Smoke & Mirrors

Maybe if I sacrifice some time and go to church this weekend, it will “make-up” for being dishonest with the grocery store clerk.

Perhaps I can sacrifice some TV time and pray an extra five minutes and read a whole chapter in the Bible instead of asking forgiveness from my relative for how I offended her.

I think I’ll sacrifice and give a little extra cash in the offering plate this Sunday to compensate for not following through on that commitment I made to help.

One of the first verses I memorized as a child was Exodus 20:12,

“Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD they God giveth thee.” 

Jesus dealt with some religious people of his day who “dedicated” their money to God as a religious “sacrifice” to justify not having to use it to care for their parents (click here to see Matthew 15). These very religious people justified breaking the command, “Honor your father and your mother” with a religious act of “sacrifice.”

It was religious “smoke and mirrors.” And Jesus saw right through it!

The LORD is more pleased when we do what is right and just than when we offer Him sacrifices. Proverbs 21:3

God would rather we do what is just and right instead of trying to substitute some religious act or “sacrifice.”

A religious act is something we can do without dying to self. It is our tendency to avoid being crucified with Christ.  Galatians 2:20 says:

I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

But to do the right and just thing requires us to die to self. It is precisely at the point of dying to self that Christ can live in and through us. Paradoxically the more we try to gain life the more we lose it.  The more we lose our lives for Christ’s sake, the more we gain real life.

Losing our lives for Christ will always interrupt and inconvenience our controlled religious life.

Do you remember those old TV announcements, “We interrupt regular programing to bring you this important announcement?”

Christ cannot live through us if we keep getting in the way. We must allow him to interrupt our regular, religious programming in order for him to do the right and just thing through us. For the resurrected Christ to live in and through us we must get on the cross and die to self.

Our Father, forgive us for substituting religious things for the resurrected life. Come and live through us as we die to ourselves.

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A Loose Grip

Golf experts write a lot about how to grip a golf club. The tighter you grip the club the more likely you will hit a bad shot.

My brothers have ski boats that create huge wakes. We use a small surf board to actually surf on those wakes. The more relaxed you can stay the more likely you will be able to surf successfully.

The more you try to squeeze, hold, and demand the love of your grandchild, the more likely they are to push away. There is a delicate balance of letting go with love in order to receive the returned affection we grandparents crave so much!

The abundant life we all want comes much the same way. We attempt to buy it, build it, store it, accumulate it, get healthy enough to have it, work out enough to get it, yet abundant living alludes us.

This morning Paul’s words struck me to the core. Paul held a loose grip on life. He relaxed on the surf board God had given him. He didn’t seek to squeeze, hold, and demand that life serve him.  The apostle Paul said:

But I do not account my life of any value or as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. Acts 20:24 ESV

What a powerful statement! Notice how he summed up what he valued more than his life on this earth. He loosened his grip on life to:

  1. Do God’s will: “if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus” and
  2. Tell the Good News: “to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

Jesus said:

Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.  Luke 17:33 ESV

Our Father, we hold on so tightly to this world and the things in it. Help us today to lose our lives for You and the gospel. Forgive us for holding on to the things that will pass away while ignoring the things that will last forever. Help us to let go of life so we may do Your will, share the good news of Jesus, and find Your abundant life.

 

Oh, To Be Young Again!

“If I could go back and live my life all over again, I would ________________.”

“What do I regret?” was one of my first thoughts. If I could re-live my life, what would I change so that I don’t live with regrets today?

The writer of Ecclesiastes had a long life, experienced all of life’s advantages, and God gave him great wisdom.

Now that the results of aging overtook his body and he reflected on his life, what’s his conclusion?

In Ecclesiastes 12:1, he describes the aging process. In verse one he tells those who are still young,

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them.”

The aging process is further described in verses 2-8: eyesight dims, legs and shoulders get weak, the hearing starts to go, fears grow, and friends’ funerals are attended.

But at the end of a life lived weighing many proverbs, reading numerous books, and trying many forms of pleasure, what’s his conclusion? Life is meaningless, all is vanity, EXCEPT for two things!

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. Ecclesiastes 12:13 ESV

An ATTITUDE, “fear God” and an ACTION, “obey God” sum up the only things that truly make life meaningful.

Jesus said it just as succinctly,

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. John 14:15 ESV

If a young man or woman is reading this now, you will avoid a thousand regrets if you commit your life to this attitude and action.

First, have an awesome respect, a healthy fear, for your Almighty God and Creator and love His Son Jesus Christ with every fiber of your being.

Second, do what God tells you to do. The Bible, His written, inspired Word reveals His will. Take it seriously and do it.

Our Father, thank-you for the wisdom of your Word that shows us the real meaning of life. Thank-you for Your Son Jesus whom we love with all our being. By the power of your Spirit living in us we commit our lives to translating that love into obedience. Thank-you for your constant presence with us to give us courage and strength.

 

 

Two-a-Days

Two-a-day’s. Boy, do I have vivid memories of two-a-day’s! In grades 8-12 I played football.  Every August we had an early morning practice and a late afternoon practice for two weeks.  We called those grueling, exhausting, get into shape, felt like we were going to die, football practices two-a-days.

Many times I wanted to quit! But the old football coach’s slogan would ring in my head, Quitters never win! Winners never quit!

How many times have you heard someone say, “Don’t give up!”  How many times have you have said it yourself?

How many times have each of us thought about giving up or wanted to give up?

The apostle Paul certainly had many reasons to give up in his life.  He was run out-of-town, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, snake bit, flogged, imprisoned, rejected, chained, starved … well, you get the picture.

Yet in the letter to the Philippians, while he is in prison, he gives one of the greatest pep talks in Scripture!

And then in the letter to the Galatians he tells them, “Don’t give up!”

So, let’s not get tired  of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone – especially to those in the family of faith. Galatians 6:9-10 NLT

Monday, I was on the receiving end of those who didn’t give up. The Disaster Relief Team showed up at my house to cut, haul, trim, and clean up … for four hours!  Thanks Gary Moore, Bill Gibbons, Harry Partlow, Jay Dirksen, Glen Barr, Dave Finton, and David Merkle!

I was humbled to be served by a group of Christian brothers who expected nothing in return.

So, let’s not get tired of doing what is good. Give God the glory in it. God will see to the harvest of the work, so trust Him. Now, don’t give up! I know you will feel like giving-up sometimes, but take each opportunity God puts into your day today, and do something good to someone. Especially do good stuff for your fellow brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ!

Our Father, thank-you for doing good for us by sending Your Son Jesus to die for us and give us grace, forgiveness, and eternal life. Help us today to do good stuff just because we should and expect nothing in return. Thank-you for the promised harvest You will give in Your perfect timing.

Can 400 People Agree on Anything?

How do you get 400 people to agree on anything! Whew, only a God-thing could make that happen. With a group of people with such varied backgrounds, education, and experiences, is it even possible to consider it?

If we take the Bible seriously, and we do, it is not only a consideration, it must become a reality with the help of the Holy Spirit!

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 1 Corinthians 1:10 ESV

Get Shoulder to Shoulder. The same word used to translate “appeal” is used to describe the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the “one called beside us.” We are called to come along side one another in unity. If each person in an army decided to fight by their own strategy, no united effort would be made and the battle likely lost.

Get the “God-thing.” Our common commitment to Jesus, the changer of our lives, is our divine element making this possible. How easily people become divided! For a large group of people to be united together in a common goal and strategy needs “a God-thing” to make it happen. Our common faith in Jesus is our God-thing!

Get Great Words. Agree. Simply “speak or say the same thing.”  The visual behind this word is “to lay it out.” We are to state clearly our common purpose.

Get the Gaps Out. Eliminate divisions. The word here is schism which means to split or cause a gap. Jesus described putting new wine into old wineskins and therefore causing the old wineskin to split or burst.

Get Together. Unite. The word “united” means to repair, adjust, or complete thoroughly. Repair broken relationships. Make emotional and mental adjustments in order to be united. Completely focus in the same direction.

Get Thinking. Unite in “mind” means to agree in our perceiving, understanding, feeling, and determining. We must be attuned or “in tune” with the direction of the Holy Spirit and therefore with one another.

Get a United Conclusion. Unite in “judgment” means to agree in our conclusions. The final product is to be a common mission, vision, and core values which guide the work we do and determine what we don’t do.

Our Father, please unite us in every facet of the work You have called us to do. Build in all of us by Your Holy Spirit a consensus of mission, vision, and purpose. We pray for miraculous results from You working in and through us. We believe it is only by Your presence and Your power we can obey this command. Thank-you Lord for the confidence we have in you!