Time To Re-Focus?

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“As long as it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent Me. Night is coming, when no one can work.”  (John 9:4, NIV 1984).

“I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” (John 17:4, NIV 1984).

My Musings – “They were disappointed but believed they could solve the problem.  So they started earlier, stayed longer, and worked harder.  They kept doing the same things over and over again and wondered why things didn’t get better.  They were beginning to realize the difference between activity and productivity.”  (Adapted from “Who Moved My Cheese?” By Spencer Johnson, M.D.).

Activity or productivity? Start earlier, stay longer and work harder.  Doing the same (unproductive) things over and over, but things don’t get better.  Sound familiar?  Jesus knew there was much work to be done, and that His “night” was coming.  But He never confused the important with the urgent.  As a result, with merely three years of ministry, He completed the work that the Father gave Him to do.

How are we doing?  We are called to follow in His steps.  Are we starting earlier, staying longer, and working harder, but getting nowhere?  Maybe it’s because we are doing things in our own strength and wisdom?  Striking out on our own?  Straying from the path?  Losing sight of our calling?

My Advice – How can we follow in His steps if we are not keeping our eyes on the path He followed?  Maybe it’s time to refocus

Sensational Grace

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Then Abraham approached him [the LORD] and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?”  (Genesis 18:23, NIV 1984).

Then he [Abraham] said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?” He [the LORD} answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”  (Ge 18:32, NIV 1984).

The two men [angels] said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the LORD against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.”  (Genesis 19:12–13, NIV 1984).

With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.” When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the LORD was merciful to them.  (Genesis 19:15–16, NIV 1984).

“Look, here is a town [Zoar] near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me [Lot] flee to it—it is very small, isn’t it? Then my life will be spared.” He said to him, “Very well, I [the angel] will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.”  (Genesis 19:19–22, NIV 1984).

My Musings – The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is mostly remembered for the fierce judgment of God because “their sin [was] so grievous.”  I don’t intend to debate the nature of their wickedness, but rather the underlying message of God’s mercy and grace that is often overlooked.  Perhaps because that message is not quite as “sensational” and makes for a less interesting tale.  In reality, it is both quite sensational (causing great public excitement) and interesting (arousing curiosity or catching the attention).

It starts with Abraham “negotiating” with the LORD.  “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?”  (Genesis 18:23, NIV 1984).  Beginning with “fifty righteous,” Abraham “wears” the LORD down to agree not to destroy the cities “for the sake of ten.”  The story is not about Abraham’s astute bargaining skills, but rather lavishness of God’s grace and mercy.  God always has His remnant, and the lengths He will go “for the sake of the [elect]” is staggering.

In the end, there were only four.  God did destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, a righteous judgment. Yet He did not “sweep away the [four] righteous with the wicked.”  An undeserving expression of His abundant grace.  For did they really measure up to His standard of righteousness?

His grace did not end there. When they hesitated, in the face of imminent destruction no less, “the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the LORD was merciful to them.” Even sparing another city (Zoar) marked for destruction (“I will not overthrow the town you speak of“).

God’s grace and mercy was extended despite the captivation of Lot to the wickedness that surrounded him.  For example:

• He got close to the wickedness (“pitched his tents near Sodom” — Genesis 13:12).

• He moved into the midst of wickedness (“Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city” — Genesis 19:1).

• He hesitated leaving the circle of wickedness (“When [Lot] hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city” — Genesis 19:16).

• He desired to stay near the wickedness (“here is a town [Zoar] near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it” — Genesis 19:19).

My Advice – Let’s not cheapen God’s grace and mercy by getting close to, moving in to, hanging on to or staying near to worldliness.  God is long-suffering, but His “Spirit will not contend with man forever.” (Genesis 6:3, NIV 1984).

 

Sent Into The World

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I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.  My prayer is not for them alone.  My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.”  (John 17:9, 15–18, 20, NIV 1984).

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, NIV 1984).

My Musings – It is a human trait that we often say things with equal passion and deep conviction that are contradictory.  A first impression of the two passages above, quotes from the lips and heart of Jesus, that they are also contradictory.  We might dismiss this as merely a manifestation of His fully human nature but not a reflection of His fully divine nature (perhaps we’ll discuss this apparent contradiction in a future musing).  But we would be missing the point altogether.

In the first instance, Jesus speaks about protecting us from (insulated in) the evil one, while not praying that we be taken from (isolated from) the world.  He is, in fact, intentionally sending us out into (included within) the world while not being part of (integrated into) the world.  In sending us out as “aliens” into the world, He us sending out into hostile territory.  There we will encounter natural dangers (curses of a fallen world) and be confronted by supernatural dangers (curses from a fallen angel).

Jesus does not pray that we be protected from natural dangers.  Some He will prevent and some He will permit, according to His divine will. But not without eternal purposes.  But He does pray for protection from supernatural dangers though a new divine nature (“if anyone is in Christ He is a new creation” – 2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV 1984) and indwelling by the Holy Spirit (“I will not leave you orphans” – John 14:18).  This does not mean we will never give in or bow down to supernatural confrontations (temptation, persecution), but it does mean that we do not have to give in (“for the grace of God teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live upright and Godly lives in this present age” – Titus 2:12, NIV 1984).

My Advice – Just say no (by the grace of God).

Exit Ramp

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Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”  (James 4:13–15, NIV 1984).

My Musings – This was the text that inspired today’s devotional from Our Daily Bread Ministries.  It kind of resonated with me due to some news I received this week.  But first, a little background.  I turn 65 in a couple months, which is the traditional retirement age in the United States (at least for those who can afford to do so).  And so it goes, that many of my friends, family and acquaintances have been asking me when I plan on retiring.  I have been blessed with a career that I still enjoy.  Since I have not yet determined what I would do with my time when I do retire, my response has been, “I plan on working until I am 70 (mandatory retirement age for the position I hold), as long as our health permits (mine and my wife’s).”

On Monday I was told that I have prostate cancer.  It was caught early, it is not an aggressive form and the prognosis is very good — so I am blessed indeed.  It occurred to me that my standard response to retirement, specifically “as long as our health permits,” while true, is really not the most appropriate qualifier.  It should be “if it is the Lord’s will.

My Advice – None of us know what tomorrow holds.  Any plans we make for this life are short-sighted at best.  Our primary concern should not be things like how we will spend retirement?  Our primary concern should be how will we spend eternity?  It’s not about how much we have in our retirement fund.  It’s about whether we’ve placed our trust in Jesus Christ.  If you have not already done so, you need to make those arrangements now, before the mist of this life vanishes.

 

Life’s Illusions

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Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.   (1 John 2:15–17, NIV 1984).

My Musings – Craving and lusting and boasting – oh my!  Desires such as these will pass away.  And when they are gone, what will be left?  We have to let these things go in order “to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of [us].” (Philippians 3:12, NIV 1984).  We cannot have it both ways.  “No one can serve two masters. Either [we] will hate the one and love the other, or [we] will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24, NIV 1984).  We may fool ourselves into thinking we can but “[He] know[s] [our] deeds, that [we] are neither cold nor hot. [He wishes we] were either one or the other! So, if [we] are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold— [He will] spit [us] out of [His] mouth. [We] say, ‘[we are] rich; [we] have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But [we] do not realize that [we] are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”  (Revelation 3:15–17, NIV 1984).  Rich? Acquired wealth? Do not need a thing?  Sounds an awful lot like craving, lusting and boasting.   Pitiful? Poor? Blind and naked?  Sounds an awful lot like the world and its desires passing away.

Both Sides Now

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all.

Joni Mitchell

My Advice – “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if [the world and its desires are] God, follow [them].”  (1 Kings 18:21, NIV 1984). Craving and lusting and boasting?  They are illusions. Let them go!

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Want to become a Christian? See my blog series “The Born Again Experience.”
Want a closer walk with Christ? See my blog series “Got Spiritual Milk?”

The Overflow Of The Heart

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For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” (Matthew 12:34–35, NIV 1984).

My Musings – Sometimes we Christians will intentionally speak (post, tweet) maliciously and no amount of “thinking” can stop us.  In these cases the “overflow of [our] heart” is quite clear. The old man, the evil man is still controlling us and the overflow of our heart brings out the evil of our old sin nature.

At other times, it’s just a matter of speaking (posting, tweeting) without thinking.  It is then that the overflow of our hearts reveals how far along we are in our walk with Christ.  Is the old, evil, sinful nature still in control or are we being transformed into His likeness?  Are we being controlled by the Spirit?

My Advice – Think before you speak (post, tweet).  The truth is, of course, paramount.  But sometimes, we can use the truth to be hurtful not helpful, to discourage rather than inspire.  It is never necessary to lie, but it should never be used to be inconsiderate, cruel or unkind.  “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15, NIV 1984).   For  “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”  (Galatians 5:24–25, NIV 1984).  Then the overflow of your heart (intentionally or without even thinking) will be “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  (Galatians 5:22, NIV 1984).

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Want to become a Christian? See my blog series “The Born Again Experience.”
Want a closer walk with Christ? See my blog series “Got Spiritual Milk?”

Stop Playing With The Box

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You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”  (Matthew 23:23, NIV 1984).

You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!”  (Mark 7:9, NIV 1984).

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?”  (Galatians 5:6–7, NIV 1984).

My Musings – Your children had been dropping hints (some subtle, some not so subtle) since Thanksgiving about this season’s must have toy.  In my childhood days, we dog-eared the pages and circled the items in the Sears Roebuck or J.C. Penney “wish book.”  How’s that for subtlety?  It was an exciting day for sure when those arrived in the mail.

More than once you made it to the store just in time to be told the last one had just been sold.  There were hopeful promises of one last shipment before Christmas, but you’d heard those before.  Checking availability on-line came up empty.  But finally, with shopping days left to Christmas almost over (and no shipping time left at all) you were able to track one down.  What a relief.  Christmas morning would not be a disappointment to your child.

Now the excitement of Christmas morning is over, family and guests have left and your child is in the family room playing – – with the box the must have toy came in.  You had to see that coming.  Didn’t you?

Sometimes we get distracted by the box that Christianity gets “packaged” in.  It may be in the form of tradition, rituals or “religion.”  Or maybe in legalistic “do’s and don’ts”  We were “running a good race” yet we allowed these things to “cut in on us,” when the real deal was what was “in the box.”  It’s not always that these things were intrinsically bad, but we “should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”  We should not have “set aside” the gift that was inside the box.

My Advice – God took great care to send us just the right gift.  It needed no “packaging” or fancy “wrapping.”  Let’s accept and enjoy it for what it is, appreciate who it came from and be thankful for the gift.  Let’s not let the excitement wear off and allow us to be distracted by the trappings.

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Want to become a Christian? See my blog series “The Born Again Experience.”
Want a closer walk with Christ? See my blog series “Got Spiritual Milk?”