358) Living for What Matters

From “Living For What Will Matter 30 Million Years From Now” blog, posted by Randy Alcorn, April 2, 2014 at:  

http://www.epm.org

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 Live for the Line

     When it comes to money, financial planners often tell us, “Don’t think just three months or three years ahead.  Think thirty years ahead.”  Christ, the ultimate investment counselor, takes it further.  He says, “Don’t ask how your investment will be paying off in just thirty years.  Ask how it will be paying off in thirty million years.”  That’s not only true of how we invest our money, but every part of our lives, including our God-given resources of time and talents and possessions.

     This life is the headwaters out of which life in heaven flows.  Eternity will hold for us what we’ve poured into it during our lives here.  When we view our short today in light of the long tomorrow of eternity, even the little choices we make become tremendously important.

     Your life on earth is a dot.  From that dot extends a line that goes on for all eternity.  Right now you’re living in the dot.  But what are you living for?  Are you living for the dot or for the line?  Are you living for earth or for heaven?  Are you living for the short today or the long tomorrow?

     In this great 4-minute video, Francis Chan uses another illustration, somewhat similar, that demonstrates just how short-sighted living only for this present life is:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86dsfBbZfWs

     This is a great reminder to invest in what will last, and to center your life around God, and His Word, and His promises and commands. Do this, and you will be living not for the dot but for the line (or in Chan’s case, the rope)!

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Colossians 3:2  —  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

II Corinthians 4:18  —  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

I John 2:17  —   The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

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Almighty God, give us a measure of true religion and thereby set us free from vain and disappointing hopes, from lawless and excessive appetites, from frothy and empty joys, from anxious, self-devouring cares, from a dull and black melancholy, from an eating envy and swelling pride, and from rigid sourness and severity of spirit; all so that we may possess that peace which passeth all understanding, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.       

–Benjamin Whichcote (1609-1683), English philosopher

354) Don’t Be A Fool

LUKE 12:16-21:

     Jesus told them this parable:  “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do?  I have no place to store my crops.’
     “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do.  I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years.  Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
     “But God said to him, ‘You fool!  This very night your life will be demanded from you.  Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’  This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

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     Sidney is an expert on the Civil War.  Ever since junior high school he has been fascinated by those four years of American history, and it has been his lifelong passion to read about it, study it, and become completely absorbed in the spirit of that period of time.  His career was teaching Civil War History in college, and now, in his retirement, he spends every vacation traveling around the country to Civil War battlefields.  He loves to spend hours walking the old battle grounds, imagining, and reliving in his mind all what happened there.  There is so much he knows. 

     Sidney knows all about not only the events of the war, but also all about the political background of the conflict, and the personalities of all the major players, and the long term repercussions of everything related to that war.  He can tell you about General Lee’s hesitation to fight for the South, he can tell you about President Lincoln’s frustration in finding a capable general, and about the weaknesses and failures of each one until the great General Grant finally took over.  Sidney can tell you about Abraham Lincoln’s faith, which was tested and then deepened by the war that took up almost his entire presidency.  He can tell you about dishonest contractors that cheated the government out of millions of dollars, while the army had a hard time supplying the union soldiers with blankets.  He can tell you about the terrible conditions of the prisoners of war kept in overcrowded camps, and how soldiers had a better chance of surviving the fiercest battles than making it to the end of the war in some of those camps.

     Sidney knows more than almost anyone about the Civil War, but like anyone else, Sidney does not know everything about everything.  He knows how to drive a car, but don’t ask him to check the oil.  He can buy a can of soup and put it in the microwave, but he can’t cook much else.  He had children and now he has grandchildren, but he still doesn’t know how to change a diaper.  Not everyone can be an expert in every area, and Sidney has made his choices.  He has chosen to focus all his energy and attention on acquiring knowledge of the Civil War.  His knowledge of the war is impressive, but he is lacking in some other areas and attributes.

     We all have our areas of expertise, and there are those many other things of which we are quite ignorant.  What Jesus is saying in this parable from Luke 12 is don’t be a fool and be ignorant about God and your eternal soul.  “There is one thing needed,” said Jesus to the busy Martha and her sister Mary two chapters earlier, and whatever your interests and skills and obligations, you must not ignore that one thing that is needed above all other things.  Only God is worthy of our fullest devotion.  Money, pleasure, prestige, career, hobbies, travel, or Civil War knowledge are all things that can consume our fullest devotion and dedication.  While there is nothing wrong with giving those kinds of things some attention, we must not be a fool like the man in the parable and pay no attention to the God who created us.

     Sidney knows all about the Civil War, but not much about anything else, including God.  In Luke 12:21 Jesus points out our need to be concerned about eternal things, being ‘rich toward God’ as he puts it there.  We all need a place to live, and we put considerable time and money into providing a home for ourselves.  It would only seem reasonable that we should be concerned also about our eternal dwelling.  Our lives here will be over in a very short time, and we will then be in our next home (whatever that might be), and we will be there for all the rest of time.  It would only make sense that we would want to know something about that next destination, and make any necessary preparations for it.

     The Bible has a great deal to say about all this, but Sidney has had very little time for the Bible.  He could tell you how the Bible was quoted during the Civil War by both the North and the South, both in defense of and in opposition to slavery.  But as for what the Bible says about his own eternal soul, Sidney could tell you very little. 

     If you asked Sidney if there is life after death, he would say, “Yes, I think so; that seems to be a commonly held belief.”  But if asked whether or not such a belief was reasonable, scientifically speaking, he would be hard pressed to say anything definite.  If you asked him whether or not he believed Jesus really rose from the dead, he would say, “Yes, I know the Bible says he did, but I never really looked into it for myself.”  If you asked him what Jesus said about eternal life and about heaven and how to get there, he would quickly admit that he doesn’t know what Jesus said about any of that.  At this point, he may wonder why the questions are all only about Jesus, and he might say that all religions talk about heaven, and they all seem to believe in that same thing, and so there must be something to it.  But he would be quite incorrect about that.  The various religions of the world say very different things about what happens after you die– but Sidney would be very uninformed about any of that.  Finally, if asked what will happen to him after he dies, Sidney would be honest enough to admit that he does not really know, nor does he have any strong beliefs on the subject.

     Sidney is an imaginary person I invented to illustrate the approach that many people take to this whole subject.  Countless surveys of people’s beliefs show that most people believe in some kind of life after death, but many will readily admit to being completely ignorant of reasons for that belief and what that might mean.  They might have some vague beliefs, picked up here and there from a variety of sources, mostly unreliable, oftentimes from people as uniformed as themselves.  Yet, these same people will take great pains to know all there is to know about other matters that are mere trifles by comparison.

     Why would someone not want to know all about a matter of such eternal personal consequences, and instead be content to know all about the Civil War, or the Minnesota Vikings, or NASCAR racing, or house decorating, or gardening, or, as the man in Jesus’ parable, making money?  All of that might be useful, enjoyable, and even necessary knowledge, but it all is useful only for a little while, and must not be pursued to the exclusion of what one needs to know for eternity.

     Sidney would tell you that his interest in the Civil War has given him a full and interesting life, but according to this parable, God would consider him a fool.  Sidney has achieved much for himself, but he is certainly not rich towards God.  In fact, he clearly pays no attention to God.  This neglect of God is typical, and many people live their whole life with that same foolish and careless indifference to that which is most important.

     Many Bible verses tell us what God has done for us.  This parable of Jesus tells us something that we need to do in response.  We need to pay attention enough to know what God says about something so vital to our own interests.  God said to the man in the parable,“This very night your life will be required of you.”  One day God will say that to Sidney, and, to you– and what then?  God then said to the rich man, “You fool.”  What will God say to you?  Have you been indifferent, uninterested, and careless?  If you do not want anything to do with God, God will, when that time comes, let you have your way, and you will enter eternity without Him, and without hope.  

     As Jesus said so clearly and simply in Mark 4:9, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear”

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Luke 10:38-42  —  Now it came to pass, as they went, that Jesus entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.  But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone?  Bid her therefore that she help me.  And Jesus answered and said unto her, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:  But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

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Grant to us, O Lord, to know that which is worth knowing, to love that which is worth loving, to praise that which pleases you most, to esteem that which is most precious to you, and to dislike whatsoever is evil in your eyes; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

–Thomas a Kempis (15th century)

154) On Matters of the Soul and Eternity

Selections from The Clergy of America: Anecdotes, (1869)

     I was once called upon, says the Rev. Trefit, some years ago, to visit an individual, a part of whose face had been eaten away by a most loathsome cancer.  Fixing my eyes on this man, in his agony, I said, “Supposing that Almighty God were to give you your choice:  which would you prefer, your cancer, your pain, and your sufferings, with a certainty of death before you, but of immortality after; or, health, prosperity, long life in the world, and the risk of losing your immortal soul?”  “Ah sir,” said the man, “give me the cancer, the pain, the Bible, the hope of heaven; and others may take the world, long life, and prosperity.”  (p. 426)

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     Several years ago Rev. James Armstrong preached at Harmony, near the Wabash.  A physician of that place, a professed atheist, went over to Armstrong to ‘attack the Methodists,’ as he said.  At first, he asked Mr. Armstrong if he was a preacher in order to save souls.  He answered in the affirmative.  He then inquired, “Did you ever see a soul?”  “No.”  “Did you ever hear a soul?”  “No.”  “Did you ever taste a soul?”  “No.”  “Did you ever smell a soul?”  “No.”  “Did you ever feel a soul?”  “Yes, thank God,” said Mr. Armstrong.  “Well,” said the doctor, “there are four of the five senses against one, that there is no soul.”

    Mr. Armstrong then asked the gentlemen if he was a doctor of medicine, and he was also answered in the affirmative.  He then asked the doctor, “Did you ever see a pain?”  “No.”  “Did you ever hear a pain?”  “No.”  “Did you ever taste a pain?”  “No.”  “Did you ever smell a pain?”  “No.”  “Did you ever feel a pain?”  “Yes.”  Mr. Armstrong then said. “There are also four senses against one, to prove that there is no such thing as a pain; and yet, sir, you know that there is pain, and I know there is a soul.”  The doctor appeared confounded and walked off. (p. 409)

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    A venerable minister preached a sermon on the subject of eternal punishment.  On the next day, it was agreed among some thoughtless young men, that one of them should go to him, and endeavor to draw him into a dispute, with the design of making a jest of him and his doctrine.  The young man accordingly went, was introduced into the minister’s study, and commenced the conversation by saying, “I believe there is a small dispute between you and me, sir, and I thought I would call this morning to try to settle it.”  “What is it?,” said the clergyman.  The young man said, “You say that the wicked will go to everlasting punishment, and I do not think that they will.”  “Oh, if that is all,” said the minister, “there is no dispute between you and me.  If you turn to Matthew 25:46, you will find that the dispute is between you and the Lord Jesus Christ, and I advise you to go immediately and settle it with him.”  (p. 341)

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    A skeptic, meeting a clergyman, asked, “If we are to live after death, why have we not some certain knowledge of it?”  The clergyman, feeling it important sometimes to answer a fool according to his folly, asked in return, “Why didn’t you get some knowledge of this world before you came into it?”  (p. 370)

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    A Universalist clergyman was once robbed on the road by a man who had formerly lived with him as a servant.  After his arrest, the preacher asked the man how he could be so wicked as to rob his old employer.  The robber’s answer speaks volumes against the soul-destroying heresy of universalism, which says all people will be saved no matter what they believe or do.  The robber said, “You yourself tempted me to commit this offense against the law; for I have often heard you say, both in public and private, that all men will enjoy everlasting bliss after death, and that there is no such things as eternal punishment in the next world.  You thus removed my greatest fear; why should I dread any lesser punishments?”  (p. 375)

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Matthew 25:46  —    (Jesus said), “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Acts 16:29-31  —   The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas.  He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”    They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved; you and your household.”

John 3:16  —  (Jesus said), “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

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      O, God of all comfort, I give you thanks that you have revealed to me your dear Son, Jesus Christ, in whom I believe.  I know of no one else in heaven or on earth in whom I may have safe refuge except in Him.  Without this hope, I would be lost. I pray Lord Jesus, let my soul be commended unto you.  O heavenly Father, although I must be torn away from this body and must leave it, I know that I shall remain with you forever, and that no one can ever take me out of your hands.  I rely on this assurance, and will gladly leave this life in it.  Amen.     

–Martin Luther, from Luther’s Prayers, tr. by Charles Kistler, 1917,

(adapted from #220, #223, and #224)

70) Only in This Life (part two)

     (continued…)  How did the young couple with the child born blind respond to Pastor John’s letter?  They quit coming to church.  This reaction was not to the letter in particular, but to the God of whom the letter spoke.  The father said later that he still believed in God, and believed that God was all-powerful.  But, he said, if this is what God does with all that power, he no longer wanted to have anything to do with such a God.  He wrote an angry letter back to the pastor, and then spent several years in bitterness and unbelief.

     On July 4th of 2009, this father wrote a letter to his teenage son, the one born blind, on his fourteenth birthday.  In that letter he describes how, after his initial bitterness and anger, he was able to return to faith in God.  His wife had reconciled with God much sooner, and through her influence, the influence of his father and his pastor, and by an ongoing openness to God’s Word, he returned to faith and trust in God.  He has even reached the point where he can thank God for how his faith has grown by this challenge.  And now, with that deeper faith he is better able to handle another sadness and challenge– his wife’s ongoing battle with cancer.  He has learned to live with that larger perspective that the pastor had years ago encouraged him to see.

     In the letter from that pastor, this larger eternal perspective was first of all proclaimed by several promises from the Bible, but then it was summarized in one little phrase, one little word.  The word is ONLY, the phrase is ‘only in this life.’  Only in this life, said the pastor, will you have the sadness and the extra burden of a son who was born without eyes.  Only in this life will that son not be able to see.

     Keep in mind that word ONLY and that phrase, ‘only in this life.’  You can probably think of ways to finish the sentence for your own life.

     Only in this life will I have to endure this ongoing back pain, only in this life will I have to live with chronic illness, only in this life will I have these migraine headaches, only in this life will I be stuck in this wheelchair, only in this life will I be so alone, only in this life will I have this ongoing battle with depression, only in this life will I live with the uncertainty of cancer, only in this life will I have to go again and again to the cemetery to say good-bye to beloved family members, friends, and neighbors…

     Only in this life, — and then, as it says in Revelation 21, then we will live with God, and His home will be our home, and there will be no more tears, no more grief, no more illness, or sadness, or death, because as it says, all those former things will have passed away.  ‘Only’ is the word to remember– ONLY.  Only in this life.

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I Corinthians 15:19 — If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

1 Peter 5:10-11 — And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  To him be the power for ever and ever.  Amen.

Revelation 21:3-5 — I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”  Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

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Lord, teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.  Lighten, if it is your will, the pressures of this world’s cares.  Above all, reconcile us to your will, and give us a peace which the world cannot take away; through our Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.   –Thomas Chalmers