4 Reasons To Work, Bless, Pray and Serve Your Guts Out

red-plain-colour-imageSometimes we feel it’s wrong to do things because we’ll get a reward.

It seems so selfish. So mercenary. We should just serve people for the sheer joy of it. Well, good news. It’s not selfish. It’s not wrong to want to gain as many rewards as we can. God says to go for it. He says, “Your time is limited here, don’t waste it going after things that won’t last. Go for as many eternal rewards as you can.

4 reasons to run after rewards

Jesus commands us to seek rewards

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and ruste destroy and where thieves break in and steal,20but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven MT 6.19

Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens…LK 12.33

Jesus tells us “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Send your treasures ahead. Go after rewards. Get as many as you can. Make it a focus. Don’t put all your energies into gaining this world’s wealth. Put your energy into gaining eternal wealth.

God rewards every single good deed we do as believers, no matter how small.

And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” MT 10.42

knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. EPH 6.8

We have hundreds of opportunities every day to send treasure ahead. Any small act of serving – giving a little one a cup of water. Serving your children. Making a meal for a new mom. Doing your job.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. CO 3.23-24.

Every act of service, every prayer, every gift to the poor, every dish washed, every task at work – every single thing we do for the Lord will be rewarded.

God stores our rewards in his heavenly vault where they are safe and secure.

but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. MT 6.20

Our rewards in heaven are safe and secure. Not subject to market fluctuations or national economies. So go for it! Send them ahead.

God is waiting for the perfect time to reward us

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. GA 6.9

You may not be rewarded immediately. You may not see your hard work pay off right away. But you will eventually. You will certainly. Often in this life – we see our diligence and sacrifice pay off in the lives of our children. We see our church benefit. But even if we don’t receive our rewards in this life, in due season we WILL reap.

SO: Be zealous for good works!

who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:14

Be zealous for good works. Remind yourself that you will be rewarded. Ask Jesus to give you opportunities to serve him. Ask for opportunities to share the gospel. Be zealous to serve your family when you get home from work. Be zealous to give your money to the poor. Be zealous to serve in your church. Serve wherever you can. Set up chairs for the Sunday meeting. Welcome new people. Look around on Sunday morning – is there someone by themselves, someone with no one to talk to? Are there positions in Children’s Ministry where help is needed?

There are tons of opportunities to earn rewards we’ll enjoy forever. Go for them today.

You Can’t Get Any More Secure Than This

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Years ago someone shared this truth that has often encouraged me:

Anything that comes to believersmust first go through Christ.

Why? Because those who believe in Jesus are “in” Christ. He is our dwelling place, our refuge, our eternal home.

The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms… DT 33:27

The uncreated, eternal, sovereignGod is our dwelling place. This means that anything that comes to us must firstgo through him. He determines the intensity and length of every challenge we face. Nothing takes himby surprise. No affliction can be an ounce heavier than God says. A trial cant last one second longer than God has determined. God knows exactly what we need and exactly what we can handle by his grace.

The eternal God is our dwelling place. Satan cant hurt us. He had to ask God for permission every time he afflicted Job and God set strict limits – You can do this and this, but NO MORE. And Satan had to obey. He can only do what God allows and God works all he does for our good.

The eternal God is our dwelling place. We may lose everything in this world, yet in the eternal God we are secure. The eternal God becomes our dwelling place now in this life, the moment we believe in Jesus. We dont have to wait until we die to enter our eternal dwelling place. This is ultimate security, ultimate peace.

Everything in this world is temporary.

Our physical bodies will get weak and frail and eventually succumb to disease or just wear out. We dont like to think about it, but were regularly reminded that we wont be here forever. Robin Williams tragic suicide reminds us. A truck accident claimed a life this morning in my hometown. Ive done three or four funerals in recent months. Last week someone sent me a list of my high school graduating class, and a number of my classmates had “deceased” by their names. Gone. Their lives are over. Mine will be tooone of these days. Im so glad the eternal God is my dwelling place.

Underneath are the everlasting arms.

Therefore God will make sure we make it to the end. He will lift us up when we fall. And he will let nothing separate us from his love in Christ Jesus. Even at the end of our lives, even if we lose our minds, memories and consciousness his everlasting arms will uphold us.

My mother had Alzheimers the last 7 years of her life. When she was first diagnosed, she said to us, I dont ever want to forget Jesus, and I dont ever want to forget you, to which I said, Mom, even if you forget us, we wont forget you, and I know this – even if you forget Jesus, he will NEVER forget you.

Have you fallen? Failed? Blown it? Dont give up.

Underneath are the everlasting arms. If you ask him, Jesus will restore you and lift you. He is upholding you and will never let you go.

Remember, anything that comes to believers must first go through Christ. If you are in Christ praise himand thank him for opening your blind eyes and bringing you into this wonderful love and security. Things may look bleak in this world, but you have an eternal dwelling place and everlasting arms beneath you.

Jesus Never Leaves The Studio

old-school-record-players

I once heard the news anchor Dan Rather share the following story about himself:

Early in his career he worked for a radio station, and one of the shows featured sermons by a particular preacher. The sermons were recorded on vinyl records that Dan Rather would place on a turntable of a record player. He would position the needle at the beginning of the sermon, then leave the studio and drive to a local diner. One day as he was sitting there sipping some coffee the owner of the diner came over and said there’s a phone call for you. When Dan picked up the phone his boss yelled Get back to the studio! Right now! Dan jumped in his car, turned on the radio and to his horror heard: “Go to hell Go to hell Go to hell”. The needle had gotten stuck and it kept repeating till he got back to the studio. I don’t think he ever left the studio again while a record was playing.

This story reminded me that unlike people, who are often unfaithful, Jesus never leaves the studio. He never takes his eyes off of us. He never stops interceding for us.

He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep. PS 121:3-4

Jesus never takes his eyes off those he saves. He never leaves us. Even when we doubt his love. Even when we sin and fail him. He never forsakes us. He ever lives to intercede for us. Even when we arent thinking about him, he is thinking about us and watching over us. Theres nowhere we can go where Jesus cant see us and care for us. As the Psalmist says in PS 139:7-12:

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.

If you are sad or lonely, dont forget, there is a Friend who is closer than a brother. It may not seem like Jesus is with you but dont doubt it for a second – he is there. It might feel like he has gone for coffee, but he is there. And nothing – NOTHING – can separate you from his love.

Powerful Promises For The Discouraged

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The couple stood in my office, discouraged and downcast.

They were struggling in their relationship. They were new believers, newly married. The woman had a child from a previous relationship. They had very little money. They had conflicts. Communication problems. Very little income. They didn’t know how they were going to make it. They were frustrated at each other and had little hope.

I wonder what they thought when I urged them, “Don’t give up! Don’t quit! Keep seeking Jesus. Keep reading his word and praying and following him. If you do, I guarantee you Jesus will help you and change you. You may not see drastic changes from day to day, but I promise you that 5 years from now you will say to me you can’t believe how much Jesus has changed you.

They looked at me incredulously.

“Here’s why I’m so confident,” I said. Because I believe after talking with you that you are genuinely born again. That means the Spirit of God has come to dwell in you and he’s given you new hearts and new desires to obey God. And he has begun to transform you into the likeness of Jesus.

“Here’s why I’m so confident. Because in Philippians 1:6 God says: ‘And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.’ Did you hear that? Paul said ‘I am SURE of this.’ What was he so sure of? That if God BEGAN a good work in the Philippians, he would COMPLETE that work.”

I went on. “And what is the ‘good work’ God has begun in you guys? The good work of making you into the likeness of Jesus.” Then I shared Romans 8:29 “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

“It’s a slow process,” I said, “but God never stops working. He began this good work in you and he won’t quit until you are completely conformed to Jesus’ image. Every day, little by little, he chips away here, adds something there, presses in here, squeezes a little there, and gradually we become more and more like Jesus. He won’t finish the work completely until he returns and we get our new resurrection bodies. But in the meantime, if you walk with Jesus, God will make you more and more like him.”

“So if you come back and see me in 5 years, you will say to me, ‘Mark, you won’t believe how much God has changed us. Our marriage is so much stronger today than when we came to see you 5 years ago.'”

I saw a glimmer of hope in their eyes. And after we prayed, they left my office, a little less discouraged.

They kept coming to our church. They kept pursuing Jesus. And I got to watch God transform them. I saw God keep his promises to make them more and more like Christ. And 5 years after that initial meeting, they had a couple more children and a much stronger marriage and were still changing. Well, it’s been about 25 years now since our meeting. They had more children, moved to a different state, but continued serving Jesus. And they recently posted on Facebook thanks to Jesus for another new grandchild.

I can still see them standing in my office downcast and discouraged. And I still think about my bold promise that if they kept following Jesus he would change them. They did. And he did.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Are you struggling today? Discouraged about your seeming lack of progress in Christ or slowness to change? Keep following Jesus. Keep reading his Word. Keep praying and fellowshipping with believers. Keep putting sin to death. Keep doing good. 5 years from now you will be amazed at what God does in you.

I can’t wait to see that couple that stood in my office years ago, standing in heaven shining with the glory of Jesus. I can’t wait to remind them of that day a long long time ago when someone promised how different they’d be in 5 years if they trusted Jesus.

What You Can Do While You Are Waiting For Light To Dawn

Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous. PS 112:4

Here’s a wonderful promise for all who are suffering light dawns in the darkness for the upright. Don’t give up, there is hope. No matter how bleak your situation is, there is light at the end of the tunnel. It will dawn.

Maybe you are in the throes of deep depression. Maybe your church is going through a terrible trial. Maybe your finances are a train wreck. Maybe one of your children is struggling in their walk with the Lord. Though you are in anguish, keep seeking the Lord. Keep pursuing him. Keep trusting him. Keep asking him for his light to dawn in your darkness.

In the meantime be as gracious and merciful as you can. Do all you can to bless others and give to the less fortunate. If you are able, give a gift to Compassion or Samaritan’s Purse or some other organization that feeds the poor. Bless someone who is down and out in your church. Give something, anything, even a dollar, to that guy in your church who is going to Africa to help an orphanage.

Then cry out to God, “Oh Lord, let your light dawn in my darkness. I have been gracious and merciful to the poor. I know you don’t owe me anything but you promise that your light will dawn in the darkness for those who are gracious, merciful and upright. You didn’t have to make that promise but you did. So please fulfill it!”

If your light doesn’t dawn today keep praying, keep seeking to be gracious, keep crying out, keep being merciful, keep trusting God. Keep waiting. It will dawn. As surely as the sun rises in the morning it will dawn.

Just Keep Sowing, Just Keep Sowing

It…is…so…frustrating!

You spend hours and hours with a friend, helping them work through the same issues again and again, helping them carry their enormous amount of baggage. You tell your son not to punch his brother for the bajillionth (1 followed by, like, inifinity zeros) time. You desperately pray for the salvation of your parents for five years, ten years, even twenty years. You bust your butt (or “bottom” as we say in my child friendly house) to serve a difficult person in the church.

And yet, in spite of all your efforts, you don’t see any fruit. It appears that your friend is still carrying the same baggage. You son is still throwing blistering haymakers and jabs at his brother. Your parents seem to be even less receptive to the gospel than in previous years. And that difficult person in the church is still being…let’s see, how do we say this?…difficult. You’re doing the work, you’re not a slacker! (seeWhat About Bob?). But you’re not seeing any results.

What is the point of it all? Why should you keep investing yourself in a person when you are seeing zero fruit? Why should you keep working on a relationship that just doesn’t seem to be working?

1 Corinthians 15:58 says:

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding inthe work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lordyour labor is not in vain.

Paul knows we will be tempted to think our labor is in vain. A waste. Absolutely useless. So Paul reminds us of the truth. Our labor for God isnever in vain. Our work for God isneverwasted. God promises that he will use our labor and sweat and tears for his purposes, to bring him glory. Even if we don’t see results, we can be assured that God is working. Most of the time we have no idea how God is using our efforts. As Charles Bridges says:

Apparent must not be the measure of the real result…There may be solid work advancing underground, without any sensible excitement; as we observe the see that produces the heaviest grain lies the longest in the earth. We are not always the best judges of the results of our Ministry. (The Christian Ministry, 73)

In other words, our perception of what God is doing in a person is often very different from what God is actually doing in that person. It may appear that nothing is happening in a person, when in reality, God is at work all over the place. We have no idea what God is doing quietly, behind the scenes. We have no idea how he is pressing, convicting, and shaping a person. We have no idea how God is using our labors to draw a person to himself. We usually are not the best judges of the results of our ministry.

So we must be steadfast, immovable, and always abounding in the work God has called us to. Be steadfast in raising, instructing, and training your children, even when it seems like you’re on a wash, rinse, and repeat cycle. Be faithful in helping your baggage-carrying friend, even if it seems like the baggage is actually accumulating! Be abounding in the work of serving others, even when there is no thanks in return.

Why? Because YOUR LABOR IS NOT IN VAIN! God will use it. He will be faithful. Don’t hang all your faith on visible results. We don’t know what God is doing. We do know that our work is never wasted.

Don’t Let The Prosperity Preachers Steal All The Good Promises!

We Reformed folks have…issues…with prosperity preachers. We see them up on stage, stalking back and forth, wiping their sweat-sheened foreheads with silk handkerchiefs, saying, “No weapon formed against me shall prosper-uh,” and we think,deadly. By the way, all good Southern Pentecostal preachers end their sentences with a forceful, “Uh!” We hear them say, “Your best days are right around the corner-uh,” and we think, Not necessarily true. Our blood gets to boiling when they say, “God has good things in store for you, and he wants you to name it and claim it today-uh!”

When we hear these things, we feel compelled to remind everyone that God allows us to suffer for his glory and our good. We feel it is our doctrinal, biblical, dad-gum duty to tell the world that God does NOT necessarily want them to be rich, healthy, and always sleeping on a Tempur-Pedic mattress. “Do you think Job was sleeping on a Tempur-Pedic?” we proclaim, thrusting our finger into the air.

BUT…in our zeal to remind everyone that God allows and ordains suffering, let’s not let the prosperity preachers steal God’s incredible promises from us. See, here’s what the prosperity preachers get right: God’s promises are great and precious, and they are intended to give us DAILY hope.

Does God promise that we will be wealthy? No. But he does promise in Psalm 84:11 –

For the LORD God is a sun and shield;the LORD bestows favor and honor.No good thing does he withholdfrom those who walk uprightly.

If something is good for me, God WILL give it to me. That promise is intended to be rocket fuel for my faith. I can stake my life on that promise. God will not withhold a single good thing from me. He knows what is good for me, and he gives me what is good for me.

Does God promise me a suffering free life? No. But he does promise to be with me, step for step, as I walk through the Valley of Death (Ps. 23:4). He promises that I will not be burned when I walk through the fire (Is. 43:2). He promises to work and weave every circumstance together for my good and his glory (Rom. 8:28).

Yeah, the health and wealth gospel is unhelpful, unbiblical, and very harmful. But they get the faith part right. They understand that when life stinks, there are really only two options: faith or fear. You can curl up in the fetal position and let your circumstances pummel you, or you can stand strong in faith. Faith is the God-honoring, biblical response, and through his promises God has given us every reason to have extreme, uplifting faith.

How will you walk through this day? Will you walk in faith or fear? Will you exercise the muscle of faith by grabbing hold of God’s promises? Yes, you may suffer. Yes, God may ordain sadness for you today. But don’t let the prosperity preachers steal all the good promises! Fight for faith!

Sip Your Americano, Then Pick Up Your Sword

“Mark,” Ted* said to me, hanging his head and staring at the floor, “I blew it again.”

“This time I charged a new computer. I figured I would just use it while it was still under warranty then return it and charge another one from somewhere else.” His compulsive behavior was destroying not only his finances but taking a huge toll on his marriage.

Ted and his wife were regular fixtures in my office at the time. He was a serious slave of sin. He’d turned to Christ a couple years before and seemed to truly despise his sin, but kept sliding back into it. He’d never deny it or make excuses for it. He’d freely admit it and was clearly fighting it. He’d run strong for a couple weeks then plunge headlong again. He had an accountability group of guys who took turns calling him every day. He and his wife removed everything tempting they could from the house. Yet he kept falling. At times I wondered if he was truly born again or if his marriage could survive. But he never gave up.

After a few years Ted and his wife sensed God leading them to a different church. When they left I really hoped their marriage would make it.

I was glad to see Ted’s face not long ago when I walked into a local coffee shop.

Taking a sip from his Americano, he said, “Mark, I’m a testimony of the Lord’s faithfulness. All these years God has kept me. I’m still married, my kids are serving the Lord.” He’s an active member of his church. ”In fact,” he said, “One of my kids leads a Bible study I attend. God has been good to me.”

Ted’s a living example of Philippians 1:6:

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

God is relentless. He’s not phased by our failures. He is determined to complete his good work of transforming every believer into his own likeness. And he will not fail. If we cling to Jesus, he will vanquish our sins little by little, day by day, year by year. Jesus will have the final word. He will be victorious. He will be successful in his transforming work.

So have you failed again? Fallen again? Get back up and get back in the race. God hasn’t quit working in you, so don’t you quit working. If God hasn’t given up on you, then don’t you give up on God. He is infinitely greater than all your sins. If God could raise you from the dead and give you spiritual life he can give you victory over your sins as well.

Ted never gave up. Every time he fell he’d get back up and try again. He’d confess his sins and ask for prayer. He’d dust himself off, retie his shoes, take a deep breath and get back in the race. And now, some 20 years later, he sips his Americano and proclaims, “God is faithful.” I could almost see his spiritual sword laying across the table, nicked and dented from many battles, and his shield of faith, stained and battered, propped up against a chair. Someday he won’t need them anymore.

So sip your Americano, then pick up your sword and grab your shield of faith again. Jesus isn’t finished with you yet.

*not his real name

The Incredible, Unfathomable, Steadfast Love of God

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and musing about the steadfast love of God. Well, not really “musing”. Musing implies that I’m sitting in a high-backed chair, in front of a roaring fire, smoking a pipe, wearing a robe, and sipping on sherry.

My love for the Lord and others is so fickle. Some days I’m hot, some days I’m cold, some days I’m thankful, some days I grumble. If someone does something to irritate me, my affection for them dries up. If I wake up with a headache, I’m more tempted to grumble than to rejoice.

But incredibly, God’s love is steadfast. Immoveable. Unchangeable. Faithful. In Lamentations 3:22-23 it says:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Pause for a moment. Read that verse again. Let your mind be blown. Read the verse until you actually believe it. I’ve got to admit, this verse is a hard one for me to believe. God’s steadfast love for me never ceases. His mercies toward me never come to an end. I can’t out run or out sin God’s steadfast love and mercy. I can’t escape God’s faithfulness.

All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. (Psalm 25:10)

All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness. As I walk with the Lord, the road ahead is littered with steadfast love, and faithfulness, and mercies that are new every day.

This week has been a rough one. Jen came down with the evil step-mother of all stomach viruses, which meant that she was out of commission for the last three days, which meant I’ve been taking care of the girls for the last three days. I’m not good at taking care of the girls by myself. I need Jen! Our house looked like a tornado bomb went off in it. I also didn’t feel that great myself on a couple of those days, which didn’t help.

But in the midst of the insanity, and stress, and arguments with Ella over whether she was going to wear Winnie the Pooh underwear or Belle underwear, and me sinning in impatience, God’s love for me was steadfast. In the midst of all my ups and downs this week, God’s love for me did not fluctuate. His mercies were new each morning, and each hour, and each minute.

I’m so grateful that God’s love for me is steadfast. If his love for me was tied to my love for him, I would be in deep trouble. But his love is steadfast. His mercies are always present. And he is faithful. I need to regularly call this truth to mind, both for my spiritual health, and my sanity.

When The World Is Spinning Out Of Control

Nothing is or ever has been permanent; everything is on the move and the only constant is change.

That is one of the saddest sentences Ive ever read. To live in a world with nothing that is permanent is to be adrift in a sea of meaninglessness. But the author, a secular history writer, is expressing something true about reality. Every honest person recognizes that we live in a world in constant flux. Change is everywhere: on an international scale as nations and leaders of nations come and go, at a personal level when jobs change or children leave home. Friends move away. Physical health can change in the blink of an eye. Our emotional world alters daily. Think back to the concerns and worries you had last Christmas and New Years. Are they the same as those you face right now? Probably not. After all, a lot can happen in a year.

Living in a shifting world of constant change is grueling, perplexing, and at times exhausting. We feel like the man trying to balance on a spinning log: no rest and constant, frenetic activity just to stay on top. Not a very encouraging picture, is it? Small wonder that from our seat here on the front row of Planet Earth any one of us might come to the conclusion that nothing is or ever has been permanent. But there is one exception to that dismal view of the world.

For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed (Malachi 3:6). Theologian Herman Bavinck writes about the unchangeableness of God: [This] is why, in Scripture, God is so often called the Rock. We humans can rely entirely on him. He does not change in his being, knowing, or willing. He eternally remains who he is.

Christian, we live in a world of constant change but we are upheld by an unchanging God. Circumstances may change no, will change but the Lord God Almighty will never alter, will never waver, will always remain the same. What he is for us, he always will be. His goodness, power, wisdom, and love are not touched by a shadow of change. And therefore, praise be to God, we have an everlasting Rock in whom we can take refuge!

Deuteronomy 33:27: The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

Isaiah 26:4: Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.

+ Photo by Roy Luck