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Dealing with Your Spiritual Inadequacies

Posted on April 5, 2018 By In Encouragement , Religion With no comments

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15

“Those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him.” More than anything else in my life the one thing I have wanted for as long as I can remember is to live for Jesus. That said, I have failed miserably. I have never lived up to that expectation.

No telling how many times I have recommitted my life to Christ or asked for forgiveness of my sins. As a child I would lay upon my bed unable to sleep because I was worried that my life wasn’t right before God. Somebody told me way back then that “the age of accountability” was 11, and by my 10th birthday I was so overcome with worry that there were nights when I could not sleep at all. I recall thinking I only had one year to get my life right. Then when I reached the age of 11, I failed my Lutheran catechism class, the only one in my group to do so. My pastor tried to console me by telling me that “you can’t grade faith.” But that familiar feeling that I had failed God remained.

These feelings of falling short of the mark have followed me all the days of my life. I remember tearful confessions through high school and my Navy years. Such feelings of spiritual inadequacy continued into my professional radio career eventually leading me to conclude that God wanted me in the ministry. So I studied theology, became a Southern Baptist pastor, and served churches for about 15 years. The result was even more feelings of not measuring up.

I saw a movie recently about the life of Martin Luther and I was fascinated by his spiritual pilgrimage. He described a period of his life as one of spiritual despair in which he devoted himself to fasting, long hours in prayer, and frequent confession. But all of those spiritual exercises didn’t satisfy his desire for pleasing God. In Luther’s years of spiritual struggling, I could see myself and readily identified with his constant striving yet, no matter how hard he tried, continually failing to live up to God’s expectations.

Even when I awoke this morning, my spiritual shortcomings were on my mind. And then I read the focus scripture, “those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him.” In reality the bar is set higher than any of us can reach. Denying self and living for Jesus is beyond our mortal capability. Although a worthy goal no matter how hard we try, we will always need — God’s grace.

When Jesus announced to Peter that he was about to deny him Peter said, “no way.” He was willing to fight to the death for his Lord. But we all know what happened. Peter did exactly what Jesus said he would do and then wept bitterly. Later, while walking with the risen Lord, Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him. Peter responded, “You know that I love you.” Indeed Jesus knew Peter loved Him. Regardless of the depth of our love for the Lord there will be times when we fall short of the mark.

In those moments when I am confronted with my spiritual inadequacies, I have learned that His grace is sufficient for all my needs. He died for my failings and there is no limit to the number of times He will grant forgiveness for my sins.

I’ll never be as good as I want to be for Him and neither will you. But when we are going through those feelings of spiritual inadequacy, we should accept His forgiveness, forgive ourselves, and move on.

For more on this topic, check out this article: How to Please God Right Now

Reprinted from The Forever Notebook, Book 2 (April – June) Get your copy here: Paperback and eBook/Kindle formats.

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Your Daily Spiritual Maturity Test

Posted on March 19, 2018 By In Encouragement , Religion With no comments

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

None of us likes tests but here is one that is easy to take and very beneficial. I call it the Spiritual Maturity Test. In fact, it is a test that is so effective, I recommend taking it at least once per day. Not only will the test reveal your progress toward spiritual maturity but it will also reveal deficiencies in your Christian character that require your attention.

Additionally, taking the test will make you better equipped to handle all of life’s demanding situations while maintaining Christ-honoring behavior in all of life’s challenges. The test lowers stress and helps you maintain a healthy perspective no matter how difficult the situation.

To take the Spiritual Maturity Test you must first memorize Galatians 5:22-23. If memorization is not your thing you can write it on a piece of paper and keep it with you at all times.

Step 1: Get alone with God. The test must be taken prayerfully with God as the administrator. Confess your sins, ask for forgiveness, and ask God to examine your Christian character.

Step 2: Identify the rough spots in your life. As you go before Him consider the areas of your life of greatest difficulty. Probe your life experiences deeply. What is causing the most stress in your life right now? What are the most difficult circumstances that you are facing? Who are the people who are putting your faith and witness to the test? What or who are you facing that is particularly troublesome?

Step 3: Examine the quality of the fruit. Once you have identified the rough places in your life then examine each aspect of “the fruit of the spirit” as it relates to the rough places in your life. Take them one at a time.

  • Love– Are you loving others as you should (especially those who are causing you the greatest difficulty)? Does your behavior in your circumstances reflect your love for God?
  • Joy– Are you maintaining a consistent level of joy or are you having a pity party, depressed, or angry? If you are truly trusting God then you have cause for joy.
  • Peace– Are you striving to be the peacemaker? Are you at peace with God or are you walking in willful disobedience? Again…truly trusting God in your circumstance will produce peace.
  • Patience– Patience comes by trusting and waiting on God. Are you trying to force things to happen or patiently waiting for God’s guidance and provision?
  • Goodness– Are you maintaining good behavior? Even though others are treating you badly does not give you license to act in like manner. Not only are you doing good, but are you looking for the good? Sometimes our lives are thrown spiritually off balance because we are seeing only the bad. Look for the good in situations and people.
  • Faithfulness– Are you remaining faithful to God and His way of living as you face your challenges? Are you seeking to keep Him first in your life? Are you remaining faithful to your responsibilities?
  • Kindness– Are you exhibiting kindness toward others, even those who are causing you difficulty?
  • Gentleness– Are you dealing with others in gentleness or are you snappy, harsh, grouchy, and irritable? Beware of meanness as a response to difficult people and situations.
  • Self-control– Are you surrendered to God and allowing the Spirit of God to rule your life or are you allowing another spirit to take control? Self-control for a Christian is surrendered control to God’s influence, authority, and instruction.

Step 4: Work on you weaknesses: I’ve been going through this exercise for years, and I have never handled every situation perfectly. There will always be something for you to work on. In areas where you are really struggling share that with God and ask for His help.

Step 5: Repeat this process often: I recommend taking this test daily until it becomes firmly established as a way of approaching all of life’s tough situations and difficult people

It is important for you to understand that the Holy Spirit of God resides in you. Your objective is to appropriate and access God’s indwelling Spirit that you might produce “the fruit of the Spirit.” It is who you are in Christ but to produce this incredibly desirable fruit, you must cultivate it properly with love and patience.

Remember that an important aspect of the fruit growing process is pruning. Just hang in there and remain faithful to God. Spiritual maturity is a beautiful thing and beneficial to all who partake of this incredibly desirable fruit.  Essentially what you want to be able to do is get out of the way and let the Spirit live through you.

For more on this topic, check out this article: How to Walk by the Spirit

Reprinted from The Forever Notebook, Book 1 (January – March) Get your copy here: Paperback and eBook/Kindle formats.

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A Sign of Spiritual Maturity Is Knowing When to Shut Your Mouth

Posted on February 20, 2018 By In Encouragement , Religion With no comments

He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.

Proverbs 17:9

You probably haven’t heard these terms since you were a kid: blabbermouth, tattletale, snitch. Remember when you did something wrong there was always a playmate who would yell, “I’m gonna tell!” (Maybe you were that kid.)

Some of those children grow up to become rumormongers and gossipers. They delight in being the first to get the dirt on old so-and-so. Quite simply, these are individuals who have never learned or chosen to keep their mouth shut.

What causes this behavior? Why would anybody think it necessary to air the neighborhood’s dirty laundry? Most likely these individuals need to engage in this kind of behavior because it somehow boosts their self-esteem. By pointing to the mistakes and failures of others it makes them feel better about themselves. Sometimes such conduct is about venting or relieving frustration. Other times it has to do with retaliation, a way of getting back at someone. Unfortunately, for some people “talking trash” is just a form of entertainment. That’s how they get their kicks. They find enjoyment in running others down.

Today’s focus scripture features a proverb that teaches the importance of keeping your mouth shut. “He who covers over an offense promotes love.” One of the important principles about loving one another is that we must learn to withhold intimate information about those close to us. The close proximity of relationships with family and friends will provide us with volumes of information. But, since we are a people of love, we are to keep that information to ourselves.

Now, more than ever, this instruction has great relevance. It’s more than just Aunt Martha and Cousin Bobbie Sue running down Uncle Buck while sitting on the swing on the front porch. At least their dirty laundry could be confined to the porch. But today, we’re equipped with cell phones, texting, chat rooms, and social networking (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc.). In other words there are now more and faster ways for spreading dirt and running people down.

The writer of this proverb is warning us to be careful in what we share about others. Those juicy stories we love to tell on others can actually be very damaging. Again from Proverbs 17:9 we read, “Whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.”  All too often relationships are damaged due to our inability to keep the lid on intimate information.

An important guideline in knowing what to tell and what not to tell is to simply consider whether the information builds up or tears down. Does it edify or destroy? If this information was about you would you want your friends sharing it?

In the Christian community there are many among us who love to spread information about others. Sharing prayer requests often turns to gossip sessions. God knows the details. Much of what we share, especially of a personal nature, is best withheld. If we are not careful caring and sharing can grow into meddling and gossiping. In such times we should seek never to share intimate details that would embarrass or humiliate. The “do unto others” principle definitely applies here.

Whatever you share with another will eventually make its rounds. Surely you’ve heard the old expression, “What goes around comes around.” Inevitably, the information you chose to share will eventually get back to the person you were talking about resulting in somebody getting hurt.

We all would do well to learn this lesson. One of the great signs of spiritual maturity is the acquired ability to keep your mouth shut. “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” (James 1:26)  Bridling the tongue takes discipline.  Just like any other spiritual deficiency, if you have a problem in this area, then it’s going to take a lot of prayer and hard work to fix it.

Let us be more careful in the news that we share about others. If we truly love others then there are some things that are best left unsaid.

For more on this topic, check out this article: How to Resolve Conflict, Part 3

Reprinted from The Forever Notebook, Book 1 (January – March) Get your copy here: Paperback and eBook/Kindle formats.

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How to Win Spiritual Battles

Posted on January 27, 2018 By In Encouragement , Religion With no comments

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Ephesians 6:12-13

Have you ever hit a place in you Christian life that you feel like you are taking one step forward and two steps back? Would you say of yourself that nothing comes easy for you? When you do get a victory does something almost always come along to steal your joy?

In today’s selected scripture the Apostle Paul talks of a struggle that is common to the Christian experience. There is a resisting force at work in this world that stands in opposition to our attempts at Christian ministry and spiritual growth. This force works to hold you back, hinder your progress, and put you on the sidelines of the faith.

When you are serious about growing in Christ and serving Him, as you should be, you will inevitably encounter this force of opposition. At first glance you may see this force as the troublemakers in the church or a particularly bothersome coworker. As problems and difficulties grow it is only natural to look for someone or something to blame. Paul reminds us that in such times “our struggle is not against flesh and blood.” If you are going to be able “to stand” and overcome this opposition it is important that you know who and what you are fighting.

In Ephesians 6:11, Paul identifies the head of this enemy force as the Devil. His evil legions are comprised of rulers… authorities… the powers of this dark world… and…the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Paul wants you to understand that this battle cannot be won on a human level for this is a spiritual battle. More importantly, you should recognize that God has equipped you with everything you need for surviving and winning.

Satan’s objective is to thwart the work of Christ through you. He does not want you to grow spiritually and thus become a productive worker for the Lord. His work is devious, deceiving, and devouring. He can make your good work appear evil. He can make you, the good guy, look like the bad guy. When Christians are working together for a common purpose he will seek to disrupt, divide, and destroy. Paul warns us to be prepared to take a stand against “the devil’s schemes.”

Have you been wounded on the battlefield of faith? Have you been sidelined by hurt feelings, disappointment, discouragement, or disillusionment?

Unfortunately, the wounds of battle have taken many Christians out of the game. It causes some to stop their attempts at spiritual growth and others to pull out of Christian service. Is that you? Or, are you at the point where you are considering throwing in the towel? Just remember, when you give up…Satan wins. Paul exhorts us “to stand.” His instruction is to “put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

God provides each of us with armor and weapons for fighting “the spiritual forces of evil.” Please take time to read the verses 14-18. Here we are told how to stand and fight. Our protective armor consists of “truth,” “righteousness,” “the gospel,” and “faith.” Our offensive weapon is the word of God (“sword of the Spirit”). In verse 18, Paul then admonishes us to “pray.” The battle can only be won with spiritual armor and spiritual weapons since this is spiritual warfare.

You don’t have to be sidelined. You don’t have to lose. God has given you all you need to stand, fight, and win. Lashing back at or trying to get even with people will do nothing to stop the struggle. In fact, such tactics will likely make things worse and you’ll be playing into the enemy’s hands. “Your struggle is not against flesh and blood.” Don’t fight the symptom….fight the cause. This is spiritual warfare.

For more on this topic, check out this article: Your Thorn of Trouble that Won’t Go Away

Reprinted from The Forever Notebook, Book 1 (January – March) Get your copy here: Paperback and eBook/Kindle formats.

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What You Should Be When You Grow Up

Posted on January 10, 2018 By In Encouragement , Religion With no comments

But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

1 Peter 1:15-16

One of our favorite questions to ask a child is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My oldest son wanted to be a “scien-tis-tist.”

Many parents have designs on what they want their children to “be.” I never really thought in terms of a specific vocation for my sons. My primary concern was in regards to their character. I wanted them to “be good.” The rest would take care of itself.

In regards to what we should “be” there is actually a higher expectation that comes from God. God wants us to “be holy.”

Doctrinally there are two categories of holiness. First there is positional holiness. You are made holy by the work of Christ. In Him you are holy. The second category is the practice of holiness, “…be holy in all you do.” God is telling us to “be” who we already are in Christ. You are holy…now act like it. “Be holy.”

The word “holy,” in regard to the believer, means to be set apart for God’s purposes. Holy, sanctify, and saint all come from the same root word. In other words, for the Christian, the emphasis should be on what He wants you to be when you grow up.

When we are young there are behavioral traits of our parents that get on our nerves. My granddaddy always sat at the head of the table, used the same plate, same fork (with one prong missing), and knife (with a broken handle)…for every meal. I was bound and determined that when I was out on my own I would never adopt that behavior. Fortunately, I’ve been able to keep my promise to myself. But…who knows? Maybe someday.

In reality we adopt many of the behavior characteristics of our parents. Have you ever said to your spouse, “You’re acting just like your mother?” The older we get we not only act like them, we actually look like them. Recently my granddaughter put a play wig on my head and took my picture. I was shocked to see that…I look just like my mother.

Our heavenly Father is holy and as His children we are instructed, “Be holy, because I am holy.” As we grow in Christ we will inevitably adopt family traits. Just as a child mimics the behavior of a parent we should seek to mimic the holy behavior of our God.

To “be holy” is to strive for godly behavior in every area of your life. God wants you to pattern your life after Jesus. “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.” Jesus is your perfect model for living the Christian life. Learn from His devotion and obedience, His way of forgiveness, His model of standing against temptation, and for what is right. Learn from His compassion, love, and ministry to others.

As a Christian, what do you want to be when you grow up? There really is only one right answer to that question. Your uppermost desire should be to “be holy in all you do.”

Here in January, when goal setting and resolutions are top of mind, is a perfect time to resolve to set your sites on holy living.

Ultimately, the highest compliment you can ever receive is for someone to say, “I can see your Father in you.”

For more on this topic, check out this article: You Can’t Fake Your Way Into Heaven

Reprinted from The Forever Notebook, Book 1 (January – March) Get your copy here: Paperback and eBook/Kindle formats.

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A Simple Plan for Strengthening Your Walk with God

Posted on November 28, 2017 By In Encouragement , Religion With no comments

“Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done.”

1 Chronicles 16:8

Our focus text gives a concise three-fold process for strengthening our walk with God.

  1. Give thanks.
  2. Call on His name.
  3. Tell your story.

Clearly, there’s more to the Christian experience, but practicing these simple steps every day will help you grow in the faith. It’s like an exercise plan for the soul.

To Strengthen Your Walk with God “Give thanks to the Lord.”

In our horizontal relationships with one another, expressions of gratitude are a daily occurrence. Like at the end of a transaction. “Thank you for shopping at Walmart.”

Or after a thoughtful comment. “You look great in that dress.”

Upon receiving a gift or an act of kindness. “You shouldn’t have, but thank you.”

Expressing gratitude is an automatic response, sometimes with little thought. Drummed into us by our parents.

Reminds me of an incident I observed in the grocery store recently. A mother was demanding a toddler to say the magic words. “If you don’t say it, the nice lady won’t give you a cookie next time.” The kid relented, and the crisis was averted.

Just to be clear, there is nothing wrong with “thank you.” It is a common courtesy that should be employed by all of us, even when our brains are on autopilot.

There is, however, a higher level of  giving thanks, heart-felt gratitude that flows from the depth of your being. It’s the kind of “thank you” that I expressed to God when my wife was declared free of cancer. It’s the gratefulness expressed by any one of us upon seeing our newborn children for the first time. It comes in those special moments when you realize the greatness of God; how much He loves you, all He has done for you, and His incredible work in your life.

Each day when you approach the Lord, pause to consider the great things He has done. Besides the blanket catch-all “thank you,” recall specific blessings and speak from the heart.

To Strengthen Your Walk with God “Call on His name.”

If at this very moment, God stopped working in your life, you would still have more than enough for which to be thankful. He saved you through the precious gift of His Son. But God has no plan to stop blessing you. That’s why He wants you to “call on His name.”

Share your heart with the Lord. Tell Him where you need help. What are your burdens and concerns? Share your dreams and broken dreams. Confess your sin and ask Him to enable you to overcome it. What habits need to be corrected? What are your spiritual challenges? And when you make requests, do so with faith.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:6

To Strengthen Your Walk with God “Make known among the nations what he has done.”

This relationship, between you and God, will produce plenty to talk about; stories of the great things He has done. Use them to encourage others with God’s faithfulness.

You and I share a commonality in the faith. But we also have unique personal experiences with God. Those individual blessings are particularly helpful when ministering to others in similar circumstances.

Thank. Pray. Witness. Do that every day to strengthen your walk with the Lord.

For more on this topic, check out this article: Don’t Miss This Part of Gods Will for Your Life

Reprinted from The Forever Notebook, Book 4 (October – December) Get your copy here: Paperback and eBook/Kindle formats.

Lessons Learned from Christ's Nativity

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