Seeing

John 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God

I was thinking about how amazing it is to be able to see.  I have also tried to comprehend what it would be if you were blind.  It seems that there are several facets to seeing.  There is the physical aspect and there is the aspect of understanding and then there is the aspect of seeing spiritually.

Looking at the physical aspect it is fairly easy to grasp the difference in seeing and blindness by simply closing your eyes.  What happens is that you quickly loose the imagery of sight and your reality takes on a new dimension.   I used to work in the mines in Colorado and have been in total darkness for a little while.  You try to see but you cannot make out any details of any kind.  Your reality lacks definition and you begin to grope about to find anything that you can detect with your other senses that you know and can understand.  It can be very confusing.  There are stories of people who have been in total darkness for extended periods and have gone mad  without light.  Physical blindness is a definite handicap on life but it is not the worst kind of blindness.

I like puzzles and have a number of them in my study.  I find great pleasure in figuring out how the puzzle is  solved.  Solving problems is a big part of what makes our society work.  Understanding is essential in the overall function of all machinery.  It is basic to our value system and defines relationships.  You have all seen the “Ah-ha” reaction expressed in a cartoon as a lighted bulb or the expression of realization with the widening of the eyes in understanding.  This is seeing through the problem to a solution.  The inability to see through a problem is another type of blindness that will greatly limit your quality of life.

Perhaps the worst type of blindness is the inability to perceive the spiritual.  Those who have this type of blindness do not even know that they are blind.  Perception for them is limited to the physical and mental dimensions of the physical world.  They are unaware of the spiritual realm because they do not even have the eyes to see it with.  To get them, a person must be born again.  He gets his spiritual eyes upon his spiritual birth, just as a person gets his physical eyes at his physical birth.  Yes, I know that he has them before his birth, but their function really begins upon their birth.  Until you are born again you are spiritually blind; and that is the worst type of blindness.  This is just one of the reasons that Jesus said, You must be born again!

Writing your Personal Testimony

In today’s Sunday School class we studied the apostle Paul’s personal testimony and we closed the class with the challenge that if you haven’t written out your personal testimony, then you should.  It is one of the most powerful tools you have as a Christian to share the Gospel with others.  They may disagree with it but they cannot deny it.  Like the song goes, “I was there when it happened, so I guess I ought to know.”

There are three essential elements that go into an effective testimony.  The first element is what were you before you were saved.  You are not trying to tell all of the stories of your life, just enough to validate that you were on the wrong track.  Essentially, it will boil down to I was trying to go through life without Jesus to forgive, love and guide me.

The second essential element is What Happened?  What occurred that caused you to see that you were on the wrong road and how did you discover the right road?  The circumstances will probably be unique and different but the outcome will wind up as a personal experience with the one who died in your place and is now alive and you now know who He is, Jesus.  If this had never happened to you then you still don’t know for sure.  If it has, then it caused a life changing direction in your life and you are now dependent upon and a follower of, Jesus, who is the Christ.  (Jn 7:17)

The third essential element is What changes has this experience made in your life?  If there has been no changes and you are living just as you were before this experience then there is a problem with your testimony.  It could be that you did not meet the Lord but were dependent upon an experience or something other than the Lord.  If you meet him then there will be a change.  It may take a while for you to learn to listen to His voice or to know when He is guiding you but change will certainly happen.  If there is no change then it is worth finding out why.  It could also be because you have some doctrine (teachings) that you hold that contradict with the Bible.  If you truly want to know then read you bible and He will show you the error.  It may be painful to discover that what you always thought was so was really tradition or even superstition.  Another possibility is that you have been deceived in some manner and you need a trustworthy source that will aid you in your search.

You should write it out then review it.  Then see if you can improve it.  Then use it and then go over it some more so that you have the document that accurately relays your story.  It is one of your most effective means of sharing the gospel.

Interruptions

I spend a lot of time at my desk because that is where I do most of my work.  I also have an amazing focus on what I am doing.  This is both good and bad.  It is good because I can zone out a lot of distractions and get a lot of work done.  It is bad in that an interruption really throws my focus off and I have on occasion been quite frustrated because I lost my train of thought.  It then causes me to be rude and sharp.  It is bad also, because I have lost track of time and missed important meetings or stayed up much later than I had realized.

I am currently learning to look at interruptions in a whole new light.  Where I had formerly considered interruptions as a detriment, I am now learning that they are a part of life and sometimes contain a wonderful blessing.  Whereas, in the past I have not appreciated the outcome of my reactions to an interruption, I am now starting to see a better result.  So what is making the change?  First of all, I think that my attitude is changing.  I now view an interruption as something that is important rather than a hindrance to my progress.  Other people make a huge contribution to our progress in life and therefore should be treated as an asset and a blessing.  Situations do not have feelings or preferences, they just are.  Blowing up at them only demonstrate our own need for growth.  Sometimes they are the opportunity we have been looking for.

Another adjustment I am making is that I realized that I was not demonstrating the grace of God.  Instead of being reactive, I am becoming more patient to allow the Lord to work on me and to give the interruption its due attention.  After all it is the Lord that guides the events of our lives and supplies us with all we need to do His will.

In spite of the progress I have made so far, I still have moments of confusion as to what is the right course to take.  I am still a work in progress but I know that the Lord will not leave me half done and He will continue to work on me until He finishes His work on me.  Eph 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

Enough Time

“I just don’t have enough time.”  Have you ever heard someone say that?  Perhaps you have said that yourself.  Isn’t it is interesting that everyone has exactly the same amount of time, 24 hours a day.  It isn’t how much time we have but how we use it.  I remember riding with a guy once and he was cut off in traffic and his response caught me off guard.  He said, “I wonder how he is going to use the 3 seconds he just saved?”  Every second we have is simply an investment into what we believe is the most valuable.

Then there are those who “have nothing to do.”  There seems to be no urgency to do any particular thing.  They are simply marking time.  Often you see people watching the clock, just waiting until a certain time when they can cease their inactivity to do something else.  I know that sounds silly, cause it does to me, but that is how they live their lives. Their creative juices have dried up.  They are not working toward a goal to improve themselves or their circumstances.  They are dutiful in their work and bored.

Then there are those who are always looking for another existence.  Everything is wrong and they fight the system and the people around them.  They do not have any hope and they just want out.  They are not living life, just trying to escape it.

Occasionally, you run into someone who just seems to be doing everything.  They are excited about everything.  They are productive, happy, energetic and find meaning in every event that comes along.  Especially, the small things, simple things, discarded things, and society’s rejects.  They always have a listening ear, time to help, defend the bullied, etc.

So what is the difference?  It is in their value system.  The things they invest their time in are the things that are often overlooked, or undervalued.  They see Mr. opportunity knocking and respond.  They have the belief that seconds are precious and life is soon gone, never to return.  They have discovered that time is a precious gift from God and the proper use of it is part of their stewardship.

Pruning

Joh 15:1-2 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.  2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

Jesus spoke these words to His disciples just shortly before He faced the cross and may well have been His last opportunity to leave them with insights on how to move forward in the kingdoms work.  He was using the illustration of pruning grape vines in order to increase grape production, but it is applicable to all fruit growing plants.

I planted a peach tree in my yard a year ago, I thought it was dead last spring but it began to grow and grew over 4 foot during the year.  In fact it did so well that I had to prune it this spring.  I am not expecting fruit this year and if any does develop, I will knock it off.  Right now I am trying to develop the tree that will be able to support a large crop.  The sacrifice today will be more than repaid in the years to come.

There are two vital principles that are involved in this illustration. One is that the tree or vine will produce limbs and leaves in preference to producing fruit.    It will use the bulk of its resources to produce limbs and leaves and of whatever remains it will produce fruit.  Consequently the fruit is mostly seed, the flesh is smaller and doesn’t taste as good as it should.   It has the mandate from God to grow so it interprets that as producing limbs and leaves with fruit production as of lesser importance.

This could be a description of some of our churches today.  Growth is equated to having facilities, programs and certain doctrines.  It appear healthy and may even be carrying its financial obligations.  But there is a glaring problem.  Baptisms are down, there are additions but there is also a steady loss of members. The membership knows that there is something wrong but cannot identify what or why.  They have fallen into a subtle trap that Satan is using very well today known as program-ism.  It is based on the misconception that God’s delight is in our building churches with full programs that meet everyone’s personal needs.  When it truth, God delights when we grow in faith (Heb 11:6) and produce the fruit of the Spirit.

The second principle is that fruit only grows on new growth.  You never get fruit on last years growth.  Pruning the tree or vine will cause the tree to produce more new growth, on which the fruit will be the natural product. We must be thrust into situations that require us to trust the Lord, for that is where we grow in faith and the fruit of the spirit comes out as a result of faith.  We constantly undergo change and find ourselves pushed to our limits.  Its okay because God is the gardener and He knows how to work all things for good.  We can trust Him.

Refining My Skills

This afternoon I attended our monthly teacher training class.  After 50 years of teaching you would think that I knew how to teach.  I really enjoyed the class and was blessed with developing my skills even more than I had before.  If I do not continue to develop my skills then I will get lazy and rely on past knowledge.  When I do that I find that my class becomes predictable and I loose my appeal.  Every class should be fresh and exciting.  If it isn’t exciting for me then it won’t excite them.

Today’s class addressed how to open the class because everyone comes to a class with a wealth of different circumstances and moods.  We discussed how to get everyone on the same page so that learning will not be a drudgery or duty.  We took a passage of scripture and framed the subject matter into a lesson that was scriptural, and applicable to the audience.  While the educational pastor was teaching it came to me that it was like a funnel.  Bringing a collection of different people, backgrounds, interest, and knowledge into a single lesson that is edifying.

We also looked at the coming lesson plans for the next year to give our classes a continuity and to be able to watch for things that will aid us in our efforts.  In that vein, we noted some particular events that are upcoming.  One of them is our church Bible conference that will be held in June.  Because the national convention will be here in Dallas, Texas this year, we are taking advantage of some of the greatest Bible teachers of our time that will be here for the convention, to be our speakers/teachers.  The Bible conference will be held on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday following the Convention.  I am really looking forward to this event.

Prisoners 5

The prison in discussion for today is COVETOUSNESS or greed.  Covetousness is the desire to posses, whether it be things, land or wealth.  It is the desire to take ownership when the reality is that all things belong to God.  The closest we can come to ownership is really stewardship, that is to manage it for a time, for the owner.  When a person dies he leaves everything behind and it doesn’t matter how much or how little he had, it is all left behind  :His ownership is temporary at best.

The problem with having possessions is that it is a short step before the pride of wealth possesses you.  1 Timothy 6:10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.  This verse does not say the money is the root of all evil but it does say the the “love of money” is the root of all kinds of evil.  Wealth is not evil but the love of it is.  Once the love of money takes control, it demands more and more.  When Howard Hughes was asked how much wealth it would take to satisfy him he answered, “just a little more.”  Wealth becomes the warden and the person becomes the prisoner.  The demand for more drives one to compromise himself and to do almost anything to get more.

As wealth is increased, so also is the demand upon that wealth.   Ec 5:11 When goods increase, they are increased that eat them: and what good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes?  Not only are the demands of its use increased but also the care it takes to protect it.  It is an awful taskmaster and knows no limits in its cruelty.

When a rich man asked Jesus what must I do to inherit eternal life, Jesus answered him, “go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come and follow me” Matthew 19:21  I don’t know of a better answer to how to be free from the grip of wealth than that plan.  The next verse says he went away grieved; for he had great possessions.  In other words, his faith was in his riches and not in Christ. He could have been free but it was his choice to remain a prisoner.  You must hold possessions loosely for the Lord’s use or the possessions will hold you.

Prisoners 3

The next prison that I will examine is VICES AND ADDICTIONS.  This prison is one of the most cruel of all of the prisons.  The suffering in this prison is inflicted on all levels; physical, emotional, relational, intellectual and offers no hope of a better life. The dependency is chemical, social, habitual, emotional and intellectual.  The scope of the suffering goes beyond the suffering and expense to the individual, to include friends, family, community, government and environment.  The property damage exceeds the cost of war by several times, every year, yet we pass laws to protect these vices because of the taxes from them.  Still these taxes are swallowed up several times in the cost to the governments for such things as welfare, public medical cost, police and fire protection, etc.  The number of deaths caused by these vices and addictions in the last 50 years exceed the combined cost of all the wars of all time.  That does not take into consideration the personal injury or the wrecked lives of the innocent who have nothing to do with them.

The interesting thing about this prison is that most of those who go there, do so by their own choice. There are some exceptions such as those who have been thrust there by circumstances beyond their control such as addiction from medications to save the life.   There is an old saying, man takes drink, drink takes drink, drink takes man.  The door into this prison is inviting.  It offers thrill, fun, pleasure, success, happiness, profit, etc.  Then once entered the door slams shut behind and a return to the former life is lost.  Many have testified that they hate what they do now and cannot escape its grip.  I know that it is not as simplistic as I make it sound but the point is not being made that it can be avoided if we make right choices.

The scope of vices and addictions is wide.  It includes the obvious of tobacco,alcohol and drugs but extends to pleasures, powers and passions.  The allurement of all of these vices and addictions are temporary while the consequence remains for a long time. The grip of these vices is strong and the dependence is hard to break but it really is not complicated.  It is as simple as placing that dependency on Jesus instead of the vice.  Even though it is simple, it is not easy.  To make this adjustment requires a complete rejection of the vice and all it offers and choose the life of obedience to the Lord of life.  He has made provision for your stumbling and weakness and accepts you just as you are and will lead you out of this prison.

God’s plan is to free us from this prison ( Joh 8:36 If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.).  If you want to escape you can but you have to do it His way.  Joh 8:31 Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; 32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. Ga 5:1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.  There is hope but it is only in Jesus Christ.

Philosophy

This is really yesterdays post but I was busy with the SS lesson and didn’t get it typed.  I have a collection of Illustrator magazines that I have been collecting since 1975.  They are packed with articles and pictures of biblical places and subjects that are timeless.  I keep them for reference material and sometimes they really come in handy.  The SS lesson is about the Apostle Paul in Athens on his 2nd missionary journey when he went to Mars Hill and spoke about the unknown God.

I have studied that scripture many times but this time I focused on the listeners and how they would have heard the message.  The Areopagus (ruling counsel) was made up of philosophers that were primarily of Epicurean and Stoic belief.  In studying these two schools of thought I found that they were very prevalent in the foundation of our country and furthermore are still prevalent in our society today.  The Epicurean goal was to gain the greatest amount of happiness and pleasure that can be obtained.  One only needs to look at all the entertainment today and listen to the talk.  “Life only goes around once, get all the gusto you can.”  “If it feels good, do it.”  “I just want to be happy.”  The Stoic were self-sufficient and self-controlled.  “I’m my own boss, nobody is going to tell me what to do.”  “Work hard and success will follow.”  They were highly materialistic and held that the primary principle of the universe was reason. Their goal was to live a good moral life and work for God.

This is just a small sampling of what I found in my research from these Illustrator magazines.  A persons basic beliefs or philosophies will determine how he responds to God.  Change takes place only when a person sees the error of a philosophy.  For example, the idea that God will be pleased with me because I do . . . The truth is that God loves us as we are.  Ro 5:8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  No amount of works will change that fact.  It is by grace and not by works.  In fact Heb. 11:6 tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God, and in Ro.14:23 we find that whatsoever is not of faith is sin.