Are You Growing Or Shrinking?

A couple weeks ago, a speaker in one of my church groups asked, “Are you using major disruptions in your life to grow or to shrink?”

This question really hit me. As my regular readers know, I’ve had some major disruptions in my life over the past year. They’ve been prompting lots of personal growth, but they also come with the temptation to hide from that growth. There are days when the last thing I want to do is keep going. I want to curl up small in a nest of fluffy blankets and let the whole world go by without noticing me.

One of the main reasons God lets us go through trials is to give us opportunities for growth. In scripture, this is often refereed to as a testing or refining process designed to make us more like God. He doesn’t expect us to fully become like Him in this life. But He does want us to keep growing toward that goal, not shrinking away.

Growth-Ready Mindset

When I say we shouldn’t be “shrinking” I don’t mean that we have to be big, excessively confident, loud, or something of that sort. God can use people like that, sure, but He also uses the quiet, small, “little people.” He works equally well with meek Moses and brash Peter.

God likes working with people who can recognize they’re not complete yet. Everyone must be brought to a point of humility — a place where we know how much we need God — before we can start growing. Read more

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Not All God’s Love Is Unconditional: How To Become A Friend Of God

Do you ever feel like God just loves you because that’s something He does for everyone, not because He actually likes you?

That’s how I started the seminar I gave back in December, which I’m finally getting around to sharing on this blog. I’m willing to say that I’m not the only person who’s ever felt this way about God’s love, at least some of the time. There are a couple different things that play-in to this idea, but I think at least part of it is that usually when we talk about love in the Bible, we focus on the Greek word agape, which describes God’s unconditional love for all people. But there’s another word for love that talks about God’s affection for His friends. Depending on which resource you look at there are up to eight different words for “love” in Greek, though most people focus on these four:

  • Agape — selfless, benevolent love
  • Philos —  friendly, affectionate love
  • Storge — natural, family love
  • Eros — passionate, romantic love

We’re going to talk about agape and phileo, since those are the two used in the Bible. Together, agape and the root word agapao appear a total of 263 times in the New Testament. Philos and the closely related word phileo are used only 54 times, though it also appears in several compound words like philadelphos (brotherly love) and philostorgos (family love).

It would be pretty easy to look at these numbers and say agape is the most important kind of love in the Bible. And considering it’s the word used in the phrase, “God is love,” I’d say that’s a pretty good description. It’s also the word for love that’s defined in 1 Corinthians 13. There isn’t any other word gets such a thorough analysis in scripture. But maybe our emphasis on agape, even though it’s correct, comes at the expense of a good understanding of another important word, phileo.

Do You Love Me?

The difference between agape and philos might not seem significant at first glance. But there’s a conversation in John’s gospel that illustrates how different these two words for love can be. This conversation takes place after Jesus’ resurrection. His disciples had gone fishing and He met them on the beach, had dinner with them, and then asked Peter a question. In most Bible versions I’m familiar with, both agape and philos are translated in these verses as “love.” I like the World English Bible, since it makes clear that there are two different concepts at play. Read more

Be Of The Same Mind: God’s Intention For Peace In His Church

If God says He hates something, is it a thing we should be doing in the church? Of course not! Those who love God do things that are pleasing in His sight (1 John 3:22). We don’t always do that perfectly, but it’s supposed to be our goal. And when we miss the mark, we repent and change and try again.

One of the things the Lord hates and considers an abomination is “he who sows discord among brothers” (Prov. 6:19, all scriptures in this post are WEB version). In Hebrew, “sow” is shalach (H7971), and it means to send out or shoot forth, as in a growing plant putting out leaves. God hates it when someone plants and spreads strife or contention (medan, H4090) among those who are metaphorical or literal family (ach, H251).

So what does it say about us as a church body when there are divisions, disagreements, and rifts in our relationships and beliefs? In some cases, we can disagree on things that are open to interpretation and still fellowship peaceably, which is the right thing to do (Rom. 14). But all too often, when people in the churches disagree they start attacking or ignoring each other rather than working through their issues, resolving doctrinal conflicts, and seeking peace and unity as God intends.

Be Of The Same Mind: God's Intention For Peace In His Church | marissabaker.wordpress.com
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Strife Does Not Come From God

The greatest commandments are to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love you neighbor as yourself. In contrast, strife is stirred up by hatred, not love (Prov. 10:12). And the people who spread strife are called perverse, lovers of disobedience, greedy, and angry (Prov. 16:28; 17:19; 28:25; 29:22). Those aren’t the sort of things God wants to see when He looks at the people in His chruch.

Now the deeds of the flesh are obvious, which are … hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envy … of which I forewarn you, even as I also forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit God’s Kingdom. (Gal. 5:19-21)

More than half the things in this “works of the flesh” list have to do with discord and disunity. In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). Those are the things that stop arguments before they even start.

This Goes Beyond Not Fighting

Scriptures make it quite clear that God puts a high value on peace. Though He warns us that following Him will set people against you (Matt. 10:34-36; John 15:18-21), there should be peace in the church among God’s people.

So then, let us follow after things which make for peace, and things by which we may build one another up. (Rom. 14:19)

On your part, you’re supposed to do what you can to live peacefully with everyone you meet (Rom. 12:18; Heb. 12:14). This is especially important in the church, where it’s an attainable goals because all the believers are supposed to be working toward peace (1 Thes. 5;13). God intends for there to be unity in His church. Read more

The Importance of Spiritual Vigilance

Last week, we started a series of posts on spiritual warfare. Following the outline Paul gives us in Ephesians, we began with “be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might” (Eph. 6:10, WEB). Knowing where we get the strength to fight a spiritual war lays the groundwork. The next point is realizing what we’re up against.

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world’s rulers of the darkness of this age, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:11-12, WEB)

No wonder we need to be strong in the Lord! Those are adversaries we can’t even see, much less fight on our own. Thankfully, God doesn’t expect us to.

The Importance of Spiritual Vigilance | marissabaker.wordpress.com
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The Battle Is Won

When Jesus came to this earth as a human, lived a sinless life, then died for our sins, He assured Satan’s defeat. It’s such a sure thing that scripture talks of Satan (whose name means “adversary”) as having already been defeated even though he still has a little while to keep influencing people here on earth (Rev. 12:12).

having stripped the principalities and the powers, [Jesus] made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it. (Col. 2:15, WEB)

Shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus told His followers that the “Prince of this world” was about to be cast out (John 12:31). Other verses speak of Christ having “led captivity captive” (Eph. 4:8; Ps. 68:18) and of binding Satan to destroy his kingdom (Luke 11:17-23). Those all point to the truth that Jesus has already sealed our Adversary’s fate.

Since then the children have shared in flesh and blood, [Jesus] also himself in the same way partook of the same, that through death he might bring to nothing him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might deliver all of them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Heb. 2:14-15, WEB)

Jesus has brought the devil to nothing. The Adversary can seem pretty scary at times, but ultimately, he can’t win. Jesus made certain that God wins this fight. So really all we need to do if we want personal victory is to stay on the winning side.

But The Threat Is Out There

All this isn’t to say we shouldn’t have a healthy level of caution. Just because Satan’s defeat is assured doesn’t mean he can’t still affect us. He’s a very real threat and underestimating him can leave us in a vulnerable position. The Adversary is a roaring lion, not a declawed house cat. Read more

How Visible Is Your Commitment to Christ?

The culture we live in is not a godly one. None of us can say we live in a “Christian nation.” While we may share some values with the dominant culture(s), living the way Jesus did involves a very different lifestyle than the ones that are most socially acceptable.

That leaves Christians with a choice. We can either lie-low and try to fit in as much as we can, or we can embrace the fact that a commitment to living like Christ involves living counter-culturally. The later is hard. But if we want to become part of God’s family, we have to become like Him instead of staying like the world.

How Visible Is Your Commitment to Christ? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

We need a transformative relationship with Jesus

It’s not something we like to think about, but the scriptures indicate that not everyone who thinks they’re following Jesus will actually end up in His kingdom. One of these passages is found in Jesus’ sermon on the mount. It’s a serious, scary warning that we do well to pay attention to.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will tell me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?’ Then I will tell them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.’ Everyone therefore who hears these words of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house on a rock. (Matt. 7:21-24, WEB)

We learn several important things from this passage. Firstly, it’s possible to think you’re following Jesus and still not be in a relationship with Him. Whether or not He knows you is more important than the showy things you do in His name.

Secondly, He tells us how to become people He knows. We must do His Father’s will, hear His teachings, and act on them. Those actions will give us a strong foundation so that when life pounds on us we won’t fall (Matt. 7:25-27). It’s also going to drastically change how our lives look. Read more

The Incredible Reasons God Gives Us For Not Being Afraid

It’s all well and good to say, “God doesn’t want you to be afraid,” like we did in last week’s post. But that doesn’t actually help much with getting rid of our fear. Even knowing He’s patient with our fearfulness doesn’t take the fear away.

Thankfully, God’s doesn’t just order, “Fear not,” and leave it at that. He offers specific promises that give us tangible reasons not to be afraid. And when we are fearful, those promises can help us overcome to act in faith despite our fears. This past week, I went through the Bible looking for all the reasons God gives for us not being afraid. There are many, but I’ve sorted them into four main categories:

The Incredible Reasons God Gives Us For Not Being Afraid Looking At Scriptural Mission Statements For People Following Jesus | marissabaker.wordpress.com
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God Is With You

Before Moses’s death, God inspired Him to share these words with Israel:

Be strong and courageous. Don’t be afraid or scared of them; for Yahweh your God himself is who goes with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you. (Deut. 31:6, WEB)

The number one reason we have for living without fear is that God Himself is with us. And not just as a church or a group of people. Individuals can also receive this promise, as did Isaac (Gen. 26:24), Joshua (Josh. 1:9), David (Ps. 23:4), Solomon (1 Chr. 28:20), and Jeremiah (Jer. 1:8).

Don’t you be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you. Yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness. (Is. 41:10, WEB)

God promises not to let us down or leave us alone. That means the most powerful being in existence is at your side through everything. He doesn’t leave us to figure things out on our own nor abandon us in our struggles. Read more