A recent trip through a local Peddler’s Mall brough to mind one of Jesus’ most noted parables: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it”(Matthew 13:45, NJKV).
I was making a quick walkthrough just before closing time on a Saturday evening. Before moving into a small unit in a retirement community, I operated an antique business. The love of ‘old things’ did not end with the dispersal of my stock. I still enjoy looking at and admiring pieces from the past.
As I hurried through the aisles, I spotted a beautiful art glass compote. Although I was not familiar with that particular type of glass, my instincts seem to say, “This is a really good piece.” I looked at the price. It was only $3.50. A piece marked that cheap was not likely to be valuable, and there was no time for closer examination. I sat it back on the shelf. On my way home, I couldn’t get the compote out of my mind. Later in the evening at home, I went on an internet search. With more luck than skill, I located the piece and found that the compote was of considerable value. My initial instincts were right. I was excited. The Mall was not open on Sunday; however, I was at the door when the business opened on Monday morning. The piece was still there. I was able to make the purchase and take my ‘pearl of great price’ home.
When I was in my teens, I attended a revival service at a local church with some friends. There, for the first time I really listened to the Gospel. I heard the Good News that Jesus loved me and died for my sin. Intuitively, I knew this message was for me. I understood my need of being ‘born again’. I received Jesus as my personal Savior. That night Jesus became and remains to this day my ‘Pearl of Great Price’! My heart resonates with the Apostle Paul’s words. ”Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage. All I want is Christ” (Philippians 3:8, CEV).
I sing with Isaac Watts:
When I survey the wondrous cross On which the Prince of glory died My richest gain I count but loss And pour contempt on all my pride
Where every realm of nature mine My gift was still be far too small Love so amazing, so divine Demands my soul, my life, my all
Temporal treasures may be valuable because of their beauty or because they are rare, but they will all pass away. Jesus, the true ‘Pearl of Great Price’, is eternal.
Lexington, Kentucky, my geographic home area, is affectionately referred to as ‘The Horse Capital of the World’. The scenic farms and magnificent thoroughbred horses are common sights. The vernacular in the area is peppered with terms related to horse racing. One such term is ‘trifecta’. A trifecta is a parimutuel bet placed on a horse race in which the bettor must predict which horses will finish first, second, and third, in the exact order. That’s a long shot!
In the theological realm, the arena of my thought life, there is a similar term – ‘trilemma’. The term originates with C. S. Lewis, an intellectual giant of the twentieth century. The trilemma is an apologetic argument traditionally used to argue for the divinity of Jesus by postulating that He was either “Lunatic, Liar, or Lord”.
When confronted with the words of Jesus, a person must decide who they think Jesus really is. Scripture states, “For as he (a person) thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). Deep down in your heart, who do you think Jesus is? Was Jesus telling the truth when He said:
“I am the bread of life.”(John 6:35, 41, 48, 51) As bread sustains physical life, so Christ offers and sustains spiritual life.
“I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12) To a world lost in darkness, Christ offers Himself as a guide.
“I am the door of the sheep.” (John 10:7-9) Jesus protects His followers as shepherds protect their flocks from predators.
“I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25) Death is not the final word for those in Christ.
“I am the good shepherd.”(John 10:11-14) Jesus is committed to caring and watching over those who are His.
“I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) Jesus is the source of all truth and knowledge about God.
“I am the true vine.” (John 15:1-5) By attached ourselves to Christ, we enable His life to flow in and through us. Then we cannot help but bear fruit that will honor the Father.
We can’t just pay lip service to these incredible claims of Jesus. We are faced with a trilemma. Isaac Watts’ words in the hymn “When I Survey The Wonderous Cross” give expression to what our response should be, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21, NIV). If we profess Jesus is Lord and then affirm our profession by doing God’s will, we will enter the kingdom of heaven. That’s a sure bet!
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11)
We live in an age of automation. Technological applications are often used so that human input is minimized. Auto-start automobiles and auto-open doors are prime examples. I recently became aware of ‘auto-tune’. Recording studios often use computer software that enables the correction of an out-of-tune vocal performance. After hearing a tape of myself singing during a worship service, I could certainly use auto-tune.
Life presents us with many of perplexing problems and situations that merit our prayers. However, some of them seem so complex that we struggle with exactly how we should pray. God’s word that states, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9, NKJV). We don’t want our human weakness to cause us to ask amiss. How grateful we can be that the Lord understands the weaknesses and imperfections in our spiritual life. Although our intensions are to be perfectly in tune with Him, our fallen nature limits us.
Nevertheless, if we approach Him with clean hands and a pure heart, His grace makes provision for us. It is the Lord’s original version of auto-tune. Scripture assures us, “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercessions for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27, NKJV).
Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done.” When we do so, we acknowledge God’s right to rule. We do not pray, “My will be done”; we pray, “Thy will be done.” Asking that God’s will be done is a demonstration of our trust that He knows what is best. It is a statement of submission to God’s ways and His plans. We ask for our will to be conformed to His. The Holy Spirit can take my ‘out-of-tune’ prayers and express the cries of my heart to the Father in an appropriate and acceptable manner.
The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer.—Psalm 6:9
I suppose it’s to be expected that after sixty-plus years in ministry unrelated things often remind me of a spiritual principle or a scripture. A recent situation serves as a case in point. As I was driving to a nearby town, I noticed a highway sign that read, “RIDE SHARE AND SAVE”. I was definitely aware of the intended purpose of the message, but certain spiritual principles started coming to mind.
My thought process was something like this:
First came the scripture, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 5:2, NKJV). I thought, “If I share my journey with Christ with others along the way, and if I help carry their burdens, I am fulfilling the law of Christ”.
Then a second scripture came to my mind and made a connection, “Show mercy to those who doubt. Pull others out of the fire. Save them” (Jude 22-23, NIV). I need to be actively involved in helping win the lost to Jesus.
The spiritual lessons that came to me from that road sign are:
As a Christian, I need to be aware of those around me with whom I can ‘Ride Share’. I can bear testimony to the Lord’s desire to be their burden bearer. He has been that for me and He wants to be that for others. “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior who daily bears our burdens” (Psalm 68:19, NIV).
As a Christian, I also need to be aware of those around me who are going the wrong direction. They are headed for the Judgement that will separate them from God and all that is good. I need to point them to the warning ‘signs’ the Lord has provided. I need to accept my God-given responsibility of being a ‘watchman’ and forewarn them (see Ezekiel 33). I have a role to play in saving them from destruction, and by doing so, save myself.
I often wonder how many signs (messages) the Lord has placed along my way that I have missed. Jesus said, “Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?” (Mark 8:18, NIV). The words of a hymn by Clara Scott expresses the prayer of my heart:
Open my eyes, that I may see Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me; Place in my hands the wonderful key That shall unclasp and set me free. Silently now I wait for Thee, Ready my God, Thy will to see, Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!
Well over 50 years ago, I made my first trip to Canada. I was with my new wife and her family. My wife’s father loved to fish in a remote river valley in Ontario Province. As a ‘poor’ boy from Eastern Kentucky, I had little travel experience. I was thrilled and amazed by beauty of the rugged, near-wilderness terrain.
One afternoon while the family was taking an afternoon nap, I set out exploring. Some distance into the woods, in an area where I was sure no foot other than Native people had walked, I came across several large timbers and other remnants of a structure. It proved to be the ruins of an old mine. I moved a rotting plank and something bright and shiny caught my eye. I brushed away the debris and there it was – a gold nugget. Tossing aside other rubble, I uncover a couple more nuggets. I headed back to the cabin on a run. I was so excited to show my father-in-law the gold nuggets. He was somewhat less excited about my treasure than I was.
He smiled and said one word – “Pyrite.” Pyrite is a mineral that has a famous nickname, “Fool’s Gold“. The mineral’s gold color, metallic luster, and high specific gravity often cause it to be mistaken for gold by inexperienced prospectors like me. That day, I became acquainted with an aphorism that states, ‘all that glitters is not gold’. That was a life lesson that is as true today as it was the day I found the ‘gold’. I now understand that not everything that is shiny and superficially attractive is valuable.
The words of Jesus in John 7:24 are profound: “Don’t judge by appearances. Judge by what is right” (NIV). Another translation says, “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly” (NLT). Yet another reliable translation says, “Be honest in your judgment and do not decide at a glance (superficially and by appearances); but judge fairly and righteously” (AMP).
One of our big issues today is the persistent tendency to judge according to appearance. We often judge a person according to their looks. In his book Hide or Seek, Dr. James Dobson says that “physical beauty is the most highly valued personal attribute in our culture”. We have made it what he calls “the gold coin of human worth”. We judge a used car by its exterior. We judge a book by its cover. No matter how often we are disappointed and disillusioned, it seems we stubbornly refuse to learn that all is not gold that glitters.
Prayer: Lord, help us to see things as You see them. “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7, NIV).
A late spring cold snap caused a chill in our patio room, which is mostly windows. I turned the electric baseboard heat up to a comfortable setting. No heat. I called the maintenance office, and soon an electrician was at our front door. Within a couple of minutes, he diagnosed the problem – ‘circuit breaker‘. I should have thought of that! But to my own defense, I’ve never had electric heat before and didn’t think to check the breaker box. He reset the breaker, and all was well.
A circuit breaker is an electrical switch designed to protect an electrical circuit from damage caused by overcurrent/overload or short circuit. At times, I think we need a ‘circuit breaker’ in our personal lives. When burdens and cares threaten to overcome us, we need protection against permanent mental and emotional harm. Jesus can be our circuit breaker.
God’s word says, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7, NIV). Jesus wants to be our burden bearer, our circuit breaker. Isaiah 53:4 offers this prophecy about Jesus: “Surely, He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” The Psalmist writes, “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior who daily bears our burdens” (Psalm 68:19, NIV).
When I feel the pressures of life building toward overload proportions, I stop, take a deep breath, and pray. What beautiful solace I have found in this wonderful old hymn;
Sweet hour of prayer! Sweet hour of prayer That calls me from a world of care And bids me at my Father’s throne Make all my wants and wishes known. In seasons of distress and grief My soul has often found relief And oft escaped the tempter’s snare By Thy return, sweet hour of prayer. (~ W.W. Walford)
The following scripture is often a refuge for my soul when I sense a short circuit about to occur: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7, NIV).
“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior who daily bears our burdens.”(Psalm 68:19, NIV)
For some time now, I have been increasingly aware of the proliferation of ‘bad’ language. I am troubled by the wide acceptance of profanity, obscenity, and vulgarity in our everyday conversations. You hear it on TV, in the movies, in music, at the office, in the stores, on school grounds, and even in churches. I cannot help but wonder what has happened to our society that curse words are so acceptable these days. Children are learning to swear at an earlier age. Timothy Jay, a noted psychology professor, suggests that the rise in profanity among children is not surprising, given the general rise in the use of swearing among adults since the 1980’s.
Perhaps you have some acquaintances like I do whose speech is peppered with language so foul that you cringe. What seemed to be the exception in the past is now commonplace. An old idiom seems to sum up my feelings about people who use profane language: “He’s a manure salesman with a mouthful of samples”.
Many years ago, my wife and I worked regularly in Jamaica at a boy’s home for orphaned or abandoned boys. Anthony, one of the boy’s there, won our hearts. He has become a part of our family. He is grown now and has a son named Roy Nick. One day, Anthony and Roy Nick were taking a walk. They had stopped to rest and were sitting on a bamboo bench. An acquaintance of Anthony came by and sat down. During the conversation, the man used several “bad words”. Roy Nick leaned forward and said to the man, “Don’t you see me? You are not supposed to use words like that around a little boy.” Even at his early age, Roy Nick intuitively knew the destructive nature of such language.
God’s word is clear, such language is unacceptable! It is more than a bad habit. It is destructive and lowers the moral climate around us. Hear a few of the things God’s word says;
“Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” (Ephesians 5:4, ESV)
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”(Exodus 20:7, ESV)
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:6, ESV)
“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”(Luke 6:45, ESV)
“The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse.”(Proverbs 10:32, ESV)
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” (James 1:26, ESV)
Prayer: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.”(Titus 2:11-14, NASB)
As our Sunday School teacher was leading us through an excellent lesson on Paul’s letter to Titus, a familiar phrase leaped from the page in a way it has never before. I say familiar, because I remember being required to memorize Titus 2:11-14 in Bible school. It was one of the thirty texts that Wesley identified as crucial to his understanding of sin, salvation, and sanctification. It is a passage bursting with key elements of holiness doctrine: grace, salvation for all men, denying worldly desires, living righteously in the present age, redemption, purity, a people set apart.
The familiar phrase that struck me in a new way was the last phrase of the passage: “zealous for good deeds”. The question that immediately came to my mind was, “I am really zealous for good deeds?”
So much of the religious training of my youth was centered on what I was to avoid. Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal, don’t swear, don’t lust, don’t disobey, and so on and so on. And to be clear, there are many things that a Christian should avoid. But I don’t remember as much emphasis placed on something the New Testament consistently admonishes – to do good:
“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”(Matthew 5:16)
“But love your enemies, and do good,” (Luke 6:35)
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,” (Ephesians 2:10)
“Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,” (I Timothy 6:18)
“Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful.” (Titus 3:14)
“And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,” (Hebrews 10:24)
“Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” (I Peter 2:12)
“Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good.” (3 John 1:11)
Now don’t misunderstand me: nothing we do can ever earn the salvation that God freely offers through the sacrifice of Jesus. But it is clear through the testimony of scripture that God’s desire for His redeemed people is that they be “zealous for good deeds”.
I have known many believers who were zealous in standing against sin. We are often quick to rebuke and criticize elements of our culture and actions within our churches that do not conform to God’s design. I have seen such zeal exercised with gentleness and grace, but I have also seen it expressed with judgement and contempt. Where I haven’t seen so much zeal in my experience (and this is a confession on my own part) is in a similar passion for doing good.
In Romans 12:1-2, Paul urges his brothers and sisters to present their bodies as living sacrifices and to be transformed by the renewing of their minds, then he goes on through the next couple of chapters describing what the transformed life of a living sacrifice looks like. Among other things, Paul admonishes the believers to use their gifts, to serve for serving’s sake, to give with generosity, the lead with diligence, to show mercy with cheerfulness, to love without hypocrisy, to be devoted to one another in love, to give preference to one another in honor, to serve the Lord, to rejoice in hope, to persevere in tribulation, to be devoted to prayer, to contribute to the needs of the saints, to practice hospitality, to bless those who persecute them, to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, to associate with the lowly, to respect what is right, to be at peace with all people, to care for your enemy’s needs, to be subject to governing authorities, and to fulfill the duties of citizenship. That’s a great list of good deeds; do we have any zeal to accomplish them? What if we got so busy doing good that we didn’t have any time for evil?
When Jesus described the Last Judgment in Matthew 25:31-46, he contrasted between the sheep (the righteous) and the goats (the wicked). For all the emphasis we often place on avoiding bad behavior, Jesus did not say the sheep avoided bad things while the goats did bad things. Rather, the difference between the righteous and the wicked was the good they did or did not do for the least of those among us. To the righteous, the King will say, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me…Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”
Lord, I pray that You would redeem me from every lawless deed, that You would purify me to be set apart for you, and that You would give me zeal for doing good.
“Let us not become weary in doing good.” (Galatians 6:9, NIV)
During a recent Sunday School lesson based on Genesis 3, our teacher used a fascinating idiom. Although it was new to me, its meaning was obvious. The teacher said, “You can’t un-ring a bell.” The reference was to the fact that once Adam and Eve had disobeyed God and sinned, they couldn’t undo their action.
What a simple, yet profound truth! It is well worth remembering in our daily walk through life. Once an action is taken, it can’t be undone. Once something has been done, it is unwise to act as if hadn’t happened. We have to live with the consequences of the action. Neither can we rescind information that has been shared with others, especially when it is damaging to a person’s reputation. Attempting to do so is as futile as trying to “un-ring” a bell.
There is a slogan used by a commercial cleaning business that states, “Like It Never Happened”. It may be possible to apply the slogan to cleaning and restoration after a waterline break or smoke damage, but not to action involving other people and especially involving God.
Biblical examples and warnings abound. The tragic events surrounding David’s relationship with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11-12) serve as a powerful reminder of the principle advanced in this devotional. Jephthah’s story found in Judges 11-12 is another chilling case of an action that could not be rescinded. Fellow pilgrims, let us carefully weigh our actions in light of God’s word and His will for our lives.
The following Scripture provides us with wonderful truth: “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them Your servant is warned, And in keeping them there is great reward. Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me” (Psalm 19:7-13, NKJV).