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Some people spend their entire lives trying to accumulate as much money as they possibly can. They can’t get enough of it. When they have more than they would need even if they could live two lifetimes, they still try to get more. Everything else – family, friends, worthy causes, their country, etc. – is relegated to a position of secondary importance.

We are currently in the middle of a major election campaign, and politicians are organized to the max sending out requests for money. I received an email that said, “Del, my campaign treasurer checked the list of contributors and your name was not on it. What’s wrong?” Nothing was wrong! The implication was that if I didn’t send a generous amount of money to the candidate that very day, our democracy would totally collapse.

Money has great value for the simple reason that we live within the framework of an economic system. We must have money to purchase the things we need – homes, food, clothes, education, transportation, medical needs, etc. Our need for these things makes money both important and necessary –but money does have limitations. For example, it will buy:

  • A bed but not sleep.
  • Food, but not an appetite.
  • Books, but not wisdom.
  • Fine clothes, but not a sunrise or sunset.
  • A house, but not a home.
  • Medicine, but not health.
  • Luxuries, but not peace.
  • Amusements, but not joy.
  • A Bible, but not salvation.
  • A church pew, but not heaven.

The poet Robert Burns once said that a person should not marry for money, but he recommended that a person go to where money is to fall in love. A woman in Oklahoma apparently believed this to be good advice. She refused to marry her boyfriend on religious grounds — she worshiped money, and he was broke. She wanted to marry a man who could consistently support both her need and her greed. She didn’t know that a person who marries for money usually earns every penny of it.

Money can provide the basic necessities every family needs. It can also help to advance the kingdom of God by supporting the outreach and ministry of a local congregation, and by sending missionaries to proclaim the good news of salvation to the ends of the earth. At the end of our lives on planet earth we will leave our money behind – all of it — and we will never see it again.

I have conducted literally hundreds of funerals, and I have never seen a Brinks truck carrying the deceased person’s money travel with the funeral possession on the way to the cemetery. What we have given to God to advance His kingdom and to bless others will be ours forever. We are stewards, not owners.

God’s Word makes it clear that there is nothing either wrong or sinful about possessing money – even a tremendous amount of it – as long as the money we possess does not possess us.

 

We have all heard jokes about people showing up at the pearly gates seeking entrance into heaven. While some of these fabrications may bring a smile to our faces, behind most of them is the false assumption that we must do something to get into heaven. Some people are shocked when they learn that there is absolutely nothing they can ever do to be saved or to gain entrance into heaven.

John 3:1-15 contains the story of one of those persons. Nicodemus, a rabbi and a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, had a difficult time understanding the difference between religion and relationship. To him salvation depended on the things he did (religion), not the result of God’s free gift of grace (relationship).

It was at night that Nicodemus decided to pay Jesus a visit. Was this because rabbis studied at night? Was it because he wanted to avoid the crowd? Was it because he did not want their conversation to be limited? I believe it was because he was troubled by some spiritual questions he wanted Jesus to answer. The important thing is that he was a seeker after truth.

Nicodemus was rich, highly respected, and strongly religious – a Pharisee. He had given his life to study and obey the Law. He was also knowledgeable of the traditions supporting the Law. As we might say today, “He was deacon material. He would make an excellent chairman for an important committee.” Having heard a lot of interesting things about Jesus, he wanted to meet Him and hear what He had to say.

Jesus cut right to the heart of the matter Nicodemus wanted to discuss. He told him that he must be born again. When Nicodemus did not understand what this meant, Jesus explained that He was referring to a spiritual birth, not a physical birth. To be born again spiritually is a divine act controlled by God. It is a supernatural act that brings about a dramatic change in a person’s life. Nicodemus had not entered into a faith relationship with Christ. One way of putting it is to say he was religious, but that he was not redeemed.

There are four primary truths a person must know in order to be born again:

Position does not save you. Nicodemus was a member of the Jewish Supreme Court. He was correct on many areas of doctrine, but he made one primary mistake: he externalized religion. Outwardly, he lived above reproach. He was part of the religious elite. Applying this to our lives today it means that being a deacon, or an elder, or even a pastor does not save you. Position does not save anybody, however high or important that position may be.

Popularity does not save you. Nicodemus was highly respected and popular in his community. He was recognized as a spiritual leader. Being born again has absolutely nothing to do with popularity.

Prestige does not save you. Nicodemus was a person to whom people turned for spiritual answers. He was a spiritual adviser who had spent his life studying the Scriptures. He was, in essence, a spiritual guru. But he had never been born from above.

Piety does not save you. Nicodemus possessed great knowledge. He knew and practiced what was considered to be right. He was religious to the core, and was widely recognized for his piety. What this means for us today is that you can attend church regularly, tithe, practice spiritual disciplines, and still be lost because possessing piety saves no one. To be born again you must have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

There is only one way to be born again and, at the time of God’s choosing, go to heaven: You must go to Calvary, repent of your sins, lay them down, pick up the cross, turn to the right, and keep straight ahead.

 

Some Christians believe that following Christ involves being devoted to a hierarchy of priorities. In other words, Christians should put Christ first, their marriage and family second, their church third, others fourth, and so on. The priorities become far less specific and ordered after number two or three, but you get the basic idea. God and family are at the top. Your job is never higher than one through four.

This hierarchy of priorities does have some value, but it is not taught in the Bible, nor is it an adequate model for the Christian life. Its value lies in its usefulness for tradeoffs. For example, if your choice is between achieving a major career success and losing your family in the process, then biblically you should put success in your career aside and give priority to maintaining a healthy family. The hierarchy does have some value.

The New Testament, however, does not teach that Jesus is the first in a series of priorities; it teaches that He is to be the Lord of all of our priorities – our family responsibilities, our jobs, our friendships and relationships with others, our play, our hobbies, our public life and private life, our sex lives, our conflicts, our politics, our financial decisions – everything!

The picture that is painted in the New Testament is not a segmented life of minimal requirements, but a comprehensive view of life in which everything affects everything else. Such a view of life is more true to life than any hierarchy. Think about it. A man is not a father one day, a salesman the next, a church member the next, and a husband the next. No, he is a father-salesman-church member-husband-consumer-golfer-commuter-voter-neighbor all at the same time every hour of every day. And Christ is to be Lord of it all.

Apostle Paul in Romans (chapters 12-14), Galatians (chapters 5-6), Ephesians (chapters 4-6), and Colossians (chapters 3-4) addresses life in terms of five major categories: (1) your personal life, including your relationship with God, your emotions, and any other private, individual areas; (2) your family, including your marriage, your children, and your relationship to your parents and any dependents; (3) your church life, including both your local church and Christians everywhere; (4) your work – what you do, how you do it, and how you relate to your employer and those with whom you work; and (5) your community life.

Here are five diverse categories and God says that we should honor Him in all five. And because they all impact each other, we cannot arrange them into a hierarchy. The New Testament does not do that, and if we do it, it will actually hinder us from being faithful in all five areas. Instead, we need to strike a realistic balance among these areas, each of which presents us with lots of demands that compete for our time.

The problem that most of us have is how to balance these five areas. You begin by making an unalterable commitment to the goal of letting Christ be Lord in every area of life. Organize your prayer life around the five major categories mentioned above that call for your time and energy. You consider the impact on your family, and guard your use of emotional energy. You evaluate your life regularly and prayerfully, making certain that Christ is Lord in every part of your life. It is the best way we can bear witness to the world.

George Mueller told the story of a young girl who was asked: “Whose preaching brought you to Christ?” She replied, “It wasn’t anybody’s preaching; it was Aunt Mary’s practicing.” Jesus Christ was the Lord of Aunt Mary’s life – every phase of it. She didn’t just say she was a Christian; she proved it by the way she lived.

Preaching receives a lot of emphasis in our churches today, as indeed it should. God honors preaching, but it needs to be supported by a healthy amount of practicing. Otherwise, it is just a lot of words that, as a colloquial expression states it, “do not amount to a hill of beans.”

 

In the Santa Clara Valley in California, not far from San Jose, there stands in the midst of a huge orchard what is said to be the largest house in the world. It was built, or started, in the 1890’s by a Mrs. Winchester. At first a pleasing country home of ordinary dimensions, it was altered and added to, until it covered with its outbuildings, fourteen acres. Adding apartment after apartment, room after room, and chamber after chamber, the owner became obsessed with the idea of building statelier mansions.

Today the house is a curious and amazing labyrinth of winding stairways, upside-down pillars and posts, blind doors, intricate passages, and hundreds of windows. If left in one of the interior rooms, you would have a difficult time finding your way out. The owner labored under the obsession that as long as she kept building and adding to the house, she herself would not die. But, of course, eventually death found its way through all the passageways, stairways, and hallways of this monstrosity, to the bed where she lay.

That is also the fate of every human being – life will end. Death, the great equalizer, will one day knock on our front door and seek to gain entrance. It will not matter how much wealth or power or influence we may have. Though life on earth comes to an end, physical death does not have to be the end of our story.

The apostle Paul affirms this fact for he says, “We know that if the house in which we live is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands” (2 Corinthians 5:1). He knew that the finite fleshly cottage which housed his soul was mortal, and that mortality cannot inherit immortality. He looked forward to the time when he would move into the home being prepared for him and for all who believe. It is why he said, “To me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

The New Testament employs at least five different metaphors to describe what will take place at the end of every believer’s earthly life. It sees death: (1) As an EXODUS from the bondage of time to the joy and liberty of spending eternity with God; (2) As SLEEP – to awaken out of the sleep of the night, refreshed and ready for the new day; (3) As the SAILING – from an earthly port to the heavenly one; (4) As a TENT taken down – to move from a temporary to an eternal location; and (5) As being HOME.

One of the joys of heaven will be to see and talk with the great personalities mentioned in the Bible: Moses, Samuel, David, Isaiah, Simon Peter, James, John, Paul, and many others. What a joy it will be to see and fellowship with leaders from the pages of church history, and to renew our fellowship with the saints we have known during our years on the earth. We all want to live in this world among family members and friends as long as we can – but moving day is coming. We do not know how soon that may be.

It is extremely important to be prepared for that day. Are you prepared? Have you accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord of your life? Do you have the assurance of eternal life that only God can give? He loves you so much that if you were the only lost person in the world, He would have sent His Son to die for you, that you might have eternal life.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in The Golden Legend, expressed it this way:

When Christ ascended

Triumphantly, from star to star,

He left the gates of heaven ajar.”

 

God created human beings with the capacity and need for both work and play. It is His desire that those who serve Him set boundaries to all of their responsibilities.

In other words, when God calls us to rest, we have an obligation to rest, just as much so as when we have an obligation to work. It is fairly well known that Christianity has a theology of work. We often refer to what is called “the Christian work ethic.” We celebrate the value of labor every Labor Day.

The Bible tells us that God is a working God, and that we are made in His image. In addressing this fact, the Apostle Paul gives this advice: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23).

Paul is saying that every Christian has a calling – a primary vocation that provides the opportunity to do something that serves both God and mankind. Just as God calls individuals to serve as Christian pastors and as missionaries, He also calls individuals to be physicians, teachers, farmers, etc. Whatever vocation we choose, our aim should always be to glorify God through it. Carl F.H. Henry, in Aspects, expresses it this way:As God’s fellow worker man is to reflect God’s creative activity on Monday in the factory no less than on Sunday when commemorating the day of rest and worship.”

Success in any vocation generally comes as the result of hard work. People have never been able to climb the ladder of success while wearing out the seat of their pants or with their hands in their pockets. The dictionary is the only place where success comes before work.

Most people are aware of the fact that Christianity has a theology of work, but what is far less known is that Christianity also has a theology of play. The same God who allows us to choose a vocation also allows us to choose an avocation – that is to say, something you do for enjoyment, a hobby.

The Christian theology of play begins with the Sabbath: “By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work” (Genesis 2:2). God’s example of work and rest at the time of creation became the pattern for our own work and rest – six days of labor and one day of leisure. Those who try to work seven days a week year after year generally do so by paying a very high price in other areas.

It has been said that “all work and no play would make Jack a dull boy.” It would also make Jack a very tired boy. God knew which pattern would be the best for us to follow. Unfortunately too many people would work eight days every week and fifty-five weeks each year – if that were possible. A work schedule anywhere close to this gives no priority to regular rest and relaxation or for meaningful relationships with others.

God made us in such a way that we need to take planned and periodic times for leisure. This allows the body and spirit to rejuvenate and replenish lost energy. People who try to “burn the candle at both ends” often pay a severe price by having serious health problems. If all we ever did was work, life would lose a great deal of its joy. All work and no leisure can lead to what medical doctors and psychologists call “burnout.”

Leisure, however, has a problem: it can easily become an object of idolatry. Few cultures have ever been as obsessed with entertainment and having fun as our own: sports, movies, video games, even what is called recreational shopping – and the list goes on and on.

Those with such obsessions can’t wait for the weekend to come. For them, having fun has become their primary goal, and work has become the means to that end. They are guilty of playing at their work and working at their play. They are like the fellow who wanted a job where he could go to work at noon, get off at one o’clock, have an hour for lunch – and for doing that be given a huge salary plus additional benefits.

For the Christian, God’s Word teaches that both work and play come under the lordship of Jesus Christ. There should always be a proper balance between the two in our daily and weekly schedule. This keeps God at the center of both labor and leisure. If He is not at the center of everything we do, can we honestly say that He is at the center of anything we do.

Remember these five things: (1) Work is the meat; leisure is the dessert; (2) If you enjoy what you do, you will never work a day in your life; (3) Success is sweet, but its secret is sweat; (4) Your work is a portrait of yourself; and (4) What you do with your leisure time is also a portrait of yourself.

 

 

 

Suggested Title: The theology of work . . . and of play

Dr. James Dobson in his book, “What wives wish their husbands knew about women,” shares a class theme written by a third grade girl entitled: “What is a grandmother?” It is a classic for sheer wisdom and utter simplicity:

“A grandmother is a lady who has no children of her own. She likes other people’s little girls and boys. A grandfather is a man grandmother. He goes for walks with the boys and they talk about fishing and stuff like that.

“Grandmothers don’t have anything to do except to be there. They’re old so they shouldn’t play hard or run. It is enough if they drive us to the market where the pretend horse is, and have a lot of dimes ready. Or if they take us for walks, they should slow down past things like pretty leaves and caterpillars. They should never say ‘Hurry up.’

“Usually grandmothers are fat, but not too fat to tie your shoes. They wear glasses and funny underwear. They can take their teeth and gums off. They don’t have to be smart, only answer questions like, ‘Why isn’t God married?’ and ‘How come dogs chase cats?’

“Grandmothers don’t talk baby talk like visitors do, because it is hard to understand. When they read to us they don’t skip or mind if it is the same story over again. Everybody should try to have a grandmother, especially if you don’t have television, because they are the only grown-ups who have time.”

Children tend to see others without all the veneer adults build into and around human relationships. The third grade girl’s theme about grandmothers gives us the opportunity to express our appreciation for this very special group of people and the role they play. Any woman who endures the training period of being a mother long enough to have grandchildren has earned the right to be a card carrying grandmother.

Though God has given to grandmothers a special sphere of influence within families, the word “grandmother” is mentioned only once in the Bible. Paul, in writing to Timothy, said, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5). Timothy’s grandmother was the first member of his family won to Christ. She shared her faith with her daughter, Eunice. Eunice passed it on down the line to her son, Timothy. It is the way God wants Christian families to function.

Perhaps you have (or had) a grandmother like Lois who has (or had) the kind of impact on your family that Lois, Timothy’s grandmother, had on her family. Your grandmother perhaps wears (or wore) glasses and funny underwear and takes (or took) her teeth and gums out at night. But to a significant degree you are the person you are because your grandmother started the ball of positive influence rolling in your family.

A grandmother has been described as a person who comes to your house, spoils your children, and goes home. They have a lot of fun doing it. One grandmother several years ago said to me, “If I had known having grandchildren would be so much fun, I would have had them before I had my children.” God’s plan of growing grandmothers up through the joys and hazards of motherhood is a vastly better idea.

Only a woman whom God has trained to become a good mother has the experience and ability to be an effective grandmother. Please join me in thanking God for all dedicated grandmothers!

 

Resentment between church members is just one of the problems with which Christian ministers have to grapple if they are to successfully lead the church they serve to fulfill its divinely assigned mission. Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines resentment as “a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury.”

Resentful people, of course, can be found in every walk of life. They work in the office where you are employed. They are members of your civic club, sing next to you in the church choir, and sit on a church pew in close proximity to where you sit. They come in all sizes and shapes and are not limited to a single age group. They can even be, and often are, members of your own family.

When something is said or done within a marriage that leads to resentment, it creates misery for every member of that family. I recently saw a true-to-life cartoon of a couple who had gone to a marriage counselor seeking guidance. The wife said to the counselor, “And you would never guess what he did on our honeymoon twenty-one years ago?” Can you imagine how much suffering an entire family would endure when resentment is allowed to metastasize for twenty-one years?

Persons whose minds are poisoned by resentment live in a dark world ruled by suspicion and distrust. They thrive on negativity because they believe they have been victimized. They experience little joy because they look at life through dark glasses.

Resentment is generally accompanied by two other counterproductive attitudes:

Initially, it gives birth to an attitude of hostility. This generally leads to criticism of others and possibly even to acts of aggression. Hostility directed inward can lead a person to have thoughts of suicide. Hostile people vacillate between depression and anger. They can cause any person who happens to be in their vicinity to have a most unpleasant day.

Resentment also gives birth to anxiety. Those who are anxious tend to worry about problems – even those they have never had and will likely never have. Every day they find something to be angry or anxious about or someone to be resentful toward. They live in a prison that they themselves have built brick by brick, and they don’t even know it. They need to learn that anxiety never robs tomorrow of its problems or sorrows; it only saps today of its strength and joy.

If your life is dominated by a spirit of resentment, God’s Word says there are at least four things you can do to be released from it:

First, you must admit you are resentful. You will never be able to change and be freed from what you refuse to admit and confront. Those who make excuses for their irrational behavior will continue to behave irrationally. Resentment that is nurtured continues to grow.

Second, go to the person who offended you and be reconciled. If you have allowed something to build a wall between you and a member of your family, or between you and someone in your church family, or between you and a friend where you work – go to the person who offended you and make an earnest effort to be reconciled. “If you will not forgive another of their offense toward you, God cannot forgive your offense toward Him” (Matthew 6:12).

Third, call a halt to your pity party. Stop blaming your mother or father or someone else for the problems you have. No matter what has happened in the past to cause difficulty in your life, you alone make the choices that affect your life. Choices, whether positive or negative in nature, have consequences – every single one of them! You are today what you decided yesterday to become. What you decide today will determine your attitude the rest of today and what you become tomorrow. In other words, you are as happy or as miserable as you choose to be. Stop playing the blame game.

Fourth, ask God to strengthen and guide your attitudes and actions. I’ve tried it, and it works! If you will do these four things and not look back, you will never regret it.