Self-sacrifice or Self-absorption?

spoonsWe’ve all heard the stories by now.  The guy who took a 1,300 mile road trip to purchase over 17,000 bottles of hand sanitizer for the express purpose of selling it all online at price-gouging prices.  The couple who bought out all the meat at a supermarket, running in front of other customers, to hoard it for themselves.  Empty shelves in grocery stores where the toilet paper and cleaning supplies used to be.  People going crazy to ensure that they have “bread enough and to spare” with no thought for the well-being of others who must now do without. “For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there” (James 3:16).

It’s a sad commentary on the human condition.  Selfishness and self-absorption reign in many hearts — not all, but many.  It is the very thing that Jesus came to save us from.

His thinly veiled warning is uncomprehended: “Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”  What kind of doubletalk is that?  But then He explains it with a question: “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:25-26).

Understand it now? Every human has a soul.  It is eternal.  Eternal life will be given to every soul “who by patient continuance in doing good seeks for glory, honor, and immortality;  but to those who are self-seeking…indignation and wrath” (Rom. 2:7-8).

Still don’t get it?  Consider this old folk story known as “The Parable of the Spoon.”

One day a man said to God, “God, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like.”

God showed the man two doors. Inside the first one, in the middle of the room, was a large round table with a large pot of stew. It smelled delicious and made the man’s mouth water, but the people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful, but because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths.

The man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering.

God said, “You have seen Hell.”

Behind the second door, the room appeared exactly the same. There was the large round table with the large pot of wonderful stew that made the man’s mouth water. The people had the same long-handled spoons, but they were well nourished and plump, laughing and talking.

The man said, “I don’t understand.”

God smiled. “It is simple,” He said, “Love only requires one skill. These people learned early to feed one another. Those who are hungry are greedy people, and they think only of themselves.”

The coronavirus will not destroy a single soul for eternity, but self-absorption will.

“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death” (1 John 3:14).



Make it a Happy New Year

newyear 2020How many times have you been wished a “Happy New Year” over the past week?  If you’re like me, you’ve heard those words a few times at least.  It is a nice sentiment.  But wishing for it won’t make it happen.  Have we ever stopped to consider what it would take for us to actually have a happy new year?  Do we realize that, apart from God Himself, the one person who has the most control over how happy the coming year will be for us is the person we see when we look in the mirror?  What can you and I do to make a happy new year.  The Scriptures point the way:

  • Serve God and others. Jesus taught that happiness is found in serving.  After He had washed the disciples feet he said, “I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done to you. . . If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” (John 13:15, 17).  The wise man said, “He who has mercy on the poor, happy is he” (Proverbs 14:21).
  • Control Your Thoughts. We can change our lives by changing our attitudes.  We are what we think (cf. Proverbs 23:7).  If we think happy and wholesome thoughts, we will be happy.  This is the secret to happiness that Paul shared with the Philippians in Philippians 4:8-9 when he said, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy; meditate on these things.  The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”
  • Avoid sin and guilt. Sin promises pleasure but brings misery.  When David was entangled in sin he described it this way: “There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your anger, nor any health in my bones because of my sin. My iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me” (Psalms 38:4).  If we fail to avoid sin, all is not lost; we can still find happiness by finding forgiveness.  This is exactly what David did.  In Psalm 51:7-8 he prayed, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice.”
  • Learn to be content. Those who trust God learn to be content with their current physical circumstances.  They do not desire more than or other than what they have.  The Scriptures teach, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).
  • Keep focus on spiritual things. Earthly things will always fade away and disappoint.  Our earthly achievements and possessions cannot provide lasting happiness.  Faith, hope and love are three things that bring abiding joy.  So, “Do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.  For the things which are seen are heavenly, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18).


Your Best Moment

What has been the best moment of your life? Understand me. I’m not asking “what is the greatest thing you have ever done?” or “what is the best thing that ever happened to you?” The question is this: When were YOU at YOUR BEST?

The Bible teaches that we are at our best when we realize our littleness before God. It is often only at that point that we self-absorbed humans are willing to give our lives over in submission to God’s grand design.

Meditate on these words of David found in Psalm 39:4-5: “Lord, make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my days, that I may know how frail I am. Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths, and my age is as nothing before You. Certainly every man at his best state is vapor.”

At our best, we are as the morning mist that melts away with the rising sun. Knowing our frailty and insignificance makes us realize our complete dependence on the God of heaven.

Walk outside some clear evening. Look up at the stars. Maybe you can spot the constellation Orion–the Hunter. Three stars lined up in a row form his belt. The distance from us to those stars is almost unimaginable. We can scarcely fathom the power of the One who placed those stars in the heavens and has held them there through the ages. We are SO SMALL. God, His power, His plans and His designs are SO BIG! It causes us to wonder how God could even care about something so small as a single mortal man. “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:3-4a).

Long ago the Lord asked Job if Job was able to “loose the belt of Orion” (Job 38:31). After being asked many such unanswerable questions from the mouth of the Lord, Job had perhaps his very best moment when he said to God, “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from you. I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2,6).

When we fully realize the greatness of God and the smallness of man, there is nothing left to do but turn and render ourselves to Him in complete obedience. When we see ourselves as we are, there will be nothing left in us that could be called pride. There will be no aspirations for fame and acclaim. There will be no desire to claim superiority over other humans. We will surely see such activities for what they are — comparable to one speck of house dust making itself out to be more important than all the other specks of house dust. May God help us be at our smallest, for then we are at our best.

Lingering in the Dark

Can I lure you out of the darkness to read this?  I know that people in the dark typically don’t do a lot of reading — especially when the subject matter is spiritual.  I am aware that those who could use this article the most are the least likely to read it. Christians who are not really dedicated to serving Christ but would rather play at their pleasures and dally with distractions, don’t read articles like this. Those who like to live life on their own terms and occasionally enjoy the passing pleasures of sin don’t read articles like this. Those who know that they are not really right with God, but ease their consciences by telling themselves that they’ll straighten up one of these days, don’t read articles like this.  But they are the ones I’m writing to.  Can you step out of the darkness for a minute?

I want to ask you four questions.

1. How much time do you think you have to straighten up? God has not promised you tomorrow. “You do not know what a day may bring forth” (Proverbs 27:1). “It is high time to awake out of sleep” (Romans13:11). “Awake to righteousness, and do not sin” (1 Corinthians 15:34). Don’t kid yourself by thinking that you have all the time in the world. The truth is that the things we think we can do at any time often wind up being done at no time because time runs out.

2. Do you realize that the longer you wait, the harder it will be to straighten up? If tomorrow comes, you may be so hardened by your sin that you will no longer desire to do right. The Bible warns believers about “departing from the living God” and being “hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12-13). It has been said that, “Putting off an easy thing makes it hard. Putting off a hard thing makes it impossible.”

3. Do you realize that you’re wasting your life in sin when you could be making good use of your life in service to God? Please DO NOT waste the rest of your life following worldly lusts and living selfishly when you could be doing God’s will (cf. 1 Peter 4:2). “We have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries” (1 Peter 4:3).

4. Do you realize that you are testing God’s patience? God “is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). But there is an end to God’s patience and it is very unwise to test it. The longer we keep God waiting, the more His wrath builds. Paul puts it like this in Romans 2:4-5: “Do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” Why keep Him waiting?

Today, you have an opportunity to get right with God. Tomorrow may not come. Stop wasting your life! Stop trying God’s patience! Resolve “no longer to linger!”

I am resolved no longer to linger,
Charmed by the world’s delight,
Things that are higher, things that are nobler,
These have allured my sight.
I will hasten to Him!

Love without Hypocrisy

Comedian Mel Brooks once said, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger; comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.” Humans tend to care much more about what happens to them than about what happens to others. In fact, as Brooks’ joke illustrates, we tend to be much more concerned about small events in our own lives (or the lives of those close to us) than we are about truly tragic events in the lives of others.

Jesus changes our perspective in this matter. From Him we learn to care more about others than we do about ourselves. He showed us that love sacrifices itself for the well-being of others. God’s word challenges those of us who are Christians to be Christ-like in this very way. “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me’” (Romans 15:2-3).

To love one another like Jesus loved us requires that our love be without hypocrisy. Romans 12:9 simply commands, “Let love be without hypocrisy.” Hypocrisy is play acting.  Love that is put on like an actor’s mask is pretended and fake; it is not really concerned for others. “Sincere love of the brethren” means that we “love one another fervently with a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22).

How can a person tell if the love they have is genuine? Hypocritical love manifests itself in a number of ways. If you want to know whether you love like Jesus or like a hypocrite, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I love in deed, not just in word? Just saying that we love others may make both them and us feel better, but it is not all there is to real love. Expressions of concern for the poor, the sick, and the shut-in are nice, but our love is fake if we do nothing to help. “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). If, when we’re sick or experience tragedy we expect fellow Christians to be there for us, we should be there for them when they are in need.
  • Do I show partiality? 1 Corinthians 12:25 explains that in the body of Christ “the members should have the same care for one another.” Notice, we are to have the “same care” for one another. This means that I’m not to care more about one than the other. 1 Timothy 5:21 commands us to do “nothing with partiality.” But too often church members care much more about what happens to themselves or their families than about what others are going through. We value our own opinions and preferences, and those of those close to us, above those of everyone else. Such shows partiality. It is not the kind of love Jesus had. Philippians 2:4 says, “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” The “wisdom that is from above” is “without partiality and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17).
  • Is my love sacrificial? If we’re not giving something up for our brethren, our love is not like Christ’s, and it is hypocritical. “Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).

“How often love fades like the morning mist…. 

  • when self is threatened in any way
  • when another doesn’t measure up to expectations
  • when a brother or sister has a need that will require expense or inconvenience from others
  • when a heart is lifted up by self importance and others do not respond as self requires.” (Paul Frey)

Love that is without hypocrisy won’t fade. Jesus loved us when He was threatened, when we didn’t measure up to expectations, and when we inconvenienced Him. And although He is the most important Being in the world, and we are sinners made of dust, He “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7-8).

That’s love. That’s how I want to love. Don’t you?

When You Know That You’re Sick

pexels-photo-262218.jpeg  A man who was a smoker was visiting his mother one day. A couple of hours into the visit, she noticed he hadn’t once lit up a cigarette. “Are you trying to kick the habit?” she asked.  “No,” he replied. “I have a cold, and I don’t smoke when I’m not feeling well.” “You know,” she observed, “you’d probably live longer if you were sick more often.”

As ironic as it sounds, there are some health benefits that come from knowing that you’re sick.  You may temporarily quit an unhealthy habit.  You may make a long overdue visit to the doctor. You may get more rest, drink more healthy liquids, and eat better foods.  You may get someone to help you with daily tasks that you’ve become too weak to do for yourself.

The same is true in the spiritual realm.  A lot of people are sin sick but don’t realize it.  Sin has separated them from God, alienated them from loved ones, caused misery in their lives and doomed their souls.  But, they haven’t made the connection in their minds between their symptoms and their disease; they may even think that they are not really sick and that life is supposed to be this way.  Only those who recognize their condition will do something about.

If you know that you are spiritually sick, here are some “good things” to try:

  See the doctor.  Jesus has the cure for your sin sick life.  In Mark 2:17 Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”  Notice two things here.  First, only people who know they are sin sick will go to the physician.  Second, the doctor’s prescription is repentance!   Change your heart and your mind!

  Stop the unhealthy habits that are making you sick.  In the church at Corinth, many were spiritually sick because they were sinning by not taking the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner.  Paul explains that “he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.  For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep” (1 Corinthians 11:29-30).  The Corinthians needed to evaluate their unhealthy practice and correct it! “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:28).  The same is true with every pathogenic sin we commit.  If we want to get better, we must stop committing the sin and do what is right.

  Eat and drink a healthier diet — more of God’s word and work.  Jesus said that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mark 4:4). God’s word is able to build us up (Acts 20:32).  It is the healthiest thing our souls can ingest.  Like honey, it is both sweet and good for us!  The psalmist declares, “How sweet are Your words to my taste, Sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103).   Jesus also said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34).  God’s word and His work will revitalize us and keep us going!

  Rely more on Christ.  A person who is sick may be too weak to do much for himself.  He must rely on others to lend a hand.  Our infirmities and weakness should cause us to rely more on Christ.  We may be too weak to accomplish much, but He can do all things.  In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul records for us how his own infirmity helped him to trust more fully in the power of Christ.  The Lord told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” This caused Paul to say, “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (12:9-10).

No one enjoys being sick, but being sick and knowing it may actually help you become healthy.  So, how about it?  Do you think you may be coming down with something?


Love Lessons from the Lord

gods-love  I wonder how many self-help books have been written to try to help people learn how to love each other?  Isn’t that what all those books are really about that are written on topics like marriage, dating, conflict resolution, parenting, and interpersonal relationships?

In the New Testament, we find a group of people who didn’t need to read any how-to books on love.  The Thessalonians had already learned their lesson. The apostle Paul wrote to them, “But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another” (1 Thessalonians 4:9).

God is certainly qualified to teach lessons on love.  Who would know more about what love is?  He is the definition of it!  “God is love” (1 John 4:8).  Among the many wonderful lessons we can learn from our heavenly Father, consider these on the nature of love:

  • Love is sacrificial. God gave His only begotten Son out of love for us (John 3:16).  This supreme sacrifice surely teaches us that love is sacrificial by nature.  “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:10-11).  If we say that we love, but are unwilling to sacrifice, we haven’t learned what love is. In 1 John 3:17-18, the apostle John said, “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”
  • Love is merciful. Ephesians 2:4 states that “God…is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us.”  God’s love for us is the reason He is merciful to us – blessing and forgiving us.  Jesus commanded, “Therefore, be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
  • Love is unconditional. It is natural to love those that love us, but it is Supernatural to love those that hate us.  This is the love that God teaches.  Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45).
  • Unconditional love can be critical. Unconditional love does not equal uncritical love. Sometimes love demands that we point out the faults of those whom we love. We learn this from Jesus Himself, who told the Laodiceans in Revelation 3:19, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.”  If we truly care for another person, we will say and do all that we can to keep them on the right path.

Learning to love means learning to sacrifice for others, to show mercy, to love the unlovable, and to correct those who need correcting.  Have you learned your lesson?