Plan Ahead 

Isaiah 47:1
“Come down and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon;
Sit on the ground without a throne,
O daughter of the Chaldeans!
For you shall no more be called
Tender and delicate.”

Sitting in the dust, like wearing sackcloth or throwing dirt in the air was a sign of mourning. It was not uncommon in the ancient world for a person stricken with grief to express it outwardly. Those who lost a loved one, or were burdened by personal sin were easily identifiable to the people around them.

At the time Isaiah is writing Babylon was on its way to becoming the most powerful and wealthiest nation of that era. They will soon topple Assyria and spread their empire from Iraq to Egypt. While on the rise it is often difficult to see our need for Christ so Isaiah takes them to the future when their nation, like all nations before them would fall. He describes a coming time when their mothers, wives and children will become captives and their land destroyed.

It seems that today a great emphasis is placed on planning ahead. I recently saw an advertisement for retirement planning that used blocks to show the value of starting now and setting a little aside each month for the future. While I am certain there is wisdom in planning for retirement their is even greater wisdom in planning for eternity. The first step involves turning to the Lord and away from a lifestyle that is unacceptable to Him.

How sad for the Babylonians who ignored the warnings of the word and continued on a path that led to their own destruction.

Jim

 

Crutches

Ezekiel 29:6-7
“Then all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am the Lord, because they have been a staff of reed to the house of Israel. When they took hold of you with the hand, you broke and tore all their shoulders; when they leaned on you,you broke and made all their backs quiver.”

One of the common criticisms of Christianity asserts it is a crutch for weak people. I would disagree with that accusation based upon its premise. You see, anyone making that statement is failing to see that we, as humans, are all weak and in need of something outside of ourselves to help us along the way. The question is not whether Christianity is a crutch, but whether it is a reliable one. Ezekiel’s message to Israel was that leaning on the strength of Egypt, when threatened by attack from Babylon, was like using a reed to support their body weight. The visual is clear, a reed does not have the strength to support their weight.

This passage is particularly interesting to me, as I hobble from airport to airport with a broken ankle. Because of the break, my left leg can bear no weight. I am dependent on crutches to hold me up. When I reached security, I had to place my crutches on the belt and was handed two wooden canes that bore evidence of not being trustworthy. Instead of leaning all my weight on them, I chose to hop through the line, as though I were playing a childhood game.

It is not a question of whether you have a crutch or not. The question you must ask is, whether your crutch is suitable to bear the weight of both life and death. Things like family, intelligence, physical strength, resolve or riches, might be a sufficient crutch for the struggles of life, but they will not support us in death. The only way to prepare for eternity is to trust in the saving work of Christ.

Pastor Jim

 

Pray 

1 John 5:16
“If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that.”

Prayer is a critical part of our relationship with God. It is the means by which we are involved in the work of God on earth. Scripture reveals the things God desires to do when we join in prayer; as a result we get to see God work. There are many texts in Scripture making it clear that when we fail to pray, we fail to experience the works of God. Perhaps the most well-known is when James declares, “You have not because you ask not.” (James 4:2c) Because of the importance of prayer, as it relates to the work of God, John instructs us on how to pray. Verse 14 tells us what to pray for,

1 John 5:14 “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”

The purpose of prayer is to get the will of God accomplished. When we look into the Word of God we will see the things that are important to God. When we ask Him to accomplish those things, we will begin to see our prayers answered. We know the salvation of our loved ones is on the top of God’s list, so we should put them on the top of list, and be praying for them regularly.

In verse 16, John addresses things that we should not pray for. He refers to them as the sins that lead to death. Sometimes, I wish there were a few more verses in Scripture. I wish John would have added a sentence or two explaining exactly what he meant. Since he did not, we are left to do a little digging on our own. What does the Bible say we should not pray about? I think the clear answer is, we should not pray about the things God has told us not to do. When my children were little, they would often ask for something, and not receive the answer for which they were hoping. Instead of accepting the answer they received, they would continue to ask, and at times even plead, beg, or ask with fervency. Their continued asking, after they had been told NO, did not change our minds, it only got them into trouble. In the same way, there are things God, because of His love for us, forbids us to have, or be involved in, and it is wrong for the Christian to ask for those things.

While all that is true, it is clearly not what John is talking about here. He is talking about those times when a friend gets involved in sin, and how we should respond to him. He tells us, if his sin is a deadly one, don’t pray about it. That is, if his sin is so dangerous, and able to destroy them, or their relationship with the Lord, don’t pray. Since I am not sure exactly what John means, I think the best application for the text is, instead of standing back waiting to decide what God wants me to do, I should take the advice of Paul who said, “. . .when a brother is overtaken in sin you who are spiritual restore him in a spirit of meekness. . .” (Galatians 6:1) Rather than letting our loved ones continue down a road that is taking them away from the Lord, we should step in, and do all we can to get them back on track. We already know God loves them, and He wants to restore them, the only question is, how we can help?

Pastor Jim

 

Way Of Life

Jeremiah 21:8

“Now you shall say to this people, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death.”‘”

The inhabitants of Judah had a choice to make. On the one hand, they had God’s way that carried a promise of life. On the other hand, they had their own way which could only lead to death.

Proverbs 14:12 “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”

To make matters more difficult, the way that promised life included surrender to the Babylonians. Jeremiah declared that if they fought against the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, or if they fled from them, in an attempt to find safety somewhere else, they would die. The only hope for Judah was to surrender. Once surrendered, they would be captured, and once captured, they would ultimately become free. The paradox of surrender leading to freedom, was one the people could not grasp, so they fought against it to their own demise.

The same offer is made to every man. We have the choice of God’s way with the promise of life, or our own way that leads to death. Just as we face the same decision, we also face the same paradox. If we surrender to the Lord, we will find true life and freedom, if we refuse to surrender, we will continue to battle against the same struggles in life, over and over again. Jesus put it this way,

Mark 8:35 “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

The choice is yours. Will you surrender to Christ and experience true life, or will you continue to fight against Him? The amazing thing is, all you are hoping to achieve by refusing Christ, is found in surrender to Him.

Pastor Jim

Finish Line 

2 Timothy 4:6-8
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

Paul has come to the end of his road. While prison was an all too common experience for the apostle, he had been delivered from it, and other perils, time and time again. Somehow, he knew this time would be different, and his deliverance would be through death. Not long after this letter was written, Paul was martyred for his faith in Christ. As his journey concludes, Paul examines his life, looking at his past, present and future.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Looking back over his years as a believer, Paul sums his life up by comparing it to a race. The simple statement that he has reached the finish line, reminds us of the training, self-discipline, and obstacles he faced along the way. Finishing well starts when we decide to live for Christ. Many sit back, thinking about how they should get more serious about their relationship with Jesus, but as days become weeks and weeks years, they have done nothing about it. If we want to end this life as Paul did, we must decide, today, that we will live for eternity, laying down whatever is keeping us from moving ahead. Paul used another word to describe his life, he called it a fight. While fights may be something we enjoy watching, they are not something enjoyable to do. Sometimes, the only way to get in the race, is to stand firm, and fight against the desires of the flesh that keep us bound.

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, . . .”

Paul did not see his present situation as a victory for the enemy, but as an opportunity to minister to others. In Old Testament times, the drink offering was to accompany the sacrifices that were burned on the altar. It would add to the beautiful aroma of the sacrifice. Earlier, Paul used the phrase, “if I am being poured out as an offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith” (Philippians 2:17). Paul saw his current struggles as a means to minister to others. Suffering is never pleasant, but God wants to use it in our lives as a witness to others. It is often through the difficult experiences, that we find inroads into reaching others with the Gospel.

“Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

One of the most comforting truths that kept the Apostle moving forward, was knowing death was not the end. He knew a final breath in this body, meant the first step into eternity. As a result, Paul lived to bring glory to God. This led to the expectation that upon entering glory, Paul would be rewarded with the crown of righteousness. This crown is not Paul’s alone, but for all who live committed to Christ, and anticipate seeing Him face to face; they will one day receive the crown of righteousness.

Let’s live today in expectation of His soon return.

Pastor Jim

 

Be Prepared 

1 Timothy 6:7
“For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.”

Famous American inventor and statesman, Benjamin Franklin, is credited with saying, “Nothing is certain except for death and taxes.” It seems we spend much of our time, effort, and energy, trying to avoid these things, rather than preparing for them. Some of us will exercise regularly, change our diet, and get regular checkups with our family doctor, in an attempt to postpone the inevitable. Others, will avoid any thought whatsoever of death or dying, and live this life as though it will last forever. Some, might have a risk-it-all attitude, where they live life on the edge, while others will attempt to amass as much stuff in this life as possible. Remember the mantra “He who dies with the most toys wins”?While I am not suggesting that eating healthy or enjoying life are bad ideas, I am saying, attempts to avoid or ignore death, are not nearly as important as attempts to prepare for it.

Matthew 6:19-20 “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.”

Jesus explained the folly of living for this life only. He reminds us that all we have acquired in this life, is subject to theft or decay. Not long ago, a water line under our house sprung a leak and ruined the flooring in our living room. I can remember the excitement on my wife’s face when the floor was first laid. While we knew it would not last forever, neither of us thought it would go so quickly. Life is like that, we live as though things will continue on forever, not because evidence suggests it, but because we do not want to face the reality that we are temporal beings with a shelf life. All of us must take seriously the words of the Apostle, realize the brevity of life, and prepare for eternity.

“For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.”

While it is true we can take nothing with us, we certainly can send things on ahead. Jesus maitained, we can store up treasures in heaven. We are all taking a trip one day into the unknown, to a destination where we have never traveled. While we cannot know everything we will face when we arrive, we can prepare in advance for our destination. Step one is to receive Christ; He alone is the way into heaven. Step two, get to know His Word, and live for the things that will outlast this life. The Bible teaches us there are only three things which are eternal: God, His Word, and the souls of men. If we want to live for that which will outlast this life, we must put Jesus first, get to know Him through the pages of our Bible, and seek to impact as many as possible for the kingdom of heaven.

Pastor Jim

 

Setting Things In Order

Isaiah 38:1
“In those days Hezekiah was sick and near death. And Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, went to him and said to him, Thus says the Lord: ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.'”

When Hezekiah heard the report that his condition was terminal, and death was knocking at his door, he immediately began to pray. His prayer recounted the way he had lived his life in commitment to the Lord. All that was left was to beseech the mercy of God, for an extension of days.

The phrase used to report the physical condition of the king has become well known. It is used commonly for those who are facing terminal illness. When medical science reaches its end, a person is encouraged to set their house in order. Often, that means little more than saying a proper goodbye, and making sure those who are left are cared for financially. Certainly, Isaiah had much more than that in mind when he approached the king with the dire news of his life coming to its end.

To properly set our house in order we must prepare for eternity, and prepare those we leave behind for life. We do this by receiving Christ, committing ourselves to Him, living to store up treasures in heaven, and setting a pattern for future generations to follow. The best way to set our house in order, is to consider our spiritual condition before  death looms at our door. Begin today to examine your life. Are you prepared to face the judge of your soul? Have you set a godly example for your children, and their children after them, to mimic? If not, why not start today? Take the appropriate time to confess your sins, and commit your ways to Christ.

Pastor Jim