Category Archives: Encouragement

Redeeming 2019

One of my favorite movies is Dead Poets Society.  I didn’t like how the message was interpreted and acted upon, but I liked the theme of the message.  If you are not familiar with the film, Robin Williams plays the part of a professor at a prestigious boarding school.  He is the new literature teacher and wants to prove to his students that literature, especially poetry, can deeply impact life.  He takes his class on a field trip to the hallway where there are pictures of former classes, students who were dead and gone.  And he says these words:

They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you; their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? – – Carpe – – hear it? – – Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.

Carpe Diem!  Seize the day!  We are about to start a new year.  In three days most of us will be staying up till midnight to welcome in the New Year.  And most of us will go to bed late and wake up late.  It will be 2019, but January 1 will be no different than December 31, except the dates are different.  December 31, 2019 will be no different than December 31, 2018.  We will have spent another year as we have spent the last few years: living, surviving, coasting along, drifting along life’s river.

At the end of next year, if we are still alive and Christ hasn’t returned, what will we say we have done?  What will we say we have accomplished? That’s what this blog is about: going beyond seizing the day.  We are talking about buying the moments.

Ever make a mistake?  Me too.  I’ve made quite a few in my life.  And some mistakes have the power to be debilitating.  If we aren’t careful we allow those mistakes to have more control than we ever thought possible.  Like a soldier returning from war with PTSD we often suffer from explosions in our personal lives.  Subconsciously we allow these moments of the past to dictate what we do in the present.  Let me give you an example.  You’re in Sunday School and a question was asked.  You gave an answer, but it was wrong.  The class didn’t mean to, but they made you feel dumb for your answer.  Now you just listen; you don’t give input.  In fact, sometimes you just don’t even go.

Some mistakes aren’t so small.  Some mistakes are major.  They cost you your job, your spouse, your children.  They cost you trust from others.  When Paul told the Colossians that they were to “make the best use of the time,” how does that look for the past? In other words, how do you make the best use of your past? It sounds simple, too simple really, but the answer is deal with it.  Realize (admit and take responsibility for) who you were and what you did; perhaps something happened to you that was not your fault. You do the hard work and deal with it: get help, find counseling, learn from the good and bad, let others in. Hopefully, you are no longer that person; if so, repent and receive God’s forgiveness through Christ.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians he put out an assortment of sins that people commit. 

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God, (1 Cor 6.9-10, ESV).

And then he says those wonderful words, “And such were some of you.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God,” (1 Cor 6.11, ESV).  You are no longer these things, you were these things.  You are no longer defined by your sin, but you are defined by Christ!  Do we sin?  Yes.  Are we still sinners saved by grace? Yes.  But for those who are in Christ Jesus there is no condemnation. If God does not condemn us, why should we care if anyone else does?  Why would we condemn ourselves?

As Paul says,

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, (Phil 3.13-16, ESV).

He doesn’t mean that we sweep it under the rug and bury it all.  He means don’t let that stop you from progressing.  Learn from it and move forward allowing it to make you stronger and better.  If you’re running a race and you miss a hurdle, knocking it down, rather than look back and sulk over it being knocked down learn that you have to jump higher, otherwise if you look behind you and sulk you can’t leap the other hurdles in life.

Paul himself dealt with his mistakes and his sins.  He called himself the foremost sinner.  But that didn’t define him.  He never opened his letters with, “Paul, a sinner, scum of the earth…”  He would open up with, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,” (2 Cor 1.1, ESV)…

That moment when I told a whopper of a lie, I’m forgiven.  That moment of infidelity, I’m forgiven.  That moment of haughtiness, I’m forgiven.  Enter your problem.  Enter your mistake.  I’m not making light of sin.  Sin must be confessed and repented of, but the moment that they are, it’s over.  Consequences may linger, and others may seek to define you always, but you are not your own, you were bought with a price.  Move forward.  Make the best use of your time from the past.

But then, how do we make the most of our time here and now?  We allow our mistakes of the past to flood us with mercy and wisdom and grace.  One of the dangers of not allowing ourselves to deal with our pasts is not simply that they will rear their ugly heads eventually, but that they can’t teach us anything about being Christ-like.

Every circumstance, good or bad, is there to teach us to be more like Jesus.  When Paul said that he forgot what lied behind and looked forward to what lied ahead, he immediately instructed the Philippians, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us,” (Phil 3.17, ESV).  Why imitate Paul, because Paul was all about imitating Christ.  That wonderful verse that we love to quote when things are going wrong, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose,” (Rom 8.28, ESV), has a verse right after it.  “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers,” (Rom 8.29, ESV).  Why do all things work together for good?  Because all things are making us conformed to the image of His Son.

A great biblical example of this is Paul, once again.  In Philippians he tells them about how he has learned to be content.  How did that happen?  He learned it by going through hard times and good times.  “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” (Phil 4.12-13, ESV).  Or when he is dealing with the thorn in his flesh.  He has prayed and prayed and God will not answer his prayer.  “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong,” (2 Cor 12.9-10, ESV).

Paul’s instruction to the Romans,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of you mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect, (Rom 12.1-2, ESV).

This is what you can do now to redeem the times.  Become more like Christ.  Purpose it within your heart to allow your failures and your accomplishments to make you more like Christ.  Purpose it within your heart to sacrifice self and renew your mind.

But what about the future.  Continue what you are doing today into the future.  But utilize it.  Don’t keep it to yourself.  God is not conforming you into the image of Christ for no reason.  He is has a two-fold reason.  The first is for the good of the church.

But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,
“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”
(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love, (Eph 4.7-16, ESV).

He conforms us to the image of Christ so that we can be there and unify and uplift and speak truth in love and grow up together and join together and so on and so on. 

But the second fold is to tell the world of Jesus.  And that actually gets to the heart of the context of Colossians 4.5.  “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.  Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person,” (Col 4.5-6, ESV).

Paul told them, and us, that we are to make the best use of the time, but it translate better to “buy up the opportunities.”  It has the idea of seeing a really good deal and taking advantage of it.  It’s entering Walmart the day after Halloween and seeing candy on sale for half off or 75% off and buying it up!  Don’t let the opportunity pass you up.  We don’t wait for Walmart to come to our door, we go to it.  We see the opportunity to buy candy at a discount, we go to the store that is selling the candy, and we buy as much as we can.  We know that if we don’t get there the next day that all that will be left are the things no one wants anyway.  So we take advantage immediately.  We don’t put it off.

We so often know of opportunities that come along for our Christian witness and we let them pass.  Someone mentions God in something other than a cuss word, but others are around so we let it pass on by.  Someone mentions evolution but we don’t want to get into a debate so we pass on by.  Someone next to us at lunch makes the sign of the cross before they eat, but we don’t want to offend their religion so it passes on by.  We see opportunities all around us and we never buy them.  We never redeem the time.  We never take advantage of the opportunities.  Paul said, “Do it!  Make the best of your time!”

Are you carpooling?  Are you taking the bus?  Are you walking to class with a fellow classmate?  Are you hammering alongside a coworker?  Are you sitting in your shop with a customer?  Are you redeeming the time?

“Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,
And stand before His Judgment seat;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, the still small voice,
Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding me selfish aims to leave,
And to God’s holy will to cleave;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, a few brief years,
Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;
Each with its days I must fulfill,
Living for self or in His will;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

When this bright world would tempt me sore,
When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way,
Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Give me Father, a purpose deep,
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Faithful and true what e’er the strife,
Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Oh let my love with fervor burn,
And from the world now let me turn;
Living for Thee, and Thee alone,
Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;
Only one life, “twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say, “Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call,
I know I’ll say “’twas worth it all”;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

“Only One LIfe” by C. T. Studd

My Life-changing, Mind-Blowing Moment

Yesterday was a day that I hope and pray I will never forget. It has been a long time since I had an epiphany like this. But what I realized yesterday could change my life forever, and I want to share it with you. Now some of you may already know this, but I am just discovering it for myself, which makes it exciting for me. Some of you may be like me and really had never put two and two together; I hope today will be life-changing to you as well.

Let me set the stage for you. I am trying to finish out my reading challenge that I gave myself on Good Reads. Last year I read quite a lot, and so this year my goal was to slow it down a bit. My problem was that I slowed down too much. I wanted to read 20 books by the end of the year, and so fart I’ve completed 16. I have many that I’ve started, but subsequently have gotten distracted from, so I picked one back up: Holiness by J. C. Ryle.  In order to finish four books (previously started), I need to read large swaths of them each day. Thus yesterday, I read 55 pages (I read slowly, so this took time). Half of those 55 pages were of one chapter that I had already begun months before. It was a chapter on assurance of salvation. I must admit, 1) I don’t tend to have a problem with assurance of salvation. I may have a tinge of doubt once in a while, but by and large I am not fearful or fretting, 2) Ryle’s writing on the subject was somewhat helpful, and I like Ryle, however, the extended quotes at the end of his chapter were what were most-powerful to me. It was while reading these quotes that I had my life-changing, mind-blowing moment.

Many of the quotes were saying the same thing in different ways using different illustrations and anecdotes. But as I was reading them, I kept coming across words like “cling” or “lay hold.” There were sentences like this one: “The least bud draws sap from the root as well as the great bough. so the weakest measure of faith doth truly ingraft thee into Christ, and by that draw life from Christ, as well as the strongest,” (Samuel Bolton).  Many of the quotes in this section dealt with laying hold, and about being a bud and drawing sap. Some spoke of growing in assurance as we grow in the faith. And that is where my train of thought left the depot.

You see, this is not only true with assurance, but with any aspect of faith in the Christian’s life. I am no different than most Christians; we tend to look at “giants of Christian history” like Luther, Augustine, Calvin, DMLJ, Spurgeon, and the like wishing we had their faithfulness in prayer, in Bible reading and study, in giving, in faith, etc.  Often what we do is set a new resolution. I’m going to pray more or I’m going to pray longer. I’m going to read my Bible all the way through this year. I’m going to give more. And so forth and so on. We end up praying for a week or two, nearly every day. We get all the way to Leviticus (again!) and then begin to lag in our devotions. We give a few times, a little more than we are comfortable with and then it’s back to the same old same old. We see no fruit; we see no benefit. It’s more of a drudgery than anything else. So we give up. We let it all just slip away.

This was the realization I had yesterday: we never give time for fruit to come. What tree do you know of that is planted one day and bears fruit the next day? Or for that matter the next month or year? We are an impatient lot, are we not? We are so used to going to the supermarket and picking up our produce that we have forgotten that it took months and in reality years for that fruit to be borne. We expect that our lives will be changed every time we pray or every time we read the Bible, and that is not the case.  The moments that we pray, read, give, evangelize, etc, are usually never immediate life-changing moments. They are cultivating moments. They are fertilizing moments. They are pruning moments. In time, our lives are changed. In time, fruit is borne, but it typically takes a while. 

What we tend to give up on is what is necessary for fruit to bear. We cease to abide, lay hold of, or cling to that which is necessary. We still believe in Jesus; we still desire to obey God. But that which brings life (the Spirit bringing life through the “sap” of God’s Word, prayer, etc.), we cut ourselves off of for large portions of time. We are so often like a child who wants to play an instrument, but only practices once or twice a month for just a few minutes each time, and then wonders why he/she isn’t getting any better.  It’s not a matter of trying harder; it’s a matter of abiding longer–longer as in forever.  It’s a matter of holding on even when we want to let go.

When we lived just outside of Chicago, we owned three apple trees. Every spring, as soon as the thaw was true, I would have to go out to those apple trees and pound three stakes of fertilizer around each one. Throughout the spring and summer, I would weekly need to go out, look for disease, blight, or spots on the leaves cut them off, and rake up any that were dropped. I’d spray (organic?) pesticides when the blooms came so that the apples wouldn’t be wormy.  The first couple of years we got no apples. It got tempting to forget the whole thing; what’s the use, there’s no fruit. But the third year, doing the same things, we began to find little apples on the trees.  I had read that it takes about three years before fruit bears, and on the fourth year, one will start having edible apples (the sad thing is that we moved to just outside St. Louis the fourth year). The only question then, is will the grower be faithful, even when no fruit is seen, knowing that if he endures through the seasons of barrenness, one day the harvest will come.

Not feeling like your getting much out of Bible? Switch things up, but don’t just let it slide. Get a Bible study from CBD.com or your local Christian book store (a good, biblical one). Instead of reading straight through every year, study a certain section (perhaps the Minor Prophets or the Pauline epistles). Not feeling it in your prayer life? Switch things up, but don’t cut yourself off to just a couple of quick two-second prayers. I’m not dogging on those two-second prayers, but we cannot be sustained by them. I started having a “Little Book of Prayer” in my back pocket. It’s just a little blue notebook that I’ve put every person in our church into. I’ve got prayer requests from most of them that I will pray for at various times during the week. Get with a “prayer warrior” and pray with them. Read books on prayer. Get a prayer journal; read the prayers of saints from yesteryear.

That being said…no matter what, cling and lay hold of Christ. Stay connected through His Word and through prayer. Every fruit of faith comes through abiding. “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me,” (John 15:4, ESV). It’s not “try harder,” but “abide longer.” The branch doesn’t try to bear fruit. The fruit naturally comes because the branch abides on the vine or on the tree.