“An Italian newspaper recently carried an interesting story about a young couple in Milan who had a wonderful attendance record at a particular cathedral. The priest assumed they were very devoted to their faith because they regularly spent an hour before one of the statues in the church’s worship area. He thought they were doing some intense praying. Only later did he discover the couple simply came to re-charge their cell phone from the electrical outlet behind the statue” (King Duncan, via Waterview, Richardson, TX, 3/16/14).
My first reaction to that was to chuckle, then be a little indignant, and then become introspective. The thought that someone may come to church services for apparent honorable intentions but be serving some baser motive may be shocking, but it is not unheard of. Jesus taught, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me” (Mat. 15:9). Jesus is quoting Isaiah, and it was a problem in that prophet’s day, too. Think of what another prophet wrote. Ezekiel said, “They come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people and hear your words, but they do not do them, for they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart goes after their gain” (Ezek. 33:31).
When I come before the Great I Am, not only must I keep from distractions. Deeper than that, I must examine my overall motivation for being at worship or serving the Lord. Why am I a Christian? Self-examination is as important as any spiritual exercise there is (2 Cor. 13:5). Nobody else may know why we are before the Lord in worship, but He does. May He see our motivation as transparent and true, honest and sincere!
It takes a special individual of both breed and brand to truly impact the world. The fact is, many will live their lives comfortable and content to never break any molds or “step outside the box,” as they say. Most believers understand that God has called us out of this world to be lights and to be different, but that means being uncomfortable (James 1:2-4). We don’t like that aspect of faithful walking and at times the fire inside us and the will to go on is at the verge of being snuffed out. On every side we are surrounded by a raging current of mainstream ideologies and beliefs that drown the masses sweeping them closer towards eternity—unprepared. That familiar and depressing reality can discourage and frustrate us to the point of tears. Preachers, elders, and leaders are constantly fighting these feelings as they huff and puff under the weight of it all. Christian fathers and mothers anxiously worry about that painfully uncertain future their children will battle. Young people are plagued with convincing thoughts that a faithful life is all but impossible today. How can we make an impact? You may wonder what difference you could possibly make as you observe such a powerful and evil force. Here is the bad news, it’s hard. But here is the wonderful news; it’s worth it! God has given us an instruction manual on how to become mighty misfits in a culture that rejects righteousness. There are permanent footprints left by the feet of godly men throughout history, and their tracks lead to victory for those that choose to follow them.
For example, there is the trailblazer and zealous disciple, Paul. He serves as an inspiring nonconformist when he abandons his previous life of riches, respect, and comfort. His courage, faith, and determination can produce a powerful stirring in our spirits. If that man with the thorn can overcome fear and defeat the devil’s endeavors, despite his own weakness, then by the grace of God we can too. Our lives can leave an impact and they can serve as beacon of light for generations to come.
Notice how Jabez demonstrates this point in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10. Within a lengthy list of family lines that make up the sons of Judah, Jabez breaks the mold. While numerous names are given, there is something more to be said of Jabez. He stands out as one who was “more honorable” than those who were before him in verse 9. Though his name means “son of my sorrow,” a label associated with affliction, he refuses to let this name define his future.
The key to his success is given in the following verse which says,
“Jabez called upon the Lord saying, ‘oh that you would bless me, your hand be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not give me pain!’ And God granted what he asked.”
That verse is loaded with valuable lessons for this age and every age to follow.
Don’t interpret your future by looking at your past.
It doesn’t matter what family you were born into or how you were raised. We all have been given at least three common blessings. If you are made in the image of God, and you are, then that means you have talent, opportunity, and a life. The amount of talent, number of opportunities, and quality of that life is irrelevant. You have everything you need to succeed which is precisely what our Father desires.
Lesson number two:
Only God can grant you gainful glory.
Jabez established his lasting legacy and was victorious because he understood one thing. God is the God of impartiality. He offers a heavenly hand to help the stereotypically weak and sinful human break the stereotype. The cards of life you hold in your hand mean little to the God who owns the deck. Jabez, Paul, and many faithful others understood the weakness of humanity. Their lives are a statement and a confession— God can help anyone rise above the crowd. He can help you achieve the only recognition that counts and give you the precious gift of a future with certainty. The path to victory is a narrow one according to Matthew 7:14. Few have found it and few have finished it, but with the right Guide it can definitely be done. Are you unsure of your current location? Look down at the tracks you are following, and the guide walking with you. If you are holding the hand of the Savior— you can be sure you’re going in the right direction. Allow that comfort to strengthen you and break out of whatever mold you are in. Let God use your weakness and failures to leave an eternal mark on a world that needs it. There is no congregation that can’t grow, no Christian that can’t improve, and no unsaved person that doesn’t deserve the chance to hear that life changing message of the cross. There’s a great day coming, and that should provoke some excitement as well as motivate us all to diligently and fearlessly work until then.
What if someone were to offer you a thousand dollars for every soul you would earnestly try to lead to Christ? Would you try harder to lead more souls to Him than you are endeavoring to do now? Is it possible that we would attempt to do for money what we sometimes hesitate or shrink from doing now in obedience to God’s command? Is money a stronger motivator than our love for God? What hinders us from thinking about other people? Many times we will make excuses and say, “that person won’t listen,” or “they’re too far gone.” We are called to plant the seed of the gospel, not examine the soil and determine if it’ll take the seed. We share the gospel message no matter what soil it lands on. It may be rocky, it may fall among thorns, it may land on the road and never take root, or it may land on good soil. We love the lost because it is a command (Phil. 2:3; Rom. 13:8-10), it imitates Christ’s example (1 Jn. 4:16,19), and it is our calling as Christians (Jn. 13:34-35, Eph. 4:32). So how can we show our love to the lost? What does it mean for us to love others? It means suffering with those who suffer. Hurting with those who are hurting. Helping those who need a hand. Picking up someone when they are down. Being a friend to the lonely. Writing a card to the grieving. Making a meal for those who are mourning. Bringing the good news of salvation to the lost. As God’s children, let’s show Who we belong to by loving the souls that are around us.
Life has been found in some of the most uninhabitable spots on earth. Bacterial life thrives in Lake Vostok in Antarctica, for example. Thiolava veneris was found thriving in the aftermath of a violent submarine volcanic eruption near the Canary Islands. Organisms that thrive in extreme environments are called “extremophiles” (noaa.gov). We’re always amazed when life thrives in extremely hostile environments.
The moral climate of our planet makes it extremely difficult to thrive. Humanity has created a moral environment consisting of self-interest, violence, apathy, and general dysfunction. In terms of population, they have the clear advantage. Christians are, by definition, extremophiles. We defy all expectations by thriving in an overwhelmingly hostile environment.
That said, we are studied by those who make up our environment. Many will come to the conclusion that we’re strange and warrant no further interest. Many will consider our loyalty to a supernatural morality to be hostile (II Tim. 3.12; Rom. 5.3,4). Few will wonder how we’re able to have hope, purpose, direction, resilience, and happiness in any condition.
Why would anyone want to be an extremophile? Why would anyone willingly assume a lifestyle that automatically puts them at odds with their own environment? Here’s why:
1. Everyone is going to live forever (Jn. 5.28,29). We want to live with the creator in a perfect world (II Pet. 3.13; Rev. 21.1,2; Rom. 8.18-25), not in an even worse world (Matt. 25; Rev. 21.8; II Thess. 1).
2. We didn’t make up the moral code we follow. Human error is not a factor in our worldview because it came from the creator (II Tim. 3; Jer. 31.31ff). This system can’t be corrupted and doesn’t take advantage of its constituents (unlike many human laws). We’re secure and confident because of this.
3. The creator went to extreme lengths to make sure we could easily have access to a perfect eternity (I Jn. 5.3; Heb. 9.11ff). Who wouldn’t want to follow a perfectly selfless leader?
4. We enjoy peace and existential purpose because our worldview isn’t from around here (I Pet. 1.1-10). It doesn’t matter what happens to us, we’re more than fine.
5. We’re not afraid of death (Heb. 2.14f). Self-preservation is not our main priority – how many people have done horrible things out of self-preservation? Lots! We don’t have a death wish, we’re just not afraid of death.
That’s just a sample of why we voluntarily become extremophiles. Done correctly, ours is the best life possible! It makes this one better, it makes the next one perfect. We can’t lose!
It is a well-known fact that apathy destroys whole countries. Wealth lulls people into a state of complacency that avoids conflict at all costs. Government seizes the opportunity to gain power. Oppression always follows. “Hard times create tough people. Tough people create good times. Good times create soft people. Soft people create hard times” (loosely paraphrased from Those Who Remain by Michael Hopf).
Faith is not immune. Hebrews 2.1-4 strongly warns us against apathetic faith. What happens when we lose interest in our awesome spiritual freedom? We put distance between ourselves and God. This isn’t without consequences.
“How will we escape if we disregard our salvation?” (2.3). We won’t! Apathy is scary because the consequences arrive in plain sight and at a slow pace. We can easily see them coming, but choose to ignore them for a few more moments of complacent bliss. Once consequences arrive, they’re miserable on multiple levels.
So, how do we get rid of apathy? Hebrews 2.5ff gives some hypes:
We’re in Charge of the World to Come (5)
God Is Invested in Us (6)
Jesus Is in Charge Now (7-8)
Jesus Rescued Us (8-10)
Jesus Sees Us As Family (11-16)
Jesus Goes to Bat for Us (17-18)
Finally: “How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?” (10.29).
The kit comes with everything you need to raise your very own Sea Monkeys. I remember the very first batch of these strange creatures I grew when I was a young boy. A small package of tiny brown eggs are dumped into purified water and then after two weeks they’ve hatched into real swimming organisms. That change is fascinating and it’s almost mesmerizing to watch them all dart around inside their aquarium. In the animal world the process of metamorphosis is very common and we’re not too surprised when it happens. It’s interesting and exciting, but it’s expected. We aren’t confused when a tadpole turns into a frog or when a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, because it’s natural.
In Romans 12:2 we read that as Christians we are to undergo a drastic spiritual transformation by the “renewal of the mind.” The Greek word used for “transformation” here is where we get the word “metamorphosis” from, and that’s very telling. The idea is that the transformation process we are to undergo is not a small change like getting a haircut or getting contacts, but a dramatic and radical change. We are to have an entirely different mind, heart, and outlook on life. We have been transformed into someone and something entirely different. In the animal world there is an essential process involved in metamorphosis. If the caterpillar never spins a cocoon, then it could never hope to sprout wings. If the caterpillar leaves the cocoon too soon then it can’t expect to be as developed and healthy as it needs to be. There is a natural time allotted for the change to occur. Christians are expected to grow but not to be completely transformed overnight; we, too, have a process. This shouldn’t be used as an excuse to not be proactive in growing our faith, but it should be a reminder that if we’re not working toward this transformation we will remain in the same state in which we are now. That is unnatural.
Why does that caterpillar slowly climb that tall tree or take the time to painstakingly wrap itself in that cocoon? Because it knows it wasn’t meant to be a caterpillar forever. The work it takes to be transformed and to sprout the wings of a great and mature faith is a difficult process, but it’s worth it. That’s what God expects from us and He has the power to help us make this amazing change. Our prayer lives and our time spent in His Word are crucial to our development. We should let the end goal be the motivation to press on and allow ourselves to be completely transformed. One day that effort will show when we see our new bodies (Philippians 3:21) and we’ve reached our final glorious destination. We will live forever with the Savior who transformed us.
Tuesday’s Column: “Dale Mail” (As Dale’s wife, Janelle, is in the hospital, I am “pinch-hitting” for him)
Of course, we know that preachers are people but sometimes some may have a picture that preachers have super-spiritual abilities when tempted or troubled or that preachers don’t face the same challenges everyone else does. As one of my dearest friends, a preacher, is in a severe health crisis as I type this, he wasn’t insulated from illness more than a non-preacher would be. His wife, children, & other family are experiencing what every family does in these moments.
Paul reverses focus from Corinth (chapters eight and nine) to himself in what we identify as chapter ten. His words serve as a good reminder, first for preachers themselves but also for others who view the preacher. What important truths does Paul reveal here?
PREACHERS WONDER HOW THEY ARE COMING ACROSS (1-2)
Paul sought to urge them with Christ’s meekness and gentleness, but he appears to wonder if that was how they perceived him (1). He was concerned about what tone he would have to take when he saw them, between having some unnamed critics and risking his relationship with the church as a whole (2). While some preachers appear to relish the rebuke and scold approach, they are a distinct minority. Yet, every preacher labors under a divine order to “not shrink from declaring…anything…profitable” (Acts 20:20) and “not shrink from declaring…the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). That includes some challenging subjects, and preachers want to be faithful to that while obeying Paul’s instructions to be kind rather than quarrelsome, correcting with gentleness (2 Tim. 2:24-25).
PREACHERS ARE AT WAR WITH THE DEVIL (3-6)
I know preachers who served in the military, and they no doubt have greater personal appreciation for Paul’s military metaphor. Our warfare is not against the flesh, but our weapons mighty before God (3-4). Part of our work is destructive (4-5) and aggressive (5-6). There is a readiness and activeness apart of this work (5-6). We are not at war with members or other preachers. Paul will say in verse eight that his God-given work was for building them up and not tearing them down (8). But, when we stand against the devil, we know that we may have to stand against those who are ignorant of his schemes (2:11) and led astray by his craftiness (11:3). Yet, we should never relish this part of our work!
PREACHERS WANT TO BE UNDERSTOOD & ACCEPTED (7-11)
Paul knew what his critics said about him. They attacked not only his “preaching style” (cf. 11:6) but even his appearance (10). But, Paul hoped his writing and his words would help these brethren see his heart and better understand where he was coming from and who he was trying to be. I think the vast majority of preachers want that same thing. Each of us has plenty of quirks and flaws, in style and even personality, that become crosses we bear. However, our confidence is that most brethren are so charitable and can see past those impediments (4:7) and allow God to work through our imperfections to his glory.
PREACHERS WILL BE JUDGED AGAINST WHAT IS RIGHT, NOT AGAINST OTHER PREACHERS OR CHRISTIANS (12-18)
It is apparently an ancient practice for preachers to measure their own success by what others have accomplished. Who’s had more baptisms, speaking engagements, local church growth, debates, books and articles published, recognition, etc.? It sounds pretty petty when read in print, doesn’t it? How much does God care about that?
Paul writes, “We are not so bold to class or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding” (12). “But he who boasts is to boast in the Lord (Jer. 9:24; he also quotes this in 1 Cor. 1:31). For it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends” (17-18). Let that resonate and sink down into my heart. God is the only measuring stick that matters. Our consuming obsession must be with being good stewards of the opportunities He puts in our laps (13).
Most preachers do not enter preaching for financial gain, fame and glory, or as an outlet for some frustration. We love the church, love God, love the lost, and love His Word. But, it is easy for anyone to lose their way or forget their original intentions. After all, we have our own struggles in the flesh and deal with our own humanity (12:7; Rom. 7:14ff). Some of God’s people may need the reminder of 2 Corinthians 10, and even more preachers may need it. Thank God for His wisdom, who was “pleased…through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21).
How important is encouragement? Winston Churchill understood its importance. It kept the morale of Great Britain high enough to not only survive the Blitzkrieg, but also link together as a country to defeat the Axis Powers. Hitler understood its importance – with it (by way of propaganda) he brought his country out of a decade or so long depression. Even the world’s worst people understood the value of encouragement.
In the church, it is no different. Only, instead of facing a corrupt and violent world power, we face the Father of Lies and his army. This is a much more daunting enemy – but that is not all. We face discouragement in the church, we face rivalries, bitter jealousy, division over doctrinal matters, personality clashes, etc.
Sometimes we find ourselves overwhelmed when we face these things – and for good reason! But this is why encouragement is so vital. England faced incendiary bombs and widespread death of their fellow countrymen. Germany faced severe poverty. What did it take to help these countries succeed? Encouragement. What will it take for us to overcome the challenges of being a Christian? Encouragement.
In all of these cases, boosting morale did not magically happen. A respected individual got in front of the people and commended and encouraged them – this made all of the difference. Notice how Britain did during Churchill’s time as Prime Minister: they rallied themselves and helped defeat the Axis Powers in a short period of time.
As Christians, we have to be the voice of encouragement for our brothers and sisters. When the church is unified toward a single cause and stands together for truth, she is far more successful than one bogged down in discouragement and strife.
As we go about our lives, let us employ the mindset of encouragement, while seeking to create unity and high morale among our family. It may just make the difference in the eternal state of many people.
“Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing” (1 These. 5:11).
Some pray the way they heard others pray in worship growing up while others look for a prayer on the internet. A few pray the way their parents taught them to pray, and still others just kind of make it up as they go along. Over time it develops into a well-known string of words that we can call upon in case of emergency. It’s the prepackaged prayer that we’re comfortable praying when we’re called upon to lead one publicly or “bless” the food. Tragically, this can be an insight into a weak prayer life. This is what Jesus wants us to know about communicating with God— and how we can do it effectively.
Three Facts About Prayer
1.Through Jesus we must pray(I Tim. 2:5)
2. Through Jesus we learn to pray (Matt. 6:5-13)
3. Through Jesus we are able to pray (Heb. 4:16)
Three Fruitless Prayers (Matthew 6)
Prayers to glorify ourselves— when they should be Focused On The Spiritual (v.5)
Prayers for the gaze of others— when they should be said Fervently In Secret (v.6)
Prayers full of gab— when there must be Forethought and Sincerity(v.7)
Five Ways To Pray Effectively (According to Jesus)
“Pray then like this…”
1. With Reverence
a. “Our Father” — His authority over ours.
b.“In Heaven” — His dwelling place is above ours.
c.“Hallowed be your Name” — His holiness needs to be apparent to us.
2. Seeking Righteousness
a. “Your Kingdom come” — So I mustbe righteous
b. “Your will be done” — In order for me to be righteous
c. “On earth as it is in heaven” — If heaven is to be my future, I must makerighteousness a part of my present.
3. Acknowledging Our Reliance
a. “Give us this day” — Each day and each moment, a moment God allowed to exist.
b. “Daily bread” — It’s all through Him we move and exist.
4. In Repentance
a. “forgive our debts” — What do I need forgiven?
b. “As we forgive our debtors” — What do I need to forgive?
5. With Recognition
a. “Lead us not into temptation” — God knows the way around what tempts us.
b. “Deliver us from evil” — God has the power to deliver us, but we should recognizethat we must follow if He is to lead.
Six Things To Offer Up, And What You’ll Get
Give Him your praise – He’ll show you why He deserves your praise.
Give Him your heart – He’ll heal and purify it.
Give Him your schedule – He’ll organize it for you. He will reveal our most important priorities.
Give Him your attention – He’ll help you focus.
Give Him your plans – He’ll perfect them. Any plan God touches becomes holy.
I’ve never heard the avid fisherman say, “Do I have to go back to the lake?”
I’ve never heard the shopaholic say, “How often do I have to go to the store?”
I’ve never heard the committed sports fan say, “How many games do I have to watch?”
I’ve never heard the foodie say, “How often do I have to try a new restaurant or dish?”
I’ve never heard the head-over-heels-in-love say, “How many times do I have to see him/her each week?”
I’ve never heard the devoted mom say, “How often must I hold my baby?”
We’ve lost the battle when our sermons, articles, and classes center around answering the question, “How often must I assemble? How many times a week do I have to come to church? Are Sunday night and Wednesday night mandatory?”
How unnatural for a disciple, a committed follower of Jesus who is in love with Him and who has such a relationship with Him that He is priority number one, to approach the assemblies in such a way! Must? Have to? You see, the question is wrong. The mentality and approach is where the work needs to occur.
When Jesus and His church are my passion, the thought-process becomes “I get to,” “I want to,” and “I will!” Neither parents, grandparents, spouses, elders, preachers, siblings, nor anyone else have to get behind anyone and push the one who has put Jesus at the heart and center of their lives.
Not a legalistic or checklist mindset. Instead, an outgrowth of what’s happening in my life between my God and me. Church “attendance” is but one evidence of this, but it certainly is an evidence of this. Church and religion are not just a slice of the pie of a committed Christian’s life. Christ is the hub in the wheel of their life, and each spoke of the wheel is attached to that hub. The difference could not be more dramatic!