Tag Archive for Bible gateway

Do Unto Others: Part 5–Faithful

Hold on to loyal love and don’t let go, and be faithful to all that you’ve been taught.  Let your life be shaped by integrity, with truth written upon your heart.  That’s how you will find favor and understanding with both God and men—you will gain the reputation of living life well.  Proverbs 3:3-4 (TPT)

In Part 3, we learned that one way to win the respect of others is to mind our own business and show appreciation.  Here’s another one—being faithful.

 

Probably the most common way we use the word “faithful” today is in the context of a relationship.  When we are “faithful” to a significant other, it is a sign of focus and commitment.

 

The original Hebrew word emeth, rendered “faithful” in the verse above has much more depth.  It means sturdy, stable and trustworthy.  Something you can depend on without thinking twice.  In the King James Version, emeth is most frequently translated as “truth,” so you can see why it’s a favorite word of mine!

 

The word signifies things that are firmly established as being right.  To apply this word to a person would be to describe them as reliable, sincere, and one who clings to the Truth.  And as we proclaim God as the source and embodiment of all Truth, it stands to reason then that a faithful person is reflecting the image of a faithful God.

 

We like it when we can rely on people, don’t we?  It sure takes a lot of stress out of life when you know you can count on someone.

 

Sometimes, though, it seems that we may not put as much energy as we should into being that kind of person.  If faithfulness is a sure way to win respect, then a sure way to lose it is hypocrisy.

 

A hypocrite is, at the heart, a pretender.  A hypocrite shows you one face while being someone else underneath.  If a person makes a habit of being this way, it won’t take long for the word to get out.  A hypocrite is untrustworthy, because you never know what to expect from such a person.  One thing you won’t expect is truth and faithfulness.

 

There is no room for hypocrisy in the Church.  As Paul advised to the Colossians:

 

Don’t lie to each other.  You’ve gotten rid of the person you used to be and the life you used to live, and you’ve become a new person.  This new person is continually renewed in knowledge to be like its Creator.  Colossians 3:9-10 (GW)

 

If you have professed Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, none of the bad stuff you did before that counts against you, but there’s a catch.  You can’t go back and do that stuff anymore.  (Of course, if your conversion is genuine, you won’t want to anyway, so it’s all good.)  But God created you in His image, and if you have accepted His invitation, you have become eternally adopted into His family.  Since God is the source of all love and the essence of all Truth, that means you have His faithfulness in your DNA.

 

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from.  God created you to do the work He had planned for you, but He also gives you the strength and endurance to perform this work faithfully.  When you follow through with that, it pleases God to see His plan working itself out in your life.

 

And as an extra added bonus, other people will notice not only the work you’re doing, but also the manner in which you do it.  They will see your sincerity and know that you are someone they can trust.

 

(Some days this is easier than others, however.  Come back for Part 6—Courage.)

 

Do Unto Others: Part 4–Who Do You Think You Are?

 

Who do you think you are?

 

I’m not asking that in the sense that you usually hear it.  Usually this is a rhetorical question reserved for somebody who is getting WAY out of line.

 

But seriously, who DO you think you are?  What kind of adjectives would you use to describe yourself?

 

Unfortunately, the words many people would think of are not flattering.  “Depressed.”  “Worthless.”  “Insignificant.”  “Damaged goods.”  “Failure.”  “Unlovable.”

 

This matters, because how we see ourselves is a major factor in determining how we interact with others.  People who have a low self-image are not likely to engage in a healthy way, if at all, with the world around them.

 

Self-image is a complex thing.  It is the sum total of every attitude we have ever had about ourselves, but also everything we have ever HEARD about ourselves.  Some people are just jerks that like to pick on us and beat down our self-image.  Sometimes, however, we suffer long-term consequences for something we actually did do.

 

If any of this sounds familiar to you, may I offer you some encouragement, courtesy of St. Paul?

 

And his fullness fills you, even though you were once like corpses, dead in your sins and offenses.  It wasn’t that long ago that you lived in the religion, customs, and values of this world, obeying the dark ruler of the earthly realm who fills the atmosphere with his authority, and works diligently in the hearts of those who are disobedient to the truth of God.  The corruption that was in us from birth was expressed through the deeds and desires of our self – life.  We lived by whatever natural cravings and thoughts our minds dictated, living as rebellious children subject to God’s wrath like everyone else.

But God still loved us with such great love.  He is so rich in compassion and mercy.  Even when we were dead and doomed in our many sins, he united us into the very life of Christ and saved us by his wonderful grace!  He raised us up with Christ the exalted One, and we ascended with him into the glorious perfection and authority of the heavenly realm, for we are now co-seated as one with Christ!

Throughout the coming ages we will be the visible display of the infinite, limitless riches of his grace and kindness, which was showered upon us in Jesus Christ.  For it was only through this wonderful grace that we believed in him.  Nothing we did could ever earn this salvation, for it was the gracious gift from God that brought us to Christ!  So no one will ever be able to boast, for salvation is never a reward for good works or human striving.

We have become his poetry, a re-created people that will fulfill the destiny he has given each of us, for we are joined to Jesus, the Anointed One.  Even before we were born, God planned in advance our destiny and the good works we would do to fulfill it!  Ephesians 2:1-10 (TPT)

 

Our worth does not come from what we have done (or failed to do) or from anyone’s opinion of us.  We have value simply because we were created in the image of the One who is the most worthy of all.  We didn’t have to clean ourselves up or check of a list of criteria or accomplishments to be “good enough” to live this life.  Rather, we have this life to live because we are already counted as good enough by the only One who matters!

 

We were made in the image of the all-sufficient God; therefore, what we have in our hands will always be sufficient for the tasks ahead of us.  Because when we were created, so was all of the work that God had planned out for our entire lives.  We are all wired to be proficient at and passionate about certain things.  And although we do have the free will to choose whether or not we want to walk on this path that has been so scrupulously marked out for us, it always seems to go better for us when we do.

 

Will we get off the path from time to time?  Of course we will.  We’re humans; we do that.  Remember, though, that the value of your life is not determined by how many times you screw up.  There are no “D-” children of God.  Life is pass/fail, and the pass is irrevocable, because the One giving the grade rigged the coursework in our favor.  All you have to do is show up for class.

 

Success!

 

I think the reason so many of us (myself included) see ourselves as failures is because our definition of “success” is all whackety.  We live in a world that is constantly judging our performance, so naturally, we do that to ourselves as well.  It seems we’re always trying to measure up to something.

 

Can we please help each other get over this?

 

I’m going to repeat myself here, because I need to hear it again too.  We don’t EVER need to worry about being good enough, because we were designed to be good enough to do the work that we were designed to do.

 

At the end of our lives, there are no bonus points for climbing the corporate ladder.  No other human will be giving testimony at the Judgment Seat of God that will determine whether or not we make the cut.  God is only going to ask us about two things: What we did with Jesus, and what we did with the gifts He gave us.

 

I need to pause here to note that the questions come in that order for a reason.  Because if you haven’t done anything with Jesus, the rest of this doesn’t matter.  You can’t do the work God predestined you to do if you are not even aware of (or are in denial of) the Truth that God actually did do that.  The thing is, we can’t do any of this on our own.  God doesn’t just provide the calling for our lives, but also the strength to live it out.  If we aren’t in a state of total trust and reliance upon that strength, then we are doomed to failure.

 

But wait a minute, aren’t there lots of successful people in this world who don’t believe in God?  Again I ask, how are you defining success?  If you’re talking about worldly things like money and status, then sure, I guess.  But as the King of the Piedmont Blues, Cootie Stark, once sang, “I never saw no U-Haul behind no hearse.”

 

 

 

Sure, we can make money and get the corner office, the big house, and all that.  But are we ever satisfied with our own efforts?  Solomon was one of the richest kings who ever lived, but this is his observation:

 

If you love money, you will never be satisfied; if you long to be rich, you will never get all you want.  It is useless.  Ecclesiastes 5:10 (GNT)

 

It is true that our identity is inextricably bound to our work.  It’s supposed to be that way, but we tend to look at this truth from the wrong angle.  Our work doesn’t determine who we are.  Who we are—who we REALLY are—determines our work.

 

So maybe when we meet people for the first time, instead of asking the typical guy question, “So what do you do?” maybe we should be asking, “Who do you think you are?”  Well, maybe not, but you get the idea, right?

 

So, Truthseeker, who DO you think you are?  Or better still, who do you KNOW you are?  Because that will determine what you do.

 

Do Unto Others: Part 3–Respect

It is God’s will that your good lives should silence those who foolishly condemn the Gospel without knowing what it can do for them, having never experienced its power.  You are free from the law, but that doesn’t mean you are free to do wrong.  Live as those who are free to do only God’s will at all times.  Show respect for everyone.  Love Christians everywhere.  Fear God and honor the government.  1 Peter 2:15-17 (TLB)

 

Many Christians love this passage . . . right up until you get to the last three words.

 

Honor the government?  But what do we do if the government is not honorable?  Do we still have to submit to a president or a congress that does not have our best interests at heart?

 

The answer, though we may admit it reluctantly, is yes.  Let’s break down this passage.

 

Verse 15 says that God wants us to shut up the ignorant folk who think we are deluded or even dangerous.  But He wants us to do this not with our words, but with our lives.

 

Verse 16 says that being free from the penalty of God’s law does not give us license to do whatever we want, but to do God’s will.  And what is that will?

 

To show respect to everyone.

 

The remainder of verse 17 gives examples of this.  Love Christians everywhere.  Fear God.  Honor the government.

 

This isn’t multiple choice.  ALL of these examples fall under the heading of showing respect to everyone.

 

“Everyone” also includes the people in verse 15, whom one might describe as enemies of the faith.  But remember in Part 2 when we talked about loving our enemies?

 

There’s just no getting around this, so what do we do with it?

 

First, as painful as it may be, we simply have to accept the fact that the world is full of stupid people.

 

Second, and equally painful, we must realize that no matter what good people we may think we are, not everyone is going to like us.

 

The third thing we must do, and this is where the freedom enters in, is to stop caring about the first two things.

 

Live quietly & mind your own business so that you may win the respect of others and have need of nothing.  1 Thess 4:11-12

 

We don’t solve the problem of finger-pointing by employing the method of sign-waving.  We don’t stifle the ignorance of idiots by yelling louder.  And we don’t solve problems in our government by advocating revolution or anarchy.

 

A Christian should never be concerned about other people’s issues when our primary function is to meet other people’s needs.  Whoever they are, their chief need is Jesus, whether they realize it or not.

 

 

It all comes down to respect.  Honor.  The Greek word Peter uses in the passage above is “timao.”  It means to add value.  A synonymous word in English would be “to appreciate,” but not in the sense we casually use it today, for example, “I would appreciate it if you would put away your laundry.”

 

No, this is in a much larger sense.  It means to esteem, by giving someone his or her due.  By showing a full understanding of their inherent value, especially how it relates to you.  To consider another more important than yourself.

 

 

This is what respect is.  You may not feel respect for Donald Trump’s character or for that of Barack Obama before him, but you are called to respect the office of the president, because:

Every person must submit to and support the authorities over him.  For there can be no authority in the universe except by God’s appointment, which means that every authority that exists has been instituted by God.  So to resist authority is to resist the divine order of God, which results in severe consequences.  Romans 13:1-2 (TPT)

 

Bottom line: if you call yourself an American, then THE president is YOUR president, the same as if you call yourself a Christian, then God is your God.

 

And your pastor is your pastor.  And your teacher is your teacher.  And your boss is your boss.

 

You may disagree with them.  You may cringe at the sound their voices.  You may even find yourself making voodoo dolls of them in your spare time.

 

But they are all people, the same as you, and made in the image of the same God as you.  And this same God has commanded the same respect for all.

 

Do Unto Others: Part 2–Mercy

If you love only the people who love you, what praise should you get?  Even sinners love the people who love them.  If you do good only to those who do good to you, what praise should you get?  Even sinners do that!  If you lend things to people, always hoping to get something back, what praise should you get?  Even sinners lend to other sinners so that they can get back the same amount!  But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without hoping to get anything back.  Then you will have a great reward, and you will be children of the Most High God, because he is kind even to people who are ungrateful and full of sin.  Show mercy, just as your Father shows mercy.  (Luke 6:32-36 NCV)

 

Many people believe in the Golden Rule—Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Yet, it seems that many folks are waiting to be done unto before they do any doing.

 

In the passage above, Jesus is advocating a totally different strategy—mercy.  Mercy is not concerned with everyone behaving properly or with showing favoritism toward those who do.

 

As Christians, we are called to set ourselves apart by being merciful as our Father is merciful.  So what does that look like?

 

Romans 5:8 says, “…while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  He didn’t wait for us to get in line to meet His standard (which is impossible anyway).  He didn’t ask, or even consider, what we could do for Him.  He went first.

 

This is probably the easiest way to define mercy—mercy goes first.  Mercy looks to the needs of others, and sets about meeting them before considering anything else.

 

This doesn’t come naturally to most of us.  In our culture, we’re used to “getting what we paid for.”  If we are going to exchange our money, time or talent, we generally expect to get something in return.  For this reason, it seems natural for us to think about how we’re going to be paid back before we make an investment.

 

The thing is the people who are the most in need of mercy tend to be the ones who CAN’T pay you back.  But they CAN pay your mercy forward.

 

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you relied on someone else’s mercy, knowing you wouldn’t be able to reciprocate?  You might have felt gratitude at first, but later, the sense of indebtedness might have made you feel guilty.

 

Don’t go there.  There’s a better way.  Instead of focusing on what you can’t do for the person who helped you out, think instead of what you ARE able to do for someone else who is in a more desperate situation than you are.  There’s always someone.

 

Here’s the catch, though.  The person most in need of your mercy might be someone you don’t like.

 

This is where the “love your enemies” bit comes in.  Jesus never asked us to LIKE our enemies.  Remember though that agape love is not a feeling; it is an action.  As such, it is perfectly possible to show mercy toward someone who has been adversarial to us, even if there’s still a part of us that wants to push them down the stairs.

 

But here’s the part we all need to remember.  We were just as adversarial to God when He chased us down.  He continues to bless us, even when we don’t thank Him.  So if we are endeavoring to be “sons of the Most High,” we shouldn’t be standing around waiting for thanks either.  It feels nice to be appreciated, but remember, this is not the goal of mercy.

 

This is mercy–to listen with compassion to the people who annoy you the most in order to learn what their greatest burden is, then to speak only that which will help relieve them of that burden, and if that is not possible, to remain silent and allow God to do His work in them, rather than burden them further with opinions and judgment.

 

And that is what God offers to us all day, every day.  Think about that for a second.  How does it make you feel to know that you don’t ever have to put on a fake face for God to receive His mercy?

 

Now how does it make you feel to know that you have the power to make somebody else feel a little bit of that?  So go do it.  And focus more on the “you’re welcome” than the “thank you.

 

Do Unto Others: Part 1–Justice

 

The Lord always does right and wants justice done.  Everyone who does right will see his face.  (Psalm 11:7 CEV)

 

 

 

Way back in 2012, we defined justice as “getting what you deserve.”

 

However, from the quote above, we can see that the Bible has more than one definition of justice, depending on the translation.  It wouldn’t make sense to interpret that God wants to see everyone get what they deserve, when His Word clearly states that, “He doesn’t want to destroy anyone but wants all people to have an opportunity to turn to him and change the way they think and act (2 Peter 3:9b GW).”

 

Instead, what the verse is saying is that the Lord does right, so that everyone who does what He does, having been created in His own image, will get to be with Him.  With this context, we can see that “justice” is referring to righteous deeds.

 

Now we also have established that salvation is by grace alone, and that through faith.  Our righteous deeds do not save us; rather, they are the evidence of our salvation.  Our making the decision to follow God and join Him in His work is what leads us to a state of righteousness.

 

Taking that into consideration, we can see that there is no separation between “being saved” and acting justly.  Doing justice (acting righteously) is the evidence of our salvation, because we are reflecting the image of the One who created us, the One who always does what is just.

 

Justice and Righteousness

 

 

Abraham is a perfect example of how this plays out.  Back when Abraham was still “Abram,” God made him a promise regarding his abundance of descendants, which Abram believed, even though he had no logical reason to do so.  Genesis 15:6 says, “Abram believed, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

 

This example is frequently cited when people explain salvation by faith, but there is more going on here.  Abram’s act of faith entered him into a covenant with God.  God bound Himself with a promise because Abram fulfilled his part of the covenant, which was to believe and conform to God’s plan.  Therefore, the “righteousness” with which he was “credited” is something like a legal standing.  Abram isn’t just a good guy; he has a distinct position because of his act of faith.

 

In other words, he did the right thing, and it had a good result.  His salvation was through God’s grace, but it was also an act of justice.  Abram got what he deserved, because he did what God expected him to do.

 

The prophet Micah, in chapter 6 of the book bearing his name, asks rhetorically what must be done to get God’s attention and earn His forgiveness.  Then he answers his own question, saying:

 

The Lord has shown you what is good.  He has told you what he requires of you.  You must act with justice.  You must love to show mercy.  And you must be humble as you live in the sight of your God.  Micah 6:8 NIRV

 

The key word in that quote is “act.”  God wants us to do justice, not just think happy thoughts about it.  And how do we do that?

 

The simplest way is to stop thinking of ourselves first.  God wants us to think of Him first, because of who He is.  Next, as written in Philippians 2:4, He wants us to “look out for each other’s interests and not just for your own.”

 

Doing this can be temporarily inconvenient, but it will yield great rewards.

 

(For more on the “show mercy” bit, come back for part 2.)

 

Overcoming the World: Part 9–The Armor of God

 

Therefore, put on the complete armor of God, so that you will be able to [successfully] resist and stand your ground in the evil day [of danger], and having done everything [that the crisis demands], to stand firm [in your place, fully prepared, immovable, victorious].  Ephesians 6:13 (AMP)

 

 

First and foremost, remember that the devil is a created being.  Though he would much like to tell you that he is equal with God, or even superior to Him, he isn’t.  Nevertheless, being spirit, he is more powerful than we are in our flesh by ourselves.  This is why we need to call on the power of the Lord to defend us.

 

In Ephesians 6: 14-17,  Paul uses the imagery of a Roman soldier by telling us to “put on the full armor of God,” meaning that we need to make use of every resource that God makes available to us to win this struggle.  These are the examples that he lists:

 

  1. The Belt of Truth. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know this is my biggie.  The first four tenets of the Truth Mission Statement lay this out.  Acknowledge Truth, recognize it for what it is, give credit to the Source of Truth, and never stop seeking it.
  2. The Breastplate of Righteousness. True righteousness is a right standing with God that is given by His grace, not earned through our efforts.  Knowledge of this righteousness that is imputed to us helps us to do the right thing and to keep our word, among other things.
  3. Feet fitted with the Gospel of Peace. A good pair of running shoes provides you with stability and speed.  So it is with the Gospel.  It is the foundation upon which you stand to face the enemy, and the Good News you take out into the world to foil his plans.
  4. Shield of Faith. Faith is more than just belief.  Even Satan believes in God; he has seen Him face to face!  It is only when you firmly rely on God and His strength that you are able to deflect the devil’s attacks.
  5. Helmet of Salvation. It’s your head the devil tries to get into.  Cover it with the knowledge that God has already accepted you and has no intention of giving you back.
  6. Sword of the Spirit. This is referring to scripture itself.  Hebrews 4:12 says: “For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  This is the double-edged sword that Revelation depicts coming from the mouth of Jesus at the Second Coming, when Satan is defeated forever.  Guess what?  You have access to that very same Word.  It is the most powerful offensive weapon you have in fighting against the devil.

 

With all of these items in place, now you’re ready to pray like you mean it.  That is what vanquishes Satan.  A person who prays while knowing the One being prayed to, knowing that He’s listening and most of all, knowing that He will honor that prayer with His protection—such a person is unstoppable in spiritual warfare.

 

So what is it that actually goes on in the spiritual realm when we pray?  Hard to say, as most of us can’t see it.  Some people do have that gift, but I am not one of them.

 

Author Frank Peretti burst onto the Christian Fiction scene in 1986 with his book This Present Darkness, which vividly addressed this very issue.  In the book, angels are constantly engaged in battles with demons over the souls of people.  Prayer is like a caffeine rush to the angels.  When people put on the armor of God and pray, the angels drive back the demons.  But when prayer falters, the demons have the upper hand.

 

Now I don’t know if that’s how it actually goes down (many theologians argue that it isn’t), but it’s a neat picture (and a highly entertaining read as well).

 

The important thing to remember is, like the soldier, we must always be on our guard.  Satan and his minions do not sleep.  Ever.  They’ll keep coming back, no matter how many times you pray them away.  This doesn’t mean your prayers aren’t effective or that God isn’t listening.  This is just what demons do.  It’s their nature.

 

(For some final words of encouragement, come back for the conclusion in Part 10—Be Still and Know.)

 

Overcoming the World: Part 8–The Struggle

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.  Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  (Ephesians 6:10-12 NRSV)

 

 

Back in Part 6, we discussed how fear can gradually wear us down.  By maintaining a continuous level of inner turmoil, we become less effective at pretty much anything useful.  Some of this mental stress comes from what we actually see and hear, but have you noticed that sometimes that thing that bothered you hours or even days or weeks ago still seems to have some hold over you?

 

Now some folks are better at letting things roll off their backs than others, of course.  This is a process I am still learning myself.  But I am not talking about merely having a good attitude here or learning to relax.  I am talking about nagging thoughts and anxieties that linger to the point where a person can be sitting still in a quiet room with no apparent external stimuli and yet be teetering on the edge of a panic attack or a ragestorm.

 

So what’s going on there?  A psychiatrist might look at a person in such a situation, diagnose a disorder of some sort, and throw a pill at it.  I can personally testify that pills do help somewhat, but like any pill, they treat the symptoms rather than solving the problem.  While I do appreciate being able to face my struggles with a rational sense of calm, rather than a perpetual state of frokeoutedness, the struggle remains.

 

So what is the real struggle?

 

It’s not about comfort or safety or a sense of belonging.  It’s not about politics or world affairs or getting the last word in on social media.

 

We all have a common enemy folks.  His name is Satan, which means “adversary.”  He is not some made-up cartoon figure with horns and a pitchfork to scare little children.  He is real; he doesn’t sleep, and his primary goal is your destruction and mine.

 

He begins his attack with fear, attempting to paralyze you into submission.  If he finds that he can not make you afraid of something or someone, then he will use deception, trying to stir up your basest emotions with things that just aren’t true.  If you won’t buy an outright lie, then he will work on you with subtle half-truths.  But if you are a Truthseeker, always on your guard against such nonsense, then he will move on from deception to distraction.  If he can’t win you over, he can at least keep you from doing good.

 

So why is the devil so effective at carrying out his schemes?  Because most of us are unaware that he is even there.  And that’s just how he likes it.

 

Here is the reality of spiritual warfare.  If you are on one train of thought, and something else intrudes on that thought out of the blue, that is not the random firing of a synapse.  That thought that just popped into your head didn’t just pop into your head.  It was PLACED there.  This doesn’t mean you can’t think for yourself.  That’s what you were doing after all before your thought process was interrupted.  But what will you do NEXT with this new thought?  To answer that, you need to know who introduced it.

 

When Christians talk about receiving a message from God, it is almost never an audible voice.  If it is, many times that is a sign of something else going on that is more mental than spiritual (cue the above psychiatrists).  More often, you will hear people use phrases such as “prompted by” or “led by the Spirit.”  Sometimes this is in direct answer to prayer; sometimes it’s seemingly out of nowhere.  However it happens, you can always tell that the message is from God if it is in line with scripture, illuminates the solution to a problem and leads to a good result for all concerned.

 

Here’s where things get sticky.  Sometimes you might have a thought that solves YOUR problem but creates one for someone else.  Sometimes acting on that thought leads to a result that works in YOUR favor, at least for the short term, but has far-reaching consequences that you don’t even notice.  And of course, if you don’t know Scripture, then you have no way of telling if the message you are receiving is in line with God’s will as revealed in His Word.

 

Even worse, if you’re not aware that this spiritual influence is even happening, you probably think that the idea was your own idea in the first place.  After all, no one spoke it to you out loud.  But remember, you didn’t think it up yourself if you were actively thinking of something else when this new thought “occurred to you.”  Satan’s easiest targets are the people who don’t believe in him.  He has the easiest time influencing people who have no idea that they’re being influenced.

 

However, now that you have read this, you are aware and can no longer claim ignorance.

 

(So what do you do now?  Come back for Part 9—The Armor of God)

 

Overcoming the World: Part 3–Living by the Spirit

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  There is no law against these things!  Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

 

I am a very task-oriented person.  I am all about the to-do lists.  I get pleasure when I check something off, and I get stressed when I get to the end of the day, and there’s still 12 more things on my list that I didn’t get to.

 

Because of this, I have a tendency to turn almost every facet of my life into a sort of mental to-do list.  Everything feels like a competition or a performance to me, in which I will emerge as either a winner or a loser.

 

Most of life really isn’t supposed to be that way, though.  I am learning that it’s actually OK to simply live life as it comes and to appreciate moments as they’re happening.  I am learning that it’s more important to start each day with gratitude than to finish it with a gold medal.

 

So what is it about us that we keep wanting to go back to the things that we know didn’t work the first time?  Are we just addicted to futility?  Or is this just part of the natural state of being human?

 

I think that the problem lies in our tendency to define ourselves by what we do or by what we fail to do.  If I win, then I am a winner, but if I lose, then I am a loser.  Nobody wants to be a loser though, so we do everything we can to win at life.  And if we find we can not win, then we start doing things that are truly ridiculous.

 

Some people try to downplay life’s natural consequences by attempting to eliminate the concept of winning and losing, a concept that I call the “participation trophy” mentality.  You’re a winner just for showing up!  And if you didn’t even show up, we’ll try to find an excuse for you, so that you won’t lose.  After all, you deserve to win!

 

Then there are the “glory days” people (I tend to fall into this category).  These are the people who used to be the best at something, but then they either went somewhere else where there were other people that were better, or maybe they just got old and weren’t as good as they used to be.  If a person like this is focused on the winning, and he isn’t winning anymore, bitterness takes over in a hurry.

 

A person in this kind of a rut can’t let go of the past, can’t be happy for anyone else who wins in the present, and is bleak about the future that he sees for himself filled with nothing but losing.  Because if you lose, then you’re a loser.  But you can’t be a loser, because you used to win.  But now other people are winning, and keeping you from the victory that is rightfully yours.  So if you can’t beat them, then you have to tear them down, so that you can be on top again.

 

Both of these misguided worldviews lead to the same error—trying to put everybody else on earth at the same level so that we can feel good about ourselves, either by having no distinction of greatness, or by declaring ourselves great by attrition.  Both of these philosophies fail, because they are both built on the foundation of defining our worth by what we do, rather than who we are.

 

God gave us a better way to live.  In the Bible, Paul calls it “living by the Spirit.”  This is a churchy way of saying “getting out of your own way and letting God do His work through you.”  Living by the Spirit isn’t about checking things off of a religious checklist.  It is more about being aware of God’s influence in our lives, and allowing ourselves to be led away from our own plans and deeper into His.

 

Notice in the verse at the beginning that it is the Holy Spirit that produces the fruit in our lives, not us.  We don’t overcome the world by accomplishing all nine of those things on our own.  Rather, when we yield to God’s leading in our lives, these fruits are the natural result of the change that He works within us.

 

 

(So what does that look like?  Come back for Part 4—Keeping in Step.)

 

 

 

 

 

Us and Them: Part 5–Nineveh

God displays his heart for the people he created very explicitly in the book of Jonah, my personal favorite in the entire Bible.

 

Most people know about Jonah being swallowed by the whale/big fish, but that’s not really the point of the story.

 

Jonah was on that ship in the first place, because he was (futilely) trying to flee from God.  He was fleeing, because God had told him to go and preach in Nineveh, the Assyrian capital.  In that time, the Ninevites were the ultimate “them” to the Israelites.

 

So after his aquatic incident, God gives Jonah a second chance to preach to Nineveh.  He gives the shortest sermon in history, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned (Jonah 3:4 NIV).”

 

But then, a curious thing happens.  The Ninevites listen!  And REPENT!

 

So Jonah goes up to a high place where he will have a most excellent view of God destroying “them” down in Nineveh.  Except it doesn’t happen, because God has heard their prayers and is giving “them” a second chance.  Jonah, being one of “us” (that is, Israel), has issues with this.  But listen to God’s response:

 

“. . .  Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well.  Should I not be concerned about that great city?”  (Jonah 4:11 NIV)

 

Jonah is the only book in the Bible to end with a question.  So what’s the answer?

 

Did you notice the theme in the book of Jonah?  Both Jonah AND the Ninevites get second chances.  God does not show favoritism.  Because he made all of us, to Him, there is only “us.”

 

But here’s the catch.  We have to affirm that Truth.  God is willing to include anyone as “us,” but WE have to accept the invitation.

 

We become part of “us” by laying down our pride, which is the mother of all sin, and the creator of “them.”  We become part of “us” by trusting God with our hearts, our fears, our anxieties, even our bodies.  By submitting our will to His, he responds by meeting all of our needs.

 

Now at this point, we still have a multitude of bad habits to break (Lord knows I do), but we have an example to follow in Jesus.  His perfect love drives out fear, the constant presence of His holy spirit keeps us safe from harm (if we let Him), and if we follow Him faithfully, the hope for our future will play out in front of our eyes, day by day.

 

The key word there was “faithfully.”  We do have a part to play in this transaction.  If we allow ourselves to be polluted by the world (James 1:27), and look to the things and people of this world to meet the needs that only God can, then we will become the “them” that we had despised.

 

The Bible calls “them” sinners.  Here’s the clincher—if you look at other people and see a “them,” you are one of “them.”

 

However, if you look at other people, no matter how different they are from you, and still see an “us,” or at least a potential “us,” then that is a sign that the Holy Spirit is within you, transforming you into the likeness of the Jesus, who being one with the Father, created us to be “us.”