3 Life Lessons for Earthly and Spiritual Success

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Graduating seniors and newlyweds receive well-meaning, often good, sometimes wrong life advice. Older people want to help others enjoy the blessings of life and avoid unnecessary difficulty. Even at Godly Youth I share guidance from the Bible, my life, and the lives of others to help others develop a closer relationship with God and live godly on this earth. There are many important principles to follow but I want to share three lessons that every person must learn.

Law of the Harvest

The first life principle we must recognize is what Steven Covey called the “Law of the Harvest.” The Law of the Harvest recognizes that actions have inescapable consequences. Much of life’s pleasure and pain is a direct result of our choices. God will judge us based on the things we have done, Romans 2:1-11. Consider Paul’s message to the Galatians:

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. Galatians 6:7 (NKJV)

Organic Rice Field With Dew DropsPositive choices lead to positive consequences. Poor choices lead to negative consequences. You cannot kill someone as a drunk driver if you don’t get drunk. If your relationships are in turmoil and there is negative drama in your life consider your actions. Do you lose your temper? Do you gossip or lie? Are you doing immoral things with your friends? Are you enjoying good health and happiness because you have chosen to do things that do not harm your body or trouble your heart? Have you chosen friends who help you be more like Jesus or take you away from God?

We cannot control everything that affects the quality of our life but we can decide how we respond. Hardship can harden us or strengthen us; it’s our choice. We can dwell on the negative things cruel people say or focus on the positive things said by those who love us.

So the first life lesson is remember the Law of the Harvest and make good choices about who you are with, what you do, and how you react to the events of life. Make good choices at church, school, and work in order to grow and succeed spiritually, educationally, and professionally. Make good choices in dating relationships and marriage to strengthen your relationship. Always remember that some decisions seem small and insignificant but could have a profound change in the outcome of your life.

Mind Over Matter

The second principle is about self-control and self-direction. Some are slaves to their bodies and fleshly desires. They indulge their desires and rarely say “no” to the flesh. In order to succeed in life and grow spiritually we must control our desires.

In order to be physically fit and generate energy we must eat wisely and exercise frequently. I have to resist the urge to skip my workout in favor of sleep, an unhealthy meal, or any other activity. While exercising I often must ignore my physical desire to quit during a session and continue biking, running on the treadmill, or lifting weights while being aware of signals that I need to quit for my safety or to stay hydrated. At the restaurant, I need to order wisely and avoid junk food. The Law of the Harvest tells me that poor choices in the gym or at the restaurant will lead to poor results, Mind Over Matter reminds me that my spirit can control my flesh and my mind can overrule the body.

Dog With Leather LeashDogs are great animals but God did not give them higher reasoning. When you bring home a puppy, it is a bundle of uncontrolled desires: eat, drink, sleep, poop, and play. None of these desires are wrong but they are not always properly exercised. For example, it is good for the dog to eat and drink from his bowls but not from the garbage can and toilet bowl. After eating he will need to poop and we want him to do it outside, not on the carpet. We want the dog to sleep in a proper place and not to play by chewing our shoes. Since we cannot reason with the dog, what do we do? We train them.

By training the dog we teach it to overcome its desire to dig into the trash, drink from the toilet, soil the carpet, eat the shoes, and sleep on the pillow. We punish bad behavior by yelling “no” and making a loud noise or squirting it with water. We also reward good behavior with praise and treats. In fact, we can teach it to do tricks and perform acts, like playing fetch, through rewards.

In a similar way, we can bring our flesh under the control of the spirit. Romans 7:13-25 describes a war within our bodies between the spirit and the flesh. The flesh, like the dog, is incapable of following God. It is a collection of desires that are not wrong but can be used in a wrong way: hunger, thirst, sex, sleep, seek pleasure and avoid pain, and stay alive. Sex is not wrong in marriage but God condemns it outside of the marriage relationship. Thirst is not wrong but drunkenness is. Sleep is not wrong but laziness is sinful. It is not wrong to preserve our life but if we have to renounce Christ to save our life we will be lost eternally, Matthew 10:33. Christians must bring their body under the control of their mind, and the mind under the will of God.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.  Romans 6:12-14 (NKJV)

Finish Well

The final life lesson is that when we start worthy goals and efforts we must finish them. I am hesitant to say “finish what you started” because we sometimes start things that are a waste of time that could be put to a better use. There is no sense stubbornly finishing something just because you started it if there is a better way to use your time. Of course, this means we need to be wise about what we start so we can use our time effectively.

Man on top of mountain. Conceptual design.Assuming you have begun a worthy task, finish it. Ecclesiastes 5:3 says, “For a dream comes through much activity, and a fool’s voice is known by his many words.” Many people can talk a good game and babble about what they are going to do but the dream becomes reality through effort (activity). We can excited starting a new project or planning a new effort but when difficulties come we are challenged to stay focused and keep working until we reach the goal.

This principle will help us to be successful in life. Finishing school or work projects well require dedication and hard work. Success in sports requires us to work hard in practice when no one is cheering and finishing strong even if we are losing. I saw a tweet recently that said, “Commitment is staying loyal to what you said you were going to do long after the mood you said it in has left you.”  We can only enjoy the sense of accomplishment when we have crossed the finished line.

Spiritually, we need to finish well. 2 Peter 2:18-22 warns us not to be entangled in sin after leaving a life of sin lest we be disgusting in his sight. Hebrews 6:1-8 warns that we can leave God and develop a hard heart that will not want to return to God, crucifying Jesus again in our lives. Colossians 1:21-23 promises reconciliation is we remain steadfast and unmoved from our commitment to God and His will. We need to maintain our commitment to Christ until death even if we must do so in the face of persecution. We must not give up when we are tired but keep going knowing that our work is not a waste of time, Galatians 6:9; 1 Corinthians 15:58. Consider the warning and exhortation of the Hebrew writer:

Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: “For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the  just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul. Hebrews 10:35-39

Final Thoughts

In order to have a successful and satisfying life on earth, usefulness in God’s kingdom, and an eternal home with God remember to make good choices for a good harvest, control your flesh with the spirit, and pursue good efforts and goals until they are completed.

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Five Principles for a Focused Life

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Dart boardDanger lurks in the soil of your heart. The Parable of the Sower (or Soils) tells of hearts that will not entertain thoughts of God’s word and good hearts that bear great harvests when His word is implanted (Matthew 13).  Some hearts are shallow and bear faith that will wither when troubles arise. But there is another heart that I must vigilantly prevent being in me: the distracted heart. Jesus described a heart in which the word grew for a time but thorns also grew in the heart and choked out the word. This is the heart that “Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:22). Distractions are a persistent danger to God’s people and have always threatened us. How can we protect ourselves?

Five Principles for a Focused Life

1. Don’t let prosperity separate you from God

Wealth brings worries and burdens. Solomon wrote of the many hands that rise to claim the wealth of others in Ecclesiastes 5:10-20.  Many rise to get their part of the wealth: accountants, lawyers, government, friends, and family. A bigger house, multiple cars, and many possessions require insurance to protect and people to clean and maintain them. More money doesn’t guarantee relief but often more problems. Lottery winners (Tampa Bay Online) Noreene and James Gordon, a north Tampa homemaker and a retired textile worker, claimed the February 2000 Florida Lotto jackpot of $52.4 million. They chose a one-time lump sum payment of $24 million. Things have changed since then. “It’s a nightmare,” she said recently, with friends and strangers knocking and calling for a chunk of her prize. “They don’t want a piece,” she said. “They want it all.” Her husband died in 2006, and she has suffered three strokes since the windfall. “People come out of the walls to take advantage of you every day of your life,” she said before ending the short telephone interview.

Wealth and comfort can separate you from God. This was a problem with Israel: Deuteronomy 8:5-14, 17-20. God described, in great detail, the great blessing of the Promised Land but concluded with a warning that they would forget Him in the good times. They would become complacent in the daily care of their homes and land and forget to serve Him. Pride can accompany prosperity: we think we have done this on our own and that, down deep, we can do fine without God. This was the danger Jesus identified in the Parable of the Sower: maintaining our prosperity and handling the details of daily life can choke out our faith.

This is a threat for all of us. This is not addressed to the “super rich” or the vilified 1% in America—it is the average American. The average American income, and even poverty level income, is much higher than the rest of the world. The poorest of us are very wealthy compared to the world. We have garages that are bigger than the whole living space of many people. We have garages and attics full of unused possessions, clothes filling our closets, and refrigerators, freezers, and pantries full of food. Our children have luxury items and people still do not seem to be satisfied or content. There are people in the US and other wealthy countries who complain about luxuries they have when others are living in abject poverty with absolutely nothing. It is the everyday American living comfortably who has to make sure that he does not forget God.

2. Don’t let adversity separate you from God

Job 14:1 describes man’s days as few and full of troubles. Trials and adversity should produce good fruits in the Christian’s life. James encourages us to “count it joy when you fall into various trials” because of the fruits produced, James 1:2-8, 12. Joy in not our first natural reaction and we should pray for wisdom to understand how to learn and grow from our trials. It is through trials that we receive patience, trust, dependence on God, and appreciation of His care. Trials help us sever our relationship with this troublesome world and grow homesick for heaven where all will be made new and no suffering abides.

In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus described a heart that withered during persecution and trial, symbolized by the sun. Yet the sun, shining over the good soil, nurtured a great crop. Trials that withered the shallow heart helped the good heart to grow and bear fruit!  Trials and adversity are a part of life, it is how we handle them that determines whether they will crush us or strengthen us.

Jim happened to meet the minister on the street one day, and during the conversation told him of all the troubles he had had during the past year. He wound up with: “I tell you right now, preacher, it’s enough to make a man lose his religion.” “Seems to me, Jim,” the minister told him quietly, “it’s enough to make a man use his religion.” Tan, P. L. Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations.

Trials reveal the genuineness of our faith, 1 Peter 1:7. We must remember that “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18.

3. Trust God with the unknown things

We must realize that God’s greatness and wisdom exceeds ours and there are so many things in His domain of operation that we can’t grasp or know but trust that He has it in control. Deuteronomy 29:29 reminds us “the secret things belong to God.”

People spend much fruitless energy trying to identify with certainty the things that operate in God’s realm. Unless God explicitly reveals His actions, it is presumptuous of me to say “God did THIS.” Give glory to God that whether by chance or His purpose, the action took place but in humility remember that “His ways are past finding out.”

I don’t have to know how God will answer my prayers, I have to trust in Him to give all things to Him. God’s word promises peace to those who give everything into His care, Philippians 4:6-7. We often do not have peace because we do not really trust God to take care of our concerns or we insist on taking the burden back from Him. Peter tells us to cast all of our anxiety on God; an act of faith in His love, care, and ability to do something about that which is causing us anxiety, 1 Peter 5:6-7. This approach allows us to embrace the next principle.

4. Trust God to make all things work out for good

God promises that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose,” Romans 8:28. This is a promise of God and I trust that He can do this even when I don’t know how He will do it and when I don’t see how He could make it happen. He is the master designer of a grand work of art and I am one of many artisans toiling on my very small part of the whole. If I do what I’m supposed to do God will make it part of something much larger and more beautiful.

Funny how we label things “bad” and “good” (sleep, day, events) when, in time, our labels may reverse. Some people lose a job but it opens doors to a great career. Some people get a terrible disease “bad” but attribute it to giving them a better appreciation for their loved ones and the little things in life and bringing them closer to God. Alexander Solzhenitsyn was an atheistic Russian writer who was imprisoned in a Russian forced labor camp (Gulag) but emerged with a belief in God and wrote, “Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life. For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.”

Don’t try to look for God’s fingerprints in your life, just trust that He is there and He works all things in your life for the good.

5. Remember heaven is worth every sacrifice

The word pictures in places like Revelation 2:1-5; 12-15; 21:1-4 remind us that God has prepared a place of rest that exceeds our imagination and dreams and is worth any sacrifice needed to get there. Like other great men and women of faith, when we focus on living with God eternally, we lose our grip on the things of this world as we grasp heavenly treasures, Hebrews 10:32-39. Considering the glory of living with God forever, Paul says nothing should separate us from it, Romans 8:18, 31-39.

Live a life not trusting in riches but trusting God, standing strong in trial, and casting anxieties on Him looking forward to eternally living with Him.

The Church as a Spiritual Emergency Room

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Visit a busy hospital emergency roomand you will see a variety of tragic injuries:

  • Self-inflicted: damage either through intentional injury to oneself or neglect of one’s health that led to a crisis
  • Accidental: unintentional injury by family, friends, or strangers
  • Intentional: suffering because family, friends, or strangers intended to bring the person harm
  • Fatigue and Exhaustion: feel like giving up which might lead to self-inflicted harm

Doctors assess the injuries and process the injured with hopes of recovery. Some injuries are severe and the patient may be damaged for life or even die. Some injuries, with care and healthy treatment, can be healed and the patient can enjoy a full recovery. But injuries require wise intervention and care in order to have a chance for success.

Spiritual TraumaEmergency

A discerning eye will notice the hurt and drama beneath the surface of some who are suffering spiritual trauma in the local assembly. Spiritual injuries may mimic physical injuries and like the emergency room patient, these souls need treatment from the Great Physician to find healing. Jesus described Himself as a physician to the spiritual needs of humanity:

And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

It makes sense that Christians would work with The Great Physician to comfort  the spiritually sick and nurse them back to health. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, Paul urged Christians to “comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” In this sense, the family of God can serve as a spiritual hospital providing care to the spiritually sick, injured, and dying. The injuries in the local assembly often resemble the physical injuries in an emergency room.

Self-Inflicted Wounds

Intentional: Some suffer spiritual pain and damage because of poor choices. They knew the right way but chose to sin. The sinner can ask for forgiveness but may reap earthly consequences. Proverbs 5:7-14 warns the young man not to get caught up in sexual sin lest:

you give your honor to others and your years to the merciless, lest strangers take their fill of your strength, and your labors go to the house of a foreigner, and at the end of your life you groan, when your flesh and body are consumed, and you say, “How I hated discipline, and my heart despised reproof! I did not listen to the voice of my teachers or incline my ear to my instructors. I am at the brink of utter ruin in the assembled congregation.” (ESV)

Neglect: Some suffer spiritually because they neglected their spiritual health. Just as neglecting to exercise and eat right will lead to physical problems, neglecting the exercise of godliness and nourishment from God’s word will cause us spiritual injury. The Hebrew writers warned that we need to focus on our salvation lest we drift away from it, Hebrews 2:1-3.

Both spiritual wounds can be healed though there may be lasting scars. When a sinner repents, the spiritual need to nourish them back to health. Sometimes we may need to help them deal with ongoing consequences of sin. We might need to help them forgive themselves. We must provide help without belittling them and help them leave the past in the past. Most are acutely aware of the consequences of their actions and condemn themselves far more than we could. If they have sought forgiveness, we need to help them rebuild and turn their defeat into a victory for God.

When someone realizes the spiritual weakness brought on by neglect there is an opportunity for Christians to provide growth opportunities. Personal teaching and team involvement in service to God can help the person grow and become strong in their faith. We cannot undo years of wasted opportunity but we can begin today to build a better tomorrow. One of my favorite quotes to encourage me when I feel I have wasted opportunities is “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.”

Accidental Injuries

A person could be reeling from emotional pain or spiritual discouragement because of the careless words of well meaning individuals. A friend who worked with parents who lost young children recounted the many dumb things that people will say to a grieving parent with intent to provide comfort. I was in a situation where a brother with good intentions said something to a visitor that was a great discouragement to him. These are not instances of bullying but carelessness that results in injury. Christians can help the injured get resolution with the offending person to begin healing. If the offender is unwilling to apologize or does not acknowledge the wrong, Christians should help the injured heal and put the incident behind them.

Intentional Injuries

Someone may enter you assembly who is the victim of a deliberate attack on their character, motives, or faith. Perhaps they have been assaulted by those who, like Diotrophes, run the local church like a tyrant or by a clique (which should not be present) that mistreats those out of “the” group. It may be enemies of the faith have been assailing their commitment to God and the Bible and belittling their faith. It could be any form of abuse where someone uses the faith to manipulate, use, and control another person. Paul warned Timothy of those who would have an appearance of godliness but harm others. The abusive nature of the Pharisees in the New Testament towards Jesus, His followers, and those who were healed demonstrate oppression by those who have an appearance of godliness.

Christians have a responsibility to stand against faith abusers. We must not let spiritual bullies intimidate the weak or immature and must not ignore their ungodly behavior. Sometimes these spiritual bullies can be preachers, elders, teachers, prominent members, and those who have a prominent role in the local church or the community. We must never forget that the church belongs to Christ, purchased with His blood, and no man or woman should be allowed to exercise such damaging influence. Local churches can be rendered impotent or ultimately destroyed by such people. Those who are strong should stand up for the weak, and for the Lord, against such behavior in hopes of preventing injuries and perhaps turning the heart of the bully back to God.

Christians also have a responsibility to demonstrate the true love of Christ in helping the victims of spiritual attack to heal. We have to demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit in our lives and help them to understand that the abuse was not pleasing to God no matter how favorably other Christians may have viewed the abuser. Sometimes people may come from an abusive situation to be part of the local Christian family. We must remember to show hospitality and, in this case, put the “hospital” in “hospitality.” We are helping them build new friendships and rebuild Christian associations. Many are going to feel vulnerable and may hesitate to get involved with others again in order to avoid being hurt. This is an effect of spiritual shock and warm reception and acceptance will help them feel like they can love their brethren again. Hospitality allows us to demonstrate our love and acceptance and help them heal from spiritual trauma. Remember that some people have thicker skin and and can react somewhat detached and logical in the face of problems, some have thinner skin (neither good nor bad) and feel the pain of strife, struggle, and separation more acutely. Some may take time to feel comfortable blending into a new congregation and hospitality will help them feel more like family.

We must also comfort and assist those attacked by outside forces. I remember a few years ago several Christians comforting and encouraging a high school girl who stood up for her faith and the teaching of scripture and received venomous comments and vicious attacks on a web site when a class mate posted her comments on an atheism group. Those of us who have been attacked for our faith can provide comfort and guidance to those under attack.

Fatigue and Exhaustion

Look around the audience during the next assembly. That brother or sister giving you a weak smile may be holding on to a little faith, faintly resisting the urge to give up, but may feel ready to quit fighting. There may be more fatigued brethren present than you realize. Sometimes I have been surprised to discuss with someone I perceived to have strong faith and a close relationship with God about their thoughts of committing spiritual suicide; to just give up. Some are beat down by trials in life (trials that give others strength). Some are burned out by godly service, family obligations, or prolonged spiritual battles. In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, Paul reminds us of our responsibilities in these situations: “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.”

Warn those who are out of line: perhaps the spiritual bullies, those who are disruptive, or negligent in their faith and leading others astray. Those who are not rebellious do not need warning but encouragement. “Fainthearted” is used several times in the Old Testament of those who are fearful in the presence of a great enemy. Do not belittle them or chide them for a lack of faith; give them comfort. For those who are weak, bear their burden and be a crutch to help them until they can stand again. Whether the trial is physical or spiritual, they need us to keep them from falling. Whether we think they should be stronger or should handle their situation differently is irrelevant; we need to be patient with them and encourage their faithfulness.

Receiving the Weak and Suffering

When we are aware of hurting brethren, we should then nourish, comfort, and bandage their wounds. “Inasumuch as you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”

Many feel unwanted when they come into our assembly. They are “congregationally homeless.” Some have endured sniping comments, unfair criticism, lost friendships, and isolation. When these brethren walk through our doors they are very vulnerable. They do not feel wanted and we cannot tell them by words or actions that we don’t want them here. Not only do we want them, we need them! The Lord wants them. We must be the expression of God’s love to them by our words and actions.

The symbol of American freedom, the Statue of Liberty, calls out

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.””

How much more should the Lord’s church.

The 5 Most Important Days in a Christian’s Life

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CalendarIf you live 80 full years, you will live 29,200 days. Some days pass by slowly and others like the blink of an eye. Some days you want to end and some days you want to last forever. Those days may include weddings and funerals, celebrations and consolation, the best and worst of times. But of all the days in your life, there are five that are the most important.

First Day: When You Were Born

You were given an eternal soul at conception and the day of your birth started your journey outside of your mother’s womb. Though you were defenseless and helpless, you would grow and become more independent. Of the billions of people who have lived on this Earth for many thousands of years you were unique and there will be no one, even a twin or your child, who will be exactly like you.

Second Day: When You Realized Why

Dr. Kevin Elko cited these first two days as being so important. At some point in life you have or will wonder why you are here or what is your purpose in life. You have unique talents and abilities and the opportunity to do good or harm with your actions. Sometimes we ask in sadness, perhaps feeling rejected and worthless, wondering why we are alive and doubting that it is for a good reason. Such is the voice of depression and we should ignore it.

But why are we here? I don’t think that God has a detailed plan for our life  that we must discover through vague feelings and events in our lives. God does have a big plan for us: Titus 2:11-14. God created us to glorify Him as He blesses us as His children. He gives us the choice of how we want to live that life, Ecclesiastes 11:8-10; 12:131-14.

So what do you want to accomplish in your life? How do you want to use your talents to live a life that makes the world a better place and glorifies God? When you find that answer, it will be the second greatest day in your life.

Third Day: When You Take Ownership of Your Life

What does it mean to take ownership? When you buy a car and have paid the full amount you are given a title of ownership which indicates you have control over it. You can choose to sell it, paint it with polka dots, modify it, beat it with a sledgehammer, or anything else that is not illegal. You are responsible for taking care of it and repairing any damage that is your fault. As owner, you have control over it.

God has given us ownership of our lives in that we are responsible for the consequences of our actions. As God, He maintains ownership of His creation but requires us to be good stewards, or caretakers, of our lives and the opportunities we are given. Ecclesiastes 11:9 and 12:14 reminds us that God wants us to enjoy life but with an eye towards judgment. Romans 2:1-11 teaches that our actions on earth will influence our eternal destiny. Hebrews 9:27 also reminds us of the individual judgment of each person. God will not  judge us by our parents or grandparents faithfulness or wickedness.

Each of us will face God to give an accounting for how we’ve lived and receive judgment from Him. The accounting should remind us of the parables of stewardship, such as the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 24:14-30, where the master gave the servants money (a talent was a measure of money) and expected them to do good things with it when he was away. He came back to judge how they used the money in his service. The master rewarded those who used the talents in a positive way . The master punished the man who did nothing with his talent. Consider how we are to give an accounting to our master on Judgment Day based on how we have used the abilities and opportunities God gave us:

  • Romans 14:11-13: Each of us will give an accounting to God
  • Hebrews 4:12-14: All things in our life will be laid open before God but his word can help us prepare for that accounting
  • Matthew 12:36: We will give account for every idle, or casual, word
  • 1 Peter 4:1-6: The wicked will give an account of their wasted life and be punished

When we take ownership of our actions and realize that when we do right or wrong there is no one responsible but ourselves, we will grow in maturity and realize the control God has given us over our eternal destiny. Some people live their lives blaming other people and events for all that is going on in their lives. We cannot control the events or what other people do, but we can choose how we will react to it and what impact it will make in our lives. Some people have been through evil at the hands of others or terrible personal problems out of their control yet became stronger and closer to God as a result. It is up to us.

Fourth Day: When You Become God’s Child

When we realize that God has given us a life to enjoy yet with an eye towards judgment and that we are responsible for our lives, the next day should come naturally: the day we become God’s child. In Acts 2:36-38, those who called for Jesus’ death realized, at Peter’s preaching, that He was the Son of God and wanted forgiveness. Peter told them to believe and be baptized, or immersed, to receive forgiveness of sins. Galatians 3:26-27 says that we become the children of God through faith and put on Christ in baptism. The day we realize that we are responsible for our relationship with God and dedicate our life to Him by becoming His child, is the greatest of the five days we are discussing.

Day Five: Day of Judgment

The song “There’s A Great Day Coming” describes the greatness in magnitude of the Day of Judgment. It describes the happy day for the children of God who go on to their reward and the sad day when those who reject God go into punishment, 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10; Hebrews 10:26-31; Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 20:11-15. As Hebrews 9:27 points out, we all have that appointment.

God’s children must prepare now for that day. God’s word, as described earlier, can help us see ourselves as God sees us. We can see the good things that we must continue and the bad things we need to eliminate. Attention to God’s word can help us prepare for a favorable judgment, 2 Timothy 2:15. Paul further tells Timothy that God’s word is completely sufficient to equip him for all he needs to know and do to please God, 2 Timothy 3:13-17. Though God will judge our deeds, Ephesians 2:4-10 reminds us that we are saved through grace. If we rebel against God and are disobedient, we lose access to that grace (Hebrews 10:26-31).

Let us live every day to the glory of God, zealous for good works done to His honor and praise, and enjoy the life God has given us. Then every day will be a blessed day in God’s presence.

To Preach With PowerPoint or Without?

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If you are a preacher, why do you use PowerPoint? Seriously ponder the question. To look technically savvy? The congregation expects it? Everybody does it? It enhances your communication of the message? You’ve always done it (or something like it)? You like making pretty slides?

Television and internet production technology conceptPerhaps you think the audience remembers better if they see and hear the message. Kenton Anderson asked a provoking question “Does PowerPoint Increase Retention” on his blog. Does any preacher dare ask members a couple of weeks later what he preached about on a given day. For our sanity and fragile self-image we often avoid asking such questions. If we could prove that sermons preached with PowerPoint are retained clearer and longer than messages delivered without them then the matter would be closed. I am certain that certain complex topics explained with a meaningful graphic are long remembered  but is this the exception?

I rarely use PowerPoint when preaching. I’m not averse to technology; I have used computer technology since I was a teen. It’s not that I haven’t given it a chance; I went though a period where I always used PowerPoint. I use PowerPoint when I feel it helps explain or illustrate a concept that is difficult to understand or a series of thoughts that I want to link for clarity. If it has a purpose, I will use it. PowerPoint is a tool that can enhance or disturb the message.

Effective communication requires purpose

Conscientious and effective preachers labor over the structure of the sermon, what passages, illustrations, and points to include and exclude. Good sermon preparation is often focused on weeding thoughts instead of adding material. So when the sermon is complete, what is the purpose of the PowerPoint? How does each slide communicate the message? If it is eye candy to accompany the spoken word, could the time spent in slide presentation be put to a better use in the kingdom? If slides can help communication or retention, give adequate attention to constructing an effective visual message.

Borrowing from the wise advice “speak when it improves the silence” use PowerPoint only when it enhances the message. Some situations where I will use PowerPoint:

  • Maps, historical pictures and illustrations, and archaeological artifacts
  • Multiple quotes (i.e., Bible commentators, subject experts, news excerpts for a culture issue)
  • Statistical data, especially when used for comparison (i.e., number of abortions in a year relative to country populations for the same year)
  • Showing a rapid succession of short verses to support a main point to keep the audience focused on the big picture
  • Describing a process
  • Dissecting a difficult passage

Some argue that PowerPoint will allow the audience to remain focused on the main point being discussed and I have used slides for that purpose. It can help those wrestling with children or otherwise distracted know the main point that is being discussed. Before PowerPoints, many of us would use an overhead projector and reveal main points printed or written on a transparency. The truly old school created charts on white bed sheets (some of these charts were beautifully designed). One of the highlights of my youth was standing tall on a stage holding the corner of a sheet for the visiting preacher.

If you use PowerPoint when you preach, make sure it serves a purpose. Like any tool, it can be extremely effective when used well and a distraction when used poorly.

Questions preachers should ask when using PowerPoint:

Should we put all the Bible verses on Powerpoint?

I advocate putting verses that you might quote in rapid succession to allow the audience to read what you were going to quote without turning to the passage. I don’t advise putting a long passage on a slide so that it is unreadable.

One argument for putting every Bible verse on the chart is that visitors who have a hard time finding passages will be able to read it without being lost turning pages. A disadvantage is that Christians can become dependent on the displayed passage instead of reading it for themselves where they can look at other verses in context. Personally, I will put some small verses on the PowerPoint but reserve some passages, particularly lengthy passages, for reading directly from the Bible (with the verse citation on the slide). Some churches address the visitor concern by using the same Bible in the pew and calling pew Bible page numbers in addition to the reference.

Should we use pictures representing Jesus?

Should you use artist representation of Jesus on slides? Some object strongly to using a cartoon, illustration, or actor representing Jesus either because it is representing God in image form or they simply do not like it. Some will use silhouette images, primarily on the cross, to illustrate the point without using a detailed image of Jesus. A significant problem is that some images portray Jesus as a European. Some images are effeminate looking. Personally, I avoid using representations of Jesus when I use charts.

Should I dump my outline onto the slides?

No. Seriously…no.

5 Ways to Annoy an Audience with PowerPoint

  1. Put so many words on your slide that one could not read it from the front pew
  2. Use every transition in every presentation
  3. Make sure you use grainy unfocused images
  4. People love “read along with the preacher” so put every word on your slides
  5. Use light colored text on a light background for a greater audience challenge

Do not construe my comments to being anti-PowerPoint. If you use it, have a purpose and invest the time (or money) to create quality slides that enhance your presentation and the audience’s understanding of God’s word.

Who Can Live With God?

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Though God desires all men to come to Him through Jesus, the one who would accept that invitation must strive to be like God. We cannot simply confess our sinfulness and brokenness and make no effort to purge bigstock-reaching-the-heaven-29396564wickedness from our lives. We must purify our lives in order to reflect the glory of the Father.

David contemplated the character of one who would abide in the tabernacle of God and dwell in His holy hill in Psalm 15. Here are the characteristics he observed:

  1. Walks uprightly: The ESV says one who walks blamelessly. The word “walk” describes a manner of living. To live blamelessly means that no charge can easily be made against him. He strives to live holy because God is holy. 1 John 3:7 says, “Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.” (ESV)
  2. Does what is right: Not only does he live righteously, he is actively doing good. He follows the righteousness of the gospel (Romans 1:16-17). He produces good fruit because of the living faith planted within (James 2:14-17). Who he is and what he does is right.
  3. Speaks truth in his heart: His life is not a false front. From the depths of his heart, he embraces truth. He does not allow wickedness in the place where no one would see it. He is true to God in the one place that only he and God can see. He also has a tender heart to receive and practice the truth.
  4. Does not slander: James 3 urges the believer to control his tongue. 2 Corinthians 12:20 warns that an uncontrolled tongue can destroy the relationship between brethren. This person does not use his tongue to tear down others but builds them up with graceful words of truth.
  5. Does no evil to a neighbor or friend: He does not speak evil slander nor does he do wrong with his hands against others. His neighborly love is such that he will not listen to gossip or lies spoken against the neighbor or friend. Instead of doing harm to a neighbor, he helps and protects him.
  6. Honors the godly and despises the vile: He gives honor to those who, like him, honor God and respect His word. These are the people with whom he shares a brotherhood and common love. Because of this desire to live holy, he cannot stand that which is wicked. It disappoints him to see people rejecting God and embracing immoral lifestyles. Like Lot, his soul is vexed by the evil conduct of the wicked, 2 Peter 2:7. The Judean king Jehoshaphat was rebuked for his association with the wicked kings of Israel in 2 Chronicles 19:2: ““Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord?” The one who loves God will love the lost souls but despises their behavior.
  7. Keeps his integrity even if costs him financially: He will take a financial loss to preserve his good name and avoid bringing reproach on the name of Christ. If he gives his word, he will keep it no matter what the cost. Of course, one would be wise to keep his mouth from making agreements that will be costly to fulfill. However, for the sake of integrity, one must keep the promise and strive to make better promises in the future. In 1 Corinthians 6:6-8, Paul urges believers to settle financial differences away from the court system instead of being a bad example before the unbelievers. He urged them to take the dispute to knowledgeable and fair brethren or, if necessary, to accept being wronged rather than acting disgracefully and materialistic before the unbelievers.
  8. Generous lender: He does not take advantage of others in financial distress. He is generous and helpful to the needy. He uses his financial blessings to be a blessing to others.
  9. Does not take bribes: Not only is he generous, his integrity and sense of justice will not allow him to take a bribe against the innocent. He does not compromise others and he is not compromised himself. He will not pervert justice for financial or personal gain.

The principles described in Psalms are the core values of the believer. They become part of the character and guiding principles to ensure the person stays on the correct path. Daily Bible study and prayer help refine and improve the strength and depth of these values. Daily exercise of righteousness further integrates the will of God and the character of His follower.

David notes that if a person embraces these principles he can live in God’s holy hill and shall never be moved. From integrity in the heart to the outward display of righteousness and good, this person strives to be like God and to be with God. And to paraphrase a popular song, “No power of hell nor scheme of man can ever pluck him from God’s hand.” He will not budge from his desire to be with God.

Confused Christian Communication

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Noise fills the air but nothing makes sense. Sometimes we focus on our message and tune out others. At other times we fit their words into our expectation of what they mean. Often we simply wait for them to be quiet so we can continue our message. Just because two people are talking together, it doesn’t mean they are in the same conversation.

I’ve been in arguments where the person insisted that I meant something I did not say. They twisted my words to fit their preconception. I left those arguments.

Spiritual conversations often become confusing because two people are talking but not communicating. Sometimes they assign different meanings to the same words. At other times they ignore what is being said because it doesn’t fit their view of the scripture.

This happened often in the life of Jesus. Consider these conversations from the gospel of John:

  • John 3: Jesus discusses the spiritual birth while Nicodemus is thinking of the impossibility of physical rebirth. In time Nicodemus comes to understand the words of Jesus.
  • John 4: Jesus discusses spiritual nourishment while the woman at the well is focused on her physical needs. Eventually she and Jesus are talking about the same topic.
  • John 6: Jesus teaches the multitude about the bread of life and the crowd is focused on bread for their stomach. Eventually some get frustrated and quit following Jesus.
  • There are numerous instances of the disciples being confused about the sayings of Jesus or focusing on earthly things and worldly power instead of spiritual things. In time they were in the same conversation with Jesus.
  • Ultimately the gospel of John is a conversation taking people from a view that Jesus is a good man and a great teacher to seeing Him as the Son of God and the true light and life for humanity.

Knowing this about human nature, it should not surprise us that we can have confusing conversations. This should encourage us to be more humble and patient with others. If people talking to Jesus had a hard time understanding spiritual things, we will probably have similar challenges.

Evangelism

We should not be easily frustrated when teaching the gospel to someone who has no background with the Bible, Jesus, or spiritual things and they don’t grasp what we are saying. Some people see the truth immediately as it shines bright in the darkness of their ignorance. Others are confused by false teaching and worldliness which clouds their minds which must be un-learned before they can receive the truth. 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 reminds us that the gospel can be covered (veiled) to the lost because of the work of error. Be patient and help the person clear the rubble of confusion and error to uncover the truth.

Relationships with Other Christians

1 Corinthians 2:14-16 tells us that non-Christians will not understand the spiritual things of God immediately and may think it is foolish. New Christians who have immature Bible knowledge will not immediately understand spiritual principles and we must be patient as they grow in understanding. (Ephesians 1:15-18).bigstock-Businessman-42201676

When a church has people who are spiritually minded and some who are focused on worldly things, there will be confusion, division, and strife (1 Corinthians 3:1-4).  Each Christian should strive to grow in knowledge and maturity into the fullness of Christ, Ephesians 4:12-14 to prevent such problems and deal appropriately with those who though ignorance or arrogance are not acting with the mind of Christ.

Personal Growth

We must also be patient with ourselves. As we grow in the knowledge of God and His will, we may struggle with our immature understanding and the truth of God’s word. We must trust God and continue to study and grow. We will not learn everything at once but it creates a lifetime of joy as we “grow in the grace and knowledge” of God’s will. Spend time with God’s word daily even if you don’t always grasp what you are reading. It may be that, like the apostles, woman at the well, and disciples of Jesus, you are missing what God is saying. If you continue the conversation you will eventually understand what is being said.

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