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Bible Scriptures, Christian Lifestyle, Devotionals, Faith

Devotional 12: Have Fear? Seek God.

As I sat down at my computer to craft this week’s blog post, I was torn about what to write about.

  • Do I talk about my recent gardening projects and use it as a metaphor for how God cultivates us to grow in Him?
  • Do I share about a moment that almost cost me my faith?
  • Do I pull back the curtain of my life and share about the events that led me to Christ?
  • Do I illustrate our inclination to manipulate and control our will and way using a funny story about my kids?

Those are certainly topics on my writing to-do list, I thought, but what struck me in that moment is the realization that we are always choosing which face to show each day.

Sometimes it is deeply personal. At others, we hold our heart close.

That’s, of course, with other people.

But are we that way with God? I would argue that we are. At least sometimes.

Yet, no matter what is going on in our lives, our attitudes and actions, whatever is on our hearts, should be readily offered on the alter of the Lord.

Through prayer, we can share our deepest hurts, our ugliest decisions, our self-serving motives, and our most unworthy human deficits.

Why? Because he truly cares for us.

I tell people often: God wants to hear from you.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 (NIV)

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Matthew 10: 29-30 (ESV)

The pervasiveness of FEAR

One raw emotion that recurs throughout the Bible is Fear.

In both the Old and New Testaments, God promises us freedom from fear that arises in our daily lives.

The fear you experience — fear of losing a loved one, fear of losing income/job, fear of declining health, fear of unexpected news, fear of never meeting your potential — plagues even the faithful. And for some of you reading this, it surfaces almost daily. 

Whatever the fear, God promises to free us of it and what a great promise that is!

This freedom comes from trusting in God who protects and helps us.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4 (ESV)

In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you. Isaiah 54:14 (ESV)

The New Testament teaches that perfect loves drives out fear. (1 John 4:18)

Indeed, as Christians, we are no longer slaves of fear, for Christ has given us not a spirit of timidity or to shrink back from the challenges life brings us, but a spirit to fight — a spirt of power, of love and of self-control, according to 2 Timothy 1:7.

An invitation to ‘not be afraid’

The expression “fear not,” which is also translated “do not fear” or “do not be afraid,” is an invitation to confidence and trust that God repeatedly offers His people. It is used at least 15 times in the Bible as an expression of comfort, in fact.

Do not be afraid when a man becomes rich, when the glory of his house increases. Psalm 49:16 (ESV)

And now my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. Ruth 3: 11 (ESV)

It is clear from God’s Word, that he welcomes us to a life that is marked by transparency and raw emotion.

I referenced alters earlier.

Our spiritual ancestors used alters to offer the Lord sacrifices, but it also represents a proper worship of God.

When we offer this proper sacrifice to God — when we’re transformed in our actions and mind, and obedient to Christ — it is pleasing to Him. If our sacrifice is acceptable to God it is known to manifest blessings and covenant renewal in Exodus 20:24.

In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you.

When we doubt and feel the tremors that are brought on by an earthquake of fear, we can also call on the Lord and remember Him, who is readily available and brings us comfort and peace during our times of trouble.

Dear friend, surrender that which is plaguing you today. Take off the mask. Let down your guard. And let the Lord come to you with all his holiness and might.

What is plaguing you in this time of your life? How is it interfering with your proper worship of God?

Reference: Butler, Trent C. (1991) Holman Bible Dictionary, 481-482.

Christian Lifestyle, Inspirational

Devotional 11: Does God expect exact obedience to the Bible?

My husband was almost out the door this morning, and on his way to work, before he turned back and called out to our daughter upstairs.

“Could you feed Mimi (our cat) before you leave for school?” he yelled.

“Sure!” she yelled back.

Apparently, she was unsure of his request; perhaps the shoving of things into her backpack drowned out his exact words.

But just as my husband’s foot crossed the threshold of the front door, she yelled: “WAIT! What did you say daddy?”

In seeking clarification, it was apparent in our daughter’s  voice that she desired to get this right, like an Olympic gymnast who wants — no, needs — to stick her landing.

When acting on a request from daddy, our little 9-year-old understands that precision and accuracy matters.

Old Testament Instructions for Obedience

There’s something about God’s character as demonstrated in the Old Testament that reminded me of what transpired this morning between my husband and daughter.

And I got to wondering: Does God require obedience and precision in following the Bible?

The dictionary defines obedience as “the act or practice of obeying; dutiful or submissive compliance.” And though the word precision doesn’t appear in the Bible, the word “sin” in Greek means “failure, being in error, missing the mark.”

To that end, God has a way of being very exact in his expectations for his people, the Israelites, in the Old Testament.

Just read Leviticus if you want to get a taste of what I’m talking about.

In Leviticus, God gives specific directions for the kind of worship that would be pleasing to him.

The Lord offers instructions for the offerings, instructions for the priests, instructions for the people, and instructions for the altar.

He sets a standard for his people, those who would call on him to be saved, those who are “set apart” and “holy,” and those, in a very real and tangible way, are to be different from everyone else.

And though we no longer live under the old covenant, thanks to Jesus Christ, it got me wondering whether he expects the same level of obedience among today’s , New Testament-focused believers?

Sure, the Lord has provided a way of salvation and sanctification that depends on our trusting in Jesus, and not necessarily in our own feeble efforts to “be good.”

And of course there’s grace.

But if the Bible says go left, then why would we even think about going right?

And if Jesus sets the standard of living for modern-day Christians then why should our lives look much different from his?

The culture and standard of living is different from ancient history, to be sure, but the key tenets of sacrificial living, obedience, and humility that Jesus embodied should underpin our lives, too. Right?

Is it possible to wholly align our lives with the Bible?

To answer this question, the Spirt led me to 1 Timothy 4: 11-16 (NIV), in which the Apostle Paul writes to his protege Timothy:

Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote  yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you though a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.

Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Let’s disregard for the time being that Bible scholars believe Timothy was in his 20s at the time of this writing, and that the term “young” applies to anyone under the age of 40.

During this era in which Apostle Paul pens this letter to Timothy,  occurring some time after Timothy joined Apostle Paul in AD 50, society deemed young people as lacking self-control and less responsible, more violent, sexually promiscuous, reckless, etc. Could the same be said for people today in your part of the world?

The Apostle Paul here was admonishing Timothy to be and do the opposite of what society expected of someone his age.

Not only that, he called him to a higher standard as a follower of Christ, one that resisted the temptations of the world.

He told him to lead and to devote himself to Christ’s teaching.

Resist the temptation to cherry-pick scriptures to apply to your life, and know that this message to Timothy also applies to us today.

Hold Unswervingly to the Apostle’s Teachings

Getting back to my question, is it possible to live by the Bible, unswervingly, in today’s society?

Maybe a better question is: Can believers attempt to live by the Bible, unswervingly?

I say unequivocally yes!!

In Acts 2:42 (NIV), the Apostle Peter indicated that the new believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

That word “devoted.”

It means “to appropriate by or as if by a vow; set apart or dedicate by a solemn or formal act; consecrate.”

What if we were that? DEVOTED. It’s such a great word.

It occurs in the English Standard Bible 66 times!

Look, we’re not going to be perfect. That’s a given.

We are, in fact, a fallible people.

But at the very least, we can try.

Try to be “devoted.”

Try to know the Bible. And to know it in context.

Try to live by God’s decrees.

Try to honor the Lord in everything we say, do and think.

Just try.

And then don’t give up on trying.

Yes, living for God is a heart matter, but it’s also a matter of obedience.

And if we fail to align our “doctrine” with our life, as Paul suggested to Timothy, then we will also fail to save ourselves and those who hear our testimony.

The Bible Can Change Your Life

Look at it this way: The Bible is not just a book; it can change your life.

As John 8:32 says, knowing Jesus’ teaching is knowing the “truth and the truth will set you free.” (Who doesn’t want to be free?)

If you do in fact want to live a “good life,” then the Bible is useful for that, too.

All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy3:16-17 (NIV)

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a person who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the person who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it — he will be blessed in what he does.” James 1: 22-25 (NIV)

As for me, I want the heart of the ancient believers who wrote the following Psalms.

I’m not quite there yet, but I just love how they describe their affinity for God’s word:

I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. Psalm 119:16

…for I delight in your commands, which I love and I meditate on your decrees. Psalm 119:47

Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Psalm 119:97

All his laws are before me; I have not turned away from his decrees. Psalm 18:22

What do you believe? Do you think it’s possible to live by the Bible in today’s world, and to follow it precisely? Do you allow God’s word to be the “authority” of your faith and life, to be the “deciding factor” in everything you say, do and think? Sound off in the comments section below!

Christian Lifestyle, Devotionals, Faith

Devotional 8: Has Your Love Grown Cold?

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold... Matthew 24:12

This was the scripture that led the discussion at a recent midweek service. It was a topic that immediately struck a cord because I had been thinking about disobedience and sin — the things that can separate us from God.

The scriptures and questions that followed probed my heart, and I’m sure others in the room.

They were the kind of questions that I think were meant to make you stop and think about whether you were in right standing with the Lord.

The pastor comfortingly urged us to explore the questions, honestly and with intentionality.

You see, what keeps us in communion with God is our heart. We can be doing and saying all the “right” things, the religious things, but if our heart’s not really focused on the Lord and His will for our lives, then it’s all just facade.

A heart for God follows the pattern of 2 Corinthians 7:10 NIV

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.

Indeed, there is an urgency to get right with God. You’re alarmed by unrighteous behavior. And you’re concerned that a misalignment with God leads to disconnection with Him.

For this reason, I want to share my notes with you from that night, in hopes that you, too, will allow your heart to be pierced.

Thanks for stopping by, dear friend. It’s time to reclaim your First Love.

Let’s explore…

  1. If the Bible did a quick body scan of your thoughts and heart, would it register as ‘devoted’?
  2. When was the last time you had a deep dive in God’s word, the Holy Bible?
  3. When we read the Bible does it ‘read’ you back? The Word of God should be a mirror. James 1 says, “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror.” In other words, are you letting the Bible change you, or are you walking away having no sense of your condition before God? Just like a woman checks her appearance before walking out the door, so should the Bible govern your attitudes and behaviors at all times and help you “course correct” before you get off track.
  4. Are you reading the Bible simply for information — or transformation?
  5. Don’t violate the boundaries that God has set for your protection, or you will succumb to evil desires. You will eventually lose your identity in Christ and start to reflect the world.
  6. Love grows cold when there is an increase in obscenity, debauchery, perversion, laziness, selfishness, pride, and disobedience to God’s Word.
  7. When there is an increase of man there is an decrease of God. In other words, if you’re constantly putting your needs and desires before God’s expect a lesser degree of holy living and God’s blessings to follow.
  8. When your spirituality is compromised, one’s love for God grows cold.
  9. Even as a self-proclaimed Christian/disciple of Christ, you can be physically present in church even though your heart has departed from God a while ago. Is your heart still aligned with pursuing righteousness?
  10. Is Satan ‘doing’ you in? Sin can make you feel weighed down, “spiritually fat,” and out of shape. According to John 10:10, the enemy’s only intent is on stealing, killing and destroying you. However, the good news is that Jesus, our Lord and Savior, is here to give you life in abundance!
  11. Are you obedient?
  12. Do you weigh your life on a righteous scale? Or do you weigh your life on a worldly scale?
  13. Are you spiritually able to keep in step with the Holy Spirit? Or are you falling behind? What’s holding you back?
  14. What are some habits of Godly living? Daily time with God, meditation on the scriptures, exhibiting fruits of the Spirit, sharing your faith, etc.
  15. Is your spiritual life a bestseller?
  16. Do you add light or darkness in your relationships? Is your inner spirit dead or alive?

I certainly hope you have found these questions and insights into God’s word heart-probing and that they help you reach higher spiritual ground!

Any questions or insight on staying close to God despite the increased wickedness in the world? Weigh in in the comments section below. Remember this: There is always hope in Jesus Christ! So please don’t despair. Blessing to you, my friend!

Christian Life, Family, Inspiration

Devotional 6: Lesson Learned on a Family Roadtrip

My family and I were in Georgia for the Fourth of July holiday, visiting my mom, dad, and one of my older brothers. The 13-hour drive to see them is always an opportunity to reflect on life and where I’m going.

Long drives can do that, you know.

As we pass other vehicles on the road, destinations and pit stops, it’s a reminder that we’re all on this journey, a journey that is oftentimes rife with the proverbial bumper-to-bumper traffic, detours, bumps in the road, and near-death collisions. Oh, how unexpected life can be.

Long road trips are also a lot of fun. My two children in the back seat, with their endless appetites, chomp away at snacks that I pack for the family. They sometimes fight over who gets to use the electronic device first. Every once in a while, we’ll all join voices and sing one of our favorite gospel songs by Tasha Cobbs, sounding so woefully off-key.

Yes, family road trips are a reminder that life is not all good, but not all bad either.

My dear husband drives about 90 percent of the way. I take a couple of naps during our journey. Feeling refreshed, I ask if he needs a break, and more than often he says no. I offer again as we near Atlanta, which is usually when his fatigue really starts to set in.

As I get behind the wheel, adjust the mirrors and seat, I can’t help but think about how blessed this life is.

For one, it’s a privilege to visit my mom and dad. Though they are getting up and age, and their bodies show signs of wear-and-tear, they are still on this side of heaven. For that, I am grateful.

Family. It warms my heart to be in their presence.

I get a feeling of wholeness when we make the long trek to Georgia from Washington, DC.

Sure, we could take trips to more exotic locations or locales in the U.S. where the air smells different and new. I’m sure the kids wouldn’t mind an amusement park now and then, instead of the Georgia countryside. But, no, Disneyworld can wait.

Let’s be honest. Life is so fleeting.

James, Jesus’ brother and a leader in the church, said it best:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If this is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

No matter how long we live, this life is a blink of an eye compared to eternity.

I am humbly aware that my shelf-life here on earth is short. In fact, it is not even in my hands. My life, your life, is in God’s hands.

Being aware of my humanity compels me to listen to the Holy Spirit, which guides me and presses upon my heart the righteous thing to do.

It is that soft whisper that compels me to go see my family whenever there’s a chance. In doing so, I submit to the Lord’s will.

And I am all the more better for it. Time with family, in the place we call our roots, refreshes the soul.

As James suggested, tomorrow is not promised. Our earthly lifetime is, indeed, short. Therefore, let’s not put off tomorrow, what we could do today.

Here are some simple ideas from my own life:

  1. Spend quality time with a loved one.
  2. Call a friend/family member and tell them you love them.
  3. Forgive a wrong.
  4. Speak honestly to someone who needs it.
  5. Give a much-needed hug.
  6. Let go of regret.
  7. Kick a bad habit.
  8. Try something new.
  9. Get real with God and turn away from a sin/fear/doubt/insecurity/bitterness, etc.
  10. Serve someone in need.

What are you putting off tomorrow, that you could be doing today?