As Jesus passed on from there. He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him. (Matthew 9:9, N.K.J.V.)

A little boy got mad at his mother and decided to run away from home. A neighbor looked out the window and saw him on his tricycle going around and around in a circle in the driveway. The neighbor walked over there and said, “Son, why are you going around in circles in your driveway?” The boy said, “I’m running away from home, but mommy won’t let me cross the street.”

Many people, including many Christians, are merely going around and around in circles in life. They aren’t maturing. They aren’t growing spiritually. They aren’t getting anything done for Christ. They are just sort of trapped in an unproductive loop from which they either can’t or won’t break free.

One day Jesus walked up to a tax-collecting booth and said to Matthew, a Jewish man working as a tax collector for the Roman government, “Follow me.” In those early weeks of Christ’s earthy ministry, He had already been baptized by John the Baptist, tempted by Satan, performed His first miracle and probably several others, cast the money-exchangers out of the temple. and done a fair amount of preaching in not only the southern part of the land (Judah) but also the northern part (Galilee). So, Matthew had probably heard of Him. There is, however, no scriptural record of Matthew having talked with Jesus or even seen Him before Jesus said to Him, “Follow me.” Still, Matthew immediately left his booth, followed Jesus, and became one of the chosen 12 apostles.

Was that encounter Matthew’s salvation experience? Apparently. Was it his call into full-time ministry? Yes. Sometimes those two moments really can occur at the same time. The point, though, is that Jesus didn’t say to Matthew, “Believe in me and stay here.” No, He said to him, “Follow me.” That word “Follow” told Matthew that Jesus was going to lead him to new places. He had a plan for the rest of Matthew’s life, a plan that would take Matthew into unchartered areas of service. There would be no going around and around in circles, never getting anywhere, for Matthew.

It is interesting that when the gospel writers Mark and Luke offer their accounts of Christ’s calling of Matthew (Mark 2:13-14; Luke 5:27-28), they use the name Levi, which was Matthew’s birth name. Matthew, on the other hand, uses the name Matthew in his account. Evidently Matthew was the new name given to him by Jesus. It is as if Matthew is saying to his readers, “I don’t even want to remember who I was before I followed Jesus.”

Right now, no matter who you are or what station you hold in life, Jesus is saying to you, “Follow me.” If you are not a Christian, He is saying, “Follow Me and in so doing experience salvation right here and right now.” If you are already a Christian, He is saying, “Follow Me and let Me take you into new areas of service wherein I can use you.” He doesn’t want your life to ever get stale, stagnant, and boring, but He doesn’t want you to go racing off to do things that aren’t His will, either. What He wants is for you to always follow Him. It is often said that we need to be in good fellowship with Jesus. Well, the way to be in good fellowship with Him is to be in good followship with Him. You do that, and you’ll be amazed at the places to which He will take you and the ways in which He will use you.

Posted in Belief, Change, Commitment, Courage, Decisions, Dying To Self, Faith, God's Will, God's Work, Ministry, Obedience, Salvation, Service, Submission | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Good Old Days

Do not say, “Why were the former days better than these?” For you do not inquire wisely concerning this. (Ecclesiastes 7:10, N.K.J.V.)

Most of us have a tendency to pine for earlier days in our lives. I myself have a couple of time periods that I would thoroughly enjoy revisiting. One of them constitutes the years of my youth, those days when I didn’t have a care in the world other than that pesky business called school. The other one constitutes those years when my two sons, Ryan and Royce, were little fellows. I guess you might say what ties my two time periods together is the theme of little boys getting to be little boys.

It is interesting, however, that our text verse instructs us not to think of the so-called “good old days” as being better than the current ones. We’re not to ask, “Why were the former days better than these?” Solomon says, “When you ask such a question, you aren’t inquiring wisely.” In other words, you aren’t thinking straight if you think the former days were better than the ones you are experiencing now.

Let me use my own life as an illustration. Do you know why God would never classify those days of my youth as being better than the days I’m living now? It’s because I am serving Him so much more prolifically now. Back then, my service pretty much amounted to going to church, doing a little praying, and reading my Children’s Living Bible when the mood struck me. That was it. I certainly wasn’t preaching sermons and serving as the pastor of a church.

The same can be said of those years when Ryan and Royce were very young. Yes, I was preaching and serving as a pastor at that time, but I wasn’t writing blog posts, didn’t have my sermons on You Tube, and didn’t have a radio ministry on four national stations. Therefore, from God’s perspective, my current days are better than those previous ones because I’m reaching a lot more people now than I was back then. Consequently, I’m earning more rewards, eternal rewards, for my efforts.

Speaking more practically, the benefits of machinery and technology that I currently enjoy are way better than any previous days I’ve known. The house of my youth didn’t have central air-conditioning, but the house I’m currently living in does. I had a push mower to mow the yard of that place, but now I have a riding mower. I used to be happy if channel 3 (CBS), channel 4 (NBC), and channel 13 (ABC) were coming in clear, but now I have hundreds of crystal-clear channels through Dish Network. If I had to miss a television show back then, well, that was just my tough luck. Now I have a DVR, which is even better than my VCRs that came before it. Leftover food used to be eaten cold out of necessity, but now I have this thing called a microwave. A bicycle or a motorcycle used to be my only means for independent transportation, but now I have my own car. Oh, and did I mention this modern marvel called the internet? It sure is better than that World Book Encyclopedia set my mom and dad paid good money to buy.

Getting back to those days when Tonya and I were raising our two little ones, as wonderful as those days were, we are now enjoying blessings they never provided. For example, Ryan is a college graduate who is now fully employed as a p.e. teacher/coach at one of our county’s local schools. He has grown into a fine young man. As for Royce, he just completed the courses for his two-year Associates degree at the local community college and will be graduating from there in a few days. This fall he’ll begin his classes at a local university in order to earn his four-year Bachelor’s degree. During their younger days, Tonya and I could only hope and pray that the boys would turn out as well as they have. The accomplishments they’ve already locked away remind me of another verse from Proverbs, one that comes just before our text verse. I’m talking about Proverbs 7:8, which says: “The end of a thing is better than its beginning…” (N.K.J.V.).

You see, the key to you fully appreciating your current days is simple: You must focus on everything that is BETTER now rather than focusing upon everything that is WORSE now. It really is all a matter of perspective. One writer has even said that if we live long enough, we might very well look back upon the days we are experiencing now and think of them as the good old days. Wouldn’t that be an ironic twist? Regardless of what happens in the future, what is certain is that we can find plenty of blessings in what is going on right now if we will only look for them. Trust me, they really are there. You just have to get your mind off that romanticized, idealized past of yours and start recognizing all the things that are better now than they were back then.

Posted in Aging, Attitude, Complaining, Contentment, Human Life, Personal, Thankfulness | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

The Curious Case of the Tribes of Reuben, Gad, & Manasseh

God had given the land of Canaan to Israel (Abraham’s descendants, the Jews). Some forty years after unbelief and cowardice cost them their first opportunity to make the land their own (Numbers 14:1-38), God again guided them to its brink for a second chance at taking possession of their possession. Conquering Canaan and settling it involved crossing the Jordan river.

A curious thing happened, though, before the nation crossed the Jordan and began the military push westward into Canaan. Three distinct groups of Israel decided they liked the land on the east side of the Jordan enough to settle down there and live out their lives. Those groups were the tribe of Reuben, the tribe of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh. The story of this event is told in Numbers chapter 32.

The land in question was known as Jazer (the northern part of the land) and Gilead (the southern part of it) and had been brought under Israel’s control when Israel’s army had defeated the armies of the Amorite king Sihon and the Bashanite king Og on its march toward the Jordan (Numbers 21:21-35; 32:33). As it so happened, the land was incredibly lush and perfect for raising livestock. This fact wasn’t lost on the tribes of Reuben and Gad, two tribes that had large amounts of livestock. Consequently, their leaders went to Moses and asked that the land be given to those tribes for a permanent dwelling place (Numbers 32:1-5).

Moses’ initial reaction to the request was not favorable to say the least. For one thing, he didn’t want the nation to undertake its military conquest of Canaan minus the men of two tribes (Numbers 32:6). For another, he feared that allowing those two tribes to settle east of the Jordan would create enough discouragement among the rest of the nation to cause a second failed attempt at conquering Canaan (Numbers 32:7). He even accused the leaders of the two tribes of acting like their forefathers who had refused to take Canaan forty years earlier (Numbers 32:8-15). He told them, “If you turn away from following the Lord, He will once again leave our people in the wilderness, which will mean that you have destroyed all of us” (32:15).

Being taken aback by Moses’ strong words, the tribal leaders of Reuben and Gad proposed a deal. They said, “We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, and then our fighting men will leave our livestock, little ones, and wives in order to take the lead in moving the army of Israel into Canaan” (Numbers 32:16-17). They promised Moses, “We will not return to our homes until every one of the children of Israel has received his inheritance in Canaan” (Numbers 32:18).

This deal was acceptable to Moses, and he gave the two tribes permission to build their sheepfolds and their cities (Numbers 32:20-32). He did warn them that their sin would surely find them out if they reneged on the deal (Numbers 32:23), but ultimately that wouldn’t be a problem. According to Joshua 22:1-4, the tribes held up their end of the bargain very well.

At some point toward the end of the negotiations, half the tribe of Manasseh decided that they too wanted to join the people of Reuben and Gad in living on the east side of the Jordan (Numbers 32:33). In an interesting twist, once all the fighting was finally completed, the tribe of Manasseh actually received land on not only the east side of the Jordan but also the west side. Half the tribe settled on the east side in territories they had won by driving out the previous inhabitants (Numbers 32:39; Joshua 13:1-7), and the other half settled on the west side in land that was allotted to them by Joshua (Joshua 13:8-12; 22:7).

Still, the central question regarding the tribes that settled on the east side of the Jordan is always: “Were they right to do so?” Truth be told, Bible scholars and commentators differ in their opinions on the matter. I’ll lay out the basic cases for each point of view and let you decide which camp you think has the right take.

Commentator William Macdonald is a good example of those who don’t think the tribes were wrong in what they did. In his Believer’s Bible Commentary, he points out that God had actually given the land east of the Jordan to the people of Israel and told them to possess it (Deuteronomy 2:24, 32; 3:2). With this in mind, he then logically asks the question, “What was to be done with the land east of the Jordan River if none of the children of Israel were to settle in it?”

Likewise, James Mays, in The Layman’s Bible Commentary, says, “…this geographical separateness was not a division of the unity of all Israel as responsible for her mission and as recipients of the Lord’s blessing.” Similarly, B. Maarsingh in Numbers: A Practical Commentary, says of the deal proposed by the leaders of the tribes of Reuben and Gad, “In this promise a very different mentality comes through. No longer were they implying that they would be satisfied if only they got their share; rather the message that comes through is, “We are together one people; we live by only one promise and are led by one God.”

The Baker Commentary on the Bible takes its assessment of the situation to an even further extreme by saying the following: “The wise provision of the sovereign Lord for his people is clearly seen in this account. He provides for the needs of the cattlemen; he gives an enlarged inheritance to Israel (more than the west side of Jordan); he provides warriors to lead Israel in its further conquests.”

The majority of scholars and commentators, however, believe that the tribes were wrong in what they did. Many point out the practical problem of the tribes on the east side of the Jordan not having the river as a natural protective barrier against enemy attacks from the east. This, accordingly, allowed those tribes to be the first ones to be conquered when the Assyrian empire started marching westward and making inroads to conquering Israel’s northern kingdom (2 Kings 15:29).

Moving from the practical to the spiritual, the New Scofield Study Bible calls the tribes that settled to the east of Jordan “world-borderers” and compares them to “carnal Christians.” Along the same lines, in his Matthew Henry Commentary, Matthew Henry surmises that the lust of the eye and the pride of life caused the tribes to make their request. David Jeremiah, in The Jeremiah Study Bible, follows suit by attributing their request to them being “unable to wait for the best.”

Merrill Unger also favors this interpretation of the tribes choosing to settle for less than God’s best. In his Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament, he writes: “How easy it is for God’s people to get so near to what is God’s purpose for them and yet be diverted from it by what is expedient from a worldly standpoint… Especially is this true of the good and providentially advantageous things of this life that in themselves are by the mercy of God, but which, if we settle down in them, become the ‘good’ that is the enemy of the ‘best’ that God has for us. This is what happened to Reuben and Gad with regard to their very great multitude of cattle and their desire to settle down in the place that was a place for cattle, but not the place of full blessing God had promised them.”

George Williams, in The Student’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, is especially critical of the tribes. He writes: “The path of self-will is never so smooth as that of faith and obedience. God’s plan for Israel was first to conquer Canaan, and then, the vast region between the Jordan and the Euphrates. Reuben and his allies elected to reverse this; the result was present suffering and future loss. They had immediately to bid farewell to their wives and children and march away to a seven years war, in which many of them would probably lose their lives; and later on, they were the first tribes to be carried into captivity and exile…”

Coming at the criticism another way, J. Vernon McGee, in his Thru the Bible commentary, transfers the whole story into the New Testament world by mentioning that the people of Gadara, whom Jesus encountered when He cast a host of demons out of the Gadarene demonic and into a herd of swine (Mark 5:1-20), were the descendants of the tribe of Gad that had once settled in that general area. McGee writes: “Now who are the Gadarenes? They are the tribe of Gad, living on the wrong side of the Jordan River. And when Jesus came to them, He found them in the pig business, you remember. And when He healed the demon-possessed man, the Gadarenes asked the Lord Jesus to leave their country! They had gotten into a sad condition. This always happens to the child of God who fails to cross Jordan and get into the Land of Promise.”

As you can see, the camps on both sides of the debate make good arguments to support their cases. I myself probably tend to favor the interpretation that all those who settled on the east side of the Jordan missed God’s fullest slate of blessings upon their lives. Could what they did be classified as “sin”? I wouldn’t call it that, but I do suspect that they somehow missed out on the highest and best that God had in mind for them.

I will admit, though, that those people did a lot with that land. Numbers 32:34-42 lists all the cities they either built or renamed for the Lord, and the livestock produced by those tribes became known throughout all Israel. As evidence of this, Psalm 22:12 refers to the strong bulls of Bashan.

Does this productivity mean that those Jews actually were in God’s will by dwelling in that land? Perhaps. Then again, it’s quite common for people outside God’s will to get a lot accomplished in terms of worldly affairs. As I said, I lean toward siding with Merrill Unger, David Jeremiah, and all the others who believe that those people missed God’s ideal best. I won’t sneer at you, though, if you lean toward the other side. It really is an interesting debate, one that we won’t know the full answer about until we get to heaven. Until then I won’t come down like thunder on those tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, but I won’t sing their praises, either. And if I ever find myself being tempted to settle down in a land that I’m a little dicey about, I’ll be sure to seek God’s wisdom and will all the more to make certain that I get the decision right.

Posted in Choices, Decisions, Desires, Discernment, God's Will, Impatience, Patience, Temptation, Waiting | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things. (Philippians 4:8, N.K.J.V.)

This verse has always haunted me in regards to some of the television programs I watch, some of the movies I watch, and some of the music I enjoy. I mean, just how “pure” are those old westerns? Just how “lovely” are those scary movies? Just how “noble” is all that 1980s music?

Several years ago I heard a fundamentalist Baptist preacher preach against listening to any and all secular music. Since his congregation consisted of a bunch of older people, he specifically referenced what we might call “good-time oldies” music. I’m talking about rock-and-roll music from the 1950s and 1960s. The preacher said, “You say, ‘I just listen to the golden oldies.’ Well, you know what those songs are, don’t you? They are what we were preaching against back then!” I had to laugh because the man did make a good point.

Christian liberty might be loosely defined as “Christians being permitted to do certain things that are not specifically forbidden in scripture.” By that definition, a lengthy list of debatable actions can be placed under that heading. That list could include: watching movies, listening to secular music, playing video games, celebrating Christmas, drinking alcohol without getting drunk, undergoing plastic surgery, attending Nascar races, riding Harley Davidsons, and women wearing makeup.

The pushback to majoring in Christian liberty is the fact that Christians are scripturally forbidden from loving the world or even having friendship with it (1 John 2:15-16; James 4:4). The Bible uses the word “world” to refer to the planetwide system that operates in opposition to God. This is the “world” over which Satan rules (2 Corinthians 4:4; John 12:31). The question becomes, though, can’t the case be made that just about everything is a part of this system?

Think about it, if theme parks are part of the world system, are we in sin for visiting them? If the NFL is part of the world system, are we in sin for watching the Super Bowl? If Hollywood is part of the world system, are we in sin for watching movies? If the music industry is part of the world system, are we in sin for listening to secular music? If the video game industry is part of the world system, are we in sin for playing video games? Speaking for myself, I’m still looking for that line that runs between enjoying Christian liberty and committing the sin of being friends with the world.

And then there is the fact that even sinless activities can become hinderances to the Christian. No one understood Christian liberty better than the apostle Paul, and he said, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify” (1 Corinthians 10:23, N.K.J.V.). The word “edify” is defined as “to build up.” That means, Christian, that even if certain activities don’t tear you down, you might be better off forgoing them because they don’t build you up.

This brings us to the title of this post. At what point does the phrase “garbage in, garbage out” start applying to the Christian’s walk with Christ? If we watch either too many movies or even just one that we’d be better off not watching, does that harm our ability to serve Christ? If we get on Netflix and binge watch the latest popular t.v. series, does that make us worldly Christians? If we listen to secular music, does that make us friends with the world? If we spend time playing video games, whether those games be the latest Madden football game, the latest Call of Duty war game, or whatever, does that make us bad Christians?

As is the case with so many areas, I suppose what we are looking for here is a God-approved balance. On the one hand, we don’t want to become good little legalists who can’t enjoy life because we are walking around in constant terror of committing some sin. Remember, Jesus did say “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:30, N.K.J.V.). On the other hand, we don’t want to become good little worldlings who operate more like friends of the world than friends of the Lord, either.

Again, I freely confess that striking this proper balance continues to be a work in progress in my life. One thing I have learned is that I can find certain things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, virtuous, and praiseworthy in venues that have nothing to do with church gatherings or gospel singings. That Baptist preacher I heard preach that night would disagree with my take on that, but he’s not the one that I’m trying to please anyway. Therefore, I’ll just keep serving the Lord and let Him keep teaching me where those boundaries of Christian liberty fall regarding the things I do.

Posted in Choices, Christian Liberty, Decisions, Doing Good, Entertainment, God's Will, Grace, Music, Personal, Sin, Sports | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What Satellite Chips Have to Do with Holy Conduct

…as He who has called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16, N.K.J.V.).

A country doctor had a sign in his office that read, “First visit $25. All other visits, $10.” A cheapskate who was new in town walked in for a physical but didn’t want to pay the first-visit price. In his attempt to save the extra $15, he greeted the doctor by saying, “It’s good to see you again, doc.” The doctor knew instantly that he’d never met the man but played along and proceeded with the exam. When he finished he said, “Well, the bad news is that your condition is quite serious.” Now worried, the cheapskate nervously asked, “What should I do, doc?” Without showing an ounce of emotion, the doctor replied in a monotone voice, “Just keep doing what I told you to do the last time.”

Life can get hard, and when it does we are tempted to cheat a little to get by. For the Christian, however, this should never be an option. We serve a holy heavenly Father, we have been saved by a holy Savior, and we have the holy Spirit living inside each of us. If all that isn’t enough, our text passage calls us to be holy in all our conduct.

Like many people nowadays, my family has a small satellite that is mounted to a corner of the roof of our house. That satellite captures a programming signal from deep space and sends it inside our home to a couple of receiver boxes that are hooked into our four televisions. That process enables us to enjoy satellite television programming on each of those tvs. But I am old enough to remember those massive NASA-sized satellites that many people in rural areas used to have sitting in their yards. Those behemoth satellites were the precursors to the smaller units that we know today.

When those first home satellites hit the market, you could purchase one and then sit back and watch any and every television channel that was known to man. I mean, if it was broadcast via a satellite, you could find it somewhere on your dial. That included premium movie channels such as HBO, Cinemax, and Showtime. A few years later, though, those channels and many others started scrambling their signals. That meant that you now had to pay a monthly fee to subscribe to those channels in order to watch them.

Not long afterward, specially designed electronic chips started popping up on the black market. A satellite owner could pay a one-time price for a chip (the price was usually $100 or less), plug that chip into the satellite’s receiver box inside the home, and PRESTO all those scrambled channels magically became unscrambled. Paying that one-time small fee sure beat paying those high monthly prices to get to watch those channels.

There was only one problem with those chips: they were illegal! But that little issue didn’t seem to bother all the folks who were trying to “beat the man.” And, yes, a whole lot of those folks were professing Christians who got up every Sunday morning and went to church. I have to say that even back then I thought that behavior was pretty hypocritical. (This to say nothing, of course, of the whole other matter of Christians watching movies featuring profanity and nudity on HBO, or Hell’s Box Office, as some Baptist preachers started calling that channel.)

Eventually, the temptation to employ an under-the-counter electronic chip to get programming you weren’t paying for was defused. That happened when the people scrambling the channels got smart and started scrambling them afresh and anew each week. The chip-designers, whoever they were, couldn’t keep up with that, and even if they could have, people weren’t about to pay for a new chip each week. It would have been cheaper just to pay for the channels legally. That relegated the black-market-satellite-chip era to a relatively brief season in mankind’s sordid history.

For some reason, I had those old satellite chips on my mind today. I have to smile a little when I think back on those days even though I doubt that God found it amusing that many of His people were breaking the eighth commandment. By way of a reminder, that one reads: “Thou shalt not steal” (Exodus 20:15).

Like I said, life can be hard, and there are times when we are all tempted to sin just a little to make it easier. Whether it be cheating on income taxes, telling a half-truth, loading a baseball bat to give it more pop, or using an illegal chip to watch movie channels, we all have our individualized ways of lowering the bar of personal holiness. But what we must keep in mind is that God is watching us (pun fully intended), and He’s looking for holy conduct. That holds true for everyone, but it holds exceedingly true for anyone who claims to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

So, Christian, are you being tempted right now to lower your bar of holiness in order to get along a little easier? Oh, be careful of that. Remember, it’s far better to have a television screen with a scrambled signal than a life with one. Don’t mar your holy conduct and lose eternal reward just to gain a slight edge in a world that isn’t your real home anyway. If the Lord wants you to have a certain channel, He will make a way for you to get it without you resorting to sin. Just trust in Him, and let Him do all your programming.

Posted in Backsliding, Character, Choices, Decisions, Desires, Discipleship, Doing Good, God's Holiness, God's Will, Holiness, Personal, Personal Holiness, Sin, Temptation, Trusting In God | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

God Doesn’t Always Provide Simple Solutions

In his book Morning Devotions, Tom Wallace tells the following story:

Everybody’s heart went out to the little lady who hobbled through the waiting room of one of our local doctors. She was bent over like a horseshoe. A short cane kept her from toppling over. Her face bore the burden of her bent body. In just a few minutes she came out with a big smile beaming on her face. Her joy was evident. She walked tall with shoulders erect. “Amazing,” said one. “A miracle,” said another.”

The next person called in asked, “Doctor, we all saw that poor old woman go in there all bent over and then we all saw her come out straightened up, walking briskly with a big smile. What did you do to her?” “I really didn’t do much for her,” the doctor stated. “I just gave her a longer cane.”

Everyone enjoys a simple solution to a problem. We want it clean. We want it clear cut. I have to admit, though, that my dealings with the Lord have taught me that simple solutions aren’t always the way He rolls. For example, in John 9:1-7 Jesus restores a blind man’s sight by means of a rather complicated procedure. First, He spits on the ground and uses the saliva to make mud. Second, He rubs the mud on the man’s eyes. Third, He tells the man to go wash himself in the pool of Siloam. The Bible doesn’t even identify precisely when the man actually receives his sight in that whole process. All we’re told is that he went and washed, and came back seeing.

A similar story is found in Mark 8:22-26. For the healing in that instance, Jesus begins by taking the man by the hand and leading him out of town. Then Jesus spits on the man’s eyes, puts His hands of him, and asks him if he sees anything. The man answers, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Finally, Jesus puts His hands on the man’s eyes a second time, and at that point the man’s vision is perfectly restored.

I guess we might say that Jesus did provide the simplest solutions in each of these cases of blindness. In other words, He cured the blindness. But we’d be lying if we said that He provided those simple solutions simply. No, what He did in each situation was work through multilayered processes to bring about the solution. As for why He chose to work that way, He no doubt had His reasons. I particularly like Bible teacher John MacArthur’s suggestion that Jesus making the mud in the John chapter 9 story might have hearkened back to the time when He had created Adam out of the dust of the ground. As MacArthur theorizes, “Jesus may have used the clay (mud) to fashion a new pair of eyes.” Taking that possibility a bit further, if the man had been born without any eyeballs, Jesus using the mud to literally build two new ones would have made perfect sense.

Perhaps right now you find yourself faced with a serious problem, and you need the Lord to provide you with a solution. Naturally, you’d love for that solution to be a simple one. And maybe it will be. After all, I certainly don’t mean to imply that God’s solutions are always complex. With that said, though, don’t be surprised if a solution that you thought would be as simple as a touch or a word turns into a process involving spit and mud. During such times patience will be required on your part, and you’ll have to trust the Lord’s expertise concerning your problem. But if you will stick with Him, He will, in His timing, deliver your solution to your door. You might have to walk around seeing that solution through blurry eyes for a bit, but in the end your vision will clear up and you will see things exactly the way He wants you to see them. So, hang in there, trust the process, and let the Lord work you through whatever He wants to work you through in order to bring you to that solution that has your name on it. Rest assured, it really will be worth the wait.

Posted in Choices, Christ's Miracles, God's Timing, God's Provision, God's Will, Needs, Patience, Problems, Trusting In God, Waiting | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God’s Word Will Stand

God told the prophet Jeremiah to take a scroll and write on it all the words that God had spoken to him against not only the Jewish people but also against other nations (Jeremiah 36:1-2). Jeremiah carried out that assignment by having the scribe Baruch write out all the words that Jeremiah spoke to him (36:4). It is not known whether Jeremiah recited the words of his prophecies from memory or if he read them from scrolls on which they had previously been written. Whatever the details were, once the writing was completed Jeremiah told Baruch to go to the temple in Jerusalem and read the scroll in the hearing of the people during a day of national fasting (36:6). Jeremiah would have done the reading himself, but at that time he had been barred from the temple (36:5). By having the scroll read publicly, especially on a day when fasting was required, Jeremiah hoped that the people would turn from their sins and get right with God (36:7).

At least a year passed (compare 36:1 with 36:9) before the next day of fasting arrived, but on that day Baruch did as he was told by standing in a certain room above the temple’s courtyard and reading to the crowd of people who were gathered beneath him (36:10). A man named Michaiah heard that reading and went and told King Jehoiakim’s administrative officials what was read (36:11-13). Those officials then had Baruch come to them and personally read the scroll to them (36:14-15). The scroll’s prophetic words of doom concerning Judah threw a serious scare into those royal officers, and they instructed Baruch to go into hiding and to tell Jeremiah to do the same (36:16-19). As for the scroll, the officers kept it and placed it in the home of a scribe named Elishama (36:20).

Next, those officials went to King Jehoiakim, who was in the fifth year of his reign, and told him what the scroll said about the judgment that was prophesied to befall his kingdom (36:20). The king responded by having Jehudi, a member of his staff, fetch the scroll from Elishama’s home and read it out loud to the king (36:21). But Jehudi only got three or four columns into the reading before the king took Jehudi’s knife and started slicing up the sections of the scroll and tossing them into the fire that was burning in the hearth (36:22-23). The king himself showed no fear or remorse for this shocking act of literally burning the word of God (36:24). To the contrary, he commanded his son Jerahmeel and two other men to arrest both Baruch and Jeremiah (36:26).

And how did God respond to King Jehoiakim’s actions? He had Jeremiah and Baruch repeat the whole process of scroll writing, with Jeremiah again doing the speaking and Baruch again doing the writing to reproduce the destroyed scroll (36:27-28). The only difference in the second scroll was the fact that God added in a personalized word of judgment regarding King Jehoiakim. God’s added word of judgment was that Jehoiakim would be put to death, his body would lie unburied outside on the ground, none of his descendants would ever reign as king in Jerusalem, and those descendants would instead experience God’s hand of judgment (36:29-31). The demise of not only Jehoiakim himself but also his family and his kingdom of Judah was ultimately accomplished by the invading Babylonian army.

William MacDonald, in his Believer’s Bible Commentary, calls Jehoiakim’s burning of God’s word “a perfect picture of what liberals and rationalists have been doing with the Word of God ever since.” Harry Ironside, in his commentary, calls Jehoiakim “the first mutilator of the Word of God recorded in scripture.” Surely, however, scores of others have arisen throughout history to follow in Jehoiakim’s footsteps. Even now our modern-day Jehoiakims, in their blatant rebellion against God, are attempting to destroy what the Bible, God’s written word, teaches about abortion, homosexuality, gender, gender roles, and a whole host of other moral topics. As Jehoiakim found out, though, God’s written word cannot truly be denied. It will stand when everything else falls, and in the end those who try to destroy it will find that all they have really done is destroy themselves upon it.

Posted in Abortion, Bible Study, Current Events, Disobedience, God's Word, Homosexuality, Politics, Scripture, The Bible, Truth | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Bringing Down Giant Walls & Giant Men

In a devotion entitled “Spiritual Battles,” Ed Young Sr. uses Israel’s defeat of the walled city of Jericho (Joshua 6:1-27) as an illustration of how we Christians must overcome our own strongholds if we want to enjoy all the blessings available to us. He writes:

In every life there is a Jericho. You know what it is? It is that thing that would block you from becoming all that God wants you to be. Whether it is a besetting sin, a habit, or an attitude, our Jericho will block our way to the full blessing of God.

As long as we try to scale the walls and knock them down using our own resources, we will fail. We cannot win spiritual battles with weapons we have borrowed from the world’s arsenals. Instead, recognize how impossible it is to handle the situation on our own. Then, just be patient, be quiet, and soon — at God’s command — you will be able to shout the shout of faith that will bring the wall crashing down.

David refused to wear any armor when he went to fight the Philistine giant Goliath. Even when King Saul had David try on the king’s personal armor, David refused to wear it (1 Samuel 17:38-39). While it was true that David wasn’t used to wearing such armor, hadn’t trained with it, and hadn’t tested it in battle, he also had an innate understanding that the key to winning the battle was God, not any suit of armor. If God was with him, he wouldn’t need any armor to defeat Goliath, and if God wasn’t with him, no suit of armor would save him. David even told Goliath before the fight began, “The battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands” (1 Samuel 17:47).

Just as God brought Israel up against the great walled city of Jericho and David up against the mighty giant Goliath, He brings us up against “walls” and “giants” that we simply cannot defeat in our own power. We might think of this as Him stacking the deck to ensure that we must call up Him and seek His help. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we have no role to play in the battle. Like the Israelites marching around the walls of Jericho, and like David placing a rock in his sling, we should do our part to enable the victory to happen. But once we have done our part, we must look to God in faith and say, “Okay, Lord, the outcome is now up to you.” You see, we can march and pick up rocks until we faint from exhaustion, but what we can’t do is make walls and giants fall. Only God can do that.

Getting back to Ed Young Sr.’s devotion, he says that we must recognize how impossible it is to handle the situation on our own. Unfortunately, this is why many people continue to struggle with their strongholds year after year. They can’t defeat their Jerichos because they are leaving out the one indispensable element: God. And the bigger the walls of a Jericho are, the more indispensable God is to bringing them down. Therefore, I will leave you with this basic piece of advice: Whatever your Jericho (or Goliath, if you like that story better) is, do whatever God leads you to do about defeating it, and then cry out to Him in faith, asking Him to add in His indispensable power to complete the job. That, my friend, is how you bring down strongholds. It’s also how your faith in God gets strengthened, and the stronger your faith becomes, the more strongholds you will be able to conquer.

Posted in Addiction, Adversity, Dying To Self, Faith, God's Omnipotence, God's Sovereignty, God's Work, Obedience, Prayer Requests, Problems, Spiritual Warfare, Trials, Trusting In God | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Saving One

A young man on vacation at the beach got up one morning at dawn to take a stroll on the sand. As he made his way along he happened upon an elderly gentleman who was searching for starfish that had been stranded on the shoreline by the tide. Whenever the old man found one, he would carefully pick it up and fling it back into the ocean.

After following the gentleman for a while and watching him rescue several starfish, the young man approached him and asked, “Sir, why are doing what you are doing?” Somewhat surprised at the question, the gentleman answered, “If I don’t get these poor creatures back into the ocean they will die when the morning sun hits them.” “I understand that,” said the young man, “but the beach goes on for miles and there’s no way you can rescue all the starfish. I mean, if you think about it, how much difference can what you are doing really make?” At that point the elderly gentleman picked up another starfish, flung it into the ocean, and said, “It made a big difference to that one.”

In 1 Corinthians 9:19-22, the apostle Paul talks about his chameleon-like approach to attempting to win people to Jesus. He says, “I am free from all men, but I have made myself a servant to all men. I became a Jew under the law that I might win the Jews who live under the law. I became a Gentile not under the law that I might win the Gentiles who don’t live under the law. I became weak that I might win the weak.” But then he says, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22, E.S.V.).

You’ll notice that Paul had to exchange the word “all” with the word “some” in order to truthfully finish that last sentence. No matter how great he was at winning people to Jesus, there was no way that he was ever going to win everybody. Even Jesus Himself hadn’t been able to do that during His earthly life and ministry. However, in regards to each person that Paul got saved, his efforts made a big difference to that one. The point is that individuals matter, and getting just one saved makes all the effort worthwhile. Even mass evangelistic crusades in which hundreds are won to Christ can be boiled down to the individual salvation experiences of each of the hundreds.

Christian, have you ever seriously asked Jesus to use you to win someone to Him? If you haven’t, let me encourage you to start doing so. The fact is that you might have more spiritual impact upon that certain person than the world’s greatest evangelist could have. Whether that person be a family member, friend, neighbor, coworker, fellow student, or someone else, you can become the “Paul” who leads him or her into a saving relationship with Jesus. Will it be easy? Perhaps not. But whatever time, energy, and effort you put into it will be rewarded a zillion fold throughout eternity if you can win that person to Christ. So what are you waiting for? Get to it. Some “starfish” out there needs your help.

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Limburger Cheese, Traffic, & Roses

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. (Psalm 100:4, N.K.J.V.)

R.T. Kendall tells the story of some youngsters who played a prank on a man who had a prominent mustache. Somehow they got hold of some limburger cheese and gently rubbed it on his mustache while he was napping. When the man awoke he said, “This bed stinks.” He then got up off the bed, walked around the bedroom, and said, “This room stinks.” Next, he walked throughout all the rooms of his house and said, “This whole house stinks.” Finally, he walked outside, took a deep breath, and announced, “This whole world stinks!”

Like that fellow, we too can sometimes start thinking that the whole world stinks. Isn’t it funny how we can get up from a comfortable bed in the morning, put on nice clothes, enjoy a filling breakfast, walk out of a good home, start up a reliable vehicle, head off to a job that keeps all the bills paid, and then, as soon as someone cuts us off in traffic, decide that the whole world stinks? What about being thankful for another day to live? What about being grateful for that comfortable bed? Those nice clothes? That breakfast? That home? That vehicle? That job? For that matter, what about just appreciating the fact that we have the health and ability to get out there and ride that big wave called the “modern world”? I’ll guarantee you that there are people in hospital beds and nursing homes right now who would love to get up tomorrow morning, hit the highway, and have someone cut them off in traffic.

Our text verse is one we hear quoted a lot around the holiday we Americans call Thanksgiving. The truth is, though, that God bestows His blessings upon us every day and therefore should be thanked every day. That goes for saved believers as well as lost unbelievers. On the subject of God bestowing blessings upon everybody, Jesus pointed out that God makes His sun rise on not only the good but also the evil, and He sends rain on not only the just but also the unjust (Matthew 5:45). Jesus said that, by the way, as part of His teaching about how God loves His enemies, a teaching in which Jesus commanded His followers to likewise love their enemies (Matthew 5:43-48).

But it’s hard to show much love, either to our friends or to our enemies, when we go around grumbling all the time about life’s assorted problems. We have too much in common with that father whose son was once asked, “Does your dad spend a lot of time in his den?” To that, the boy replied, “No, he just growls all over the house.” I myself shutter to think what answer my two sons would give if someone ever asked them, “Does your dad complain much?” Let’s just hope they never get asked that.

Someone has said, “What a grand world this would be if we could forget our troubles as easily as we forget our blessings.” All I can say to that is, “Amen!” Unfortunately, me saying, “Amen!” to it isn’t the same as me actually doing my part to live it. Another quote I picked up somewhere along the way goes like this: “Don’t be mad about roses having thorns; be thankful that thorns have roses.”

Along about now I can hear someone saying, “Oh, that cutesy little saying ignores the problem. What we really need is some way to eliminate the thorns from the roses. That’s how we can truly make this world a better place.” Well, all I can say to that is, “Good luck, let me know how that goes for you.” But until someone actually succeeds in eliminating the thorns, I think the best way I can make this world a grander place overall and build a more enjoyable life for myself and my family is for me to do a better job of focusing on the roses rather than the thorns. And I’m sure that I’ll do that too, every single day I live, that is until the next time someone cuts me off in traffic.

Posted in Adversity, Anger, Attitude, Complaining, Contentment, Disappointment, God's Love, God's Omnipotence, God's Mercy, God's Provision, Grace, Human Life, Personal, Praise, Problems, Thankfulness, Work | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment