Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
If there’s one thing disappointing me most, it’s the lack of productivity I often feel. There are many things I want to do. I don’t think I get even a quarter done. For many facing a similar predicament, it’s a matter of poor time management. Time is precious. We’re told to make the most of it since the days are evil (Ephesians 5.16). Contextually, this pertains to the efforts made by first-century Christians in their daily walk. Persecution was coming. Indeed, for some, their lives would soon be at an end. Did they want to depart for eternity’s shore feeling as if more could have done but had not been? That message remains prescient today. We enjoy civil liberties now including religious freedom. However, a tempest has been growing for half a century which seeks to strip away the vestiges of religion and morality from the body politic. In but a short time we may face the same uncertain prospects as they. Hence, our struggle to be productive is as important as ever.
This exhortation may be limited in scope, but I wish to address those who might have certain mitigating factors making Paul’s inspired admonition more difficult to keep. It’s one thing to be a timewaster when one is able-bodied. It’s another matter entirely when you’re limited from accomplishing as much by the limitations of the flesh. There are those accustomed to doing much. One day they young, full of vigor. In the blinking of an eye, though, they no longer recognize the person staring back at them in the mirror. The snow of many winters covers what hair is left on their heads. For such, it hurts getting out of bed. Something as simple as buttons on garments becomes a time-consuming challenge. They may be asking, “Why can’t I get as much done as I used to?” This can be especially vexing, spiritually.
Perhaps, you have an illness of the body or mind. Maybe you don’t have old age to blame for your aches and pains but an autoimmune disease that others dismiss because, from appearances, you look fine. Not only are you in pain but you feel alone because some have unfairly surmised you’re just lazy. It could be that you’ve had chemotherapy and experience what has been termed “chemo brain.” You find yourself struggling to remember simple details. If you don’t write something down, you’ll forget about it. Truly, I could share a plethora of other scenarios in which some malady besets the body or mind and causes one to feel unproductive or a timewaster. These should suffice.
Fortunately, we serve a gracious God. Not only is His grace sufficient for coping with our lot in life (2 Corinthians 12.9), but it takes into consideration our current estate. One can debate whether there are degrees of punishment from Luke 12.48. That’s not my purpose. A principle is established here, however, stating that we’re held accountable according to the responsibility entrusted to us. Why would God hold the enfeebled or impaired to the same standard as the able-bodied? This must be true of redeeming one’s time as well. Note, one cannot forsake his or her Christian duty. Yet, rather than beat up on yourself because of what you left unaccomplished, trust that God knows your situation intimately. The main thing is to show up and do the work of which you are capable (Matthew 20.1-16; 21.28-32). This is how you remain productive even while facing adversity in these evil days.
As masterfully and humorously portrayed in the 15th episode of the first season of the Andy Griffith Show (“Those Gossipin’ Men”), gossip can seemingly appear, full-blown, out of thin air. It can be personally hurtful, but it’s part of the territory of living and breathing. Here are 6 things I particularly dislike about the ugly specter of gossip.
Yet, indignation should be tempered with realization. Few have so mastered the tongue that they are above the fray we mention here. Let’s be convicted to practice saying good and kind things behind each other’s backs. Remember to investigate before you propagate, and even then only carefully and prayerfully. Usually, prayer and care will render the “juicy tidbit” dead on the floor of your mind, safely unspoken and incapable of doing any harm. Remember the famous words of 19th Century Michigan poet Will Carleton: “Boys flying kites haul in their white winged birds; You can’t do that way when you’re flying words. Careful with fire, is good advice we know Careful with words, is ten times doubly so. Thoughts unexpressed may sometimes fall back dead; But God Himself can’t kill them when they’re said.”
Another of the episodes Gary, Dale, Carl, and I recorded in Fort Payne, Alabama, recently. In this episode, we discuss an often misunderstood, misapplied, but absolutely vital Bible subject. This topic is anything but boring.
In the pantry there’s a package of white foam cups. A small gray mouse struggles to carry a cup out into a man’s front yard one at a time. Just one cup and one each day. The man sticks to a normal routine. He goes to work early, and he comes home late. He watches TV, cooks a meal, tinkers on projects in the garage, and goes to bed. It’s mindless, it’s robotic, but day in and day out the cycle repeats itself. He leaves for work and the mouse drags yet another cup out onto his lawn. It isn’t until his yard is filled with foam cups that the man takes notice. What a mess! He walks through the yard and picks a few of them up. As he examines them he says, “What a waste. Perfectly good cups, now useless and dirty. We have a limited amount of foam cups in our package, and there’s a day when the mouse will grab the last one. We better put them to use. ”
If God came to you and gave you the chance to make a single request, what would you ask for? Our prayer lives are usually filled with our personal wants and needs. There are countless things that tug at different areas of our heart as we approach our Father, the Creator of the universe. He can do anything, He has all the power, and in one way or another we all desire some Divine intervention. I would like my family to be healthy and happy. I would like to live out the rest of my days with no more worries or anxieties. I would like the peace that comes with total financial stability. I wish my dog would live to be one hundred and five. I would like to be successful in everything I put my mind to.
There are five hundred wants in my heart, but what do I desire more than anything? The answer to that question is deeply connected to our spiritual life. What my heart chases after, where my time and energy goes, and even what I ask God for spreads my top priorities before me. David writes in Psalm 27:4, “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek. That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon his beauty and inquire in His temple.” David is known as the man after God’s own heart, simply because his heart was after God. David’s one desire was to form a deep and meaningful relationship with God. He understood what truly matters in this life. He even makes that his specific and singular request of the Lord. He puts his faith in action as he seeks that relationship with God. His life was built around this, and everything else is secondary to him. His seeking was that hopeful expectation— the effort he put in to this pursuit was a demonstration of that belief in God’s ability to grant him his one thing. David spent his time wisely. Almost every day that was granted to him he used as an opportunity to seek His Lord.
God is the Alpha the Omega, the beginning and the end. His eyes can see the very point in time in which He decided to create everything. He can also step back and look at His timeline and see the exact moment in which He will bring all things to an end. The Bible is a gift and glimpse into His mind. In it we can see the powerful beginning to the world we live in. We can see how God works in our present, and we can read about a grand event that will come when the days run out.
What is that one thing you want more than anything else? Don’t let the cups pile up in your yard. Let’s all use the time we have to pursue the only thing that matters.
Click above to hear a sample of our latest project. We’re working on a new program which will air on the Gospel Broadcasting Network (watch GBN here) in the future. The premise is just as the program title suggests: “the Bible is not boring!” It is exciting and fulfilling to drill down and study God’s Word. Each episode will follow the same format, a general topic which the four of us (Gary, Dale, Carl, and myself) will break down and discuss. Our aim is to help encourage Christians and open a door for those who may be searching for God’s truth out there. This first episode explores how to approach the Bible itself. We hope you enjoy! –Neal
I know I’m not old enough to say this, but when I was younger I used to lay in bed at night and try to imagine what God looked like. I would try to put a face to Him, I’d wonder what He was doing, and I would ask myself if God knew that I was thinking about Him. I still ask those same questions to this day. I’m sure that most if not all of you who are reading this believe that there is a God, and that He does see and hear all that we say. So the question I’d like to ask is, “since there is a God that has all power, why do we sometimes have difficulty following the commands that we find in the Bible?” I’d like to look at a verse that may help us realize the importance of following what God has told us to do as Christians.
Jeremiah 10:12 says, “It is He who made the earth by His power, who established the world by His wisdom; and by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens.”
God has ALL power. There isn’t an area that He is lacking power in. He controls the weather, He created us, and, as Jeremiah 10:12 said, He made this earth that we live on. I believe that we sometimes forget just how powerful God truly is. Since God has all power, shouldn’t we be following what the Creator of everything has told us to do? In seven days He thought of everything we see around us. Think of it this way. We’ve never had an original thought. For example, I could say that I’m the only person to have ever thought about a pink Aardvark. But before I thought of pink Aardvarks, there was such thing as the color pink, and there were Aardvarks before I thought of them. So what I’m actually doing is taking two things that God created and putting them together. God has given us specific commands to do as Christians. Since God has given us rules on how to live, we shouldn’t have a problem following them. They may be difficult, but God knows how to take care of His creation. The thought of the God of the universe watching out and guiding me through life is a great comfort to me!
But what if we aren’t following what God has told us to do? There’s a saying that we all have heard that says, “Actions speak louder than words.” Our actions are a direct window to how we truly feel. If I don’t do what God has commanded, then that’s like us saying to God, “I don’t truly believe that there are consequences to my actions.” But that is a deadly place for us to be, because God IS real and there ARE consequences to our actions. God is real and the consequences of our actions are very real! In the end, it comes down to this: Not obeying what God has said is a reflection of how real we make God out to be. If we truly believe He is real, then we shouldn’t have a problem doing what He tells us to do. As Christians, we serve the one true God, and He is very real. I pray that this fact will push us to obey the commands He has given us because our God is alive and we all have an eternity with Him if we do what He tells us to do.
Looking back at when I was younger, I’ve realized that I asked the right question, but the most important part of those questions is how I answer them. Will I show through my actions that I truly believe He is alive? Or do I doubt the reality of God by not taking His commands seriously? Let’s try to always prove God is alive by following what He has told us to do!
Have you ever been in such emotional pain that your heart felt like it was literally aching? The worst pain in this life is not always physical. Often times it’s the emotional pain of saying “good bye” that can drive us to our knees. It can make us lash out in anger. It can make the toughest man alive break down in tears, and it can crush a young person’s spirit. Why would a God of love and compassion let such a thing happen? If He cares, but He can’t do anything about it, wouldn’t that mean He’s not all powerful? If He doesn’t care, but He has the power, doesn’t that mean He’s cruel?
If you’ve got “heart pain” in your life, the best thing you can do is draw closer to God. Don’t isolate yourself from the only true source of comfort and healing. Don’t throw your head up to the sky, as if looking for some eye-contact with God. Rather, let your head fall to the scriptures. God will tell you that His ways are perfect, His word has been tried and tested, and He is the shield for those who decide to take refuge in Him (Psalm 18:30).
He would also tell you that if you are a righteous individual, He’s going to deliver you from any trouble (Psalm 34:19). As a loving Father, God would tell you that He understands what you’re going through (Isaiah 53:3). God would tell you to hang in there because while there is suffering, heartache, and pain here, there is a place prepared by Him where none of that exists (John 14:2-4). God would ask you to draw near to Him, because if you do He will draw near to you (James 4:8).
We can’t always think of the appropriate words to say when someone is going through grief, but God always knows the right thing to say and He is perfect in all His ways. Bring Christ your broken life. He’ll fix it for you.
When I study the phenomenal growth of the New Testament church, there is no doubt that they owed that growth to the divine source of the message they preached and the dedicated way in which the early Christians spread the good news. They also believed that message with all their heart, and that faith drove a sense of dedication and commitment no matter what obstacles they encountered. But, along with factors like those, they grew because they needed one another. They spent time together, not just in their assembly times, but at other times.
Luke highlights this fact. “They were continually devoting themselves to fellowship” (Acts 2:42). “They were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46). “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32). They got together to pray (Acts 4:23ff; 12:5,12). They got together daily for preaching and teaching (Acts 5:42). Though the word is used in a wide variety of contexts, you’ll find the word “together” over 30 times in Acts.
Isolation is the word to best describe the trend in the current culture. Much of it is self-imposed, with so many withdrawing from social contact for such reasons as the ironically-named “social media” and technology. We have created a virtual world that, to some degree, has replaced authentic, face-to-face interaction.
“Community” is built upon commonality and likemindedness. Sports, politics, civic and social interests, and the like all draw people together into circles of sameness. Nothing should compel any of us more than our faith in Christ, the salvation He freely gave us, and the incredible, eternal future He has promised us. What an ironclad bond, this “like precious faith” (2 Pet. 1:1)! There is no greater bond of closeness I can imagine than spending time with people whose hearts are open and submissive to the commands of Scripture and whose lives are lived in faith and hope in the promises of Scripture. They can help me grow and build my desire. Or, as the Hebrews writer says regarding assembly times, we can “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (10:24).
When I was a teen, I remember a song that captured this sentiment perfectly, if simply: “Fellowshipping with one another as we’re walking in the light, when we give our hearts to each other you can feel the love inside. For there’s nothing as sweet as fellowship as we share each other’s lives” (Lancaster). Not bitterness, isolation, suspicion, grudge-bearing, apathy, or disinterest. Sweet fellowship! A church that grasps this will grow and thrive, strengthened and sustained through trials, problems, and opposition. May we be a church that’s remembered this way–“They were together!”
Foxes are known for their cunningness. They are often portrayed as animals full of deceit and trickery like in Disney’s Pinocchio. We can expect a fox to be out in the wild but seeing one in your backyard or neighborhood makes the wise take the necessary precautions such as taking your small dogs indoors, locking up the chicken coop, and keeping on the alert when night falls. In the same way, the Christian shouldn’t be too surprised to see the devil prowling around in the world but how do we respond when we see him in our own backyard?
When the devil is seen prowling the pews of the church building or sneaking into our families, what is our response? Paul paints a vivid picture for the Philippians by describing those seeking to harm the church as “wild dogs,” “evil doers,” and “mutilators of the flesh” in Philippians 3:2. You can be sure that there’s a fox in the flock by looking for the signs. If you see trash littering the ground, feathers scattered around the hen house, or fresh paw prints, the evidence might suggest that a fox is to blame for the carnage. When the saints are gathered together and you notice the trash of gossip, division, strife, selfishness, or greed, follow the tracks. The signs may point to the most cunning fox of all–Satan. Here are just a few practical suggestions to guard yourself and families from his destruction.
Make sure the gate of your heart is locked. It can be tempting to join in the gossip or even provide a listening ear. When there is division among brothers and sisters, we should take a closer look at our own actions and be sure that we are not contributing to the problem but seeking those things that unify.
Secondly, don’t feed the fox. Sometimes we can be guilty of this by simply doing nothing at all and allowing it to take up a permanent residence among us. Tolerating sin is just as destructive as being a part of it. This tends to happen by avoiding the problem or assuming that it’s not our job to step up and do something about it and this can be very costly. Remember, the longer the fox is allowed to hang around, the more damage will be done.
Third, be watchful. It’s the moment that we let our guard down that we can expect unwanted intruders, and if it has a tail poking out of a nice tailored suit, be wary.
Fourth, the walls we build up should be strong. Even if Satan has damaged the congregation you attend or even your own family, there is still hope. Nehemiah undertook the daunting task of rebuilding the walls that once protected God’s people. He knew surrounding armies were a serious threat to their wellbeing and even under threats and insults he was able to rebuild their peace of mind. The army of Samaria lurked on the outskirts and one individual named Tobiah the Ammonite makes the obnoxious attempt to demoralize the builders by yelling, “Even a fox climbing up on that wall would break down those stones!” Yet the work continued on because Nehemiah said in Nehemiah 4:6, “…the people worked together with all their heart.” This is the key to success. When God’s people work together and are motivated to keep evil out a spiritual wall of protection is built. There will always be the threat of evil lingering outside and looking for a way in, but God is far bigger and stronger than they are.