New Master

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. (Romans 6:22, NIV)

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. (Romans 7:21, NIV)

When we accept forgiveness through Jesus Christ and God becomes our new master, we want to do what is good and right. But sometimes our desire to obey is not enough to overcome sinful beliefs, habits, and actions we learned under our old master, Satan. Instead of instantly removing all those, God has chosen for us to work together to change them.

Too often, we think the sin is the problem. “I need to stop overeating when I am upset. I need to control my compulsion go shopping after a bad day. I need to stop turning to erotic media or masturbation when I am lonely.” So we tell ourselves (and others) we are going to stop sinning…and we fail.

Sinful thoughts and actions are symptoms of an underlying belief about ourselves or God that is untrue. They reveal an area of our mind that is still being influenced by our old master. Far more life is not overcoming a specific sin, rather it is consistently being who our new master made us. Our new nature cannot sin. Conversely, our old nature cannot live righteously. Whenever we sin we are operating under a part of our mind that is listening to our old master. 

But returning to the new nature is more than simply saying, “I am not going to do that anymore” or “I am going to listen to God instead of Satan.” The Apostle Paul instructs us to overcome sin in this way:

“…Be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you can work out what God’s will is, what is good, acceptable and complete.” (Romans 12:2, NTE)

Uncovering what we are feeling and thinking when we sin is the key to overcoming it. We can do this in the moment we catch ourselves sinning or later. The process is the same in either situation.

First, we must recognize what negative emotion we are feeling when or just before we sin. For example, “I am stressed.”

Next, we ask why we feel that, what we believe in that moment. “I have so many things I need to do and not enough time.”

This may be true or not true. Either way, we dig deeper by asking how that belief makes us feel. “Overwhelmed.”

Ask ourselves why we feel that way, what we believe about this. “I cannot do them all.”

Again we ask how that makes us feel? “I feel like I am worthless.”

We may have to go back and forth between what we feel and why several times. When we uncover a belief about our core identity or value that disagrees with God’s perspective, we have found the trigger Satan used to master us!

Holding up that belief, “I am worthless”, to God’s Word proves it false. The Bible reveals truth. “God does not see me as worthless. I am created in His image. He bought me with the blood of His Son. He is preparing a place for me in Heaven so I can live with Him forever. He loves me. I am valuable to Him.”

When we renew our minds with truth, we find far more life in our new master. Our old master’s influence is removed from that area. It is possible we will never be tempted to engage in that sin again. But it can take time to make new habits based on our renewed mindset. When we catch ourselves in that sin, we can thank God for helping us recognize we were listening to our old master. Then recalling God’s truth empowers us to say “no” to the enslavement of old beliefs, thoughts, and actions and “yes” to being a slave to righteousness.

Each area of our mind that is renewed deepens our understanding of our new master. But far more life is more than a logical understanding. Far more life desires a close relationship with Him. Far more life wants to experience His love, joy, peace, goodness, faithfulness, and more. Far more life grows in love, not just knowledge. Far more life recognizes that serving God and yielding to Him is a delight, not a decision.

Being enslaved to God is a blessing. It offers freedom we never dreamed possible. We find pleasure in righteousness rather than in sin. We find pain relief in God rather than in sin. He transforms our beliefs, thoughts, and habits so we are free to live reverently and righteously, enjoying rich fellowship and bringing God glory. 

We live as slaves, either to sin or righteousness. Far more life recognizes that being a slave to righteousness is the best life possible. It embraces our new master and reaps holiness.

Sisters,
What emotions, thoughts, or feelings are warning signs that you are listening to your old master, Satan?

Take a minute to try the mind renewal exercise. Use a recent sin as your starting point.
Which list of words describes your relationship with Christ: “ideas, truth, choice, logic, decision” or “experience, treasure, relationship, love, delight”? What barriers keep you from embracing the second list?
Think of how you have been blessed as a slave to righteousness. Thank God for those blessings of far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso
Photo Credit: Jennifer Marsh

Spiritual Prosperity

I have seen a meme stating that in the future when we have a bad day we will refer to it as a 2020. I will not be surprised if that becomes true! This has been a shocking and challenging year, with wave after wave of novel and unexpected challenges.

Many have speculated these events are signs that Christ’s return is approaching. I do not know if these are part of the prophesied “birth pains” (Matthew 24:8) signaling the beginning of the end of this world, but I do know that every day moves us closer to Jesus’ return!

I also know these challenges do not have to crush our spirits. Far more life
enables us to spiritually and emotionally prosper, even when we face circumstances
that devastate our finances, health, livelihood, comfort, and more. Consider this
perspective from the Old Testament prophet, Habakkuk:

Fig trees may not grow figs, and there may be no grapes on the vines.
There may be no olives growing and no food growing in the fields.
There may be no sheep in the pens and no cattle in the barns.
But I will still be glad in the Lord; I will rejoice in God my Savior.
The Lord God is my strength.
He makes me like a deer that does not stumble so I can walk on the steep mountains. (Habakkuk 3:17-19, NCV)

All the resources listed in these verses — figs, grapes, olives, sheep, and cattle — were important for sustaining life in ancient Israel. The situation in these verses is dire. They reflect a shortage of food, drink, shelter, income, security, and prosperity. Even making the required sacrifices to remain in good standing with God would be very difficult under these conditions. Habakkuk is describing a situation that is overwhelmingly hopeless from a human perspective.

But he looks beyond the circumstances to focus on God’s character. God brings joy. God offers relationships. God makes us strong. God supplies what we need to successfully traverse difficult situations. Through God, we can prosper in any difficulty.

I have found that hard times reveal our mindset about God, whether we believe He is good or not good.

If we believe God is good, we trust that He is in control and has a plan (Jeremiah 29:11, Ephesians 1:11). We understand He is faithful, kind, and working everything — even these hard circumstances — for our good (Romans 8:28-30). We know He loves us and is carrying us through this difficulty (Romans 8:35-39), giving us all that we need (Philippians 4:19). We are confident He would never ask us to sacrifice more than He has already sacrificed for us (John 15:13). We are certain that Jesus was God’s Son who died to pay the penalty for our sins, offering us an eternal relationship with God (John 3:16). We understand this earth and these difficulties are temporary, unlike our eternal home in Heaven (Revelation 21:1-4). While we long to be there, we believe God has prepared good deeds for us to do that will fulfill His plan (Ephesians 2:10). Believing God is good brings us hope, peace, and far more life, even in the midst of suffering and hardship.

If we believe God is not good, we think he is aloof and uninvolved in the affairs of earth. We may think He is laughing at us from Heaven as we try to navigate our way through the mine field of life He has set up for us. We question His love and feel very alone, doubting His motives, character, and promises. We think He asks too much of us and offers us little to nothing in return. We long for death as an escape from this misery and may be angry at God for making us remain in overwhelming situations when He has the power to rescue us. We might believe that Jesus died for our sins, but we often think God is punishing us for them as well. We believe we are trapped, hopeless, and helpless; we may see others enjoying far more life, but we do not think that is God’s will for us.

What determines which mindset we adopt? In part, the key is whether we interpret God’s Word through our circumstances or interpret our circumstances through God’s Word. We tend to believe what we have experienced. But our experiences do not reveal the whole picture. Paul writes,

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (I Corinthians 13:12)

When we look in a mirror, our view is limited. And sometimes it is cloudy or fuzzy. Similarly, our spiritual view during this life is limited and unclear. We cannot see the bigger picture or the intricate details of God’s plan. And we have an enemy, Satan, who feeds us false interpretations of what we can see. He wants us to doubt God and question His goodness; if he can keep us from seeing God clearly, he can keep us from far more life. But when we prayerfully analyze each situation where we believe God is not good, asking Him to help us see what is true and how His Word is right, we gain new understanding of ourselves, others, and God. We can replace our doubts with confidence that He is good and does good. Our faith prospers!

I am thankful that Habakkuk interpreted his circumstances through God’s Word and reminds us to do the same. I am thankful that I can experience spiritual prosperity — far more life — whatever happens in 2020…and beyond.

Sisters,
What makes you think of a situation as bad?
What is your spiritual and emotional response to bad situations?
Think of a recent difficulty you encountered. Did you believe God was good or not good?
Ask God to help you clearly see the truth about Himself, yourself, and others in that difficulty.
Thank God that you can experience far more life no matter what happens!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

Far More Building

Luke chapter 4 describes the encounter Jesus had in the wilderness where Satan tempted Him to sin. Twice Satan starts his offer with the phrase, “If you are the Son of God…” Although Satan probably knew Jesus’ identity and was taunting Him, he voiced a common human concern.

All of us, at some point, have asked the questions, “Is God real?” and “Is Jesus truly God?” Many examples of this are recorded in the Bible, and people of all generations have wrestled with this question. We want proof! Throughout history, once proof is offered, some people believe and become followers of Jesus while others do not. We lay the foundation of far more life when we believe that God IS real and Jesus IS God.

Once we know God, through Jesus, we do not need to keep revisiting those questions; our foundation is secure and we are ready to build a relationship. My friends who are adopted illustrate this. Those who have sought their birth parents needed proof before accepting them. But once that proof was offered and validated, the question “Are you my parent?” was put behind them. There was no need to revisit it time and again. They were free to move forward in building a relationship.

But I know some Christians who miss far more life because they continue to question whether God is real and if Jesus is truly God. Why? Because they have an enemy! Satan knows that if they doubt God — and the reality of their relationship with Him through Jesus — they cannot experience far more life. They cannot share Christ with others. They cannot fulfill the purposes for which God created them. So he strives to cripple them by making them doubt the foundation of their faith.

Others never doubt God’s existence or Jesus’ deity, but they miss far more life because they don’t recognize God’s work. Their experiences leave them with unmet expectations about God’s character and actions. So the words of the Bible do not feel true and they are unsure how to reconcile them with the circumstances of their lives. Their foundation lies empty and their lives lack joy and spiritual fruit. But if we believe God is truthful, then we should also believe the Bible is His written Word. He said it is Truth (John 17:17), so we can take hope from this declaration:

For with God nothing is ever impossible and no word from God shall be without power or impossible of fulfillment. (Luke 1:37, AMPC)

Far more life rests in the fact that God’s Word is flawless while our interpretation can be flawed. It is a willingness to believe that seemingly irreconcilable circumstances indicate we are missing something, that our perspective is skewed due to incomplete information or sin. I like how The Message explains it:

You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. (Matthew 5:8, MSG)

God is unchanging (Hebrews 13:8), so we find far more life when we adopt His perspective and work to understand it. Then we are able to experience all He has promised. And what wonderful experiences those are! Even when our circumstances are challenging, we traverse them with joy and peace because we are confident God is working in and through them for our good and His eternal purposes (Romans 8:28).

Although we are surrounded by change, God knows our need for stability and provides it. His reassurance of what is unchanging gives us something to hold onto during the times we are shaken or struggling. Right after He destroyed the earth by flood due to man’s wickedness, He made this promise:

“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (Genesis 8:22, NIV)

What a comforting knowledge! Each day the sun rises and each night the moon rises is a reminder of God’s faithfulness and truthfulness. Each change of the season, we are reminded His promises are reliable. Each year crops are planted and harvested, we can have confidence in Him. We can build our life on Him, on His instructions, and find far more life! He stands the test of time. This reminds me of lyrics from a wonderful hymn:

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ love and righteousness…
When darkness seems to hide His face, I rest on His unchanging grace…
His oath, his covenant, His blood support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.

(“My Hope is Built on Nothing Less” by Edward Mote)

Jesus is the best foundation we can choose! Far more life starts with Him, builds on His truth, and changes us to be like Him. The life we build on Him is secure and will last forever. Why would we want to build on anything else?

Sisters,
What proof convinced you that God is real? That Jesus is God?
What tempts you to trust your perspective and experience over what God’s Word says is true?
What reminds you of God’s faithfulness and truthfulness?
What have you built that will last forever?
Praise Him for making our foundation secure and offering far more life for all of our days!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso