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#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published May 1, 2010.

A Global Positioning System or GPS is a great tool to help you find your way in an unknown area. But it is only as helpful as the information you put into it. If you give it the wrong starting point or destination you will be just as lost as when you began your journey.

Life is the same way. You travel into an unknown future surrounded by a lot of misinformation about your starting point and where you are going. It can be easy to get distracted from Christ and to start relying on a GPS of another type – Globally Positioning Self. When this happens we begin to focus more on selfish desires in this world instead of Christ. As Paul reminds us in Romans 8:7, “Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing.” (MSG)

That’s why you need a true GPS – God’s Positioning System. When you trust Christ to direct your life, you will always know you are heading in the right direction. Even if you think you are traveling down the wrong road, you can trust that this GPS will help prevent you from becoming lost. “Point out the road I must travel, I’m all ears, all eyes before you.” (Psalm 143:8 MSG)

Like Abraham, there will be times that God will tell you to go a certain direction. “Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.’ So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him.” (Gen. 12:1 & 4 NKJV) Hebrews 11:8-10 tells us that Abraham traveled by faith “to an unknown place that would become his home. When he left he had no idea where he was going. By an act of faith he lived in the country promised him, lived as a stranger camping in tents.”

In the same way, we must travel by faith, following our Spiritual GPS. Our purpose becomes helping others see the correct path in life is to follow Christ. We cannot get too comfortable in this foreign land because we know this is not our true home. Like Abraham, we live as strangers in temporary homes, relying on God to guide us. The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. (Heb. 11:1 MSG)

Wednesday Walk Though the Bible, Matthew 5:1-12 & 7:28-29 (NIV)

#WednesdayWalk, an occasional exploration of what unknown people might have seen or felt when they witnessed the events in the Bible. This post is from the perspective of a person who encounters Jesus teaching the Beatitudes.

It was another hot day. The dust swirled around my sandals as I hurried along the path. Small stones crunched under my feet as I walked on the barren dirt. My mouth was dry from the heat as sweat dripped down my forehead and back. I was focused on fetching the baskets my father needed when I caught a glimpse of a large crowd on a hillside. I stopped and noticed the people were gathered around a man. “Why would so many people stand and listen to this man in heat like this?” I asked myself.

I hesitated a moment, curious as to why the crowd had gathered around this man. I knew my father was expecting me back soon with his baskets. “It will only take a moment,” I finally convinced myself as I moved up the hillside and pressed into the crowd. I strained to get a look at the man, but the mass of people made it difficult to get closer. I could barely make out what he was saying to the crowd. I thought he said something about being comforted. I tried to push my way forward, but the people were packed in too tight for me to move any further.

I listened as best as I could, concentrating on the words I could make out. The tone of his voice was gentle yet forceful. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Did I hear that right? How could the meek be blessed? How could they inherit the earth? His words became clearer as I closed my eyes and listened.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Those words resonated within me. Oh how I hunger for righteousness in this unjust world.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” How could I receive mercy for being merciful? I processed his words. “Who is this man?” I asked myself as I continued to soak up his words.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” How could a mortal man see God? My heart began to long for more of what this man said. I had never heard anything like it.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” How could someone like me, someone of such low status, be considered a child of God? That’s when I noticed a man adjacent to me, wearing fine clothes, staring at my ragged appearance with disapproving eyes. I closed my eyes and listened for more.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Persecuted for doing what is right? That happens everyday around here, yet he said those who are persecuted for righteousness would inherit the kingdom of heaven. How could that be?

Who is this man who speaks with such authority? I strained to get a look at him. My soul stirred deep within me. For the first time I felt that perhaps there was hope for a poor, forsaken person like me.

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published April 20, 2010

What was it like to be a disciple with Jesus; to hear the crunch of rocks under your feet as you walk the dusty roads with him; to hear his voice as he spoke to the crowds that followed him; to witness the miracles? What was it like?

Imagine being in the boat when the storm arose (Mark 4:35-41) and feeling panic as the boat fills with water. Fearing for your life, you cry out to Jesus who is sleeping in the stern. Imagine the awe you feel as you watch Jesus rise and instantly calm the sea and the wind. “Who is he that even the wind and waves obey him?” (NKJV)

Imagine your amazement as you collect 12 baskets of scraps left over from feeding five thousand men. (Mark 6:33-44) Earlier you questioned how to feed all the people gathered around – if bread should be purchased for them. Yet Jesus took a mere five loaves and two fish and somehow it was more than enough to feed everyone.

Imagine marveling with the crowds (Matt.15:30-31) as Jesus heals the lame, blind and the mute who are brought to him by the multitudes. The reports of these miracles spread throughout the land. “The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them.” (Luke 7:22 NKJV) “Who is he?” you ask yourself.

Yet you do not have to imagine experiencing Christ. He is alive today. When the storms of life start filling your boat with water, call out to him and he will calm your fears. When you are crowded by the demands of life, turn to him and there will be baskets left over. When the sickness and death in this world burden you, be reassured that because you believe in him, you will walk with him some day. (John 3:16)

Today we can still be in awe of Jesus and the power he gives us through the Holy Spirit. We can show the same compassion he did to the crowds who are searching for him. We can still marvel at his power to overcome. “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9 NKJV)

Wednesday Walk, Acts 27:13-28:10

Today I introduce #WednesdayWalk, an occasional exploration of what unknown people might have seen or felt when they witnessed the events in the Bible. This post is from the perspective of another prisoner shipwrecked with Paul.

Who is this man? Were it not for Paul I would’ve been slaughtered on the ship by the soldiers who wanted to stop us from escaping. Were it not for his words of wisdom, we would’ve all been lost at sea in that violent storm. Were it not for him, we would not have eaten anything on the ship and would not have had strength enough to make it to the beach. This Paul has knowledge of a god seemingly so powerful, yet so personal that he prepares him for future events. What kind of god shows such love and grace to a mere man?

I thought for sure Paul was a dead man when I watched in horror as a viper latched onto his hand as he tossed brushwood on the fire. Yet I watched in awe as he shook off that deadly snake from his hand, showing no panic or fear. He has such peace about life. It is a peace I long to have in my life. It is that lack of peace in my life that put me here with these other criminals.

After surviving the snakebite, then he cured the father of Publius who suffered from fever and dysentery for who knows how long. That in and of itself was astonishing enough to hear about. Of course word spread quickly and soon all the sick on the island came to Paul. I was skeptical as I watched the crowd of sick people form around Paul. I told myself, “There is no way he can cure all these people.” Yet he did.

Who is this man? Paul talks of a Jesus from Nazareth. He talks of Jesus being the son of God. How can a man be the son of a god and walk among us? He talks of this Jesus being crucified, dying and rising from the dead. I am a condemned man who boarded the ship in chains. Now this man Paul has shown me a different life, a different way. Could there be freedom for me even in chains?

I stood there a moment in my mom’s old apartment looking at what was left of her possessions. I stared at the room full of furniture and other items. Each one seemed to have a story, a memory; each item a treasure. It was hard to focus on the task at hand and not let my emotions get the best of me.

The previous week we had moved my mom into an assisted living facility because she was no longer able to live on her own. Because her room in the assisted living facility was significantly smaller, we could only move a small portion of her belongings with her. This meant we had to sift through her remaining possessions and decide what to do with them. It was a poignant moment that reminded me of how quickly time passes and what is important in life.

For a moment I paused in my mom’s old apartment and noted how my family had come together to help with my mom’s transition to assisted living. We were together for this moment, pulled together by my mom’s need to make a change in her living arrangements. It was a reminder to me of the importance of family relationships. This was the real treasure in the room.

Jesus reminded us in Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (NIV).”

He walked the streets surrounded by wicked people. It seemed evil thoughts dominated everything in the community all the time. Corruption was everywhere, yet he chose to remain faithful to God. He pursued righteousness in a world of unrighteous behavior.

This is the world of Noah before God revealed his plans for the ark and the flood. Noah had been tested in a thoroughly corrupt world yet he remained devoted to pursuing God. This is why Noah found favor in God’s eyes (Genesis 6:8); why God entrusted him with the building of the ark (Gen. 6:14-21); why “Noah did everything just as God commanded him (Gen. 6:22). Noah’s obedience to God was built on a life of faithfulness to God even when surrounded by a world saturated with evil.

This helps me understand Noah’s determination to finish building the ark. His desire to do everything God instructed was built within him before God revealed his plans to destroy the world with a flood. Scripture tells us about the world Noah lived in, but it does not reveal what must have been a daily struggle for him to remain faithful to God while surrounded by evil people. Noah was tested and proven faithful to complete the overwhelming task of constructing the ark.

When I read about Noah, I try to put myself in his place. Would I continue to live a righteous life in the midst of a world obsessed with evil? Would I become discouraged being surrounded by wicked people all the time? Would I find favor with God as Noah did? Would I willingly accept God’s command to build the ark?

Some day God will again destroy the earth and all its evil, replacing it with a new earth (Rev. 21:1-4). Like Noah, God is looking for his faithful in an evil world, the faithful who will answer the call to obedience. He is seeking true followers of Jesus Christ determined to accomplish seemingly insurmountable tasks for the Kingdom of God. He wants us, like Noah, to be prepared to do everything that God commands us to do.

There’s a phrase “putting down roots” that describes someone settling down in a place. I have heard this phrase used to describe people I know who have finally settled in one place after jumping from job to job and one town to another. But do we think of this phrase in the spiritual sense as settling down with God?

To settle down with God is to focus on building a relationship with him. It means putting down roots deep into his scripture; spending focused time in prayer with God; drawing deeply from solid relationships with other believers. The challenge is to not get distracted by customs and beliefs in this world that can uproot our faith in Jesus. This is what happened repeatedly to the Israelites in the Old Testament. Psalm 106:34-35 tells us how the Israelites repeatedly disobeyed God by mingling with other nations and adopting their customs.

When we put down roots with God we secure ourselves to his eternal grace and love. The deeper our faith in him, the more we can draw on God’s strength and not our own; the better prepared we’ll be for the storms of life. Jeremiah 17:7-8 tells us, “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit (NIV).”

I am a self-made man. I relish my achievements because they endorse how great I am. From job promotions, to bank accounts, to awards, to the accomplished lives of my children, I constantly seek endorsements that I am better than those around me. This arrogance is what elevates me above God. This is not an attitude that brings me closer to God.

It is in the hard times that I am brought closer to God and his purposes for my life. We do not welcome the struggles in life. As Paul writes in 2 Cor. 12:6-10, we plead for God to take them away, to remove the thorn in our flesh that continues to torment us. It is difficult for us to see that the challenges we face in life are there to help prevent us from becoming conceited.

It is so very hard to think that God places a thorn in our sides to prevent us from becoming arrogant. For months, even years I have prayed for a young soul to return to Christ. I have helplessly watched as this person’s life has spiraled out of control. I desperately try to help, but it seems all my efforts are in vain. I feel weak and humbled. Paul’s words in verse 9 resonate, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It is not in my own abilities that I find the strength to manage hardship, it is in humble reverence to God that I find strength through Jesus Christ. When I am beaten down and worn out, that is when I am most open to the power of Christ within me. It is what Paul writes, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Jesus sacrificed himself to demonstrate the power of God to the world. On the cross He looked weak and defeated to the world. But through his death and resurrection, God’s power was made evident. Our ability to make Christ evident rests in our ability to die to self; to remain humble and not conceited. Paul’s words in verse 10 should encourage us: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” It is our acknowledgement of how truly weak we are to control this life that we find our true strength in Christ.

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