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.
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.
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.
Be full of joy in the Lord.
Pray about everything.
Fix your thoughts.
Put God’s truth into action.
Follow Godly examples.
Let God’s peace reign.
Learn to be happy regardless of circumstances.
Christ gives the strength you need, sometimes
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.
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.
The world = the world system and philosophy headed by Satan.
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?
“It doesn’t matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” (Confucius)
Running has never been easy for me. Never been fast. Some
good runs here and there, and the occasional “runners high.” Mostly struggle
Years ago, I started telling myself, “slow but don’t stop” when running. I walk more than run most of the time now, but I keep running. Keep putting it into my workouts. I refuse to quit.
This connects with the idea of progress over perfection.
Progress seems so very slow sometimes, yet I refuse to quit. I keep pressing
Telling myself “slow but don’t stop” and “progress over perfection” fit into the idea that small steps add up over time to make a big difference. These are all truths I need to remember, especially when life gets frustrating, and I feel like I’m stuck in a rut.
I also need to remember that progress is happening even if I
don’t see it or feel it. If I just refuse to quit, I am going to make progress.
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-21)
“Now the LORD is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the LORD is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the LORD’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the LORD, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)
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.
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.
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.
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.
My youngest son graduates from high school this week.
Honestly, there were times I wasn’t sure he’d make it. But, he struggled and
pushed and refused to give up. He stayed resilient and tough in tremendous
He made it. He’s ready to try the world out on his own. Yet,
he also knows he’s never really alone, never really on his own.
My son will always have these reminders tattooed on his skin. They’re more than that, though. They’re his testimony too.
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)
One of my current goals is to become more literate with technology. I’m actually pretty literate already for a middle-aged, almost empty-nester (at least that’s what my boys assure me), but I recognize some gaps that need closed to better prepare me for the next season of life.
One of those gaps involves better use of “the cloud.” Specifically, I want to make sure all my photos and documents are backed up regularly. In investigating my options, I discovered that one of my memberships provided unlimited storage for photos. Turns out, it offered much more than that too, and I wasn’t using hardly any of it.
Up to this point, I used my membership for free shipping and
to watch the occasional movie or television show. I just hadn’t investigated
this service for anything beyond those for some reason. In addition to these
benefits, this membership also offers free music and books as well as magazines,
newspapers, audio books and games.
Sure, I pay for the membership, but the benefits are worth it. This is especially true if I use more of what the service offers and of what I’m already paying for anyway.
I then got to thinking about my other memberships. Was I not
getting the full benefit of those either?
I applied this line of thinking to the membership that I most consistently use, my church membership.
The benefits of being part of a body of believers includes:
Relationships, friendships & accountability
Being part of something transformational
Connection with multiple generations
Encouragement & stability
Supportive and Godly leadership
Being a part of spreading the Gospel
No church is perfect, but being a member of a full-Gospel
church sure has some amazing benefits, ones I have not found anywhere else.
As I thought about my church membership, I tried to assess if I was missing out on any of the available benefits. I am. This happened partly because I hadn’t thought about the benefits in a while and partly because I’d started taking my membership for granted.
Like with my cloud membership, I needed to take an active
role in accessing the benefits of my church membership. Not only does my church
provide the backup system I need to stay secure in my faith walk, but it also
provides a place where I can exercise my gifts and even stretch myself. With
this realization, I am determined to be a better church member.
felt worn out both physically and mentally. I’ve also felt like I’m spinning my
wheels spiritually. I believe in progress over perfection, but I’m struggling
with keeping my energy and motivation up. In other words, I’m struggling with
why the theme of cultivating perseverance stuck out to me during a recent read
of Hebrews 12. Specifically, cultivating perseverance by once again resetting
Several verses brought my attention to thinking about my focus. Turns out, my thoughts were scattered and focused on the temporary. These verses together helped reset my focus.
Verses 1 & 2 – “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us; fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Verses 11, 12 & 13 – “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.”
I can’t help but picture a race like the one in the photo when I read these verses. When I get this visual, I am reminded of three important things that make for a successful race. These things apply to perseverance in any area of life, and I made this application to what I had been going through recently.
Distractions are weighing me down.
My goal is Jesus. Nothing else.
Discipline brings strength.
Hebrews 12 ends by focusing us again on the “Why?” for continued perseverance.
Verses 28 & 29 – “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.”
Through Jesus, we receive something that cannot fall apart. By letting go of distractions, focusing on Jesus, and learning from mistakes and failure, we cultivate perseverance that takes us to what we cannot lose. Let that truth encourage you today.