Not a Sermon only a Thought

The Tragedy of a Wasted Life

Luke 12:15-21

Death is inevitable, but at times it surprises us. Perhaps you can relate because you know someone who died unexpectedly.

Today’s parable describes one such situation. It tells of a man who acquired comfort and wealth but thought only of his time on earth. Death came without warning, and he could take nothing with him. God called him a fool for living focused only on himself.

Though rich in the world’s eyes, the man had no relationship with God and hadn’t invested anything in Christ’s kingdom. All the treasures he stored here were worthless once he died. What’s even worse is that without Jesus, he’d be separated from God forever. Think about the tragic waste of such a life.

As I consider the choices this man made, two questions come to mind that are important for us all to contemplate. First, if you were to die today, would you go to heaven? Salvation is a free gift for those who trust in Jesus as the acceptable sacrifice for sin. He is the only way—no excuses or even sincere beliefs in other ways will work. And Scripture teaches that when believers die, they immediately find themselves in the Lord’s presence (2 Corinthians 5:8).

Second, what is your life accomplishing? Are you driven by selfish purposes, storing security and wealth for yourself? Or is your motivation to further God’s kingdom?

Like the man in this parable, we don’t know when we will die. We do know, however, that death is inescapable. Dying is an unpleasant topic, but eternity is a long time and worthy of our attention. It’s definitely a wise investment to make sure of your salvation and to invest in God’s kingdom.

God’s Economy for Generosity

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

When I was a boy, my mother and I had barely enough money for food, shelter, and clothing, but that never stopped her from being generous. If one of my friends asked for some food, she always gave him something to eat, even if it was only a piece of bread. As a child, I was afraid we wouldn’t have enough for ourselves, but my mother knew that the Lord’s economy works differently from that of the world. 

Worldly wisdom says, “Get all you can, and do all you can to keep it,” but God’s ways are the opposite. In today’s passage, Paul uses the natural laws of agriculture to teach us His principles for generosity. Farmers know that sowing seed sparingly will not result in a big crop, but that’s what some of us do when it comes to giving. We’d rather keep most of our seed in the barn just to make sure it’s safe.

However, when we do this, we become like the man we read about in yesterday’s parable—he tried so hard to keep all he had and yet ended up with nothing of eternal value (Luke 12:15-21). Living in God’s divine economy requires confident faith in His promises. As Christians, we readily believe Him for our eternal salvation, so why are we sometimes reluctant to trust Him with earthly things like money?  

We are called to be vessels through whom the Father blesses His church and others. He has promised to provide us with enough bread to eat and more seed to sow. When we learn His ways and trust what He has written, He is glorified, and we reap a bountiful harvest of righteousness.

Maintaining Our Witness in Trials

1 Peter 2:11-12

You are being watched. That’s always a good thing to remember as we interact with people at work or in the community. How we respond to frustrations, annoyances, difficulties, and temptations is a witness for Christianity, and the last thing we want to do is misrepresent Christ.

Many times challenging situations arise unexpectedly. Therefore, it’s important that we prepare ourselves beforehand—then we’ll be equipped to display Christlikeness, and our witness will not be derailed. To be ready ...

Stay in God’s Word. Knowing Scripture helps you view situations from God’s perspective and know how He would have you respond.

Pray. Challenge yourself to make prayer an immediate response to your problems. When you bring your concerns to God, His peace will guard your heart and mind, which is a powerful witness to a watching world (Phil. 4:6-7).

Trust and obey. When you rely on God’s promises, your peace and confidence in God will stand out to those who are consumed with fear and anxiety.

Remember whose you are. You belong to God and have been purchased by the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:17-19). Your life is a display of God’s grace, and your character, conduct, and conversation should always reflect Christ.

Be gracious and kind to others. Don’t let your own troubles erupt into anger and blame. Small acts of kindness and a forgiving spirit are a tremendous witness in a world where such things are rare. 

Aggravations and problems seem like hindrances to us, but our response can change someone’s life if it reflects the love of Jesus Christ.

How can you know God?

It all starts with accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ provides a relationship with the Father and eternal life through His death on the cross and resurrection, see Romans. 5:10.

Romans. 10:9 promises, "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." If you have not yet begun your personal relationship with God, understand that the One who created you loves you no matter who you are or what you’ve done. He wants you to experience the profound depth of His care.

Therefore, tell God that you are willing to trust Him for salvation. You can tell Him in your own words or use this simple prayer:

Lord Jesus, I ask You to forgive my sins and save me from eternal separation from God. By faith, I accept Your work and death on the cross as sufficient payment for my sins. Thank You for providing the way for me to know You and to have a relationship with my heavenly Father. Through faith in You, I have eternal life. Thank You also for hearing my prayers and loving me unconditionally. Please give me the strength, wisdom, and determination to walk in the center of Your will. In Jesus’ name, amen.

If you have just prayed this prayer, congratulations!

You have received Christ as your Savior and have made the best decision you will ever make—one that will change your life forever!

Trust God for Your Needs

Philippians 4:19

Jim saved for a long time to take an Alaskan cruise. At last he was on board with two carefully packed suitcases. The first evening, when he heard “Dinner is served” announced over the loudspeaker, he took peanut butter crackers from his suitcase and sat at the table in his small cabin. Every day at mealtime, he repeated the ritual. It wasn’t that Jim didn’t like the ship’s tasty banquets. He simply didn’t know that his meals were included in the price of the ticket. For two weeks he enjoyed beautiful scenery and wildlife off the decks but ate dry, stale food in his cabin.

This sad story is a metaphor for the way some believers follow Jesus. God has promised to meet His children’s every need—His boundless riches are included in the price Christ paid for their salvation (Eph. 1:18). Yet many folks are instead trying to live out of their own resources. They don’t realize that the wealth of their Father’s love, power, and provision is on their “menu.”

A believer’s relationship with the Lord is one of complete unity. Jesus is our life. His Spirit lives through us. Therefore, we have remarkable resources available to us, as do our brothers and sisters in Christ—we have access to His power, strength, and endurance.

Jim didn’t know he had the right to satisfy his hunger in an extravagant way. Learn from this exaggerated example. Discover in God’s Word the riches you are entitled to through faith. God offers believers everything required for living well and wisely, so trust Him for all your needs.

The Foundation of Forgiveness

Matthew 18:21-35

For followers of Christ, the goal is to become increasingly like Him, and one of the best ways to reflect His character is through forgiveness. Yet sometimes this is a quality we are reluctant to demonstrate because it seems so unfair, especially if the wrong done to us is ongoing or particularly painful. To forgive appears to diminish the offense and counteract justice.

Let's correct several misperceptions about this aspect of our faith:

The foundation for our forgiveness of others is God's forgiveness of us. Today's passage contains a parable in which a man is forgiven a sum too exorbitant to repay. Yet he turns around and demands immediate payment from someone who owes him a small amount. That's what we are like when we think others' wrongs against us must be avenged even though God has forgiven us.

Unforgiveness torments us, not the wrongdoer. It's a caustic poison within us that corrupts our emotions, stunts us spiritually, and stresses our bodies. When we don't release the offender, we end up imprisoned in bitterness, resentment, and hostility-and that is sin.

Forgiveness doesn't negate the wrong done to us. It doesn't deny the offense or the resulting pain but lets go of the right to get even. Vengeance is God's responsibility, not ours (Romans 12:19). We don't have all the facts, nor can we know the offender's true motive. Only God can judge accurately and fairly.

When Jesus suffered the ultimate injustice of the cross, He entrusted Himself to the Father (1 Peter 2:21-24). Can you follow His example and trust God with wrongs done to you?

Forgiveness and Relationship With God

Matthew 6:9-15

When someone wrongs you, what is your biggest concern? Most of us would have to admit we are concerned mainly for ourselves or loved ones. We’re filled with anger or hurt, and forgiveness is the last thing on our minds. But how often do we consider that the way we respond will affect our relationship with God?

Sometimes as we say the Lord’s Prayer, we may quickly recite, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12) without giving the words much thought. But the two verses that follow this prayer remind us how serious forgiveness is. If we don’t move past our hurt and anger toward forgiveness, then God will not forgive us. For those of us who have repented of sin and by faith received Jesus Christ as our Savior, all our sins have been forgiven, based on Christ’s substitutionary payment on the cross (Col. 2:13-14). Therefore, these verses in Matthew cannot mean a loss of salvation. They instead refer to the barrier unforgiveness causes in our fellowship with God.

Holding on to grievances is a sin. If we allow that to continue, our communion with the Lord will be disrupted until we confess our attitude and forsake it. We understand what this is like when a child refuses to obey his parents. Although their love for him hasn’t diminished, there’s an unresolved conflict in their relationship.

As God’s children, we are called into intimate fellowship with Him. Let’s not be like disobedient children who remain under the Father’s discipline and therefore miss out on blessings He wants us to have.

Letting Go of Unforgiveness

It’s a common dilemma: Someone has hurt us, and we know we should forgive but just can’t. Despite all our promises to God about letting go of the offense, we find ourselves mentally rehearsing the event until we’re once again consumed with anger and hurt.

God has not simply called us to relinquish our bitterness; He’s given us the means to do it. The Spirit empowers us to forgive others just as God has forgiven us (Eph. 4:32). However, it’s not always a quick process—especially if the offense is great and the hurt is deep. Sometimes we must work through steps until we can finally release the burden.

  • First, we must confess to God that we have sinned against Him with our unforgiving attitude and ask Him to help us repent of it.
  • Next, we should acknowledge that the basis for forgiving others is God’s forgiveness of us. We didn’t deserve to be pardoned, yet Christ’s sacrifice has released us from our guilt. And it’s good to remember that while offenses against us may seem to be the most grievous, we usually underestimate the magnitude of our own sins against God.
  • Finally, we must let the Bible renew our minds. Instead of allowing ourselves to dwell on the wrong done to us, we can surrender those thoughts to God and replace them with biblical truths about Him, His promises, and His ways.

So how will you know when you have truly forgiven your wrongdoer? The negative emotions that once arose at the thought of the offender will subside, and you’ll be at peace. 

The Most Important Preparation

When you hear the word preparation, what comes to your mind? Do you think about having enough life insurance, studying for a test, or maybe packing all the necessary equipment before a camping trip? If it makes sense to prepare for all these events, then think how much more important it must be to prepare your heart for the Lord (Psalm 78:8).

Today’s psalm is a recitation of Israel’s history and a warning to subsequent generations not to follow that nation’s unfaithful ways. Despite all that the Lord had done for them, the people had taken God’s provisions for granted and forgotten the mighty works He’d accomplished on their behalf. They lived for themselves and did not prepare their hearts to be faithful to the Lord.

We readily recognize that many of the things we do in life require preparation. But do we approach our spiritual life with the same forethought, or do we tend to take more of a haphazard approach? For instance, do you plan to spend time each day with the Lord in prayer and His Word, or do you tend to seek Him only when you’re facing a problem?

It’s doubtful that we’ll know God very well or become the person He wants us to be unless we put effort into developing our relationship with Him. In these precious moments of prayer and reflection, we have the opportunity to calmly dwell on the Word as we focus on an intimate relationship with our heavenly Father. These are the occasions for strengthening our faith, growing in love for Christ, and laying a solid foundation in the Word—all of which are good preparation for whatever troubles come our way.

Turning Doubts Into Assurance

One Sunday morning several years ago, a lady made her way down the church aisle when I invited people to come and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. As we talked, she explained that she became a Christian as a young girl but never felt certain she was saved because she was still struggling with sin. Her story of doubt is common, but according to God’s Word, believers can be sure of their salvation.

God desires all people to be rescued from a future in hell so they can spend eternity with Him (1 Tim. 2:4). That’s why He designed a plan for our salvation. Since the penalty we owe for our sins is death and eternal separation from God the Father, He sent His Son to bear our sins and die in our place. Jesus took our punishment so we could be rescued (1 Peter 2:24). And this amazing, undeserved gift is offered to us by faith.

If we believe in Jesus Christ and trust in His death on our behalf, God forgives all our sins—past, present, and future. This is the only way we can be saved, because none of our good works can offset our sin debt. In fact, the opposite is true. Paul said salvation is “not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:9).

All of the glory for this wonderful plan of redemption belongs to the heavenly Father. He’s a loving God who not only wants us to be saved but has also made a way for it to happen—by sending His Son to die for our sin. He promised that if we believe, then salvation is ours. The child of God does not have to be burdened by doubt.

The Death of Self

Jesus Christ was obedient to the point of death (Phil. 2:8). While some Christians may be called upon to give up their life for the glory of God, most believers won’t face martyrdom. The death required of us, however, is no less real. We die to self.

Human beings are an independent lot. We want things our way, in our time, and on our terms. But Jesus said that anyone who wants to be His follower must deny him- or herself (Matt. 16:24).  Of course, that covers obvious issues like sinful habits and evil thoughts. But it also means that in some instances we must decline good things because they come at the wrong time or don’t fit God’s plan.

To an outside observer, the Christian’s commitment to obey must seem strange, especially when hands emptied by self-denial take up a cross instead (v. 24). Sometimes following the Lord involves suffering. What bystanders can’t see or experience is the deep satisfaction believers gain from doing what is right. Jesus once said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34). As food is to the body, so obedience is to the soul and spirit. Working for God nourishes, energizes, strengthens, and enlightens—bringing us even more satisfaction than do those things we typically think of as pleasures.

Even when self-denial hurts, obeying God brings joy. Believers who prioritize submission to Him will know what I mean. Contentment is found in drawing close to the Lord, sensing His approval, and looking forward to hearing, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt. 25:21 NIV).

The Path of Compromise

Bible stories aren’t just interesting accounts of ancient people and events; they contain critical principles that apply to us all. For example, King Solomon’s life helps us see the progression of compromise and its disastrous results. Solomon began his kingship with devotion to God and righteous priorities (1 Kings 3:5-9). So what happened to change his desires and direction?

“King Solomon loved many foreign women” (1 Kings 11:1). Although this was an accepted practice for kings of that era, God had instructed His people not to intermarry with other nations (1 Kings 11:2) and had specifically prohibited Israel’s kings from taking multiple wives (Deut. 17:17).

“His wives turned his heart away after other gods” (1 Kings 11:4). Instead of holding fast to the Lord in love and devotion, Solomon let his wives lead him toward foreign deities.

“Solomon went after [their gods]” (1 Kings 11:5). At first he merely allowed his wives to worship their gods, but soon he was joining them in idolatry.

“The Lord said to Solomon, … ‘I will surely tear the kingdom from you’” (1 Kings 11:11). Because the king ignored reproof and continued to disobey, Israel experienced a civil war that divided the nation.

Compromise begins when we ignore God’s instructions and follow the world’s practices. Then we start loving people, activities, or things more than we love God and soon find ourselves pursuing what He has forbidden. If we don’t heed His discipline, we’re in danger of losing what He intended for our lives. But if we refuse to compromise, we’ll remain devoted to Him.

The Danger of Suppressing Truth

Have you ever wondered why some very intelligent people live successfully by the world’s standards yet are unable to comprehend the most important truths about God? Although mankind was created to acknowledge the Lord and share a relationship with Him, many people deny His existence.

God has made knowledge about Himself evident to every person and has revealed His attributes and divine nature through His creation. However, many people choose to suppress this reality because it interferes with their preferred lifestyle. Instead, they chase false philosophies that are usually mixed with just enough truth to seem believable. Yet any “truth” crafted by man is foolishness, and those who have willfully rejected divine revelation won’t be able to see their error no matter how much evidence has been provided.

All the denial and atheistic arguments in the world will not change what is reality—namely, that God is the Creator, and He made mankind to love, obey, and honor Him. To resist is to choose a life of darkness and deception, which begins a downward slide ending in a hardened heart and eternal separation from a loving Father.

But God continues to invite people to believe the truth and come to Him. This is the only way to receive the gospel, which is able to save souls. In Psalm 34:8, David calls out, “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” And for those who have accepted His revelations, the Lord is indeed better than all this world has to offer.

Can You Trust Your Conscience?

“Let your conscience be your guide” is a well-known expression, but one that isn’t necessarily good advice. That’s because your moral compass is only as reliable as the principles you’ve learned. It will be a dependable safeguard through your life if you store up biblical instruction. But using false ideologies from popular culture to program your conscience will set you up for moral failure.

Our heavenly Father has given each person a conscience as a gift intended to be a tool of the Holy Spirit—our one true Guide. As such, it is designed to protect you from going astray. Your conscience is most trustworthy when the following seven statements are true of you:

  • Jesus Christ is your Savior and Lord.
  • The Bible is the basis for your conduct.
  • You have a strong desire to obey God.
  • You make decisions prayerfully.
  • Your conscience sounds the alarm when you consider a wrong direction.
  • You feel guilty when you disobey.
  • You feel compelled to repent of your transgression.

A trustworthy conscience reacts immediately to disobedience. There is no making excuses over whether or not something may have been wrong.

To develop a reliable inner compass, read and apply Scripture so God’s principles will override any false or corrupted programming. Then, with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, your conscience will alert and protect you. Ask God to make it an effective tool for leading you.

Returning to God

Many Christians are familiar with God’s words in verse 7 of today’s reading: “Return to Me, and I will return to you.” When Malachi delivered this message to Israel, they seemed ignorant of the fact that they had left the Lord. Throughout the book, God made statements about their poor spiritual condition, and they always responded by asking how they had offended Him.

In this passage, God accuses them of robbing Him by withholding the tithes and offerings required by the Law to support the Levites and priests. God viewed their persistent disobedience to His commands as theft because they were keeping for themselves what belonged to Him. If we consider all that the Lord has given us, we must ask ourselves whether we’re robbing Him in any way. Consider these examples:

  • God has given us life and determined the number of our days (Psalm 139:16). Yet some of us claim that we don’t have time to read the Bible or pray. We may be busy, but it’s our responsibility to prioritize time with the Lord in the 24 hours He has allotted to us each day.
  • Our Father has also given us abilities, talents, and spiritual gifts, yet we oftentimes reserve their use for our career or hobby rather than for serving Him.
  • God is the one who has given us the ability to work and earn an income, and all He asks of us is the first portion.

Is there anything of the Lord’s that you’ve been keeping for yourself? With an obedient and grateful heart, you can joyfully give back to Him a fraction of whatever He has given you.

How to Strengthen Faith

How do you know whether your faith is strong or weak? We realize that as believers, we’re supposed to trust God with every aspect of life, but circumstances may cause us to waver. This is not a new problem—five times in the book of Matthew, Jesus pointed out examples and symptoms of what He called “little faith.”

Anxiety. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addressed people who were worried about their basic needs being met (Matt. 6:25-34). He assured them of divine provision if God’s kingdom was their top priority.

Fear. When a storm arose, the disciples were afraid even though the Creator of the wind and the sea was with them, asleep in the boat (Matt. 8:23-27).

Focus. As long as Peter kept his eyes on Jesus, he had faith to walk on water. But when he focused on his circumstances, he began to sink. (Matt. 14:24-33).

Forgetfulness. Despite the feeding of thousands, the disciples failed to remember Christ’s past provision in their current situation (Matt. 16:5-12).

Inadequacy.  Although Jesus had given His disciples authority to cast out demons, they felt inadequate and lacked divine power when faced with a particularly difficult situation (Matt. 17:14-20).

In each case, the wrong mindset resulted in a lack of confidence in Christ. Diminished faith begins not with circumstances but with our thinking and focus. Therefore, if we want to increase our trust in God, we must fill our minds with the truth of Scripture, remember our Father’s faithfulness to us in the past, and look for His hand working in our present situation. When our minds are renewed, our faith will be also.

The Consequences of Anger

God feels anger, and He has given us this same ability. Anger is a common emotion that arises when we encounter threats, insults, injustices, or frustrations. However, because of our fallen nature, we often respond in a sinful manner when this intense feeling overwhelms us.

One sinful response is to hold on to anger until it becomes part of our character, taking up residence in our innermost being. There, it starts to twist thinking and agitate emotions. Peace and joy are noticeably absent because they can’t coexist with the anxiety and frustration that accompany bitterness.

After poisoning the character, anger spills over and affects others. We might throw hurtful words like flaming arrows, even at those who weren’t the cause of the rage. And then we raise shields of self-protection in an effort to avoid future hurts. But sadly, these behaviors lead to stressed relationships and isolation.

While anger can damage our character and connections with others, its most tragic consequence is broken fellowship with God. Wrath not only hinders His work in and through believers; it also grieves the Father’s heart. He desires to shower His children with blessings, but angry fists cannot receive His riches of character and calling.

Are you harboring anger? It could be so deeply buried within your soul that you are unaware of its presence. Since sustained, unresolved bitterness will affect every area of your life, ask God to reveal any hidden resentment. Then release it, and take hold of the riches of Christ.

Contagious Anger

Anger can wreak havoc on both the body and soul, but its scope extends beyond the individual and impacts everyone nearby. In this way, bitter outbursts and silent resentment are not just our own personal issues.

An angry spirit is contagious. It can pass from one person to another—and even from one generation to the next. Workplaces can become tense environments full of caustic words and attitudes. Ire turns homes into battlegrounds of verbal explosions or silent hostility. Even churches suffer from malicious gossip and fights over personal preferences.

God created us to live in fellowship with others, but anger can poison our relationships. Tragically, those closest to us are the ones who suffer the most. Children learn to respond to life’s situations by observing their parents’ example. They then develop similar attitudes and patterns of behavior. We need to give serious thought to what kind of heart we are passing down to our sons and daughters.

Thankfully, God is in the heart-changing business. Just as we learn an angry person’s ways by association, so we can learn righteous ways by walking closely with the Lord. Christ calls us to come, learn from Him, and find rest for our souls (Matt. 11:28-29).

Which would you prefer: churning anger or Christ’s peace? Both require sacrifice. To maintain anger, you forfeit healthy relationships and possibly a godly heritage for your descendants. But to acquire peace, you simply ask God to help you leave grudges, personal rights, and insults at the altar.

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