Redeeming Our Time

We live in a world that is always moving at a breakneck pace. We can prepare meals in minutes or seconds in the microwave. We have fast food, fast computers, and fast transit. We want up to the second news, stocks, and sports scores. We have speedy checkout lanes, rush delivery, and priority mail. We have deadlines upon deadlines upon deadlines, and time spent idling is time losing money and productivity.

When we are not working, our free time is as packed. We have a million diversions that could engage us at any moment. We can play a quick five minutes in Temple Run; we have softball, soccer, and bowling leagues to fill up that time; we book tickets to games, to concerts, to any number of events. We push ourselves to fill every second of every day.

If we stop to think about what we’re doing, we justify to ourselves by saying that life is fast. We have to be able to keep up; we have to be able to roll with the punches, to go with the flow, to swim with the big fish, to run with the big dogs, to land on our feet. Doing anything else means we’re somehow less, that we’re losers, or – worse – being unproductive.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We say all the time that we are in the world without being of the world, and I think that applies to how we should look at our time. Ephesians 5:15-17 says:

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

Colossians 4:5 also says:

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.”

If we’re thinking differently about our time, then we are putting things first that the world might not. It might mean we give up a business dinner or trip, so we can have more time with our families. It might mean we parents give up a game or event we want to go to, so we don’t have to give up time with our kids. It may mean we spend more time studying from God’s word than we spend studying our Fantasy Football League (full disclosure: I have no idea how Fantasy Football works).

Some of these sacrifices may have consequences. We may get passed over for a promotion because we leave a meeting early or don’t take as much overtime. We may have friends who don’t want as much to do with us because we don’t want to give up time with our kids in favor of guys or girls nights out. But will these things really matter in the end? When we look back on how we used our time, what will we regret more – failing to spend it more on personal success and entertainment, or failing to invest that time into saving souls and raising our families?

I invite you to join me in slowing down. We always have the choice to slow down, to exit the hustle and bustle, to take things off our calendars, and value the time we have with those who mean the most. Stop counting down the time until the Next Big Thing. Stop overbooking. Stop trying to fill every second of every day with diversions. This life is short, and we should have no desire to rush through it. Take your time; savor it, and invest that time into the things that really matter. Not only will you find yourself more available to do the Lord’s work and be good fathers, mothers, and children – you might also find yourself a little bit happier.

Making Everyone’s Day Better

CrazyDay

Galatians 6:10 is a verse I revisit time and again in my spiritual studies:

So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

I used to teach from this that we should make it a goal to improve someone’s day every day. I’ve changed my mind, though. I don’t think we should be making someone’s day better everyday. I think we should try to make everyone’s day better – well, at least everyone with whom we come in contact. There is not one person we run into who shouldn’t come away from the exchange feeling better about their day, whether that person be a close friend or a telemarketer.

  • Did they mess up your order at dinner, or forget to refill your drink? Then you’re the most gracious person to correct an order all day.
  • Did they mess up your name during a telemarketing call that interrupted dinner? Then you are still the most polite person they speak to that day.
  • Did they tap your bumper at a stoplight? Then you deal with the issue with the most patience they’ve seen all day.
  • Did their child run headlong into you while tearing around the grocery store? Then do the unexpected and avoid making a big deal out of it.
  • Did the drive-thru operator stumble through speaking English? Then you patiently repeat yourself if need be (without raising your voice), or be complimentary of their efforts.

The world expects nastiness. They expect impatience. They expect callousness. They expect rudeness. They expect to be berated for every minor offense they happen to commit. We should not be that way. We should be the unexpectedly merciful, kind, patient, loving, and understanding. That loving attitude will separate us from the world and draw a distinction between us and everyone else. If we act like the world, what’s to motivate anyone to look to any of us for spiritual guidance or answers? It’s tough to make everyone’s day a little better, but it’s worth it.

Wish List

Tim Archer just posted a very self-reflective post on his blog about wish lists. I can’t think of a better way to open this post than with his words, so here they are:

Some web sites let you create wish lists, items that you would like to have from that site. I’m thinking in particular of Amazon.com, but I know there are others that do the same. They encourage you to publish these on your site so that friends and benefactors can know what to purchase for you.

He then proceeds to list some things in his life he knows he needs to work on, things he knows could use improvement in his own spiritual walk. Reading it made me feel spiritually reflective as well, and, instead of posting my reaction as a comment, I thought I’d make my own list here in hopes of encouraging you to engage in some self-reflection as well.

Here goes.

  1. Patience. Ecclesiastes 7:8 says, “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.” Often, when working with my brothers and sisters in Christ, I grow impatient that they are not as mature and level-headed as I obviously am.  I want things done succinctly and now, but the problem is that I may be willing to cause others to stumble in my desire to simply be done with something.
  2. Compartmentalizing. I’m pretty good at this when it comes to work and home. Where I stumble is in separating the physical from the spiritual. II Timothy 2:15 admonishes, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” Paul goes on to warn against vain arguments, which I let myself get pulled into at times because I allow my personal views on some things to interfere with my spirituality. I need to compartmentalize better, pulling the secular agendas from my spiritual walk.
  3. Prayer. I Thessalonians 5:17 simply states, “Pray without ceasing.” My prayer life is pretty abysmal. We often hear, in sermon illustrations, of those who only pray to God when in trouble. Those imaginary people make my prayer life look good. How successful can I be in pursuing a relationship with God when I refuse to talk to Him? Sure, I’ll listen, but I have a hard time reaching out. Perhaps this is merely a symptom of some skepticism I’ve never been able to eliminate from my faith.
  4. Initiative. This is the same as brother Tim’s fourth point of promptness. Proverbs 20:4 states, “The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing.” I’m good at putting things off until too late; I’m good at getting a whole lot of nothing done quickly. I need to take better initiative in the things that are most important.

You don’t have to spend much on me; just, if you happen to have any surplus of these qualities laying around, could you throw some my way? In seriousness, though, I think it’s important to self-reflect upon the type of Christians we wish we were. The next step is the tough one. It’s wanting it badly enough to actually do something about it. What kind of Christian do you want to be? What qualities would populate your wish list? More importantly, what are you going to do about it?

 

Waiting Upon Jehovah

In Psalm 27, we see David writing about coming through trials by the grace of God. Remember David spends much of his young life fleeing a murderous King Saul. His wife is taken from him to be given to another man. Priests who help David are murdered by Saul. A city David delivers from possible enslavement betrays him to Saul. He lived in what shelter he could find in woods and in caves. Later, David would have to flee from Absalom, usurping the throne. Time and again, David faced distress, trials, and discouragement.

Among all of this, we have Psalm 27, where David calls God his light and salvation. David asks, in verse 1, who he should fear. He expresses confidence in God’s deliverance and ultimate salvation. He trusts in God’s protection, and he sings praises to the God in whom he trusts. David calls on God to never hide from him or forsake him. Where all others may turn from David, he trusts in the God of his salvation. He concludes by admonishing any reading this psalm to wait on the Lord and take courage in Him.

David’s Patient Trust

In the first six verses, David declares his trust in God. His focus is on God’s house, His temple, His tabernacle. David expresses a desire to be where God is, and, in faith, he looks forward to that reunion with his Lord. Verses 7-12 then expresses the difficulties David faces in his faith. He pleads for God’s continual presence, knowing difficulties surround him at every turn.

Finally, verses 13-14 conclude with ultimate confidence. Wait on the Lord. This is the difficult part, for we are creatures that like instant gratification. We are a culture of instant rice, same-day delivery, and ten-minute oil changes. We do not like to wait, but, when it comes to God, we must be patient, for He is patient with us.

A Fellowship with God

Waiting on the Lord requires continued fellowship with God. In I John 1:6-7, we have fellowship with God, one to another, when we walk in the light, when we follow His ways, the path He set out before us. This is built upon a life of prayer. I Thessalonians 5:17-18 calls on us to pray continually. We see this in David’s life, in thanksgiving, in praise, in petition, in repentance. In all things, David would turn to God. For us to have fellowship with Him, we must continually turn to Him.

Maintaining our fellowship with God takes continuous effort. Hebrews 2:1, Hebrews 4:6, Hebrews 6:1 – these verses and more highlight the effort it takes to maintain our relationship with God. We have to stay in the fight. Remember Elijah, in I Kings 19, when Jezebel puts a price on the prophet’s head. Elijah flees to Mount Horeb where God appears in a quiet voice, pushing Elijah to continue his work and to prepare others to participate in that work. Elijah’s work lasted his whole life and extended beyond it. His relationship with God was a continual effort, and ours is as well.

Waiting on the Lord

Once we’ve established that relationship, we have to work with God on His timeline and on His terms. There are some things He simply does not promise us. He never promised to remove our trials. See those under persecution in Acts 4. They do not pray for God to remove all obstacles. Rather, in verse 29, they pray for strength and boldness. Also, God never promised us to make life easy. In fact, we know the Christian life brings trials and difficulties.

The most difficult thing is that God does not have to explain Himself. Remember Job. He asked God for that very thing before being humbled in God’s presence. He has promised, however, to strengthen our hearts and hold us up. James 1:2-3 tells us our trials will make us stronger, and James 5:15-16 shows us those trials equip us to then help others through theirs. Finally, James 4:6-8 promises us that the nearer we draw to God, the nearer He will come to us. Like David, we can turn to God in all things, growing closer to God while facing our trials, looking to a future with Him. As David writes in Psalm 28:6, we can trust in Him, bless Him, and pray Him. He is the Rock of our salvation.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Second Mile Thinking

Say you are driving your dream car (let’s say a two-seater sports car) and stopped at a stoplight, where you see three people standing in a torrential downpour. One is an elderly lady having chest pains, your best friend who saved your life in college, and you dream girl or guy. This is not a scenario unique to me; it comes from various job applications, and one answer went this way: “I would let my best friend drive the elderly lady to the hospital while I stood in the rain with the girl/guy of my dreams.”

Inconveniencing self is a concept to which we are not easily attuned. Very few applicants who see this question think to give up the car. We limit our own options based on things we view as nonnegotiable. Of course, we would remain driving the two-seater. Therefore, we think we can only help one in this scenario. We don’t see how a bit of self-sacrifice creates a better solution.

Going An Extra Mile

Matthew 5:38-45 embodies second mile living. In this sermon on the mount, Jesus encourages His audience and us to be merciful, even to those who would wrong us. Jesus says to go above and beyond in our service and grace toward others. He tells us to exceed expectations, and the reason is found in verse 45 – that we may reflect the nature of our Heavenly Father.

What if God did not have a second mile way of thinking? How would He have viewed Creation? How would He view our shortcomings and rebellions? Where would the plan of salvation be? Remember Romans 5, reminding us that God loved us when we were most unlovable and then gives of Himself sacrificially to stand in our place. Also be mindful of II Peter 3:9, describing God’s patience, His desire for all to repent and turn to Him in time. I John 1:9 tells us of God’s faithful forgiveness, and chapter 2:1 speaks of our Advocate when we do fall into sin. God has gone the second mile in providing us mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

Luke 5:54, Luke 6:36, I Peter 5:10, I Peter 2:3 – these  passages speak to the Lord’s goodness, His graciousness, His mercy, His forgiveness. Where does He draw His line? Where does He say, “Enough is enough?” When does He decide we are unforgivable, beyond hope, or not worth the effort? God goes above and beyond in His mercy toward us. How can we do any less in the mercy we show to our fellow man?

Living God’s Word

James 2:8 calls on us to fulfill the royal law to love each other as ourselves, and he reminds us, in verse 13, that mercy will be deprived of those who live mercilessly. James then goes on to remind us that acknowledging such qualities in God means nothing if we do not live it. Jude 22 reminds us that mercy saves. We are to be merciful as God is merciful (Luke 6:36 again). Then, in Ephesians 4:25-32, Paul tells us to be as forgiving as God is.

Colossians 3:13 tells us to forebear with each other, again reminding us of the forgiveness we should embody. II Timothy 2:24 calls on us to be gentle, avoiding strife with others. Romans 14:19 calls us peace makers and peace keepers. Paul calls on us to pursue peace by calling us followers of it. These verses are not here as filler. They tell us how God views us and how we, in turn, should view others.

Conclusion

This begins by removing selfishness from our minds. Those Romans soldiers expected a commoner to carry their pack one mile. Jesus says to do the unexpected and go two. He calls on us to remove self as a priority, to put others first, to embody mercy and forgiveness, to live peacefully with those around us. How often should we go this second mile? In speaking of forgiveness, Jesus says to Peter that our well of forgiveness should be bottomless in Matthew 18:22. Our reservoir or selflessness and patience should be as deep.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Our Heavenly Father

Our children will find a father in their God if they can see God in their fathers. Our heavenly Father is our model for earthly fatherhood. In the four gospels, Jesus uses the expressions “our Father” and “you Father” some sixty-eight times. He wants them and us to see in God all of the characteristics and attributes we look for in an earthly father. In this lesson we’re going to look at the way God’s fatherhood is portrayed in a few of Jesus’ parables; how He responds to us and how we should respond to Him.

The Prodigal Son’s Father

In Luke 15, Jesus tells three parables to those who trust in their own righteousness and look down upon those they view as spiritually unworthy. He speaks of one sheep lost of a hundred, one coin lost of ten, then, finally, one son lost of two. We know the parable of the prodigal son who leaves his home to live foolishly and wastefully. We know how the son returns in humility and how the father responds in love as well as the jealous reaction of the brother. We see God reflected in the father’s reactions to both of these sons.

At various times, we are both the younger son and the older son to our heavenly Father. The Father loves both of these sons and longs to see them both reconciled. He is constantly vigilant in seeking the one who is lost – even seeing the returning son from a great distance. He wants his sons to walk in truth. III John 4 expresses joy in spiritual children walking in truth, and II Timothy 1:2-3 records Paul’s joy and thankfulness for Timothy’s (one like a son to Paul) spiritual growth.

This father in Luke 15 is quick to forgive his son’s transgressions. I John 1:9 reminds us that our heavenly Father is as quick to forgive us when we turn from our own transgressions. Then, he encourages the older son to be as forgiving. He demonstrates the love and patience he would have that older son demonstrate. Though he deals with his sons differently, one needing forgiveness and the other encouragement, his standard of goodness remains the same. Through this father, we see a reflection of God.

The Fathers of Matthew 21 and 22

Matthew 21:28 tells of a father with two sons. The father asks both to work the vineyard. One refuses, then repents and works. The second says he will work but does not. Jesus compares these sons to the sinners who respond to God’s word versus those who consider themselves spiritual while ignoring God’s word.

Then Matthew 22:1-14 pictures a Father preparing a wedding feast. He invites friend and family who refuse to come, some even murder the messengers. These invite destruction upon themselves. Finally, the father invites any who would come from the streets. We see immediate generosity in this father toward anyone who accepts his invitation, but he is also executes justice against those who abuse those who are his and those who remain unprepared.

Finally Matthew 21:33-41 illustrates a father who leases his vineyard to farmers. It is a well-prepared vineyard with a fence around it, an onsite wine-press, and a tower for defense. He entrusts this vineyard to others who refuse to honor him. These farmers beat and kill servants sent by the father to collect homage. Finally, he sends his only son, but these farmers kill the son as well. This father is patient with those tenants, even sending his own son to correct them. The implications of the parable are clear.

Conclusion

Our heavenly Father sacrificially sent His innocent Son so we may lose our guilt and become His spiritual children. He has blessed us generously. He has prepared a place for us and seeks for us to come to Him. He loves us, and He diligently seeks our love in return. He is always waiting for our repentance. He is always waiting for us to return to Him. He is patient with us. He is the epitome of fatherhood, and we can be His simply by coming to Him on His turns.

lesson by Tim Smelser