Make It Count

Ecclesiastes 7:1 – “A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth.”

This is one of the most thought-provoking verses in the Bible for me, because it reminds me that time is not on the side of humanity. I don’t mean to make it sound like a war, but literally from the minute our life on earth begins the clock starts ticking until the end.

While life is forever in those who know Jesus, but not for those who don’t, this means that eventually ministry will come to an end. Making an eternal impact will stop. Reaching out to those in need won’t be necessary anymore.

That’s why I take this verse seriously. Make it all count. Don’t waste your time.

If anyone in Scripture knew this truth best, it would be the author of Ecclesiastes (who many believe to be King Solomon). He’d slept with tons of women, accumulated massive amounts of money, and acquired as much stuff as he wanted. However, as he got old he looked back on his life and realized none of it was worth it. It just separated him from God and the aspects of life that truly matter.

Everyone’s heard the adage, “time is money.” Call me melodramatic, but I think it should instead be, “time is life,” because time governs life far more than money does (Also, as a reading of Ecclesiastes and James 5:1-6 will tell, landing a ton of money can be a waste of time).

Another reason I love this verse is because it applies to everyone; no human is exempt from death.

Chew on Ecclesiastes 7:1 and reflect.

What’s that one task you need to get done this week? What desires and visions has God been putting on your life? Take it a step further.

What’s wasting your time in getting there? Get off Xbox. Stop watching TV. Turn off FaceBook. Good things can waste our time, too (1 Corinthians 6:12). What do your weekends and free days look like? How about those extra three hours you’ve got each Thursday? 

What’s keeping you from making it count?

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God’s Timing is Bad

Awesome picture thanks to c3ph3ld

From my experience, it seems like God often has bad timing.

Whenever I’m standing in line at Chik-Fil-A anxiously asking God about what I should order, He usually doesn’t answer me right away.

The days I have specific plans for how I’m going to utilize my time, that’s exactly when God has someone call me with a need or convicts me to go talk to someone.

On a side note, I can’t really blame Him. He is…. God.

In any case, I think David would probably agree with me on the off-ness of God’s timing. You may recall the story in the later chapters of 1 Samuel: King Saul was bent on killing him, and David ran away for his life from Saul all around the countryside, spending plenty of time in hiding. Saul was on his heels frequently, and there was little rest for the future king of Israel.

It wasn’t until eight years later that God finally sent the Philistines nearby as a distraction that effectively pulled Saul off David’s tail (see 1 Samuel 23). Eight years. Many of you like ‘being on the road’; how about ‘traveling’ for eight years straight because the ruler of your country wanted you dead?

Now since this story is told over a handful of chapters, only so many details managed to fit. Thus, we don’t have much indication as to how David was feeling and thinking during this part of his life, but I don’t doubt he was tired and probably wondering why God hadn’t saved time and shown up sooner. Sound like a familiar thought?

I bet David realized something important, though. There was more at stake than just his own life. There was also the entire nation of Israel, and subsequently the rest of the world, too. David knew that God was using him as a part of His story (Psalm 31:7-8). He also knew that he would eventually be the king of Israel (1 Samuel 16:1-13), and that God has never been unfaithful in any of His promises. Also, it’s a no-brainer God was growing and preparing David for the future even in this tough time.

Let’s flip this coin. 

David knew that asking God to help him immediately in that moment would have been selfish, as the request disregards how others are affected. That holds true today – our actions affect other people, and it wouldn’t surprise me if whatever my Sovereign God does affects everyone in the world as well (ex. providing a way for salvation). Answer me this: do you know how every decision affects each and every person possible, all the time? Of course not. And in our ‘timing’, we tend to forget this.

God knows, though. And He acts accordingly, in His timing.

It was in God’s timing that Saul was practically handed to David in the next chapter. It was in God’s timing that he was later made king over Israel. It was in God’s timing that Jesus was sent to reconcile a lost race. None of this happened within your timing at all.

Think of all the blessings God has given you – think of your life. Has everything really worked out in your timing? In all honesty, whenever I’ve tried to control something more, I’ve almost always ended up being frustrated. God doesn’t run into this problem on His watch.

Are you asking God to do something right now? Is there a dire decision that needs an answer? Seek God’s timing, not your own. If He doesn’t answer right away, appreciate the present meantime He is using to prune you for the future, like David.

Have you ever needed God to answer you right away, but He did/didn’t? If you had to flee for your life for eight years, where would you go?

Willful Suffering

There’s a myth in Christianity that once you surrender your life to Jesus you have to embrace persecution. For some this causes fear, others curiosity. However, I don’t find this to be true. A simple reading of Acts will prove that there is a time and a place for everything, including not suffering for the Gospel.

Acts 9:23-25 – “When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him [Saul], but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.” (italics added).

After becoming saved, the infamous Paul (formerly known as “Saul”) made some of his Jewish men angry. Yet, he did not face persecution for his faith. And he wasn’t being sinful — he had the help of other believers!

As Christians, are we called to be bold? Yes. Are we called to shed light into dark areas, no matter how much strength it will sometimes take? Yes. Jesus Himself was hated, and since we follow Him we will be hated by others because of Him (Mark 13:13, Luke 21:17). This becomes easily apparent: I still can tell when I meet people in college who stop talking to me once they find out I’m a Christian. Anyone who has ever tried to do evangelism has encountered some hostile individuals when they mentioned the name Jesus in a loving way.

So this is the life Christians are called to; read Philippians 1:29. People shy away from God because He is personal. Many do not want to their true motives and habits revealed.

A good number of Christians take some of the hate they receive from others and wear it like a badge, saying offensive things nonchalantly. While being blunt is often necessary, wearing persecutions like a badge is not Christ-like. It is prideful.

Other Christians, then, are frightened by some persecution they face as Christians and keep their faith a secret, using God’s grace as a reason to stay ignorant of their mission. This is also prideful, as these Christians assume their present well-being is better than others’ eternal well-being.

Another factor to consider alongside Paul’s escape-story above is 1 Peter 3:17: “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” (italics added).

So there is plenty of evidence to see that God does not always want us to face persecution for Him when it arises. Think about Paul – what would have happened if he had stayed behind and been killed by the Jewish mob? Well, much of the New Testament would be non-existent. Churches in key places across the mediterranean areas would be non-existent. God doesn’t always want us to suffer because He may have an even bigger plan in mind for the future.

Now this doesn’t give anyone an excuse to run away from life’s difficulties, either. Keep in mind just a few chapters later Paul was stoned in Lystra, and Stephen was the first martyr for Jesus (Acts 7:54-60). There are plenty of other stories of persecution.

Here’s the kicker: Where do we draw the line? When does God want us to endure, and when are we supposed to ‘flee’, so to speak?

I don’t know.

Here’s what I do know. Jesus has overcome the world, including all of it’s sufferings (John 16:33). As we seek God’s plans throughout life, He works everything out for good, the best, despite what we think (Romans 8:28).

In life’s toughest situations, I don’t think God will always give us an answer. But I do think as His disciples we are supposed to seek Him and keep on going with our mission. Just like the disciples did all throughout Acts. And if there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that God is always working. Nothing comes as a surprise to Him. That’s what we need to keep in mind. Not simply clarification.

Remember Joseph? Can anyone say persecution? Yet even after being sold into slavery by his brothers and being falsely thrown in prison, he was given a huge leadership role. When he faced his brothers many years later, he told them that God placed him there, through all the persecution, to preserve the nation of Israel (Genesis 45:4). I’m sure many things went through his head during those years, but he simply kept on going for God. He knew God would always carry him through. Perhaps not the way he expected. Perhaps through peace. Perhaps through suffering. But God would always carry him through.

That’s where our focus should be. Not on our possible suffering, but on God’s faithfulness. He’ll work all the details out.

Have you ever faced persecution as a Christian? Lost friends? Gotten into huge fights because of your faith? Have you ever run from a situation where God wanted to use you?

No Savior

Some verses don’t need much explanation, like the one below.

Isaiah 43:11 – “I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior.”

Isaiah was prophesying about the future Babylonian Exile about 200 years away from that point. Being deported from home, becoming captives, being forced to learn a new language and a new way of life, all of those things sounded pretty terrifying to the Israelites. Think if that happened here with us.

All seemed lost to the Israelites. No one was coming for them. Except God, and that is what He spent the entire chapter telling them — that He would redeem them again like so many times before. Eventually, he winded up with the verse above. There are no other saviors. The idols of the Babylonians are empty. No army is strong enough. No one cares for the Israelites. Except God.

As history would have it, God did save Israel. He put them back right where they were taken from. No other way saved the nation of Israel except the way of Yahweh. All right, that was pretty cheesy…

As old as this verse is (written at about 700 BC), it directly connects with the exclusive claim made by Jesus in John 14:6 (“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life…”). What an exclusive claim that verse is! However, flipping the verse’s meaning around parallels it directly with Isaiah 43:11. In fact, Erwin McManus said something similar a few years back: by claiming He was the only path to God, Jesus was stating that there are no other paths of life. No one else is coming for you.

The money we seek for security. The sexuality we seek satisfaction. The ‘good things’ we pat ourselves on the back for doing. All of them are empty saviors. We may not be enslaved by an army like the Babylonians, but we are still enslaved by sin without Christ.

The unique connection of these passages makes complete sense, too, for two reasons:

1.  Jesus is the way to God. Since everything is marred by sin, even our ‘good works’ can’t buy salvation. It’s all by grace (Isaiah 64:6, Romans 5:6-8). Jesus also really is the truth, because he fulfilled all of the Old Testament prophecies concerning Him (Luke 24:44-47). Lastly, Jesus is life, because sin is death. Therefore, a man without sin can only be life. And since God is life, Jesus is therefore God. Since God is the only one who knows no sin, God is the only one who can truly give us life to the fullest, which is what Jesus came to do anyway (John 10:7-10).

2. A few chapters later in Isaiah (ch. 46), God makes it clear that idols are carried by us. Why? Because there is no life in them. They cannot save, and they cannot give us life. The very fact that we carry them shows that they never came to rescue us in the first place. This rules out any possibility that they are saviors, because that’s what saviors do — they come to the rescue. God, on the other hand, carries us. He tells the Israelites (and us) that from the time we are conceived to the time we have “gray hairs” He carries us along in life (vv. 3-4). He came to us first. He rescued us. He rescued you.

The common trend here is that we carry these idols along for ourselves. We live like they are our functional saviors, but it’s not because we are enamored with them or love them. It’s because we only want them to do something for us (ever notice how many different idols we pick up throughout life?). But God is different. He loved us first and carries us despite our shortcomings. For Christians, he fulfills our deepest needs and gives us a life and purpose before we can even ask for it. Even when He knows of our sin.

Do you see it yet? Carrying our own idols reveals our selfishness, but seeing a God that carries us no matter how hard we writhe and fight Him shows selflessness. What would you rather worship? If we’d stop fighting we wouldn’t have to search for life. Even Christians have seasons where they feel purposeless and unhappy. When we learn to let God carry us and take comfort in Him, we can live the life He has already set before us.

I don’t know what idols you’re carrying around, but you’ve got to let them go. Whether it’s a harmless hobby or a painful addiction, realize that it will never bring you life. Only God can. And for His children, He already has. It’s not even about letting Him carry you — He’s already been carrying you. It’s time to stop resisting and find life in His arms.

The Importance of Words

Photo by delbarital

If you can recall, where is your Bible right now?

Is it somewhere in your bed from when you fell asleep during devotions last night?

Is it lying open on the kitchen counter, ready to be read each morning in your daily routine?

Is it chillin’ in your desk drawer, not even cracked open in the past month?

Do you have too many to count that you use all the time? Perhaps you don’t even have a Bible – that’s fine, too. Wherever your Scriptures are located, I just wanted to get your brain juices flowing.

Imagine living in today’s world without a Bible. Let’s say you could read very little, and the only parts of God’s Word you heard were from your pastors’ sermons and from asking them questions. Where is your church? Would you be willing to go there everyday, or many days, to hear more of God’s Word?

How exhausting! And besides, how inconvenient! We don’t want to be legalistic – God doesn’t require us to do religious things, the above included… right? I mean, without our own personal Bibles and books it would be hard to cultivate a relationship with God in our times!

All right, simmer down. Before we get too carried away, let’s remember that before Mr. Gutenburg in 1440 most people didn’t have their own Bible. Only the elders/pastors and high-up leaders did.

And in all reality, the things suggested above were all activities the ancient Israelites did to seek God’s Word. They didn’t mess around. When Moses was close to his death, he sang the people a song summarizing God’s love for Israel as well as the judgment that would await them for disobeying God, thus breaking the covenant they made with Him (the song is found in Deuteronomy 32). His song and the entire book of Deuteronomy reflect just how important the Law was for the Israelites. Looking at the text, Moses said something just after his song that paints a perfect picture for the reality of Scripture:

“…he said to them, ‘Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.’” Deuteronomy 32:46-47 (italics added).

No Bibles. No printing press. No e-readers. For the Israelites, going to the synagogue was their only way of hearing God’s Word, and it was life to them. While the Bible means life for us, too, it was an even more literal context for Israel since the Law governed their national and everyday affairs.

I wonder if we could exhibit the same discipline as them.

Have you ever thought of your Bible, the Word of God, literally as life? Would you today go to those same lengths to receive Scripture the Israelites did in their day? Asking myself this question leaves me with conviction, as my thoughts answer probably not. Not in a society that worships convenience and efficiency.

Some may point out that the Israelites messed up a lot, possibly for the lack of personal access to Scripture. While reading the Old Testament does reveal the Israelites made quite a few mistakes, I can’t help but see that we still mess up today, everyday. Our sin separated us from God, too.

What’s sad is that we, unlike them, have our own Bibles. We have the words of life in our personal possession. How often we take that for granted.

Think of what your first meal feels like in your head each day. After you wake up, you are hungry (or become hungry later). The thought of that first bowl of cereal, that first bite of fruit, that first sandwich (for the later crowds), sounds so delicious. We cherish that meal as it will give us fuel to carry on for the rest of the day. Why don’t we think of Scripture this way? In the same manner, why don’t we wake up hungering Scripture for daily guidance? This is exactly what Jesus was getting at when he told Satan man does not live on bread alone in Matthew 4:4. This is what God was getting at when He told Joshua to carefully study His Word day and night (Joshua 1:8).

Speaking of breakfast, here’s a delectable thought: Food isn’t going to do our lives much good if our souls don’t even know what to live for each day. But if simply prioritizing Scripture is the problem, where do we begin?

Like so many other issues and sins we deal with in life, our perception of Scripture comes down to our hearts. I’m willing to bet that if God’s Word is important to Him, and if God is important to us, then His Word will be important to us, too. In other words, if you’re having a hard time really digging into Scripture, my guess is that God isn’t at the center of your heart. Interestingly enough, one of the powers of the Bible is to change the human heart (Hebrews 4:12). When Satan shows up to try to get us off track, the Bible is also great for fending him off, as exemplified by Jesus.

So Scripture presents us with the Gospel, fights off the devil, and changes our hearts? What a common denominator! Now I don’t mean to end this post abruptly, but I do hope your seeing the pattern here – the importance of words.

God’s words, that is.