Suppose, just a few minutes, that I were to learn positively that this next year was going to be my last. Three hundred and sixty-five days are all that I have left; then my life would suddenly be brought to an end. How do you think that this fact would affect the way I live the last days of my life? Or put yourself in that same place, what would you do with only one more year to live? Or of more importance perhaps is, how would that last year differ from the way the un-godly world would spend it? Would there be that much of a difference? Would you say all through that last year, “To God be the glory,” or, “Let’s eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die”?
It seems to me that one of the first things I would want to do is come up with a plan on how to make the best use of the time left. I would want no wasted days. With only one year left my whole sense of values would take a drastic change. Things which I formerly ignored or considered of little or no importance would suddenly take on a new urgency. And things which seemed to be so important just a few days before would lose all sense of value. With the hope of a long life gone, certain responsibilities would be forced upon me. I could ignore them no longer.
In the first place, as a Christian, I would want to reaffirm my salvation. It seems to me that I would stop being a nominal Christian. I would stop hoping vaguely that somehow things would turn out all right. I would not rest until there was complete assurance in my heart that my sins were forgiven, and that Jesus Christ was my Lord and Saviour. I would not want to half-guess my salvation with death only a year away.
I also believe that during that last year I would draw closer to God than ever before and give myself totally to Him. The reading of His Word and my prayer life would take up much more meaning and time than ever before. I would want this last year to be the most God-blessed one of my life.
Once the central question of my salvation was answered, my thoughts would turn to those I would leave behind. I would do all that I possibly could to see that the needs of my family were taken care of after my death.
This would include both their material and spiritual needs. And one of my priorities would be to get them all involved in church life as never before. And I would find peace in knowing that the church would be there ready to supply all their needs on this earth.
There would be no time for fighting or arguing with family or friends either. Their salvation would be of the utmost importance to me. And I would pray that when my last year was over I could go to glory with the assurance that my family members had all acknowledged God as their Lord and Saviour.
I could also imagine conversations that lasted long into the night. There would be no reason to keep my hopes and fears a secret from others. I could be completely honest with them and they in turn could do the same with me.
I would want this last year to count as much as possible for God. And I think each one of us would stand amazed at just how much glory and grace God could put into each of our lives.
One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament has always been the account of the life of Samson. And God did just that with him. Samson rose to such heights of blessing. He was able to accomplish more in one last act of sacrifice than he had done during his whole life previously.
If I had but one year to live, I would not get caught up in trivial differences between the people I cared about. I would want to surround myself with family and friends. The term the communion of the saints would take on a whole new and exciting meaning for me. And I certainly could not afford to spend any time in gossip or lies about others.
And finally, I would want to get caught up on my thanksgiving and praise. I would be in church twice every Sunday.
I would repent of my ingratitude and recall the many, many blessings I have taken so much for granted.
I would thank God for the many friends I have. I would be the first to admit that there have been a few times when they have mistreated me; but for the most part people have treated me with far more kindness and consideration than I have deserved. And I would try to express this to them in the year I had left.
One can only speculate on just what each of us would do if we were placed in just this situation, just one year to live. All of the points mentioned above would seem to me to be at least a beginning of what we as Christians would want to do. You could add much more to the list. But we do not know just how long we have left on this earth before God calls us home. Whether we have a year or a day, or more only God knows. And since what would be right for that last year could also be right for our whole life, even if it’s many, many years, then the conclusion ought to be plain.
From our point of view, we must live each day that God gives us as if it may be our last. Remember Moses who prayed “So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” Psalm 90:12 Moses prayed that God would help him make the best use of the days, months, and the years he had left. If Moses had a need to pray such a prayer, how much more shouldn’t we find that same need. We all should live in just such a way so that when God does call us home, we can go with no regrets of things that we wished we had done.
Today it is just impossible to avoid people, they are everywhere. And sometimes they are hard to get along with. If you are in school, your classes are full of them; and if you work, the same is true there. And sometimes as a result of this close contact, we become angry. Some people just rub us the wrong way. There are times when our feelings of anger can become extremely tense. We think we are offended, hurt, or taken advantage of by others. And the more we think about the particular situation. the angrier we get.
We all have to learn to cope with this emotional situation at one time or another. And if it is not properly dealt with, anger can become a damaging force. both to ourselves and to those God has placed around us. Let’s take a closer look at this emotional force and see some of the ways we as Christians should consider and handle it.
Let’s start by thinking of all the examples of anger that are found in the Bible. In fact, anger is about as old as the human race. Cain rose up in anger and killed his brother Abel. In anger Moses smote the rock while Israel was in the wilderness. The elder son angrily refused to go in to the feast his father has prepared for his younger brother. In anger Peter denied that he knew Jesus.
In almost every case anger is a very destructive force, both in us and in those around us. When we become angry, not only is our heart affected, but other organs of our body as well. Anger releases a powerful drug called adrenalin into the bloodstream causing our blood pressure to rise, the heart to beat faster, the eyes to dilate. Our hands become sweaty, our mouth becomes dry, and our muscles become tense. The person was right who said: “Every time we become angry we drive a nail into our own coffin”.
Not only that, consider how those around you feel when you become angry. Perhaps you can’t find your other tennis shoe. You storm around the house looking all over for it. And when you finally find it, get dressed, and leave, you have left the other family members extremely upset, maybe even in tears. Following a poor shot the golfer wraps his club around the nearest tree, embarrassing those he is with, to say nothing of the added expense of a new golf club. Or a glass of milk is accidentally spilled at the supper table and a child gets slapped across the face and is deeply hurt. Or you become angry for whatever reason, and you let loose an explosion of words that rip and tear everything and everybody within earshot. That is how anger works. It is a very serious evil which affects all of us. But it is also an evil which God tells us to put away. Anger is an evil which God lists alongside of malice, blasphemy, adultery, idolatry, murder, and drunkenness. Gal. 5:20.
Anger is a sign of emotional immaturity. He that is slow to anger is Anger is a sign of emotional immaturity. We all can mature physically without much effort on our part, providing that we have a somewhat normal diet. This is not true spiritually or emotionally. We mature here only through growth in understanding, learning and in the development of proper attitudes. The trouble with those of us who are constantly flying off the handle is that we have never matured emotionally. Self-control and maturity take work, they don’t come easy.
Anger is also a method that we use to dominate people. Children seem to learn this early in life. They throw temper tantrums to get their way. Adults who never grow up tend to do the same.
Anger is also a means of warfare. We use anger as a means of hurting people, of getting revenge. Pouting, for example, is one of anger’s milder forms. It is used deliberately to make the other person wish he hadn’t crossed us up. We use it as a means of punishing the offender.
Any one of us who intends to respect the rights and feelings of others and deal with them fairly does not need to resort to anger. Anything which can be accomplished by anger, if it’s right, can be accomplished better by other means.
Maturity is the mark of a person who has his emotions firmly in hand. Immaturity is the mark of the person who becomes angry much too quickly. This is seen in the following passages of Scripture.
“A soft answer turneth away wrath; but grievous words stir up anger. . . .
“A wrathful man stirreth up strife, but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife. . . He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.” Proverbs 15:1, 18 and 16:32.
Maturity, maturity, spiritual and emotional maturity is the overtone of the passages.
How can we overcome and handle this problem? For we have all sinned many times in this regard. First and most importantly we must confess it to God and be ready to give it up totally. Any time we feel anger beginning to build, we should stop and pray asking God to give us the victory.
To the degree that we grow in maturity, to that degree we will experience victory over our anger and be able to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, to do good to those who despitefully use and persecute us.
We should never store up anger. We must learn to deal with the problems and irritations that we face on a daily basis. As Paul the apostle warns us: “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath”; this prevents anger from building up on the inside.
We should also make every problem that we face a matter of prayer. We Christians confess that everything works together for our good. And God permits frustrating events to touch our lives to teach us patience and to help us grow. We should not miss those opportunities.
And it may also help to remember one more thing. No matter what we may think, no person has ever sinned against us more than we daily sin against God. And if He should mark our sins, who could stand? Yet God has forgiven us. Shouldn’t we do the same?
What is important in our lives right now? Could we come up with a list? Or still, would we want to come up with a list? If we were to take out a piece of paper and put down in plain English, most important to me is first. . .second. . .third and so on; what kind of things would we see there?
Now whether we actually do get out that piece of paper, no one will ever know; but even if we don’t, just think for a minute what is important to us? Then take that list, either actually or mentally, and hold it up to the Word of God; and in light of what The Word says, how does it measure up?
How are our goals, our hopes, our dreams, our desires different from the young people of the world? We know there should be a difference. Is there? Are the differences that noticeable, or do our lives mirror to such an extent those of the world that we would be embarrassed if we had to admit it.
Perhaps we have read about men and women who have faced a very serious crisis in their life, such as a serious illness, or who have survived a terrible car accident. After that crisis is past their lives are changed. Suddenly the goals of their lives. do not seem so important after all. They see their lives from a different vantage point.
Isn’t it sad, and all too revealing about our own lives, that often something serious has to happen to either us or to a loved one before we in turn draw closer to God. Often at these particular times we realize how much power that old man of sin still has over us. Our goals are not what they should be; and without proper goals, our lives become shallow and empty. By God’s grace, however, we see how much further we have to go. And we begin to realize that if our goals in this life are going to be important, then we will need God’s guidance. Then we shift gears, and we begin to think, and we check our ambitions and goals against the check-list of God’s Word; and it tells us what is worthy of investment.
Haven’t we heard it over and over again from our pastors that all of our life involves a constant and continuing conversion or turning unto the Lord. Each of us has to grow and mature as Christians so that in God’s plan for us we come to the point where we turn our eyes upon Jesus and look at His wonderful face and ask: “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” With that confession we have a solid rock from which to begin the process of the life-long decisions that we face.
The world has only one goal, and that is to be successful and productive. And it is so easy to get caught up and swept away by that as well. Look around us for a moment; the idea is everywhere; it screams out at us from every conceivable medium the world has at its disposal.
We could all do with a lot less, but would we be content with less? For example, if we were content to earn a simple living, instead of one that has to include all the extras that we have come to associate with a successful life style; then perhaps our lives would be much less frenzied and perhaps even more comfortable. But we get caught up in all the extras we feel we have to have. And our pursuit of these extras can leave little time for God or His Church.
You, young people, are also faced with this whole question of what place this issue of success will play in your lives. Will it become an only goal in your lives? Will it be the only direction you point all of your efforts? Are you going to school to receive an education which will enable you to serve your Creator? Or are you going to school to receive an education that will enable you to make more money?
Don’t we often admire those who have the best cars, or the fastest boats, or the ones who always seem to have enough money to do whatever they want whenever they want to do it?
Today we, young people, have almost limitless opportunities for fun and pleasure. All these extras, all these goals, often good and honorable in themselves, clutter our lives. We want to have it all, and there often seems to be no room for anything Spiritual, anything that we could consider as a Christian goal.
But these extras also add to our lives. How do we go about preventing these material gifts, the very things the world places so much value on, from becoming curses?
First we have to learn to say “no”. This means we have to learn sales resistance. The press, books, magazines, TV, and our own friends can all tease and entice us into believing that bigger is better, more is better, and newer is better. We do not have to listen to all these sales pitches. We can leave the TV and radio off once in a while. We can avoid books and magazines articles that would have us believe that success and its life-style are the only important things.
And the most important of all, we have to turn to the Word of God. For in His Word we find all the answers to the many problems and questions we face. There is absolutely no problem too big for the Word of God to solve.
The apostle Paul states in the fourth chapter of Philippians that he has learned that in “whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content”.
We have to learn just what our limitations are. What are our strengths and our weaknesses, and once we know them, to be content to live in their boundaries. We don’t have to be successful at everything. With careful consideration of what God would have us to do, we can narrow our objectives down to those that are realistic and attainable. And when these goals are tucked into our hearts, we will find that our Spiritual goals will also become more clear. For to be content with what God provides for our lives is the direct result of Spiritual maturity.
And Spiritual maturity is our goal. So that when the Lord returns from that far country as we read of in Matthew 25, and requires of each of us what we did with the talents we were given, that when we tell Him, He will in turn say of us: “Well done thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of thy Lord”.
Fear is a powerful human emotion. And each one of us has experienced it at some time or another. Also consider the many different examples of fear that we read about in the Bible. Adam hid himself in the garden because of it; Abraham lied about his wife, saying “she is my sister’’ because or it; Jacob spaced others between himself and Esau because of it; Elijah fled from the face of Jezebel because of it; Peter denied his Lord because of it; and on and on the list could go.
Today it is not at all uncommon to hear of those who have fears which to us may seem completely groundless and in some cases even very foolish. For example, you hear of those who are so afraid of germs that they stay indoors at all times, a prisoner of their own fears. Perhaps they even fail to realize it, but the “fear” itself was far more devastating to their life than any germs they may have avoided ever would have been.
Many of the fears which we are to experience are groundless. They spring from our imagination more than from reality, and we ought to do our best to simply put these fears behind us quickly and firmly as possible.
This is not to say, however, that all our fears are groundless. Many real possibilities for pain, injury, and loss in our lives do exist. And we really never do know what tomorrow will bring. But at this point we take a different path; while the world sees only doubt and confusion, we see the hand of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is He who holds the future.
With that thought then as our constant focus, let’s look at three fears which we all share, and which if not dealt with properly, can have a very negative influence on our Christian walk.
A major fear which is experienced by almost everyone is a fear of being disliked. Perhaps this is especially true of you young people. It is so very painful to be rejected or disliked by
those around you, those whose favorable opinion you most want. We all have a very strong desire to be accepted by our peers. And this desire often causes us to do things which we know are wrong simply to gain acceptance.
The first question which ought to be asked when a decision is being made shouldn’t be what will others think or say, but is it right? We should be concerned about what others think. It’s natural to want people’s acceptance and approval; not at any price however.
A strong commitment to Christ is exactly what we need to rid ourselves of this kind of fear. Doing what is right in Christ’s eyes will be our greatest desire. He is our Light and Salvation, whom shall we fear?
Another fear which is quite common among all of us is a fear of failure. No one wants to strike out with the bases loaded. Failure can be embarrassing. We admire those who are successful. But we all have to make mistakes. We shouldn’t forget that we all must go through a learning process. However, we must be willing to take the initiative when it comes to the learning process. After all, you cannot expect to pass a History test if you don’t study the assigned chapters in the book.
Fear of failure can immobilize us, and we certainly don’t want to rush headlong into any situation before considering all the possibilities of failure. But neither can we afford to be paralyzed by our fear of failure.
Another fear which is very common among us is a fear of the future. Will we have a good job after school? Will we have enough money? Suppose our health fails. Will we be getting married?
Christ, however, knew that these concerns would be very real to us; and He addresses them for us in Matthew 6 and Luke 12 where He says, among other things, not to be anxious for your life, but rather “seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you’’.
It is not God’s plan for us that we wring our hands in fear about tomorrow. We should work and plan and do all that we can about tomorrow, but then we should just leave the rest at the feet of our Saviour Jesus Christ.
And this is exactly where our confidence comes from. We know that it would be wrong to say that if we just serve the Lord our future will always be bright and totally free from sorrow or pain. The Lord has not promised this. Often the Lord does send His children through some deep water. Why, isn’t always clear to us. We do know though that God cares so much for us that even the hairs on our heads are numbered. So we cast ourselves upon Him, placing our future in His hands. It is simply a matter of trusting Him to do what is best. When this is done, our anxiety over the future will go away, and we are overcome with peace.
As Christians it is inconceivable that we would both trust and fear at the same time. Fear and trust are like water and oil, they simply do not mix.
Fear cannot be removed with a simple operation. There is no medication we can take to rid ourselves of it. But trust in the Lord can. “I will trust’’ said the Psalmist, “and not be afraid . . .1 sought the Lord and He heard me and delivered me from all my fears”.
Peace comes from knowing that God is in control and through knowing that He has a purpose for allowing everything that touches our lives.
You know just as well as most anyone else around you that today we live in a world of rapid fire, constant social change. Never before has so much happened to so many so fast. You cannot help but get the feeling that this world is headed on a mad dash to certain and absolute destruction.
Changes come so fast that it is almost impossible for even committed Christian parents, as well as their children, to know just what limits and values to enforce and to stand by.
Sad to say, but today the parents of this world are so often too absorbed with their own lives to fully support the needs of a teenage son or daughter. And this lack of support creates a very vulnerable situation for today’s young person.
It is generally agreed today that the primary task of the teenage years is to construct a sense of personal identity. This identity includes various roles. First of all, that of either son or daughter, student, athlete, musician, artist, mechanic, and so forth. It also includes various traits and abilities, and a personal list of what each person likes and dislikes; what his or her political and social attitudes are; what he or she believes with regard to religious and moral decisions, along with much more.
For this period of development called adolescence, teenagers need a clearly defined value system against which to test other values so as to discover their own. But when the important adults in their lives don’t know their own values and are confused about just what is right and wrong, the teenagers’ task becomes even more difficult, if not impossible.
What we are finding today is that teens are called upon to make decisions without having been given the necessary time to think things through. Today’s teenagers are in effect premature adults, and some are not quite ready to handle all the pressure and stress that comes along with adulthood. And statistics that I found dealing with teens bears this out.
Substance abuse is now the leading cause of death among teenagers, with more than 10,000 dying from it each year. Although the use of drugs has leveled off in the past decade, alcohol use is becoming more common and is appearing among younger children.
According to a recent survey of junior high students, 65 percent of the 13 year olds had used alcohol once that year, some 35 percent used it once a month, and 20 percent used it once a week. Thirty-five percent of those asked said it was fun and all right to get drunk.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that conservatively 1.3 million teens between the ages of 12 and 17 have serious drinking problems.
Sexual activity, at least among teenage girls, has more than tripled over the last two decades. In the 1960’s about 10 percent of teenage girls were sexually active, while more than 50 percent are sexually active today. By the age of 19, at least 70 percent of young women have had at least one sexual experience.
Besides this, five thousand teens will commit suicide this year; and for each of these suicides, 50 to 100 teens make an unsuccessful attempt.
Crime rates have increased dramatically among juveniles. For many teens, crime is just a way of life. Every month secondary schools experience 2.4 million thefts, almost 300,000 assaults, and over 100,000 robberies. More 17 to 20-year old males are arrested for virtually every kind of crime, including murder, than any other age group.
Now the question that comes immediately to my mind in all of this is just where do we stand in regard to these facts. Does our Christianity make any difference?
Heredity does not equip teenagers with proper attitudes. They will learn what they are taught. There is no substitute for parental modeling of what we wish to teach. Someone once wrote, and all of you who are parents will have to agree, that “the footsteps a child follows are most likely to be the ones the parents thought they covered up”
Our teens are watching us all very carefully, and they instinctively imitate our behavior. And they instantly discern the gap between what we say and what we do.
This is true not only of parents to teenagers, but also minister to teens and elders to teens; in fact, any older person in the Church has a God given responsibility to practice what he preaches, especially to teenagers.
And just how are these principles that we believe in and confess to be the very heart and soul of our Christian life conveyed to the next generation? The answer was provided by Moses as he wrote in the book of Deuteronomy (Chapter 6:7-9): “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.”
In other words, we cannot teach these attitudes during a brief two- minute bedtime prayer or during a formalized catechism class, and say that that is enough. No, we must live them from morning to night. They should be reinforced by everything we do. This teaching task is the most important assignment God has given us to do. And by His grace and helping hand our teens will grow up to be men and women of God who will in turn pass these same attitudes and truths on to their children. We owe them that.
You know there are times when we like to hold this present generation up on a pedestal for all to see. We all, both young and old, like to be recognized for what we have accomplished. And perhaps one could say that this generation is the smartest, the most advanced of any to date. But let’s look at the spiritual side of the coin for a moment. Are we really any different spiritually than any generation that has gone on before us? To be very specific, are we any further along the road of religious maturity than say the people we read about in the Bible? Or do we see the same weakness, the same sin, the same denial in our own lives as we are so quick to point out in those we read about in the pages of God’s Holy Word?
These questions need to be answered by each one of us. For if we are to grow and develop in things spiritual we have to be very aware of just where our own strengths and weaknesses lie. Once we know, we can do our best to correct any problem that exposes itself.
You know that it can often seem completely impossible to us that the Jews of Jesus’ day could deny that Jesus was the promised Messiah. They had Him right with them, preaching and performing miracles on a daily basis; and yet they wanted no part in His Kingdom. Just read the account of Jesus feeding the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish as it is recorded in John Chapter Six. The day after Jesus performed this miracle the people asked Jesus how He had gotten across the Sea of Galilee when the day before they had seen his disciples go away by ship without Him in it. But Jesus who knows the inner workings of all men answered their question by saying: “Ye seek me not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves and were filled”. Verse 26
These “followers’’ of Jesus were denying the Kingship of Christ. They had only one thought; to make Jesus their earthly king. After all, any man who could feed them like He had done the day before would make a fine earthly king. They were seeking after the bread that perisheth, and they wanted nothing to do with Jesus who calls Himself the Bread of Life later on in the chapter.
And the church of today does much the same thing as we read about in this gospel account. There are many who also deny the Kingship of Jesus by making of Him that which He is not. Some who call themselves followers of Christ want no part in any spiritual kingdom which has as its head a meek and lowly Saviour who died a shameful death on the cross. Rather, they are looking for a Christ who is a revolutionary, or a Christ who is a reformer, or they desire to make Christ nothing but a mere man.
The important point to remember thru all of this is that despite these obvious departures from God’s Word which we see all around us today, those who depart still go around and claim to be followers of Jesus and His teachings. The false church of course never goes about calling itself the false church. It should then become very obvious to us that it will be up to us to determine just where the false church lies today.
Now it would be nice if the false church posed no threat to us, or specifically to you the young people of our churches, but to assume such a position would be rather naive. For if there is one age group on which the false church, especially the so-called cults, seems to thrive, it is the youth of this country and that means you.
Some like the appeal of the false church because they feel it is merely trying to bring a breath of fresh air into old outmoded traditional forms of worship. Others like the appeal of the false church because they feel it is simply providing answers to life’s basic questions. These people’s lives are in crisis, and the false church is giving them a sense of stability and of belonging. The false church, especially cults, can provide a warm environment for troubled individuals. It offers a home, a safe place, an identity in a difficult chaotic world.
But perhaps there are really two major reasons why we have seen an explosion in the numbers of the false churches and in the numbers of people who flock to them. And those two reasons are ignorance and uncertainty. Where you have church people who are both unfamiliar and uncertain about just what they believe, there you will find the false church on the attack. It uses these two weaknesses as a wedge to gain entrance into the church. It is sad to say, but no less true, that at best the average Christian is totally unprepared to defend his or her faith. In a word, we are all guilty of perhaps knowing what we believe, but not why. And this could make anyone of us a potential target for the false church.
Thus it becomes very obvious to all of us the important need to be completely familiar with just what it is we believe, and perhaps even more important, why. We can be thankful that our churches still place a great deal of importance on developing instruction in the doctrines of the Reformed faith. For where churches have failed to instruct and emphasize a definite systematic plan of just what it believes doctrinally you see the false church rushing in to fill the void.
However, no matter what you hear, the false church is not based on Scripture. It is true that all of these so-called churches or cults attempt to build themselves a foundation on the Word of God, but if you take a careful look at each you will almost always find that the founder of this specific church tells you what the Bible says. He in a sense becomes the source of all knowledge that is given to the members. They say this is what the Bible says, or that is what it teaches. The members then are obligated to get their information from those in control.
The false church also usually makes some sort of appeal to a person’s reason and rationality. They like to apply a person’s reason and rationality to look at specific doctrines of the church. Hell is unreasonable for a loving God. A Triune God is irrational. Christ being born of a virgin is unreasonable, and so on and on they go.
It cannot be stressed enough that we all have to be aware of just how real the danger of the false church is. It is a mark of the development of the false church which will give rise to the anti-christ himself. So we can expect that it will only get worse and continue to grow at a faster and faster pace. For that reason alone, it is important to apply your Christian home life, your Christian church life, and your Christian school life to every aspect of your daily life. You cannot leave it behind or hide it under a bushel so that none can see it. For the minute you do that you leave yourself wide open to the temptation of the false church. After all, the lie of the devil can be much more appealing to our sinful nature than the truth. And if it were not for the grace of God in our lives we would be unable to withstand the onslaught of this wicked world in which we live. We can thank God daily that we have become reconciled to Him by the death of His Son. For without that death of Jesus Christ, the false church would prevail. However, such is not the case. The victory over evil, in this case religious evil, is ours; no one can take that away from us.
Do you ever stop and think in terms of what you will be like in 10, 20, 30 or more years? Obviously none of us stay young forever. Time stands still for no one; not even you. And if God’s Will says that you are to be given many more years, then it is very important that you consider the type of person you are going to be. We all develop – spiritually, physically, emotionally, educationally, and in so many other ways. But what will the end product be? That is a rather significant question, and one well worth considering.
Years from now you may be surrounded by all kinds of friends – a person who has grown old graciously, a man or woman who is both respected and loved by fellow saints in the church, a person whom others like to be around, and a person who lives the Christian life of loving his neighbor to the fullest.
Or, you may be a very bitter person, one who never has a good word for anyone; and therefore is friendless and alone, a person who thinks only in terms of himself and what he wants, a person who has little, if any, time for others in the church or for any extra church activities.
Now you may be thinking to yourself, why stop and consider all this now? After all, being young, you have years and years ahead of you when these details can be worked out. That, however, is not true. The reason I stop and consider these details with you today is that the person you turn out to be 10, 20, 30 or more years from now depends on you and what you do today. You simply cannot live today as if it has no impact on your future. Remember, the Bible says in Galatians 6:7 “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.” To be quite blunt about all this, the life you lead today will to a great extent determine the life you face in the years ahead. The man or woman you meet down the road someday will be a composite of everything you do, say, and think over the course of the years you spend going down that road.
That is why these years of your life are so very important. You are not only making some of life’s great decisions, you are also laying the very ground work for what that man or woman will be like down the road.
Every little thought, every little deed goes into the making of this person. You will be exactly what you make that person to be; nothing more, nothing less. You will have no one else to credit or blame.
Just remember that every day you are becoming more and more like yourself. Perhaps you may find yourself wishing that you could be more like someone else. But the truth is that each day you develop and become more and more like the person that God has determined you should be.
But this does not wipe out any of our own responsibility. If you choose to live only in terms of yourself, you will invariably find your world getting smaller and smaller. If you only consider things from the viewpoint of what can I get out of it, you will find that person you meet down the road getting harder, drier, crabbier, and more self-centered.
If, on the other hand, you live your life with others in mind, if you think in terms of what you can give to others, you will find that person you meet down the road getting softer, kinder, and less self-centered.
One very important point to remember in all of this is that these things don’t always show immediately, but they will show up at some time and usually sooner than you think. Don’t let your youth be your excuse with regard to these important decisions. It is so easy to simply dismiss all of these choices and say, “I’ll take care of them later.” It may seem to you that you have plenty of time in the years ahead to decide these things, that the years of your youth are no time to do it. But don’t fool yourself, for these things are adding up inside where you cannot see them. And they are shaping and forming your heart and mind. Some day you will discover that you have hardened into a person that will be unable to change from the course you set for yourself when you were young.
That is why the time to take care of these important decisions in your life is now; this week, today. Sit down and examine your attitudes, motives, and goals. Check up on yourself. The time to work is now while you are still in a formative condition. The day will come awfully soon when it is too late. The hardness will have set in.
What we are really stressing in all of this is that it is important for all of us to regularly take personal inventory. Never mind what you would like to change about your neighbor. Look at yourself. What about change in your life? If we seriously look at our lives and all the hopes and dreams that we have in light of God’s Word, we cannot go wrong. And the person we meet down the road 10, 20, 30 or more years from now will be a person we would like to both meet and be.
When you read the Word of God on a regular basis, you never know what you will notice about it. The Word always seems to speak to a very specific need that you have. Or it makes you notice certain things about your life that you may not have noticed before.
Such was the case with me recently. One verse in the 15th chapter of John stuck in my mind. The 11th verse: “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you and that your joy might be full”.
A joyful heart is something we as Christians should have. Christ intends that all of His saints should indeed have it.
At first glance joy and happiness may seem to be the same, but they are not. There is a fine line between them. Having a joyful heart does not mean that we are always happy and never sad.
Happiness is governed by the things that happen to us on a day to day basis. When nice things happen to us we are, of course, happy; when bad things happen, we are sad. Happiness is always in a constant state of flux. Today happy, tomorrow sad, depending on what takes place. Joy is different. Joy is just as real in bad times as in good. It is the feeling of peace and gladness we have because of our relationship with Christ. The primary difference between joy and happiness is that one is grounded in circumstances, the other is grounded in the Lord.
Joy is a case of knowing that God is on His throne, that He is in control of this creation in good times as well as in bad. Joy is that inner assurance we have that He is in control and that in His infinite wisdom and goodness He does all things well. Joy has its roots in the power, in the wisdom, and in the goodness of God.
God does not promise us that we will always have sunshine and never rain, or that nothing painful will ever happen to us or touch our lives. We are going to have our share of these troubles like everyone else. What God does promise is that we will never be tested beyond our point of endurance and that He will comfort and strengthen us by His grace in our tears.
Happiness is like the surface of a lake, it is in constant change. One day we are riding the crest because all is well, the next day we may be down between the swells because of pain or stress in our lives.
Joy is like the deep below the waves on the surface. A storm may be raging on the surface, but in the deep there is calm.
Just consider the example of Paul given to us in God’s Word. Paul wasn’t bubbling over with happiness all the time. But his heart was always full of joy. He wasn’t clapping his hands when his enemies were stoning him at Lystra. He wasn’t happy about being arrested and beaten at Philippi. Even though his back was swollen and sore from being whipped and his feet were fastened in stocks, he still had the joy of the Lord. At midnight he and Silas burst out in songs of praise.
You know the history of Paul as it is recorded for us. He experienced too many trials to be happy all the time. Three times he was beaten with rods. He lived in constant danger of being robbed, and his own countrymen hated him. He experienced weariness, painfulness, hunger and thirst. Yet Paul could say with all his heart: “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice”. Paul rejoiced in the Lord; in who He is, in the love He has shown in the blessings and inheritance which are ours in Him.
And that is where we get the joy in our lives as well. We joy in the Lord because of who He is. He is the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings. He is the source of all comfort, wisdom, beauty, mercy, peace, life, love, and joy.
We rejoice in the Lord because our sins have been forgiven and our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. If God would mark our sins who could stand? If He gave us what we deserved we would go to hell. Instead He chose to save us and forgive us our sins; could anything give us more joy than that?
Possessing joy doesn’t mean we are happy, happy, happy all the time. Christ wasn’t happy all the time. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. In the garden of Gethsemane His soul was sorrowful, even unto death. But joy was present in spite of this. The joy of knowing what He was going to accomplish gave Him strength in His hour of grief. It enabled Him to say “not my will but thy will be done’’. Joy is constant in bad times as well as good. It doesn’t evaporate when trouble comes, rather it strengthens and lifts us up.
Hebrews 10:34 tells how the early Christians took the seizure of their goods “joyfully”. Job stood in the ashes of what was once a great fortune and said: “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord”. Job 1:21
Christ’s disciples were arrested and beaten, yet they left the council rejoicing that they had been counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.
Joy doesn’t draw its strength from things, it draws its strength from the Lord. “When thou passeth through the waters”, He says, “I will be with thee. . .when thou passeth through the fire thou shalt not be burned”. He is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we need not fear though the earth be removed, we need not fear though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea. He has shown us the path of life, in His presence there is fullness of joy. At His right hand there are pleasures forevermore. In good times and in bad, the Lord Himself is with us. He is the never-ending source of joy.
There are so many different parts that make up our Christian life. There are so many different aspects of our lives. Each of us is different in so many ways. But we are all so similar in many others. Each of us has to eat and sleep to continue to live, but what we eat and how much sleep we get a night is quite different. The same is true from a spiritual point of view. The Word preached from the pulpit may be the same, but it affects each of us differently. There are no two of us who have the same physical needs just as there are no two of us who have the same spiritual needs.
To be a better Christian, however, we need all of the spiritual parts to fit together so we can experience growth and development. But by now you know all too well just how difficult it is to develop in spiritual things. To call yourself a follower of Jesus is one thing, to actually follow Him is another.
Just for a few minutes look at the personal part of your spiritual life and see if there is anything you can do to improve upon it.
To be very specific, let us consider together the area of our own personal devotions. There is not one of us, who if perfectly honest, would not admit that he or she needs to make some improvement in this often neglected area. You know how it goes, at least this has been my own experience. You start out with the best intentions in the world, you really want better personal devotions. Perhaps the minister and elders have just left after family visitation, and during the past hour you were asked very specific questions with regard to your own personal devotions. You answered yes when asked if you took time each day for devotions, while in your heart you knew that this wasn’t always the case. You say to yourself that you should really do better, and you mean every word of it. But as time moves on, you find less and less time to spend before God in prayer, and to read even a brief portion of His Word. And, sad to say, soon you fall back into the same old rut, you just seem never to have enough time. How many of us can actually say that our personal devotions couldn’t be better.
I heard a minister this past summer say that 75 percent of all those who profess to be born-again Christians do not have time for personal devotions. What a terrible sin. We who claim that Jesus Christ makes a difference in our lives usually do not have time to read about, or pray to Him. He came and died on the cross so that through His suffering and death we might have eternal life. How dare we even consider facing Christ in the final judgment and say unto the One Who saved us that we didn’t have time for Him. You would expect that from the world, not from His own chosen saints.
We can only marvel at the greatness of our God Who saves us. For we are all too much aware that Salvation could never be earned by sinners as great as we.
If you need any more convincing that personal devotions are important, consider the example of Jesus Himself. The gospel accounts of the life of Jesus are full of instances of Jesus praying, sometimes all night, to His Heavenly Father. Jesus, the Son of God in whom was found no sin still felt the spiritual need for His own personal devotions. How much more shouldn’t we feel that same need.
Why is it then, that something that we need so very badly, should be so hard to do. You know as well as I that the only answer to that question can be our old sinful nature. Sin dwells in our hearts so that we desire to do the wrong things.
I always feel sorry for our first parents Adam and Eve in this regard. Before the fall they enjoyed fellowship and communion with God. Their entire day before the fall must have been a wonderful experience of worship and personal devotion. But then came the fall, and all that was lost. We can only imagine how it will be to worship God without the effects of sin. Adam and Eve knew what it was like. It must have been quite different.
We must see our personal devotions as a fruit of our Christian walk. Without Christ and His grace in our lives, we can do nothing. John 15:5 “I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me and I in him the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” Personal devotions are a direct benefit of Christ abiding in us.
Personal devotions take a lot of work, this is perhaps the real reason why they just never amount to much for the vast majority of us. It just takes more work than we are willing to invest.
What then are some of the positive steps that we might take to help strengthen our own devotions? I even went to a couple of Christian book stores in the area to see what they had along these lines. I was really surprised at the amount of material that is available in this area. There are literally dozens of different books and pamphlets. Some are no doubt of little use to us, but then there are others that might be of use to some of us at a particular time in our lives. To give you an idea of just what some of these titles were I wrote a few of them down. They included: Personal Devotions for Teenagers, Athletes, Women, Farmers, Factory Workers, Ministers, School Teachers, Missionaries, Students, Children, and on and on. You get the picture. If you wanted a book in one particular area, you could find it.
Another possible idea is to sit down and simply read the Bible from cover to cover, similar to the reading of any book. It is surprising just how many of us have never read the entire Bible; and by doing this you manage to read it within a matter of a few days.
Or you could choose to read the Bible at a slower pace. Say read a chapter in the morning and another at night. Some Bibles even have schedules included to make this possible to accomplish in one year.
But we must remember that personal devotions are after all just that, personal; and what may work for you may not work for another. It is your time to be alone with God, both in prayer and the reading and study of His Word. And the important thing here is to do something. Sure it takes work, but it is well worth it; the rewards are great. You develop a greater knowledge of your Lord and Savior, and you see just how much we who are His elect have to be thankful for. But it cannot be done in our own strength. All things are possible, however, through the grace of Him Who died that we might have life.
All of us are old enough to know that there are many serious problems which the world as a whole faces seemingly without any solutions to fight. And we all know that, besides these problems, there are also many problems which we also face on a daily basis. This world and our own sinful nature constantly plague us, and we live in sin from day to day.
One of these problems which we have to deal with, both in our own lives as well as in the lives of others, is the sin of selfishness. When you stop and analyze it, it seems that this sin of selfishness is one of our most serious problems, and to be delivered from it one of our greatest needs.
On the one hand, we Christians have by Grace been given the capacity to be so much to each other. We can be kind, loving, considerate, and helpful to one another. But all too often we do just the opposite and become harsh, inconsiderate, hurtful, and utterly selfish.
All of us are plagued by this sin to a greater or a lesser degree. The sin of selfishness does not have to be taught or learned. We all possess it from birth as a result of the fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve. Just stop and consider a small child for a moment. They are classic examples of this. They know how to whine, pine, pout and throw temper tantrums to get their own selfish way.
Be honest with yourself for just a moment, and you will have to agree that by nature we all care more about ourselves than we do about others. We are often more than willing to lie, cheat, steal, injure, take advantage of, and even crush one another to get our own way.
The Word of God gives us many different accounts of the incredible lengths that both wicked men as well as believers would go to and how much pain they would inflict on others to get their own way. King Ahab and King David are both good illustrations of this very fact.
Ahab wanted Naboth to sell him his vineyard so it could be added to the palace complex. When Naboth refused to sell to Ahab, Ahab had Naboth killed so that he could have the inheritance of Naboth. The heartbreak, the pain, and the grief that Naboth’s family suffered was of no concern to Ahab; having his own way was all that mattered.
Another example of selfishness work is that of David taking Uriah’s wife. David, as the king, lacked nothing. He should have been happy for Uriah because his wife was fair and lovely. But the sin of selfishness took hold of David and he was no longer content not to have Uriah’s wife. David wanted his own way and he even had to resort to murder to get it. Uriah was entitled to better treatment from the king. All that David did in this regard was steeped in selfishness.
You have no doubt seen it in your own life, as well as in these examples from Scripture, that when love and concern for others is lacking, selfishness soon follows.
Selfishness is a boy saying “I’ll take my ball and go home if I can’t pitch’’. It’s an employer squeezing his employees for all he can get and paying them less than they are worth. It is a young person with the ability to help, refusing to help someone in need.
Selfish people are the root cause behind every home which is broken up by divorce. Because of it children are abused, women are raped, businesses are broken into, prisons are filled, and the innocent victims are injured.
Selfishness is the root cause of all relationship problems, whether it’s between a criminal and the state, an employer and his employees, a husband and his wife, a teenager and his parents, a teenager and his or her friends, or whatever. We are all selfish by nature.
What we are really doing is shoving God aside and setting ourselves up as the only reason for our being. What a terrible mistake to make! And thanks be to God for delivering us, His chosen ones, from such a wicked action.
Now of course there is nothing wrong with striving to improve ourselves. But when all we think about is “self’’, we are way off base. There is a world of difference between a person who cares deeply about the happiness of others as well as his own, and the person who cares only about himself. One finds happiness and fulfillment through giving, the other finds emptiness through getting.
The only one who can change all of this in our hearts is, of course, Jesus Christ. When He enters our hearts He makes us a new creature, old things have passed away and all things have become new.
This does not mean, however, that with Christ in our hearts and lives every shread of selfishness is forever erased. We will have to wait for glory for that fact to become reality. However, we Christians nevertheless wish it were so, but Scripture and our own experience teach us otherwise. But by God’s grace in our hearts we yield ourselves more and more to His control.
Some people have the mistaken idea that if they don’t protect their own rights, if they don’t look out for themselves, they will never be happy. But just the opposite is true. The person who lives to please Christ and keep His commandments, who pours out his life in the service of others, is the one who finds fulfillment and peace.
Jesus said: “He that loveth his life (lives it unto himself) shall lose it; but he that loseth his life for my sake (devotes it to the service of Christ) shall find it.” Only as we die unto ourselves and devote our lives to the service of Christ and of others can deliverance from selfishness be achieved.
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