Treasure

Save up for your future. How many times have we heard that advice over the years? It is sound advice, but it is even sounder when placed in a Biblical context. Jesus told us in Matthew 16: 

 

19Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” 

 

As the old adage goes, you can’t take it with you. Thankfully you can send it on ahead. So how do we store up treasure in Heaven? Paul gives us a pretty good roadmap in 1st Timothy 6:17-19. He also highlights an important truth about earthly wealth. 

 

17Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 

 

First, we (and face it, all Americans are in top 5% of the world in wealth) need to be careful not to see our possessions as any sort of security nor as something to boast about. Rather, earthly wealth is a tool and a means to an end (hopefully a spiritual end). Secondly, we walk the path to Heavenly treasure by using what God has given us (possessions, talents, gifts) to do good for others and so bring honor to our Father, from Whom all blessings flow. And finally, what is the purpose of this Heavenly treasure? It is a means to an end as well. That end being to “take hold of the life that is truly life.” 

 

So how much Heavenly treasure is enough? To put a spiritual twist on Rockefeller’s response to the same question about earthly wealth, the answer is “Just a little bit more.” Or as Paul puts it in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” 

 

So clearly God’s Word instructs us to be about our Father’s business. A major part of that business is doing good for others. And to keep on doing good. Not for our benefit (although that is promised as well), but to bring credit to our Master. Think of what it would be like if the first association people made to Christians was, “Those people are always out doing good for others.” Wouldn’t that make God smile? 

 

In Him, 

Hal



Rocks

The Bible speaks a lot about rocks. From the building of numerous monuments and altars in the Old Testament (often from 12 stones) to the identification of Jesus the Christ as the chief cornerstone, the Bible is full of references to rocks and stone. I happen to believe if there is such an abundance of these metaphors, it is worth a few thoughts today. 

 

Why did God often direct the Israelites and their leaders to construct monuments and altars from stone? Well, the cynic would say, “Because Israel has rocks laying around all over the place.” Aside from the handiness, though, I believe it has more to do with the permanence and solidity of stone. God’s promises endure through the ages, and while stone is not permanent, we have plenty of examples of stone structures and monuments that are thousands of years old and still around today. God’s promises endure through the ages, and He expects our devotion to and faith in Him to be to be similarly solid and enduring. 

 

God’s Word also speaks extensively of rock as a metaphor for the power and absolute trustworthiness of God, Himself. As Jesus said in Matthew 7:24-25,24Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” A faith founded and reliant on the power and dependability of God cannot be swayed or destroyed by the winds and rain of circumstances and trials. 

 

Jesus’ bride, the church is also founded on the eternal and unchanging rock. Matthew 16:18 records the conversation with Peter (whose name means “small rock” in Greek) where Jesus says, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”  

 

While scholars differ on whether the distinction in the Greek between Peter (Petros or “small rock”) and “this rock” (Petra or “rock slab”) is significant, we surely understand that the church is founded on the unquestioned faith in Jesus as “the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16) Even though the very gates of Hell rage against the church it will not fall because it is built on the solid rock. “This rock” is eternal, unchanging, and solid. Christ builds His church on this rock-solid foundation. 

 

Finally though, we can see that rocks aren’t universally liked, and they can cause people to stumble and resent them. In 1st Peter 2:4-8, Jesus is described as the absolute cornerstone and foundation for our faith, but this same stone is a stumbling block for unbelievers: 

 

4As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6For it stands in Scripture: 

    “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
     a cornerstone chosen and precious,
     and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 

7So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, 

     “The stone that the builders rejected
      has become the cornerstone,” 

8and 

     “A stone of stumbling,
      and a rock of offense.” 

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 

 

Those who refuse to believe in the Rock of our salvation will stumble on it because it does not fit their view of self in charge and Christ as an obstacle to their willfulness. By extension, when we stand on our faith in Christ, we too can become obstacles, and the church can count on being unpopular as a result. Jesus promised in John 15:20, “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” 

 

In the Bible rock is a powerful symbol of eternal reliability in a changing world. Our God is our rock. He is the solid foundation. We can build our life on that foundation, and it will last throughout eternity. As the hymn writer said, “On Christ the solid rock, I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.” (Edward Mote) 

In Him,

Hal



Hope

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” 

                                                                                    – Edward Mote (1st stanza), 1834 

 

A few weeks ago we talked about faith and how it was not just trusting the things you were familiar with or could see or touch but in the person of God who says “believe me and rely on me in this.” Today I want to look at Faith’s companion: Hope. 

 

1st Corinthians 13:13 names hope as part of the “big three” of Faith, Hope, and Love and tells us that when all else is boiled away, these three remain. 

 

So what is hope? While faith is the steadfast belief in God’s power and ability in our lives RIGHT NOW. Hope speaks to the future, but in the same assurance of God’s power and plan for us in the future. The Bible tells us that we can be just as sure of our future as we are of our present because the same person holds both in His hands. We are not believing in the future. We are believing in God’s plan for our life and our eternal destiny. 

 

Biblical hope is not wishing for something unexpected like a $10 dollar bill to show up in your pocket or for a storm cloud to blow over without ruining your picnic. Hope is the iron-clad belief that God is holding not just the future, but YOUR future in His hands. We have His assurance that we will end up where we need to be no matter the twists and turns along the way. 

 

1st Colossians 1:27 says, “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Our hope is not that somehow, someway, things will work out. It is literally Christ living in us. It is the certainty that our future is God’s eternal present, and He has a place already prepared for us. This is as true of our place tomorrow as it is the location of our eternal home.  

 

Our hope for the future is not based on idle speculation. As the hymn writer said, it is built on Jesus’ blood and righteousness, which is the only way we can be reconciled to God. 

 

Hope is a gloriously optimistic because of its certainty. It is not a flimsy wish. Our hope is already assured and proven in what the Holy Spirit has done in our lives already. We cannot put our hope in the transient and flimsy strength of our own abilities. Our hope for the future is only assured if we place that hope in the One who holds the future. As Paul tells us in 1st Timothy 6:17: Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” 

 

We serve a certain and steadfast God in a time of uncertainty. Our hope is not just in the One who holds tomorrow. Our hope is in the One who holds OUR tomorrow.  

 

His oath, His covenant, His blood support me in the whelming flood; when all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.” –Edward Mote (3rdstanza), 1834 

In Him,

Hal



Contagious Joy

A lot of Christians seem to feel the life of a believer is one of constant heartache, disappointment, and sacrifice. At least that’s what shows on their faces. They allow the enemy to steal the joy Christ promises us by focusing on what they give up rather than what they have. Let’s look at a couple of passages that remind us of the joy we have in a Christ-centered life. 

 

In John 15, Jesus connects our joy to our love: 

 

11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 

The joy of the Lord naturally flows from His love for us and should result in our love for others. If we are feeling His love and sharing His love, our joy will be complete. 

 

Psalm 16:11 tells us we can find true joy in the presence of the Lord. Joy can be found in the assurance that God’s plan for our life is perfect and includes eternal happiness. 

 

11You make known to me the path of life;

you will fill me with joy in Your presence,
with eternal pleasures at Your right hand. 

 

However, His joy is not a river flowing into the pool of our lives just to fill us up. Joy is an action term. It strengthens us and demands to be shared with others. Nehemiah reminds us in 8:10 that the joy of the Lord is not just something you feel. It is actually His empowerment. His joy fills us up like an electric charge and pushes us to do ever greater things for ourselves and those around us. 

 

10Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 

 

1st Chronicles 16, reinforces this idea of strength for life flowing from joy in the splendor and majesty and power of our Lord: 

 

26For all the gods of the nations are idols,
    but the Lord made the heavens.
27
Splendor and majesty are before him;
    strength and joy are in his dwelling place. 

 

Find joy in the Lord’s gifts and in his perfect plan for your life. Let that joy strengthen you and overflow into the lives of those around you. Joy is contagious and it is powerful.


Fear Not

The Bible contains the phrase “Fear not,” “Be not afraid,” or a very similar phrase nearly 400 times. Clearly, we are a fearful lot. Why are we so afraid and why is God so persistent in calming our fears? Let’s look at a few ways we need to react the next time we’re afraid. 

 

Often the phrase indicates God is trying to tell us something. Something important. Think of the first phrase out the mouth of nearly every angel in Scripture. “Fear not.” Why? Because we can’t hear God when we’re afraid. The next time you’re afraid, think to yourself, “What is God trying to tell me?” Then listen. 

 

Next, step up your faith-walk. Let go of the fear and depend on Jesus. The disciples once found themselves in the middle of a violent storm while Jesus slept in the boat next to them. We read the story in Mark 4: 

 

38Jesus was inside the boat, sleeping with his head on a pillow. The followers went and woke him. They said, “Teacher, don’t you care about us? We are going to drown!” 39Jesus stood up and gave a command to the wind and the water. He said, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind stopped, and the lake became calm. 40He said to his followers, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (NIV) 

 

Let’s parse this just a bit. First, I give the disciples a lot of credit for turning to the only person who could make things safe—Jesus. Jesus didn’t complain to the followers for disturbing Him, but he made pretty short work of what clearly appeared to be a life or death situation. “Quiet! Be still!” and it was all over. Jesus can certainly make short work of our seemingly hopeless situations, too. But when the crisis was over, He dove to the heart of the matter (Hal’s paraphrase): “After all this time with me, you are still afraid? Where is your faith in Me?” 

 

When we are afraid, we need to put our full faith in God first, then turn the situation over to Him. 

 

Where do we find the strength to show our fear the door? There is only one answer to that. To the Holy Spirit. See 2nd Timothy 1:7 

 

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (ESV) 

 

God’s Spirit (in us) is not timid. He is not fearful. He is all powerful. He wants us to turn over our spirit (little “s”) of fear to Him and He will replace it with a Spirit of Power. I was once told that courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to take action and do what needs to be done after pushing fear aside. That’s very much the same thing, except that thankfully, the courage and the power aren’t of our own invention. They are gifts from God, when we simply push our fear off onto the Holy Spirit’s big shoulders and leave it there. 

 

So, in summary, when you find yourself afraid, listen, have faith in Jesus, and push the fear off to the Spirit in exchange for His mighty Power. 

 

In Him,

Hal



Faith

When I was young, someone explained faith to me using the metaphor of sitting in an unfamiliar chair and trusting it to hold me up. In later years I came to see the faults in that analogy. I have sat in thousands of chairs during my lifetime. Not once has one failed to hold me up. Why should I doubt the visible and the familiar? Where is the faith in that? 

 

Hebrews 11:1 describes what faith really is. I like the way the English Standard Version puts it: 

 

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 

 

God assures us of the reality of things we cannot see in situations strange and uncharted by us. But He can see the things we cannot. 

 

Imagine meeting the finest engineer in the world on the observation deck of a very tall building. This engineer wants you to try his new invention. It is a high-pressure air jet that forms an invisible platform of air extending from the side of the building that will easily support your weight. You have no visible indication of any such platform, but this is a world renowned, brilliant engineer. Would you walk out on that faith? What if he offered to hold your hand and walk out there with you? 

 

God is providing us the conviction of things we cannot see. He is going before us and asks us to trust in His love and His knowledge of what is ahead. In Proverbs 3:5, we are told who to trust and who not to trust: 

 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. 

 

We regularly come to decision points in our lives. We can choose the way we think best, or we can put our faith in the one who laid out our path in the first place. Walk out on the unseen platform with Him. Take the path the Lord chooses, even when (especially when) you cannot see the end. Faith is not easy, but the reward is a far richer relationship with the one who walks on top of the waves and says “come to me.” 

In Him,

Hal



It Belongs to God

When does self-sufficiency turn into greed? There are plenty of pat answers to that question, but I think it’s more complicated than it might seem on the surface. Certainly by the time accumulation of “stuff” (however you define that) becomes a driving factor in life the line has been crossed a while back. 

 

Consider the story of the wealthy farmer in Luke 12: 

 

16And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 

18“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ 20“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 

 

It seems to me that the sin here was not in reaping an abundant harvest. As in the encounter with the rich, young would-be disciple, the actual wealth was a neutral factor. The issue was the farmer’s reaction to the bountiful harvest. His plan was not to seek God’s council, to share with the less fortunate, or even to tithe a portion. It was to hoard it in such a way (bigger barns) as to be obvious to all around. However, the action that made Jesus refer to him as a fool, was the assumption that he could hoard time for himself. Our time belongs to God, and our days are numbered from our conception to the grave. Thank the Lord I don’t know what my number is, but I definitely have one. And it could well be this very night. 

 

In Psalm 90:12, which is attributed to Moses, he asks God: 

 

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. 

 

Whatever we have—bountiful or sparse—belongs to God. Let us remember to number our days and use what we have as though every seed and every cent and every second belongs to Him. Because it does. 

In Him,

Hal



A Merry Heart

I have often heard that laughter and a positive outlook has not only emotional and spiritual benefits; it actually produces physical benefits. Proverbs 17:22 tells us that, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.” Okay, that’s all well and good, but how do we keep a cheerful (merry) heart when life isn’t necessarily full of external cheer? Here are a few ideas I had when meditating on Proverbs 17:22 this morning.

 

First and foremost, a merry heart is a gift of the Lord and one He will grant if we earnestly seek it. Joy is not dependent on outside influences. It is generated internally as a response to God. But here are some “jump-starters” to a merry heart:

 

– Forgive those who have wronged you. Anger and resentment kills joy faster than almost anything else. Forgiveness frees you to love and to be joyful again. Resentment and hatred have no place in a Christian’s life and practically speaking they hurt you more than the person who wronged you ever did. What if they hurt you again? Jesus told Peter to forgive “seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:22)

 

– Do something for someone else. Be a blessing to them, and you will be blessed in return. I’m not talking about prosperity theology here, and I am not talking about financial blessings. I’m just saying that blessing someone else brings joy to your own heart. Luke 6:38 says “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Isaiah 58:10 promises “and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” And Proverbs 11:25 goes on to say “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.” Perhaps the best evidence is when you, yourself do something selfless for another and experience the joy it brings.

 

– The third suggestion for a merry heart is perhaps a little whimsical, but try it and see what you find. Sing! Sing praises to God. Sing about His creation. Sing about love. Sing about friends and family and days gone by. Even the secular world understands the value of music, and the best music FOR you is FROM you. If you are shy, sing in the car or in the woods or in the shower, but sing. Psalm 126:2 tells us “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’” And Psalm 98:4-6 commands us: 4Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing,with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

 

So forgive, bless others, and sing for joy. See that a merry heart indeed does good like a medicine.

 

In Him,

Hal



Share the Good News

My son-in-law and I enjoy discussing theology and church history whenever we get together. He (and my grandchildren, of course) are visiting this week from New Mexico, so I have enjoyed our evening chats on the front porch while we watch the sun go down. This week we have been discussing the hyper (or high-) Calvinist theology. The short version is that they believed God had already decided who would be saved, and it was pointless (at best) or a rejection of God’s sovereignty (at worst) to interfere by sharing the Gospel.

However, we know—from Chist’s own words—that it is not only our responsibility to share the Gospel. In fact, it is a command from our Lord, Himself.

In Matthew 28, Jesus tells His disciples (and us): 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” He repeats this command shortly before the ascension in Acts 1:8, But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Regardless of your view on predestination or the election of the saints, we don’t get to decide whether we should share the good news of salvation. The results are not our responsibility, the sharing is.

As Paul pointed out, (Romans 10:14) “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

Share the good news. It’s what we’re here on this earth to do.

In Him,
Hal


Joy in the Morning

Sometimes we feel like the Christian life is simply one heart-breaking trial after another. We stoically recall verses like Romans 8:28 to remind ourselves that this turmoil is all for the best in the end. Don’t get me wrong. There definitely are trials for the believer, and God definitely works in every circumstance to bring good. But He doesn’t want our lives to be just one heartbreaking moment after another. Instead, he promises us joy—and not just in Heaven, but here on this earth. After all, it isn’t called the Gospel (Good News) for nothing.

 

The psalmist talks about this in Psalm 30:5, “For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

 

No matter how dark the night (and there will be some dark ones), God never leaves us, and He promises us joy in the morning after and a lifetime of His favor. He promises joy. Not just relief. Not just respite. But overflowing joy. The word “Joy” or its derivative is mentioned over 200 times in the Bible. God wants us to be joyful, and not to just look like we’re happy, but to actually be filled with joy. Paul reminds us in Galatians 5:22 that joy is a fruit of the Spirit. In other words, the Holy Spirit literally grows joy in our lives.

 

So, what is the key to cultivating this joy in our daily lives? I think Jesus’ words in John 15 give us a pretty good recipe:

 

10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command.

 

This passage has at its heart the promise of complete joy. Start by re-reading verse 11. The source of our joy is Jesus’ joy. That’s right, He is a joyful Savior, not the perpetual grief-stricken person we sometimes make Him into. He loves to laugh, and He wants us to be infected by His own joy. …that ours may be complete. But this passage is bookended by a repeated conditional clause: “If you keep my commands; if you do what I command.” So we see that our joy is dependent on obedience. Jesus further elaborates on this obedience: Love each other as I have loved you. For joy to be a way of life for us, we must obey Him, and this obedience is highlighte​d and reflected most by our love. Our love for Him and our love for each other. Love is the source of Jesus’ joy, and He wants us to receive, mirror, and share that love…so our Joy may be complete.

 

 

In Him,

Hal