26

Jump Start # 1670

Jump Start # 1670

Ecclesiastes 2:!6 “For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool, inasmuch as in the coming days all will be forgotten.”

  Ecclesiastes has a way of taking the breath out of us. We tend to think that we are superstars and are doing such great things. Then we read the pages of Ecclesiastes and it reminds us that there is one fate that faces all of us, death and soon after that we will be forgotten.

 

Recently, I experienced the truthfulness of what Solomon was saying. A friend and I, about once a month, travel the back roads of Indiana and Kentucky tracing down old church buildings and the graves of some of this regions first preachers. Restoration history is the official name of this form of study. I’ve got stacks of books and articles in this area, but nothing beats seeing things with our own eyes. On one trip, I got to hold some very rare first addition books that we part of a long ago preacher’s library.

 

The other day, my friend and I were off on another journey. We were on the back roads outside of a small Indiana town. I don’t think I could have found this place on my own. Along side some small road sat a small cemetery. There were only about ten graves in this cemetery. We were only interested in one and there we found it. His name was David. He was an early circuit rider preacher among the Baptists in the early 1800’s. He spent most of his time in Kentucky but died and was buried in this small place in Indiana. For all of his sermons and for all of his travels, he is remembered for one memorial service that he preached. Three years after Indiana became a state, according to most historians, David, traveling the hills of Kentucky preaching, received a letter from a nine year-old boy. His mother had died and was buried without any formal service. The simple letter asked if he would come and preach a memorial service. No dates or time was set. There was a huge uncertainty whether the letter would even reach the preacher. No post offices, no stamps, no “mailmen” existed back then. The letter was passed from friend to friend to try to find preacher David in Kentucky, somewhere. Folks didn’t even know where he was in Kentucky. It finally reached him and in March of 1819, preacher David traveled on horseback over 100 miles to a small village in Indiana to preach a memorial service for a woman named Nancy. And for all the sermons, and all the travels and all the funerals and all the weddings that preacher David conducted in his life, he is remembered for this one thing. The little nine year-old boy that wrote the letter was Abraham Lincoln. His mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln had died that precious December. David Elkins, the preacher, buried in a nearly forgotten cemetery, in the back roads of Indiana, is known for this one event. He was the man who preached the funeral for Abraham Lincoln’s mother. Had Lincoln not become the famous president, David Elkins, as Solomon tells us in our verse, would have been completely forgotten by this generation.

 

As I stood and looked at this grave, I had to reflect upon my own life. I have a room at our church building that is packed with three and a half decades of my work. I have notebooks full of bulletins that I have written. A bulletin every week, for thirty-six years. Everyone of them saved. There are file cabinets, several, stuffed with sermons. There are dozens and dozens of notebooks of classes that I have taught. A lifetime of work is housed in this one room. This room represents hours and hours and hours of work, thinking, writing, teaching and preaching. And to think, as in the case of David Elkins, all of it comes down to being remembered for one funeral. Nearly everything taught and written will be forgotten. Nearly everything, if not everything, saved, will one day be pitched. This has a way of humbling a person. It makes one realize that he is not so great that monuments will be built in his honor. It makes one realize that Solomon is right, in coming days all will be forgotten.

 

If one is not careful, these thoughts will lead a person to conclude, “who cares.” It may lead a person to wonder, why do I work so hard? Why do I put so much into it? Why not just enjoy life? Why not take the day off and go golfing? Why?

 

Here’s why:

 

1. Indeed, future generations may not remember or even know of your time here. Ours is for the present. King David served the purpose of God in his own generation, is what Acts 13 tells us. That’s what we must do. We are shaping and changing and helping lives all around us. The hours we preachers pour into sermons, most of which will never be preached again, is not wasted. There are those in the audience that are helped that moment. Like the falling rain, it helps the growing crops at the present. It is so needed for the present. The rain that falls today won’t do much if anything for next year’s crops, but for this season, it makes a difference.

 

2. Heaven remembers the good that we have done. Jesus reminds us that a cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple will not be forgotten. If Heaven sees and remembers one cup of cold water, what about the hour spent with a lonely soul? What about the few dollars given to a struggling family? What about the book given to a young preacher? What about the funeral service for a nine year-old’s mother? God recognizes the good that is done.

 

3. Eternity can be changed because of the good we do today. One sermon, one article, one class, one discussion, can be all it takes to change a heart and lead one to Christ. The jailer in Philippi. The eunuch on a deserted road. A seller of purple down by a river bank. Your story. My story. Lives are changed because of the goodness that is done. A couple is taught the gospel. They raise their children in God’s way and they grow up and become Christians. The spiritual legacy continues on because of one simple family. Most of us can trace such a story in our own families. It was grandpa, or it was great– grandma, who first became a Christian, a long time ago. Now, here we are, journeying down that same path. Forgotten names, a long time ago changed the eternity that has now affected us. What was the sermon or who was the preacher that made grandpa become a Christian? Forgotten. What is remembered is the godly life and the great example he lived. Now that has become our story as we live and love the Lord.

 

Why do we put so much effort into what we are doing? Why do we try so hard? Why do we want things to be right? Who will care? Who will remember? God does!

 

David Elkins died before Abraham Lincoln ever became famous. He went to preach the funeral for that poor family simply because he was asked and he wanted to do what he could. He never thought that cool March day in the backwoods of Indiana that the young teary-eyed boy who sent for him would one day be the President of the United States. He went to offer comfort to a grieving family. He did what he could do.

 

An amazing lesson for all of us.

 

Roger

 

25

Jump Start # 1669

Jump Start # 1669

Galatians 6:10 “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”

  Doing good is characteristic of Christians. Three times in Titus the plea to be engaged in good deeds is used. The example of Jesus, the story of the good Samaritan and the overall concept of loving all people and being compassionate drives God’s people to help others. Christians are “do gooders.” They are to make a difference in the lives of others.

 

Three things come from our verse today:

 

Christians must have open eyes. This is how one makes the most of opportunities. It is easy to miss opportunities or to let opportunities go by, simply because we didn’t see them. Look for them. Keep your eyes open. There are ways to help every day. Little things and big things. Something as easy as stopping by the hospital on your way home from work to visit a sick friend. It’s as easy as mowing your neighbor’s yard when he is out of town. Someone in our congregation handed me some money recently and told me to go buy four Bibles for a mother and her three children that started attending with us. They love the Bibles. They don’t know who did this for them. Someone with open eyes saw an opportunity.

 

  Christians must have a willing heart. It’s one thing to see opportunities, it’s something else to act upon them. The easy thing to do is to say, “I wish someone would do something about this.” We are that someone. Helping others puts them at the top of the list and ourselves at the bottom of the list. If we wait until we feel like it, the opportunities are gone. Opportunities show up on a Saturday morning when we’d rather sleep in. Opportunities come when I have a full schedule. The willing heart is the key. Selfishness kills the good that can and ought to be done.

 

  Christians must have the resources. To see what needs to be done, but to be unable to help, doesn’t do anyone much good. Resources of time. Resources of money. Resources of talent. Put all of these together and lives can be changed. The good Samaritan could help the wounded man because he saw him, he cared for him and he had some resources that allowed him to help. He used his oil. He took the wounded man to an inn and left money for his care. Had the Samaritan been living paycheck to paycheck with a credit card maxed out, he wouldn’t have been much help. He had resources. Would it be wise for us to set aside some money for good Samaritan causes? If we wait until we pay off debt, the kids are out of college, and we are in a better position, the opportunity will be long gone. Opportunities come suddenly. They come unannounced. I have seen more than once, occasions where at the end of services some money is being collected to help someone, and right then and there, thousands of dollars are donated. Folks had resources. People were willing to give. It’s amazing.

 

Doors are opened when good is done. The very hearts that may be closed to the listening of preaching, may be touched and opened by the goodness and generosity of those who are doing good. When people help out without any expectations back, that moves people. We don’t do good with the understanding that now you must come to my church because I helped you out. That leaves the impression that you now owe me. That leaves the impression that we are buying your commitment or salvation. Do good with no strings attached. Do good without saying anything.

 

My wife and I went to a new place to eat last night after services. There were a few there from our congregation. When I got ready to pay for our food, I was told that someone had already paid for it. One of our members did that. What a surprise. What a delight. What a generous and kind act. Doing good. Making a difference. It doesn’t always involve money. Sometimes, it involves muscle. Someone needs help moving. You show up. A neighbor has a lot of yard work. You jump in and help out. A storm causes a lot of damage in an area and you are there with a chain saw, pickup and time. It’s shoveling the driveway of a senior citizen. It’s helping an expectant mother with a baby shower. It’s blessings from Heaven that come through you.

 

Most of us have a long list of people who have done things for us in the past. Most of us preachers can look through our library and see books that have been given to us by others. Doing good—that’s how Christianity is witnessed. Your belief in the trinity, the one faith, the inspiration of the Scriptures are all important and powerful doctrines, but those don’t help a guy who is down on his luck. They don’t do much for a two man job when there is only one man to do it. Stand with what the Bible teaches, but get out and get busy helping others. This is where it’s at.

 

God has a wonderful way of providing opportunities. Find what you are good at. Find what you can do. Then, go do it. Don’t come back tooting your horn or telling others that you were the only one who showed up. Don’t do that. That only ruins the good that you did. Just do it. Buy the older couple’s meal and don’t say anything about it. Work behind the scenes. Let God get the glory. That’s missed sometimes because we are wanting a shout out, a big thank you or at least a slap on the back. If that’s why we do things then our motives are misguided. It is never about us, but always about God and doing what we can to be His eyes, His feet and His hands.

 

Let us do good…shall we? Let’s start today!

 

Roger

 

24

Jump Start # 1668

Jump Start # 1668

1 Corinthians 15:57 “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

This week we have been looking at a series of things in which Christians are victorious over. We are not a defeated, pitiful bunch. Our spiritual trophy cases are stuffed with victories. We have victory over temptation. We have victory over fear. And, in this final piece, we have the ultimate victory over death.

 

Paul’s superb chapter on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, ends with a reminder that we, too, will be raised. Christ was the “first-fruits.” And in a taunting fashion, Paul ridicules the finality of death. He says here, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

 

Satan’s greatest tool and man’s most dreaded fear, is death. Everyone dies. Everyone that we know that has died, has remained dead. No one dies over the weekend, and is back to work on Monday. Death ends it all. Death held mankind like a slave. There was no getting around it. Everyone died. Kings died. The famous died. The poor died. The rich died. Solomon declared, “there is one fate,” and that was death. There was no place you could flee to that would protect you. People died at home. They died in war. They died at work. They died on vacation. The rich couldn’t buy a ticket to avoid death. Doctors couldn’t find a way to end all death. Since the day Adam left the garden, death has been a part of this world. “It is appointed unto man to die once…” was a sign that hung around our necks. Our time is coming. Research has ended some serious diseases. Rabies, cholera, yellow fever, small pox, polio, while still problematic in some places, has been controlled and defeated in most Western cultures. But people still died. The march is on to defeat cancer. I hope a cure is found. I’ve lost too many close friends and my own mother to dreaded cancer. Yet, if cancer is crossed off, we will still die. Since Adam, the world is broken and cursed. Death will always be a part of life. In that way, it seems that death wins. It seems that Satan wins. That is, until Christ. He too, died. Yet, He declared ahead of time, that death wouldn’t hold Him. “Up from the grave, He arose.” Jesus was raised to never die again. Everyone that had been resurrected, eventually died again. That’s true of Lazarus. That’s true of the twelve year-old synagogue official’s daughter. That’s true of the young man in the coffin on his way to be buried. They were raised only to die again. Jesus is the first to be raised to never die again.

 

Death couldn’t touch Jesus any more. Death no more had dominion. Death had no victory. O, death, where is your sting? Paul’s words remind us that the righteous are victorious over their greatest fear and their greatest enemy, death. Death isn’t the end. Death doesn’t end all things. Death changes. It becomes only a doorway to the next room in God’s house. It allows us to enter a room where death is not welcomed. It allows us to enter a room where there are no more tears, sorrow or mourning. It allows us to enter a room to be with God. Death is welcome for the Christian. Paul told the Philippians, “to die is gain.” Our outlook and our perspective changes because of Jesus. Instead of hating death, it becomes something to look forward to. Instead of seeing it as something bad, it is great for the one who is with Christ. They made it. They made it safely. They get to be where they want to be.

 

That having been said, the outlook for the Christian at the end of his life is upbeat and cheerful. Nonbelieving doctors will do all that they can to keep a person alive, including surgeries at advanced age, which is really risky, because they do not see anything beyond death. For the Christian, he may skip all those procedures and put his hope in the Lord. There is nothing to lose, literally. Death isn’t the end. Death is a defeated enemy.

 

Oh, I wish I could get brethren to see these things. I wish we could not fear death. I wish we could have the outlook like Paul did. There is a victory to be gained! We win! Just be faithful. Believe. The tears at the funeral of a Christian are so different. There is a hope, as Paul told the Thessalonians. Sure the person will be missed. Certainly, there is a pain. But it’s not final. We rejoice because of where they are. In the hands of God, is the best place to be. No more troubles. No more temptations. No more fears. No more Satan. No more bad news. They made it safely. I have witnessed the last breath of several Christians. That last moment is not like the movies. There is no music playing. There is no dramatic, “this is it.” Very peaceful. Very quiet. They simply stop. It’s at that moment that the angels carry the soul to Paradise. It’s at that moment, that I wish I could hold their hand and go with them. What they now see. What they now feel. They wouldn’t come back if they could.

 

We sing about Heaven. Our favorite sermons are about Heaven. We talk about Heaven. But, when one of us actually goes, we act as if it is crippling tragedy that we will never get over. Death for the righteous means being with the Lord.

 

Victory…celebrate. It’s going to be ok. It’s going to be amazing. It’s going to be incredible. So, don’t get fixated upon death. It’s just a door, and I might add, an ugly door at that. Satan can’t do anything right. Don’t fear the door. Look beyond it, to who is waiting for you.

 

When Jesus raised the little twelve year old from death, the Bible says that the Lord took her hand and spoke to her. I wonder, just wonder, when she opened her eyes, that the first person she saw was Jesus. I rather hope it’s that way when the righteous dies. They open their eyes on the other side, and the first one that they see is Jesus. Hope so!

 

Christ has taken the chill off of death. He has removed the fear of death. Do not fear the one who can take your life and do no more. That is understandable now. So you die. Look where you are going. Do you want to stay around here?

 

The victory belongs to the Lord! Satan crushed. Fear gone. We busy ourselves in the work of the kingdom, knowing someday we will be on the other side. The sooner we get there the better!

 

“Won’t it be wonderful there…”

 

Roger

 

23

Jump Start # 1667

Jump Start # 1667

Hebrews 2:14-15 “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless Him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.”

 

The world would have us to believe that Christians are cowards, defeated and a small band of misguided folks who lack intellectual powers. The world paints that picture because Christians are just the opposite. We are not small. We are not powerless. We are not ignorant. And, we are not defeated. Yesterday, we looked at one of the victories Christians have and that is over temptation.

 

Our passage today reveals another victory that belongs to Christ and His people, and that is over fear. Christ became like us so He could defeat Satan, and in so doing, free those who were held captive by the fear of death. Fear is powerful. There are so many fears, phobias, we call them. Fear of flying. Fear of stairs. Some fears seem imaginary. Others are real. These fears can cripple a person and limit what they do. Those who are afraid of flying, will get in a car and drive for days to get across the country. They could accomplish this in a few hours if they flew, but they are afraid. So, they don’t.

 

It is amazing to notice how many times the disciples were afraid. Mark’s gospel is a great place to see this. In Mark 4, as they are crossing the sea, a violent storm catches them. The boat is filling up with water. The waves are above the boat. The disciples wake Jesus up, fearing that they will perish. He stops the storm. The disciples are now even more afraid of the one who can control the weather. As soon as they reach shore, Mark 5 begins, a demon possessed man, who has been living in the tombs, naked, races towards them, screaming. Fear again.

 

  • When the disciples caught the large quantity of fish, fear gripped them
  • When the crippled man was lowered through the roof and Jesus healed him, the audience was afraid
  • When Jesus was entering a village and they met a funeral procession heading out of town, Jesus touched the coffin and told the man to arise. He did. The crowd was overcome with fear.

 

People had never seen what Jesus was doing. There was nothing that could limit Him. It seems, for some of those who followed Christ, fear was becoming a regular part of their lives.

 

The greatest fears that people have are the fear of death, as our passage points out, and the fear of not pleasing God. They fear that “they won’t make it.” They fear being sent to Hell. They fear that God will not or cannot forgive them. They fear being lost. These fears drain any confidence that they have out of them. These fears makes them see themselves as inferior to everyone else. These fears haunt them at night. It’s because of these very fears, that their relationship with the Lord never reaches the potential that it could. They are afraid. They are afraid of going to Hell.

 

Some folks would say, doctrinally, a Christian cannot go to Hell. The N.T. warns otherwise. There are way too many passages that warn about the consequences of our behavior if we do not walk with the Lord. Expressions such as “stumbling,” “fallen away,” “shipwrecked their faith,” “fall,” “turned away,” are used throughout the epistles to remind us and warn us that one can lose their salvation. It’s not a done deal once we come to Christ. We must journey with Him. We must be immovable. We must grow. We must crucify the old man.

 

Christ gives us a victory over fear through His promises. He forgives us. He promises to forgive us. His promises are always true. He never breaks a promise. If He said it, then it will be. You and I can go to Heaven, not because we are perfect. That will never be where our hope is found. This is the basis of that very fear that so many have. They realize that they are not perfect. There are times that they could have been at worship, and they didn’t feel like going. There are times when they promised someone not to tell and they did. There are times when we said the wrong word. There are times when we were at places that we shouldn’t have been. The list is long. Perfection was shot a long time ago. Those memories of wrong causes us to doubt and causes fear to take over. We begin believing that “we are not good enough.” And that’s right. We are not. We see others as better than we are. Everyone seems so good, and we are not. Everyone knows what to do, but we. Everyone makes the right choices but me. That’s not it, and even if it were, they are not saved, nor are we saved, because of our goodness or the gold stars on our page. It’s the grace of God. That’s it. That’s where our hope lives. That’s what drives out fear. That’s what defeats those moments of doubts. The grace of God given to those who believe. We are saved by grace through faith. That faith is action. That faith will lead us to obey Christ. Just as it lead Noah to build the ark, our faith will lead us to obeying Jesus.

 

Fear is driven out when I understand that God loves me and He wants me in Heaven. God doesn’t have His radar gun pointing at me. God doesn’t delight when I mess up. God isn’t hoping that I fail spiritually. It’s just the opposite. God is my biggest fan. God is doing everything He can to help me get to Him. You can please God. You can keep the faith. You can finish the course. You can make it to Heaven. How do you know that? God says so.

 

Jesus promised in John 14 that He was preparing a place for us, so that where He is, we may be also. He wants us to be where He is. Where is He? He is in Heaven. That’s where God wants us.

 

Satan loves fear. Fear will cause you to throw in the towel. Fear will fill your heart with so many doubts. Drive out that fear. Fear not, is a common command throughout the Bible. There is a hymn, “We shall see the King someday.” Do you believe that? Can you sing that? Is that possible? On your own, never. With the grace of God, absolutely.

 

Revelation 22 states that “we shall see His face.” There was a time when seeing the face of God was something that people feared. To see the face of God meant death. No longer. Not now. Forever in Heaven with God. Seeing the face of God. Together with God.

 

You and I can have a victory over fear. Nope, I’m not good enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not strong enough. I cannot not do it on my own. But with Jesus, we shall see the King someday.

 

Victory…live that way. Don’t hold your head down like you’re defeated. Stop singing the losers song. Stop living without hope. We shall see the King someday.

 

Roger

 

22

Jump Start # 1666

Jump Start # 1666

James 4:7 “Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

 

There is much that has been said about temptation. We study the different ways we are tempted. We look at how and why we are tempted. We consider the consequences of temptation. We learn from the temptations of Jesus. From temptation we study sin and what sin does to us. We talk about why Jesus had to come and die for our sins. We come to understand the journey back to God that leads to salvation. This topic has been covered in detail in Bible classes and sermons. We all know it too well from personal experiences.

 

One aspect that is sometimes overlooked in this discussion is the sweet victory that one feels when they have resisted the devil and refused to open the door to temptation. Jesus was tempted, yet He never sinned. We can be tempted and we can resist the devil. Joseph is a great example of that. His master’s wife seduced him more than once. He resisted. He fled. He understood that the he could not do this evil against God. She accused him. He was thrown into prison, even though he was innocent. Yet, he did not sin. The devil didn’t win.

 

There is such a wonderful feeling when one has turned their back to the devil. The moment of temptation can get a person all mixed up on the inside. The opportunity to steal, cheat on a test, lust, say something inappropriate, or to lie comes in many forms and sometimes these temptations come every day. At work, or at school, the devil presents situations in which we can do wrong. It seems so easy. It is appealing. He gets us thinking only about the wrong choice. Our feelings get all mixed up. But then we remember the Lord. We remember Scriptures. We think of the consequences. We get jolted back to spiritual awareness. We walk away from that situation. We calm down. We find that door of escape that God provides. We hold our tongue. We look away from the immodest. We find the better choice. We take our hand off the doorknob of temptation. We have resisted the devil. For that moment, we have won. The victory belongs to the Lord.

 

There is such a powerful and good feeling when that happens. It reminds us of the truth of Scriptures. The devil can be resisted. I don’t have to do wrong. I do have a choice in this. When the devil is resisted, he leaves for the moment. He’ll be back. He always comes back, but not now. Not for this moment. You have won the battle.

 

Not only has this kept you from sinning, but it has strengthen your inner fiber. You now know that you can fight the devil. He’ll come back. He may come back the same way. Another fastball right down the middle. This time you recognize it even sooner. You know what to do. You have courage and strength.

 

Not only has this kept you from sinning, but it enables you to help others who struggle. You have found the path to keep from exploding in anger. You know how to keep from gossiping. You found the way to shut porn out of your heart. Others struggle. Others fail. You understand what works. Your story can help.

 

Not only has this kept you from sinning, but it has drawn you closer to the Lord. What turns the devil is the choice to be godly. A heart filled with Scriptures. A heart that wants to please the Lord. A heart that is praying. It’s harder for Satan to find a way into such a heart. Resisting temptation will draw you closer to the Lord. The next verse says that very thing. James 4:8, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” Those words speak of closeness. There are times when God seems distant. Our prayers are not answered quickly. We wonder if God is hearing us. In the darkness of those times, Satan seems so close. Temptations seem so strong. But when we resist and when we draw closer to God, what a great feeling and powerful relationship is established. Close to God is where we need to be. Like a little child, we like to run ahead. We often don’t want to hold a hand. We tend to get too close to things we shouldn’t. Walking with God can be the same way. We need to stay with God. Don’t get ahead of Him. Don’t get close to trouble. And always take hold of His hand.

 

Not only has this kept you from sinning, but it makes you feel great as a Christian. Often, that’s not the case. We feel like we are not doing enough. We feel that God doesn’t like us. We feel that we let God down. Over and over, we just feel like secondary citizens in the kingdom. Resisting the devil, seeing him flee from us can create a wonderful joy within us. Instead of being that person who is always in trouble or is always be called down by the teacher, we have done right. Well done, is what master told the five talent servant. Well done! Those words are fitting to those who have fought the devil and on this day, won.

 

Can we get to the point that we will never sin again? No. There will be days that we make the wrong choices. There will be days that we have disappointed the Lord. But that doesn’t have to be every day. That doesn’t have to be the way it is with every temptation. Resist. Draw near to God.

 

What a powerful picture. The devil attacked. You stood your ground. You rallied under the banner of Christ. Now, you see the devil retreating. He has turned. He’s running the other way. Those old black and white movies that has the wagons circled as the Indians race toward them in war paint. The settlers fight back. They resist. It’s intense for a moment. The battle could swing either way. But the tide turns in favor of the wagon train. The Indians give up. They turn and race back over the hills. The settlers breath a sigh of relief. They rejoice and celebrate a victory. They have won that battle. That’s us. That’s the devil charging over the hills toward us. That’s the devil fleeing in defeat. The victory is for those who have stood their ground. Resist. Dig your heels in. Don’t back down. Hold your position.

 

There are victories that we need to recognize and account for. Those victories help us.

 

The journey is long. It can become wearisome, but with God we can make it.

 

Roger

 

19

Jump Start # 1665

Jump Start # 1665

Revelation 3:1 “To the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.’”

 

The book of Revelation introduces us to seven churches. Those who have studied Revelation, recognize that there are some common threads found in all seven of these letters. There is a description of Christ. There is an awareness of the reality of what is going on. There are compliments for the things done right. There is a spiritual rebuke towards the things that are not right. There is a plea to overcome, repent and a promise of eternal fellowship for those who are faithful.

 

Our verse today begins the thoughts addressed to Sardis. They had a name that they were alive, but they were dead. What they were and what people perceived them to be were not the same. They had an image, but the reality didn’t match the image. I know, says the Lord. I know, but you are dead.

 

Not only did the Lord know this, but now all the other six congregations knew that. Ephesus now knew this. Philadelphia now knew. Laodicea knew. Today, we know. I find this thought interesting. We tend to only talk about the good things being done in a congregation and often we stand behind Sardis in holding up an image that may not be true. “How are things going,” one Christian asks another Christian. This is a common opening line used among preachers. “How are things where you are at?” Unless the preacher is wanting advice or is fed up and wanting to leave, the answer is always positive and glowing. “Great,” is the answer. I find it interesting that God allowed the other congregations in Revelation and everyone today to know the inner workings of each of these seven churches. We don’t do that today. We’d never do that today. We thrive on our independence and sheltering what is going on under the surface. We’d never let others know that among the eldership, there is tension and some who are ready to drop out. We’d never reveal that the preacher left because he was discouraged or dissatisfied. I don’t think God intended for the revelation of these seven churches to be a standard for churches today. There is no reason nor platform to do this and as in the case of Sardis, how we see things and even report them, may not be how God sees things.

 

All of this brings us to another important thought. How is it that the people in Sardis were blind to their own situation? The same could be said about Ephesus or Laodicea. It’s one thing to play this game of keeping a great image before others, a great showroom but nothing in the warehouse, concept. But it seems that they believed this themselves. Laodicea really believed that they did not need anything. Sardis really believed that they were alive. How is it that those in a dead church can think that they are alive?

 

This is concerning, because it forces us to wonder about where we worship and even about ourselves. Are we worse off than we think? Have we fooled ourselves? Have we believed a lie about our faithfulness? Is it possible for us to be dead, yet believe that we are alive? Could we have left our first love and not realize it?

 

The shocking truths about these letters to the seven churches is that so many of these congregations seemed to have deceived themselves. They didn’t know nor did they get it.

 

So, how is it that a dead church believes that it is still alive? We understand that the makeup of these congregations is simply a reflection of the members. Sardis was dead because the members were dead. Ephesus had left their first love because the members had left their first love. Dead Christians who believe that they are alive—that’s the situation in Sardis.

 

This happens because:

  • Superficial worship keeps them doctrinally pure but it does nothing for the heart and soul. They sing, but they don’t think about what they sang. They bow their heads but they don’t listen to the prayer and the prayer that is uttered, is the standard, same safe things that are always prayed. The sermon is true to the book, but it doesn’t move the people. Worship gets checked off, but the faith remains shallow, empty and does little for the people.

 

  • There is little practice of their faith going on. Dead things don’t show signs of activity. A dead tree doesn’t grow. A dead animal doesn’t move. Dead faith doesn’t engage in good deeds. It lives to itself and nothing more. Instead of shinning the light, the light has been turned off. Instead in engaging in good deeds, the person stays home and just watches TV. Instead of meaningful discussions about spirituality, the talk is shallow and surrounds things that really do not matter.

 

  • Faith isn’t lived. Faith is action. Faith does things. In dead churches, as well as in dead Christians, the faith simply isn’t there. There is no joy in the heart. There is no hope that they are walking in. There is no peace in their lives. Under the surface, the lives of dead Christians and the lives of someone who is not a Christian are pretty much the same. Worry, fear, materialism, stress dominate their hearts. The dead faith Christians fail to grasp that God is upon the throne. They fail to see that in Christ they can do all things. They don’t use prayer. They don’t turn to Scriptures. Like the world, they are consumed with thoughts about money and stuff. They don’t act any different from the guy who doesn’t know the Lord. The word of Christ doesn’t dwell in the heart of the dead Christian. He isn’t seeking the things above. His mind isn’t dwelling upon the things that are pure, honest and right. He is still stuck on himself. He doesn’t see the big picture of the kingdom of God.

 

Dead, even though they thought that they were alive. They didn’t see themselves as God saw them. That’s a place that we never want to be. How does one keep that from happening? Keep yourself in the word. Look at the picture God gives us of a sound or healthy Christian and see if you match. Grow. Improve. Engage. Abound in the work. Never be satisfied. Never be content where you are. Push yourself, like an athlete. Plug in to the Lord. Talk about the church. Talk about your spiritual goals. Pray often. Moving water does not stagnate. It’s the water that is just standing there that turns ugly. The same is true of our faith.

 

Dead but they didn’t know it. Dead but they thought they were alive. Dead but they thought they were ok. It happened then, and it can happen today. Keep yourself alive by doing what “live” Christians do. Don’t just go to church, worship. Don’t just bow your head, pray. Don’t just mumble words from a song, sing from your heart. Learn from sermons. Take notes. See yourself in the passage. Move closer to the cross. Live your faith. Walk by faith. Trust in the Lord.

 

I know, said the Lord. May we know as well.

 

Roger

 

18

Jump Start # 1664

Jump Start # 1664

Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

  I was watching some of the Olympic track and field events yesterday. The long jump and the high jump are a couple of sports that I once did in school. Our verse came to my mind, especially with the high jumpers. If they “fall short,” the bar falls and they don’t win. Coming short in a running race, a swimming event, in shot put, in pole vault means no medals. The athletes at the Olympics have gathered from around the world to not just compete, but to win. They want to go home with a medal. Falling short is not in their plans.

 

Our verse today, oft quoted by preachers and students of the Bible, reminds us of the terrible consequences of sin. Sin leaves us short of what God wanted and expected for us.

 

There are two central thoughts here:

 

First, all of us are in this together. All have sinned. There are few things in life that we can saw “all” have done. Not everyone has gone to college. Not everyone in the world has tasted Coke-Cola. Not everyone owns a home. Not everyone has eyesight. Not everyone has money. Not everyone has been incarcerated. Not everyone has had a job. Not everyone has been married. Not everyone has had children. Not everyone has flown on an airplane. Not everyone has been to a museum. I was watching a video this morning of questions that were asked on a college campus. Most didn’t know who won the Civil War, nor who the current Vice-President is. All of them, but me, watching, knew who Brad Pitt was married to.

 

However, we all have sinned. All of us. The American. The African. The European. The smart college nerd. The grease monkey who is always tinkering with cars. The cool guy. The jerk. The super star. The nobody. All of us have let God down. All of us have disobeyed Him. All of us have sinned. That puts us all in the same boat. That means we all have the same need—salvation. That is so unique. I need what the millionaire needs. I need what the movie star needs. I need what Olympic gold medal winner needs. I need what you need. We all have sinned and we all need salvation.

 

Second, all of us have fallen short of the glory of God. We all let God down. The very definition of sin is to “miss the mark.” I think of an archer who is trying to shoot his arrow at the bullseye. He misses. He misses the target completely. He’s not close. There is no second place with God. There is no podium standing for those who came close. It’s all or nothing. And with all of us, it is nothing. We missed. Falling short of the glory of God implies that God had a plan for us. God saw us achieving great things with Him. We missed it. We fell short. We didn’t become what God wanted. Sin disappoints God. Sin hurts God.

 

This discussion leads to a question, why do we sin? The answer can be complex, but it’s not, actually. We sin simply because we put ourselves in front of God. We do what we want. We do not look at consequences. The thrill of the forbidden fruit blinds us to all other things. It’s the moment. It’s the fun. It’s not thinking spiritually. It’s all about us. Maybe this is why Jesus in defining discipleship started with us. He said, “if anyone whishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Deny self is where Jesus started. Self gets in the way. We say things like, “I just don’t feel like it today…” so we don’t do anything. We say, “Why should I,” so we don’t. Deny self.  It’s not about you anymore. The universe no longer revolves around us. Science teaches us that. The Bible teaches us that spiritually. Sin problem is a self problem. Too much of self will kill the soul.

 

To conquer the pattern of sinning, it must start with our thinking. Jesus said out of the heart of man is what defiles a man. We say things that we shouldn’t because we first thought those thoughts. We do what we do because those actions began as thoughts. Our thoughts is the source of our attitudes and actions. Change the thoughts and you change the behavior. Often, we address the actions and find ourselves fighting these things over and over and over. They don’t stop because the mind is still producing wrong thoughts. We must fight this at the other end, in the mind.

 

Could that be the reason we find passages that talk about “renew” the mind; set your mind on things above; whatever is pure, let your mind dwell upon these things; let the word of Christ richly dwell within you. These expressions are dealing with the thought processes. Change the thinking and you change the behavior.

 

God has made us for something better than what Satan offers. The devil always offers inferior choices. We fall for them because they are easy and shinny. They catch our eye. Then the thoughts begin. Paul told the Corinthians to capture every thought for the obedience of Christ.

 

Everyone you meet today needs Jesus, no exception. Everyone you meet today has the same problem, whether or not they know it or will admit it. Everyone you meet today can be forgiven if they will only believe and obey Christ.

 

Everyone…

 

Roger

 

17

Jump Start # 1663

Jump Start # 1663

1 Peter 2:18 “Servants be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable”

 

Our verse is a tough one today. It’s not hard to understand, it’s hard to do. Peter is addressing slave-master relationships, and thankfully, in the Western world, that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s hard to “own” someone and live the golden rule. The Bible never directly condemned slavery, but the principles that it creates within a heart of a person will lead to that. It is easy therefore to dismiss these verses because I am not a slave nor do I own slaves. But there are principles here that cross all relationships, including home, work and church.

 

It is easy to be nice to those who are good and gentle. But what about the “unreasonable” people? Those who are not good. Those who are not gentle. They may come in the form of a boss, a parent, a husband, or a friend. Unreasonable. Unreasonable demands expected of you. Unreasonable guilt. Unreasonable. “They’re killing us at work,” is a common expression I hear. More work. Less help. Running at break neck speed. Little time for lunch. Some do not even get bathroom breaks. Forget what the law says, unreasonable work loads won’t allow that. The simple answer is quit. Sure, and then do what? Then how are we to survive?

 

Unreasonable. It comes from families at holidays who expect you to make the whirlwind tour of seeing people who you barely know but because they are “family” you are expected to be there. Unreasonable guilt. Unreasonable demands from a mate who is inconsiderate of you.

 

Peter may be talking about slaves but we know all too well the world of “unreasonable.” In Titus, we also find, “Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect” (2:9). Be subject. Be well-pleasing. And then, “not argumentative.” Again, don’t limit these thoughts to just the slave-master relationship. It is inconsistent to think that the Christian slave should not be argumentative, but the Christian free man could. Don’t be argumentative. That’s one I have to work on. I tend to be a rebel at spirit. I can fuss with the best of them. Don’t, is what the passage is telling us. That’s tough at home. I’ve seen this spill over in the church. In a Bible class, people arguing, and not being nice about it.

 

There is an African proverb that states, “When two elephants fight, the grass suffers.” I like that. You can only imagine how the dust flies in the air when two large bull elephants are going after each other. They will fight for position and after a while, the score is settled and they move on with the rest of the elephants. But the aftermath is visibly seen in the dirt and grass. They tore the place up. It will take a while for the land to recover.

 

Unreasonable people can make us become argumentative. Remember, the grass suffers.

 

The grass may be the small children who run to their rooms when they hear mom and dad fighting. The raised voices, the insults, the hurtful tones, scares the little ones. The grass suffers.

 

The grass may be the new Christian who witnesses ugliness among brethren. He hears mean things being said. He sees people avoiding others on purpose. He witnesses insults and name calling among those who are supposed to be of the same family in Christ. The grass suffers.

 

The grass may be the co-worker who knows that you are a Christian, but sees you tear into someone and argue all the time. They become confused and disillusioned about Christianity. The light isn’t shinning very bright when we act this way. The grass suffers.

 

And it often takes a long time for the grass to recover.

 

There are times to stand your ground. There are times to defend your position. But do so with respect, gentleness and kindness. Don’t destroy a person, so you get what you want. The grass suffers. Your points are made more sensible and right by the volume of your voice. Shouting louder and louder doesn’t prove your point. Insulting a person. Attacking their character. Bringing up the past. This is the way third graders behave. It is the way politicians behave. We are Christians. We must rise above that.

 

In a perfect world, there are no unreasonable people and never a need to be argumentative. But this world isn’t perfect. Mr. Roger’s is gone. Not everyone is nice in the neighborhood. Living among unreasonable people is hard. It tries our patience and tests our faith. There are days that we just want to scream, but you don’t. There are days you could just punch someone, but you won’t. There are days that you can’t wait to be over.

 

I have found that it is hard to reason with unreasonable people. Often, their minds are closed, made up and not willing to listen to any other ideas or options. It’s their way or the highway. Their way won’t work. Their way is too expensive. Their way adds to your burdens. This is especially hard when the unreasonable person is a boss, or in Peter’s words, your master. The slave back in the first century had no options. There was  no labor board to call. There was no union rep to step in. There was no one. The slave was viewed as a tool, much like a shovel. If the tool breaks, get another. Little thought was given to how the slave felt or how he was doing. Motivation often came from a whip. Philemon’s slave ran away. Paul sent him back. Paul reminded Philemon to be a Christian. He let him know that the run-away was now a Christian. He was to treat him as a fellow Christian.

 

What to do with the unreasonable folks in your life? Pray, first of all. Pray for understanding. Pray for yourself. Pray for them. Look for ways to show kindness. Some can see how they have been and change. Others won’t get it, even if Jesus were to knock on their front door. They live in their own world and everything is about them and only them. Don’t get into a marriage with someone like that. You will feel like a slave and be treated like a slave. Keep your eyes open for another job. It may take time. You don’t have to spend time with every idiot in the family because mom guilts you into that. Let her go visit them. Some people we would have nothing to do with, except they happen to share the same last name. Some relationships are toxic and they beat us down spiritually.

 

Unreasonable people…argumentative…grass that suffers.

It’s good to remember those things.

 

Roger

 

16

Jump Start # 1662

Jump Start # 1662

1 Corinthians 12:26 “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”

  In this wonderful section of Corinthians, Paul is describing the various roles that spiritual gifts have. Part of this explanation is showing that each member in a congregation plays different roles and each is vital and necessary. The comparison Paul makes is to the human body. He lists essential parts such as sight, hearing, smell and touch. We call these our senses. To lose any of them would hinder and handicap a person. Feet, hands, eyes, ears, nose—all are important. Paul doesn’t use things such as earlobes or little toe nails. I’m sure those things are important but they don’t cripple a person like the loss of sight would.

 

These words are important because some do not feel important, even in the church. There are certain people that are very visible, such as the preacher and the shepherds. It’s their names that appear on the bulletin. It’s their pictures that appear on the website. They are some of the first names that a new person learns. It’s very easy to assume that “those” people are the most important people in the church. Wrong. Without an audience, who is the preacher going to preach to? Without a flock, how does a shepherd lead? There are those who are inviting family and friends each week. There are those who are financially supporting the work that is being done. There are those who are attending the classes that are being taught. There are those who spit shine the place and make it ready for Sunday. There are those who are planning things years in advance. There are those who make sure the lights come on and the mics work and all the little details behind the scenes. There are those who are busy sending cards to others. There are those who are opening up their homes for hospitality. There are those who are raising their families to be godly people. Hands, feet, eyes, nose—important roles. Necessary roles. Everyone has a part. Everyone is needed. A person who feels that they could drop and not be missed, simply isn’t engaged. Get involved. Get connected.

 

Our verse, coming out of all of that discussion, makes the point that we are not only connected, but that what affects one affects all. This is true of the physical body and it is true of the spiritual church. A sore back will affect the rest of your body. Staying up too late and starting the day tired will affect the rest of your body. If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it. If it becomes known that one of the members has cancer, the rest of the church rallies behind that person to help. They feel affected as well.

 

What we do affects others. That’s the point this passage is making. We do not fly solo. We are not independent. The church, all the church everywhere, is one large family of Christ. We are the kingdom of God. What affects one part of the kingdom is felt throughout the kingdom.

 

Preachers leaving one place for another place, especially, when they leave in a huff, or make a mess of things, affects the rest of the family. Hurting one congregation to help another congregation, isn’t wise nor thoughtful of the kingdom. We must remember that we are all one large family. Splitting congregations because someone doesn’t like someone, is going to affect the family. More thought needs to be given to this. We can view a congregation as being so autonomous or independent that what is done in one place has no affect upon another, but it does. Hurt feelings and ruined reputations are often the consequences of hurting the family of God. Some folks have a history of causing messes with congregations everywhere they go. They move into a place and before very long, they sour the place, get folks upset, and then they leave. Off to another place. Off to tear up another place. Going from place to place with their little agendas and pet  peeves, feeling that everyone owes them a listening ear to their complaints, and rarely doing anything positive. Do these folks not realize that the church is one large family. You can’t hurt one part without hurting all of it. They leave one congregation in a mess, never looking back, never intending ever to return, and off to a new congregation. Fussing and complaining and wearing their feelings on a sleeve, they simply don’t get it. They are not switching jobs. They are not leaving Ford for AT&T. The church is connected. It’s one large family. To hurt one side of the body is to hurt the rest. I do wish many of my fellow preachers understood this. They leave muddy footprints all over the kingdom and wonder after a few years why so few folks use them. Really?

 

In this Corinthian passage, Paul’s thoughts are not brotherhood, but the Corinthian church. In a book that nearly every chapter presents problems, Paul’s solutions to them was never to start another congregation. That’s how we tend to think. Move on. Leave the problems. Get out of Dodge. Rather, what Paul does is address the problems. One by one, each of them are dealt with. Some seem minor. Some are massive. Work through these things in a Biblical fashion. Work through these things together. When one suffers we all suffer. It is never “their problem.” It is always, “our problem.” The same principle works in a marriage. It’s not his problem that he needs to get over. It’s our problem and we’ll work through it together. The concept of being ONE means that we are ONE.

 

Suffering saints never suffer alone. Not if this passage is being lived in our hearts. Daily prayers are being offered for the one that has troubles. Food is being taken to them. Cards are being mailed. Helped is offered. They do not experience this alone. I have seen surgery waiting rooms packed with Christians, sitting and waiting with a family. I have seen funeral homes so crowded with Christians that people were standing outside. Suffering saints—we all have our moments with that, but we should never suffer alone.

 

We are family—that was a song sung by Sly and the family Stone, years ago. Long before that, it was a principle taught by God. We are family. We need to remember that. We need to act that way. We need to think that way. Elderships need to think about that when looking for a preacher. Getting the preacher you want, does that tear up another congregation? Does that bother you? Do you feel that you are another team and you can get who you want or do you understand the concept of one large family? Congregations are not in competition with one another.

 

We are family…

 

Roger

 

15

Jump Start # 1661

Jump Start # 1661

1 Thessalonians 5:14 “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”

  In this one simple verse, the apostle Paul identifies the makeup of most congregations. There are four different states listed. They are not the same, nor do they demand the same response. Some are unruly, which means that they are rebellious, or out of step with everyone else. Some are fainthearted, which tends to be worrisome, unsure and lacking confidence. Some are weak, which implies that they cannot stand on their own. And, not listed here, but obviously intended, some are strong. Who else is going to help these other three groups than the strong. The fainthearted can’t help the unruly. The unruly is not going to help the weak. It is the strong that take on the role of trying to change the spiritual condition of the others.

 

Our thoughts today are upon the weak. Help the weak. This, as with the other words in this verse, is talking about a spiritual condition. Some have a weak heart. Others have a weak back. That’s not the thought here. It is weak spiritually. The weak spiritually struggle to resist temptation. The weak spiritually lack the spiritual fiber to stand on their own. You wouldn’t find the weak standing up to the Babylonian king in Daniel 3. No, the weak would have bowed down with everyone else. You would not find the weak defying the king’s order against praying as Daniel did. The weak would have stopped praying. And in Acts, when Peter was told to stop preaching, the weak would have stopped. Peter didn’t.

 

Help the weak. They need help in being guided spiritually. They tend to make easy choices, rather than the right choices. They tend to make decisions without considering the spiritual side of things. They choose a college without thinking about what their major will do to their faith or whether there is a congregation in the area. They will marry without even thinking about the spiritual side of things. The weak struggle with their attendance. They lack Bible knowledge. They are easily influenced by the wrong people and the wrong books because they do not recognize error nor dangers. The weak need help.

 

In those shows on TV that are filmed from Africa, the lion preys upon the weak. The strong are fast and watchful and can get away from the lion’s attack. It’s the old, the young, the sickly, the weak that become the lion’s lunch.

 

Here are some obvious thoughts about helping the weak.

 

1. The weak cannot help the weak. That doesn’t work. A weak, skinny guy in the gym can’t spot another weak, skinny guy who is trying to lift weights. That’s a sure disaster. The weak will give wrong advice. The weak are not a good example. The weak need help. They are not in the positon to help.

 

2. Every strong person started out weak. We all have been weak at one time. Some moved on and grew stronger. Others have remained weak their entire life. We all start at the same place. No one starts strong. We begin as babes in Christ. Many of us have had a huge upside advantage. We have been going to Bible classes and have surrounded ourselves with quality people because of our parents. That helped up immensely. Yet, we still had to learn and learn and learn. Everyone does. The strong can understand the weak, because the strong once was weak himself. The weak may never understand the strong.

 

3. The process of moving from weak to strong takes time. There isn’t just one thing or one lesson or one class that will do it. Like going to school, college isn’t possible without high school. Grade school is necessary for high school. One can’t write a college paper, until one first knows how to write. One can’t write until he first knows how to spell. One must learn the alphabet to spell. Education is a process or a journey. It is the same spiritually. Concepts and principles come after certain basics are understood. All of this takes time. Here in lies the problem. The weak often miss out. Because they are weak, they do not attend like they ought to. They get bits and pieces but not enough to move them out of the weak stage. They don’t understand nor have the internal motivation or drive to get there all the time. Imagine a student in school who comes about once or twice a month. He never gets it. It’s always a mystery to him. Certainly, because he needs to get all of the lessons so he can move on in depth.

 

This is where leaders of God’s church must put some serious thoughts into what must be done. Simply offering more and more classes at the church building seems great on paper, but if folks don’t come to all the classes, then the goal isn’t accomplished. It may be that the classes must be taken to the homes. Instead of hoping that the weak come, go to the weak.

 

A church full of weak members is nothing to brag about. The problems and troubles that come with being weak are many. There are a lot of messes that the weak get into. Powerful congregations have learned how to help the weak. Laying on guilt generally isn’t effective. The weak need attention. The weak need caring hearts that will be patient with them.

 

Help the weak. Help the weak become strong. Help the weak to someday be in the position to help others.

 

Help…can you do that?

 

Roger