Saturday, May 21, 2022

Live While You’re Alive

 


What are your future plans? Many of us plan out our lives into major chapters—I’m going to graduate, start my career, get married, have kids, buy a house, retire, and then I’ll travel and see the world. Or then I’ll do everything on my bucket list. Or then I’ll have time to spend with family and enjoying hobbies. 

Having a plan is a good thing, but I want to encourage you to live while you’re alive. We are not supposed to spend the majority of our life getting ready to enjoy the minority of it. I want to share a parable I read recently. 

An American investment banker took a vacation to Mexico and was enjoying some time fishing. He noticed a small boat docking, where a single local man unloaded his catch for the day—three good looking fish. The banker, who spoke decent Spanish, asked the fisherman how long it took him to catch those fish. “Only a little while,” the man answered. The banker was puzzled; it was early, and he caught a few fish in a short time, and yet he was calling it a day. Why didn’t he spend the whole day catching even more fish? The Mexican told him he caught enough to take care of his family for the day and to meet his immediate needs. 

The American asked what he does with the rest of his time. “I sleep in, spend some time fishing, I take a siesta with my wife, I play the guitar, I play with my children, and hang out with my friends.” The banker couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He had an MBA and felt like he should pass on some free advice. “Sir, you should spend more time fishing. Then you can use the extra money to buy a larger boat, then hire a few employees. Then you can afford to buy several boats and hire more people until you have an entire fleet. Instead of selling fish to the middleman, you can sell them directly to the cannery. You’d have to leave this village, of course, and move into the city.”

“Senior,” asked the fisherman, “how long will all this take?” “Oh, fifteen to twenty years. But then you can retire. Sell your enterprise to the highest bidder and walk away.” The fisherman asked what he would do after that. 

The American said, “You can sleep in, spend some time fishing, take a siesta with your wife, play they guitar, and hang out with your children and friends.” 

Unfortunately that is how many of us spend our lives. Rather than enjoying the small pleasures in life and just being together, we spend time separated because of the countless hours it takes to either plan for the future or fund our lifestyle. Please do not misunderstand me: I am not suggesting that we be irresponsible, and I am not saying that it is wrong to work. But sometimes we need to re-evaluate what we call the necessities. Don’t give your best years to your company; give them to your family. No one on their deathbed regrets spending too much time with their loved ones, but wasting so much time away from them. 

“Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit"— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

James 4:13-14


Sunday, May 15, 2022

Smelling a Rotten Egg

 

“If God is real, explain all the suffering in the world.”

“If there really is a good and loving God, why doesn’t he stop bad people from doing bad things?”

Questions like these are often used by atheists or agnostics to help them explain away the existence of God. There are very good answers to these difficult questions, and I frequently write about them in this space. But for many of us, we are not going to convince someone who is being argumentative; no answer will suffice, especially when the answer requires us to wade waist deep into the theological waters. 

Instead of trying to explain why God allows what He allows, and thus play defense, we can turn that accusation around and go on offense. Dr. Frank Turek, founder of the Christian apologetics ministry Cross Examined, once had a brilliant reply to such a challenge against the existence of God. He said, “Its easy to smell a rotten egg, but its hard to lay a better one.” 

The point is that anyone can throw accusations. That is quite easy to do. Listen to a group of sports fans talk the day after a game. People who have never coached a game, or never played quarterback, will tear into the coach for a late game decision, or rip the QB for not making the right read when a 300lb. linebacker was blitzing him. In the same way, we criticize the President or governor for some gut wrenching decisions they had to make, and we often judge them in hindsight. We smell a rotten egg. The team lost the game. The legislation wasn’t perfect. Everybody sees it, and the finger-pointing begins. 

Yes, it is easy to smell a rotten egg, but it is much harder to lay a better egg. That is, we might agree the quarterback made a mistake, but how many of us could actually have done it better? As this relates to the atheist’s critique of God, anyone can find something in the world they deem as wrong or unfair and use that as a charge against the goodness or omnipotence of God. “There are children in Africa born with AIDS, therefore, God must not exist.” 

But rather than play defense and feel like we must defend God, as if God needs to be defended to mortals by mortals, we can demand the accuser lay a better egg. “OK, if God is not real, you give me a better solution. You explain human consciousness. You explain the ability to think and reason. You explain universal laws of morality, where every people group knows it is inherently wrong to steal and murder. You explain how the universe is fine tuned for human life. You explain how order came from chaos. You explain how there are laws of physics (or planetary motion, or gravity, or whatever) without a lawgiver or judge.”

While I can defend the goodness of God in a sinful world, I shouldn’t have to. The burden of proof lies with the one who rejects what all common sense (and real science) tells us: the God of the Bible is real, and He is the creator. If there are some things you do not like about God, He can handle that, but if you decide He isn’t real, it is up to you to lay a better egg.

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.”‭‭

Psalm‬ ‭19:1-2‬


Sunday, May 8, 2022

Getting Along with your Conscience

Do you get along with your conscience? You are supposed to, but some people view their conscience as their enemy because it is always arguing with them. Your conscience is that little voice in your head that lets you know if you are out of line, but it can also be that voice of vindication, confirming that you are living right when there may be some doubt.  

The English word conscience comes from the two Latin words for with and knowledge. No person knows us like our own conscience, for it has more knowledge of us than any other person has. We can fool friends and family, parents and pastors, but we can never fool our knowledgeable conscience. 

When Paul stood on trial before Felix in Acts 24, he said, “So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man (v.16).” In II Corinthians 1:12 he appealed to his clean conscience when he was falsely accused (“For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.”). Having a clear conscience is a wonderful blessing, but when we are living in sin, our conscience will torment us. Paul wrote to his protégé about those “liars whose consciences are seared (I Timothy 4:1-2). 

When you look in the mirror, how does your conscience make you feel? Are you ashamed of who you are looking at? If you are living right, you and your conscience will be best friends. But if you know you are out of line, you will be trying to drown out the nagging voice that is telling you to shape up. Does your conscience torment you, reminding you of your guilt? Maybe your conscience is bothering you because you have never given your heart to the Lord. 

Don’t get mad at your conscience; it is only trying to help. It has your best interests at heart. We commonly refer to the nine justices in Washington as the highest court in the land, but John MacArthur said the conscience is the highest human court. Judges are human, and even the best and most well meaning of them makes mistakes, but our conscience has too much knowledge to ever get its verdict wrong. So are you getting along with your conscience, or is it scolding you? 


When you lay your head on your pillow, what does your conscience say?

It will speak to you about the choices that you made throughout the day.

If you know that you’ve been good—you know that you’re living right

Your conscience is a welcomed friend, and it lets you sleep at night. 


But if you know you haven’t been good—you know you’re living in sin,

You don’t want to hear from your conscience. It isn’t a welcomed friend. 

So if you need to get some rest, repent of what you’re doing wrong,

Then tonight when your conscience visits, you’ll be able to get along. 


Sunday, May 1, 2022

Mustard Seeds and Sorrow

 

An old Chinese proverb tells of a mother who was distraught over the loss of her child. She was overcome with sorrow, and feeling that she would never be able to get on with her life, finally decided to visit a local philosopher. The aged gentleman told the grieving mother that he could bring her son back from the dead if she would just bring him some mustard seeds. But there was a catch. The seeds had to come from a household where no one had ever experienced suffering. The desperate woman went from house to house, investigating every family in the village. What she discovered was that sorrow is common to every person. 

That proverb contains a great truth on the reality of suffering. It is an unfortunate part of life. But I like that the philosopher chose, of all things, to request mustard seeds because that is what Jesus used to teach on faith. He said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you (Luke 17:6).” We do not need much faith when we believe in Jesus; the mustard seed was the smallest known seed in their culture, but Jesus said that is all that would be required. 

A lot of people miss the fact that our faith is supposed to grow. The point is not that we only need a microscopic amount of faith to make it through life; the point is that we only need a small amount to be saved, but that our faith, like a mustard plant, should grow into a powerful force. Jesus later said this of the mustard seed: “It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches (Matthew 13:32).” Jesus’ point is that what starts out small can thrive over a lifetime. 

Now let’s apply that back to the parable about sorrow. The Chinese mother found that no one is immune from suffering, so she never returned with her mustard seeds. But if we can learn to place our mustard seed sized faith in Jesus, then we can be better equipped to face life’s hardships. In II Corinthians 1:3-4 Paul wrote these beautiful words: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

In the ninth verse the apostle would go on to say that these hardships “make us rely not on ourselves but on God.” It may seem difficult at the time, but this is what faith is. We must learn to trust that in everything—including our sorrow—God has a plan. We have to trust that He is truly working all things together for our good, according to Romans 8:28. I am not trying to minimize what you might be going through, Christian, but I am asking you to trust in God. God comforts us in our afflictions, and that word comfort means He builds our strength and better equips us to live life. Whatever you might be going through could be God’s way of refining you and growing you into the person He wants you to be. 

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Sunday, April 24, 2022

Who is Stronger?

 


Is Satan powerful? We place a lot of blame on him for the problems in this life, and deservedly so. He is responsible for the entrance of sin into the world, and since sin is the reason for all our problems, Satan bears much of the responsibility for the fallen condition of humanity. 

But just how powerful is the devil? The Bible identifies him as the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2), and the god or ruler of this world (John 12:31). He certainly is strong, and to underestimate his power is a grave mistake. Some people choose to play around with occultic activities, and I believe this only gives Satan an even greater opening to temp us. 

Paul gives us a glimpse into the devil’s power in II Corinthians 4:4 when he wrote, “whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.” According to that verse, our adversary has the ability to blind people to the truth of God. Unbelievers remain right where he wants them—clueless as to their need for saving from their sin. That seems to indicate that he is quite powerful. 

What chance do we have if the enemy wields so much power? There is good news. Just two verses later Paul would write, “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (v.6).” Did you see that? Satan may have the power to blind people and keep them in darkness, but God has the power to shine the light of truth out of the darkness and reveal Himself to any skeptic. 

So who is stronger, God or the devil? In his book Spectacular Sins and their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ, John Piper said of this passage, “the blinding effect of Satan gives way to God’s light when he says, ‘Let there be light.’” When God speaks, the power of Satan ceases.  

To quote John the Apostle, “He that is in you is greater than he that is in the world (I John 4:4).” Satan has been permitted by God to exercise some authority, and this is because God wants us to freely choose Him; if there were not a choice, we are not really choosing God. Our Lord has loaned power to the enemy so that we can make a choice in our free will, but ultimately God is stronger. In fact, Satan has no power within himself, only that which has been temporarily granted him from heaven. It is similar to Jesus’ statement to Pontius Pilate, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above (John 19:11).”

So never underestimate the power of the devil, but understand that he has only brought a knife to a gunfight. God’s Holy Spirit residing in the life of a believer gives us the power we need to resist the enemy’s attacks, so we can walk in confidence knowing that Satan is strong, but God is stronger. 



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Sunday, April 17, 2022

Is God a Narcissist?

Throughout the Bible God tells us that He is the grandest being in existence, and that we are to love Him, praise Him, and serve Him. This has long been used as a negative critique of God, as atheists tell us that God is a giant narcissist demanding to not only be loved, but to be constantly told how great He is. 

People that demand to be treated as if they are superior are off putting, and those who insist on being lauded with praise are downright annoying. It comes across as childish, like a person who is insecure and thus needs to be reaffirmed by everyone else. Is this really how God is? And if so, wouldn’t that be a character flaw, and thus make Him imperfect? Is God like the Evil Queen who asks, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” 

God said through Isaiah that He will not share His glory with anyone else. When giving the Ten Commands God said, “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them (Exodus 20:3-5)…”

Is God an insecure narcissist, an egomaniac that needs us to shower Him with praise in order to feel better about Himself? Absolutely not! God does not need praise from us because He is fully satisfied in Himself, whether we acknowledge Him or not. But God understands that our response to His greatness is what is best for us. Here is the thing: God loves us, and He wants us to be blessed. Therefore, God tells us exactly what to do in order to be blessed. The fact that He also happens to be the source of our blessing does not negate the fact that He wants us to be blessed. Acknowledging and worshiping God is good for us, so God tells us to do it. 

To quote John Piper in Desiring God, “He Himself is uppermost in His own affections…God would be unrighteous if He valued anything more than what is supremely valuable. But He Himself is supremely valuable…If He withholds Himself from our contemplation and companionship, no matter what else He gives us, He is not loving.” 

What Piper is saying is that God is not being arrogant, He is being honest. We are put off by braggarts because they are either embellishing or lying, or even if they are telling the truth, they are deficient in other areas. God has given us an honest assessment of Himself—there is nothing like Him in all the universe—and we would do well to recognize that and yield our lives to Him. Jesus said He is the only way (John 14:6), so this isn’t a time for modesty. 

If God were a seatbelt, He would be cruel to not tell us He could save our lives. 

If God were an oxygen mask, He would be cruel to not tell us He could save our lives. 

If God were an antibiotic, He would be cruel to not tell us He could save our lives. 

But God is not a seatbelt, an oxygen mask, or an antibiotic; He is the Savior of the world, the only one who can save us from our sins and give us eternal life. Don’t reject Him for being honest. Embrace Him because there is no one else that can save. 

 


Sunday, April 10, 2022

Fourteen Days of Happiness

One of the most powerful and feared Muslim rulers of the Roman era was Abdalrahman. According to the classic book The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, there is a monument in his honor that bears this inscription from his own mouth: “I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot: they amount to fourteen. O man! Place not thy confidence in this present world!”

It is hard to imagine that such a wealthy and powerful ruler would say at the end of his life that he only had fourteen total days of happiness. From the outside looking in one might think the life of the rich and famous is all happy all the time, but this shocking confession blows that thought out of the water. 

All people have a desire for happiness, and we certainly want more than fourteen days of it over the course of our lifetime. When we are experiencing moments of happiness we hope that it will last forever, but inevitably it ends. A child spending a day at Disney World exclaims, “I don’t ever want this day to end!” But it will end. The vacationers laying on the beach remark that they could stay in that spot forever. But they can’t. While seeking these moments of happiness is good for us, the knowledge that they are temporary—finite minutes on a clock or days on a calendar—makes us yearn for a deeper, more lasting happiness. 

As long as we live we should pursue happiness; obviously that should be done within the confines of holiness, for nothing that is unholy can bring true happiness. We serve a happy God, and “the joy of the Lord” should be “our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).” In our moments of unhappiness—be it sadness, mourning, depression, or whatever—we can be reminded that in the next life happiness will be all we know. And even in our moments of fleeting happiness, we can still take comfort in that same fact: in heaven we will always be happy. 

The reason we are not always happy now is sin. Before the flood, Genesis 6:5 says, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Evil robs the world of happiness. But in the eternal state we could rework Genesis 6:5 to say, “The emotion of man’s heart is only happy continually.” 

The person who is happy exclaims that he never wants this moment to end, but it will. However, in heaven we will say, “I don’t ever want this feeling to go away,” and it won’t. Happy Christians reflect a happy God and attract unhappy sinners. We should strive for happiness, but even when we do not feel happy, we can remind ourselves of the eternal bliss that awaits us on the other side. Along with Abdalrahman, we will place not our confidence in this present world. But if our trust is in Jesus, our happiest moments here are but a foretaste of the joy that awaits us.