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

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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?

 

 

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

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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!

Growing Up in Christ

God parents each of us perfectly!  Growing in grace and knowledge as Jesus did is an individual responsibility.  But we all–whether we have children or not–have opportunities to disciple (or spiritually parent) others.  This prayer guide is a tool ifor the growing up process–for ourselves and others.

Parenting is a privilege and responsibility that allows us co-laborer closely with the Lord in the soul-building process. He has provided powerful tools to utilize in our work.
The Word of God is our primary tool; it is indeed a living and active tool. It is critical for our lives and our children’s lives. Love for God’s Word…for its necessity and tremendous value in each life…is the key to unlocking and utilizing this vital building block.

This ‘perpetual’ prayer guide has seven focus areas—one for each day of the week. Our prayers matter and keep us in tune with the Lord—for the reality is that all we pray for others must be sought for ourselves as well. May this prayer guide draw you and yours ever closer to Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith!

Prayer Focus: Love of God’s Word 

Father in heaven, we praise you for the gift of Your Word. We praise you for the Living Word, Jesus Christ. And we praise you for our privilege of using words to communicate with others. Only humanity was allowed this precious gift. Lord we ask that You help us use words well with our children. Instill in our children a love for Your Word. Help them to understand and help us to live with the scriptures as our guide and not simply a pleasant source of encouragement. Help our children understand that every aspect of life is blessed by wisdom from the Word. Help us model for our children a desire to read, study, remember and apply Your Word moment by moment. We desire your plans and purposes for our children; we long for them to live lives of blessing. May Your Word be a light unto their path for their good and for your glory. We ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Scripture supports:

Psalm 119:9, 72, 72, 140; Jeremiah 15:16; Ephesians 6:17; 1 Peter 1:22

Prayer Focus: Growing Faith 

Father, knowing you is the most important thing our children will ever experience. We ask that you meet with them in personal and transforming ways. Grow their spirits into ever greater likeness to Christ. Give us wisdom to point them to you. Grant us a depth of faith in your love for them that we do not interfere with your work. Reveal yourself to our children and draw them to your irresistible glory. Strengthen them in their inner being with your Spirit and be glorified in the lives of our children. In Jesus name, Amen

Scripture supports:

2 Corinthians 9:10; Ephesians 4:15; Hebrews 6:1; 2 Peter 1:5,6; 3:18; 3 John 1:4

Prayer Focus: Godly Friends 

Heavenly Father, thank you for your passion for relationships. We lift our children up to you asking that you will orchestrate their lives that Godly friends will bring beauty and sweetness to their days. We ask for friends that will encourage them to walk closely with you; friends that will look at Your glory with them; friends who will stand in the gap when they are unable to seek You. We praise you for your gift of love that we can love others. Work in our children’s lives and in each of their relationships that they will know You more day by day. In Jesus precious name, Amen

Scripture supports:

Malachi 3:16; Acts 2:42; Philippians 1:3: James 2:23

Prayer Focus: Thankfulness 

Father in Heaven, we rejoice that the key to entering Your presence is PRAISE! Help us guide our children to the joy of thankfulness. Teach us, Lord, to fix our eyes on that which is praiseworthy and life-building…and fill our hearts with joy and awe. We thank you, Lord, that You created all things for us to enjoy and we only have to remember they are from You. We thank you, Lord, that even hard things can become blessings when You are sought. Help us instill that in our children that they will live every day with thanksgiving and rejoicing for Jesus’ sake, Amen.

Scripture Supports:

Deuteronomy 8:10; Psalm 100:4; Colossians 1:12; 3:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Prayer Focus: Values 

Father, help us as parents teach your values and live Your values that our children will see Your glory and choose the same values for their lives. Grant our children a vision of the value You place on every individual and the treasure of time. May every choice made–in career, in recreation, in friendships, in money and even thoughts be founded upon Your value system. We ask this for the glory of God and the good of these precious children You have entrusted to us! In Christ’s name, Amen

Scripture supports:

Joshua 24:15; John 4:34; 17:4; Acts 20:24; Philippians 3:13

Prayer Focus: Health and Safety for Body, Mind and Soul 

Heavenly Father, lover of our children’s souls, we ask Your protection of their bodies, minds and spirit. Total well-being is a by-product of a God-ward focus so we ask you to orchestrate their lives so that a desire for Your will and Your glory will be their greatest passion. May our example as parents not derail them in any way; hold us close to You and convict us of disparities in our own walk. Strengthen the children, Lord, to exercise discipline in their physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual pursuits and to submit all to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. May our children’s lives–and our own–have a depth of integrity, an alignment with Your Word of thoughts, words and actions, which will reveal Your glory to all those we come in contact with. We praise You for the gift of the life of Christ which lives within Your children and we ask all this in His name, Amen.

Scripture supports:

Psalm 26:3; Psalm 86:11; 2 John 4; Isaiah 32:18

Prayer Focus: Passion for a Pure Heart 

Father in Heaven, we long to see You and to have our children see You. Your glory is our source of hope and confidence in a world of challenges. Lord, work in our children’s hearts and open their eyes to see You…to see Your amazing love, Your righteousness and Your open arms. Instill in the hearts of our children–and in our hearts–an ever-increasing desire to walk in Your presence and behold Your glory. Might the greatest desire of our hearts be to please You with every choice we make in thought, word and deed and might that same desire be in the hearts of our children. We praise You for who You are and how You work and for the purifying, perfect work of Jesus Christ. In His name, we ask this…Amen.

Scripture Supports:

Malachi 3:3; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Hebrews 12:14; 1 John 1:7

Let’s Look Like Jesus: Wisdom

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father most glorious, would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation through knowing Christ fully. (Ephesians 1:17)

Christ’s spirit of wisdom and revelation infuses the Christian’s character. Christ demonstrated this spirit in all of His human interactions. He saw, listened and comprehended from His Father’s viewpoint. Jesus looked beyond the circumstances presented by those who came to Him and focused on their spiritual needs. He shared the Father’s interests in individuals –and a character built on Him will evidence that same association.

As Ambassadors for Christ, our natural reactions to those we encounter–whether sweet compassion or abrasive frustration–should never be the source that motivates us to action. We are not to be amateur Providences and change people’s lives according to our feelings. God’s ways are not our own; He has measured the weight He puts upon every person. What may seem excessive and unfair from the human perspective may be just the weight needed to save their eternal soul. Alternatively, what may appear to be tremendous blessing in a person’s life may be a curse blinding them to their need for Jesus. As Christ’s Ambassador, we need to share the reason for the hope with which we live and allow Him to guide in every interaction!

We need His Spirit to give us deep understanding of situations and the Truths of God that will speak to hearts. We receive discernment to help us intercede for others–never to judge them. The wisdom of God is pure, peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (James 3:17). As we listen to the hearts of others through the Spirit, He will give us words that encourage others and reveal His beauty. He may impress upon our hearts the need to provide direct help or He may simply burden us to pray and love. As we heed His guidance, we will learn more about Him ourselves and grow ever closer to His likeness! Might we each increasingly embrace the Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation He offers so freely!

Let’s Look Like Jesus: Prayerful

The prayerful spirit of Christ offers a shining facet to our transformed character! Christ’s commitment to communing with the Father is a design we must emulate. Despite being God incarnate, Jesus Christ demonstrated a high priority on prayer fellowship with God, the Father.

Scriptural accounts show Christ seeking private prayer time throughout His earthly life. He arose before down and climbed mountains to be alone with the Father. He walked away from crowds of seekers to commune with God in heaven. He chose fellowship with His father over sleep on some nights. Private times of intimate communion with the heavenly Father under-girded the earthly walk of Christ. Such an example by the One who creates and sustains all life should impress on us our desperate need. Prayer must have a higher priority in our lives than our comfort, our service and our physical needs.

The communion of Jesus and the Father was not restricted to private times, though. Prayer was an integral part of Christ’s every day. He instructed His disciples on ‘how’ to pray. He prayed for His followers through the ages. Sometimes He prayed for the benefit of listeners. The scripture records indicate a prayer life that was as ‘real’ and natural as the human conversations in which He engaged. Indeed, Christ’s prayers are often in the midst of human dialogues. Clearly, the presence of the Father was as much a reality to Jesus as the people with whom He walked each day. This reality of continual prayer must thread throughout our own lives.

In the Garden of Gethsemane prayers, Jesus reveals communion in the deepest sense. The Son’s cries enter directly into the Father’s love. God’s love answers with angelic delivery of divine strength that enables Jesus to complete the purposes of His life. Prayer is not a divine wishing well. Prayer is entering the essence of God. Prayer is receiving the Father’s love and power to accomplish His plans and purposes for our lives.

Science and illusions of self-sufficiency often veil miraculous answers to prayer in the western world. Our unchanging God was—and is—a miracle worker. When you seek the Lord in prayer, expect Him to reveal Himself in you and through you.

Let’s Look Like Jesus: Holy Fear

This series of articles, “Let’s Look Like Jesus” complement the perpetual prayer list for Christian Character.

Holy Fear is actually the antidote to the horrible fear immobilizing so many in the world today.  Fear is a common part of our world; in fact, sometimes it seems fear makes the world go round.

Proverbs 28:14 challenges us though:  ‘happy is the man who is never without fear.’ The words stop me as all of the foolish fears of life eddy through my mind: the fear of aging and infirmity, the fear of disappointing or offending others, the fear of failing, and the fear of shame. The list is endless of those things that we can fear. Yet, those are the fears of evil which destroy life.   Dr. Caroline Leaf explains the deadly impact of fear-based thinking in this brief video:

 

Clearly the wise writer of Proverbs spoke of fears which lead to blessing and life.  There is a reverent fear…an awe…which protects from evil and leads to life.   There are earthly things which inspire a reverent fear. Electricity is one. We often take its power for granted but unleashed electricity is indeed a fearsome, deadly force. The wind is another. At times it is a gentle, refreshing breeze and others a destructive force beyond the control of our best efforts.

The only fear, though, that leads to happiness is awe of our eternal Creator. As a Christian, holy fear is that aspect of our character which flattens us before our mighty God. It is the reverent awe of lying prostrate before the King of Kings which transforms a child of God. It is an attribute of great value in the character of a child of God.

With reverence and fear as an integral trait, we will not only read the Word of God, we will seek to see it become alive in our relationships with others. We will take His Word not only as our standard but as the reality in which we long to live. Our choices will never become completely perfect…our humanity is not eliminated as the character of Christ controls us more fully.  Less of us and more of Him is a life-time process.

Fear of God, though, will lead us to trust in His design, to obedience to His ways. His blessings will overflow into the details of our days. Our lives, and the impact of our lives, will reap eternal rewards with a heart that is humbly reverent. Rejoice today in trusting submission to the Creator…in laying before Him every worry and care knowing that He can and will bring good!

Let’s Look Like Jesus: Integrity

Character is said to be ‘who we are when no one is looking.’  It is about integrity to our core beliefs.  As Christians, our life is Christ, so we ought to look Him.  We can’t do that if we don’t know Him well!  This series of Let’s Look Like Jesus is all about examining Character.  We began with humility…recognizing and embracing our limits.  Today, we consider what integrity to our identity looks like

 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.  Galatians 5:22-25

Integrity of character is the essence of the One who is Truth, but it is a fading attribute in this sin-damaged world. Disposable marriages, bankruptcies in Fortune 500 companies and situational ethics make the concept of intrinsic, lasting value increasingly elusive.

The Greek word for Truth encompasses the concept beautifully: ‘unveiled reality lying at the basis of and agreeing with an appearance.”

Jesus Christ is the expression of God’s character in all He says and does. The alignment of our lives with the Word produces a Spirit of Integrity in our character as well. A Christian demonstrating Christ’s spirit will be inherently trustworthy: a person who says what they mean and means what they say!

Genesis to Revelation speaks to this aspect of Christ’s character for His is the nature of the eternal, unchanging God. The character of Christ is unadulterated; it is the way to the Father. Christ reveals God in His manner of living: seek to know and do the will of the Father. Every account of Christ’s words and works found both their root and expression in the desire of God. The integrity of the pathway to God is clear in the character of Christ.

Christ’s character speaks of truth in the same manner. Just as Jesus commended Nathanael for his forthright speech, the words of Christ are not always politically correct or syrupy sweet. Jesus’ words ‘simply’ conveyed truth. Every word He spoke flowed directly from the Father’s desire to redeem a dying world. On the other hand, Satan’s words are often tempting and appealing for he masquerades as an Angel of Light. The father of lies used words to deceive people–to obscure truth.

Jesus lived with authenticity:

truth could be seen, heard and felt in His presence.

Completing the picture of integrity in Christ’s character is intrinsic life. As Creator and Sustainer of life, Jesus is life. Simple fleshly life is an incredible gift but only a shadow of the truth of real life! In an incomprehensible truth, God became man that He might die the deserved death of man. That sacrificial death on the Cross opened the doorway for the fullness of life God always planned for mankind. Jesus Christ is life through and through. The life of Christ dwells within every believer–true, eternal, holy life!

The transformation of our character into the likeness of Christ allows His glory to flow into every mundane aspect of earthly life. Integrity is beautiful when the core is Christ. Integrity matters–and it will make us look different from the world!

Sweet Fruit!

As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.   

Song of Solomon 2:3

Some tasty observations on a short morning walk and a simple grade school science fact have me rethinking a lifelong practice of early-morning berry picking. Better yet, my newly found berry fact reminds me of a God-truth. Time in the presence of the Son is sweet, and it sweetens the fruit of the Spirit dwelling in me!

The sun’s warmth persistently penetrated the morning fog as I walked along the wooded path toward town. The thorns of the blackberry bushes at trailside tugged on my jeans, and my delight in fresh berries tempted me to munch. Yielding to the lure, I popped a berry in my mouth. It was cool and juicy, but the sweetness that had enticed me was absent. I snacked my way to town never finding a sweet berry. A couple hours later, errands complete, I made my way back up the now sun-drenched path. In the mid-day heat, the glistening berries tempted me with a promise of juiciness. Surprisingly, this time the berries were delightfully sweet.

At the end of the trail, our neighbor–the caretaker of the bushes–happened to be working outside. He chuckled as I shared my puzzling observation, and said, “Of course. The sunlight draws the sugars up into the plant. Berries in the sunshine are always sweeter.”

Photosynthesis, of course, I should have known!

Out of that simple, natural-world truth, the Spirit reminded me of a more important truth: it is the warmth of the Son that draws wandering souls! There is sweetness in the Son’s powerful, persistent love that exists nowhere else. When I walk in the Son’s Light, my thoughts, words and actions fill with the sweetness of the indwelling Spirit! Just as the berries grow sweeter in the sun, I grow sweeter in the Son too!

Are you getting enough time in the Son? Are you walking within His light? He loves to share His sweetness. Soak in the Son and let His sweet Spirit ooze out of you.