Dec 29, 2011

The Best Investment Strategy

I have been laying out my goals and dreams for 2012, and, as always, it has gotten my brain thinking soberly about my life. What am I investing my life into? 

I work in the financial world, so I often find myself comparing a personal concept to it's business counterpart.  When investing money we all know that the only smart purchase is one that will increase in value. But do we understand this when we are dealing with our time? Our lives? Our brains? Our relationships? Our energy? Our youth?

You see, some buy high and sell low. They spend everything they have on what everyone else is doing. The newest fashions, the top video games, the latest movies, the most popular concerts, the hottest TV shows, etc. They fill their brains up with useless information about things that don't really matter - worldiness and philosophies. Their greatest treasure is a good time. But, it comes down to this: when they look back 5 or 10 years from now will they find that they made a good investment with all that time, energy, and money? Will they regret decisions?

Others are careful. They weigh everything before they spend anything on it. The question they always ask is: how will this benefit me and everyone around me? If there is no benefit to be gained, they pass. They invest time into worthwhile endeavors. They spend their money on lasting purchases. They invest into true friendships. They pour energy into righteous causes. They use their brains to invent and create things that will benefit generations to come. Their youth is spent building firm foundations for the rest of their life. Their greatest treasure is instruction and a lesson learned. They invest with wisdom and reap real rewards.

"My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; Yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; THEN you will understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding; He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk uprightly; He guards the paths of justice, and preserves the way of His saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice, equity and every good path. When wisdom enters your heart, and knowledge is pleasant to your soul, discretion will preserve you; understanding will keep you." -Proverbs 2:1-11
And what will Wisdom and Understanding get you?

Proverbs 3 (read the chapter, these are all in there)

  • Long life
  • Peace
  • Favor and high esteem with God and man
  • Health and strength
  • Happiness
  • Life to your soul
  • Grace to your neck
  • Safety - walk without stumbling (how many of us would love to not make stupid mistakes?)
  • Freedom from fear
  • Sweet sleep
  • The blessing of the Lord

But where is the adventure in that? Where is the fun?
You tell me.
Sure, there is a time and place for fun, and movies, and chilling with friends, and watching hilarious music videos on Youtube. But the real question is, 50 years from now, when you look back on your life, will it really matter if you beat all levels of that game. Or if you saw that artist in concert 15 times? Or if you watched every episode of that sitcom? Or that you saw that movie in 3D? Or originated that hilarious meme?

Is the real adventure, perhaps, to be found in using infinite materials to build something eternal?

Don't get me wrong, the preacher is preaching to herself on this one, too. On looking back on my last 25 years days, I find I have wasted plenty of precious time on silliness. And I realize it is time I will never have returned to me. But I also realize I have many years of time ahead of me to remedy my habits and start living like I'm part of something grand. I have time to gain wisdom, and with it, all the rewards of wisdom.

Time spent in the Bible and gaining wisdom will never be time wasted. Energy used to walk in understanding and advance the Kingdom of God is energy invested well. It will bring an eternal reward.

You only have this moment for this moment.
What are you going to spend it on?
Get to it!

Dec 27, 2011

The Beauty of Hard Times

Hardships.         We dread them. And yet, we cannot hope to become anything without them.  I think the Lord takes His beloved through hard times so that our message is always fresh...

You know what it is to be the one going through hard times and to see someone who is delighting in all the successes life can offer. Their sympathy can only feel like pity, their words tend to be hollow and empty of real comfort, and the contrast of their happiness makes our sorrow hard to bear. It is difficult for those in the valley to accept comfort from those on the mountaintop. It is hard for those on the mountaintop to remember what it was like to be in the valley, or to stop and ponder those still there. We are finite beings, so prone to become desensitized to the lessons of the past. So, the Lord, for the sake of our ability to minister to each other, allows us to reenter the valley every so often, lest we forget.  It is not punishment, it is a part of the maturing process. It is His mercy keeping us sharp and useful for His work.

You see, it is quite different for a sufferer to see one with them in the valley who, though suffering, overflows with joy and wisdom. Here is a counselor they can rely on. Here is a true friend in time of need. Here is one who can give a "word in season to the weary".  

In our affliction our comfort is softer and more merciful than if we never faced wounding, trial, or temptation. Our words are clearer. Our message rings truer. Our example is easily followed. Our humility in realizing our own weakness draws and will not repel. In our own dependence on God we tap into a power source that flows through us to all who come for help.

In my times of trial I have looked to other people who have faced and learned to rejoice through trials. People like Joseph and David in the Bible, or more modern heroes like Amy Carmichael and Elisabeth Elliot have become my own "mentors". Their stories, written in their suffering for my encouragement, have given me courage to endure. And they, in the middle of their trials, realized their purpose.

There is nothing more beautiful than watching one who, in their own suffering, overlooks their circumstance to reach a hand to another in need. This is the love of Christ. This will change the world.

Dec 18, 2011

He who looks into the perfect law...

"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper."
-Psalm 1:1-3
The dictionary lists the definition of "conviction" as: the state of being convinced of error or compelled to admit the truth; a strong persuasion or belief. The Christian is to be a person of conviction.  We are to be fully aware and unwavering in our loyalty to truth (the Bible). In other words, we are to know what the Bible says about the issues of life well enough that we can spot error when confronted with it.

When God gave the Law to the Israelites He commanded them that:

"these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."
-Deuteronomy 6:6-9

God gave us His Word as a safe-guard against error that leads to death.  In His mercy, He carefully explained how we are to live so we can be sure of staying far from sin. In I Timothy Paul gives Timothy the instruction to:

Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.-I Timothy 4:12, 13, 16

All throughout the Bible there is instruction to believers to know doctrine, to be familiar with the Bible, to love the Law of God and to be careful to obey it. God gave us His answers, but it is up to us to search them out and obey them carefully.  It is to our benefit, and, really, for our safety that we search the Scripture to know how God thinks.

In speaking with many Christians, it is easy to see that many don't know what the Bible really has to say about the issues of life.  I have heard good God-fearing people discuss for hours the issues of drinking, divorce, homosexuality, etc. without one of them knowing what God has to say on the subject.  They ask friends' opinions or do internet searches but don't look into the answer book itself.

I think we tend to forget that in the end we will not stand before our friends, our culture, Christian authors, or even our pastors to give an account. We will, on the Day of Judgment, not be judged by a jury of peers, but by the Great Judge Himself.  In fact, Jesus said that we will be judged by the Word!

"He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him, the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day."
-John 12:48

There are no surprises on the last day, we will be judged by what God wrote in Scripture for us to read and obey.  The only people who will be surprised are those who foolishly assumed they knew God, when they never took time to read the instructions He wrote for them. (see Matthew 7:21-27 for more information on this.)

I encourage you to become very familiar with the Bible and what answers it has to the questions of life. I can guarantee that it has an answer for anything and everything that you will have questions about.

One last thought:
God is unchanging, "there is no shadow of turning in Him". What He expects of us has not changed since the beginning of time. In your study of the Bible, do not let your view of "cultural issues" be shaped or molded by modern-day philosophies or humanistic mindsets. Let God's Word be your guide. If God loves something, love it with everything in you. If God hates it, hate it with every ounce of your being.  Be confident that, on Judgment Day, you can stand before God with a clear conscience knowing that you will hear "well done, good and faithful servant."

"But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does."
-James 1:25

Dec 17, 2011

Light Side & Dark Side In An Upside-Down World

I have noticed a peculiar mindset in many Christians of late - the mindset that in order to reach the world we should be as much like the world as possible and still "be saved". We are allowed to look like the world, talk like the world, tell the same jokes, browse the same images, laugh at the same entertainment, read the same books, have the same habits.  

"Good enough" is good enough for us. Forget sold out. Forget set-apart. Forget holy consecration. We don't, after all, want to make Christianity uncomfortable for the modern-day sinner.  Let them slide easily into church life without jolting them from sinful mindsets. Let them enter into this sacred fellowship with Christ's Bride while still partially clothed in filthy rags of worldly lifestyle.

But I ask, is the Church a club to enter and Christianity a badge that proves your membership? Or is the Church a new family, Christianity a description of your life, and Christ's blood your new identifying feature?

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." -2 Corinthians 5:17

Are we helping people to excuse worldliness or are we harming them? Are we walking so close to the edge ourselves that those who follow us are likely to slip over the edge?

What I think we have forgotten, when we excuse worldliness, is that the world's system is what has destroyed these people we want to reach. It is that lifestyle that has wounded, broken, scarred them. It is that mindset that has torn apart their relationships and left them with memories they'd rather forget. It is the world that bruised and left them for dead by the roadway. What the guilty soul truly wants is not acceptance of their current life, but forgiveness and hope for a new identity.  What the guilty soul needs is the blood of Christ that washes sins, grace that enables them to change, and instruction in righteousness that will preserve them from Hell's flames.

And so, what does this mean for us? We who would preach Christ must preach holiness. We who would preach holiness must live holiness. If you need an example, consider Jesus. Always among sinners, yet never sinful. When he walked into a room He did not become like the people there, He compelled the people there to become like Him. 

“Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.'" -Leviticus 19:2

Where are the people that will serve their God with a pure heart? Where are the Daniels? Where are the Joshuas and Calebs? Where are the Davids? The Pauls? Where is the generation of promise that will change the course of nations and cultures? Where are those with white-hot purity, with fiery consecration, and fierce convictions?  

This generation is tired of those who dabble in religion or profess a Christianity they will not sell out for. Stand in righteousness...even if you must stand alone in righteousness...and see if you will affect change right where you are.

“Catch on fire and others will come for miles to watch you burn.” -John Wesley

Coming tomorrow...a examination of convictions. Where to get them and why your convictions are vital. 

Dec 16, 2011

Today's Martyrs

Often we say, “If an assassin put a gun to my head, I would die for Christ.”
But how many of us will lay down temptation for Christ?
How many would give up our rights if it wasn’t fair?
How many would bless the Lord if He took away a person we loved?
How many would remain committed if no one else did?

The test of our devotion to God is not in the pinnacle moments, but in the everyday decisions. It is not always the crisis moments that really show our commitment to God. It is our response to the daily tasks, the small disappointments, and the mundane life, that truly prove us His own or not.

Radical faith is born of radical obedience. Christ doesn’t ask for great deeds, but for great character. He doesn't long for fields strewn with corpses of martyrs, He desires vessels that are empty of themselves and willing to be used however He asks. These are the real heroes of the faith: the man who rises before dawn to spend time in prayer, the woman who forgives an offense quickly, the man who will not watch a certain movie because he wishes to keep his mind pure, the girl that holds her tongue when she'd rather lash out.

Yes, some of us may die for our faith – but all of us are called to crucify our flesh - with all its passion for earthly lusts - and to do it today, tomorrow, and each day.

Dec 15, 2011

Waiting Doesn't Start Until You Think It Should Be Over

Psalm 37:9 "Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; do not fret it only causes harm. For evildoers shall be cut off; but those who wait on the Lord, they shall inherit the earth."

In times when we don't know what God is doing, it is easy to become fretful, or anxious, or to lash out in anger and frustration when we become insecure. It's all too common to find those who give in to sinful reactions when they didn't see an immediate reward for a little obedience. Remember, those give in to evil responses birthed from impatience will be cut off from the good things God has prepared for them. But those who endure -- those who patiently wait for the Lord's perfect timing will be abundantly rewarded. Don't worry if you've obeyed and still more obedience is required. God always takes care of those who let Him. Release the decision, the frustration, the worries, the questions into God's hands and see if He will not work things out so much better than you could have.

"God always gives His best to those who leave the choice with him." -Jim Elliot

Dec 14, 2011

Song in the Storm

When all my life is tossed and shaken; when all I trusted turns to dust. When life itself become uncertain, You alone stand firm.
When waves of doubt buffet at my soul and winds of change threaten all I am, I fear I cannot stay this course but You alone stay sure.
In darkest day, in night of need, in hours of confusing pain. Though arguments build up in piles, You alone are true.

And precious Master, when I would doubt remind me whose slave I am. Remind me of the purchase price, remind me You care for Your own.
Dearest Jesus, hold me close. "Prone to wander", so, Savior, keep me near. When I would stray, when I'd run, bind fast my heart to Yours.
Treasured Friend, take charge of my heart. Keep coldness far and hardness banished. And if lean I do, as lean I will, keep my leaning bent toward You.

Oh soul of mine, how quickly you doubt. You tend so much toward despair. Remember, I charge you, the Father's protection and your Shepherd's constant care.
Mind and will, you too, must yield to trust and not to sorrow. Despair can have no place in here, I am my Father's daughter.
And finally, joy, bubble up and over, delight in this season too. Spring from thankfulness for the lessons you learn, and hope in the dreams of tomorrow.

Dec 12, 2011

No Vacancy

"...and she wrapped him in swadling clothes and layed him in the manger, because there was no room for them in the inn..." Luke 2:7

Since almost the beginning of time they had waited. Ever since that fateful day that Eve bit the forbidden fruit and God slew the first lamb to cover the first sin, they had waited. Prophesy upon prophesy had been recorded. Father's taught their children the words about the Messiah. Mother's spoke of them at home. Children committed them to memory as soon as they could speak. The Messiah would arrive, they knew it.
Throughout captivity they had yearned for it, spoke of it, considered it, sung about it. The Messiah would come, like a lion and like a lamb. He would redeem them from their captors. He would raise them up to the promise once again. He WAS the promise. So they waited.

4,000 years they had waited. Now it was time. History was at it's centerfold. Everything was about to change. But Bethlehem, sleepy little Bethlehem, the city of the destined Messiah, was busy.

Times were changing. Everything was in upheaval. The government was expanding its realm and tightening the reigns on every citizen, the Jews were chaffing under Roman rule, zealots were beginning to lash out against the government, the religious leaders were corrupt. In the middle of everything Caesar Augustus had decreed a census to be taken, and every Jew was to return to his birthplace.
Bethlehem was bursting at the seams with business. The streets were packed, the inns were packed. Everyone had family staying in their homes. Business was booming and life was happening at a fast pace for everyone here.

In the middle of it all, in wanders a small family. A working class man and his pregnant wife, just two of the hundreds of people that wandered through the town that day. No room in the inn, so they stayed in the stable of a kindly man.

That night, in that stable the Messiah was born.

In their defense, who could have known this baby was the Messiah? There was so much going on and this Messiah looked nothing like they had expected. In fact, everything was happening exactly as God had preordained, everything went according to plan. But a few people knew what was happening. Anna for one, the beautiful old lady in the temple who had waited her whole life for a glimpse of her promised Redeemer. Simeon was another. Another soul who had watched and prayed earnestly for this day. Most people, though, were too busy to realize that the world had just changed right in the middle of them.

It all gets me to thinking about my life this holiday season. It's time for festivities. Family is in town, the world is changing all the time, the economy is in an uproar.  There is much to do and little time. There is life to be lived. Yet, in the middle of all of this, am I rushing right by the plans of God? In this little place I call my heart, do I have any vacancy for a move of God, or am I too full of my busy schedule?

I am reminded to be like Anna or Simeon in this next season. To stop and wait on God. To know His heart. To recognize what He wants to do. To spend time in the Word and in prayer so I know the times I am in. To not be so caught up in the rush of life that I don't have a place available for Christ.

When God looks for a place to accomplish His eternal purposes, I want to be ready for Him...waiting expectantly and looking upwards, ready to be used.
When the Messiah comes knocking at my door, I want to fling it open and have a welcome prepared.

Dec 9, 2011

Will I?

The will of God; what does it look like?

What does it look like right now, this commonplace decision?

Not His will yesterday, or even His will tomorrow, nor His will for someone else? What is God's will for me right this moment?

Do I know it?
If not, have I asked?

If I know it, am I doing it?

I am a Christian. I am one who lives to be like Christ.
Christ said, "I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things."
Christ is my example.
Do I speak only as He teaches me, do only what He commands me?
If not why?
Am I greater than Jesus?

I wonder now...what could God do with one? One who lives every day, every decision, every thought - waking or sleeping - every breath in obedience?

Or better question...what could He not do with that one?