Don’t Give Up! Keep Running Your Race of Faith Without Looking Back

Do you ever feel stuck in the past and discouraged by how hard it is to move forward? You’re a Christian and you know that’s supposed to give you hope, but somehow that just doesn’t seem to be the case.

It’s disheartening to feel as if you can’t move forward from your past or that there is no way out of your present. Especially if you feel like you’ve done something so wrong or your circumstances are so hopeless that there’s no point trying to fix things. These sorts of worries weigh us down emotionally and spiritually. They can make us feel heavy, foggy, and hopeless (and may lead to other symptoms of depression as well).

Jesus never promised that life as a Christian would be without trials. He only promised to help us through those trials, and since He has all power and authority in heaven and earth this is an incredible promise (Matt. 28:18). It can be easy, though, to lose sight of the big picture and get distracted by all sorts of nasty things that cling to us, weighing us down and making it hard to keep moving forward. We might wonder how to get unstuck, or even if it’s possible.

The Cage Door Is Open

One thing I’ve realized is that most of the things that are holding onto me are also, at least to some extent, things that I’m holding onto right back. Jesus promises to make us free and to wash us clean of any sin. If we stay in a cage or keep rolling in the dirt, then it’s not because He has failed in some way. It’s because we’re still susceptible to the attacks of the enemy and the pulls of the world.

I don’t say this to make us feel guilty or ashamed (that’s another thing that weighs us down, and shame is not a productive emotion). I want to encourage you to shift your perspective. Instead of seeing yourself as a victim trapped in a locked cage made from whatever’s holding on to you (fear, past sins, personal shortcomings, etc), you can picture yourself as someone in an open cage where God is holding the door and asking you to come out. He knows it’s hard. He knows it’s frightening. He knows there are often circumstances outside your control that keep pulling you backwards. But He isn’t giving up and He’ll be there patiently helping you for as long as it takes. Read more

Understanding How the God Who Exercises Loving Kindness, Justice, and Righteousness Brings Us Salvation

“I am Yahweh who exercises loving kindness, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for I delight in these things,” says Yahweh.

I quoted this scripture from Jeremiah 9:24 in last week’s post and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. God defines Himself by using these three concepts and says He delights in them. If they’re that important to Him, then they should be important to us.

I feel like we talk fairly often about the fact that God balances justice/judgement and mercy/loving kindness. But sometime we’re puzzled about how exactly that works. Back in Medieval times, theologians wondered how a God of judgement and justice could also be one of mercy. Now we ask how a God of love and mercy could also be one of judgement. I think taking God’s characteristic righteousness into account — as well as studying the Hebrew word meanings — can help answer those questions.

Shapat, justice

We in the Christian churches today often start with the New Testament when trying to understand a concept. It can be useful, though, to start with the Old Testament because that’s the foundation the New Testament writers built on. In Hebrew, words for justice, judgement, government, and ordinances are all interconnected in the root word shapat (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, entry 2443).

We tend to think of judgement/justice as a judicial concept. In Hebrew thought, though, the functions of government were’t divided as we so often do today. The primary meaning “of shapat is to exercise the process of government” in any realm or any form.

When the Bible speaks of God’s judgement or justice it’s also referencing all aspects of His government, not simply judicial laws. To quote TWOT again, “although the ancients knew full well what law … was, they did not think of themselves as ruled by laws rather than by men … The centering of the law, rulership, government in a man was deeply ingrained.” Apply that concept to God, and the notion of justice has to do with Him as the center of true law, rulership, and government. He is the source of real authority and has the absolute right to rule as He chooses.

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“I Will Save You” — How God Fights Our Battles for Us and Delivers Us from Fear

What does your heart feel like? If it’s hurried and anxious, as mine often is, then you’re not alone. Our world pushes us to hurry, to perform, to keep up appearances. It’s exhausting. But scripture has encouragement for us.

“Strengthen the weak hands and make the staggering knees firm. Say to those who are hasty of heart, ‘Be strong; you must not fear! Look! your God will come with vengeance, with divine retribution. He is the one who will come and save you.’” (Is. 35:3-4, LEB)

Many translations begin verse four with the phrase “fearful heart” but “hasty” is closer to the Hebrew. Mahar (H4116) means “to be hurried, be anxious … hasty, precipitate, impetuous” (Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon). And doesn’t that describe the state that so many of our hearts are in? We’re constantly pressured to hit deadlines, be somewhere, meet somebody, manage time, and forget nothing. It’s no wonder anxiety disorders affect 18.1% of the U.S. population every year and our stress levels are significantly higher than the global average.

In the midst of all that, faith offers us an oasis of calm. God gives us a new perspective on reality that brings joy, hope, and peace to our hearts. There are times, though, when we’ll still feel hurried, attacked, and afraid. When that happens, there is a specific promise we can turn to. Read more

Crash Course In Galatians (Part Two)

A couple days ago, I shared Part One of a two-part post about Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. In this letter, he combats a destructive heresy spread by Jewish legalists in the early church. If you haven’t read that post yet, you’ll want to start there before you continue reading.

I like writing these “Crash Course In …” posts because it’s so important to look at context when figuring out what passages of scripture really mean. With Galatians, it’s easy to misinterpret if you don’t look at the whole of Paul’s purpose for the argument he makes in this letter. It also helps to look at some of Paul’s other letters, like we did last week by comparing Romans to Galatians.

Truly Fulfilling The Law

Now that he’s laid the ground work for his argument, Paul starts to clarify what it means to walk by faith as people who are no longer under the law. It’s kind of a weird balance to wrap our minds around. Much of Galatians 5 parallels Romans 12-13 in showing how walking in the Spirit means we’re fulfilling the true meaning of the law. However, Paul also makes it quite clear that we should not seek “to be justified by the Law” (Gal. 5:1-6). To say that we could earn  salvation by our own works introduces a harmful doctrine that spreads like leaven and corrupts the truth (5:7-12).

For you, brothers, were called for freedom. Only don’t use your freedom for gain to the flesh, but through love be servants to one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” … But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you won’t fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, that you may not do the things that you desire. (Gal. 5:13-14, 16-17)

Being free from the law doesn’t mean we’re free to break it (i.e. does not grant us license to sin). Rather, we’re released from the curse of being under the law. Now the law is written inside our hearts. Being filled with God’s Spirit and transformed to be like Him will turn us into a person who naturally does the things we’re told to in God’s law. The law’s not our schoolmaster anymore, though. We’re taught directly by God through His spirit inside us. Read more

Crash Course In Galatians (Part One)

When Paul wrote his epistle to the Galatians, he did so to combat a destructive heresy. From his comments in this letter, it appears that a group of people came through Galatia teaching the Christians there that they had to be circumcised and follow Jewish law in order to receive salvation. Paul refutes this, along with the false teachers’ claim that he wasn’t really an apostle.

I like writing “Crash Course In …” posts because it’s important to look at context when interpreting passages of scripture. Ecclesiastes, for example, doesn’t make much sense unless you follow Solomon’s whole trail of thought from beginning to end. Similarly, Galatians is easy to misinterpret if you don’t look at the whole of Paul’s purpose for the argument he makes in this letter (and put it alongside some of his other writings as well).

Another Gospel? Really?

Paul opens this letter by introducing himself as an apostle who was made so by “Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Gal. 1:1, all scripture references from WEB). He also reminds his readers of the message he preached to them before — that our Lord Jesus Christ “gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us out of this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (1:4). With those facts established, Paul immediately jumps into his purpose for writing this letter. Read more

Are We Making The Most Of God’s Gifts?

Salvation is a free gift that we cannot earn, but which we can lose or refuse because God always gives people a choice. Adam and Eve had access to a close relationship with God, but they also had the option to choose sin and death instead. Ancient Israel was asked to choose between “life and prosperity, and death and evil,” and implored to pick life (Deut. 30:15, 19). The Lord is not willing that any should perish (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9), but He also won’t force you into His kingdom. You need to choose, and then act on your choice.

We also can’t say “I choose life” and then keep living as if we chose death. We will be judged by what we do with the gifts given to us by God, and for those in His church today this judgement has already started (1 Pet. 4:17). God is watching us now to see what we do with all the gifts He gives us.

As we think about our relationship with God and examine ourselves as Christians, we all need to ask if we’re doing what God would want us to do with the gifts He’s entrusted us with. That includes examining how we respond to salvation, how we heed and use His Spirit inside us, and whether or not we’re truly following the example of Jesus Christ.

The Parable of The Talents

Shortly before His death, Jesus told a parable that illustrates how important it is for us to do something with the gifts we’ve been given. He compares His absence from earth between His first and second coming to “a man, going to another country, who called his own servants, and entrusted his goods to them” (Matt. 25:14, WEB).

This man divided his goods between his servants, entrusting each with a certain number of talents (a “talent” is  measure of weight, typically used for silver, that is equal to 30 kg or 66 lb). This pictures the time that we’re in now as servants awaiting our master’s return. Like the servants in the parable, we’ve each been given gifts “according to his own ability” and must now decide what to do with them (Matt. 25:15). Read more