“Are We There Yet?”

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Almost there!

“How much farther?” the child asked. “Not far,” his dad answered as he drove.

The disciples were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, “not far from the land” (John 21:8). But “not far” is used in a spiritual as well as in a spatial sense.

Once a scribe asked Jesus, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered that loving God with all your heart comes first, followed by loving others as yourself. The scribe heartily agreed, adding that love of God and others “is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

“When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God’” (Mark 12:28-34; see Matthew 22:34-40).

Unlike many of his fellow Pharisees, he had a clearer grasp of what mattered most (Luke 11:42). To stand with Jesus could cost him the favor of his peers (John 12:42-43; Matthew 23:13). Would this unusually perceptive Pharisee be willing to buck the establishment and enter the kingdom?

But still not there

James Burton Coffman has written, “‘Not far from the kingdom . . . .’ Alas, this is the epitaph for many. Men behold, in some glorious burst of apprehension, the majesty and truth of the Son of God; but the road of acceptance is rugged, being blocked at every milestone with difficulties and opposition” (Commentary on Mark, ACU Press, pp. 235-236).

If you are “not far,” then you are close. But “not far” is not in. One can be close, yet remain outside. One can believe but still lack the blessings that come with obedient faith (James 2:14-26; Romans 1:5; 16:25; John 3:3, 5; Mark 16:16).

Don’t let his happen to you! If your convictions really line up with the Scriptures, act on them—now!

Then instead of being “not far from the kingdom of God,” you’ll be all the way in!

 

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

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Over Our Heads?

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They just didn’t get it!

It’s remarkable how often what Jesus said went right over the heads of His hearers.

When Jesus was talking with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, He offered her “living water” that would deeply and permanently satisfy, unlike the H2O she drew from the well.

Her response? “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw” (John 4:13-15). By “living water” Jesus meant the Holy Spirit imparted to believers (John 7:37-39).

When Jesus’ disciples returned from buying bread, they urged Him to eat. Jesus replied, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” The disciples assumed He meant literal bread, but then Jesus explained, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work” (John 4:31-34).

So often Jesus and His listeners were operating on different wavelengths. Since His words were so frequently misunderstood, was He then an ineffective communicator?  As the Master Teacher, He was aiming to elevate the sights of His listeners from the mundane to the spiritual, from the earthly to the heavenly.

He refused to dumb down His message. He was trying to make people think—something many of us would rather not do.

Note this interchange: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Those who heard Him say this thought He meant the Jerusalem temple, but as John explains, “He was speaking of the temple of His body. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken” (John 2:19-22). It finally clicked!

When we finally get it!

Jesus’ statements are all the richer as we understand them in the context of the Big Picture of the great plan of God. Our faith in Him can be strengthened as we think through His words until a light comes on in our minds, and our faith grows. Those “Aha!” moments are priceless!

I once heard a highly-educated and accomplished man say that in all the various fields of study he had pursued, he has found none more challenging than the study of the Scriptures. How true! There’s more than enough there to keep us occupied for a lifetime.

This is but another evidence that the Bible is what it claims to be: the inspired and living and powerful word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12; 1 Peter 1:23-25; 2 Peter 1:20-21).

As a result of its divine origin, for nearly 2,000 years it has been transforming millions of hopeless sinners into the likeness of God’s Son.

Can you think of any other book that could do that?

 

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

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The Ticket

This afternoon I picked up a lottery ticket. No, I didn’t buy it, but found it lying on the ground. This ticket cost somebody $10. The purchaser had scratched off all 25 numbers, but not one of them matched the winning numbers listed at the top.

$10 for nothing. Purchased in hope; discarded in disappointment. Too bad! But maybe next time! Or if not then, the time after that—or the time after that . . . .

An admission

On the back of the ticket it says, “For help with a gambling problem” and then it gives a website. So even the lottery officials admit that some of their most loyal customers are addicted.

Alcohol, drugs, and gambling—each has an Anonymous organization devoted to helping people who have lost control—and along with it, possibly lost their paychecks, their family, and their self-respect. It’s so sad!

Catering to human weakness

The promoters of this lottery know human nature. They realize there are enough people out there who want quick and easy cash and are willing to plunk down their hard-earned dollars over and over and over in hopes of winning big.

Almost like the carrot on a stick, the lottery beckons but rarely delivers. Sure, some do win big. And much of the money they so gleefully receive comes from the pockets and purses of people who can’t afford their losses.

It’s sad that our great state would stoop to raising revenue from the weaknesses of its own citizens. And what are those weaknesses? Wanting to cash in without effort and at the expense of others.

A far better way

The apostle Paul said, “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:33-35).

Paul needed money just as we do today. If there had been a lottery in his day, can you imagine him standing in line to buy a ticket? And yet if there ever was a winner (in the best sense of the word) it was Paul (Philippians 3:7-14; 2 Timothy 4:6-8).

Paul modeled for others the ethic of hard work and sharing with others.

That’s the winning combination! That’s the ticket!

 

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

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Oh, to Believe It!

One of the hardest lessons 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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