Everyone helps his neighbor and says to his brother, “Be strong!” – Isaiah 41:6
A few weeks ago my pastor was speaking about church, about diversity in the church when he was addressing the issues we face today in the world. Mostly in America because that is where we live but abroad also. It’s painful to think that you must be of a certain demographic to worship somewhere. We were called to love one another. To be there for one another not because it is nice, not because we feel bad but because it is what Christ did. Even in times when He could have justly torn someone down such as Peters’ denial or Judas’ betrayal.
Christ understood hard times like no man has before or will again. Yet He still found strength to comfort others. He looked outside of His own interests and in to what was best for all of us (Philippians 2:1-7). I don’t think any church has reached that. Even my own. We want it, I pray we do. We are people though and that means we often become judgmental or whispering about things. Sometimes that humanity makes us choose not to be there for one another when we should.
Tragedies have a way of uniting people in ways they never considered possible, it’s in those times we realize how true 1 Corinthians 12:26 is because we suffer with others even if the tragedy is afar. Yet we forget to rejoice with those same people. When we get tired or are hidden from public view our real feelings tend to surface. Sometimes they are ugly, I’m guilty of it and I ask God to give me a change of heart to always be encouraging.
That does not mean we cannot reprimand those we love or with. In fact we should (Ephesians 5:11) because we are looking out for them. It’s something that must be done with care. We are stewards of God’s grace and with that comes the responsibility to hold ourselves and others accountable without condemning them and to reprimand them when they stray without ostracizing them.
When we walk a mile in someone else’s shoes we get a better picture of why we should be there for one another. We experience their experience. Putting ourselves in that mindset mentally is great as long as we use it to prepare ourselves to actually serve them if we can. When I get home I want my family because that is what soothes me from work. I have that shoulder to lean on. Sometimes that is all someone needs. If we can love others and learn to see things from their perspective that is when we are being there for one another. You don’t have to go to a foreign country to be a missionary, do it in your own back yard. Make a step towards creating diversity in your life and invite those people to where you worship. That is how we put the diversity back in the church. It’s simple, effective and it glorifies Christ.
Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. – 1 Timothy 4:7
In this, Paul is telling Timothy to not waste time on myths or old wives tales but to use that time to become spiritually fit. How does that happen? With consistent nourishment and time. It is easy for us to get caught up in the trappings of the world. We often worry about things that have little meaning in the plan God has for us. Gossip (Ephesians 4:29) is often the demon we battle that tries, and often succeeds in being a parasite. One that sapps away the nourishment that we should be focusing on to reach a better state of spiritual fitness.
What does Spiritual Fitness Look Like?
It’s undefinable and not something that has a visual cue. I’m certain you’ve heard the story of a new pastor who dressed as a homeless man and sat outside of his church as the congregation went in and then proceeded to go in side where he was looked down upon as if he were less than. When the Elders of the church were confirming the new pastor this homeless man who was asked to sit in the back stood up and walked to the pulpit. The congregation was shamed. While the validity of the story may not be entirely true it does have some important lessons on what spiritual fitness looks like. It is also a message to how we deviate away from Christs’ mission. As disciples our mission is for each one to reach one. Even if we only help lead one soul to God in our life we have accomplished something great! Spiritual fitness has no definable physical trait.
How do Spiritually Fit People Act?
When I think of how I need to act so that my spiritual fitness is showing the first word that comes to mind is service. Service to others by speaking life. Giving hope by helping whenever I can in whatever role that God is putting before me. We shouldn’t try to pick and choose the opportunities that He presents us. Each is a gift and to turn from an opportunity that God has placed before us because it isn’t good enough is like turning away from Him and His plan for us. I no way profess that my place in life is better than anyone else when I talk about my qualities, it is just an expression of thoughts, I love everyone or try to, I’m not perfect. Spiritually fit people are always praying (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18), they are serving others (Galatians 5:13), they have faith through their works and not faith apart from their works. Ultimately they strive to be like Christ.
Spiritual Fitness requires a regiment just as much as physical fitness does if not more so. We can become spiritually unfit in a moment whether it is by action, thought or even inaction. There are two prizes we can gain from being spiritually ready for things that come our way. The first is the life we get to enjoy here on earth. If you walk with God here the things in your life will improve because you will be speaking life, showing love and acting in service to others through God. We can have a multitude of prizes (some tangible but mostly not) lavished upon us through our life by our service to others. Our works are rewarded in heaven but those works must be done in faith and not apart from it. If we make an effort to become and stay spiritually fit our life in the here and now can be so much better.
To be blessed with a child is the most precious gift next to our salvation that God bestows on us in this life. What do you love more than anything? For me it is my kids. I am not taking away from my love for God at all. I believe it is a different kind of love. You can’t fully explain either. They both make your chest swell and your eyes fill with tears. The difference I think is in how these differing loves affect us.
A Child’s Love
A child’s love can provide soothing peace after a long day of work. It’s one of the first things I look for when I come home. I set my backpack down and if they don’t know I am home I shout, “Where’s my kids?!” and then the pounding of feet and I am tackled. Even if I were sore I would happily bear that pain as they crash into me because there is no place I’d rather be. Until later in the day they don’t like what I have to say and throw a huge tantrum! That’s where things diverge, our children and even we forget our love when other emotions take over. It’s nothing to be ashamed of or to defend yourself against. My boy tells me he doesn’t love me when he is not happy with my choices for him. As a father you know that is just not true and even though it stings you smile and tell them you love them anyway.
Is perfect. It doesn’t change even if we curse the things He has chosen for us. Even when we decide not to live for Him and then come crawling back. It is the same consistent love over and over. That is why He is the perfect Father. He will run to meet us if we truly want Him there. That is why the parable of the Prodigal Son is so powerful. Man was God’s child before the Fall and afterward the only way we can be adopted back in is through the heartfelt desire of His grace and love. He thought nothing of his son’s desire to run off and sow his wild oats and he thought nothing of his son’s return except that he was home and he could love on him once more.
God let’s us have those glimpses of His love you know. Like when you hold this angry red child fresh from the womb and you want to bawl more than they are. When you are at the bottom of the depths of your despair and there is no way out, that whisper in your heart, that urge in your mind to become better, to become one with Him. When you’re at church and the music wraps itself around you and you can’t help but raise your arms up. That’s just a tickle of His love. It’s effervescent and the only way to capture it is to be like David and go after God’s own heart. To seize the chance to say, “Here I am Father! Love me! Allow me to love you!” When you get to that place, you’ll experience love in a way you could never imagine.
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. – 1 John 3:1
There are only a handful of names I really enjoy being called in life. Son, Brother, Dad or Daddy, Scotty (I get this more than Daddy and that is okay), Fiancé and most importantly, child of God. While I may not physically hear this from the lips of God I can hear it in my heart. God is such a good Father, in ways I will never be able to be. He takes care of things I can never imagine handling. All the children that need his attention and battling with the enemy to me seems insurmountable. He is our Heavenly Father who dwells in all places in all times so that His children’s spirit is watched over.
I want to share a story with you about a time when I was a child and I had inadvertently terrified my parents. After school in the city was an interesting time. You had to do your homework and then you could go play. I was originally just going to play on the sidewalk in front of my house and that is what I told my mom. After being out there a few minutes I realized that the small church right up the road was having after school Bible study and I so wanted to go! In my excitement I completely forgot to tell my mom that was what I wanted to do and I just went. After the program was over for the day I left the church feeling happy and I had some craft with me. As I was walking up the concrete walkway to leave the church grounds I heard, “There he is!” and looked up to see my Uncle Timmy stalking towards me. I was terrified, I didn’t understand what I had done wrong as he hoisted me up and carried me down the street to home. There I was summarily passed to my father who was intent to take me upstairs and show my hind end a thing or two with his (even in my eyes today) giant meaty man-bear-paw. Mom stopped him and reminded him that I did not even know what I had done. I was sat down and explained that I had not told mom where I was, the police were called and it was a big mess. I don’t like disappointing my family, especially my parents and I had. I was crestfallen and even though I knew I had done wrong I was punished as well. Even though some parents would have given me a pass because of the relief that I was safe and not abducted. God believe in the same thing (Hebrews 12:5-11) though I think that sometimes we misinterpret the intentions of tough love and use it as a means to justify being mean to our children when they are frustrating us. I’m guilty of it, I try to dissuade myself from irritating them back as a form of punishment but frankly, it isn’t is and I beg God’s forgiveness often and pray that I have the strength through Him to be less like that.
I fullt believe the comfort we get from God is not from single method. God is omniscient and He knows that we may not get our comfort in ways that someone right next to us does. Some week prayer to provide comfort and some look to friends or family. God can provide comfort in all ways but I do believer that the heavenly comfort we get from God is not by praying alone. The heavenly comfort that God blesses us with can be sought out in church. Christ was the center of the church and if we go to a place where God’s children gather we can tap in to that source of amazing heavenly love.
God does not seek to give us punishment but He does expect His children to follow His words. We should not hide our faults from God like Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) did, you cannot hide from God. It’s that weird power our parents posses, when they know you’re doing something you shouldn’t and you think you have gotten away with it and then the hammer comes down. Parenting is no walk in the park, you have to balance love, discipline, praise and many other factors to set boundaries but also encourage your children. God has given us boundaries and he has given us praise and rewarded us greatly through the death of Christ, even if we were unworthy. This heavenly love is incomparable and even though we know we are a child of God, we never really grasp all the complexities that it entails.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. – Isaiah 43:2
With the way we run our lives today it is so easy for us to feel like we are drowning in obligations, duties and societies demands on us. God tell us and Jesus showed us that he will lead us through the waters. He also showed us through Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego that He will walk with us through the fires of our lives and be protected. Our faith can be so tenuous and yet He reaches out time and again whenever we turn on Him or ignore His will for our own. He keeps reaching and even into the fire He will grab us out of damnation and place us on a road to His kingdom but we have to walk it.
Fire Through the Bible
Like water, fire winds through the Bible showing the uses for it in both practical matters and in symbolic fashion. After the Fall, God placed Cherubims at the east of the garden and a flaming sword. Man is the only animal that cooks, we are unique in that fact. The next time we see fire in the Bible it is not for a good reason. Cain and Abel, the first children of Adam and Eve are giving sacrifices to God. Abel’s’ sacrifice of meat burns but Cain’s sacrifice of produce does not and it makes Cain angry. So angry in fact that he kills his brother. We see fire when God protects Israel throughout the nights as they leave Egypt and even at the end of the Bible we see Paul speak of it in Revelations.
God promises that he will lead us through the fires but it doesn’t mean he protects us from difficulties of life. God’s goal is to protect us from the fire of hell. I’m not getting all Southern Baptist guts on the floor you are damned at all but it’s true, God wants us home with Him. He wants to guide our souls from the eternal separation that exists when we are not seeking Him. Even if we are saved when we wander off we are separated and even though we will be welcome into His kingdom our rewards are directly connected to our deeds (Revelation 22:12). It doesn’t matter what those rewards may be, God is giving you something when he does not have to. His presence will be more than enough to satiate our desires. When that day comes in each of our lives the fires we have walked through will be insignificant to being there with the Father.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. – Isaiah 43:2
Water is vital to the Bible. It is vital for us to live. Water provides us with healing of the body. The connection to water is strong in the Bible and there is a lot of symbolism that occurs with it. We are baptized in water to symbolize the resurrection of our life in Christ. We say that our sins are washed in the blood of Jesus and that is what the water represents during the baptism. As we pass through the waters all things are new. Water did more than heal, it also destroyed. In that destruction, each time, God protected His children.
The flood occurs in Genesis 7:1-24 for the uninformed God spoke with Noah and saw him righteous. He saved Noah and his family against the destruction that He had promised. The Earth was flooded as the waters rose and everyone but those on the ark perished. God made a covenant afterward to never curse the ground for the sake of man again and He would never destroy every living thing as He had done. The curse upon the ground that God speaks of comes from the curse He had laid upon the Earth during the fall. This curse made it harder for man to find sustenance whereas in the Garden the fruit grew from it’s perfect ground and all things flourished. God lifted this curse as the flood had abated His anger, even in His disappointment of humanity, God found someone, some people worthy to love enough to save.
The Red Sea
The parting of the Red Sea happens in Exodus 14:1-31 in this God had delivered the Israelite people from Egypt and led them to a place call Pi Hahiroth where they were to encamp. God told Moses he would harden the heart of Pharaoh and that Pharaoh would pursue them. He did so bringing out a massive army. There, in Israel’s doubt of God, Moses lifted his hand and his staff and the Lord parted the sea so that through the night His people could cross to safety. When dawn was nearing and Egypt pursued them across the sea bed God cause their chariots to become stick. He then commanded Moses to lift his hand once more and when Moses did the sea closed around the army of Egypt and the waters swept them all away with no survivors. God was fulfilling his promise in Isaiah long before it was made.
I don’t know about you but I have issues with doubt. I genuinely think we all do because we were given free will. It can express itself in many ways and one of those ways is by listening to the enemy. He will lead us in to troubled waters much like the experience of the disciples on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus wanted to cross the sea and slept along the way. Even though He was with the disciples in the flesh, they doubted and woke Him. This was the first time Jesus calmed the storm for the disciples. It wouldn’t be the last.
We are constantly are struggle with many things in our lives and those trouble waters can be hard to navigate because we try to control them when we really need to stop holding on and just be held by Him. I certainly founder here but even in the storms God has not let me lose focus. I love Him more every single day because I am pursuing Him. I want my race (John 7:38-39) to mean something. With God as the captain you can navigate the toughest rivers and you will never be left to tread water.
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. – Jeremiah 1:5
This verse in Jeremiah shows just how intimate our connection is with God. It is more than just the role of Father that we are connected to Him. He is Creator. The Sculptor of eternity. His hands, his breath have given us form and life. To believe that is to know that God doesn’t make mistakes. For the child born with what we consider disabilities God has given them a purpose and we see that in how those very same children do not let their condition control them but use it to enrich others. To inspire us to be better. To give hope to the world.
One of the most idyllic sculptors of the world was Michelangelo who spoke of something in an artistic manner but it relates directly to God’s influence on us. Michelangelo said, “The sculptor’s hand breaks the spell to free the figure slumbering in the stone.” God is there, chipping away at the marble that binds us. The marble of course is our iniquities and His chisel works on us so that the world can see the creation of His works. Imagine if you will a half finished sculpture of a man, the man is trying to run but the base is incomplete. He has been chiseled out up to mid-thigh, that is our position as we grow in our walk with Him. From before we were born God never finishes working on us. We are always there to be improved, if there was no improvement to be gained then that would mean we had become perfect. Only God is perfect and we strive for being like Jesus but fall more often than we care to admit.
Let me share with you something that totally flipped my head on it’s ear when I learned it. Dan Brown, yes the author of Angels and Demons among other books. Wrote a book called Digital Fortress that deals in cryptography or the art of writing and solving codes. In that book he discusses the root of the word sincere. The word is made up of two root words, the first being sine which is Latin for ‘without’ and cera which is Latin for ‘wax’. To be sin cera in Roman times was to have chiseled a statue that had no wax as artists with poor skill would use wax to fill in small imperfections. So what does all of that mean? Well, God doesn’t make mistakes, all of His work is sin cera. He begins the sculpture of our life in the womb and works tirelessly on us until we draw our last breath. There is no sincerity as great as that.
Devoting your life to the work of God is not a fad, it is not a pick-up game. It is a lifelong pursuit. Men of the Renaissance pursued their works with that kind of ferocity. Men in the world today are challenged to find a lifelong pursuit when one is right in front of them. It is not the easiest pursuit but when you strive for excellence it shouldn’t be easy. Making a sculpture is a long process one that requires intentional strikes so that the work inside is damaged. A wrong strike and the sculpture is ruined. God does not make incorrect strikes. Things may be painful but He knew from before our conception in the womb our destiny. After we are born the work begins not on just us but on those who rear us. He knows how to carve us into something amazing. If we let God do the work on us then we can do the work He has given us to show the world His grace. His work on us is sin cera, we should be showing the world the sincerity of that perfection.
Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands; your walls are ever before Me. – Isaiah 49:15-16
When you have children, biological or adopted they become everything. You shower them with as much wonderful love as you can but also have to deal with the bad side. We never forget our children, it is impossible to. Whether they are throwing tantrums or winning awards we are there until God decides we have to come home. Parenting is one of the most rewarding relationships and also the most trying. In fact, it is the second on the list I feel. The first is your relationship with Christ. Through His blood we have been cemented in our relationship with God. The palms of His hands are all the evidence we need to see how deep God’s love goes.
The Hard Part of Parenting
Long nights with sick children. A willful teenager doing everything but what you raised them on. The unexpected loss of a child. These are the things that can make a parent irritable, flat out angry and heartbroken. We experience some or all of these as children grow. I am in no way minimizing the struggles of earthly parenting when I say this but God has endured that for millennia. He has created us and we often thumb our nose at God or see Him as dead because we don’t see the movement we want in our lives occur. This leads us to feel like we are better than he when we are really wretched (Revelation 3:17) and the spoiled child. We think that everything we have gained is because of our own works. Our children can feel the same way because they don’t understand the resources we pour into raising them or the sacrifices we make for them. God tells us about the resources and the sacrifices He made for us and we tend to ignore that. He, like us, have it hard at parenting.
The Good Part of Parenting
Limitless love. Bottomless grace. Good News. God gives us all of those things. As parents we get to see the wonders of our children as they grow into adults. From discovering how awesome macaroni and cheese is to the almost divine place pizza holds. We watch countless hours of Paw Patrol or PJ Masks to enjoy time with our kids. When we take an active role in parenting the way God has with us then we really truly reap the rewards of those sleepless nights and the butting of wills. Adoration, hugs, kisses and laughter should fill a home. God’s words inspire these things if we listen.
God’s sacrifices are shown in the palms of Jesus’ hands. His son was killed, frankly outright murdered for spreading the word. His feet, his side and his palms are testimony that even that sacrifice wasn’t too great because He has adopted us into His home if we come to Him seeking the truth. The next time I find myself wondering if God really cares I just need to look at my unmarred palms and realize that Jesus took that burden and allowed my skin to be untouched. He took the sin and allowed my could to be cleansed. Just look at your hands and examine your palms. Something so simple and if we stop to appreciate it, I think it will bring our focus back where it belongs. On God.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” – Genesis 3:1
There was no doubt before the fall of man. He was in God’s image and he was pure. The trust between God and man at that time was unquestionable. Yet God also foresaw what would happen and warned Adam and Eve that obedience to Him was paramount. Yet the serpent was able to cause Eve to second guess God’s command. Man had lost his trust in God because he doubted the power that God wields over him, even when it was God who created him. Every time man has sinned it is because he doubted God.
Doubt is a feeling of uncertainty or a lack of conviction. Both have separate consequences. When I am uncertain of things it is often a lack of confidence in myself. This I think opens us up to not only failure but sin. We are uncertain of ourselves and if our conviction is lacking then we doubt God. Doubting God alone is a sin, He is Creator and worthy of all of our reverence. Luke 24:38 asks us, why are we troubled, and why do doubts arise in our hearts? I think that it is two-fold, Satan is whispering to us but also our desire to self-fulfill our destiny and not place it in His hands.
To overcome doubt I think that we need to understand that it is not a lack of belief in Jesus but more a state of limbo. Having doubts does not mean you have turned your back on Christianity which it may feel like. How we overcome this is by addressing it directly. If you find yourself wavering in some manner, that is doubt creeping in. Don’t take the “I guess it’s okay to doubt” or “I’ll work it out later” road. Make strategic war with it. Eradicate it by praying and do as Jesus did. Tell Satan take a hike and don’t come back no more.
Granted saying how to overcome doubt is easier said than done but Jesus told us that if we do not doubt in our hearts and believe in what we say (such as telling Satan to be gone) then it will come to pass. Jesus used the word of God as a weapon to send Satan away. We can too because in His death we have been empowered against the enemy. Do not let that leave your mind. Satan fears you and that is why he tries to subvert you. He cannot defeat you but he can make you a bad example. Stop the doubt. Toss Satan out.