DON'T BE LAZY

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An article dated April 16, 2014 appeared on the website of the New York Daily News entitled “Laziness could be hereditary, study suggests.” The article tells of research conducted at the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine where experiments conducted on rats lead to the identification of “36 genes that may play a role in predisposition to physical activity motivation.” As a result, “researchers came to the conclusion that there is such a thing as a genetic predisposition to laziness” [1].

To be fair, I’m not referencing this research so that we can find a justifiable reason for being lazy. Instead, I am referencing this research in order to point out that as humans in this technologically advanced, western civilization we can easily find ourselves predisposed to laziness, regardless of whether or not it is in our genes. So, it is worth considering what the Bible has to say about laziness in regards to both physical inactivity and spiritual inactivity.

In 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 Paul addressed the subject of laziness (or idleness), and was highly critical of those who are idle, lazy, and refuse to work. In fact, Paul identified laziness as walking “disorderly” in 2 Thessalonians 3:11 (NKJV). Instead of “disorderly,” other translations refer to it as walking “unruly” (NASB), “irresponsibly” (HCSB), or “undisciplined” (CEB). The Greek term being utilized here to describe the type of walk in which these idle individuals were engaged means “not in proper order, undisciplined, disorderly, [or] insubordinate” [2]. It refers to behavior that is inconsistent with expectations. So, Paul refers to living idly or behaving lazily as something that is out of line. But “out of line” with what?

Paul contended that laziness is out of line with God’s expectations, and he did so by appealing to his own ministry. First, he drew a contrast between those who walk “disorderly” and the way he walked. In 2 Thessalonians 3:7-8, he wrote, “you…know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you.” In other words, Paul indicated that orderly conduct was demonstrated by him and his companions because, when they were in Thessalonica, they did not take anything for free. Instead, they worked, they provided for themselves, and, as a result, they were contributors rather than moochers. Second, he reminded the church in Thessalonica of the instructions that he gave to them when he was present with them. In 2 Thessalonians 3:10, he wrote, “when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” In other words, when he was present in Thessalonica, he specifically taught them that one’s failure to work, failure to contribute, and failure to make an effort eliminated the responsibility of others to be benevolent towards them. So, Paul taught them that industriousness was God’s expectation, thus making idleness equivalent to disorderly conduct since it was not in line with God’s expectation.

If you read between the lines, Paul is saying that laziness is a sin because anything that is disorderly, that is not in line with God's expectations, is sin. Sin not only occurs anytime you do what you are instructed not to do, but sin also occurs anytime you fail to do what you are instructed to do (James 4:17). Those who were idle were failing to do what they were instructed to do by God through Paul. 

Now, it is fair to note that the passage in 2 Thessalonians 3 specifically criticized physical laziness as opposed to spiritual laziness, but that does not mean that Scripture is silent on the issue of spiritual laziness.

Do you remember the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)? Jesus began this parable by saying, “the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them.” This introduction indicates that this story is addressing spiritual matters since it is utilized as an example of “the kingdom of heaven.” 

As the story goes, the master gave one servant five coins, one servant two coins, and a third servant one coin before he departed with the unspoken expectation that they would utilize their respective resources to advance the Master’s estate. Two of the servants, the one with five coins and the one with two coins, took the resources they had received and worked in such a fashion as to gain more. In fact, they each doubled their master’s financial interests through their efforts, and when the master returned to examine his investments, he told these two individuals, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21, 23).

However, the situation was different for the servant who had been given one coin. Instead of using his coin, he simply hid it, and, as a result, he did not increase it. Notice the reason he gave for burying it in Matthew 25:24-25, “I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” In other words, this servant deliberately choose to handle the master’s resource lazily because he was afraid of the rejection that might come if he proved unsuccessful. When the master learned how this servant handled his finances, the master called him “wicked,” “lazy,” and “worthless,” and deemed him unfit to receive a reward, choosing to punish him instead (Matthew 25:26-30). 

A lesson to be gleaned from this parable is that laziness is unacceptable in the kingdom of heaven. God made it quite clear in Scripture that He “created” us “for good works, which [He] prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). This passage indicates that God expects us to be active, to be productive, and to work in His kingdom. Failure to do so is tantamount to laziness, and, if the Parable of the Talents is any indicator, such laziness can lead to eternal punishment.

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[1] http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/laziness-hereditary-study-suggests-article-1.1758523 

[2] Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd ed. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 119.

THE IMPORTANCE OF ATTITUDE

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In aeronautic terminology “attitude” refers to “the orientation of an aircraft’s axes relative to a reference” point such as the horizon. For the record, I am not an aircraft aficionado so my explanation of aircraft terminology is based on my own research and therefore susceptible to flaws. But as I understand it, the attitude of an aircraft is its position relative to other objects on the axes of roll (i.e. rotation from the longitudinal axis that is controlled by the aileron and determines the angle or banking of the aircraft’s wings), pitch (i.e. rotation around the lateral axis that is controlled by the elevator and determines the up and down movement of the aircraft’s nose), and yaw (i.e. rotation around the perpendicular axis that is controlled by the rudder and determines the side to side movement of the aircraft’s nose).

Attitude is particularly important when an aircraft is landing. As an aircraft descends from flight the pilot must ensure that the attitude of the plane is aligned properly with the ground or else it may make contact with the ground at the wrong angle and potentially result in a crash. Therefore, in aeronautics maintaining a proper attitude is essential to successful flight and, in particular, a safe landing. 

Attitude matters a great deal in aeronautics, but does it matter to the same degree in the Christian’s life? Let us consider for a moment what Scripture has to say about our attitude. 

First, Scripture indicates that God knows our attitude. The prophet Jeremiah said in Jeremiah 12:3 (NASB), “But You know me, O LORD; You see me; And You examine my heart’s attitude toward You.” Jeremiah indicates that God sees everything about us including our “heart’s attitude.” That means that our attitude is not hidden from God. This divine knowledge of our attitude is evidenced throughout Scripture. For example, God demonstrated knowledge of the Babel builders self-centered attitude in Genesis 11:1-9, Jonah’s prejudiced attitude in Jonah 4:1-11, Nebuchadnezzar’s arrogant attitude in Daniel 4:28-37, the Pharisees judgmental attitude in Matthew 9:1-8, as well as Ananias and Sapphira’s greedy attitude in Acts 5:1-11. There is nothing that escapes the sight of God because He is the “Father who sees in secret” (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18), and so we need to be cognizant of the attitude we possess because it is part of the entity that God sees when he looks at each of us.

Second, Scripture indicates that God will judge our attitude. The author of Hebrews said in Hebrews 4:12 (NIV) that “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” The author of Hebrews takes God’s awareness of our attitude one step further than Jeremiah by indicating that God not only sees the “thought and attitudes of the heart” but will judge the “thought and attitudes of the heart.” Based on this passage, our attitude is critically important because it will impact our final destination. Just as an airplane must maintain a proper attitude to complete a successful journey so must we since God will judge “the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Third, Scripture indicates that God expects us to possess a particular attitude. Throughout his letters, Paul indicated that when one becomes a Christian he or she leaves behind the old self in order to be transformed into a new person. In particular, Paul says that we crucify “our old self” and begin to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4, 6), we become “a new creation” and “the old has passed away” (2 Corinthians 5:17), and we “put off [the] old self” and “put on the new self” (Ephesians 4:22, 24; Colossians 3:9-10). In regards to this new life that we are expected to adopt when we become Christ followers, Paul indicated that it is to include a new attitude. Look at what he wrote in Ephesians 4:22-24, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Paul then expounded on this “new attitude of the mind” in the following verses noting that such an attitude lacks deceit, anger, bitterness, and malice but possesses forgiveness and compassion (Ephesians 4:25-32). Based on Paul’s instructions it is apparent that there is a particular attitude that God expects His people to possess.

Paul expounded on this attitude in Philippians 2:5 (NASB) where he instructed the church in Philippi  to “have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” In other words, Paul indicated that our attitude is to be oriented around Jesus, and Paul described Jesus’ attitude in the verses that immediately followed, focusing on such traits as humility, servant mindedness, and obedience. However, if you continue journeying through the Philippian letter you’ll also see him describe an attitude absent complaining (Philippians 4:14), self-righteousness (Philippians 3:2-10), and worry (Philippians 4:6) as well as an attitude possessing joy (Philippians 4:4), peace (Philippians 4:7), and contentment (Philippians 4:10-13). In fact, it is in Philippians 3:15 (NASB) that Paul reiterated the expectation of possessing a Christlike attitude when he wrote, “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you.” Paul makes it very clear in the Philippian letter that God expects us to have a particular attitude and part of the reason He sent Jesus was to demonstrate that attitude.

Since God knows our attitude, will judge our attitude, and has expectations of our attitude, we should all examine our attitude frequently. Is God pleased or disappointed with what He sees when He looks at your attitude? Is your attitude mimicking or contradicting the attitude of Jesus? Is your attitude commendable to heaven or condemnable to hell? If you choose the latter on any of the above questions then it is time for you to change your attitude by orienting it around the ultimate reference point, which is Jesus, because maintaining a Christlike attitude is essential to successful (i.e. heaven bound) living.

TURN THE OTHER CHEEK

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In his book Simple Faith, Charles Swindoll told the following story…

A successful Irish boxer was converted and became a preacher. He happened to be in a new town setting up his evangelistic tent when a couple of tough thugs noticed what he was doing. Knowing nothing of his background, they made a few insulting remarks. The Irishman merely turned and looked at them. Pressing his luck, one of the bullies took a swing and struck a glancing blow on one side of the ex-boxer’s face. He shook it off and said nothing as he stuck out his jaw. The fellow took another glancing blow on the other side. At that point the preacher swiftly took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves, and announced, “The Lord gave me no further instructions.” Whop!

Although I certainly believe that one has the right to defend himself or herself, I do not necessarily believe this is what Jesus meant when He instructed us to turn the other cheek. Instead, I believe Jesus was providing us with initial instructions regarding how we should respond when we have been wronged.

Often times, our immediate response to being wronged is to enforce the conflict resolution process Jesus provided in Matthew 18:15-17. To be fair, this strategy is biblical and useful in many situations; however, it may not always be the right starting point for dealing with an offense. Matthew 18 is not the only place in Scripture where Jesus provided instructions regarding conflict resolution. So, before we begin employing that process, we first need to consider whether or not the issue can be overlooked because the first option we have when it comes to how we respond to being wronged is to “turn the other cheek.”

In Matthew 5:38-42, Jesus addressed whether or not one should retaliate when wronged. Mosaic Law permitted equal retribution but Jesus said, 

“Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”

Before we go any further, we should clarify what Jesus was NOT saying when He instructed us to turn the other cheek, give the shirt off our back, and go the extra mile.

  • Jesus was not saying that we should be silent when unrighteousness or social injustice persist. In fact, one of God’s expectations of the children of Israel was that they “Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice” (Amos 5:15). Remember, Jesus took action in the temple when He witnessed the infringement of the greedy vendors on the religious rites of the Gentile worshippers in the temple complex (John 2:13-16).

  • Additionally, Jesus was not saying that we should allow ourselves to be unconditionally “walked on” and mistreated, nor is He approving of physical, emotional, or psychological abuse. Remember, Paul used his Roman citizenship to protect his rights when necessary (Acts 16:37; 22:25; 25:8-12). 

So, what is Jesus saying? The instructions to turn the other cheek, give the shirt off our back, and go the extra mile are Jesus’ way of teaching us to be merciful. His objective is for His disciples to be willing and prepared to react to some offenses with mercy and forgiveness rather than justice and fairness.

Just a few verses later, Jesus presented the model prayer, which included the phrase “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Immediately after He concluded the model prayer, Jesus decided to elaborate on this portion of the prayer. He did not elaborate on the part where He said “Your kingdom come, Your will be done,” and He did not elaborate on the part where He said, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Instead, He chose to elaborate on the part where He spoke about forgiveness. The fact that Jesus pinpointed this particular subject as needing further commentary is an indication of how important forgiveness is. In His own commentary on His own prayer Jesus said in Matthew 6:14-15, 

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” 

It is worth noting that in this passage Jesus did not qualify conditions that must be met in order for forgiveness to be offered. He did not indicate that forgiveness must be preceded by an apology, penitent activity, or restitution. That is not to say that such actions on the part of the offender should not occur (Matthew 5:23-24) nor is that to say that sins can be forgiven apart from repentance (Luke 17:3). Instead, the lack of this information should serve as an indicator of the fact that, when Jesus addressed this subject, He was focused on the reaction of the offended rather than the offender, and He was focused on how one responds to being hurt or mistreated rather than how one responds to the presence of sin.

Why was Jesus focused on these things? I think it is because He wanted to ensure that His disciples modeled their reactions to offenses after His reaction to offenses. Throughout the New Testament we are instructed to “be merciful,…as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36) and to “forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13). Remember, God initiated forgiveness toward us “while we were still sinners” and “while we were enemies” (Romans 5:8, 10). Therefore, Jesus is implementing an expectation that as bearers of His name we should extend the same mercy and forgiveness that was extended toward us by God to those who offend us whenever it is possible.

So, here is the point, if you can assume the offense, the issue, or the problem was a mistake, then forgive it immediately and, thereby, overlook it. Before you jump to conclusions and initiate a conflict resolution process, ask yourself the following questions. Was the offense out of character based on your knowledge of and relationship with the other person? Is it possible that you misunderstood what was said or done by the other person? Are there any other factors that could have contributed to the offender’s behavior? Take a moment to explore the possibility of immediate forgiveness, realizing that overlooking an offense is not a mark of weakness or naiveté but is an indicator of spiritual maturity. As Solomon said in Proverbs 19:11, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”

FULLY INVOLVED

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Have you ever heard the phrase “fully involved”? To me, that phrase refers to whether or not you want all of the fixings on your sandwich at Firehouse Subs. However, that phrase actually comes from the world of firefighting. In firefighting jargon the phrase “fully involved” is a “term of size-up” indicating that “the fire, heat, and smoke in a structure are so widespread that internal access must wait until fire streams can be applied” [1]. If I understand this terminology correctly, then it means that a structure is “fully involved” when it is completely engulfed in flames to such a degree that the structure is inaccessible. Or, to say it a little differently, a structure is “fully involved” when it is consumed by the fire  to the degree that nothing else can gain entry.

What if we applied this terminology to our spiritual lives? What would it mean to be “fully involved” as a disciple of Jesus Christ? Spiritually speaking, to be fully involved would mean that one has surrendered his or her life to Christ to such a degree that he or she has left no room for other allegiances. To help us better understand the spiritual application of this concept let us explore the examples of the Rich Ruler and Zacchaeus. 

First, we encounter the Rich Ruler who approached Jesus with the question “what must I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 18:18). Up to this point in his life the Rich Ruler had successfully obeyed the Mosaic Law because he was concerned with meeting the bare minimum requirements for salvation. But his strict adherence to the letter of the law ignored the very heart of the law, which consisted of loving God and loving people (Mark 12:29-31). When Jesus challenged him to apply love to his finances by assisting the poor, the Rich Ruler “became very sad, for he was extremely rich” (Luke 18:23), and, as a result, “he went away sorrowful” (Matthew 19:22). So, although the rich ruler was willing to obey God on a bare minimum level, he was unwilling to surrender everything in his life to God. By maintaining accessibility to his wealth for himself, the rich young ruler demonstrated that he was not yet willing to become a “fully involved” disciple. In other words, he had left room for another allegiance, and, as a result, Jesus looked at him and said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:24).

Just a few verses later we encounter another man of great wealth whose name is Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus’ approach to Jesus was a little different than that of the rich ruler because Zacchaeus had no questions for Jesus, he simply wanted to see Jesus, like a spectator at a presidential parade. Eventually, Zacchaeus’ desire to see Jesus turned into an opportunity to dine with Him, and, the next thing he knew, Jesus was sitting inside his house. Their interaction at this dinner led Zacchaeus to the realization that he needed to right all the wrongs he committed as a tax collector. He voluntarily agreed to give half of his wealth to the poor and to refund four times the excess money he had stolen by overtaxing innocent citizens. Nowhere does the text say that Jesus challenged him with this decision like He did the Rich Ruler. Instead, it becomes apparent that Zacchaeus chose this course of action because he desired to be a “fully involved” disciple. Zacchaeus did what the Rich Ruler wouldn’t; He eliminated all other allegiances and surrendered his wealth to the will of God. As a result, Jesus looked at Zacchaeus, and said “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9).

The Rich Ruler and Zacchaeus provide an interesting comparison because they are both men of great wealth and they are both men in need of and in search of salvation. But these two men are quite different in how they responded to Jesus, and it has everything to do with their willingness to surrender their lives to the control of Jesus so there was no access for any competing allegiances, to be so engulfed in love for Him that nothing else mattered, to be so consumed in their devotion to Him that His will took precedence. So, we could say that the difference is whether or not they chose to be “fully involved.”

The truth is that discipleship necessitates a “fully involved” approach. Just look at Jesus’ requirements for discipleship. In Luke 9:23, He said,

“if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

And in Luke 14:26, He said, 

“if anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children…yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

Based on Jesus’ own words regarding the requirements of discipleship we can assert that anything less than complete surrender does not qualify as real discipleship. 

This is especially evident when three different individuals were, in a sense, rejected as prospective disciples by Jesus in Luke 9:57-62. The first, after declaring that he would follow Jesus anywhere, apparently reneged on his declaration after learning of Jesus’ uncomfortable and unpredictable itinerant lifestyle. The second, after being invited to follow Jesus, seemingly appealed to other obligations in an attempt to avoid becoming a disciple. Jesus responded to this “would be” disciple by indicating that it is more important to “go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” And the last offered to follow Jesus as long as one particular condition was met first. Jesus responded to this “would be” disciple by indicating that God’s kingdom is too important and its mission to urgent for other interests to delay it.

The lesson to be gleaned from the “would be” disciples is that discipleship necessitates being “fully involved” rather than “somewhat committed.” Scripture seems to indicate that Jesus has no patience for a half-hearted, bare minimum relationship that leaves room for other allegiances. So, you are either “fully involved” (i.e. consumed with Christ) or you are just a “would be” disciple. Which are you?

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[1] http://www.carmel.in.gov/Home/ShowDocument?id=195 

RESTOLOGY

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The Center for Disease Control and Prevention posted an article on their website entitled, “Insufficient Sleep is a Public Health Epidemic,” which documented research from the past decade on sleep-related behaviors [1]. According to their research, thirty percent of adults report getting an average of less than or equal to six hours of sleep per night when they actually need at least seven to nine hours of sleep per night. In other words, many people fail to get the rest they need even though it is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, and I would contend that many Christians fail to get the rest they need because they fail to recognize that rest is an expectation of God.

God recognized mankind’s need for rest. He knew that we need rest in order to recover from fatigue and function at our absolute best. Remember, God is the One who designed the human body; therefore, He knew it was going to get tired and need an avenue through which it could recharge. As a result, our God, who knows what we need even before we ask (Matthew 6:8), demonstrated a concern for our rest throughout Scripture. For example, in the Old Testament God provided instructions to the Israelites which demanded a time for rest. Under Mosaic Law, God instituted the Sabbath which is described as a day of “solemn rest” (Exodus 16:23; 31:15; Leviticus 23:3), a day on which “you shall do no work” (Leviticus 23:3). One reason God instituted the weekly Sabbath was for it to serve as a day that allowed workers to recover from their toil. Exodus 23:12 specifically says, “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed” (cf. Exodus 31:15; 34:21; 35:2; Leviticus 23:3). Interestingly, this day of rest was so important to God that He protected it by establishing the death penalty as the consequence for failing to observe it. In Exodus 31:14 God said, “You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people” (cf. Exodus 35:2). Now, we are not required to observe the Sabbath Day as they did under Mosaic Law. However, we would be wise to recognize that God was legislating a day of rest to ensure that His people made time for recuperation. Think about it this way: if rest was so important to God that a day legislating its observance was included in His top ten commands, then shouldn’t it still be important to us?

Maybe the reason rest is not as high of a priority today is because we do not associate any theological significance to it, but there are theological reasons to rest. First, rest is a demonstration of our trust in God. When we rest, we surrender control to the Lord by intentionally refraining from active control. In other words, when we rest, we are essentially proclaiming that everything is going to be okay without our involvement because we trust that God is in control. David realized this. He wrote Psalm 3 while he was fleeing from Absalom, his son who was trying to overthrow his kingdom. In Psalm 3:5, David said “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.” In other words, David acknowledged that his ability to rest during such turbulent times was because the Lord took care of him. This same sentiment was also expressed by David in Psalm 4:8 where he said, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.” And, it’s worth mentioning that David’s most famous psalm identified the Lord as the one who “makes me lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:2). In all of these passages King David associated his ability to rest with his trust in God. So, our rest can function as an expression of trust in the One who grants us rest.

Not only is rest a demonstration of our trust in God, but it can also be a demonstration of our reliance on God. Solomon, who is arguably the wisest man ever to walk this earth other than Jesus, said in Psalm 127:2 that “it is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” In other words, Solomon indicated that rest is a gift from God. It is as if he is trying to communicate the fact that God is the grand resource for recuperation when it comes to the burdens of life. In fact, Jesus is the One who invited us to rest when He said in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” In other words, spiritual recuperation and eternal rest are found in Him. Maybe that’s why John heard a voice from heaven say, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. Blessed indeed, that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them” (Revelation 14:13). That voice described heaven as a place of permanent rest. However, such rest is not a reference to physical sleep but to spiritual relief because heaven is a place where confrontation with evil (Revelation 21:1, 25), intimidation by death (Revelation 21:4; 22:2), expectation of pain (Revelation 21:4; 22:3), temptations to sin (Revelation 21:16, 27; 22:3), and separation from the Father (Revelation 21:2-3) are all made obsolete. Thus, Jesus’ invitation is an invitation to find relief from that which exhausts our souls. So, our rest can also function as an expression of reliance on the One who relieves us of the baggage with which this life burdens us.

So, today, we are challenged to rest. Not only that, but we are challenged to recognize that rest is not an activity to be viewed negatively because it prevents us from accomplishing something. Instead, we are challenged to view rest as an essential activity that demonstrates our trust in and reliance on God. Ultimately, rest allows us to function at our best, and shouldn’t we be prepared to offer God our best every day?

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[1] https://www.cdc.gov/features/dssleep/index.html 

MISSING THE MARK

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At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the United States’ best marksman was a man named Matthew Emmons. He won a gold medal in the men’s 50 meter rifle prone position competition, and was on the precipice of winning another gold medal in the men’s 50 meter rifle three position competition. With one shot remaining, he was in the lead and only needed to hit the target in order to secure another victory. Normally, the shot he made would have received a score of 8.1, but in what was described as "an extremely rare mistake in elite competition," Emmons fired at the wrong target. He was standing in lane two and mistakenly fired at the target in lane three. As a result, he received zero points for the shot and dropped from first place to eighth place.

Matthew Emmons unfortunate mistake of aiming at the wrong target is a good analogy for sin because the Greek word for sin is hamartia, and it literally means “to miss the mark.” In other words, sin is definable as failing to correctly hit the target for which we are instructed to aim, and there are two ways we “miss the mark” spiritually.

First, we “miss the mark” when we do what God has forbidden. This is sometimes referred to as the sin of commission because it is sin that occurs when we commit an offense against God. Such sin is described in 1 John 3:4, which says, “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.” In this passage, John draws a comparison between sin and breaking the law. A couple of chapters later, John expounded on this definition of sin when he wrote, “all wrongdoing is sin” (1 John 5:17). Thus, John identifies sin as doing what we are instructed not to do, and David epitomized this type of sin when he broke God’s law (Exodus 20:14) by committing adultery with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:1-4). 

Second, we “miss the mark” when we fail to do what God has commanded. This is sometimes referred to as the sin of omission because it is sin that occurs as a result of us omitting a God given responsibility. Such sin is described in James 4:17, which says, “whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” Thus, James identifies sin as failing to do what we are instructed to do, and Jonah epitomized this type of sin when he blatantly disobeyed God’s instructions to go to Nineveh by fleeing to Tarshish (Jonah 1:1-3).

Now that we have identified how we “miss the mark,” we should consider why we “miss the mark.” To understand why we “miss the mark,” we need look no further than to the Garden of Eden because the failures associated with the very first sin are failures that routinely lead to our own sin.

One reason we sin is because we fail to distance ourselves from temptation. Such was the case with Eve because she engaged in conversation with the serpent instead of removing herself from its presence (Genesis 3:1-4). Had she responded to temptation by distancing herself from its source, she might have been able to prevent herself from sinning. Such was the case for Joseph when he fled the seduction of Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:11-12). Scripture seems to indicate that distance is one of the most effective strategies for defeating temptation because on multiple occasions the Bible instructs us to flee from temptation (1 Corinthians 6:18; 10:14; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22).

Another reason we sin is because we fail to know God’s word. When you compare Eve’s rendition of God’s rule against eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you’ll discover some variation. When Eve quoted God’s instructions to the serpent, she referred to it as a statement rather than a command (i.e. Eve indicated that “God said” this instruction in Genesis 3:3 while Genesis 2:16 indicates that “God commanded” this instruction), she added the phrase “neither shall you touch [the tree]” (compare to Genesis 2:17), and she identified the consequence of death as a potentiality rather than an actuality (i.e. she said “lest you die” as opposed to God saying, “you shall surely die” in Genesis 2:17). In other words, she did not demonstrate an accurate knowledge of God’s word on the matter. Such ignorance can create an opportunity for temptation to succeed. Maybe that is why Jesus combated each temptation in the wilderness by quoting God’s Word (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10).

A third reason we sin is because we fail to keep God on the throne. It was a desire to “be like God, knowing good and evil” that enticed Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:5, emphasis added). Way back then Satan was trying to convince the first humans that they could dethrone God and replace Him with someone else. Many temptations find their root in the desire to replace God with something else whether it be a person, an ideology, a material object, a passion, a feeling, or an experience. As a result, Jesus indicated that discipleship mandates sole allegiance to God. Such is evident from statements like “no one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24), “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself” (Matthew 16:24), and “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:38).

Still another reason we sin is because we fail to hold one another accountable. Adam failed to prevent Eve from sinning despite the fact that he was “with her” (Genesis 3:6). Additionally, Eve failed to prevent Adam from sinning by encouraging him to participate when she offered him the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:6). If both parties had been holding one another accountable, they may have prevented this sinful scenario. That is why accountability between believers is presented as an expectation of God throughout the New Testament (Galatians 6:1-2; James 5:16, 19-20). When we hold one another accountable, we help each other avoid sin.

A final reason we sin is because we fail to take ownership of our actions. Both Adam and Eve blamed someone else for their sin. When God asked Adam if he had eaten from the tree that he was expressly told not to eat from, Adam blamed “the woman” that God gave him (Genesis 3:12). When God asked Eve the same question, she blamed “the serpent” (Genesis 3:12). Blaming others is simply a way to avoid responsibility for one’s own actions when it comes to sin, and the Bible clearly indicates that the forgiveness of our sins is contingent on our willingness to accept blame for our sins through repentance (Acts 2:37-38) and confession (1 John 1:8-10).

When it comes to sin, Scripture asserts that all of us have done it (Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8), that it possesses dire consequences (Romans 6:23), but, most importantly, that Jesus can remove it (1 John 1:7, 9; Acts 2:38).

WOULD GOD CHOOSE YOU?

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Everyone wants to be chosen. Do you remember in elementary school when kickball teams were selected? Likely, your primary concern was not to be chosen last because being chosen last essentially meant nobody wanted you on their team. Do you remember when the high school prom rolled around? Whether you were waiting to be asked by a boy or hoping not to be rejected by a girl, your primary concern was not to have to go to prom alone because that meant you were not chosen. Do you remember when you waited to receive that acceptance letter from the college for which you applied or for that phone call from the company to which you applied for a job? Even in those situations we find ourselves longing to be chosen. There is something inside all of us that feels validated when other people choose us.

This inherent feeling of appreciation when we are chosen causes me to reflect on an event that occurred early in the history of the church and resulted in one individual being chosen and another being rejected. In Acts 1:21-26, Peter pointed out to the other disciples that it was necessary for Judas to be replaced as an apostle. As a result, the apostles nominated two men to be considered for this apostolic position. Their names were Barsabbas and Matthias. Based on the qualifications stated by Peter, both of these men were disciples of Jesus from the time he was baptized by John, both of these men were present during Jesus’ ministry, and both of these men witnessed the ascension of Jesus (Acts 1:21-22). In other words, both of these men were qualified. Instead of making their own choice between these two candidates, the apostles turned the decision over to the Lord. They prayed, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place” (Acts 1:24-25, emphasis added). They left the decision to God. Apostolic selection was always God’s prerogative. The original twelve were specifically chosen by Jesus after an all night prayer session (Luke 6:12-13). So, I imagine that they were thinking, or at least I myself would be thinking, “if the Son of God selected twelve apostles and one of them ended up betraying Him, then who am I to think that I can make the right selection?” So, they wisely turned the decision over to God. In so doing, they seem to demonstrate an understanding of God’s omniscience that is later described by author of Hebrews when he said, “no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). 

I wonder whether or not the apostles recalled the selection of David as the successor to the Saul’s throne during their selection process for the successor to Judas’ position. When Samuel was sent to the home of Jesse to anoint the next king of Israel, he expected the eldest son of Jesse to be chosen because he looked the part. Samuel’s assumption was not unwarranted. Saul, the man he previously anointed king, possessed the physical attributes of royalty, namely that he was the most handsome and tallest man in all the land (1 Samuel 9:2; 10:23). However, when it came time to choose Saul’s successor, God told Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). At the anointing of David, God provided a glimpse into His selection process. God filled Samuel in on what He saw as important, and it had nothing to do with a person’s appearance but everything to do with a person’s character.

Returning to the story of Barsabbas and Matthias, we see one man was chosen by God and the other was not (Acts 1:26). Assumedly, this means that Barsabbas was rejected for apostolic consideration twice since the qualifications stated here (i.e. one who followed Jesus from His baptism until His ascension) seem to indicate that he was among the group of disciples from which Jesus made His original selection of apostles (see Luke 6:12-13). We will never know on this side of heaven why God chose Matthias and rejected Barsabbas. The goal of this article is not to explore why one was chosen and the other was not. Instead, the goal of this article is to challenge you to consider whether or not you would have been chosen.

Imagine that you were one of those nominees. Imagine that your name was placed before God as a candidate for this position. Obviously, no one living today would fit the qualifications of an apostle, but, for the sake of self-examination, assume that you were qualified. Assume that God was considering you to be the one who would replace Judas. Assume that God was examining your actions, your attitude, and your heart in order to compare it to other dedicated disciples so that He could determine whether or not you were worthy to serve as a foundation for His church, to use the language of Ephesians 2:20 and Revelation 21:14. Would God choose you? 

Often times we examine ourselves by considering whether or not we would go to heaven if Christ came back right now, and that is a necessary question to ask. However, it can result in a bare minimum examination. In other words, when you are considering whether or not you would go to heaven, you are ultimately considering whether or not you have met the bare minimum requirements to receive salvation, and I believe it is necessary for us to up the ante when it comes to such self-examinations from time to time. We need to examine not just our salvation status but also our commitment status, our maturity status, and our faithfulness status. By asking whether or not God would choose us as He did Matthias, we are essentially examining whether or not we are so dedicated to Him that He would deem us worthy of an exalted position. This is not an exercise in self-aggrandizement; this is an exercise in self-evaluation. So, take a moment this week and ask yourself whether or not the all-seeing God would choose you.

JUST LIKE PLUTO

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In September 2018 the debate about Pluto was reignited with several astronomers contending for its planetary status to be reinstated (1). You may remember that the International Astronomical Union (IAU), an “association of professional astronomers” that operates “as the internationally recognized authority for assigning designations and names to celestial bodies” downgraded Pluto from the status of a planet to a dwarf planet back in 2006 based on their newly refined definition of a planet. The demotion of Pluto to the status of a dwarf planet was influenced by the fact that Pluto acts differently than the other eight planets. 

In particular, Pluto’s orbit is different. It is elliptical rather than circular and inclined rather than flat. As a result of this unusual orbit, Pluto occasionally comes closer to the Sun than Neptune. No other planet in our solar system has such an orbit. Additionally, Pluto’s mass is quite small. In fact, it is not even the ninth largest object in our solar system, which you would expect if it were our ninth planet. Jupiter’s four Galilean moons (i.e. Ganymede, Callisto, Io, and Europa), Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, Triton, one of Neptune’s moons, and our moon are all larger in diameter than Pluto. Thus, Pluto is quite small in comparison to the other planets. While the aforementioned differences are noteworthy, it is this third and final difference that ultimately lead to Pluto’s demotion. Unlike the other eight planets, Pluto has failed to “clear the neighborhood” around its orbit. “Clearing the neighborhood” refers to gravitational dominance. In other words, a celestial object that has cleared its neighborhood has no other objects of comparable size in its orbital field except those under its gravitational influence. In the 1990s and early 2000s, several celestial bodies of comparable size to and in the vicinity of Pluto were discovered, including the dwarf planet Eris which possesses less volume but more mass than Pluto. The discovery of these celestial objects indicated that Pluto was not gravitationally dominant in an area of our solar system now known as the Kuiper Belt. As a result, Pluto lost its designation as a planet because it did not conform to planetary standards. 

Pluto’s planetary demotion was based on its nonconformity and serves as a reminder to Christians of our divine expectation to be different. It is in Romans 12:2 where Paul instructs us to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of [our] mind.” To conform to something means “to act in accord with the prevailing standards, attitudes, [and/or] practices” of that thing. Thus, when Paul said to “not be conformed to the world,” he was instructing Christians to not comply with, adapt to, or harmonize with the world’s standards, attitudes, and/or practices.

Why does God not want us to conform to the world? God does not want us to conform to the world because conformity is an indicator of affection. You have likely heard the old saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” It means we imitate that which we hold in esteem. So, if we imitate the world, then we are harboring some degree of affection for the world. Yet, Scripture clearly teaches that our affection should solely be given to God. In James 4:4, we are told that  “friendship with the world is enmity with God” and that “whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Then, in 1 John 2:15, we are instructed to “not love the world or the things in the world” because “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” God is jealous in the sense that He refuses to share our affection with anyone or anything else. That is why the greatest command is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30, emphasis added).

So, the expectation of nonconformity is ultimately an expectation of attitudinal and behavioral distinction, and such distinction should be evident to the world. In the very first verse of his first letter, Peter referred to his audience as “pilgrims,” “exiles,” “aliens,” or “strangers," depending on the translation you use. He used such language in order to indicate that as Christians we are foreigners on this earth, and, as a result, should appear strange to the world. This expectation is especially evident in 1 Peter 4:1-4 where he instructs Christians to “no longer...live the rest of [our] time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” In order to live for the will of God, Paul indicates that Christians must abstain from “doing the will of the Gentiles,” and, as a result of such abstention, he said that the world will “think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation.” In other words, Peter is saying that the world will find it strange that Christians do not gather with them, participate with them, or act like them. Thus, he is indicating that our distinctively different attitude and conduct should be visible, not hidden. Why? Because the world’s observation of our different conduct may eventually cause them to “glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12).

Regardless of how you feel about Pluto’s planetary status, one thing is certain, Pluto is different. Just as Pluto refuses to conform to planetary standards, we as Christians must refuse to conform to the world’s standards. Just as Pluto appears strange in comparison to the rest of the planets in our solar system, we as Christians should appear strange to this world. Thus, we are expected to be different, to be strange, to refuse to conform…just like Pluto.

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1) https://www.cnn.com/2018/09/10/world/pluto-planet-status-trnd/index.html. Accessed September 18, 2018.

2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Astronomical_Union. Accessed September 18, 2018.

3) http://www.dictionary.com/browse/conform?s=t. Accessed September 18, 2018.

TRAINING FOR HEAVEN

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On Friday, February 9, 2018 the 23rd modern Olympic Winter Games began in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Ninety-two nations sent their best athletes to compete for medals in events such as figure skating, alpine skiing, snowboarding, bobsledding, curling, and ice hockey.  As you may already know, the modern Olympic Games began in 1896 but are based on the ancient Olympic games, which were conducted every four years from 776 B.C. to A.D. 393 in Olympia, Greece. While the Olympic Games are the basis for our modern international sports competition, it should be noted that it was one of four sports festivals conducted in ancient Greece that collectively were known as the Panhellenic Games. In addition to the Olympic Games, there were the Pythian Games conducted in Delphi every four years, the Nemean Games conducted in Nemea every two years, and the Isthmian Games conducted in Corinth every two years. All of these games were so designed that there was at least one major competition every year in which athletes could compete.

The Isthmian Games are noteworthy because they were “second only to the Olympics” in prominence, and it is quite possible that Paul was present for this competition in AD 51 (1). In fact, his tent making business with Aquila and Priscilla may have been related to the influx of visitors and athletes who were present in Corinth for the games and in need of accommodations (Acts 18:1-3). Regardless of whether or not Paul was present for the Isthmian Games, he seems to have been familiar with, if not a fan of, such competitions because athletic metaphors permeate his letters.

For example, he referenced wrestling, which was one of the main events of the games, in Ephesians 6:12 when he wrote, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but…against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” He also referenced the sport of boxing, another main event at such games, in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27 when he wrote, “I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control.” However, his favorite metaphor centered around the foot race, probably the stadion, which was the most popular Olympic competition and similar to a 200 meter sprint. Paul frequently compared the life of discipleship to running a race, as was the case in 1 Corinthians 9:24 when he told the Christians in Corinth, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it” (cf. Galatians 2:2; Philippians 2:16; 2 Timothy 4:7). 

One of the key elements of Paul’s athletic metaphors is the emphasis he placed on training. In 1 Corinthians 9:25 Paul indicated that “everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.” He may have been referring to the fact that the athletes competing in the Olympiad were “required to go into ten months of strict training and [were] subject to disqualification if [they] failed to do so” (2). The point Paul was making is that the one who “run[s] aimlessly” or the one who boxes as if he is “beating the air” is untrained or undisciplined at that particular sport and, therefore, liable to disqualification (1 Corinthians 9:26). Paul does not want that to happen to the Christians in Corinth so he instructs them to “so run that you may obtain” the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24), which means that they should, like him, “discipline [their] body and keep it under control” so that they would not “be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). In other words, Paul is saying that in order to avoid disqualification one must train himself or herself.

John Ortberg in his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted points out that “there is an immense difference between training to do something and trying to do something” (3). Trying to do something refers to our efforts to do something we have never done before with no particular outcome expected and no particular preparation conducted. Training to do something refers to our efforts to prepare ourselves to do something at which we intend to succeed. So, you can “try” to run a marathon or you can “train” yourself to run a marathon. The former refers to an unprepared attempt to complete a 26.2 mile run without the expectation of succeeding. The latter refers to a systematic process of mentally and physically preparing to successfully complete a 26.2 mile. Similarly, you can “try” to get to heaven or you can undergo training that will prepare you to go to heaven. Scripture affirms that, when it comes to our spiritual race, success “is not a matter of trying harder, but of training wisely” (4). Notice that Paul instructed his protégé, Timothy, to “train yourself for godliness” in 1 Timothy 4:7 and, in the very next verse, indicated that the reason he should undergo such training was because “it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Paul is saying that spiritual training is essential to an eternal reward.

That leads to an important question: how do we train for heaven? In this same passage, Paul identified the source of Timothy’s training when he indicated that Timothy was “trained in the words of the faith” (1 Timothy 4:6). Certainly, Paul was referring to the Hebrew Scriptures that Timothy learned from his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5), but he also was likely referring to the divinely inspired teachings that came from himself and others. The point Paul seems to be making is that God’s word is the Christian’s training manual. He emphasized this point in 2 Timothy 3:16–17 when he said that “all Scripture is…profitable for...training in righteousness, [so] that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (emphasis added). In other words, the Bible is our training manual because it reveals exactly what is necessary for us to reach maturation and be fully equipped as disciples of Christ. Therefore, our training for a heavenly reward necessitates our constant interaction and absorption of God’s word, which will in turn produce a disciplined and self-controlled lifestyle. That is what Psalm 1:2-3 is referring to when it described the one who “delight[s]… in the law of the Lord” and “meditates [on it] day and night” as a “tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither.”

As you watch the Olympics this year I encourage you to consider your own spiritual training. Are you regularly being equipped by our spiritual training manual or have you abandoned the program? Are you adhering to the rules or are you risking disqualification? The truth is that you cannot be victorious without proper training because, in order to become like Jesus, you have to be “fully trained” (Luke 6:40). May each of us stop trying to get to heaven and start training to do so. May we all be able to utter the same words as Paul when he reflected on his time of departure in 2 Timothy 4:7-8…

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

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(1) Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1987): 433.

(2) Ibid., 436.

(3) John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002): 43.

(4) Ibid.

OBLIVIOUS

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On Monday of this week, I took my daughter and two of her friends to a local, indoor playground for a few hours. While there, a man, whose daughter started playing with my own, struck up a conversation with me. During the twenty or so minutes that we were engaged in conversation, I learned which church he attended, where his daughter goes to preschool, and where he lived. Eventually, I informed him that I was a preacher, and, so, I naturally asked him what he did for a living. It was then that I learned that he was a former professional baseball player. I did not recognize him, so, the next thing I asked was whether or not he made it to the majors. He responded affirmatively and told me that he had a decade long career there. I then asked for which organizations he played, and learned that he had played for several organizations including the Atlanta Braves, New York Mets, Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals, Philadelphia Phillies, and Miami Marlins. From there we engaged in a rather typical conversation about our kids, about our community, and a little more about baseball. I never asked for his name, but shook his hand when it was time to leave and said, “I hope you have a blessed day.”

After I got home, I decided to utilize what information I had gleaned from our conversation to figure out his identity. It was then that I realized I had been talking with none other than Jeff Francoeur, a 2007 Gold Glove winner and one of the “Baby Braves” who finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting back in 2005 after playing just half of a season. I imagine that it was somewhat surprising for “Frenchy,” as he is affectionately called, to interact with someone in the Atlanta area who, after learning of his occupation, failed to recognize him. This is the hometown hero who led Lilburn High School to two state titles in baseball. This is the guy who played five seasons for the Atlanta Braves, the last of which took place less than two years ago. This is the guy that Sports Illustrated dubbed “The Natural” on its August 25, 2005 cover after the phenomenal start to his career. And I didn’t even know who he was. After peeling the proverbial egg off my face for asking “The Natural” if he made it to the big leagues, I began to reflect on my obliviousness to his identity and was reminded of a few stories in Scripture. 

I was reminded of Balaam who was oblivious to the angel of the Lord who attempted to kill him because he had chosen to cooperate with Balak against God’s orders (Numbers 22:22-35). Balaam’s story is a reminder that we can be oblivious to our own spiritual shortcomings. It may be that we are oblivious to our own sinful activities because we strategically rationalize what we do, say, or think in order to make it “right.” Such justification efforts are blinding because, at best, they make us hypocrites who are unable to recognize the log protruding from our eyes (Matthew 7:3-5) and, at worst, they make us equivalent to unbelievers who are “blinded” from “seeing the light of the gospel” (2 Corinthians 4:4). So, we should remember the warning that Solomon issued twice in Proverbs, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (14:12; 16:25). Or, it may be that we are oblivious to our shortcomings because we ignore our spiritual ineptitude by assuming that our bare minimum efforts qualify as obedience. We should remember that Jesus called the Christians in Laodicea “blind” and instructed them to “buy from me…salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see” all because they mistakenly thought that they were spiritually healthy when in reality they were, at best, spiritually stagnant (Revelation 3:17-18). So, we should remember the warning that Jesus issued to this church, “because you are lukewarm…I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16) and open our eyes to our need to “be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19).

I was also reminded of Elisha’s servant who panicked upon discovering that they were surrounded by the army of the king of Aram because he was oblivious to the army of the Lord stationed on the hills around them until Elisha prayed for his eyes to be opened (2 Kings 6:15-17). This story serves as a reminder that we can be oblivious to God’s operation in our lives. Now, by no means am I indicating that it is possible for us to know everything that God is doing. Scripture asserts that “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are [God’s] ways higher than your ways and [God’s] thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8). However, Scripture also indicates that our God is actively working, not passively watching. Paul says in Romans 8:28 that God promises to make “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Knowing that God is actively involved in this world should give us confidence to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7) since He promises to be our ever present Helper (Hebrews 13:5-6) and there is nothing that can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39).

Finally, I was reminded of the two disciples who were traveling to Emmaus on the day of Jesus’ resurrection, and were oblivious to the fact that the stranger who walked with them and explained the Scriptures concerning the Messiah to them was, in fact, Jesus (Luke 24:13-35). This story serves as a reminder that one can be oblivious to the identity of the Savior. Such blindness to the Savior may be the result of ignorance or hard heartedness or dissatisfaction. Regardless of the cause, failure to recognize the Savior affects one’s salvation because Jesus said in Matthew 10:32-33, “everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” 

I may have been oblivious to the identity of Jeff Francoeur, but in the grand scheme of things it won’t matter. What will matter is whether or not I am oblivious to my own spiritual shortcomings because that may cause me to assume that I am spiritually safe when I am not. What will matter is whether or not I am oblivious to God’s involvement in this world because it may cause me to deny gratitude toward Him, let my faith be shaken, or ignore His will for my life. What will matter is whether or not I am oblivious to who Jesus is because my salvation is contingent on my recognition of His identity. I don’t want to be oblivious to what really matters, and, in order to prevent such blindness, I must, like David, “meditate on [the Lord’s] precepts and fix my eyes on [His] ways” (Psalm 119:15, emphasis added).

EMERGENCY ALERT

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On Saturday, January 13 around 8:10 AM, residents and visitors of the state of Hawaii errantly received an emergency alert notification on their mobile phones which read, “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” Thirty-eight minutes later a follow-up message, cancelling the original message, was finally sent which said, “There is no missile threat or danger to the State of Hawaii. Repeat. False Alarm.” Apparently, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency was conducting a shift-change drill at the emergency command post, which it habitually does three times a day, and an employee accidentally pushed the button that sent the alert rather than the button that simply tested the alert.

Although this alert was the result of human error, it was nonetheless real for citizens of Hawaii who entered a state of panic. According to reports, motorists parked inside the Interstate H-3 tunnel that runs beneath the Ko’olau Mountains. Video surfaced of parents escorting their children to shelter beneath manhole covers. Families huddled in bathtubs, patrons gathered under restaurant tables, and tourists were instructed to stay indoors. The panicked response seemed natural for residents of Hawaii, considering the fact that it is the only state in the union to be directly attacked by a sovereign foreign nation since the beginning of the twentieth century and it is the state closest to North Korea whose leader has conducted numerous ballistic missile tests and earlier this month announced the presence of a “nuclear button” on his desk. According to The Washington Post, “Hawaii reinstated its Cold War-era nuclear warning” system back in November “amid growing fears of an attack by North Korea.” So, residents of the island nation were already living with a heightened state of fear prior to the inadvertent emergency alert notification, and, for a few minutes on an otherwise pleasant Saturday morning, everyone residing on that chain of islands assumed that death was imminent.

The situation causes me to wonder what I would have done if I were there and received that emergency alert notification. Officials indicate that in the event this were a real attack, residents of Hawaii “would have as little as 12 minutes to find shelter once an alert was issued.” So, I can’t help but wonder what would have been my focus for the next twelve minutes as I awaited my own end. Would I have focused on trying to contact loved ones? Would I have focused on finding shelter? Would I have focused on assisting others? Would I have focused on my relationship with God? If I assumed that I only had twelve minutes left to live, what would I do? What would you do?

The situation experienced by residents of Hawaii on January 13, 2018 is reminiscent of the situation that Scripture depicts for residents of this world. The Bible warns that there is a day coming when “the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). This statement should serve as our emergency alert notification even though it was penned nearly two millennia ago because through it the Bible is warning us of the destruction that is awaiting this world one day.

Now, this is not entirely bad news as was the case in the Hawaii incident. The end of this world will coincide with the second coming of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:24), and, at that time, Jesus will escort the saved to a new home in heaven where they will reside with God for eternity (John 14:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; Hebrews 9:27-28). That’s absolutely good news for those who have entered a saved state! And such a state is attainable by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8) when one repents of his or her sins and is baptized for the forgiveness of those sins (Acts 2:38). However, those who have not entered such a state will face an alternative destination that is described as a place of “darkness,” which indicate loneliness (Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30), a place of “fire,” which indicates pain (Matthew 13:40, 42, 50; 18:8-9; 25:41), and a place where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” which indicates remorse (Matthew 8:12; 13:42, 50; 2:13; 24:51; 25:30, 41). Therefore, each of us should consider whether or not we have received salvation.

In addition to this warning, the Bible indicates that the timing of this final destruction and Jesus’ return is unknown. When asked by His disciples “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3), Jesus’ response was, “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36). As a result, the coming of the day on which these things are to happen is repeatedly compared to the coming of a “thief” throughout the New Testament (Matthew 24:42-43; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 16:15). Since a thief does not inform his victims of when he plans to arrive, the point of this comparison is to emphasize the unexpected timing of the day on which Christ returns and the world is destroyed. In other words, it will arrive without warning. Therefore, we should be on high alert, living as though the end is imminent. That is why Scripture places so much emphasis on preparedness. Such an emphasis is evident in the Parable of the Faithful Servant (Matthew 24:45-51), which is preceded by Jesus’ instruction to “be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44). The emphasis on preparation is also evident in the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), which concludes with Jesus’ instruction to “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13). Based on such teachings, we can conclude that Jesus expects us to be prepared for His return, and that’s not an unreasonable request since He already prepared for our presence in heaven (John 14:2-3). Therefore, each of us needs to consider whether or not we are ready for the end because, for all we know, we only have twelve minutes left to live.

RESOLUTIONS AND RESOURCES

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A common practice that coincides with the start of a new year is the making of new year’s resolutions. A New Year’s resolution is a personal declaration of what one intends to do at the start of a new year in order to alter an undesirable behavior or trait, to accomplish a personal goal, or to better some aspect of one’s life. One of the most popular resolutions every year centers around our finances. Financial resolutions may take the form of resolving to spend less money, to save more money, or to get out of debt. If one of your resolutions revolves around money, then consider what the Bible has to say about financial stewardship.

The first component of financial stewardship entails giving God the “firstfruits.” The “firstfruits” terminology is not commonly used today, but it refers to a financial mindset that prioritizes God. After the Israelites took possession of the land of Canaan, they were required to offer to God some of the first harvest that they reaped (Deuteronomy 26:1-10). Why? Because He gave first. He gave them the land and He gave them the harvest, so they were expected to bring a basket of their first bounty back to Him. As a result, the giving of one’s “firstfruits” in the Israelite’s agricultural society demonstrated that God would receive financial priority. 

This “firstfruits” mentality may not carry as much weight in an industrialized society, but Jesus made sure that the principle behind it applied to every disciple. In a section of Scripture in which Jesus addressed financial matters, He concluded with the words “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). To what is the phrase “all these things” referring? “All these things” is referring to the necessities of life such as food, water, and clothing, which Jesus indicated that God freely supplied to the flowers and birds. What is the condition for having "all these things...added to you"? The condition was the prioritization of God—seeking God first. So, when Jesus spent His time in Matthew 6 talking about wealth, finances, and stewardship, what He was trying to communicate is that the “firstfruits” mentality should not diminish in the New Testament. Solomon summarized the expectation well when He said, “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce” (Proverbs 3:9).

Now, it should be noted that God is realistic in His expectations of your giving. He does not expect you to give above your means (2 Corinthians 8:11), but He does expect you to give purposefully and cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7). It should also be noted that failure to prioritize God with our finances is considered a form of stealing from Him. In Malachi 3:8-9, God criticized the Jews for their failure to fulfill their covenant obligation of tithing and accused them of robbery as a result. As you examine your finances today can you wholeheartedly say that God takes precedence in your financial agenda? Or, are you guilty of robbing Him because you are not financially prioritizing “the Giver of all good gifts” (Matthew 7:11; James 1:17)?

The second component of financial stewardship is to avoid misappropriating God’s funds. There are many ways in which one can misappropriate the resources that God has entrusted to us, but quite possibly the most common means of such misappropriation is indebtedness. Debt is not identified in the Bible as a sin per se, but the Bible does discourage its usage. For example, Paul instructed Christians to “Owe no one anything except to love each other,” or, as another translation says, “Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another” (Romans 13:8). Why would Paul issue such an instruction? Consider the fact that Solomon equated indebtedness to slavery in Proverbs 22:7, saying “the rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.” In other words, Solomon is saying that the accumulation of debt allows the one to whom you are indebted to be your functional master. This is a problem because Scripture indicates that as disciples we are to be mastered by no one but God. Remember, Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24). Thus, the basis of Paul’s instruction to “owe no one anything” is the fact that God is the only one to whom we should be indebted because He paid our greatest debt—the debt of sin (Romans 6:15-23; 1 Corinthians 7:23; 1 Peter 2:16). 

There are other biblical principles that have a bearing on our attitude toward debt. For example, we should avoid indebtedness because it robs us of a pilgrim mentality. In Hebrews 11:13 and 1 Peter 2:11 we are identified as “strangers and pilgrims” and “sojourners and pilgrims.” Such monikers indicate that our current residence is not our permanent residence. We need to remember that everything we own will be destroyed one day (2 Peter 3:10). So, worshipping the idol of accumulation through indebtedness contradicts our identity as pilgrims. Additionally, we should avoid indebtedness because it can prevent us from investing in kingdom opportunities. When our money is tied up paying off debt, it is unavailable to be used for more beneficial things such as benevolent activities or evangelistic opportunities. We must not forget that Jesus instructed us to “lay up…treasures in heaven” rather than "on earth” in Matthew 6:19-20. As one preacher said, “kingdom investments are the only investments with an eternally prosperous dividend.” 

In regards to the misappropriation of God’s funds, it should also be noted that failure to appropriately utilize the resources given to us by God is considered a form of laziness and is condemnable. In the Parable of the Talents, when the master received the financial report from the one talent servant, he was greatly disturbed by the one talent servant’s unwillingness to make the sacrifices and do the work that was required in order to wisely use the funds with which he was entrusted. As a result, the master called him “wicked and lazy,” stripped him of his resource, and condemned him by sending him to a place where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:26-30). An application that can be made from this parable is that God entrusts resources to us, such as money, and He expects us to utilize it wisely for His glory. Failure to do so comes with dire consequences. As you examine your finances today, can you wholeheartedly say that you are mastered by no one but God, that you are operating with a pilgrim’s mentality, that you are investing in heavenly treasures? Or, are you guilty of financial laziness because you are allowing debt to dictate your financial direction?

PURSUING THE LOST BROTHER

In Luke 15 Jesus provided a trilogy of parables known as the “lost” parables. These parables are similar to one another because they each depict something valuable (i.e. sheep, coin, son) being separated from its guardian (i.e. shepherd, woman, father) before eventually being reunited, after which a celebration ensued because what was “lost” had been returned to the one who lost it (Luke 15:6, 9, 22-24).

There is one distinct difference between the first two parables and the last one. In the Parable of the Lost Son, no one embarked on a search and rescue operation. While the shepherd left the ninety-nine sheep to find the “lost” sheep (Luke 15:4) and the woman canvassed her house to find the “lost” coin (Luke 15:8), no one pursued the “lost” son. 

Why didn’t the father pursue the lost son?

Did the father refrain from pursuing his youngest son because he did not love him? Absolutely not. It is evident in the parable that the father loved both of his sons deeply. He loved the youngest son enough to let him make his own choices (Luke 15:12), and he loved the eldest son enough to entrust him with everything he had (Luke 15:31). Not only that, but the father demonstrated his love for both of his sons by always being concerned about who was missing. When the youngest son finally returned home, we are told that his father “saw him” even though he “was still a long way off” (Luke 15:20). Why did the father spot the youngest son before he made it to the house? Because the father was always on the lookout for who was missing. Later, when the eldest son refused to attend the coming home party for his brother, we are told that the “father came out” to him and “entreated him” to come inside (Luke 15:28). Why did the father notice that the eldest son was not at the party? Because the father was always on the lookout for who was missing.

It seems that the father refrained from pursuing the “lost” son out of respect for the “lost” son’s free will. Unlike the sheep and the coin who left their guardian’s care accidentally, the youngest son left his father’s care intentionally. He made a deliberate decision to leave, and his decision was tantamount to a rejection of his father. Therefore, as the one rejected, the father, though desirous of his son’s return, was not in a position to initiate that return because he was respecting his youngest son’s freedom to choose. 

Why didn’t the brother pursue the lost son?

If anyone should have pursued the “lost” son it was the “obedient” son. The eldest son loved his father and demonstrated that love through his obedience. We are told that he intentionally “served…and…never disobeyed” his father (Luke 15:29). Certainly, there would have been occasions when he observed his father’s longing for the youngest son. Certainly, the eldest brother knew that it would delight his father for his brother to come home. Should his love for his father not have prompted him to pursue his brother and bring him home so that his father’s heart would no longer break? The eldest son had the opportunity to do something that would bring his father tremendous joy, but he failed to do it. Why?

It seems that the “obedient” son refrained from pursuing the “lost" son because he did not love his brother like the father loved his brother. While the father watched for his youngest son to return home (Luke 15:20) and threw a party when he did (Luke 15:22-23), the eldest son sulked outside (Luke 15:28) and even refused to refer to the youngest son as his brother (Luke 15:30). Instead of celebrating his brother’s return home and his father’s healed heart, the eldest son criticized the father for loving the “lost” son more than him, the “obedient” son (Luke 15:29-30). When all is said and done, the one thing that is apparent is that the eldest son did not possess the heart of his father and that’s the reason he was not concerned about the state of his “lost” brother.

Why did Jesus tell this parable?

It is worth noting that Luke sets up the three lost parables by saying in Luke 15:1-3, 

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable:

Who among this audience would have related to the “lost” son? The tax collectors and sinners. What message would the tax collectors and sinners have taken away from this parable? They would have heard Jesus communicate how deeply God loves every individual and how desirous God is of every individual to return home. By comparing the celebration of the guardians when they found what was “lost” to the celebration that occurs in heaven when a sinner repents, Jesus revealed to the tax collectors and sinners that it brings God great joy for those who are “lost” to be found (Luke 15:7, 10). God celebrates when one of his “lost” children returns home because He “so loved the world” (John 3:16) to the degree that He does “not [wish] that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). So, if you are a “lost” son, then the point of this parable is that God wants you to come home.

Who among this audience would have related to the “obedient” son? The Pharisees and scribes. What message would the Pharisees and scribes have taken away from this parable? They, too, would have heard Jesus communicate how deeply God loves every individual and how desirous God is of every individual to return home. The difference is that, through the behavior of the eldest son and the criticism he receives, they would have been confronted with God’s expectation that His children love the “lost” to the same extent as Him. Essentially, the disobedience of the “obedient” Pharisees and scribes is evidenced in their lack of concern for the “lost” because this trait contradicted the nature of the Father. The lesson to be learned from this group is that those whose relationship with God has been reconciled are tasked with “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18), meaning they are expected to pursue the “lost” on behalf of their Father as His “ambassadors” (2 Corinthians 5:20). So, if you are not a “lost” son, then the point of this parable is that God expects you to be a pursuing brother.