Watching

“so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.” (1 Thessalonians 5:6).

 

I recently read a story about a father that had arrived at the church building to pick up his son after a youth group meeting. As he drove up, he saw his son outside, completely oblivious that his ride had arrived. The father decided to wait and see how long it would take his son to discover that he was there. Twenty minutes went by before the father finally honked his horn to get his son’s attention. When he got in the car his son asked, “Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you!”

 

Being observant might not be one of your better qualities. Sometimes I’m not good at it either. Whenever I can’t find anything at the house, I ask my wife. Isn’t she supposed to know where everything is? I’ve heard someone say, “Sometimes you have to move things around so you can see behind them to find what you’re looking for.”

 

It is easy to say that we are alert, aware, and watching for the return of Jesus, but are we really? We can be very distracted by all of the details and events of life that keep our minds occupied. Some of the things that have our attention can be rather mundane and useless, others are necessary and weighty matters.

 

Neil Lightfoot wrote, “The one sure way to be ready on that day is to be ready every day.” What are we doing each day to be sure we are ready for the return of Jesus? I think it has to be a perspective of our entire lives. In all that we do we remember that Jesus is coming again, and we want to honor Him now, so we can be joyful then.

 

“Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.” (1 John 2:28)

Coveting

For the past few weeks, we’ve explored the idea that it’s easier for us to focus on God with less stuff in our lives. The world wants to bog us down with materialism and possessions and chasing wealth, because in the pursuit of those things, we’ve taken our eyes off of serving God. We’ve also talked about the fact that creating space, whether in our closets or our schedules, allows us to better minister to those around us. Simplifying our lives gives us the opportunity to focus on the things that are eternal. I want to explore another side of this topic, which is the sin of coveting:

“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed… coveting,” (Mark 7:21,22).

What do we desire?  Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” (Matthew 6:21).  Our desire or treasure can be our making or breaking.

The word for coveting, or covetousness, is found in Colossians 3:5.  It is described as an earthly and idolatrous disposition that should not exist within the Christian heart.  Jesus connects covetousness with the selfish desire for the acquisition and/or the hoarding of material possessions (Luke 12:15-21). In the Old Testament, God warned His people not to covet other people or someone else’s possessions (Exodus 20:17).

Coveting is closely connected to concepts of lust and envy.  It is a heart problem because our heart’s desire for a person or thing outweighs our desire to please God.  When we do this, the person or thing becomes our object of worship.  This path can be adequately described as exchanging the truth about God for a lie, worshiping and serving the creature and not the Creator (Romans 1:25).

Like so many problems of the heart, covetousness grows from a selfish desire for something other than God.  Jesus emphasized the need to remove the source of sin, in this case improper desire, to prevent sin from occurring (Matthew 5:29,30). We cannot just remove the desire; we must replace it!  As Paul wrote, “Set your mind on the things above, not on things that are on earth,” (Colossians 3:2).

Whatever that thing is, we cannot take it into eternity.  By giving in to covetousness, we trade an everlasting promise for a temporary passion. So, what is your heart’s desire?

 

Sunday’s Comin’

Easter Sunday. It’s not listed as a federal holiday, most people don’t get off work for it, and yet millions of people still celebrate it every year. It, like other holidays, has been commercialized and turned into a consumeristic event. Bunnies, eggs, and candies are what most people associate with Easter. Yet for us as Christians, Easter is the celebration of our Savior defeating death, defeating the tomb, and defeating Satan. For a brief time Satan actually thought he had won, but that glorious Sunday morning proved otherwise. I want to share with you the text of a famous speech that reflects this idea:

 

“It’s Friday. Jesus is praying. Peter’s sleeping. Judas is betraying. But Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday. Pilate’s struggling. The council is conspiring. The crowd is vilifying. They don’t even know that Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday. The disciples are running like sheep without a shepherd. Mary’s crying. Peter is denying. But they don’t know that Sunday’s a comin’.

It’s Friday. The Romans beat my Jesus. They robe him in scarlet. They crown him with thorns. But they don’t know that Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday. See Jesus walking to Calvary. His blood dripping. His body stumbling. And his spirit burdened. But you see, it’s only Friday. Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday. The world’s winning. People are sinning. And evil’s grinning. 

It’s Friday. The soldiers nail my Savior’s hands to the cross. They nail my Savior’s feet
to the cross. And then they raise him up next to criminals. It’s Friday. But let me tell you something, Sunday’s comin’
.

It’s Friday. The disciples are questioning. What has happened to their King? And the Pharisees are celebrating that their scheming has been achieved. But they don’t know it’s only Friday. Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday. He’s hanging on the cross. Feeling forsaken by his Father. Left alone and dying. Can nobody save him? Ooooh It’s Friday. But Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday. The earth trembles. The sky grows dark. My King yields his spirit.

It’s Friday.Hope is lost. Death has won. Sin has conquered. and Satan’s just a laughin’.

It’s Friday. Jesus is buried. A soldier stands guard. And a rock is rolled into place. But it’s Friday. It is only Friday. Sunday is a comin’!”

 

Praise God for the empty tomb!

 

Thinking

When did thinking become boring? Why is it that, according U.S. Department of Labor statistics, 83% of Americans do not spend any part of the day just thinking (without doing anything else)? Columbia professor, Dr. Maron observes, “We lack comfort in just being alone with our thoughts…We’re constantly looking to the external world for some sort of entertainment.” In a controlled study involving 409 students at the University of Virginia, participants were placed in a bare room for up to fifteen minutes. No phones. No books. No distractions of any kind. The rules were simple. Stay awake. Be quiet. Sit still. Almost half of those participating found it to be an unpleasant experience that they would not like to repeat. One portion of the study allowed for students to self-administer a small but unpleasant static electrical charge. Eighty-seven percent of the men and twenty-five percent of the women preferred the electrical charge to being alone with their thoughts!

We like to watch people think, but we don’t always want to think for ourselves. Hence, the shorter and shorter attention span—the cry for more and more entertainment and excitement, anything but a sermon or worship service that challenges me to be alone with my own thoughts—to think, reason, and evaluate my spiritual life. The prophet invites, “Come now, and let us reason together…” (Isaiah 1:18). But, we don’t always want to do that.

If we are not comfortable being alone with our thoughts, it may be because we are not comfortable being alone with God. Perhaps we need to spend some time alone with God, making things right with Him. We are never really alone. “He is not far from us; for in Him we live and move and exist…” (Acts 17:27,28). We must “seek God…grope for Him and find Him” (vs. 27). This we cannot do without being alone—without training ourselves to set aside distractions and focus on things eternal. To just be still and think.

Think about things in heaven (Colossians 3:1-2). Think about Jesus and the race set before us (Hebrews 12:1-3). Think about all those things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent, or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). By all means think. Be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10).

Going Home

Whether it is returning from a weekend getaway or making an extended visit to “the old stomping grounds”, there is always something special about going home. Familiar landmarks divide the trip into manageable stages. Directional signs serve as mile-markers along the way. Feelings of anticipation grow, and we feel good when we have completed the journey home.

As Christians, we talk a lot about going home. Poets touch our heart with words describing heaven as the home of the soul. Songwriters have put such sentiments to music, lifting our spirits in sweet melody. We are blessed when we are able to dwell on such thoughts.

The Christian life is a journey home. Home is not only a place—it is the people we associate with that place. We long to see our Savior face-to-face and dwell in the light of His loving presence forever. Perhaps, there are some landmarks along the way—stages of spiritual growth in keeping with Christ and His word. Such landmarks must be seen by faith, for we have never traveled this path before (II Corinthians 5:7).

As Christians, even physical infirmity can be looked at as a marker along our journey home, for faith tells us that we “do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day” (II Corinthians 4:16). Aches and pains associated with growing older, might be considered landmarks by which we gauge our progress toward our eternal home. “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (II Corinthians 5:1). In this house, “we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven” (vs. 2). Because of these and similar promises, our ambition in life must be to please the Lord (II Corinthians 5:9-10). We shall stand before Him in judgment and, if proven faithful, will be welcomed home (Matthew 25:21).

We do not know the hour of our departure nor the day of Christ’s return. What we do know is that each day that passes in this journey of life puts us one day closer to our heavenly home.

Darkness

There are times when darkness is disturbing, when time drags along like the silent ticking of a clock. Morning light comes as a welcome relief that cheers the spirit and brightens our prospects for the day ahead.

Have you ever “felt” the darkness? Light so absent as to leave you probing for direction—reaching out to touch something, anything, which might let you know where you are in relation to your surroundings? It is interesting to learn that one of the ten plagues brought against Egypt was the plague of darkness. It was, as the Bible says, “a darkness which may be felt” (Exodus 10:21). For three days, the Egyptians could not see one another—for three days the “thick darkness” kept them from rising out of their places. Imagine how that must have felt. “But all the sons of Israel had light in their dwellings” (v. 23).

Awareness of our society’s growing moral and spiritual darkness is troubling. The darkness of the world around us can, at times, seem overwhelming. Ignorance is darkness, even when it is intentional. Many have chosen darkness rather than light (John 3:19). Preferring darkness to light, they reject the knowledge of God. Like Pharaoh, they ask, “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice?” (Exodus 5:2).

Navigating the course of life through a sin-darkened world can be a tough path. Were it not for the fact that “God is light, and in Him there is not darkness at all”, we might be shaken and live in fear. We might be tempted to say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night” (Psalm 139:11). Yet, even in those moments when darkness may be felt—even then, we can be like David and pray, “the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day” (v. 12).

Think not of darkness as a force from which you must hide. Think instead of darkness as an opportunity for the light. For it is in the darkest hour that light has its most profound influence. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

A Good Name

What do people think of when your name comes up in casual conversation? Solomon said, “A good name is more desired than great wealth” (Proverbs 22:1). Your name or reputation is the opinion other people have about you. Once your image is tarnished, it can be very difficult to restore. It has become increasingly common to hear people talk about reputation-management, especially in business and politics. Maintaining good public perception or performing damage-control are jobs for which effective spin-doctors receive huge salaries.

Christians must wear the name of Christ. Our example must draw people closer to Jesus (1 Peter 2:12). Our light must glorify the Father (Matthew 5:16). Every member of the body of Christ must do his or her part to magnify the name of Christ to a lost and dying world. If our behavior brings reproach on the name of Christ, then we are responsible for the resulting damage. When your name is mentioned alongside the name of Christ or His church, does it seem strangely out of place? The church cannot effectively fulfill its mission when its name is being tainted by the ungodliness of its members.

Having your name “dragged through the mud” is a rather graphic way of expressing what happens when our reputation is tarnished by accusations of wrong-doing. Some have suggested that the expression, “My name is mud!” derives from a disgraced Dr. Samuel Mudd, who treated the broken leg that fugitive John Wilkes Booth sustained during his assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Whether true or not, one can see how easily a name can be associated with a deed. After all, what image is conveyed by the name, Benedict Arnold? Or, Judas Iscariot? Pay close attention, therefore, to your example in all areas of your life. You do not want to be found guilty of dragging the name of Jesus through the mud. While repentance and prayer bring immediate forgiveness to the wayward child of God (1 John 1:9), a ruined reputation is not so easily restored. Since we are to reflect Him, let’s make it our goal to do all we can to honor the name of Christ.

Zero Down, Zero Interest

Instant gratification is the seductive message of the market. You can have what you want right now! You deserve it. Head over heels in debt? No problem. Refinance. Buy more stuff. Too much month at the end of the paycheck? No problem. Get a payday loan. Easy terms. Buy now, pay later. One of my personal favorites is “zero down, zero interest.” Zero down means instant gratification. I don’t need any money right now to buy that item I just can’t live without. In addition, zero interest is a distraction, keeping our attention away from the cost of those monthly payments in the future.

When Jesus spoke of life’s greatest adventure and its everlasting reward, He did so with full disclosure. He did not sugar-coat the demands of discipleship, instead He told His followers to count the cost. He said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26). Jesus was clear about the costs and demands of discipleship. Jesus does not recruit into His army the “summer soldier and the sunshine patriot.”

So, if we are looking for a quick-fix religion—get it now, pay for it later—we will be sadly disappointed in what Jesus has to offer. True discipleship focuses on future rewards and present responsibilities. It surprises some to learn that this provides life’s most satisfying experiences. When given opportunity to offer sacrifice without personal cost, David firmly responded, saying, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing” (II Sam. 24:24).

Bring on the cost. Bring on the sacrifice. Bring on the inconvenience. In many ways, the value of our faith is determined by what we are willing to give in exchange for it. Regardless of its appeal, you and I putting zero down most likely means we have zero interest, as far as spiritual things are concerned. So the question becomes: how much do you value your faith?

Sleepless Nights

There are many reasons why people find themselves wide-awake in the middle of the night. For some it is a matter of routine—shift-work requires adjustment in their normal sleeping patterns. For others, it is an emergency reaction—a sick child, a flooding basement, or the shrill beep of a smoke detector in need of a battery replacement. Still others, frequently awaken in the night or simply have trouble sleeping altogether. For whatever reason, they simply have trouble shutting down their system. The body is tired, but the brain is going “full-speed ahead.”

What do you think about when you wake up in the middle of the night? David thought about God who had been his helper. He said, “When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches…” (Psalm 63:6). The impression you get from reading the Psalms is that David frequently found himself awake in the night. These times of quiet solitude became inviting opportunities for meditation and prayer. In a beautiful psalm extolling the value of trusting in the help of the Lord, David reminds us that the Lord “will not slumber…He will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:3-4). So, in what is often considered life’s most lonely hours, we are really not alone at all. In describing the inherent greatness of our God, David prayed, “Even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You” (Psalm 139:12).

While I feel compassion for those who frequently struggle to sleep at night, perhaps, an occasional moment of sleeplessness might be good for the soul. Somewhat reminiscent of what David wrote in the book of Psalms are the words of Isaiah who, in a song of trust, prayed, “At night my soul longs for you…” (Isaiah 26:9). There is something about a sleepless night that calls our hearts in a heavenly direction. Perhaps, what appears to be an aggravation, or at least an inconvenience, may actually be a hidden opportunity for spiritual growth. Yes, even a sleepless night can provide us with an opportunity for spiritual reflection and growth. If so, then it will have been worthwhile.

Be Different

Whatever the difference—the difference is what makes us stand out. We must be different to make a difference. God uses Christians because we are called to be different. We have been called “out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Light shines in darkness. We must be different.

Different is uncomfortable. Following Jesus means taking up our cross (Luke 9:23). Following Jesus brings the world’s rejection (II Timothy 3:12). Temptation to compromise in the heat of adversity can seem overwhelming. But we must not conform to this world. Instead, we must be transformed. Only then can we truly make a difference and prove that God’s way is “good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). It is when we stand firm under pressure that our light shines brightest and makes the biggest difference in the lives of others.

We are most like Jesus when we are different. Jesus was different. His life on earth was unique—totally different from that of any human being who has ever walked the face of the earth. He was not what the religious leaders expected of the Messiah. They soon came to hate Him. Eventually, they rejected and crucified Him. More than any other, Jesus endured the world’s rejection. But, He did not compromise even in the indescribable anguish of the garden, or in the hours of suffering on the cross.

Being different made all the difference. Our sinless Savior was vindicated by the Father when He was resurrected on the third day and declared with power to be the Son of God (Romans 1:4). No one has ever made such a difference as did Jesus our Lord. No one has even come close. Concerning the difference Jesus made on human history, the half has never yet been told.

How can we make a difference? Be like Jesus. Be different. Be holy. Be a light in the midst of darkness. Be cool when tempers soar. Be kind in the midst of cruelty and hatred. Be humble when arrogant people seem to be getting ahead. Be righteous when the wicked seem to proper. Dare to be like Jesus in word, thought, and deed. You will be different and your life will make a difference to the glory of God.