Isaiah 29:13-14 – “And the Lord said: ‘Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, therefore behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.’”
When I was a kid, I had an active imagination. I would often create pretend worlds where I could be anyone I wanted to be. Sometimes, I would be an astronaut; I would sit under a stool chair and use the tight space to replicate what it would feel like to fly in a one-man rocket ship. At school, I would pretend to be the leader of a group of time-travelers, using the monkey bars and rings on the playground as obstacles that we would have to pass to achieve our mission before pressing a few buttons on my watch “to get us home.” And of course, like any boy under the age of ten, I occasionally pretended to be a superhero. Who doesn’t want the opportunity to pretend to be Batman? Even when people get older, they still enjoy playing pretend. That’s why Halloween has become such a big holiday. It gives adults a chance to put on a costume and pretend to be someone else for a night. But after the parties, trick-or-treating, and fun are all over, the costumes are put away, and we go back to reality – a reality of work, school, and other responsibilities. There is no more make-believe, no more false fronts, no more false pretenses, right? Wrong! Sadly, many people pretend to be something they are not on a daily basis. They pretend to be kind-hearted, caring people but are just self-centered narcissists. They act one way in public and another in private. They treat people one way in front of their faces and another behind their backs. They lie about what they are doing or not doing or are capable of doing. Basically a lot of people put on a mask and fake their way through life (at least in public). A lot of people are hypocrites.
And much to my dismay, these people are often found in the church. Some think that this is a new issue for the church, but it has been a problem for God’s people since the beginning. In our passage from Isaiah today, God rebuked His people for pretending to love Him. He said, “…this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men…” God’s people said the right words, performed the right sacrifices, and did all they were “supposed” to do, but they did not really love Him. They were just following the commandments of men. They didn’t fear (respect) God, because of who He is, but because people told them to and taught them to do so. Basically, they were going through the motions of following and worshipping God, but their hearts were not with Him. The same thing was said about the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:2-5, “2 I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” They did everything right, but they had lost sight of Christ.
These same words can be said about the Christian church today. We have lost our first love. So many of us go to church physically every Sunday morning, every Wednesday evening, and every Saturday morning prayer meeting, but spiritually we are not there. Our hearts and minds are wandering, while our bodies go through the motions of worshipping God. We say we love Him with our mouths, but our hearts are far from Him. We say we fear God, but we don’t really know Him outside of what people tell us in a sermon or Bible study. So many of us have neglected our daily devotions and prayer times, not really knowing our Heavenly Father at a personal level. That is why the Christian church today seems so weak, so cowardly, so worldly; many Christians today are just playing pretend. And what’s worse is that there are some in the church today who don’t even know Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. They are simply following what they have been taught since they are children to make mom and dad happy instead of really worshipping God for God Himself. If we continue on this path, the condition and reputation of the church will just degrade.
The beautiful thing though is that we have a merciful and gracious God who does not throw us out for playing pretend, but instead calls us to be real with Him. He is calling us today like He did with the church in Ephesus, “Remember your first love.” Return to Christ with all your heart. It is not about the ministry. It is not about the worship services. It is not about the lessons or works you do. It is about Jesus. Focus your heart on Him again. Fear Him for He is God, not because people told you to. Love Him not because you were taught to sing it in song, but because your heart truly loves Him. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, so that the world may see the church not as a group of pretenders but a group of people whose hearts are in passionate love with the Savior of our souls.
Psalm 147:4 – “He determines the number of stars; He gives to all of them their names.”
When I was a child, I wanted to be an astronaut, or at least, somebody who would explore the vast expanse of space. This interest likely began with the Star Wars movies and grew as I observed the stars that dotted the beautiful night sky. I was curious as to what may be found in this unexplored territory. What could be waiting to be discovered in a galaxy far, far away? What would it be like to see the beautiful rings of Saturn up close and personal? What would it feel like to experience the cold frigid climates of Pluto? And what other amazing things were there to behold in the thousands of other galaxies out there? But as I grew older, I stopped looking up and eventually this interest faded. Nonetheless, every time it’s dark enough, those stars will catch my eyes, and I will be astounded at the beauty of God’s creation.
One of the things that amaze me most is the amount of stars there are in the universe. According to www.space.com (http://www.space.com/26078-how-many-stars-are-there.html), using a rough estimate, there are at least 100 octillion stars (1 with 29 zeroes behind it), which is 1 with 19 zeroes behind it fold more than the people on the planet. Now, imagine trying to know the name of every single person on this planet. You would have to admit that that would be near impossible; it’s hard enough as it is to remember the name of a person you just met. Yet our passage says that God gave and knows each and every star by name. Our God is concerned enough about the stars to know each of their names, and they aren’t even the best of His creation. According to the Bible, we are considered the best of God’s creation, and if He cared this much for the stars in the sky, how can we ever doubt that He cares for us?
Verse after verse in the Bible reminds us of God’s love for us. Romans 5:8 states, “…But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Ephesians 2:4-5 states, “But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved…” God loved and cared for us so much that He gave up His Son for us. He loved us so much that He died for us. How can we doubt His love? How can we ever be afraid that He doesn’t care for us? But when we are in trouble and things aren’t working out the way we planned it, we often think that God has stopped caring for us. We begin to doubt that He loves us. We begin to doubt that He is watching over us. We begin to doubt He even knows our names. But He is always watching over us. He has every hair on our heads numbered (Matthew 10:30); He knows our every thought (Psalm 139:2); He knows our every need (Matthew 6:8). God is always thinking, caring, and loving us.
Whenever you feel down or unwanted, uncared for or unloved, remember how this verse displays God’s love and care for His Creation. If He knows the name of every star in the sky, He certainly knows yours. If He is concerned with feeding the sparrows and clothing the grass each morning, then He cares for your needs. If He proclaims His creation as good (Genesis 1), then He sees you as very good. Never forget that God knows your name.
Psalm 132:1-5 – “Remember, O LORD, in David’s favor, all the hardships he endured, how he swore to the LORD and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob, ‘I will not enter my house or get into my bed, I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, until I find a place for the LORD, a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.’”
Psalm 132 was one of the Psalms on my daily Bible reading list today, and while reading it, I was drawn to these five verses. I assume that my interest in these verses had something to do with both my lack of writing for this blog in the past few months and my last post on procrastination. Because of that and the lesson found in these verses, I figured that I would not delay in writing and posting something about how these verses spoke to me. Interestingly, while beginning to write, I found out that I had already written a post about procrastination previously using these same verses as well. But instead of just not posting at all, I figured that maybe somebody needed to read another post on procrastination, and I probably needed to remind myself of that same lesson too.
The first Temple was the most beautiful Temple built for God in the history of Israel, or at least, that’s what it sounds like when you read its description in 1 Kings 6 and 2 Chronicles 3-4. It was built with cedar wood; most of it was inlaid with gold; it had elaborate carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and flowers; and almost all of the furnishings were bronze or gold. This building must have been a beautiful sight to see, and I bet if Herodotus saw it, it would have been included in his list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The building of this Temple is often attributed to Solomon, because it was during his reign and leadership that the Temple was built; but unknown to most, it was his father, King David that made most of the preparations. It was David that had the desire to build the Temple in the first place (2 Samuel 7). It was David that set the location where it would be built (2 Chronicles 3:1). It was David who had all the plans as to how it was supposed to be built (1 Chronicles 28:11-18). He had made sure to provide for the wood, the gold, the silver, the bronze, the iron, and even the plans of Temple service for the priests, Levites, and musicians (1 Chronicles 22-26). David wanted to make sure that the Temple of God was not delayed in its building in any way, and he did all that he could do in order to get it done.
We all value sleep, because we know that we usually need eight hours of rest to function the next day. But in our passage today we find that David was so determined to do God’s work that he would give up sleep for it. It says that he had vowed not to enter his house, to get into bed, or to even sleep until he could find a place to build the Temple for the Lord his God. He had set his mind to do this work of God, and he would do his utmost to make sure it was fulfilled. He would not delay. He would not put it aside. He would not rest, until what God had called him to do was done. It is true that David was not given this task directly by God and was even told that he would not be able to build the Temple himself, for his hands were stained with blood; but even then, he knew that his job was to prepare for the Temple’s building, and he would not stop, until his role was done. Often times, we are moved by the Holy Spirit to do something for God, whether it be sharing the Gospel with a friend or family member, giving to someone or a ministry in need, or helping out a neighbor. Whatever that thing may be, do not delay in doing it. Do not allow yourself to go to bed until that one thing is done. In my case, at this time, it was to post this blog post, but for you it might be something else completely. When we have a final to study for or a job presentation to give, we will spend all night slaving away until we feel we are ready. Why would we do anything less for the work of God? Is not His work more important? Don’t wait one more hour, one more second, one more day, or one more sleep cycle before you do His will. Do the work of God now, lest you miss the opportunity to be a part of something great, because you were asleep.
Acts 22:12-16 – “‘And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing by me said to me, “Brother Saul, receive your sight.” And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. And he said, “The god of our fathers appointed you to know His will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from His mouth; for you will be a witness for Him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name.”’”
We are masters of procrastination; no matter what the assignment is we can find a reason for not doing it when we have the opportunity to do so. Back in high school and college, I often left my homework and lab reports undone until the last minute. I would know a week, and often times, months in advance when each one of these assignments were due; but instead of working on them ahead of time, I would just wait until two or three days before the due date and stay up late putting something together. This bad habit continues to creep up on me even now. I put off presentations that I need to do for work till the day before. I put off writing things to post on this blog for the night before (when I used to try to post weekly). I put off applications for advance degree programs and scholarships. Just the other day, I sent an application in for a scholarship two days before it was due, when I knew two months beforehand that I had to fill one out. I even procrastinated writing this specific post. I seem to procrastinate with everything in my life. The funny (not in a HAHA way but a sad way) thing is that I probably am not the worst procrastinator you know. I’m sure that you can think of at least two or three people in your life (which may include yourself) who don’t only put off things a few days before it’s due but minutes before it’s due. In high school, some of my friends would try to finish their homework assignments while waiting for the teacher to enter the classroom the day it was due. It was amazing that they managed to pass! I can almost safely say that most of us have accepted that procrastination is a part of our lives.
What’s worse is that we procrastinate with spiritual matters! So many people procrastinate when it comes to things related to God. If God told them to do something, they will put it off. If God has called them to salvation, they will say, “It can wait till later.” I read a chapter from C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters just the other day and found that one of the ways Screwtape, prevented an atheist from turning to Christ was simply to make him put it off to another day. In the letter he wrote to his nephew Wormwood, he basically told him, the key to preventing a person from turning to God was to simply move his attention to something else – make him put off the decision to accept God or to even think of Him to another time, and he will be trapped forever. I think this act of spiritual warfare was probably used on Governor Felix in Acts 24:24-27. Paul shared the Gospel with Felix and when convicted of his need for salvation instead of turning to God at that moment he said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.” He put it off for another day, and from the following verses, it sounds like he just kept putting it off and never became a Christian. This is why there is a Bible verse that says, “…Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2b). If God is calling you to search for Him, if He is calling you to know Him more, if He is calling you to receive Him as your Lord and Savior, then do so today! Don’t procrastinate, because the time will not always be there. The more you say, “No!” to the Holy Spirit’s prodding, the more your heart will grow hardened to hear it. Our passage today has Apostle Paul sharing his testimony to the Jewish people. He was going to Damascus to persecute the Christian church, when suddenly on the way, Christ appeared to Him and told Him that a disciple named Ananias would tell him what to do next. When Ananias came, he shared the Gospel with Paul, told him why God had called Him, and said something very poignant, “And now why do you wait?” He was telling Paul not to linger, and Paul answered the call that night. We should not linger; we should not wait. When God has called us, it is time to answer immediately.
This post is not simply for unbelievers who are on the fence about Christianity though. I am writing this post to speak also to those who are already disciples of Christ. God has given us a job to do as His disciples and that is to share the Gospel and make more disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). So often we procrastinate. We say that we can put it off for another day. We can share the Gospel with that person tomorrow or another time when we get the chance. BUT WE MAY NEVER GET THAT CHANCE AGAIN. It is said that D. L. Moody, a famous Christian evangelist in the 1800s, once preached in Chicago and instead of making an altar call that night told the people listening to think about what he had said and come back another time to decide whether they really wanted to give their lives to Christ. That night, the Great Chicago Fire occurred, and many lost their lives. Who knows who might have put off the decision for salvation because of what he had said? When God has called us to do something, we should no wait or linger either. We should respond to the call immediately. We should not use prayer as an excuse for not doing it. We should not use seeking godly counsel as a reason for not doing it. If you aren’t sure God said it, then wait; but if God has made a certain call, then answer immediately. Maybe He is calling you to a mission field. Maybe He is calling you to the ministry. Maybe He is calling to seminary. Or maybe He wants you to share the Gospel with your best friend or family member. The truth is that if you choose not to do the work, God’s work will still happen; it will just happen without you. And trust me, you don’t want to miss out on an opportunity God is giving you. You will be amazed to see what will be accomplished when you respond to God immediately. STOP PROCRASTINATING AND GET TO WORK ON WHAT GOD HAS CALLED YOU TO DO!
For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
IV. Place your value in Jesus Christ and your personal relationship with Him.
As Paul grew more and more in His relationship with Christ, he realized more and more what he should put his faith, value, confidence, and pride in. It was not in his family lineage, his accomplishments, and his own righteousness; it was in Christ Jesus his Lord. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Compared to Christ, everything in his life was rubbish. He counted it all as loss, and in reality, he gave all of his accolades, his accomplishments, his righteousness under the law up, so that he could have a relationship with Jesus Christ. This Pharisees of Pharisees, this persecutor of the church eventually became a martyr for Christ. This man who could have enjoyed a privileged life decided to endure stonings, beatings, imprisonings, revilings all to know Christ more. Paul gave up the pride he had placed in himself and placed his dependence on God. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul said that he would boast all the more gladly in his weakness, so that the power of Christ would rest on Him. All he ever sought was to have a closer walk with God. All he valued in life was Christ. The way he valued his life was by his relationship with Christ. He saw himself as worthwhile, because he had a relationship with the Creator of the Universe, the Savior of all. When he preached, he did not use elaborate messages that drew people to him, but preached the simple message of the cross, because he wanted people to know that all that mattered was Christ and that their value and faith should be in Christ not himself. Paul recognized the surpassing worth of being dependent on God.
We need to start considering our value by considering where we are in our relationship with Christ. We should not judge whether we are worth something by the world’s standards of education and salaries. We should not judge whether we are worth something by how righteous or good our actions are. We should not judge our worth based on our family relations. But our pride should be in our weaknesses, because it is in our weaknesses that we are most dependent on God. In the past few weeks, God has been sharing lesson and lesson with me on pride. He saw how dependent I was on myself and how I was seeking my own glory and wanted me to realize that what was most important was Him. I needed to be torn down, so that I could see how much I needed Him. Where I placed my value should have been in His cross, His love, His righteousness, not my own accomplishments. Christ deserved my praise. Christ deserved my love. Christ deserved everything from me. It was only when I started to value myself in this way that I started to realize how much I needed God and that produced in me a heart of gratefulness. Take the time today to think of what you have been placing your value in and begin to place it instead on God. Seek to know Him more. Seek a closer walk with Him. Seek a heart of dependence on Him, for everything else is loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord. Oh! To know Him more!