Tuesday, October 29, 2019

October 29, 2019

It was a rendezvous with destiny, except that it felt like an ordinary day.  Jill and I had taken our dog, Ollie, for a ride and walk at a time other than we normally would. I ran a quick errand, and then drove back to where Jill and Ollie were walking. As I approached, I noticed a man talking to a man in a wheelchair. As I drove closer, I realized that one of the men was our former realtor and friend,  Blake, a Christian. He commented on the significance of the timing of my arrival. The man in the wheelchair had been perplexed about world events, and was seeing the need for faith in Christ. Blake invited me into their conversation, and asked me to explain further about making a commitment to Christ.

We discussed various Bible verses, I mentioned the need for water baptism at some point following a decision, we addressed questions, and eventually I suggested we have prayer. Before I led in prayer, the man simply stated, “Lord, if you would have me, I give you my life.”

Following prayer, we affirmed that the man had indeed made a commitment to Christ, and we encouraged him to begin the practice of personal Bible study and prayer time. We suggested an online Bible, and other resources. Since he was perplexed about the times we live in, I offered to give him a copy of my book, “Hope for Uncertain Times.” I mentioned our home Bible study group, and invited him to attend - which Blake heartily encouraged. We exchanged phone numbers and parted ways rejoicing. 

It is an unfinished story. Will this man be baptized? Will he attend our home group? Will I have further opportunities to help him grow in the faith? Much is yet to be determined. But, the timing of this encounter leaves me in awe. Was it “coincidence” that we ventured out at the time we did? That we went the specific direction we did? That we would encounter Blake after not seeing him for many months? That we would arrive at precisely the moment their conversation had turned to this man’s desire to make a decision? It seemed a bit like the series of events involving Philip and an Ethiopian government official, recorded in Acts 8:26-40. It also punctuated the truth that “Man’s steps are ordained by the LORD, How then can man understand his way?” Proverbs 20.24.

To literally be led, step by step, to be part of someone’s conversion experience, is the highest and most humbling privilege.

The moral of the story? You may be closer to a life-changing encounter today than you might imagine.  Live, walk, and work expectantly.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

October 8, 2019

I did it again. I don’t like doing the wrong thing, but it seems to be a habit I’ve not been able to break.  If only I had been more understanding. If only I had taken the time. If only I had not been so selfish. The list goes on and on.  Missteps. Mistakes. Sin. You and I have a lengthy list of them, but how we handle them can make all the difference.

“For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” 2 Corinthians 7.10

Godly sorrow is contrasted with worldly sorrow. Worldly sorrow leads us to wallow in self-pity, negativism, and defeat. Godly sorrow, by comparison, takes restorative steps. Worldly sorrow leads to death, whereas godly sorrows leads to life.

Unless we follow the path of godly sorrow, we will never enter the kingdom of God. Godly sorrow directs us to repentance, and without repentance we cannot come to saving faith.  

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1.15 

“Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2.38

Worldly sorrow paralyzes. It smothers us with overwhelming regret, and a hopeless sense of unworthiness. We are convinced that God can never accept someone so sin-scarred, and thus we never move forward in repentance that leads to forgiveness and grace. 

There is no better example of godly sorrow that the heartfelt words and prayer of King David, recorded in Psalm 51. Worldly sorrow would have led David to a literal dead end; godly sorrow directed him down the road of restoration. 

There is no escaping the reality of sin. You and I will continue to think and do that which is wrong in spite of our best efforts. Our response to sin, however, will make all the difference. Consider the two path before you: worldly sorrow and godly sorrow. Choose the path that leads to life.


Tuesday, October 01, 2019

October 1, 2019

Where we have been is not nearly as important as where we are today. Faithfulness in the past is good, but faithfulness today is most important. 

“And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain— for He says, ‘At the acceptable time I listened to you, And on the day of salvation I helped you.’ Behold, now is ‘the acceptable time,’ behold, now is ‘the day of salvation’” 2 Corinthians 6.1-2

Some people assert that the Bible teaches that once we have made a commitment to Christ we can never lose the hope of salvation; once saved, always saved. This can easily become license for a worldly lifestyle. If I “got my ticket punched” through baptism, it doesn’t matter how I live because the promise of resurrection and immortality cannot be lost. 

The message of 2 Corinthians 6.1-2 seems at odds with such an idea. Paul urged believers “not to receive the grace of God in vain.” Apparently a good beginning was not an assurance of a good finish. Beginning with the grace of God does not guarantee continuance in the grace of God. The priority is faithfulness in the present: “Behold, now is ‘the acceptable time,’ behold, now is ‘the day of salvation.’” The “day of salvation” was the day of our conversion, but it is also this present day and moment. How we run the race today is at least as important as how we began the race.

Valuing the grace of God in Christ is evidenced in a commitment to daily Christian lifestyle. It’s not a “do” and “don’t” obligation checklist; it’s a wholehearted desire to live the lifestyle of Christ in appreciation for what He has done for us. 

If a concern not to “receive the grace of God in vain” weighs on our hearts and minds, it is fair to say we have not received it in vain. Profound gratitude in the moment, an eager desire to live righteously, a passion for service and outreach, all are indications that God’s grace is working effectively and productively in our lives this moment. As such, today truly is “day of salvation.” May we ever abound in all that pleases God and Christ in response to grace.


Tuesday, September 24, 2019

September 24, 2019

Don’t let the container fool you; it contains something of immense value. It’s like an exquisite, expensive diamond ring wrapped in an old, tattered newspaper. 

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves” 2 Corinthians 4.7

Whenever I look in the mirror, I’m reminded of the status of my “earthen vessel.” Sparse survivors of my once abundant mane, dark circles under my eyes, and increased furrows on my brow, all remind me of the effects of aging on “the outer man.” But … 

“we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” 2 Corinthians 4.16-17.

Time and adversity exact a price on of physical bodies, but the internal treasure increases daily. That which seems to wear us down externally is, in reality, stockpiling spiritual wealth within. Things are not as they appear!

A key phrase to seize, believe, and live by is “we do not lose heart.” Sure, we become discouraged from time to time. As Paul says, “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” 2 Corinthians 4.8-9. Sometimes we’re barely hanging on, but we ARE hanging on! We may be down, but we’re far from out. Thus, “we do not lose heart.”

Our Father has chosen to let the rich treasure of “the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Corinthians 4.4) shine brightly in our humble earthen vessels. It’s all for His glory, and not ours. 

Take inventory of the true reality today. Outward appearances can leave us discouraged and even disillusioned. But, never lose sight of the true hidden reality. “we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4.18 

May the unseen, eternal be a source of strength and encouragement to you today - and always.


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

August 27, 2019

It’s free, but it will cost you everything. God’s grace through Jesus is free, but the life of discipleship will cost us everything.

If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Mark 8.34-35

The story is told of someone who asked a pastor what their church offered to newcomers in terms of programs, ministries, and services; in essence, what did the church offer for them. The pastor’s answer was shocking: “if you come to our church, we’ll kill you.” The individual responded, “I assume you are kidding.” “Not at all,” replied the pastor. He explained that following Christ and participating in a church is not like going to a store and selecting what you want, but rather it is giving yourself away in service and sacrifice. Following Christ and participating in His church is an invitation to come and die to self.

Most of us are immersed in a culture focused on self-gratification. Life’s necessities are relatively easy to obtain, freeing us for the pursuit of pleasure, leisure, and entertainment. This consumer mentality is not absent from discipleship 
expectation and church involvement: “what’s in it for me?” Jesus’ response is come and deny, come and die, come and follow me unquestionably. Nothing is more difficult, or challenging.

I am all too aware of my own discipleship shortcomings. I am strong-willed (to be really honesty, stubborn!) Submission does not come easily. Self-interest is much too prominent. The cultural environment I live in has likely influenced me more than I have influenced it. But, regardless of failings, the discipleship call of Jesus remains. Today is the day to commit anew to His radical call.

Perhaps as an appeal to our human nature, Jesus says, For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Who isn’t concerned about self-preservation? It is human nature to want what’s best for self. So, how do we save our lives? Ironically, by losing our lives for Christ. To get we must give up.

No matter how challenging, may we find the ultimate joy and fulfillment that comes from committing ourselves anew to being radical disciples of Jesus. 


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

August 13, 2019

Deception is nothing new, but there will be increased efforts to deceive the people of God in the last days. Jesus states: 
“And then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ’; or, ‘Behold, He is there’; do not believe him; for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But take heed; behold, I have told you everything in advance.” Mark 13.21-23 
I remember well, in 1982, the bold headlines of major newspapers around the world: “The Christ Is Now Here.” The premise was set forth that the long-awaited Jewish Messiah,  the Buddhist Maitreya, the Islamic Iman, the Krishna, and Jesus were really all one and the same, and He was now here among us, ready to be publicly revealed. Bible students, of course, saw this as something sinister and deceptive, rather than our long-awaited hope. 
One is coming, among many imposters, who will be far more deceptively effective. He is described in 2 Thessalonians 2.8-10:
“that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. “
The best way to avoid deception is to be very familiar with truth. It is those who have “the love of the truth” who will be saved from deception in the last days. To love truth is to be a firsthand student of the Bible, led and directed by God’s Holy Spirit. That means not taking teachers and preachers at their word alone, but carefully investigating their messages under the magnifying glass of personal Bible study. No matter how impressive the credentials of the Bible teacher, God’s sincere, Spirit-directed believers have all the needed tools available to ferret out truth firsthand from the pages of the Bible. Due diligence is required (2 Timothy 2.15).
I’m thankful that I know many people who take truth-seeking seriously. Their priority is to know, live, and love truth, and be vigilant against deception. They will stand strong amidst the increasing tide of deception. A greater concern is for those marginally familiar with truth. Those whose source of spiritual nourishment is largely through devotional thoughts, and lessons and seminars by well-known teachers, are at greater risk. While these may be adequate supplements, they can never substitute for first-hand Bible study and application. 
The burden that motivates what I have shared with you is that which the apostle Paul placed on Timothy: “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you.” 1 Timothy 6.20. As those who choose to receive and read these thoughts, my burden is that you ever stand strong for what is true and good, and avoid deception at all costs. 
“If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8.31-32
May you thrive in the liberating freedom that comes from continuing in the word of truth.


Tuesday, August 06, 2019

August 6, 2019

There is a recurring line in an old television comedy that goes, “missed it by that much!” (referring to the slightest miss). Sadly, there are those who have come close to making a faith commitment to Christ, but never actually followed through. They were/are so close, but yet so far away. To be almost a Christian is to be totally lost.

A religious leader once asked Jesus to summarized the greatest commandment. “Jesus answered, ‘The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The LORD our God is one Lord; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12.29-31.

Observing how wisely Jesus had answered, the religious leader responded: “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that He is One, and there is no one else besides Him; and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Mark 12.32-33 

This man stood on the threshold of the greatest breakthrough of all. “When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions.” Mark 12.34

He was not far from the kingdom of God, but He also was not within it. Before him stood the King of the kingdom, and all he had do was accept in faith that Jesus was and is the Messiah, but there is no indication that he did so.  Almost persuaded, but lost.

One of my greatest concerns is for some regular churchgoers I see nearly every week. My concern is that they are good people, but not saved people. Aside of a commitment to Christ, signified by water baptism, they are like the man who was “not far from the kingdom of God.” Close, but not close enough. So close, but oh so far away.

Many times I have pleaded from the pulpit to be certain of a decision. Do not leave life’s most important decision to chance! One either belongs to Christ, or they are destined for destruction in the lake of fire on judgment day. There is no other alternative or option. Saved or lost; in or out.

We can give all the right answers, but the gift of immortality and life in the coming kingdom on earth is based, not on right answers, but right decisions.

How tragic that we would hear from Jesus one day: “you were not far from the kingdom of God.” So close, but yet so far away. Nearly saved, but totally lost.

Have you responded in faith to the call of God through Jesus? You can be more than “not far from the kingdom of God”; you can be safely within through Jesus. Be sure today … while you can.