Priorities and Lifestyle Choices

What we choose to love

Confined to a Roman prison because of his faith, Paul predicted that “difficult times will come,” citing the kinds of people who will make the difficult times so difficult.

Among them are “lovers of self, lovers of money . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:1-2, 4).

As William Barclay so well stated, “The moment a man makes his own will and his own desires the center of life, divine and human relationships are destroyed . . . . All sin begins in selfishness” (The Letters to Timothy, Titus and Philemon, 211).

How we choose to live

The new life Christ offers us is the very opposite of me-centeredness.

Paul had discovered in his own experience that Christ’s way is the only way that gives true meaning and purpose to our brief time on earth (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

Selfishness is a dead end. Serving Christ leads to eternal glory!

Three times in his letter to Timothy, Paul uses a short Greek phrase (σὺ δὲ), variously translated by the New American Standard Bible as “Now you,” “You, however,” and “But you” (3:10, 14: 4:5).

In all three of these cases Paul has just described those who “oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith” (3:8), “evil men and imposters [who] will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (3:13), and those “who will turn their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (4:4).

Paul then urges Timothy to follow his example (3:10-12), hold to the truth of God’s inspired Word (3:14-17), and to “endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (4:5).

Our choice

Some have noted the contrast between those “who have loved His [Christ’s] appearing” (4:8) and Paul’s errant co-worker Demas, who “having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica . . .” (4:8, 10). When Christ someday appears, will Demas be pleased with what he chose to love?

So we must choose between mutually-exclusive priorities leading to diametrically-opposed lifestyles, ending in polar-opposite outcomes.

Me first or Christ first. Which?


Scripture quotations taken from the NASB:

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Life is one deadline after another. I have always admired newspaper people because they work constantly under the restrictions of the unforgiving clock. Sometimes late hours are the only way to make it all come together on time.

Deadlines can be tremendously motivating. Do you, like me, work better under pressure? Would we get as much done if it weren’t for these time constraints?

Some things in life, however, do not have a specific deadline. They may be even more important than the urgent tasks that demand to be done NOW. And yet because there is no set time, the days and weeks and months and years go by—and little gets done.

Careful preparation

Think of all that must go into planning a beautiful wedding. Talk about a major deadline! Everything must come together by the announced hour: gowns and tuxes and people to wear them, candles and flowers, preacher and photographer, cake and punch, and countless other nuptial details.

But what happens after the honeymoon? Do those things that matter most in marriage receive the attention they deserve?

And our children? Aside from homework assignments, ball games, etc., what about those areas where there’s no set deadline? Does their spiritual training take a back seat to lesser concerns? They’ll be grown before we know it. What are we doing about it today?

And what of our relationship with God? It’s been said that the urgent tends to preempt the eternal. The demands of daily living have a way of crowding our calendars to the point that lesser concerns receive more attention than we give God (Matthew 6:25-33; Luke 8:14).

The final deadline

Whether read or unread, the Bible tells us of that final undated deadline when God will bring it all to a conclusion (Hebrews 9:27; 2 Corinthians 5:10).

When it comes is uncertain, but that it is coming is more certain than the precise time of tomorrow’s sunrise.

Let’s be ready.


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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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A Remembered Lesson

It was over 50 years ago, but it stands out in my memory. Norman Harnage was teaching our class that Sunday morning in our congregation where I grew up.

Norman said he wanted to talk with us about one thing. And he did.

He cited several passages where the expression “one thing” is found. The following were, I believe, among those he cited:

What’s most needed

Jesus was a dinner guest in Martha’s home. In her preparations she became frustrated with her sister Mary, who was listening to Jesus teach. “Lord,” she complained, “do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.”

“‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, “you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42).

What’s lacking

On another occasion a young man approached Jesus and asked what he should do to inherit eternal life. Jesus cited several of the Mosaic commandments. “All these things I have kept from my youth,” he replied.

One thing you still lack;” Jesus told him, “sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven, and come, follow Me” (Luke 18:18-23).

But the young man turned sadly away. Jesus knew he was putting his money ahead of his relationship with God.

What’s most important

Paul wrote, “. . . one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

Paul knew what was most important in life, and he was totally focused on the goal. He let nothing distract him from obtaining the prize.

“. . . one thing is necessary . . . .” “One thing you still lack.” “. . . one thing I do . . . .”

Thank you, Norman Harnage, for bringing that simple but profound lesson so long ago.

You were right.


Scripture quotations taken from the NASB:

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Unwise Wisdom

soccer players-tagged

Benefits of sports

A woman said of her young daughter, “My goal is to keep her busy.” I can certainly see the wisdom in that. Kids need to be so occupied with good things that they don’t have time to get into trouble. There is so much out there that can lead them astray. And so this mom signed up her daughter for two sports.

Sports can help fill the void. Sports provide structure and discipline. A child learns how to work together with others as a member of a team. Sports develop eye-hand coordination, as well as motor skills. Competitive sports provide opportunities to learn to lose gracefully. Much more can be said about the benefits of organized sports. And yet….

Misplaced priorities

When she said, “My goal is to keep her busy,” I couldn’t help thinking: What about keeping your daughter busy in church activities?

If sports and other pursuits so fill the schedule that the church gets the short end of the stick—if even that much—then isn’t something wrong with this picture?

Sports have their place. So do a lot of other worthwhile things. These days we have so many options—good options—that it is easy, as someone well said, to let the second-best pre-empt the best. “I will follow You, Lord; but first . . .” (Luke 9:61).

The church offers something no other organization can: a God-ordained environment for spiritual growth. How many parents realize what a positive impact the church can have on their children—both now and for eternity? There’s just nothing quite like it!

One Christian family I know found themselves running hard night after night to keep up with the activities they had their kids involved in. Finally they decided they just couldn’t maintain such a hectic pace. It was just too much. Something had to give. And for them, it wasn’t going to be the church.

For Christians, can there be any other option?

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB:

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On the same day we received two pieces of mail from companies wanting our business. On the outside of one envelope it said: “IMPORTANT OFFER FOR PAST CUSTOMERS.”



Even though each offer was marked “IMPORTANT,” I discarded both of them.

We are so bombarded daily with sales appeals that it really takes a creative marketer to come up with a pitch that truly grabs our attention.

Yet we know some things are highly important—some far more so than others.

Jesus’ perspective

What do you suppose Jesus would consider of supreme importance? We don’t have to wonder.

By studying His life and teachings we can see clearly what stood out for Him above all other claims.

“My food,” He said, “is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34).

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things [daily necessities] will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth . . . . But store up for yourselves treasure in heaven . . . for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

Are His priorities our priorities? Are His values ours?


Scripture quotations taken from the NASB:

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The Question and Its Implications

Out of the mouths of babes

As I was walking toward the church building, a cute little guy came riding by on his bike.

“Are you going to church?” he asked. “Yes,” I answered. He then asked, “Is this church day?”

What a revealing question! To his parents was Sunday merely a day to take it easy, catch up on housework, or what?

In contrast

Growing up, my dad never heard his parents discuss whether or not to attend services. They just went (Hebrews 10:24-25).

The church was so much a part of their lives that it had a profound impact on my dad’s values and life choices.

But how would he have turned out had his parents’ priorities been different?

I wonder, whatever became of the little fellow who had to ask, “Is this church day?”

boy on bike-tagged

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