To Number Our Days

There is an ancient story about three demons who were arguing over the best way to destroy the Christian church. The first demon says, “Let’s tell all the Christians there is no heaven. Take away the reward and the church will collapse.” The second demon says, “Let’s tell all the Christians there is no hell. Take away the fear of punishment and the church will collapse.” The third demon says, “There is one better way. Let’s tell all the Christians that there is no hurry” and all three immediately say, “That’s it! All we have to do is tell them there’s no hurry and the whole Christian church will collapse.”         – A. Dieleman

The old tale is not far from the truth. We humans are always having discussions and dealing with various controversies about theological issues. It’s only natural, really, as each of us tries to understand God and life.

Yet, one issue that seems to evade our careful notice is that of time and the extreme brevity of our own lives. I use the word “extreme” on purpose. Even if you or I should live over 100 years, what’s that in relation to eternity? … not even a tiny bit of a drip of a drop in an infinitely large ocean. If time is so precious and our time on earth so preciously short, then how should we live these moments which quickly turn into lifetimes?

I hope I’m not discouraging you by bringing up this topic. Actually, I’m trying to do the opposite. By changing perspective on the subject of life and death, we can attain a more realistic, Christ-centered point of view. Such a viewpoint will help remove fear allowing us to live godly, faith-filled, hopeful lives on this earth.

Moses wrote one Psalm, number 90, that was included in the Book of Psalms, and what a beautiful Psalm it is! Take a look at verse 12…
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

To “number our days” does not necessarily mean to actually count them but to consider, to evaluate the reality of the brevity of our lives on this earth. By thinking seriously about the brevity of life, we should then take more seriously the lives we live before God and a watching world. When we do this, we gain a heart of wisdom, i.e., we will become more and more wise.

“Let us deeply consider our own frailty, and the shortness and uncertainty of life, that we may live for eternity, acquaint ourselves with thee, and be at peace; that we may die in thy favour and live and reign with thee eternally.”        – Clarke

As we begin this new year, should we Christians be in a “hurry?” Not really. We should not be in a human-initiated, anxiety-filled rush to fulfill the call of God on our lives. Instead, we should “redeem the time (make the most of every opportunity), for the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:16).

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Happy and Blessed 500th!

In 16th century Germany, the Roman Catholic practice of offering indulgences was in full swing. Put simply, indulgences were offerings given to the church with the expectation that the giver or their loved ones would be given less time in purgatory (a not-quite-hell, place of suffering after death where Catholics believed they could atone for their sin before going to heaven). It is rumored that Johann Tetzel, a monk who preached in favor of indulgences in those days would often use the rhyme, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”

Abuses of the custom of indulgences and even the practice itself gained the ire of a certain Augustinian monk named Martin Luther. Around 1513 Luther had been confronted by the words from Romans 1:17, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’” His eyes were opened; he was convinced that this word was true; and Luther believed that faith in Christ trumped works by man in gaining righteousness. Many believe that at this moment Luther’s heart was unalterably transformed and he was saved.

When the heart is truly changed by Jesus Christ, there will be a corresponding action to serve Him. On October 31, 1517, Luther approached the chapel door of the Wittenburg Castle – which doubled as a bulletin board of the day – and nailed his 95 Theses. This list of 95 points consisted of questions and statements challenging the abuses and value of selling indulgences for the forgiveness of sins.

On that day, 500 years ago this October 31, Protestantism was born and is known the world over as the Protestant Reformation.

In the Theses, Luther claimed that the repentance required by Christ in order for sins to be forgiven involves inner spiritual repentance rather than merely external sacramental confession. He argued that indulgences led Christians to avoid true repentance and sorrow for sin, believing that they can forgo it by purchasing an indulgence.  -Wikipedia

We should consider another reformation: a personal reformation where assumptions about faith and church and salvation are reconsidered in light of the Word of God. It’s so easy to silently wander away from God’s revealed Truth. It’s easy to believe all kinds of things about Christianity which are usually summarized in the belief that the good I do and the frequency I do it will somehow get the Lord’s attention and He will give me a break regarding my personal sin and bring me to heaven just on my merits. What difference is there between that assumption and the purchase of indulgences?

Paul wrote, In Him [Jesus Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” (Ephesians 1:7)

This year, even today, I encourage you to repent of all known sin, and trust in the very Person of Jesus Christ, and then live your life knowing, loving and serving Him. Now, that is reformation!

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Not Alone

“Flood of a Lifetime!” “Rain Measured in Feet, Not Inches!” “Devastation!”

The headlines and statements regarding Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath are startling, to say the least. It is with mixed feelings that I sit in peace and comfort, watching on-scene news reports of the flooding of Houston and its suffering people. It’s as though I’m looking out the window on a surreal scene of pain and destruction, yet, unable to do anything for those stranded and looking for assistance.

Actually, there are things that can be done: prayer (!), support of ministries like Samaritan’s Purse and, later, join or support teams from area churches to assist in the massive relief effort that will certainly come.

As I remember the pictures of suffering people flashed repeatedly across the TV screen, one image has stuck in my mind … not from an actual photo, but from the description given in a news article. The article told of a family hurriedly evacuating their home because of rising flood waters, but in the process, they were forced to abandon their little dog, leaving it on a float in their swimming pool.

We can feel badly enough for the dog even though it’s “just a dog” but think of how that poor little animal clearly symbolizes the plight of so many in southeast Texas: lonely, abandoned, without hope. Maybe you or your loved ones feel this way today, in your circumstances. It doesn’t take a hurricane to open our eyes to personal pain and the need for help.

But I want you to know that you are not alone, not abandoned and you are not without hope – quite the contrary! Consider, if you will, Psalm 116. It’s described as a Psalm of thanksgiving for deliverance and sounds as if spoken by someone rescued from overwhelmingly difficult circumstances. Allow these be words of hope and assurance for you today…

Psalm 116 (NASB)
1 I love the Lord, because He hears
My voice and my supplications [my requests for His favor].
2 Because He has inclined His ear to me,
Therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live.
3 The cords of death encompassed me
And the terrors of Sheol came upon me;
I found distress and sorrow.
4 Then I called upon the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I beseech You, save my life!”
5 Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
Yes, our God is compassionate.
6 The Lord preserves the simple;
I was brought low, and He saved me.
7 Return to your rest, O my soul,
For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
8 For You have rescued my soul from death,
My eyes from tears,
My feet from stumbling.
9 I shall walk before the Lord
In the land of the living.
12 What shall I render to the Lord
For all His benefits toward me?
13 I shall lift up the cup of salvation
And call upon the name of the Lord.

The cup of salvation was part of the Jewish thank offering. For us, it’s giving thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation given us through His sacrifice on the cross, knowing that no matter the outward circumstances He allows us to endure, our hope, our deliverance, the salvation of our souls are secure in Him.

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Draw Near to God

You may have seen the 2000 movie, Cast Away, with Tom Hanks. It’s about a FedEx plane on an international flight, carrying a FedEx executive: Chuck Noland. The plane runs into some definite problems over the South Pacific, crashes into the ocean, and maroons the only survivor, Noland, on a deserted island where there is no human contact. The movie details Noland’s physical, mental and emotional fight for survival and his “conversations” with his imaginary friend: a volleyball he named “Wilson.”
The title of the movie, Cast Away, actually said a lot about this executive and the struggle he was experiencing.
If the title had been one word, “Castaway,” it would have meant “a person who has been shipwrecked and stranded in an isolated place.” But the title consists of two words, Cast Away, meaning “tossed aside, thrown out, and forgotten.”
Chuck Noland was seemingly cast away, physically and emotionally, by the circumstances of life and forced to fend for himself on a deserted island using remnants of the plane that he had just left … or that had left him as it sank to the bottom of the sea.

You may never find yourself struggling to crack coconuts on a deserted island but you can feel isolated by circumstances, emotions, relationships gone sour, assumptions about other people, and so forth. You may sometimes even feel distanced from God.

But His promise is true for you: The Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31.8)

The Lord never leaves us but we tend to wander away from Him in what sometimes seems to be a thousand directions, feeling cast away from His presence, just surviving emotionally and spiritually on the remnants of a world that Jesus came to save.

It doesn’t have to be that way. You can have a personal, intimate, loving, day-by-day relationship and friendship with Jesus Christ. A life such as this, lived before a watching world, will demonstrate that Jesus is real and real in your life.

The daily choice is yours.

The Word promises, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)

I pray that you and I choose to know and love Him more each day.

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The path belongs to Him

Make me know Your ways, O Lord;
Teach me Your paths.
Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
For You are the God of my salvation;
For You I wait all the day. (Psalm 25.4-5)

It was my first camel ride. Sitting high atop this ship of the desert, in the pitch-black darkness, I bounced my way up the side of Mt. Sinai in Egypt. The only sounds were the grunts of the camel and the sixteen-year-old bedouin boy shouting at the camel to “go” in Arabic. (…at least, I think it was “go” … and surely he was shouting at the camel and not me.) On occasion, I would catch a glimpse of the steep cliff on the side of the dirt trail, but the camel never slipped, never faltered, and its step was ever sure. It had traveled this trail many, many times before. And my young guide knew the way very well. He lived in this area. I was in the best of hands. Eventually, I relaxed, looked in awe at the brightness of the star-filled sky and anticipated standing at the top of God’s mountain to watch the sun rise.

Maybe you are anxious about the direction your life is taking or you are experiencing suffering along the way. Maybe you have far more questions than answers. It’s not so important how dark your trail has become. It’s not even important if you can see the next step you are to take. Just realize you are not your own (1 Corinthians 6.19). If you have given your heart to Jesus Christ, you belong to Him.

He knows all the trails and trials of life. He wants to be your guide and your goal. He wants to be your God. Let Him.

One day, Jesus said to His disciples that He was going to leave and prepare a place for them “‘that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.’ Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.’” (John 14.3-6)

In this life, Jesus is both the destination and the only way to get there. The ride will often be bouncy and sometimes painful, but His love for you is beyond doubt, His knowledge of your life is complete and His plan for you is perfect. Keep your eyes on Him as He guides you along a path that belongs to Him.

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At least, speak up for the unborn

For you formed my inmost being. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful. My soul knows that very well. My frame wasn’t hidden from you, when I was made in secret, woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my body. In your book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there were none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! (Psalm 139.13-17 WEB)

In 1934, a young German pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, faced the incredible challenges of living as a dedicated Christian in his world. The German government at that time was in the evil hands of Hitler and his Nazis; the leadership of the German Church had been infiltrated by leaders complicit with the government; and many evangelical Christians were hesitant to stand for their faith. But Bonhoeffer challenged Christians to hear the Word of God and to actually live it out for Jesus Christ.

Today is the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v Wade decision. Since that day, January 22, 1973, there have been an estimated 54,000,000 abortions performed in the U.S.

In a letter to a friend, Bonhoeffer wrote, “‘Speak out for those who cannot speak’ – who in the church today realizes that this is the very least that the Bible requires of us?” Although he was not speaking about the issue of abortion, Bonhoeffer’s words certainly apply.

The yet-to-be-born cannot speak for themselves. Their cries of pain cannot be heard from within the womb.

Will you speak up for those truly innocent ones who cannot speak? Perhaps it’s “the very least that the Bible requires of us.”

On this day and every day, please pray for the unborn; pray for women with unwanted or difficult pregnancies; pray for individuals and families torn apart by decisions they have made in the past and for decisions they are now facing.

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God searches for you

At the turn of the 11th century B.C., in 1 Samuel 10, the prophet Samuel anointed Saul as the first king of Israel. Before leaving, Samuel instructed Saul to wait seven days at Gilgal. At that time, Samuel said he would come and offer burnt offerings to the Lord.

Waiting at Gilgal, Saul looked at the Philistine army which had amassed 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen against the Israelites. He saw his army of only 3,000 begin to dwindle as his men began hiding “themselves in caves, in thickets, in cliffs, in cellars, and in pits.” (1 Samuel 13.6 NASB) When Samuel did not arrive on the seventh day, Saul grew impatient, perhaps fearful, and decided to take matters into his own hands by offering a burnt offering to the Lord. Saul was a king, not a priest.

Immediately after Saul presented the burnt offering to the Lord, Samuel arrived …

Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you; for now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14 But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has appointed him to be ruler over His people, because you have not kept that which the Lord commanded you.” (1 Samuel 13.13-14)

Saul had, of course, disobeyed God. He had sinned before God. Samuel, in effect, was saying to Saul, “If you had obeyed God, if you had obeyed the command that He had given you, then the Lord would have established, confirmed your kingdom on Israel forever. But now, your kingdom will come to an end.”

The next sentence spoken by Samuel gives great insight into the mind and heart of God. He said, “The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart.”

That search continues.

For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. (2 Chronicles 16.9)

In the push and pull of everyday life, there is a God who desires for Himself someone who seeks Him. But know that the search after God’s heart is demonstrated by the obedience of the searcher, the submission to His will.

Know that He is searching for you.

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Holocaust Remembrance Day – April 19, 2012

Please remember the six million Jews who were slaughtered during the Holocaust.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Here are videos of drivers showing respect during the sounding of sirens on this Yom HaShoah: 1 and 2.

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He has Risen!

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The 2nd Day

Because Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring you to God; being put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which he also went and preached to the spirits in prison… (1 Peter 3.18-19 WEB)

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