Monday, April 20, 2015

Being Strong and Courageous


If someone came alongside of you, put an arm around your shoulders and said, “Be strong and courageous,” how would you react? Would you say, “Thanks, that sounds like a great idea!” or would you reply, “Are you kidding me? Do you have any idea what I’m facing?”

Over the years a number of people have called me an encourager. I appreciate the compliment, even though I’m not sure it’s always true. The Bible teaches all followers of Christ are bestowed with spiritual gifts, and I do think a gift I have is encouragement. However, as is often the case, a strength can also become a weakness.

Most days I feel encouraged and optimistic, and try to pass that perspective along to others. But sometimes it seems discouragement lurks just outside my door, eager to pounce whenever the opportunity presents itself. I can be cruising along, enjoying my rose-colored glasses view of life, when something happens and BOOM, I’m hyper-discouraged.

Being strong and courageous requires more
than flexing well-toned muscles.
One definition of the word encourage is to “inspire with courage, spirit, or hope.” This makes sense, because when I’m being encouraged by someone else, it takes more than a “don’t worry, be happy” type of exhortation. It’s the act of imparting courage – because often that’s exactly what circumstances demand.

Amid the chaos of this thing we affectionately call “life,” at times it requires courage just to get out of bed and confront the day. Then, after turning on the morning news, we need courage to resist the temptation to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over our heads!

As I recently began reading the Old Testament book of Joshua, it was interesting to see things haven’t changed in the thousands of years since that narrative took place. The Israelites were about to realize the promise God had made 40 years earlier, entering the Promised Land and experiencing for the first time the “land of milk and honey.”

Many of the people of Israel imagined they’d soon be thinking, “We’ve got it made!” They would be leaning back in their recliners, sipping cool drinks, and proclaiming, “Ah, this is the life!” But God was saying, “Not so fast, my friends.”

Joshua had just succeeded Moses as the Israelites’ leader, and was about to command them to cross the Jordan River. But first God had a few choice words for Joshua, instructions he would need to follow more times than he could have guessed.

What did God say? “Be strong and courageous…. Be strong and very courageous…. Be strong and courageous.” Are you seeing a pattern here, that God had a point of emphasis He didn’t want Joshua – or the Israelites – to miss? This command appears three times within the first nine verses of the opening chapter of Joshua.

Why the repetition? Because the Israelites would certainly be entering a land overflowing with everything they needed, but it wouldn’t become theirs easily. They would encounter formidable opposition, other peoples not particularly thrilled with surrendering control of their good stuff.

So the Israelites and Joshua, as their leader, would definitely need to be strong and courageous. It might have been worthy of a picture postcard (if such things had existed then), but the Promised Land wasn’t a place for weak hearts – or weak knees. Interestingly, the people of Israel must have realized that as well. Upon affirming their commitment to follow Joshua, they also exhorted him to “be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:18).

Seems to me the Lord might be telling us the same thing. This was not a directive reserved only for itinerant Israelites. In His last days with the disciples, Jesus was telling them that very quickly “business as usual” for them would be over. His earthly ministry was about to end.

The disciples, clueless about the monumental events about to unfold, were distressed. Jesus told them to calm down: "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

Turmoil enveloping our world can seem daunting, even overwhelming. Looking to our national and international leaders, can we be blamed for occasionally wondering whether all they’re doing is rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic? If ever there were a time that called for strength and courage, it’s now.

It’s the last portion of Jesus’ declaration that makes this more than Pollyanna thinking. After telling His followers to “take courage,” He added the assurance, “I have overcome the world.”

We therefore have a choice: We can accept what Jesus said as a promise and follow the exhortation of the apostle Paul, who wrote, Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10). Or we can dismiss it, arguing, “Jesus, You don’t understand what we’re up against here.”

I’m thinking that being strong and courageous – in His strength – is the better option.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Don’t Judge – But Don’t Condone, Either


The statement caught my eye. It’s been expressed many times, but merits reviewing again: “Don’t judge someone just because they sin differently than you.” Ponder that for a moment.

There’s much wisdom in that statement. Because, the Bible asserts, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). As a wise theologian noted, “When the Bible says ‘all,’ it means…ALL.” It also says, in even stronger language, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).

Wow! That sounds all-inclusive. No exceptions. So who are we to judge the sins of others?

The Bible states judging isn't 
our job. God doesn't need help. 
It’s easy to feel judgmental about the bad behavior of others if we can’t identify with their practices. For example, if you’ve never wrestled with a weight problem, it’s easy to “judge” someone who’s obese. But anyone that’s had a tendency to overindulge in alcohol can feel sympathetic toward someone with a drinking problem. Does this make the overweight person a worse sinner than the drunk? Certainly not. They both, as the passage above states, have fallen short of God’s glory, His perfect standard. As we all have, each in our own ways.

Years ago a friend called whom I hadn’t talked with in several years. He was distraught and needed someone to talk with. We met soon afterward, and he confided to being a self-described “sex addict.” His job required him to travel extensively, and he'd been diligent to feed his addiction wherever he went. Remorse came after his sins "found him out." 

Admittedly I was surprised. I’d known this fellow for years and never suspected he had this kind of problem. But I didn’t respond with words of condemnation. Nor did I wave a cross in his face, telling him what a terrible person he was. Neither did I pat him on the shoulder and say, “Hey, man, no problem. It’s all good. Nobody’s perfect.”

Jesus made it clear: Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). At the same time, He didn’t instruct us to condone, endorse, or even ignore the sins of others when they become evident.

We find a classic example in the gospel of John, when Jesus is confronted by religious leaders prepared to stone a woman caught in adultery. After listening to those “teachers of the law and Pharisees” describe the circumstances, He tells them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Perhaps shamed in being forced to confront their own guilt, one by one the men walk away, leaving behind their “weapons” as they go.

There it is – don’t judge the sins of others. Jesus was making that clear. However, sometimes we forget what happened next.

After the men have departed, Jesus and the woman are standing there alone. He asks her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She responds, "No one, sir." Jesus then replies, "Then neither do I condemn you," but doesn’t stop there. He concludes by telling her, "Go now and leave your life of sin." Or as other translations say, "Go and sin no more" (John 8:3-11).

So we're not to judge others – because we all sin in different ways and are equally reprehensible before a holy God. And yet, we’re never instructed to condone or endorse wrongful actions, even though the prevailing culture of our times seems to insist we must.

While He did not condemn the woman clearly caught in sin – Jesus knew the law – the Lord did not excuse her. He didn’t say, "Hey, girl, it's okay. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do." No, He simply told her, “Go and sin no more.”

That, to me, is the biblical model of how to react to the sins of others. We’re not to judge – that’s God’s job, and He doesn’t need our help. But contrary to what “tolerant” society advocates, we’re not instructed to blindly accept, justify or applaud the sins of others, whatever those might be.

In love, with grace and understanding, we’re to offer support and encouragement for broken people trying to deal with and overcome their sins, recognizing our own brokenness and knowing we also have fallen far short from God’s perfect and divine standard.

And we’re to apply the words of Jesus to ourselves. He’s telling us as well to “go and sin no more.” In our own ability, this often seems difficult – maybe even impossible. That’s why it’s important to remember, echoing the words of the apostle Paul, “I can do everything through him (Jesus) who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). We can’t – but He can.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Importance of Guarding Our Heart


Almost every day we hear something about heart disease, whether on a news report, a TV commercial, or a post on the Internet. And to an extent, that’s justified. We cringe at the sound of “cancer,” but heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women of most ethnicities in the United States. The overriding message is we need to learn how to guard our hearts from a variety of dangers.

I know this firsthand, since both of my parents died of heart disease, and I’m a survivor. More than eight years ago I underwent open-heart surgery, and since then – for the most part – I’ve been diligent to take care of my heart. This has included regular, rigorous exercise; trying to eat properly (again, for the most part!), and taking medications as prescribed. But what concerns me even more is a different form of “heart disease” we tend to overlook.

The determination to "guard your
heart" must be intentional.
Proverbs 4:23 admonishes, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” In this instance, the passage is not referring to an organ, the cardiac muscle that keeps blood pulsing through our veins and arteries. It’s addressing our minds – the origin of our desires and motives.

The word wellspring is not a term we hear every day. One definition is “a continuous, seemingly inexhaustible source or supply of something.” So in this instance, when the Proverbs passage talks about the heart, it’s about protecting the source of what we think, how we feel, the attitudes we hold, and ultimately, who we are and how we act.

How do we go about guarding this “wellspring”? Well, it depends. Sometimes a change in environment is in order. As my friend, Jim Lange, noted recently in his own blog, environmental factors can affect our hearts positively or negatively. In some instances a change of place is needed – going to a different location to clear your head, to get your “heart” right again. This is why vacations can provide wonderful, restorative therapy.

But sometimes changing the physical environment isn’t an option. It’s our “natural habitat,” where we live and work, the people with whom we interact, along with the information available to us on a daily basis. For this reason it’s important to sort out what we allow to fill our minds, just as a programmer would monitor and control software being used in a computer.

As Jim noted, sometimes it’s toxic people – those that are perpetually negative, whose conversations are anything but uplifting and edifying. If we want to remain in a healthy, positive state of mind, more than a small dose of such individuals can be very detrimental.

Years ago I was an avid reader of horror novels, books in which elements of the occult were described in detail. After my pastor gave a sermon on what the Bible teaches about occult practices, I asked him whether my enjoyment of fiction on that topic was out of line. He gave an excellent response: “You’ve got to decide that. But consider this – when you read those books, are they pointing you toward God, or away from Him?”

Guarding our hearts doesn’t just mean avoiding negative “programming” for our minds. In today’s workplace, where men and women often work together intensely on demanding projects, married people must be cognizant of the threat of romantic entanglements and take preventive measures. Extramarital affairs, according to the experts, most commonly result not from spontaneous “one-night stands” but from relationships that slowly drift from working relationships into friendships and then emotional attachments, long before physical intimacy occurs.

So guarding our hearts in the workplace requires setting up appropriate boundaries well in advance of possible temptations. As King Solomon write, “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom” (Song of Solomon 2:15). Minor, seemingly harmless words, gestures and actions can lead to major consequences.

Just as proper exercise, nutrition and medication work in positive ways to ensure heart health, we also can take steps to promote the well-being of our mental and emotional “heart.” As King David wrote, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word…. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:9-11).

The apostle Paul added, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

In approaching the challenge of “guarding our hearts,” being proactive is far better than being reactive, once the harm has already been done. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Where IS God?


As I’ve written in a previous post, in the midst of life’s tragedies – and there are many – it’s not unusual nor surprising to hear people wondering, or even ask ourselves, “Where was God?” It’s a very good and valid question to ask, not only for skeptics but also for people of faith.

This question was raised frequently after the events of 9/11. It was posed when hurricanes Katrina and Sandy wreaked havoc in different parts of the United States. Some asked this recently when another tornado barreled through already ravaged portions of Oklahoma. It's probably often heard on bloody battlefields. This question certainly was on the minds of family members and friends after learning that a co-pilot had intentionally steered a jet carrying their loved ones into the side of a mountain in the French Alps, killing everyone aboard.

This question defies easy answers. In our humanness, we’d like for God to intervene and prevent every calamity, whether it involves a single individual or masses of people, such as the Boston Marathon bombing or a school shooting. Such tragedies do occur, however, and sometimes we can’t help but wonder, “Where was God when this was happening? Why didn’t He act to stop it?”

A student took this photo
the evening after a tornado
struck an Oklahoma town.
We can’t possibly find an answer apart from what we can see only through the eyes of faith. The atheist or agnostic can point to such grievous occurrences and declare, “See, there’s no God! How could your ‘loving God’ permit such things to occur?” Even those of us who do believe are inclined to ask “Why?” or at least, as some have suggested, “What?” In other words, what are we to learn from this tragedy?

Occasionally we do see glimpses of God in very unexpected ways. An infant, still secured in her car seat, survives an accident that claimed the life of her mother. Emergency responders rush to the child’s aid after hearing an unexplained voice that simply called, “Help me.”

In the aftermath of 9/11, we viewed a cross that somehow became fashioned from steel girders during the destruction of the Twin Towers. And recently, a student took a photo of a utility pole in Oklahoma after an F-1 tornado had stormed through town. The bottom portion of the pole had been severed, and the cross tie of the pole was suspended by wires, creating the image again of…a cross.

Such images are interesting – and I don’t believe coincidental. But lest we read too much into what they mean, I think there’s a more important question we should be asking: “Where IS God?”

Thankfully, this isn’t a question that requires speculation or supposition. Because we find the answer in the Scriptures, most notably Psalm 139, where the psalmist writes:

“Where can I go from your Spirit? When can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the seas, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast…even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you” (Psalm 139:7-12).

So the answer to the question, “Where is God?” is simple – everywhere. The theological term for this is omnipresent. The Bible teaches there is nowhere we can go where God is not. He is with us during the good times (when we often don’t even care whether he’s there or not), and He’s there in the bad times, ready to comfort, console, strengthen and, when He determines it’s time, usher us to our eternal home.

If we are confident in this, that God is indeed everywhere, the question concerning where was God when some tragedy occurred might be more easily resolved. As the student commented after taking the photo of the utility pole cross, "Just found this after the tornado. God is with us."

Monday, April 6, 2015

What Are We to Do About Poverty?


How do you feel when you’re walking down a city street and someone approaches you asking for “spare change” or some kind of help? How do you respond?

Do you avoid eye contact and keep walking? Do you pause, politely listen to what the person has to say, and then simply say, “Sorry, I can’t help you”? Do you wish you could peer into the heart of the individual to determine whether there’s a real need – or if this is just one of those I call “the professional poor”? Or do you reach for your wallet, or purse, give some money, and then wonder if you did the right thing?

Randy Nabors' book, MERCIFUL,
offers to help answer questions
many of us ask about poverty.
I’ve done all of the above. One day the receptionist at work summoned me to the front desk to talk with someone seeking help. The man, whose name – like mine – was Robert, asked to speak in private, then told me his car was being repaired. The serpentine belt had broken, he said, and he lacked $18.57 to pay the bill.

I had gone to the bank earlier that day to withdraw cash, so I couldn’t honestly use the “I didn’t have any money” excuse. Since the fellow shared my first name I thought, “Maybe this isn’t a coincidence; perhaps the Lord sent him to me for help.” And “Robert” hadn’t made a general request. He needed a specific amount. So I gave him $20. He thanked me and went on his way.

Weeks later I was talking to a friend who worked at the post office downtown. When I recalled this episode, he laughed. “Oh, that’s the serpentine-belt guy. He comes by the post office once in a while with the same story!”

When I looked in the mirror later that day, I was almost certain the word “SUCKER!” was written across my forehead.

But scenarios like this are a real dilemma. And not all the people who seek assistance are con artists. So what are we to do about the poor – and the larger issue of poverty?

There’s no easy, one-size-fits-all solution, but my friend, Randy Nabors, has just published a book that will be a great resource for many of us who really would like to help those in need, but are puzzled about what are the best things to do.

His book is entitled, MERCIFUL: The Opportunity and Challenge of Discipling the Poor Out of Poverty. (It’s available on Amazon.com.) There has been much written about the issue of poverty, from many perspectives. But Randy has unique credentials to address this ever-present problem – and suggest workable solutions.

He experienced poverty himself, growing up in the projects of Newark, N.J. with a single mom and several sisters. He never knew his father, and if it weren’t for members of a caring church in their community, Randy could easily have become a sad statistic of urban blight and despair. Instead, involvement in the church taught him simple but important things – such as what a healthy family looked like; how men properly treated their wives, and how to work.

Through the kindness and generosity of a Christian businessman, Randy was able to do what is unimaginable for most inner city youths – go to college. He proceeded to attend seminary, taking along his wife, Joan, whose family had also lived in the projects. Together they struggled, one day at a time, sometimes not knowing the source of their next meal, but determined to pursue Randy’s calling to become a pastor and return to minister to the urban poor.

And that’s what he did, serving many years as pastor of New City Fellowship in Chattanooga, Tenn., a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural congregation with members from every economic level. Guided by Randy’s vision, the church established a very intentional, effective ministry to the poor, providing not only immediate relief but also helping those in need learn how to help themselves and become self-sustaining, productive citizens – and in many cases, church leaders.

The Bible says much about our responsibility to address the needs of the poor, but perhaps the most compelling, convicting passage I’ve ever read is Ezekiel 16:49, “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; but they did not help the poor and needy.” We could easily replace “Sodom” with “America,” because in many respects we too have become arrogant, overfed and unconcerned.

Randy’s book isn’t just his story, but a comprehensive, well-considered guide for dealing with a pervasive problem in proactive, life-changing ways. Today some people think the answer is simply providing more benefits and raising the minimum wage. Others staunchly contend it’s a matter of poor people taking the initiative to seek out a job.

He points out this problem is far more complex, more deeply rooted than the so-called liberal and conservatives camps understand or are willing to admit. But it’s not hopeless – MERCIFUL offers many real-life stories of people who found the dignity of no longer being dependent on others, for the first time experiencing hope and joy through the power of community, caring relationships, and faith in a God who promises to provide for His children.

And Randy affirms that in coming to the aid of others, there is another kind of joy – just as Jesus described: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me…. I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:35-40).

What the poor need – according to Randy, a man who knows better than most of us, having been both beneficiary and benefactor in the war on poverty – Is not pity or dispassionate handouts that only perpetuate misery. They need mercy – biblical mercy that manifests the love of God in both tangible and practical ways that feed people not only for a day, but also for a lifetime.

MERCIFUL. The title makes sense. As the Scriptures tell us, “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Holiday Some People Love to Hate


As holidays go, it seems Easter occupies one of the bottom rungs on the marketing ladder. Sure, it has Easter bunnies, jellybeans and candy rabbits, but it definitely lacks the hype of Christmas, or even Thanksgiving.

Christmas has Santa Claus, reindeer, elves, greeting cards, wrapping paper, trees and tinsel, carols, TV specials, and a selling machine that now begins around the middle of September. Thanksgiving has turkey and dressing, pilgrims, pumpkin pie, parades, stomach-busting feasts, and football games.

By contrast, about all Easter really has is…Jesus Christ. And that’s as it should be.

Symbols that surround Easter – like three crosses on Calvary and an empty tomb – aren’t the stuff that make Madison Avenue ad agencies jump for joy, but for followers of Jesus they are indispensable elements of their faith. Without the cross and the vacated tomb representing the resurrected Christ, there would be no cause for either Christmas or Thanksgiving. At least not in a spiritual sense.

And maybe that’s why Easter will never rise to the top of the all-time holiday hits list.

Because there’s something about a cross, and a tomb that’s empty, and a resurrected Lord who declares, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Because when so many in the world argue, “Well, if there is a God, I believe there are many ways to God,” Jesus simply replies, “That’s not so.” Instead, He affirms, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

Because God says we need not fear death – with only one condition: Jesus. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:16-18).

My last post was about names and the power of names, ones that can evoke strong mental and emotional responses. The Bible asserts there is one name that defies comparison: “Therefore God exalted him (Jesus) to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9).

What is the impact of this name, Jesus? The passage continues, “that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).

To this some might state, “This doesn’t sound very inclusive!” Others might protest, “Where is the tolerance in that?”

The “tolerance” is in Jesus going to the cross, not for any wrong He had done, but for all of the wrongs – the sins – others had done. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He literally hated the sin but loved the sinners, dying on our behalf.

And then, He offered not only forgiveness but also a transforming new life. “We were therefore buried with him in baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4).

So I’m glad Easter doesn’t rank with Christmas or even Thanksgiving in terms of commercial holidays. Because it’s about a gift, a reason for celebration that is priceless beyond anything this world could ever offer. Something that, sadly, some people so resent that they hate the day for what it means.

Easter commemorates the day when an angel proclaimed to the women who had come to visit the grave of Jesus that “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said” (Matthew 28:6).

And because of this, every man, woman and child who professes the name of Jesus – the entire worldwide body of Christ – can declare, “Hallelujah!”

Monday, March 30, 2015

What’s in a Name?


The other day I was reading an article that said biblical names are declining in popularity. Aha. That’s why I haven’t heard of any babies lately being named Mephibosheth, Absalom, Hophni, Jereboam or Eliphelet! And given the ruthless reputation of Queen Jezebel (1 Kings 18-21), it’s no wonder that’s not a name of choice in maternity wards around the nation. Who would want their child associated with such an evil person?

There’s no question a name can have tremendous impact. For instance, when you hear the name Ponzi, what comes to mind? If you’re not familiar with it, Charles Ponzi was a businessman and con artist who in 1920 swindled trusting investors out of $20 million by promising spectacular returns on their investments. Today, his name is often associated with similarly devious schemes.

We can think of other names throughout history that immediately conjure negative images – Hitler, Genghis Khan, Benedict Arnold, Tokyo Rose. But names also can carry great positive meaning. If you think of a favorite relative, or someone you’ve worked with that was greatly admired, chances are that person’s name always brings a smile to your face and lifts your spirits.

This is why Proverbs 10:7 states, “The memory of the righteous will be a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot.” Another verse reinforces that idea: “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1).

For a brief time, Charles Ponzi accumulated “silver and gold” at the expense of others, but to this day, his name is rotting, spoken with disdain and scorn.

It’s a sobering thought to wonder how people react when they mention or hear our own name. Do they utter it fondly, in a trusting or loving manner? Or do they want to spit it out, like a spoonful of bitter medicine?

So how can we gain – and maintain – a name worthy of being spoken? One way is by pursuing and seeking to uphold human virtues that most people value, such as integrity, humility, sincerity and compassion.

Galatians 5:22-23 offers a list of traits that would attract us to anyone. Having cited an array of distasteful behaviors, including sexual immorality, hatred, jealousy, fits of rage and selfishness, the passage declares, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control….”

Most of us would agree these are worthwhile qualities, but we’d also be quick to admit they’re not easily lived out. “I’d like to be like that, but I fail to do so more times than I can count!”

The following verses offer the “secret” for being able to manifest those qualities in a consistent manner. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by (Christ’s) Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24-25).

What this tells me is that when it comes to living the so-called “Christian life,” holding to the standard of life God calls us to live, the reality is we can’t do it – not in our own strength. It’s beyond the capacity of what the Bible terms our “flesh,” our “sinful nature.” Instead, we have to rely on the power of Christ in us, agreeing with the apostle Paul when he wrote, “…I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

This is a simple truth – but one that demands an entire lifetime to learn, and relearn, and learn again. I know, because I’m still very much in the midst of the learning process.

Thankfully, I also have the assurance Paul cited in Philippians 1:6, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” According to this, even when I mess up – which is often – God is saying, “Don’t worry, you’re right on schedule.”