I recently read an editorial in our local newspaper that was talking about the trend in America to elevate personal happiness above everything else. The author summarized her point by saying that we are chasing the pursuit of happiness on steroids.
Recently in my devotional reading I came across a proverb that seems to speak directly to our age. Proverbs 23:29-35
Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has strife? Who has complaints?
Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes?
Those who linger over wine,
who go to sample bowls of mixed wine.
Do not gaze at wine when it is red,
when it sparkles in the cup,
when it goes down smoothly!
In the end it bites like a snake
and poisons like a viper.
Your eyes will see strange sights
and your mind imagine confusing things.
You will be like one sleeping on the high seas,
lying on top of the rigging.
"They hit me," you will say, "but I'm not hurt!
They beat me, but I don't feel it!
When will I wake up
so I can find another drink?"
This proverb led me to another that addresses the same perspective.
There is a way that seems right to a man,
but in the end it leads to death.
God must have thought that it was important for us to get this message, because these words are repeated verbatim in Proverbs 16:25.
We live in a society that wants to throw off restraint and live as if there are no consequences for our actions. The Bible warns us that having that mindset is not a wise course of action.
Just something to think about!
Saturday, September 26, 2015
For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
As I was doing my devotions this morning, my mind went back to this verse. The question that came to me was, what are the good works that God prepared for us to do? The first answer that comes to mind relates to spiritual good works; sharing the gospel with others, loving others, teaching others, etc. But is that all that is contained in those words? Could there be a broader application, without violating the original intent of Paul?
One of the reasons for asking the question is that I believe many people feel inadequate to “do good works”, if we narrowly define them in what we define as spiritual terms. “I can’t preach or teach. I am not an evangelist. Therefore I am a spiritual failure.” I don’t think this was the outcome Paul was looking for. When we define good works only in “spiritual” terms, we eliminate the vast majority of what we do every day. For a person who is serious about living out their faith, this is discouraging and disheartening. Could there be another way to look at this passage that expands our understanding of good works? I think there is.
Let me see if I can build a credible case. God has had a plan for humanity since before the creation of the world. That plan was that people would live in relationship with Him and would glorify Him by the way they lived their lives. So in the Garden of Eden, before the Fall, God gave Adam and Eve the task of caring for creation. Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." (Genesis 1:26) One of the first specific tasks that God gave to Adam was to care for the garden. The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. (Genesis 2:15) The second specific task that God gave to Adam was to name the animals. Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. (Genesis 2:19) Neither of these specific tasks seem primarily “spiritual” to me, yet they were indeed good works, which God prepared for Adam to do. By caring for the garden and by naming the animals, Adam was glorifying God.
If we can fast forward to the building of the Tabernacle in the wilderness, the scriptures tell us that God specifically gave certain people the skill to create designs, to work in wood and metal, and to weave fabric. The purpose for these skills was to create the Tabernacle, but these skills themselves are no exactly what we would identify as spiritual.
God created humanity in His image to reflect His glory in the world. God has also created each individual to be a unique expression of that glory. We know from personal experience that not all people are the same. We vary in many ways, including our talents and skills, yet we are all image bearers.
So here is my point. By using my skills and talents well, I am fulfilling God’s eternal plan to do good work for His glory. This does not negate the spiritual dimension, but enhances it. I like to listen to classical music. Many of the great composers dedicated their works to the glory of God. Their music is not necessarily sacred, yet it is an expression of good works. As followers of Christ, we have been given a wide array of gifts, talents and skills. I believe that God wants us to use them, both in the church and in the world, for His glory. It is essential that we share our faith, love one another, and care for the poor. It is also essential that we use the skills and talents God has given to us to the best of our ability and for His glory. God has created a plethora of good works, which He intends for us to engage in, that span the full scope of human experience. This should change the way we view our daily activities. For we are called to do good works, not just when we are engaged in some spiritual activity, but in every aspect of our lives.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Friday, September 25, 2015
I recently watched a video of a talk by Pastor Tim Keller. He began his talk with the premise that everyone must have a working theory to answer the big questions of life. Everyone needs a foundation upon which to build their life. Without some kind of philosophical or spiritual foundation, life becomes aimless and purposeless. Without a solid foundation, the challenges of life lead to discouragement, hopelessness and despair.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we have a solid foundation upon which to build. Paul made this clear in Ephesians 2:19-22. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Before a builder can build a superstructure, he must assure that the foundation is sound. Recent earthquakes, in several parts of the world, revealed that, although buildings looked substantial from the outside, their foundation was flawed. When the earthquake hit, the building crumbled. In life, the integrity of our personal foundation is tested by the challenges and stresses of real life. Our personal superstructure my look good from the outside, but can it withstand the earthquakes that will inevitably come?
Many people build their lives on faulty foundations. Some choose to build on the assumption that human beings are basically good, and given the right environment will act appropriately. This foundation is severely threatened by the current events of our day. Some choose to build on the foundation of power and prosperity. But this foundation can easily crumble as well, as political, economic and social tidal waves sweep over our world. Any foundation that leaves God out of the equation is like making concrete without the proper amount of aggregate. It will crumble.
Paul reminds us that our foundation is solidly based on the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone. Jesus is the ultimate reference point. The Old Testament pointed toward his coming. The New Testament reveals his life, teachings, and impact on our world. The Old and New are held together by Jesus. The foundation of our faith is not static, but dynamic: a living relationship with the Living Lord Jesus.
Our foundation is so secure, that Jesus confidently asserted that it will withstand the greatest tests of life. "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say? I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete." Luke 6:46-49
Each of us has the responsibility to build our lives upon this foundation. We will not always get it right. Some of our superstructure will be shaky. Hopefully, much of it will be sound. But we can build with confidence, because we know that our foundation is secure. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15
There is one important point that we need to consider here. As we build, we are not building on our own. The chief architect of our lives is God himself. He has the ultimate blueprints for the building being constructed. And we are building in cooperation with others. We are being joined together with other believers to build a fitting temple for the very Spirit of God to dwell. This means that our personal plans and designs need to align with the chief architect’s plan.
We live in a world, filled with many kinds of storms, that daily beat against the foundation of our life and faith. In the midst of these storms, we need to hold onto the solid rock of our faith.
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:58
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
I spent the majority of my day yesterday building a carpet ball table for our youth group. It was a simple project, but because of the size and the weight, it took some time. Actually more time than I had anticipated. That is usually the case with projects. Once I had completed the project, I was spent.
By choosing to work on the carpet ball table, I was also choosing not to mow my lawn, or fill the cracks in my driveway, or accomplish any number of other smaller projects. This was not a conscious decision, but it was a real one. By saying yes to one thing, I was in effect saying no to many others things I could have been doing. Every choice we make comes with a cost.
Life is full of choices. We often make these choices quickly, without much thought to the cost. Many of these choices are routine, and the cost is minimal. But there are a significant number of choices that we make that close the door on some significant alternatives. Part of being wise is recognizing those choices and taking the time to weigh the cost.
The Bible tells us that many of the choices we make in life have a major impact on our spiritual growth and maturity. We are advised to be wise in the way we approach these choices. We need to take the time to weigh the cost. Satan subtly masks the cost of the choices that we make. Usually, it is only after the fact that we awaken to the consequences of our decision. It is like the old V-8 commercial where the person smacks their forehead and declares, I could have had a V-8. The message of that commercial is actually very good. Think before you act.
Our relationship with Christ is so important that Jesus said we need to weigh the cost of following him. "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'
"Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26-33
Jesus was making it clear that we cannot be half-hearted followers of his. If we are going to be his disciples, we need to be fully committed. We understand this intellectually, but often miss the point in practice. We get either surprised by or enticed by the choices of the world. We blindly give in, without thinking through the cost. After we have made the decision, we become aware of what we have done.
James warns us to be careful about the choices that we make. You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. James 4:4
We do not often think in such black and white terms. But James’ words should be a wake-up call for us to be careful in the choices that we make. Every choice has the potential to move us closer to Christ or farther away from Him.
The positive alternative to James’ words are Paul’s words in Colossians 3:17. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Paul is encouraging us to be intentional about the way we use our time and energy. We can glorify God in whatever we do, if we are wise and intentional in the choices that we make.
Wednesday, September 2, 2015
This past Saturday we held our fall carnival at our church. We planned for 300 people to come. We sent out flyers, put up signs, even had kids on the street corner inviting people to come in. We had around 100 people attend. Was this event a success?
In our world today, we most often measure success by the numbers. We set a goal, and if we attain that goal, we were successful. If we fail to attain that goal, we were not successful. This is a very pragmatic approach to success, and is valid, to a certain extent. But are numbers the only way to measure success.
I watched, with delight, on Saturday as several of our people engaged community people in conversation. One young man expressed his surprise that we would do something like this for the community. The man who brought the inflatables expressed his gratitude for the way we pitched in and helped him. I also watched with delight as our own people connected with one another in positive ways. We worked together and accomplished something of significance. Based on my observations, I would say that our event was indeed a success.
This past Monday, my wife and I had the privilege of having dinner with a couple who are missionaries with our denomination. They had been missionaries to Japan before they returned to the States to work for our International Ministry Office. Japan is one of the most difficult mission fields. On that mission field success is measured in ones and twos.
While in business success is measured by large numbers, in ministry success is most often measured in ones and twos. It is not that we don’t want to see large numbers of people transformed by the love of Christ, but when we put our focus on large numbers we often lose sight of the individual. Although it is true that Jesus came to redeem an entire world, his strategy is to do it one person at a time. Jesus never saw the crowd as more important than the individual. He always took the time to personally engage people and give them his full attention.
Jesus stressed the importance of seeing the individual as significant in the parable of the lost sheep. Then Jesus told them this parable: "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:3-7
I am a numbers person. I pay attention weekly to the number of people who attend our worship services. But, it is very important to remember that each of those numbers represents an individual who Jesus loves. If we continue to connect in significant ways with the people that God brings our way, we will be successful, independent of the numbers.