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      Yes, I’m a pastor, and I’ve heard them all.  The excuses, I mean.  Excuses as to why church members can’t come to church.  Excuses as to why they are unable to serve in a church ministry or fill a church office.  What it all comes down to is this:  many professing Christians find every excuse possible as to why they can’t be involved in the Lord’s work in a consistent and committed way.  Granted, discipleship is costly, but they’re unwilling to pay the price.  Yes, I think I’ve heard them all, but so did the Lord Jesus during His earthly ministry.  I refer to Luke 9:57-62.  There we find three basic excuses for refusing to follow Jesus at the point when He calls.

      First, “As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, ‘I will follow You wherever You go.’  And Jesus said to him, ‘The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head’” (vv. 57-58).  Interesting, isn’t it?  This man sees the crowds and senses the excitement surrounding Jesus, and actually volunteers to follow Him, but our Lord responds by saying, “you have no idea what you’re volunteering for, you haven’t counted the cost.  Come with Me, and I can guarantee you nothing by way of life’s conveniences and comfort; I can promise only hardship.”  And so there’s no indication that the man followed Him.  There are many in our churches just like this—eager to get involved until they find out what following Jesus really costs.  That’s when they back away.

      Then there’s the second man.  “And He said to another, ‘Follow Me.’  But he said, ‘Permit me first to go and bury my father’” (vv. 59-60).  Now there’s no indication that his father had just died or was about to die.  Rather, this man is saying that he cannot follow Jesus until he is unencumbered by family responsibilities.  Family first, discipleship second.  There are many people in our churches with this attitude.  Virtually every kind of family activity comes before the Lord and His work.  Besides, the man’s tone—“permit me first”—would seem to indicate that he was setting the terms of discipleship and that he was quite sure Jesus that would understand!

      Finally, we see the third man.  “And another also said, ‘I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.’  But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God’” (vv. 61-62).  Like the first man, here’s another volunteer; and like the second, he is bold enough to set the terms of his discipleship.  Here are those words again, “but first permit me.”  Here is a potential discipled, ready to serve, but not yet ready to separate.  Again, it’s family that has a grip on him, and he can’t just walk away from them, can he?  But didn’t the Lord Jesus say, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Mt 10:37)?  How many believers know that at some point they were called to the ministry or to foreign missions, but failed to go because they couldn’t break the family ties?  Jesus said, “. . . he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me” (Mt 10:38).  And note too that real discipleship does not tolerate quitters.  To put one’s hand to the plow and turn back is to refuse the cost of obedience.

      We need to learn, therefore, that when it comes to discipleship, we do not call the shots.  Our Lord sets the terms, and when He calls, we must be ready to respond, never on our own terms, but always on His.  We must be ready to give up whatever is necessary in order to follow Jesus—the plans we have made, the possessions we cherish, and even the people we love.  It is precisely this willingness that proves whether or not we really have faith.

      Have you heard the Master’s call in your life?  Have you responded in total commitment?  Or are you still unwilling to pay the price of discipleship?  Now is the time to take that critical step of obedience!  No more excuses!

What Commitment Means

     I want to speak to you from my heart today about a matter that bothers me as a pastor, and I particularly want to address my listeners who are Generation Xers and Millennials.  There seems to be a growing problem with commitment in our evangelical churches, especially among you younger adults.  Church attendance has become a hit-and-miss proposition among many of you, and willingness to commit to service within a church is increasingly rare.  Expecting people to attend all of the services of a church regularly (with obvious exceptions for sickness and vacations) appears to be too much to ask.  Most younger evangelicals are content merely to put in an appearance at one service a week, prompting many churches to give up offering any more opportunities than Sunday mornings.  This is a marked change from your parents and grandparents.  Why is this so?

      Let me suggest that we in the Baby Boomer Generation bear a great deal of the blame.  Our generation was the first to have widespread two-income families.  With both parents working, many of you Generation Xers and Millennials were shunted off to daycare; and many of you were enrolled in a whole host of extracurricular activities.  You played on school athletic teams or joined after school sports programs—many of which eventually came to be run on Sundays.  You were signed up for martial arts training,  ballet, swimming, or gymnastics lessons; you took piano lessons or studied some other musical instrument.  You participated in drama and art classes, you went for after-school tutoring, and you were pressured to study hard so as to get into the best colleges.  Some of you were also involved in children’s and youth ministries in your churches.  In short, you rarely had time to rest, to think, or to play with your friends.

      Now you’re adults with kids of your own, and the cycle is repeating, with the addition of social media.  Only it’s not just your kids.  You as young adults are still in the over-committed mode of your childhood.  You work long hours, but then have a whole host of activities in which you participate after work or on weekends.  The problem is, however, that even though you profess to be born-again believers, your church involvement is minimal at best, and in fact, many of you prefer cafeteria spirituality, remaining sufficiently uncommitted so as to be free to visit a plurality of churches according to the dictates of your moods on any given Sunday.

      Can I ask you, please, to reconsider your ways?  The fact that so many of you can’t be counted on is doing significant damage to the life and ministries of our churches.  We need you to be committed.  And what does commitment mean?  It means that when you become a Christian, the Lord Jesus Christ takes first place in your life and family, and that in turn, means that there will be activities, recreation, and commitments you enjoy that you will have to give up.  You can’t do everything; you must make choices.  But God is always to be first.  You’re probably tired of hearing that Scripture says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25).  Moreover, the Lord Jesus himself said:  “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, . . . but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Mt 6:19-20).  Yes, commitment costs.

      But think of this:  your children are learning from you, just as you did from your parents.  So ask yourself, “what am I teaching them?”  And then seriously consider getting all in at your church, for “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt 6:21).  Here, then, is the blessed truth:  commitment pays!

What Affliction Teaches Us

     Within the last few days, the Lord gave me a powerful reminder of some very important truth concerning life and death.  I was visiting a member of our church who was hospitalized in very serious condition.  In fact, his doctors told him that the infection and resulting organ damage should have taken his life.  At various points during his ordeal, he was in such excruciating pain that he was literally screaming, and was so highly medicated that he was hallucinating.  He said that it got so bad for a period of about half an hour one day that he called out to God and asked to die.  He paused, then turned to look at me and said, “But God said, ‘No.’”

      Medical science doesn’t acknowledge the sovereign authority of our Creator over our bodies.  As I visited this brother there in his bed in the hallway of a large hospital, he was approached to a medical resident who wanted to ask him some questions.  But my brother asked him a question first:  “Do you go to church?”  “I don’t go to church,” was his terse reply.

      How, then, can we explain such awful suffering that we Christians are sometimes called to endure?  Scripture gives us a number of answers, and here, very briefly, are four of them.

  1. Our physical afflictions teach us to acknowledge God’s sovereignty.  Our lives have been planned by God.  He determines the day of our birth and the day of our death.  Remember the Psalmist’s words:  “. . . In Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Psa 139:16).  Job said of man:  “his days are determined, the number of his months is with You; and his limits You have set so he cannot pass” (Job 14:5).  And that’s in spite of the best efforts of medical science!  Indeed, says David, “My times are in Your hand” (Psa 31:15).
  2. Our physical afflictions teach us to appreciate our mortality.  When we are laid aside with serious illness, we are forced to reckon with just how fragile and brief life is.  David writes:  “Lord, make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; let me know how transient I am.  Behold, You have made my days as handbreadths, and my lifetime as nothing in Your sight” (Psa 39:4-5).  When we are preoccupied with daily life, we don’t bother to meditate on the brevity of our existence here and the unending duration of the life to come.
  3. Our physical afflictions teach us to assimilate God’s Word.  David acknowledged the benefit of what was apparently an extended and serious illness when he wrote, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word” (Psa 119:67); and again in verse 71:  “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes.”  When we are sick or injured, we finally sit (or lie) still enough to hear the Lord speak through His Word.  If we fail to do so at other times, He forces us to pay attention in our pain.
  4. Our physical afflictions teach us to anticipate eternity.  Once again it is David who grasps this:  “As for me,” he writes in Psalm 17, “I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake” (v. 15).  And in the preceding Psalm:  “You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever” (Psa 16:11).  Suffering has a way of stimulating a desire in our hearts for heaven and a longing for our glorified bodies.

      Just a few days ago, one of our young adults who traveled this summer to a foreign country described a serious automobile accident in which she and several fellow young adults were involved.  The police said that all of them should have been killed, yet they all walked away from it with only minor scrapes.  So once again, we were reminded to “number our days,” so that we may present to God a heart of wisdom (Psa 90:12).  Let’s not forget that our times are in His hand!  Affliction is no accident; God is in control!

“The United States of Xanax?”

     In a recent column in The New York Times, journalist Alex Williams suggested that “anxiety is starting to seem like a sociological condition”—a shared cultural experience.  A 37-year-old media consultant has put it this way:  “If you’re a human being living in 2017 and you’re not anxious, there’s something wrong with you.”  Titles of recent books underscore her assertion:  On Edge:  A Journey Through Anxiety; Hi, Anxiety; My Age of Anxiety; Monkey Mind; This Close to Happy; and 10% Happy.  Symptoms include the monitoring of blood pressure, constant attention to iPhones, and desperate visits to meditation studios.  A substantial portion of America’s teenagers have some kind of anxiety disorder.  Kids in middle school are freaking out.  In fact, the anxiety memoir has become a literary subgenre.  Recession, the advent of digital life; the threat of global conflagration—it all means that what we once considered normal has changed, and no one seems to know where he/she fits in.  One author has described life as “a random lottery of meaningless tragedy and a series of near escapes.”  Life is an obstacle course laced with land minds, and as a culture, we have moved from everyone being depressed to everyone being anxious.

      We evangelical Christians are not immune from anxiety either.  The pressures of life impact us as well.  For one thing, there are many studies that have found links between social media and anxiety.  Most Christians are on line in multiple ways.  Everybody’s business is everybody else’s business.  There’s no hiding.  But perhaps most influential in the explosive growth of anxiety here in America has been fear.  Uncertainty and trepidation touches every area of life—from the family to the economy, to international tensions.

      But terror is incompatible with biblical Christianity.  The Bible is replete with reminders of this truth:  “”Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous!  Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh 1:9).  “The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread?” (Psa 27:1).  “When you lie down, you will not be afraid; When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.  Do not be afraid of sudden fear nor of the onslaught of the wicked when it comes” (Prov 3:24-25).  “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid” (Isa 12:2).  The Lord Jesus said:  “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (Jn 14:27).  Paul writes to the Philippians:  “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7).  But perhaps the verse that comes to my mind first is that of Isaiah 26:3:  “The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, Because he trusts in You.”  An unshakeable mind and an unwavering faith.  Those are the antidotes to fear and the anxiety that often precedes it.

      This is not to say that there aren’t those of us who may need drugs like Prozac or Xanax from time to time.  They can help those who have physiological conditions with neurological consequences.  But we Christians have no reason to live in perpetual anxiety and fear of the circumstances of life in the world.  The Lord has decreed not only the end, but the means to that end as well.  He is in control—of your life, of your future, and of the entire world as well.  Satan will not triumph over God; evil will not win.  So you don’t have to worry, and you can be happy!  Remember this the next time you run for refuge to your bottle of Zoloft or Valium!

A Different Gospel

     This past Palm Sunday, a well-known evangelical leader and radio personality and his wife officially and publicly joined the Eastern Orthodox Church.  This news left a sizeable segment of American evangelicals scratching their heads.  What was going on?  Why would a professed Bible-believing evangelical Protestant abandon his long-standing convictions to associate with a highly liturgical religion, many beliefs of which are contrary to the plain teaching of the Word of God?  But there was a broader question, because over the past three or four decades there has been a movement out of Protestantism back into the liturgical tradition—to Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism.  But why?  Is there a rational explanation for this?

      I was among many who did a little research into why this is happening.  Among the reasons behind this defection is the desire for a religion with a long tradition and with an authoritative structure that leaves no room for private interpretation of Scripture.  In other words, everyone (at least in theory) believes the same thing.  Thus the intentional connection to tradition and respect for the ancient church fathers.  There’s also a desire for a religion with a greater sense of mystery, and in particular, a religion immersed in sensory experience—described by some critics as “smells and bells.”  That’s the explanation for the liturgy, the vestments, the stained glass, the chants, the incense, the altar, and the Eucharist.  Thus, seems to be a reaction against the excesses of the megachurch trend and the evangelical/fundamentalist heritage; they want a return to reverence.  Frankly, this way of thinking, often referred to as “ancient-future Christianity,” sees the way forward as back—returning to the traditions of the ancient church.

      The real problem with this return to ancient liturgical traditions, however, is the errant doctrines they advocate.  Obviously, not everything they believe is wrong—otherwise they couldn’t claim to be Christian.  But to accept these religions is to accept a whole host of clearly non-biblical teachings, the most grievous errors of which concern the New Testament’s teaching that salvation is by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and apart from meritorious human works.  I urge you to read again, Ephesians 2:8-9.

      The Apostle Paul warns us against turning to “a different Gospel.”  To the Galatians, he writes this warning:  “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!  As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” (Galatians 1:8-9).  That’s very strong language!  Simply put, God approves of no other truth than that which the Spirit-inspired Scriptures, properly interpreted, teach.  But warnings like this aren’t popular today; they seem too exclusive—not sufficiently tolerant for our politically correct religious environment!

      So here’s the thing.  We should examine our own religious traditions—and we all have them—to see if they reflect New Testament truth.  Where we’re wrong, we should make changes.  But throwing out evangelical beliefs altogether in favor of opting for a tradition laced with heretical teachings is not the answer.  Truth matters.  Shun the allure of these “different gospels”!

      This year, we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation—the single greatest revival in the history of the Christian Church.  The ancient-future movement regards the Reformation as a huge mistake and attempts to reverse it.  We must not be misled, however.  The Reformers recovered the great truths of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, based on Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone.  That’s the biblical Gospel!  And it’s too precious to surrender to a religion of “smells and bells.”

In Galilee

      We have just celebrated the Easter season—the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We have told and heard the old, old story of the cross and the empty tomb.  For most of us, that’s where the story ends.  But in fact, there’s more.  What did happen after that?  In chapter 21 of his gospel, the Apostle John tells us.

      Jesus had instructed His disciples to meet Him in Galilee, and so they travel north to the familiar scenes where most of our Lord’s ministry took place.  One evening, while Peter, James and John, Nathaniel and Thomas, and two unnamed disciples were waiting for Him, Peter decides to go fishing—not, mind you, just to “put a hook in the water,” but actually to go out and spend all night dropping his large commercial nets as he had many times before.  The others decide to go along with him.

      They fish all night and catch nothing, but as dawn breaks, they see a man on the shore with a fire, cooking breakfast.  Amazingly, it is the risen Christ!  No one would have guessed that they would find Him in such a place doing that!  The disciples don’t recognize Him, even when He asks if they have caught any fish.  When they admit they had not, He tells them to cast the net on the other side of the boat—Jesus had said that before, many months earlier.  They do, and the net is so full they can’t haul it in.  Suddenly, John recognizes that it is Jesus.  Peter dives into the water and swims to shore.  The others immediately row the boat in, dragging the fish behind them.  The Lord Jesus then proceeds to feed them breakfast.

      It’s after breakfast that our Lord poses His famous question three times to Peter:  “Simon, do you love Me more than these?”  From our vantage point, it’s an ambiguous question.  Who are “these”?  The fish?  Or the other disciples?  Perhaps he refers to both.  Three times Peter affirms his love for Jesus; three times Jesus commissions Peter to feed His sheep.  That’s an unambiguous call for Peter to give His life to the ministry of preaching and teaching the Gospel of the crucified and risen Christ, and of salvation through His redemptive work.  So what is the point of this incident at the Sea of Galilee?  Perhaps we should discern the following lessons.

  1. Wait for the Lord to open doors of ministry for you.  It’s easy to run ahead of the Lord.  The disciples had been told to go to Galilee and wait for Jesus.  They had not been told to resume commercial fishing.  When the Lord calls us to serve Him, but then doesn’t use us right away, it’s easy to become impatient.  We need to learn to wait.  The Lord will take care of us in the meantime.  The disciples didn’t need to fish; Jesus was already broiling fish for breakfast!  Just be in the place where He leads you, ready to respond when He gives you your assignment.
  2. Without our Lord’s direction and approval, our service for Him is vain.  The disciples fished all night and caught nothing.  At His word, however, they put down their nets on the other side of the boat, and immediately they were filled with fish.  It’s possible to work—even for years—and have no appreciable success in the Lord’s service.  If that’s your situation, listen to see if your Lord is telling you to put down the net somewhere else!
  3. Always be ready to respond when the Lord gives you your assignment.  Once before Jesus had called His disciples from their boats and nets to follow Him.  Now, He does so again, especially addressing Peter whose idea it had been to go fishing.  Jesus doesn’t rebuke Peter for fishing, but now reminds him that he and all the disciples have been called to something far greater—the feeding of His sheep.  No longer fish, but sheep!  He had told them, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (Jn 20:21).  The time had come.  May you and I also be prepared to follow our Lord once His calling has become clear, and may that calling be our supreme priority.


       Most Christians long for victory in their spiritual lives, but most find their search to be an elusive quest.  Perhaps you have been struggling with sin or discouragement, depression or addiction—or any of a number of other spiritual pathologies.  Yet you have not had success in overcoming them.  Traditionally, evangelicals have insisted on the importance of consecration in the Christian life.  You will never be holy, they say, if you are not consecrated to God or Christ.  Consecration is therefore the key to reaching spiritual maturity.  But what is consecration?

      By consecration, most Bible teachers mean something like “yielding,” or “commitment.”  The word “surrender” is often used in this context.  Preachers frequently appeal to their congregations to try harder to live the Christian life:  read more Scripture, pray more, serve more, and so forth.  In certain kinds of churches, you will hear weekly “rededication” invitations.  But the reality is that no one can force anyone to surrender fully to Christ, and many who respond to rededication appeals will be found responding almost every week.  Obviously, something is wrong.  If it is so important that we yield ourselves fully to Christ, how can we go about it?  How can we live the surrendered and victorious life?  Think about these steps.

  1. Acknowledge your identification.  The contrast here is between Romans 5 and Romans 6.  Christ died for us, and we have been justified through faith in Him.  That’s Romans 5.  But in Romans 6, a chapter that discusses our baptism, we learn that we have died with Christ.  In fact, our baptism reminds us that we have been buried with Him, a symbol of our death to sin; and we have been raised with Him to walk in newness of life, a symbol of our consecration.  Paul writes to the Colossians, “you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). 
  2. Apply your appropriation.  This identification must be a conscious act on our part.  Paul writes:  “Even so, consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:11).  To the Galatians he testifies:  “I am crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20).  So just as the blood of Christ dealt with our sins, so it takes the cross to deal with ourselves!  This is why Paul tells the Philippians:  “For me to live is Christ” (Phil 1:21).
  3. Admit your opposition.  We cannot achieve perfection until we are glorified, and there are times when we will find ourselves with Paul in Romans 7—frustrated with the remnants of indwelling sin and our corresponding failures.  The joy we find in identifying with Christ will often be tempered by the fact that we are plagued by a continual conflict with sin.  That, however, is the time to return to our identification and appropriate the power and life of the crucified Christ.

      The truth is that the uncrucified self refuses to be consecrated.  In order to live for Christ, you must die with Him.  This means, as Paul says to the Colossians, that you “consider the members of your earthly body as dead” (Col 3:5).  Or as in Romans 6:13, “Do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”  The more you realize that in Christ you died, the more you will demonstrate that in Christ you live!

      So remember this:  your fallen human nature—your self-life—is not capable of improvement.  You will never become holy by just trying harder!  Instead, the cross of Christ means that “our old self [the old man] was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (Rom 6:6).  The daily process of presenting our bodies as living sacrifices to God is the secret of surrender, and as we appropriate our identification with Christ, it’s the secret of our victory.


       Life is made up of choices.  We make them every day; we can’t avoid them.  I want to suggest, however, that the most important choices we must make are often the least considered.  The truth is that every choice we make has consequences, and some of those consequences have repercussions that last a very long time—some of them last a lifetime.  And some of our choices have eternal consequences.  There are three choices that God gave ancient Israel, that I believe are still relevant to us today in a New Testament context.  Let me summarize them for you.

      The first and most important choice was one communicated to Israel through Moses in Deuteronomy 30:19:  “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.  So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants.”  This verse concludes remarks Moses made to Israel just before his death and their entry into Canaan.  They are part of what is often called “The Palestinian Covenant,” in which the Lord outlined the rewards for obedience and the penalties for disobedience.  The Lord implores His people, through their obedience, to choose life.  The choice is the same for you and me today.  God has set before us life and death.  We are sinners doomed to die and suffer the penalty of eternal hell unless we receive the gift of eternal life through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is given by grace; we receive it through faith.  No choice is more urgent or has more eternal consequences than this.  Today, I ask you, will you choose life, or will you continue in sin and thereby choose death?

      The second choice was likewise contained in a farewell speech, this one by Joshua after he had led Israel in their conquest of Canaan.  Here’s how he put it (Josh 24:15):  “And if it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve”—as he explains, either the pagan gods or the Lord.  He concludes, “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”  Many believers seem to be content to regard their Christianity as fire insurance, and have little or no interest in actively, faithfully, consistently, and vigorously serving the Lord as part of a solid evangelical New Testament church, or as committed and faithful individual Christians.  Again, there are eternal consequences, for the Lord has promised rewards to those who faithfully serve Him.  Too many professing Christians, however, refuse to give any thought to the eternal repercussions of their lack of commitment and involvement in the Lord’s work.  Are you actively serving the Lord, or are you preoccupied with your own life?

      Finally, the New Testament Book of Hebrews tells us of a choice Moses made while still in Egypt, long before he began to lead Israel.  “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” (Heb 11:24-25).  Those who have committed themselves to follow Christ must make the choice to renounce the world and refuse to live a lifestyle marked by sin.  Moses, we are told, regarded suffering the reproach attached to Christ as better than the temporary pleasures of sin because he was focused on the eternal reward that would be his for faithful obedience.  We are also to choose obedience.

      So here are your choices today:  (1) the choice of salvation—eternal life or death; (2) the choice of service—deciding whom you will serve, the world system or the Lord; and (3) the choice of sanctification—whether to renounce sin and the world’s lifestyle and live a life of obedience and holiness.  The fact is, you have already made these choices.  The question is, have you made the right choices?  If not, there is still time to do so today.  Remember, the consequences last forever!

Unfinished Business

     Most of us born-again believers have experienced times of frustration over the apparently slow pace of progress in our Christian lives.  For many of us, there seem to be far too many times when our spiritual lives can only be described as one step forward and two steps back.  Somewhere we got the notion that new believers should launch like rockets into their new lives in Christ—consistently making enormous strides of spiritual growth.  The reality, however, is that our progress is uneven—sometimes rapid, sometimes slow, and sometimes, it would appear, not at all.  We need to counter such times of frustration with a better understanding of how God works in bringing us from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity.

      One of the critical elements in the progress of our Christian lives is time.  The Apostle Paul tells us that he was confident “that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6).  The renovation of our lives is not complete until the day when we see Jesus and are transformed into His likeness.  Until that point, our lives are unfinished business.  Realizing that, we must be patient, acknowledging that the Lord takes time to perfect us.  And that is a critical point—it is the Lord who is doing the work, and we are necessarily dependent upon Him for growth.

      There are several conspicuous examples of this process in Scripture.  Joseph was sold to the Midianites and then to the Egyptians as a boy of 17, but emerges as viceroy of Egypt at age 30; and in the intervening years, he was severely tested as he grew up spiritually.  King David followed a similar schedule, anointed by Samuel at 17, but not becoming king until 30.  Moses grew up with all of the advantages of Pharaoh’s household—the wealth, privilege, education, and power.  But God called him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, so Moses gave up the possibility of becoming Pharaoh some day in order to follow God’s calling.  And although he thought the Israelites understood this, he was not yet ready to lead, and for 40 years, he tended sheep in the obscurity of the Midianite desert.  Only then was he sufficiently humbled and prepared to lead.  The Apostle Paul was converted and commissioned personally by the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus, but he then spent three years in the Arabian desert and fourteen years back home in Asia Minor before he was ready to be used.  And the greatest example of all is our Lord Jesus who was prepared for 30 years to minister for 3½ years—and He was God!

      Peter instructs us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18).  But why does spiritual growth and preparation take so long?  Because there are three things we must learn:  (1) we must learn to know God; (2) we must learn to know God’s Word; and (3) we must learn to know ourselves.  And this process does not proceed evenly.  A toadstool springs up overnight; quality fruit takes several weeks to develop; but a large and sturdy oak tree takes decades to mature.  God has made living things to grow, most of all our spiritual lives.  And that’s why we must be patient and avoid the temptation to take shortcuts.  We need to remember that it takes us a long time to get over ourselves—it takes a long time before we learn that we can do nothing, and that the Christian life advances by allowing the Lord to work through us.  God is not in a hurry!

      Miles Stanford tells the story of the renowned British prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli.  Circumstances required him to give an extemporaneous speech to Parliament one day—a speech that was both brilliant and eloquent.  Later than day, a friend of his commended him.  “That speech has been on my mind all day,” she said.  “Madame” he replied, “it has been on my mind for twenty years.”  So don’t be discouraged, brethren.  Your Christian life is unfinished business.  The Lord isn’t through with you yet!

Peace with God

      This month we observed the 75th anniversary of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  The American involvement in the war that began that day ended in the horrific holocaust of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The Second World War claimed over 80 million lives.  We would think that the world would once and for all have given up trying to solve their problems with war, but that wasn’t the case.  Since 1945, America has been involved in wars in Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  And these are only a few of the conflicts between nations in the past 75 years.  Tragically, the best efforts of international alliances, statesmen, and diplomats have failed miserably to bring peace on earth.  The problem, of course, is that peace is first a matter of the human heart.  Mankind cannot live at peace with each other because they cannot live at peace with God.

      Scripture locates the basic problem in the broken relationship between mankind and their Creator.  The Apostle Paul puts it this way:  “. . . the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so” (Rom 8:7).  Sinful humanity is wicked to the core, and Isaiah writes:  “‘There is no peace, says my God, for the wicked’” (Isa 57:21).  As the present age moves to its climactic conclusion, says the Lord Jesus, “You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. . . For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Mt 24:6-7).  The Psalmist asks:  “Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing?  The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!’” (Psa 2:1-3).  The nations want nothing to do with God’s authority!  So of course, there can be no peace in the world.

      At the Christmas season, however, we celebrate the birth of One whom Isaiah calls “the Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6).  “This One will be our peace,” writes Micah, and centuries later, Zacharias the priest, anticipating Messiah’s birth, said that He will “guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:79).  On the night of His birth, the message of the angels was, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Lk 2:12-14).  Clearly, however, this was not world peace.  Jesus would later say, “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth?  I tell you, no, but rather division” (Lk 12:51).  So what did the angels mean?

      The Lord Jesus came to bring peace to men (lit.) “of His good favor.”  These are those whom He has chosen,” as Paul would write later, “from before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4).  Through faith in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, we are justified—declared righteous by God, who then “pours out within our hearts” the gift of the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5).  Once we have been justified by grace through faith, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1).

      Make no mistake:  world peace is coming when the Lord Jesus returns to reign over the nations.  In fact, says Isaiah, “There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace” (Isa 9:7).  That is the believer’s blessed hope.  But for you today the issue is, are you at peace with God?  If you’re not, believe in Him today; receive Him as your Savior, and you can begin to enjoy the matchless peace of God that overcomes anxiety and fear, and surpasses all human understanding.  Jesus told His disciples:  “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (Jn 14:27).  So have a blessed holiday, and peace to you and your loved ones throughout this Christmas season!