Prepare to Live
�Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, �Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.�� - I Kings 17:8-9.
�So she said, �As the Lord your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.�� - I Kings 17:12.
My Dad for the past 10 years or so has been preparing to die. He has been cleaning up the farm. He had some old junk cars that he has sold. He had scraps of metal that he had accumulated to use in repairs. Those scraps have been removed. Things have been torn down and cleaned up. Now he says it will be up to my sister and I to take care of some things after he dies. He has prepared to die.
Elijah�s brook had dried up and God told him to go to a widow in Zarephath. But when Elijah arrived in Zarephath he found a widow who was preparing to die. She was planning to eat her last meal. What hope did she have? Just like Elijah�s brook had dried up so had the food supply of the widow. Almost everything was gone except for a very little amount of flour and oil. What hope did she have? She had none. But God came to her through the prophet Elijah and said in effect to prepare to live.
There is a choice that we must make in life each day. That choice is whether we will prepare to die or will we prepare to live. For some our situations may be almost as desperate as the widow of Zarephath. But if Jesus is your Savior I believe He wants you to prepare to live. As long as you have breath you should prepare to live.
What is true of people is true of churches as well. There are some churches that appear to be on their deathbed. The community may appear to be drying up like Elijah�s brook. The situation appears to be hopeless. I believe God would say to those churches that they should like the widow of Zarephath, following the prophets instructions, prepare to live.
Let us prepare to live as individuals and as churches. In the process of doing so we may find as did the widow of Zaraphath that �the bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry....(I Kings 17:14).�
Let us prepare to live!!
The Christmas Story
A Christmas tradition that we have had in our family is the reading of the Biblical account of the birth of Jesus Christ. When I was a child there was not such a tradition in our family or even of prayer during the Christmas season. But with my own family and the urging of my wife we began the tradition when our children were young. If you have not had such a tradition why not begin this year with Christmas in the year 2000?
�And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.�
�Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.�
�Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, �Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.��
�And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: �Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!��
�So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, �Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.� And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.�
- Luke 2:1-18.
May you have a most blessed Christmas and New Year!!
Good out of the Bad
�And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.� - Romans 8:28.
�Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.� - I Thessalonians 5:18.
During a recent Kansas City Chiefs football game apparent disaster struck Mickey Pheleger (sp?) who was a photographer on the sideline. A 237-pound tight end was shoved out of bounds and into Mickey. The photographer was slammed to the ground and lost consciousness. A couple of minutes later Mickey regained consciousness but had a small seizure. Because of the possibility of a concussion a brain scan was performed and because of that and the seizure a MRI was than performed. The MRI found that Mickey had a large brain tumor! Now treatment can be done to save his life but without Mickey�s being slammed to the ground it might very well have come to late.
We know it is true that God can bring good out of the bad but the bad is still painful. We shrink away from pain and problems. But out of the most terrible things God can bring the most amazingly wonderful things. We avoid problems like the plague but it may be that those problems are used of God for our good. In 1938 a hurricane threatened the New England coast and in one area it was feared that a railroad bridge would be destroyed. However, someone knew what to do and backed a line of heavily loaded rail cars onto the bridge. As a result the bridge was saved because of the great weight which allowed it to withstand the hurricane force winds.
In our own lives those problems, trials, and pain are used of God as well to bring about good and many times to hold us in place as the storms of sin attack our lives allowing us to survive. We serve a most amazing God who can turn even the very worst things into good things. Thank you Lord!!!!
Signs of Life
�He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.� - I John 5:12.
In Soldier Township, Kansas firefighters responded to a 911 call from a woman who had attempted suicide. Upon arrival the emergency responders took one look at the woman�s head wound and thought she was dead. However, while the firefighters were still outside the residence the woman regained consciousness and again called 911. She is was hospitalized and is in fair condition.
Obviously you cannot always tell by looking at someone whether they are dead or alive. To determine life we would do what? Most likely we would check to see if the person is breathing and if they have a pulse. Even if those signs are absent we might still perform CPR if the skin was warm or if we knew from witnesses that they had been alive a short time before.
Spiritually there are some signs of life as well. Just looking at a person it is difficult to know whether they are alive spiritually or not. Sometimes people don�t even know themselves whether or not they are alive spiritually. Apparently that was part of the reason the Holy Spirit moved the apostle John to write the little letter of I John. How do we know whether or not we have been born again spiritually and have the Holy Spirit living within us? There are some outward things which might lead a person to believe they are alive spiritually. Praying to receive Christ as our Savior, following the Lord in baptism, and church membership are some physical signs which we sometimes depend upon for identifying spiritual life. However, some who pray to receive Christ, are baptized, and become church members have later said that they were not really alive spiritually.
Here are some signs of life from the apostle John:
I John 2:3-5: We have a desire to keep God�s commandments.
I John 2:9-10: We have a love for our brothers and sisters in Christ.
I John 2:15-16: We love God more than we love the things of this world.
I John 2:6: We walk as He walk. Act as He would act.
I John 2:19: We continue assembling with other believers.
I John 3:20-21;4:13;5:10: We have the witness of His Spirit within us that we belong to Him and our hearts do not condemn us.
What about you? Do you have any signs of life?
�As for Saul, he was still in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling. The he waited seven days, according to the time set by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. So Saul said, �Bring a burnt offering and peace offerings here to me.� And he offered the burnt offering. Now it happened as soon as he had finished presenting the burnt offering, that Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might greet him. And Samuel said, �What have you done?�� - I Samuel 13:7b-11a.
George W. Bush and Al Gore are waiting as are the rest of the people of the United States to find out who won the presidential election. We don�t like it but still we are waiting. Most likely it would not have been so upsetting to the founding fathers of the country because 200 years ago it was not so unusual for the counting of the vote to take some time. But it is upsetting to us because we expect everything to be immediate. We vote and we want to know within a few minutes of the polls closing who won the election. We expect it. We push a button and zap the television comes on, or the radio, or the stereo, or the DVD player, or....
Waiting is not easy now and it was not easy for King Saul. In I Samuel we are told of how Saul got in a hurry and it cost him the Kingdom. The Philistines were gathering to attack Israel. They had �thirty thousand chariots and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the seashore in multitude (I Samuel 13:5a).� The people of Israel were �distressed� by what they saw and were hiding �in caves, in thickets, in rocks, in holes, and in pits (I Samuel 13:6b).� Saul was still in Gilgal and the people following him were trembling in fear. The pressure was on Saul but instead of waiting for Samuel he went ahead and presented the burnt offering. Saul had been told to wait but the pressure was on him. As a result Samuel tells Saul �But now your kingdom shall not continue (I Samuel 13:14a).�
One of the greatest promises concerning waiting on the Lord is found in Isaiah 40:31: �But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.� Before we get in a hurry and lose our �kingdom� let us first wait to receive direction from our Lord. God�s timing is always precise. He is never too late or too early. Trust in His wisdom and wait for Him.
�Just as they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations, so will I choose their delusions, and bring their fears on them; because when I called, no one answered, when I spoke they did not hear; but they did evil before My eyes, and chose that in which I do not delight.� - Isaiah 66:3c-4.
In the United States tomorrow is Election Day and we have been bombarded with the views of the candidates. The candidates have their spin on every issue and the news media has their spin on the spin. We have been told that this election will determine the course of the nation for decades. Each side has demonized the other and the hype has reached new heights! However, every election is important and we should very carefully consider prior to our vote for which the Lord would have us to vote.
Spiritually there is an even more important Election Day. Joshua put it like this: �...choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).� In Romans 10:13 we are told �For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.� If we call upon the name of the Lord we have voted for Him. If we refuse to call upon the name of the Lord we have spiritually voted against Him in our lives. Jesus says in John 3:16 �...whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.� In John 3:18 Jesus says �He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.�
Once we know Jesus as our Savior our election days are not over but have just begun. Each day we must choose. We must choose to �live in accordance with the Spirit� or �live according to the desires of the sinful nature.� We must choose between �death� or �life and peace (Romans 8:5-6).� Each day is a spiritual Election Day. Let us elect to �put on the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 13:14)� each day. Let us choose �life and peace.� Let us choose as Joshua did to each day �...serve the Lord.�
An Intolerant God
�Let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor; and do not love a false oath. For all these are things that I hate, says the Lord.� - Zechariah 8:17.
We hear it more and more that we must be tolerant. We are told we should be tolerant of alternative lifestyles and non-Christian religions. In the United States we appear to be headed toward court orders and legislative directives to enforce this tolerance. In Dunbar, West Virginia the First Baptist Church has been having a �Haunted Hollow� at the Wine Cellar City Park during the past two years. It is similar to the well-known �Judgment Houses.� During a 45-minute tour short skits are performed demonstrating the hazards of sin. This year they have dropped the skit negative to homosexuality because of the complaints of some citizens. However, the Wiccans are now upset and are going to court because of what they call a negative portrayal of their religion.
The fact is that our God is intolerant. The One True God is intolerant of homosexuality and witchcraft. But it is unfair to single those two sins out because our God is intolerant of all sins. Actually God hates sin! �For all these things I hate, says the Lord.� God hates sin so much that He �spared not His own Son (Romans 8:32).� What terrible thing caused God�s Son to die an excruciating death on that cruel, cold, Roman cross? It was sin! God hated sin so much that He sent this One who knew no sin to become sin for us. God knew that it was only through His Son, Jesus, that we might have Victory over this terrible disease of sin.
Yes, God loves us (John 3:16) but He still hates sin. As His children we love the sinners but we too should hate the sin. We should hate the sin so much that we should oppose it at every turn (Matthew 5:13). We should hate sin so much that we tell others about God�s love of sinners and hate of sin (Matthew 5:14-16). We should hate sin so much that we �lay� it �aside� (Hebrews 12:1). We should hate the sin so much that when we sin we immediately confess it to our Lord so that we may be forgiven and cleansed of all unrighteousness (I John 1:9).
Break The Cycle
�And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.� - I John 3:22-24.
What would you do if you had to repeat the same day over and over again? In the movie �Groundhog Day� that is what happens to Phil Conners (Bill Murray) who is sent to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to do a story on the annual Groundhog Day festivities. Phil finds himself repeating the same day over and over and over again. Things go from bad to worse until he decides to take advantage of the time instead of wasting it. Phil spent months learning the art of flicking a card into a hat perfectly each time. But Phil�s heart changes and eventually the day arrives when it is no longer Groundhog Day but tomorrow.
In the Book of Judges the Children of Israel have their own Groundhog Day. No, it is not the same day repeating over and over but it is the same cycle of life repeating itself over and over. After the death of Joshua the Israelites had abandoned the worship of the One True God and instead served the false God of Baalim (Judges 2:10-13). When the people sinned God would allow their enemies to defeat them. In their torment the people would cry out to God for help. Each time this happened God would send a leader, who was called a judge to deliver them. This cycle of sin, torment, repentance, and deliverance was repeated over and over again.
This painful cycle of sin, pain, repentance, and deliverance occurs in our lives as well. Until we learn the lesson and break the cycle by walking in obedience to God we are doomed to go through that cycle over and over again. We will never fully experience the abundant life until we break out of this cycle. Phil Conners eventually learned his lesson. Will we?
On The Run
�Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, �Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.� But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.� - Jonah 1:1-3a.
Jonah was on the run because he had heard God�s call but chose to turn and run away. He knew exactly what he was running away from. Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh and preach to those wicked people. So, instead Jonah tried to run away. We know the story and how eventually Jonah decided preaching to the Ninevites was a better deal than being in the belly of the �great fish.�
Robert Garside is on the run too and he plans to keep on running until he has run across every continent. Garside, known as the Runningman, is from Britain and he is projected to finish his 42,000-mile, five-year journey some time next year. He has run about 30,000 miles across Europe, Australia, Asia and Latin America since leaving England in December of 1996. Along the way he has dodged bullets in Russia, been jailed in China for running in a restricted area, and he had to outrun bandits in Panama and Mexico. You have to wonder if Garside ever watched the movie, Forrest Gump?
Garside�s five-year run is a picture of the life of many Christians. We are on the run! Where are we running? What are we running from? Some are just like Jonah and are actually running away from God�s call. God has a plan, a call, a purpose for every child of God but we can only know that plan by putting God first in our lives (Matthew 6:33). We can only live that plan by denying ourselves and taking up our cross each day (Luke 9:23).
You know that God is speaking to your heart. You know God has a plan for your life. Stop running and listen. Listen for the still, small voice to speak. Allow yourself to experience the abundant life. As Jesus said to Martha, �...you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her (Luke 10:41-42).� If you have been on the run - stop running away from God and run to Him. Choose the �good part!�
In Longview, Texas they have somewhat of an unusual contest each year and Warren Hearne won the contest this year. You could say Warren Hearne from Houston stuck to it! He stuck to a pickup truck for 126 hours and 46 minutes. To win a pickup truck and boat he had to be the one to stay standing with at least one hand flat touching the truck. No leaning was allowed! About two dozen people began the contest with Hearne outlasting them all even though it meant unbelievable pain and endurance.
What would you do to win a truck and a boat? What would you do to have eternal life? Would you climb the highest mountain? Swim the widest sea? Walk around the world? What would it take to have eternal life? The bad news is that even if you climbed the highest mountain, swam the widest sea, walked around the world, stuck to a pickup truck for 127 hours you still would not deserve to have eternal life. The Bible tells us in Ephesians 2:8-9 �For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.�
To receive eternal life we have only to receive the �gift of God.� �For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).� Why not accept the gift? He is the only way to Heaven.
�So he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet.� - Exodus 15:25.
Some time ago I received an email from a woman in South Africa who said she used to attend a church named Sweet Waters Baptist Church. She had emailed me about this because I live at Sweetwater, Oklahoma. In the Zulu language sweet waters is Amazimtoti. In Exodus 15 we see Sweet Waters is a very appropriate name for a church.
In Exodus 15 the Children of Israel have seen God destroy the pursuing Egyptians. From the banks of the Red Sea they begin their journey toward the Promised Land. However, three days into the journey they had not found water. When they did find water it was bitter and they called it Marah. Moses cried out to the Lord and he was directed to cast a tree into the bitter water. This appears to be symbolic of exactly what occurred with our Lord Jesus.
The Jewish tradition is that the wood of the tree that was cast into the water was bitter wood. Even though the wood was bitter it sweetened the waters of Marah. In the same way the bitterness of Christ�s suffering and death on the cross is able to sweeten our lives if we receive Him as our Savior. When we pray to receive Christ that old tree the cross with all of its bitterness is cast into our lives and brings about the sweetness of salvation. Jesus said to the woman at the well in John chapter 4 �...whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.� Ask of Jesus the Living Water and you will receive the sweet Living Waters of eternal life.
It may be that you have problems, cares, troubles, or bitterness. Why not cast that old tree into the midst of the hurt, the heartache, the anxiety and allow Christ Jesus to heal your wounds?
The Grass Grows
�Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.� - Mark 1:35.
Apparently in El Reno, Oklahoma some people are not taking very good care of their yards. Chris Bromlow, an El Reno City Councilman decided to do something about this by putting up a sign. Bromlow�s sign reads, �SHAME ON ALL YOU PEOPLE WITH JUNKY UNKEPT YARDS YOU DISGRACE THIS CITY.� Bromlow says, �I thought a lot of people just needed a kick in the pants.� The sign appears to be having the desired effect with some residents cleaning things up.
Maybe that is what some Christians need �a kick in the pants!� We know the example that Jesus gave of a quiet time of prayer and yet many do not pray. We�ve heard sermon after sermon about the value of prayer and the reading of God�s Word and yet many do not pray or read the Bible regularly. We know the Bible says we �shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.� We know Jesus says to pray �give us this day our daily bread.� We know Jesus says �men ought to always pray and not faint.� We know it but somehow it is so easy to let these things slide.
It�s been said that early African believers were taught to pray daily in a solitary place following the example of Jesus. Each believer had their own separate spot in the jungle where they could pour out their hearts to God. As time went by the trails to these private spots became very well worn and if a believer neglected their prayer life it was obvious to the others because the grass would be growing on their path. So they would remind the one who was neglecting their prayer life by saying, �Brother, the grass grows on your path.�
Has the grass been growing on your path? Has the grass been growing on the path of a friend? Why not gently remind them or pass this devotional along to them?
No Pray, No Play
�In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven....� - Matthew 6:9-10.
The U. S. Supreme Court has tightened restrictions on prayer at school sponsored events. As a result of the tightened restrictions Christians are trying to find a way to legally continue praying at athletic and other such events. The Lord�s Prayer, also known as the Model Prayer is again serving as an example during this time. A group called �No Pray, No Play� is encouraging the reciting of the Lord�s Prayer prior to all athletic events.
It is tragic that the freedom to pray has been restricted. It is not only tragic it is upsetting and almost unbelievable that a nation which says it trusts in God no longer sanctions prayer. How did we arrive at this point? It may be that we have come to this point because of a lack of prayer. How many Christian students who recite the Lord�s Prayer at football games have never prayed at home? How many have never heard their parents pray at home? How many have never heard their grandparents pray? How many have never heard their friends pray? How many never prayed and never cared when they had the freedom to pray?
Wherever we are for as long as we can, in whatever way we can let us pray! Let us begin now!!
Are You Passionate?
�And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.� - Colossians 3:23.
Jay Grelen who writes for the Oklahoman has a passion for sweet tea. Grelen writes, �In the campaign to win Oklahoma over to the nectar of the aristocracy, we are, I am happy to report, way on down the highway. The beverage of which I speak, of course, is sweet tea. ...The only way to make sweet tea, of course, is to add the sugar before you add the ice. ...Here�s why sweet tea matters: Life is short. Sugar is cheap. Oklahoma is hot. ...I�m a Southern Baptist. I can�t dance. I can�t smoke. I can�t drink. And now I can�t do Disney-anything. So what is a boy to do, except drink sweet tea...?� Grelen also states: �...in its April edition, Southern Living wrote about sweet tea and referred to me as the �sweet tea evangelist.�� (Sunday Oklahoman 8-20-00. Jay Grelen can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Passion, it makes a difference in every area of life. Some people have it and some people don�t. Some people have passion for the wrong things, some for the right things, and some for the very best things. The apostle Paul had a passion for the very best - a passion for God. Paul says in Ephesians chapter 3:
�But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.�
�...I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.�
�that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings.�
�Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.�
�I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.�
Do you have the kind of passion for the Lord that the apostle Paul had? If not why not begin to pray that God will give you passion? The church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7) appears to have been a passionless church because none of the Biblical words for passion appear in the book of Ephesians. Jesus had many good things to say about them but said, �I have this against you that you have left your first love.� The solution Jesus prescribed for the Ephesians was, �Remember therefore from where you have fallen, repent....�
�Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.� - Matthew 13:45-46.
MasterCard and Ralph Nader�s campaign are having a little squabble over some things in life money cannot buy. MasterCard�s ads point out some of the things in life money and even plastic cannot buy. They then say for everything else there is MasterCard. The punch line of Nader�s ad is �Finding out the truth: Priceless.� MasterCard believes Nader�s campaign has ripped off their successful ad and made it less valuable as a result.
The truth is that there are some things in life that truly are priceless. One thing in particular is so priceless that we should be just as the pearl merchant. We should give everything we have in order to possess this one thing. What is it? The Kingdom of Heaven. We can only possess it through surrendering everything we have and are to Jesus Christ. Jesus is the pearl of great price. Jesus truly is priceless!
What have you done with the priceless truth of Jesus?
Holier Than Thou
�Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, �God I thank You that I am not like other men-extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.� And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, �God be merciful to me a sinner!� I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.� - Luke 18:10-14.
It appears it is human nature to want to be better than average and better than others. Apparently we often think we are doing better than others when we really are not. Researchers at Northwestern, Duke, and Harvard universities conducted a study asking investors how their portfolios performed as compared to the Standard & Poor stock index. One third believed their portfolios performed better than the market by five percent. One out of six believed their portfolios performed better by ten percent. However, when their portfolios were actually examined 88 percent had overestimated the performance.
The Pharisee had obviously overestimated his spiritual condition as well. The Pharisee looked at his neighbor, the tax collector, and concluded he was much more righteous than his neighbor. Jesus saw them both in a different light.
Before we consider ourselves to be spiritually better than our neighbors perhaps we should consider how Jesus sees us. It may be that we have overestimated our position.
Where is the Victory?
�The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.� - I Corinthians 15:56-57.
Living on planet earth in our fleshly bodies we often wonder where is the victory? There are the attractions of the world, the lusts of the flesh, and the temptations of the devil which assail us. The fact of the matter is that sometimes we fall. Sometimes we fail. Sometimes we are not the super Christians that we want to be. All of the time we are just sinners saved by the grace of God.
So, when we fail to live up to our expectations as Christians what do we do? When we fail to do what we know Jesus would have done what do we do? Here is a list of questions I asked our young people at youth camp this summer and I asked them what would they do?
Hug a stranger who has AIDS?
Cheat on a test to get a passing grade?
Stay at a party where people are drinking?
Drink alcohol while under age?
Copy answers from a friend�s homework? (How about cheating on taxes?)
Keep the money when the cashier gives you too much change?
Smoke a cigarette?
Lie to your parents?
Speed to make it to school on time?
Maintain sexual purity?
Spread rumors about someone who hurt you?
Lie for a friend to an authority figure?
Be the first to talk to the new person in school?
Date someone who doesn�t believe in God?
Sneak out after curfew?
Go to Sunday School regularly?
(And there are many other things which you could ask yourself.)
After asking them what they would do I then asked them what Jesus would do. Their answers for the most part were much different the second time. Most likely some of ours would be too. So, what do you do when you don�t do what Jesus would do? Do you bail out? Do you start living like the devil? Do you stop going to church? Do you stop reading the Bible and praying? What do you do? Where is the victory?
The victory is still in the same place. The victory is still in Jesus. �If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9)." But that is not all! Paul tells us in I Corinthians 15:58 �Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.�
Analyze, Agree, and Apply
�For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.� - Hebrews 4:12.
A frequently taught method of Bible study is the Triple A method of Analyzing, Agreeing, and Applying. First the passage of Scripture should be analyzed by reading through it and rereading it. Allow the Word to soak into you. Most likely there will be a verse or two that will speak to you more than other verses in the passage and you should concentrate on those verses. Once the passage has been analyzed than you should agree with what God is saying to you through that passage.
God used a passage of Scripture to clarify His call to me to preach His Word. I analyzed the Scripture and after some time I agreed with what He was saying to me. However, the final step of application took several months. I knew He wanted me to preach His Word but it was not until I made this public and began to preach that His Word was applied in my life.
Most Christians agree that we should witness, love our neighbors as ourselves, faithfully attend the services of our church, tithe, etc. Regrettably, most Christians are able to analyze the Word of God and most Christians agree with what God is saying but the application of the Word of God in their lives does not occur.
What about your life? Are you agreeing but not applying?
�But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.� - Acts 1:8.
Strange thing about most appliances, radios, televisions, and stereos; unless they are plugged in, have batteries, or operate on solar power they will not operate. It is always a little embarrassing to be unsuccessfully trying to turn something on and someone else notices that it is not plugged into the power source. It is so simple that it is often overlooked. You have to have power before an electrical device will operate.
Spiritually speaking it is so very simple as well. We have to be plugged into our spiritual power source or we will experience burnout and eventually come to a standstill. It is so simple that often we deny this could possibly be a problem for us.
Once the problem is identified what is the solution? We must plug in to our power source. If you have become depressed or discouraged Jesus says in Luke 18:1 �...that men always ought to pray and not lose heart.� We are told in Hebrews 12:3 �...consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.� It may be that you have a lack of faith. We are told in Romans 10:17 �...so then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.� Do you have a lack of love and no longer have a desire to do good? In Hebrews 10:24-25 �...let us consider one another to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.�
Why not plug back in now? Spend some time in prayer talking to your Lord. Read a few chapters in His Word. Make a commitment to be in church for every service. When you are plugged in it makes everything so very much easier.
�The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the Lord upholds him with His hand.� - Psalm 32:23.
Usually when I think of God�s ordering of our steps I think in general and broad terms. I think of God�s plan for my life. I think of the general direction that He would have me to go in the different areas of my life. Is the career I have chosen His choice? Is this the house He wants us to buy? Should I accept the call to another church?
While I was at the Falls Creek youth camp last week God demonstrated to me once again that He is able to literally order my steps. The youth camp is spread out over a fairly large area and each church (or in our situation several smaller churches) stays in a different cabin. The youth group from the church which I had been pastor of previously was also at the camp. I visited at their cabin twice during the week and was able to talk with all of the young people except for one girl, Elizabeth. While I was at their church Elizabeth and her mother had been in a serious vehicle accident. Elizabeth had experienced a compound fracture of her leg and was in the hospital for quite a while. I wanted to see how she was doing physically and if she had recovered from the emotional trauma of the accident.
Since I had missed Elizabeth twice I had thought I would not see her at camp but God had something else in mind. Each evening I had been serving in the counseling rooms as a pastor/advisor for those who responded to the invitation. With over five thousand attending the services there was a large response to the invitation each night and especially on the last night. The last night during the invitation I went to the chapel where I had been serving. Since there was an unusual response to the invitation to respond to special service (vocational ministry) I was asked along with three other pastors to go to that area.
As I approached the special service area I saw Elizabeth in the group of about 40 people waiting to enter. Since there was urgency I was only able to say hello to her. I visited with one young man who felt called to youth ministry and after we had prayed together I went to find the next person I was to talk to. Elizabeth was that next person! Only God could do that!
God is able to literally order our steps and those of others to bring about His will in our lives. There is nothing, which is beyond the reach or capability of God in my life or in yours.
�I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.� - Romans 12:1.
I have just spent a week at Falls Creek, which is one of the largest youth camps in the world. The theme this year was �Ancient Disciplines.� Each day a different discipline was stressed: Bible study; prayer; sacrifice and, worship. Of these disciplines, sacrifice, appears to be the most neglected. To large numbers of Christians these are truly �ancient disciplines.� Sadly, to many Christians these are things that Christians did long ago that are no longer applicable to them and sacrifice is incomprehensible to them.
The fact of the matter is that God�s children should still practice these disciplines today. They are not �ancient disciplines.� They are disciplines every child of God needs to live a life of victory. This includes sacrifice. In Hebrews 13:15-16 we see there is the sacrifice of praise and the sacrifice of good works. These sacrifices do not save us (Ephesians 2:8-9). But because we are saved (Ephesians 2:10) we have a desire to praise and to do good things in the Name of our Lord.
We are to die to self (Galatians 2:20) and live for Christ (Colossians 2:6-7). You can look at the following verses and see some of the sacrifices we should make: John 17:17 (Our opinions for His truth); I Peter 5:5 (Our pride for His humility); I Thessalonians 4:7 (Our lusts for His purity); Philippians 3:7 (Our ambitions for His service); I Timothy 6:7 (Our money for His provision); and, I Corinthians 9:25 (Our possessions for His crown). But the sacrifice we should make is even more than this, it should be all that we are. We must consider the sacrifice that our Lord Jesus made for us and as we do so we will know that it is only our �reasonable service.�
�Rather that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord�s table and of the table of demons.� - I Corinthians 10:20-21.
�But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk. And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.� - Revelation 9:20-21.
Consider the Sacculina, a parasite. When the Sacculina successfully invades a crab it begins to take over. The crab can no longer do what other crabs do and really it just becomes a vehicle through which the parasite lives. Uninfected crabs live life and produce new generations of crabs. However, the crabs controlled by the Sacculina no longer reproduce and just go on mindlessly eating. This infected crab has become a different kind of creature which is no longer a crab but a breeding ground for the Sacculina.
In the end times it is clear that people will be worshipping, having fellowship with demons by the way they live their lives. But I would submit to you that there are a vast many today who are having fellowship with demons through the way they live their lives. They are unwilling to repent of their �. . . murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.� Not only are they unrepentant they are encouraging others to participate in the same kind of activities. They are not only having fellowship with demons but have becoming a breeding ground for them.
Let us as Christians have no fellowship with the works of darkness and their parasites. Let us be repentant and turn from those things which we know are unpleasing to God and cast those evil parasites out of our hearts and lives through the power of God. Let it be said of us that we repented and that we have no fellowship with the parasites of evil.
Avoid the Bulls
�I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.� - Romans 12:1-2.
Growing up on a farm I learned at an early age to have a healthy respect for the bulls. Some of the bulls were almost tame but some of them were just plain mean and you had to be careful. My mother tells of seeing her father trapped in a feeder by a bull and having to use a pitchfork to keep the bull away. Having grown up in such an environment I am puzzled every year when I hear about the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Every year a huge crowd of people place themselves in the way of danger. Every year some of those people are injured, some severely. This year, thankfully, only a few were injured. One man was trampled by the bulls and another was stabbed in the back by the horns of a bull.
Almost as puzzling is why some Christians persist in trying to live like non-Christians. The apostle Paul tells the Romans and us not to be conformed to the pattern of this world. It apparently was a problem for the Romans and it still is today. We know that running the rat race is just going to cause us pain and misery but we persist in trying to do so.
How much better to avoid what we know will cause us pain and misery? How much better to be transformed by the power of God and to experience His good, acceptable, and perfect will in our lives. Paul says in verse one that we should give ourselves to God as a living sacrifice. It is only our reasonable service. Let�s use a little Godly reason and stay away from the running bulls.
�And Moses said to the people, �Remember this day, in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage, for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out from this place; no leavened bread shall be eaten.� - Exodus 13:3.
Yesterday in the United States we celebrated the 224th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Celebration events were everywhere across the country. From the massive OnSail 2000 parade of tall ships in the New York Harbor to the small fireworks displays in nearly every community the people of the United States were celebrating their freedom. We are thankful for our freedom! However, the Declaration of Independence alone did not win that freedom. Freedom came only at the cost of many lives during the War of Independence followed by the War of 1812. Since that time many more wars, skirmishes, and police actions have been necessary to maintain our freedom.
Today there is a different kind of challenge to the freedom of the citizens of the United States. It is a moral decay that is rotting away at those precious freedoms. This moral decay has become pervasive infecting every area of government including the President, the Supreme Court, and the Congress. Our state governments also appear to be infected with this same moral decay. Even in our local communities there appears to be �a whatever they want to do is okay� attitude about immorality that is so very rampant.
The winning of freedom is only the beginning. Freedom must be maintained. For our country that freedom means the vigilance of our armed forces must be continual. To prevent the moral decay, which threatens this country, we must be continually vigilant as well. We must not retreat to our homes and think the decaying of our society does not affect us. In Exodus 13 Moses reminded the Israelites of their Independence Day when God had set them free from Egypt. But Moses also told them what they had to do to remain free. The Feast of Unleavened Bread was instituted. Leaven is symbolic of sin and as the Apostle Paul points out in I Corinthians 5:6 it just takes a little bit of leaven to leaven the whole. In order to remain free the Israelites had to purge the Promised Land of the pagan people and practices, which were there. In Numbers 33:55-56 they are told of the problems and pain that they will bring on themselves if they tolerate these pagan people and practices.
On a personal basis when we receive Jesus Christ as our Savior that is our Independence Day and the chains of sin are broken. But that freedom must be maintained. We cannot, we must not, tolerate even little sins in our lives. Every day in which we walk in the power of the Spirit resisting and overcoming the world, the flesh, and the devil is a day of freedom. Why not make every day an Independence Day!
Make a U-Turn
�Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.� - James 4:7-8.
Last Tuesday (June 20, 2000) something almost unheard of in the airline industry occurred. A Southwest Airlines plane turned around to pick up passengers left behind! The plane was 150 miles into the flight when they were notified that three sisters had been left in Kansas City. The girls, only 8, 9, and 12 years of age had gotten off the flight for a snack on a brief stop during their Los Angeles-to-Chicago flight. You have to commend the pilot of this Southwest flight for recognizing the problem, deciding to address the problem, and for actually doing something about it.
In our own lives some of us have problems. Those problems range from little white lies to severe addictions. Before anything can be done about the problems in our lives we must first recognize that we have a problem. As David did in Psalm 51 we should recognize that our problem is a sin against God. Once the problem is recognized we need to decide to address the problem. What will it take for us to be relieved of our problem? What will be the consequences if we take action or if we do not? What action is necessary for elimination of this problem? Finally there is one more thing that must be done. We must do something! We must take action to eliminate it.
We eliminate the problems in our lives in the same way that the pilot of the Southwest Airlines eliminated a problem in his life - by making a U-Turn. As King David did in Psalm 51 we must turn back to God. A very good place to begin is James 4:7-8.
�As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.� - Revelation 3:19-20.
Paul Johnston knows a little about zealousness. Paul�s wife of 70 years passed away in 1997 but before he married his wife he had a college sweetheart. Even though it had been 75 years since he had seen her there was still spark of love burning. Paul began to look for Lulu Marschat and he found her. He worked for three days writing a letter, which he mailed, to Lulu. Lulu called, they met, and four days later 95 year old Paul Johnston proposed to 94 year old Lulu. Saturday they were married.
To remarry at the age of 95 you would have to have a zealous love! God calls upon us to have such a love. A zealous love, a love so great for Him that we will repent, turning from all other loves and returning to Him. Have you pushed God away? Have you been ignoring Him? Have you replaced Him with other activities and things? Be zealous and repent.
Jesus is standing at the door of your heart knocking. He wants to come in and renew that old relationship. It�s not to late! He�s still knocking. What are you waiting for? Let Him in!
Works of the Flesh
�Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery (witchcraft - KJV) ... of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.� - Galatians 5:19-21.
Dan Wolff came up with a novel way to deal with an industry analyst with whom he was having problems. On a business trip to New Orleans he bought a voodoo doll planning to use it to curse his critic. Dan was even able to write this off as a business expense and bought two of the dolls. But when it came to the actual curse Dan finally chickened out after a friend in New Orleans wouldn�t even touch the doll and told him, �We don�t mess around with voodoo.�
Dan�s friend gave him some good advice because witchcraft is something you do not want to mess around with even a little. In the Old Testament we see witches and the sin of witchcraft being dealt with very harshly. In Exodus 22:18 we are told: �You shall not permit a sorceress (witch - KJV) to live.� Since sacrificing to idols in I Corinthians 10:20 is said to be having "fellowship with demons� how much more so is the direct practice of witchcraft.
Most Christians agree that witchcraft is not something with which we should become involved. However, what about all those other things listed there in Galatians along with witchcraft? Here�s the rest of the list �... hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murder, drunkenness, revelries, and the like.� In I Samuel 15:23 Saul is told �For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.� If we would hesitate to even touch a voodoo doll what about all these other things?
In Detroit a woman has been crushed to death by a garbage compactor. She was a shoplifting suspect who was trying to hide from security guards of a Value Village store. Workers operating the compactor were apparently on a break when Gloria Terrell, 43, hid inside. Shirley Terrell, the woman�s mother said, �The police told me she stole a pair of shoes. For her to lose her life for a pair of shoes ... I don�t know what to say.�
We have to wonder when Gloria began to shoplift. Was this the first time? or, was it a sinful habit begun when she was a child? I�m sure Gloria had no idea her little sin would be so costly as to take her life. With Gloria we see very vividly the truth of �the little foxes that spoil the vines.�
Most likely you are not a shoplifter, or a robber, or murderer but are you a liar, or a cheater, or a gossip, or a __________? You can fill in the blank. Those little foxes seem so harmless but in reality they are slowly eating away at your life. Those little foxes are spoiling you one sin at a time until they have you set up for the final fall like Gloria.
Before it is too late ask God to help you get rid of the little foxes in your life.
�And they continued steadfastly in the apostles� doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.� - Acts 2:42.
This verse says much about what we need as Christians today. When our world comes crashing in and everything is going wrong what do we do? Where do we turn? We should follow the example of the early church and continue on. They �continued steadfastly.� This seems to indicate that there was at least some opposition to their doing what the remainder of the verse states.
When all seems lost, continue on. Continue on in the �apostles� doctrine� which was the Word of God. Continue on reading, studying and meditating upon the Word of God. Continue on memorizing and imbedding the Word of God in your hearts.
When all seems lost, continue on. Continue on in fellowship with other Christians. Continue on provoking and encouraging others to love and good works. Continue on and stand firm with your labor for the Lord because we know that it is never in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). Continue on in that fellowship of obedience to the Great Commission.
Continue on and you too will have �gladness and singleness of heart!�
The wide gate is the way of the world and the narrow gate is Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Many have entered the narrow gate but have grown weary. Some are like Lot�s wife continually looking back at their previous life and longing for it. Entry through the narrow gate is the beginning not the end of commitment. So many pray some words and then go out and act like they always did before. They may come to church for an hour on Sunday but that is what they do to soothe their conscience and for the sake of appearances before others.
What is even worse is that many who have walked through the narrow gate and have sat down are leading others to do the same. How? They do so by their actions. Those who are younger see their example and begin to do the same. Do they not have any fear of God? Lot�s wife turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back (Genesis 19:26). What is it that our Lord says? �Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea� (Matthew 18:6).
Once we have entered in the narrow gate it is the beginning of our eternal journey and Jesus says: �If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me� (Luke 9:21). Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in a speech about why Memorial Day should be continued (in 1884) spoke words which would apply well to the Christian: �...you must be willing to commit yourself to a course, perhaps a long and hard one, without being able to foresee exactly where you will come out. All that is required of you is that you should go somewhither as hard as ever you can.�
Have you sat down? Get up! Many are watching your example and it is time to move forward �as hard as ever you can.�
Love for Jesus
�These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren." - Acts 1:14.
I wonder what it would have been like to have been in that prayer meeting? They were still all in one accord on the day of Pentecost. �And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them" Acts 2:2-3. You have to wonder what the prayers were like that was being prayed at that point? What had they been praying? What had they been saying?
Too many times it seems as though prayers in our churches and prayer meetings are dry, repetitious, and even monotonous. Maybe it reflects the prayers that we pray in our homes? Or possibly it reflects the lack of praying we do in our homes? Is prayer just something that we add on to our prayer meeting/Bible study because we know we are expected to do that? Is prayer just something that we tolerate in our churches today but if we didn�t have any no one would miss it?
I�ve been reading Jim Cymbala�s book �Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire.� Whether you agree with his doctrine or prayer method or not you have to be moved by the answers to prayer that they have received. Cymbala says you can MEASURE the LOVE of a CHURCH for JESUS by the ATTENDANCE at the TUESDAY NIGHT PRAYER MEETING. The Brooklyn Tabernacle appears to be a church built by prayer. It seems to be a prayer driven church. But shouldn�t every church be a prayer driven church?
�Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals; and they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and the bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger.� - Judges 2:11-12.
�Wherever they went out, the hand of the Lord was against them for calamity, as the Lord had said, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were greatly distressed.� - Judges 2:15.
The Supreme Court of the United States has spoken. According to the Supreme Court it is okay to slightly scramble pornography on television. Which in effect means that our children may watch black and white pornography instead of color. Sometimes it may even be in color with a few lines. How bad is this? How bad would it be if drug dealers were giving out free samples of their products? We are upset with cigarette manufacturers who are targeting teenagers with their advertising. Should we not be even more upset by this ruling of the court?
In the Book of Judges we read of how the people turned away from the One true God to worship idols. As a result great catastrophes came upon the nation and the hand of God was against them. The United States is becoming a nation of idol worshippers. Pornography is just one of the countless idols we worship and that we are encouraged to worship by our governmental actions and inactions. We continue to see the erosion of our society. How long before great catastrophes come upon the United States? How long will God restrain His wrath?
What can we do? Individually we must turn from our wicked ways. Individually we must humble ourselves before God, and pray seeking God�s face. If we do so God promises to hear, forgive, and heal our land (II Chronicles 7:14).
�If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death.� - I John 5:16.
In Concord, North Carolina a concrete pedestrian walkway which spanned a highway collapsed onto the road. People were hurled on top of each other as they fell toward the ground. 107 people were injured with three of them critically. They were leaving a NASCAR race. Track president Humpy Wheeler said, �All we can do right now is pray for the people who were injured seriously.� According to witnesses there was no warning of an impending collapse. The bridge appeared to be normal with no structural problems but suddenly it just caved in.
Many Christians have much in common with this pedestrian walkway which collapsed. They look okay on the outside but the years and the stress of the storms of life weaken them until they suddenly collapse. An addiction destroys another life. A long marriage falls apart. Moral failures bring about public disgrace. How sad to see a Christian fall but we know it happens all the time. How can we keep it from happening to us? There are some things we should be aware of:
First, we should be aware of the destructiveness of sin. Romans 6:23 says: �For the wages of sin is death.� Sin always leads to death. Some deaths are more immediate than others as the apostle John points out in I John 5:16.
Second, we should avoid the grasp of the enemy. John says in I John 5:18b �but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him.� To keep ourselves has the meaning of holding fast, to keep your guard up.
Third, we need to grow in our understanding of Christ (I John 5:20). When we are faithful in maintaining our fellowship with God our understanding of Him grows. As we walk in obedience, that which is true, our fellowship with God increases.
Fourth, we must decide to worship only God. John tells us in I John 5:21 that we should �keep (our)yourselves from idols.� An idol is anything you put first before God. John is saying you cannot be neutral you must decide to worship God or you are worshipping the world.
Redeem the Time
�Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time (Colossians 4:5).�
This statement that the apostle Paul makes is or at least should be chilling if you take the time to consider it. Paul identifies non-Christians as �them that are without.� Several images come into my mind.
I still remember the first ice storm I worked in during my first year in the oilfield. In order to paint colored bands on the pipe to indicate the quality it was necessary to use a hammer to beat through the ice to the steel underneath. Most of us huddled around diesel fires to stay warm. Except for one man who had icicles hanging off of his mustache. He was running around in his short sleeves with no coat. Must have been the methamphetamines. Whenever winter comes and I�m safe inside I appreciate the comfort of that warmth. I know there are many that are hard at work even in the freezing cold and that they are �without.�
Another image that comes to mind is an image of times of war. Those somewhat safe beyond the boundary of a countries' borders such as in Albania. When just beyond their border there has been a vicious little war raging with thousands killed and injured.
We who know Christ as our Savior are safely within the walls of Salvation. But there are so many that are without and Paul says we need to �redeem(ing) the time.� There is great urgency with thousands upon thousands dying every day and going out into eternity to a place of torment. Each one of us need to run our own personal rescue ship and we ought to run it within an inch of those burning fires if we can save even one of those that are �without.�
�Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ....� - II Corinthians 5:20.
In Florida there is now a company paying car owners as much as $400.00 per month to place advertisements on their cars. Autowraps is the company and they already have 200 cars covered with ads on the west coast. There are a number of requirements for drivers including age, and no traffic violations within the past year. They apparently do not want to be poorly represented and do not want cars covered with their ads to be seen causing an accident. Those ad covered cars are representatives for the companies being advertised. Poor behavior by the driver could bring publicity of the wrong kind to the company and undo the image the company was paying to create.
When we are �born again� (John 3) our home is no longer planet earth. Our home is Heaven and according to I Peter 2:11 we are �aliens� and �strangers� on earth. We have been changed and transformed (II Corinthians 5:17) and as such creatures we are representatives or our new homeland. The apostle Paul says we are �ambassadors for Christ.� We are walking, talking, and even driving advertisements for our Lord and Savior. It is unfortunate that some who bear the name �Christian� have not acted in a manner representative of the nature of true Christians. If we were ambassadors of an earthly government or representatives of a business organization many of us would have long ago had our employment terminated.
If the Lord were to review your service as �ambassador� would you deserve a �well done!� or a rating somewhat less favorable?
Who's on the Throne?
(Originally sent 9-7-98)
�By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, and honor, and life." - Proverbs 22:4.
Early on in my life I had a problem with pride. There were some things that I thought that I just did not have to do or would not do no matter what. But I learned over the years that I was not above picking up trash from an outhouse or scrubbing nasty floors (While I was working in the oilfield.) if that was what needed to be done. God has a way of letting life take care of our pride.
I was reading in the book of Daniel this morning and King Nebuchadnezzar had a problem with pride. So God had him, �driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will." - Daniel 5:21. But apparently there are some hopeless cases that God just takes out like Nebuchadnezzar�s son, Belshazzar.
Daniel chapter five is where the hand writes on the wall after Belshazzar throws a huge feast and uses the temple vessels to drink wine and worship pagan gods. Daniel interprets the writing on the wall as saying Belshazzar�s time was up, it was finished. That very night Belshazzar lost his life as Darius the Median took over the kingdom.
Pride is what? Pride is appointing ourselves to the throne of our lives. When pride runs supreme we think and obey God only as it is convenient. But God says what? God says, �But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness..." - Matthew 6:33. Jesus says the greatest commandment is: �Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment " - Matthew 22:37-38. If self is on the throne of your life then you are not fulfilling the first and great commandment. If self is on the throne you are not seeking first the kingdom of God. If self is on the throne you do not really fear God. Who's on the throne?
Running On Empty
(Originally sent 9-3-98)
Jesus said in response to the devil�s temptation in the wilderness, �It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.� - Matthew 4:4.
Some of you may never have run out of gasoline in your car. It has only happened to me once and that was enough! I was 17 years old and a friend had set up a double date for us. We were on our way to pick up the girls and I was in a hurry. It was a complete shock when the car began to spit and sputter and died. Needless to say we were late for the date, and the evening turned out badly which was probably for the best.
Spiritually we can run out of gas as well. We are busy people and with jobs, children, their activities, our activities, church, our responsibilities at church, and church activities. We are preoccupied with the immediate. Then it happens a crisis comes into our lives and we find that the spiritual tank is empty. We turn to the Lord and try to fill it back up but the crisis is such that everything we take in immediately goes back out. We put on our happy faces and pretend that everything is okay but really we are just barely crawling, trying to make it through another day. Sound familiar?
The fact is we cannot wait until that storm blows in to fill up the tank. Just as we need physical food frequently in order to live we also need spiritual food. We need that daily intake of reading, studying, and meditating upon the Word of God. We also need to pray every day. Jesus says to pray in the Lord�s prayer, the model prayer, �Give us this day our daily bread� - Matthew 6:11.
Maybe it�s time to fill up the tank?
Is There A God?
(Originally sent 9-1-98)
�For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse (Romans 1:20).�
�Is there really a God?� This is a question that every person considers at some point in life. I remember when I was about nine years old deciding that I would find out if God was real. Maybe I had been to church that day, or heard about Gideon, I don�t know for sure.
To make this test I filled a glass half full of water and place it in the bathroom which was next to my room. I then prayed something like this, �If there is really a God, fill this glass up with water by tomorrow morning.� The next morning the first thing I did was to check the glass of water, but it was still only half full. That night I filled the glass completely full of water and prayed, �If there is really a God, make half of the water disappear by tomorrow morning.� The next morning I checked the glass again, but it was still full of water.
You might think that after my test, I would have given up on the idea of there being a God. But in my heart, before I even tried to test God, I knew already that there was a God. When I had decided that I don�t know, but for as long as I can remember I have known in my heart that God exists. �Is there really a God?� Yes! That has been the answer, the conclusion that countless millions have arrived at over the centuries of time.
Is there a God? I�ve answered that, for myself, in the affirmative, but every person has to arrive at their own conclusion. Whatever the decision, the consequences are eternal.
(Originally sent 9-2-98)
�The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares death (Proverbs 14:27).�
There is an advertisement on television by an insurance company that gets my attention. The insurance company says that it is in the business of restoration, of putting lives back the way they were. In the commercial there is a wrecked car shown in terrible shape sitting in the midst of a building where it has come to rest. As the commercial proceeds the car begins going backwards and the parts of the car come back together until it is as if the wreck had never occurred.
God is in the restoration business too. While I was a parole officer I had a client that had been placed on probation as a result of his gambling addiction and ordered to pay thousands of dollars in restitution. His addiction to gambling had destroyed his life. At one time he had a loving wife, two wonderful children, a business, and a nice home. Things didn�t improve much for him while he was on probation. He remarried but continued to make the wrong choices until his second marriage had ended and he was close to suicide.
It was at this point that I and a friend visited him one night and shared with him again about what Jesus could do in his life. It didn�t seem to make any difference that night and we were given a cold reception. But a few months later I received a letter from this former client thanking me for what we had shared with him. Now this former client has gone back to school, is off of probation, and is seeing his life rebuilt as he is making the right choices through God�s power.
No, his life will never be like it was before he became involved with sin. Just like a wrecked car can never really be completely restored. But his wreck of a life has been made more than functional and he has found joy in a life lived for the Lord that he never had before.
Let us drink each day from that �fountain of life� found in Jesus Christ who is �the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).� Jesus says in John 4:14, �Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.�
�Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.� - Psalm 20:7.
The largest lottery jackpot in lottery history is continuing to grow and has now reached $325 million. The odds of winning the lottery are 76 million to one. If you could afford to purchase 1000 lottery tickets your chance of winning would only be increased to 76 million to 1000. Someone once said that lotteries are a tax on the mathematically challenged. Now it is true that someone will at some point win but still your chances of being struck by lightning are higher.
The Psalmist tells us some trust in God and some trust in other things. Some nations trust in the strength of their armed forces. Some of us put our trust in other things as well. Sadly, some are trusting in lotteries to sustain them financially. Some are spending money on tickets which they need for rent, or food, or utilities. By placing our hopes for financial survival in the winning of a lottery we are in effect making it an idol.
Some trust in lotteries, sweepstakes, and contests; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God. �And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus� (Philippians 4:19).
�Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them I will liken him to a wise man who builds his house on the rock....� - Matthew 7:24.
John Maxwell in his book �Falling Forward� says: �No matter what happens to you, failure is an inside job.� I think we can add to John Maxwell�s statement that �no matter what happens to you success is also an inside job.� With that said it is necessary to define success. The Biblical definition of success is found in I Timothy 6:6: �Now Godliness with contentment is great gain.�
Most of us have heard of the bonfire tragedy at Texas A & M University. 12 students were killed and 27 others were injured some seriously. We wonder how such a thing could happen. The failure appears to have been an inside job. An investigating panel at the University has recently concluded their investigation into the causes of the tragedy. The commission determined: "...the lowest stack, however, had inadequate wiring to hold it together. Steel cables used in recent years were not used in 1999.� In other words the bonfire stack had a poor foundation. What is true of bonfire stacks is also true of the human life. Without a good foundation we are doomed to failure.
What is the right foundation for life? �For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid which is Jesus Christ� (I Corinthians 3:11). Once we have the right foundation we must then build with the right materials and in the right way. �But let each one take heed how he builds on it� (I Corinthians 3:10b). Even after a good foundation of a building is laid there can still be problems. You can build a house with shoddy materials and poor workmanship and a strong wind will blow it down. You can build a life with shoddy materials and the storms of life will destroy it. Without God�s building materials, without His resources (Philippians 4:19) being used in our lives, we are doomed to failure before we start.
If your life was a building and the Lord was a building inspector would you pass the inspection?
Rules of War
In September 1998 someone sent me a copy of Murphy�s Law�s of Combat that was given to Cadet Matt Greb during his first month at West Point. It was interesting to me to see how well those rules seemed to fit in with the Christian life. They fit so well because we as Christians are all involved in combat, a spiritual war.
Several of those rules were right on, such as: Anything you do can get you shot - including nothing. How true! Whether we are fighting for our Lord, running away, or just standing still we are fair game for the enemy. If we think that the enemy will leave us alone if we do nothing we are mistaken. The Bible says in 1 Peter 5:8, �Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.� Sometimes it is easier for the enemy if you are just sitting there doing nothing.
Another one of the Laws of Combat that got my attention was: You are not Superman. There has only been one man that was tempted at all points without sin and His name is Jesus Christ. We need other Christian around us as we live the Christian life. There are several verses in the Bible that communicate this need, such as:
Matthew 18:19, �Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.�
Matthew 18:20, �For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.�
Hebrews 10:24-25, �And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.�
Here are some of the other Rules of Combat and some thoughts that crossed my mind. You may be able to think of some other ways that they apply to the Christian life:
Don�t look conspicuous - it draws fire. (Pride.)
When in doubt empty your magazine. (Don�t be content with just enough holiness to keep the devil at bay.)
If your attack is going well, it�s an ambush. (When souls are being saved and a church is growing the enemy will launch a counterattack.)
The important things are always simple. (How simple is the gospel? So simple that a child can understand. What do we need to do to be happy? Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.)
The easy ways always mined. (There are two roads of which the Bible speaks, the narrow road and the broad road that leads to destruction.)
�Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6:10-12).�
�But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.� - Colossians 3:8.
The results of new study on anger have been released and it should help us to see that there can be severe physiological effects from psychological factors. According to the study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill angry people are three times as likely to have a heart attack. Janice Williams, an epidemiologist in Atlanta who led the study said, �The implications of our study are that anger could potentially lead to heart attacks, especially among middle-aged men and women with normal blood pressure."
Anger is more than a psychological problem it is a spiritual problem. The Bible has much to say about anger and it is clear that anger (and its variants: rage, fits of rage, etc.) cause many problems. The person with a quick-temper acts foolishly (Proverbs 14:17a). An angry or quick-tempered person stirs up strife (Proverbs 15:18). Anger weighs you down like walking around carrying a heavy stone (Proverbs 27:3). Anger gives the devil a foothold in your life (Ephesians 4:26). Anger does not produce righteous living and so must produce the opposite in our lives (James 1:19-20).
How much better and good it would be to live as peaceful people instead of angry? Peter tells us in I Peter 3:8-13: �Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. For he who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good?�
A Jealous Rage
�Wrath is cruel and anger a torrent, but who is able to stand before jealousy?� - Proverbs 27:4.
�Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is as strong as death, jealousy as cruel as the grave; Its flames are flames of fire, a most vehement flame.� - Song of Solomon 8:6.
In Covington, Louisiana they had a little excitement after church Sunday. Sedonia Martin noticed during the church service that her husband Tushaun was looking at another woman and this apparently stirred up a jealous rage in the heart of Sedonia. After church the couple fought and then Sedonia twice attempted to run over Tushaun with their car. The third time Tushaun stood in the middle of the street with his arms crossed and he was hit by the car. However, the injuries apparently were not serious as he was treated at a hospital and released. Sedonia claims she just accidentally hit her husband with the car while driving away. She has been arrested on a charge of attempted murder.
The writer of Proverbs asks "who is able to stand before jealousy?" Tushaun would tell you it is difficult to stand when being run over by a car driven by a jealous wife. What a mess! Any hope of reconciliation between the couple most likely has been destroyed.
How should we respond when we have jealousy rise up in our hearts? Jealousy is an irrational emotion. Usually this emotion has distorted things into something far worse than reality. Instead of emotional confrontation we should first go to the Lord in prayer and seek His wisdom for how to proceed. It may be there is nothing at all to be jealous about. However, it may be that there is a reason for the jealousy. In that situation we should as the Lord leads seek to express our feelings to our spouse (or boyfriend/girlfriend) in a calm and non-confrontational manner. Allow them the opportunity to express how they see the situation. Usually there are two sides to most things.
By proceeding in a rational non-confrontational manner with prayer God is then given room and time to move in the hearts of those involved. But we still have to wonder what the preacher will preach about next Sunday in Covington, Louisiana?
�...Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds). - II Peter 2:7-8.
While I was working as a parole officer the police department picked up a man who was carrying with him a large box. Inside the box was a large snake. I was encouraged by some officers to open up the box after they had transferred it to the police station but I suspected something unpleasant was in the box and refused to look inside. It would have been a shock if I had opened up the box. In Morgantown, West Virginia an animal control officer did look inside a box that was mailed to them. Inside were two 10 foot pythons. The animal control officer said she was �flabbergasted.�
When we turn on our televisions we should be �flabbergasted� by the filth which passes for entertainment. We should be �flabbergasted� when we receive unmentionable email. We should be �flabbergasted� when we stumble onto a triple X site while surfing the Internet. We should have been �flabbergasted� at what has gone on in the oval office. We should be �flabbergasted� that the U.S. Congress allows publicly avowed homosexuals to serve in their midst (They can refuse to seat them.). We should be �flabbergasted� that the Supreme Court is even hearing an argument about whether partial birth abortion should be allowed. We should be �flabbergasted� that teachers cannot have a Bible on their desks.
We should be �flabbergasted� by a lot of things but we seem to have lost our �flabbergasted� ability. Not much seems to surprise us anymore. Or maybe it is that we have seen so much, and heard so much, that we just don�t care anymore. How can one person make any kind of difference in the moral abyss we seem to be in? And yet we are called to be the �salt of the earth.� But we are warned (Matthew 5:13) �but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.� We must regain our spiritual sensitivities by doing what the Psalmist suggests in Psalm 1: �walk(s) not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stand(s) in the path of sinners, nor sit(s) in the seat of the scornful: But (his) delight (is) in the law of the Lord, and in his law (he) meditate(s) day and night.�
�A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.� - Proverbs 15:1.
This morning on an early news program they had conducted an unscientific test of the friendliness of several cities. According to their test New York City was the friendliest. However, Lara Spencer summed up their results by saying that when you are nice to people they are nice to you.
If we are driving a car a soft answer might be not becoming angry when someone cuts us off. If we are at work a soft answer could be not saying anything at all when someone stabs us in the back.
How should we treat those around us? I Timothy 5:1-2 says: �Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters with all purity.� Who should we be kind to? Who should we do good to? I like the motto of John Wesley who said: �Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, to all the people you can, at all the times you can, as long as ever you can.�
�Jesus said to her, �I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?�� - John 11:25-26.
An often missed point is that Jesus does not say that He has resurrection power. Jesus also does not say that He gives resurrection power. He is �the resurrection and the life.�
Lazarus knew what that meant. He knew what resurrection living was all about. Jesus who is the �resurrection and the life� cried out at the tomb of Lazarus, �Lazarus, come forth!� And Lazarus came out of the tomb wrapped in his grave clothes. Lazarus was literally living the resurrected life.
In Acts 3 the lame man knew about resurrection living. The lame man wanted a hand out but instead got a changed life. For the first time in his life he could walk and the Bible says he was �walking, and leaping and praising God.�
Think about Saul who became the apostle Paul. He was persecuting the church. Most likely he was responsible for the deaths of many Christians. But Saul had an encounter with the risen Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus. Saul became Paul absolutely fearless in his service to the Lord. Stone him to death and after they pray for him he rises again. Shipwrecked. Bitten by a snake. Whipped. Imprisoned. Put in stocks. But he just continues on. Nothing can stop him.
Why? What happened to Lazarus, the lame man, to Paul? What happened to the disciples? The Jewish priests, elders, and scribes summed it all up in Acts 4:13: �Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.�
Why? Because they had been with Jesus. Do you want to do some resurrection living? Then you need to be with Jesus.
The Burning Bush Devotional
(Originally sent 9-15-98)
Mackerels in the Moonlight
�No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will stand by and be devoted to the one and despise and be against the other. You cannot serve God and mammon that is, deceitful riches, money, possessions or what is trusted in." - Matthew 6:24 The Amplified Bible
This morning (1998) while listening to a television news program I heard about a new book entitled, �Mackerel in the Moonlight.� They were wondering why it was called that and the weatherman said it sounded better than, �Flounder in the Floodlight!� The statement �Mackerel in the Moonlight� was once used by a politician in describing corruption. He used it that way because a Mackerel laying on the shore in the moonlight would appear to be glimmering and shiny. Upon closer examination one would find that it was rotting and smelled.
We look around at this world we live in and we can see many of those Mackerels in the Moonlight. A psychological study I read about this morning claims that living in the American society causes mental illness. It was based upon studying people who moved from Mexico to the United States. Our way of life appears to be great but there does seem to be some of the Mackerels laying around.
There is so much of the material that is available for purchase. To keep up with your neighbors you need to have a new car or two. The clothes need to look nice and it may be that you will need a new house to keep up with your friends. The pressure is on! You need to make more and more to buy more and more. And if you can�t make more and more then you feel worse and worse. But if we put our trust in the One true God and seek first His Kingdom (Matthew 6:33) and His Righteousness we will find the stress leaving our lives. If we all put God first there would be a lot less Mackerels laying around in the moonlight.
�My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.� - Hebrews 12:5b-6.
What does this mean? For the Israelites it meant wandering in the wilderness for 40 years after refusing to enter the Promised Land. In the Book of Judges we see that again and again God allowed nations to rise up and oppress the Israelites until they turned back to him. After hundreds of years of warnings from the prophets God allowed the Hebrews to be carried into exile. God loved His people enough to allow what was necessary for them to return to Him.
Does God love you and me enough to allow things to happen in our lives which would cause us to return to Him? The writer of Hebrews appears to indicate this is true. How would this apply to our lives? I read today of a 17 year old who ran away from a home for students with discipline problems. Harold Chandler, Jr. while attempting to escape fell 100-feet down a cliff. He broke both arms and shattered his hip. He laid in the underbrush for four days. He prayed, �Lord, if you let me make it through, I�ll never run away again.� He was able to crawl using his elbows to the nearby Cumberland River and finally a fisherman heard his cries for help. While in the hospital with his mother by him he said he didn�t know which was worse - the fear or the pain.
God loves His children so much that He will chasten them, correct them if necessary. God�s view of life is an eternal view while ours is more of a temporary view. If we think that this is not true we only need look at the cross to see His great love and His eternal concern. He loves us so much that His only Son, Jesus Christ, suffered and died for our sins. Jesus was without sin and became the perfect sacrifice.
What would God allow in our lives to bring us into a right relationship with Him? What would He allow in your life?
Then there is the Rich Man sometimes called Dives and his relationship with the beggar Lazurus described in Luke chapter 16. Lazurus was there at the gate of the rich man every day as Dives went in and out. But the rich man died and went to hell. He could see Abraham and Lazarus in a better place and cried out to Abraham to help him. Abraham answered, �Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented" (Luke 16:25).
Last we have King Belsazzar in Daniel chapter five. He is very rich and powerful man who is throwing a little party for a thousand of his followers. He is so callused toward God that he uses the vessels that were taken from the temple to make toasts to false gods. But there comes a hand that writes upon the wall before King Belsazzar. Daniel interprets the handwriting which says, "MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE: God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians" (Daniel 5:25-28). Then the Bible records in Daniel 5:30-31, �In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. And Darius the Median took the kingdom....�
All three of these men thought they were successful and they were according to the world�s standards. But according to God�s standards these men�s lives were absolute failures.
How does God see our lives?
Often when we think of success in life we think of the things that we have gained. We think too of the possessions we have. Real success would have you to gain something as well. In 1 Timothy 6:6 the Bible says, �But godliness with contentment is great gain.�
Paul then expands upon this statement in several succeeding verses. He says in verses 7-10, �For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be there with content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.�
Paul then tells us how we can have godliness with contentment in verses 11 and 12, �But thou, O man of God, flee these things: and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.�
For many years when I was driving to work I would pass a sign that a farmer had put up. On one side the sign says, �After death, What then?� On the other side going home I would read, �Eternity Where?� I think Paul is telling us that in the light of eternity we need to concentrate upon the things that matter, the things that have eternal value. When we do that we will find that the result will be �godliness with contentment� and that is real success.
One morning four weeks ago (1998) I woke up with a ruptured disc in my back with severe pain down my left leg (The pain is gone and the back is much better. Thank you for your prayers!). Two weeks ago I woke up with a brown recluse spider bite on my left leg (It is still healing but appears it will only leave a small scar. Thank you for your prayers!). I can only conclude that sleeping can sometimes be dangerous!!
Of course Samson could confirm that sleeping is dangerous (Judges 16:19). Sisera could also confirm that sleeping is dangerous (Judges 4:21) and there are several others that could as well in the Bible. Eutychus could confirm that it is dangerous to sleep in church (Acts 20:9). But the most dangerous sleep of all is the spiritual sleep of those who have been blinded by the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). They appear to be unconcerned about death. They appear to have little concern for anything other than the material world. Spiritually you can only describe them as being asleep to the reality of eternity. There seems to be so many of them.
It may be that the reason so many are blinded by satan is that there is another category of sleepers. That category is the sleeping Christian. The apostle Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8, �Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep, sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. but let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.�
�Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.� - Colossians 3:12-13.
Want to lower your blood pressure without medication? Memorize the above verse and apply it to your life. Researchers at the University of Tennessee have completed a new study dealing with forgiveness. The research subjects who were the most unforgiving had a higher blood pressure than those subjects who were forgiving. Similar results were found when measuring the forehead muscle tension.
How can we forgive? Psychologists say that forgiveness is a choice that we must make a decision to forgive. That is great as far as it goes. For the Christian there is another crucial element. That element is God! Corrie Ten Boom was able to forgive a concentration camp guard who was responsible for much pain in her life. She also describes the peace and love of God flowing through her as she asked for God�s help to forgive. Forgiveness is a choice but we do not have to do it by ourselves. God will empower us to forgive.
Have you been holding a grudge? Upset with someone? Mad about something? Do yourself a favor and let it go. Forgive them through the power of God. �And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful� (Colossians 3:15).
Return to Him
God speaks to His people in Hosea 5:15 and says, �I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offense, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early.�
Several in our church this last Sunday (September 1998) recommitted their lives to the Lord. I remember some periods in my own life when I was far away from the Lord. Once you have experienced the fellowship of God to live life without His fellowship places upon you a sense of great emptiness. God told his people in Hosea that He would withdraw from them and it was for the purpose of their realizing their need for Him.
I like what the people say in the first three verses of Hosea chapter six as they decide to return to the Lord:
�Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth.�
In the same way when we turn again to the Lord He begins to restore us. What has been torn down over a period of time is not instantly repaired. But as we begin anew to walk with our Lord we see that new life is breathed into our relationships, new life is breathed into every area of our lives, and we can once again hear that small, still voice of God.
As we �follow on to know the Lord� His presence, restoration, and blessings in our lives will be like the rain. We give as we serve and follow Him but He will continually rain His Spirit upon us beyond our imagination. As we �follow on to know the Lord� we walk deeper and deeper in to that river of His love. We walk ankle deep, then knee deep, then waist deep, and then there are waters to swim in (Ezekiel 47).
Where are you now? If you have walked away from God, He is calling, �Come and return to me and I will restore you.� If we are walking with Him, then He is still calling us. He is calling us to a deeper and deeper relationship with Him.
�Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment (Matthew 22:36-38).�
I have been thinking about the meaning of the word �all.� Does it matter whether we pay �all� of our income taxes or just pay part of them? Does it matter if we obey �all� of the criminal laws or just part of them? Does it matter to the highway patrolman who is watching us drive whether we obey �all� of the traffic laws or just part of them? Does it matter whether we go to work �all� the time or just when we feel like it? Does it matter whether we pay �all� the bills or just the ones we want to pay?
In the secular world we know exactly what �all� means! �All� means �all.� Any less and there will be consequences, sometimes severe. But in our spiritual lives we seem to have developed a different definition for the word �all.� The word �all� for the majority of Christians that I have observed (myself included) appears to mean something less than what is expected in the secular world. Most likely that is because the policeman, the highway patrolman, the Internal Revenue Service, and the bill collectors are not going to enforce our observance of spiritual �alls.�
Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount talks about the salt that has lost its savor (Matthew 5:13). Maybe we can put this on a scale. If we love God with �complete all� than we have savor. If we love God with a �little less all� we have less savor. What I am wondering is at what point of our interpretation of the word �all� with our lives do we lose all of our savor?
What is your interpretation of the word, �all?� Does it mean that at any point less than �full all� we have become disobedient to the Great Commandment and that we are living in rebellion?
The Eternal View
�As for man, his days are like grass, as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.� - Psalm 103:15-16.
Thomas Fuller once said, �We are born crying, live complaining, and die disappointed.� We can�t do much about the birth part but we do not have to live complaining and die disappointed. Anne Lamott has some words of wisdom, which might be helpful. She is the author of eight books (Traveling Mercies, Operating Instructions, Crooked Little Heart, Bird by Bird....) and has some interesting advice for writers. Although I think her advice is excellent for all of us. She says, �Tell the truth. Live each day as if it were your last. Some day it will be.� She also says, �Write as if you have a year to live.�
Viewing life not as the complaint of the day or the disappointment of the week but as brief trip prior to our eternal destination frees us from much heartache. The Psalmist had eternity in view when he wrote those words about the swift passing of life. In the next verses he writes: �But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children�s children, to such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them. The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all� (Psalm 103:17-19).
So, with eternity in view what shall we do today?
Selling It All
�Then He said to them all, �If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.� - Luke 9:23-24.
What would you do if you were in debt and had been unable to pay off the debt? What if you owned some valuable property that you could sell to end your debt? However, since you live there it would mean you would be homeless. That is the dilemma faced by the First Southern Baptist Church of Del City, Oklahoma. First Southern is the largest Southern Baptist Church in Oklahoma. At one time their debt had approached 19 million dollars but has been reduced to 7 million dollars. They plan to sell their 80 acres and building for 8.7 million dollars and find a new home.
By eliminating their debt First Southern hopes to be able to increase ministry. This past year they paid 1.2 million dollars in interest. When the church was built they had hoped that it would be in an area of residential development instead it has become an industrial park. By moving they hope to go where the people are. But what a challenge! Pastor Tom Eliff said, "God is giving us the opportunity to move to a location that will give us the opportunity to more adequately minister to the metroplex.� Where that new location will be they do not know but trust that God will lead and provide.
This reminds me of the words of Jesus to a young man who was very rich. Jesus said to him, �You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me� (Luke 18:22). What would you do if God asked you to sell all and follow Him? Is some change in your life necessary before you can truly be obedient to your Lord?
Copyright � 1998-2001. Ed Wrather. All rights reserved. Permission is granted for use of this material on a non-profit basis with source noted.