Run the Race

1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2; NKJV)

Our sister in Christ who I mentioned last week as nearing death went on to be with Jesus on Saturday.  Many of us were remembering her as we gathered on Sunday and one story dealt with her running the race…quite literally…she would train and run a 5K each year for the past few years.  Of course, that training and running also was how she lived with Jesus.

The above verse came to mind and I invite you to think about your race today.  Each of our races are different as our lives are different.  That said, the What, How, and Why of it is the same…Jesus.  Our faith in Jesus is the “what race” of our life and dictates what we do in our life.  Our determination to glorify Jesus is the “how we race” and the zealous way we try to live for Him.  Our hope of life everlasting and spiritual security now is the “why we race” because we know Jesus is worth it.  We can look at our life and how we are running it and simply evaluate it through the lens of Jesus.  In doing so, we will see the areas that require more training in God’s word and practice in applying it.  That training and practice will provide more endurance for our race and we will better make the run from earth to Heaven.

In the story about our sister, one of the points was that when she ran that 5K, people took notice as what she was doing was an accomplishment for a woman of her age.  People took notice of her running, they stood up, and they cheered as she ran buy.  Strangers did that.  People who didn’t know her and didn’t know what it took to get where she was…they recognized the achievement she was realizing.  If we run our race spiritually with Jesus, folks are going to notice…even those who don’t know you or Jesus.  We pray that as they take notice they might ask “how did you get here” and in that an opportunity for the gospel is presented and the hope for a soul to be saved.  All because you trained and ran the race of Jesus.  Run on!

Genuine Faith

I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and daygreatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also(2 Timothy 1:3-5; NKJV)

Our local Christian family is faced with the imminent death of one of our very dear sisters in Christ.  My family and I joined another family to visit her last week in the hospital and though the circumstances weren’t what any of us wanted, the experience was so positive and encouraging!  As we prayed, sang, and talked together we were all so encouraged by our sister’s peace and confidence in Jesus.  It brought to mind the passage above and how the genuine faith in those in our lives can work to foster and solidify a genuine faith in us.  It brought to mind how I need to be thankful for and pray for those who have and are positively impacting my faith and to thank God for His putting them in my life.

Further, we have that same opportunity to make an impact with those we are “raising” or influencing in the faith.  If we have and demonstrate a genuine faith, others will be encouraged and strengthened in their faith.  We can also be aware of others struggling in their faith and maybe they need our direct involvement in their life in order to bolster their faith.  Either way, we have that kind of opportunity and we should take stock of our own walk in the context of those around us who are looking to us for influence and strength.

Eternal Fellowship

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life— the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us— that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.  This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 John 1; NKJV)

In writing this morning, what is on my heart is the fellowship I have with my brothers (and sisters) in Christ and how powerful that is.  In studying this at one point, I came across a statement that hit home “Fellowship is a mutual bond that Christians have with Christ that puts in a deep, eternal relationship with one another“.  Our relationship with Jesus is the foundation of our relationship with each other and truly if we are gathered in His name and His purpose then He is there too.  That is enough for me to think about for a long time to really examine myself, my relationship (with Jesus and my brethren), my thoughts, my actions, and my overall attitude.

I want to move past that for now and just encourage you and I to see the profound value of our relationships in Christ, the absolute need for these relationships, and how much the devil wants us alone or fighting against these relationships.  Biblical teaching is about multiples…God does not want us to be alone and warns us of all the dangers of being alone and acting alone.

In a dark world, there is no safe place except for Jesus and in Him our relationships with fellow believers.  These relationships should be safe and if we don’t feel safe then something is wrong.  We should be able to be completely vulnerable and confess to each other and expect love, understanding, grace, mercy, forgiveness, encouragement, prayer….that is what we get from Jesus!  If we are looking to Him in our own life and allowing ourselves to be filled with His Spirit…we will then be able to humbly go to one another and be prepared to pour out what God has given us freely.  Not of ourselves…but of God.

If we are walking around thinking that we need to be perfect and get it all right ourselves…we are being deceived.  If we are not confessing to each other and we are trying to carry all of our troubles alone…we are failing and the devil is winning.  The devil wants the sheep separated, scattered and alone…easier prey and higher likelihood of success in destroying.  And that is what he does…the devil is a setter of snares, one who scatters and a destroyer.

I love my brothers and sisters in Christ.  I flourish when I am with them, vulnerable, and building while being built up.  I am at my worst when either I leave that environment or struggle to find it due to other’s behavior.  I am committed, however, to tighten my armor and get back to the fight and relish the touch of a brother/sister on my left and on my right as we stand together for Jesus and fight the good fight to His glory and our salvation.

Anchor

19 This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, 20 where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:19-20; NKJV)

There is a hymn that is probably familiar to many of you titled “Will Your Anchor Hold?”.  The chorus is:  “We have an anchor that keeps the soul.  Steadfast and sure while the billows roll, fastened to the Rock which cannot move, grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.”

There are so many great thoughts throughout the song about our Anchor being in heaven, that the cable of the Anchor passes between His heart and mine, that it is in the Savior’s hand, anchored fast to the heavenly shore,  that it is safely moored in the bright harbor to the city of Gold and much more.

The song also talks about the billows of life, strife, rising tide, strain, and raging tempests representing our struggles and challenges in this world.  Still, the Anchor holds beyond the veil in heaven where God is and we have access to divine power.

Of course others can’t physically see our Anchor or the cable passing between Jesus and us.  But they can see us holding firm with hope and peace even though the life around us is raging and hard.  They might not be able to see our Anchor but if we hold fast because we hold onto Jesus, there is a good chance someone is going to ask us how we could possibly be ok and then we get the chance we are looking for and just maybe the whole reason the storm is raging in our life in the first place…to share Jesus and our hope in Him.

Our Anchor is true.  We just need to stay connected to it and tell others why we do.  Hold fast brothers and sisters!

Trouble Free Heart

1 Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.”  Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?”  Jesus said to him, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:1-6; NKJV)

There are several passages in John that remind me that Jesus has already done, is continually doing, and will most certainly do all the work required for my salvation.  In John 15, Jesus says to “abide” in Him.  He tells us that He has already saved us and what we need to do is put our whole life in Him and we will be safe now and in eternity.

Here, Jesus says “believe” and if we believe then we will not be troubled in our heart.  What do we believe?  We believe that Jesus came as a man, lived a perfect life and died on the cross without sin and as a sacrifice for all of our sin.  That perfect sacrifice was required and accepted by God for forgiveness of all the sin ever committed.  God the Father and Jesus the Son took away that what separates them from us.  In obedience to the gospel, we are saved so we do not need to be troubled.

Jesus came and He went…and because that is true we can be confident He will come again and when He does He will rescue those who faithfully believe in Him.

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and if we make Him our way, our truth, and our life then He will comfort us today and rescue us from the second death.  We will live with Him, the Father, and all our brothers and sisters in heaven for eternity.  I hope this lightens all of our burdens and puts a spring in all of our steps today.

Spiritual Diet and Exercise

 For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. (1 Timothy 4:8-9)

Simple lesson for today that I have learned and relearned in my life…good health (assuming no significant medical condition) is a balanced diet and consistent exercise.  When I am watching what I eat and setting aside time for exercise…I feel and look better.

The verses above tell us that it is important to exercise and there are a lot of other places in the bible that tell us we should take care of the body God has given us.  Paul often used metaphors from athletics, as he is here, to teach us about spiritual health.  We should exercise physically and there will be profit in it but what really matters is exercising spiritually and growing in godliness.  This is both profitable in this life but also in the next.  Spiritual health is supremely important and we can exercise towards it.

A steady diet of God’s word and consistent exercising of our prayer muscles will result in spiritual health just as a good balanced diet and exercise routine will benefit our physical health.  This, as Paul says, is a “faithful saying” and something we should accept and incorporate into our lives.

Here’s a faithful Blackmer saying…”abs start in the kitchen” and I often say it making the point to my teenage sons that just because you are physically active doesn’t mean you will look physically fit.  You need to watch what you eat and put into your body too.

Well, I am going to say today, “godliness starts in the Word” and meditating and praying God’s word will result in our being and looking spiritually fit.  That doesn’t profit just a little but is eternally profitable.

 

 

Pattern of Good Works

Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-mindedin all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverenceincorruptibility,  sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of  you. (Titus 2:6-8; NKJV)

This passage is an exhortation of Paul for different member groups of the church.  I have noted in my bible that in this text we have a pattern against which we can reflect upon our life and evaluate how we are living.  There are words here that we can identify and evaluate ourselves against in terms of our behavior and purpose of working for the Lord.

Sober-minded literally means “free from intoxicating influences” and we think of that to mean not drunk on alcohol or high on drugs but it means more than that.  It means that we cannot allow ourselves to be captivated by any type of influence that leads us away from sound judgement.  We have to “keep our head”, “keep a clear mind” or “exercise self-control”.

And I don’t know about you, but “self” is always a challenge for me and in order to live like Jesus did “self” has to be the last thing considered no matter how much “others” are making that difficult.  We are here to serve others just as Jesus served and we have to consider our life through the lens of the Gospel for the salvation of others.  There is no “I” or “me” in that…only Jesus and those He seeks to save.

Jumping off from that point, we have integrity in doctrine, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech…all of which means living in such a way that we are a positive influence for the gospel.  We are to be grounded in the Word of God and living in a consistent manner that when someone fights against us because of our faith they are put to shame because we demonstrate the truth of God’s Word and the reason for our faith.  That doesn’t mean others will obey the same Truth we do or live the same way we do but every time someone sees us living consistently for Jesus there is an opportunity for them to see hope and salvation in Jesus…especially in difficult times or in difficult relationships.

I think Paul started with the mind first and I think that is where our choice starts.  If we determine to keep our mind clear and exercise self-control, we will then live with Godly integrity in reverence for Him, be incorruptible and have sound speech in love.  All of that will make a difference in another’s life and that makes all the difference in this world under the sun.

Singing with Libby

Last night, my daughter and I had our bibles open and were discussing a host of topics.  What I love about Libby is when we are having these discussions she will ask “does it say that in the bible?” or “where can we find that?”.   So we were  jumping around to different verses from spying out the promised land to what it will be like being in heaven with God for eternity.

At some point she asked me “what’s a psalm” and my simple answer was a bible song.  She wanted to take a look so we landed in Psalm 19.  I began reading and got to verse 7 and the words became familiar to Libby and by verse 8 we were singing.  It was so awesome to see her smile, the recognition of the words, the clear joy on her face and that I got to share in it.  Libby makes me a better man in so many ways and I am always at my best when I am present and participating in her life.  She leads to me to Jesus and invites Him into our relationship…and she’s only 10…thank God for her and for all of our children.  In my children, I find great understanding of my Abba Father’s desire for me and having me as a child.  I thank Him for that too.

Draw your children near.  Be present.  Participate in their lives.  Sing a song…why not this one?

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.

In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun,
Which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
And rejoices like a strong man to run its race.
Its rising is from one end of heaven,
And its circuit to the other end;
And there is nothing hidden from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can understand his errors?
Cleanse me from secret faults.
13 Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins;
Let them not have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
And I shall be innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.

Thankfully Praying

Continuing on in 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, we read:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; NKJV)

This brings to mind a similar instruction from Paul in his epistle to the Philippians:

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice5 Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.  6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthymeditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9; NKJV)

Take some time and consider the key words in these verses:

Rejoice, pray, thanksgiving, will of God, Jesus Christ, peace, true, noble, just, pure, lovely, good report, virtue, praiseworthy.

Evaluate your life today through the lens of these words.

Are you rejoicing in your own life and with those you care about or are you letting the bad things distract you?

Are you spending time in prayer whether it is a time you have set aside or continually conversing with your Father through the good and bad of your day?

Do you see the will of God today?  Do you see Jesus?  Are you trusting God is there and working?  Does this bring you peace?

Are the things you are thinking about true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy or is satan filling your mind with distraction?

God is a builder.  Satan is a destroyer.  Fill your heart and mind with the building materials of God, trust His will, feel His peace.  That is what He is shouting from Heaven.  That is my prayer for you and for me today.

Working Together

12 And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves.  14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. 15 See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. (1 Thessalonians 5: 14-15; NKJV)

Paul, along with Silvanus and Timothy, offer a series of exhortations, admonishments and blessings at the close of their first epistle to the church of the Thessalonians.  The bold words are underlined in my Bible and wanted to offer what comes to my mind when I read them.

Recognize:  I need to take time and consider the work of those who are working and leading in my church and pray for them.

Admonish:  I don’t need to feel like everyone is coming down on me when I am admonished.  It is a powerful word but it’s not all about correction.   It is also about warning, advice, urging from God’s word delivered by a fellow laborer.  If I am being admonished in love from someone with a comforting and patient heart, then I need to recognize it is coming from God and His word and I need to be thankful and hold my brother or sister in high esteem (respect, admire).

Warn, Uphold, Patient, Good:  I need to see the fellowship or joint participation of the work of the church.  I need to pay attention, build relationships, and be ready and willing to warn another or maybe point out things to someone they cannot see themselves.  I need to be there to uphold another brother or sister in a situation where they  may not be able to stand but I can…and visa versa…I have to be willing to receive help too. I need to be patiently working with a confidence that God is working too.  I need to pursue what is good spiritually for me but also for my family in Christ…which means I don’t have permission to do what I think is “right” or “best” if it does not benefit the whole…it is not all about me no matter what…it is about Jesus!

There are so many more lessons in this text and more things that could be said but take some time today and consider the text and examine yourself in terms of your work with the church and your brethren and pray that God might open your eyes and heart for continued growth individually and with the Body.