We are a people who try to "be better" and "get better" in all areas of our lives. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. It is good to try to be a better leader, friend, student, or athlete. Getting better in these areas is a good thing.
But when it comes to our faith and our journey with Christ, sometimes we try to "be better". While our desire to grow as a follower is right, many times we approach growth the wrong way.
The Christians in Galatia did the same thing. Their desire to grow as mature followers in Christ was right, but they went about it the wrong way. Someone had told them that to grow in their faith, they had to adhere to a certain set of religious practices. Paul wrote a letter to these people and in Galatians 5:5-6 he says this,
"But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive by faith the righteousness God has promised to us. For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love."
Simply said, we grow in faith as we allow God to change our hearts and minds by focusing on his truth and trusting that the Holy Spirit will change us. But the most important thing to remember is that we don't just focus on God's truth, but that we express our faith by acting on it in love. We put our faith in action. The demonstration of our love for God and others is an important part of growing in our faith. We demonstrate our love for God by doing what he says. We demonstrate our love for others by serving them the way Jesus served us.
Your spiritual growth depends on you acting on the faith that you have and expressing your faith in a loving way.
Ever been in a place where you are being criticized unfairly? Maybe people thought you did something that you didn't do? Maybe they are criticizing you simply because they don't like you and you have no control over it.
I've been there and I remember being frustrated because I had not done anything to deserve the criticism. I had done my best to do the right thing and it was not paying off.
I had a choice. I could respond to their criticism and do my best to fight back, or I could remain silent and trust that God would take care of me.
When I was reading 2 Samuel 16 tonight, I was reminded of that situation. David had done the right thing, but found himself running for his life. While things seemed they couldn't get any worse, someone notices him and begins to curse him for something he had not done. David's friends want to fight back, but David says something so great. He says let them say what they want. We can't control that. We can only control ourselves and make sure what we do is right. (my own summary) Then he says this.
"And perhaps the Lord will see that I am being wrong and will bless me because of these curses today." 2 Sam. 16:12
Our job is not to defend ourselves when we are being criticized for doing right. We simply must trust that God will take care of us and protect us.
Sometimes the blessing will come after the storm. I had a friend once who made a picture for me during a tough time with the saying, "Without storms, we would never have rainbows." As cheesy as it may sound, during the storms we need to keep our focus and continue to trust God.
His blessing are worth our obedience. Let the people talk. Do what is right and trust him. Perhaps God will bless you because you are being wronged.
We all live for something. We live for ourselves, possessions, power, position and for many, the pursuit of pleasure.
We will all die. Actually, we are all dying because our physical bodies are infected by sin. Everyone has a specific number of days they will live and only God knows those numbers.
The question we will answer with our lives is what we will do with those days.
I was reading a story in 2 Samuel about David and one of his sons. They are separated by David's anger at his son Absolom for killing his other brother. A prophet at the time sends a message to David to try to remind him that his days are short and he needs to do what he knows he needs to do without delay.
This is what he says:
All of us must die eventually. Our lives are like water spilled out on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God does not just sweep life away; instead, he devises ways to bring us back when we have been separated from him. 2 Samuel 14:14
3 things I get from this.
1-Make it count! reminder that our days are short and we don't get do-overs. Our life will be poured out on the ground and we won't be able to gather any of it back up.
2-We are valued. God does not just sweep life away like mere dust. He cares about us and cares how we use our lives.
3-He brings us back. He ultimately made a way for us to be brought back to him through Jesus. But beyond that he will bring us back when we wonder from him. It actually says he "devises ways " to get us back. He wants us back. He doesn't give up. I am so grateful for this.
So are you making your days count for something worthwhile? Are you living your life in a way that makes God proud? Do you or someone you know need to return to God?
I think one of the greatest questions in the back of our minds when it comes to following God is, "Is it worth it". We see what everyone else is doing and see the immediate gratification of sin and wonder if we are missing out on fun for something we aren't even convinced will pay off.
This morning I read Psalm 112 and verses 1 and 2 say this:
"How joyful are those who fear the Lord and delight in obeying his commands. Their children will be successful everywhere; an entire generation of godly people will be blessed."
The writer tells us that obeying God gives these benefits - joy, inheritance of success, and godly influence on generations to come.
With joy being the first, we know that we will have contentment, hope, and a peace inside of us regardless of our circumstances because of the joy we find in following God completely. Not only that, our children will benefit from our decisions and generations to come. This decision to obey God is a choice to invest in more than a fleeting pleasure, but rather in the future.
In what ways do you need to obey God completely so you can experience joy and those who come after will be blessed?
Yesterday a friend of mine sent me a video that I made a few years ago for our student ministry. I was dressed up like a cowboy and ended up chasing down and roping a roping calf on a golf cart. Sounds pretty ridiculous right? Well, it was. But then, I began to think about all of the other funny videos we made while I was there. It was great to remember the great times we had together.
I'm sure you have done the same before. Something sparks a memory and you find yourself thinking through memory after memory.
In Psalm 111:2, the writer tells us to do this very thing. He writes, "How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them."
When was the last time you took time to remember how amazing our God is? Do you recognize how "amazing" our God is? Take time right now to "ponder" the ways in which God has shown himself amazing. If you need some help, read the rest of Psalm 111. Take time right now to remember and maybe even write down ways God has show himself to be amazing. When we take time to remember the great things God has done, it will give us joy and hope to fuel our day.
Have you ever found yourself seeking the approval of others? If you have a pulse, the answer is probably yes. We are a culture who craves approval. It only takes looking at social media for 5 minutes to see this.
The search for approval of people is problematic, because the approval of people is always temporary and tenuous. People will show their approval one minute, then turn around and burn you doing whatever it was you did to gain their approval in the first place. It is like teaching a puppy to pee on newspaper, then yelling at it when it pees on the new newspaper that you haven't had a chance to read yet. Seeking the approval of man is exhausting and full of disappointment.
Paul wrote this in Galatians 1:10 - "Obviously, I'm not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ's servant."
Paul understood that he was created for a purpose - to know God and make Him known with his life. His desire was to please God. The approval of people meant nothing to him. He goes as far as to say that if he cared about the approval of man, he would not be a Christ follower.
Paul was convinced that he had to make a choice between looking for the approval of people and being a follower of Christ. He could not be a follower of Christ and still care what others thought about him. He had to choose.
And we must too. We must decide - do we want to truly follow Christ? Do we care more about God's approval or man's approval? We aren't talking about in theory, but what dictates the way we live? Are we living to please God or to please people?
Let's live for the approval of God. Only then will we find purpose and satisfaction.
The word "Exam" isn't one I much liked when it came to school. No one likes a test. However, exams can be a good thing. A physical exam can help us find a problem with our health before it gets bad, and help us get a solution.
In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul says this to a group of Christians -
"Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith."
Paul encourages us to "Examine" ourselves spiritually. We can do this by asking ourselves, "Are we becoming more like Christ?." When we are spiritually healthy, we will be growing in our faith, and becoming more like Christ. If we are not, then we will naturally grow more distant from Christ.
Examine yourself today. Are you growing closer to Christ? What do you need to do today to grow in your faith? What do you need to plan to do tomorrow to continue your growth?