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#ThrowbackThursday – This post originally published April 6, 2010

You’ve repacked your suitcase with God’s good things, his plan for your life. Everything is in order the way it should be with Christ folded neatly inside. But 2 Timothy 1:14 reminds us that though the spirit of God lives within us, we must guard against the flesh that tempts us. Satan is never far behind trying to convince us that those sinful ways you left behind still fit you like a favorite sweater.

Sin has a way of creeping into our life under the same disguise as in Genesis chapter 3. It has the same appeal to us as it did to Eve, pleasing to the eye and desirable for wisdom (Gen. 3:6). It promises to give us something we think we do not already have in our life. Whether it’s the physical appeal that creates desire or the emotional appeal of knowledge and status, it tempts us to indulge; to be the God of our own life; to create our own definition of good and evil.

Even more dangerous is the component of sin that makes it infectious to others. There is that moment in Genesis chapter 3, after Eve took some of the fruit and ate it, that sin is still contained only with her. But verse 6 ends with “She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Adam was there watching the whole thing and decided to participate in the sin along with Eve. The same can happen to us if we expose ourselves to situations and people where sin abounds. Before we know it, the fruit is given to us and we take a bite.

That’s why it’s important to have a traveling companion on your journey through life – another believer in Christ who can tell you, “You know that old, worn sweater you’re looking at just isn’t you.” Someone who can remind you how bitter the fruit of sin tastes before you take a bite. Paul reminds in Romans 5:17, “The sin of this one man, Adam caused death to rule over us, but all who receive God’s gracious gift of righteousness will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.” (NIV)

Hebrews 10:25 encourages us to not give up meeting together so that we can “encourage and warn each other.” (NLV) It is in this fellowship with others that we are able to nurture our faith and strengthen our ability to avoid sin. With other believers by our side, we have the strength to say as Jesus said when he was tempted, “Away from me Satan, for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” (Matt. 4:10 NIV)

I watched as she gasped for breath, struggling to talk. A warm summer breeze blew through the open sliding door and ruffled a few loose strands of her gray hair. Nearby a pulsating machine pumped oxygen to her through a small hose with the end clipped to her nose. Somehow she managed to prop up her frail, thin body in the living room chair.

She was dying and yet this feisty woman I had known for years was still very present. She didn’t care for the help hospice offered and she told the social worker to leave. She was tired of people asking, “How are you doing?” She was tired of people visiting her. She was tired and just wanted to be alone, yet she let me sit there with her and listen to her complaints.

This was often how my visits with her would go. Yet with each visit over the last six years she would open up a little more about her troubled past; about the trauma she experienced in her life. She would share her anger and frustration with family, friends and workers in the assisted living place. Sometimes we would talk about religion and faith, but she would always stop discussing it when it became personal. I could never quite get her to the point of talking about having Jesus in her life.

In these final moments of her life I longed for her to know the peace of Christ, but she would not have it. I hoped that in some way I was able to at least help her experience the love of God just by sitting with her and listening to her. After about 45 minutes she told me she was tired and apologized that she wasn’t better company. I told her it was okay, gave her aged and frail body a gentle hug and said, “Love you.”

Then this tough, old woman, who told me she would rather be alone, said to me in a strained voice, “Love you too. Thanks for stopping by.” I smiled and repeated, “Love you.” As I left the room I wondered if it would be the last time I would see her. I was sad that I was not able to get her to see that Jesus Christ could give her the peace she longed for in her life.

Later, when I talked about this visit with someone, they assured me that just being with her was showing the love of God. “But I have no idea whether she is saved or not?” That’s when she told me, “Salvation is not a formula. God is a much better judge of the heart. Just be glad that God invited you to join him in his work.” She was right. I only needed to be grateful that I was able to be there with her.

Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure. – Psalm 39:4-5 (NIV)

#ThrowbackThursday — This post was originally posted April 2, 2010

Each day we write another page in the story of our life. If you stop now and examine the pages that have accumulated, how does your biography read? When we first meet Saul of Tarsus in the Bible, we read about a man who grew up in a wealthy seaport; studied at one of the best universities in the world; and was trained by the best religious leaders. In his own words, Saul described himself as “a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee (Acts 23:6).” He was a “Hebrew of Hebrews (Phil. 3:5).”

In the eyes of the world, Saul’s biography was about a man with everything going for him – riches, a career and very religious. He personally wanted to stop this new movement centered on this man Jesus. Acts 8:3 describes Saul as being on a mission to “destroy the church,” a man who was hunting down the followers of Jesus and putting them in prison.

But Saul turned a new page when Christ intervened in his life. While on his way to Damascus to find more followers of Jesus to imprison, “a light from heaven flashed around him (Acts 9:3-4).” Jesus confronts him and asks “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” From that point on, a new chapter is written in Saul’s life. His story is transformed to someone totally focused on Jesus.

It took a major intervention by Jesus Christ to change Saul’s biography. He becomes filled with the Holy Spirit and from that point on he is called Paul (Acts 13:9). The power of Jesus Christ changed his life story from one rich in the ways of the world to one rich in the Kingdom of God. Paul describes his new life in Phil. 3:7, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus (NIV).”

What about your life story? As you look at each day, each page and each chapter, what is being written about you? Will your life story end as Jesus describes in Matt. 16:26, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” Or will your story be more like Paul in Philippians 2:17: “But even if my life is to be poured out like a drink offering to complete the sacrifice of your faithful service (that is, if I am to die for you), I will rejoice, and I want to share my joy with all of you (NLV).”

Throwback Thursday – Originally published March 26, 2010

When Christ pries open the bulging suitcase of our life, the contents spill out before us. There, spread out for everyone to see is all the junk we have carried for years. Just as when a bag bursts open in an airport, our first reaction is to stuff everything back in before anyone notices the personal items in our life. The last thing we want to do is to stop and take time to examine our dirty laundry.

But an emptied life is a chance to see how you can repack for a journey with Christ. It’s a new mindset that is different from the world you once knew, a mindset that requires you to only focus on what you need for your destination. Romans 12:2 reminds us: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is (NLT).”

Our life is designed to only need a small carry-on bag filled with God’s goodness. The challenge is to not put everything back in again so that Christ gets misplaced in your overloaded life. Paul writes in 2 Peter 2:20, “If they have escaped the corruptions of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.”

A commitment to Christ means sorting through your life and dealing with the contents one by one. It means reading the Bible and praying and meeting with other Christians to help you sort out the things that do not belong in your life. When you pack for a journey with Christ, you will be amazed at how everything fits in your life. Christ said in Matt. 11:30 “For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.”

Throwback Thursday: This post was originally published March 4, 2010

John the Baptist was a master at editing his life down so only Christ remained evident to others. He wore clothes made from camel hair with a leather belt and ate locusts and honey (Matt. 3:4). He did not worry about having a nice building to accommodate the crowds that came to hear him preach. His message cut to the point: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matt. 3:2 NIV) – simple words that easily fit into a text message or Twitter post.

John’s life was not cluttered with things that confused his message. He did not try to impress people, rather he tried to impress upon them the need to repent of their sins and prepare for the coming of Jesus. In Matthew 11:8-10, Jesus points out that the people did not come to see John dressed in fine clothes, they came to see a prophet. People traveled into the hot and dusty desert to hear John’s message, not to see his outfit, sit in a beautiful building with air conditioning, or dine on locusts and honey with him.

Many of the people that crowded around John in the desert were tired of trying to impress others with their deeds and appearances. They were hungry for a message of true repentance that would free them from the burden of their sins. John focused on their spiritual need for a savior. He pointed them away from himself and toward Christ. In Matt. 3:11 he explains how one is to come who is more powerful than him, how he is not fit to carry his sandals. John’s life was edited down so only the message of Jesus came through each day.

As a follower of Jesus your greatness and your identity is not in this world. John continues to show us true life is in Christ. Jesus commends John saying, “There has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” He goes on to say that we have the potential to be greater than John, that “he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matt. 11:11 NIV)

A year after my father’s death, my family went through the remaining things that were part of his life on earth. Many of the items brought back memories of my father. I could look at an article of clothing and instantly remember him wearing it. I could pick up a tool and almost feel my father’s rugged hand in the worn grooves of the wood handle. To anyone else it was just stuff, but for me many of these things carried a strong identity to my father.

It made me wonder about what creates my identity in this world. What do people see when they look at me? Do they see in me what Paul describes in Ephesians 4:20 as “a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.” (NIV) Do they see the rugged grip of God the Father on my life, the evidence of His work, or do they look at me and see my identity associated with the stuff of this world?

If we are not careful, the world can steal our identity. It’s a constant struggle not to create an identity based on where you live, what you drive, where you work, what you wear or the position you hold. Jesus warned us in Matt. 6:19-20, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (NIV)

In the end, everything we accumulate in this life will be left behind for others. What will people remember about your life? Will they see a strong identity with God the Father and eternal treasures or will they only see a bunch of stuff that built an earthly identity? “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” ( John 12:25 NIV)

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