This morning I am on Holmes Beach, Anna Maria Island, Florida at the beginning of a wonderful vacation. The sun is shining, there is a cool ocean breeze and everything is right with the world. Well, not really.
There is a steady stream of people filling the beach: young, old, families with children, singles, surfers, sunbathers and a myriad of others. To that add the billions of people around the world. The thought came to me that one day we will all be together again but in a different setting.
“We shall all be judged one day, not by each other’s standards or even our own, but by the standard of Christ. It is written: ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God’. It is to God alone that we have to answer for our actions.” Romans 14:12
I look at all the people playing in the surf, searching for shells, playing volleyball etc. The majority of people are not even aware that such a event is going to take place! Which leads me to my second thought: Who is going to tell them? Preachers cannot reach those who do not come to church, so it is up to all of us to share to message.
Suffering comes in many shapes and sizes. You can suffer from a cold or cancer; from a trial or a tragedy; from the loss of a friendship to the loss of a friend. Suffering can last for a few moments or months or years. If you are normal, you will try to avoid suffering at any cost. A large majority of television commercials are geared to the elimination or the avoidance of pain.
Let’s face it, we do not like to be uncomfortable. The reason most of us do not exercise as we should is that it is unpleasant [suffering]. The reason we do not eat the proper foods is we do not want to deprive [suffer] ourselves from those foods we crave. But the reality is life, to some degree, is suffering is a part of life.
Sometimes suffering is the result of the trials of life or the challenges that come from following Christ. Suffering is inevitable: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” 2 Timothy 3:12 Other times, suffering is the result of living in a fallen world. “Though our bodies are dying,…” 2 Corinthians 4:16
Suffering can be beneficial: “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.” James 1:2-4 The Message
Ultimately, suffering is preparation for reigning with Christ eternally. “ If we endure, we will also rule together….” 2 Timothy 2:12
When I was a boy, my mother bought me a series of books. They we called “We Were There.” They were stories based on historical events as though you were personally part of the story. That probably contributed greatly to my love of history.
I have often wondered what it would have been like to personally experience the events recorded in Scripture. I think we have a tendency to view Biblical characters as totally foreign to modern man. But the fact remains that man has basically been the same through the ages. Solomon wrote, “Everything that happens has happened before; nothing is new, nothing under the sun.”
So figurately, the characters involved in the Nativity basically represents mankind of all ages. There were three groups of people, of the three groups, you will find you were there.
Group One: True Worshippers; the Magi. This group recognizes who Jesus Christ is and worships Him.
Group Two: The Indifferent; Chief Priests and teachers of the Law. These learned men knew all the Scriptures concerning the coming of the Messiah and yet they totally ignored the most important event of history. This group represents the majority of people today; they knew all about Jesus but they are indifferent. They are not against Him but they do not see how Jesus can make a difference in their lives.
Group Three: The Hostile; Herod. The Roman Senate had given Herod the title King of the Jews since he was part Jewish but when Herod heard there was another King; he sought to kill Him. You do not have to look far to find those who oppose Jesus: Radical Moslems, the Human Rights Campaign, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and the list goes on. The Washington Times has identified 200 ‘openly bigoted’ anti-Christian groups.
So the question is which group represents you? If you were there, which group would you identify with?
My wife and I have friends who have three year-old twin girls, Rebekah and Hannah. The parents are doing such a great job raising them to love God. Their mother over-heard them talking and discovered they were reciting Scriptures they had learned. Here is the passage they quoted:
“In the beginning, God created the heaven and earth.” And like all Bible scholars, they quoted the Bible reference = God 1:1 Out of the mouths of babes,
I grew up in a very legalistic church where spirituality was measured on personal performance. My acceptance to God (and my church) was based on how well I kept all the rules: modest clothing; no television, no movie going, very strict Sabbath observence, etc.
I dreaded when our church had revival services because the evangelist would always use the rapture as a means to get people to come forwardto the altar. He would use Christ’s return to scare Believers into wondering if they would miss the Rapture because they didn’t “cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s” spiritually speaking.
But when the Apostle Paul spoke of Christ’s return he said, “Therefore encourage one anotherwith these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:18
“The prize that shows I have God’s approval is now waiting for me. The Lord, who is a fair judge, will give me that prize on that day. He will give it not only to me but also to everyone who is eagerly waiting for him to come again.” 2 Timothy 4:8
A little boy was having a problem obeying his mother, so she told him to sit down. He refused to obey. In her most authoritative voice, she told him to “Sit down!” The boy obeyed but replied, “I might be sitting down, but I am standing up on the inside!” Obedience? Hardly.
Sometimes I wonder if some Christ-followers have that kind obedience. But partial obedience is no obedience. Sometimes God asks us to do something that, in our humanness, if we do not understand or cannot see the logic, we hesitate to obey.
As I thought on this, I was amazed at the number of times in Scripture that God asked people to do some things that did not make sense. God doesn’t always give us the details of his commands.
Jericho. God simply told Joshua to have the people to march silently around Jericho …followed the commands of God that the walls of Jericho fell down Joshua 6:20 Marching around a city and blowing trumpets aren’t found in any military book but Joshua obeyed and the walls fell.
Peter. Jesus invites Peter to walk on water. Science says we cannot not walk on water but Peter obeyed and he walked on water.
Ananias. Acts 9 Saul (Later named Paul) was on his way to Jerusalem to persecute the Church when God intervened and asked a devout Jew to go and find Saul. Ananias reminded God that Saul was the enemy of the church. It would be like God tellings us to go minister to ISIS. But Ananias obeyed and gave him God’s message and Paul became the greatest missionary the world has seen.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is quoted as saying, “One act of obedience is better than one hundred sermons.”
“Instant obedience is the only kind of obedience there is; delayed obedience is disobedience. Whoever strives to withdraw from obedience, withdraws from Grace.” -Thomas Kampis.
Years ago (?) Karl Malden (actor) made a commercial for American Express. The famous line at the end was, “Don’t leave home without it.” Catchy phrase isn’t it? The application is that you are not prepared to face life’s challenges unless you are carry an American Express Card. I believe in preparation for the day. I went to Walmart a couple of weeks ago, bought several groceries items and it was not until I reached the checkout that I discovered I did not have my wallet. [I left home without it.]
When we leave for work each morning, we mentally check off our list of things we wish to take with us: Keys,phone, briefcase, etc. May I suggest to you that we often forget THE most important thing in preparing for each day is time spent with God and time in His Word. The thought that we SHOULD spend time in spiritual preparation for the day gets placed on the ‘back burner’ with logic we will have more time when we get home. Right? Admit it!
Of course the only way to have time with God is to make it a top priority. Write it in your daily planner with a time slot if necessary. If you had an appointment with your State Governor, you would make sure you did not miss it. How much more important is your appointment with God!
O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you… – Psalm 63:1
Seek the Kingdom of God above all else…Matthew 6:33