What would happen if the Psalmist who wrote Psalm 42 (NASB version) went to a biblical counselor of the type I have consulted?
Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.'
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27 ESV)
One of the most expensive pottery pieces in the world happens to be an ornamental vase that sat upon a wobbly bookcase for who knows how long. An expert who had an eye for fine art discovered this amazing work of art after the owner’s death. The Qing Dynasty vase was insured for about $1300, but its true value was revealed at an auction when it sold for $84 million! Read about the Qing Dynasty's ancient vase here or here.
When God created the universe he did so with great variety. The Genesis account starts off with God crafting the canvas of the universe and all of its heavenly bodies. He declared it was good. The focus becomes narrower as he fashions the sky with its flying creatures. Then he forms the bodies of water with water type creatures. Next came the land with plants, animals, and crawling critters. God designed it so that every place had its thing and every life form was made after its kind. God declared that his creation was of special value. As we look upon the diversity and beauty of creation we can say with the Psalmist that the earth is full of the goodness of the LORD (Psa. 33:5) and radiates the manifest beauty (Isa. 6:3) of the work of his hands.
That Chinese artist of ages past who crafted this dynasty porcelain used a composite of special clay and stone and patiently worked his craft to design the masterpiece. God, the supernatural potter (Isa. 64:8) molded a new and unique creature. Like the plants and creatures that came from the earth, Man also came out of the land. Red clay, in fact, which is what Adam's name means. However, the human becomes the pinnacle of God’s massive creation.
After the miraculous formation, God animates this exceptional vessel in a way different than he had with other living things. He breathes life into the body to join a soul that is modeled after God (Gen. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 11:7; Jas. 3:9). The human becomes immortal because he derives life from the immortal God. The soul gives him the capacity to relate with God and fellow humans in intimate ways. The Lord also endows the soul with special characteristics that are God-like, such as knowledge, wisdom, holiness, goodness, authority, power, love, humor, and language. This extraordinary vessel reflects God’s nature.
The Potter fashions a living vessel and bestows it with several attributes that resemble him in amazing ways, makes a male and female version, and then declares it to be very good. Good in that humans are the epitome of a highly valuable and perfect piece of art.
As an individual, you are invested with a far higher value than an 84 million-dollar vase. Being fashioned in God’s image stamps upon you inestimable value and sets you as the gold medal trophy of all God’s creation. Yet, there is more – you have uniqueness among the unique because there is no one exactly like you. That is how God values you, his masterpiece.
Being the Master's Piece filled with high-value wonder ought to give you pause. If you need more wow factor, take some time to do a web search on how amazing the human body is. You can start with this link, and then boggle your mind with some great facts about the brain on this YouTube presentation.
This post is an excerpt from my book, ThanksLiving: How to Gain Perspective to Enrich Your Life. This how-to devotional book is intended to help you develop a mindset of gratefulness by increasing your gratitude quotient. You can start today with these exercises:
Make this insight your mind's focus for five minutes.
Speak to God and give him thanks for making you special.
With pen in hand, write in a journal how being made in God's image impacts you or makes you feel.
One last thing, take a moment and subscribe to this blog for more posts like this and to be alerted to more articles like this. Thank you!
- Dr. Don
Called to Live Thanks (ThanksLiving)
A. ThanksLiving is an overflow of giving thanks
We see in the Bible time and time again. Example: Psalm 86:12"I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever."
Whole-heartedness in Scripture is mind, will, emotions, soul, and body. Everything about you and me is to give thanks as a response to the Lord.
For what do we give thanks?
* For all people (1 Timothy 2:1).
* For your food (1 Timothy 4:3).
* In your talk (Ephesians 5:4).
* In your prayers (Philippians 4:6).
* For your spiritual preferences (Romans 14:6).
* For everything you do (Colossians 3:17).
* To God for everything (Ephesians 5:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:18), for this is God’s will!
Thanksliving is not only a command; it is also the expected overflow of a soul embraced by Jesus.
B. ThanksLiving is God's will to live his way
You are called to live from an overflowing heart of gratitude. This is because we are "rooted and built up in him and established in the faith...abounding in thanksgiving!"(Colossians 2:7)
Praise and thanks are a priority for you as believers.
Thanksliving takes discipline - Disciplines of a grateful heart
C. ThanksLiving is fuel for the flourishing life
Gratitude and thanksliving is a fuel for the flourishing life?
Some of the qualities of a flourishing life or abundant life in Christ:
Gratitude is a significant catalyst for contentment and contentment is a base for all the hues and tints of an enriched, flourishing life.
Contentment is the state God wants us to live.
Merrill Unger defined it:
The word means ‘sufficiency,’ and so it is rendered
inII Cor. 9:8. It is that disposition of mind, through
grace, in which one is independent of outward
circumstances so as not to be moved by envy, anxiety
Note:latest research by neuroscience shows the positive effects practicing gratitude has: it is the perspective that can enrich your life.
…happiness, joy, and even exultation are traits of an enriched life. More than traits, they are fruits. Like the attitude of gratitude, contentment is a mindset, and one that locks arms with thankfulness. In a sense, gratitude and thanksgiving are the mental and emotional tools that build contentment. Contentment grows from and then feeds gratitude. They have this healthy and positive symbiotic relationship that provides substance for a flourishing life. Gratitude is the perspective that can blossom into contentment, which in turn can provide an enriched life.
One example is in 2 Corinthians 9:11-12:
"You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.”
God calls us to be grateful and thankful:
1. Give Thanks (biblically, centers on 3 things):
a. His name (character)
b. His fame (providential acts in history)
c. His claim (redemptive work)
2. Live Thanks
a. An overflow of grateful heart
b. God’s will for your life is to live in gratitude
c. As a fuel for the flourishing life in Christ
“To be grateful is an obligation God commands and expects. Yet, this duty is not a burden since it is an exercise for our own good. Why? Because gratitude enlarges our hearts in ways that opens greater space for us to love all of the good God wants to pour into it.”
Years ago, when my family and I wanted to join a church in San Diego County we participated in the required membership class. In some previous churches in which we were active there was no formal membership, let alone membership classes. When we moved to Southern California we joined a mega church. They had formal membership in which prospective members sat through two Sunday School classes which addressed the church's constitution and presented their various ministries. At the conclusion of the second hour we became formal members.
When we purchased a house some distance away in San Diego County, we decided to join a smaller (185 or more people) church. The pastor and elders took membership far more seriously. This was new and refreshing to us. Yet the surprise came when they required those of us who went through the eight-hour membership class and wanted to join, to sign a membership covenant. Neither my wife nor I had ever heard of such a thing, so it seemed a little odd. The membership covenant outlined a list of ways the pastor and elders promised to serve those of us who were members. Then it listed a dozen or so expectations for their church members. Reading over the covenant and seeing nothing about which to be alarmed, we both signed it. In the course of the following week, the pastor and elders interviewed us. Two Sundays later we made public professions of faith and were formally received during the worship service. It was a big deal.
I have never been a part of a church since then that had such a thing. It is something Peacemaker Ministries encourages churches to implement. In fact, regardless of a church's affiliation, Peacemaker Ministries provides a recommended covenant for members. You can find more information on their website.
Reflecting on that covenant it dawned upon me how it might be a way to balance the expectations church members have of their pastor (and elders) with biblical expectations for the church folks. Church members often feel free to voice, even demand, their expectations of pastors (or elders) with little regard for the impact those expectations (good or bad, true or false) have on the men serving in church office. After all, church members' expectations are the primary reason why pastors leave a pastorate or leave the ministry altogether.
What expectations do church members and regular attendees typically have? From my personal experience and based upon what many fellow pastors have told me over the years, the great majority of those expectations fall outside God's own requirements for pastors (and elders). In other words, they are legalisms. While I could probably write another book, the subject, and title of which might be 1001 Common Expectations for Pastors, this is not the place to elaborate.
My point is: church members do have expectations of their church leaders and church leaders have expectations of local church members. Perhaps the pastor expect things like, “She must never be critical of me," or "Every participant in activities will always show up early or on time," or "The youth should pay attention to my sermons as much as I did when I was their age." To require those things would be to commit the same error or sin as any other person with her or his personal expectations. That would be just as legalistic and wrong.
Nevertheless, pastors and elders would be right to draft and communicate a list of expectations for all members of the local church that are biblically determined. Allow me to propose such a covenant:
The ultimate goal of pastors and elders in a God-ordained ministry is to equip the saints to do the work of ministry (Eph. 4:11-12) through the faithful exercise of their gifts (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12) in order to form Jesus Christ in the local community of God’s people through love (Eph. 1:15-23; 3:14-21; 4:13; Col. 1:22-29; 1 Thess. 3:11-13; 1 Tim. 1:5).
Here is a sample covenant for church members:
Our objective is to see every member and regular attendee serving and ministering to God and to one another in the love of Christ in order that we all become one new and mature body who lives in the unity of the faith (Eph. 4:13), in an intimate full-knowledge of Jesus that fosters a deep love for and full imitation of Christ (Eph. 4:13), and who lives in the truth that is spoken and expressed through love (Eph. 4:15).
Therefore, I make a commitment to:
* Glorify God by serving Him in regular, corporate worship each Sunday (unless I am providentially and legitimately hindered).
* Grow out of my “comfort zone” and grow more and more in grace and truth in my personal relationship with God in Christ.
* Grow out of my “comfort zone” and grow more and more in a godly, personal relationship with God’s people at _____________________ Church (Matt. 22; Jn. 15:12; Jas. 2:8; 1 Pet. 1:22; 4:7ff; 1 Jn. 4:7-12; 5:1).
* Regularly pray for others in the church (Acts 13:1-3; James 5:15; Eph. 6:18-19; I Tim. 2:1-4)
* Actively edify others by encouraging them in their spiritual growth and development of Christ-like character. (Acts 20:32; Rom. 14:19; 15:2; 1 Cor. 14:26; Eph. 4:12-13; 1 Thess. 5:11).
* Exhort and encourage others by giving aid, strength, and comfort, and by being a real friend in time of need. (Heb. 3:13; 10:24-25; 1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11).
* Lovingly admonish others (training by the Word through encouragement, reproof, or protest (Rom. 15:14; 1 Cor. 10:11; Eph. 6:4; Col. 1:28; 3:16; 1 Thess. 5:12, 14; 2 Thess. 3:15; Titus 3:10).
* Showing love by seeking to do good to others through self-sacrifice and giving (John 13:34-35; 15:12; 1 Thess. 3:12; 4:9-10; 1 Pet. 4:8; 1 Jn. 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11; Rom.15:2; 13:8-10; Gal. 6:10 ;1 Cor. 13; Col. 3:12).
* Having a servant’s attitude and actively serving others in meaningful ways (Rom. 12:10; Eph. 5:21; 1 Pet. 5:5).
* A regular and obvious demonstration of true affection to others (Rom. 12:10; 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Pet. 5:14).
* Practice hospitality (at least twice this year for someone with whom I am not very familiar; this could involve having them for supper, dessert, coffee, enjoying a picnic with them, etc.) (Rom. 15:7; I Pet. 4:9).
* Serve this church as a whole by using my talents and spiritual gifts (John 13:14; 2 Cor. 4:5; Gal. 5:13; Phil. 2:3-8; Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12; 1 Pet. 4:10).
* Handling the failures of others with grace, mercy, and love (Eph. 4:2, 32; Col. 3:13; James 5:16).
* Be an active peacemaker in our church (Prov. 19:11; Matt. 7:1-5; 5:23-24; 18:15; Eph. 4:32)
* Not condemning one another in matters of personal conscience (Rom. 14:13).
* Not destroy the character of another by my words (Gal. 5:15, 26; Eph. 4:29; James 1).
* Not lie to others (Col. 3:9).
* Not speak evil against another person (James 4:11; 5:9).
* Verbally and actively support the vision, mission, and goals of our local church.
* Participate in the annual congregational meetings.
Before God I will seek to put off whatever is keeping me from loving and serving my church family as myself, and work toward putting on Christ through His Word and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
My name: ______________________________ Date: ___________________________
Certainly you could think of a more comprehensive list or one that more completely satisfies (even generally) the requirements the Scriptures have for God’s people within your local church. What do you think?
Because Nice is Not Enough
Dominic Aquila, president of New Geneva Seminary, sent me this excerpt from C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity:
“Niceness—wholesome, integrated personality—is an excellent thing. We must try by every medical, educational, economic, and political means in our power to produce a world where as many people grow up ‘nice’; just as we must try to produce a world where all have plenty to eat. But we must not suppose that even it we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content with their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world—and might even be more difficult to save. For mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man.”
Lewis, as ever, is spot on; and I will build on his excellent insight.
Nice is stupid?
From what I’ve been told and read, generations ago the term nice would have conjured up images of a person with the cognitive ability of a lobotomized shrew. Apparently, if one was said to be nice, he was being labeled as stupid. But that is the nature of language. Perhaps the evolution of the meaning of nice-stupid to nice-sweet came about because certain mentally deficient people in those good ol’ days were also gentle and sweet? In any case, the word now conjures up images of sweet, passive, and harmless people.
Did God save people just so they would be nice?
However, does God turn creatures into his children to be nice? Many think so. Maybe this is one reason why some find Christians repulsive – Christians aren’t always nice. Indeed, some self-declared Christians I've known have been among the most vicious, vitriolic, and venomous people to stalk this planet. I would suggest that God does not redeem and transform people into sweet and squishy gummy drops or even halo-laden marshmallows. Rather he redeems and transforms people to be like Christ. Christ was gentle. But Christ was not really sweet. Christ was kind but not really nice. And as Lewis alludes to in his Narnia series, he's not even safe.
Instead of nice, Christians are to be kind
Through Christ, God lavished kindness on his people (Rom. 11:22). True believers who have trusted in Jesus Christ and follow him in word and work are called to be gentle and kind not only to one another (Col. 3:12) but to all (2 Tim. 2:24). The difference, mind you, between nice and kind is that niceness conveys passivity whereas kindness is active. Niceness sometimes evokes the image of someone gutless and saccharine. Most of the time, when I’ve heard someone label another as nice, what she means is that the nice person is a sweet thing, quite receptive to all the garbage thrown at him or her. Never upset, never vengeful, never …well, anything. If that were true, then I’ve got niceness tucked under my kitchen sink that needs emptying every couple days.
I used to be nice; back in the day when I was more stupid. I inherited the nice gene from my mother, so it was second nature to be that way. Of course I could have a mean streak, especially as a nice kid. Just ask my sister. As a pastor, niceness nearly killed me. The idea that pastors are supposed to be willing, even happy about being flexible, stretchable receptacles for other people’s garbage is both stupid and unbiblical. It took years for me to understand that. Like Robert Glover’s No More Mr. Nice Guy! I am no longer nice. However, I am learning more and more how to be kind like Christ.
Niceness is passive. Kindness is active.
Christians are called to be gentle and kind. Kindness is active. Kindness is courageous. Kindness is a proactive demonstration of true love. St. Paul says that love is kind (1 Cor. 13:7). The original Greek word comes from a term that means “being well adapted to fulfill a purpose” (BibleWorks, 2002). When the term is adapted to people it can mean better or more pleasant (Lk. 5:39) or someone who is obliging and benevolent (Eph. 4:32). God is kind, which is to say he is gracious and good (1 Pet. 2:3).
Jesus is very kind
We read about Jesus in the Gospels and we see his kindness all over the place. He was definitely kind to those he helped and healed. He was kind to those whose sins he had forgiven. He was kind to his followers, even when he rebuked them. He was even doing his enemies a kindness by confronting them with the truth about their bad theology and irascible behavior. So we see many vivid examples of kindness in the King of the universe.
Christian leaders are to be kind
As Christians, we are also supposed to see vivid examples of Christ’s gentility and kindness displayed through pastors and elders (and other leaders of the church). They are to be godly models for God’s people (Psa. 101:2; 1 Thess. 1:6; 1 Tim. 4:12; Ti. 2:7; Heb. 13:7; 1 Pet. 2:11-25; 5:3; Heb. 12:2; 1 Jn. 2:6; etc.). They are to be examples of gentleness and kindness. A gentle Christian leader (2 Sam. 22:36; Psalm 18:35, 1 Tim. 3:2,3) is not:
Pugnacious (1 Tim. 3:3; Ti. 1:7).
Quarrelsome (1 Tim. 3:2, 3; 2 Tim. 2:14).
An overbearing bully who lords it over God’s people (Matt. 20:25; Mk 10:42; Lk. 22:25f; 2 Cor. 1:24; 1 Pet. 5:3).
Instead, the Christian leader (pastor, elder, etc.) is:
Kind and gracious like Jesus Christ (Matt. 11:29; Acts 24:4; 2 Cor. 10:1; 1 Thess. 2:7).
Firm, but diplomatic even when correcting opponents (Gal. 6:1; 2 Tim. 2:23-25).
Wise, exercised in gentleness (James 3:17).
All Christians are to be kind
Just as Jesus and his godly leaders are to be kind, so too are all believers to be kind. Now, I don’t need to go through identifying the thousands (millions?) of ways Christ’s followers are to be kind. Scripture is quite clear on those ways. Believers are called to be kind, even to their enemies (Matt. 5:43ff; Rom. 12:20). No less is it true that we are commanded to be proactive in kindness toward fellow believers (Eph. 4:32). As we have seen, Christian leaders are to be kind to church members. So too are church members to be kind toward their pastor(s) and elders.
Christian, if you think that you are supposed to be a passive, timid, saccharine person then you are wrong. Stop it. Instead put on kindness (Col. 3:12). Follow Jesus who is fully kind. Be proactive, courageous, and benevolent like he is.
- Dr. Don
Do you know God? If so, what is your God like? How do you know this God? What difference does knowing your God make in your life? Do you have a relationship with this God? Will this relationship last into eternity?
God is One True, Holy, and Loving Creator
Through the ages, there have been many ideas about God, and many different ways that people have tried to discover God. However, God clearly revealed himself at the dawn of history. Through his creation, he revealed who he is, and what he is like. In addition, God has revealed himself by speaking to mankind. This verbal revelation is recorded in his Word, also called the Bible. In his Word, he has told us that he is a personal Spirit and that in him are found absolutely perfect wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. He has also told us that he is infinite and eternal, and unchanging in his nature (Jn 4:24; Job 11:7; Ps. 90:2; Ex. 3:14; Ps. 147:5; Rev. 4:8; Ex. 34:6).
By observing creation, we can know that God is invisible, all-powerful, and all-wise (Romans 1:19ff; 16:27). He is the perfect, caring Creator and we are his creatures, made by him.
This God is the only true God of the universe and is complete in himself (needing nothing or no one for himself), and he is infinite in his dimensions. An ancient man Moses learned this when he asked God his name and God replied, “I Am that I Am.”
What else do we know about this Person? We know that he is holy. This means he is perfect and morally pure, and quite different from all his creation and creatures (Exodus 15:11; Psalm 99:9; Isaiah 6:3). Being holy means that he is the standard of all that is right, good, and just. When God created the universe and everything in it, it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). His Word tells us that he can have a relationship only with creatures that are as holy as he is. He wants his people to be holy, just as he is holy (Leviticus 11:45; I Peter 1:16). He has said that without holiness no one can be in his presence, either on earth or in heaven (Hebrews 12:14).
Because of this requirement of man to be holy in order to come before God, the question has often been asked throughout history: “Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God?” (I Samuel 6:20). Or in other words, how can I come to God?
But, A Terrible Thing Happened One Day…
In the beginning of history when God created mankind as male (Adam) and female (Eve) they were a perfect creation. They were made in his image with original knowledge, righteousness and holiness. God and his people were able to have a free, great, open and loving relationship with one another. But a terrible thing happened one day - that wonderful relationship with God was broken (Genesis 1:27, 28; Colossians 3:10).
You see Adam and Eve were given a test. Would they believe God when he spoke to them, live morally excellent lives and use their empowerment to do what was right? Would they think God’s thoughts, offer themselves as loving friends and servants to God, and be faithful stewards over God’s creation? Would they pass the test of being perfectly obedient to God?
Sadly, in their free will, they failed God’s test. How? By consciously and actively disbelieving God and disobeying his direct command (Genesis 2-3). They fell out of that perfect condition in which they had been created by defying and rebelling against God - they sinned against Him.
Now, their status was horribly changed. They became separated from God! This separation is called death. They became spiritually separated, socially separated and eventually physically separated. And not only were they separated from God, but they were also separated from each other! Their perfect knowledge turned to moral ignorance, and instead of being righteous, they became sinful. Instead of being holy they became guilty. God had created a people to love, but those people had rejected Him. Now they were indebted to God for all He had done, and because of all they had failed to live up to.
In addition, not only were they separated from God and each other but also their basic nature had become corrupted. Like a perpetual and horrible poison, this corruption polluted them with sin, a pollution that has been passed from generation to generation. Because of this all humans born since Adam and Eve have sin in their natures. Because of their sin-tainted natures, all humans commit sin and often do evil things. They can neither obey nor conform to God’s perfect and holy standard in any way. All fall short of God’s holy perfection and requirement (Romans 3:23). This in not to say that people are always as bad as they could be, though some are certainly more wicked than others. However, the standard by which all people are to be judged is not how they compare with other people, but how they compare with a holy and perfect God.
So, God Solved the Problem
Did God leave all of mankind to die in their sin and misery? The answer is no! Because of who God is (just and righteous, but also loving, gracious and merciful), he desired to restore a holy, loving relationship with people. He determined to have a people for himself free from their sin and misery, so he accomplished this by paying the debt they owed him (Romans 6:23) and buying them back from the captivity of sin and guilt.
How did He do this? He did this by sending his Son from heaven. His Son was equal in essence to God because He too is God. But before this Son could pay the price of the debt owed he had to become human. To do this, he came down to his created planet and took on a human form (Philippians 2). God’s Son was miraculously conceived by the power of God’s Holy Spirit in the virgin womb of a young woman named Mary (Luke 1:31). He was named Jesus, born flawless, without sin, and lived a sinless life on earth (John 8:46; Hebrews 7:25).
Because Jesus was a man he could live a sinless life for his people. He could know their temptations and have true empathy. As a sinless man, he was the perfect one to atone for them (to make it possible for man and woman to once again be at one with God). He was the perfect savior. Just as it had been predicted hundreds, even thousands of years before, this savior paid the ultimate penalty for God’s people. To pay the penalty for the treason and rebellion of his people, Jesus died upon the cross. Because he was both man and God this act was sufficient to pay the penalty in full (John 19:30) and the entire debt of his people was taken care of (Matthew 28:57-61; Mark 15:42-47; John 19:38-41; Romans 3:25f; I Timothy 1:15)!
Because Jesus is God, his death has unlimited value. Because God is God, he was able to bear the fierce anger of a righteous God who fiercely hates sin. Because he is God, Jesus is able to keep on applying all the great benefits to his people forever and forever (Psalm 49:7).
God was pleased with Jesus’ work (his sinless, obedient life and payment of the debt by death). We know God accepted Jesus’ work because he raised Jesus up from the dead three days after his death with a new body (Matthew 28:1-15; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20). Jesus then ministered to his followers on earth for many days. Then, after parting words of instruction and comfort, Jesus rose up into the heavens. Over five hundred eyewitnesses observed this event (John 20; I Corinthians 15) and God’s Word tells us he is now seated at the right hand of his Father where he intercedes (a spiritual and legal advocate) for His people.
All religions have their founders, but none have died for sinful men. All religions have their founders, but none live today. Jesus the savior (Christ) is the exception! Only Jesus Christ can save individuals. That means only he can bring sinful creatures out of their sin and misery and into a new life and new relationship with God. This hope is found in no one else because “there is no other name under heaven given to men by which they must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Now, God is Calling You!
As a human creature, you are lost (Romans 3:10-12; Isaiah 53:6). You are a sinner by nature and by choice. Hard to believe? Just look at what God requires of you to be holy. Read his law in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. God requires perfect conformity and obedience to his law, not only in outward actions but also in the attitude and motives of your heart. In fact, God requires you to love him with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might (Deuteronomy 6:4-6; 10:12-13) all the time! If that were not enough, he also demands that you love others as you love yourself (Leviticus 19:18). You are in need of salvation, and in your heart of hearts, you know it. Salvation is not automatically given to anyone. It is offered to all, but only those who believe and receive it will actually be saved.
God is good and he graciously invites you to receive the salvation that is offered in Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19; 22:14; Acts 13:46). He deeply desires that you accept his invitation and receive the promise of eternal life (Isaiah 1:18-20; Matthew 23:37; I Timothy 2:3-5).
How do you accept this call? By true faith. What is true faith? True faith is more than a mere mental agreement to the truth of the historical facts about Jesus. True faith centers in the person and in the work of Jesus Christ. It is a saving grace, whereby you receive and rest upon Jesus Christ alone for salvation, just as he is offered to you in this Good News (John 1:12; Isaiah 33:22). True faith is a grace that gives you the ability to turn from your path of sin, death, and misery leading away from God, and to turn completely around to a direction that leads into His loving arms.
How would you know if you have true faith? By grace, you will have a genuine sense of your sin (Acts 2:37). This will grieve you and make you hate your condition. By grace also you will have an understanding of God’s mercy for you (Joel 2:13). True faith will turn you from desiring to sin, and turn you to God with a wholehearted intention of striving to love and obey Him (Jeremiah 31:18; Psalm 119:59).
When you confess you are a sinner, that you need Jesus Christ to save you from your sin, God is faithful to forgive you from your sin and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-10). At that time He applies Jesus Christ’s work to you, forgiving you of your sins and giving to you his righteousness (Romans 5:19; 10:4; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Philippians 3:8-11). Because of that work you can come into the presence of a holy God forever.
Certainly, you will struggle at times, but overall your heart will be inclined toward God, and you will desire to know him and love and obey him. You will know him and grow in your new relationship with him if you indeed have trusted him.
Right now, if you haven’t already done so, answer his call. You are helpless to save yourself, to have a relationship with God, or to spend an eternity in heaven without coming to Jesus Christ. “Whoever puts his faith in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see that life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:26). Answer God’s call by admitting to him in prayer that you are a sinner and that you do sin, but that you also desire to trust and believe in Jesus Christ who has paid for your sins. Tell him you want to come to him, and to have that abundant life that lasts into eternity, the life that Jesus offers (John 10:10-28; 14:6). Now, that is great news!
To learn more, read the Gospel of Mark or the Gospel of John in the Bible. If you still seek additional help feel free to contact me. May God give you a great new life today!
Is there a problem with grace?
While most Christians who know their Bible would agree that Christians are saved from sin, guilt, and God's anger through God's grace, it seems that most Christians do not understand how all of the Christian life is by grace. Many appear to live life as if grace was only somewhat important or worse - as if grace was irrelevant.
In the previous post, we saw that there is no problem with God’s grace as far as being rescued from the guilt, shame, and condemnation of sin. Neither is there a problem with God’s grace when it comes to living holy and righteous lives as Christians. The Bible teaches us that approaching God is by grace, knowing God is by grace, and also living for God is by grace. In short, God’s grace is the nature of your Christian life. Let’s see how…
God’s grace comes to believers through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection
God extends to you his mercy and grace because of Jesus Christ’s perfect life, sacrificial death, miraculous resurrection, and amazing ascension into heaven (Eph. 2:4-10). The Bible tells us that God “saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity” (2 Tim. 1:9). Abundant and everlasting life with God is not earned but freely given (Titus 3:5).
Check out these passages of Scripture: Isa. 53:1-12; Matthew 1:21; 18:11; 20:28; 26:28; Luke 19:10; John 6:37-40; 6:63-65; 10:14-16; 27-29; 17:1-2; 6-9; 24; Acts 9:1-16; 10:39-42; Rom. 9:11; 19-24; 11:1-23; Eph. 2:10; ; I Pet. 2:9-10.
God's grace continues for believers in Christ
God’s grace not only made a way for you to be reunited with him through Jesus Christ, his grace also keeps and leads you through this life into eternity. Look at what Ephesians 1:4-6 says: “... He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, in order that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love, he predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to himself, according to the kind intention of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”
What’s even more awesome is that the Lord, whose grace began a good work in you, will, by his grace, bring it to completion at the Day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6).
Grace is the essence of your Christian life!
1. Through humility, you can receive more grace for life (1 Pet. 5:5).
2. The means for you to live the Christian life is by grace (2 Thess. 1:12).
Notice in Acts 13:43 how Paul and Barnabas pressed upon Jews and Gentiles who had come to faith in Jesus to keep on living in the grace of God. It is no different today for the believer. God’s Word of grace is able to build you up in the faith (Acts 20:32). Baptism is a means of grace to put off your old sinful habits and put on Christ (Rom. 6:1-14). The Lord has also given you his Supper in order to commune with Jesus, even spiritually “feeding” on him for nourishment and sustenance (Matt. 26:26-28; Lk 22:17-20; Jn. 6:35-58; 1 Cor. 10:16-21; 1 Cor. 11:17-34). Prayer is yet another gracious means to live the Christian life.
3. God gives you the power to live the Christian life, and that is by grace (Gal. 2:20-21).
As one who follows Jesus, we are urged to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). We are strengthened with all power by God’s might, not by our (Col. 1:11-12). Power for Christian living comes from the Father, through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit, not by our works of Law or personal ability.
Years ago, while teaching through a series on the New Testament letter to the church in Ephesus, I was struck by one of the themes in Ephesians. As a theme, grace is pervasive. Yet, woven into that is also the truth of Jesus' resurrection. Grace and the power of Jesus' resurrection make the Christian life a reality. What we see in Ephesians is Jesus' resurrection power animates us to live his life in and through us. Paul prays and God desires that we know this in the very depth of our souls (Eph. 1:15-23). This kind of knowing is transformative and empowering. So, we need to know:
- The power of Christ's life through faith that unites us with Christ (Eph. 2:1, 4, 5).
- The power of solidarity in the Faith that gives us union together by Christ (Eph. 2:11-4:6).
- The power for growth in the Faith so that we become more like Christ (Eph. 4:7-16).
- The power of light over darkness by faith so that we may live like Christ (Eph. 4:17-32).
- The power of love through faith so that we would love like Christ (Eph. 5:1-6:9).
- The power to conquer with faith so that we would be overcomers in Christ (Eph. 6:10-20).
Wow! God gives believers in Jesus the grace of his super-power to live Christ's life now and all the way into eternity. Not by our works, not by our own empowerment, not by rules and regulations, not by the Law, not by trying harder or doing more but by the grace and power of Jesus.
As a steward of God’s grace (Eph. 3:2), Paul was able to help lay the foundation for Christ’s Church by the power of God’s grace (1 Cor. 3:10). Who he was and what he was able to do was through the grace of God in him (1 Cor. 15:10). Timothy, and by inference, all ministers in Christ are to find strength in Christ’s grace (2 Tim. 2:1).
4. Your sufficiency in the Christian life is through grace (2 Cor. 9:8).
His grace is sufficient for all your needs (Phil 4:19), for all your strength (2 Cor. 12:9), and for the endurance required to live for Christ (Heb. 13:9; 1 Tim. 1:12-14).
5. Your suffering in the Christian life comes with grace (Heb. 4:16).
For more, read: Rom. 8:26-28; 1 Tim. 2:1-6; Heb. 13:9; 1 Pet. 1:13; 5:10.
6. The only way to persevere in the Christian life is through God’s grace (Phil. 4:13)
Need convincing? Meditate on these passages: Matt. 1:21; 7:21-23; John 6:32-39; 8:30-32; 10:27-29; 15:1-9; 17:1-2; 11; Rom.8:35-39; 11:29; II Cor. 1:20-23; Eph. 1:13; 4:30; Phil. 1:3-6; II Tim. 1:12; 2:19; 4:18; Heb. 5:5-9; I Pet. 1:1-5; 18ff; I John 2:17, 25-27; Jude 1; and Jude 24.
This study only touches the surface of how it is we are made Christians and how we continue to live as Christians – it is all by the grace of God. The indescribable grace of God in Jesus Christ is the very sphere in which live as Christians and is the central resource by which follow Jesus.
What about the Law and doing good works? Good question, but hold that thought for another time.
Bring More Kindness into Your Life
Here are Three Strategies for Bringing More Kindness into Your Life:
(The original article was posted in Berkeley’s Greater Good in Action by Juliana Breines, September 16, 2015).
Do things to make other people happy
One of the best ways to increase our own happiness is to do things that make other people happy. In countless studies, kindness and generosity have been linked to greater life satisfaction, stronger relationships, and better mental and physical health—generous people even live longer.
What’s more, the happiness people derive from giving to others creates a positive feedback loop: The positive feelings inspire further generosity—which, in turn, fuels greater happiness. And research suggests that kindness is truly contagious: Those who witness and benefit from others’ acts of kindness are more likely to be kind themselves; a single act of kindness spreads through social networks by three degrees of separation, from person to person to person to person.
But just because we have the capacity for kindness, and reap real benefits from it, doesn’t mean that we always act with kindness. We may be too busy, distracted, or wrapped up in our own concerns to pay close attention to others’ needs or actively seek out opportunities to help. Or we’re just out of practice: Researchers have argued that kindness is like a muscle that needs to be strengthened through repeated use.
How do we strengthen kindness? Researchers have identified a number of effective exercises, and many of them are collected on the Greater Good Science Center’s new website, Greater Good in Action (GGIA), which features the top research-based activities for fostering happiness, kindness, connection, and resilience.
Three Broad Categories of Kindness Practices
Here I highlight GGIA’s 10 core kindness practices, grouped into three broad categories:
1. How to Cultivate Feelings of Kindness
Kind behavior comes more naturally when we’re feeling a sense of compassion and connection with others. This first set of practices focuses on cultivating these feelings.
The Feeling Connected practice involves thinking about a time when you felt a strong connection to another person—through a meaningful conversation, say, or by experiencing a great loss or success or historic event together—and describing that experience in writing. A 2011 study led by researcher Louisa Pavey in the United Kingdom found that participants who completed this exercise reported increases in feelings of concern for others and stronger intentions to carry out a number of generous acts over the next six weeks, such as giving money to charity and helping a stranger in need.
How does this practice increase kindness? Research suggests that feeling connected to others satisfies a fundamental psychological need to belong; when this need is unmet, people are more likely to focus on their own needs rather than caring for others.
Showing empathy and kindness
Similar to Feeling Connected is the Feeling Supported practice, which involves thinking about the qualities of the people you turn to when you’re distressed, then recalling a time when you were comforted by one of them. A 2005 study led by Mario Mikulincer, dean of the school of psychology at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel, found that people who completed this writing exercise, compared with those who wrote more generically about a colleague or acquaintance, subsequently reported greater compassion and willingness to help a person in distress. This simple practice is powerful because it increases “attachment security,” a state that involves feelings of trust and comfort and is especially helpful when we’re feeling threatened or insecure. It can also remind us of the kinds of qualities we want to embody when kindly supporting others.
Another excellent way to tap into feelings of compassion and concern for others is to take an Awe Walk, which involves going for a stroll somewhere that seems vast and perspective-shifting and makes us feel connected to something greater than ourselves. In a 2015 study led by Paul Piff, then a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, some participants stood in a grove of towering eucalyptus trees and gazed up for just one minute; other participants looked away from the trees, at a building. The tree gazers were subsequently more likely to help someone in need and less likely to feel that they were superior to others.
Finally, you can try a Compassion Meditation. This simple—though not necessarily easy—technique involves paying attention to your breathing as you extend feelings of goodwill toward a loved one, yourself, a neutral person, and even an enemy. Results of a 2013 study led by Helen Weng, then at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, showed that participants who performed the compassion meditation for two weeks demonstrated more generous behavior, donating more money to a victim of unfair treatment, and they also showed greater activity in brain regions associated with understanding the suffering of others and regulating emotions in response to pictures of suffering. (You can find audio of a guided compassion meditation on the GGIA website, along with the script for this meditation.)
2. How to Boost the Happiness We Get from Kindness
Another way to increase the amount of kindness we perform over the long terms sounds simple: make a concerted effort to perform more kind and generous acts in the short term.
Intentionally practicing kindness in our everyday lives, even on days when we’re not in a particularly generous mood, can go a long way toward turning kindness into a habit. That’s largely because of the way kindness breeds happiness: The good feelings serve to reinforce our kind acts and make us more likely to want to perform them in the future.
Practicing Random Acts of Kindness is a good place to start. This practice involves performing five acts of kindness in one day and then writing about the experience. They can be anything from bringing a meal to a sick friend to giving up your seat on the bus to donating blood to buying a coffee for the person in line behind you at a cafe. For ideas, consider acts of kindness that you’ve witnessed or received in the past, and check out this Buzzfeed list of 101 suggestions. Random acts of kindness not only lift our spirits in the moment; they also have the potential to alter the way we feel about ourselves and increase healthy forms of self-esteem.
Research suggests that not all acts of kindness are created equal, however. Many factors can influence whether and how these acts bring us psychological benefits. The Making Giving Feel Good practice outlines three strategies that can maximize the positive effects of generosity.
The first strategy is to make giving a choice. Research suggests that when we feel obligated to give—such as when we feel cornered by an aggressive request—we are less likely to enjoy it. It’s important to give yourself the option to say no, and to give others the same option when requesting help. The second strategy is to make a connection with the recipient of your kindness—for example by taking a colleague out to lunch rather than just giving a gift certificate. The third strategy is to take the initiative to learn about the impact of your generosity, which can elicit contagious feelings of joy. For example, see this video of a bone marrow donor meeting the little girl whose life he saved.
3. How to Inspire Kindness in Others
It’s important to find ways to boost your own kindness. But arguably the greatest good we can do in the world comes from finding ways to increase kindness in others. That’s what the next set of practices are designed to do. On GGIA, we provide three research-based strategies for educators, parents, and leaders of all kinds to help others overcome barriers to kindness and generosity.
The first is to create Reminders of Connectednessin a home, office, or classroom. These reminders can be something as simple as a quote evoking shared goals, words like “community,” or a picture conveying warmth or friendships.
The second involves Putting a Human Face on Suffering: Being able to identify distinct, specific victims of a problem—and learning about their personal stories—can make that problem more vivid, strike an emotional chord, and thus motivate people to help.
The third, Shared Identity, involves forging a sense of common humanity across group boundaries. Reminding people to see the basic humanity that they share with those who might seem different from them can help overcome fear and distrust and promote cooperation. Even small similarities, like appreciating sports, can foster a greater sense of kinship. (An overview of these three strategies is also provided in the Eliciting Altruism practice.)
Finally, the practice for Encouraging Kindness in Kids offers four specific techniques to bring out children’s natural propensity for kindness and generosity. These techniques include avoiding external rewards for kind behavior, so that kids get to experience the feeling that kindness is its own reward, praising kids’ character instead of their behavior so they come to see kindness as an essential part of who they are, and modeling kindness in your own behavior, since actions tend to speak louder than words when it comes to nurturing generosity.
Becoming a kinder person—and nurturing kindness in your children and students—isn’t something that happens overnight. It takes practice to turn your best intentions into concrete actions. We hope the kindness exercises on Greater Good in Action provide an effective way to start building that habit today.
Juliana Breines, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow at Brandeis University.