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Archive for August, 2017

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. When you see some people involved in what they call work you wonder what they will do when they retire. 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, 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.

 

 

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When we encounter difficult experiences in life, tears fall. They are not planned; they just happen. The pressure on the inside of us is relieved. It is why God created us with tear glands. King David of Israel knew this. It is why he, during a time of great difficulty, cried out to God, “I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears” (Psalm 6:6).

People from around the world, though they speak many languages, need no one to interpret for them the language of tears. In some mysterious way our inner emotional makeup knows when to admit our many limitations . . . and tears fall. Eyes that flashed and sparkled only moments before are flooded from a secret reservoir. They can run down our cheeks while we are standing with a friend during a difficult moment, or while we are singing a majestic hymn, or when we are totally alone, or when we are lost in some vivid and precious memory from a past experience, and on countless other occasions.

Were you aware that God takes special notice of your tears? In Psalm 56:8 David in prayer cried out to God, “”Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll – are they not in your record?” What this means is that every teardrop on earth summons the King of Heaven. He is aware of the inner friction that causes tears to flow. He has the power to turn every situation that produces our tears into a moment of tenderness.

One of the drawbacks of our modern, cold, sophisticated world is our reluctance to show tears in front of others for fear they will think we are weak. Parents have often said to their small children, “Don’t cry. Be strong!” For some reason we think that to cry is to show weakness. Many adults think it is immature to cry. How utterly absurd! How lacking in the understanding of human nature!

The prophet Jeremiah, often called by scholars “the weeping prophet,” knew that tears often demonstrate genuine strength, not weakness. He loved the people to whom he preached so much that he could not preach a sermon without having tears fall. He said, “Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people” (Jeremiah 9:1).

If you are a Christian, how long has it been since you have been so concerned about the spiritual welfare of a particular individual who did not know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord that you actually shed tears in his or her behalf? While serving as a pastor in Wilmington I tried for four years to win a man to Christ, but I was not successful. I failed largely because of the influence of the man for whom he worked. The man held leadership positions in his church, but his private life was filled with hypocrisy.

In 1981 before leaving the Port City to become pastor of the Sanford First Baptist Church I visited my friend one last time. I said, “Johnny, the only regret I have as I leave for Sanford is that I was not able to convince you to accept Jesus Christ as Savior.” Suddenly my eyes filled with tears. Three or four months after moving to Sanford I learned that he had become a Christian. No one had ever shed tears in his behalf before.

John, in his vision while on the isle of Patmos, envisioned a future time when the saved are gathered by God into the New Jerusalem. On that day there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain . . . for the old order of things will have passed away (Revelation 21:1-4). Tears on that day will be replaced by joy.

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If you were asked to select one of the aspects of God’s character as His crowning attribute, what would you select? Would it be His love, mercy, or goodness? Or would it be His sovereignty, omnipotence (all-powerful), or omniscience (all-knowing)?

All of these attributes describe God’s nature. I believe, however, that God has an even greater attribute than these: His faithfulness. All of the other attributes of God, as great as they are, would set us up for total disappointment if it were not for His faithfulness, His constancy His consistency, and His dependability. Paul affirms this view in writing to the Christians in Corinth: “God, who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful” (I Corinthians 1:9).

We humans are not always faithful, are we? People who stand at God’s altar to be married, and who promise to faithful to the vows they make “until death parts us” often break those vows. Politicians often make promises that are ignored or forgotten. People in business are not always faithful to do the things or provide the services they have advertised. People, even those we think can be trusted, are not always faithful. But God’s faithfulness never wavers.

What if God only loved us some of the time? Imagine what life would be like if God were gracious only under certain conditions? What if His goodness vacillated from time to time or according to circumstance? What if He were moody, given to playing favorites, or if He compromised His righteousness and justice? Life would be an absolute madhouse, wouldn’t it?

Because God is faithful we can sing with Henry F. Lyte, “Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day; Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away; Change and decay in all around I see, O Thou who changest not, abide with me.”

And God definitely does abide with us. He never acts out of character, never ceases to extend grace, and never contradicts His own nature. He will always love us. He stands by the covenant He has made with those who trust Him. We can always count on His promises being kept. The dominant note of the Bible is His faithfulness. He is always faithful to His own nature – and to us.

God’s faithfulness is rooted in His holiness. He is the one fixed point in a world that is in a constant state of change. “He is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). He can be counted on – always!

“Always” is a very long time. In the midst of the calamities so often present in our fallen world God relentlessly seeks to bring us into relationship with Himself. Only He can say without the possibility of contradiction, “I will always love you!”

The psalmist said, “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever; with my mouth will I make known your faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 89:1). The word “faithfulness” is used at least six times in this psalm.

Even when Jerusalem was overrun by enemies the prophet Jeremiah would not give up his dogged belief in the faithfulness of God, “This I will call to mind, therefore I have hope. Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is His faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23).

It is at the foot of Calvary’s cross that God’s faithfulness can most supremely be seen. This never ceased to amaze the apostle Paul. We see this in the words he used to encourage young Timothy, “If we remain faithless, He (God) remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).

This is possibly the best definition of God’s faithfulness in the entire Bible: “He cannot deny Himself.” He will always be who He is – always! It is because He is faithful in that all the other aspects of His nature are true and will never fail. You can depend on Him – always!

 

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One summer in the early 1990’s my wife and I traveled to Wilmington, N.C. to visit our family and a few friends. On our way back up highway 421 to Sanford we stopped at one of the vegetable stands farmers erect north and south of Clinton every summer to sell what they grow in their gardens. Vegetables are never fresher or more delicious than those you know were gathered from local gardens yesterday.

While Jessie and I were looking over the fresh corn, butterbeans, peas, watermelons, and cantaloupes that were for sale a man drove up and began to talk with the owner of the vegetable stand. It became quickly obvious from the content and tone of their conversation that he was a member of the same church as the owner of the stand. Every sentence he spoke was to sharply criticize their pastor.

He didn’t seem to know that humans are imperfect. We all make mistakes. You do, and I do. And yes, that includes all preachers. This self-appointed judge and jury, I presume, would have wanted the spiritual leader of his church to be perfect on his very first day as his pastor – and improve every day after that. He had no idea that listening to his diatribe was the pastor of Sanford’s First Baptist Church.

It was an unpleasant conversation for me to hear. After two or three minutes of venting his spleen of his caustic critique he finally made this remark, “I’ve told several of our members how we can get rid of that preacher – stop giving our money!” That statement was all I could endure, so I said to him, “Sir, that would only hurt your church, and it may not achieve your goal. I can tell you how to get rid of your preacher.”

He seemed interested in my suggestion, so I said, “The way to get rid of your pastor is to genuinely pray for him. Ask God to fill him with the Holy Spirit as he preaches. In addition to praying for him you can help him as he leads your church in fulfilling its divinely assigned mission. Then you should encourage every member of your church to join you in praying for him, and in helping him to share the gospel of Christ with your community. If you will follow these suggestions to the letter, God will make your church so successful that another church, probably larger than yours, will come along and take him off your hands.”

At this point Jessie and I got in our car with the vegetables we had purchased and traveled on up the road to Sanford. I would love to have heard what this very negative and divisive church member had to say once we had driven away. Having listened to his diatribe I doubt that he followed my suggestions. I have no idea who his pastor was, but I prayed for him. I knew that if he had many members of his church like this mean-spirited malcontent, he was going to need a lot more people praying for him than just me.

The call by God to be a Christian minister is a call to a 24/7 job. It is a joyful task, but not an easy one. If you want to help your pastor do a better job as the spiritual leader of your church, pray for him. So what if he or she doesn’t preach like Billy Graham. One reason for inadequate preaching is that there is so little praying in the pews. When your pastor is the recipient of the prayers of his parishioners, and is assisted by them in the sharing the good news of Christ, your church will make a powerful impact on your community.

While prayer works wonders, criticism is the parent of blunders. I learned a long time ago that those who can – do, and those who can’t or won’t – criticize. The best place for a church member to criticize is in front of a mirror. The critic who begins with himself will be too busy to take on outside contracts.

Church members do not have time to criticize when they harmonize, sympathize, and evangelize.

 

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John Bevere, in Driven by Eternity, tells the story of Arthur Stace, an Australian who was born into a life of hopelessness in the early 1900’s. His early adult life was dominated by alcoholism and filled with one petty crime after another. His lifestyle was dramatically changed when he was introduced to Jesus Christ on August 6, 1930 by an Australian pastor. The pastor, overjoyed at seeing him surrender his life to Christ, cried out, “I wish I could shout eternity through all the streets of Sydney!”

The pastor’s words made such an impression on Stace that he felt driven to make them a reality. He would rise early every morning, pray for an hour, and leave home before daybreak to go wherever he felt God led him. As he went he would write one word, eternity, every hundred feet on the sidewalks of Sydney. For more than twenty years his work was a mystery. Who was writing this single word that caused countless thousands to pause and ponder its meaning? What message was he trying to convey? It wasn’t until 1956 that people knew who had been doing this.

The single word, Eternity, had touched a nation. No race, tribe, or gender can resist the drawing power of that one word. Why is this true? “He (God) has set eternity in our hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Therefore, it is wise to delve deeper into what God says concerning eternity. Let us begin with these words, “From eternity to eternity, I am God. No one can oppose what I do” (Isaiah 43:13 TLB).

What does the word eternity mean? How can it be defined? How can it be understood? One dictionary defines it as “infinite time.” Another dictionary defines it as “the state of existing outside of time.” This initially sounds contradictory. The truth is that we cannot understand the meaning of the word. Our minds are finite. They do not have the ability to grasp perpetual or everlasting concepts. Psalm 90:2 states that God exists “from everlasting to everlasting.” Meditate on this thought for a while and you will understand why God’s Word says, “No one can begin to understand eternity” (Job 36:26).

Even though this is true, two things should be especially important to us: (1) That God is eternal, and (2) That it is His will for us to have eternal life through His Son. Since God is eternal, the truth He has spoken in His Word is eternal. It is a sure foundation upon which we can build our lives. Many today, however, are not building their lives on God’s eternal truth. Jesus said, “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day” (John 12:48 NEB).

Yes, there is a Judgment Day! It has been appointed from the foundation of the world (Acts 17:31). That day will not bring new revelations of truth; rather, it will measure all things by what has already been spoken. God’s Word will judge everyone at that last day. It will be final, for there will be no exceptions, alterations, or revisions. That is why God gives us grace. It is through His grace that we are able to obey the words He has spoken in a way that is acceptable to Him.

The key to eternal life is to know and believe what the King of Kings desires and looks for in our lives, not what seems good to society or to human reasoning. It is for this reason that God tells us, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing, and perfect will (Romans 12:2).

The door to eternal life is found at the foot of Calvary’s cross. You must go to the cross, confess your sins and lay them down, ask for God’s forgiveness, turn to the right and keep straight ahead.

 

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