Monday, August 26, 2013

“Therefore, Take Heart”

The 27th chapter of the book of Acts is not one that I gave a whole lot of consideration to for a long time. I knew the story, how Paul was being taken to Rome and was shipwrecked on Malta. I knew that every person on that boat lived, as God had promised, because they followed exactly the instructions given by God through Paul. I knew all of this, but I'm not sure I ever thought to gain a deeper connection to and understanding of this passage until I heard a sermon that focused on verses 25 and 26.

"Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me. However, we must run aground on a certain island."

Basically, "Don't worry; we will all be fine. We just have to shipwreck first." Can you imagine being in that boat and hearing Paul say that? The point the preacher made from this was that this is how our life can be sometimes. We are stuck in the storms of trials and tribulations, and we don't see any way out. And here comes the promise of God: "Don't worry. Trust in Me, and you will be fine. But, just so you know, it's going to have to get worse before it gets better." 

Thinking about that lesson and this chapter, here are some points that stood out to me:

Don't lost hope, even in situations that seem hopeless (vv. 13-22).

One of the purposes of the hardships we face in life is to produce hope within us (Romans 5:1-5). We must put our trust in God, as He watches over and cares for His children (Psalm 31). Our Father hears His children's prayers (Psalm 3:4; 6:6-9), and He will make provision for us in ways that are to our benefit (Matthew 7:7-11).

God does not lie (v. 25).

God promised Paul that all the men on that boat would live (v. 24), and this promise was fulfilled (v. 44). The men on that boat reaped the benefits of that promise because they believed Paul and followed the guidelines that God revealed for them. Abraham also reaped the benefits of God's promise because he believed and did exactly what God commanded him (Romans 4:20-22). Likewise, we can believe and obey Him when He says that the reward of heaven will be worth all the things that we have to suffer here on earth (Matthew 5:10; 2 Corinthians 4:16-17).

Bad things will happen, but God will take care of His faithful (vv. 25-26).

God sends the rain to the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45), but He also promises that each will ultimately receive the reward he or she is due for the life lived on this earth (2 Thessalonians 1:4-7). Remember that the troubles of this world are temporary (2 Corinthians 4:16-5:4) and that enduring through these trials helps us mature as Christians (James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7). If we persevere and stay true to God, we have the reward of heaven waiting for us (Revelation 21:1-7). Of course, the wicked and those who do not stand strong have a reward waiting for them as well (Revelation 21:8).

May God bless you and keep you safe through whatever storms you may be going through. And should you also have to 'run aground on a certain island', may you find God's strength and grace sufficient to see you through it all.

Thanks for stopping by!


 Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"One Thing You Lack"

Looking through the Gospels, the story of the rich young ruler stands out to me. There are so many lessons that can be learned from this short passage, but there is one that has started hitting close to home with me. First, a look at the passage:

"Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him and asked Him, 'Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?' So Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not bear false witness," "Do not defraud," "Honor your father and your mother."' And he answered and said to Him, 'Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.' Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, 'One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.' But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions."  (Mark 10:17-22)

I think most who are familiar with the Bible are familiar with this story. It's a vivid warning about the danger of trusting in the riches of this world, as Jesus goes on to point out to His disciples in the following verses (vv. 23-25). What inspired this article, though, is what Jesus said to the young man after his assertion that he had kept God's law faithfully - "One thing you lack." One thing. One thing stood in between this man and a life completely devoted to his Lord and Savior, and what did he do? He walked away. The Bible doesn't reveal what happened to this man in the course of his life. Did he remain tied to his trust in riches, or did he ever turn that trust fully over to God, repent, and obey? My hope is that he did obey, but there's no way to know from the Scriptures. Here's what I do know, though: Jesus came to bring sinners to repentance, but His sacrifice does nothing for those who are unwilling to repent (Luke 5:31-32). The sad truth is that many are blind to their sins. However, God tells us to examine ourselves and to make corrections where they are needed (Luke 18:9-14; 2 Corinthians 13:5). 

“Do I really need to examine myself, though? I seem to be doing okay...”

Many have thought themselves to be righteous when they really were not. Consider the Pharisees. Various passages, including Luke 18 and Matthew 23, make it clear that they thought themselves to be among the spiritually elite, while in truth they were spiritually destitute. The same can be said of the majority of the churches called out in Revelation 2 and 3, a status that was specifically attributed to the church in Laodicea (Revelation 2:17). In fact, there are and have always been many who are completely blind to the true state of their soul (Matthew 7:21-23; 15:7-9). The Judgment is too late a time to figure out the truth! We all need to understand two basic truths: Nothing can be hidden from God, and nothing can be kept secret forever (Hebrews 4:13). For this reason, we are to "take heed how [we] hear" (Luke 8:17-18). We hear lesson after lesson and class after class. But do we really listen? Do we ever make application? Or do we just stop at how it applies to someone else?

“So what do I need to do?”

Do just what the rich young ruler did. Bring yourself before the Lord and ask Him to lay bare to you those areas in which you lack (James 2:10; Matthew 11:28-30; 1 Peter 5:6-7). How will He do this?

  • Through His word - Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 2:15; 3:14-17; Psalms 119:9; 19:7-14
  • Through the assembly of His saints - Hebrews 10:24-25
  • Through our other interactions with our brethren, both in our local congregation and those more widespread - Proverbs 27:5-7; 2 Samuel 12:1-15; Acts 18:24-28

The real question is: How will you respond? In 1 Samuel 15, God gave Saul the command to completely destroy Amalek, everything and everyone inside, yet Saul and the people disobeyed the Lord's command. They were 'unwilling to destroy' that which they saw was good, although they were were all too willing to destroy 'everything despised and worthless' (v. 9). Are there things you are unwilling to destroy? Are you only putting off those things that you view as 'despised and worthless'? Hebrews 12:1-2 says that we are to 'lay aside every weight,' not just those we really don't care that much about anyway.

How do I make the changes I need to make in my life?
First, remember what was done for you so that you might be able to live free from sin. Think about what it cost Jesus to leave heaven, live the life He lived, and suffer the death He died. Read the account of the crucifixion; read about how He was abandoned by all men, betrayed and denied by those closest to Him. This is what our sins have cost.

"For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him."  (Romans 5:6-9)

Second, truly repent. True repentance is more than just feeling sorry for what you did. It's often described as a change of heart/mind that leads to a change of action/life. The truly penitent person understands that only God can make what is wrong right again and appeals to His mercy (Psalm 51:1-2), then dedicates him or herself to the life God expects of all of His children (2 Corinthians 7:10-11). (This article is written from the perspective of one who is already a baptized believer, but if one is not yet, then full penitence and obedience would take that person to the waters of baptism as well – Acts 2:38; 8:35-39; Galatians 3:26-27.)

Third, look for the root causes of your actions and address those. If we look at the sins we struggle with, often we can see a more general cause (e.g. fear, lack of focus, a worldly attitude, frustration, etc.) that produces a number of sinful actions. Medicating a toothache when a cavity is the root cause may take away the pain temporarily, but it does not solve the real problem, which will continue to grow worse if left untreated. Likewise, a failure to acknowledge and address the root causes of our specific temptations and sins will leave us forever wondering why we just keep failing time and time again.

Is your conscience seared? Consider the consequences. - Hebrews 10:36-39; Romans 2:1-11

Do you feel like you're too far gone? Read John 6:37. - 'All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.'

How do you think Paul felt (1 Corinthians 15:9-10)? Or the people on Pentecost (Acts 2:36-41)? Don't question God's love and His power to forgive. Just have faith and obey (Matthew 11:28-30).

Utilize the help of your brethren. They are there to help you (Galatians 6:1-2), but they can only help you if they know that you need help (James 5:16).

And keep your eye on the goal (Philippians 3:12-14).

I based what I've written above on a lesson I prepared for a mid-week girls' Bible study a while back. At that time, I was struck by the idea of losing out of heaven because of just one thing and how incredibly tragic that would be. At that time, and still now, I know that there is so much that I lack, so many areas that I need to be stronger in, and so I revisited this lesson as a reminder for my own need for self-examination, correction, and growth. 

But what about you? What do you lack? And what are you going to do about it? Nothing in this life is worth losing out on heaven and eternity with our God (Matthew 16:24-27).

Thanks for stopping by!


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Consider Your Trajectory

I mentioned in a previous blog that patience has been a virtue that I have had to work on a lot. One of the areas of my life in which this truth has manifested itself has been in my attempts at self-improvement. Through the years, I have been able to identify a number of areas in which I wanted to fix issues or grow stronger, and through the years, I have made multiple attempts to follow through on these changes. Sometimes I was successful, but one problem with my methods showed up time after time.

I wanted to be at the end of the journey before I had even really gotten started.

You know, it’s great to have goals, and it’s great to have your eyes firmly set on those goals. But it’s not so great when your eyes are so firmly set on the goal that all you can see is how far away it is. So many of those times that I failed, I failed because I got so frustrated with myself and my slow progress that I gave up trying at all. It should not be this way!

So what is there to do about it? Consider my trajectory.

Considering your trajectory is all about considering the path from starting point to reaching the goal. This path includes: recognizing a change that needs to be made, deciding to do something about it, setting the goal, and then all the little individual steps in between those first few stages and the last one. Considering your trajectory is all about taking a step back and checking that you are still on the path, moving in the proper direction with the proper momentum. It’s about understanding that getting to your goals takes a lot of hard work, which means it will also take time.

When you consider your trajectory, you can have patience with yourself. You can appreciate the small steps you are taking in the right direction, and you can celebrate the little victories you gain along the way.

Recently, I gave some advice to a friend whose young daughter was struggling with her progress in learning to read. She wanted so badly to be able to pick up the chapter books her sisters are reading and enjoy them herself, but her frustration with herself was basically making her shut down when reading lessons started. My advice was for my friend to help the little girl focus on her progress by showing her every day how many words she could read as compared to the day before. Now, her eyes were set not on how far away that goal of reading those chapter books was but on how much closer she was getting to it every single day.

And then I started thinking… Isn’t that what I need to do myself???

So I am committing to this new perspective. When I find those familiar frustrations rising up within me – when I find myself thinking, 'Why am I not there yet?’ – I will take a step back and consider my trajectory.

  • Am I still on the right path, moving in the right direction to reach my goal?
  • Am I moving at a good pace in order to achieve what I’m working toward in a reasonable time frame?
  • Am I taking the time to recognize and celebrate the little victories I am achieving along the way, appreciating the time and effort that went into each one?
  • And am I putting my faith in my Lord to enable me to accomplish all that is within His will for me?

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

Thanks for stopping by!