Temptation is part of the human experience in a fallen and sinful world. Many times we skirt temptation without giving it much thought, but other times we surrender before we even realize what hit us. I've never stopped to make a log of temptations, abut I suspect that we are all tempted numerous times every day of our existence. Sometimes the temptations are subtle, sometimes bold. There are periods of our lives when temptations appear stronger, and others when they are easily overcome.
If we were to rely on our own strength to face temptation without falling into sin, we would certainly fail! Martin Luther writes in his great hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, "Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing." So how can we face temptation, without failing? Luther continues: "Were not the right man on our side, the man of God's own choosing." We must confide in Christ.
Friends, the only one who consistently and perfectly overcame temptation was the Lord Jesus Christ. The Scriptures attest to this, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15) In Matthew 4 we read that Jesus, at the very beginning of his public ministry, was tempted. What were these temptations?
1. The devil's first temptation targeted Jesus' physical weakness: he had not eaten for forty days, and he was hungry (Matthew 4:2). Satan came to him in the wilderness and slyly challenged his authority. "If you are who you say you are, if you are the Son of God, then do something about it. Turn these stones into bread." Notice that Jesus responded with the Word of God, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." Matthew Henry rightly identifies this as a "temptation to despair of His Father's goodness." Jesus was being invited to take matters into His own hands and to despair of the provisions of His Father in heaven. Have you ever been tempted in such a way? I suspect it occurs far too frequently. We are tempted to the sin of ingratitude for the Father's provisions. It is far too easy to compare our own situation with that of others and find many reasons to complain. Jesus countered with the Word of God, indicating that God has sufficiently supplied His needs in His most excellent Word.
2. Next, the devil tempted Jesus to presume upon God's power. Notice the enemy's desire, once again, to strike at the identity of Christ. "If you are who you say you are, then throw yourself down." Trying to use the Scriptures to his advantage, he assures Jesus that if He should jump that God would give His angels charge over him. Satan knows God's Word, and seeks to misapply it. This promise of angelic protection was not intended as a means to test either God's power or His willingness to use it. That is why Jesus, answering again with Scripture, says, "You shall not put the Lord your God to a test."
3. Finally, Satan attempted to entice Jesus into committing the most horrible idolatry. In exchange for bowing down and worshiping the devil, Jesus was promised the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. Again Jesus was successful by meeting the temptation with the Word of God. "You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve."
What is the nature of the temptation you face? Don't these temptations of Christ resonate with all believers? We are tempted by our physical hunger, by our distrust of God's protection, and by our desires or lusts of the flesh for the things of this world. These weaknesses tempt us to distrust God, to distort His Word and to worship the idols of this world.
What is striking in Matthew 4 is not only Jesus' quick and clear response, but also that His success in the wilderness marked the path that He would take in conquering sin, death, and the grave. The temptations would not stop throughout his life; indeed, they would only become more intense as He would later be tempted to seek His own will in not dying for poor sinners. But Jesus continued on the path of obedience to the Father, even in the face of death. And why did He do it? It was not simply so that we could have comfort in our hour of temptation, but also so that he could overcome the tempter himself. He won the victory over sin, death, and hell for those who look to Him in Faith.
If we confide in our own strength, we are sure to fail. But when we look to Christ, and counter our everyday temptations with His Word, we will be sure to understand what Peter speaks of when he says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to His great mercy He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you REJOICE, though now for a little while, if necessary you have been grieved by various trials..." (I Peter 1: 3-6) How do we overcome temptation? By the Word. How do we live by the Word? By faith in the Son of God who overcame all temptation, and Who as the pure spotless Lamb died that we might live. He has delivered us from the evil one, and by His sacrifice, we can be certain of an everlasting hope.
Yield not to temptation,
- Horatius R. Palmer
I'm sure that by now most of you who are reading this know how much I enjoy my coffee. I remember as a boy the glass percolator on the stove top. Brewing the coffee took time, but it was well worth the wait. Today, I still wait for my coffee. Thanks to advances in technology and a gift from my brother, my coffee maker grinds the coffee beans and brews the pot. It still requires waiting, however, and some additional work. I have to make sure that everything is cleaned out, the beans are placed in the proper location, the filter is placed correctly. It takes time to grind and brew. You may think I'm crazy, but I have even thought about finding a source for coffee beans to roast myself.
Patience is something we reject in our culture, as we are accustomed to demanding instant gratification. We want things fast, we want them now. It's easy to forget that our character benefits when we experience delay and anticipation.
In Psalm 40, David reminds us of the necessity of waiting, patiently, upon the Lord. "But," we say, "I want things now. He does not know my circumstances... I need things to change now." Because we are used to getting things instantly, we have come to believe that life is filled with all sorts of little emergencies. We become stressed because we need an answer, we need a solution, we need some resources, we need - or so we think - things to happen now. The problem is that God's timing is not always in line with what we perceive our need to be. And we try to get ahead of God.
David reminds us of the rich rewards that belong to those who wait patiently upon the Lord. David says, "I waited patiently for the Lord, He inclined to me and heard my cry ..." God heard David's cry, and He acted. David then enumerates a whole list of blessings:
"He drew me out of the miry bog, he set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure." He rescued David from destruction, and removed instability by making his steps secure. Verse three goes on to say, "He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God, many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord." These benefits far outweigh the inconvenience of waiting.
The difficulty for us is that our eyes are often on ourselves and our circumstances, rather than on the God who is greater than our circumstances. He is the Sovereign Lord of the universe, the One who created it, and He is able to defend and deliver us. We can depend upon Him, for He has proved Himself to be faithful. He has given to us His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, in Whom there is life everlasting, and through Whom we can know deliverance from destruction.
When was the last time that you waited upon the Lord? I mean, really waited? Did you grow tired and weary? Perhaps it was because you lost sight of the One who is able to deliver you. Don't forget, the people of God waited millennia for the promised Messiah. Perhaps you are in the midst of difficult times even now. Let me encourage you to wait, and to wait patiently. In Isaiah 40:31 we read, "...they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." How important it is to wait, to trust in the God who is able. The waiting is not easy, but it produces a rich reward. Whatever difficulty you may be facing, I want to encourage you to wait patiently upon the Lord, trusting in His son, Jesus Christ, in Whom alone is life. Keep waiting. You will not be disappointed.
IN "A CALL TO PRAYER," the fourth chapter of his book Practical Religion, J.C. Ryle asserts: "Prayer is the most important subject in practical religion." He states that all other matters of religion are secondary to prayer. Now I must admit the first time I read that, I questioned how he could possibly elevate this one aspect above all others. Then I read on and realized that he says this because he correctly understands that prayer is "absolutely needful to man's salvation." How can a man receive salvation? He must ask for it. Ryle rightly understands that the Scripture teaches that we are saved by grace, but also recognizes that this grace is employed through the instrument of faith, given by God, but put into action by the individual. Saving faith, then, requires that we confess our sin before the Lord, turn from it in repentance, and ask for His saving grace and favor.
Prayer is the beginning of the Christian life, and friends, prayer should characterize the life of the Christian. Yet I wonder how much time professing Christians really spend in prayer. One survey I saw showed that Christians spend an average of five to seven minutes a day in prayer and that includes the prayers said at meal time. Another survey shows less than one minute. What sad statistics! Prayer is the avenue by which we as creatures are enabled to enter the presence of the King of kings, and are able to bring our requests and praises to Him. Yet, how little we take advantage of such a privilege.
Further on in this chapter on prayer, Ryle points out a number of things which should induce us to pray, not the least of which is that Christ has made a way by which we can enter into the very throne room of God. As we go before God in prayer, we know that we have one who is our Advocate: Jesus Christ, who is our great mediator. He is the way - and the only way - by which we can enter the presence of the Lord. For by nature we are enemies of God, justly deserving His wrath and displeasure. But Christ, the Son of God, through His perfect life and through the shedding of His blood, has made atonement for our sin. By faith in Christ and His work on the cross to save us from our sins, we have the privilege and the ability to enter into the very presence of God. We also have the Holy Spirit who helps us in our weakness, when we do not know how to pray as we ought. Do we need any other inducement than that? If you are in Christ, you have received every reason to pray!
Prayer is the means by which we commune and fellowship with the very God who created the heavens and the earth. He delights to hear our prayers, and in many places in the Scripture, we are commanded to pray. In I Thessalonians chapter five, a passage which looks forward to the coming of Christ and on that basis gives a number of imperative commands, it says, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for You." "Pray without ceasing" means that we take every opportunity throughout the day to pray. When we bring our requests to God we do so with thanksgiving. Philippians 4:6 says, "do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." We thank Him in the good circumstances as well as the difficult ones knowing that "for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28) We may not, and usually do not, know what is going to happen in the future, nor do we see how He is going to work out or circumstances. But we know that if we are His, then His promise is faithful and true. When you enter into His presence with thanksgiving, making your requests known, Philippians 4:7 declares what the consequence will be: "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." If you belong to Christ, you have no reason to neglect prayer!
But when you pray, pray believing in His promises, His power, His purposes that are being worked out in your circumstances. James reminds us, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways." (James 1:5-8) When we are abiding in Christ, we ask according to His will and purpose, and He grants that which is in accord with His will. What a blessing to know that if we are in Christ we can enter into the presence of God, making our requests known in faith, according to His will and purpose, and He will grant our requests. We have every reason to pray! Why on earth would we overlook such a blessing?
What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.
RECENTLY PHILIPP AND I returned from a trip to Guatemala. Many at Cornerstone supported us in prayer and through the generosity of their gifts, for which we are truly grateful. We returned with a rich storehouse of things to consider. Among them is the sure fact that being "blessed" is not related to how much money you have, whether you have the latest fashions or the most splendid things this world has to offer. Being blessed is knowing and serving Jesus Christ. The children in Guatemala exuded a contagious joy that was absolutely sincere. They did not have anything of the world's goods to hold onto, but they had something far better and greater - they had Jesus Christ.
Friends, the trip was a real wake-up call to the reality of how profoundly sad our materialistic culture is. We are constantly bombarded by the computer, television, radio and flyers with the message that we need something else. We need the best, fastest, and most beautiful of what the world has to offer. This message is very convincing, yet Christ said, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal." (Mt. 6:19-20)
In Guatemala our group witnessed people living in houses made with scrap tin that they pieced together. Even worse, families put up tarps at the local garbage dump, sleeping there waiting for people to drop off trash so they could rummage through it. The poverty was severe in places, but one thing was consistent among the Christians we met. Material goods meant little to them, but they were joyful in Christ. They could say with the Psalmist in Psalm 73:25: "Whom have I in heaven, but You? And there is nothing on earth I desire besides You."
There is much we could learn from them, but the most important thing is to recognize the source of true joy. Until we do, we will be the most miserable, dissatisfied, and discouraged people alive. Even Christians who seek joy in their marriage, their families, their work, and maybe even in their church, come away with disappointments. The reason for discouragement, of course, comes from the fact that there is no one and nothing that can take the place of Christ in the heart, who alone is the real joy giver.
Christ gives a permanent, eternal joy and the certain hope that comes with it to those who have been raised from death to life by saving faith in Him. Peter says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." (I Peter 1:3) A living hope, a true and everlasting joy, and a certain peace - all of these come by knowing the One who loved and gave His life for all whose trust is established in Him.
To know God, who has revealed Himself in His Word and through His Son, is abundant joy. Jesus said, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." (John 10:10b) How many miss the fact that joy can only come through trusting and serving Jesus Christ!
Friends, have you surrendered your lives to Christ? Be careful how you answer that. I suspect that most in our materialistic culture could not truly say that they have. And if you have not, then why would you not be willing to forsake all for the sake of Jesus Christ? For He alone can give us eternal spiritual blessings, which money could never purchase.
You make known the path of life;
in Your presence there is fullness of joy;
at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE BELIEVE in Christ's resurrection? Is there any reason to believe He really rose from the dead? Many facts surrounding the resurrection of our Lord attest to its truth. In Matthew 28, when the angel appeared and rolled back the stone sealing the entrance to Jesus' tomb, the soldiers who were guarding the tomb trembled. They witnessed the angel's explanation to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, that Jesus had risen from the dead. They saw that the tomb was empty when the angel moved the stone!
But the soldiers went and reported everything to the chief priests, who along with the elders told them to fabricate a story that Jesus' disciples had stolen the body. Now, when Jesus died, the disciples had left the scene in anguish. There is no evidence that they stole - or were capable of stealing - the body. In addition, Matthew 27 tells us that the chief priests and Pharisees had made every effort to prevent them from doing it, by sealing the tomb with an enormous stone and posting a guard of Pilate's soldiers.
Paul tells us in I Corinthians, "...that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep." (I Corinthians 15:3-6). More than five hundred bore witness to the resurrection of Christ. The detail which Paul added for the benefit of the Corinthian church was that many of those witnesses were still alive when he wrote. That is not insignificant. Paul was in fact saying, "You can verify my words."
Books have been written detailing the facts which testify to the reality of the resurrection. So why do people find it unbelievable? The proofs in a thousand books are insufficient to prove the resurrection to someone who chooses to believe that such supernatural acts are impossible. Listen. The reason that people do not believe is not because of a lack of evidence, but because the greatest proof is the Holy Spirit bearing testimony to our Spirit that we are the children of God. It is impossible to believe in the Resurrection without the regenerating work of the Spirit of God. For to those who are perishing, the truth of the resurrection is folly. Paul says, "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (I Corinthians 1:18) Or again, "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." (I Corinthians 2:14) If men refuse to believe in Christ, his death, burial and resurrection, the reason is simple. The gospel is veiled to them. "In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, in the face of Jesus Christ." (II Corinthians 4:4) Each person is blinded because of his or her own sin, and the only One who is able to open the eyes of the heart is the Spirit of God.
The greatest proof, then, for the Resurrection is to be found in the lives of those who have been forever changed because of it. Peter says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." (I Peter 1:3) The same power God exerted to raise Jesus from the dead, He uses to raise us from being dead in our sins, to being alive in Christ. Without new life in Christ, we are unable to perceive, understand or believe the truth about what the Scripture says with regard to the resurrection. Those upon whom the Spirit of God has descended, and to whom He has brought new life, are now living witnesses to the truth of the risen Christ. The best proof we can offer of the Resurrection is that we "may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death." (Philippians 3:10)
So as we seek to show that Christ is alive in our lives, let us also pray that God, by His Spirit, would transform those around us that do not know Him, that they may by His work come to know and love Him to the glory of God.
BUT GODLINESS WITH CONTENTMENT IS GREAT GAIN. At its January meeting, the session chose this verse, I Timothy 6:6, to be Cornerstone's theme verse for 2014. As he penned this letter, Paul was no doubt aware that some sought to use their faith and piety as an opportunity for increasing their prosperity. Some had become greedy for gain, and Paul indicates that it is not gain that we should seek, but rather godliness.
Such an idea flies in the face of the culture in which we live. We live in a society which promotes the accumulation of more: more prosperity, more possessions, greater power, greater position. but Paul tells us that as Christians, our gain is not financial but spiritual, and the way to it is by being more like Jesus Christ. Christians are to seek to be more like Christ in every way, and are to be content in this world.
Such contentment can only come when our eyes are focused where they should be. How do you know whether your focus is right? Ask yourself some questions. Pen and paper might help you to organize your responses.
1. What do I spend my time doing?
2. What do I spend my time thinking?
3. Where do I spend my money?
4. What is my heart set upon?
Jesus said in Matthew 6:21, "Where your treasure is, there will be your heart also." This
profound statement reminds us that the things we most treasure in life are the things to which we devote our time, attention and our very selves.
Be honest! Don't try to justify or defend, just consider what you spend the majority of your time thinking about and doing. Looking at your conclusions, do you find that the majority of your resources, including your time, are spent on the things of this world? If so, ask yourself: Am I truly happy? (Again, be honest!) Or do I feel as though I want more? The things that this world has to offer may bring pleasure for a time, but certainly not for eternity. Christ advises His followers to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33). Your Heavenly Father knows your needs and will meet them. Set your priorities straight and it really won't matter if you have a lot or have nothing at all.
Your first priority as a Christian is to make it your life's aim to know and become more like Jesus Christ. The more like Him you are, the more this world will fade in your estimation and the more joy-filled you will become. What we need is not an absence of problems or a larger bank balance; what we need is more of Jesus Christ. As the hymn says, "Thou, O Christ, are all I want; More than all in Thee I find." And the more of Jesus you have, the greater will be your love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.
My prayer for each of you in 2014 is that you will not only strive to become, but that you will become more like Jesus, and that in so doing will find true contentment in the Lord! What you gain by seeking Him first may not be riches. You may not have your afflictions removed. But you will find the strength and the peace that will be a reflection of Christ in you, the hope of glory. Friends, St. Augustine said that he was restless until he found his rest in God. It is true that without Him we are of all creatures most to be pitied, but with Him we can face the future with satisfaction and contentment, knowing that we have been given all sufficiency in Christ.
If you turn on the news these days, you will most likely hear a great deal about benefits - social security benefits, Medicare benefits, health insurance and perhaps many others. Everybody has the answers, but no one has the solutions. People are losing confidence in their leaders as they receive notices that their benefits have been dropped. Benefits that were once viewed as stable are now found to be at best unreliable.
But amidst the uncertainties of life, Christ came to be born of a woman, born under the law. And it is by faith in Christ that we are assured great and everlasting benefits. There is a difference, however, between the benefits that we work so hard for and the ones that Christ bestows. For the blessings and benefits that God pours out upon us in and through His Son, Jesus, he does so freely of His grace.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism, as it summarizes the Biblical teaching on this matter of benefits, asks, "What benefits do they that are effectually called partake of in this life?" (WSC #32) The answer to the question is this:
They that are effectually called do in this life partake of justification, adoption, and sanctification and the several benefits which in this life do either accompany or flow from them.
In other words, these benefits are reserved for those who have looked to Christ in faith.
"Effectual calling" is defined in question 31 of the Catechism as the work of the Spirit of God by which we are convinced of our sin and misery, and are brought to an understanding of the work of Christ, and are given the ability to embrace Him by faith.
When we look to Christ in faith, we are justified (declared righteous), adopted into the family, and sanctified (purified from the corruption and pollution of sin). The amazing thing about these benefits is that they are not temporary, and no one is able to take them away from us. They are eternal benefits which we begin to enjoy in this life and continue to enjoy for all eternity. The Catechism also addresses the benefits we enjoy at death, and at the resurrection. Those who framed the words of the Catechism want us to understand that these benefits belong to us not because we have earned them or worked for them, but solely because of what God has done for us in His Son, Jesus Christ.
These benefits are only possible because Jesus Christ, God's eternal son, took on flesh. John tells us, "The word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14) Earlier in that same passage John declares, "But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." In His mercy, God has not treated us as our sins deserve, and in His grace He has lavished upon us what we do not deserve.
By granting to us the ability to believe in His Son, He adopts us into His family and gives the promise of life everlasting. Without Christ, we are without hope, but with Christ, we have eternal and everlasting benefits. Now that is something for which to rejoice.
My prayer for you in this season and throughout the year, if you have not placed your trust in Christ, is that you will do so and begin to experience the great benefits of being a child of God. If you do know Him, my prayer is that you will grow more acquainted with the extent of the benefits that are yours in Christ.
Think about it. When we receive a letter concerning our health benefits, we read it. We want to fully understand what is covered and what isn't. In the same way, we must eagerly turn to God's Word to discover all of the benefits belonging to those who have looked to Christ by faith! The more we know of them, the greater will be our gratitude, and our rejoicing, and the greater our service will be to Christ.
So friends, as you celebrate this season of the year, my prayer is that you would celebrate Christ. And no matter what happens in this unstable world around us, don't worry. If you are in Christ your eternal benefits are secure - so begin to live out of gratitude for the grace you have been shown!
Imagine trying to list the many decisions we make in a day.
We face hundreds of them, perhaps even thousands. We make decisions about everything from what we're going to do as soon as we get out of bed, to what we are going to wear, who we will meet in a particular day, and what things we will try to accomplish. Some decisions are small and not likely to affect anyone else, and others have far-reaching and sometimes unknown consequences. Yet, how often do we stop to think about what motivates our decision-making process? Why do we choose the things we choose? Are we motivated by a desire to make ourselves happy, or are we motivated by a desire to serve others? And where is God in our decision-making process? Is He central of is He somewhere on the periphery?
In I Corinthians 10:31, we read, "So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." Paul was writing to a church which was experiencing great conflict and division. In this particular context, some Christians had a conscience about eating meat offered to idols. And he gives some specific commands about that. I suspect that none of us have to deal with that particular problem, but we can be sure that sometimes divisions arise among God's people. And the only solution to the problem is to recognize that our motivation should be God' glory. We can ask, "Am I aiming to please God by the decision that I am making? have I made it a point to pray about this decision with a true desire to honor god?" So often we may pray for God to bless our agenda, rather than to pray that God will direct our paths so that we will seek His purposes in all things.
After we are sure that we are seeking the Lord, another question should arise: "Am I looking out for the interests of others, or solely my own personal interests in this decision?" In Philippians 2, Paul exhorts us to have the mind of Christ. In that passage he gives us the greatest example of self-sacrificial love; the Lord Jesus Christ humbling himself to take on flesh, to suffer in the flesh for sinners, and to die the wretched death of the cross. Yet, prior to this example, Paul says, "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves." (Phil. 2:3). Wow! Can we ever possibly reach this ideal? The difficulty is that we desire to please ourselves. Romans 1 tells us that, in our sin, we worship the creature rather than the Creator. What we need is a reversal of our old sinful self.
This change can take place only in Christ. From the moment we look to Christ in faith until we die, we are a work in progress. We are in constant need of the Spirit of God to change us from desiring to please ourselves to seeking to please God first and others second. So when we make decisions in life, we should first think about what God would have us do; and then ask how this decision will impact others - how can we seek to honor them? What we want should be last. If you want true Joy in life, it comes only as you put Jesus first, Others second, and Yourselves last. If you really want to do yourself a favor, put God and others in their rightful position and you will not be disappointed.
One of the crazy things I remember doing when I was a young boy was to lie on the couch with my head touching the floor just to see how strange everyone looked. It was quite odd looking at people while being upside down, especially when they began to talk. How different it is when you begin to look at things upside down. Our perspective is everything - change the perspective and everything appears to be so very different.
The same is true the very moment we come to faith in Christ. For until that moment the world and its value system appears to us to be quite natural. Our affections change when we come to faith in Christ and we begin to value things that we once despised. We may ask the question, "Why?"
The answer is simple. The world in its sinful condition exalts the creature and not the Creator. Romans 1: 21-23 describes for us the condition of man outside of faith in Christ.
"For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things."
What had happened to this beautiful, perfect creation that God had made? By his fall into sin, Adam plunged the entire human race into an upside down perspective. In our sin, the creature appears to us to be the sovereign, while we try to make God in our image.
Yet there is a problem. All of those around us who do not know Christ, and who have never given their lives to him, see the world from the upside down vantage point. They will immediately think that we are strange and will endeavor tirelessly to persuade us on their foolery. Paul recognizes this and says of those who despise the cross that they are the fools, for they are perishing (I Corinthians 1). Yet we must never take our wisdom as an opportunity to boast to those who are perishing, but rather to speak to them as a means of showing them the Truth.
There is something else, though, that must continue to happen if we are to see things as they should be. We need to spend time in the Word, both privately and publicly. We need to have God's Word read, taught, and preached. We need to read it, meditate upon it and pray over it so that, like the Psalmist in Psalm 119:11, we would hide His word in our hears that we might not sin against God.
Because you know, don't you, that if you are being influenced by the world in all of your thinking, then your vision is impaired and your perspective is skewed. In order to begin to understand this vast universe and the greatness of the way in which God designed it, you have to spend time in the Word. If you are a Christian, you will not be satisfied to remain on a diet of milk. No, you need the meat of the Word so that you can begin to see a change in the way you are thinking. And when that occurs the world all of a sudden begins to appear quite odd; everything is upside down, and you are now looking from the right side up position. But don't think that this perspective completely changes over night. It requires feeding upon the Word and digesting it in order to see things as they should be. When that happens you will find that the things of this world on which you spent your time, your resources, your talents, are not important. What is important is to serve Jesus Christ our Redeemer and Lord.
I pray that the world will appear to you more strange every day, and that Christ and his body, the church, will have a greater appeal each day. For after all, if you belong to Christ by faith you will be spending but a short time in this world and eternity with Christ. To that end, Paul says,
"I appeal to you therefore brothers by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, BUT be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."
Are you seeking to renew your mind? If so, you have to plant it in the Word in order for it to grow. And when it grows, you will see the world from a whole different, and proper, perspective. Christ and His Church will appear all the more glorious, and the world will appear all the more mournful and sad. God will be on the throne, and you will be in your rightful place in submission to Him. Remember, if you belong to Christ, this world is not your home. We are citizens of a heavenly kingdom and we belong to our heavenly King.
The month of Apri is upon us, and most everyone knows what that means: April Fools' Day. I do not know about you, but I have been made a fool of many times in my life by the pranks or jokes others have played on me, and I must confess, I have done my share to make a fool of others on that day. April 1st is a day of light-hearted enjoyment in which we try to pull the wool over the eyes of someone else. As I write this article it is not that kind of foolery I have in mind, but rather what the Apostle Paul says of himself in I Corinthians 4.
He wanted the Corinthians, known for their boasting, to realize that unlike them, he and the other apostles were weak and held in disrepute. He listed a number of things which summarized his own experience as an apostle; he was hungry, thirsty, buffeted, and even homeless. He was considered the scum of the world and refuse of all things. This is critical for us to see and understand. Paul, the great apostle of Jesus Christ, was glorying not in his high position but his low position. You see, while the Corinthians created divisions by aligning themselves to different ministers (Paul, Apollos, Cephas - see I Corinthians 1:12), Paul showed himself to be a servant of Jesus Christ. What mattered to Paul was not that he was approved by men and their faulty standards, but that he was a workman approved by Jesus Christ.
Friends, the world may look upon Christians and ridicule us, mock us, deride us. They may even call us fools for believing in Christ. Do not allow that to hinder you from the great work that God has called us to do. When you take a stand to live for Jesus Christ, then friend, you may be a fool in the world's eyes, "for the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (I Corinthians 1:18) But the only real fools on the day of Christ's return are those who say there is no God. (Psalm 53:1) Better to be a fool to the world than to be foolishly unprepared for Christ's return by not having placed your trust in Jesus Christ.