Oh, to Believe It!

One of the hardest lessens each of us must learn is that it really is to our advantage to do God’s will instead of our own. Many never learn this lesson.

Using the free will God gave us, we can choose our own way in life. How easy it is to do what we want instead of what God wants!

To believe that it is truly to our advantage to do God’s will, we must believe that:

  1. God knows best. We do not. He is far wiser than we. Like a small child intent on disobedience, we fail to understand our Father’s purposes for both our immediate and ultimate welfare.
  2. God not only knows best, He asks of us only what is best for us. Doing His will may hurt (cause us pain), but doing His will can never hurt (harm) us.
  3. His way brings far greater benefits than any supposed gain we might receive from doing our own thing. “. . . whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).
  4. Sin means doing my will when it runs counter to His will. Obedience means voluntarily yielding my will to His.
  5. It is so easy to focus on the cost of obedience and overlook the rewards of obedience. And yet the rewards far outweigh anything we may give up in order to obey (Mark 10:28-30; Romans 8:18). God is the Great Compensator.
  6. Satan will make sin look so attractive, so glamorous, and so alluring, that I must keep reminding myself that it is all a sham, a pretense, a lie. Satan does not deliver the goods.
  7. Sin (doing my will instead of God’s) may bring me momentary pleasure (Hebrews 11:25), but sin will destroy me if I don’t repent (Romans 6:23).
  8. To repent may sound tremendously hard and unappealing, but in view of the blessings God pours out on the truly penitent, repentance must be one of the most sensible, positive things I can do for myself (Acts 3:19).

His way may not be easy, but His way is truly best.

Now if I can just keep believing that—and act accordingly.

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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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The Value of Good Intentions

When you hear the expression “good intentions,” what comes to mind? Don’t we often use it to refer to the common tendency to intend to accomplish something worthwhile, while never getting around to it? We even have a saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Empty promises

An example of good intentions gone awry is that of the Israelites at Mount Sinai. Three times they pledged their intentions to obey God’s law (Exodus 19:8; 24:3, 7). But it wasn’t long before they were worshiping the golden calf (Exodus 32). So much for good intentions!

How easy it is to resolve! And just as easy to renege!

Promises kept

And yet, think of all the cases both in the Bible and throughout history where good intentions led to great outcomes.

Ruth expressed her determination never to leave her widowed mother-in-law Naomi (Ruth 1:16-17). She kept her word.

Paul announced his plans to visit Rome. In spite of tremendous hardships, with God’s help he finally arrived (Acts 19:21; 23:11; Romans 1:10-15; 15:22-32; Acts 28:14-31).

The problem, then, is not with good intentions per se. Like mighty oaks from tiny acorns, countless great accomplishments began with good intentions.

Three stages

So what do we need? Follow-through, dogged persistence, tenacity. In other words:

                  Good Intentions → Consistent Effort → Mission Accomplished

Paul wrote the Corinthian church about their plans to participate in a generous contribution for their poor Jewish brethren. They had gotten off to an enthusiastic start, but Paul was concerned that their initial eagerness was cooling.

He urged them, “But now finish doing it also, so that just as there was the readiness to desire it, so there may be also the completion of it by your ability” (2 Corinthians 8:11).

Paul’s appeal was successful. They came through after all! (Romans 15:25-28)

How we need good intentions. No other kind will do!

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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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Facing the Future: How?

As I approached the tracks on Park Street I heard a train. My first thought was, if only I had left the post office a little sooner I would have made it across before the train arrived. Shutting off the engine to save gas, I prepared for the wait.

I watched as the locomotive rolled by, followed by a tank car, followed by another tank car, followed by . . . . But that was it! The entire train consisted of only one engine and two cars. I was delayed less than a minute.

Outcome unknown

Sometimes things do turn out better than we had expected, don’t they? Murphy’s Law doesn’t always operate. Hooray!

Life is an adventure. We never know what’s around the next bend. Since we don’t know, can we afford to make big plans without taking the Lord into account? James tells us that people who plan big while assuming they can definitely do what they intended are actually arrogant (James 4:13-17).

On the other extreme, do we tend to worry about how we’re going to have enough to meet tomorrow’s needs? This indicates a lack of faith (Matthew 6:25-34).

If we belong to Christ and if we keep our priorities straight, He promises we will have our basic needs met (Matthew 6:33). What an anxiety reducer!

Avoidable pitfalls

Looking to God as we face the future saves us from two errors. On one hand we’ll avoid pride in our planning—failing to remember that we can accomplish what we’ve planned only if it is the Lord’s will.

On the other hand, we’ll not forget we have a loving Father who takes good care of His children—as we seek His kingdom first.

These two errors have one thing in common: they both fail to take God into account. When we remember Him we’ll be neither arrogant nor anxious.

With Him beside us we can face the future with both humility and confidence—whatever may come down the track.

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How to Love Someone You Don’t Like

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One of life’s greatest challenges

Our adult class was studying 1 John 4, which has much to say about love, including, “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love . . . . Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:8, 11).

A member of the class asked, “What do you say when someone tells you, ‘I can’t stand that person’?”

In response, other class members suggested practical steps we can take in dealing with someone we don’t enjoy being around. These pointers, along with additional comments, can provide us with guidelines for our relationships with one another.

First, liking and loving are two different things.

To love others in the biblical sense means we desire what is best for them and then act accordingly (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a).

Second, pray for them (Matthew 5:43-44; Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60).

By asking God to bless them and also to help us overcome our aversion, we will likely find ourselves feeling more positive toward them.

Third, get better acquainted.

Are there people you initially disliked, but after getting to know them you gained a different perspective? We may discover some good qualities we were unaware of, or we may learn why they are the way they are.

Fourth, do something good for them (Romans 12:20-21). This can actually soften attitudes on both sides.

Replacing ill will with goodwill

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). This implies that in spite of our best efforts, the other person may never move in our direction. But at least we’ve done what we could.

And while we cannot force anyone to feel kindly toward us, at least we have control over our own attitudes.

If we make a sincere effort to apply these principles, we may be pleasantly surprised by what God enables us to do.

We’ll never know until we try.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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Good News?

His character

The Bible calls him “a righteous and holy man” (Mark 6:20). Jesus said of him, “He was the lamp that was burning and was shining . . .” (John 5:35).

The task of John the Baptist was preparing Israel for the coming Messiah. John’s message consisted of two main themes: 1) repentance, and 2) the Coming One.

Concerning repentance, he preached the necessity of showing proof of a true change of heart by not mistreating others and by sharing with those in need (Luke 3:7-14).

He was bold enough to rebuke King Herod for his sins—and consequently was imprisoned and beheaded (Matthew 14:3-12).

Concerning Christ, John said of Him, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! . . . . this is the Son of God” (John 1:29, 34).

His message

William Barclay says of John’s preaching, “. . . whatever the message of John was it was not a gospel. It was not good news . . .” (The Gospel of Luke, Westminster Press, p. 28).

I beg to differ. The New Testament specifically says John preached the gospel (Luke 3:18). The word gospel means good news.

It’s true, John preached fire and damnation (Luke 3:7, 9). He had to announce the bad news before the good news could be fully appreciated. The doctor must tell us we have cancer before we would consent to surgery or other treatment.

The good news John preached was that in spite of God’s wrath against sin, He has sent us a Savior who will rescue us from a fate far worse than death.

As William Hendriksen has written, “The Baptist’s warning, dire and dreadful though it may seem, is filled with mercy, for its purpose is that men may be converted” (New Testament Commentary: Luke, Baker Book House, p. 212).

That was the message God sent John to preach, and he faithfully preached it.

And it really was good news.
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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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Is There a Place for Preaching?

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Why some won’t listen

Have you ever heard someone say, “Don’t preach to me!” or “I don’t mean to sound like I’m preaching, but . . . .”?

Preaching is not always appreciated. Sometimes this is due to those who fail to practice what they preach. And at times preaching may come across as self-righteous, egotistic.

But perhaps the major reason preaching is not always welcome is that there is within many of us the attitude, “Nobody’s gonna tell ME what to do!”

This rebellious inner self, the Bible says, must be put aside. In its place there must be childlike humility. God calls us to yield control of our lives to Him and make Christ our Lord in every area of our life.

If our beliefs are false or we’re not living right, and the preacher tells us we’re wrong, isn’t he really doing us a tremendous favor, even if it hurts at the time? “Have I therefore become your enemy by telling you the truth?” Paul asks (Galatians 4:16).

Paul himself, at one time the violent persecutor of the church, had to learn the shocking truth that he had been working against God when he sincerely thought he was doing God’s will. He had to learn how wrong he was before he could get right. And so must we.

Why it makes sense to listen

If the preacher is true to the message God has revealed in His word, then resisting the message is resisting God Himself (Luke 10:16). The preacher is simply the messenger.

Balanced preaching contains both positive and negative and is geared to the needs of the hearers. It has often been said that preaching should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Sometimes we need to be afflicted.

Paul urged Timothy to “preach the word . . . reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” Paul then warns that people will reject unpalatable truth and turn instead to those who will tell them what they want to hear (2 Timothy 4:2-4). Doesn’t this happen in our day—a lot?

So what do we want? Pleasant words that make us feel good and never bad, or the truth that we so desperately need?

To receive the marvelous blessings of salvation we must be willing to repent by changing our minds and renouncing our sins, then humbly submitting to God’s gracious will (Acts 2:36-38; 22:16).

If it’s really the truth, can we afford to accept anything else?

 

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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“What is Truth?”

How we view truth

One of the characteristics of our culture is the belief that truth is relative—what’s true for you may not be true for me. If that’s the case, then neither you nor I have the right to say what anyone else should believe or do.

Certainly there are some areas of life which are subjective. For example, two people eat the very same food. One thinks it tastes great, while the other can’t stand it. So who’s right? Isn’t this simply a matter of personal preference? There is no objective standard in such cases.

How we view morality

But does it work the same way in morality? Does each of us determine what’s right or wrong, as we see it? Or is there a universal moral standard?

For instance, is it wrong to have sexual relations outside of marriage? Many today do not think so, while others do. So which is right? Who decides?

Even if we do not accept the Bible as God’s inspired truth applicable to all people in every era, we are still forced to conclude that the Bible limits sex relations to the marital union of a man and a woman. “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4; see Genesis 1:27; 2:18-24).

How we view the Bible

Either the Bible is God’s word or it isn’t. If it isn’t, then it’s merely a human document we can do with as we wish. But if it is God’s word, are we wise to disregard it?

Paul wrote, “. . . we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

How we view Jesus

Likewise with Christ. Either He is who He claimed to be, the Son of God, or He isn’t. He can’t be both.

If He isn’t, then we don’t need to follow Him. If He is, then how can we ignore Him?

One of Jesus’ claims is this: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6).

What a bold statement! Now either it’s the truth or it’s a lie. Which? If true, then how can we consider all world religions as alternate paths to God?

One doesn’t have to be a narrow-minded bigot to affirm that the Bible claims there is only one way to God, and that way is through Jesus.

If that’s the truth, then who has the right to say otherwise?

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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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