What happened after the resurrection?

 

We just finished celebrating the greatest miracle of the Christian faith, the day that Jesus rose from the dead winning victory over sin and death for all who would believe. Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus led his followers up to the Mount of Olives the place where significant events always seemed to happen.
 

The disciples must have been able to feel the significance of the moment. They asked Him if he was going to “at this time restore the kingdom to Israel” (Act 1:6). They imagined that from the Mount of Olives, He would call down legions of angels from heaven, and they would come, overthrow the Roman occupiers, and deliver the Kingdom of Israel into Jesus’ hand.

 

The disciples were least expecting of what happened next. Jesus was lifted up as He answered, “it is not for you to know the time or the seasons that the Father has set, but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” When He had finished saying this, a cloud came and carried Him up into heaven (Acts 1:7-9).

 

The urgency of their assignment was made apparent by the angels’ warning to them as they stood gazing up into heaven in wonder. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus who was taken up from you will come back in the same way that you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:10-11 paraphrased). In other words, they had better get a move on, start praying and preparing because as swiftly and unexpectedly as He left, He would also return.

 

In response to the angels’ warning, they left the Mount of Olives and traveled into Jerusalem, which was a short distance away. They gathered together in the upper room and began to pray in one accord for direction. The first thing that they were led to do was to choose a replacement for Judas, who was now deceased following his betrayal of the Christ. Matthias was chosen as the twelfth apostle.

 

For ten days leading up to Pentecost, a Jewish holiday also known as the feast of weeks, they prayed. That is when the Holy Spirit, “like a mighty rushing wind” and “tongues of fire” came to rest on each disciple. Just as Jesus promised, they began to bear witness for Jesus. Since it was a holiday in Jerusalem, there were people of every people tribe and tongue present. Miraculously, they all heard the gospel in their own languages.

 

Many believed. To the number of disciples, “there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). What did these new Christians do? Well, they gathered together daily to be taught by the apostles, fellowship with one another, pray, and break bread together. They would go into the temple daily to praise God with great joy in their hearts. They were in absolute awe of what God had done, and the world was in awe of them (Acts 2:43).

 

From here the church would explode with growth. Especially after the martyrdom of Stephen in Acts 7 and the onset of widespread persecution in Jerusalem, Christians would scatter across the empire. Guess what happened everywhere they went? Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they bore witness for Jesus wherever they found themselves, whether in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and in Samaria, and to the whole known world. Having had their hearts activated by the gift of the Holy Spirit, they could not help but testify of Him in every nation.

 

What was happening in the first century continues to this day. The same message is being preached. Those who respond give testimony of the same Jesus. More and more come to know Him each day. The Church may not be who she was in the first century, but she is still beautiful. She is still loved by her husband, Jesus, and He is perfecting her more and more every day.

 
Take a moment to consider whom He might be leading you to share the gospel with today. Remember, like the first-century disciples, you are not a passive observer but rather an active participant in what He is doing to bring reconciliation to the world.

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Rethinking the Spiritual Discipline of Fasting

 

This year at First Baptist Church, we are working through 12 spiritual disciplines seeking to draw closer to the Lord and more devoted to Him. Each month we emphasize a new spiritual discipline. We studied meditation in January, worship in February, prayer in March, and this month we are studying the discipline of fasting.
 

Fasting is not the most popular of the Christian disciplines. If the spiritual disciplines were a family, meditation would be that weird uncle that you learn to love. Worship would be that patriarch of the family that everyone names their children after and aspires to. Prayer would be the matriarch that everyone loves, but never finds time to go visit. Fasting would be like the black sheep, that no one really likes and only loves them because they have to.

 

At First Baptist, though, we have begun to rethink the discipline of fasting and it has been a tremendous blessing to our family of faith. I hope you will consider the practice as well. Here are some things that came out of our study and practice of fasting.

 
 
1. When you fast you are practicing the devotion of your body to the Lord. In Mark 12:30, Jesus instructed His disciples that this was the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” That last item, “all your strength,” involves the devotion of your very body. Often times this is the most overlooked aspect of devotion.
 
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” This insinuates that it is possible to devote your heart, mind, and soul to the point that you are preaching the gospel to others, and still neglect the devotion of your body (strength) to Him. This can result in you being “disqualified” despite your perceived devotion. Fasting is a good way to discipline your body so that you do not fall into this trap.
 
2. When you fast, you join the camp of the who’s who of the Bible and church history. Moses, David, Elijah, Esther, Daniel, Anna, Paul, and Jesus all fasted on occasion. In addition to these Bible characters, there were also many church fathers who fasted regularly including, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, John Wesley, Johnathan Edwards, and Charles Finney to name a few. Why should we not also make fasting a regular part of our devotional life just like worship, prayer, and giving?
 
3. When you fast, pride is exposed and you learn humility. We have a tendency to get moody when we go without food for an extended period of time. Some call it “hanger.” However, there is another way of looking at hunger induced anger. Richard Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline, explains that what we might call hanger is really our pride making its way to the surface. Most of the time we keep this pride suppressed with food and other substances. When those substances are removed, pride rears its ugly head where it can be repented of and forgiven.
 

4. When you fast, you are doing what Jesus expected that you would do as His disciple. If you look at Jesus teaching on fasting, you will find that while He never commanded us to fast per se, He did expect that we would fast as a part of our devotion to Him. Many people like to point out that Jesus condemned the Pharisee’s fasting, however, He did not condemn the discipline of fasting. His condemnation was for the way that they made a show of their fasting. His instruction began with these three words, “when you fast…” which assumes that you, as a disciple, would be fasting at some point as part of your personal devotion to Him.

 

I do not mean to suggest that you should just launch into fasting today. Certainly, there are some who are not healthy enough to fast. If you have any doubts, then you should speak to a Doctor first. There are also a wealth of books on the topic. Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline is a good place to start. I only suggest that you rethink the black sheep of the spiritual disciplines.


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The untold story of the thief on the cross.

The story of the repentant thief on the cross is mentioned only briefly and only in Luke’s gospel (23:39-43). I took some creative liberty in constructing a plausible backstory to help the reader understand the significance of the moment and the kind of people that Jesus came to save.
 
Getting caught was always a possibility. That old saying came to his mind, robbers have to get lucky all the time, but the authorities only need to get lucky once. This time his luck had run out. He hung there, bleeding from the nails in his hands and feet, struggling through his last breaths just like the other two condemned men to his right.
 
The temptation was too much when he spotted the young couple distracted by the money changer at the temple. A quick hard blow to the husband’s head was all it took to loosen his grip on the bag that held the family’s valuables. The wife, so stunned at the sight of her husband laying knocked out and bleeding on the cobblestone walkway, did not even notice the assailant snatching the bag and running away.
 
It was a crime he had perpetrated many times before that day. He made a fast escape hoping to find a safe place to examine his loot. While the victim lay bleeding and slipping farther and farther away from his beloved wife, the thief ran. Suddenly, he felt the crushing blow of a guard’s club into his windpipe.
 
Several guards who were posted around the temple complex witnessed the whole ordeal. The bag of belongings was returned to the victim’s grieving widow. The sentence was handed down by Pilate, the governor of the province. He knew his sentence even before he was told by the prison guards, death by crucifixion, a punishment that would be swiftly rendered that very day.
 
As he hung there on the cross struggling to breathe, knowing that death was imminent, he considered his life of crime. How many times had he gotten away with the very crime for which he was now condemned? He knew he had earned for himself the very worst of punishments from a just God. As his body weakened with every passing minute, his heart broke for what he had done.
 

He thought about the man to his right, this Jesus, over whom the city was so stirred up. Jesus did not seem like a criminal, though the plank above His head proclaimed the treasonous charge, “Jesus, King of the Jews.” He had witnessed Jesus’ trial through the bars of his cell. There, Jesus behaved like no criminal he had ever known. This Jesus did not even plead his own case. It was as though he believed it his destiny to die as one unjustly condemned.

 
From his cross, the condemned robber remembered something mentioned at the trial. Jesus had told his followers that some of them would not pass away before they saw him coming into his kingdom. Could he really be the divine King? Could he be the Christ? If the man had been honest about his innocence, there was no reason to think he was lying about being the Christ.
 
In the midst of these, what he believed were his last thoughts, he heard the other criminal, two crosses over, railing on Jesus who hung between them.
 
“Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
 
The introspective and repentant criminal lashed back at his guilty counterpart, “Do you not fear God since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we, indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
 
Then turning to Jesus, his breath now shallow so that he can barely form the words, his esophagus still swollen from the guard’s blow. He pulls against the nails in his hands to remove the pressure off his collapsing lungs. He speaks the words that reveal the faith that has been wrought in his heart, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
 

Jesus uses the same technique, pulling against the nails in his hands so as to draw a deep enough breath to form the words, “truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”


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It is time to forgive.

 

Unwanted pain is part of the human experience in this fallen world. We are all born with a sin nature that despises God and hates others. We are able to love God and love others only because He first loved us and caused us to be born again. The new creature that we become in Christ is able by the grace of God to love Him and love others.
 

Still, we struggle. The pain that we inflict on one another is real. I have known many men who were driven to the brink of insanity by a wife who has left. I have seen the pain in the eyes of a child who has been abused. I have experienced the pain of being betrayed by friends. In too many of these situations, pain shortly gives way to anger, and anger gives way to sin.

 

All of us probably have some wrong that has been done to us that occasionally stirs our anger. When that righteous indignation kindles and starts to grow warm, that is the time we must forgive. Here are a few reasons why:

 
1. You have been forgiven much more than you will ever be asked to forgive. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells the story of a king who decided to call on his debtors to pay what they owed. One debtor owed an exorbitant amount, ten thousand talents (a talent was equivalent to a labor’s wage for twenty years). The debtor could not pay, so he begged the king to give him more time to pay back what he owed. His pleas moved the king to totally cancel the debt. That same servant then went and found a fellow servant that owed him a much smaller amount, (less than three months wages), seized him, and began to choke him telling him to pay what he owed.
 
The king heard what happened. He was indignant with the unforgiving debtor and threw him in prison until he could pay back every talent he owed. Jesus concluded the story with this statement, “So also my heavenly father will do to every one of you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
 
Christian, do you need to be reminded how much you have been forgiven? Is it right to hold your debtors to what they owe, whose debt is nothing in comparison to the debt you owed the Father? It is time to forgive.
 
2. You cannot be forgiven until you forgive. After teaching His disciples to pray, “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors,” Jesus said, “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
 
What if God only forgave you in the same measure that you forgive others? It is a terrifying question to consider. Even more terrifying is the fact that this is not a hypothetical question. This is indeed what the Savior has said. Do not expect to be forgiven if you will not forgive.
 
Christian, how much do you want God to forgive you? Do you want to be completely absolved of the guilt of sin? Do you want Him to show you mercy? Then you must be willing to show others mercy. It is time to forgive.
 
3. Unchecked anger gives way to all kinds of evil. The Holy Spirit inspired the author of Hebrews to write, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (12:15). Bitterness gives way to jealousy and selfish ambition. James says that these behaviors are “earthly, unspiritual, and demonic” (3:13-18).
 
No one sets out to be captured by the devil to do his work, but they become quickly ensnared, who allow bitterness to grow unrestrained. Christian, do you want to follow Christ or the devil? Do you want to produce a harvest of righteousness, or leave death and destruction in the wake of your life? It is time to forgive.
 

It is time to let go. I do not mean to minimize your pain. It is there and it is real. What is also real, however, is the pain you are inflicting on yourself, on others, and on God by your unforgiveness. Please, it is time to forgive.


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When Someone You Love Dies Without Christ

 

Two weeks ago I wrote a devotion for people who had lost believing loved ones explaining the bliss of life in heaven. I received a great response in the way of phone calls, texts, and personal visits by so many that were encouraged. It quickly became my most popular blog post to date on the church website. It has since crossed my mind, though, what about people who are grieving loved ones who they believed to be separated from Christ and doomed to eternal torment?
 
Here are three things I always like to remind people mourning the loss of an unbeliever:
 
 
1. God is good. He is working all things out for His glory, and He does not make mistakes. You hurt now, but there will come a day when it will all make sense. In the end, we will see how God turned every heartbreaking event around for His glory and praise. I am not saying that all evil is really good. I am saying that God is able to turn every evil around for good because He is good.
 
If you have trouble accepting that even hell is ordained by God for His glory, then accept this—He is good. He does not leave us in our mourning, regardless of the eternal standing of the one we mourn. When Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:2), He was speaking to all who mourn. Psalm 34:17-18 reads, “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Rest assured, if you as His child by faith will turn to Him for comfort, then He will answer in His good time.
 

 

2. Following Christ is a personal decision that you cannot make for others even when you want to. You can love them and show them the right way, but you cannot force them to walk the right path. If you are entertaining the idea that you somehow “failed to save them,” don’t. If you feel that you failed to be obedient to share with them, then know that God raised others up to share with them too. Even if you were less than faithful then it is in the past. Jesus does not want you to dwell on it. Keep pressing on to what lies ahead. Keep holding the ground you have gained and gain some more.
 
Paul’s words to the Philippians are applicable here: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained” (Philippians 3:12-16).
 

 

3. You cannot know another person’s heart. You can scarcely know your own heart. You sure can’t know someone else’s. I am barely secure that I am a believer myself. I am reasonably sure that I know some people who are strong believers, but I cannot know for certain. Hence, you will never know for certain, this side of eternity, anyone’s eternal destiny. You’d like to be able to have reasonable assurance, and it is great when you do. But you cannot beat yourself up over uncertainties.
 

I have known many people who have this hang up about Christianity: “how can a loving God create such a terrible place as hell and send people there?” The real question is, how could a good and just God ever allow any of us into His presence. God has ordained a way for all who will believe to be reconciled to Him through faith in the person and work of His Son. There is no reason that anyone should perish, nor is it God’s will that some do. Heaven or hell is a choice that everyone makes for themselves.


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For the one who feels least deserving of all.

 

It is common to get down on ourselves and depressed over our sin. In our lives, we will prove to be a thousand times wretched. We mess up. We do not do the things we know we ought. Instead, we do the things that we know we ought not. Guilt over wrong doing can cripple us and make for a miserable existence if we allow our mistakes to define us.

I want to encourage you today. If you are reading this and feel that you must be the least deserving of Jesus’ love and affection, then you are in a good place. You are the kind of person that Jesus loves to save. How do I know?

 
1. Jesus said that in the Kingdom of Heaven, “the last shall be first and the first last” (Matthew 20:16). He told a parable about a master who hired laborers for his vineyard. He went to the marketplace early and hired men for the day. He returned to the marketplace four different times throughout the day and kept hiring more laborers. When the workers were paid, the ones who had only worked for an hour received the same payment as the ones who had worked twelve hours. Jesus told this parable to show that all are on equal ground before Him. If you are feeling like you are too late and have done too much wrong, then you are in a good place. It is in rescuing people like you that the master is most glorified.
 
 
2. Jesus is the Good Shepherd that leaves the ninety-nine to go find the one that has strayed (Luke 15:4). It is not that the ninety-nine sheep who are gathered together in the fold are not important to Him. It is just that the ninety-nine are already found. They are already kept safe. If you are one who has strayed, then you are the one with whom He is most concerned. He is not reluctant to draw near to you because you have messed up. No, He is eager to come to you and find you. When you stray, He pursues you, earnestly and sincerely desiring to reconcile you back to Himself and to your fellow sheep.
 
 
3. “Jesus Christ came to save sinners of whom I am foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15). Paul declared that this saying was “trustworthy and true.” He was a wretched sinner who persecuted the church. He was the most unlikely of apostles. But Jesus came to save Paul, and he came to save every sinner like Paul. Even if your evil has surpassed the aiding and abetting of terrorists, putting Christians on trial, and throwing them in jail, you are not too far gone to be saved. Paul’s testimony is proof that His grace is sufficient to overcome your failures and to make you a mighty instrument in His Kingdom work. Jesus came to save even you.
 
 
4. “For God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The most well-known verse in all of Scripture does not say that the extent of God’s love is expressed in His willingness to save only a certain kind of people. In contrast, His love is much deeper and broader. It reaches to the highest heaven and the deepest depths of the sea. All, and I mean all, who respond to His radiant beams of love will be saved. No one who calls upon His name will be left alone to perish but will be transformed and reconciled to Him.
 
 
It is normal, friend, to feel unworthy. Indeed, you are unworthy, but this is no cause for wallowing. His offer of grace, full and free, extends to you. If you are feeling the weight of your need for Him, the depth of your depravity, the darkness of your soul’s lost state, then you are right where you need to be. Now trust Him, and allow His great mercy and grace to wash over you and cleanse you completely. Repent and turn to Him in faith. He will by no means leave you to perish. He will joyously come to you, make your heart His home, teach you, and lead you in His everlasting way.

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What happens to our believing loved ones when they die?

There is a lot of confusion over what happens after a believing loved one dies. It is a tender subject and one that must be handled gently. People say things, post sayings on social media, and get stickers made for their vehicles in the midst of their grief. These thoughts help them to deal with their loss. I totally get that. But, there is even more comfort to be found in knowing what Scripture teaches about the believer’s after life.
 
1. Believers do not become angels after they die. This belief may stem from an errant interpretation of what Jesus said in response to a question from the Sadducees regarding marriage and the resurrection. Jesus said, “those considered worthy of the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore because they are equal to the angels…” (Luke 20:35-36). Somewhere along the phrase, “equal to the angels,” got twisted. Again this is understandable, but it is also an error.
 
Rest in this peace. If you have a believing loved one who has passed, they have attained a status much higher than the angels. In fact, the angels long to comprehend what your loved one has now come to understand (1 Peter 1:12). The angels were not made in the image of God. Though the angels are loved by God, Jesus did not come and die for them. They did not receive the Holy Spirit. Angels do not know what it is like to go from death into life. Your late and believing loved one now has what the angels do not- firsthand knowledge of the life-saving and transforming love of Christ.
 
2. Believers are not buried. Believer’s bodies may be buried, cremated, or in some tragic cases even lost. However, their soul which is who they really are is transported into the presence of God. I always try to explain this at graveside services. These moments are difficult because we grow accustomed to associating our loved one with their earthly body, but the body is not who they really are. Who they really are, is found in their inner person, their soul.
 
For the proof of this truth, we turn to 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 where the Holy Spirit gives us a fairly detailed discourse on the soul/body relationship. He explains that our inner person is who we really are. While we reside in these bodies, we long to be united with the Lord. Our inner self yearns, knowing that to be separated from the body in death is to be united with the Lord in everlasting life.
 
3. Believers do not sleep until the resurrection. “Soul sleep” is a doctrine that is taught by several mainstream Christian denominations. My purpose in rejecting this belief is not to put other brothers down. Accepting or rejecting the notion that the soul sleeps after death is not an issue over which we should divide, but confusion over the doctrine does pose an issue in comforting family members dealing with loss.
 
2 Corinthians 5:8 states that to “be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord.” This means that the believer’s inner person is united with the Lord upon their death, while the body, which they have shed, is laid to rest until the resurrection. This is the sleep referred to in 1 Thessalonians 4. The body rests (sleeps), but the soul lives in immortality.
 
 
4. Your believing loved ones who have passed are looking down on you from their heavenly home. If you have a believing loved one who is now with the Lord, then you can rest in this. They are just fine. They have no regrets. They cry no tears. The faith that once guided them through this dark and dying world has given way to everlasting light. They have a perfect understanding of what has happened and what will happen. They have perfect peace.
 

They now dwell outside of the bounds of time in the eternal realm. They know all about you. They know all your circumstances. They cannot interfere with the earthly realm, nor do they want to, because they understand how it all comes together. They along with all the heroes of the faith are looking down and cheering you on to the finish (Hebrews 12:1).


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What are psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs?

Many churches across the country are still wrestling with this question of what style of music to employ in worship. What does the Bible say about this issue? Two New Testament texts, Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, prescribe the formula for the style of music to be used in worship as being psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Most Christians have not taken the time to study what are psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, so here are the definitions.
 
1. Psalms where the Hebrew worship songs. Most of the ancient psalms were recorded in scripture, but some were written later. The psalms had a different sound, a unique meter/beat that unified and tied together the lyrics of the psalms. This was important because Hebrew poets were less concerned about making words rhyme than they were about the symmetry of the lyrics.
 
Christians were instructed to use psalms in worship, to write them on their hearts, and to sing them from their hearts to the Lord. Sadly, psalms are not widely used in worship today, although there are some churches who ascribe to what is called the regulatory principle of worship and worship exclusively through the singing of Psalms. Perhaps we could all use to sing more scripture when we gather together as believers.
 
2. Hymns were the songs of the church, written after Pentecost, in which the orthodox beliefs of the church were set to rhyme, meter, and music. Paul often quoted first-century hymns in his inspired letters to the churches. The great Christological treatise of Philippians 2:6-11 is believed by most scholars to be a verse from a first-century hymn. Other examples include 1 Timothy 1:15 and 2 Timothy 2:11-13 among others.
 
The church has continued to write hymns for the last two thousand years. Modern day hymns are spiritual songs (a category that will be defined in the next bullet) that became so strongly accepted as orthodoxy that the church was moved to incorporate them into their repertoire of worship. Eventually, they were compiled into books that we call hymnals and were memorized and sung for generations.
 
3. Finally, there are spiritual songs. These were songs that people wrote in a local style, a local “spirit.” It should not be hard to imagine that different parts of the Roman empire were given to different styles of music. As the gospel spread, and as creative people became taken by the love of God expressed in the gospel message, they wrote songs in the style unique to their culture in order to express their love for God.
 
Even today, people from all different cultures are touched by the gospel, and creative people from those cultures write songs in expression of love. Poets influenced by the Nashville culture write songs with a country flavor; we call it southern gospel. Other artists influenced by the rock and roll culture of Ohio write songs with a rock and roll flavor; we call it contemporary Christian. Artists influenced by the rap culture of L.A. write Christian rap. Still others from the Motown culture of Detroit write Christian music with a soulful spirit.
 
The New Testament prescribes that Christians should worship God in response to His willingness to save them by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs from their hearts. God is Lord of the Hebrews and the Greeks. He is Lord of Palestine and of Macedonia, and He is Lord of Nashville, Detroit, L.A., Ohio, and every culture in between. As the love of God impacts artists from these cultures, the same love should be expressed back to Him by the hearts that are saved by His grace.
 

All who are filled with the Spirit of God should have a vast repertoire of songs in their hearts. When we address one another outside the four walls of the church building, our addresses should be in harmony with the psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs we are singing on the inside. When we come together for corporate worship, we should be able to express our heartsongs together. We should be willing to worship with our brothers and sisters who come from different cultures, willing to sing their songs and have them sing ours. While we all might come from different backgrounds, we all have one Lord, one faith, and one Spirit that unites us in Christ.


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Is Your Treasure the Bait or the Catch?

 
Our family went on a guided fishing trip a few years ago. The plan was to motor out into the Gulf of Mexico and fish for cobia, mackerel, sharks and whatever else we could get hooked up on. Our captain did something interesting, that I did not expect. We stopped just offshore, still in sight of the marina, to fish for bait. It only took a few minutes to catch enough live bait to last the rest of the day.
 
 
I was reflecting on this, last week, while preparing to preach from Matthew 6:19-20. In that text from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught His disciples, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves sneak in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys and thieves do not sneak in and steal.” Here, He was telling His disciples then, and His disciples now, not to let their earthly treasures be ends in themselves, but means to greater ends.
 
 
On our fishing trip, it would have been silly for us to anchor up in the sound all day and just fish for bait. As fun as that would have been, we would not have been able to come home with much, nor would we have had as much fun. The bait was not the catch but a means to get the catch. The same goes for material wealth.
 
 
Fine clothes, precious metals, money, cars, houses, or land were never meant to be the catch. If they were, they would be a small catch indeed. Moths eat the clothes. Even refined metals like silver and gold tarnish over time. The value of money slides away a little more every day. Houses rot. Land gets cut up into smaller and smaller pieces with each passing generation. These worldly possessions are not worth spending your life on.
 
 
On the other hand, there is treasure to be caught and stored up. There is treasure that neither rusts nor fades, treasure that cannot be stolen, treasure that you can deposit in heaven. This heavenly treasure is the catch, or to put it another way, there are treasures that are ends in themselves. Jesus encouraged, no required, His followers to trade their material blessings which were temporal for the greater blessings of heaven.
 
 
What are some of these treasures that neither rust, fade, or can be stolen? Well, the greatest treasure of heaven is Jesus. If we are able to find Him through what He has done for us, then we have really laid hold of something. Souls won and disciples made for Jesus is another. The people that we disciple are treasures that will be waiting for us in heaven and that we will be able to enjoy for all eternity. Holiness of character is yet another truly timeless treasure, it is something that is not of this world, but is a gift that comes through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Think about it, and you can probably come up with some other heavenly treasures.
 
 
The point, again, is that the value of heavenly eternal treasure is infinitely greater than the value of temporal worldly treasures. It only makes sense, that if we can trade in our worldly treasures for heavenly wealth, we would do so. This is God’s way. He blesses us with an abundance of worldly things, so that by trading them, by surrendering them to Him, He might also bless us with the real treasure of all the universe, Jesus.
 
 
It is important to understand that this is not optional. You have to choose between the two masters, God or worldly wealth. You cannot serve them both. One will always be the catch, and the other will always be the bait. Mankind has had to make this choice since the beginning of time, and since the Garden of Eden, the struggle has proven impossible. That is why God sent His Son Jesus, so that you would see the treasure that He is and be rescued from the grave error of pursuing worldly wealth. God’s one desire has always been to be the master of men’s souls. Is He yours?
 
 

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Surviving the Dark Night of the Soul

 

Often times we find ourselves at a distance from where we want to be and where God has us at the moment. Nobody wants to be in a hospital ICU waiting room waiting for visiting hours so that they can see their loved maybe for the last time. Nobody wants to find out their spouse is leaving them. No one wants to watch their child go through difficult health issues.
 
Those who love God just want to be near to Him where they can feel His daily presence and the fruit of His grace in their lives, but sometimes God can seem so far away. This distance between where we want to be, and where we find ourselves at any given moment is what David was contending with in Psalms 42 and 43. He wrote, “As the deer pants for flowing streams of water, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (Psalm 42:1-2)
 
He paints a picture of a deer who has found himself in the desert panting for a cool flowing stream of water. David is the deer. The presence of God is the flowing stream for which he thirsts. For whatever reason, there is a feeling of separation, and he longs for the nearness that he felt in the temple of God when he would “go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping the festival” (Psalm 42:4). David pours out his soul to God (v4), but still, he hungered and thirsted. Day and night his only food was the tears that poured from his eyes in despair. What made it worse? His enemies were relentless, constantly taunting him asking “where is your God?” (v3)
 
Can you identify with David? Are there times when you long for the presence of God? Are there moments when you wish there was an altar where you could have a refreshing encounter with God? Have you ever felt the distance between where you are and where God seems to be, far away? Are you in this situation now? Do you know someone who is?
 
Psalm 42:5 is a sweet encouragement to us. Here we see that as David pours out his soul, God comes to meet him where he is. In the dark night of his soul, God shows up, and the Holy Spirt takes over David’s inner conversation: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you at turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God…” These are not David’s words. What is happening here is that the Lord is encouraging David with the very thing that has caused his despair, namely, David’s own inner voice.
 
Learn from David’s song. God is never very far away, no matter how distant He seems. When your soul is cast down, remember the Lord. He will come and meet you where you are. Since He has made your heart His holy dwelling, an altar is ever available. From His inner dwelling, He is able to take over your soul’s conversation, halt your despairing thoughts, and cause you to feel His presence from the inside.
 
Often the dark night of the soul is like a winter day in Alaska. It takes an unusually long time for it to pass. David would experience two more refrains of despair punctuated by God’s encouragement in Psalm 42 and 43. Each time, David’s soul was directed to hope in God and encouraged that there would come a time when he would once again praise Him (42:11, 43:5).
 
Be encouraged friends. Difficult times come. They pass. But in good times and in bad, God is always with you. If you have believed, then you have been given the right to be called His child. He is a good father who never leaves His children in despair. Wherever you find yourself, know He is there. He loves you. Pour out your soul to Him, and you will find that He is not far away. These dark nights make the warmth of the morning that much sweeter.

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