Abundance for Today

”Stir crazy” is a phrase used a lot these days. Understandably, and sadly, many feel very isolated, even from family and friends. While circumstances vary, all of us can say that our ”normal” has been very disrupted. I won’t dwell on this point but remember just a few weeks ago, when we had never heard of a corona virus?

Seemingly absent from today’s typical conversation is the idea of having fullness of life, yet that’s exactly what Jesus wants for us. Even in these times and conditions. While many have lost so much, we may find that we have been given a great opportunity to see differently.

In John 10:10, Jesus specifically tells us, “I have come so that (you) may have life and have it in abundance”. Did you see that? Abundant life! How amazing to think about. But does this describe you?

Now, make no mistake: this does not describe, as some of the prosperity gospel may say, having ”your best life now”. There will be trials. There will be difficulties. Christians get sick. Christians die. Christians may still have financial troubles. Christians suffer many of the same hardships that unbelievers do. And, we can count on the fact that, if we’re living for Jesus, there will be persecution.

But there’s nothing routine about living a Christ-like life. We should not confuse the presence of difficulties with an absence of abundant life.

Let’s keep in mind the context of this scripture. The first six verses of the chapter describes Jesus’ relationship with Christians, whom He describes as sheep. Verses 7-10 describe Jesus’ provisions for His sheep. Specifically, He uses the metaphor that He is the Good Shepherd and the Gate and only those who come to Him may find pasture. He is the protector and provider of all that is good. We see throughout the scriptures that the Lord leads His people beside still waters, providing for all of their needs, even while allowing circumstances to remind His people to depend on Him. Jesus offers not only life, but abundant life.

God created us to experience a life better than we could possibly imagine, a “rich and satisfying life” (NLT). The 2nd century Christian theologian, Irenaeus, taught, “the glory of God is a man fully alive”. And, while God’s glory is certainly more than that expressed by man, his point is that as God’s only image bearer, we have the potential to be filled with God’s glory such that it radiates through us and from us, leavIng us full and lacking nothing.

When we submit our lives to Christ – when we are in Christ – we may have life in the fullest. Of course, this is true of the eternity we will spend with Him in heaven, but even today, we may experience His love, His joy, His peace, and fullness of life in Christ because we are filled by His Spirit. This promise is echoed in Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”.

He really does want us to be fully alive, abundantly alive, filled with His Spirit and participating in the overflow of love of the Triune God. We don’t have to go stir crazy; rather, I pray these crazy times provide the opportunity to focus our attention on things above. Perhaps we will be stirred to dwell on Jesus’ words, “I have come so that (you) may have life and have it in abundance”.

He Will Hold Me Fast

Have you ever feared your faith would fail? Oh, just this past week? Perhaps today, even.

In these times of uncertainty and constant change, fear abounds in the hearts of those without hope. Let’s be honest, it abounds in the hearts of those with hope more often than we’d care to admit. For those of you who do have faith in God’s sovereignty, let this song be a reminder to you – HE will hold you fast. If you’re reading this and you don’t know where your hope lies, let me encourage you to turn to Jesus.

I’m notorious for quoting song lyrics for the purpose of encouragement and because “they’re a song for everything” when you’re a music major/worship leader, but if they’re good and true, then why not!?

Those He saves are His delight, Christ will hold me fast;
Precious in his holy sight, He will hold me fast.
He’ll not let my soul be lost; His promises shall last;
Bought by Him at such a cost, He will hold me fast.

God delights in you! You are precious to Him! He has saved you with the blood of His Son, Jesus!

One of my favorite passages of scripture comes from Psalm 18. Verse 19 says, “he rescued me because he delighted in me.” What encouragement! We know ourselves pretty well. Or at least, we think we do most of the time. And a lot of the time, who we are is not very good. [Insert your sins and struggles here.] The amazing good news is that God knows you even better than you know yourself, yet He still chooses to rescue, deliver, redeem, and HOLD FAST TO YOU!

In seasons of uncertainty, in the midst of the pandemic we find ourselves in, in the times that we give in to fear and faith is hard to hold on to – He will hold you fast.

P.S. If you want to hear better versions of this modern hymn written by the Getty’s, just go to YouTube. My rough-around-the-edges version can be listened to below.

Find a Friend: Five Relationships Every Christian Needs

Seldom does a week go by that I don’t find an encouraging, or just plain interesting and thought provoking, piece of Christian media. It may be a podcast episode, blog post or an article that is right on time with where I am in life. It’s a “what I need, when I needed it,” kind of thing. I try my best to stay fresh on current conversation, always learning, and seeking to love the Lord with my mind (Matthew 22:37).

At the same time, I’ll find content along the way worthy of filing away for a later date. Sometimes the material is applicable to specific text or doctrine of Scripture. Other times the content of the post is helpful for living the Christian life. Still others, and I say this as a pastor, provide counsel and wisdom from those who have gone before me, and I can’t help but to place it in safe keeping.

Below is a listing of my favorite online hubs for good Christian content.

One blog post that has made a considerable impact on me through the years dates back to 2015 by Chuck Lawless. He has recently reposted it as “Relationships Every Christian Needs, Especially Now.”

Its content has been a staple of Lawless’ talks on discipleship, and is something that particularly resonates with me as I seek to live on mission. I’d like to share it below in hopes that you will be encouraged to think intentionally about your friendships. I do know this — we all need friends. Let’s leverage those friendships towards a life lived on mission for King Jesus.

In his original post, Lawless writes,

God created Adam and said about him, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). That message does not mean that everyone must be married, but it does show that God made us to be in relationship with others. Those of us (like me) who tend be loners need to hear this word: by God’s design, we need other people. Here are five relationships every follower of Christ needs:

  1. God —

For the believer, I know this one’s a given, but too often we know God in our head and not in our heart. Having a genuine relationship with God means wanting to speak to Him, hear from Him, be obedient to Him, and tell others about Him. I’m not sure many believers have that kind of relationship with our Creator.

  1. A “Paul” —

 All believers need a mature brother or sister in Christ who mentors them, who guides them in life to walk more and more with Jesus. A “Paul” has permission to ask you any questions, to drill down deeply into your life so even your secret places are still honoring to God.

  1. A “Barnabas” —

A “Barnabas” is a peer, a friend who encourages you to be faithful to God. He knows you well enough to read your eyes and understand your heart, but he’s also the guy who just “hangs out” with you for the fun of it. He’s a brother who’s close to where you are in his walk with God, and your goal is to grow together. 

  1. A “Timothy” —

“Timothy” is a younger believer into whose life you invest yourself (which, of course, makes you a “Paul” to him).  He’s the believer who watches your life, listening and learning from you as you spend time together. Your Timothy wants to be like God because you are, and this “Paul/Timothy” relationship is a fundamental New Testament model of discipleship. 

  1. A “Samaritan woman” or a “rich young ruler” —

The Samaritan woman and the rich young ruler are examples of non-believers who encountered Jesus. All of us need an intentional relationship with some non-believer, whether it’s a woman at the well, a rich young ruler, or a religious Pharisee. If you don’t have such a relationship, it’s going to be difficult to be a Great Commission Christian who shares the good news.

True believers, of course, have a relationship with God. Some have a Paul, and some have a Timothy. Many have at least a surface-level Barnabas, though the relationship is not as deep as it could be. Too few have a Samaritan woman or rich young ruler relationship. We know non-believers, but we don’t see them as lost sheep without a shepherd.

Hence, we have much relationship work to do.

Which of these relationships do you have? Which ones do you need to develop?

As we seek to live life on mission, I’m convinced that we need these relationships. More friends the merrier, perhaps so, but these are critical for every believer. They are not only modeled and for us in the New Testament, but prove to be the very vehicles by which the kingdom advances and Christians mature.

Let me encourage you to pray intentionally for God to place these persons in your path. Seek the Lord, and then seek relationships. Whether by phone, text, email, or some kind of video streaming, leverage technology for gospel wins and spiritual fruit in your life. The Christian life is not to be lived alone, and it certainly isn’t private. May God bless as you seek to make and multiply disciples.

Now go find (or phone) a friend!

The Foundations

Turmoil is defined as “a state of great disturbance, confusion, or uncertainty”.  Everywhere we turn there seems to be turmoil.   We see this played out in political arenas, social circles, and even among Christians.  So often we find ourselves at odds with someone or something.

As Christians, how are we supposed to deal with this?  The Sunday School answer is to look to the Bible.  And while that is absolutely the right answer, the Bible is a big book.  How do we find answers there to all the different challenges we deal with?  We start by understanding some of the foundation stones that our faith is built upon.

2 Timothy 3:16 tells us, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness”.  I’m listing this as the first foundation stone because everything else will be based on the Bible.  Looking for answers without including the Bible, would be like joining a rescue party in the wilderness with no means of communication or navigation.  In the end, we just become part of the problem, needing to be rescued ourselves.

This verse from Timothy, and others like it, confirms for us that the Bible is our source book.  This is not an ignorant, blind faith.  But it is a childlike faith.  It is a faith that says the entire book is trustworthy because God has already shown Himself to me through what I understand of it.  We could get into the apologetics of why the Bible is a unique book, but at the end of the day our faith is not built on arguments, it is built on trust.

Another foundation stone is found in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  This verse puts us all on equal footing.  No one has any right to think themselves better than anyone else.  We have all missed the mark.  We have all fallen short.  We have all broken God’s heart.  Remember this verse the next time you are tempted to think of one person as more valuable, or more important than another.

Similarly, Romans 6:23 tells us plainly our future based on Romans 3:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  We, all of us, deserve death; the penalty for each of us is the same.  And then comes the word, “but”.  “But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Hallelujah!  It just gets better from here.

Romans 5:8 explains, “But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!”  Not only is there a gift of salvation, but it was paid for when none of us deserve it.  This means we all have value.  Our lives mattered so much to God that Jesus died for us.  Not because we are good or deserving.  Our other foundation stones make it clear, that we are not.  Remember this verse when your life seems aimless or meaningless.  Your life, and mine, matter to God.  And so do the lives of our friends and enemies.

Taking these three verses together we understand how even the playing field is.  All of us failed, all of us face the same penalty, and God valued each of us enough for Jesus to pay our price with His own life.  Please, let this lift your spirits.  Understand that your life matters and has a purpose.

Next, we turn to Acts 4:12, which tells us “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people, and we must be saved by it.”  Acts 4:10 tells us plainly that Jesus is the name referred to in verse 12.  God only created one means of salvation.  The world we live in does not accept this.  Holding to this truth is deemed ignorant at best and intolerant at worst.  But this truth is not based on opinion.  It is based on God’s word.  It is trustworthy.  And, honestly, only God could create a way to heaven.  To believe that we can decide how we approach heaven is silly.  It would be like a small child deciding how he should be rescued from a well.  The child is at the mercy of the rescuer and the rescuer is the one to decide how to be pull the child from the well.

But how do we bring this all together?  We turn to Romans 10:9-10, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation.”  For so many years the church has taken a piece of this verse and left the most important part behind.  We have focused on saying some form of a sinner’s prayer.  As if saying certain words can save us.

That is not what these verses teach.  Yes, we absolutely must make a confession, but we are confessing that Jesus is Lord.  If we do not mean that, then the words are empty and meaningless.  Our salvation is not a free gift, it is a gift freely given.  But accepting the gift is acknowledging that our lives are not our own.

And, lastly, Matthew 28:18–20, “Then Jesus came near and said to them, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”

We have been commanded by our Lord to go, and take this news with us.  We have been sent into this world to share the truth of all these verses.  To put it plainly, sharing the gospel with my neighbor is my responsibility.  Telling my co-workers the truths of the Bible is my responsibility.  Telling my family about Jesus is my duty to my Lord.

You may say, “I don’t know how”.  The answer is simple, “then learn”.  I don’t say that harshly.  I understand fully well the complications around sharing our faith.  But those complications do not lessen the expectation.  We have been sent to share.

So, way back at the beginning of this article, I mentioned the world in turmoil.  Here are some practical ways these verses help us navigate the turmoil.

If you find yourself in a disagreement with a person who does not know Jesus, and the disagreement has its roots in our faith, don’t argue.  Don’t begin to push Biblical truth on someone who does not believe the Bible.  Remember what we have gone through.  This person needs Jesus.

Our responsibility is not to defend things such as the Biblical view of creation.  At least not with this person yet.  Our obligation is to help this person understand their need for a savior and the love that led Jesus to die for them.  To begin to focus on other issues is to buy into an argumentative culture.  We have been sent to share the love of Christ with a hurting world.  Please don’t allow disagreements or controversies to come between sharing this truth with those who cross your path.

So, what about disagreements with other believers?

In those cases we stick to the basics.  For example, let’s say that one person believes that Christians will go through the tribulation and Jesus will come only at the end of it, while another believes that Jesus will rapture the church before the tribulation.  Both cannot be right.  However, and I ask this humbly, what difference does it make?  Neither view is foundational to what we believe.

So many times we find ourselves at odds with other believers over trivial issues that do not impact our witnesses as Christians.  These issues do not affect how we live for Christ, or the truth we share.  I’m not saying these issues are not interesting or that we should abandon thinking them through, or even discussing them with others who hold a different opinion.  What I’m suggesting is that we recognize that most things are not worth losing fellowship over.

Yes, there are those things that we must defend, even with other believers.  But we need to continually ask ourselves, “does this issue contradict the truth of scripture (not just my personal interpretation)”?  “Is this issue essential to living a life wholly surrendered to Christ?”  “Does this issue somehow subvert the truth of who God is or what He has done for us?”  And I’m sure there are other ways we can look at this.  My hope is not to provide an all-inclusive list.  My goal is to help us think through what’s important so that our witness is effective for Christ and not defined by all the things we stand against.

May the truth of Christ shine through us all and change the world around us.