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You Should Be Committed, Part 7

Last time, we looked at this paragraph from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19 – 21 | TNIV)

Jesus wants His people to give to the work of the Lord while they are living on earth so that they may build up credit in Heaven. There’s no other way to interpret what our Lord is saying in these verses. As a believer, you can obsess over investing all your worldly wealth in a bank, and if you do, then that’s where your heart will be. Or you can do the smart thing. Invest some of your worldly wealth in the work of the Lord, adding to your treasure in Heaven. According to Jesus, if you do that, then your heart will be in Heaven.

Will there really be treasure waiting in Heaven for you? Some people don’t think so. But Jesus seemed to think there will be, and that’s good enough for me. Peter also believed Jesus:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3 – 5 | TNIV)

As far as Peter was concerned, our Heavenly inheritance – which is not a chance to live in Heaven as some think – is a gift from God in the same vein as our new birth! The apostle equates salvation with a tangible inheritance waiting for us in Heaven! I say our inheritance or treasure in Heaven is tangible because, first, it can never “perish, spoil or fade.” Second, it is being “kept in heaven for you.” In other words, your treasure is reserved for you. It’s yours. God has your treasure on deposit for you in His Heavenly vault, and He’s waiting to give it to you.

Jesus also said this about our treasure in Heaven:

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:33, 34 | TNIV)

This is all about Christian stewardship and love. Engaging in proper stewardship is an act of love; an act of love toward God and your fellow man. The smartest thing a Christian can do to get ready for his future is simply to prepare for it. You have a retirement account. You have a pension plan. You ought to have an eternal investment, too. When you practice proper Christian stewardship, you are really engaging in a paradox. You are storing your wealth, not in “purses,” which wear out, but in heavenly purses, which last forever. Christian stewardship is exchanging the earthly for the heavenly; the temporary for the permanent.

Jesus is giving us a tremendous principle for living here that is really for all people, but especially for His people. Whoever we are, whatever our situation in life may be – whether we are rich or poor, famous or infamous, saints or sinners – our hearts will be where are treasures are, and our treasures will be put where our hearts are. So, if we love God and are committed to Him, we will be making deposits in Heaven by using our wealth, possessions, and talents for God’s glory. The more we give on this side of eternity, the more treasure we will be accumulating in Heaven. The more we accumulate in Heaven, the more securely our hearts will be anchored in Heaven. This principle is the single measuring rod by which we can measure the depth of our love and commitment to God. It is also a way to check our love and commitment to Christ, for when we see ourselves becoming more and more interested in accumulating earthly possessions than in heavenly treasures, it’s time to pause and reflect and take a long hard look at our spiritual health.

Back in Matthew 6, our Lord gives us some more advice to help us not only add treasure to our Heavenly inheritance, but also to live a good life in the here and now.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25 | TNIV)

Trust more

That word, “therefore,” is such an important word. It attaches this concluding section of Matthew 6 to all that came before it. Throughout Matthew 6, Jesus had emphasized three virtues of true disciples: simplicity, sincerity, and singleness. The Christian life is marked by simple truth. By sincere love and devotion to that truth. And by singleness of devotion and purpose to one Master, Jesus Christ.

If you have decided to serve Christ, then you must decide to be obedient to Him. Part of that obedience is to start doing something that unbelievers don’t do: Trust God; look to Him for His care and learn to let Him take care of you. Living like this is exactly opposite to how you used to live and how most of your family and friends live. They worry. It’s human nature to worry and fret. But if you are a committed follower of Jesus Christ, then you wont live like that. Worry is a sin; it’s not a virtue. If you worry, you are passively telling God you don’t really trust Him; that you trust yourself more or other more.

George MacDonald, Scottish novelist, once said:

To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.

He’s not altogether wrong, but when it comes to our relationship with God, He demands both your trust and your love, and your trust is a good indication of the kind of love your have for Him.

The big point Jesus makes in 25 is “don’t worry about your physical needs or luxuries.” The reason is simple. When you fret about things like those, it reveals where your heart is; the whole focus of your life is off. If God has given you a life and body – both far more important than food and clothing – don’t you think He’s capable of giving you what you need to support your life and body?

To support this principle, our Lord gives us some examples.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life ? (Matthew 6:26, 27 | TNIV)

To worry about food and clothing and such things is to show how dumb you really are because you haven’t learned anything from the world all around you.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20 | TNIV)

Mose of us take what Paul wrote to the Romans and apply it only to the unsaved, but there’s a kernel of truth in it for Christians, too. We believers should look at how God cares for His creation and understand that we, like the birds of the air, are part of that creation. If He cares for them, then how can He not care for us?

Charles Lindbergh once wrote,

If I had to choose, I’d rather have birds than airplanes.

That’s might be a funny thing for an aviator to write, but it tells us something very important about Lindbergh: He was smart. He knew you could learn more from birds than from airplanes. Think about this: Birds can’t sow. Birds can’t reap. Birds can’t store things in barns. But we can! You and I are supposed to sow and reap and store, and at the same time we’re supposed to trust God. That bird trusts God, and so should you. Trusting God doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be exercising some good judgment. You should save for your old age. You should have insurance. You should be prudent in how you spend your resources. But first and foremost, you should be trusting God to provide and sustain. And He will!

Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life ? (Matthew 6:27 | TNIV)

That’s a short verse that’s actually a little complicated to translate, and the TNIV did a good job. It can actually mean a couple of things: Worrying can’t make you taller. Worrying won’t make you live longer. You get the idea behind what Jesus was trying say here. Worrying about things like your health or your wealth won’t do any good. Worrying is all done inside your head, so it can’t do anything good for you. Leo Buscaglia wrote:

Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.

That’s absolutely correct. Want to be miserable in thirty minutes? Start worrying about something right now. Worry is a waste of time and energy. Martin Luther, a man who had a lot to worry about, once remarked,

You pray and let God worry.

Naturally, God doesn’t worry, but you get the idea.

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? (Matthew 6:28 – 30 | TNIV)

Birds work after a fashion, but they don’t worry. Flowers don’t do anything except sit there, looking good. Our Lord’s point here is not that His followers should opt out of life and be lazy but that God’s provision and care are so abundant that He is able to even “clothe” stuff as transient as grass, which produces nothing and can’t endure.

Our generation isn’t the first to be concerned about clothing. The way this is written indicates that the disciples 2,000 years ago worried about what they were wearing! No wonder Jesus chastised them: “You of little faith!”

The main point

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. (Matthew 6:31, 32 | TNIV)

And here’s the main point, from the negative perspective. True disciples of Jesus aren’t supposed to live like people who don’t follow Jesus. We’re supposed to be obviously different from them, and part of that difference is worry and anxiety. We cannot be consumed with worry and anxiety because that’s how they live. Here’s the thing a lot Christians miss. We take very seriously the notion of not living like non-Christians in terms of morality and ethics. They lie and cheat. We don’t. They commit adultery and sexual sins. We don’t. They don’t live by the same ethical and moral code that followers of Jesus Christ do, and we take that very seriously. But we smile and chuckle when the pastor tells us that we shouldn’t worry. Worrying is as much a sin as lying and cheating and committing adultery because when we worry, we are behaving like pagans. We are essentially telling God that He doesn’t know what we need and that He doesn’t care about us. So, from the negative point of view: STOP the worrying, people!

But it’s not enough to just stop the worrying. Worrying must be replaced by something else. And that brings us to the positive perspective:

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:33, 34. TNIV)

Worry less, pray more. Stop letting your mind run away with anxiety and think on Heavenly things. That will reveal where your heart is. What do you spend your time thinking about? Your job? That’s where your heart is. Your investments? That’s where your heart is. Your family? That’s where your heart is. Your hobbies? That’s where your heart is. No wonder the average American Christian is a dysfunctional basket case, full of stress and consumed with anxiety and fear. You’re living like everybody else and suffering needlessly. Your life is mediocre at best when God intends for you to live a life of excellence in every way. If you want to be different from everybody else; if you want to stand out from the mass of mediocrity all around you, then become a dedicated, committed disciple of Jesus Christ.


You Should Be Committed! Part 6

We’ve spent some time looking at how we can be more committed to God through our relationship with Jesus Christ. Lack of real commitment is probably the number one problem in the Church of Jesus Christ as we move through the second decade of the 21st century in America. American Christianity has, at various times been referred to as “shallow” at best and “too commercial” at worse. American Christians are viewed as “lazy” and “out of shape, spiritually,” by believers in other countries. I hope they’re wrong, but it’s hard to dispute their assessment. Spend a few minutes around many Christians and it seems that they are well-versed on many things except their faith. They can talk forever about the latest movie or TV show they like, or football and politics, but change the subject to spiritual or Biblical things and, amazingly, they clam up! What’s going on? It’s because too many of us are more committed to the things of this world we like than to the God we claim to love so much.

And that’s a real tragedy because it is only when we become serious about our faith that incredible things start happening to us, in us, and around us. God promises so much to those who are truly committed to Him; things not available to less-committed believers. Really, some Christians who are are barely in the Kingdom are quite literally robbing themselves of tremendous blessings – spiritual and otherwise – because of their stubborn refusal to give their all to Jesus.

In Matthew 6, we read a very interesting teaching that starts off like this:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. (Matthew 6:19 | TNIV)

As with so many of our Lord’s teachings, He’s exaggerating to drive home a point, which we will get to when He does. In order to fully appreciate His teachings about treasures on earth versus rewards in Heaven, we have to go all the way back to verse 1 –

Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ in front of others, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. (Matthew 6:1 | TNIV)

People who follow God can do so two ways. They can be concerned with the here-and-now. So, as verse 1 suggests, as a believer you can choose to live in such a way as to gain the praise of man. Again, Jesus is engaging in some exaggeration. It’s not that you should hide your faith so nobody can see it; so nobody can tell whether or not you’re a Christian! Everybody should know what your faith is! When people look at you, they should know without a doubt that you are follower of Jesus Christ. What Jesus is getting at here is motivation. Do you live like a believer to impress people? Are you looking for that handshake from the pastor? If that’s what’s important to you, then while you are building up credit here on earth, you won’t be in Heaven.

This teaching of Jesus’ reminds me of something Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians about this very subject.

If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their 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 person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames. (1 Corinthians 3:12 – 15 | TNIV)

So, certainly you can live looking for rewards on earth. You’ll get into Heaven, but barely, smelling like smoke. Alternately, you can live with your focus on pleasing God, not man, with Heaven in view, not this world. Jesus mentions that if you live with pure motives and are committed to God, then rewards will be waiting for you in Heaven, courtesy of your Heavenly Father. That gets us down to verse 19.

Priorities and Attitudes

It is the height of foolishness of trust treasures on earth. Anything you save here can be taken from you.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matthew 6:19, 20 | TNIV)

The context of this teaching, though, is really about rewards. Jesus introduced the idea back in verse 1, and here He expands on it. There are rewards for living right and being in a faithful, committed relationship with God. If there were no rewards, what’s the point in being good? The rewards of this world are temporary at best. God’s rewards, however, are permanent and are spiritual. A Christian may be so focused on building up his kingdom here that he forgets about Heaven. It’s not that Jesus is against saving money or saving up for retirement. If that’s what you see here, you’re missing the point. Myron Augsburger wrote this about these verses:

Gathering earthly treasures is not a great enough cause by which to structure a philosophy of life. Earthly treasures offer no long-range security. Rather, the treasures of the eternal life are the securities that remain.

Christians need to live with an eternal perspective, not a temporal one. That’s not easy to do because we can’t see into eternity, all we can see is the temporary world around us. Generally speaking, most of us weren’t raised with an eternal perspective. If we were fortunate enough to have been raised by Christian parents who dragged us to Sunday School and made us sit through sermon after sermon, then we learned about rewards in Heaven. We learned about the dangers of loving money. We learned about trusting God to provide our needs. But at the same time, we were probably encouraged to go to college to “get a good job that pays well.” We watched as we went deeper and deeper into debt so that we could, supposedly, live prosperous lives when we graduated. At best, our well-meaning parents sent us very mixed messages indeed! Trust God, but don’t put all your eggs in the same basket. Hedge your bets. Just in case. No wonder most churches are bereft of members in their 20’s and 30’s! They’re still trying to figure out why they aren’t prosperous and why they’re drowning in debt! The sad reality is that you can be genuinely interested in serving the Lord, but at the same time be running after the elusive and temporary rewards the world has to offer. If this is how you are living at any age, you’re doing it all wrong.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21 | TNIV)

Is it possible to accumulate great amounts of “wealth” and still be a committed follower of Jesus Christ? Absolutely! There are many, many wealthy disciples of Jesus Christ, who are doing just fine spiritually and materially. The problem occurs when you start to view your wealth as your treasure. Your “treasure” is the most important thing in your life. If that’s how you view your wealth – or anything on earth, for that matter – then you’re in big trouble. Your heart won’t be in Heaven, it will be stuck here on earth. You’ll be living a very limited life and your God will be very small. Ralph Earle, in his commentary on Matthew, made a very astute observation about what I call the “eternal perspective:”

If you encourage a man to give to the Lord’s work, you are are helping to tie him to heaven. Even soliciting a sinner to contribute to a special project of the church may lead to his salvation. Thus we do people a definite service when we give them a chance to make their offering to the Lord. Where their money goes, there also their hearts will go.

That last sentence is what they call, “the money quote.” Mr Earle is absolutely right about that. When we live with an eternal perspective, we will be obvious about it for the right reasons. When we give others the opportunities to participate in living with an eternal perspective, we are engaging in a worthy service. And here’s the point so many Christians miss. The whole of their lives should be devoted to the eternal perspective and pointing as many people in that direction as they can. If you are a Christian, the entirety of your life is an opportunity to show the lost that there is a better way to live; there is way off the hamster wheel of life.

Jesus moves from the heart of a man to another organ.

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22, 23 | TNIV)

Believe it or not, Jesus is referring commitment to God here; a singleness of purpose. Follow: If your eyes are working correctly, then you’ll see things clearly. But an eye, for example, with astigmatism, produces only blurred vision. They eye is the window through which images filter and perception is brought to the mind. If the window is clear and clean, all is well. But if the window is dirty or cracked, light is warped and images become all distorted. What Jesus is getting at is so simple it’s profound. The light which gets to a person’s heart depends on his spiritual state. Eyes that are clouded with greed or lust lead to distorted vision that produces improper behavior. But eyes that are clear – eyes that are both looking in the same direction in singleness of purpose, committed to God and loving toward others, will see eternity on the horizon and that image will influence the man’s behavior.

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:24 | TNIV)

This is a powerful verse that sums up Jesus’ teaching of the two treasures and where we store them. There’s more than meets they eye when it comes to these two treasures. It’s a question of two masters and which one you will let master you. The English “money” comes from the Greek “mamona” or “mammon,” which is actually a transliteration of an Aramaic word meaning “property” or “wealth” in which a person places their confidence. Jesus brilliantly personifies God and money as slave owners and pits them against each other. A man can hold down two jobs at once; a lot of people are doing that today, but God and money aren’t employers, they are slave owners, and nobody can be owned by two slave owners. Either God is served with clear, single-minded devotion or He is not served at all. One scholar lays it all on the line and writes,

Attempts at divided loyalty betray, not partial commitment to discipleship, but deep-seated commitment to idolatry.

So, how does all this tie into our series on being committed to Christ? When you are in a committed relationship with the One who saved your soul, you are serving Him and that includes your wealth – your money. In case you missed it, here’s what Jesus said about your motivation for giving your wealth to God’s work: Store up (or build up) for yourselves treasure in heaven. You show God that you are serious about your relationship with Him by how generously you give to His work here on earth. A lot of Christians view money as dangerous and dirty, but I tell you money is a very spiritual thing. The only way to build up your treasure in Heaven, which according to Jesus is what you should be doing, is by giving some of your wealth to the Lord’s work here on earth. Don’t give blindly to every charity that comes begging; make sure that your church or charity is truly doing the Lord’s work – that the Gospel is being preached and taught both here and elsewhere; that people are being helped in Name of God. If your giving is being used for the sake of God’s kingdom in the propagation of the Gospel and changing lives, then it becomes legal tender in Heaven.

You may think that’s not a good reason to give. You’d be wrong. You should be giving for the purpose of adding to your treasure in Heaven because our Lord said: Where your treasure is, is where your heart is. If you know you’re building up and adding to your treasure in Heaven, then that’s where your heart will be. But if your treasure is in the bank, that’s what you’ll be thinking about because that’s where your heart will be.

You Should Be Committed, Part 5

Being committed to the Lord means being a disciple of Jesus Christ. That word, disciple, frightens some Christians because they’re quite content with just being a “Christian,” going to church a couple of times a month, behaving properly around their Christian friends, and saying grace. To Christians like that, a disciple is somebody who takes their faith way too seriously. These are the people who do crazy things in the name of their faith. Things like planning their daily lives around church activities; like making sure their kids are proficient in their knowledge of the faith first and of sports and video games second and third; things like helping strangers in the name of Christ and volunteering their time and talents while getting nothing in return. Being a disciple of Christ is not for the lazy or faint of heart. It’s serious business, and many Christians aren’t that serious. And that’s a shame because there is great satisfaction found in being so committed to Christ that He would refer to you as His disciple.

In the book of Proverbs we read a very interesting verse about this very issue:

Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. (Proverbs 16:3 | NIV84)

Of Proverbs 16, Dr McGee made this observation:

This is a very rich and important section—short sentences drawn from long experience, tested in the crucible of time and of suffering. They are made rich and real to us by the power of the Holy Spirit.

That’s the real beauty of all the proverbs, but really describes Proverbs 16 well. Most chapters in this book don’t fall into a meaningful outline, and this one doesn’t either. I’ve seen a couple of outlines but none of them are really helpful. So what I’d like to do is just concentrate on the first handful of verses.

The Lord

It is significant that in the first seven verses, Israel’s personal name for God, Yahweh, was used. This section stresses God’s activity in the affairs of men. We like to talk about the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, but this verse shows how far-reaching it is! It actually begins in the mouth of man.

The preparation of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the LORD. (Proverbs 16:1 | KJ21)

In a single verse, we see how God is able to confound even the wisest of men. When the wisest man in the world seeks to speak to others, God is able to control his words. The way the verse is written, the idea is that God is able to take the most meticulously thought-out speech and turn it on its head by jumbling the words up spoken by the person giving it. In other words, a clever person can plan on saying one thing, but if it is contrary to God’s plan, He will step in and take control of the person’s tongue. You may scoff at such an idea, but remember Balaam’s ass?

The second verse carries this idea even further, beyond just words and ideas.

All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes, but the LORD weigheth his spirit. (Proverbs 16:2 | KJ21)

Only God is able to see into the depths of a person’s being to discern his true motives. Any person, even the most precious blue-haired saint in the church, can delude themselves into thinking their motives are pure when they may not be. There isn’t a human being alive who is able discern the motives of others, let alone their own. Jeremiah knew this quirk of human nature to be true:

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward everyone according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” (Jeremiah 17:9, 10 | KJ21)

That’s why you should never “follow your heart” or “listen to you heart.” It lies to you. You can’t trust it. But you can trust God, and that’s why you need to listen to Him and seek His will all the time. Your heart will always lead you astray and get you into trouble.

If you want favor with both God and man, and a reputation for good judgment and common sense, then trust the Lord completely; don’t ever trust yourself. In everything you do, put God first, and he will direct you and crown your efforts with success. (Proverbs 3:4 – 6 | TLB)

Nobody knows you like God does. That’s why you need His direction for your life. And the only way you will be able to discern His direction is if you are in a committed relationship with Him through Jesus Christ because then and only then will you be living a God-centered life, which is the essence of discipleship. And verse 3 really shows us how in practical terms what a God-centered life involves.

Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established. (Proverbs 16:3 | KJ21)

The word translated “commit,” means literally “roll.” This verse is probably the very best prescription for anxiety available, and it’s free. All you have to do is simply learn how to do it. If you want to lessen the anxiety in your life, then roll all your affairs over on to the Lord. Whatever you are doing or whatever you’re involved with, give it to God and let Him work it out. That sounds so simple, yet most Christians can’t do it because they know that what they are doing or involved with is not God’s will for them. And here’s the number one problem with American Christians: They segregate their lives in such a way as to keep certain things away from God. They have no problem praying for their children or grandchildren or for safe travels. But it never occurs to them that God is vitally interested in their work. Or in their hobbies. Or in their various other extracurricular activities. In fact, I suspect that it’s even worse than just ignorance. It’s a calculated way of living and self-deception that says to God, “OK, I want to go to heaven, so I’ll give you this, this, and this, but I’ll keep my free time to myself.” We are masters of the double life. We should all be given an Oscar for our performance as Christians when we are called on to act like like one. But we aren’t fooling God. So instead of rolling the entirety of our lives over onto Him, we hold some back and suffer the consequences of such foolishness. We are anxious and we worry and we get all stressed out. We have to deal with guilty consciences. We don’t really trust God because we’ve never really tested Him! We’ve never given Him the opportunity to prove how faithful and powerful He really is. Because, when it really counts, we prefer to trust ourselves.

This verse teaches us complete dependence on the Lord. And that’s not something most of us want. We’re not quite sure about Him. But the thing is this: If you want to enjoy the kind of success that is pleasing to God and most beneficial to you and those around you, you’d better start rolling all your “stuff” over onto him. Wise up and do what’s best for you. Learn humility through depending on God. God will never, ever let you down. Some people have genuine trust issues because they’ve been disappointed by their parents or their spouse or other people of importance and influence in their lives. To you, I say try God and you will discover what many of us have discovered to be true: God is faithful and will always do what is best for you. And your family. And your business.

If you call yourself a Christian, then you should commit your plans to the Lord so that He may establish them. Not every plan you may have is pleasing to him; but for those that are, this verse is a great comfort. True faith, borne of a love relationship with Jesus Christ will remove the anxieties and the perplexities from your life. Guaranteed. But that won’t stop some people from thinking that they or their situations are the exception; that God wouldn’t waste His time. To you, the Bible makes a simple statement:

The LORD hath made all things for Himself, yea, even the wicked for the day of evil. (Proverbs 16:4 | KJ21)

“All things” means just that. God made all things so He’s keenly interested in all things and He understands all things. Your situation that you think is so different and unique is blasé to God! Put it another way, there is nothing God hasn’t seen, heard, or dealt with. Do you think you’re the first person to pray about his marriage? Or about his job? Or about everyday problems in child rearing?

God is absolutely committed to you, in every way you can think of. If you aren’t committed to Him in kind, you’re short changing yourself in a big way! You’re missing out on all that the Lord can bring into your life. He has the uncanny ability to make everything work out for you. In His kingdom, there are no loose ends; God takes care of it all. When you stop and think about it, there really is only one reason why a Christian would not commit 100% of himself to God: Pride. That’s a huge problem, by the way.

Everyone that is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; though they join hands, they shall not go unpunished. (Proverbs 16:5 | KJ21)

Ouch. If pride is keeping you from giving God your all, you’re an abomination to Him. That’s about as bad as it gets. That phrase, “pride in heart,” refers to a person who thinks he knows more than God does; that he knows better than God does. If that’s your attitude, you’ve put yourself in a bad position. That kind of pride – of arrogance – doesn’t go unnoticed by God or unpunished. You reap what you sow. Some believers reading this may have found themselves on the outs with God because of their attitude of pride and arrogance. Inexplicably you have found the spigot of God’s blessings dried up. You no longer feel like He’s listening to your prayers. The things of God no longer seem to hold your attention. All those things are tiny judgments God directs at you to get your attention; to tell you He wants all of you, all the time.

There’s a famous verse in the book of Acts that’s worth taking a peak at. It’s Acts 26:14 –

We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ (Acts 26:14 | TNIV)

That phrase, “kick against the goads,” in Greek literature evoked a rural image, of farmers goading their oxen in the fields. It sounds like an odd saying to but us, but everyone in that day understood its meaning.

A goad was made from short pieces of timber, blunt on one end and pointed on the other. Farmers would use the pointed end to prod a stubborn ox to move. Sometimes, the animal would kick at the goad. The more the ox kicked, the more pain it felt as the goad stabbed it’s hoof or leg.

We have the impression that Saul’s conversion happened all of a sudden, as he encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. But based on the Lord’s expression regarding his kicking back, it’s very likely that Jesus had been working on him for years, prodding and goading him.

We don’t have any record of it happening, but given Paul’s amazing intellect and curiosity, it’s almost impossible to imagine him not being present in the audience while Jesus was preaching and teaching. He was certainly familiar Jesus. And if he heard our Lord preaching, then he heard the Word of God and for a long time he “kicked against the goad” of that word until finally, in very dramatic fashion, Christ got the man’s attention.

Saul heard the Word and he resisted it. His heart was so desperate to go the other way, that he became the foremost persecutor of Christians. But his heart wasn’t strong enough to resist Christ’s call. And neither is yours.

A man’s heart deviseth his way, but the LORD directeth his steps. (Proverbs 16:9 | KJ21)

Like Saul, you can run, but you can’t hide. If you’re a Christian who is holding back from God, He will hound you, no matter how much you kick against the goad. The question is, how beat up do you want to get? You can “devise” your own plans, but if you belong to Him, God will move you in the direction He wants you to do. Be smart. Stop resisting God. He wants all of you, so just give your whole life to Him. When you do that, this will happen:

(Christ) is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…. (Ephesians 3:20 | TNIV)

Thoughts on the First Noel

Luke chapter two might be the most widely read portion of the Bible. Each year during the last weeks of December, Americans dust off their Bibles and turn to the account of what has become known as “the Christmas story,” or as I like to call it, the story of how God sent His Son among us to save us. There are, all told, five characters of prominence in Luke 2.

The Romans. Of course, the Romans represent the earthly government; a government determined to keep doing what it wanted to do even while the King of Jews was born. In Luke chapter two, we see what’s important to any government: Making life hard for its citizens and confiscating even more money from them in the form of ridiculous tax.

The angels. The supernatural appearance of these heavenly messengers heralding their messages of eternal hope set the stage for the birth of our Lord. Of course, God had been telling His people of the Savior’s first Advent for centuries; you could say it was the worst-kept secret ever. But human beings, blinded by sin, never noticed.

The shepherds. To the shepherds the angels appeared, and this time their message was noticed. Really, shepherds were the perfect people for angels to appear to. King David was a shepherd and he was greatly loved by God.

Mary and Joseph. The earthly parents of Jesus set the perfect example of how any parent or any other person should respond to God: In simple obedience. Neither of them possessed all the facts. What was happening to them was unprecedented, yet they did what God wanted them to do.

The infant. No, there was no halo surrounding the head of the Jesus. He was just an ordinary baby, born like countless other babies. There was nothing outstanding about the Baby. That’s how God chose to reveal Himself to man. He still does that today. You can find God in the simplest, most mundane aspects of life.

Humble birth, Luke 2:1 – 7

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. (Luke 2:1 – 3 | TNIV)

The story of the birth of Jesus as told by Luke couldn’t be more different than the same story told by Matthew. In Matthew, we read about the birth of the King of the Jews. We read about how King Herod was so obsessed with finding this new king that he killed an unknown number of young boys in an effort to kill the young King of the Jews. Yet in Luke, the birth of Jesus is presented in an altogether different way. His parents are portrayed as young and being bullied by an uncaring government bureaucracy. Why so different? Luke’s Gospel is a work of history written primarily for Greeks; for intellectuals. Of course, Luke also wanted to present the infant Jesus as the Son of God, but to do so in an educated, orderly account was Luke’s goal. Pastor, theologian and hymn-writer, Joachim Neander, who died far too young of tuberculosis at age 30, wrote something we should keep in mind.

The three great historical nations had to contribute, each in its own peculiar way, to prepare the soil for the planting of Christianity,—the Jews on the side of the religious element; the Greeks on the side of science and art; the Romans, as masters of the world, on the side of the political element.

The three Synoptic Gospels bear Neander’s hypothesis out. Matthew was written to the Jew and therefore stressed elements of Judaism in its account of the Lord’s birth. Mark was written to the Roman and Luke was written to the Greek, with its stress on details, both historical and personal. The Roman Government, under Caesar Augustus decided to tax the world. It sounds like an idea concocted in the halls of Washington DC, but Ancient Rome was just as arrogant as modern America when it came to taxation. The Greek word used for “world” really meant “civilized world,” and the TNIV’s translation, “Roman world” is accurate.

Caesar Augustus was the adopted son of Julius Caesar whose real name was Octavianus, although he took the name Caesar. Augustus wasn’t a name at all but a title. He could have called himself king, emperor, or even dictator, but he chose the more religious title Augustus in an attempt to deify himself. It’s ironic that in his mind, his burdensome tax scheme got people like Mary and Joseph to travel to their various birth places, but really it wasn’t his plan but God’s plan that was fulfilled. Many centuries before Caesar Augustus was a glimmer in anybody’s eye, the Old Testament prophet Micah foretold the birth of the Messiah, referencing where He would be born:

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2 | TNIV)

There were actually two Bethlehems and Micah distinguishes between them by adding “Ephratah.” Micah’s prophecy was written an astounding seven hundred years before the event took place. Given the Babylonian Exile and the great Dispersion that scattered the Jews all over the Babylonian and Persian Empires, it’s truly a miracle that a descendant of King David’s would have been born in this particular Bethlehem. The so-called “Christmas Story” is so familiar to us, we don’t realize just how miraculous it was. Caesar Augustus thought his dopey tax scheme was his idea, but little did he know God was pulling his strings so as to get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem in time for the Son of God to be born.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:6 – 7 | TNIV)

The Bible doesn’t tell us how far along Mary was when Joseph took her with him bound for Bethlehem, or even why he took Mary with him (other than to fulfill Bible prophecy). One scholar thinks Joseph was looking for a good excuse to get pregnant Mary out of town to avoid the inevitable gossip and the emotional stress of being so pregnant. While it is true they were married, she was farther along than she should have been! The Bible also gives no indication that the couple got to Bethlehem “in the nick of time.” In fact, it’s more than likely they arrived in town in plenty of time for the census but then stayed there until long after Jesus was born.

The popular image of Mary and Joseph being holed up in a barn or cave is more myth than reality. While there would have been no room in local inns due to the presence of Roman soldiers and officials in town to work the census, the couple probably stayed in Joseph’s family home, or the home of some close relative. Back in those days families stayed upstairs while some animals were housed downstairs during the night. That’s probably where they stayed, and Jesus was indeed put in a manger or trough, which Mary used as a crib.

Announcement in the sky, Luke 2:8 – 20

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10 – 12 | TNIV)

We all know that angels appeared to a bunch of shepherds at night and that they were the very first people to whom the Good News had been told. They were also the first people to visit Jesus. But why shepherds? Among all the occupations of the ancient world, the lowliest was that of the shepherd, followed by the fisherman. Shepherds were thought to be a untrustworthy lot because their job involved keeping ceremonially unclean animals. But in keeping with the recurring theme of Luke’s Gospel, the Good News came first to the social outcasts of the day. But really, the shepherds of Luke 2 have come to symbolize all the ordinary people of all time whose lives have been touched and changed by the Good News.

The message of the angelic choir tells us more about God than anything else:

Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14 | TNIV)

The “peace” on earth and “goodwill toward men” have to do with God. Of course, there is no peace on earth today, and there won’t be until Jesus comes back the second time. But for all those who have found Jesus as the Lord and Savior, they are at peace with God. That’s the peace of justification by faith, and that’s the peace that the angels were singing and praising God about. The birth of Jesus made this kind of peace between God and man possible. And that goes for goodwill toward men. It’s not goodwill between men, but toward men. Again, because God sent His Son, born of a virgin, into our world, goodwill now exists between God and redeemed man. The angels understood this, even if we don’t. The song of the angels gets lost in the Christmas story, but taken on its own, their song is the song of salvation, telling of what Jesus did for sinful man.

And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:16 – 19 | NKJV)

The reaction of the shepherds to seeing the fulfillment of what they had been told by the angels is amazing on so many levels. These simple men, to whom the Good News had first been told, themselves became the first evangelists, telling others the Good News. Think about their message and you’ll realize how powerfully they had been touched. They literally threw off all constraints to tell a story so fantastic, who would believe it? But when people are touched by God; when a person catches the faintest glimpse of God’s glory, they can’t keep quiet about it. Recall this incident form the Old Testament, involving some lepers who had made an amazing discovery.

Then they said to each other, “What we’re doing is not right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace.” (2 Kings 7:9 | TNIV)

Similarly, the apostle Paul couldn’t keep the Gospel to himself.

For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16 | TNIV)

And so the over-the-top reaction of the shepherds maybe wasn’t so over-the-top, after all! Their excitement propelled them to tell others. Are you as excited about Jesus as they were? Something to think about: The angels came and went. The great heavenly choir’s performance and show didn’t last. But the message of the angels did, and the shepherds took their message and told to anybody and everybody in Bethlehem. They didn’t keep this good news to themselves. Yet we keep the Good News to ourselves all the time, don’t we? Just think about all the people in your life who need to hear the Good News about Jesus and about what He can do for them. Have you told them yet? They’ll be just as amazed as the people of Bethlehem were at the testimony of the the shepherds.

But, we are told, Mary kept “all these things in her heart.” It may seem odd that Joseph’s reaction to all this isn’t given, but Luke is telling Mary’s story, and, in fact, he probably heard it from Mary herself. For Joseph’s side of the story, you can read Matthew’s account. But Mary thought deeply about all the things that had happened to her this night. To her, this was truly a sacred night; a night of miracles, and she thought long and hard about it. You get a tiny glimpse of this woman’s character and temperament and you realize that she was the perfect choice to give birth to the Son of God. We don’t worship Mary and we don’t exalt her. But she must have been a woman of simply amazing character. She was calm, deep, very spiritual, and certainly full of grace.

The first Noel has never been repeated, nor will it be. But one day, our Lord will return in glory, but not as a baby in manger. This Christmas season, it’s good to remember how it all came about, but we also need to remember that Christmas was just the beginning of a much larger event: The glorious Second Coming.

You Should Be Committed! Part 4

Anybody can call himself a Christian, but it takes real commitment to actually be one. It takes no particular effort to join a church or even to attend one, but that’s not what makes a person a Christian. You can even believe in God and that doesn’t make you a Christian. There is a very common misconception today that says a person can be a Christian without being a disciple of Jesus Christ and that he can accept Jesus as Savior without making Him Lord (a word which means Master) of his life. But the Bible has a very different view of what a Christian is. The word “Christian” occurs only three times in the New Testament, and each time it’s used, it’s synonymous with the word “disciple.” In one instance, it is directly connected with that word.

News of this reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord. Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. (Acts 22 – 26 | TNIV)

In Antioch, there was a visible change in the people’s lives – there was glaring, obvious proof that God’s grace was present and changing lives, and Barnabas could see the change. This passage specifically states that it was the (new) disciples who were called “Christians.” They were being mocked because of the changes which had occurred in their lives.

Now, contrast what happened in Antioch with what happens today. Rarely is a new convert ever discipled in ways a follower of Christ should live. In fact, usually the opposite happens: Christians today try to find ways to be accepted by the world – they try to find “common ground” with non-Christians. They water down the Gospel to make it more palatable for the lost to accept. But the grace of God demands holiness – separation from the world and a lifestyle that is radically different from what the world thinks is the norm.

Acts 26:24 – 28

At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.” “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.” Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:24 – 28 | TNIV)

Here, Paul was sharing his testimony before King Agrippa, and it was the king who used the word “Christian,” but he used it as a term of ridicule. He was not claiming that he was almost ready to become one, because to him the word “Christian” meant “weird religious fanatic.” It would have been “political suicide” for him to “convert” and make it known to everyone that he believed that some obscure, dead, Jewish criminal named Jesus had come back to life!

Paul, as he told King Agrippa what Jesus had done for him, spoke about the need for people to change their ways, and said that the Messiah – Jesus Christ – fulfilled the message of the prophets. To the king, accepting these things meant becoming a “Christian,” and changing his ways – and this he was unwilling to do.

1 Peter 1:6 – 9; 4:12 – 19

As Peter understood it, trials which result in a measure of suffering should be considered the norm, not the exception for committed Christians. If a Christian experiences some kind of suffering on account of his faith, he needs to understand that it’s God’s will.

These [trials] have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:7 | TNIV)

If a person claims to be a Christian yet has never experienced any kind of “suffering,” then they aren’t doing it right. It’s not that a disciple of Christ should want to suffer or that they should think that they should be suffering 100% of the time. That’s not what Peter is saying here. What he is telling us is that if we are true disciples of Christ and genuinely committed to him, there will be times when we will be called out because of our faith. When that happens, it serves to prove that our faith is genuine.

Not only that, Peter seemed to understand that the age in which we live – the Age of Grace – is really a very long (so far over 2,000 years), protracted period of judgment or discipline for the Church of Jesus Christ.

For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin first among God’s own children. And if even we who are Christians must be judged, what terrible fate awaits those who have never believed in the Lord? (1 Peter 4:17 | TNIV)

Every human who has ever lived and will live will be judged – Christian and non-Christian alike. Right now, members of the Body of Christ are being “lightly judged,” or being “disciplined” by the Lord. As we experience this divine discipline, our faith matures and we grow in grace. The writer to the Hebrews had this to say about God’s discipline:

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate children at all. Moreover, we have all had parents who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! Our parents 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 12:7 – 11 | TNIV)

If you are living as a disciple of Christ, then you will, from time to time, experience God’s discipline. It’s unavoidable but helpful.

God wants His people to be committed to Him, no matter the circumstances and He wants us to grow to the point where our “inner man” is committed to His will. This time, we’ll look at another aspect of our commitment to the Lord:

Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, Lord, my faithful God. (Psalm 31:5 | TNIV)


Psalm 31 is what Bible eggheads call an “individual lament.” It was written by David while he was on the run from crazy King Saul in the desert. It’s an interesting psalm because while it is a lament, there is also a lot of thanksgiving and faith expressed in it. David was nothing if not realistic. He knew when he was in trouble and he knew when the cards were stacked against him. But those potentially disastrous circumstances didn’t seem to dampen David’s faith and trust in God. How unlike the modern Christian he was! If it’s a rainy day, some of us think God has jumped ship and abandoned us. We are so easily discouraged when it seems like things don’t break our way. We can all learn about commitment from this psalm.

Trust. No matter what. Psalm 31:1 – 8

“Trust” is the big theme in this first division of the psalm.

[1]In Thee, O LORD, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed; deliver me in Thy righteousness. [6] I have hated them that have regard for lying vanities; but I trust in the LORD. (Psalm 31:1, 6 | KJ21)

More modern translations use the word “refuge” in place of “trust.” Both words work since the Hebrew word translated “trust” carries with it the idea of a “refuge,” or a “hiding place.” That’s an important concept. As we use the word “trust” these days, we are usually referring to having faith in someone’s abilities – we trust a person to do a good job or show up on time. “Trusting” usually refers to what a person can do and is capable of. But the way the Bible uses the word in relation to God is more along the lines of having confidence in who He is, not just what He does. David trusts God to be his “refuge,” a place of safety in the midst of trouble. It’s a very personal word based on personal experience. David could “trust” God because in the past, God had shown Himself to be “trustworthy.”

And David knew from firsthand experience that God was righteous. And because he was in a relationship with a righteous God, he had no use for those who were “liars” and “vain.” Love for and trust in God always leads to contempt for those who don’t.

You are like an unfaithful wife who loves her husband’s enemies. Don’t you realize that making friends with God’s enemies-the evil pleasures of this world-makes you an enemy of God? I say it again, that if your aim is to enjoy the evil pleasure of the unsaved world, you cannot also be a friend of God. (James 4:4 | TLB)

Well, that nails it, doesn’t it? You can’t be in a relationship with God if you are trying to maintain a relationship with the world. You can’t do it. If you’re in a committed relationship with God, you won’t have any fear when your time comes. David didn’t. And Stephen didn’t. And Jesus didn’t.

Into Thine hand I commit my spirit; Thou hast redeemed me, O LORD God of truth. (Psalm 31:5 | KJ21)

That was what Stephen said as he died and it’s what Jesus said as He was dying on the Cross. When Polycarp was being burned alive at the stake in Smyrna, he also shouted those words. Bernard used them; Jerome of Prague used them; Luther and Melancthon and many others have also used them. It was Luther who said this:

Blessed are they who die not only for the Lord, as martyrs; not only in the Lord as believers, but likewise with the Lord, as breathing forth their lives in the words, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.

Magnificent words that can only spoken by people who have lived their lives wholly committed to God. You can hear the confidence in those words: I commit my spirit into your hands. When your time comes, hopefully you will have lived close enough to God to have developed that kind of trust. David understood that God had redeemed him – that he belonged completely to God. That’s the essence of commitment, isn’t it? That you belong to the God who purchased you from sin and death.

Lament. The realities of life. Psalm 31:9 – 13

It sounded as though David had a good grip on things until the next section begins.

Have mercy upon me, O LORD, for I am in trouble; mine eye is consumed with grief, yea, my soul and my belly. For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing; my strength faileth because of mine iniquity, and my bones are consumed. I am a reproach among all mine enemies, but especially among my neighbors, and a fear to mine acquaintances; they that see me in the streets flee from me. I am forgotten as a dead man, out of mind; I am like a broken vessel. For I have heard the slander of many; fear was on every side; while they took counsel together against me, they schemed to take away my life. (Psalm 31:9 – 13 | KJ21)

This man had it bad! But he did the right thing: He took it to the Lord! We usually don’t; we usually whine and complain about our miserable lives to people around us. We shouldn’t do that. It’s a waste of time. The person you’re complaining to is probably worse off than you, anyway. Take your trouble to the Lord. He’s the one who can help you. Don’t fret or worry – those are sins. And let’s face it, you have trouble enough with sins.

Thanksgiving, Psalm 31:14 – 24

David was realistic. He was in trouble; he knew it and he admitted it; and he took his trouble to the Lord. But he also did something else:

But I have trusted in Thee, O LORD; I said, “Thou art my God.” (Psalm 31:14 | KJ21)

There’s that word “trust” again. David trusted in God because he knew God personally. For David, God was not an impersonal deity, way off in the distance. God was HIS God. That’s not an arrogant thing to say. David isn’t saying that he possessed God, but that God possessed him. Years ago Phil Johnson wrote some wonderful lyrics that express the kind of confidence we all should have in God:

He didn’t bring us this far to leave us,
He didn’t teach us to swim to let us drown,
He didn’t build His home is us to move away,
He didn’t lift us up to let us down.

Part of that trusting involved a knowing and understanding who was in control:

My times are in Thy hand; deliver me from the hand of mine enemies and from them that persecute me. (Psalm 31:15 | KJ21)

That’s an amazing verse that speaks of God’s sovereignty over David’s life. He’s sovereign over your life, too. God sees all and knows all. He is not ignorant about what you are going through – He knows your enemies and those that persecute you. This would be a good verse for every believer to memorize and cling to. Robert Browning did, and he wrote a verse about it:

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life for which the first was made.
Our times are in his hand Who saith,
“A whole I planned. Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”

This is from “Rabbi Ben Ezra,” and it’s true. That word translated “times” in Psalm 31 means “life-stages” or “fate.” What David wrote and believed is what you need to believe: Regardless of where you are in your life – young, middle aged, old – your time, or your fate, is God’s hands. God is not for old people only, or for children! He’s for all people, at every age. There never is a time in your life when you can do without Him. That’s what being committed to God is all about. God is committed to you through all the times of your life. You should return that commitment in kind.

David ends with a word of encouragement, and it’s a good way to end this teaching, too:

Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD. (Psalm 31:24 | KJ21)

I like the literal sense of this verse, which Moffatt captured perfectly:

Be strong, and let your heart be valiant, all you who hope in the Lord.

To “hope” in the Lord is to have complete, unwavering confidence in Him and His abilities. If you’re not completely sold out to God, you can’t have confidence in Him or His abilities because you won’t know Him well enough. It pays to be committed to God. Your life may depend on it some day.

You Should Be Committed! Part 3

So far in this series, I’ve discussed the importance of being committed to Christ regardless of your circumstances. A true disciple of Christ should never put his faith in his circumstances or in any contrivance of the world. Economies grow and shrink, cultures always degrade over time, the political pendulum swings, the Church of Jesus Christ falls in and out of favor with the society around it, but God never changes. He is always the same no matter how you may feel about it. And He can be depended upon through all the ups and downs of your life; through all the stages of your life, as long as you’re committed to Him. If it seems as though God has abandoned you, He hasn’t. The problem is with you. He’s still there, waiting on you to get a grip, straighten out, and call out to Him.

A truly committed believer is committed from the inside out. He doesn’t obey the Lord and follow His will because he has to grudgingly, but because he wants to; because he has discovered that God’s way is the right way, no matter what.

A truly committed believer lives in the world but is not of the world. His natural self lives in the here and now, but he understands that it’s only temporary; that he’s just passing through, that his citizenship is really in Heaven above. And he lives like that. He respects the world in which he has found himself, but longs to wholly and forever home in the Kingdom of God where he knows he belongs.

This time out, I want to focus on another aspect of being committed. It’s found in Psalm 37 –

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this…. (Psalm 37:5 | TNIV)

Some background info

Psalm 37 is what Bible scholars call a “wisdom psalm.” Bible scholars love to label things, especially psalms. You could say all the psalms are full of wisdom, actually. But Psalm 37 is particularly so. In fact, as you read through it, is “feels” more like it belongs in the book of Proverbs or in Job. It’s rich in wisdom; it’s wise sayings literally drip with the wisdom of eternity.

One of the things that characterizes any “wisdom psalm,” and there are quite a few of those psalms, is contrast, specifically the contrast between the way of wickedness and the way of wisdom. And really, that’s what life boils down to, doesn’t it? Each and every day you and I are forced to chose between doing the right thing or the wrong thing. We forced to chose sides in an argument or a debate. We can adopt a godly attitude or a sinful one. The difference between reading a lovely Psalm about this and actually living it is that in life, you have to make the choice in a split second. Rarely do you have time to ponder the ramifications of one choice over the other. And that’s why you, as a committed Christian, need to nurture a Biblical worldview. We all need to get the point where the teachings of Scripture are so ingrained in the core of our being that we never need to “think” about the right choice, we will simply “know” which is the right choice and why. Are you there yet? If you’re like the majority of Christians in America, you aren’t. It’s not all your fault. By and large, the Church has done a terrible job of teaching its members about a Biblical worldview. And if you have no idea what that is, it may be time for you to change churches!

Titled simply “A psalm of David,” Psalm 37 is the first of three psalms that deal with the prickly problem of the prosperity of the wicked. The other two psalms that cover this topic are Psalm 49 and Psalm 73. Actually, this is an age-old issue that seems to have plagued mankind for as long people have noticed that other people have more than they. Much of the wisdom literature (in particular, the Book of Job) is given to pondering this theme. King David, a man of incredible wealth for some of his life, concluded that the prosperity of the wicked is but temporary. The key to the psalm is its opening injunction, “Do not fret.” And that’s really the best advice anybody can heed. The rest of this psalm simply supports those three words. Fretting is a terrible, insidious sin that will ruin your life as surely as ink will stain your shirt.

It’s all about commitment

The thing David figured out was that no matter who was getting ahead or why, YOU should simply be committed to God. The temptation is to look around at other people’s circumstances and compare them to yours. David was right. If that’s how you live, you’ll spend your time fretting. The cold hard reality is that some people will be far better off than you, and some of them may have gotten that way using less than honest means. Nevertheless, verse 2 is an unalterable law of the universe:

…for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. (Psalm 37:2 | TNIV)

In other words, so what if some people – people of questionable character – are prospering? Nothing is every permanent; not their wealth, and not your seeming lack. The “wrong people” may gain power and prestige and they may abuse that power, resulting in other people suffering. Regardless of how well off the nefarious may be, they are still mere mortals who live on a planet that remains under God’s just and sovereign rule. In His kingdom the wicked may thrive like grass and plants, but they will not stand up under adversity: they will whither and die away.

How should the godly live in the shadow the wicked prospering? One thing they shouldn’t do is entertain negative emotions. Keep that up and they will destroy you! Instead, the committed Christian needs to develop a godly perspective.

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:3, 4 | TNIV)

Anger, jealousy, and resentment are such negative, dangerous emotions that they will, in short order, destroy your faith in God’s goodness and righteousness and will, guaranteed, corrupt your inner attitude toward anything and everything. Nothing you have or do will ever be good enough if you think your God is treating others better than you. So rather than be a jerk about it, trust God! Do something for somebody else – think about others instead of your self! Enjoy your life; enjoy what you have. If you do that and if you “delight in the Lord,” that is, if you learn to appreciate His presence in your life and you find ways to build up your love relationship with Him, then and only then will your time come! God will bless you in ways that you never thought possible.

It all comes down to the quality of your commitment to God:

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. (Psalm 37:5, 6 | TNIV)

What does it mean to “commit your way to the Lord?” That’s an interesting phrase that we need to understand if we want to get this right. It’s not a mindless act; it’s not simple abandonment David is talking about. It is actively dealing with the negativism of your life; it is striving to eliminate the anger, the jealousy, and the resentment from your soul.

Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans. The Lord works out everything to its proper end—even the wicked for a day of disaster. (Proverbs 16:3, 4 | TNIV)

Just look at those two verses and take special notice of the order. Before you do anything, give it to the Lord. Whatever your project may be, if you are wanting to live a God-centered life, think of Him first; consider Him before you consider what to do. If you commit your action to the Lord, or if you dedicate a certain action or decision to God, He will cause it to succeed. That second sentence is profound in its implications: “The Lord work out everything to its proper end.” That’s a statement of His Sovereignty. There is a “proper end,” for the righteous and the wicked. You need to focus on that – are you a righteous person or a wicked one? Most people are busy focusing on the temporary rewards of something they are involved in. But you should be concerned about the kind of person you are. That will effect your eternal destiny. The right kind of person – the righteous person – is the one who thinks of God first, then acts second. That kind of person will find success in this life and the next.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6, 7 | TNIV)

Most of us are very familiar with verse 7. We hear it all the time in church, usually when the preacher is praying. How many times, do you think, have you been encouraged to “cast your cares or your anxiety on Him because He cares for you?” If you’re like me, probably more times than you can remember! It’s good advice; it’s Biblical advice. But why do that? It’s not so that you can sleep better at night, although that will be one result. It’s not to eliminate stress headaches, although that will happen. Committed Christians should hand off all their cares and anxieties to God so that “He may lift you up in due time.” That goes back to what David said in our Psalm: If you will commit your way – your life in total – to God, then He will make your righteous reward obvious for all to see and you will be vindicated before all the people you thought were doing so much better than you!

Now that’s really something, isn’t it? So many Christians are missing out on a truly satisfying experience because they are busy being busy bodies! They’re so busy measuring themselves against others, they aren’t giving the Lord a chance to work things out so that THEY themselves would be noticed by the very people they think are all that! There’s no other way to interpret what’s being said here. If a committed believer puts God first in all areas of his life and dedicates his attitudes and actions to the Lord and trusts that Lord will bring him success, then the Lord will not only do that but He will exalt the committed believer in the face of the very people other believers are fretting over.

But really, none of that can happen until you put into practice 1 Peter 5:6. A committed believer must – must – humble himself before the Lord. The exact wording is: “Humble yourselves…under God’s mighty hand.” Sounds like a bad thing, but really it isn’t. In the Old Testament, “God’s Hand” symbolized two things: His discipline and His deliverance. When the difficult times come into your life – and they will – your attitude will make all the difference in the world. Understand that God uses those things to discipline you – to make you stronger; to cause your faith to grow and mature, but at the same time, He delivers you. God is capable to doing both. Like any good father, God disciplines those He loves and He delivers those He loves from bad situations. What all that boils down to is simply this: No matter what is happening in your life – good or bad – it’s all under God’s control. Only a fool would think otherwise.

You Should Be Committed! Part 2

Americans are plagued by stress and anxiety. Just how bad is it? In the most advanced society on the planet; in a country with unmatched prosperity and freedom, anxiety disorders are the most pervasive of all psychiatric disorders listed in the DSMV. According to the latest statistics, the annual cost to treat those suffering with anxiety disorders in America is well over 42 million dollars. Despite being the richest nation on earth, America is also the most anxious nation on earth, with nearly a third of Americans likely to suffer from an anxiety problem in their lifetime. Why is that? American philosopher and author Eric Hoffer hit the nail on the head, I think, when he wrote this:

The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.

The problem, of course, is that happiness in America is seen as a right; that everybody has a right to be happy, usually at any cost. And when an American isn’t happy, they get anxious and make bad decisions, making themselves even more anxious as that happiness they are looking for becomes more and more elusive. I’m sure Thomas Jefferson never dreamed that his bit about “the pursuit of happiness” would be twisted and tortured into something way beyond what he meant at the time he wrote it.

Yet according to Paul, no Christian should be anxious about anything.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6 | TNIV)

“Anything” and “every” are two words that stand out in that verse because we can all find things that we think are worth being anxious about and the thought about praying with thanksgiving in every situation seems, well, unreasonable. Take the aforementioned happiness quest. Children are indoctrinated by, of all people, their parents, to believe the most important thing in the whole world is for them to be happy. Be happy no matter what. Be happy at school, even preschool when junior would rather be playing outside, discovering things on his own. Then it’s “be happy at work, even though it’s a dead-end job you hate,” because “you’re lucky to have it.” We are constantly being told to “be happy,” but we’re left up to our own devices to figure out how we make that happen! Thanks, Mom and Dad. Wouldn’t it better if Mom and Dad knew what the Bible says about the happiness issue? The reason they don’t is likely because their church doesn’t. Because the church of Jesus Christ has largely succumbed to the secular notion that “God wants you to be happy,” too. No wonder even Christians are anxiously pursuing a phantom notion.

What does the Bible say about the happiness issue? Honestly, it says nothing. Search as you might, you won’t find any red letter saying about the believer’s right to be happy. And yet it does, in a backwards, sideway way. Jesus said this about life for the believer:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 | TNIV)

That’s right and Jesus was totally honest. In this world, you won’t find happiness, but you will find heaps of trouble. The most the believer can hope for is peace in the midst of trouble, and that peace is not found in a Valium or in vodka or in a vacation, but in a Person – the Person of Jesus Christ.

That’s not to say that Jesus wants His people to be miserable, because He most certainly doesn’t. Frequently in the Gospels, Jesus began certain sayings with the phrase, “blessed is.” The Greek in behind our English word “blessed” carries with it the notion of being happy. So a Christian will find a measure of happiness by following the Beatitudes of Christ. Things like this:

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11, 12 | TNIV)

That might not be what some of you were expecting, but it is the Word of God. And this why some people find it so hard to fully commit to Jesus Christ, and hence are unhappy Christians. There is a segment of Christianity that continues to cling to notion that you can find lasting happiness in the world. It’s so baked into their psyche that they can’t stop their ultimately worthless pursuit. And you can’t have two minds if you want to follow Christ. If you’re not fully committed to Him, you will be continually disappointed – disappointed in both your faith and in the world, because you’ll be expecting something from both that they can’t give you. If you aren’t completely sold-out to Christ, answers to prayer and promised blessings will elude you. If you aren’t completely sold-out to Christ, He can’t take your world and make things work for you. Let’s face it. It’s rough being you if you aren’t fully committed to Christ.

Last time, we discussed the idea that a Christian needs to be fully committed to Christ even if it seems like his world collapsing around him. This was Paul’s situation. He had suffered greatly to share the Gospel with the lost. By the time he wrote his second letter to his pal Timothy, he was sitting in prison because he was preaching the Gospel. Yet he wrote this:

That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day. (2 Timothy 1:12 | TNIV)

Paul had entrusted his very life – his whole life – to God, no matter what dangers he encountered or indignities he suffered. One time in his life, the great apostle prayed for some relief, and along came God’s surprising answer:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. ” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10 | TNIV)

Paul had committed his life to Christ. Peter, another great apostle, wrote about committed something else to Christ, and that’s what we’ll look at today.

Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in welldoing, as unto a faithful Creator. (1 Peter 4:19 | KJ21)

More modern translations look like this:

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. (1 Peter 4:19 | TNIV)

The KJV used the word “soul,” and that’s actually a good way to translate the Greek phrase. Peter is referring to the “inner man.” It means being committed to Christ from the inside out; your mind, your heart, you body – in every way committed to Christ. It’s a single-minded devotedness that doesn’t ignore bad times, but at the same time doesn’t let those bad times disrupt the precious relationship that exists between Christ and His follower.

Suffering for Christ is a privilege?

Peter’s advice to his readers was desperately needed. His letter was written to a bunch of Christian expats, who didn’t have it very good. Many of them didn’t possess two shekels to rub together.

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. (1 Peter 1:1, 2 | TNIV)

These people had lost everything in some cases to follow Christ. They had become exiles on account of their faith, but at the same time Peter calls them “God’s elect.” They were God’s elect, yet that didn’t disqualify them from suffering in the same way as their Lord did, and as other followers of Jesus do. But it wasn’t just any kind of suffering Peter is referring to. Later on, we’re told what the exiles were suffering for.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12, 13 | TNIV)

We don’t know what those fiery trials were, but had they not been following the teachings of Jesus Christ, they would have been just fine. Suffering on account of who Jesus is should be considered a blessing. Not all suffering, just suffering for Him.

If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (1 Peter 4:15, 16 | TNIV)

Not all suffering is good. And if you suffer because of some stupid thing you did, you should be ashamed. But there’s no need for shame if your suffering is on account of your faith.

The reason for suffering

You may wonder why God allows His people to suffer like this. It’s not just a New Testament thing. For centuries Christians have, in the case of the martyrs, given their very lives for their testimony of faith. Peter gives us the reason, and it’s not for the faint of heart.

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17 | TNIV)

That’s a chilling verse. Peter seemed to sense that the trials Christians are suffering today are really nothing less than a very long period of divine judgment or discipline. Though we are living in an age of grace, where God is not judging people and nations as we see Him doing in the Old Testament, that doesn’t mean He’s sitting idly by. God is just and He has appointed a righteous Judge.

For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:31 | TNIV)

Jesus Christ, our appointed Judge, knows the heart of every man; He sees what we do and how we live, but Jesus alone knows our intentions and motivations. If you read through the Old Testament, you’ll see that God always follows a pattern when it comes to discipline and judgment. It always begins with His people. The trials or problems you encounter may seem bad or unfair and difficult to endure, but God uses them to purify your faith and purge the impurities from your life. Peter wants us to know that anything negative we may experience because of our faith is nothing compared to the utter hopelessness and doom awaiting those who don’t have faith.

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. (1 Peter 4:19 | TNIV)

There is nothing more important than the strength of your faith. Nothing. Not even creature comforts or friends or even family. Your faith is of eternal value, and that’s why, from time-to-time, you may suffer on account of it. When that happens, you must be all the more committed to the Lord. Only He can see you through it. There can be no part-time Christians; no partially committed followers of Jesus. You’re either all in or you won’t make it. You need to be (say it with me) COMMITTED!

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