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Putting God First

Putting God First

Most of us live hurried lives. We are hard pressed at work, at home, and at church to accomplish more than a twenty-four hour day seems to allow. The demands are overwhelming. In fact, full schedules cause many people to depend on a scheduler to stay organized and productive. The scheduler helps busy people plan their day, stay on top of events, boost their productivity, and find more time for family and leisure.

Most importantly a scheduler helps busy people prioritize – weigh the importance of each task for long-term as well as short-term goals. Some things are high on the priority list; other things must wait. Sometimes priorities shift at the last minute to meet highly important and urgent needs; nevertheless, prioritizing is paramount. The account of Mary and Martha is about priorities. Jesus said to Martha, “Martha thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42). “But one thing is needful” is a statement that sets priorities. Jesus commended Mary for taking time to sit and listen to Him. Regular listening to Jesus through Bible study is a priority. Another priority set by Jesus is found in Matthew. Jesus said, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (28:19-20).

Sadly, the importance and urgency of missions across the street and around the world are no longer important and urgent priorities in many churches today. Some churches view missions as highly important but not urgent. They invite missionaries who are raising support to visit and present their programs. They express an interest in supporting the missionary but withhold any decision for a year. The missionary cannot advance but is left in a holding pattern. Missions is important but not urgent.

Other churches view missions as urgent but not important. They too invite missionaries to visit and present their programs. They too express an interest in supporting the missionary. They however, provide the missionary fifteen dollars a month support. As gracious as that fifteen dollars might appear, it is not in keeping with today’s cost of living. An urgency exists, but missions is not important.

Many churches need a scheduler. They need help in prioritizing the important and urgent matters. Many people are willing, ready, and waiting to go. They just need a church to send them. Jesus said that He came to this world to seek and to save the lost. When He returned to heaven, He left us with that task. Let us not be Marthas, “troubled about many things” (Luke 10:41). Let us be Marys. Let us prioritize and focus on what is important and urgent.

True Worship Matters

True Worship Matters

I went to church service recently in which a powerful and emotional solo called “I Feel Like Moving On” was sung. The more I listened, however, the more disturbed I became by the emphasis on feeling. In my heart I made a decision. By His grace I am going to move on in my service to God regardless of how I feel. The worship of God by His people is such a sacred and intimate experience that we should not be surprised how often the enemy tries to pervert it.

Missionaries are constantly under attack for trying to “subvert” the culture and traditions of indigenous peoples. Unfortunately there are times compromises are made to avoid conflict, and the result is a worship that is a mixture of Christianity and paganism. Not surprisingly, this satisfies no one. How could it be otherwise? If it is true that a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways and cannot hope to receive anything from the Lord (Jas. 1:6-8), how stable and blessed can an institution be that is double-minded? Some churches that I’ve visited in Sub Saharan African countries offer the spectacle of religion that blends Christian elements with paganism. The amalgamation that has resulted has almost always turned out to be an enemy of Christianity, with persecution of believers not too far behind. There is nothing in the church that we should be more careful about than our worship. It must be “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). lest we come under the same judgment.

The worst damage is the damage we inflict on ourselves by offering people a cheap grace, or easy believism. We give them membership and baptism and important roles in the church without requiring repentance and confession and true discipleship. We do not call on people to count the cost for following Christ because we have removed the cost. Apart from commitment and obedience to the Lord, acts of worship are not just empty and meaningless: they are an offense to God.

Faith and Wisdom

Faith and Wisdom

In his writings, James spoke of subjects that are of vital importance in the lives of believers. As a missionary, I have had the privilege to hear and witness many examples that illustrate biblical truth. One such example was the matter of the tongue. My African pastor friends used many illustrations in their sermons. One such example had to do with the annual fires that swept across rural countryside of the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana, Africa.

The Apostle James wrote, “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell” (Jas. 3:6). The tongue of a Christian is a potential instrument of blessings, or it can be used to dishonor the Lord. James spoke of this when he wrote, “Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be” (vss. 9-10). He then went on to pose the question as to whether a fountain sends forth from the same place both sweet and bitter water. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (II Cor. 5:17). The results of the new birth will have a definite positive affect on a person’s speech if he allows the Lord to have control of his tongue. The mind controls man’s actions, including his words. In proverbs we read, “For as he thinketh in his heart, think pure things, and do good in all his ways. That, however, is not the usual behavior of all believers.

Some of my most interesting times on the mission field involved listening to the wisdom of the older African believers. Those who had grown up in an atmosphere of witchcraft and worship of all kinds of gods could speak from experience of the satanic powers that had once bound them in fear and superstition. They spoke with confidence and assurance of God’s love for them and of the joy and peace they possessed. Their wisdom in certain spiritual areas far surpassed that of their missionary friends.

James wrote, “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? Let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom” (Jas. 3:13). Wisdom from the Lord does not cause a person to consider himself superior to others. A man with wisdom from the Lord will be identified by the works it produces. Faith and true wisdom walk together.

Discipline and Restoration

Discipline and Restoration

Paul urged the Corinthian church to restore people under discipline as quickly as possible to fellowship in the Christian community. He firmly stated that sin should not be tolerated, and he insisted that the church discipline those  who refused to repent; however, he looked forward to the time when these people would come back to the Lord and again become a part of the Christian community. Such a time had come for the man referred to in this post. It was time to forgive this man and help him move from his state of separation to full membership in the church. In dealing with believers who back-slide, one extreme is to tolerate the sin and say nothing. The other extreme is to put someone out of the church and abandon him.

A missionary in Africa thought it was time to talk to a certain chief about his relationship to Christ. When the missionary questioned this man, the chief answered that he had received the Lord as his Saviour twenty-two years before. He said, “For years I was a Christian in good standing in the church; then I became sick. I had swellings all over my body. The people in the village made medicine from the bark of a tree. I took the medicine. For days I did not know whether I would live or die. Finally, I recovered. I think the medicine helped me. “Some people, however, reported to church leaders that I had taken medicine prepared by a witch doctor. For this I was put out of the church. I became embittered against the church and other Christians.

This story is sad because the church leaders had not thoroughly investigated the man’s situation when he was disciplined. Even more serious, they had abandoned the chief. They had not expressed their love for him and their concern that he return to the church. Whether a church practices discipline or not, it is important to follow those who once claimed to be believers but who have dropped out of the Christian community. God loves them, and we should love them too.

Christians should, in Paul’s words, be a sweet “savour of life” (II Cor. 2:16). We should announce to those who have fallen that God still loves them and that His grace can bring them home to Him.

Sharing God’s Grace

Sharing God’s Grace

It is difficult to capture the essence of a book of the Bible in one word. However, this can be done with the book of Philippians, for the heart of this epistle is “joy”. It is quite intriguing to me that an epistle with the theme of joy, the Apostle Paul took the opportunity to reveal a personal dilemma that he faced.

When Paul thought about his death, the thought did not depress him. Paul really believed that dying and being in the presence of his Savior would be gain (phil. 1:21). On the  other hand, Paul had a great desire to remain alive and continue this ministry to the Philippians. Paul’s personal dilemma teaches us that serving Jesus Christ is often dangerous. This is especially true when it comes to missionary activity. The purpose of this entry is to emphasize the dangerous nature of world missions. There is no doubt that their is an increasing danger to missionaries throughout the world. Two major factors that contribute to the increasing danger are the destabilization and instability in many regions that followed the end of the two superpower era . . . and the increasing missions push into areas dominated by other religious systems.

In many instances, the missionary faces the realistic truth that spreading God’s Word to further His kingdom is not safe. In order to accomplish his calling, therefore, it is imperative for a missionary to develop a heart of love fixed on Jesus Christ in faith. Since 9/11, we all live in a more dangerous world. We all must address whether or under what circumstances a ransom will be paid; whether, when and how to evacuate missions personnel; and how to plan missions operations and provide adequate security. May Paul’s personal dilemma concerning life and death motivate us to serve Christ with joy.

That Sure Tastes Good!

That Sure Tastes Good!

Who satisfies your mouth with good things… Psalm 103:5a

Psalm 37: 3 declares: “Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.” There, the promise is that if you trust in the Lord and do good, you shall be fed. Here, in Psalm 103: 5a, you are not only promised that you will be fed, you are promised that what you are fed will be satisfying to your mouth.

You do know that there is a difference right? Just ask a child. Brussel sprouts, okra, and broccoli may feed you and even nourish you, but that doesn’t mean they are satisfying to your mouth. Yet, the Lord adds to your benefits package that He will satisfy your mouth with good things. What good things? Good things going through your mouth. This is the nourishing food which is made possible by His provision. The fact that He will satisfy your mouth with good things can be true although you may have to swallow some good things which may not taste so good going down. But, thank God, that every now and then, we can look forward to some sumptuously sweet things, some perfectly seasoned things and delightfully delicious things.

Good things in your mouth. The mouth is the waiting room of your words. They sit there (sometimes too long and sometimes not long enough) before they break the barrier of the lips. Just like good wine which is not to be gulped and swallowed immediately, some things are satisfying just by being in your mouth. David also knew this and expressed it when he wrote in Psalm 34: 1: “I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.”

Good things coming out of your mouth. Good things can go down through your mouth. Good things can be in your mouth. Then, good things can come out of your mouth. Words of encouragement, words of comfort, words of forgiveness, words of peace, words of restoration, words of wisdom, words of knowledge are all instances of things which satisfy the speaker’s mouth and the hearer’s ears. When all is said and done, God makes the mouth both a place of pleasure and an instrument of love.

From Redemption to Royalty

From Redemption to Royalty

In the first half of Psalm 103:4, God redeems us. Then, with only the separation of the pause of a comma, in the second half of the same verse, He crowns us. In other words, He takes us from redemption to royalty in virtually once motion. None of us would blame the Lord if He required us to serve some probationary period before rising to the level of royalty. Who would fault the Lord if He forced us to start from scratch and work our way up to His favor? Of course, He would have every right to do so.

Nevertheless, His characteristic lovingkindness would not allow it. Like the prodigal son who went from the pig pen in a foreign land to a party at his father’s house and the thief next to Jesus who went from the pain of the cross to paradise in one day, the Lord wastes no time in redeeming us and then crowning us. If the fact that we are crowned is not enough, God crowns us “with lovingkindness.” He does not do it with an attitude. He does not do it reluctantly. He does not do it against His better judgement. It is as if He just can’t wait and He does it with lovingkindness.

The Hebrew word which is translated as “lovingkindness” is hesed. David Arzouni of Hesed.com defines the word this way: the consistent, ever-faithful, relentless, constantly-pursuing, lavish, extravagant, unrestrained, furious love of our Father God. This is what God crowns us with and how He crowns us. Such love is beyond what we imagine that we deserve and so are the tender mercies which accompany them. This double benefit of lovingkindness and tender mercies proves that the heights to which we have risen are much more because of Him than because of us.

Put Away Childish Things

Put Away Childish Things

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. (1 Corinthians 13:11)

What Paul proves here is that maturity is not only a matter of development. It is also a matter of decision. He admits that when he was a child, he spoke as a child, he understood as a child and he thought as a child. But, when he became a man, he put away childish things. These childish things did not fall off of him. They did not mysteriously or miraculously disappear from him. He had to make a conscious decision and take an affirmative action to put them away. You don’t automatically grow out of pettiness and pickiness, tantrums and tirades, selfishness and carelessness. The only way to get away from these is to step away from them.

Paul is quite clear that even though he was a man, his childish things had not completely vanished. They were still there. They were just “put away.” That’s why we have to keep guard all day every day because if we are not careful, given the right trigger, like that Jack in the box, childish things can suddenly pop out!

Begin On the Inside

Begin On the Inside

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man…  (Ephesians 3:16)

Paul not only preaches to the Ephesians. He also prays for them. His prayer which is recorded in this passage is that they are strengthened with the might of the Holy Spirit and that this strength be targeted at the inner man.

Notice, he does not ask for abs of steel. He does not request bulging biceps. He does not seek thighs of iron. He prays that God would strengthen their inner man. The inner man is the invisible person underneath the one everyone sees. The inner man is the one who motivates every move. The inner man is the one who holds every belief. The inner man is the one who carries the character. The inner man pulsates with passion. The inner man stores and applies knowledge. The inner man senses and sends forth love. The very natural process of physical growth almost guarantees a certain level of growth in the outer person. Food, age, exercise, time and hormones take care of that. However, the greater and more significant growth in us is the maturity which takes place inside of us. This growth in character, honesty, integrity, fortitude and faith needs more than hormones; it requires the Holy Ghost.