What Price Will You Pay for A Good Time?

I met someone a few weeks ago that reminded me that when people choose to live time in sin, they not only waste that time of relationship with God and fellow Christians and good influence, He struggled with drug use and other immoral behaviors and was far behind his peers in career and life advancement because he is having to break from a terrible addiction. The consequences of his decisions are more than a damaged body. His dignity, self-respect, economic status, freedom, and relationships have been damaged. He is struggling to hold onto faith and rebuild his life.

A young man walks into the desolate desertSome are not addicted to drugs but become ensnared by immoral behavior. They start going to places they once avoided. They quit feeding on God’s word (if they ever ate deeply), occasionally snacking on devotional passages or positive verses while ignoring the call to holiness and righteousness demanded by the savior, and quit associating with Christian friends that will hold them accountable. Eventually they are drawn deeper into immorality, doing things they never thought they would do, and learning the emptiness of sin’s illusions.

IF they return to God (not guaranteed) they waste even more time trying to disengage from immoral behaviors and habits, emotionally wrestle with past sinful behavior, struggle to rebuild a relationship with God and those they have alienated, and rebuild their dignity and reputation. Sin leaves scars and the person will not be the same again. They can repent and strive to live a holy life and even accomplish some great things for God. Yet I have met some of the most active and enthusiastic Christians who mourn the decisions of an immoral past even though they know they are forgiven. There is an emotional price to sexual immorality and a relationship impact on future relationships. There is shame for actions taken and things said while intoxicated (Proverbs 23:29-35). More than this, there is the spiritual weakness while separated from God and His people and the loss of spiritual growth as one abandons serious personal Bible study, engaging in worship, and spiritual discussions with godly people. That time will never be recovered and the spiritual neglect will lead to a diseased soul.

It was sad seeing a guy who lost years to sin and more years to recovery because he wanted to enjoy the sinful life. It’s even sadder thinking of people I know who died during the time they wandered from God because they were with people doing ungodly things or never had time to return to God. I think also of some who became so involved in sin that they could not find their way back. Others felt they had done too much or really wanted to have that relationship with God they once had but felt but weren’t motivated enough to change. Sadly, their life is not better for having left the Lord. Jesus paid the ultimate cost to purchase their salvation but they crucified Him again to take the old life of sin from the cross and let it live again in them, Hebrews 6:4-8.

It reminds me of a friend’s wise, oft quoted, admonition: “Sin will take you farther than you wanted to go, keep you longer than you wanted to stay, and cost more than you wanted to pay.”

Though it is talking about adultery, read Proverbs 5:7-14 in the context of being seduced by sin, replacing the seductive message of the woman with the deceptive appeal of Satan, and ponder the price of a life alienated from God:

And now, O sons, listen to me,
and do not depart from the words of my mouth.
Keep your way far from her,
and do not go near the door of her house,
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)

The Christian’s “Moment of Truth”

The phrase “moment of truth” first appeared in Earnest Hemingway’s 1932 bullfighting story “Death in the Afternoon,” from Spanish el momento de la verdad.(1) In a bullfight, the “moment of truth” is when

“to end a bullfight, the matador takes his sword and must get the bull to charge straight at him, so that he can lean over the bull’s horns and kill him by stabbing just behind the back of the head. Many matadors can do very graceful and artistic moves with the cape and the maleta (the red cloth-on-a stick used to lure the bull) but lack the nerve to do the final killing properly. The ‘moment of truth’ is when he and the audience find out if he really has what it takes.”(2)

The phrase has come to mean a decisive moment of a challenge or test in which one finds if they have the strength, integrity, and courage to do the right thing. For the one who follows God, the phrase as come to mean a time in which we are tested by a temptation or a situation in which we see how strong our faith is and how much we really depend on God.

Believers Standing in the Moment of Truth

In a time of trial or temptation, our character is revealed. The Bible is filled with examples of faithful men and women who stood strong in the face of severe trial.

When David faced the giant Goliath he had great confidence in God’s ability to bring a victory, 1 Samuel 17:31-27. David knew Goliath was defying the armies of Israel, 1 Samuel 17:23-24. Even though King Saul, the brothers of David, and Goliath had no faith in David, in the moment of truth, David’s faith in God brought about a victory.

The book of Daniel begins with Daniel and friends courageously requesting a special diet that would allow them not to violate their conscience though they were new captives under a conquering government. They rose to positions of power and were challenged with a test of faith: Nebuchadnezzar built a golden image and commanded others to worship it on a given time. Daniels friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, had a chance to give up and live or obey God with a chance to die. Though cast into the fiery furnace they were protected from the fire and Nebuchadnezzar was taught a lesson.

Before His crucifixion, Jesus prayed fervently in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was heavy with sorrow and struggled with the violent death He was about to face and the anguish His family and friends would endure. Matthew 26:36-46 tells how Jesus trusted the Father to strengthen Him in trial and take care of Him through death.

We could give many other examples: Abraham being commanded to offer Isaac, apostles being brought before the worldly powers and commanded to quit preaching Jesus, the Christians persecuted from town to town, etc. These examples demonstrate how God’s people will often find times in their lives when they face a test or a temptation, a “moment of truth”, where their faith and obedience is tested.

Our Moment of Truth

We will all face moments of truth. Our friends and family may not know we are facing the test: it may come when we are alone or around strangers away from home. Our loved ones may be going through a moment of truth and we do not realize it.

Our moment of truth may be a very public test with people we love, perhaps fellow Christians, watching to see how we will react when tested. We often do not know when these times will come. Sometimes they are disguised as small decisions about whether to do the right or wrong thing.

One against allIn high school, a friend of mine made what seemed like a small decision to hang out with some friends of poor moral character instead of the good friends that he used to hang out with. Soon they were involved in things like alcohol and drugs and, after being caught breaking into the school to steal some sound equipment, was sent away to live with his father in another state and to go down a different path.

Sometimes the test is obvious and you know that this decision will send you on a path closer to or farther away from God.

As a teenager I faced such a decision knowing that choosing one path would lead to a life of selfish and sinful living and the other path would lead to a devotion to Jesus and serving Him. I sat all afternoon on a mountain side contemplating my decision, counting the cost and examining my heart, with a determination that I would choose my path at sunset and live with it.

Many times the test will come when you are bruised, broken down, tired, abandoned, misunderstood, and feel that everyone has given up on you. At those times it is easy to give up on doing the right thing and giving into sin. It is when you are beat up and exhausted that you must dig deep and find the character to stand up, do the right thing, and prevail.

Revelation 2:10 – “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

Don’t give up, don’t quit

The moment of victory is often disguised as defeat. Popular superhero movies often show the hero rejected by the public, misunderstood by his family and friends, confused about himself, and doubting his ability to achieve victory but, when it appears defeat is imminent, he finds the strength to gain a victory.

There are many real life examples of people who have been in the same position who, in the moment of truth, stood up to do the right thing amidst doubts from self and others and opposition and gained a victory for good.

We must fight diligently for if we are fighting to overcome sin, God is fighting on our side—but we must not give up the fight. If we are still fighting a long battle, it means that the enemy has not won. He may not be defeated yet, but he does not have the victory! We must not hand Satan a victory and must remember that he will not give up ground that he thinks he can win.

Preparing for the trial and temptation

How can we stand alone like young David on the plain facing the giant, courageous like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in the face of the angry and powerful king, or determined like Jesus going to a violent death, or the early Christians facing persecution with great humility and resolve to do what is right?

  • Wear your spiritual armor in the time of trial and temptation, Ephesians 6:10-18
  • Study God’s word
    • Teaches you what you should do, right and wrong, and how you should act
    • Teaches you what Satan and his followers do and how they act (what not to do)
    • Provides promises of God’s strength and heavenly reward to allow you to endure whatever trial knowing you have a greater reward that awaits you.
    • Provides godly wisdom of how to act during the time of trial.
    • Gives examples of great men and women of faith who endured great trials and overcame evil.
  • Pray for God’s wisdom and strength to endure all trials
    • You need God’s power to stand up under the time of trial.
    • Consider Jesus’ example in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38)
    • Colossians 1:9-11: “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy,”
  • Be courageous and stand firm in the power of God as David, Daniel and his friends, and many Bible examplesdemonstrate.
    • 1 Timothy 6:11-12: “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”
    • James 4:7-8: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

If you are living as a child of God every day, studying, praying, actively doing good, forsaking evil, and devoting your life to Christ, you will be ready when you find yourself in the moment of truth.

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(1) http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=moment+of+truth

(2) http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/44/messages/814.html

Five Principles for a Focused Life

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?

Hear a sermon I preached on Five Principles for a Focused Life

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.

Don’t Talk Your Dreams To Death

In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty. Proverbs 14:23

“In all toil (labor) there is profit”
Diligent work always leads to some result or profit of benefit to the worker. Most work is neither easy nor fun but it does pay the bills and provides money for doing good and having fun. Even if you have a job you enjoy, there will be  unpleasant duties. People who love to garden still must get dirty, sweaty, and dig through the soil if they want to have the flowers or produce of the garden.

“Mere talk leads to poverty”
In contrast to diligent labor, talk without action leads to poverty. Idle talking does not pay and has gotten some people fired. Grandiose plans and slick presentations may impress others but it does not pay one cent if no labor is expended to make the dream a reality.

The first obvious application—indeed the natural application—of this verse is to the business world. In the early days of personal computers —before the average person could access the Internet—a man I knew had great plans to work with realtors to put pictures of houses for sale on videodisc (pre-DVD) with sale information for agents and customers. He had a prototype system, good marketing plan, and enthusiastic presentation. He talked with people in the office about his plans and the unlimited potential for profits. One problem: he did not have customers or profit from the work because he did not get out and talk to the customers who needed the system. In short, he planned and talked his way to poverty while other people, through hard work, were able to profit from similar ideas.

The world is made up of  poor creative geniuses and  rich people of average intelligence. The difference is not what they know but by what they do.

This principle is especially important for spiritual growth. Is your spiritual life the product of hard work or mere talk?

Some people talk about “getting their life right” or “straightening up” but still hang out with ungodly friends, feed their minds with filth, and do not change. Some say they want to pray or study more—and do so year after year. Some talk about doing more things with their brethren, helping the sick or needy, or getting involved with some work in the church but do not act.

Some people realize their life is displeasing to God, is yielding undesirable consequences, and is unsatisfying so they change their behavior. Some want a closer relationship with God and execute a plan to study and pray more frequently. Some take action to involve themselves with their brethren so they can have richer and deeper fellowship with other Christians.

If you want to have a rich and meaninful spiritual life, you’ll have to work for it.

  • Romans 13:11-14 – Awake and get busy
  • Thessalonians 5:4-8 – get busy with good things
  • Ephesians 5:14-17 – wake up and make good use of your time

 “He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty.” Proverbs 28:19 (NIV)

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” How sad it will be for those who dreamed of a close relationship with God and their brethren, a close loving family, and a meaningful life’s work to fail because they only dreamed and did not act.

When God Delays

When we pray to God, sometimes we expect God to answer us immediately. We are used to instant results from texting, overnight shipping, fast food, etc. Sometimes we may feel that God is not listening or doesn’t care when we cry out to Him. However, as we mature in our faith we discover lessons that can only be learned by God’s delay in answering our prayers.

Despite the empty promises of some health-and-wealth preachers, believers are never promised a life free of suffering. In fact, suffering believers are main characters in the Bible story. The story of Job and the words of Jesus in John 9:1-2 and Luke 13:1-5 clearly separate suffering and disaster from one’s righteousness or lack of it. We may suffer consequences of sinful actions but we can also suffer from time and chance. If obedience to Christ guaranteed a prosperous and pain-free life, few would reject the gospel’s call. Sometimes we must suffer as Christians.

Believers sometimes feel that God is not helping them during trials. We can feel abandoned and cry out “Why have you forsaken me?” Perhaps we might wonder if we have cleansed our hands in vain (Psalm 73). In agony or frustration we might cry out to God, “Where are you?!?” Consider these heartfelt cries from the Psalms:

  • Psalm 43:1-2 – “Why have you cast me off?”
  • Psalm 44:23 – “Why do you sleep, O’ Lord?”
  • Psalm 88:13-14 – “Why do you cast off my soul?”

Our cries are more bitter when we hear the scoffer and enemy say, “Where is your God?” Depression can lead to doubt. Frustration with God can lead to anger. How can God’s delay in answering our cry benefit us?

Delay Challenges Us To Use Our Faith

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.

Jesus told a parable to teach believers not to give up. The Persistent Widow and the Judge (Luke 18:1-8) teaches that God is a just and loving Father but sometes He “bears with us” before answering. It takes faith to continue to pray and hope when it appears that any reason to hope is gone. Jesus asked a soul searching question at the end of the parable: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Will He find people who still trust Him even when it appears that He is not responding to their prayers? He told a parable to teach believers not to give up and wonders if anyone will not give up!

Delay Teaches Total Dependence On God

Some consider themselves dependent on God but when things turn against them, they feel God has forsaken them and they reject Him. Dependence on God must not depend on external factors: possessions, health, employment status. It is easy to feel dependent on God when your enemies are lying at your feet, the battles are won, and the treasures gained. The challenge is to be faithful when you remain faithful in the face of defeat. Revelation 20:8-9 portrays a small city of saints surrounded by a army reaching to the horizon all around. Only when the enemy closed in and was ready to smash the small company of believers did God unleash His fury and destroy the opposition. Though He could have destroyed them before they came near the city, He challenged the faith of the believers to maintain their hope and dedication in the face of what appeared to be certain defeat. How many will lose faith and give up before the victory? Who will still rely on God when it appears that God is unreliable?

We often rely too much on our own power. We must understand that control is an illusion and that most things are out of our control. God’s delay reinforces this and encourages us to rely on God’s power (2 Corinthians 4:7-10)

Delay Teaches The Believer Hope

According to Romans 5:3-4, it is tribulation that yields hope, not ease. Perseverance is not succeeding but trying and failing, without giving up. Character is not a sterling reputation but the excellence that comes from enduring trial when it would be easy to give up or, through deception, trying to escape a trial that one must face. When we have forged strong character through patient endurance, we emerge with a hope for better days and eternal rest from all trials.

What Christians sometimes fail to realize is that suffering on earth sweetens the taste of heaven! The more we must endure suffering, the less hold the world can have on us. Why should we desire rest for our labor when the work is not hard? Why would we hope for a home in heaven if our home on earth is comfortable enough? Can the promise of “no more sorrows or tears” in heaven mean anything if our hearts are not broken and we suffer no loss on earth? Suffering allows us to see earthly things in their fragility and the greater value of eternal things.

When you must face trials that seem unending and unrelenting, let it draw you closer to God and teach you lessons you could learn no other way.