way. (v. 16)
  4. Always do what is right. (v. 17)

The three verses after Romans 12:18 give even more direction.

  1. Let God right any wrongs. (v. 19)
  2. Meet others needs, even the needs of difficult people. (v. 20)
  3. Doing good is a weapon. (v. 21)

God’s word is clear about how we should treat those who are difficult to treat well. These instructions help me want to please God with the way I treat difficult people.

After all, I cannot control others. My job is to do “my part.” I’ve made the decision once again to not let others decide what that part is but to instead let it be defined by God.

Setting the Example

Examples other people set these days discourage me. In all transparency, the example I set myself often discourages me too. Standards of character and quality seem so low sometimes, and so many people, myself included, seem to often settle for so much less than their best.

Just when I wonder if any solid examples exist, I recall the many people in the Bible who encourage me. In Philippians 2, for instance, Paul both tells us how to live and gives us examples of others to follow.

  • Timothy – Genuine friendship
  • Epaphroditus – Faithfulness and courage
  • Christ – Unity & humility

Paul’s letter encourages me to not only follow the examples set by Timothy, Epaphroditus, and especially Christ, but to also:

  1. Be humble.
  2. Be interested in others.
  3. Stop complaining about others.
  4. Have the attitude of Christ.
  5. Hold tightly to God’s word.
  6. Purpose to be a Godly example.

The Bible is filled with examples of those we can follow as we pursue holiness. Only one, Christ, gives a perfect example, but many others provide examples worthy of following.

“Therefore, 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, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

Refocus

Disconnected?

Ever long to connect with God through his word but feel disconnected when you read the words on the page? I do.

Even after years of teaching Bible studies and doing daily devotions, I sometimes feel disconnected from God. Sometimes, my mind simply fails to connect with what the Spirit of God is trying to say to me through the words of Scripture.

Deferred Pain

When this happens, it’s usually an indication of something else going on in my life. Deferred pain, if you will.

That “something,” in my experience, is usually a combination of small somethings that added up slowly over time and created a big disconnect. So, my first step usually involves awareness of those smaller things and, essentially, addressing the sources causing this deferred pain.

Developing Awareness

That awareness comes though quietness and prayer. Through these practices, the Holy Spirit’s voice rises to the top of all the other voices vying for my attention.

He usually begins with reminders and directives:

  • Nothing is beyond the reach of my power.
  • Quit trying to force things to happen.
  • Wait for me to work.
  • Acknowledge me.
  • I will direct you.
  • Focus your thoughts.
  • Quit letting your fears direct your focus.

Slowly, through meditation on His Word and just existing in quietness, I am redirected to looking at Jesus instead of trying to find answers and solutions.

Focus determines reality. A truth that I need continually reminded of in my life.

Green & Growing or Ripe & Rotting

Never Done

Housework. Healthy living. Good relationships. Learning. Parenting. Ministry. Faith.

None of these are ever really completed. Any completion is really only a step toward what’s next. In fact, if we get to the point where we are finished, we begin to die in that area.

Never being done frustrates me sometimes. Knowing my feelings of satisfaction over completing something are only temporary sometimes discourages me. There’s always more to be done. Always more to know. Always a “next” to move on to.

With one exception.

Tetelestai

“It is finished!” (John 19:30)

Jesus’s last word’s on the cross.

Tetelestai = It is finished. Bring to a close, complete, fulfill. It’s an accounting term that means something is “paid in full.”

The debt of sin owed God was gone. All of the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus were fulfilled. Done. Complete. No more “next.”

Peace in Completion

Jesus’s finished work has tremendous implications for us.

  1. We have a message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)
  2. Sin and Satan have no power. (Ephesians 6:16)
  3. We can live as new creations in Christ. (Ephesians 2:1,5)

Instead of being frustrated by the constant “more” and “not done” of life, I can find peace in what Jesus completed. I can choose to focus on what’s done and let it motivate what’s “next.”

Metanoia

In psychology, metanoia involves experiencing a psychotic breakdown and then subsequent, positive rebuilding and healing. My journey through depression was a metanoia. In fact, this blog – Struggle to Victory – aptly describes that journey.

Do you have a metanoia that’s now a part of your testimony? If you’re a Christian, the answer is “Yes!”

The Bible talks a lot about metanoia.

Matthew 3:8 – “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Matthew 3:11 – I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

Mark 1:4 – John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

Luke 5:32 – I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

2 Corinthians 7:9 – “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.”

Repentance is metanoia. It is a transformative change of heart that leads to life transformation.

Mighty Waves

The Bible often uses nature to illustrate God’s power and glory. By no means do we fully grasp the extent of that power, but certain verses do help us have some sense of the vastness and strength of His power.

“In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.” (Psalm 95:4-5)

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” (Psalm 19:1-2)

For me, waves speaks profoundly about the vastness and awesomeness of God’s power.

“You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.” (Psalm 89:9)

“Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?” (Job 38:8-11)

So, when I read that “Ocean Waves are Officially Getting Stronger,” and how this is associated with the strength of the wind and rising water temperatures, I actually find comfort even though this means the waves are also becoming more destructive.

The comfort comes because I am reminded of just how powerful God is. It brings me back to a place of awe and wonder over his might. And I once again find myself at a loss for words to describe Him.

“One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side of the lake.’ So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!’ And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’ And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, ‘Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?’ (Luke 8:22-25)