Do you have a gift, a talent?
You say you have a great gift, a great talent - or others say that about you? Where did that talent come from? Years of practice, study, hard work? Certainly that could be the case, and more often than not, a person's "overnight" success or talent sprang from years of effort. But go a level deeper. Where did that talent really come from, what is its source of origin? Just as refreshing spring water in that bottle you're holding has a source - a deep, pure, underground spring - so do our talents. They are all gifts from God!
"Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you."
- Romans 12:3
You say you don't have any gift? No talent? Or a crummy, lousy talent no one wants or would appreciate? Au contraire, Pierre! You do have a precious, worthwhile gift! It may be submerged within you, as an ungerminated seed, or it may be struggling to express itself but not really given a fair chance yet. But it's there. God gave it to you. Water it, and let the sun shine on it. Uncover it! Let it bloom! Let your light shine! Be bold. Who cares if your gift or talent takes some time to develop - God put it within you to use to help yourself, your family, and others (particularly our brothers and sisters in Christ, but also others in need) - and to glorify Him. Unleash it, and know that it will be pleasing to God. Be a Gift Warrior!
"We have different gifts, according to the grace given us."
- Romans 12:6
Paul gives examples of gifts. They include serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing, leadership, and mercy. What do you enjoy? What have people told you you have a gift for? What are you good at? What do you wish you spent more time doing? What would you do if money were no object? That's your gift! Exploit it for good.
Watch the blessings flow. Watch the impact. Watch your purpose being fulfilled.
"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing, and perfect will."
From Walking With God (p. 115):
"When your mind is renewed, you are fine-tuned to God's channel for communicating with you and discovering His will for your life."
Romans 12:2 is nothing short of profound. If we "renew our minds" we will be "transformed" and then can "test and approve" God's will for our lives - which will be good, pleasing, and perfect.
How do we renew our minds? Spend time in prayer, in meditation, in God's word. Feed your mind with spiritual nourishment. This is an area in which Christianity and science merge. Studies show that mindfulness meditation and keeping our brains active through use (reading, learning, analysis - applying your cognitive abilities in an active manner) actually reverses aging of the brain, increases grey matter, and enhances cognitive abilities. When our focus is solidly on the Scriptures, when we are fully cognizant of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and when we draw close to God, we renew our minds spiritually. I use walking as my method of renewal. Each of us will find his or her own ideal way to generate renewal. The key is to find your way and do it daily.
What happens then? Paul says we will be transformed. This "consequence" is even more powerful when we understand that the word used here is the same word used in describing the transfiguration of Jesus (source: NIV Study Bible footnote). See Matthew 17:1-8. Wow. Notice, too, when Jesus was transfigured, God spoke to the disciples (Peter, James, and John) ("This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!")
Can you imagine God saying the same thing about you? When you become a "living sacrifice," when you renew your mind (and no longer conform to the "pattern of the world"), you are transformed and are in tune with God's will, which is pleasing to Him. So . . . God is saying the same thing about you! You are his child. He loves you. He is pleased with you. Double wow.
All we need do is turn on the spiritual radio. So often we forget to do that. God's signal - His voice - is already there, but if the radio isn't on and tuned in, we won't hear it. Turn on God's radio daily. Experience renewal . . . and transformation. Your life will be aligned with God's will. It will be good, pleasing, and perfect.
Romans 12 is a gold mine of spiritual nuggets. Paul tells us the real attributes and practices of "Christian Living."
We need only to turn to the Scriptures for guidance. There's no need to guess, or put it off as too confusing, too complicated, or too hard. It's clear, simple, and easy. We may not always want to believe that, but it's true. It's even easier to wander off the path of Christian living, however. We need to nourish our minds with God's word daily, go to God in prayer, and fellowship with other Christians, to keep ourselves on the path illuminated by the light of Christ.
The key word in that last sentence is "daily." It's really easy to let things go and just say to ourselves that we'll get back on track later. As an example, take the simple act of walking (of course). I missed walking this week for two or three days. This morning, back out on the trails and roads, the hills were a killer. At least twice as hard. Just from missing a couple or three days.
Our spiritual conditioning is the same. Even more so, when you consider what Paul says:
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship." (Romans 12:1)
We are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. (Thank goodness Paul said "living.") We are to live in a way that is holy and pleasing to God. It's a high standard, but a great one. It's a great yardstick to measure our behavior at any given moment.
Is what I'm doing "holy?" It is pleasing to God? Remember, for Christians, the Holy Spirit is indwelling. That's pretty holy! How often, though, do we forget that fact? Before doing something that in the back (or front) of your mind you know is wrong, get into the habit of asking yourself "is this holy?" . . . "would this be pleasing to God?"
With this little test, how much less frequently would each of us stray from the path of true Christian living? How much faster would we get back on that path, when we did stumble off? Over time, how much would applying this standard to our activities transform us into the living sacrifices of which Paul speaks? How much would that please God?
Paul calls the offering of our bodies as living sacrifices our "spiritual acts of worship." Think about that. Instead of worshipping only once or twice a week in church, we are worshipping 24/7 if we are acting in ways that are holy and pleasing to God. How many blessings will that bring into our lives? An abundance!
Footnote: Ok, I admit that maintaining ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God may not be "easy." But I don't believe it's impossibly hard, either. Maybe it's medium. But here's the thing: when we look at the benefits and blessings, the renewal and transformation, and the impact on others, it becomes easier - especially when God is with us, encouraging us, lifting us up, and helping us soar like eagles.
How often do we wonder about something, but yet forget to go to the primary source of spiritual truth and wisdom? The gospels contain the direct words of Jesus, as alive and relevant today as they were 2,000 years ago. All we need to do is open our bibles.
Here are just a few examples, from John, where Jesus is speaking to the Jews and being challenged by the Pharisees.
"The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him." (John 8:29)
This is a powerful message in a little sentence. WWJD? The course of action that pleases God. Jesus is the world's best role model. By doing things that please God, we draw closer to Him, and He draws closer to us.
"If you hold to my teaching, you really are my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31)
Think about that. Just as the Jews who believed Jesus was the son of God, was indeed of God, and followed his teachings, so are we set free (from the wages of sin, by salvation through Christ) and become disciples of Jesus. Remembering that we are disciples helps us stay on course and get back on course when we invariably stray from living a Christ-like life. It's a weighty responsibility, but paradoxically one that also lifts off all burdens. Jesus says he will give rest to the weary and burdened (Matthew 11:29).
"He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God." (John 8:47)
We often wonder if God is listening. Does He hears us? He does. But do we hear Him? Jesus tells us how to open our communication channel, how to clear the static and interference, so that we can hear God's voice back to us. Belong to God. Acknowledge Him, worship Him, glorify Him, thank Him for blessings. Be still, be humble, and listen. Simple, yet amazing.
The Our Daily Bread devotional for today, January 4, 2016, discusses the same thing - something all of us wonder about - that Nancy and I talk about in Chapter Seven of Walking With God.
Is God listening? Does He hear our prayers?
The author refers to Matthew 26:42 but doesn't quote it; in that passage, Jesus (in the Garden of Gethsemane) ends his prayer to God by saying "may your will be done."
The good news is that God is listening! He does hear your prayers. Ask that His will be done. He knows your heart. He knows what you want.
Remember 1 John 5:14-15: "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of him."
Praise the Lord, O my soul.
That's the first line of Psalm 103, a psalm of David.
Oddly enough, both the InTouch Ministries and the Our Daily Bread devotionals for yesterday were on Psalm 103. The message is powerful.
We should praise God with all our "inmost being" and remember all His blessings and benefits. These include, as Psalm 103 tells us, forgiveness of sins, healing diseases, redeeming our lives from "the pit," crowning us with love and compassion, satisfying our desires with good things, and renewing our youth like the eagle's.
Those add up to a lot of blessings and benefits!
Yet how often do we really praise God with all our inmost being? A hurried prayer? A quick thought? Asking for things we want, instead of praising Him for what He's done and asking for His will to be done? Not good enough. Woefully inadequate. We must put God first.
We need more of the kind of praying Clara does at the end of "War Room!" Who has seen that film and was unmoved by that scene? Who was not "fired up?" Whose pulse did not quicken? Who did not want to become a warrior for God and go out and make a difference, change the world?
As 2016 dawns, let us all make a conscious effort - daily - to really praise and thank God, with our inmost beings, for all He has done and all He will do. Let us glorify God.
The God of forgiveness, healing, redemption, love and compassion, abundance, and renewed youth!
Praise can take many forms, from the high-energy, spirit-filled choirs and congregations of black gospel churches (one of my favorites, if not my very favorite listening - and if you've never been to a service, go) to contemporary Christian rock to individual prayer and meditation (including my personal favorite, walking outdoors at sunrise) to artistic expression through art, film, and writing, to _______ (fill in the blank - use your talents!).
The key is to take the time to praise God, every day, in whatever way!
When I "walk with God" I feel as if He is renewing me, as if I'm getting younger with each step, as if I have bundled spiritual energy ready to release into the world in ways that honor God.
Make 2016 our year of spiritual reawakening. Make it our year of praise, from our inmost beings. Give me that old time religion.
Praise the Lord, O my soul.
Now - let's get after it!
"Walking in the light" means walking with God.
God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
- 1 John 1:5-7
These verses contain two profound truths:
1. We are liars if we claim to love and honor God but do not live in a way that embodies Christian and godly principles. If we wantonly sin but pay lip service to God, our lives are lies. We walk in darkness, not light.
2. If we walk with God - walk in the light - we have fellowship with one another, and we are sanctified through the blood of Christ, our salvation for eternal life. This is what God wants - for us to be brothers and sisters in fellowship with God, through Christ, and thereby be in fellowship with other.
Do people in fellowship hate each other?
Do people in fellowship maliciously criticize each other?
Do people in fellowship distrust each other?
Do people in fellowship push other people away?
Of course not. People in fellowship love, support, trust, and boost each other. People in fellowship draw others to their light.
Does John mean people in fellowship at their particular church, be it First Presbyterian, First Baptist, Ebenezer Baptist, or Mount Zion AME?
Of course not. Yet we so often conveniently let such a narrow perspective guide our behavior, while patting ourselves on our backs for going to church on Sunday. It's safe this way. It's in our comfort zones. It's as if we have a thousand sub-sectors of Christianity, each its own enclave of like-minded neighbors.
But what does God see? A thousand islands, each its own little fiefdom, each with invisible moats keeping out the inhabitants of the other islands. Insular, distrustful, myopic. Is He pleased, or is He shaking His head?
God wants a thousand bridges, not a thousand islands!
Christianity is the amazing grace that should unite all believers. White, black, brown, yellow, rich, poor, in the middle, evangelical, Catholic, conservative, liberal, educated, uneducated - all those labels should take a back seat to the fact that we are all Christians.
Christianity is our common denominator, our uniting force!
There is already far too much evil, too much darkness, too much violence (verbal and physical) against Christians, for Christians to fight among themselves. We need urgently to foster true fellowship with each other. We are all in the family of God. We are all saved by the blood of the same Christ.
Let us meet at the river.
Let us be bold.
Let us make 2016 the year of the gathering of the fellowship of all believers.
Let us marvel at the difference it will make, in so many ways.
Let us imagine the smile it will bring to the face of God.
Currently ranked #115 of all Kindle free books in the U.S. (Friday morning)
To all those who downloaded this week, I hope you enjoy and benefit from this book.
Here's the link for anyone who still wants to grab it while it's free:
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This morning Walking With God - How a Simple, Daily Habit Can Change Your Life is ranked #1 on Amazon Top 100 Free for Christian Living>Personal Growth and #3 for Christian Living>Inspirational.
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I hope everyone enjoys the book!