With Resolute Heart



When a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem after the stoning of Stephen, the scriptures tell us that the brethren were scattered from the city.  Some of these brethren came to the city of Antioch in Syria where they began preaching to the Gentiles.  When the church in Jerusalem learned that the Gentiles in Antioch had obeyed the gospel, they sent Barnabas to verify this information.  In Acts 11:23 the scripture says, “Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord.”

When we consider this brief statement we find a fundamental truth that makes all the difference in our walk as Christians.  Barnabas encouraged the new Christians in Antioch to remain true to the Lord with a resolute heart.  In the Greek language in which Acts was originally written this phrase is literally, “purpose of heart.”  In either case, the meaning is clear.  The key to successful Christian living is to be resolute in the practice of our faith.  We must be purposeful in our Christian walk if we hope to reach the goal.

This truth is particularly timely as we begin a new year.  Many people are going through the exercise of making resolutions for the new year.  Most of us are well-aware that in the majority of cases this is a futile endeavor.  A few years ago a fitness expert was interviewed and asked about resolutions involving diet and exercise.  He said that in his experience most people keep these resolutions for only about twelve days before giving up.  The truth of his assessment cannot be discounted, because too many of us have been there and done that.

Whether we follow through on our resolutions to diet, or to exercise more, will certainly have an impact on our physical health, but this is nothing in the big picture of eternity.  When we decide to follow the Lord, our resolve must be unshakable if we hope to reach heaven.  The parable of the sower in Mt. 13 certainly bears this out.  The rocky and weedy soils are examples of people whose resolve faltered.  Both eagerly received the word and responded positively to it, but both failed to remain true to the Lord.  This is why they withered, and were choked out by the cares of the world.

A resolute heart is what enabled Paul to look back at the end of his life and to tell Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).  Paul finished his course because he remained true to the Lord.  He did so because he purposely acted in such a way so as to remain true to Him.  He didn’t meander along the pathway of life.  Instead, he resolutely took one step after another toward the goal and did not stop until he reached it.

As we begin a brand new year, let us each pledge that we will be true to the Lord with a resolute heart.  To do so, let us resolve to read God’s word each day of the year.  Let us resolve to be present every Lord’s Day for Bible study and worship, and to give an appropriate gift of love to the Lord each Lord’s Day.  Let us resolve to seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness each day this year.  And, finally, let us resolve to seek God’s forgiveness every time we sin.  Unlike some diet and exercise resolutions, these are things we absolutely can do.  If we keep these resolutions, we’ll be much better disciples this year, and we’ll move ever closer to heaven.

The Rest of the Story



At this time of year the world’s attention is turned to the story of the birth of the Christ-child.  It is a beautiful and inspiring story that evokes the very best expressions of human nature.  Even those who are not consistently religious throughout the year tend to focus more on spiritual things during this season.  Many of these same folks give similar attention to a second great celebration, the resurrection of the Lord, in the spring of each year.  As moving and sincere as these celebrations are, however, they focus on only two moments in the life of our Lord while He was on the earth.  If these are the only parts of the Lord’s life to which one gives attention, he is bound to have a skewed view of the Lord.  After all, these moments are only part of the story.

Seeing the Lord only in His birth and His resurrection is like reading the introduction to a great novel, then reading the next to last chapter of it, and assuming that one knows the novel.  We would never do this with a great work of literature, so why would we do so with the greatest story never told at Christmas?  It is, in fact, the rest of the story that gives true meaning to the parts that so many people so singly celebrate.

When we open the pages of the New Testament, particularly in the preaching and teaching of the apostles, we discover that the Lord’s birth and resurrection took place in order to accomplish God’s greatest purpose.  That purpose was the redemption of mankind from their sins.  When the Lord came to the house of Zaccheus, He said, “Today salvation has come to this house, because, He, too, is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk. 19:9-10).

Later, when Paul wrote his letter to the church in Ephesus, he proclaimed that redemption was indeed the focal point of the Lord’s coming to the earth.  In Eph. 1:8-10 he said, “In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.”  This declaration echoed Peter’s statement in Acts 4:12 that there is salvation in no other name than the name of Jesus.

This is the most important aspect of the Lord’s life on the earth.  He came to fulfill God’s eternal purpose, and He could only do this as the full-grown, mature, adult man who willingly gave His life on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  As beautiful as the baby Jesus is, and how marvelous His virgin birth, He had to grow up into the obedient Son of God in order to accomplish our salvation.  Although we do not intend it, we dishonor our Lord by focusing upon Him as the baby in the manger.  Obviously He had to be born in order to accomplish God’s purpose, but He also had to live a sinless life as an adult man in order to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins.  But even this is not the whole story.  The Lord has been appointed by God to judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31).  He Himself said that His word will judge us at the last day (Jn. 12:48), and in 2 Th. 1:7-8 Paul said that when the Lord returns at the end of time, He will deal out retribution to those who do not know God, and to those who do not obey the gospel.

This, then, is the rest of the story, which began with the birth of a baby two thousand years ago.  To properly honor Jesus, we must let Him be what God sent Him to be; that is, our Lord and Savior, by means of our obedience to the gospel.  Jesus is both Lord and Christ, as Peter said in Acts 2:36.  Therefore, let us honor Him as such, in accordance with the rest of the story.

Times of Refreshing



The holiday season is generally very busy for us.  We have special meals and travel to plan and execute, we have gifts to purchase, wrap, and in some cases, to mail, and we have special, year-end celebrations at work, at school, and in the community to prepare for, and to attend.  As we concentrate on these preparations, we may work harder at them than we do in our day-to-day activities.  Even so, we enjoy these times of celebration and we tend to feel a sense of refreshment as we participate in them.

The reason for this feeling is that while we are celebrating our end of the year holidays, we temporarily set aside the cares of daily life.  We still go to work and pay our bills and deal with the typical issues, but our focus on the celebrations of the season minimizes these concerns.  As a result, our spirits are refreshed, even if our bodies end up exhausted.

Everyone acknowledges the fact that we need times in which our spirits and our bodies may be refreshed.  This is one of the underlying principles behind taking yearly vacations from work and school. We simply need time away from the regular grind to relax and to renew ourselves.  If we do it right, we come back from these respites ready to give our best to the tasks at hand.

The idea of times of refreshing did not originate with vacations and our year-end holidays, however.  This is a principle that has its roots in God’s word.  After Peter and John had healed a lame man in the temple, they had an opportunity to preach Christ to the assembled crowd.  In Acts 3:19-21 Peter said, “Therefore, repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presences of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.”

As Peter spoke to this assembly, he, for the second time, convicted the Jews of having put to death the Savior whom God had sent into the world.  Although this was according to the eternal plan of God, the Jews bore the stain of sin because they had rejected God’s Son and had turned Him over to Pilate for crucifixion.  This is the context in which Peter spoke to them of “times of refreshing.”

Under the burden of our sins, we are not only separated from God, but we are beaten down physically and emotionally by this load.  Our lives are drudgery, and we are literally without hope and without God in the world (Eph. 2:12).  The only way in which we can recover, or be refreshed from this heavy load, is to repent of our sins and return to God.  This is what Peter called upon the Jews at the temple to do.  When the Jewish rulers released Peter and John, the people glorified God over the miracle that had happened, but we do not know how many of them, if any, obeyed Peter’s command to repent and return to God.

It is certain that the times of refreshing of which Peter spoke only came upon those who obeyed the gospel, whether on that day, or at some time thereafter.  The same is true still today.  As our spirits long for renewal and strength, we can only find that refreshing by obedience to God’s word.  If we choose to continue on carrying the burden of our sins, we will be exhausted in life, and lost in eternity.  If we repent and return to God, our burdens will be lifted and we will receive times of refreshing in His Son, both here, and forever more.

The Mother Road



When automobiles became affordable for more people, it soon became imperative to create roadways on which these automobiles could operate.  In 1925 Congress passed legislation which authorized the creation of a federal highway commission to create and maintain highways across the country.  The next year, a highway route from Chicago, IL to Los Angeles, CA received the designation, US 66.  It was among the first interstate highways to be created by the federal government.  This road stretched about 2,448 miles from the heartland of America to the West Coast, and passed through eight states.  In 1938 it became the first U.S. highway to be completely paved.

The highway, which came to be known as Route 66, was the main thoroughfare from the Midwest to California during the Depression, and in the war years, as people moved to work in the agricultural and industrial centers of California.  Over time this route captured the fascination of Americans and was immortalized in songs and television programs in the 1960s.  Although its official designation was US 66, it came to be known as “The Mother Road.”  It was decertified in 1985, due to the completion of the U.S. Interstate Highway system, which in many places bypassed the old route.  Nevertheless, the lure of the old Route 66 still captivates many travelers, and restoration and historical efforts mark its route in nearly every state in which it passed.

The story of Route 66 is interesting and entertaining, but it also illustrates an important spiritual truth.  When Jesus was coming to the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, He told His audience that there are only two ways in which they could travel through life.  In Mt. 7:13-14 He said that they must enter through the narrow gate because this is the one that leads to eternal life.  But, He added, few would find it.  In contrast, He said that the other way, the broad way, leads to destruction, and many enter it.

The narrow way of which the Lord spoke is like old Route 66.  It is not a super highway.  It is not built for comfort and speed.  It is sometimes difficult to navigate, and it takes considerable thought, and planning, and attention in order to travel it.  However, like Route 66, it is a road that is marked by things of great beauty and inspiration.  Those who travel this road will experience things that simply cannot be experienced on the only other available route.  The broad way, on the other hand, is convenient and easy to travel.  It is marked by all the things a traveler might desire, and promises both speed and comfort to those who use it.

Every analogy breaks down at some point, and so we acknowledge that one can travel from Chicago to Los Angeles by any number of routes and still arrive at the destination.  However, the Lord did not offer a variety of options for our spiritual journey through life.  He said there are only two routes that we may take through life, and we must carefully choose which one we take.  One is certainly  the route of less resistance, the super highway as it were, but no one truly wants to go where this route leads.

Instead, we need to choose the spiritual “Mother Road,” which is the narrow way that leads to eternal life.  Yes, it will be the more challenging route to take, but these challenges will be more than offset by the many blessings we will receive as we travel it, and by the greatest blessing of all, a home in heaven at the end of it.  Though few may find it, all who do find it will discover that they are among like-minded people who will help them along the way.  When all is said and done, there is no better route that we may travel.  Let “the Mother Road” take you all the way to heaven.

Best Laid Plans



Founding Father Benjamin Franklin is reported to have said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”  These are strong words that suggest that success is largely dependent upon having a definite goal in mind and then having thought through the steps to reaching that goal.  Modern motivational speakers have taken Franklin’s words and modified them to be somewhat less harsh.  The declaration today is, “Most people do not plan to fail.  They simply fail to plan.”  Most of us understand and accept the premise behind this statement.  We recognize the need to make plans, and to follow them, in order to achieve our goals in life.

There is another side to this principle, however.  It is suggested in the statement, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”  This is a line from a poem entitled, To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up in Her Nest with a Plough, written by Robert Burns.  Burns’ point was that no matter how well one may plan a course of action, it often doesn’t work out as planned.  Military commanders understand this point all too well, and often note that a battle plan gets thrown out the window as soon as the first shots are fired.

Interestingly, both of these aspects of planning have biblical foundations.  The first is suggested by our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount.  In Mt. 7:13-14 He exhorted His audience to enter through the narrow gate that leads to life, rather than through the wide gate that leads to destruction.  The idea of planning is seen in the Lord’s statement that many enter the wide gate, but only a few find the narrow gate.  This suggests that one does not enter the narrow gate by accident.  He must plan to do so by his obedience to the gospel.  Those who do not plan to be saved will wind up on the broad path that leads to destruction.

The second aspect is seen in the Lord’s parable of the rich fool in Lk. 12:16-21.  In this parable the rich man had great plans for himself, but things did not turn out as he had planned.  In vs. 18-20 the rich man laid out his plans to tear down his old barns and to build larger ones.  Then, he planned to take his ease, to eat, drink and be merry, for many years to come.  This man had detailed plans for reaching the goal he had set for himself.  However, in v. 20 God called him a fool because that very night his soul would be required of him.  In this case, the best laid plans absolutely went awry.

The reason the rich man’s plans did not work out for him is explained in v. 21.  The Lord said, “So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”  The rich man’s plans failed because they were self-centered and took no account for God’s will.  This is exactly the point that James made in Jas. 4:13-15.  In these verses James chastised those who proudly spoke of the plans they had for themselves.  He reminded them that life is a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away (v. 14).  For this reason, James concluded that we should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that” (v. 15).

Taken together, we see from these things that it is important to make plans so we will have the best opportunity to reach our goals.  However, our plans must always be made with God’s will in mind.  We do so by insuring that our plans are in accordance with His revealed will.  We cannot expect to be successful in any plan that goes against God’s plan for us, which is our salvation (1 Tim. 2:4).  Also, our plans must also take into account the fragile nature of life.  As we plan, we must say, “If the Lord wills”.  If we have planned to walk the narrow path that leads to life, and if we have acknowledged that life is fragile, then we will indeed have “best laid plans”, and these plans will not go awry.