Category Archives: Church Life

Freeze Tag

freeze tag

It’s the movie my little girl loves and her older brothers tolerate because of one very funny little snowman and some trolls. This movie has been lauded for amazing songs and parodied in almost every way possible. It has also caused a swirl of controversy over the possibly not-so-hidden agenda of those who created it.

I, of course, am talking about Frozen. It broke the debut record set by the Lion King and changed lives (and ears) of elementary school teachers everywhere. There is much more I could say about this movie, but I want to make one – hopefully – unexpected application.

Many Christians have been upset by a trend set by Disney that is, at best, moving away from traditional family values as established by God (cf. Genesis 2:24). Instead of focusing on that, may I suggest that we spend our energy sending our “own” message?

You see, when I saw Frozen, I saw a young woman in the beginning stages of a romance with the “reindeer king” decide that sacrificing her own wants and even needs was the right thing to do. She knew someone else, her sister, needed her help much more than she needed “true love’s kiss” so she put her desires and her life on hold to offer that help.

Now, I’m sure that’s not the message Disney intended. But instead of allowing the world to dictate what we see and hear, why don’t we make some noise about an altruistic, others-focused love that sounds an awful lot like what we are told to do in the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) and in countless other passages of scripture (e.g. John 15:13, Mark 12:31). Maybe if we as Christians were busier teaching God’s way instead of bemoaning the agenda of others, we could be that light that Christ called us to be (Matthew 5:14).

See the bigger picture. Show the love God wants us to show. Put others first. Play “freeze tag.”

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:13

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“Ohhhhhh Boy!”

ohhhhhh boy

Many years ago a gentleman was born in western Kentucky named Odell Lamb. They called him “Red Lamb” because of his wavy red locks and his ruddy complexion. Odell went from the Kentucky farm to the German battlefields. He served in World War II and was present at the Battle of the Bulge. He came back to the Unites States and settled down with his wife Edna.  They had two children together. He worked at the stove plant and also farmed in beautiful Calloway County.

By the time I came to the New Providence church, Odell had lived a long and healthy life. He was retired, but still farming. He had served as an elder in the church for many years, but had now left that work, too. I was only 25; he was about to turn 80. He had a kindness about him. His smile was warm and genuine. He never missed an opportunity to worship with the saints. He always – ALWAYS wore a suit.

Every once in a while there is a person in your life who brings nothing but positive things. In the four years I preached at New Providence, Odell Lamb was peace and joy. Always encouraging – always thankful – always one of my biggest fans. He was dependable, and as solid as a Christian man could be in every aspect of life. He was honorable, he was gentle, he was strong, and he was loving. If you wanted a walking definition of a mature Christian, you would look no further than Red Lamb. When he prayed, you could tell you were listening to a man who had prayed before. He talked with God as one who had carried on life’s conversations with his Creator for more than a generation.

In 2003, I left green fields of Kentucky winter wheat for the rolling hills and streams of southern Tennessee. But I still go back to Murray State Racer country now and then. When I go, I always stop by and look for Mr. Lamb. He resides at Emeritus, an assisted living facility for the elderly. Last October when I saw him he was in bed and could not leave it. I was sure that visit with my friend would be our last. But this past Wednesday, I stopped by again and he was still there; still in bed, and only two weeks short of his 95th birthday. When I walked in the door he immediately straightened up, smiled, and exclaimed, “Jeremiah! I never would have thought it!” We sat and talked for awhile about old times and caught up on the new. What a wonderful visit we shared with one another!

Before I left our discussion turned to more serious matters, and he said to me plainly, “I am ready to go to heaven.” “So ready….Ohhhhhhh boy!” As I relay his words it is impossible for me to express his tone of voice and the look behind his eyes. But he said these words with excitement, joy, and a deep longing for something he had been working toward for 95 years. He did not say this because he was unhappy. He was not complaining about his age or the weakness of his body. He was simply saying that he was so blessed to be a Christian and that his time on earth was over and he could hardly stand to wait any longer. He said these things with the understanding that the better country was on the horizon and he could almost touch it. I have seen many a weary Christian long for heaven on a bed of affliction. But I do not know if I have ever seen a deeper joy, a greater hope, or a truer, more genuine faith.

I left and thought, wow! I had just seen something really special. I now know what I want if I ever live to be old. I want that feeling. I want that confidence. I want that anticipation. I want that hope.

Heaven is really going to be glorious beyond imagination. I pray that one day I will be able to see it from the place where I lay my head and say, “Ohhhhhhh boy!”

“For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland.”

– Hebrews 11:14

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Never Out of Character

 

never out of character

It has been a while since the comedian, Robin Williams, took his own life. Probably by now, millions of words have been written and read about him, his career, his family, etc. In addition to that, countless words have been written about depression, suicide, the “shallowness” of fame and fortune, and a host of other things connected with him and his passing.

I hesitate to add to all of the dialogue, but one comment I heard has been on my mind ever since I heard it shortly after his death. The comment was made by a man who was identified as a friend of his.

I can’t remember the exact quote, but it was something to the effect that this friend had known Mr. Williams for thirty-five years, but that he had never really known him. The reason for that, his friend said was (and I do remember this part of the quote) “he was never out of character.”

By that, of course, he meant that Robin Williams was always “putting on an act.” Even when he was not in the spotlight, he was “on”…even with close friends. For that reason, maybe nobody ever saw the “real” person.

Some of the thoughts I’ve had about that quote center around word that is used in both the Old and New Testament. Interestingly enough, every occurrence in the New Testament is from the lips of Jesus Himself. It is also of interest that our Lord had nothing good to say about this word.

That word is “hypocrite.” According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, the Greek word means:

…a ‘stage actor’; it was a custom for Greek and Roman actors to speak in large masks with mechanical devices for augmenting the force of the voice; hence the word became used metaphorically of ‘a dissembler, a hypocrite.

It is important for each of us to be “real.” This seems to be especially true with regard to those who are close to us. How sad it would be for a friend, a child, or a spouse to never really know us.

However, there is another and even more important aspect of this. Every time Jesus used the word “hypocrite” He was talking to or about religious people. He denounced them because their worship of, devotion to, and relationship with God were all just part of an act. In short, it could be said that their entire life could be characterized as being never out of character.

What the world saw was the mask; not the real person. What our Lord saw was the real person and He did not like it at all.

Please consider some words written a long time ago by David. They may help all of us to determine whether our commitment to God is real or if we are merely playing a part.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!

Try me and know my thoughts!

And see if there be any grievous way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting!

–Psalm 139:23-24

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What I Learned when I Quit Facebook

what i learned when i quit facebook

I like to communicate. I like a room full of people. I like activity. I like to share ideas and thoughts and dreams with others. I am a people person. The advancement of social media for a person like me has caused a reaction similar to that of my six-year old daughter when she recently tried a new dish. She took one bite and said, “Where have you been all my life?!”

As an evangelist I use social media for the gospel’s sake. I have had countless Bible studies and private spiritual discussions involving counseling online. I have left “chat” immediately to meet the very people I have been chatting with at the church building to baptize them. I do not deny many friend requests because I want to be a link between people and God. This is my job. I know Jesus is the only mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5), but I want to be a link between people and the mediator. I care for souls and this love for people influences my decisions within the social realm.

But social media can take over your life if you are not careful. I had to cancel my Facebook account once and start again when the number of friends reached over 3000. Slowly but surely it began to build again. By the end of last year, I needed a break. I decided to quit all social media for a month with absolutely no cheating. I did not look on anyone else’s page. I did not ask questions. If people started talking about anything related to social media I walked away. It was a refreshing experience. Several realizations came in the process.

1. Social media can become an addiction just like anything else. It can drain time and energy and productivity. Don’t get me wrong, it can be a blessing in many ways and it is not wrong to engage in it. But if you want to know if you are addicted I have one easy litmus test: Do you ever sit in your office or at home at night on your computer, phone, or tablet refreshing newsfeed? Yeah, you may have a problem.

2. Social media can keep a person from engaging in real relationships. If you have to use media to have a relationship with someone, you may be living in a false reality. Some use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to create a person they want people to see but is not truly them. They post certain pictures and say certain things in order to project the person they wish they were. Looks can be deceiving. The best person you are is the person you are in public – talking with people, working, and being a regular part of society. The world deserves the real you. You need to contribute and be functional in the outside world. Never hide behind technology.

3. Social media keeps us in the loop. It’s the 21st century. Some people might want to think about deciding to enter it with the rest of us. I was amazed at how much information I was gleaning from social media, especially Facebook. My timeline for gathering information or finding out about situations was considerably affected when I left. If you want to minister to people information is valuable. I lost several opportunities to be a Christian influence when I stepped away for a month. In truth I am definitely closer on some level to people whom I communicate with electronically. If you don’t answer email, text, return calls, or do any social media in today’s world you are almost a hermit. Sometimes people reject these avenues of communication because they really are very private and just want to be left alone.

4. Quitting anything you habitually practice is healthy for you physically, mentally, and spiritually. I would suggest at least a short break from anything that consumes a fair amount of your time. You are missing out on the rest of the world if you dwell too often with the same people in the same places. You need to drive outside of town on a clear night and just look at the stars for a while. You need to take your kids fishing or to the park. You need to go have a long and meaningful one-on-one conversation with an older person you love who will not be here forever. If you will step away for a few days or weeks you will be practicing one of the fruits of the spirit: self-control. And let’s face it, self-control is the hardest spiritual fruit of all for anyone to grow – and the tree God wants us to be growing cannot plug in to an electronic outlet. The only real and lasting power is in His Word.

“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.”

– Philippians 3:7

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A Disconnected Connected Society

a disconnected connected society

Posts, tweets, pins, links, updates…

The list goes on and on.

IMHO, we are becoming the most disconnected connected people who have ever lived. (By the way; did you see how cool I am? I know tech speak for “in my humble opinion!”)

We know what is going on with somebody half-way around the world whom we have  “accepted” as a “friend” (even though we’ve never met them), or “follow,” are “linked in with,” or are in some other way connected electronically. At the same time, we have no idea what is going on with our spouse who is sitting right next to us; our children who live in the same house; our real friends who have been there for us at difficult times in our lives; the people who live next door to us; and/or a host of other people we used to know and spend time with before we got hooked on our electronic devices.

People who know me know that I’m sort of a sucker for this stuff. I guess it started with the iPhone.  I was among the millions who were “wowed” by it. I couldn’t believe that one little device was capable of doing all that it could do.

It took me a while to get an iPhone, but, once I did, I was hooked. Although I’ve gone to the dark side and now have an Android phone (and tablet), I’m still intrigued by the possibilities that electronics provide for us.

I’m also intrigued and saddened by what I am observing; that is, when I look up from my phone or tablet. Increasingly, I am seeing (and sometimes participating in) a scenario in which family members, friends, etc. can all be in the same room and are all communicating. The problem is that they (we) are communicating with somebody somewhere else. Instead of sharing their (our) lives with those who should be the closest to us, something as trivial as a joke or a cute picture is being shared with somebody who may not even care enough to look at it.

I’ve never had the privilege of sitting right behind home plate in the front row of a major league baseball game. I don’t expect I ever will have that privilege.

However, as I’m sitting at home miles away from the stadium, I’ve watched as that center-field camera zooms in to the home plate area. I have seen people who occupy a seat I can only dream of having. I’ve watched them texting, emailing, or doing something other than watching the game. I’m wondering how much money they spent on those tickets — and why.

When was the last time you went to a sporting event (maybe even a little league game in which your child was playing) and just watched the game?

When was the last time you enjoyed some of God’s wonderful creation without feeling compelled to share your experience with the world?

When was the last time you and your spouse had an uninterrupted real conversation?

When was the last time your entire family sat around the same table at the same time and enjoyed a meal without any electronic interference?

When was the last time you “unplugged” and just lived life with those whom you love?

I’m beginning to think that there is, in fact, a disconnected connected society. I’m beginning to also think I’m a part of that society.

How about you?

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How Sexual Lust Destroys the Great Commission

how sexual lust destoys great commission

Every Christian knows the Great Commission. Jesus taught us to take the Gospel to the whole world, and to make disciples of all nations (see Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:16). When we hear those verses, we often just shut our ears off because we have heard them countless times before.

Still, we know it is a command to be fulfilled.

And yet, there are various hindrances that we allow to keep us from fulfilling this command. Maybe the two most commonly cited are (1) a fear of rejection and (2) being too busy with other things. We could list nearly countless things that keep us from reaching lost souls beyond these two, however.

Today I want us to think of one that hit me like a ton of bricks when reading recently. I had thought of it before, but the way it was presented really made me think.

I have been reading Disciplines of a Godly Young Man by Kent and Carey Hughes. Thus far, I’m impressed by what I have read, but one paragraph jumped off the page at me the other day.

In a chapter called “Discipline of Purity,” the authors write:

Today, Christian guys have given in to temptation and given up their purity for the sake of a few moments of pleasure. Having what we want, when we want it, how we want it has become our priority, but it has come at a great cost. We have sacrificed our holiness, our discipline, and our obedience. Our friends look at us, see Christians as no different from them, and dismiss the message of a God who changes lives. (page 31)

Key in on that last part. If those around us do not see us as any different, how can we tell them that God changes people! And while the book is geared toward men, the application is universal: people will not change to what we are, if we are already just like them.

Knowing that, consider the specific point of application from the quote above. How many Christians use the same crude jokes and double entendre as others around them? How many Christian women post on Facebook about going to watch “that” film, and the reason they give is because the male lead is “so hot?” How many Christian men “check out” every girl that walks by when he is out with his buddies at the gym or restaurant?

We are letting our sexual lust not only consume our minds; we are letting it destroy our ability to show others what it means to “transformed” by having a mind that is renewed through the Gospel (Romans 12:2). If we are not different from those around us, what are we asking them to “convert” to?

There is no doubt that we live in a sexually-saturated society, but that does not give Christians the right to fall prey to that snare of the devil. He is using lust not only to trap Christians in thoughts and actions that are unholy, but also to keep us from being lights that shine for the Lord.

We often say that we can take the Gospel to others not only through words, but through our actions as well. If our actions are no different from those around us, due to our lust, “how shall they hear?”

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The Implications of Goodbye

implications of goodbye

I met Ronda Parker in the summer of 2011 at Short Mountain Bible Camp. She was a counselor for the girls and I was a counselor for the boys. We had a lot in common. First of all, we were Christians, which is the most important thing to have in common with anybody. But we had also dealt with cancer, and we had both received our original diagnosis at the same time in our lives – while our children were very young.

We had the opportunity to grow in our Christian friendship through Bible camp. We talked from time to time about health issues, other challenges, and the faith needed to overcome. We prayed for each other and shared our recent health news and reports.

Ronda passed away this last Sunday after a 12 year battle with cancer. By faith she gained the victory.

Cancer patients learn some things that other people cannot learn. First of all, they learn to come to terms with their own mortality. When you receive your diagnosis there are a few thoughts that come to you immediately. One is, “How much time do I have left on earth?” Another is, “How soon can I have surgery?” When you have something inside your body that may take your life, you want to get it out of you as soon as possible. And another thing – once you have a disease that is life threatening you lose the assumption that you will live to be old. You never get that back. It was a false assumption anyway, because nobody knows their time. You were just either oblivious about this before, or you were simply mistaken.

Cancer patients also know life is a gift. Life becomes much more precious to people who stop taking it for granted. When you are sick it is offensive to watch people waste both health and time. When you are fighting for your life it is hard to understand why people don’t exercise or eat right. It is also hard to understand what people are waiting for when it comes to making their lives count. Every day is more exciting. Every sunrise is more beautiful. Every relationship is more meaningful. Cancer can be a great blessing to us spiritually. It makes you prioritize.

Ronda did something very meaningful for her funeral service. She made it clear that she wanted the plan of salvation to be preached to everyone in attendance. She told her preacher, “Don’t hold back!” He did not hold back. After I led the first song, there was another song, and then the obituary. Another song followed and then the eulogy. This memorial was one of the most powerful I have ever attended. Ronda used her physical death as a way to give people a chance for eternal life. She knew it might offend some people, even family members, but she loved everyone too much to keep them from the truth.

A final thing I would include about having cancer, is that you begin to think about the implications of “goodbye.” When you love people you do not want to be separated from them. You want to be in their lives and you want them in yours. To love and be loved is what makes life worth living. You know that they will go on with their lives when you are gone and you will cease to be a part of the daily process. It becomes increasingly important for you to leave a lasting impact; an impact that will live long after you have gone and perhaps last for generations to come. Ronda made that kind of impact.

The last thing she told her preacher, the quote that ended her service, is perhaps the most powerful thing I have ever heard a person say at the end of their life. Please keep it in mind. Ask yourself how it applies to you. I want to preach this quote from Ronda for the rest of my life. I believe it will help her to live on through us and that it may change eternity for others. Ronda ended her final conversation with her preacher with these words, “Tell everyone assembled, who is a Christian, who has obeyed the gospel, ‘See you later.’ Tell everyone else, ‘Goodbye.’”

“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:4

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Do You Want to be a Missionary?

do you want to be a missionary

What is a missionary? According to Dictionary.com, the primary definition of that word is “a person sent by a church into an area to carry on evangelism or other activities, as educational or hospital work.”

Most often, when we refer to a person as a “missionary” we are thinking of a person who has left his homeland, packed up his (usually meager) belongings, and gone to some far distant place to carry out what we know as The Great Commission (cf. Matthew 28:19-20). Similarly, when we think of a “mission field,” we usually think of a place where there are either no local congregations of the Lord’s church or the ones that may be there are very weak numerically.

While listening to a lesson recently, I heard a definition of that word “missionary” that caught my attention. I’ve done a little research on that definition, but I have yet to find who should get the credit for first saying or writing it. I’m not even sure of the exact wording, but, if my memory is close to being accurate (and if one place I looked on the internet is correct), it goes like this:

“A missionary isn’t someone who crosses the sea, but someone who sees the cross.”

I pray that that statement will have the same impact on you that it has had on me. You, see, I’ve done some of what might be called “short-term mission work.” A number of years ago, in two consecutive years, I went literally half-way around the world from where I was living at that time and preached the gospel for a total of ten weeks in India.

The living conditions, diet, language, climate, food, customs, and so many other things were very different from what I was used to. I was willing to experience all of that, though, because I believed that I was doing my small part to follow the Lord’s instructions in that Great Commission to “…teach [make disciples of] all nations…” (Matt. 28:19).

Now that I’m “armed” with my new-found definition of what a missionary is, I am both more excited and more challenged. I am excited because that quote drives home a point I’ve known for years, but may have never fully appreciated. I can be, in fact I’m supposed to be, a “missionary” in any and all environments.

I am challenged because that quote drives home a point I’ve known for years, but may have never fully appreciated.  I can be, in fact I’m supposed to be, a “missionary” in any and all environments.

If you think you may have noticed a little redundancy in the last two paragraphs, you are right. I was redundant for a reason.

It is both exciting and challenging to know that my “mission field” is wherever I am. My first “missionary effort” could take place in a house across town, down the street, or next door. It could begin with a parent, a child, or a spouse who has yet to obey the gospel of Christ.

It could very well be that the very first step I need to take to fulfill my part in taking the gospel to all nations is for me to clearly see the cross for myself. It seems to me that, the extent to which I can do that will largely determine what kind of “missionary” I will be.

As the cross and its implications can be seen more and more clearly to me, my next step may, in fact, be to travel to some far distant place. I am thankful for those who have done, and are doing, that.

At the same time, that next step could take me to somebody I’ve known and loved for many years — or — to somebody in town I need to know and teach.

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What 3000 People Taught Me, 2000 Years Ago

what 3000 taught me

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). God’s message for us in the pages of the Bible has not changed for nearly 2,000 years. It was completed at the end of the first century, A.D., and is the all-sufficient and final will of God for the human race. That is why I can have great confidence in reading about an event that took place on the day the Lord’s church was established.

On the day of Pentecost, approximately 33 A.D., the gospel was preached for the first time by the 12 apostles. On that day 3,000 received the message and were baptized. Through that obedient decision, God added them to the church (Acts 2:38-47). Their decision to become Christians has been a great encouragement to me over the years as both an obedient believer and a preacher of the gospel. We can all learn a lesson or two concerning their immediate decision to put on Christ in baptism.

1. They did not know very much, but they knew enough. Many people delay their obedience to Christ because they are afraid they are not well-studied in the Scriptures. What did these people know? They knew they had killed the Son of God (Acts 2:36). They knew that they were lost and needed to do something about it (Acts 2:37). They knew nothing of the church or of the expectations of Christianity. Peter told them what they needed to do to get right with God and they did it.

2. They had a heart problem that was fixable. While their hard hearts had caused them to reject Christ and His teachings, their hearts were not beyond repair. They heard the message and their hearts were pricked (Acts 2:37). Being “cut to the heart” is a necessary experience. Something has to happen in order for our heart to be affected before Jesus can fit inside. Sometimes my heart has issues. But I know that God is greater than my heart (1 John 3:20). The Great Physician came to operate on hearts. He came to break hearts. He came to heal hearts. He came to live in hearts.

3. Obedience is contagious. I can only imagine what it would have been like to witness 3,000 people repent of their sins and be baptized. This would have taken all day! When others make a decision to commit their lives to the Lord, their decision can encourage others. This is why confessing Christ as Lord is a part of the process (Romans 10:9-10). God wants to be seen in people who are willing to live out His purpose for their lives. Our obedience is powerful and it is meant to be replicated by witnesses.

4. There is no reason to delay becoming a Christian. If 3,000 people could simultaneously submit to the will of God, then nothing should keep any person who has heard the gospel message from doing the same. I know as a preacher that if I present the plan effectively and correctly, one sermon can be enough to change a person’s eternity. An individual should be able to walk into the building where I am preaching and be able–through just one lesson–to become a child of God, even if they have never heard anything about God before. We must remember to preach the plan. After all, tomorrow may be too late.

What a blessing to know that when a person does what 3,000 people did 2,000 years ago they will receive the very same things they received: Remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16); the name of Christ (Christian) – having been clothed with Christ (Galatians 3:27); addition to the church by the Lord (Acts 2:47); an answer of a good conscience before God (1 Peter 3:21); the perpetual cleansing of the blood of Christ upon repentance and prayer (1 John 1:9); joy within and peace of mind and heart (Acts 8:38-39; Philippians 4:6-7); and the hope of eternal salvation according to a faithful life (Mark 16:15-16; Revelation 2:10).

Everything I ever needed to know about God happened almost 2,000 years ago. God has been patient and loving and merciful to me. He waited long enough to let me learn it and live it. What an amazing God we serve!

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls…’” (Jeremiah 6:16).

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Satisfied with the Leftovers (from a Different Perspective)

satisfied 2

Last Monday, I wrote about the woman who expressed to Jesus that she would be satisfied with any “crumbs” that He might allow her to have. At that time, I suggested that her attitude was one which would be pleasing to our Lord. It would demonstrate humility on our part and would result in a very grateful attitude for what He has done, and continues to do, for us.

However, there is another way to look at this concept of being satisfied with the leftovers. The difference is perspective. It is about who is–or is not–being satisfied.

God never has been, is not now, and will never be satisfied with the leftovers.

You may remember that, on one occasion, our Lord was asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law? Hopefully, you also remember His answer: “…You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and great commandment (Matt. 22:36-37).

It seems to me that, if I love God with all my being, there does not appear to be any justification for giving Him the leftovers of my affection, my time, my energy, my money…my all. It has been said by many (because it is true) that God will accept no position other than first place in our lives.

This principle is clearly seen in the Old Testament as God’s people were instructed to bring only the very best to offer as a sacrifice to Him. It carries over into the New Testament wherein we read these words:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:1-2, NKJV).

One of the songs we sometimes sing has a title that is repeated four times in the song itself — Give of Your Best to the Master.

That’s very sound advice, because He will accept no less.

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