First, Last, or Somewhere In Between

First-Fruits6Firstfruits:  This is a word that is rarely used today; however, it was an important principle in the Old Testament. People were to honor God by giving Him the firstfruits of their time, the harvest, and all of their resources

God has given you His best, and He wants the same from you.  This statement is easily confirmed by Scripture:

  • Exodus 23:19:  You must bring the best of the first produce harvested from your soil to the house of the Lord your God.
  • Proverbs 3:9:  Honor the Lord with your possessions and with the first produce of your entire harvest.

Paul used the the churches of Macedonia as an example of the Principle of Firstfruits:

During a severe testing by affliction, their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed into the wealth of their generosity.  I testify that, on their own, according to their ability and beyond their ability, they begged us insistently for the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints,  and not just as we had hoped. Instead, they gave themselves especially to the Lord, then to us by God’s will.

2 Corinthians 8:1-5

Do you give God the firstfruits of your life or the leftovers?  Think about it:  What if every member of the church was like you?

  • How much prayer would there be if everyone prayed like you?
  • How many people would hear about Jesus, if everyone shared their faith as often as you do?
  • If everyone served like you serve, how many hungry and hurting people would be helped?
  • If everyone attended church as often as you, would the church ever be filled?
  • If everyone gave as you give, could the doors of the church remain open?

Paul encouraged Timothy to be “an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity (I Timothy 4:12).”  What kind of an example are you?  Where is God in your life?  Is He first, last, or somewhere in between?

 

The Man With The Better Idea

thomas-edisonI have always been amazed at the brilliant and inventive mind of Thomas Edison.   During his lifetime, Edison developed many devices including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and his discoveries were the prototype of the modern day power grid.

To offer some insight into the mind of Edison, I have selected five simple but intriguing quotes that are credited to this wonderful man:

  • The man who doesn’t make up his mind to cultivate the habit of thinking misses the greatest pleasure in life.
  • The world owes nothing to any man, but every man owes something to the world.
  • I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that. I wish I had more years left.
  • Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
  • I believe that the science of chemistry alone almost proves the existence of an intelligent creator.

In 1914, Edison’s factory burned to the ground destroying his one-of-a-kind prototypes.  Edison’s response to the catastrophe revealed his character: “Thank goodness all our mistakes were burned up. Now we can start fresh again.”

This remarkable statement by Edison, reminds me of Paul’s assessment of his life.  Notice the value he places on what he lost and what he gained, and how he contrasts the earthly and the eternal:  “But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ.  More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith (Philippians 3:7-9).”

What do you value most, the earthly or the eternal?  Paul said: ” For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).

Simply and Complexly Marvelous

Beauty-of-NatureIf you want to spice up a conversation, bring either religion or politics into the discussion.  There are many diverse opinions on both subjects, and the topic of creation can stir the pot among both the believers and skeptics.

Some people believe in a random Big Bang form of creation, others espouse a view known as intelligent design, and then there are those who embrace the Genesis account of creation.

I find it hard to look at the intricate design of the world and believe it just happened by chance.  In Psalm 9, David writes:  “I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will tell of all Your marvelous works.  I will be glad and rejoice in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.

When was the last time you paused and reflected on the “marvelous works” of God?  What would a flower be without its fragrance?  How dark would the night skies be without the light of the moon and stars?  How different would birds be if they were drab in color and whistled and sang out of tune?

The sunrise, the sunset, and the rainbow are the canvas on which the Master Artist paints in vivid colors, and the day would be much different if it began and ended in a colorless brown instead of  fire-red hues.  Speaking of fire, what would fire be without its warmth on a cold night or water without its refreshing coolness?

How about food?  What would chili be like if there was no spice or a breakfast roll without cinnamon?  And, it’s almost too painful to consider a world without ice cream!

How mundane would life be without this complicated, yet marvelous thing we call love?  Isn’t love the WOW factor in everything that God created?

When you read the book of Genesis, you see God at work.  After He had spoken the physical world into existence, God formed Adam out of the dust of the earth and breathed into him the breath of life.  Next in line was the creation of the animal kingdom, but God wasn’t finished until He created woman.

Adam thought he had seen it all, but then he saw Eve.  To Adam she saw the marvelous WOW-inducing work of God

Take sometime this week, to marvel at the works of God, and the way He has blessed you.

The Sinister and the Saint

eyeI’m not sure if I should label it progression or regression, but I have gone from wearing no glasses, to bi-focals, and for several years now I have moved into the tri-focal stage.

Each step in this vision process involved a trip to the eye doctor and a prescription for new glasses.  The last time I got a new prescription for eyeglasses, I noticed the abbreviations OS and OD. The OS is for the left eye, and it is a Latin abbreviation that means “oculus sinister.”   The right eye is OD and is the Latin “oculus dextrus.”

The fact that I have a sinister left eye, made me curious, and I looked at the etymology of oculus sinister and dextrus:

  • The Latin meaning of sinister speaks of that which is “contrary, false; unfavorable; to the left.”
  • Dextrus has the meaning of being “right or ready.”

In these two words, we see the struggle that each of us face.  It is the conflict between evil and good or flesh and spirit.  In Romans 8:5, Paul said:  “For those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their outlook shaped by the things of the Spirit.”

Since your “outlook” is determined by the flesh or the spirit, you may want to take an “in-look” at what the Bible says about desire:

  • James 1:14-15: Everyone is tempted by his own desires as they lure him away and trap him.  Then desire becomes pregnant and gives birth to sin. When sin grows up, it gives birth to death.
  • Proverbs 27:20: Hell and Destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied.
  • 2 Peter 2:14: Having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, they entice unstable souls. They have a heart trained in covetous practices.

Which one of your eyes guides you?  Do you see the world through the sinister side or the saintly side?   I encourage you to take a look at your life, and consider using the words of Psalm 119:36-38 as your prayer for today:

“Turn my heart toward Your Law, so I will not earn money in a wrong way.  Turn my eyes away from things that have no worth, and give me new life because of Your ways.  Keep Your promise to Your servant, the promise You made to those who fear and worship You.”

Indexing The Heart

images (2)Many years ago, I was told that good speakers have at least three characteristics in common:  They stand up, speak out, and sit down.

The book of Proverbs is full of good principles for you and the way you speak.  Proverbs 4:24 is a good example:  “Remove dishonesty from your mouth. Put deceptive speech far away from your lips.”

When you consider the underlying principles of this verse, you see that:

  • Dishonesty needs to be removed: Whenever it moves in you need to move it out.
  • Dishonesty is a nasty dish of lies that should never be allowed to nest in your mouth.
  • You should never be receptive to deceptive speech: Put it far away from your lips.

In Proverbs 10, Solomon highlights the benefit of wholesome speech:

  • The mouth of a righteous person is a fountain of life (verse 11).
  • The tongue of a righteous person is pure silver (verse 20).
  • The lips of a righteous person feed many (verse 21).

If you’ll take the time to compare the words of Solomon to the teachings of James, you’ll see a well-defined contrast:

  • Solomon likened the tongue of the righteous to pure silver.
  • James said the unrighteous use of the tongue will “defile the whole body.”

Listen to the manner in which you speak and the tenor of your conversation.  When you become more aware of what you say and how you say it, you get a better idea of the real you.  This is because your speech or your tongue is the index of your heart.

Always and Without Ceasing

il_570xN.719399076_tdneEven though he was in prison, Paul was not imprisoned by his circumstances.  In Philippians 4:4, he said:   Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!

As I thought of the remarkable attitude of this wonderful servant of God, I thought of several places in the Psalms where you are encouraged to rejoice:

  • In Psalm 9:14 the writer said that salvation is a reason to rejoice:  I will rejoice in Your salvation.
  • Mercy is the subject of rejoicing in Psalm 31:7: I will be glad and rejoice in Your mercy.
  • The faithfulness of God is another reason to rejoice. Psalm 33:21: For our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name.
  • The writer of Psalm 119:14 said the promises of God’s
  • Word were a source of joy to him: I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches.

As Paul closes his first letter to the Thessalonians, he instructs them to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,  in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

To embrace the will of God for your life, I encourage you to consider how Paul made a connection between rejoicing and giving thanks.  He did it in the verse above as well as Romans 12:12: “…rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer…

How can “rejoicing always” can make a difference in how you you pray and how you give thanks?

Are You Fluent or Tongue-Tied?

640x360When Jesus was crucified, there was a message written in three languages that stated:  This is Jesus the King of the Jews. You may know these three languages were Hebrew, Greek, and Latin; but, do you know how many languages exist in the world today?

There are some 6,500 spoken languages in the world today, and the language most frequently spoken is Mandarin Chinese. Due to China’s large population it is estimated that 1,213,000,000 people speak this language.

There is a country much smaller than China and it lies just south of the equator, and 99 miles north of Australia. It is Papua New Guinea, and it is smaller than China in both land mass and population.  What’s interesting, however, is that with a population of just over 7 million, this country is incredibly diverse when it comes to languages.  The Linguistic Society reports that Papua New Guinea has 832 indigenous languages.

Even though there are thousands of languages spoken in the world today, there will be a day when everyone speaks the same thing.  There is coming a day when people will hear the name of Jesus and bow their knees to Him, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11).

There’s no need to wait for some future day to confess the goodness of God.  In whatever language you choose, you can follow the example of the Psalms, and do it now:

  • Psalm 7:17: I will praise the Lord according to His righteousness, and will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.
  • Psalm 9:2: I will be glad and rejoice in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.
  • Psalm 30:4 Sing praise to the Lord, you saints of His, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.

A Normal Failure

images (2)Success and failure are the topics of many discussions.  In the Proverbs, Solomon draws a contrast between the “God-loyal people” and the “wicked” and how they manage the difficult times they face:

“Don’t interfere with good people’s lives; don’t try to get the best of them. No matter how many times you trip them up, God-loyal people don’t stay down long; Soon they’re up on their feet, while the wicked end up flat on their faces.” ~Proverbs 24:15-16

When a person is successful, he hears the cheers of the crowd; however, when he fails, the whispers of the same people are heard as an agonizing shout.  Failure is, however, a normal part of a person’s life.

With this in mind, let me share my Top Ten Failure Quotes:

  • Failure is not falling down: It is staying down.
  • “Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be” – John Wooden
  • “Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” – Denis Waitley
  • “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison
  • “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill
  • “It’s not how far you fall, but how high you bounce that counts.” – Zig Ziglar
  • “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan
  • Try again. Fail again. Fail better. ~Samuel Beckett
  • Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat. ~F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The men who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed. ~Lloyd Jones

When I think of a God-loyal person, I think of Tim Tebow.  This young man had a stellar career as a college quarteback.  When his professional career came to an abrupt halt, some peole labeled him as a failure.

Tebow stayed in shape, continued to work hard, and he signed a contract with the Eagles this week.  He is anything but a failure, and he is a living example of Solomon’s words: “God-loyal people don’t stay down long; Soon they’re up on their feet . . . “

Follow the Leader

Follow_the_Leader_Photo1When I woke up this morning I was thinking of the word “follow” and the several times Jesus spoke this word.  I did a quick scan of the four Gospels, and I found a couple of interesting concepts.

In Mathew 4:19-20, Jesus said:  “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men, and they immediately left their nets and followed Him.”

  • Principle: If you do not follow Jesus you will be snared by the net of the world.
  • Principle: Fishing for fish is good, but fishing for men is better.

In John 8:12, Jesus said: “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

  • Principle: If you don’t walk with Jesus in the light, you will stumble without Him in the dark.
  • Principle: Jesus does not HAVE the light of the world, He IS the Light of the world.

In John 10:27, Jesus said: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”

  • Principle: Obedient sheep hear His voice and make the choice to follow Him.
  • Principle: When you deny and won’t comply, you are easy prey for the wolf.

Here’s the simple truth:  You can follow or be hollow.  When you are hollow, you will search for fullness, satisfaction, contentment, and love in all the wrong places.  When you follow Jesus you can be fully holy.

The wisdom of Solomon is a fitting conclusion:  “The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, But He loves him who follows righteousness (Proverbs 15:9).”

TV Time

o-CHILDREN-TELEVISION-facebookAs I was watching the nightly news, I became curious about TV statistics.  Based on research by statistics brain, I found that:

  • 99% of households in the USA possess at least one television.
  • The average child will spend 1,480 minutes a week watching television.
  • By the time a child is 18, he/she will have seen 150,000 violent acts and viewed 16,000 thirty second commercials.

With these statistics in mind, answer the following questions:

  • Who or what is having the greatest influence in the life of your child or grandchild?
  • If 1,480 minutes are being spent in front of the TV, how much time is being spent reading the Bible, praying, or engaging people in a positive way?

There are two warnings from Paul that are worthy of mention:

  • He said you should not be like a child who is “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every false wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming (Ephesians 4:14).”
  • Make sure that “no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ (Colossians 2:8-9).”

The 1,480 minutes of TV wouldn’t be so bad if it was healthy and wholesome; however, I think much of it is detrimental to a person’s well-being.

 

Look at the language Paul used. How much of the 1,480 minutes is captivativing philosophy that can be describe as the “trickery of men, craftiness, deceitful scheming?”