Archive for July, 2015

Last week we discussed how rich we are but often live like it’s not true. Why does this happen? Probably the biggest reason is that we are ignorant about the great things that God has done for us. As a result, we continue to live in poverty.

We also discussed that God has to be the one who enables us to realize how rich we are and to live rich. However, God requires us to cooperate with him in order for him to reveal and make practical the riches he has given us.

Impressive high ceiling living room with antique furniture, columns and balcony

Why We Are Rich

We are rich because, in God’s eyes we are always

  • Deeply loved
  • Totally accepted
  • Precious

God also

  • Showers us with mercy and favor
  • Gives insight into his thinking
  • Gives us life forever with him

Living in these riches means that

  • We don’t have to please everybody because God totally accepts us.
  • It’s okay to be us because we are precious to God just the way we are.
  • We’re important and don’t need to perform well to be important.
  • The future is bright because our loving Father controls it.
  • We can know God intimately because he longs to reveal himself to us.
  • We look forward to heaven with great anticipation.

Cooperating with God

God is the one who enables us to understand and to live richly. However, we cooperate by asking God for understanding and wisdom (Ephesians 1:16-19).

Another way we cooperate is by knowing the Bible. The Bible tells us how rich we are and how we can live in this reality. It teaches, reproves, corrects, and trains us (2 Timothy 3:16). Following it helps us to avoid trying to become rich through our own efforts, which is unnecessary and futile.

We also cooperate by identifying false beliefs about how poor we are and learn to embrace the truth of our riches. We do this by relying on the Holy Spirit to teach and empower our efforts (Ephesians 4:22-24).

A fourth way we cooperate is to cultivate the habit of responding to the truth that we hear and study. Responding is what makes spiritual giants. Letting truth go by without acting upon it is what hardens our hearts (James 1:22). It makes us live like paupers instead of royalty.

May we be encouraged to discover how rich we are and to live in this reality. Let’s rest in the riches of having been given everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3, paraphrased).

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This week I have been asked by my church to teach on Ephesians 1. The basic message from the chapter is that God has made us believers rich. Our response is to give him thanks and ask him to help us realize how rich we are.

One of these riches for me has been a new identity.

Instead of being someone who is not very important unless he is achieving or impressing, I now rest more in being important all the time.

Instead of being someone who doesn’t feel loved unless certain people approve of me, I now rest more in being loved even when rejected.

Instead of being someone who feels unacceptable when I fail to meet my standards, I now rest in being acceptable even when I fail miserably.

But is having a new identity the only thing that makes us rich?

Why We Are Rich

We are rich because we are God’s kids, Thus we are greatly loved, protected, accepted and respected, just like children in a loving family.

We have been given everything we need to live a full and productive life (2 Peter 1:3).

We can live in an intimate relationship with him now and will live forever with him in heaven, painless, joyous, and meaningful lives (Revelations 21:4).

God has made us rich. But many of us don’t possess this reality in our experience. God challenges us like he did Israel to possess the reality that we are rich.

God said to Israel and says to us,

“See, I have placed the land before you; go in and possess the land which the LORD swore to give to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Deuteronomy 1:8).

Like Israel, we must fight to possess what God has given to us as a gift.

Tropical villa

Living Like a Rich Person

The first step in living like a rich person is to realize that it’s God’s job to make it real for us. As Israel needed God fighting for them to possess the Promised Land, we need God fighting for us to escape living like a pauper.

God says to us through Moses, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt (Deuteronomy 1:29-30).

But to live the reality of being rich will involve a great fight by us too.

However, God leads the way as Paul indicates when he prays, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:18).

Therefore, God fights for us as we cooperate with him to possess the reality of being rich.

Next week, we will discuss how we can cooperate with God in living like the rich people we are.

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It occurred to me this week that I need to let go of some old things in my life. By hanging on to them, I was hurting my ability to embrace the new.

One of them was the church I used to attend. It was my home for 31 years. Yet, I needed to move on. I was now in a different place and needed a different place to thrive and serve. Yet, my heart was sad and a part of me wanted to live in the past.

Another thing I think I need to leave behind is the counselor that I have gone to over the years for a variety of issues. He had become a trusted advisor. But now, it seems I need help with an issue that has exhausted his expertise. But I am resisting seeking new counsel. I want to stick with the known and trusted.

A final area that I may need to let go of is leading a small spiritual growth group for mature Christians. I have been doing this kind of ministry for many years. It’s part of my identity. I get blessed and the ministry seems to bless others.

But God seems to be blocking every effort I make to do this ministry at the new church. Instead, is providing an opportunity to lead small groups of people who aren’t even Christians yet or just beginning to live the Christian life.

God seems to be leading me to leave behind the past behind, so that I will have the time to embrace this new kind of ministry.

But what does it mean to leave the past behind?

What It Means

Leaving the past behind involves choosing to follow God’s will instead of clinging to our past (1 Peter 4:2). Even when some of our past was doing God’s will, he now may want to take us in new directions.

When I first became a Christian, God wanted me to leave behind moving back to Illinois from California. He also wanted me to leave behind my parents’ wishes for me to be an engineer, and instead follow his wishes. He also wanted me to leave behind my grandiose dreams of career success, and instead seek less demanding jobs that would allow me more time for ministry.

Why Do It

We leave behind the past so that we can embrace the exciting future God has for us. “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). But we must leave the past behind to experience this new life.

We leave the past behind because it’s a poor substitute for the life God wants us to have. “And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for My sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29, NLT). The benefits of leaving behind the things that are no longer God’s will, far out weigh the costs to receive them.

Another reason to let go of the past is that by hanging on we can miss the abundant life God wants to give us. For example, we may be clinging to the false hope from our past that by trying hard to please, we can eventually squeeze out enough love to be satisfied.

But we will never be satisfied with this false hope. “Human desire is never satisfied” (Proverbs 27:20, NLT). Instead, God offers us the experience of his deep love for us that has no strings attached. “My love for you is so great that it is beyond your understanding” (Psalm 103:11, Paraphrased).

But when we fail to leave behind our efforts to earn love from the past, we fail to experience God’s too-good-to-be-true love for us that is true.

So, how do we leave the past behind in order to embrace the wonderful future God has planned for us?

Illustration depicting a sign with a leave it in the past concept.

What Helps To Do It

We need to be intentional about identifying our past that needs to go and put it off. We do this by relying on the Spirit to identify and free us from false beliefs and dependencies (Romans 8:13).

Two examples of false beliefs for me are that I can’t do anything with my hands, and I’m not worth very much unless I achieve and impress. Both these beliefs are false and need to be rejected and left behind.

As I do this, I will be freer to accept the wonderful truths that I’m acceptable and precious to God, no matter what.

Another thing we can do to escape the past is to fill our minds with God’s thoughts that are given in the Bible. God sees life and us greatly different than we do. As we get to know him through the Bible, he transforms us so that we think his thoughts and become better able to leave our past behind. (2 Corinthians 3:18).

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A friend of mine recently shared how he didn’t measure up to his mother’s expectations. He gave an example of how he once got a 103.9% in a course, and it wasn’t good enough. Why? There was one other child who got better, a course score of 104%.

When I heard this I couldn’t believe it. I said, “This is insane! How long did it take you to figure out that your mother was wrong?” I asked. He answered “Many years.” Many years! This is a crazy standard to have to live by for many years. And I still wonder how much he has been affected by setting impossible standards for himself.

Then I recalled my wife. She knew God loved her. But this wasn’t good enough. She needed more. She needed the approval of others to feel loved enough. So, she twisted herself into all kinds of behaviors to be liked and approved of by others. She lost the freedom to be herself and rest in God’s approval as being good enough.

Both my friend and my wife recognized their bondage to sinful beliefs. These were beliefs like, “I must be the best, in order to be worth much.” Or, “ I have to be liked by everyone to be greatly loved.”

Relying on these false beliefs enslaved them for many years. Now, they have learned to experience considerable freedom as they have learned to rely on God more to meet their needs for worth and love.

So, are you living free on this 4th of July and everyday of the year?

US flag on blue sky with clouds and sunlight with phrase

What Living Free Means

Living free is not just avoiding government oppression. It is also living free from beliefs and behaviors that hinder us from living a life of joy and power (Hebrews 12:1).

For example, do we have a difficult time resting from the busy week? “But there’s so much to do. If I don’t do it, who will?” we may say. But this answer may show that we are actually in bondage to the false belief that there is no God who is faithful to help get things done even when we take time out to rest.

Living free is not being controlled by our circumstances. It means we face the day living in the reality that nothing will happen to us that God has not allowed. “Whether for correction, or for His world, or for lovingkindness, He causes it to happen” (Job 37:13). This means that we can face scary and difficult circumstances knowing that God is carefully watching over us.

Living free is living without idols. John Calvin says that our hearts “are idol factories.” What are your idols? Popular idols include being accepted by certain people, promotion, food, achievement, success, and meeting self-imposed standards. The list is endless. The common denominator is that we are looking to meet our needs in them apart from relying on God to meet our needs in his way and in his time.

So, how can we live in freedom on the 4th of July and everyday of the year?

How We Can Grow in Freedom

One of the first steps to freedom is recognizing where we are failing to be free. We can best do this by asking God to show us (Psalm 139:23-24).

We can’t rely on what we already know about ourselves because we are good self-deceivers. He will be faithful to show us how we are failing to live in his truth when we sincerely ask him.

I started doing this several years ago and was I surprised! I found I was in bondage to what people thought of me to be okay and to achievement to be important. I am living in greater freedom now resting in my identity as a child of God and God’s viewpoint of me.

Another path to greater freedom is difficult times. As we embrace them, they shake us out of our complacency and commitment to the status quo. Our pain can drive us to depend on God in deeper ways. As Paul discovered, “I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). That power can lead to trusting deeply in God’s great love, respect, and acceptance of us instead of trying to earn them through an idol.

Finally, we need to realize that we will need to wait until heaven to be completely free from our bondages. May we be comforted by his promise that “I will continue to give you greater freedom in this life and finish the job when Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6, Paraphrased).

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