” The More Excellent Way”
Set your mind on things above (Colossians 3:2). How easily our focus drifts from the eternally significant. Activities cram our days, and exhaustion fills our nights. Bills hoover. Work distracts. We fall totally drained into bed and all-too-soon have our peaceful slumber rudely interrupted by an alarm that signals another hectic day. So, we begin again. Our thoughts are dominated by the things of this world. Soon, God is squeezed into a single day. Then a solitary hour on that one day. Slowly it turns into an hour a month. The drift eventually takes away one more soul.
Set your mind on things above. King David lived in much different times and had a unique history. He spent time with the sheep. If anything could prepare a person to govern people, that was it. Days and nights with dependent critters groomed Jesse’s youngest son for the throne. He had the unusual characteristic of being a man after God’s heart. He certainly had his spiritual ups and downs, but he had the right internal stuff. He knew of the importance of the proper mindset. Perhaps his own experiences had educated him on the dangers of wandering thoughts.
David wrote much about blessings. The first word of the entire book of Psalms in its original language is “blessed.” That sets the tone for all that follows and guides us into a life of blessings. It is immediately apparent that it involves our minds as well as our actions. Our view of the word of the Lord is a huge factor in the process. The blessed person recognizes the immense value of His message and spends time meditating on the incredible truths of God (Psalm 1:2).
We live in the information age, and there is very little that we could want to know that we could not find out with a few key strokes. Google can give us instantaneous facts. It is all right at our fingertips, except the perfect truth about God. If the internet gets it right, and that is a big questionable “if,” it got it from the word of the Lord. Spending time pondering those unseen realities is a component of a life of blessing.
There is plenty in this world to captivate us. Diversions are everywhere. Focus drifts and it takes a concerted effort to maintain it. It is especially challenging to remain locked in on those things which we cannot see, but those are the only things which will last beyond our time in this world (2 Corinthians 4:18). They are eternal. Everything else, whether pleasant or unpleasant, is temporary.
Set your mind on things above. Our attention and devotion cannot be on the passing issues of this creation. They will lead us to think the wrong thoughts, want the wrong things and self-destruct. The mind is a great source of blessing when we use it properly.
“Just Like Him”
Sin seizes us. It is never honest but enslaves us through deception. If its true destructive nature were clearly revealed, we would never buy into it. We can’t point the finger at environmental influences. The serpent convinced Eve to take a bite while she lived in paradise. We cannot blame God. He is neither tempted nor tempts (James 1:13). No, it comes from evil influences within (James 1:14), and we end up being slaves to those desires. The devil is skillful. He works on our heart. When he has that, he has us.
Sin is a dynamic force. It will rob us of freedom if we let it. Jesus knew. He saw the whole picture, and it was an ugly one. Everyone who gives in becomes its servant (John 8:34). There are no exceptions. It is a universal principle etched in stone by the one who faced death to liberate the slaves. Sin will dominate our minds and dictate our actions unless we are set free from its control. The unavoidable outcome of such a life is death (Romans 6:16). We are at liberty to choose which road we take. However, the ultimate destination is beyond our control.
Paul was a special handpicked messenger of God (Acts 9:15). His aggressive persecution of the church is legendary. So is his amazing confrontation with Jesus on the Damascus road. His work on behalf of the Lord lives to this day. Words from heaven flowed through his pen. Yet, he was not immune from sin’s dreadful influence (Romans 7:15-25). He knew its mind-numbing dictatorship that led him to do what he never dreamed of and not doing what he intended. Sin ran his life. Frustration descended on his mind like early morning fog. His self-esteem hit an all-time low. Welcome to the world of sin. Next stop: eternal damnation.
Only God knows the full extent of sin’s devastation. It is incomprehensible to the human mind. The cross is as close as we will ever come to understanding its brutality. That is where good and evil had the ultimate encounter. God the Son met it head on. Sin beat His innocent back to a bloody pulp, put a crown of thorns on His head, drove nails through His hands and feet, then thrust a sword into His side. Sin will kill the Lord in our lives, too. When it does, Satan ascends to reign and we are left as slaves.
We are just days away from celebrating our national independence. Many lives were given to secure it. A war was fought and blood was spilled so that we might be liberated from foreign domination. Two thousand years ago holy blood was shed to free us from a spiritual dictator. We cherish the freedom that we enjoy. It was costly, but the freedom that Jesus gives cost even more. It is a liberty that will never end.
“Can God Depend on Us?”
We live in times of high anxiety. We fret over family, finances, the future and any number of hypothetical issues. The “What if’s” of tomorrow cast a long, dark shadow on today. So, we toss and turn. Stress has become one of America’s leading health issues. It affects our physical and mental condition. Doctor bills skyrocket while quality of life crashes. Never have so many had so much and failed to find contentment. Money can buy virtually everything except peace of mind.
Our Creator knows about the human tendency to worry. Jesus addressed it in His first recorded sermon (Matthew 6:25-34). It is always important to remember who His audience is, and in this case it is disciples (Matthew 5:1-2). So, it is those who are seeking to learn from Him and follow His teaching. His message? Do not be anxious, even about the most basic necessities. Easier said than done, right? The solution isn’t a medicine chest full of antacids and sedatives.
His advice was to take a look at nature. Watch the birds. You don’t see them wringing their wings about where the next meal will come from. They simply flit around gathering what God supplies for them to eat. And what about the flowers? Solomon dressed gloriously but not better than one of those in full bloom. See that? Trust the One who takes care of them. After all, disciples are His children. Faith is the answer to stress (Matthew 6:30).
Peter could never envision himself failing the Lord. It might happen to others but not him. He was so certain of it that he argued with Jesus when He suggested that failure was in the fisherman’s immediate future (John 13:37-38). Even in the face of impending danger and Peter’s certain denial, the Lord offered words of reassurance, “Don’t let your heart be troubled… (John 14:1-3)” Nothing produces anxiety quite like the public exposure of unrecognized personal weakness. The Lord knew. Troubled hearts make for sleepless nights.
Once again the solution is found in believing in God and His Son. Trust in the preparations that have been made to secure the future for the faithful. Our Savior endured the agony of death on a cross and emerged victoriously from the grave so that we might have a place in heaven with Him. Our human failures deflate us deep down inside. The Lord is fully aware of the discouragement that can eat away at us and offered a remedy: Faith.
Our view of Scripture totally changes when we trust its source. Again, faith is the key. Faith that it is the word of an all-knowing, all-loving Creator who does not want us living anxiety riddled lives. In fact, He commands His children NOT to be anxious. When we trust Him, we listen with attentive, obedient ears to Philippians 4:4-9. Then our hearts will be in His faithful hands.
“My God, My God”
What is life all about? It is a question begging for an answer. Throughout the ages, philosophers have offered up their thoughts. Theologians have tossed in their two cents worth. Contemporary culture has added their twist. The voices grow louder, and the confusion multiplies. There are innumerable theories, but is there really anyone who has drawn a trustworthy conclusion?
Solomon faced a monumental task, one for which he felt ill-equipped. He had been designated to rule over the kingdom. It was not your run-of-the-mill throne that he was to occupy but one that would direct the affairs of God’s chosen people. Understandably, when the Lord asked what he wanted, he jumped at the opportunity (2 Chronicles 1:7ff). Wisdom and knowledge were at the top of his list. The job was overwhelming. He needed supernatural help. He got that and then some.
Solomon had lots of options. We all do. It is hard to imagine what our answer might be if the Lord asked us what we really want. Money? Fame? Revenge against those who had wronged us? What would we want? The Lord obviously approved of his request, because He granted him wisdom plus fame and fortune. His story spread far and wide, and the curious came calling. Even royalty heard about him, investigated and found that the truth far exceeded the rumors (2 Kings 9:1ff). His wisdom and wealth impressed even the rich and famous. There was no equal.
So, is that what it’s all about? Wisdom? Knowledge? Playthings and trinkets? Solomon, the man who had it all, explored every bit of it. He had power. He headed up the kingdom of God’s special people. He had wisdom beyond human limits, and it had been given by the Lord. He tried all the trappings that money can buy and found them lacking. He had a collection of houses, gardens, orchards, animals, even humans to entertain him in every imaginable way. His conclusion? They’re all worthless, like grabbing a handful of air.
They were all so unsatisfying that he wrote about it. We can save ourselves a whole lot of frustration and time by reading Ecclesiastes. He did not leave a single stone unturned in his pursuits and found them all meaningless except…and there is that one exception. He did discover what gives life genuine meaning, but it was not before he had exhausted virtually every other possibility. It should be obvious but apparently isn’t. People are still stuffing their lives with all of the same type vanities and coming away disillusioned and empty. Solomon learned it and shared it. We’ll know, too, if we read all the way to the 2 closing verses of the book.
It does not come in the accumulation of possessions. Exploiting people isn’t it. A fulfilled life comes from a proper view of God and respect for His word, and that’s within grasp for everyone.
“Love One Another”
“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).” The circumstances that surrounded that plea make it virtually incomprehensible. Darkness would soon descend. Actually, it had already enveloped the hearts of men. Satanic hatred controlled them from within. Their hands simply carried out their deeply distorted desires. The devil had them, or did he?
Blood mixed with spit stained His holy face. The ridicule of the adversaries echoed in His ears. Even the crooks hanging next to Him mocked Him. The pain of nails tearing at His flesh grew to unbearable proportions. Every breath was a labor. Suffocation threatened. Life drained from His wounds. He gasped for air. His back was raw from the brutal beating He had taken. Human sins were heaped onto His divine shoulders. The spiritual burden was immense. The physical suffering was indescribable. “Father, forgive them…”
It was His mission, start to finish. As He approached its completion, he uttered words that would reveal the point with amazing clarity. It was all about forgiveness. Sin wrecked the human relationship with God from the very beginning which immediately took its toll on humanity. The descent was breathtaking, from paradise to murder in one generation. He came to deal with the root cause of that problem. “Father, forgive them…”
Peter stood among the perpetrators. He had traveled and talked with the Lord. He had seen miracles that defied explanation. He saw storms calmed, the lame healed, the sick cured and the dead raised. He himself had walked on water, if only for a step or two. He also saw Jesus crucified. He confronted the instigators with their sin. They had killed the savior. Surely, this was an unforgivable sin, right?
“What shall we do (Acts 2:37)?” If ever there seemed like a dilemma with no solution, this was it. The message hit them right in the heart, but how could they fix it? It may have appeared hopeless, but there is always hope with the Lord. Peter’s response? “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…Acts 2:38)”
Forgiveness? Even for murdering the Son of God? Yep, God promised it (Acts 2:39).
The cross reveals the horror of sin. It took the most dramatic demonstration of the love of God in history to show the lengths to which He would go to solve the estrangement that sin causes. It severs our ties to our Creator. He is love. No God, no love. He is light. Separation means eternal darkness. Without Him there is no life. We get the point. Sin separates us from Him and all that is good (James 1:17).
“Father, forgive them…” It epitomizes the Lord’s intentions. It captures the mission of Jesus. He endured the torturous death of crucifixion so that we might be forgiven. It is His heart’s desire for all of us.