Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Dead or Alive?

A recent article featured on CNN Money spoke of an interesting predicament that many people are facing these days. The website reported:

“Of the 2.8 million deaths reported to the Social Security Administration last year, approximately 14,000 people's names were incorrectly entered in their online database as dead. That many people, 1 out of 200 entries, were reported as dead when they were very much alive and well. That's 38 life-altering mistakes every day. One day, Laura Brooks, a 52-year-old mother of two, suddenly stopped receiving disability checks. Then, her loan payments and rent checks bounced. She went to the bank to find out what was the matter, and the representative told her that her accounts had been closed because she was dead. They would only reopen her accounts if she could prove she was alive.”[1]

That story got me thinking. If you were in a similar situation but were required to prove that you are alive not physically, but spiritually, could you make your case? A re-phrasing of the same question might sound like this, “If you were convicted of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you in a court of law?”

Fortunately, we have the little letter of 1 John in our New Testament to help us do a spiritual checkup. One of the reasons why this book was written was so that believers could know if they were truly saved and had fellowship with Christ (5:13). There are several tests of assurance that John gives in this book to prove our spiritual pulse.

First, there is the test of our confession, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him” (5:1). We must confess that Jesus alone is our Lord and Savior. In today’s society it is en vogue to say that there are many ways to salvation. But those who have been truly born again know that Jesus alone is “the way, the truth and the life.”  

Second, there is the test of our change, “You may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him” (2:29). We must look at our lives and see if there is a noticeable change in our beliefs and behavior because of Christ. It’s safe to say that if your belief hasn’t changed your behavior then it doesn’t mean very much. Is the Gospel daily transforming your thinking, giving, marriage, and love for the lost?   

Third, there is the test of our compassion, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (4:7). Do we have the heart of Jesus? We can tell by the way we love, the people in our church, work, neighborhood, etc. Love is the badge of the believer and the way that the world will know if we are disciples of Christ.  

Fourth, there is the test of our conflict, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (5:4). When you are genuinely born of God, you’ll be growing to be an overcomer as you deal with temptations like the lust of flesh, lust of the eyes and pride of life (2:15-17). You may not win every time, but you are making noticeable progress to gain victory over sin. An unsaved person does not struggle with sin, because they do not have the Holy Spirit pricking their heart.      

So, how did you do? Are you dead or alive? These are just a few ways to check if have we flat-lined spiritually, or if we are in a vibrant relationship with Christ. In the words of Paul let us each “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). -DM    

[1] Blake Ellis, "Social Security Wrongly Declares 14,000 People Dead Each Year," 17 August 2011 CNN Money <http://money.cnn.com/2011/08/17/pf/social_security_deaths_mistakes/> 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Man Who Quit Too Soon

One of the most common causes of failure is the habit of quitting when one is overtaken by temporary defeat. Every person is guilty of this mistake at one time or another. I once heard a story about such an instance, when a man named, R.U. Darby, quit too soon.

Darby was caught up by the ‘gold fever’ in the days when men and women were heading to westward in search of fortune. Darby dreamed of digging deep and growing rich; so he staked a claim and went to work with pick and shovel.

After weeks of labor, he was rewarded by the discovery of the shining ore. He needed machinery to bring the ore to the surface. Quietly, he covered up the mine, retraced his footsteps to his home in Williamsburg, Maryland, and told his relatives and a few neighbors of the ‘strike of a lifetime’ and even impressed them with the gold nugget. They got together money for the needed machinery and had it shipped. With the necessary equipment procured, Darby went back to work the mine.

The first car of ore was mined and shipped to a smelter. The returns proved they had one of the richest mines in Colorado! A few more cars of that ore would clear the debts—then would come the big, killing profits! Down went the drills! Up went the hopes of Darby and his associates! Then unexpectedly something happened. The vein of gold ore disappeared! They had come to the end of the rainbow, and the pot of gold was no longer there. They drilled on, desperately trying to pick up the vein again—all to no avail. Finally, they decided to quit. Darby was discouraged and deep in debt.

He sold the machinery to a “junk man” for a few hundred dollars, and took the train back home. The junk man decided to call in a mining engineer to look at the mine and do a little calculating. The engineer advised that the previous project had failed because the owners were not familiar with ‘fault lines.’ His calculations showed that the gold vein would be found just three feet from where the Darby had stopped drilling!

Amazingly, that is exactly where it was found! The junk man took millions of dollars in ore from the mine because he knew enough to seek expert counsel before giving up. Meanwhile, Darby was known in those parts from then on as “the man who quit too soon.”

Is that story fiction or fact? I’m not sure, but that man’s initials pose an interesting question—R.U. Darby? In other words, are you prone to start projects and then snuff out when the opposition pushes back? It’s sad to say, but the church is full of Darby’s. Look back across time and you will see the spiritual half-hearts who gave up on God’s dream for them. We all remember the heroes of the faith, but we don’t know the quitters.  

Fortunately, God will be the last one to ever write us off. I can think of at least one quitter in the New Testament—Simon Peter. The occasion was after the black Friday of Jesus’ crucifixion and Peter’s three-fold denial. In John 21:3 we read Peter’s discouraging words, “I’m going fishing.” Peter had failed and so he thought he would go back to what he knew how to do—fish.

Later that morning, Jesus appeared and called out to Peter from the shore, “Have you caught any fish?” Throughout the Bible, God often asked probing questions when He wanted a confession. In the same way, Jesus was asking His disciples, "Did you catch anything? Have you been successful? Have things gone the way you had hoped they would go? Are you satisfied?" Peter and company answered back dejectedly, “No!”  

Peter had come full circle—the same sea, same empty net, the same boat, perhaps even the same spot. I will let Max Lucado’s masterful narration take it from here:

“Try the other side!” the voice yells back. John looks at Peter. ‘What harm? So out sails the net. Peter wraps the rope around his wrist to wait. But there is no wait. The rope pulls taut and the net catches. Peter sets his weight against the side of the boat and begins to bring in the net; reaching down, pulling up, reaching down, pulling up. He’s so intense with the task, he misses the message. John doesn’t. The moment is déjà vu. This has happened before. The long night. The empty net. The call to cast again. Fish flapping on the floor of the boat. Wait a minute. He lifts his eyes to the man on the shore. “It’s him,” he whispers. Then louder, “It’s Jesus.” Then shouting, “It’s the Lord, Peter. It’s the Lord!” Peter turns and looks. Jesus has come. Not just Jesus the teacher, but Jesus the death-defeater, Jesus the king . . .Jesus the victor over darkness. Jesus the God of heaven and earth is on the shore . . . and he’s building a fire. Peter plunges into the water, swims to the shore, and stumbles out wet and shivering and stands in front of the friend he betrayed. Jesus has prepared a bed of coals. Both are aware of the last time Peter had stood near a fire. Peter had failed God, but God had come to him. For one of the few times in his life, Peter is silent. What words would suffice? The moment is too holy for words. God is offering breakfast to the friend who betrayed him. And Peter is once again finding grace at Galilee . . . Jesus has come back. He invites you to try again, this time with Him.”[1]

What have you given up on? A prodigal son or daughter? A loveless marriage? A call to ministry? A zeal for serving God? A sin that you’ve accepted and rationalized, “I can’t change!”? You’ll never be content as long as you know you could have done more and tired harder with Jesus. Don’t quit on the one yard line. Peter almost did, but if he’d given up preaching for fishing he’d never gotten to see the miracle of Pentecost (Acts 2). If you’ve faced temporary defeat, don’t quit. Move three feet over and dig again. -DM   

[1] Max Lucado, He Still Moves Stones (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1993), 140. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Butterfly, Botanist or Bee?

H.P. Barker (1896-1952) was once a missionary that served in the West Indies. He was also a powerful preacher, known for his creative stories and applications. He once wrote a graphic illustration that pointed out the need for both knowing and applying the Bible's truth.

“As I looked out into the garden one day, I saw three things. First, I saw a butterfly. The butterfly was beautiful, and it would alight on a flower and then it would flutter to another flower and then to another, and only for a second or two it would sit and it would move on. It would touch as many lovely blossoms as it could, but derived absolutely no benefit from it.

Then I watched a little longer out my window and there came a botanist. And the botanist had a big notebook under his arm and a great big magnifying glass. The botanist would lean over a certain flower and he would look for a long time and then he would write notes in his notebook. He was there for hours writing notes, closed them, stuck them under his arm, tucked his magnifying glass in his pocket and walked away.

The third thing I noticed was a bee, just a little bee. But the bee would light on a flower and it would sink down deep into the flower and it would extract all the nectar and pollen that it could carry. It went in empty every time and came out full.”[1]

Here was Barker’s application. Some Christians, like that butterfly, flit from Bible study to Bible study, from sermon to sermon, and from commentary to commentary, while gaining little more than a nice feeling and some good ideas. Others, like the botanist, study Scripture carefully and take copious notes. They gain much information but little truth. Others, like the bee, go to the Bible to be taught by God and to grow in knowledge of Him. Also like the bee, they never go away empty.”[2]

How many of us must confess we more often resemble the butterfly or the botanist rather than the bee? When we are like that we may never truly apply God’s word and therefore are never truly transformed by it (Rom. 12:2). I fear there are a lot of sermon connoisseurs running around today. You've probably heard them on occasion. They like to compare preachers: "Well, I like this preacher. He's good in this area, but he's weak in this other area. Now this other guy. . . ." But this isn't the Battle of the Bands; this is the Word of God. Preaching has become a spectator sport rather than Phillip Brooks, immortal definition of an “encounter with God’s truth poured through personality.”   

James described the Christian butterflies and botanists like this, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (1:23-25).

That doer of the Word, described by James, is the bee. Delving in, applying, and obeying day after day. When we truly obey the Bible, then we truly believe the Bible and the parts we have obeyed will truly change us. -DM

[1] A. Naismith, 1200 Notes, Quotes and Anecdotes (Chicago: Moody, 1962), 15.
[2] John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Ephesians (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 372.