God’s Ways Will Work for You

Nelson Mandella once said, “There is no passion to be found in playing small – in settling for a life that is less than what is capable of living.” Every son or daughter of God is very capable of doing great things. Our potential for good is unlimited. God will equip you with the power to impact others and make your life a living testimony of His amazing grace.

How about your spiritual life? Are you settling for mediocrity? Some seem to always struggle to live up to their potential. That sad reality does not have to be your own. God can stretch and grow you into a larger reflection of Himself. If you’ve been playing small,  here are some steps you can take now in order to lead a more vibrant spiritual life:

Understand you are not an exception to the rule. Resist any bad thinking that Satan places in your head. His lies lead to mediocrity…and worse! God’s ways will work for you. This is because he has:

  • Transferred you into His kingdom, Colossians 1.13.
  • Washed away your sin, Colossians 2.11-14a.
  • Made you a new creation, 2 Corinthians 5.17.

These are the facts. Let your trust in Him shape your thinking — not your doubts.

Eliminate distractions. Many Christians find themselves groping with spiritual malaise. Life’s distractions have gotten in the way and they cannot clearly see the goal set before them. What things in your life presently keep you from what is truly important? When you focus on your heavenly citizenship, the hope of what is to come will energize your soul. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself, Philippians 3.20-21. 

Embrace opportunities to be with your spiritual family. We need our church family. True friendships can inspire you to higher service. Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another, Proverbs 27.17.

Never settle for less. Put everything into your spiritual life. Demand a higher standard for yourself. Expect to succeed. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going, Ecclesiastes 9.10.

Will You Pay the Price?

Developing a spiritual life plan is important. With a plan, you have the ability to realize a greater amount of your potential, measure your success, and encourage others.

Achieving anything requires a certain level of sacrifice. 

Are you willing to invest what is necessary in order to accomplish your spiritual goals? 

When it comes to spiritual growth and development, the New Testament is full of admonitions for spiritual discipline. One example is found in 1 Timothy 4.13-16. Paul urged Timothy to devote himself to Christianity. The action words in these verses are the keys to self discipline and the achievement of all our spiritual goals: “Devote yourself,” “Do not neglect,” “Practice these things,” “Immerse yourself in them,” “Watch yourself,” and “Persist in this.” 

These principles are applicable in any endeavor we choose for self-improvement in life. 

As you know, whatever worldly things we give up to get where we need to be with God is more than worth it. Paul said: Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe, 1 Timothy 4.7b-10.

Remember, God works as we work, Philippians 2.12-13. Are you a willing participant in the process?

God is Working in Us

A fellow preacher and friend has said, we don’t come here because we are perfect people. We come here because we aren’t and God is working in us. If you are in Christ, God is at work helping you overcome sin and imperfection. Right now, He is actively working in your life to make you perfect. Paul said that God predetermined that those who love Him will be conformed to the image of Christ, Romans 8.28-30. If you love God, He has already decreed that you will be transformed to reflect Jesus. He is in the process of doing that right now. Each of us are at some point in that process. Some are farther along than others, but we’re each on the journey to becoming who God wants us to be. This principle is seen throughout the New Testament: Romans 16.25; Ephesians 3.16-17; 1 Thessalonians 5.23; 2 Thessalonians 3.3; 1 Peter 5.10; and Jude 24-25. Please take a few minutes in your personal study time to read all of these passages. Comfort and assurance are found there.

Another great passage that talks about the process we’ve embarked upon is Hebrews 10.12-17. First, Jesus offered a single sacrifice for sin, 10.12. In 10.14a, it is called a single offering. It has powerful effects. By it: he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. Note how we have been “perfected for all time,” but we are still in the process of “being sanctified.” Not only is our sanctification an ongoing process, it is something being done to us. We become willing participants with God in His plan for our life, which results in God’s promise that I will remember their sins and lawless deeds no more, 10.17. Praise God! As you participate with God in the process, you have room to fail, pick yourself up, and try again. He helps you every step of the way!

This brings us to a passage that we’ll examine in today’s sermon: Philippians 2.12-13. We’re probably most familiar with verse 12: work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. Paul did not think God’s work on his behalf meant he could sit back, relax, and do nothing on his way to heaven. The thought of God moving in Him moved him to action. For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Our job is progress. God’s job is perfection.

Many times we focus on perfection and actually let that expectation derail our spiritual goals. We get out in the middle of the water and the challenge looks larger than we considered when we began. There’s no way I’ll ever get there. Our efforts are imperfect and sometimes ineffective. In our mind we wonder if it’s worth trying. When these thoughts come, we must resist them and keep on persisting. You don’t have to be perfect like God. Just do your job and trust that God is able to and willing to do His. He will help you reach your spiritual goals.

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

How does one go about constructing his or her spiritual goals? It’s an important question as we discuss building a spiritual life plan. Only after we’ve addressed our limiting beliefs and worked to complete our past, will it be appropriate to look toward the future. Setting our spiritual goals is an exercise where we actually commit the thoughts inside our head to paper and devise an action plan on how to achieve the spiritual progress we all want to make. I’m sure you’re like me. When you begin to consider the magnitude of God’s grace and mercy that has been personally demonstrated on your behalf, it moves you not only to thankfulness but to action. Paul describes how God was rich in mercy and moved with great love and has given us the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus, Ephesians 2.4, 7.You’ve been given the freedom to launch forward in faith. Gratitude for outrageous abundance takes away the fear of failure and discontent. It creates a path toward success, joy, and fulfillment.

Since we have no fear of failure (Romans 8.1), we can move from a position of trust. When failure comes we get back up and keep going. We can take risks for God and get outside our comfort zone. This is where the real growth happens. If you are out to accomplish significant things in your life, you are going to be spending a lot of time outside your comfort zone. You can either be comfortable and stagnate or stretch yourself — become uncomfortable — and grow. You may think that comfort leads to happiness. It doesn’t. Happiness comes from growth and feeling like you are making progress (Michael Hyatt). As you set your goals, remember that this is not just about what you accomplish. It’s not just about the destination. It is about who and what you become. Goals are about growing and also about the journey along the way.

What are some areas of your spiritual life where you need to stretch yourself? Is it in the area of self-control? Hospitality? Managing your tongue? Reorienting the way you look at people who hold different perspectives? Getting control of your finances? Conquering your bad habits? Praying every day? The list could go on and on. Your stretch goals will look different from mine and mine from yours, but everyone of us have areas where we need to really push ourselves. 

Here are four recommendations from Michael Hyatt (Your Best Year Ever) on setting your stretch-goals and embracing risk: 1) Be sure to see the value. Getting out of your comfort zone is a good thing. See Ephesians 3.20-21. 2) When you get going on the journey toward your goals, discomfort will come. Embrace it. You have to go through the realm of discomfort to get what you want in life. 3) Push through your fears. The ability to do this is often the only thing that separates those who succeed from those who don’t. And finally, 4) don’t overthink it. When you set a stretch goal, you may not be able to see the entire path to the destination. All you really need is clarity for the next step. When you get that, take it in faith believing you will be given the light you need to take the next one.

No matter where you are on the spiritual path and how long you’ve been on the journey to heaven, it is always good to have a plan for spiritual growth. What is your plan? How will you demonstrate your thankfulness and trust in God?

Surviving Your Past

If you could return to a previous time and get a chance for a “do-over,” what would you change? When asked, most people would like to change their past in some way. Maybe it would involve altering various decisions and choices, that we now know were a mistake. Maybe we would add some opportunities, eliminate tragedies, reduce hardships, or even remove a disease or death. Maybe we would change the way we were raised and the bad habits we’ve picked up along the way. The list of ways people would change the past could go on and on.

None of us can change our past, however. Running or hiding our past is not productive. Denying or fantasizing about it can be harmful. So how do we deal with it?

We need to destroy the burden we carry. You cannot do that by yourself. To experience success in burden-killing, you have to hand them off to the one who created you and sustains you: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light, Matthew 11.28-30. In his first epistle, Peter writes: Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you, 1 Peter 5.6-7. You can’t carry your burdens by yourself and be effective in the kingdom.

We must accept and trust forgiveness. It is impossible to survive your past if you are chained in the slavery of guilt. Your guilt has been designed by God to move you to action, not to drive you to inaction and misery. Have the courage to make things right (Luke 15.11-23) and when forgiveness is received accept it, learn from your actions, and move on. David Chadwell has written, “The fascinating thing about forgiveness is that you will not forgive yourself until you accept and trust God’s forgiveness.” For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more, Hebrews 8.12. This promise is real.

We must be liberated from the person created by the past. The horrible thing about being enslaved to the past is that we often keep living and acting like the person of the past. God has saved you to give you the opportunity to escape the old mentalities and behaviors. By giving you salvation, God’s intent is to change you, which begins with the renewing of your mind, Romans 12.2. This leads to fruit being born out in your actions, Colossians 3.9b-10.

Chadwell writes, “God says, ‘I am the God of your past, the God of your present, and the God of your future. If you allow me to be your God, I can recreate you. I can make you a new person with a new life and a new future.’ God can do it. That is not the issue. The issue is this: do you believe that God can do it?”

The Liberating Truth God Has Created for You

I recently came across a transcript of a sermon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached during September 1956 in Birmingham, AL. King was 27. The Stanford University archive where I found his material says the Birmingham bus boycott had been going on for about 10 months. Pressure was beginning to mount. Critics charged that King was asking for too much and stirring up unnecessary trouble. Blacks believed that white people would never change and that the inherent racism in the state’s laws would perpetually remain in place. It would probably be easier to, …just give up

King appealed on his listeners to draw from their resources of strength and hope. He says, “And we can cry out to the nation, ‘We can do it because we know that as we walk, God walks with us.’” For King, there was no other choice but to reject the critics’ beliefs as untrue. Instead of limiting himself to what the majority believed, he chose to govern his life by the liberating truths that said change was possible, the time was urgent, and his people could experience a better future.

While not yet complete, King’s vision has moved toward reality in our nation. Our country has certainly been blessed because of his resolve and courage. This would have never come about had King limited himself to the idea that things could never change.

What thoughts do you have that are holding you back? What challenges do you face in life that you have or are about to give up on, thinking your situation will never change? How often do you tell yourself that you’re just different — that hardly anything ever works out right for you — while everyone else continually enjoys success? Do you ever think that your circumstances will prevent you from making real, lasting improvement? In many cases, our self-talk simply reinforces outright lies or half-truths about who we are and what we can do.

Who will you listen to: God or your own self-talk?

What you think matters. How you look at the world, others, and yourself is vitally important. For as one thinks within himself, so he is, Proverbs 23.7. Christians enjoy a great blessing in that they have been recreated, 2 Corinthians 5.17. You have a new identity, Romans 8.16. And you are an active participant in the process of allowing God to transform your mind, Romans 12.2, through the word of God, Colossians 3.16. Now, you live with power … the same power that raised Jesus from the dead resides within you and is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that (you) ask or think, Ephesians 3.20. 

This is the liberating truth that God has created for you. Listen to it, repeat it to yourself often, and live by it. When you do, you’ll not only be a blessing to yourself, but others as well. He who believes in Me, from his innermost being will flow rivers of living water, John 7.38.

It’s Not About the Numbers

On Facebook I recently mentioned some things about church growth where I preach. 

It’s such a blessing to walk in every week and greet our guests that come by, spend time visiting and getting to know new people, and teach/encourage our members. 

Our growth isn’t coming because we’re focusing on numbers. 

It’s coming because people sense the atmosphere of warmth, expressed by love, care, and concern inside and OUTSIDE the building. Not just on Sunday … but throughout the week. 

It’s coming because of our emphasis on strong preaching/teaching with purpose, planning, and relevance behind it. Our shepherds, deacons, and preachers are all committed to spiritual growth and development and you can see it all over the place.

It’s coming because of our member’s commitment to service. Whether it be plowing an elderly member’s driveway, sitting with someone in the hospital, or putting things aside to listen when someone needs a bended ear, it happens every single day at Kettering Church.

It’s coming because of our willingness to meet people where they are … and help them address the real issues they face through encouragement and application of biblical principles in a spirit of grace and hope.

When you do these things, you don’t have to focus on numbers. The numbers will take care of themselves.

The Waters Will Not Transgress His Command

God has set the boundary for the sea, Jeremiah 5.22

In Sunday’s sermon, I will point to a very interesting passage that talks about the boundary of the sea being set by God: I placed the sand as the boundary for the sea, a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass; though the waves toss, they cannot prevail; though they roar, they cannot pass over it, Jeremiah 5.22. This is not the only passage that speaks on this matter. 

  • Psalm 104:9: You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth. This references God’s work at creation, Genesis 1.9-10. The same is true for Solomon’s writing in:
  • Proverbs 8.28b-29: He established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
  • Job 38.8-11: Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

These passages represent the Biblical worldview when it comes to the matter of the sea and where it will be. God has fixed its position and we have no power to change it. Period. 

While no Christian would ever condone pollution or abuse of God’s creation, we need to see the godlessness that is rooted in much of modern-day environmentalism. The idea that humans possess the kind of power necessary to destroy the planet is presumptuous and the height of selfish pride and exaltation. We are not the final authority. The earth does not belong to us: The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, Psalm 24.1. We are simply stewards of the planet. We are to work it and keep it, Genesis 2.15, and God brought us into a plentiful land to enjoy its fruits and good things, Jeremiah 2.7. Let’s be good citizens and stewards of God’s bountiful blessings.

But let us also rest in the assurance of God. Our world will never again be destroyed by water: Genesis 9.11, 15. The time and occasion of the earth’s destruction will be made only at God’s command, Matthew 24.36, and not anyone else’s, not even Jesus. When our Lord does return, the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, 2 Peter 3.10. When that day occurs, we’ll meet God and give an account for the deeds done in the body. Are you ready for that day?

Opportunities Like Never Before…

We have almost completed the first week of the new year. Tomorrow begins the first full work-week of 2019, and for many of us, life will return to a sense of normalcy after the long holiday period. Usually the weeks around Christmas and New Years are characterized by reflection, evaluation, and goals for the future. I know this has been on our mind here at Kettering as we began our new curriculum year last month and have focused on self-evaluation, etc. I expect most of us have taken a hard look at where we are spiritually and have resolved to strengthen what is weak and cultivate our strengths as we move into a new year.

Your opportunities for spiritual growth abound … like never before … in ways we couldn’t have imagined even a decade ago.

While the Bible remains the same, its availability to us grows every day. Chances are that you own a smart phone, and if you do it is likely you have the Bible wherever you go. If you have a Bible app installed you are literally seconds away from accessing God’s word. Task and calendar programs can be set up to automatically remind you of reading a passage, taking time out to pray, or intentionally scheduling five minutes of quiet time for reflection and meditation. Some programs will even read your selected text for you, allowing you to take in God’s word in the car, on your bike, or while you’re walking. Putting these things into practice may involve some changes, like getting up thirty minutes earlier each day, or actually putting the reminders in your mobile device. (If you don’t have a Bible app already and use an iOS device, see me for what app I use and recommend.)

In your email inBox this morning, you have already received the Daily Bible Reading Schedule for this week. It contains a short devotional written by Gary Henry that sets the tone and direction for the week. Every Monday through Friday you will receive a short reminder detailing that day’s reading, the key point to consider, discussion questions if you choose to have a devotional with your family, and a short reading from the wisdom literature. (If you’re not into email, a paper copy of the schedule will be printed every week and left inside the front entryway.)

One of the best ways to facilitate your personal spiritual growth is to be in the word … outside of the worship assembly and Bible class. Resolve today to make this a top priority as you focus the new year.

How the Early Church Endured Adversity

There are multiple forces working to suppress and even harass believers who exercise their faith in the public arena. Going forward, we will have to exercise wisdom and discernment in order to interact effectively inside the growing new reality. 

We are not the first generation to experience hostility. How did the early Christians handle adversity? The Letter to Diognetus is dated to ~130 AD. It was written by someone who used the name Mathetes (not a proper name but the Greek word for disciple). Scholars believe it was either a personal letter written to defend the Christian faith or a formal written defense to a judge. Whoever the author was, he identifies himself as a “disciple of the apostles.” In Chapter 5 he describes the behavior of the early Christians living with the unpleasant reality of mistreatment and persecution:

They obey the laws that men make, but their lives are better than the laws. They love all men, but are persecuted by all. They are unknown, and yet they are condemned. They are put to death, yet are more alive than ever. They are paupers, but they make many rich. They lack all things, and yet in all things they abound. They are dishonored, yet glory in their dishonor. They are maligned, and yet are vindicated. They are reviled, and yet they bless. They suffer insult, yet they pay respect. They do good, yet are punished with the wicked. When they are punished, they rejoice, as though they were getting more of life. They are attacked by the Jews as Gentiles and are persecuted by the Greeks, yet those who hate them can give no reason for their hatred.

Walsh, Gerald G. “Letter to Diognetus.” The Apostolic Fathers. Translated by Francis X. Glimm, Joseph M.-F. Marique, and Gerald G. Walsh. Vol. 1. The Fathers of the Church. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1947.

What a great testimony to the faith and steadfastness of the early church! May we resolve to remain true to God and His word no matter how society’s perceptions and actions regarding Christianity change. Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life, Revelation 2.10.