The Barna Institute a research group recently noted four values that North Americans hold to. They are:
a. Time is the most important commodity. In fact most people will spend money to protect their schedule.
b. Minimize long term commitments. Be flexible about life because things change so quickly that one cannot justify permanent commitments.
c. Trust your feelings to guide you. Relying on absolute principles places unrealistic limitations on a person. You will only know what is right at the given moment.
d. Do not waste time doing things that do not produce immediate gratification. When you do this you will achieve the quality of life you deserve.
The values we hold to have been taught to us either by precept or example. The apostle Paul wrote “live your life as a Christian so that the Christian community of which you are a part will be a positive and credible force in our time.” In essence the Christian faith is not a theology to be debated but a vigorous life to be lived; a life centered on Jesus Christ. When speaking to the Christians in Colossae Paul was aware that some of them might get caught up in legalism and thus Christianity might be reduced to rules and regulations. Others might get caught up in ascetic practices as a way to gain a righteous standing before God. Yet the message we need to hear and receive is the same as the one he spoke of years ago. Be centered in Christ and allow his life to be lived through you, for in him and in him alone you will find completeness.
What people need to see today is that the values that shape our life is based upon this dynamic relationship we have with Christ.
There are times when we have been asked to pray for someone but we are not really sure what to actually pray. Often the apostle Paul would pray for those whom he knew and his prayers always seemed to resonate with their needs.
One example is found in his letter to the church at Colossae. He knew that these folks were going through a hard time and as he prayed for them he knew that God’s blessing would be upon them. One thing in particular struck me in that he prayed they would be encouraged. (Colossians 2:2)
Encouragement is something everyone needs because life can be challenging and we can become discouraged.
Years ago William Wilberforce a member of parliament in the British government wanted to abolish slavery in Britain. This was a daunting task and he became very discouraged because it seemed as if his efforts were in vain. John Wesley, while on his death bed, heard of his need and penned him a letter. He said to Wilberforce “Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Do not be weary in well doing. Go on in the name of God and in the power of His might.”
John Wesley died six days after writing this letter, and Wilberforce kept on pressing for the abolition of slavery for another forty five years until slavery in Britain was abolished. This occurred three days before Wilberforce died.
It was the letter from Wesley that encouraged him to keep going.
Who are the people in your life that need a prayer of encouragement? You never know how you prayer will be used by Almighty God to keep them going.
Is it really possible for people to change? Some will alter their appearance by cosmetic surgery; others might take courses to develop their self esteem. But what about changes that occur at the core of our being, is this something that happens by sheer determination or is this something that only God can do?
The Apostle Paul writing to the church at Colossae said “You yourselves are a case study of what God does. At one time you had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of Him, giving Him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving Himself completely at the cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together…Don’t walk away from a gift like that.” (Col.1:21-23) The Message.
Paul who wrote this was a living example of someone who was changed by the power of God through the work of Christ. Paul was a very religious individual but he had a hatred for the followers of Christ. Then one day on the Damascus road he had an encounter with the risen Christ that would change him forever. God’s love and grace captured his heart and from that moment on he was changed. His relationship with God was no longer based on religious performance but one of deep love and intimacy. He would tell the Christians in Rome that “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God…We cry ABBA Father…we are the children of God.” Romans 8:14-16
He also had a different relationship with the followers of Jesus. Once they were enemies he pursued and imprisoned but now he would call them brothers and sisters. How could that be? That is what can happen when God’s love captures one’s heart.
Is it possible for you to change? Meditate on these words “Anyone united to Jesus gets a fresh start is created new. The old life is gone; a new life begins. All this comes from God, who settled the relationship between us and him and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with Himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering the forgiveness of sins.” (2 Cor. 5: 17-19)The Message
Today there is a lot of confusion about what to believe and who to believe. We live in a culture that emphasizes that what really matters is your sincerity about your beliefs. It does not seem to matter very much if what you believe is correct or incorrect. This seems to be particularly true about the opinions people hold about Jesus.
People who have heard the full story of Jesus and learn about his life, teaching, crucifixion and resurrection cannot walk away and dismiss him as unimportant. Even those who do not have full knowledge of him instinctively know they are dealing with a remarkable person. In fact many would consider him to be so important they would include Jesus amongst other who they consider to be equally important such as Buddha, Socrates, Moses, Mohammed or some other individual who might happen to be a favourite personality of theirs.
For individuals such as these Jesus is important and his prestige is considerable but he is not pre-eminent.
When the Apostle Paul was writing to the Christians in Colossae there were some who simply saw Jesus as one among many other great individuals. Paul wanted to get things straight and there were two things that he wanted to convey. The first truth he stated was that “Jesus was the image of the invisible God.” (Colossians 1:15) The word image is derived from the word icon which means a reproduction with precise likeness. For example on our money there is an image of the Queen. It is not the Queen but it is a reproduction with precise likeness. Paul is contending that Jesus is the perfect, absolutely accurate image of God.
The second thing he declares is that in Jesus “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” (Colossians 1:19) Therefore to see and to know Jesus is to see and know God. In other words Jesus is God in human form. One day Jesus was talking to Philip and Philip asked Jesus to show them the Father. Jesus was quite surprised at this request and replied to Philip “How can you say ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and that the Father is in me? …Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and that the Father is in me.’ (John 14; 9-11). Jesus wants it to be perfectly understood that he is not just one among man of the notables of history but that he is God. When we get this straight other things begin to fall into place.
God of our life,
God of our years,
God of our beginning.
Our times are in your hands.
Hear our prayer:
For those of us too much into obedience,
Birth us to the freedom of the gospel.
For those of us too much into self indulgence,
Birth us to discipleship in your ministry.
For those of us too much into cynicism,
Birth us to the innocence of the Christ child.
For those of us too much into guilt,
Birth us into forgiveness worked in your generosity.
For those of us too much into despair,
Birth us into the promises you make to your people.
For those of us too much into fatigue,
Birth us into the energy of Pentecost.
We pray that you will do for us and among us and through us
What is needful for newness.
Give us the power to be receptive,
To take the newness you give,
To move from womb warmness to real life.
We offer this prayer not only for ourselves
But for all.
(This prayer is adapted from Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth by Walter Bruggemann)
It is not uncommon that we try to change other people. In fact there are times when we pray that we ask God to change a particular trait that irritates us. So, how can we pray a prayer of transformation that is focused on the change that God desires?
The apostle Paul prayed “This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ-to the glory and praise of God.” Phil. 1:9-11
The first part of the prayer is that we would be filled with the love of Christ. Imagine what would occur if that became a reality! Hatred would be attacked by love. We would seek to give to others instead of focusing on what we could get. We would build bridges not erect barriers. Paul prays that this would happen more and more.
The second thing he mentions in the prayer is that we would live a life that is pure, in other words we would be transparent and sincere in what we did and that we would live blameless. This does not mean we would have no faults but that our life would be authentic.
Finally he prays that we would be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ. In other words our life is to exemplify a life that is lived in relationship with Christ. We cannot produce a life of righteousness unless we are united with Christ. Jesus used the analogy of the vine and branches. He said that if we abide in him we will bear much fruit and that apart from him we can do nothing. Take a look at your life. Is the life of Christ seen in you? Ask him to enable you to live in such a way that you love for others will grow, that your life would be pleasing to God and that you would stay close to him day by day.
When this happens you will see a transformation.
All of us have been hurt by someone. So what will we do? Some want to forget it while others want to get even, but only forgiveness will work.
So why should we forgive? Jesus taught a prayer that many are familiar with. “Forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors…for if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you”. (Matt. 6:12, 14)
Let me suggest three things to help us understand why we should forgive others.
a. God has forgiven me. The apostle Paul wrote “Be ready to forgive, never hold grudges. Remember the Lord forgave you so you must forgive others.” (Col.3:13) When I realize I have been forgiven by God it is easier to forgive others. God will never ask you to forgive more than He has forgiven you. So remember how much God has forgiven you.
b. Resentment does not work. Job wrote “To worry yourself to death with resentment would be a foolish senseless thing to do.” (Job. 5:2) Resentment can’t change anything that has taken place in the past. What happened, happened! Resentment simply makes the future worse because it has the capacity to keep alive the hurts of the past. Just for a moment think about an incident that happened that caused you great pain. If you dwell on it long enough you will notice how emotional you become. This is the law of resentment. It has the power to keep alive the pain of the past.
c. Remember that you will need forgiveness in the future. Jesus said “When you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins too.” (Mk.11:25) God forgives us when we forgive others. In some ways it is a dangerous thing to pray the Lord’s prayer. We are saying “God I want you to forgive me as much as I forgive others.” Forgiveness is a two way street. For the follower of Jesus forgiveness is not an option it is to be a way of life. If I hold on to the hurt in my life it will turn to hate. That is not way to live.
So how do I deal with the hurts? We will explore this in the next blog.
All of us have been hurt at some time by someone. It is possible that we can hold on to a hurt and recall everything that took place. However when we hold on to a hurt it often turns into hate and that is so destructive. The fact of life is that people will hurt us, so it seems important we learn to deal with the hurts of life.
Jesus taught us to pray “Forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors.” So how do we do this?
First never seek to retaliate. When we are hurt we want to hurt back. But this never works, it only escalates the situation. Proverbs 20:22 (CN) “Don’t take it on yourself to repay a wrong. Trust the LORD and he will make it right.” Trust God to have the final say.
Second, deal with the hurt immediately. If we hold on to our hurt it will turn to hate. Paul wrote “Don’t sit nursing a grudge. Don’t let the sun go down with you still angry, get over it quickly.” (Ephesians 2:26 (LD)
Third, forgive people even when they don’t ask for forgiveness. When Jesus was dying on the cross he prayed “Father forgive them.” The people did not ask for forgiveness but he offered it. So we are “to forgive each other as readily as God forgave you in Christ.” (Ephesians 4:32)
Finally, we are to seek opportunities to do good even to those who hurt us. Jesus said “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” (Luke 5: 27) Forgiveness is not just about words, it is a way of life whereby we actively seek to enhance the life of the other. Perhaps you feel this is too big of an order. In your own strength it is, so focus on the words of scripture “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
Some have described the 21st century as the ‘age of anxiety’. People worry about many different things. In the Lord’s prayer we come to an interesting statement” “give us this day our daily bread”, a statement which many in the Western world do not seem to take seriously. When was the last time you were anxious because you wondered if there would be food for you to eat? Have you ever prayed that God would provide for your next meal? However we need to understand this prayer is not simply about what we are going to eat but that the statement is inclusive of all the basic necessities of life, including those things that cause us to worry.
The apostle Paul wrote “don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything; tell God your needs.” (Philippians 4:6) So instead of worrying ask God for help. Worry is simply an attempt on our part to control the uncontrollable. And what is out of God’s control? Nothing!
So it is important for us to remember God’s resources. Paul wrote “God will supply all that you need from his glorious resources in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19) Remember he states God will supply all we need but He will not supply all we desire. As a parent we do not give our children everything they ask for because it is not in their best interest. How much more does our heavenly Father know the needs that are truly significant and thus in His wisdom there will be times when he does not give us what we request. That is because He is always looking out for our best interests.
So today, give to God all those issues that cause you to worry and become anxious. If you focus on your relationship with God you look beyond your circumstances to the one who is in control of all things. When you know this to be the creator of heaven and earth you realize you are in good hands.
In the prayer that Jesus taught we read “hallowed be your name”? The Hebrews attached great significance to one’s name because a name represented a person’s nature. There is no one name that describes all of God’s attributes let me share with you a couple of the names of God that you can think about during the day.
In Genesis we discover that one of the names of God is Jehovah Jireh, meaning ‘God my Provider’. God had called Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice to see if Abraham would trust God. Just before Isaac’s life was to be sacrificed God told Abraham not to take the life of his son but to take a ram that was caught in the bushes and offer this animal as the sacrifice. Abraham trusting God did not know how all of this was going to work out but he believed God would provide. The apostle Paul writing from a prison cell in Rome declared “God will supply all that you need from his glorious resources in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4: 19) As you contemplate your situation you may not know how things will work out. What do you need from God? How can He be your ‘Jehovah Jireh’?
The second name that God reveal about Himself is Jehovah Shalom “God my Peace.” The nation of Israel was experiencing great stress as the Midianites were constantly harassing them and stealing their food. They were desperate and God raised up a leader, a young man named Gideon. However Gideon was very insecure and did not see himself as a leader who would deliver the nation from their oppressors. When God approached Gideon , Gideon built an altar and declared “The Lord is my Peace” (Jehovah Shalom) As he encountered the enemy he remember this name of God and was given great assurance in spite of his insecurities.
Perhaps today you are overwhelmed by life’s circumstances and need to experience God’s peace. Jesus said “the peace I give you isn’t fragile like the peace the world gives you. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27) Take God at His word and trust Him with the circumstances of your life.