Sunday, September 28, 2014

Finish the Race

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.                              2 Timothy 4:7-8  NKJV

Something I remember from when I was very young was just how excited my father would get on the weekends getting ready to watch “Saturday Night Fights” on the television.  I think at the time I wondered a bit as to why watching two people fight was something to look forward to, but as I got older I began to realize that it was a sporting event, and not a disagreement between two people.  I eventually even became a fan of boxing, and followed the sport closely.  One thing which always impressed me, however, was the size and enthusiasm of the crowds which gathered to watch a championship fight between two contenders for the heavyweight crown.

When I read this passage from Paul, the reference to a “fight” couldn’t help but catch my attention so I decided to look closer at the language to better understand what Paul might be trying to say.  Imagine my surprise to find that the Greek word for fight used here is “agon” which when translated not only means a fight, but any struggle or contest.   Interestingly, it was also was used to refer to an assembly or gathering, especially one to witness the fight.  We know from history that the Greek culture was the origin of our Olympic Games, and this word would be used at that time to refer to not only those national games, but the place of assembly to watch them.

Obviously from the context, we understand that Paul is talking about his life as a believer, and the struggles he has endured as he tried to share the gospel on his many journeys.  He chooses to describe his life in terms that anyone at that time would understand, but also makes the point that the believer also receives a crown as a reward just as the participants of the Greek games did.  Life as a believer is a struggle against the powers of Satan, and all the clever ways he knows to deceive, manipulate, and lead us away from the path we have chosen.  

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.                                     Ephesians 6:12  NKJV

The race Paul is referring to is of course the Christian life, which is lived much like a race in that just as when running we take steps towards a goal, life itself is a series of steps which eventually lead to the finish.  The question is, or the fight that we have, is do we take those steps in the power of the Spirit, our new life, or do we stumble along in the flesh, trying to live according to our old ways of thinking?  One thing that I believe Paul is telling us here which may often be overlooked is that by his choice to use the word “agon”, he is also letting us know our struggle is very public and we are being watched just as runners in a race are watched.

Notice too, that Paul wants to make the point that he has finished the race and arrived at the finish line.  When I first began competing in long distance races, I was surprised at how many participants begin the race, but for one reason or another drop out and fail to finish.  I began to understand that although everyone begins the race full of energy and strength, as the race progresses some find that their strength begins to fail them.  I have never seen anyone drop out at the start of a race, but it’s only as the race gets long and difficult that people begin to fail. Since Paul makes the point that it is important to finish the race, where do we as believers get the strength to carry on when we begin to tire?

Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart,      Luke 18:1 NKJV

The word uses here for the phrase “losing heart” is “ekkakeo” which means “to be wearied out, exhausted, or spiritless”.  What Jesus is telling His listeners is that by praying we can avoid being weary, exhausted, and lose our spirit for serving Him as we run the race.  The older I get, the more I find myself using the rest stops along the way whenever I travel a long distance over a long period of time.  Unfortunately, I can also remember a time when I was young and those stops were not necessary.  As I see it, Jesus is telling us here that by continual prayer we can always be refreshed with what we need to continue our race without becoming tired and discouraged.

“Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. “Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.                         Revelation 3:10-11  NKJV

These words from Jesus to the church at Philadelphia contain the promise we all are looking for, especially at this time in this world’s history and that is the promise of the rapture of the Church.  As the events leading up to this event, and especially the time after begin to unfold before our eyes, how easy is it to begin to get weary and discouraged just before the end of our race.  This is the time that all of us as believers should be taking Paul’s advice and be praying continually for the strength we need to finish the race and obtain the prize He has set before us.  When Paul talks about the crown he will receive, I believe He is talking about the crown of righteousness that Jesus will award to all those who have longed for His appearing.

There is no doubt in my mind that what we are seeing today can best be described as our finish line.  As we struggle to arrive there, the attacks we must endure will grow stronger and probably more frequent.  The possibility of discouragement will probably never be greater, so the question is, are you going to give up with the finish line in sight, or will you pray continually for the strength you need to finish the race and obtain the crown?  Jesus is coming quickly, don’t give up.

Keep watching.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

An Attitude for Giving

Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.       Philippians 2:5-8  NKJV

Have you ever noticed how generous parents can be towards their own children?  I think we call it “spoiling” them, and I vowed to myself when I became a parent that I would never do that.  Right.  So much for good intentions.  It seems most of us simply can’t help but be generous when it comes to our own, and I can remember occasions my wife and I denied ourselves something we wanted very much in order to be able to do something for our children.  The question for us all today though, is have you ever really thought about exactly what Jesus gave away for His children?

A fact that I was surprised to find is that tithing, which was an Old Testament tax for the purpose of supporting the priesthood, is never mentioned in the New Testament.  Rather, believers are instructed many times to have the same mind as Christ when it comes to helping others.  One of the best examples of this teaching comes from Paul in his letter to the Corinthian church where he talks about their giving, and the example of the generosity of the church in Macedonia.  This morning I want to look briefly at what Paul tells us, and consider a few of his thoughts on our attitudes towards giving.

Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God. So we urged Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also complete this grace in you as well.       2 Corinthians 8:1-6  NKJV

Give in response to the grace of God.  What is your motive for giving?  When it comes to giving, do you simply give because you feel you must, or do you first consider all that God has given to us by His grace, and respond with the knowledge that without His grace we would be condemned to eternity in Hell?

But as you abound in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us—see that you abound in this grace also. I speak not by commandment, but I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others.      2 Corinthians 8:7-8  NKJV

Giving is not a response to a command, but a voluntary act of love.  Not only did I want to provide for the needs of my children, I looked for ways to give them even more.  Do you love others in the same way and look for ways to provide for those less fortunate?  As believers we should always be looking for opportunities to give to others.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.                2 Corinthians 8:9  NKJV

How much are you willing to give away?  I heard a story about an usher passing the offering plate and hearing a man say that he figured he could give ten dollars without feeling it.  The ushers’ response was why not give twenty and feel it?  Have you ever been generous to the point of feeling it?  Paul is trying to tell us our giving should have no limits.

And in this I give advice: It is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have. For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have.              2 Corinthians 8:10-12  NKJV

Don’t wait for more; rather give from what you already have.  The best of intentions usually end up being just that…intentions.  It is easy to say that you want to give a certain amount and then wait until you have it in order to give.  Apparently the Corinthians were doing the same thing, and Paul reminds them that the need is immediate, so give from what you do have.

For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack—that there may be equality. As it is written, “He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack.”                      2 Corinthians 8:13-15  NKJV

It’s never a burden to give from your abundance.  It is so easy, especially in the world in which we live, to slowly raise our standard of living to accommodate the generosity of the Lord in providing for us.  I believe Paul is saying that the Lord has given us more so that we in turn can give it to those in need rather than keeping it and improving our lot.

Our attitude towards giving should be influenced solely by the grace of God that He has shown towards us.  We can never repay Him for all that He has given, but we can certainly have the same attitude of generosity towards those in need.

Keep watching.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Prepping for the Kingdom

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ “For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.  Matthew 6:31-34  NKJV

You may have noticed a program that has aired recently on television called “Doomsday Preppers” which examines the lives of families who are preparing to survive what is described as a coming apocalyptic upheaval of society as we know it.  They have chosen to prepare by constructing underground shelters or above ground fortresses stocked with food, water, supplies, and most of all arms and ammunition to defend themselves.  Now while at first glance this might seem wise if you accept the idea that what they are preparing for is actually going to occur, as believers, the question we need to ask ourselves is should our approach be different than theirs?

Now I have always thought it prudent, especially living in the northwest, to be prepared to survive a few days without power during the winter months when we can experience stormy weather.  In my opinion, however, that is a far different thing than what these individuals are choosing to do.  As always, if we as believers have questions concerning our approach to life’s problems, the first thing we should do is examine what the scriptures have to say that might be applicable under these circumstances.  In this passage from Matthew, we find that Jesus is talking about what most of us worry about at one time or another and that is providing for ourselves and our families.

“Do not worry”.  The very first thing our Lord tells us is not to worry.  Who among us has never worried?  What does it say about human nature if the very first thing Jesus speaks about is not to worry?  Jesus knows our weaknesses and obviously a lack of faith on our part is something we all will struggle with at times.  I think back to all the times I may have worried while trying to provide for my family as my children were growing up and it is almost embarrassing to realize that in every single instance God provided for us, and my worry was a complete waste of time and energy.

“For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.”  As parents, I’m sure most of us would agree we had a very good idea of just what our children needed, or didn’t need as they were growing up.  How could we possibly think an omnipotent God would not know the needs of His own children and to provide for us all of the things we need to survive?  Yet we do it all the time by devoting our efforts to not only providing for our needs, but actually accumulating more than we need just as the world says that we should.  I believe the point Jesus is trying to make is that there should be a difference between what the world “seeks” and what believers “seek”.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”.  There is a stark difference between the secular world view and the biblical world view.  Jesus tells us that rather than seeking to prepare by accumulating (worldly approach), the believer should trust God to provide and seek His kingdom and righteousness (biblical approach).  What exactly does seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness mean to us as believers?  I think a good clue can be found in an earlier portion of this passage in Matthew where Jesus begins His discussion of this subject and says this;

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; “but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.           Matthew 6:19-20  NKJV

How does a believer accumulate treasure in Heaven?  I believe since in many places we are told that when we get to Heaven our works on this earth will be judged and rewards given or lost, the treasure Jesus is talking about is what we choose to do with what we are given on this earth in order to further His kingdom.  I believe God expects us as believers to give generously to those in need, and only keep what we really need rather than “accumulating” as the world does.  In other words, believers should be more concerned with “heavenly prepping” rather than “earthly prepping” and this is accomplished by seeking to supply for the needs of those less fortunate around us.

each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward.         1 Corinthians 3:13-14  NKJV

Generosity towards others is not limited to our material blessings from God, but also includes our service for Him by giving of our time and efforts to do good works in His name. You might watch worldly preppers and come to the justifiable conclusion that they are obsessed with their efforts to prepare for what they believe is coming, as well as noticing their efforts are all designed to help themselves and not others.  Our question to ourselves should be do others see us as obsessed with preparing for the coming Kingdom?  The world should see our works for God and wonder much in the same way as we look at them and wonder.

“Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: ‘for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; ‘I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? ‘When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? ‘Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’         Matthew 25:34-40  NKJV

Are you prepping for the Kingdom?

Keep watching.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Your Life: Are You Buying or Renting?

By Patrick Wyett

In the real estate world there are buyers and renters. I’ve been both; having bought a house and rented furnished and unfurnished apartments. Each comes with different levels of commitment and investment. Unless you’re flipping houses, purchasing a home has a long-term feeling of security to it. It’s your home. All your stuff’s there, you decorate it to your taste, make modifications to suit your needs and settle in. Upkeep to the structure and grounds is your responsibility. It’s all yours as long as you pay the mortgage and taxes.

Not so with renting. Renting has a temporary feel. The structure isn’t yours nor will it ever be. You sign a lease for a specified amount of time. You’re limited as to what modifications can be made, and really, you wouldn’t want to invest in improvement of something you don’t own and won’t see a return on. You may or may not have up-keeping responsibilities. One day, you’ll be moving again. Count on it.

There are similarities to the structure you live in, and the life you lead. As the title above asks: Your life, are you buying or renting?

The question can be interpreted in different ways -- so I’ll narrow it to the application we need to examine. I say “we” because this article is for me as well (as is everything I write), through the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s observe a limiting parameter of life.

“Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (James 4:14).

Life is temporary, yet a lot of people live their lives as if it will last forever (it won’t), with rewards and consequences solely of their own making. They aren’t. Undeterred by these realities, many invest heavily in life, making it as comfortable for themselves as they can, as pleasurable and self-seeking as they can afford. Sometimes even beyond what they can afford. Such people are buying into this life, this world, and all the glitter it has to offer.

There’s a lot of glitter to dazzle the eye and tempt the soul. I tell you again, it’s all temporary.
Are you a Christian? What’s the meaning of your life? Is it the constant pursuit of entertainment and gratification? If it is, to whose glory is that? I’ll answer this one: “To your own, not God’s.”

This earthly life is all about time. There’s a definite start at your birth. And as of yet, (undetermined from our current perspective),  a time and place of ending. Rest assured, it will end. How you spend your time is a good indication of if you’re buying or renting this life and what you truly treasure.

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

This directly contradicts the “Have your best life now” nonsense of worldly charlatans masquerading as Christians.

Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, left heaven and came to earth. He didn’t come for a life of ease. He came to serve others, to help others and to die for our sins, not His—for He was sinless. As Christians, do we live a life of service helping others, emulating our Lord? Or do we serve ourselves? When we serve ourselves, we choose self over God. We choose sin.

“Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin” (John 8:34).

Can we split our lives between sin and God?

“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).

In this context, mammon is money, the love of which the Bible tells us is the root of all kinds of evil. Place whatever sin you fancy in place of “mammon,” it’s all the same.

Don’t buy the lie that apart from God, you’re free. When living in sin, you’re under satanic oppression and subject to demonic influences. Only One can break that oppression.

“How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him” (Acts 10:38).

When you buy into this worldly life, you indeed buy now and pay later. This concept is quite popular in the world of commerce. But this purchase isn’t just a monetary transaction. In the vastness of eternity, you’re buying into this temporary life at the cost of your immortal soul. To one so deceived, the terrible price isn’t discerned until it’s too late.
I’ve talked a lot about buying, what about renting?

Over the past several years I’ve moved many times, state to state and even overseas, from one rental to another. I found out that all those things that I thought I needed, I really didn’t. For years, most of my stuff was in a storage locker. For four years I lived in the Middle East in a furnished apartment with very few of my personal possessions. You know what? I got along just fine.

You might think, that’s a tough experience. No, I’m thankful for it. Why? Because when I was living in the home that I was buying, I was comfortable and complacent. The concept of a permanent earthly home is a part of this life; I was likewise comfortable in life too. I did my Sunday ritual at church and the rest of the week was mine to live as I pretty much pleased.
I was buying my home and buying this worldly life, the emphasis of which was serving the created, me, not the Creator. Oh, I professed the faith all right, I just didn’t take the time to live it or really even fully understand it. You see, I was busy with other things that I wanted to do and accomplish. Sound familiar?

Nobody had told me any different. Now I’m telling you something different than what the world tells and shows you.

From all of my moves, I no longer have a sense of “home” anymore. I have loved ones and I have things, but no place feels like home. Not in this life. My possessions don’t hold the value to me that they once did. Everything seems temporary. Praise God, my priorities have changed and continue to change. My home is in heaven. As for this life, I’m just renting.

I’ve witnessed people who’ve lost their homes and everything in it to fires and assorted natural disasters. They invested everything into that home; their lives, money, possessions and hearts. Many agonize that they’ve lost everything, including sentimental, irreplaceable items. It’s a magnitude of loss only they can comprehend. Contrast that to a renter of a furnished apartment.  They haven’t lost everything, they’ve lost little by comparison. If they had renter’s insurance, they might even come out ahead.

Sooner or later, this life that we’re either buying or renting will be consumed by death or transformed by the return of the Messiah. Jesus is coming for those who cling to His promises, not this life or the things of it. He has mansions in heaven to fill. 

With this assurance, is following Christ just words, a part of your life, or a way of life?

Jesus’ disciples left everything they had, their homes, jobs and family to follow Him. Their faith was their life. Paul, too ,dedicated his life to spreading the gospel of Jesus. Their earthly rewards? Suffering, persecution, imprisonment, and all—save the apostle John, execution. Were these men and noted others throughout the Bible, those faithful to God’s calling, were they buying into this life for their own ends or merely renting as they passed through and onto glory?

You might be thinking, I can’t be a great person of faith like those men. I can’t be a Billy Graham or the like. Really? Is there a limit to what God can accomplish through you? Actually there is. The limit is your commitment to Him. Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, Daniel, Peter and Paul were not men of extraordinary talent or ability, they were fallible humans of extraordinary faith! Their mighty accomplishments were by the power of our limitless God.

Read the “Faith Hall of Fame” in Hebrews chapter 11 for perspective. Faith, the condition of your heart toward God, is what you choose it to be. God calls the faithful to service.
I pause here to write on a related heart-breaking phenomena that I’m observing all too often nowadays. Self-professing Christians are accepting, even encouraging sin in the life of their loved ones. An unmarried sibling living with a boyfriend or girlfriend, a son or daughter engaged in a homosexual relationship. Or a parent choosing the same or different sin.

Brothers and sisters, why aren’t we contending for their souls? You know the wages of sin is eternal death. Why are you accepting or coddling lifestyles and behaviors that you know God condemns? Don’t you know, in doing so, you even condemn yourselves?

“He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).

When you defy God’s commandments for the sake of not offending a loved one, you choose that loved one over the blood of Christ.

“If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

Jesus’ commandments span the entire length of the Bible. Jesus said:

“I and my Father are one” (John 10:30).

I know you love your family members and friends who are perishing in sin. You don’t want to hurt them. Friend, they’re hurting themselves. They’re destroying themselves. If you, in love and truth, won’t try and reach them, who will? They are worth your very best efforts. Pray for wisdom, fight for their souls.

Don’t pretend the Bible doesn’t say what it says, don’t look the other way. Don’t let them go to inescapable judgment with your “blessing” or silent consent. For they will be held accountable and you, too, will give an accounting on the matter.

“So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12).

In 2013, wildfires were popping up in Colorado. When a fire would start and expand, mandatory evacuation orders were issued for those in the projected path of the fire. In one such instance, a friend of a couple living in a mandatory evacuation area called to warn the couple of the order. This couple had a nice home in a beautiful location. They were buyers.

The couple saw an orange glow in the distance and were packing to leave. Another call to the couple forty minutes later found them still at their house, packing to leave. Pops and the crackling of burning trees could be heard in the background.

The bodies of this couple were found in their burned out garage, next to their car, its doors open. They thought they had more time. They miscalculated. Nothing in that house was truly irreplaceable yet they lost their lives trying to save a few extra things. What lesson can be gleaned here?

“Remember Lot's wife” (Luke 17:32).

The fires of this world are spreading quickly. Embers are falling all around us. What’s coming will destroy life as we know it and even life itself. Is your life so embedded in this world that you’ll look back as Lot’s wife did? Her heart was in Sodom and Gomorrah, as wicked as they were—even as they were being destroyed.

Are you buying this life, investing your heart, mind and soul into this present world? Or are you merely renting, biding your time in God’s service until you’re called to your true home?