After years of putting my personal fitness on the proverbial back burner, a couple months ago I started working out every week with a certified personal trainer. During a recent workout, we did 20 reps of a deadlift exercise for endurance. He asked me, as he often does, how do you feel? He is very attuned to any pain or proneness to injury that may occur from poor form and so on. I told him that I felt good, but that I was fairly sure 25 reps would be my max.
I then added, "I hate to tell you that," and smiled thinking we would be dancing all over the max for the next several sets. What he said next reminded me of 1 Corinthians 10:13. He said, "it is helpful for you to tell me things like that, because I like to stay about 5 reps below your max."
1 Corinthians 10:13 (CSB) tells us, "No temptation has come upon you except what is common to humanity. But God is faithful; he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation he will also provide a way out so that you may be able to bear it."
At times in our Christian journey, we can feel that the limit of what we are able to bear is upon us, and it helps to know that our all-knowing God knows better than us where that point is. We can trust Him and His promise of a way to escape in that hour of temptation. As our Lord Jesus said in the model prayer, "Do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil." Let us give God glory today that He knows our max and will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to bear.
During my first year of studies at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, I had the privilege of playing my violin in the orchestra pit for North Raleigh Christian Academy's production of Singin' in the Rain. The production was a lot of fun, and even now, there are times when this song and others from the musical will get stuck in my head (like right now). If we choose to sing in the rain, doing so can make us "happy again."
But what about pain? Maybe you lose a loved one. Maybe you lose your source of income. Maybe you lose your health. Maybe someone important walks out of your life. Maybe you are a victim of emotional or other abuse. Whatever the source of your pain, your first reaction is seldom if ever - to sing. But it is possible.
In Acts Chapter 16, Paul and Silas are beaten and imprisoned for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A first century Philippian prison would not be the most conducive place for singing. Despite their pain and their circumstances, Acts 16:25 tells us, "But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them." How many of the Psalms (songs) in our Bible were composed out of painful circumstances! The Bible teaches that God not only gives us a song in the night (Psalm 42:8, "In the night, His song shall be with me.") but that He Himself is our song (Exodus 15:2, "The LORD is my strength and song; and He has become my salvation."
No matter how painful your circumstances may be at this moment, ask God to give you the ability to sing in the pain.
Photo Credit: torbakhopper Used by permission under Creative Commons License
As I type this post, the NBA has canceled the rest of its season, and the NCAA has cancelled the remainder of March Madness. Our North Carolina government has recommended that gatherings of more than one hundred people be postponed and that employers have their people work from home, hinting that these recommendations could become mandatory. Every institution of higher learning, about which I am aware, has decided to do online only classes through the end of this semester. Many churches have gone to online only services. I rehearse this well-known info to underscore the extent to which people's routines have changed.
Such significant changes in our routines can have negative effects on our emotional, spiritual, and overall health. We can succumb to bad habits such as a slouching into a sedentary lifestyle, binge eating junk food and comfort food, neglecting exercise, personal devotions, and other important disciplines. Let me offer some biblical encouragement in such a time.
When God set up the universe, it is interesting the way that He built natural rhythms into the system. For example, we read that "the evening and the morning were the first day," (Genesis 1:5) and "the evening and the morning were the second day," (Genesis 1:8) and so on. Even if you disagree with my interpretation of those verses, Earth's rotation and orbit around the sun mark out days and years. Interestingly, God also built a sabbath rest into the pattern. There is a rhythm to life that sustains order and promotes health.
When you are quarantined or otherwise restricted from leaving your home as usual, make the most of this time to draw close to the Lord in prayer and devotion. Pray for fellow believers and loved ones to be safe from infection. Pray for those suffering to have their needs met and to lean on God for sustenance. Pray for an end to the pandemic. Keep up with your personal devotions and time in the Word. Set goals for yourself each day. Keep a checklist, and mark off your tasks as they are completed. Keep in mind that this situation is temporary. By using this time to keep the healthy rhythms of life going, you can make spiritual progress, keep your work life going, be prepared to return to normalcy, and avoid the potential negatives associated with slamming the brakes on life.
I offer these suggestions as a pastor and friend, not claiming to be a mental health or other healthcare professional.
Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” On this holiday set aside in Dr. King’s memory, I certainly hope that we are drawing ever closer to the realization of his dream.
The famous quote makes me stop and think. What is the content of my character? This MLK Day observance is a great opportunity to interrupt the cycle of life’s busyness and assess where we are with this. Am I a person of character? What can I do to strengthen and build my character? Are there influences that are getting in my way of becoming the person God would have me to be?
When I think of “character,” I think of what the Bible calls “the inner man.” The outer man is obviously your body - the part of you other people see. Character is evidenced through outward behaviors and deeds, yet it remains unseen. Jesus knows the character of every person; He knows what we struggle with. He knows how deceptive our hearts can be and whether or not we truly are people of character. John tells us, “[Jesus] knew what was in man.” (John 2:25) God’s goal for our character is that we would “all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph. 4:13) In other words, “Whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” If you are like me, you feel a ways off from achieving this goal. The Bible passage that contains my life verse (3:10) also says, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” (Philippians 3:12) To be true to the reality that the Christian life is not a legalistic set of do’s and don’ts, here is a self-assessment you can use to evaluate your own character on this MLK Day 2020.
1. Am I a person of my Word? (Matt 5:37, ““But let your ‘Yes' be ‘Yes,' and your ‘No,' ‘No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”) Can people trust me? Do I make good on my promises? If you need help here, you are in great hands. The One who says, “I am the Truth” is your Savior. He wants to live through you (Gal. 2:20). Character is achieved when we surrender to Him.
2. Do I love the LORD my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength? This is the greatest commandment. No one will achieve God-honoring character without this as a significant priority. It is impossible to love God with 100% while being a person of poor character. Your belief will always inform your practice.
3. Do I love my neighbor as myself? This is the second greatest commandment. So many verses of Scripture teach that great character is built by putting others ahead of ourselves. Seeing ourselves as servants to the world around us prepares us to become men and women of strong character.
4. Have I invited God’s Holy Spirit to build up the character of Christ in me? Christ Jesus is the only perfect person who ever lived. He is able to live through you. This is not just in the area of truthful speaking but in all of life. Christ’s love for those society has forgotten, His love for the Father, for the Scriptures, for the message of hope and love, His burden for the brokenhearted, and more will all rub off on you as you spend time with Him and become more like Him.
On this MLK Day 2020, let me encourage you to pray for God to develop the character of His Son Jesus through you. Even if the world around you judges you by some other standard, God will judge you by this standard. And His opinion is the only one that ultimately matters.
Ah, a blank slate! Nothing like it. Fresh starts are God's specialty. He created the morning for the start of the new day, and He created Earth's rotation around the sun. This cyclical pattern of existence affords us the joy we've exercised in the last 24 hours of ringing in the New Year. Some of us have resolutions; some don't. Will any of us keep them? Regardless of that, you can dedicate your new year to the Lord. How? Here are a few suggestions:
There's a lot of emphasis in our world today on being “social.” According to howmanyarethere.net, there are over 200 social networking websites/apps. Even the concept “to be social” is evolving. What I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone talk about, though, is the truth that God Himself is very social.
Here’s some of how we know this:
Whether you've finalized your 2020 resolutions, don't have plans to make any, or are somewhere in between, the best place to start thinking about change in the New Year is with the Word of God. Before you start figuring out how to get out of debt or shed those holiday pounds (and those are wonderful goals!), start with the Bible, and with prayer, ask God to guide your priorities. Even within the 66 books of the Bible, you may wonder where to begin, so here are some suggestions.
Can you think of anything more humbling, perhaps more intimidating, than the reality that others are following us? There are times that I try to get my son Liam to copy me - words that I say, motions that I do, activities I perform. There are other times that he copies me without any encouragement - and as cute as this can be at times, it is a solid reminder that his little eyes are always watching. As I, in many ways, picked up so very much from my dad, so Liam will learn much from me. Will it be good? What kind of example am I setting for him? It really makes me think.
The Apostle Paul had much to say about setting examples as leaders and exercising caution as to those whom we might follow. Specifically in 1 Corinthians 4:15-16, he writes, "For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore, I urge you, imitate me." Paul distinguishes himself from others that may have been vying for the Corinthians' attention and allegiance as the one who led them to faith in Christ. As such, he invites them to follow him. Later on in the same letter (11:1), Paul says, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ."
Let this brief reminder that there are those following your lead - a humbling reality - drive you to a fresh commitment to remain locked in step with Jesus. May our steps as pastors lead every person following us along the straight and narrow path to pleasing and glorifying our Father in Heaven.
To many people, teachings of a virgin birth, a star, angels appearing unto shepherds, and a Savior being born may sound odd. It would be like cracking open a book for the first time and starting to read in the middle. You don't know any of the characters, the setting, the purpose, the conflict; you just pick up in the middle of the story. This year, in my preaching and personal study, I've been setting the Christmas story in its larger Gospel narrative story. The Gospel narrative follows these major checkpoints: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.
With Creation, we find the roots of Christmas. We find God's original plan - the Edenic perfection that God will one day restore. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." (Gen. 1:1) The Bible declares this. "All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made." (John 1:3) This is a fact that we must accept by faith. Adopting a biblical worldview with God as Creator places Him in charge. He sets the rules. We are the created. We receive our existence from Him. The purpose of our existence is inseparably wrapped up in His will. "It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves." (Psalm 100:3) Our departure from this realization created the need for Christmas.
I find it interesting that, as intelligent people, we ordinarily have no trouble inferring creative activity over against a hodgepodge of disorganized messes. For example, if I show you a fully wrapped gift that is placed under my Christmas tree, you naturally infer that someone wrapped the gift. If I place a tape dispenser, a pair of scissors, a roll of wrapping paper, and the gift on a table, how long would I need to wait for the gift to be wrapped? Years? Centuries? Millions of Years? Will it ever happen? Apart from the origins of the universe, we never apply the same assumptions about origins. And yet the universe is (obviously) far more complex than any of these other things that require agency to come together. Not to mention - wouldn't someone have to create the first matter from which all else evolved?
The story of Christmas - of God sending His Son to be the Savior of fallen mankind - can never make complete sense to people who reject the idea of creation. God created the world. He created you and me. He loves us and desires fellowship with us. The events of Christmas occurred to move us along this overall trajectory - of bringing us full circle back to the perfection God had created.