Enough Time

How many times do you catch yourself saying, “I don’t have enough time?”

When I first started teaching, I think those words stumbled from my lips daily. Lack of time was a perpetual excuse, but then I read a 37signals blog post containing this nugget:

There’s always enough time, you’re just not spending it right.

Now, I’m sure you could poke a thousand holes into that statement, so let me marginally rephrase it: There’s always enough time to do the important things; you’re just not spending it right.

Think about how much time a day you waste, and compare that time to the amount of time it would take to do those things you complain you haven’t enough time to do. If you’re like me, you’ll see that you did indeed have time for the important things. One way or another, however, that time was squandered. It’s tough to admit, and it’s tough love to point out, but we have to be willing to face that salient fact.

When it comes to our time, Paul writes, in Ephesians 5:15-16:

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.

Time has a habit of slipping away unnoticed. It sneaks up on us. It flies by. But there is always enough of it if we use it wisely, for time is the great equalizer. It is the one thing we are all given equally. Yes, the actual number of years you or I are given may differ in the end, but we all have the same number of days making up those years. We all have the same number of hours making up a day. We all have the same number of minutes that make an hour. Time is equitably distributed to all, but, because it is so freely available, we may find ourselves wasteful with it.

Consider this: People like Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Marie Curie, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Alexander the Great, George Washington, Bill Gates, Susan B. Anthony – none of these historical figures had one second longer in the day than we have, and quite a few of them had far fewer years than we enjoy. Spiritual forefathers like Moses had the same amount of time to do God’s work that we have on a daily basis. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, and all of the other prophets worked within those same recurring twenty-four-hour periods. Jesus, Peter, Paul – again, they had the same amount of time during the day and perhaps fewer days in which to complete that work. It’s not the amount of time these great individuals had, it’s how they used it.

We don’t have enough time? If I had the time today to read the obituaries and the rant column in the newspaper, I had the time to do God’s work. If I had the time to check Facebook, to tweet, to blog, or to forward cute emails, I had time to do God’s work. If I had time to stare mindlessly at a TV set while the likes of Glenn Beck and Ed Schultz filled my mind with feelings of fear and anger, I had time to do God’s work. If I had time to fling some angry birds through the air on my iPhone or hunt down zombies on my XBox 360, I had time to do God’s work. If I had time to sit down and have a break room conversation with a friend, I had time and opportunity to do God’s work.

There is time to study. There is time to teach. There is time to help the needy. There is time to lift another’s load. There is time to show mercy, kindness, and charity to our fellows. There is time to lead others to Christ. There is time to spread hope, peace, and love. There is time to do good to all, as well as to those of the household of faith. There is time to do God’s work. We just have to start spending that time wisely.

We always have enough time to do God’s work. Let’s start using it correctly.

Involved in Saving Souls

Shortly after 3:00 a.m. one morning several years ago, a young lady was attacked in the street by a man with a knife. She was attacked a couple of times, and each time, the lights around the street came on to see what was going on. Thirty-eight people witnessed this attack, but no one wanted to get involved. Thirty-eight people watched a young lady assaulted three times, and they watched her die. No one, however, interceded in any way – not even to call the cops. The young lady’s death may have been prevented had someone simply decided to get involved.

Staying Uninvolved

Think of the souls you see every day. How many of them are dying spiritually? How many need us to become involved in their spiritual lives? With how many of them do we study the good news of God’s word? Too often, like those witnesses to that murder in the illustration, we just don’t want to get involved.

We make many excuses about our lack of involvement. We claim to not know enough, but II TImothy 2:15 says the remedy to that is simple: study. Ephesians 5:17 calls on us to understand that word. Think of all the things you’ve learned in your life – a specialty, how to cook, trivia and information that fascinates you. We should put more same energy into our study of God’s word than we do into those other topics.

We may believe we don’t have anyone to study with, but think of the numerous people we see every day. How many people do you tell when you have a piece of good news to share – around our workplace, on Facebook, on Twitter, with perfect strangers. Matthew 10:38 calls our world a field in which to sow the seed of God’s word. Everyone we meet is a potential recipient of God’s word.

Unfortunately, we sometimes decide those people are unwilling to hear God’s word. I Peter 3:15 tells us to always be ready to share the hope within us, but we may fear ridicule or rejection. II Timothy 3:12 and Matthew 10:35-39 both warn us that we will indeed face that rejection we fear, but we can’t let that stop us.

Conclusion

We cannot be timid when it comes to God’s word, and we need to be seeking God’s approval more than man’s. Romans 1:16 calls the gospel God’s power of salvation. Do we truly believe that? Are we really unashamed of that good news? What will we say when we see those souls again on the last day? John 15:1-2 warns us against being cut off for lack of bearing fruit.

We should be making every effort to share God’s word every chance we get. We should be actively involved. Matthew 5:13 calls us the salt of the earth, and verse 14 calls us the light of the world. We must be active sharers and doers of God’s word if we are to fulfill those roles. We cannot be like those who just stared out their windows when tragedy struck one of their neighbors. We need to be involved in saving souls.

lesson by Jason Farmer

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

A Fruitful Vineyard

Jesus, in Mark 12, uses the picture of a vineyard, possibly indirectly referencing Isaiah 5. He tells of a man who prepares and protects a vineyard before putting it into someone else’s care. Those who work the vineyard harm and kill those the master sends to collect his due from the vineyards – even to the point of murdering the master’s own son. Jesus explains that those listening should be careful of rejecting that which the Lord has provided for them, even God’s own Son.

In Isaiah 5:1-7, God shares a song about a vineyard, carefully prepared, protected and tended. Instead of producing good grapes, however, only wild fruit and weeds come forth. Therefore, the Lord says He will remove the protections from the vineyard and tend to it no more. God proceeds to explain that this vineyard is a parallel to His people, the way He cares for and protect them, but He withdraws from them when they fail to respond to His care as they should.

The Work of a Vineyard

Tending to vineyards, raising up olive and fig trees – the people in Jesus’ and Isaiah’s audiences would have been familiar with the things they spoke of in these illustrations. They would know of the diligent preparation and care it would take to keep a vineyard healthy and safe. They would know the difference between cultivated fruit and wild fruit. In this context, God asks, “What more could I have done?” in Isaiah 5. He has provided care and blessing beyond measure, but the people were still not what they should have been.

In verses 8-10 of Isaiah 5, God condemns those who live greedily, those who exploit their resources to the point of destroying their environment. In verses 11-12, God proclaims woe upon those who pursue vices from dawn to dusk, giving no regard to spiritual matters. Verses 18-19, He speaks of those who drag sin through their lives while claiming to care about God’s work. In verse 20, He warns those who replace good for evil and vice versa. Finally, verse 21 condemns those who hold their own wisdom above God’s.

God tended to His vineyard and had expectations for it, but the fruit of His people were worthless. Because they dwelt in sin, because they promoted evil, because they elevated themselves above God, God promised, in verses 24-25, that His anger would be kindled against them, and that He would level His vineyard. They were His vineyard, but they took themselves away from Him.

God’s Spiritual Vineyard

We are God’s vineyard today. What fruits do we produce for Him? Hebrews 6:7-8 speaks of ground tilled and tended to by God that will either produce herbs or thistles. I Corinthians 10:13 illustrates how God tends to us – in that He keeps a hedge around us, protecting us from temptations we will be unable to handle. Like the vineyard of Isaiah 5, God has tended to us, has protected us, and has showered us with blessings. I John 4:4 reminds us that God is greater than anything in this world. His blessings, His care, His protection – these things are more substantial than anything this world can throw at us.

What are we doing with God’s care and protection? He has done for us as He had done for the children of Israel in Isaiah 5. We are His fertile ground. We are His vineyard. Do we, like those of the past, take those blessings for granted? Are we producing bitter fruits because of our greed, our pride, because of our love for evil? What would God do with the fruits we produce in His vineyard?

In Matthew 6:19, Jesus warns us against placing our treasures in this world, being motivated by materialism. II Timothy 2:22 tells us to flee the lusts of this world and their temporary attractions. Returning to Hebrews 6, the author of that book speaks of those who pile sin upon sin, in verse 6, and then crucify the Son of God all over again. We are tempted to call evil good and good evil, and Romans 1:22 reminds us that we can be foolish in God’s eyes while wise in our own.

Conclusion

We may recognize God’s role in our lives. We may honor His Son with our words, but what fruits are we producing? In John 15:1, Jesus calls Himself our vine, and we are branches from Him. We either bear much fruit, or Jesus warns that His Father may prune us. Ten times in that chapter, Jesus reminds us to abide in Him, to base everything in our lives around Him, to hinge every word and decision on the basis of His word. If we truly abide in Him, allowing His word to dwell in us, then we will not put God’s efforts to shame. We can be a vineyard producing fruits unto righteousness.

lesson by Tim Smelser

A Dependable Faith

In I Timothy 6:11, Paul encourages the young preacher to feel carnality and worldliness, encouraging him to seek after things like meekness, patience, and faith. Then, in II Timothy 2:22, Paul calls on Timothy to flee youthful lusts but to rather pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace. Then, in Galatians 5 draws a contrast between the fruits of the world and the fruits of the spirit, and verse 22 describes these good fruits as peace, love, and faithfulness. Having faith and being faithful repeatedly appear as necessary elements to our godly walk.

The Necessity of Faith

We understand the importance of faith from passages like Hebrews 11:6 that tell us we cannot please God without having faith in Him and being faithful to Him. I Timothy 4:12 records Paul calling on Timothy to be an example of faith. James 2 draws a contrast between the shallow faith of demons and the active faith of true believers. John 12:42 tells of those who believed in Jesus but would not profess their faith. In Matthew 6, during the sermon on the mount, Jesus speaks to our basic trust in God leading up to verse 30. Our faith defines our lives, motivates our actions, and informs every decision we make. This is complete faith.

How do we grow this faith?

  • Romans 10:17 reminds us that faith comes from our exposure to God’s word, by teaching and by study.
  • Returning to James 2, verse 23 exemplifies Abraham as one who practiced his faith, whose experiences served to strengthen the faith he put into action.
  • In Matthew 9:24, a man seeking Jesus’ intervention cries out to Him to, “Help my unbelief.” Prayer is another avenue for developing faith. Wisdom comes from asking.

We should be doing more reading and studying. We should be living our faith more actively. We should be asking for God to strengthen our faith.

A Dependable Faith

Where having faith is a living testimony of our belief in God, being faithful as God is faithful implies reliability and dependability. I Thessalonians 5:23-24, II Thessalonians 3:3, Hebrews 10:23, Hebrews 11:11 – these passages and more emphasize God’s faithfulness. We can rely on Him. We can depend on Him. If we are living to emulate the qualities we see in His nature, He should likewise be able to depend upon us.

The ultimate sign of God’s faithfulness is in the resurrection of Christ. In Psalm 16:10, the psalmist prophecies that God’s holy one will not see corruption. There is a difference between Jesus, being alive and well, raising others from the dead and Jesus going Himself to death, trusting in the Father to raise Him up on the third day. How then do we commit ourselves better to our faith?

  • Our duty as Christians. II Timothy 2:21 describes us as set apart and useful to God’s work, and I Thessalonians 1:2-3 speaks to our endurance, our steadfastness, and our love in doing God’s work.
  • The spread of the gospel. I Peter 3:15 calls us to be prepared to speak about our faith, and II Timothy 2:15 calls on us to be diligent in our preparation to share God’s word.
  • Being Good Stewards. The parable of the wedding feats, the parable of the talents – these illustrate the faithfulness and reliability we should have with our resources and opportunities in this life.

Conclusion

Not only should God be able to rely on us, but our fellow Christians should see us as equally dependable. Hebrews 11:39-40 admonishes us that all those who came before us depend on us to continue the work they have started. When we are unfaithful in our service, we invalidate the efforts of our predecessors. When we are faithful, however, we create an unbroken chain between those assembled on the Day of Pentecost and those we pass God’s work to who will come after us.

Can God count on us? Can the saints count on us? We should be working daily to develop our faith in God and our faithfulness to God. We trust in Him so much. We depend on Him to fulfill us, to redeem us, to save us. The question to us is simple: Can He depend on us?

lesson by Tim Smelser

The Seven Churches and Us

The challenge in examining ourselves is to examine ourselves, not as we see ourselves, but as God sees us. We often hold ourselves to one standard while God may hold us to another. This is true both individually as well as a congregation. As a congregation, we have successes; we have failures; we have challenges; and we have times of growth. In these times, we have to remind our selves this: that God knows our work and our hearts, that He cares about our work, and that He has standards against which our congregation is measured.

In Revelation 1:13, Jesus is pictured as being present among seven churches of Asia Minor. He walks in their midst. Throughout the next couple chapters, Jesus speaks to the strengths and challenges faced by these congregations. Often, we wish to be like the church of Philadelphia, but, had Jesus addressed us in this book, what might He have said to us?

Jesus’ Address to His Churches

Repeatedly, Jesus begins by affirming He knows these congregations. He knows their works, their deeds, their challenges, their tribulations. This paints a picture of a Savior, not one who is disinterested and uninvolved. Instead, through this, Jesus reassures them and us that He takes an active interest in our lives. He cares about us. He knows what trials we face.

Jesus also speaks to “him that overcomes,” in the letters, reminding us of the reward that lies ahead. Likewise, Jesus repeats, “he that has an ear, let him hear.” These days, we might say, “I know you can hear me, but are you listening?” He is making it clear that the words He shares are important to their spiritual survival. What, then, can we learn from those words, and how can we apply these letters to our own efforts as a congregation?

The Message to the Seven Churches

  • To Ephesus, Jesus commends their efforts in keeping purity among their congregation. He knows they have endured in their work and have resisted evil. However, He chastises them for losing love in their service.
  • With Smyrna, he contrasts their physical poverty with their spiritual wealth. He warns them of impending persecution and promises them reward should they endure.
  • To Pergamum, Jesus praises them for holding to His word even in a place where Satan has a symbolic throne. He warns them, however, that there are those among them holding to false doctrines.
  • With Thyatira, He speaks of their love and their ministry as well as their growth. He holds against them their tolerating a Jezebel among them, leading members of their congregation astray, and he calls for those that have succumbed to her influence to repent.
  • To Sardis, Jesus says they have a good reputation, but He knows they are spiritually dead. He acknowledges, however, that even they have some among them whose robes remain white and pure.
  • To Philadelphia, Jesus promises protection in times of tribulation to come. He knows they have remained faithful, and He encourages them to endure in the times to come.
  • With Laodicea, Jesus criticizes the congregation for being lukewarm, uncommitted, and He warns He will dispense of them if they refuse to repent from their indifference. He admonishes them to see themselves as Christ sees them.

The Message to Us

We are probably most familiar with the letters to Ephesus and to Laodicea, but we can learn from the themes that run through all of these letters. We see Jesus commend, time and again, congregations’ endurance, their intolerance of false doctrine, their love. In contrast, a vein of indifference seems to affect many of these congregations’ efforts. They may have become unloving. They may have tolerated unscriptural teachings in some aspects. They may have been simply going through the motions.

We can relate to letter to Ephesus when Jesus calls on them to return to their first works. When we first obey the gospel, we may be full of energy and enthusiasm, but the cares of this world can wear us down. We can become comfortable with routine and forget the reasons behind those actions. Thyatira stands in contrast to Ephesus, whose later works are greater than their first. One congregation is praised for growing in their efforts while the other was dwindling. Which are we?

To Laodicea, Jesus encourages them to find their strengths. He asks them to find how they can be beneficial. He asks them to either be cold or hot, just as we all need cold refreshment at times and hot at others. We can be soothing or refreshing in different ways – a cold glass of water to some and a warm cocoa to others. Laodicea, however, is neither. They are uncommitted, but Jesus encourages them to simply get to work.

In these chapters, Jesus reminds us that He knows where we are and what we are going through, but the message is the same: “Get to work.” We can fall back on many excuses for lack of ministry, lack of growth, or lack of love, but Jesus calls on us to overcome those excuses. He reminds us to give ear to His word and endure with His promises set firmly before us.

lesson by Tim Smelser