Untested Faith is Unreliable Faith

I attended a Sports Medicine conference this past weekend and I was reminded of the time I was doing an internship with an orthopedic surgeon during graduate school.

I had the opportunity to stand alongside this physician in the operating room…scrubs and all…and observe the repair of an Achilles tendon rupture.

For those of you not familiar with the Achilles tendon…it is the thick cord-like tendon that you can feel just behind your ankle…a few inches above your heel.

Pretty thick cord, huh? Well I have seen my share of this thick cord rupturing in both the athletic and non-athletic population…causing the person to no longer be able to walk. And unfortunately, surgery is inevitable.

When an Achilles tendon ruptures it actually looks quite frayed…just like the ends of a mop. Sorry I don’t mean to gross anyone out!

And so this is what I observed during this procedure. In this particular case, the surgeon first tried to repair the torn frayed ends of the tendon and re-attach them by suturing them together.

Once he completed this…he tested his repair. (FYI…the patient was still under anesthesia) He forced the ankle into a dorsi-flexed position which stretches and increases the tension of the Achilles tendon.

The surgeon tested the reliability…the trustworthiness…the strength of his repair.

And guess what? It failed! The repaired tendon did not hold together! It tore apart again!

So plan B was put into action and another tendon from the lower leg called the plantaris was removed and used to interweave throughout the frayed ends to repair the Achilles tendon.

After this 2nd repair attempt… the surgeon again tested the reliability…the trustworthiness…the strength of his repair…and guess what? It worked!

The physician was now confident that this repair would hold strong and allow the patient to eventually return to their sport and normal activity after rehabilitation.

If the physician did not test the integrity of his repair…he would not know whether it was reliable…He would not know whether it could be trusted…He would not know its strength.

Sounds a lot like our faith as Christians… doesn’t it?

Ok yeah…there are some parallels here…

In this analogy…there is a physician. As Christians…we know our God is the Great Physician… (not really my point here)

In this analogy…an Achilles tendon is tested. As Christians…our faith is tested. Hmmm…Did you hear that?

As Christians…our faith is tested…hands down…100%….whether we like it or not!

For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. James 1:3 NLT

Note: This verse says when…not if your faith is tested!

A good reminder! There is no getting around our faith being tested…just like some of us trying to get around taking a test in school while growing up!

Our faith is tested!

Where does your faith stand today? Is your faith tested today? What is testing your faith?

Are you stressed that you can’t pay your bills?

Are you shaken by a bad doctor’s report?

Are you facing challenges in a relationship…such as your marriage or with another loved one?

Are you tired and frustrated with parenting your children?

Are you overwhelmed with worry?

This list can certainly go on…

The question here…however…is not whether or not your faith is tested (because clearly it is!)

But the question you may have is…Why? Why is your faith tested?

The purpose of these troubles is to test your faith as fire tests how genuine gold is. Your faith is more precious than gold, and by passing the test, it gives praise, glory, and honor to God. This will happen when Jesus Christ appears again. 1 Peter 1:7 GWT

Because just as with anything in life…how do you know how reliable something is….how trustworthy something is …how strong something is…if it is not tested? …Just like the surgeon tested his Achilles tendon repair.

Untested faith is unreliable faith!

I am not quite sure who first coined this phrase…but such biblical preachers and teachers as Charles Stanley and Kay Warren have used this term in their teachings.

Perhaps their statements have stemmed from the well-known preacher and powerful author…Charles Spurgeon who said…

Untested faith may be true faith, but it is sure to be small faith…and it is likely to remain little as long as it is without trials.

Spurgeon goes on to say…

Tested faith brings experience. You could not have believed your own weakness if you had not been compelled to pass through the rivers; and you would never have known God’s strength if you had not been supported in the flood. Faith increases in quality, assurance, and intensity the more it is exercised with tribulation. Faith is precious, and its trial [test] is precious too.

What good is untested faith? Untested faith is unreliable faith! You can’t rely on it…you can’t trust it…you can’t depend on it.

How reliable is your faith today?

You won’t know until it is tested.

“Tested” is defined as “subjected to a means by which the presence, quality, or genuineness of anything is determined; subjected to a means of a trial.

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well developed, not deficient in any way. James 1:2-4 MSG

When you are under pressure and your faith is tested…your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors.

Yeah probably not what any of us want to hear…But check out the scripture that comes right after! Our faith tested is a good thing…in order for our faith to grow!

So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well developed, not deficient in any way. James 1:3 MSG

Check out these other bible translations for James 1:3…

Because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. NIV For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. NLT For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. ESV Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. KJB

Perseverance…Endurance…Patience…Steadfastness are all produced when our faith is tested. And as a result…our faith becomes reliable…trustworthy…and strong. Our faith grows!

When you find your faith being tested…turn to the Lord in whom your faith rests.

When you are stressed that you can’t pay your bills? Remember JEHOVAH-JIREH (Genesis 22:13-14)…meaning “The Lord will provide”

When you are shaken by a bad doctor’s report? Remember JEHOVAH-RAPHA (Exodus 15:26)…meaning “The Lord our healer”

When you are you facing challenges in a relationship…such as your marriage or with another loved one? Remember EL-SHADDAI (Genesis 17:1, Psalm 91:1)…meaning “The God of the mountains or God Almighty”

When you are tired and frustrated with parenting your children? Remember EL-ROI (Genesis 16:13)…meaning “The strong one who sees”

When you are overwhelmed with worry? Remember JEHOVAH-SHALOM (Judges 6:24)…meaning “The Lord is peace”

And most importantly remember…

Your faith is more precious than gold, and by passing the test, it gives praise, glory, and honor to God. 1 Peter 1:7

So when your faith is tested through your finances…health…relationships…loss of a loved one…or another life circumstance, is your faith reliable? …Will it hold together? …Or is it unreliable and fall apart like the first Achilles tendon repair the surgeon attempted?

When your faith is tested…will it pass the test? As 1 Peter 1:7 states…Will it pass the test and give praise, glory, and honor to God?

Untested faith is unreliable faith….BUT tested faith is reliable faith! And in the words of Charles Spurgeon…

Tested faith brings experience. Faith increases in quality, assurance, and intensity the more it is exercised with tribulation. Faith is precious, and its trial [test] is precious too.

Reflection Points:

  1. Where does your faith stand today? Is your faith tested today?
  2. What is testing your faith?
  3. What good is an untested faith? How reliable is your faith today?
  4. What is the produced when our faith is tested?
  5. What is the final result of our faith being tested?
  6. What should we do when our faith is tested?

Action Points:

  1. Determine if your faith is currently being tested…or reflect on a time when your faith seemed to be tested.
  2. Understand that the Bible says when our faith is tested…not if. Our faith will be tested!
  3. God allows our faith to be tested and challenged though life circumstances, in order for our faith to show reliability…trustworthiness…and strength.
  4. When our faith is tested, it grows stronger…it produces perseverance…endurance…patience…and steadfastness. The final result is reliable faith.
  5. When our faith is tested, turn to the Lord in whom your faith rests. Pray…spend time with Him to encourage you and help you get through the test. You will make it through!

 

Idol Worship?

What comes to mind when you see or hear the word “idol”?

The popular TV show “American Idol”?

A physical statue that is bowed down to and worshipped?

The popular 80’s icon Billy Idol? …Ok I just aged myself!

A teen heartthrob or Disney character that you were obsessed and infatuated with as a child?

A person of influence in society who you greatly admire and love… ie. a sports figure…an actor…a political or religious figure?

The dictionary defines idol as “a material object, like a carved image, that is worshipped as a god; a false god; a person who is revered, admired, or highly loved; excessive adoration or devotion.”

This is very commonly the way we understand and comprehend the meaning of the word idol in our society.

As Christians… one of the most obvious references to this term idol in the Bible is as the second commandment listed in the Ten Commandments when God instructs…

You shall have no other gods before me. Exodus 20:3NIV

And we can see…as we read further…that our God is a jealous God and He sure isn’t messing around when He commands us not to worship any other god but Him!

3 You must not have any other god but me. 4 You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. 5 You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. Exodus 20:3-5 NLT

Ok a bit harsh? You think?

Funny how in our society this term idol doesn’t seem so bad…I mean what’s wrong with watching and voting for our next American Idol…or having a teenage crush on Kirk Cameron or Ricky Schroder? Ok…did I just age myself AGAIN?!

Well, there may be nothing wrong…but let’s examine further and go deeper into this idea of idolatry.

Many of the Old Testament commands against idolatry refer specifically to physical idols…idols that the pagan nations surrounding the Israelites worshipped.

Because idol worship was such a threat to the Israelites’ purity, God even instructed His people to destroy the pagan nations they conquered and to refrain from intermarrying (Deuteronomy 7:1-5). In addition, they were to destroy the places that these pagan nations built to worship false gods.

Unfortunately, the Israelites did not always follow God’s commands…and as a result…they fell into the trap of worshipping physical idols…even creating one of their own! (Exodus 32).

These man-made physical idols were constructed of wood or stone (Deuteronomy 4:28) and oftentimes were described as not having the ability to see or hear. These gods were impotent.

Some religions still use physical idols or icons…perhaps as an image of a god they believe to be elsewhere.

However, biblically, we know that those other gods do not exist. There is only One God! (1Timothy 2:5).

Even though we don’t necessarily bow down to physical images of false gods…idolatry…aka idol worship… among Christians…is still present today.

How is this so?

Idolatry…or idol worship…is worship of anything other than God. It is anything that takes the place of God in our lives.

What exactly does this mean?

Check out what these pastors have to say about idolatry!

Idolatry is anything which causes us to think less of God. (paraphrased) John MacArthur (pastor/author)

Whatever you love most, serve most, seek out most, give to the most, worship the most, and care about the most is your god. Your “god” can be your career, your bank account, the way you look, a particular position or degree, influence, power, or physical pleasure. It can even be something that is considered intrinsically good, yet you allow it to dominate your life more than God. Your “god” is whatever you allow to control you, to be the ultimate guide to decision making, the place of your supreme loyalty, and the source of your self-worth. James Emory White (pastor/author)

Could it be that desire for a good thing has become a bad thing because that desire has become a ruling thing? Paul Tripp (preacher/ author)

So what exactly can be an idol…or considered idol worship…in our lives?

An idol can be such things as pride…money…popularity…body image…even hobbies.

An idol can be our home…our vehicle…our job…material possessions…a relationship…even our family.

An idol can be a computer…what we look at on our computers…even social media.

An idol can be power…influence…tradition…religion…status…position…control…even success.

An idol can be our own goals…own ideas…own purposes…own accomplishments…even self.

An idol can be alcohol…drugs…sex…or any sin.

An idol can even be all the work you do for the Lord that consumes all your time and energy.

Some of these things may in themselves not be bad. We need money in order to live (Matthew 6:31-33)…caring for our bodies is appropriate (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)…God is a giver of good gifts and so we can take delight in the hobbies He has given us (James 1:17; Psalm 37:4).

However, when we begin to value something above God…when we love something more than we love God…when we expect that thing to fulfill us and provide us with ultimate satisfaction…we have begun making it into an idol.

God alone is sufficient for all our needs! (Philippians 4:19) The other things are gifts…not gods.

Do you have any idols in your life? Think about it…

What do you treasure and value and desire most? …God wants to be our treasure, since He treasures us most. (Matthew 6:21)

What do you seek after or pursue most?  …God wants us to pursue and seek Him first. (Proverbs 21:21, Matthew 6:33)

What takes most of your time & focus & energy? …God wants us to set our heart and mind on Him and His kingdom. (Colossians 3:1-5)

What do you put your trust in?  …God wants us to trust in Him with all our heart. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

What do you think will satisfy and fulfill you? …God wants to give us abundant life & fully fill and satisfy our heart and soul. (Isaiah 55:1-3; Psalm 63:1-5; Psalm 81; John 10:10)

What are some things you are not willing to let go of?  We need to be willing to love and follow Jesus, whatever the cost! (Philippians 3:7-9)

Why do you do the things you do?  …Our motives should be love for God and love for others. (I Chronicles 28:9; Matthew 22:37-40; 2 Corinthians 5:9)

So what if we have a few idols in our lives? Check this out…Idols can and will…

1. Disappoint You   

Idols always promise more than they can deliver.

Those who make idols are disillusioned because the gods they made are false and lifeless. Jeremiah 10:14 GNB

 Anytime you put an expectation in something or someone other than God…you will disappointed.

2. Dominate You 

Idols can dominate you and control you.

Before you knew Christ you were controlled by dead idols, who always led you astray. 1Corinthians 12:2 GN

Keys words…controlled and always led astray.

When we focus and are concerned with people and things so much, it will consume us and we actually become controlled by it. As a result…we are led astray…away from God.

3. Deform You

Idols can deform you…change you. 

Those who make idols become like them and so will those who trust in them. Psalm 115:8 GN

We shape an idol and then it shapes us. We become what we value most.

Self-examine your life today and determine if you have any idols or if there is something that has the potential to become an idol in your life. Pray and repent and ask God to help you bring that person, idea, or thing down as an idol. Pray for the Lord to strengthen you in your faith and trust in Him.

Jesus wants to be your first love…since you are His first love! He wants to be the center of your life and fully satisfy you! …Nothing else! He alone is sufficient to meet all your needs! Every single one of them!

Trust Him today and give Him back His rightful place in your life…First Place!

Reflection Points:

  1. What comes to mind when you see or hear the word “idol”?
  2. What can be an idol…or considered idol worship…in our lives?
  3. What does God say about having idols in our lives?
  4. Do you have any idols in your life?
  5. What negative consequences can result from having idols in your life?         

Action Points:

  1. Even though we may have the perception from the Bible that idols are physical images and statues that pagan nations used to worship…which certainly is true…we do need to go deeper to understand that idolatry…or idol worship…is worship of anything other than God. It is anything that takes the place of God in our lives.
  2. Self-examine your life today and determine if you have any idols or if there is something that has the potential to become an idol in your life.
  3. Ask yourself if it has been placed in higher value than God or even taken the place of God in your life.
  4. Determine if this person or thing has disappointed you…dominated you…or deformed you.
  5. Pray and repent and ask God to help you bring that person, idea, or thing down as an idol and to free you from it controlling you. Pray for the Lord to strengthen you in your faith and trust in Him.
  6. Take steps to make Christ the center of your life. Pray and read God’s word daily to keep your focus and Him in the right place.

A New Year…A New Thing!

The sign said “Under Construction.” I recently passed by an old house…and it was clearly “under construction.”

There were a number of construction trucks and workers surrounding this home. Because my 6 year old son is in love with construction trucks, we stopped and parked alongside the curb and watched for a few moments.

This particular construction site was different than other construction sites we have visited…which usually had a new structure built from ground up on a piece of barren land. This house was evidently being “renovated”…And so in other words, it was being “made new.”

As I watched this house being “made new” …I quickly noticed 2 things that seemed to slow down this “under construction’ process.

First of all…before new walls could be erected, the old walls needed to be torn down. And secondly… as I focused more closely…I also noticed that electricians were hard at work de-tangling and removing old electrical wires before further construction could resume.

Watching this house “under construction”, I began to think about how we as Christians are “under construction’ as well…we are spiritually “under construction”…throughout our entire lives really…aren’t we?

The Bible says that even though we are made “perfect” in Christ…we are not yet “finished.”

Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. Colossians 1:28 KJV

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Philippians 1:6 NLT

FYI…being made “perfect” in Christ means we are made complete…mature. Not the commonly used meaning for “perfect” as pure…flawless. Because really only Christ is and can be “perfect” according to the latter definition. (A difficult concept to accept if you tend to be a perfectionist like me!)

So it’s the beginning of another New Year! …And that means new beginnings…new goals…new outlooks…new hope…new commitments…and how can we forget…new resolutions!

It’s a New Year…and God wants to do a New Thing in our life!

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 42:19 NIV

God wants to do a new thing in our life…but just as this house had a few things that slowed down the “under construction” process…so too it may be as we are spiritually “under construction” as well.

Just like the old walls needed to be torn down in order to build new walls… we too need to tear down…bring down…let go of our past which can enslave us and keep us from moving forward into the new things God has for us.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. Isaiah 42:18 NIV

Just like the old wires needed to be de-tangled and removed…we too need to remove the sin that can entangle us and slow us down from obtaining and accomplishing the new things God has for us.

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…Hebrews 12:1 NIV

Check this out! It certainly isn’t coincidental that the scripture Isaiah 42:18 about forgetting the former things and not dwelling on the past precedes verse 19 when God says that he is doing a new thing!

God wants to do a new thing in our life…but we have a few things to self-examine and do first!

To gain a better perspective of these 2 concepts…check out their definitions.

Enslavement- the state of being strongly influenced and controlled by something; the condition of being under the domination of another person or some habit or influence

Entanglement-the condition of being lured into a compromising act; the state of being ensnared; entrapment

Enslavement and entanglement can slow us down…even hinder us…from seeing God do a new thing in our life.

Have you ever tried to run forward while looking back the entire time? I guarantee that looking back will hinder you from moving forward!

Have you ever tried to run forward while being tangled and twisted up in something? I guarantee that being tangled up in something will slow you down!

Whether we are enslaved to our past….past failures…past mistakes…past hurts…past regrets…old ways…old thoughts…

Whether we are entangled in sin…blatant obvious sins (lying, anger, pride, sexual impurity, etc.)…subtle sins (gossip, unforgiveness, bad attitudes, harsh verbal tone, negative critical thoughts, etc.)…

We have a choice!

A choice to let go…or be enslaved to our past.

A choice to obey…or be entangled by sin.

Are there any areas of enslavement in your life you need to let go of?

Are there any areas of entanglement in your life you need to remove?

Just as the old house is “under construction” and being made new…we are spiritually “under construction” everyday…And by the choices we make …the spiritual construction process can be hindered or can move along more smoothly.

It’s a New Year…and God wants to do a New Thing in your life!

And so whether your New Year’s resolutions include these concepts or not, we have a choice to let go…or not…a choice to obey God…or not. Either way, being spiritually “under construction” cannot be avoided.

We are “under construction” our entire lives as God shapes us…molds us…refines us…and makes us complete. We are “under construction” so that we can look more and more like Christ!

So as we enter the New Year…let’s examine our life as Christians and see what we can do differently or change…let’s purposefully make those changes and remove anything that slows down or hinders our relationship with God…and let’s watch God do a new thing in our life!

I wish you all Happy New Year! I appreciate you all supporting Sweeter Than Honey Blog and look forward to an amazing 2015!

Reflection Points:

  1. Can you see how we are spiritually “under construction” …our entire lives?
  2. Do you understand that even though we are spiritually “under construction” that God wants to do a new thing in our life? Isaiah 42:19
  3. Do you understand what being enslaved to your past and being entangled by sin means? And how these 2 things can slow down and hinder you from obtaining and accomplishing the new things that God wants to do in your life?
  4. Are there any areas of enslavement in your life you need to let go of? Are there any areas of entanglement in your life you need to remove?
  5. What can you do differently or change in your life so that you will not be slowed down or hindered?

Action Points:

  1. We are spiritually “under construction” and will be our entire life because we were created in the image of God and God wants to shape us…mold us…refine us…and makes us complete…so we look more like Him! That’s a good thing!
  2. God wants to do a new thing in your life. Pray and ask God to show you any areas of enslavement or entanglement in your life. Psalm 139:23-24
  3. If you recognize anything you need to let go of in your past…pray and ask God to give you the courage and strength to move forward.
  4. If you recognize any sin that needs to stop and be removed…pray and ask for God’s forgiveness and strength to please Him and be obedient to God’s Word.
  5. Seek out help from other Christian women who can pray with you…support you…and offer encouragement! We weren’t created to live our Christian life alone!

The Only Way Is Through

Recently, we got hit with a big rainstorm here in Arizona. At my workplace, I usually park under a covered parking space…and so after I parked on this particular day…having the covered parking was great as I stayed dry while gathering all my belongings and then headed into my office.

Now while I worked throughout the morning I can hear the down pour of rain on the roof of the building. I had no idea how much it had rained until I headed back to my car at the end of the day. The rain had slowed down… thank goodness…but I noticed that the parking lot had flooded around my car. There was about 8-10 inches of water surrounding my vehicle! Seriously right now?!

I began to contemplate my situation. How could I get into my car…let alone get to it without getting my feet totally drenched?

I realized quickly that I couldn’t get around the flood on either side of the car…I couldn’t get on top of my car and somehow crawl to the door and get in…clearly there was no way under the situation. The only way to my car was through…through the 8-10 inches of water!

So I took off my shoes and rolled my jeans up to my knees (FYI…not an easy task with skinny jeans!) and I walked through the nasty water to the back car door…the back door and not the front door because the water got deeper and nastier the further I went!

And yes! I made it into the back seat and climbed over to the driver’s seat…backed the car out to dryer land…loaded up…and headed home…so looking forward to a shower!

Just as the only way to my car was through the flood…So it is when we face the challenging floods of life…so it is with the downpours of life’s difficult circumstances. As hard as we may try to jump over our situation…duck under our situation…go around our situation…many times the only way is through!

I know what you are probably thinking…You don’t like “through”. Well, I don’t like “through” either! Why?

“Through” can be tough…through can be hard…through can be heartbreaking…through can be challenging…through can be tiresome…through can be draining…through can be flat out lonely.

And that’s why we tend to look at ways to jump…duck…or go around it! But unfortunately, many times the only way is through. We must just go through it.

God is asking us to go through. God has a plan for us through our circumstances.

“Through” is defined as “from one end or side to the other; from beginning to end; over the total distance; all the way; to completion, conclusion, or accomplishment.”

God wants us to push “through”…push from side to the other…push over the total distance…push all the way…push to completion…push from beginning to end…not giving up…pushing to completion!

Furthermore, the Bible says that God is the Alpha and the Omega. God is the beginning and the end! That means He knows the beginning and the end of our circumstance. And not only does He know the beginning and the end…He is with us from beginning to end…and everywhere in between!

“I am the Alpha and the Omega–the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come–the Almighty One.” Revelation 1:8 NLT

And what is so awesome is that God is all about completion and so He is with us in the “through”…to see us through!

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6 ESV

We may not like “through” or always understand “through” but God knows what is on the other side of “through”.

As we get ready to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ this Christmas, we can see clearly what is on the other side of “through”

The road to Jesus’ birth was certainly not easy for both Mary and Joseph. They could have clearly questioned their situation…tried to jump over…duck under…or go around it…but they trusted God and went through a challenging circumstance that lead to the birth of Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-24, Luke 1:26-38; 2:1-20)

Mary was a virgin and engaged to Joseph when an angel appeared to her stating that she was chosen to carry and give birth to a son…God’s son… named Jesus. And because Mary became pregnant and wasn’t married…she could have easily been brought to court…found guilty of breaking the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 22:20-21)…and stoned to death! Talk about having to go through a tough time!

And then there is Joseph! We don’t always give Joseph enough credit!

When Joseph finds out that his fiancé Mary is pregnant, he decides to break off the engagement but was determined to do it in such a way that it would not cause public shame to Mary. After all…even as much respect that Joseph had for Mary…how can anyone accept and wrap their mind around the fact that the child’s father was God!

Then an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream confirming Mary’s story and asking Joseph to still wed Mary. Joseph obeyed God…married Mary…and honored her virginity until the baby was born.

Because Mary and Joseph trusted God…chose to accept God’s plan for their lives…and go through their challenging circumstance…a new life began…Jesus Immanuel was born!

And because Jesus…33 years later…accepted God’s plan of redemption and went through the most painful and tortuous death…many new lives can begin today…we can be reborn…we can have eternal life through Jesus Christ!

Imagine if Mary and Joseph and Jesus all dodged their situations and figured out a way to avoid going through what they had to go through?

God planned for them each to go through what they went through because He knows what’s on the other side of “through”.

God has a plan for whatever you are going through today and will go through. Trust him and instead of trying to jump over it…duck under it…or go around it…accept that more often than not…the only way is through!

Because God has a plan and a purpose in and through every situation you face in life…a plan and a purpose that goes even beyond you.

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus this Christmas, let’s reflect on what God has done “through” His son’s birth and death…and be thankful for an eternal present that has been given to each of us…His presence from now to eternity!

I pray you all have a Christmas full of love…joy…peace…and hope…rejoicing in the birth of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. I wish you all a safe and Merry Christmas!

Reflection Points:

  1. When facing a difficult circumstance in life, do you try to jump over it…duck under it…go around it…do everything you can possibly do to avoid it? Or do you accept that the only way may just be through it?
  2. As much as going through something can be tough… hard… heartbreaking… challenging…tiresome…draining…and lonely…do you still trust God? Or give up?
  3. Do you understand that God has a plan for you in the “through” and He knows what is on the other side of “through”…even if you don’t?
  4. How can you stay focused on God as you push through difficult circumstances in life?

Action Points:

  1. As hard as it is, many times the only way past our difficult circumstance is through it. Instead of questioning God, getting angry at God, and trying to figure out God…we need to understand that God has a plan through our circumstance…that goes way beyond us.
  2. God wants us to push through…with Him! We aren’t alone! He is with us from beginning to end and every step in between our situation.
  3. Trusting and relying on God is key in getting through difficult circumstances in life. We may not always understand why we are going through what we are going through but God does. And He knows what is on the other side of “through”. He has a great plan for you and for me. (Jeremiah 29:11)
  4. You can stay focused on God through your difficult circumstances by praying and spending time reading the Bible. Difficult circumstances in life draw us closer to God…and that’s one reason God allows you to face challenges. He wants you to spend more time with Him…trust Him…and rely on Him more than ever!

A Personal Altar of Thanksgiving

How easy it is to focus on the things we do not have in our lives instead of focusing on the things we do have!

I recently allowed my mind…once again…to wander to the things I don’t have in my life such as…

Not owning a home…Not driving a car with heat…Not having a kitchen with much counter space (especially when I love to cook!)…Not having family living close for help (the good Lord knows I need it with my 2 little precious yet energetic boys!)

Note Key Words: “I allowed” …Yes it is my choice as to what I choose to focus on. And it is your choice as well as to what you choose to focus on in life.

Do you tend to focus on the things you don’t have versus the things you do have in your life?

And so once again I realize that I take so much for granted the things I do have in my life and the importance of being thankful.

And just why is it that we need the Thanksgiving Holiday to remind us each year?

Thankfulness should be an “everyday” thing. Thankfulness should be a “Thankful-Daily” thing.

Why? Because God has given us all that we have and just as He has given, He can also take away! It’s like being reminded of the old saying “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone.”

We should show our thanks and gratitude to God…NOW…because we really don’t know how long we get to keep what we got!

And furthermore…We really need to know what we got!

We need to not only know what we got with our minds but know what we got with our hearts!

Knowing with our hearts results in true satisfaction and contentment. Our hearts determine what we feel…what we think…what we say…and what we do.

 Above all else, guard thy heart; for out of it flows the issues of life. Proverbs 4:23 JB

The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? But I, the LORD, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve. Jeremiah 17:9-10 NLT

But even when many of us know what we got…we still choose to focus on what we don’t got! Don’t we???

And I am not just talking about material things and possessions…although we still should be thankful for the roof over our heads…the car that starts each morning…our jobs…our health…our families…and so much more!

How about being thankful for our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ who died the most horrible and painful death so we can have eternal life? For a God who is so gracious and merciful and doesn’t punish us as our sins deserve? For a God who is patient with us and gives us second chances…third chances…fourth chances…infinity chances…to get it right?

Are you thankful daily for your Savior Jesus Christ and the God who has given you all that you have…and not just all that you have…but made you all that you are?

We need to know what we have and stop focusing on what we don’t have. We should be so thankful…And we should build a personal altar of thanksgiving.

A personal altar of thanksgiving? Yes!

There are instances in the Bible…especially in the Old Testament…where altars were built for a number of reasons…and one reason being…for thanksgiving.

In order to better understand this personal altar of thanksgiving, we need to understand what exactly an altar is and what the altar represents in the Bible.

The Hebrew word translated “altar” is mizbeach which comes from the word zabach meaning “to slaughter” such as an animal. The Greek word translated “altar” is thusiasterion meaning “a place of sacrifice.”

The dictionary defines “altar” as a raised place or structure where sacrifices are offered and religious rites performed; any structure of earth or unwrought stone on which sacrifices were offered.

In the Bible, altars were generally erected in conspicuous places. The first altar we read of in the Bible is erected by Noah (Gen. 8:20). Altars were also erected by Abraham (Gen. 12:7; 13:4; 22:9)…Isaac (Gen. 26:25)…Jacob (33:20; 35:1, 3)…and Moses (Ex. 17:15) and many others.

The Altar is commonly a place where animal sacrifices were made…however the altar represents much more than “animal sacrifices” and has relevance for us today.

The Altar is a place for…

An Encounter with God. (Genesis 12:7)

Personal Sacrifice. (Genesis 22:7-9)

Dedication. (Exodus 30:1-8, Leviticus 6:12-13)

Forgiveness. (Leviticus 1:1-5)

Worship and Thanksgiving. (Genesis 8:20)

Now when I mention that we should be thankful daily and should build a personal altar of thanksgiving…I am not talking about building a physical altar as exemplified in the Bible.

Just as the altars in the Bible are a place of …encountering God…sacrifice…dedication… forgiveness…worship…and thanksgiving…so too is a personal altar.

A personal altar is a place where you meet God daily…a place of encountering God…personal sacrifice…dedication…forgiveness…worship…thanksgiving.

And personal altar of thanksgiving is just that…a daily time to be thankful and focus on God and his blessings in our lives.

God rejoices when we praise Him and thank Him! Even Psalm 22:3 says that God inhabits…dwells…in our praises!

But you are holy, O you that inhabit the praises of Israel. AKJV

And thou art holy, thou that dwellest amid the praises of Israel. DBT

So as we celebrate this Thanksgiving Holiday…let’s make thankfulness a “thankful-daily” thing as we erect a personal altar of thanksgiving. Let’s enter into His gates with thanksgiving…everyday!

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. Psalm 100:4 NIV

When we praise God and thank Him for…all He has given us…all He has done for us…all He has done in us…all He has done through us…and all He will still do…we won’t have the room in our minds and hearts to focus on the things we do not have!

Gratitude has a way of changing our attitude…and our focus!

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

 

 

 

Live to Love

A number of months ago I was sending a text message out to a friend and I ended with “Love you!” I noticed that after I typed in the word “love” …I had actually typed in the word “live”.

Probably not much of a surprise since the letter “o” is sitting right next to the letter “i” in the keypad…and for those of you who may be wondering…it wasn’t an auto-correction. I had to take that off my phone because the auto-correction was auto-annoying! Never getting words right! Some of you may know exactly what I am talking about!

Well, after that moment, I noticed this switch in words happened quite often…actually every single time! …“live” kept appearing instead of ‘love”…so much so that I really sensed the Lord was trying to show me something.

I had to keep changing “Live” to “Love” and then it hit me one day that God created us…we are alive today…we are living today so we can love… Love God and Love others!

The passage in Matthew 22:36-40 makes this very evident. One of the Pharisees tested Jesus with the question in verse 36. The Pharisees, who had classified over 600 laws often tried to distinguish the more important from the less important. So this particular Pharisee characterized as “an expert in the law” asked Jesus to identify the most important law.

36“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Jesus’ response reveals that if we truly love God and others…we will naturally keep the commandments.

As Christians, so many times we worry about all the things we shouldn’t do instead of concentrating on all the things we should do to show our love to God and to others!

Love is more than just a feeling…an emotion…an affection. Many people in society throw this word “love” around so loosely without really understanding and demonstrating it. Unfortunately it’s a big reason why so many marriages end in divorce because couples are willing to say they love each other to on another but don’t back it up with action.

Real love requires action and has a lot to do with sacrifice. It is a selfless act.

God clearly demonstrated the greatest ultimate love…the kind of love that no human can top…through His greatest ultimate sacrifice…sacrificing his one and only son’s life on the cross…for you and for me.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 NIV

John 3:16…one of the most well-known Bible scriptures known by Christians and non-Christians…one of the most publicized scriptures at every televised sporting event…you can’t miss the guy holding up the sign!

Is yet a scripture that unfortunately many have overlooked and haven’t grasped…that the true meaning of love is sacrifice.

If sacrifice is a true measure of real love…how are you measuring up…loving God…loving your spouse…loving your children…loving your family (even your in-laws!)…loving your friends?

Is there action behind your “I love you” words? Is there sacrifice behind your “I love you” words? Or is it merely a feeling? Merely words?

Many of us are familiar with how the Bible characterizes love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-6.

4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Again, to truly express love as mentioned in this scripture…there must be action…the action of sacrifice. This sacrifice involves sacrificing our thoughts (what we really think)…our emotions (what we really feel)…and our will (what we really want to do). It is sacrificing our time, energy, and even money.

The Bible speaks of two types of love…phileo and agape. Both are Greek terms and appear at different points throughout Scripture. The Greek language also has terms for two other types of love…eros and storge…which do not expressly appear in the Bible.

Storge is an affectionate love, the type of love one might have for family or a spouse. It is a naturally occurring, unforced type of love. Some examples of storge love can be found in the stories of Noah, Jacob, and siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

Eros is passionate or sexual love (eros is the source of the English word erotic). While eros is important within a marriage relationship and is created by God (see Song of Solomon), it can also be abused or mistaken for storge love. The Bible is clear that sexual immorality (out-of-control eros) is a sin. (1 Corinthians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 4:3)

Phileo refers to brotherly love and is most often exhibited in a close friendship. Best friends will display this generous and affectionate love for each other as each seeks to make the other happy. The Scriptural account of David and Jonathan is an excellent illustration of phileo love. Agape speaks of the most powerful, noblest type of love…sacrificial love. Agape love is more than a feeling…it is an act of the will. This is the love that God has for His people and that prompted the sacrifice of His only Son, Jesus, for our sins. Jesus was agape love personified.

As Christians, we are to love one another with agape love. Since phileo love involves feelings of warmth and affection toward another person, we do not have phileo love toward our enemies. However, God commands us to have agape love toward everyone.

This includes those whose personalities clash with ours, those who hurt us and treat us badly, and even those who are hostile toward our faith (Luke 6:28, Matthew 5:44).

In time, as we follow God’s example of agape love for our enemies, we may even begin to experience phileo love for some of them as we start to see them through God’s eyes.
And so love…just like other Christ-like character traits…must be developed.

Developing the character trait of love will help us develop the many other character traits that are bound by love.

12Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:12-14 NIV

Paul says that we are to “put on” love…first and foremost…above all other virtues. Love is the binding ingredient for us to develop Christ-like character.

It’s like making a burger…you add ingredients like salt…pepper…garlic…onion…sweet n’ smoky seasoning (my personal favorite)…some bread crumbs…an egg (the binding ingredient)…to the ground beef or turkey.

The egg is what keeps the ground meat and other ingredients all together and allows you to shape it into a burger!

Without the egg…we have no burger. Without love…we have nothing…we gain nothing.

1If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NIV

We need to develop the Christ-like character of love first and foremost. And as the first commandment states…We are to love God first…We must learn to love God first. This how we will understand love and learn to love others…by loving God first!

Realizing that love is an action…love is a sacrifice…we can truly love the God who created us and love others…even our enemies…with the agape love we are to demonstrate!

We live to love!

Reflection Points:

  1. How do you define love? Is love a feeling?
  2. If sacrifice is a true measure of real love…how are you measuring up…loving God…loving your spouse…loving your children…loving your family (even your in-laws!)…loving your friends?
  3. Is there action behind your “I love you” words? Is there sacrifice behind your “I love you” words? Or is it merely a feeling? Merely words?
  4. What types of love are demonstrated in the Bible?
  5. How are you developing the Christ-like character trait love in your life?
  6. Do you find it hard to love your enemies…love those who have hurt you…love those who come against your faith in God? Do you demonstrate agape love

Action Points:

  1. Love is an action. Love is a sacrifice.
  2. As Christians, we need to develop the Christ-like character of agape love. This type of love is the noblest type of love. This is the way God loves His people.
  3. Developing this type of love, requires getting to know the One who created love and is our greatest example of love…God. Reading God’s word…studying God’s word…meditating on God’s word is the key to understanding what love is all about.
  4. Discipline yourself to spend time with God on a daily basis…reading His word and praying.
  5. Begin to see ways you can demonstrate sacrificial love to your spouse, children, family and friends.

Refining Moments

As I was rushing to get ready for church recently, I began quickly grabbing my jewelry to add the final touches to accessorize my outfit. My eye caught…just a little longer than usual…the silver ring I had just slipped onto my finger.

This particular ring isn’t just an accessory to me. It has great sentimental value as it belonged to my mother who passed away 5 years ago.

And just maybe the actual day of her death just a few days prior had prompted my sudden emotions at this moment as I reflected a bit longer on the silver ring. I had acquired most of mother’s silver and gold jewelry after her passing and cherish it very close to heart.

Silver and gold…precious pieces of metal that continue to gain value in our world today. And with our modern technology who would ever stop to think about the time and effort it took years ago to refine these metals.

We live in such a modern culture where machines and computers have taken over that we don’t tend to hear much about silversmiths and goldsmiths these days. But the process of refining silver and gold is quite interesting and truly an art…and actually has some life application for us as well!

The silversmith and the goldsmith start their work with impure silver and gold ore. Through the refining process they extract and mold the pure gold and silver by removing all of the impurities in the ore. These impurities are referred to as the dross.

This process involves fire and the close attention of the smith. The smith puts the ore in the fire to burn out some of the impurities…then takes it out and shapes it…and then he puts it back in the fire. All the while he keeps a close eye on his precious metal.

The goal of the silversmith or goldsmith is to fashion and mold the precious metal until it is pure and shines bright. He heats and works with his metal until he can see his image reflected in it.

The word refine is defined as “to become pure; to become more fine, elegant, or polished.”

It is through this refining process that we can enjoy these pure…fine…elegant…and polished pieces of silver and gold jewelry that may have sentimental value to us and as women so love to accessorize with!

How about in your life? Have you ever gone through the fire? Maybe you are in the fire right now…

As Christians, we will certainly have moments where the heat is turned up in our lives….where the fire may seem so hot…where the challenges may seem to consume us…where the struggles seem unbearable. Because…after all…the Bible never said “if” we face trials but “when” right? (James 1:2)

We will have moments in the fire…and it is in the fire that we will be tested…Because whether we like it or not…whether we feel ready or not…life is full of tests.

Tests that will test our character…test our patience…test our loyalty…test our faith…test our obedience…test our faithfulness…test our commitment…test our love…test just about anything!

Just as the silversmith and goldsmith use fire to mold and shape their precious metals… It is in the tests…it is in the fire… that we too are molded…we too are shaped…we too are fashioned into the image of Christ.

It is in the fire we are tested…It is in the fire that we are refined. And God says…

I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. Zechariah 13:9 NIV

The Bible actually characterizes God as our Refiner…

For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, Malachi 3:3 NIV

For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the LORD. Malachi 3:3 NLT

There are some very interesting and encouraging points to note about this verse from these 2 bible translations.

First of all, He [God] will sit like a refiner…This is so significant because just as a smith will sit to refine his metal, God will sit with us to refine us as we go in…and yes through the fire! (through has much better ring to it than in…doesn’t it?!)

This clearly demonstrates that God will never leave our side! He is with us the entire time…no matter how hot the fire seems!

And to drive this point even further…The smith keeps a close watch…close attention…on the piece of metal in the fire to make sure it isn’t destroyed or consumed by the fire.

Wow!

So not only is God merely with us in the fire…God is also actively keeping a close watch…close attention…on us to make sure the heat isn’t too hot to destroy or consume us!

He cares so much for us that even though He may turn up the heat…He will pull us out before we are overcome by the flames. He is only interested in turning up the heat hot enough to melt away the impurities…to melt away the dross…to melt away those areas of our lives that may not be pleasing to Him…to refine us!

Can you see any specific areas God is trying to melt away and refine in your life?

We will have these refining moments in our lives…we will have many refining moments in our lives…Because God is interested in making us look more and more like Him. He is interested ultimately in seeing His image reflected in us…just like the smith knows his metal is refined and finished when he sees his image reflected in it.

There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears. Philippians 1:6 MSG

The following two commentary excerpts continue to paint the picture of God as our refiner even further…

He shall sit as a Refiner. Christ, by his gospel, shall purify and reform his church, and by his Spirit working with it, shall regenerate and cleanse souls. He will take away the dross found in them. He will separate their corruptions, which render their faculties worthless and useless. The believer needs not fear the fiery trial of afflictions and temptations, by which the Saviour refines his gold. He will take care it is not more intense or longer than is needful for his good. Mathew Henry’s Concise

As a refiner sits and observes his metal while it is melting, and waits the proper time to pour it out and separate the dross from it; so Christ is here represented as sitting, while his people are purifying and refining by the various ways and means he makes use of: it denotes the continued care of Christ over them; his eye is upon them, that nothing be lost but their dross and corruption; and his patience in waiting to be gracious to them, and do them good; and his diligent attention to the proper season of doing it; designing by all that he does, not their hurt and damage, but their real good, for he saves them, though it be by fire; and indeed every trial and affliction is for the purifying of their souls, and the brightening of their graces, and increasing their spiritual experience, light, and knowledge. Gill’s Exposition

I love this! Don’t you?

God doesn’t want us to be fearful or afraid in our lives when we go through the fire because…

With Him in control…we will not be consumed or destroyed.

With Him in control…we will not be left alone.

With Him in control…we will become more fine, elegant, and polished.

With Him in control…we will become more like the image of Christ…more like Him!

With Him in control…we will be refined!

So…Be encouraged today!

We will have refining moments…and the fire may seem real hot…but God the Master Refiner is in control…He will never leave you and will keep His eye on you the entire time…and in His time He will pull you out…more refined than you have ever been!

After all, God and His word are far “more precious than silver and gold” …even the silver and gold we so cherish and accessorize with! (Psalm 19:10, Psalm 12:6, Psalm 119:72)

Reflection Points:

  1. Have you ever gone through the fire? Are you are in the fire right now?
  2. Does the fire seem so hot that your challenges and struggles seem unbearable and ready to consume you?
  3. Can you see any specific areas God is trying to melt away and refine in your life?

Action Points:

  1. We all will have moments in the fire. It is important to understand God’s plan and purpose in the fire. That he is the Master Refiner refining you.
  2. If you are going through the fire…pray and ask God what specific areas he may be trying to melt away and refine in your life.
  3. Trust Him that the fire will not consume or destroy you. Trust Him that He is in control. Know that He will never leave you and is keeping close watch over you.
  4. Know that He loves you and cares for you so much!
  5. Rejoice in the refining process…because the result of this process is that you are looking more and more like Him!