Attentive and All-In

Building character is a lifetime endeavor with an endless variety of beautiful attributes to consider.  To start this new year, we will focus on two traits clearly evidenced in Jesus’ life:  attentiveness and an all-in commitment!  The verses we will use as a foundation of these traits are Hebrews 2:1 and Colossians 3:23.

Hebrews 2:1.  We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.

Colossians 3:23.  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,

Hebrews was penned for the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem facing persecution. The book lays out the superiority of Christ that inspires faithfulness even in the midst of suffering.

Colossians was a letter to the Christians in the city of Colosse, where false teachers were planting seeds of doubt about the deity of Christ.  Colossians expounds on the sovereignty of Christ and aids in clear focus.  Both passages, like all Scripture, benefit Christians of every age!  Let’s see how they relate to our lives today.

Being attentive–paying careful attention–to the Truths of Jesus Christ gives us strength to press on.  The Scripture speaks to being attentive to the Gospel Truths that fulfilled and built upon the Jewish teachings the believers knew so well.   The writer was calling readers to recognize that Jesus Christ offered all that they pursued in other ways before.  He is the fulfillment of all we seek as well…religion, education, careers…all pale in light of what Jesus delivers.  Being attentive to all Christ offers is key to finding and staying on course.

Attentiveness is protective as well since other Scriptures remind us that we have an enemy prowling about seeking the chance to devour us!  Learning to be attentive as a

man in blue and white long sleeve sweat shirt riding black hard tail bicycle

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

habit bears dividends in secular as well as spiritual matters.  Often-time we know what is right and take for granted that ‘knowing is enough.’  We know we need to study, to eat well, to exercise…but we don’t attentively tend to those things.

We forget that coasting only happens when one is going down-hill.  Failure to be attentive often takes us far from where we intended.  Being attentive keeps us from drifting away into areas we never planned to go.

What might God be nudging you to be more attentive to?

Being all-in is a rare thing in this age of multi-tasking!  The Book of Revelation quotes the prophet Daniel with words that speak volumes in this day:  “knowledge will increase and many will run to and fro.”  There is more to take in and more to do than any one person

Jesus hands

Freestone Willson Stephen B Whatley

can manage.  Jesus spoke to Martha with words we call need to hear:  “But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” 

There are a number of ways to look at being “all-in” and as always, Jesus is the One to turn to.  Contrary to popular theology, Jesus wasn’t all in to loving on folks and healing all.  He loved and He healed because He was all-in to His father’s plan.  Jesus did everything He did because it was the will of the Father.  We need to be ‘all-in’ in the same way.  “Thy will be done” must be where our buy-in rests!  Another necessary aspect of ‘all-in’ is living fully present.  God defines Himself as the “Great I AM.”  God is present…in the moment, and we need to be as well.  

At this moment in time, are you all-in to the will of God for your life?

 

 

Thankful Unselfishness

We’ve just enjoyed our Thanksgiving holiday…the annual American nod to thankfulness that launches ‘Christmas’ consumerism into overdrive.  Thanks-living is a heart attitude we need to give much more time to!  In fact, it ought to be the perpetual norm for we who claim the name of Christ.  It is the very character of our Savior, who gave everything up to save us–His enemies!

Heartbreakingly, our actions show an attitude that is quite unlike our Savior.  For most of us there’s always something new or more we crave.  All that wanting erodes our thankfulness.  Christ never evidenced that trait. Examining His example helps us aim higher!  Consider what thankful unselfishness looked like in the life of Jesus Christ:

  • The One who always was willingly left heaven—and all its glories to be born in a barn to an unwed teen…
  • The One whose family had to flee for his life…
  • The One who had no place to lay his head…
  • The One who was rejected, spit on, whipped and killed for the sins of others (you and me)…

…that One NEVER evidenced an attitude of craving anything except the will of the Father.  Jesus trusted that God would give Him all that He needed to accomplish exactly what the Father willed…and for that He was thankful and unselfish with all He had.

That pierces me as I think of the many times I fall short of thankfulness–and unselfishness!

The Apostle Paul put it like this:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich 2 Corinthians 8:9

Jesus gave it all so you and I could have great riches.  Too often, we forfeit our riches to chase after things that impoverish us.  Thankfulness for all Jesus has done ushers us into the inheritance that cannot be lost!  Check this out:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  Ephesians 1:3

We are lacking nothing!  Now there’s a thought that sparks a thankful attitude!

Unselfishness is the next attitude goal to set our sights upon.  Everything that Jesus had He put on the altar for you and I…and all who would believe.  Everything we receive is to be held with the same attitude of thankful unselfishness…and offered back to God for His glory and good purposes.

To learn to receive and share freely – as beloved children of God because of Christ – is a necessary step in our transformation toward Christ-likeness.  Developing the character traits of thankfulness and unselfishness prepare us to receive more from our good and generous God.  He loves to give us gifts and He wants us to be like Him.  May we receive His gifts with unselfish thankfulness  and allow that sweet spirit to surround us as we enter into the Advent season and celebrate the Light of the World!

 

Be JOYFUL Always!

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?  Be joyful always.

Maybe your heart is saying, “Really?  Joyful?  My parents fight; someone is always mad at me.  My dad never acts like I matter.  I can’t do the work I’m expected to do.  I never do anything right.”

Or maybe your head voices sound like, “Nothing I do is every enough.  The bills never end.  Something always needs—or at least wants—something more than the money allows.  The house is a disaster.  I don’t remember what joy feels like.”

Yet the words stand.  Be joyful always.  It is part of our Christian identity.   Joy is a character trait that should be found in every Christian!  Like many aspects of faith, joy is the result of deliberate action.

The actions that lead to joy are found in the next two verses.

  • Pray continually.
  • Give thanks.

Pray continually.  Put those mountains that block your joy into the hands of Jesus and walk into the presence of God!  Trust that Jesus will move them aside and clear the way to the life God desires for you.  Joy comes from the presence of God.  When we allow the stuff of life to keep us from the beautiful presence of God, we fall short of His desire—fall short of the joy of the glory of God.

Give thanks.  Thankfulness is as natural as breathing when we rest in the presence of God.  Do you remember when you have been in His presence…really seeing Him and feeling Him as the Word describes Him?  All powerful.  Supreme Authority.  God of Love.  God of Comfort.  Holy.  Just.  Righteous.

Thanks flows from a heart that sees and rests in Him.  And THAT is the essence of the last verse:  the will of God for you in Christ Jesus!  Jesus came that we would have abundant life.  JOY is the flavor of that life.

God’s desire is for you to have joy in Christ Jesus.  If your life does not taste like joy, talk with one who spends time in the presence of the GREAT GOOD GOD of Scripture.

Strong & Flexible

Have you ever been disappointed?  You expected to do something or get something that you never got?  You gave your best but things didn’t turn out as you hoped?

Of course, you have.  Everyone knows the dismay of disappointment.  That’s why this Christian Character Trait matters so much.  It is a trait we need to bear the weights and blows of life:  FLEXIBILITY.

Things often do not go as we expect or hope…but we don’t need to let those things break us or even bend us out of shape.  We need the strength to be flexible and this verse is the key to spiritual flexibility:

Set your mind on things above not on earthly things.  Colossians 3:2

What we choose to think about determines our strength and flexibility!  If our eyes are not focused on eternal truths of God, we will be rigid and unbending.  We’ll be hurt and we’ll hurt others.  We want to have the trait of flexibility so we can stand up in the weighty times of life!

snow landscape trees winter

Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

In our physical bodies, muscle flexibility is a desirable companion to muscle strength.  All muscles work in pairs – biceps & triceps, quadriceps and hamstrings and so on.  When one of the pair is used more than the others two different types of weakness happens.  The unused muscle is flabby weak and fails to stabilize its partner muscle.  Joint damage is a common outcome.  The other weakness will be in the ‘strong’ muscle.  That muscle will be tight and vulnerable to tears and injuries.  A lack of flexibility creates discomfort and damage.  Spiritually the same truth can be seen.

Rigid, unbending faith that puts God in a box is a weak faith.  It is a demanding faith that places great strain on self and others.  Faith is the substance of things NOT seen.  Faith without flexibility is not faith it all—it rests on what has been experienced, what one can do, what is known as ‘fact’ — there is no room for a supernatural God.  God never violates His character as revealed in the Bible but He is bigger than any of us.  The Word reminds us no one knows a matter fully.  There is always more to discover about God; He doesn’t fit in any box we can create!  Growing the muscle of faith requires balance between discipline and discipleship.  We must do all we know to do and seek to know God more!

Do you remember when Jesus confronted the Pharisees?  They were religious people who had gone from believing God to believing that good work was the way to God.  The Pharisees even bullied others to be like them but Jesus said they had missed more important things than what they were doing:  justice, mercy and faithfulness.  The Pharisees were strong in small things but their ‘faith muscle’ was tight and weak.  They were trusting in themselves and not God!

Hebrews reminds us that the only way to please God is FAITH!  Faith is a muscle that becomes weak and tense when it is not used.  We use our faith muscle when we trust God for greater things than we can do in our strength.  Real faith takes us beyond our ‘boxes’ and our comfort zones.  Strong faith in God is the road to an abundant life that changes the world!  Faith makes us flexible enough to take the hits of life and keep running toward the glory of God!

Where is God helping you grow your faith muscle?

Determination & Endurance

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and set down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:2.

Determination and endurance are ingredients of any significant accomplishment.  Every worthwhile endeavor will include the temptation to quit!  Making an effort to do well, to

man in blue and white long sleeve sweat shirt riding black hard tail bicycle

Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com

improve is an uphill climb.  Coasting only works when you are on a decline.  Scripture is full of fellow believers who inspire us to be determined to endure.  If your passion for goals you set is dwindling away, consider some encouragement from the Word.

Remember Joseph: sold off by his brothers, lied about by a sinful woman and forgotten by those he helped.  He lived so consistently for God even a pagan ruler declared, “Who can find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?”  Joseph’s confidence in God’s power and goodness never faltered.  It guided him and he shared it with his brothers (his betrayers) to calm their fears about his taking retribution.  Joseph’s endurance flowed from his determination to honor His good and all-powerful God.

That same determination was expressed by Paul in 2 Corinthians.  Paul said, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  Paul was determined that his focus would remain on the love that led Jesus to the Cross.  That is a determination that will hold us on course!

Remember Esther:  a Jewish orphan girl chosen as a candidate for the role of Queen of the massive Persian empire.  She was one candidate of many–and not being chosen would doom her to an empty life.  She determined to honor those in authority over her and that surrender garnered her favor in the eyes of King Xerxes.  Even then, determination was necessary.  Circumstances forced her to risk it all–including her life–to help God’s chosen people, her people, the Jewish nation.  Her determination earned her (and her family) lasting honor.  Even today, Esther’s determination is celebrated every year with the Feast of Purim.

God does great things with determination that focuses on Him.  Jesus, Himself, had focused determination all his days on this earth.  Luke 9:51 tells us, “As the time approached for him (Jesus) to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.  Determination doesn’t take us on the easiest road.  It takes us toward the purposes and plans of God.

We all have many places to practice determination but our primary determination must be to seek God.  In every activity, in every conversation, we must be determined to seek God.  He will bring good to us and those around us when we do that.  God promises us the strength we need to seek Him.  When we set our will to do that, His goodness and power works on our behalf.

Indeed, we can do all things through Christ…we can mount up on wings of eagles.  Determine to do so!

It’s Always Too Soon to Quit!

Character. It is a critical aspect of each individual. Character is the substance of an individual.  We live in a world which encourages us to indulge ourselves and never give a thought to our inner character. It is a tempting encouragement.  Pleasing ‘self’ seems like a good idea.  Unfortunately, though, character is never grown in a soil of pleasure. Character is not found in a church pew or a book.  Character is built through sacrifice and hard choices. It has been said that life is God’s gift to man; what man does with that life is his gift to God.
God’s Word tells us that character is developed through perseverance. As we trace the source of perseverance, our hearts will tremble—for the source of perseverance is suffering. For the Christian, suffering can be a source of joy BECAUSE the hope of God is a certainty that sustains. The hope of God produces eternal blessing that outweighs and outlasts every heart ache. A character rooted in God’s grace and built on faith in Christ will produce blessing all around!

“It’s always too soon to quit.”  Daniel Baker

Perseverance–pressing on, not quitting–is a trait we must develop!  Our perseverance is not solely fixed on our purposes, though.   In fact, focusing our perseverance on our goals (purposes) can discourage us.  Things don’t always turn out the way we plan; Scripture is full of such stories.
But God’s purposes are never in jeopardy.  The purposes and goals we set are a tool God uses as we travel through this life.   BUT glory to God, His purposes are woven into the journey itself…and His purposes are grander than ours!
God is busy with things we can not even imagine.  Success is trusting Him in the midst of life; the goal is enjoying His presence. Our goals are far too small.  Let’s take and apply the words of William Carey, “Expect great things–attempt great things.”  
We are to set goals that are good and in line with the purposes of God–and then leave the results in the hands of God.  The only way to do that is continually pressing in to see His face, feel His love and being filled with confidence in His plans.
Struggles teach perseverance, perseverance is entwined with character and hope–certainty of God–springs forth.  That is the only worthwhile success.

But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.  2 Corinthians 3:18

Persistently seeking the Lord will transform us into His image.  I love the old saying of “Praise God I am not what I was and I am not what I will become!”  Just as God’s changeless nature is a rock-solid foundation, so our transformation is a glorious promise.

Focused on Purpose

Whether we are riding a horse, driving a car or trying to get through the school year, the same truth applies: where your eyes are sets the course of your path. If we spend a lot of time looking at what we ‘can’t do’ or the things that we would rather do or all the terrifying possibilities, we won’t accomplish all God would have us do. We need to fix our eyes on TRUTHS from the Word of God and trust Him to help us over the rough patches.

can't

“Can’t” is a detour with a huge PIT. When our eyes focus on what we can’t do, we miss the path to what we can do. Can’t will keep us from a struggle but it will never strengthen us or accomplish our purpose. Can’t is a word we need to shorten to can. Focusing our eyes on what we can do will help us get where we need to be.

“Want to” is another powerful force; the human will is where most ‘want to’ comes from. God gave us free will. The greatest gift we can give to God is to surrender that will and echo the words of Jesus to our Father, “Not my will but thine.” When we accept the purposes of God as our own, great and mighty things come from our lives.

“Fear” is the last detour we’ll consider how to avoid. Fear goes by many names…sometimes it masquerades as ‘common sense;’ other times it hides in ‘comfort zones.’ F.E.A.R. is often just ‘false evidence appearing real.’ The bottom line of the matter comes straight from Scripture: anything not of faith is sin. Faith and fear don’t live on the same street.

Setting our eyes on the purposes of God will take us beyond our abilities, give us new desires and call us outside of our comfort zones. Let’s choose God’s purpose as our own. Refuse to focus on ‘can’t’ and ‘want’ and see what God will do!