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Category Archives: Encouragement

Searching for direction…It involves a decision…and some planning. At the spiritual level, planning means taking the initiative.


A man called his neighbor to help him move a couch that had become stuck in the doorway. They pushed and pulled until they were exhausted, but the couch wouldn’t budge.  “Forget it,” the man finally said.  “We’ll never get this in.” The neighbor looked at him quizzically and said, “In?”

Is it possible that Time magazine was right when they described the Bible as a book “more revered than read”?

The Bible needs to be treasured, but more than that it needs to be internalized. It provides the eternal road-map to heaven, which certainly ought to be the direction we’re wanting to travel.

life-directions1There is something wonderful about a beaten-up heavily marked, tattered Bible. Madeleine Delbrel, the French activist who lived a little more than a generation ago, stuffed her Bible with snapshots, clippings, ticket stubs, postcards and other detritus to remind her that she was praying in the world of people and events. She called these scraps “icons of humanity” that prompted one to celebrate the “liturgy of life.”

It involves a decision…and some planning. At the spiritual level, planning means taking the initiative. It’s not about sitting around until you are absolutely certain God is calling you to a particular task, direction, country, or ministry. Nor is it waiting for the doors to open so you can go there easily. Planning is an act of faith. Jesus never told his disciples to wait for an invitation. He told them to go. [1]

We must realize that you cannot pull people uphill who do not want to go; you can only point up.  We must come to see each day as David Brainerd saw it: “As long as I see anything to be done for God, life is worth having; but O how vain and unworthy it is to live for any lower end!”

Dr. Reid Vipond of Canada shares a story of an oil company that needed a suave public-relations man for its office in the Orient. After interviewing several candidates, the officials decided to ask a local missionary to take the position. Company executives met with this man of unusual gifts. Whatever their proposition, his answer was always “No.” “What’s wrong?” asked one interviewer. “Isn’t the salary big enough?” The missionary replied, “The salary is big enough, but the job isn’t.”

Duke’s basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski, gave a great talk to the University Retirees Association. He told them about a friend of his in Southern California who was coaching a basketball team where out of 15 of the young men, 10 had never known a father.  He noted how he and his fellow coaches were spending more time trying to be daddies to their players than coaches.

Then Krzyzewski said, “Things are in too big a mess in the American family for you people to be sitting around playing bridge, or moving to some retirement community in Florida.  We need you.  We need your wisdom, your patience, your free time.  We need you to be adopting kids, stepping up and taking responsibility for kids that, while they may not be your own, they are all of our responsibility.”


[1] Brother Andrew in The CallingChristianity Today, Vol. 40, no. 8.

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2019 in Encouragement

 

Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People? James 1:1-5


The Omniscient God knew that His people would have to suffer persecution, and even death for some of them, at the hands of their enemies, in a godless world. He made certain to make known that fact so we’d know that their (our) suffering would not be in vain.

 (2 Thessalonians 3:1-3 NIV)  Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. {2} And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith. {3} But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.

 Acts 17:27 (153 kb)(2 Timothy 3:12 NIV)  In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,

 (Revelation 2:12-13 NIV)  “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. {13} I know where you live–where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city–where Satan lives.

Life just doesn’t seem fair. It’s often the very best people we know who go through the worst things we can imagine. All too often it seems that the crooks get away with their meanness and even seem to have a pipeline of blessings coming into their lives.

Our human sense of logic would like to pigeon hole everything to such a degree that when people are having troubles we can know they aren’t doing right or they wouldn’t have such things happen.

  • Of a Christian in business and it goes bankrupt. Many will look at it and say something had to be wrong with the way they were living or such a thing would never have happened.
  • Of parents whose children become tyrants. We have a tendency to declare them unfit parents of their children wouldn’t have made such a horrible error.
  • Of couples in marriage. One leaves. The marriage falls apart. People begin to wonder about the Christianity of the one who was left. Must not have been living right or the other one would never have left. In so doing we ignore the teachings of the Bible.

 (1 Corinthians 7:14-15 NIV)  For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. {15} But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.

 Remember the disciples when they saw the man born blind.

John 9:1-5: “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. {2} His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” {3} “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. {4} As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. {5} While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Silly question. What could he have done before birth to have violated God’s will and cause him to be born blind? Jesus declared, “Neither”. They had missed the whole point.

 But there is no doubt good people suffer, are persecuted, are hated by the world, are mistreated by neighbors and fellow workers and generally have problems. Why? Why do bad things happen to good people?

 BECAUSE WE LIVE IN A WORLD INFLUENCED BY SATAN.

When sin entered the world at Eden its affects passed on all, even those who hadn’t sinned.

(Genesis 3:16 NIV)  To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

 God told Adam (Genesis 3:17-19 NIV)  To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. {18} It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. {19} By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

 Much of what happens that is bad is simply because we live in the world we do. Satan is powerful. His reign has been upset and he is like a tyrant over some country who has been voted out of office and is mad at the whole world now. Whatever he can do to cause pain and agony he is ready to do it. This is what Satan does when he controls.

 BECAUSE TROUBLES CAUSE US TO GROW.

If only good came to those who do good, we would become soft and tender footed in our spiritual life. One of the things wrong with the whole health, wealth and prosperity gospel is that it brings people into Christianity for the wrong reasons. They want something, which solves all their problems.

 But trials produce endurance. They bring a spiritual toughness to us.

(James 1:1-5 NIV)  James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. {2} Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, {3} because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. {4} Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. {5} If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

 Persecution causes us to turn to God many times.

(Matthew 5:10-12 NIV)  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. {11} “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. {12} Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 (1 Peter 4:14 NIV)  If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

 Suffering turns our hearts to the Lord.

(Psalms 119:67 NIV)  Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.

 (Psalms 119:71 NIV)  It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.

What needs to happen for us is for us to glory in our tribulation, since such troubles bring perseverance, which produces character, which produces hope, and hope doesn’t disappoint us.

 (Romans 5:1-5 NIV)  Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, {2} through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. {3} Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; {4} perseverance, character; and character, hope. {5} And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

We are more than conquerors in all the tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril or sword.

 (Romans 8:35-37 NIV)  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? {36} As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” {37} No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

 CONCLUSION

Whatever the reason we have the troubles or bad things, which happen, the result can be marvelous. Our light, momentary afflictions work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

 (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)  Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. {17} For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. {18} So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

 Our afflictions remind us what we already have in this life and that we certainly don’t want to go to a place where that is all there is.

 I may never understand all the why’s of this life, but God still loves me and  He longs to get me ready for an eternal home with Him. Are you ready to meet the Lord today?

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2019 in Church, Encouragement

 

Searching for that elusive place of contentment


“It is distrust of God to be troubled about what is to come; impatience against God to be troubled with what is present; and anger at God to be troubled for what is past.”

To a large extent, we’re searching for that elusive place of contentment. The Holman Bible Dictionary describes contentment as “an internal satisfaction which does not demand changes in external circumstances.”

Hebrews 13:5-7 summarizes the teaching in advising believers to be free of the love of money and to depend on God’s promise not to forsake His people: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”

PowerPoint Background using 1 Corinthians 13:13Worry has become an obsession in our modern world. A look at the self-help section in any bookstore will reveal its prevalence. Hospitals and waiting rooms are filled with people who have physical problems caused by overwhelming anxiety. In addition, there are many people whose lives are disrupted or made unenjoyable because of paralyzing fear.

Christians like to hide their worry by labeling it Christian concern. In spite of protestations to the contrary, Christians do worry. But, do they have to? Not if they learn from Jesus how to win over worry.

Paul spoke in similar terms in 1 Timothy 6:6-10: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

The believer can be content no matter what the outward circumstances: Philippians 4:11-13: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

When we look at life against the message of the life of Jesus and His teachings, the risen life is not easy: it is also a dying life. [1] We should make it our priority and purpose.

Contentment finds an opposite in the form of worry. The words of Jesus early in His public ministry suggest that food and lodging should be enough for the godly: Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

There is plenty to worry about (vs. 25). There is no shortage of potential items to worry about. Jesus mentions several matters of common concern: life, health, possessions, We could add our own list of concerns: accidents, aging, weather, or criticism.

There is nothing accomplished by worry (vv. 26-33). It is senseless. The rest of God’s creation does not worry, but God provides for them. Will he not do the same for us.

This does not say we should not work, only that we should not worry while we work (v. 26, 28). It is fruitless. It will not add an inch to your height or a hour to your life. In fact, it may well take away from your life (v. 27). It is harmful. Worrying makes us look like the heathen, and it destroys our witness. [2]

Worry, he says, is characteristic of a heathen, and not of one who knows what God is like (verse 32). Worry is essentially distrust of God. Such a distrust may be understandable in a heathen who believes in a jealous, capricious, unpredictable god; but it is beyond comprehension in one who has learned to call God by the name of Father.

The Christian should not worry because he believes in the love of God. Worry gives a small thing a big shadow. Worry is an indication that we think God cannot look after us. Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere.

Jesus goes on to advance two ways in which to defeat worry. The first is to seek first, to concentrate upon, the Kingdom of God. We have seen that to be in the Kingdom and to do the will of God is one and the same thing (Matthew 6:10).

To concentrate on the doing of, and the acceptance of, God’s will is the way to defeat worry. We know how in our own lives a great love can drive out every other concern. Such love can inspire a man’s work, intensify his study, purify his life, dominate his whole being.

We must trust the heavenly father to provide for us as he has promised (v. 32b). We also need to live one day at a time. Handle each worry as it comes. Many will never come to pass. Those that do occur can only be handled in the present (v. 34).

It was Jesus’ conviction that worry is banished when God becomes the dominating power of our lives.

Simon Patrick said, “It is distrust of God to be troubled about what is to come; impatience against God to be troubled with what is present; and anger at God to be troubled for what is past.”

What seems clear is that we often worry about things over which we have no control, or about events and circumstances that never occur. For this, we lose the joy of today and add a burden to an already difficult day.

Life’s too short for worrying. “Yes, that’s what worries me,” we reply. Rather we should know that one is given strength to bear what happens to one, but not the one hundred and one different things that might happen. [3]

John Dryden commented that “Only man clogs his happiness with care, destroying what is, with thoughts of what may be.”

Only one type of worry is correct: to worry because you worry too much. We should leave tomorrow’s trouble to tomorrow’s strength; tomorrow’s work to tomorrow’s time; tomorrow’s trial to tomorrow’s grace and to tomorrow’s God.

It ain’t no use putting up your umbrella till it rains.[4]

Solomon got involved in all kinds of projects, hoping to discover something that would make life worth living. He started with great works (4-6), including houses (1 Kings 7), cities (2 Chron. 8:4-6), gardens, vineyards, orchards and forests (1 Kings 4:33), and the water systems needed to service them.

Of course, Solomon also supervised the construction of the temple (1 Kings 5ff), one of the greatest buildings of the ancient world. Solomon accumulated wealth (7b-8a), in flocks and herds (1 Kings 8:63) as well as gold and silver (1 Kings 4:21 and 10:1ff). He was the wealthiest and wisest man in the whole world, yet he was unhappy because activity alone does not bring lasting pleasure.

There can be joy in the doing of great projects, but what happens when the task is finished? Solomon found delight in all his labor (2:10); but afterward, when he considered all his works, he saw only “vanity and vexation of spirit” (2:11). The journey was a pleasure, but the destination brought pain.

“Success is full of promise until men get it,” said the American preacher Henry Ward Beecher, “and then it is a last-year’s nest from which the birds have flown.”

We must not conclude that Solomon was condemning work itself, because work is a blessing from God. Adam had work to do in the Garden even before he sinned. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Gen. 2:15, niv).

In the Book of Proverbs, Solomon exalted diligence and condemned laziness; for he knew that any honest employment can be done to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). But work alone cannot satisfy the human heart, no matter how successful that work may be (Isa. 55:2).

Solomon’s conclusion: Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole of man. This is what makes man whole. And the secret is to enthrone God in the days of our youth. If you want to find the secret of living so that the heart is satisfied and the spirit is enriched and fulfilled according to God’s intention for you, then “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come.” Enthrone God in the center of your life and you will discover all that God has intended your life to be. And you will be able to rejoice all the days of your life.

Affirmative Living

Joseph was called, derisively, the dreamer. Some of his dreams were prophetic. He saw himself as a leader of men. Joseph dreamed of using his considerable talents to do great things for God and his family. Joseph’s dreams enabled him to live affirmatively.

Affirmative living means recognizing the presence of God in your life. Whatever happened to Joseph never caused him to give up on God. In fact, everything that happened to him only drew him closer to God. Do you notice the presence of God in your life? Do you believe he has a plan for you? If not, you need to dare to dream again. 

Affirmative living means making the best of bad situations. Joseph was hated and sold into slavery. He was unjustly accused and placed in prison. Though forgotten, he never lost hope. We couldn’t have blamed him if he had. But, whatever happened to Joseph, he kept on making the best of it. He was sold into slavery only to become the head servant. Sent to prison, he took over the administration. Brought before the king, he became Pharaoh’s right hand man.

Affirmative living means maintaining your principles even when inconvenient. Joseph faced his biggest challenge when accosted by his master’s wife. He could have given all kinds of excuses to give in, but he was willing to do what was right, in spite of the consequences. Have you been mistreated? If so, you need to dare to dream again.

Affirmative living means recognizing God is in control. Joseph, when he was finally reunited with his brothers, said to them, “What you did to me you meant for bad, God used for good.” Joseph believed that ultimately God is in control, and that all things work together for good. Have you wondered if God has deserted you, or if your life has any purpose at all? If so, you need to dare to dream again.[1]

I sing with the hymn, “Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come,” but I can also say, “‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”


[1] Sermon Outlines For Seekers by J. Michael Shannon.

[1] Thomas Merton in He Is Risen. Christianity Today, Vol. 43, no. 5.

[2] Sermon Outlines For Seekers by J. Michael Shannon.
[3] C. S. Lewis (1898–1963)
[4] Alice Caldwell Rice [5] Sermon Outlines For Seekers by J. Michael Shannon.
 
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Posted by on March 28, 2019 in Encouragement

 

The Measure of One’s Life: “Let us so live that when we die even the undertaker will be sorry”


The Measure of One’s Life book  (double click to save and read offline)

A merchant, some few years ago, failed in business.  He went home in great agitation.  “What is the matter?”  asked his wife.

“I am ruined; I am beggared; I have lost my all,” he exclaimed, pressing his hand upon his forehead.

changing lives

“All” said the wife. “No, I am left.”

“All, papa,” said his eldest boy, “here am I.”

“And I, too,” said his little girl, running up, and putting her arms around his neck.

“I’m not lost, papa,” repeated Eddie.

“And you have your health left,” said his wife.

 

“And your hands to work with,” said his eldest; “and I can help you.”

“And your two feet, papa, to carry you about, and your two eyes to see with, papa,” said little Eddie.

“And you have God’s promises,” said the grandmother.

“And a good God,” said his wife.

Where would we be without our good God, One who has shown Himself daily for His love and devotion to us? And isn’t it comforting to know that God  “…causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45).

We often find ourselves questioning those things which once were most certain in our life. We move from doubt to despair and eventually discouragement or disappointment.

The company of the discouraged is a very noble company. Not too long ago, the Hayden Planetarium in New York City issued an invitation to all those who were interested in applying to be a part of the crew on the first journey to another planet. Eighteen thousand people applied. They gave the applications to a panel of psychologists, who examined them thoroughly and came to the conclusion that in the vast majority of incidents, those who applied did so because they were discouraged with their lives here and hoped they could find a new life somewhere else.  [1]

We don’t often see the larger picture since we are so close to the d

aily details.

The lone survivor of a shipwreck, marooned on a lonely island, managed to build a hut in which he placed all he had saved from the wreck.  He prayed for rescue and anxiously scanned the horizon every day to signal any passing ship.

One day on returning from a hunt for food he was horror-stricken to find his hut in flames.  All his possessions had gone up in smoke!

The next day a ship arrived.  “We saw your smoke signal yesterday,” the captain explained.

A Christian who was in very difficult circumstances fell on his knees in despair to cry to God, “When am I going to get out of all these trials?” But by a slip of the tongue he actually prayed, “What am I going to get out of all these trials?”  The change of that one word “when” to “what” was just what the Lord wanted and the hard-pressed Christian realized it. There is something more important than escaping from trials — it is learning what our Heavenly Father wants us to gain from them.   [2]

Corrie ten Boom used to say, “When the train goes through a tunnel and the world gets dark, do you jump out? Of course not. You sit still and trust the engineer to get you through.”

Minimizing Disappointment

I make the point annually to watch Jimmy Stewart’s popular holiday portrayal of George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life  (required viewing in my estimation for all who work daily to make a difference in people’s lives).

In a scene in the early minutes of the presentation, angels are talking in heaven of this person, George, in their endeavor to know more about him and enter into his world to offer assistance.

Clarence, the 2nd grade level guardian angel who eventually is assigned to task, asks, “What’s the matter with George. Is he sick? Is he in trouble?” “Much worse,” is the reply, “he’s discouraged.”

George gets his wish (“I wish I’d never been born”) and eventually is led through a process of seeing the world as it would have been had he never been born. The conclusion for his circumstances is identical to others – we do make a difference and our positive actions and kind words accumulate much greater than we could ever imagine.

People indeed observe and model what they see and hear from us. It’s humbling but certain that we have an influence in the eternity of another’s soul.

We each occupy a small fraction of space in this world. We do and must make a difference in the lives of others.

Many people have sustained themselves in times of crisis with the little slogan, “This too shall pass.” That definitely puts things in perspective. When we look at all our troubles down here, we recognize it is temporary.

Everyone I know wants both a peaceful and fulfilling life. Nevertheless, most feel that in some way life is not cooperating with their desire. Life keeps setting up barriers. The only way to get peace and fulfillment is to make the right decisions about how we are going to conduct our life. We can’t control what happens to us, but we can determine the principles by which we live.

The fact is, our life is the sum total of our decisions. Some decisions are momentous and some are trivial. Some are easy and some hard. Every day of our life is filled with decisions.

All of us are faced with choices. Written over the fundamental ones are the words whosoever chooses me must give and hazard all he has. Jesus told us that. He said “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

We can be fulfilled. Remember, the quality of our life is determined by the quality of our decisions. Fulfillment is ours for the taking. The choice is up to us.

Do decisions ever come hard to you? Are you like the man who had to fill out a job application? One question said, “Do you have trouble making decisions?” The man replied, “Well, yes and no.”

Or perhaps we’re like the wife, who struggled with knowing what to say when asked a relatively simple question. Overheard:  “Has your husband lived up to all the things he said before you were married?”

“No.  He’s only lived up to one of them.” “Which one is that?” “He said he wasn’t good enough for me.” [3]


Life often comes in horrible waves of despair and disappointment. But behind those realities is also the goal of discipline, with the purpose of character and holiness:

“And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”(Hebrews 12:5-11).

Robert Hamilton understood this eternal concept and expressed it well:

“I walked a mile with Pleasure, She chattered all the way,

And left me none the wiser, For all she had to say.

“I walked a mile with Sorrow, And not a word said she.

But oh, the things I learned from her, When Sorrow walked with me.”

The Devil’s Tool Sale

“It was advertised that the Devil was putting his tools up for sale. On that date the tools were laid out for public inspection. They had prices marked on them, and there were a lot of treacherous instruments: hatred, envy, jealousy, deceit, pride, lying, and so on. Laid apart from the rest of the Devil’s tools was a harmless-looking tool, worn more than any of the others and priced very high.

“What’s the name of this tool?” asked one of the customers.

“That,” the Devil replied, “is discouragement.”

“Why have you priced it so high?”

“Because discouragement is more useful to me than all the others. I can pry open and get inside a man’s heart with that when I cannot get near him with any other tools. It’s badly worn because I use it on almost everyone, since so few people know it belongs to me.”

Even the most successful, spiritually mature people face disappointment and discouragement. The challenge is to honestly face the problems without fooling yourself or giving up, but rather acknowledge your need for help, get help from others and obey God in the midst of problems.

[1] Bruce Thielemann, “Dealing with Discouragement,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 48.

[2] Pulpit Helps, November 1994, p. 8.

[3] Ron Dentinger, Dodgeville, Wisconsin Chronicle; Reader’s Digest, February, 1995,  p. 59.       



 
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Posted by on March 21, 2019 in Encouragement

 

We Need to Commit: Choose one chair


A chicken and a pig were walking down the road together. They passed a sign for a local diner advertising its breakfast special: “Ham and Eggs – only $2.95!” The chicken said, “That’s our whole contribution to society: breakfast food!” The pig replied, “For you, it may be a contribution. For me, it’s a total commitment.”
 
Life in the modern world has programmed us to expect a life of ease. It’s not merely that we want everything to be easy; who wouldn’t want that? What is troubling is that we now expect to receive abundant rewards with minimal effort.

If something requires effort or time, it must not be meant to be, and we feel thoroughly justified giving up.

commitmentWorse yet are those who believe legitimate goals may be sought through illegitimate means, provided that those means offer a short-cut to the goal in mind.

Take, for example, the professional athlete who chooses to illegally enhance his performance through the use of steroids. Not only has he cheapened himself, he has robbed his fellow athletes of any kind of fair competition. He does this simply because he does not want to put in the time and effort necessary to better himself.

How many of us REALLY believe that you can get something valuable for nothing?

Common sense reveals that some of the best things in life demand effort and prove worthy of whatever amount of labor we endure in the pursuit.

  • The best relationships require work.
  • The best businesses and sports teams have been built on the blood, sweat and tears of their leaders.
  • Even our spiritual growth is reflective of our faithful investment. G.K. Chesterton once quipped, “The Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult, and left untried.”[1]

Of course, this is nothing new. Thousands of years ago, God asked, “Who is he who will devote himself to be close to me?” (Jeremiah 30:21). We don’t want to hear it, but the fact of the matter is that following God involves sacrifice, effort, devotion.

Nike’s famous slogan “Just Do It” doesn’t really mean, “Just run 100 miles every week like marathon runners do.” “Just Do It” means, “Just buy the shoes – swift feet sure to follow.”[2] As if you’ll become magically fit simply by purchasing the proper footwear.

Leaders know the truth of Theodore Roosevelt’s words: “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

Godly men and women understand that effective leadership flows from being deeply committed to the right things. As followers of Christ, the single most important commitment of our lives is, obviously, to God. Any lasting success we experience as leaders will flow from that commitment. This is why the apostle Paul writes:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. — Romans 12:1-2

We sacrifice our selfish desires and misguided ambitions as we strive to align ourselves with God’s will. Once this act of commitment occurs, our talents and dreams will be surrendered to his purpose. And the more we give ourselves to him, the more he will bless and use us.

We naturally expect people to conform to their environment. The phrase most often used in this vein is, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Those of us who have been justified, sanctified and consecrated to God, however, face a different set of expectations. People who have received God’s grace and been transported out of darkness into his kingdom of marvelous light will be shaped and molded by their new experience. Such an overwhelming experience is bound to have some impact on our lives. That is only logical, isn’t it?

The God Who Commits

Douglas Rumford makes a profound statement in his book Soul Shaping. He writes, “We make our commitments, then our commitments make us. Once they are chosen, many other choices follow as a matter of course.”[3]

Once we commit to follow Jesus, many other decisions in life must fall into line or we overturn our prior commitment.

But how are we to know that our commitment to God will be honored? All of the commitments we make should flow from the commitment God has first made to us. Once God committed himself to our highest good, his will toward us was sealed. God tells us that he is committed to all who are in Christ, and that our relationship with him will last forever. Jeremiah 31:31-36 shows us the covenant of commitment the Lord made with his people:

“The time is coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.

“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

This is what the Lord says, he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar – the Lord Almighty is his name: “Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,” declares the Lord, “will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me.”

The ultimate basis for security and significance in life relates to commitment (security) and to how long something will last (significance). In these six verses, God provides for his people a sense of both security and significance – a sure word that his commitment to them will never fail.

In spite of the rebelliousness of the people of Judah, the Lord assured them through the prophet Jeremiah that he was committed to their ultimate good. Judgment was inevitable because they had flagrantly violated God’s commands, but the prophet looked beyond this impending condemnation to a time of consolation. There will be a faithful remnant, and God’s people will eventually enjoy the blessings of forgiveness and complete renewal.

In this covenant, God commits himself to the welfare of the house of Israel and Judah and predicts a time when they will all know him and when his law will be written on their hearts. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11).

God’s grace is always previous to our response and demonstrates his unshakeable commitment to us. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). When we love God, it is “because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Lewis Thomas, scientist and philosopher, described humans best when he said, “We are, perhaps, uniquely among earth’s creatures, the worrying animal. We worry away our lives, fearing the future, discontent with the present, unable to take in the idea of dying, unable to sit still.”[4]

God’s promise of abiding love and commitment to our well-being enables us to live above worry, above fear. His commitment to us empowers us to follow through on our commitment to him. As Martin Luther said, “It is not imitation which brings about our sonship of God, but our sonship which makes possible imitation.”[5]

Choose one chair.”

“When Luciano Pavarotti was a boy, his father, a baker, introduced him to the wonders of song. “He urged me to work very hard to develop my voice.

Arrigo Pola, a professional tenor in my hometown of Modena, Italy, took me as a pupil. I also enrolled in a teachers college. On graduating, I asked my father, ‘Shall I be a teacher or a singer?’

“‘Luciano,’ my father replied, ‘if you try to sit on two chairs, you will fall between them. For life, you must choose one chair.’ “I chose one. It took seven years of study and frustration before I made my first professional appearance. It took another seven to reach the Metropolitan Opera. And now I think whether it’s laying bricks, writing a book—whatever we choose—we should give ourselves to it. Commitment, that’s the key. Choose one chair.”


[1] G.K. Chesterton, The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton ed. George Marlin (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1987), 4:61.

[2] Mark Oppenheimer, “Salvation Without Sacrifice,” Charlotte Observer, 30 October 2000, sec. 11A.

[3] Douglas J. Rumford, SoulShaping: Taking Care of Your Spiritual Life (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1996), p. 91.

[4] The Medusa & the Snail, quoted in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, 15th ed. Emily Morison Beck (Boston: Little, Brown, 1980), p. 884.

[5] Quoted in Gordon S. Wakefield, The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1983), p. 209.

[6] François Fénelon, Christian Perfection, quoted in Richard Foster and J.B. Smith, eds., Devotional Classics (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1993), p. 48.

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2019 in Encouragement

 

We must develop a strong desire toward excellence: when ‘good’ is not good enough


In keeping with the biblical goal of spiritual growth and greater levels of maturity, we often find in Scripture the call to abound or excel in Christian character, especially in the various ways we can express love to one another. Spiritual maturity is a quest for character for which there will be little progress without the pursuit of excellence.

Without pursuing excellence, life will remain bland, very vanilla, lukewarm at best (see Rev. 3:15-16). The quest for excellence fuels our fire and keeps us from just drifting downstream gathering debris. This focus and need becomes quickly evident from the following verses.

template picEcclesiastes 9:10: Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.

1 Corinthians 10:31: So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

2 Corinthians 8:7: But just as you excel in everything–in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us –see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

Philippians 1:9-10: And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, {10} so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ,

1 Thessalonians 4:1: Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.

From these verses, it should be clear that God wants His people to abound or excel in both what they are (inward character) and in what they do (behavior or good deeds). It would seem obvious that there is simply no way one can love God with all his heart (Matt. 23:37) without seeking to do his or her best to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

Since that is so, the pursuit of excellence is both a goal and a mark of spiritual maturity. However, for this to be true, the pursuit of excellence must be motivated by the right values, priorities, and motives. If we go astray here, the pursuit of excellence can quickly become a mark of immaturity and just another result of man’s obsession with his own significance, which, as mentioned previously, is a perilous pursuit.

Because of who Christians are in Christ, because of our eternal hope, and because of the enabling grace of God available to all believers in Christ,  seeking to do our best and choosing what is best is part of God’s will and an evidence of genuine spiritual growth and maturity. However, there is one distinction that needs to be stressed up front.

Brian Harbour made this comment in Rising Above the Crowd: “Success means being the best. Excellence means being your best. Success, to many, means being better than everyone else. Excellence means being better tomorrow than you were yesterday. Success means exceeding the achievements of other people. Excellence means matching your practice with your potential.”

Excellence isn’t determined by comparing our score or performance to someone else’s. The pursuit of excellence comes from doing our best with what we have to God’s glory and with a view to growing and improving, but not with a view to the score or who is watching from man’s standpoint.

So then, biblically speaking, the pursuit of excellence refers to pursuing and doing the best we can with the gifts and abilities God gives, giving our best to the glory of God. But ideally, it is done without the spirit of competition or seeking to excel simply to be better than others. Excellence includes doing common, everyday things, but in very uncommon ways regardless of whether people are watching.

The reality is that God sees our work and rewards us accordingly (1 Corinthians 15:58)  “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..”

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2019 in Encouragement

 

A Question We All Ask: Why Do Good Things Happen to Bad People? – Psalm 73:1-18


Have you ever wondered if it pays to be a godly person? It is very easy when we are trying to live right, to look around us and see people openly living in sin who seem to get along better in this world than we do. It isn’t uncommon to see known drug dealers get away with it for long periods of time without ever being caught.

We often see people who cheat on their taxes or cheat in business, but still seem to prosper. We see those who are immoral, cheaters in their marriage, still rise to the top in the political arena or even the business arena. It often seems we make heroes of the ones living in rebellion to what is right.

difficult peopleWhy is that the case? (Ecclesiastes 8:11 NIV)  When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong.

 GOOD COMES ON BAD FOLKS BECAUSE GOD DOESN’T SETTLE HIS ACCOUNTS AT THE END OF EACH DAY.

Notice David’s picture of the wicked, which caused him to be envious of them in their prosperity and arrogance. (Psalm 78)

  • No pains in their death and their body is fat. Vs. 4
  • No trouble as other men, nor are they plagued like mankind. Vs. 5
  • They mock and wickedly speak of oppression; they speak from on high. Vs. 8
  • They are always at ease, they have increased in wealth. Vs. 12

 To David it seemed that he had kept his heart pure in vain. Vs. 13. When he pondered all this it was troublesome to him, “Until he came into the sanctuary of God; then he perceived their end. Vs. 16,17

 Surely God has set them in a slippery place. Vs. 18

Imagine what would happen with shoplifting if every time someone shoplifted, they were caught and had their right hand cut off. What would happen to those who manufacture drugs to sell to children or unsuspecting adults if every time they made the drugs to sell, they were caught and put into hard labor for the next 30 years?

 God wants people to change their lives and come to Him. But He doesn’t want folks to give their lives to Him only out of fear of hell.  (Romans 2:5 NIV)  But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.

 GOOD THINGS HAPPEN TO BAD PEOPLE TO SHOW GOD’S LOVE FOR ALL.

(Matthew 5:43-48 NIV)  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ {44} But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, {45} that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. {46} If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? {47} And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? {48} Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

a. We are challenged to love our neighbor as ourselves.

b. In application we are challenged to love our enemies, bless those who curse us and pray for those who spitefully use us and persecute us.

c. That you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Vs. 45

d. If we do good only to those who are good, we miss the Lord. Even tax collectors are good to those who are good to them and greet those who greet them.

e. We are to be perfect as the Father is perfect by loving even the sinner, the unlovable. Vs. 48

f. In the doing good even to the wicked God is giving them a witness that it might turn them to Him in time.

(Acts 14:17 NIV)  Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

 g. All of one blood and God has before determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, so that they should seek the Lord, in hope they might grope after Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.

 (Acts 17:24-28 NIV)  “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. {25} And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. {26} From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. {27} God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. {28} ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

 SATAN BRINGS GOOD THINGS TO BAD PEOPLE TO KEEP THEM IN THE EVIL.

a. By giving good things to bad people convinces them to trust in their riches.

(Luke 12:13-21 NIV)  Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” {14} Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” {15} Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” {16} And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. {17} He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ {18} “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. {19} And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”‘ {20} “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ {21} “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

 b. Get to thinking that life consist in the abundance of things we have or possessions. Vs. 15

c. Thought he could satisfy the soul with what he had.

d. Thus Satan claimed his soul and he lived like a fool.

e. Satan brings temporary pleasure in sin and makes us think it will last forever if we just stay with Him.

 (Hebrews 11:24-25 NIV)  By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. {25} He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.

 f. He shouts to the world how much fun is in immorality. Now whole countries are losing population to aids. People even quoted, as saying can’t live without immoral relationships. Satan must be thrilled with such attitudes. World is paying a heavy price.

 g. Need to see where the evil and ungodly life ultimately leads.  (Romans 6:23 NIV)  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 SOMETIMES WHAT SEEMS GOOD TO THOSE LOOKING ON MAY NOT BE.

  • Very prosperity, which causes some to envy, can become more a source of pain than pleasure. Hoard it. Make it my god.
  • The fun which evil seems to have often a place to hide from their empty hearts. Must keep laughing, adding to the worldly pleasure, because simple joys of like are being missed.
  • Only God can see the inside of a person. Nothing hidden from His view.

(Hebrews 4:13 NIV)  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

  • He will ultimately judge by truth, not what we think or feel.

 CONCLUSION

Real joy will last all through life and eternity. Are you living in such a relationship with God that you can face even death without the fear of losing all that is good?

Close with verses from Psalm 37

 

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2019 in Church, Encouragement

 
 
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