Keep It Simple

What does God want me to do on a day-to-day basis?

How does he want me to live?

What is His will for my life?

 

The Bible certainly provides much detail in answer to those questions. Sometimes, though, I just want (need) a simple answer.

Some days get so overloaded I feel overwhelmed and like I’m barely keeping up. On those days, I want a basic answer to help me refocus. Fortunately, we can find those in the Bible too.

“Always be joyful. Keep on praying. No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

This verse comes at the end of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. So, it’s part of his final instructions. I always look at the end of Biblical letters, verses like this one, as “if you remember nothing else of what I said, remember this.” Or, “if you want a starting point, here you go.” That’s how I usually take those instructions.

In other words, I see final words like these as ways to not over-complicate God’s will for us. Yes, there are more details we can and should delve into. At the same time, instructions like these help me keep a simple focus, something I need help with when life feels overwhelming.

Be joyful.

Keep praying.

Be thankful.

 

Even on my worst days, simple instructions like these serve to refocus me on God’s will. Even the slightest turn of my focus more fully on him serves to encourage my spirit and lessen the burden of overload.

Always Be Ready

The Questions Will Come

“Honor Christ, and let him be Lord of your life. Always be ready to give an answer when someone asks you about your hope.” (1 Peter 3:15)

When you live your life for Christ, others will notice. Many won’t say much, if anything. Eventually, though, someone will say something. They may not specifically use the word “hope,” but the asking will likely still be obvious.

“Why are you always so positive?”

“Why doesn’t anything get you down?”

“Why are you always so nice?”

Why do you help others so much?”

When the ask comes, you can bring in the word hope. You can tell them that Jesus changed your life and gave you hope.

Some won’t know what to say. They’ll likely feel awkward, and so will you. One of you might change the subject. At some point, though, someone will want to go further with the discussion. They’ll want to know why you believe the Bible and why the Gospel directs your life.

Are You Ready?

I trust the Holy Spirit to give me the words to say when I need to say them (Luke 12:12). But I also know God wants us to choose to prepare, learn and grow.

“Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge.” (Proverbs 23:12)

“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18)

“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:2-3)

I’ve also learned through many mistakes that considering ahead of time what to say helps me tremendously in being confident when the time comes. As I considered this recently, three words came to mind that reflect this process in my life.

1. Examination.

This involves time spent reading the Bible and in prayer with the goal of getting to know God more and more.

2. Evidence.

As I learn more about evidence in areas such as science, archeology and history, my faith grows stronger. Fulfilled prophecy alone is a tremendous boost of faith.

3. Experience.

Remembering is emphasized throughout the Bible to teach us to acknowledge what God has done in our lives. We don’t want to dwell on our past, but we do want to praise him for how he’s transformed, protected and redeemed us.

Regular Review

When I think about these three words and place my own spiritual walk within their structure, I find myself more ready to talk about my hope. But this is something I need to review regularly simply because I am, hopefully, still growing and learning.

A Passion for Seeking Wisdom

As Christians, we believe the Bible gives us all we need for right living. As God’s inspired word, it tells us all we need to know to love God and love others (Mark 12:30-31). The Holy Spirit is our partner in this and helps us understand and navigate God’s word (John 16:13).

Sometimes, though, the answers to life’s questions don’t obviously appear in Scripture. We know we need to pray and let the Holy Spirit work in us for understanding, but that understanding often takes longer than we’d like. We also have to admit that sometimes, even after seemingly endless study and prayer, the answer remains, “I don’t know.”

There are many clear answers in the Bible. Some answers aren’t as clear as we’d like. Either way, we know we have what we need to live and think as God desires. The book of Proverbs is a great example of this mix. Much of its content and application is clear. Others, not so much. Some, it often seems to me, is both. And there’s good reason for this mix.

The Pursuit of Wisdom

Take Proverbs 2 for example. My study Bible titles this chapter as “The Pursuit of Wisdom Brings Security.” Essentially, the chapter’s main ideas is that pursuing wisdom will lead you to the right course of action every time.

Here’s my summary of the first half of the chapter.

“If you receive my words and store them up… if you turn your ears to wisdom and apply your heart to understanding… if you seek insight as much as you seek the things this world values most… then you will understand how to respect God and find the wisdom of God… He will give you knowledge and understanding and success and protection. You will know every good path to take because wisdom and knowledge will be a part of who you are. Discretion and understanding will protect and guard you.”

What I hear God telling me is to make seeking wisdom through His word a habit. He’s telling me to let His Holy Spirit reveal wisdom to me through the Bible and through other people. When I do this, not just when I’m struggling but also when I’m not, He promises to show me the right steps to take just. He promises to direct my steps (Proverbs 16:9).

God is saying that we should expect to hear wisdom and gain understanding when we make seeking it from Him a habit. We need to look for it continually and make an effort to understand what He’s revealing to us (meditate on it). We must ask for insight and understanding. He promises to give it to us.

Application

If you’re still not sure how to get the wisdom of God and what it means for your life, read the entire book of Proverbs. While there are a lot of specifics in it, focus just on the directives specifically about wisdom. Consider listing them in a journal. I promise you’ll come away with a greater understanding of the wisdom of God along with a greater passion for seeking it.

Thinking About Time Travel

Time Travel Theories

“I’ve been thinking about time travel.”

My youngest son told me this one day after a not-so-exciting day at work. He also said we should watch all the movies we own that have time travel in them to see the different ways it’s handled.

Of course, I’m all in.

Scientific American says time travel is not ruled out by our current laws of nature.

“According to current physical theory, is it possible for a human being to travel through time?

Perhaps surprisingly, this turns out to be a subtle question. It is not obviously ruled out by our current laws of nature. Recent investigations into this question have provided some evidence that the answer is no, but it has not yet been proven impossible.”

Since it’s not proven impossible, why not understand what may be possible, right? So, I sent my son a graphic outlining the three main theories of time travel.

  1. Fixed timeline as seen in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban.
  2. Dynamic timeline as seen in Back to the Future.
  3. Multiverse as seen in Star Trek (2009).

I apologize if you have not seen these movies, and my examples do nothing to help you understand these theories. Fortunately, not relevant for my main point. What is relevant is the Biblical discussion that took place as a result of our discussion.

Time Travel in the Bible

There are no Biblical accounts of actual time travel as these theories describe. However, the Bible does accounts of time being manipulated by God.

These stories provide a terrific basis for discussing what God can do. They illustrate well the wide expanse of his power. After all, He can manipulate time.

Take some time to read through these accounts. Then find someone who has watched some time travel movies, and have a fun discussion about what’s possible with God.

Live Long & Prosper

Most people, even if they’ve never watched Star Trek, associate “Live long and prosper” with this iconic show/movie. More specifically, they associate it with one of the most well-known characters in science fiction, Spock.

Usually accompanying a Vulcan hand gesture, the phrase actually finds its origins in the Bible.

“Stay on the path that the Lord your God has commanded you to follow. Then you will live long and prosperous lives in the land you are about to enter and occupy.” (Deuteronomy 5:33)

The Bible in Star Trek

Leonard Nemoy, the original Spock, had a childhood memory of visiting an Orthodox Jewish synagogue service in Boston, MA. “Live long and prosper” was given as part of a blessing along with a hand gesture similar to the now-famous Vulcan one associated with the phrase.

The gesture is actually the shape of the first letter of several Jewish words.

  • Shaddai — a name for God
  • Shalom — hello, goodbye and peace
  • Shekhinah — prayer that inspired the salute

Nemoy, mesmerized by the sound and look of the prayer, never forgot it. When a Star Trek script had Spock go home to Vulcan, Nemoy wanted to find a touching way to help further develop Vulcan sociology. He wanted a special greeting for the Vulcans and suggested the prayer gesture from his childhood. The gesture and the phrase took off from there.

“People don’t realize they’re blessing each other with this.” (Leonard Nemoy)

A General Truth

After discovering this connection between Star Trek and the Bible, I realized that the general truth it expresses is actually a thread throughout Scripture. Since, Repetition Means Pay Attention when it comes to Bible study, let’s look at a couple more verses expressing the same sentiment.

“Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.’ So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” (Number 6:23-27)

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother — which is the first commandment with a promise — so that it may go well with you and that you may be long-lived on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:3)

“Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.” (3 John 1:2)

Go Deeper

The thread of this idea of long life and prosperity does not end with the Scriptures we’ve looked at in this post. Far from it, actually. To help you delve deeper, check out the following links:

Fiction… Wisdom for Living

Benefits of Reading Fiction

Research shows that regularly reading fiction brings tremendous benefit. Those include…

  • Improved vocabulary
  • Reduced loneliness
  • Better understanding of self
  • Learning factual information
  • Increased brain activity
  • Slower memory decline
  • Increased empathy
  • Better listening skills
  • Increased focus & concentration
  • Improved communication skills

If those benefits aren’t enough to convince someone about the power of reading fiction, there’s more. And this more connects with our faith walk as Christians in an interesting way.

Wisdom for Living

“The best stories and novels contain wisdom for living that cannot be captured in any other way.” (Why Read Fiction?)

Fiction helps us see human nature in ways we sometimes fail to through history, nonfiction reading and even through our own observations and experiences. Maybe that’s because fiction helps us see truth from a safe distance. Or, maybe it’s because fiction isn’t really 100% made up anyway.

Look closely, and you’ll realize that the best stories are based on layers of reality within made up elements. For example…

Good fiction helps us view the complex layers of human nature in ways that benefit us psychologically and socially. Some of those benefits are obvious and applicable to all, and some are individualized. And some are so painful that we’ll only hear them through the lens of the fictitious.

Fiction in Scripture

Consider that Jesus made up stories — fiction — for these very reasons.

In telling these stories, Jesus got at some tough cultural and socially taboo issues. He addressed what might not have been otherwise received by direct teaching.

What are the issues and lessons in the stories Jesus used? Let me encourage you to investigate those familiar stories once again to find out. Only this time, push yourself to go a bit deeper. To help you get started, check out how GotQuestions.org discussed each of these stories.

Not Just for Entertainment

I love to read fiction, and much of my motivation is purely for entertainment and relaxation. At the same time, I’m mostly drawn to stories with depth because of the benefits they bring to my personal growth.

When I realized that Jesus used stories with layered meaning and understanding as a tool in much the same way that happens in the books I most like to read, my appreciation of and draw toward good fiction only grew.

I encourage you to find good fiction that stimulates you in ways beyond entertainment and relaxation. In addition to the books listed above, here are some of my other very favorite works of fiction to help you get started.

Active Remembering

When we “Don’t Forget to Remember” and live with “Purposeful Remembering,” we keep God’s activity and character throughout history and in our own lives fresh in a way that fuels our faith. This active remembering results in going well beyond recalling and to letting our remembering affect our lives in visible ways. Others will see the impact remembering God has on our lives. With that, our active remembering actually becomes a testimony.

What does this active remembering look like?

“Remember not the former things…” (Isaiah 43:18)

How do we know we aren’t just recalling but are actually letting our remembering affect our lives in an active way? Maybe a better question is, “What are the results of this active remembering?”

Don’t dwell on the past.

As I tell my boys when they make a mistake, “Learn from it and move on.” Too many people live in the past. They live with unforgiveness and bitterness. They tell the same stories over and over again, and a backward focus keeps them from moving forward.

While we want to remember God’s activity throughout our lives, we don’t want to dwell on our depravity — on ourselves — in any way. Instead, we want to focus on what God has done, and this then increases our faith about what He is doing and will yet do in our lives.

“…do not dwell on the past.” (Isaiah 43:18)

Serve Him faithfully in the present.

This speaks to obedience. Serving God faithfully in the present means knowing and doing what He desires because we know from our past that He always does what’s best for us and simply asks us to trust him in that journey. Serving God faithfully right now also speaks to faith, which often grows out of obedience as we gain more experience living in His consistently full grace.

“Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19)

We trust God for the future.

Our culture says to create our own future. It says to take control of our lives. But God says to trust Him and let Him control our lives. He always outdoes anything we can think or imagine.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20)

Not sure about you, but I can think of and imagine quite a lot. But as we remember His work throughout our lives, we’ll see that His way often took us through the impossible, that it often created paths through the worst terrain, and that we came out stronger as closer to Him as a result. And because we know He’s done it before, we can know He’ll do it again.

Active remembering helps us trust God now and in the future because He’s always the same, and we can count on His consistency of character. We know He is just, that He will honor His promises, and that He forgives endlessly when we sincerely repent and turn to Him. Remembering helps us know how to live our everyday lives, how to treat people & how to live our lives focused on Him based on His instruction for doing so in Scripture.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Remember?!

RememberIs Remembering Enough?

From holidays to monuments, memorials commemorate and preserve a significant person, place or event. Think of memorials as direction markers in history showing the people and events that shaped cultures. Consider the following examples:

Memorial Day honors all US military personnel who have perished during all wars and military actions in which the United States has been involved.

Labor Day celebrates the American labor movement and commemorates the social and economic achievements of workers.

Veterans’ Day honors people who served in the US Armed Forces. It coincides with Armistice Day and Remembrance Day celebrated in other countries. All of these mark the anniversary of the end of WWI.

Independence Day commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 when the United States declared independence from Great Britain.

The Statue of Liberty, a gift from France in 1886, is a worldwide symbol of freedom & democracy.

Castle Clinton, the most visited national monument in the United States, sits on the bottom of Manhattan Island and was originally built to protect New York from British invasion during the War of 1812.

Memorials aid our memory and help us preserve what we cherish most as a culture. We have many types of memorials throughout history such as stones, prehistoric drawings on cave walls, grave markers, tombs, pyramids, obelisks and statues.

Memorials also exist on a more personal level. We have special days like birthdays and anniversaries to commemorate the most important people in our lives. We have objects like wedding rings and photographs to help that remembrance to go beyond just a single day a year.

While remembering certainly exists on a variety of levels in our lives, is simply remembering enough? Is just bringing to mind people and places and events enough to serve the purpose for which these memorials exist?

Active Remembering

To help answer these questions, consider the theme of “remembering” that runs heavily throughout the Bible. Looking in depth at the word used for remembering can help us understand how we are called beyond simply recalling or remembering.

Azakarah (n) “memorial” = a sacrificial term describing the act “which brings the offerer into remembrance before God, or which brings God into honorable remembrance with the offerer.”

Zakhar (v) “to prick,” “pierce,” “penetrate”

These definitions help us see that the idea of “remembering” in Scripture goes well beyond just recollection. Action and sacrifice are also significant aspects of remembering.

Remembering or recalling by itself isn’t enough. Without action, we just have a day off work or a reason to eat or spend too much. When a call to action accompanies our remembering — which it does throughout Scripture — we find ourselves changed, hopefully for the better, as a result of that active remembering.

Along with this post, several more help explore this idea of active remembering:

The goal of studying “remembering” in this way is to discover the true purpose remembering should have in our lives. With that purpose, we can see the results that active remembering can bring to the life of a Christian.

5 Ways to Strengthen Your Prayer Life

A Common Concern

A common spiritual concern I hear goes something like,

“How do I get better at praying?”

Sure, it’s worded slightly different from person to person. It also sometimes comes in the form of a statement such as,

“I’m just not very good at praying.”

My response varies in detail and length depending on time constraints the person’s receptivity. As a whole, though, addressing this concern usually contains all or part of 5 recommendations.

5 Ways to Strengthen Your Prayer Life

These 5 recommendations, simply come from my own experience with answering the question for myself.

1. Pray Scripture

Though there are lots more, look at Ephesians 1:15-23, 3:14-19 & 4:14-19 as well as Colossians 1:9-14 for content to include in your own prayers. I actually have these marked in my Bible for this purpose. Be on the look out for other Scripture that you can use for your own prayers, whether the structure, content or both.

2. Read Scripture

Christians need a steady diet of God’s Word. A daily habit. This is sort of like eating regular meals and having a regular sleep schedule for maintaining a baseline of physical health. Reading the Bible daily maintains a baseline of spiritual health on which you can grow. Reading Scripture keeps you in tune with God’s heart and mind, like a healthy diet maintains physical homeostasis.

3. Study Scripture

This point gets at having a broader approach to studying the Bible as a whole. It involves regular, systematic Bible study. This can be doing a Bible study someone else wrote, or it can simply mean studying a book of the Bible in a structured way. Studying Scripture is in addition to daily reading of Scripture, though they can be combined. Systematic Bible study is how you grow spiritually.

Think of the health of your various relationships. How close you are to another person and how much a particular relationship deepens depends on the amount of quality time you spend together. Your relationship with God is no different. If you want your discussions with him (your prayer life) to grow and become stronger, then you have to consistently spend time with him.

4. Study Prayer

This gets at the idea of doing an intense look at the topic of prayer in the Bible. Studying prayer means looking up all the stories/verses that specifically mention prayer in some way to gain an understanding of the big picture regarding prayer. You can do this with any topic in the Bible, and it will help you tune into God’s heart and mind on that particular topic.

You can even do this on a smaller scale if you want. Take what is known as The Lord’s Prayer for example. Understanding that Jesus provided this as an example of how to pattern our prayers can really help transform your prayer life. See what I mean by checking out The Lords Prayer — An Outline for All of Our Prayers.

5. Be Led

Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you in progressing in your prayer life. Then, allow yourself to be led. In other words, be obedient to his leading. Don’t resist. This means making a habit of listening. So often, we pray to God but fail to listen for his response.

God responds in so many ways, from promptings through the Holy Spirit and insight gained as we read and study the Bible. God sometimes works through other people too, so be open to hearing from others through what other people say and do. Get in the habit of listening FOR God’s response at least as much as God listens to what you have to say.

Tools are Secondary

There are a lot of books and other tools (web sites, apps, etc.) about prayer available too. But, they are secondary to Scripture. If you’re not doing the above, then any tool you use or book you read will have minimal impact on your spiritual growth.

However, if you’re regularly reading and studying God’s Word, then additional tools can supplement those habits. For example, I regularly use a prayer journal or list to help me stay focused in my daily prayers. What I write in/on these often flows out of what I read in the Bible and how that connects with what’s going on in my life.

There are certainly a lot of good books on prayer as well as many terrific articles on the Internet. They can certainly help us see prayer from different perspectives and applications. However, avoid letting what others say about anything in the Bible be your first and primary source of what God has to say. In other words, make sure God’s Word — the Bible — is your primary source of what God has to say.

Progress Over Perfection

As with anything spiritual, remember that the goal is progress over perfection. So, keep taking steps of progress. Along the way, rejoice in how God is faithfully maturing you. Then give him the glory for what he’s doing in your life.

Practicing Righteousness

What is Righteousness?

Like faithfulness, many people struggle with the concept of righteousness. It’s a very churchy-sounding word, after all, and can seem overwhelming, even impossible. Because it feels impossible, many think “Why bother?”

I sometimes feel the weight of the seeming impossibility of righteousness. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit always brings me back to a right focus.

“Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he (Jesus) is righteous.” (1 John 3:7)

Righteousness is a way of living, a way of imitating Jesus based on the divine, moral law given in the Bible. That at its core means we do what God says we should do and live how He wants us to live.

What’s more, practicing righteousness means show I am already considered righteous. This only inflames my inner conflict with righteousness because being righteous, by definition, means I am free from guilt and sin, that I am justified. I don’t feel that way a lot of the time.

Of course, the conflict I express comes when I attempt righteousness all on my own. Not possible. I know this both by my many failures and by what the Bible says of the matter.

Righteousness Exemplified

One activity that helped me better understand righteousness was reading about the first person ever called righteous in the Bible. There’s a good trivia question for you. Know who it is?

“Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time.” (Genesis 6:9)

Now, we know Noah wasn’t perfect, at least not of his own accord (Genesis 9:20-22). So what made him righteous… blameless?

If you read all of Genesis 6, you get a solid picture of why Noah found favor and why God considered Him righteous. Three reasons stand out that help me understand how to practice my own righteousness.

1. Noah refused to live according to the culture around him.

Noah was willing to stand out and did not succumb to the evil in the world around him. He alone kept God’s standards.

“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart… But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (Genesis 6:5-8)

2. Noah had a relationship with God; he spent time with Him.

“Noah walked with God.” (Genesis 6:9)

Like his grandfather Enoch (Genesis 5:21-24), Noah spent time with God. Unlike his grandfather who eventually simply “was not, for God took him,” Noah had more that God wanted him to accomplish on earth.

3. Noah did what God asked him to do, even when doing so went against human logic.

Though it had never rained, God told Noah to build a boat and put animals in it. Noah’s response?

“Noah did according to all that God had commanded him.” (Genesis 6:22)

Noah’s faith in God is obvious by his obedience.

This post is not a comprehensive study of Noah or of righteousness. The point of this post is to instead help each one of us take steps toward increased understanding of what righteousness looks like in a believer’s life.

Practicing Righteousness

To continue on that journey, spend time with God in His Word. Ask Him to help you walk in righteousness. Study the lives of the many other individuals in the Bible described as righteous, and consider doing a word study on righteousness itself.

The following truths will help you get started. Be sure to read through their accompanying Bible references.

  1. God is completely righteous. (Isaiah 45:21-24)
  2. We can’t be righteous on our own. (Isaiah 64:6)
  3. Human nature is the opposite of righteousness. (Romans 3:10-18)
  4. Righteousness is not attained by works. (Romans 4:18-25)
  5. Law following does not make us righteous. (Galatians 3:11-21)
  6. Righteousness protects the core of a person. (Ephesians 6:14)
  7. Righteousness comes through faith. (Philippians 3:9)
  8. Grow in righteousness by studying God’s words. (2 Timothy 3:16)
  9. Righteousness ought to characterize a believer’s life. (1 Peter 2:24)

Think about how these truths played out in Noah’s life and in the lives of others considered righteous. Realize that while we are declared righteousness, living it is not a one and done attainment but a continual way of living that flows out of a relationship with God as faith in Him grows.

In studying righteousness, or God’s faithfulness or any other topic in the Bible, always remember that we are on the road to perfection, to holiness. We journey that road through small steps that add up over time to make a huge difference. Keep taking those steps and following the path God has set before you.