The Vending Machine Approach

Vending Machine

Have you ever thought of God as a vending machine? Oh, this may not have been your conscious thought at the time, it wasn’t with me, but you believed if you behaved in a certain way the Lord would bless you with a trouble-free life or reward your service in some way. The money goes into the machine and out comes the blessing you desire or perhaps think you deserve.

That was me as a young pastor. Although I truly loved the Lord at the time, I possessed a faulty view of what it meant to walk with Him.

I expected God to bless me because of my behavior and when that did not happen I spiraled deep into despair in the midst of extreme adversity. Yes, the events in my life would have caused much distress without my faulty view of God, but my “good behavior in and blessings out” approach to walking with the Lord led to so much additional pain at the time as well as a loss of hope in my future.

As I studied the lives of several Bad guys of the Bible, I found that King Saul of ancient Israel approached God in precisely the same way. To my dismay, I discovered I was like him in many ways.

This is why I wrote Shipwrecked! There is so much insight we can gain from looking at where King Saul and other bad guys of the Bible went astray.

I also saw the danger of relying on religious behavior versus trusting God and His character. It did not end well for Saul who thought his sacrifice would deliver Israel from the Philistines rather than the God he was disobeying at the time.

This is why I wrote Shipwrecked! There is so much insight we can gain from looking at where King Saul and other bad guys of the Bible went astray. They dealt with the same emotions we feel and through their negative examples teach us the importance of not letting those feelings dictate our thoughts and actions and thereby shipwreck our lives.

For us as New Testament saints, they remind us of applying the Gospel to our everyday lives ever mindful of all the Lord has done for us in completely and forever obliterating all our many sins.

Shipwrecked! is available on Amazon.com and on the Bold Vision Books website. You can also order the book through your local Barnes and Noble book store.

A sample from my book Shipwrecked! can be found on the “Shipwrecked!” page of my blog, now titled Our Journey Home.

Please stay tuned as several exciting upgrades are on the way for my website during the next month.

What’s Your Destination?

Destination3

It seemed so simple. We would send our letter and earnest check for our new home in Illinois via certified mail. Our purchase contract for our new house allowed several days for the check to arrive.

After double-checking the address my realtor had provided, I took the letter to the post office in North Liberty, Iowa on March 30. The kind young man at the counter gave me the tracking information and said our check would be at its destination in Rockford, Illinois on Monday, April 2. I felt confident the check would arrive on time.

On April 2, I entered the tracking information only to discover that our certified mail was in the small town of Wellman, Iowa. After the tracking remained unchanged for a couple days, I went back to the North Liberty post office to find out what happened.

A helpful lady at the post office discovered that our mail had gotten stuck to another piece of mail that was headed for Wellman and had ended up there as well. She assured me that my letter had been sent back to Cedar Rapids, Iowa (the main hub in our area) and would soon arrive at its destination in Rockford.

The tracking, however, remained unchanged for four and a half days. Who knows what sights and sounds of America our letter and check enjoyed during this time?

Eventually, I wrote another check this time sending it via UPS, not the post office. Because we needed to make sure it got there by April 9, our realtor said to do this so we could be certain of its arrival.

Shortly after walking out of the UPS facility, our initial mailing mysteriously showed up again on the United States Mail tracking site. It was in Palatine, IL. This brought some relief knowing it was not hopelessly lost or the check in the wrong hands. At this point it seemed likely that the title company would now end up with two checks.

Clearly, this piece of mail had a love for Iowa and just refused to remain anywhere else.

After experiencing the wonders of a couple post offices in the Chicago suburbs, our mailing inexplicably found its way back to Cedar Rapids for a third time on its adventurous journey. After that, it went back to Wellman; no one can explain why it ended up back there. Clearly, this piece of mail had a love for Iowa and just refused to remain anywhere else.

Is not this experience like so many of our hopes and expectations for this life? Despite all our anticipation, they never quite fulfill their promise or take us to the place we hoped they would.

I am not saying that all earthly hopes disappoint us, not at all. However, even when the dearest of our dreams come true for us we eventually realize they are only temporary just like the rest of our life here on this earth.

This is why our hopes for eternity can bring us so much joy and relief. A joyous and eternal destination awaits for all who know Jesus as their Savior. We will not be disappointed.

When Jesus appears, He will give us wondrous glorified bodies that will no longer be subject to the pains and aging of this life. Revelation 21:4 promises that we are headed for an eternity where Jesus “will wipe away every tear from their [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore . . . .”

Unlike the check the check I sent that seemingly would have endlessly toured the Midwest never arriving at its destination, Jesus will not fail to bring His followers to their intended destination, the joyous and wondrous place He is now preparing for us. He is surely coming to take us home, perhaps very soon!

We can absolutely count on Him to fulfill our hopes beyond what we could ever imagine. He will not fail to get us to our appointed place and despite the seeming delay in His appearing, He will be on time.

What is your ultimate destination? Who or what are you counting on to get you there?

 

 

4 Strategies for Waiting

black-and-white-woman-girl-sitting

The idea for my book, Shipwrecked! Learning From The Bible Bad Guys, started with my study of the life of King Saul. I could see several of my faults in his life, particularly as I read about his unwillingness to wait for Samuel at a critical time during his reign.

From this wayward king, I discovered a strategy for waiting amidst the faulty reasons he gave to Samuel for his disobedience. If we can avoid the places where his thinking went awry,  it helps us wait for whatever we hope will happen soon, but doesn’t. We have all been there.

I believe if there is one shared experience among followers of Christ, it is that of waiting. He often makes us wait for:

  • The right person to come along to marry
  • The job we desire
  • The money to pay all our bills
  • Healing to get over the flu or a sinus infection
  • His intervention in a crisis we face
  • A slow driver to finally get out of the passing lane (perhaps of lesser importance)

I am sure you can add several other things to the above list. In an era where answers come so quickly via our computers and smartphones, it’s especially difficult when God does not immediately remedy our dilemmas.

So, what do we do when the Lord makes us wait, particularly in painful situations?

In my book, I provide 4 strategies for waiting that helped me immensely during my lengthy time of waiting years ago. I could develop each tactic here, but that would make this post far too long.

So, the best way to communicate them to you is through my book, through an invitation to speak, or both.

 

Three Fatal Dangers of Living for The Moment

10_Esau_Jacob_1024_JPEG with acknowledgment

What comes to your mind when you think of Esau? You likely picture a rugged red-haired hunter selling his birthright to his brother Jacob for some stew.

The story began rather innocently. Esau, tired from a long day of hunting, came home experiencing what he later described as life-threatening hunger (Gen. 25:32). Once he smelled Jacob’s lentil stew, Esau demanded that his brother give him some.

Jacob, sensing his brother’s desperation, took advantage of him by requesting that Esau sell his birthright to him in return for the stew. Esau, focused solely on the need of the moment, willingly gave up his most prized possession for a cup of the soup.

Esau, focused solely on the need of the moment, willingly gave up his most prized possession for a cup of the soup.

Hebrews 12:16 says this about Esau, “See that no one . . . is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son” (NIV). The word “godless” denotes someone who lives for temporal and material matters with no regard for God or anything of spiritual value.

What are the dangers of living solely for the moment?

1. The Danger of Seeking Immediate Satisfaction

I wonder what made Esau’s hunger so intense on the day he sold his birthright. It’s difficult to imagine he was actually as close to death as he claimed. Why couldn’t he have waited for someone else to cook for him? Was Jacob really that great of a cook?

I don’t doubt Esau’s weariness or intense need to eat something. While perhaps not the most satisfying choice to him at the time, he could have refused Jacob’s birthright deal and sought other alternatives for supper. Why the urgency to immediately satisfy his hunger?

Desire by itself is not bad or sinful. Imagine never experiencing hunger or desiring good food. While that might be great for weight control, it would have fatal consequences.

It’s when we value the immediate satisfaction of a desire above all else, including the Lord, that we make foolish choices. Esau’s decision to sell his birthright was reckless; he put his immediate need above all other considerations.

Like Esau, it’s tempting to believe our desires must be fulfilled right away. Such a frame of mind frequently leads to sin as well as to unwelcome consequences.

2. The Danger of Ignoring Eternity

Second Corinthians 4:17-18 says, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” Does this verse not describe Esau’s fatal way of thinking who only thought of what he could see?

Esau valued the fleeting realities of this life over eternal values that he could not recognize. As a result, despite his later acquisition of much wealth and great power, we regard him as a failure today, one deemed “godless” by the writer of Hebrews.

Esau epitomizes those who live without an eternal perspective. He made decisions based on what he could see. The great promises God made to Esau’s grandfather Abraham represented something in the distant future with no bearing on his current life. As a result, he lived with little thought of the future or of what truly mattered.

We do not know what Abraham might have taught his descendants regarding eternity or the future resurrection. Hebrews 11:13-19 tells us that the old patriarch believed in both God’s ability to raise the dead and in “city” beyond this life. Abraham possessed an eternal perspective; he saw far beyond the need of the moment.

We can assume he passed on a vision of eternity to Isaac and perhaps also to Jacob and Esau, who would have been teenagers when Abraham died. He certainly handed down a perspective much different than the shortsightedness of Esau who thought only of this life thereby earning the scriptural designation as “godless.”

3. The Danger of Elevating Wealth above Eternity

When Jacob and Esau later reconciled, I believe Esau’s gracious attitude toward his brother resulted from the riches and fame he had gained in the intervening years. During the twenty years the brothers remained apart, Esau obtained all the material blessings, power, and worldwide recognition he desired. He approached Jacob with four hundred men, a sign of both considerable wealth and influence (Gen. 32:6).

Esau’s vast possessions and power caused him to forget about what truly mattered, the Lord and life after death.

Esau reminds me of the Lord’s parable about the rich fool in Luke 12:16-21. At the end of a bountiful harvest, the rich man vainly reflects on his wealth. Thinking his wealth came as the result of his own efforts, he boasts of the vastness of his fortune and security for the future. He focused solely on his efforts securing his future in this life with no thought of God or where he will spend eternity.

For the man in Jesus’ story, death came that very night. For Esau, the end did not come as quickly, yet the end result was the same. He eventually died, and his great wealth and power vanished. The question Jesus asked in Mark 8:36 seems pertinent in Esau’s case, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” I wonder if Jesus was thinking of Esau when he asked this question.

From a worldly perspective, some might argue Esau was anything but a failure. In addition to his success in acquiring livestock, riches, and power, the ancient nation of Edom descended from him. What did he lose by missing out on his father’s blessing? Jacob became the father of the nation of Israel, and Esau the forefather of the nation of Edom. Humanly speaking, their outcomes seem similar.

Scripture, however, views their lives quite differently. The writer of Hebrews praises the faith of Jacob (Heb. 11:21) but says Esau was “godless” (Heb. 12:16, NIV). Jacob’s name appears in the hall of fame for faith while God’s Word designates Esau as both “godless” and “immoral.”

Which evaluation would you prefer?

Note: If you are interested in reading more about Esau and other bad guys like him, my book, Shipwrecked! Learning From The Bible Bad Guys is available on Amazon.com. Like Esau, the other characters teach us much about the necessity of living with a Gospel-centered worldview and hope for what lies ahead in eternity (Rom. 15:4).

 

Why the Bible Bad Guys?

Saul and Samuel
King Saul explains his disobedience to the prophet Samuel.

Several years ago, I discovered I could learn a lot from some of the shadier characters of the Bible. It was not that their examples were so stellar, most failed miserably. However, I have gleaned much from their bad examples over the years.

You may be wondering what in the world we can learn from such misfits and failures. How can they possibly help us in our walk with the Lord?

I’m glad you asked. To help you answer this question, I have picked a few of the characters as examples of what we might possibly learn.

1. King Saul – I learned the most from King Saul. His reasoning (AKA excuses) in 1 Samuel 13 for disobeying God gives us several clues as to where his thinking went awry. After looking at several of his excuses we see that in the end he trusted the sacrifice rather than God Himself.

How do we avoid the trap of elevating our religious behavior above our trust in God? It’s not easy especially when God makes us wait and wait and wait. Yes, I have certainly been there! King Saul helps us formulate a strategy for waiting, especially when we find ourselves in tough spots.

2. Esau – Esau sold his most prized possession for a bowl of soup. What was he thinking? Trading in a birthright for stew likely seems quite foreign to most of us, however, it’s easy to copy Esau’s approach to life in other ways. How do we avoid Esau’s egregious shortsightedness? Is there a way to avoid the urgency of the moment?

What about eternity?

3. Absalom – This guy must have been extraordinarily handsome for the Bible to make such a big deal of his appearance. Unfortunately, his anger left him hanging in the end, so to speak.

What caused the intense resentment that led to Absalom’s downfall? How does the Gospel help us deal with such growing bitterness, the type that eventually destroyed Absalom?

4. Joab – Joab is the most celebrated military general in the Old Testament. Yet, he possessed a character flaw: he was a cold-blooded killer. Okay, you are right, it was much more serious than a flaw in his personality.

I doubt anyone reading my book is likely to stick a sword into someone’s belly, but at times we all feel the frustration of dealing with someone who gets in the way of something we very much desire. A careful look at Joab helps us apply the message of James 4:1-4 to our lives. We do not have to kill someone to follow the errant path of Joab. We can cause serious harm to those around us in other ways.

That is why the lessons we learn from Joab are so important!

5. John Mark – This guy shows us failure does not have to be the last chapter in our lives (although it is the last chapter in my book). How does the story of John Mark encourage us to persevere even when we think we have blown it, failed, run our life into the ditch? Okay, I think you get the point. John Mark shows the mercy of God in giving us multiple second chances.

If you are willing to travel down some of the back roads of Scripture and dive into the lives of some of its more shady characters, my book Shipwrecked! Learning From The Bible Bad Guys is available on Amazon.com.

 

 

O Lord, How Long?

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It’s almost too much to bear. I want to do more; I want to do so much more but I do not even know where to start.

I hear about the evils of the horrific sex trafficking and wonder now how people can be so wicked. And yet, this practice (undoubtedly inspired by demons) rakes in untold billions of dollars every year as pedophilia becomes more and more accepted in our society, much in the same way homosexuality became increasingly accepted decades earlier.

A year or two ago I watched videos of Planned Parenthood executives boasting about the dismembering and selling of baby parts and thought, “Surely Congress will take action against this atrocity.” Instead, I watched as leaders of the Republican Party supported the continued funding of this vile organization with our tax money. A couple weeks ago, I saw Democratic Senators celebrate the defeat of a bill that would have at least stopped the wicked practice of abortion after twenty weeks. How can these things be?

I delayed posting this article because of the Florida school shooting.  My heart grieves for the families who lost loved ones and for the students who are scarred with memories of that day. Senseless and brutal killing fill our world in the horrors of abortion clinics, in the churches of Nigeria, Egypt, and Sutherland Texas, and with the nonstop killing propagated by terrorists throughout our world. And now, even in our schools.

So I write for the few that will read my ramblings, I pray for the Lord to intervene, I look to what Scripture says about the last days, and I wonder, “How long?” Is this not what the Lord said would happen before His return?

Perilous Times

I like the New King James Version reading of 2 Timothy 3:1, “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come.” Then the Apostle Paul goes on to describe the people of the last days as “heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:3-4, ESV).

For all the evils I listed above to become so prevalent in our world, these things must characterize many people, do they not? For those involved in the sex trade, do they not need to be “brutal” and “treacherous” to say nothing of the strong demonic influence over them? Absolutely! Do these traits not also describe the doctors at Planned Parenthood who spend their days torturing and murdering precious little bundles of life?

The problem of violence in our world is a heart and spiritual one. The rejection of Jesus and His words has opened the door for increased violence and demonic activity. It will only get worse as our society turns more and more away from the promises of our Savior and continues to see life as a product of godless evolution rather than as a gift from God to be valued and cherished.

What Is the End of All This?

When I look at the evils and violence in our world I feel much like Habakkuk when he voiced this complaint to the Lord regarding ancient Judah, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you ‘Violence’ and you will not save?”

The Lord’s response to the prophet was basically this; He saw what was happening in Judah during the time of the prophet and would respond appropriately to the all the wickedness and violence.

God later gave Habakkuk a vision that I believe also applies to the Lord’s still future outpouring of His wrath upon sinful humanity. The Lord said this about what He would show to the prophet, “For still the vision awaits it appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay” (Hab. 2:3). In other words, God would have the last word on things then, He will have the last word on all the evils that is happening in our world today.

To me, at times the Lord seems rather slow to respond to the wickedness and violence in our world, but I know His day is surely coming.  In the meantime, the Lord is graciously giving time for believers to wake up and watch for His coming and for those outside the faith to repent and become heirs of eternal life.

Back in the 1970’s as I read God’s judgments in the book of Revelation, I wondered what would cause the Lord to be so angry with humanity as to pour out His wrath in such a great and terrible way. As I look at the world around me today, that question no longer enters my mind.

Instead, I ask the same question that the Psalmist asked, “O Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exalt?” (Psalm 94:3).

It’s not that I desire for God’s judgments to fall or for people to suffer; I do not wish these things on anyone. What I desire is justice for those who cruelly and viciously murder the unborn and for those who engage in all aspects of the vile behavior associated with sex trafficking.

The Lord will have the last word on all these things; count on it!

Scripture tells me two things in this regard. First, God will respond to the wickedness and violence in this world. Someday, perhaps soon, the Lord will have the last word on all these things. Count on it! And when He does they will wish they had never been born.

Second, many prophetic signs indicate that the day when the Lord pours out His wrath on sinful humanity is rapidly approaching. However, this day is being held back only by the Lord’s patience to give as many people as possible more time to repent. Jesus said earth at the time of His return would be like the days of Noah (Matt. 24:37-39). That was another time when God saw that “the earth was filled with violence” (Gen. 6:11). Does this not also sound like today?

Just as He intervened in the days of Noah, He will do so again. Please do not be like the scoffers of 2 Peter 3:3-9. Recognize the reason for His delay and watch!

I am thankful for the Lord’s patience with me and with humanity, but still I ask, “O Lord, how long?’

 

Our Wonderful Creator

Creation Pic

Last night I saw an extraordinarily good documentary called Genesis: Paradise Lost that was both informative and rich in proof of the Genesis account. I highly recommend this movie, which may be playing in a theater near you this coming Thursday night, November 16.

Throughout the movie, scientists with PhD’s in their field explained how science confirms the words of Genesis 1-11. For me, this movie bolstered my faith. It was not that I had doubts beforehand, but hearing and seeing all the evidence strengthened my confidence for asserting what I believe. We have a rational faith that correlates well with science for which we can be bold and not back away when others disagree.

I left the theater with a new appreciation for our wonderful Creator and His amazing handiwork displayed everywhere we look.

The computer graphics brought Genesis one to life in a way that made we wish I could have been there to witness God’s creative work. I could sense how the Lord must have greatly enjoyed creating all the animals of the sea, air, and land and then watch as was they swam, flew, and ran.

For believers who have questions about how Genesis and science come together, this is a must see movie.

For believers who have questions about how Genesis and science come together, this is a must see movie. It will help relieve nagging doubts about creation resulting from a public education that emphasizes naturalism, evolution, and our supposed descent from apes.

As the movie emphasized, it all comes down to Jesus and what we believe about Him. Our belief in Jesus and His words tie directly into our view of creation.

Back in July I posted an article titled “Jesus and the Book of Genesis” where I showed how Jesus validated many of the events in Genesis, including creation and the flood, as well as the people in Genesis, including Adam and Eve. The link to that post is: https://jonathanbrentner.com/2017/07/18/jesus-and-the-book-of-genesis/. This movie further demonstrates how one cannot hold on to atheistic naturalism and believe Jesus at the same time. Genesis explains why we need a Savior.

There is so much evidence in nature for creation and the flood that one has to willfully overlook it to maintain an atheistic approach to life. 

In 2 Peter 3:1-6, the apostle Peter predicts that in the later days scoffers would arise who would deny both the return of Jesus and the worldwide flood of Genesis. It’s interesting that the text says they will “deliberately overlook this fact” (v. 5). After last evening, I can see why Peter chose those words. There is so much evidence in nature for creation and the flood that one has to willfully overlook it to maintain an atheistic approach to life.

“How does believing in creation and the flood relate to Jesus’ return? you might ask. They both signify that we are accountable to God.

The bad news is that no one possesses the needed goodness to stand before a holy God. Jesus summed up the demands of God’s law with these words, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). That excludes all of humanity, no exceptions apart from Jesus who lived the perfect life that we could not.

In John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus died on cross to take upon Himself our sins. As the apostle Paul later described it, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus died as the perfect sacrifice for our sins so that in Him we might receive the needed holiness to stand before our Father in heaven.

That is the good news. If we put our faith in the work of Christ on our behalf we receive eternal life. Romans 10:13 says, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

The book of Genesis presents us with a choice. If one rejects the Genesis account of creation, this leads to the conclusion that one does not need a Savior. Such thinking reflects a tragic and eternally fatal mistake of accepting atheistic naturalism (and the evolution of man) over believing the words of Jesus.

Those who recognize their need of a Savior and turn to Jesus in faith receive His righteousness and inherit eternal life.

The evidence for the Genesis account points to Jesus. Do not delay if you have not yet put your trust in Him.

For additional information:

There is also a documentary on Netflix called Is Genesis History? Together with the movie I saw last night, these two movies display the best in scientific proof for not only creation and the flood, but also of a young age for the earth.

 

 

An Ordinary Life

Pathway to a castle

Thomas Chisholm was born in a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky in 1866. He became a believer at the age of 27 and a Methodist preacher at the age of 36 despite a lack of formal training for the ministry. Unfortunately, after only a year poor health made it impossible for him to continue as a pastor.

He later opened up an insurance office in New Jersey where continued ill health limited his income for the remainder of his life. He once said this regarding his humble circumstances, “God has given me many wonderful displays of his providing care, which have filled me with astonishing gratefulness.”

As he looked back, he saw God’s faithfulness though all the disappointments and frustrations as well as in His unfailing provision for him.

Inspired by Lamentations 3:22-23, he wrote the words to the hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness” in 1923. He sent his poem to his friend William Runyan who added music to the words. The hymn became popular in churches throughout America after Billy Graham started using it in his crusades.

Unlike the story behind the song “It Is Well with My Soul,” Thomas Chisholm wrote this song toward the end of what he regarded as an “ordinary” life. As he looked back, he saw God’s faithfulness though all the disappointments and frustrations as well as in His unfailing provision for him.

After receiving direction to do so, I have spent the last few weeks adding more of my story to a book I am writing. This has stirred up many memories of the dark times in my life. I remembered walks late at night crying out to God in the midst of great personal pain. My time of affliction was long and filled with much despair.

I remember reading Lamentations 3:22-39 during this time and wondering if I would ever see the Lord’s compassion again or the end to my grief.

Now, however, as I look back at how the Lord rescued me from my trying circumstances and healed the deep wounds of my heart, I celebrate His faithfulness.

After I finished the task of adding my story to the opening chapters of my book, I listened to “Great is Thy Faithfulness” on YouTube. As I reflected on the words, I felt like every phrase of this hymn applied specifically to me. I especially liked the words, “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” The Lord gave me strength even at times when I did not even realize it and faithfully renewed my hope of eternity when my outlook for this life seemed so dim.

God has been exceedingly faithful to me in bringing me through all my ups and downs. He has brought me to a place of rest that I could not have imagined twenty years ago. Where would I be without His unfailing goodness to me?

Although Chisholm may have regarded his life as ordinary, God has used the words he wrote to bless millions. His testimony of God’s faithfulness through the everyday messes of life has resounded through the church for many decades.

We never know how the Lord can use our lives. Even through what might seem mundane to us, He can use our experiences and testimony in ways we cannot imagine. When he wrote “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” Chisholm may have thought his words would drift into obscurity as have the many other poems he wrote. He likely could never have imagined the lasting impact of what he penned so long ago.

God’s plan for our lives even extends beyond the here and now.  In eternity, we will see the full end of God’s faithfulness as we see His purposes for all we endure on earth. In His hands, each unique (and even ordinary) story will fit perfectly into a beautiful and amazing kaleidoscope that will bring Him glory forever.

There we will continue to celebrate and sing of God’s great faithfulness for thousands of years to come.

We will fully understand just how much the Lord can use ordinary lives. It’s what lies at the end of our paths that matters the most.

 

Prison to Paradise

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During our visit to Savannah, Georgia last year, my wife and I came across a painting, La Parabola, at the Telfair Academy for art. The painting, shown above, depicts the entire life of a woman in two separate panels. I felt a sense of sadness as I initially studied the painting.

Cesare Laurenti (1854-1936), who painted La Parabola in about 1895, intended his work to depict the progression of “human life . . . The race toward pleasure, until clouds of weighty thoughts and sorrow come to disturb the serenity of the young soul.” On the left panel, we see a young girl racing toward adulthood and the joys of romance. On the right, we see images of the same woman ever advancing in age toward death.

Is this not why our hope matters so much? If this painting represents the totality of our existence, we have no hope.

But because of Jesus, such is not the case. He is alive and we will be with Him, perhaps soon. This is the resurrection hope of 1 Corinthians 15; all believers will someday have an immortal body just like His.

So, you might ask. What is the big deal? Don’t all believers see this? Yes . . . and No.

So many believers today live as though this world is all they have. They live their lives inside the one-world perspective of Laurenti’s painting seeing only their slow and painful progress through this life. They voice a belief about heaven, but it fails to impact their lives. Without a focus on Jesus’ return and life with Him in eternity, the hopes of so many believers becomes earthbound, wrapped up solely in worldly outcomes that often lead to despair.

A One-World Outlook

The problem with living with such a one-world outlook is that it offers no vision of the joys of eternity. It’s like a prison from which one cannot escape. Sure there are many good experiences along with the bad as we progress through life, but without a heartfelt anticipation of the excitement of eternity, we remain trapped in life’s slow progression not unlike what is depicted in the painting by Cesare Laurenti.

It’s when we lose sight of the non-ending joy ahead for us that our losses become unbearable, our fears overwhelming, and our frustrations with life greater than we think we can bear.

Years ago, experienced the futility of living life in just such a way. As a young pastor, I welted under the weight of tragic circumstances that entered my life. Even though I loved to teach about future things, I still lived with a one-world perspective. When my life turned upside down, to put it mildly, I lost sight of forever. I lived as though only this life mattered.

I longed for earthly success at the expense walking faithfully with the Lord with a focus upon what He had for me both here and forever.

My response to the turmoil in my life demonstrated that my hope had not reached my heart. I was not yet living with a two-world outlook on life. I longed for earthly success at the expense walking faithfully with the Lord with a focus upon what He had for me both here and forever.

A Two-World Perspective

It was when I took the two-world perspective of 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 to heart that the Lord began His work of healing in my heart. I finally understood the truth of Paul’s words in Romans 8:18 that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.”

As I grasped the importance of the unseen eternal realities versus my temporal pursuits, my fears became far less daunting and my frustrations with life eventually faded away. My losses were very significant, but when I weighted them against the glory of eternity and God’s eternal purposes they diminished both in scope and importance.

Beginning with Jesus’ return for us, we have a hope more wondrous than we can imagine.

I finally saw the futility of living as though everything depended on what happened to me in this life or on what I could accomplish. So what if I got all that I wanted? Did it really make a difference from the standpoint of eternity or two thousand years from now? How could that compare to living a life of trust dependent on Jesus? What will matter the most in eternity when I stand before the Lord?

Beginning with Jesus’ return for us, we have a hope more wondrous than we can imagine. This is why New Testament believers looked forward to Jesus’ appearing to take them home with such great anticipation. This lifted their gaze upward in the midst of great persecution found comfort and encouragement to continue taking courageous stands for the Lord.

We find this eager anticipation all through the New Testament.  In Philippians 3:20 Jesus said, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” The sense here is of eagerly anticipating Jesus’ return as in 1 Corinthians 1:7 as well.

In Titus 2:13 Paul describes believers as “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Jesus’ return is our blessed hope. We will someday share in His resurrection life. Jesus is our blessed hope; He is coming to take us to be Him (John 14:1-3).

Our hope matters. This is why Satan does everything he can to take our eyes off of it. First, he introduces false teachings into the church that focus believers solely on earthly dreams. If Jesus has already returned, as some false teachers proclaim, then what do we have to look forward to? Are we not back to living bound to the ups and downs of whatever comes our way locked into a one-world perspective?

Second, if the devil cannot dissuade us through such false ideas, he does all he can to take our eyes off the great joy ahead for us. He will keep our focus on the prison of this life rather than the joyous paradise that awaits us.

The Path to Paradise

Years ago, John J. Davis wrote a commentary on Genesis called Paradise to Prison. The title, of course, depicts the effect of sin on the human race. God created Adam and Eve and placed them in paradise, the Garden of Eden. Sin entered the world and along with it death. Adam and Eve did not die right away, but became trapped in the path toward death with no escape. They found themselves imprisoned by their rebellion against God.

It’s Jesus, however, who turns our prison into a sure hope of dwelling in paradise forever.

We are not any better off for knowing Christ if an eternal and resurrected life is not in our future.

Paul said this, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). Why? If we have no hope beyond our current lives, we remain trapped in the prison of sin and death that entered the world with Adam and Eve. We are not any better off for knowing Christ if an eternal and resurrected life is not in our future.

But such is not the case; in Jesus this is precisely the sure outcome of His salvation.

Jesus is the only way to this eternal life, to the paradise that awaits us beyond the here and now. He is the reason we can endure all our afflictions and setbacks. We know a better day is coming. We will spend eternity with Him experiences joy beyond what we can imagine.

Do you know Jesus as your Savior? Are you looking forward to paradise after death? Jesus died a cruel death on the cross so we could receive eternal life. He rose again confirming the validity of all His promises.

If you have not yet done so, please turn to Him before it is too late. He is waiting for you!

 

 

It’s All About Me

Pawn and king

The apostle Paul begins his list describing the characteristics of people who make up the “perilous times” of 2 Timothy 3 with the phrase “lovers of self.” Does this not sum up the Facebook generation? For many, posting is all about drawing attention to themselves, their lives, and their opinions. It’s all about making them look good. I have not been immune to this temptation myself.

A couple weeks ago I wrote a response to a Facebook post and later regretted it. I discovered too late that my reply was a mistake and misunderstood. I soon realized that any attempt to explain my words would only make matters worse and increase the anger of the responses I had already received.

While such self-promotion as I exhibited has been around ever since the time of Paul, it describes our current day more than ever before. Part of the current day problem is that everyone now has many more opportunities to express their feelings and ideas in an anonymous way without having to answer for anything they say.

What also makes matters far worse today is that so many have replaced a love of God with love for themselves.

A multitude of books and psychoanalysts today encourage people to love themselves and express everything that come to their minds. This, they claim, is the essence of a healthy emotional state. The disastrous results of such encouragement manifest themselves in broken relationships, quarrels, a lack of trust in people as well as in what we read, and a total lack of respect for the opinions of others.

Let’s begin by looking a little closer at why Paul chose this trait first in describing “perilous times.”

Lovers of Self

“Lovers of self” is the first characteristic that Paul lists in 2 Timothy 3:2-5 and as such it sums up well all the qualities that follow. In his commentary on 2 Timothy, William Barclay states that this “self-loving” is “the basic sin, from which all others flow.” He went on to say that once a person makes self the center of everything, “human relationships are destroyed, obedience to God and charity to men both become impossible.”

People today place everything in their lives ahead of their devotion to the Lord and make themselves the center of their universe.

This becomes evident through the other items on Paul’s list such as pride, a lack of “self-control,” “conceit,” and “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” Such an inward focus of life is the capstone of many of the ills that beset people today. People today place everything in their lives ahead of their devotion to the Lord and make themselves the center of their universe.

When such self-love defines a person, many other problems ensue including his or her inability to effectively relate to other people or to worship God in any meaningful way. It also leads to depression and increased anxieties when people do not respond to us in the way we would like.

The Antidote Begins with a Renewed Mind

How do we counter this tendency of focusing our dependency inward rather than upward?

The Holy Spirit changes our thinking; He is the one who makes our thoughts God-centered rather self-centered.

I believe it starts with remembering that as believers we have the powerful Holy Spirit living inside us. When we walk with the Spirit, we experience victory over the lure to see ourselves as the center of our universe (Rom. 8:1-11). Later in Romans, Paul describes the transformation that takes place in us as the renewing of our minds (12:2). The Holy Spirit changes our thinking; He is the one who makes our thoughts God-centered rather self-centered.

I love the verses that follow in Romans 12:3-8. Self-loathing is not the antidote to self-centeredness. Rather, as the Spirit renews our thinking we increasingly see our gifts, and talents as something bestowed upon us for the purpose of serving others, particularly those in the body of Christ. These special abilities come from the Lord, not us, and as such they are not a cause for boasting in ourselves.

We are to have the mindset of verse 3, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” The gifts and ministries the Lord gives to us vary greatly, but they all come from Him and the same Spirit for the purpose of building up others in the body of Christ or reaching the lost.

The Lord never intended for us view ourselves as superior to fellow believers because of our gifts or based on the degree to which the Holy Spirit manifests Himself through us. Instead, He intended our focus is to be God-ward with our thinking constrained by how we can serve and bless others.

We do not need someone to teach us how to love ourselves; that comes naturally. We do need, however, the power of the Holy Spirit to look for ways we can benefit others with the gifts and abilities He has given to us.

This is not a “poor me” or false humility. It’s certainly not self-hatred.

This is not egotism or self-centeredness. It’s giving all the credit to the Lord for all He gives to us and does through us.

Instead, it’s looking at our lives as God does. It’s putting Him first rather than ourselves and serving others with gifts the Spirit entrusts to us. It’s being confident, not proud, recognizing that our competence in ministering to others comes solely from the Lord (2 Cor. 3:4-6).

We can be confident because of the gifts God gives to us and the working of the Holy Spirit through us to bless others. This is not egotism or self-centeredness. It’s giving all the credit to the Lord for all He gives to us and does through us.