Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Before Winter or Never!

From the depths of a Roman prison while awaiting execution as a prisoner of Nero’s in Rome, Paul wrote to Timothy, his beloved friend and brother in Christ: “Do your best to come before winter.” (2 Timothy 4:21). Paul knew that in the winter, the Mediterranean Sea trade all but ceased. Ships would anchor in a safe harbor so as to avoid the violent storms that plagued the Mediterranean during the winter months. If Timothy was going to make the voyage from Ephesus to Rome, it would have to be before the ships stopped sailing.

Now if Timothy waits until winter, he will have to wait until spring; and Paul himself knew that his death sentence was imminent, “the time of my departure is at hand” (2 Timothy 4:6). Paul knows that he is living his last winter. Timothy needed to drop everything and get to Rome as fast as possible. We like to think that Timothy did not wait a single day after that letter from Paul reached him and indeed he was able to fulfill Paul’s request.

Before winter or never! There are some things which will never be done unless they are done “before winter.” Winter’s arrival is a sober reminder of fading opportunities. Winter should bring home to us all the sense of the preciousness of life’s opportunities, but also its brevity.

You can’t wait forever to respond to things that are important. Yet how many times have we had good intentions but somehow we never got around to doing it. We truly meant well, we meant for things to be different. All too often we end up with the “ifs and buts” of life. Some things need to be said now, done now. The opportunity is today, not tomorrow. We must not wait or delay or put things off.

What is it that God is calling you to do? What good deed? What act of forgiveness? What step of faith? What prayer should you pray? What sin should you confess? What bad habit must be broken? What service could you render for the Lord and His church? What class could you teach? What call must you make? What email must you write? What relationship must you repair? Who in your life needs to know Jesus and you’ve been putting off telling them? Whatever it is, do it “before winter.”


I recently ran across this very beautiful poem that captures some of my thoughts from above.

Come Before Winter

"Come before winter." are words old and wise
Let us set sail now for the harbor
Of the things we truly prize!

For life's voyage is brief, uncertain,
Soon winter's snows may fall.
How sad to see ships meant for sailing
Which have not sailed far at all.

Ships meant to explore life's oceans,
To know waters deep and wide.
Yet still we lie at anchor
Resisting the outgoing tide.

Life's saddest sight is not the scene
Of souls storm tossed at sea.
For without the storm, the struggle and faith,
How else comes the victory?

No, life's saddest sight is of souls
Who have never yet set sail.
Those who refuse to live much or dare,
These are the ones who fail!

Still move the seasons swiftly,
The Spring, the Summer, the Fall.
"O come" says the Spirit, "come before winter,
Miss not the joy God intends for us all"!
-- James Clark Brown

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I love Thanksgiving because it's so simple and straightforward. It's not about a lot of decorating or buying gifts. It is very basic – it's about getting together with family and friends, eating a meal (one of my favorite part), watching a little football – and most importantly, giving thanks to God for our many blessings.

In Luke 17 we read the following account.
As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him--and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well." (Luke 17:11-19 NIV)

The purpose of my article is not to ask if you or I would be the one in the
above story who gave thanks. I’m sure we all would like to think of ourselves as the one who went back to Jesus to give thanks. Rather I am asking each one of us what percentage of gratefulness do we maintain for the good things God gives us?

The percentage of healed lepers in Luke who immediately gave thanks to Jesus was 10%. Jesus is grateful for the 10% but He comments negatively on the 90% not showing thanks. What about our lives? What percentage of thanks do we give?

Think about last week. Most of us would not have any trouble recalling ten good and wonderful blessings we experienced from the Lord during the week. Now the reflection question, “What’s your and my thanksgiving percentage rate for those ten blessings?” If I were to be honest, and I am here, my thanksgiving percentage rate probably is not much better than the one in Luke’s story: 10%.

Oh, I have my general “thank you-for-everything” prayer I fall back on to cover the week. What I tend to lack is the immediate praise and thanks when I first receive the blessing. Jesus indicates that a 10% instant-thanks-to-blessing ratio is not very good!

Let’s each one continually move our instant-thanks-to-blessing ratio toward 100%. Friends with all the blessings that God has bestowed upon us let us always approach the throne of God with Thanksgiving.

Our young people sing the words to the beautiful song, “For all that You've done, I will thank You For all that You're going to do! For all that You've promised and all that You are is all that has carried me through, Jesus, I thank You.”

Which reminds me: I am thankful for each of you, my friends, my brothers, my sisters and my family. Enjoy the holiday and be safe. Go with God.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Time to Invite Ssomeone to Church

Recently we had a visitor attend worship at Central where I preach. She was invited by one of our members. She is greatly struggling. Here's what she wrote on the back of her visitor card:

"I am a single mother of 3 daughters and one has a lot of anger issues and I am in need of prayer and help to help her get her life straight. She is 14 years old and has spent 10 days in detention at school. We don't have a great relationship."

Friends there are so many people out there hurting, wanting help, needing to find God, needing answers, they want to go to church and have a relationship with Christ. But so many of them don't know where to go and are worried about what people may think about them just showing up there out of the blue. Many would jump at the chance to be invited by YOU. Some will say no, but some will say yes. You could save a life today.

Who will you invite?

"Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus." (John 1:40-42)


Tuesday, November 2, 2010


One of Rembrandt's more famous paintings is entitled The Three Crosses. When one looks at the painting, your attention is drawn first to the cross on which Jesus died. Then as you look at the crowd gathered around the foot of that cross, you are impressed by the various facial expressions and actions of the people involved in the awful crime of crucifying the Son of God. Finally, your eyes drift to the edge of the painting to catch sight of another figure, almost hidden in the shadows. Some art critics say this is a representation of Rembrandt himself, for he recognized that by his sins he helped nail Jesus to the cross.

The old spiritual asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” And we must answer, “yes, we were there.” Not as spectators only; but as participants, guilty participants.

One author has written, "It is a simple thing to say Christ died for the sins of the world. It is quite another thing to say that Christ died for my sins. It may make us feel better to point the finger at those who put Jesus on the cross, but it is a shocking thought that we can be as indifferent as Pilate, as scheming as Caiaphas, as calloused as the soldiers, as ruthless as the mob, or as cowardly as the disciples. It isn't just what they did --- it was I who nailed Him to the tree. I crucified the Christ of God, I joined the mockery."

It was each of us who participated in Christ’s death and yet He willingly took the cross upon Himself to reveal to the best of God’s love and bring us salvation. The prophet Isaiah said, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5)

Friends place yourself in the shadows with Rembrandt. You too are standing there. But then recall what Jesus said as He hung on that cross, “Father, forgive them.” Thank God, that includes you and me. Horatius Bonar (1808-89), who has been called the 'prince of Scottish hymn-writers', expressed it well about the sacrifice of Christ:

Twas I that shed that sacred Blood,
I nailed him to the Tree,
I crucified the Christ of God,
I joined the mockery.
Yet not the less that Blood avails
To cleanse me from sin,
And not the less that Cross prevails
To give me peace within