DOES TOMORROW LOOM TOO LARGE?

Let’s face it. We are a couple of weeks into the new year already and looking ahead to our next day’s journey. The danger is that we can try to live tomorrow before it gets here. Tomorrow looms large to us. Perhaps too large. I am not saying that we shouldn’t  plan for tomorrow as much as our limited life allows. But we must realize that we only have strength for the day imparted and so we cannot live tomorrow on today’s energy (God promised Israel: “As your days, so will your strength be” – Deut. 33:25). But when tomorrow looms large especially when it promises something we dread (I think I have a dental appointment looming on the horizon–get what I mean?), then we find ourselves a bit shaky in the strength & courage department.

I am reading a rather heavy tome called “The Christian’s Reasonable Service” by Wilhelmus A’Brakel. (Just the name intimidated me at first). It is in volume 2 that the author talks about the need for spiritual strength for our journey into tomorrow. He said this: “Spiritual strength is an undaunted steadfastness of heart, given by God to His children, whereby they, while entertaining a lively hope of acquiring the promised benefits, overcome fear of all danger and opposition, unyieldingly engage in warfare, and courageously persevere in obedience toward God.”  Now that is a mouthful. What is he saying that is so helpful to us?

First, he tells us that strength has to have a spiritual source. God has to give it. And He gives it to us in Christ (I Cor. 1:30 – Christ is made to us among other things strength). Only in Christ can I have this strength that  breeds a steadfastness of heart  for tomorrow’s events.  The Psalmist said in 31:34 “He shall strengthen your heart.” The prophet Isaiah speaks assuredly about this to his people as they faced an uncertain tomorrow when he says: “He gives power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increases strength” (Isa. 40:39).  A’Brakel really opened my eyes when he observed: “The benefits hoped for are so desirable that they can endure all that is uncomfortable…Hope in the faithfulness and truthfulness of the promising God makes acquisition such a steadfast and unquestionable fact, that the stronger the believer is in this respect, the stronger his courage will be.” Those promised benefits may not come in our time and in our way, and we may have to face some opposition and trial, but they will come enabling us to have steadfastness of heart and courage to persevere. Those promises give us strength for tomorrow. God told Habakkuk he would have to wait for awhile until God unfolded what he had promised in the vision: “…if it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3).

Second, he tells us that this spiritual strength is an overcoming kind of thing.  The courageous believer is made so because he realizes that “…everything which is in opposition has no power to conquer him and prevent him from reaching his objective, omnipotent help being on his side.”  I think this is what the Psalmist was talking about when he said in Ps. 27:1: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” The tomorrow that looms before us in such a foreboding way is no match for the omnipotent help we have been promised by our Lord.  Fear must go away in light of what we have been promised. When we feel our courage slipping away remember what Isaiah said in Isaiah 27:5 “Let him take hold of My strength.” Tomorrow loomed big in David’s eyes as he realized the people were planning on stoning him because the Amalekites had raided his headquarters in Ziklag.  How did he deal with that potential disaster?  The text tells us “But David encouraged himself in the LORD his God” (I Sam. 30:6). He counted on God’s strength to be there in his tomorrow!

Third, he reminds us that spiritual strength is maintained by our obedience. God has given us grace to obey. We have to know that something desirable is at stake in tomorrow’s battle and that desirable thing is for us to persevere in obeying our Lord no matter what the enemy chooses to use against us.  We should know our enemy. We are acquainted with the Devil, the world, and our own flesh. On the flip side, our enemies are well acquainted with us too! That is why we need this strength from God. We not only desire to defeat our enemies but at the same time we also want to stay obedient. As we experience God’s strength,wait for it, and rely on its promise  we are able to persevere in obedience. Paul reminds us in II Cor. 10:4-5 of this:  “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power (strength) to destroy strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

David got it. In  Ps. 119:115 he declares: “Depart from me, you evildoers: for I will keep the commandments of my God.”

Don’t let tomorrow loom too large!  Omnipotence has gone ahead of us! Take courage and draw on his strength. Take the psalmists words into your soul:“Be of good courage,and He will strengthen your heart” Ps. 27:14.  Think it thru

 

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IS THERE SUCH A THING AS “CHRISTMAS TOO QUICK??”

I know…you might be thinking that after the Christmas presents are unwrapped and the Christmas parties are behind you, and the relatives have returned home, you might think that you are ok with it all being over. It went by quick enough and now life can get back to normal. But are we too quick to count down the days rather than making the days count?
I wonder if we “hustle” the Christmas season along too quickly!  It should be a time on the calendar when we slow down enough to think about God coming in the flesh to live among us for 33 years. How many conversations of wonder do we have with friends and relatives about this incredible event? Instead I am afraid that  our children hear conversations like: “I have so much to do or  we have to run here or I must stop and get this, etc?” Do they ever hear in depth conversations about Jesus at this time of year? The problem is we have “rushed our spirituality” right out the window. We have created a “go faster” mentality about the whole Christmas thing. Everyone brags about their busy-ness and flurry of activity as if that qualifies us for some star in our imaginary character crown! Maybe we have just forgotten the “Martha & Mary” story in the Gospels.

I keep thinking of that verse in Luke [2:19]where Mary kept going over in her mind what the Shepherds told her about the angelic announcement regarding the birth of Jesus.  She slowed down and just thought it through. Good news…great joy…a savior! No one can embody all of that stuff in the human family. It took Jesus Christ to bring all of that to us. And Mary just could not stop thinking about it.Can we?

Recently God called R. C. Sproul home to glory. The one quality that I appreciated most about him was  his ability to make us think deeply and long about who Christ is and what He came to do. You could not help but linger at the Biblical table laden with the subject of Jesus Christ when he taught and wrote.

Somehow in this coming year we need to learn to take the “quick” out of our to do list. Jesus Christ is worth some time to contemplate! We need to “linger awhile at the table!” Think it thru

How did Jesus handle “the difficult people”?

Jesus was not above the issues of his day and even debated the Pharisees, lawyers, and Sadducees on occasion. Yet there is no mistake, that as difficult as these people were, Jesus loved them. We are called upon to deal with sexual issues in our culture that come flying at us from difficult people too.

Andrew Walker in his book entitled “God and the Transgender Debate” observes that “All kinds of people came to speak with him [Jesus]  during his time on earth…those whose lives had been messed up by others, and those whose lives had been messed up by themselves. And Jesus loved them all, made time for them all, and respected them all. He didn’t always agree with them but he always loved them.”

We find an amazing verse in Matthew 12:20 where Jesus described his approach to difficult people by applying an Old Testament text to his own life and ministry: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench.”

Let’s face it. Whether we are talking to an individual who supports abortion or someone defending transgenderism or gay issues we must remember behind those eyes and that voice is someone whom Jesus loves. The way we love is by extending grace to people who live contrary to the Biblical truth we believe.

GRACE LISTENS. I am amazed how sensitive questions can open a person’s heart to hear the truth. Questions like: Tell me how you arrived at your belief? Tell me how that belief has sustained you and helped you? Have you ever considered an alternative to your belief?  The believer in Christ should be the greatest listener in the world.

GRACE LOVES. Sometimes the people who resist us the most are people who have never seen true Christ-like love extended to them. Extending love does not mean embracing their beliefs, decisions, or life-style. Extending love means not letting people crumble or become buried under the weight of their struggles. We know sin never ends well. Along the way as we shine the light of the love of Christ to them, we can pray the Spirit of God will help them see the difference between what they embrace and what Christ brings to them.

GRACE NEVER HIDES THE TRUTH. Showing grace does not mean we are compromising the truth. After all Jesus said it is the truth that frees people. We don’t hide the truth because we understand how  dangerous and deceptive their condition really is. We cannot hide the truth because we know there is no other ultimate solution to the number sin has done on us as a human race.  We dare not hide the truth because we know that God’s Word is a totally reliable compass and road map for all the detours the human heart can invent.

Walker put it this way: “It’s about people: precious people made in the image of God who are hurting, who are confused, who are angry, who are scared, who may have been told by their family that they are unwelcome….There is no hurting person he [Jesus] would mock, or shun, or insult, or sneer at. He is so determined to pursue what is best for all of us that he died—excluded, mocked and rejected—to secure it.”

This is the day of the church. Let’s not miss the power and privilege of extending grace. Not all will receive. Some will push back, but some…oh…some may just come weary and disillusioned to Jesus! We need to be there for them. Think it thru

HOW DO WE HANDLE OUR “OBSESSIONS”?

Everyone has some kind of obsession.  We call them by other names like “hobbies,” “passions,”  “preoccupations,”  “preferences,”  “peculiarities,”  “proclivities,” “infatuations,” “distractions,”  “pet-peeves,” “eccentricities,” and “intense focus.” Now these terms sound much more innocent & harmless  than the term “obsession” and in themselves, I suppose, they could be. But when they cross the line into that practice or object upon which we continually fix our minds to the detriment of the “big stuff” of life and the biblical requirements of life… we are now controlled by our obsessions and not by our Lord.

I have a question. When do we cross the line with our “obsessions”?  Well,  there was a homemaker named Martha who was obsessed with the kitchen and as a result lost her opportunity to spend quality time with Jesus who was in her home (Luke 10:40-41). There was the most beautiful woman ever created named  Eve who became obsessed with the fruit of one tree when she was told it would make her smarter and more beautiful. Her obsession began to control her to the point that she became  blinded to all the other great fruit trees God had given her and her husband to enjoy. We all know the result of that obsession (introduced by Satan, by the way…troubling thought as we think about obsessions).  That obsession crossed the line to sin (Gen. 3). Then there was this  fisherman named Peter who was obsessed with fishing. We know this because when Jesus gave he and his partners a miraculous  catch of fish, he counted them… all 153 of them.  (John 21:11). This obsession turned into a flood when the going got rough in the ministry. Peter said he was going back to  his fishing business…and he did…at least for awhile (John 21:3).   Of course there was that  business man who was obsessed with making money, so much so, he had to tear down his storage facilities to make bigger ones to accommodate his wealth. Eventually,  he discovered that his earthly life was going to end and his soul was not ready for death because he had obsessed about wealth to the exclusion of his spiritual well-being.  He left behind all that stuff he was so preoccupied with and lost his soul. (Luke 12:13-21).

So how do we handle our obsessions? There is nothing wrong with loving to cook, or being passionate about fishing, or auto racing, or baseball, basketball, football  (ok, for those of you who know me – books!). But obsessions can cross the line.

Here are some suggestions that have helped me handle my own obsessions. And, just so you know, I am a work in progress on this matter.

# 1 – Pray over your obsessions. Isn’t this strategy the very one that God has given us to handle all those temptations and struggles that would pull us off course? Pray without ceasing (I Thess. 5:18)…If any man lacks wisdom let him ask of God (James 1:5). I have found that something we are not willing to pray about and bring before the Lord is probably something that should be deleted from our lives.

# 2 – Make sure CHRIST is your strongest obsession. What did Paul tell the Philippians? For to me living is Christ and dying is gain (1:21). I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (3:14). Christ should be the one person and the one “thing” that lights up the rooms of my existence down here. He is someone you should never grow tired or weary of. He is the light of the world, the water of life, the bread of life…all those things I look to my obsessions to provide for me.

# 3 – Test your “obsessions”  to determine if they are drawing you toward the will of God or pushing you away from the will of God. Is engaging in your passions making it more difficult for you to serve God, sacrifice for His service, and love others for Jesus’ sake?  Do these passions reduce your energy and desire to serve the Lord with joy? Or do your “obsessions” refresh you and renew your your spirit so you can continue with joy to offer yourself to Christ? Is your “obsession” a biblically acceptable practice or does God’s word identify it as sin? Remember John’s admonition in his epistle of I John?  Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world– the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever (I John 2:15-17).

# 4 – If your “obsession” has crossed the line to sin, confess it, forsake it, and let the LORD fill that spot you reserved for your “obsession.”  Jesus is the one that really gives us the freedom and zest to live life to the full here. We do not need to be under the control of our obsessions to live well, live happily, nor live at peace down here. When our “obsessions” diminish our love for the Lord and his cause, we have crossed the line to sin.  Moses was right when he told us to “...love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Deut. 6:5).

# 5 – Enjoy your “obsession” as a gift from God if you can do so under the control of the Spirit of God and with a ready willingness to lay it aside at any moment so your relationships remain God-pleasing and your service remains Christ-centered.  Go fishing, enjoy cooking, play that baseball game, get that book (yeh!) but do so in submission to the control of God’s Spirit in the process.  Be on guard with your “obsessions” as a potential enemy if not handled by the power of God. God has given us all “things richly to enjoy (I Tim. 6:17), but not to become a preoccupying and dominating power over us.  Just remember that Jeremiah warned us that our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked and only the Lord can really know them (Jer. 17:9-10). Think it thru

 

 

 

DO WE WORK FOR TOMORROW?

Sometimes the routine of our work, the repetition of certain tasks associated with our vocational journey seems, well, non-productive.  What do I mean?

You build a house, and when the last nail is driven, deterioration sets in and you fight disintegration year after year. In my case you prepare and preach a sermon, and when the last word is spoken, people forget and a month later, not only do the people forget, but I can’t even remember what I preached on a month ago. And I do this all over again the next week and so it goes. A mom cooks a wonderful meal, spends hours lovingly in the kitchen, and in a matter of moments, especially if you have teenagers, it is all gone. And she must do it all over again. Or take the task of laundry (ok, let’s not go there). You finish that long, arduous  work project at the company, and just when you feel that sense of relief, the boss dumps a new project on you and you start all over again.  If work is seen only in light of the day to day process, we have much cause for despair.

Paul the apostle sheds some light on this matter when he tells us that our labor is not futile when it is expended for the Lord (I Cor. 15:58). Revelation 14:13 speaks of our works following us even after we are gone.  Paul tells us that the people that he invested his life and ministry in were his joy and crown (I Thess. 2:19-20).  These texts made me think about my work as a “tomorrow” thing.  Solomon understood this when he spoke of sowing your seed in Ecc.11:1-6. It is tomorrow that the fruit shows up because we all know or should know that  fruit takes some time to grow. That is why it is called fruit.  I have a favorite saying that has encouraged me many times and that is: “Don’t be discouraged. God is not done yet!” 

So how does this play out practically in our lives as servants of God? I am holding in my hand a book from my father’s library. He has been with the Lord now for over 22 years but I see his notes in the margin and sensed why that passage spoke to him and I realized, though he may not have realized it, he was working for tomorrow, not just today. I am benefiting from his work. I look around at all the “friends” in my library,  most of whom are in glory, and yet they being dead, yet speak! They worked for tomorrow too. These men left a profitable legacy for the rest of us. Their labors live on.

The impact of my life and ministry should be seen to extend beyond today. I witness to my neighbor today yet I see nothing happening. But tomorrow…will that labor of love for Jesus come to fruit? Somehow that puts a fresh perspective on what I do in the here and now.

So just maybe my work by God’s grace and design is meant to encompass tomorrow.  I have today, I don’t have tomorrow…or do I?  Think it thru

WHAT IS THE GREATEST PROOF OF THE RESURRECTION?

Professor Joad, past professor of philosophy at London University, (who was not a Christian by the way) was asked the following question: “If you could meet any person of the past and ask just one question, whom would you meet and what question would you ask?” Professor Joad answered: “I would meet Jesus Christ and ask him the most important question in all the world – Did you or did you not rise from the dead?”

The resurrection is foundational to everything we believe as Christians. Yet we do not have to prove the resurrection event itself.  There is another truth that settles for me the validity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

You see the essence of Christianity and the greatest proof of the resurrection for me is found in this one mind-boggling sentence: “JESUS CHRIST IS GOD!” If this statement is true then the resurrection is no problem at all.

When you trace the earthly journey of the Lord Jesus through the Gospels, he says and does things that only God in the flesh can do.  You cannot explain His life in any other way. Even his claims to be God ring true.  Long before you get to the event of the resurrection you have either settled in your minds that Jesus is a liar or He spoke the truth. Either He was a master magician or He actually performed all those miraculous events. Either the Bible is a truth text or a master weaving of legends and unreliable stories. Jesus said he would rise again. The same scripture that recorded those words, recorded as fact his resurrection.

If Jesus Christ is God, not just part of God, or just sent by God, or just related to God… if He was and therefore is God, then the resurrection is no big deal. You would expect it. That is a thing God would do. People who have a problem with the resurrection have a problem with Jesus being God in the flesh. You don’t have to set about to prove the fact of the resurrection if you have already settled in your soul that Jesus Christ is exactly who He said He was (and is): GOD!  C. S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity put it rather bluntly: “For Christ to have talked as he talked, lived as he lived, died as he died, he was either God or a raving lunatic.” To me that is the choice we have.

If Christ is no more than an inspired prophet and teacher who walked the paths of Israel over 2000 years ago then the resurrection becomes a sticking point and a massive problem. In the book entitled “In Search of Christianity,” one of the contributors, Colin Buchanan, past bishop of Aston, stated that, “The Jesus Christ to whom Christians respond is not the dead (though appealing) person of the past, but the Living Lord of the present. He is the same Jesus Christ who is presented to us in the Gospels.” If this statement is true, then  the resurrection is possible, believable, and in fact real!

If you reject the reliable record of the Bible, then you will always struggle with the reality of the resurrection of Christ.  One lawyer, Val Grieve, in his little book “Your Verdict on the Empty Tomb” stated as a lawyer the following legal opinion: “A lawyer, and especially a judge, is always face to face with the problem of how to evaluate evidence and distinguish the reliable from the misleading…I claim that logic must point in the direction of his resurrection on an actual day and date in our history when, if you had been there, you would have touched the living Jesus and heard him speak.”

For me the Biblical record is the reliable evidence and what it says about Christ is accurate and believable. The evidence about who Jesus is comes across in overwhelming fashion in the Bible.  So believing the resurrection is secondary to what you believe about Christ Himself. Settle that and the resurrection falls naturally into place.  Think it Thru

DO YOU HAVE A “BIBLE” MENTOR?

biblical mentorship

In our MAN -2-MAN  Bible Study Breakfasts we are learning as a group of men how important it is to “hang out” with a Bible character for a period of time. The idea is to allow that man or group of men to “mentor” us in life.  Most of the mentoring concepts today involve choosing a man or woman we know or highly respect to help advise us on our life journey.  There is nothing wrong with this whole approach. In fact I think it is practical, Biblical, and valuable. And yet, perhaps,  we have missed tapping into the best mentors the world has ever seen.

What if you could spend a week with JOB in the Old Testament and seek his advice on trials and difficulties. What if you could listen to his responses and watch his reactions and hear him pray and interact with his wife and friends? You would go with him to the funeral home, sit by his bedside when he was sick. You would peek in on a meeting at his business and hear of his financial losses. You would see him discouraged and tired. You would witness God interact with him. WOW! I know I would never forget that experience and probably would want to share that time with my friends who find themselves in similar life trials.

Or suppose you could hang out for a few weeks with King David?  You would watch in sympathy as he is hounded, pressured, and threatened by a former friend. You would hear his cries of despair, loneliness, fatigue, and triumph as he lives life and goes to work.  You would see him “blow it” on several occasions by committing adultery and murder by failing his family and children. You would then see that same family go astray and betray him. How does a man survive that kind of failure? How do you go on? Is there any hope for you? You would then observe a man’s heart  express a deep  love for the Lord and see God forgive him and restore him to usefulness. You would read some  of the most incredible stuff ever penned by man under the direction of God’s Spirit. Imagine hanging out with him for a time. Your life would be indelibly marked.

Or just imagine spending an afternoon with Samuel, or a month with Moses or Joshua, or several days with Nehemiah, Jeremiah, Isaiah and the list goes on?

Best of all, how about spending three months with Jesus in the flesh!!

Don’t forget joining a group of men for a week like the 12 disciples who lived with Jesus for three years, or the 12 spies sent into the promised land to spy it out,  or David’s mighty men who trekked with him for several years in the wilderness.

The good news is this. You can hang out with these guys (Ladies there are mentors for you to hang out with too like Ruth, Esther, Hannah, etc.). Some Biblical people that were “train wrecks” may be good for us to hang out  with too,  so we do not walk their path…people  like  Lot, Pharaoh, Korah and his clan, Queen Jezebel, King Ahab, King Jeroboam, Judas, etc).

Wayne Cordeiro in his great little book “The Divine Mentor” made this astute observation:“There is only one book in which you can meet with all the mentors specially selected by God to teach the saints. Only the Bible’s men and women are His designated divine mentors. He has put His imprimatur on them alone.”

I want to challenge you to pick a Bible mentor, let’s say for a month, and “hang out” with that guy or gal. Learn all you can about him/her.  Put yourself in their shoes, listen to their words, watch their actions and note how they related to their Creator God.  And see if your life is not hugely impacted.  May I suggest to you that is real, lasting  mentorship.  Think it Thru