Far Better

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. (Philippians 1:21-23, N.K.J.V.)

The past few weeks have reminded me of how “far better” life in heaven must be than life upon this earth. Visiting hospitals, nursing homes, and Hospices will do that for you. Praying for folks who have lost loved ones will, too.

I’ll start with my dad. He recently spent a week in our local hospital recovering from a variety of physical problems (urinary tract infection, dehydration, a heart flutter, etc.). Even when he was released, he didn’t return home. Instead, he went to the physical therapy wing of a nearby nursing home. He’s scheduled to spend the next three weeks there doing physical therapy. Hopefully, once he completes the three weeks, he’ll be well enough to return home.

On the subject of nursing homes, a few weeks ago I visited a church member who had been placed in one in a county adjacent to ours. We had a blessed visit together, but it was obvious that she wasn’t well either physically or mentally. Now she has been transitioned to a Hospice care facility in another county. I visited with her there the day before yesterday but she didn’t rouse up enough to have a conversation. I did, however, spend the time having a good talk with one of her sons. He confirmed that death is imminent for her unless the Lord intervenes.

That same day I received news from one of my deacons that his sister had died. The news wasn’t surprising because she had hovering near death for some time, but that didn’t make the pain the family was feeling any less real. Actually, the woman’s death was something of a relief for her. I say that because she just couldn’t get better and didn’t want to go on struggling like she was struggling.

What I’m happy to report is that the common denominator in all three of these cases is that each person is a Christian. One of them is a Christian spending the next three weeks in a nursing home. Another one is a Christian currently residing in a Hospice care facility. And another one is a Christian who is now enjoying the wonders of heaven. In other words, one of the Christians is already in heaven and the other two have reservations awaiting them there. Heaven, of course, is a place devoid of hospitals, nursing homes, Hospices, hospital gowns, i.v.’s, catheters, and oxygen masks. Christian doctors and nurses will be there but there won’t be a need for their services. As David says of God in Psalm 16:11:

…In your presence is fullness of joy; At your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (N.K.J.V.)

Earthly life is hard. If you haven’t found that out yet, just keep living and you’ll learn it. Sometimes we bring the hardness upon ourselves as we make bad decisions and have to reap the harvests from those bad decisions. Other times, however, the hardness just seems to hunt us down like a hunter hunting his prey regardless of the fact that we haven’t done anything to deserve being hunted.

Despite everything, though, the end result for the Christian will be eternity spent with God. This is a promise that we must never let ourselves forget. No matter how hard life gets here upon the earth, this isn’t the final chapter of our book. Death is a comma, not a period, and for the Christian what follows the comma is heaven.

Isn’t it so encouraging that Paul, writing under the inspiration of God, describes the Christian’s death as “gain”? And isn’t it equally encouraging that he describes heaven as being “far better”? I sure do like the sounds of all that. And do you know what it makes me wonder? It makes me wonder just how much is wrapped up in that little word “far”! That deacon’s sister could tell us right now if we could talk to her, couldn’t she? But keep your chin up, Christian, because we’ll all eventually know the answer firsthand. That’s a Bible promise.

Posted in Adversity, Aging, Comfort, Death, Encouragement, Eternity, Heaven, Persecution, Personal, Problems, Restoration, Reward, Salvation, Sickness, Suffering, Trials | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Your Mind Is Like a Hotel

One writer has compared our minds to a hotel. The hotel manager cannot keep a problem person from entering the lobby, but he can keep that person from getting a room and staying there. Similarly, you cannot cannot keep a problem thought from entering the lobby of your mind, but you can definitely keep that thought from finding a lodging place and taking up residence there.

The Bible has a lot to say in regards to the importance of us keeping our minds right. Here’s a starter’s list of verses (all from the N.K.J.V.):

  1. Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)
  2. Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; (1 Peter 1:13)
  3. Set your mind on things above, not on things of the earth. (Colossians 3:2)
  4. and be renewed in the spirit of your mind. (Ephesians 4:23)
  5. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2)
  6. casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)
  7. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. (Romans 8:6)

The central theme of all these verses is that the mind is ground zero of the spiritual battleground. If you cannot keep your thoughts (at least for the most part) pure, holy, and Christlike, you stand no chance of living a life that is (at least for the most part) pure, holy, and Christlike. The old saying about computers is “Junk in, junk out.” Well, the same thing can be said of your mind. If you mentally take in enough junk, eventually that junk will work its way out to your conduct.

That’s why I encourage you to start paying closer attention to the thoughts that are entering the lobby of your mind. Those thoughts come in by way of the ideas and images presented in t.v. programs, movies, songs, news reports, internet sites, videos, books, magazines, and conversations you have with others. Some of the thoughts are worthy enough to be allowed a room in your hotel, but many of them should be shown the door as quickly as possible.

When I was growing up in the 1970s, a popular advertising campaign for the United Negro College Fund said, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” That slogan focused on the problem of many black kids not having enough money to attend college. The fact is, though, the slogan can also be applied to living the Christian life. Yes, a mind is a terrible thing to waste, and it’s a shame that so many Christians aren’t doing a better job of flashing the “no vacancy” sign at thoughts that are unworthy of the high calling of Jesus Christ.

Posted in Discernment, Discipleship, Entertainment, Music, Personal Holiness, Sanctification, Separation, Temptation | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How Jesus Speaks to His Followers Today

Here’s a companion post to my previous one about the indwelling Holy Spirit. This time let’s focus upon the relationship that Jesus had with the chosen twelve during His earthly life. As you know, those twelve men had the privilege of talking with Jesus, walking with Him, eating with Him, sleeping with Him, laughing with Him, being taught by Him, etc., etc., etc.

Okay, so here’s the question: How do you think the dynamics of all that activity played out on a daily basis within that group? What I mean is, do you think Peter woke up in the morning and said, “I feel like going to Jerusalem today, so let’s go”? Do you think Andrew said, “I’ve been studying and thinking a lot lately, so I’m going to be doing the teaching today”? Do you think John said, “I know what God the Father wants done in this situation, so I want the whole group to follow my lead”?

No, that’s not how things played out. Jesus was in charge of that group. He gave the daily travel plans. He did all of the teaching. He told them what God the Father wanted done in a situation. You say, “Well sure, but what does that have to do with me? I’m not around Jesus the way the chosen twelve were.” Well, Christian, if that’s your attitude, then you’ve missed the point of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

You see, the same Jesus who led the chosen twelve now lives inside you! Do you need some scriptural evidence of that? Sure, the Bible provides it.

For starters, Romans 8:9 says:

But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. (N.K.J.V.)

The teaching of this verse is plain. If an individual does not have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside him or her, that individual is not a true Christian. That’s what the words “not His” mean.

But now listen to the next verse, Romans 8:10, as it continues with this thought:

And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. (N.K.J.V., emphasis mine)

Did you catch what the Bible threw there? In verse 9, the Holy Spirit is described by the dual names “the Spirit of God” and “the Spirit of Christ.” What those dual titles show us is that Christ is God. Putting it another way, Jesus (God the Son) and God the Father are one. However, just as verse 9 says the Holy Spirit is literally in the Christian, verse 10 says that Christ is in the Christian. This proves that not only are Jesus and God the Father one, Jesus and God the Holy Spirit are also one.

What this means for you, Christian, is that you having the Holy Spirit dwelling inside you amounts to you having Jesus dwelling inside you. A parallel passage on this teaching is Ephesians 3:17, which speaks of Christ dwelling “in your hearts through faith” (N.K.J.V.). Another one is Colossians 1:27, which uses the phrase “Christ in you” (N.K.J.V.). In each of these passages the idea is that Jesus literally dwells inside the Christian’s body (by way of the indwelling Holy Spirit).

Furthermore, Jesus Himself said that having this kind of relationship with Him is even better than having the relationship the chosen twelve had with Him. In John 16:7, He says to His chosen twelve:

“…It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you” (N.K.J.V.).

We know, of course, that “the Helper” is a reference to God the Holy Spirit. Also, we know that Jesus did soon depart from those men as He died, resurrected, and ascended back up to heaven. And it was from heaven that He kept His promise to send the Holy Spirit to His followers. The story of how the Holy Spirit first began to indwell Christ’s followers is recorded in Acts chapter 2. That’s why we Christians can now rest assured that God the Holy Spirit does indeed dwell inside our bodies.

So, how should we react to this mind-blowing truth? We should spend our days and nights listening for the indwelling Holy Spirit’s voice as He speaks to us. We should hear His voice and obey it. This is our version of the chosen 12 hearing and obeying the voice of Jesus, and as such it is the the key to us walking in God’s will, being where He wants us to be, and doing what He wants us to do.

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Christian, Do You Truly Understand Who Lives Inside You?

Of all of the topics the apostle Paul addressed in his writings to Christians, the topic of the indwelling Holy Spirit was one of his most prevalent. Consider the following verse, which he wrote to the Christians of the city of Rome:

But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. (Romans 8:9, N.K.J.V., emphasis mine)

The teaching of this verse is clear: If you do not have the Holy Spirit dwelling in you, you are not Christ’s. In other words, you are not an authentic Christian. Also notice the verse’s references to the fact that God is a Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). In one portion of the verse, the Holy Spirit is described as being “the Spirit of God” but in a later portion He is described as being “the Spirit of Christ.”

Here’s another verse from Paul, this one to the Christians of Corinth:

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? (1 Corinthians 6:19, N.K.J.V., emphasis mine)

Unfortunately, it has become a common phrase for the nutritionist, the dietician, the fitness guru, the workout leader, or the bodybuilder to say, “My body is a temple.” Actually, however, the only person who can truthfully say, “My body is a temple” is the Christian. Why is that? It’s because the indwelling Holy Spirit is God, and wherever God dwells that place can be called a temple. Therefore, the Christian’s body is a temple.

But Paul wasn’t the only New Testament writer who taught that God the Holy Spirit literally dwells inside the Christian’s body. The apostle John taught this same truth. First, he gave us 1 John 3:24, which says of God:

Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in Him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. (N.K.J.V., emphasis mine)

Second, he repeats this thought in 1 John 4:13, when he says:

By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. (N.K.J.V., emphasis mine)

And then there is Jude, who described the lost apostate teachers of his day by saying in verse 19 of his book:

These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. (N.I.V., emphasis mine)

You see, what we have in all of these passages (as well as others like them) is basic Bible doctrine. God the Holy Spirit really does dwell within the true Christian. Even Jesus Himself refers to this awesome truth when He says in Revelation 3:20:

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. (N.K.J.V., emphasis mine)

How does Jesus come in to the Christian? He does it via the indwelling Holy Spirit. As I noted earlier, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are one.

And so what am I saying? I’m saying that we Christians need to start recognizing the indwelling Holy Spirit for who He is. He’s not Casper the friendly Ghost. He’s not the wind. He’s not a vapor. He is a person. He is GOD.

The Trinity is not God the Father, God the Son, and God the Bible. Jesus isn’t talking about the Bible when He says in John 14:26:

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. (N.K.J.V.)

Likewise, He isn’t talking about the Bible when He says in John 16:13:

However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth…. (N.K.J.V.)

Of course, I’m not trying to set the indwelling Holy Spirit against the Bible. The fact is, the Holy Spirit takes the Bible and helps us understand it and apply it. I’m simply saying that we need to get the Holy Spirit back to His rightful standing in our lives. Christian, the Holy Spirit is God, living inside you, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. He has a mind, a will, and a voice, and His voice is the voice that you need to start listening for and obeying.

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“Christian Verses” Podcast: Matthew 28:17

Christian, it’s okay to admit that you sometimes struggle with doubt. Trust me, that makes you normal. Some of the best Christians who’ve ever lived have wrestled with the problem. As a matter of fact, even some of Christ’s followers who literally saw Him with their own eyes in His resurrected body doubted what they were seeing.

In this week’s podcast, Malcolm and I deal with doubt in the life of the Christian. While we certainly don’t claim to have the foolproof remedy for the problem, we at least get the issue on the table and dissect it a bit. Hopefully, our frank discussion will provide some encouragement for any Christian out there who sometimes finds himself or herself hindered by doubt. Here’s the link:

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Look What I Saw

And you should follow my example, just as I follow Christ’s. (1 Corinthians 11:1, N.L.T.)

I feel led of the Lord to use this post to share something that I didn’t write. The piece I’ll borrow is primarily aimed at parents, but most of it can also speak to grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, or really anyone who has spends time around a young person, whether that young person be a family member or not. I offer the piece as both an encouragement and a motivation. I would gladly give full credit to its author by name, but it is only attributed to an anonymous “young adult.” Here we go:

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you hang my first painting on the refrigerator; and I immediately wanted to paint another one.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you feed a stray cat; and I learned that it was good to be kind to animals.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you make my favorite cake for me; and I learned that the little things can be the special things in life.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I heard you say a prayer; and I knew there is a God I could always talk to and I learned to trust in God.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you make a meal and take it to a friend who was sick; and I learned that we have to help take care of one another.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you give of your time and money to help people who had nothing; and I learned that those who have something should give to those who don’t.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you take care of our house and everyone in it; and I learned that we have to take care of what we are given.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw how you handled your responsibilities, even when you didn’t feel well; and I learned that I would have to be responsible when I grew up.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw tears come from your eyes; and I learned that sometimes things hurt and that it’s all right to cry.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw that you cared; and I wanted to be everything that I could be.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I looked at you and wanted to say, “Thanks for all the things I saw when you thought I wasn’t looking.”

Posted in Children, Doing Good, Family, Fatherhood, God's Work, Influence, Motherhood, Parenting, Service, Youth | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

No, We Don’t Preach “Easy Believism”

Baptists frequently get labeled with the accusation that we preach “easy believism.”  People say, “C’mon, there must be more to getting saved than praying a simple prayer in which you ask Jesus to be your Savior.” My response to that is, “No, there’s not more to the prayer itself, but there is a ton more to the decision that gets voiced by the prayer.”

I confess that over the years I’ve struggled to find illustrations that accurately depict the weight of the decision to trust in Christ (and Christ alone) for salvation. But I ran across a story recently that I thought did a pretty good job of it. See what you think.

In a northern town, a young woman was walking across the thick layer of ice atop a frozen pond. Everything seemed fine until suddenly, without warning, the ice broke and she fell into the bone-chilling water. As she hung there with her head barely out of the water and the rest of her body submerged, she clutched the ice around the hole with every ounce of strength she had in both hands. This allowed her to cry for help; and to her relief a man came running toward her.

The man grabbed both of her wrists and said, “I can’t pull you out as long as you are clutching the ice so hard. What I need you to do is let go of the ice and trust me to pull you up.” The logic made sense, but no way was the terrified woman going to let go of that ice. So, a standoff ensued for a few seconds as the man pleaded with her to let go and trust him. Finally, when the woman realized that she couldn’t hang there in that icy water any longer, she gave in and did as the man asked. He then immediately pulled her up to safety.

You see, what Jesus asks of each of us is that we stop clinging to the “ice” of good works, religion, spirituality, church, and anything else in regards to our salvation and simply place our full trust in Him. If we are going to get saved, we must let go completely and trust Him to pull us up to safety. The longer we wait to let go and trust Him, the worse our situation becomes.

Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches that salvation comes by grace (God’s undeserved favor) through faith (faith in Jesus). The passage also points out that salvation is a gift from God and as such cannot be earned as payment. If we could do something to earn it, we would have grounds to boast.

Getting back to the illustration, the young women had no reason whatsoever to boast that she saved herself. No, all she did was mess up and place herself in need of rescue. All the credit for the rescue had to go to the man who pulled her out of the water. And the same is true metaphorically of salvation. We sinners cannot save ourselves. All we can do is get ourselves into trouble. But when we let go of our own efforts and place our faith in Jesus to save us, He does the job that we can’t do.

Someone might ask, “But what about good works? Don’t they have something to do with salvation?” Yes, they do, but we must be sure to keep the order straight. The Bible offers an entire book, the book of James, to explain that once a person gets saved the salvation will produce good works. In other words, good works are the evidence of salvation, not the cause of it. Think of it this way: Good works cannot flow into salvation, but they will inevitably flow out of it.

So, summing up everything, salvation definitely isn’t easy. For one thing, it’s not easy to abandon the idea of saving yourself. Frankly, that’s a roadblock that some people just can’t get past. And then for another thing, it’s not easy to let Jesus change you in order to produce those good works that will evidence your salvation. Truth be told, some people really don’t want to change their ways, and so they want nothing to do with salvation.

And what becomes of all unsaved people? Tragically, they are left to hang in their precarious spiritual position for the duration of their lives until they slip on down into eternity to meet an even worse fate. Why? Is it because Jesus doesn’t love them or won’t save them? No, it’s because they don’t love Him and they won’t let Him save them.

Posted in Belief, Eternity, Faith, God's Love, God's Wrath, God's Mercy, Good Works, Grace, Heaven, Hell, Salvation, The Gospel, Trusting In God | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment