Why Do You Ask For Crumbs When God Has Offered You A Seat At The Banquet Table?

Sometimes our best intentions in prayer fall far short of God’s intentions for us. We pray, seeking God, for mere crumbs from his table when he is ready, willing, and able to give us the full banquet!

We find ourselves asking for good things, but things that pale in comparison to what God has in store for us. Would you pray for pennies knowing that God wanted to offer you gold?

As the disciples were getting to know Jesus, they saw firsthand that Jesus was able to do for them, and through them, immeasurably more than they could ask for, or even IMAGINE!

Matthew records a day that found Jesus teaching a great multitude. He spoke the Gospel to the gathered crowd and healed their sick. Ministry, teaching and comforting and miracles, is exhausting work. It was unplanned for work. Matthew tells us that on this particular day Jesus withdrew to a solitary place after hearing the news of John the Baptist’s death.

Ministry finds us wherever we are. The crowds found Jesus, and they came to him, spiritually hungry.

As the sun sank toward the horizon, the disciples made a good request of Jesus. The wisest course of action, at the end of this long and tiring day, would be to send the people away in order for them to provide themselves some food. I would have asked Jesus to do the same thing.

As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
NIV Matthew 14:15

It only makes sense that this crowd would need to take care of themselves. Surely, after spending a day with Jesus, having their hearts and minds filled with the Good News, and their sick and infirm healed by the Master, they could all head home satisfied. This was a good plan.

But it wasn’t Jesus’ plan.

Jesus had something better in mind.

Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
NIV Matthew 14:16

God doesn’t always make impossible requests of us. Jesus usually kept things pretty simple for his disciples. But not on this day. God always has the prerogative to ask the impossible of us. YOU GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO EAT.

Didn’t Jesus know how little the disciples had to offer? Couldn’t Jesus see how large the gathering was? Are God’s expectations of us unfair and unkind given the magnitude of his requests and the miniscule nature of our resources?

The disciples looked around. They scratched their heads in bewilderment. They looked in their pockets to see what they had. They came up with something.

“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish.”
NIV Matthew 14:17

(5 loaves + 2 fish) ÷ 5,000 men = BIG PROBLEM

That’s my interpretation of the math equation that was going through the disciples’ minds.

Jesus was working with a different equation.

“Bring them here to me,” he said.
NIV Matthew 14:18

While we are busy telling God what he should do, God is already planning to WOW us with what only HE can do.

Jesus issues a command: Bring Them To Me.

The disciples respond in obedience. They brought him the loaves and the fishes. I doubt they expected much, but they were obedient nonetheless.

It’s only after their obedience that Jesus did a great miracle before their eyes.

Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
NIV Matthew 14:19-21

When you become frustrated thinking about the task before you, turn your eyes to the God above you. Bring him your obedience and let him transform your weakness, poverty and emptiness, into an opportunity for him to show his Power, Glory and Greatness.

Making Habits that Make Living Better

I’ve heard that it takes 21 days of doing something before it becomes a habit. That’s good news for a lot of us. Doesn’t it seem like the first 21 days of 2020 have passed by in a BLUR! It feels like New Years Day was just last week. I guess I need to quit telling people Happy New Year at this point.

For anyone who made a resolution to do something, whatever that resolution was, you’re probably finding it a lot easier to keep that resolution going now that three weeks have passed. The better news is…if you failed miserably in your resolution, well, January 1rst is just a date on the calendar. It holds no magic for starting new habits that will lead to better living.

As you can see from the picture above, I was able to check off day 21 of the One Year Bible Reading Plan. I’ve mentioned this on Facebook several times and posted links to a printable version of this plan. If you didn’t see those, and would like to join in, just send me an email and I’ll get you onto what we are doing (pastorburden@gmail.com).

I can’t say that I’ve been faithful with my selections of Scripture at the same time every day. I have really tried, though. Some mornings I’ve had time to conquer all the chapters in Genesis the program prescribes. On those mornings I skip right to the Proverbs. On this plan, you can complete your reading in Proverbs in about 45 seconds. I know that’s not a lot of time, but it allows me to have some measure of victory that ties me over until I find a generous space in my day to complete the rest of my readings.

Another little secret about this Bible reading plan…I really like to cheat. I probably shouldn’t say it like that, but it feels a little like cheating. My studies for sermons and lessons take me through broad swaths of scripture from books that the Bible app hasn’t presented yet. I found that I can go to the dates where those readings are found and check them off, too! I ought to have this whole thing accomplished by June, maybe.

I’d encourage you to do the same thing. If you’re not enamored with the story of the Ishmatlies buying Joseph and carrying him off to Egypt, skip that part for now. Go get yourself some Revelation or Romans or Judges. Just make sure to get all of it by the end of the year. And then, after 365 days of Bible reading, you might just find that you’ve built a habit that you cannot stop! A habit that builds your life into the kind of living that blesses you, blesses those around you, and that honors God above you.

Prioritizing Prayer

A woman locked her keys in the car after frantically trying to pick up medicine for her ailing husband. She spotted an old coat hanger on the ground and picked it up with a prayer: “Lord, I’ve never done this before so I desperately need Your help.”

A rough looking biker immediately pulled up next to her and offered his help. In less than a minute the car door was open so she sighed, “Lord, thank You for sending this nice man to help me.”

The bearded man, who was covered with tattoos, replied, “Ma’am, I’m not a nice man. I just got out of prison for stealing cars.”

The woman hugged the man and voiced another quick prayer, “Thank You, Lord, for sending a professional!”

Scripture tells us that God can do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” With that in mind, I wonder why we don’t pray more? I wonder why we don’t seek God first in our times of need rather than as a last resort? I wonder if we really believe that God hears us, or is willing to act on our behalf?

Jesus told his disciples to pray and to bring their worries, anxieties, frustration, and worshipful praise to the throne of God.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Matthew 7:7-8 NIV

The secret to powerful prayer, fruitful prayer, and effectual prayer is being FAITHFUL in prayer.

Prayer, in and of itself, is an act of FAITH. We pray believing that God exists and that he hears from his children.

Our praying ought also be faithfully consistent. Is your prayer life consistent? Do you have a time set aside in your schedule to talk to God and to hear from God? Is prayer a priority in your daily task list?

I want to encourage you to seek God regularly, passionately, and intentionally this week. I love the way Charles Spurgeon describes the effect of prayer for the life of the believer:

I know of no better thermometer to your spiritual temperature than this, the measure of the intensity of your prayer.
Charles Spurgeon

Decluttering our Day-Planner is as Important as Decluttering our Garages

Decluttering can be a deeply spiritual experience. We find plenty of clutter in our lives. Our closets our cluttered. Our garage is cluttered. Our desks are cluttered. Our kitchen is cluttered. Is there no end to the clutter?

Living produces clutter. The faster you live, and the more you try to do, the more clutter that piles up around you.

Each January I tackle the clutter in my garage. My garage is a storehouse for all of the good ideas I have, the things I hope to use someday, and the next-to-the-final resting spot for toys the kids have outgrown. I start by taking everything out. It all goes into the driveway. Everything is touched, and briefly reflected on.

There are a few questions that I ask about everything I touch. Have I used this in the past year? Will I use it this year? Will anyone notice if it is not here? Will I get in trouble if I get rid of it? Does this have special significance?

Most of the things I touch are in the garage because I’ve not needed them since they were placed in the garage. Some things are in the garage because there is no other place for them around the house, and they are used from time to time (ie. lawnmowers, seasonal kitchen gadgets, powertools, etc…) Many things get disposed of because I can’t rationally imagine using them again in the next 12 months.

It’s stressful for me to walk through my garage when it’s piled with clutter. I feel a twinge of guilt about not being the organized person, I feel like I should be. I feel particularly guilty about my piles of stuff when I drive past a neighbor’s garage that is immaculate, tidy, and empty (except for a car that has plenty of room to open doors on both sides). Each time I enter my garage I feel like something must be done, but I never have time to get started. I feel that there are things that need to be straightened out, but I only have enough motivation to put off the cleaning effort for another day.

Then comes the big day, the day set aside for decluttering. I usually start early in the morning, on a Saturday. As I mentioned before, I take everything out (that’s a bit of an exaggeration since there are some furnishings that remain, and the tools stay in their spaces). With everything that can be removed out in the open, I explore the meaning and purpose of every item.

Boxes of stuff, once used, now stored, are sorted through for anything valuable. Pictures of the kids when they were little, mementos and crafts from countless school and church activities, heirlooms of all shapes and sizes….these remain. A broken TV, pots and pans that show signs of abuse, Christmas and birthday gifts from years gone by that the kids opened, enjoyed and have now have outgrown and forgotten…these are the things that add nothing to our existence but stress. These are the things I get rid of.

I get ruthless in my decluttering. All I can see once the clutter is out of the garage is the space. I take back my space when I haul off my junk to the garbage. There is a moment of euphoria when the job is completed. There is a celebration when the car will fit back in the garage. It’s a joyful moment when you can walk through the garage without feeling the urge, the stressful urge, to tidy something. It makes me feel like I am truly the master over my stuff instead of being mastered by my stuff.

Decluttering can be a reminder of how little we actually need in order to be content in this world. Decluttering is about making room for things that matter most.

Our garages and closets and desks and kitchens are not the only spaces that need to be decluttered.

A few times a year I take stock of what is written in the spaces of my day-planner. Keeping a day-planner is good business. It breaks down the months and the weeks and the days into little blank spaces to fill with activities and meetings and errands. The more little spaces we fill up the more purposeful we feel.

At times, my day-planner is a crowded as my garage. It becomes cluttered with activities and meetings and errands. If my schedule were a garage, there are weeks when it would be filled from wall to wall, and from floor to ceiling.

You declutter a day-planner just like you would declutter a garage: you clear the space. Instead of writing something in each little blank, you keep what is most important, you maintain what you have to maintain, and then you throw out anything that doesn’t belong.

Why is space, open space, in a day-planner important? How will creating more space, and decluttering my schedule, benefit me? What dangers are there in taking on less stuff in order to have more time to give myself to what is most important?

Creating space in your schedule allows you to engage in the important things you cannot schedule. You cannot know when God will send something significant into your path. Rather than rushing past, moving on, or missing out on God’s divine appointments, we need to have the time to savor and enjoy the gifts of God.

What about being helpful? When we are too busy to be helpful, we are just too busy. It’s difficult to structure into our schedule moments where you intend to be helpful. Neighbors and friends and strangers we meet along the way rarely coordinate their catastrophes with anyone else’s day-planner. Things happen, and if there is no margin in the spaces of our day-planners, there is little hope of our having time to be useful to another person along life’s way.

I often think about Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan in this context. The Scribe and the Priest were not bad, they were busy. Because they were bound to their busyness, they were useless. Their busyness made them un-neighborly. Being a good neighbor requires some uncluttered space on our day-planner.

It takes time to form relationships. Relating is about listening. Listening cannot be hurried. Unstructured time is required for enjoying the company of another person, or a group of people, you love. Unstructured time makes you present to who you are present with.

Sabbath, and the space to reflect that it offers, helps us declutter our day-planner, and purposefully live meaningful lives.

 



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Reflections On the Necessity of Faith from George Washington

Last Sunday I read from a passage of Scripture that General George Washington quoted directly, or made reference to, in 37 letters to friends and colleagues. I believe this passage, from the prophet Micah, was a vision the great general had for the country he was bravely fighting to create. Click HERE to go to the sermon link that includes these reflections on George Washington from last Sunday’s worship service at FBC Nederland.

Here is Washington’s beloved verse from Micah:

But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken it.
Micah 4:4 KJV

Including this passage in his writings was only part of Washington’s public reflections on his faith. Not only did he possess a strong belief in God, but he encouraged his soldiers and officers to exercise their freedom to gather for worship on the Lord’s Day.

General George Washington’s Orders for May 2, 1778

The Commander in Chief directs that divine Service be performed every sunday at 11 oClock in those Brigades to which there are Chaplains—those which have none to attend the places of worship nearest to them—It is expected that Officers of all Ranks will by their attendance set an Example to their men.

While we are zealously performing the duties of good Citizens and soldiers we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of Religion—To the distinguished Character of Patriot, it should be our highest Glory to add the more distinguished Character of Christian—The signal Instances of providential Goodness which we have experienced and which have now almost crowned our labours with complete Success, demand from us in a peculiar manner the warmest returns of Gratitude & Piety to the Supreme Author of all Good.

Before the Declaration of Independence was signed, General Washington strongly encouraged the army to place their trust in God for the advancement of their cause. He trusted that God would provide both peace and freedom, as evidenced in his General Order given on May 15, 1776.

General George Washington’s Orders for May 15, 1776

The Continental Congress having ordered, Friday the 17th. Instant to be observed as a day of “fasting, humiliation and prayer, humbly to supplicate the mercy of Almighty God, that it would please him to pardon all our manifold sins and transgressions, and to prosper the Arms of the United Colonies, and finally, establish the peace and freedom of America, upon a solid and lasting foundation”–The General commands all officers, and soldiers, to pay strict obedience to the Orders of the Continental Congress, and by their unfeigned, and pious observance of their religious duties, incline the Lord, and Giver of Victory, to prosper our arms.

When General Washington became President Washington, he used a portion of the first inaugural address to offer thanksgiving to God and testify to God’s handiwork in the creation of the United States of America.

From President George Washington’s Inaugural Address given on April 30, 1789

No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency. And in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their United Government, the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities, from which the event has resulted, cannot be compared with the means by which most Governments have been established, without some return of pious gratitude along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me I trust in thinking, that there are none under the influence of which, the proceedings of a new and free Government can more auspiciously commence.

As President Washington left the public stage after completing his second term as President, he again encouraged faith in God and piety in living for all Americans. The words of his farewell address merit our reflection.

From President George Washington’s Farewell Speech given on September 19, 1796

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

This year, as we celebrate our nation’s 243rd birthday, remember to pause and offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And may all of our pursuits bring Him glory!

Happy 4th of July!

It’s Good Friday, But It’s Only Good Looking from One Direction

This day is traditionally called Good Friday. Good is a relative word. The best way to understand the Friday that Jesus died as being “good” is to look backward at it from Sunday, the day of the Resurrection.

Friday, by itself, for Jesus, was a very bad day.

Friday was the day of his trail. They condemned him to death on a Roman cross for charges they could not prove.

Friday is the day of rejection. The crowd who ushered Jesus into Jerusalem under cries of, “Hosanna To The Son Of David…Blessed Is He Who Comes In The Name Of The Lord!” at the first of the week, was the same crowd who shouted “Crucify, Crucify, Crucify!” at the end of the week.

Friday was the day Jesus’ closest friend, Peter, denied ever knowing him.

Friday is the day Jesus was flogged, beaten and humiliated prior to being crucified on Golgotha.

Friday is the day Jesus hung suspended on his cross, between two criminals, one who cursed him and one who prayed to him.

Friday is the day, when darkness came over the land from noon until three in the afternoon.

Friday is the day Jesus experienced the full wrath of our Holy God as the punishment for our sin.

Friday is the day, as the wrath of God was satisfied, Jesus’ pronounced his last words, “It Is Finished.” Then he gave up his spirit and died.

Friday is the day a mother witnessed the unjust execution of her son.

Friday is the day the hopes of a group of Jesus’ followers, people who expected Jesus to be a political or military messiah, saw their hopes crushed and buried hastily in a borrowed tomb.

Friday is the day two prominent men asked the governor for Jesus’ body and, without ceremony, placed his body in a tomb, along with ointments still in their jars because there was not enough light left in the day to attend to his funeral preparations.

Friday is the day one man suffered and died so that all people might have the opportunity for peace with God and eternal life.

Friday is the fulfillment of the prophecy of the high priest Caiaphas, the man who most desired Jesus death, as he said, “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

Today is Friday, and if we look at Friday by itself, it is full of pain and darkness. But we know Sunday is coming. From the blessed vantage point of Sunday we can look back and say that all the pain and violence and abandonment and heartache experienced on Friday were turned into something good and glorious for sinners saved by the grace of God.

But while it’s Friday, let’s pause to give reverence to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭53:5‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Come join us on Sunday morning at First Baptist Nederland as we worship at 10:15 a.m. this Easter and remember how good Good Friday is because of how Great our Savior’s Resurrection was.

 

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The Good News Outweighs the Bad News

OK, first of all, the Good News is still good news. Nothing can can take away from the glory of knowing the joy of our salvation!

When some people talk about the Good News, they do so in a way as to make it seem like once a person embraces the Good News, nothing bad will ever happen to them again. I wish that were the case. I wish being a Christian caused people to be exempt from suffering, pain, disappointment, loss, depression and ultimately death.

But it doesn’t.

We are not exempt. In fact, we were told plainly by Jesus himself we should expect some hardships, merely for the sake of being his followers.

We’ve been studying Peter’s letters recently on Sunday mornings. Peter, of course, was a leader among Jesus’ first disciples. Peter enjoyed a special relationship with Jesus. He was even told, by Jesus, that his life would end tragically because of his faith in who Jesus was.

I’d say being told your life is going to come to a tragic end is Bad News.

For Peter, living for the Good New outweighed the heartache of the Bad News.

Part of the occasion for Peter’s first letter was, as he describes it, was a “fiery ordeal.” The believers scattered throughout what is now mostly the country of Turkey, were enduring an unspecified kind of suffering. We do not know the exact nature of their suffering, but we can suppose that Peter was addressing suffering that stemmed from some form of hostility toward Christians. The believers were being persecuted for their faith.

So what does Peter tell them to do? Run away? Strike back at their attackers?

By no means. He tells them:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (1 Peter 4:12-14 NIV)

Peter’s words echo the same sentiment the Apostle Paul expressed in his letter to the church in Philippi.

I want to know Christ– yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:10-11 NIV)

Peter and Paul were both familiar with suffering, and both were unwavering in their faith in Christ. They saw their suffering amidst a much larger picture of all the good that God was doing. The suffering they endured for the sake of Christ was miniscule compared to the greatness of what they were looking forward to.

Peter goes so far as to tell his readers to “rejoice” in their suffering. I know that’s kind of hard for us to imagine. There doesn’t seem to be anything particularly happy about the pain of suffering. But for the Christian, “rejoicing” doesn’t flow from our circumstances but from our salvation.

If the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was to purchase us comfort in this life, then every Christian would have reason to be disappointed in the Good News. Since Christ died, and rose again, so that we might have eternal life and a glorious future, the sufferings we endure while in the tent of this body become a little more bearable. We can rejoice that we have a home in Heaven in spite of the pain we experience on earth.

Pain, suffering, persecution, tragedy, loss, etc…, are all reminders that this world is not our home. When we lift up our eyes, and look forward to what God has promised us, we remember that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Cor. 4:17 NIV)

Peter’s ultimate message to the believers in the 1st century, and to us in the 21st century, is to hold on. We are called to hold on to the One who is holding on to us. By faith we are firmly in the grasp of God.

My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. (John 10:29 NIV)

Because our salvation in Christ is secure, Peter calls us also to carry on.

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. (1 Pet. 4:19 NIV)

God has called us, in Christ, to carry on the good work of discipleship, ministry, missions, and Kingdom building. We should not let the evil of this world dampen our enthusiasm for doing the good that God calls us to do.

Check out the first sermon in our lessons on Peter’s letters by clicking the link below:

https://vimeo.com/318307051#t=1677s

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Everyday is a Day for Thanksgiving

I’ve been in Tennessee this week attending a conference. The conference itself was full of good material, things that, if used, will make a big difference in my ministry (I hope).

One thing I always look forward to taking home from a conference is books.

I love books. I always have a pile of books on my desk that I’m working through, and then another pile at home by MY chair that I pick up in the evenings, and then there are the countless audiobooks that I listen to while going to bed or making long drives.

I spend a lot of time in books.

So at this conference, I picked up a different kind of book. It’s a journal. Rather than having pages and pages and pages of information to absorb, it has pages and pages and pages of…well…just blank pages.

This particularly journal has guided prompts for my to fill in. It’s sort of a journal for those who don’t know what to journal. I can see the value in that. I’ve journaled for years (in paper journals and electronically) and knowing where to start is has always been the biggest struggle.

This mornings journal section in the “new” journal asked a simple question, that I hope is asked every day…”What are you thankful for right now?”

It’s a beautiful morning in Tennessee. The sun is shining. I’m heading home and I can’t see why all the airplanes wouldn’t be running on time (though I might be disappointed with I get to the airport). Nothing happened back at home that Kristi and the kids couldn’t handle without me (I really don’t know whether or not to be too happy about that since it proves my growing lack of relevance). I’m coming home with a ton of information to work through and apply that will be beneficial to me. I’m looking forward to seeing family next week for Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving, the holiday, needs to become Thanksgiving, the everyday occurrence.

Even on our worst days, we need to look for how we can give thanks to God.

I realize this is difficult when struggles mount, when pain is present, and when everything around us disappoints us. I don’t say this because it’s easy to do. I say this because it’s necessary to do.

We can be Thankful, everyday, because even in the darkest of days, we are never left without hope. The problems that surround us can only hold us for a moment. The struggles we currently face may be the secret ingredient to learning to trust more fully in the Lord. Disappointments are opportunities to strengthen our prayer life and also recognize that this world is not our home (Thanks Be To God).

As we approach Thanksgiving Day, let’s keep the 100th Psalms on our minds every day…

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Psalm‬ ‭100:4-5‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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The Race that Makes the Run Worth It

“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

‭‭Acts‬ ‭20:24‬ ‭NIV‬‬

I’m not a runner, but I enjoy a race (watching one, not competing in one).

A race is beautifully simple. It has a beginning, it has an end, and the one who gets to the end first is the winner. Pretty simple.

A beautiful thing happens for the contestants in a race: focus.

While in the race, whether for the span of 100 meters, 5 kilometers, or a full marathon, inner distractions go away.

The running of a race is an all-consuming activity. It does not let your mind stray to things that have nothing to do with the race. From the starting gun until the finish line, an athlete is completely given over to the task of running well and perhaps beating his competitors.

Paul knew a few things about races. Perhaps he was an athlete in his day. He speaks of training, and boxing and running.

When Jesus got ahold of Paul, he placed him in a race like he had never experienced before. Paul had to relearn how to run, had to go into strict training to become competent, and had to know where the finish line was.

For Paul, the finish line was “testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” His entire life was given over to that pursuit. He crossed many small finish lines as he witnessed to individuals, families and groups, about the overwhelming grace of God in Christ.

And at the end, looking back over his ministry, he was able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

As he came to the finish line of his earthly race, he could confidently say that his days were spent building a life, and a testimony, that others could look to, and see the effects of a changed heart, a redeemed existence, and the fruit of what becomes of a man who is saved by Christ.

The importance of our time, each day, moment by moment, is magnified as we spend our lives running the race marked out for us. I hope that we can all connect today to that specific calling that God has for us. May everything else, anything that would distract us from being the person Christ saved us to be, vanish from our sight as we commit to focus to complete the race the Lord Jesus has given us.

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A Life Built on the Foundation of Jesus Christ

I get weary of going into bookstores. If you go into a secular bookstore, they nestle the “Religious/Spirituality” section near the “Self Help/Personal Improvement” department.

Christianity isn’t about Self Help or Personal Improvement. It’s quite the opposite. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

One of my favorite Christian writers of the last century, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”

I doubt Dietrich or Jesus would be comfortable finding themselves in the Self Improvement aisle at Barnes and Noble.

The Apostles knew that following Jesus wasn’t about getting more stuff in this life, or experiencing more happiness for the here-and-now, or becoming famous among their peers.

Following Jesus, and building a life around his teachings, as well as his death, burial and resurrection, involved losing their lives.

Don’t get me wrong, the Apostles weren’t dark and gloomy. Just the opposite. They were able to face persecution and hardships with grace, strength and peace because they had confidence that Christ was with them, and that he had saved them for something better than this world could offer. But make no mistake about it, their message about Christ included losing your life.

Yes, that’s exactly what God wants for you as well…to LOSE YOUR LIFE.

Your life, built on your selfish values, achieving worldly goals, having a self-centered mindset, isn’t going to get you where God wants to take you.

Jesus says:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭16:24-26‬

Jesus, his life, his teachings, and his promises, are the foundation to our Christian existence. They are the substance of our hope! And this is the substance of what the Apostles taught. This is the subject matter that we should be devoted to. We find life when we give up our lives and accept the life Christ died for us to have.

Anything we do, any plan we make, any ambition we set our life’s course to achieve, if not squared with Christ’s calling on our life, is not worth pursuing.

The Apostles knew that the church, in order to grow strong and straight and true to God’s design, had to extend in perfect alignment with the cornerstone.

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭2:19-22‬ ‭

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