An Acceptable Performance

November 17, 2017 at 6:05 pm | Posted in II Corinthians, Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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There came a point in the Apostle Paul’s ministry (and, who knows? it may have been there from the time he met Christ and received the forgiveness of sins) when his fear of death was overshadowed – or at least challenged and deeply ameliorated – by his longing to leave this world behind and go to be with his Lord.

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:

Philippians 1:22–23

Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.

II Corinthians 5:6-9

It would not be unreasonable to say that, even as Paul cherished his opportunities to minister in the name of Jesus in this world, his heart was still occupied with Heavenly thoughts more than earthly thoughts. In II Corinthians 5:9 he did not attempt to hide the fact that what he was doing was “labor” – the type of physical work that could be easily observed by other human beings. However, even as he labored before, and among, men, he seemed only to be conscious of the eyes of His Master upon him.

I spent my childhood in an environment where baseball was a form of religion. From the earliest levels of little league almost everyone in my home town was cognizant of which kids performed well on the diamond, and which ones didn’t. And, while it seems likely to me all these years later that us boys had an inflated sense of the importance of winning or losing, striking out or getting a base hit, blocking a grounder with our chest (or chin!) or letting it go through our legs, I can also tell you that many a dad was evicted from the park for yelling at, or fighting with, umpires, coaches, and other dads. Plenty of boys who had escaped corporal discipline for bad grades, ditching school, stealing, and vandalizing would find themselves on the business end of a belt or an open-hand whack to the head out behind the concession stand after an 0 for 4 evening or a couple of inexcusable errors. Some of us played the game for fun, and some of us played it for survival.

not impressed by your performance

The result of this kind of pressure to perform is a laser-sharp focus. Despite whatever flaws were instilled into us concerning sportsmanship and fair play, we did learn the sort of concentration that allows you to block out everything else in your surroundings and zero in on the spin of the ball, the tendency of the runner leaning off first as if he might try for second, and where you would throw the ball if it happened to carom off a bat and head in your direction on any given pitch. The roar of the crowd after a good play – or the boos and jeers after an overthrow – became something to tune out and ignore. For several of us, the approval of the crowd did not matter one iota, but the approval of our fathers did. They were who we wanted to please, and there is no doubt we played harder because of our desire for their praise, and because of a fear of their disappointment.

The Apostle Paul did not play baseball, and his Heavenly Father was interested in far greater glories than a small-town sporting event. And, of course, God’s interest in Paul’s performance was not motivated by a petty desire to live vicariously through his exploits. However, Paul wanted very badly for his efforts to be “accepted” by the Lord, and you and I would probably do well to adopt this same motivation today.

Paul is like a musician who does not need the approval of the audience if he can catch the look of approval from his Master.

Oswald Chambers, March 17 devotion on II Corinthians 5:9 from My Utmost for His Highest

Returning from Exile

September 5, 2013 at 12:12 pm | Posted in Ezra | 4 Comments
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In 538 B.C. approximately 50,000 exiled Jews left captivity in Babylon to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and the city. After the decree of King Cyrus which authorized them to do this, some of the Jews wanted to return and some didn’t.

Even those did Cyrus king of Persia bring forth by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and numbered them unto Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah.

Ezra 1:8

Sheshbazzar was probably Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah. It was not unusual for Jews born in a foreign land to be given a foreign name in addition to their Jewish names.

Ezra Chapter 2 contains genealogies. These were important to the Jewish people for two reasons: One, they needed to be able to prove they had an inheritance of the rights and privileges of being Jewish. Two, they didn’t want their mission corrupted by outsiders.

Those who returned took singers with them. Believers today sometimes sing songs which sound joyous to the world, but which also carry an undertone of grief to those sensitive to the Spirit (Psalm 137:1-4). Coming back early from exile should be a time for truly joyous singing, which honors the Lord.

What did they do first when they were ready to begin rebuilding? Lay the foundation? No. Gather supplies and materials? No. Set up an altar and sacrifice? Yes! If you are a Christian, but you have been in “spiritual exile” – disobediently out of God’s will – when you return, you should get back to basics: do the fundamentals, present yourself as a living sacrifice to God.

Note the emphasis on unity: they gathered together (Ezra 3:1); they stood together (Ezra 3:9); they sang together (Ezra 3:11). When you come back from a spiritual exile, get in unity, “togetherness,” with other believers who are following the foundation of the pattern: repentance; confession; prayer; reading and heeding the Word; obeying the Word and the Spirit; growing in faith.

In Ezra 3:11 the unity was interrupted when the joyful shouting was interrupted by loud weeping. These “ancient” men were upset because the “new” did not meet their expectations, and, in their mind, did not measure up to the “old.” As believers today, if we go into exile, and then come back, we may find things changed. The music may be different. The “style” of worship may be different. The age of the leaders may be different. The Word of God is never different, but older believers must not insist that the younger believers conform to every old tradition.

If you find yourself in exile from the will of God, one thing is clear: God’s commandment – you really don’t have to search very far in the Scriptures to find it – is that you return from exile. Return to the center of God’s will for your life. God will enable you to do it.

Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.

I Thessalonians 5:24

God is faithful. His faithfulness is not dependent on our faithfulness.

If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.

II Timothy 2:13

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:

Philippians 1:6

Spending Time with the “Right” Kind of People

March 15, 2013 at 10:29 am | Posted in Biblical friendship, Social Media Shares and Mass Emails | 12 Comments
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I suppose I can understand the temptation. You are scrolling down your Facebook feed, checking up on all your friends and relatives, oohing and aahing over the latest baby pictures and commiserating with the complaints about the weather… and suddenly you see it. Someone has shared what looks like an ad from an old-timey magazine with a drawing of a lady in a sunhat sipping an iced tea above a paragraph of prose so catchy and inspiring you feel like you just can’t help yourself from clicking “share!” Before you even realize you are doing it, you have posted something like this:

Free yourself from negative people. Spend time with nice people who are smart, driven and like-minded. Relationships should help you, not hurt you. Surround yourself with people who reflect the person you want to be. Choose friends who you are proud to know, people you admire, who love and respect you – people who make your day a little brighter simply by being in it. Life is too short to spend time with people who suck the happiness out of you. When you free yourself from negative people, you free yourself to be YOU – and being YOU is the only way to truly live.

I don’t know how to transliterate the sound of one of those buzzers that go off when someone guesses incorrectly on a television game show, but just imagine it here. Unless you are not a Christian, that is. If you’re not a Christian, these kinds of mushy self-help slogans and pop psychology tripe are perfectly understandable. If you’ve never trusted Christ as your Savior, you can stop reading now – or better yet click here for something that will help you tremendously.

Now, for those of you Christians who are still reading, I know it’s asking a lot, but let’s try to think before we “share.” The Bible says to be transformed by the renewing of your mind, not the removing of your mind.

Should you “free yourself from negative people?” Not according to the Bible.

Blessed are ye, when [men] shall revile you, and persecute [you], and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great [is] your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Matthew 5:11-16

Should you “spend time with nice people who are smart, driven, and like-minded?” Not if you want to be like Jesus.

The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!

Luke 7:34

Is life really “too short to spend time with people who suck the happiness out of you?” If you are selfish, and your goal in life is to make yourself “happy” with a false circumstances-dependent happiness, then it sure is! However, if your goal is to be conformed to the image of Christ, and to love and serve difficult, suffering, and miserable people, then those are precisely the type of people you want in your life.

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

Philippians 2:5-7

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were [our] faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Isaiah 53:3

Is “being YOU the only way to truly live?” Silly me, I thought the way to truly live was to die to self and have Christ the Lord live through us.

And he said to [them] all, If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?

Luke 9:23-25

For to me to live [is] Christ, and to die [is] gain.

Philippians 1:21

There is no easy “like” button to click when it comes to sanctification.

The Addict (Signs of Addiction)

November 9, 2012 at 10:19 am | Posted in I Corinthians, Outcasts of Ministry | 4 Comments
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Outcasts of Ministry: The Addict, the Slave, and the Man Who Fell Out of Church

Last time we contrasted some of the characteristics of the worldly addict with those of the ministry addict.

I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,)

I Corinthians 16:15 (emphasis added)

Now we will look at the signs of addiction:

1. A strong, almost overwhelming urge to engage in a certain behavior

But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing,

Galatians 4:18

It would certainly not be good to be zealous in your affections about crack cocaine. It’s not good to be zealous in your affections about your outward appearance. But it is good to be zealous in your affections about ministry – because ministry is a good basis for addiction. In the world, you are an outcast if you are addicted to the “wrong” thing, and you’re popular if you’re addicted to the “right” thing. But these views of “right” and “wrong” are fleeting and fickle. Sometimes sexual addiction is seen as titillating or a sign of virility – until it ruins someone’s life or someone’s marriage. You might remember the “heroin chic” phase, when the media glamorized the emaciated bodies and dark eyes of runway models who used drug addiction as a means to stay thin.

https://swimthedeepend.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/head.jpg?w=270

Some addictions seem pretty cool until they go too far and make the addict an outcast. Likewise, an addiction to ministry might cause unbelievers to cast you out – but God won’t consider you an outcast for it.

2. Feelings of low self-esteem

Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

Philippians 2:3

A drug addict or a compulsive over-eater has low self-esteem because he doesn’t think he’s worth anything. A ministry addict has low self-esteem because he believes that serving Christ is worth everything. The message of the world is “believe in yourself,” but don’t you buy into that vain philosophy! In America we love to talk about our “rights” and entitlements – that we think we deserve as individuals. But that’s a false view of freedom. Real freedom comes when we become so addicted to ministry that we give up our “right” to be first, and esteem others better than ourselves.

3. Drawing away from the normal activities of daily life

No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.

II Timothy 2:4

One of the dangers of even seemingly-harmless worldly addictions (that favorite TV show that you just can’t miss, for example) is that we become too entangled with them to have time for ministry. Ask someone who is serving active military duty in a combat zone. A soldier ready for battle at any moment can’t say, “Hold off on the fighting for a couple of days – I just started fixing up my car.” He can’t say, “I just met this new girl and she’s all I can think about right now.” Soldiers have to be focused. They can’t afford to be addicted to “fun” things. A worldly addict may find himself dropping out of polite society because of devotion to his addiction, but a ministry addict is someone who is in the world (which is the battleground of spiritual warfare), but not of the world. Nothing should capture our affection, our adoration, or our attention more than the work of the Lord.

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Philippians 1:21

4. A feeling of euphoria, or pleasure, while engaging in the addictive behavior

The works of the LORD are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein.

Psalm 111:2

The worldly addict gets a physical “kick” out of his addiction. That’s one of the big problems with addiction. Addicts build an immunity and need more and more of the object of their addiction. Many scientists believe this phenomenon is caused by chemicals in the brain. The truth is, God understands our need for pleasure – for a good feeling or satisfaction in the works we do. But Christians are indwelled by the Holy Spirit. One of the quickest ways to grieve the Holy Spirit is by exposing His presence in our bodies to the false pleasure of sinfully carnal pursuits. The worldly addict can never be satisfied, but he can get brief pleasure from feeding the flesh with the object of his addiction. The ministry addict, however, surrenders to the Holy Ghost and takes pleasure in those things in which He takes pleasure.

What’s the one thing that the Holy Ghost really longs to do?

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.

John 16:13-14

Glorifying the Lord Jesus is the ministry of the Holy Spirit. What can we do to be used by the Holy Spirit to do that?

Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.

I John 4:11-13

Stephanas ministered to the saints – to other believers. By so doing, he glorified Christ Jesus, and pleased the Holy Spirit of God. The worldly addict seeks a short-lived artificial high, and makes himself an outcast in pursuing it. The ministry addict seeks an eternal lasting pleasure – the pleasure of the Holy Ghost who dwells within him.

Calling Witnesses (Part 2)

March 30, 2011 at 10:16 am | Posted in Bible Studies, Salvation | 3 Comments
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The first witness that I called to take the stand against the unconverted sinner was the True Christian.

SECOND WITNESSES: PRAYING PEOPLE

I now call to the stand Christians who are serious about prayer. Sometimes we call them “prayer warriors.” These are people who pray often, who pray long, who pray sincerely, who pray passionately – people who pray without ceasing.

Their testimony will not take long. I really have only one simple question for them: “Aside from your loving conversation with your Heavenly Father… aside from the time spent simply adoring and speaking forth the majesty of God in worship… what do you spend most of your time praying about?”

Their answer: “Why, unconverted sinners, of course.”

Does this surprise you? Did you think true Christians spent all their time begging God for new cars, new houses, new clothes, big piles of money? Certainly they spend a great deal of time in prayer for the sick, and for the concerns and cares of their fellow Christians, but number one in the “request” portion of their prayer time is spent not in begging, but in volunteering: they are asking God to use them to reach you with the truth of the Gospel. Their zeal is exemplified in the statements of that master soul-hunter, the Apostle Paul:

For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:

Romans 9:3

For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.

Philippians 1:23-24

Paul was almost willing to go to hell himself if it meant his family could be saved. And he was willing to delay going to Heaven if he could reach more souls.

THIRD WITNESSES: GODLY MEN AND WOMEN OF THE BIBLE

Some of these witnesses are even the inspired writers of the Holy Book itself – God’s explicit revelation of Who He is, what He has done, and who you really are. Can I call each one? Well, I could… the pages of the Bible are filled with them. But for time’s sake, I’ll let the person who has not trusted Christ choose.

Would you call Job? He lost everything in this temporal world that was dear to him except his life… but here is his testimony:

And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.

Job 1:21

Would you call Jeremiah? You may say that he would help your case, having devoted his life to serving God, but appearing from a worldly standpoint to be a failure. After all, he preached for years without a single convert. But here’s his testimony:

The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.

Jeremiah 31:3

Would you call David? He was persecuted, hunted, abandoned by his friends. Surely he would not recommend that you give your heart to the Lord! Yet here is what he said:

It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man… O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

Psalm 118:8, 29

Maybe you could find somebody more recent – ah, how about Stephen? In Acts Chapter 6 they made him a deacon, and in Chapter 7 they stoned him to death… talk about a witness against the Lord! But wait – here’s what Stephen had to say:

And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God… Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.

Acts 7:56, 59

These men of the Bible have let you down… and they have hurt your case.

Next time, we will continue the parade of witnesses against the unconverted.


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