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New_Years_Title“… But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.”  Philippians 3:13-15, ESV

Welcome to the New Year of 2016! Lots of folks start the New Year by making resolutions. Shortcomings are evaluated in an attempted at candid and truthful reflections. You stand on the scale to see your real weight. You don’t lie about the scale not being on level ground or off by 10 pounds. And it’s from these types of self-examinations that new goals are made to improve life.

Statistics say 45% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Of those who do, 25% never make it past the first week. Another 40% dropout by the end of January. After 6 months less than half are committed to their original pledge. By year’s end over 88% of resolutions are cast aside or forgotten. What’s the most popular resolution Americans make: to lose weight. The second is becoming more organized and the third highest resolution is to get out of debt. Maybe it’s figured organization helps to get out of debt.

After reading those statistics, intelligence says there’s a great possibility most New Year’s resolutions will be in the dust by June. That type of failure can devastate a person who senses need for help. Every year confessions are made that lead to the same old failures and disappointments. It’s that easy end up one of the failing eighty-eight ‘percenters.’ For this, Paul gives a few pointers for the New Year: forgetting, pressing and focusing. The first pointer is:

Forgetting

“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,” Philippians 3:13

All ‘self-evaluations’ must be done with a proper perspective. Reflecting on past failures can devastate. People become haunted by ‘what-could-have-been!’ For that matter, successes can be paralyzing, too. Some folks never seem to move beyond their high school/college days. Paul writes in Philippians 3, verse 7:

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”

Paul is saying there’s a need for living in the present. Past failure or success does not secure a future. But, learning to live in the present means finding God’s grace sufficient moment-by-moment.

Secondly, consider the next pointer of:

Pressing

Starting a little way into verse 13:

“…straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul indicates goals are good! New Year’s resolutions have goals that teach living for the future. If self-examining questions are to be asked, let it be “am I just living in my past or for tomorrow? Make a reasonable goal and press for it. Paul’s goal was for the prize of the upward calling!

Finally, Paul is making the point of:

Focusing

Verse 15 in The Message Bible reads:

“So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet!”

Failure happens when eyes are taken off the goal of the prize. There was a sad story in the news of a man who got out of a cab, was so distracted with reading his cell phone, that he lost focus of where he was and walked straight off a cliff to his death.

Focusing on God’s Word for reasonable goals is the way of living in new life. For example: if a New Year’s resolution has the goal of becoming more organized, look in God’s Word for ways others were organized. Surely, Joseph was organized when planning for seven barren years. Assuredly, David helped organize Solomon in view of building the Temple. Focusing on the goal of ‘everything God has for you’ is found in His Word! Every answer we need is for life is in the Bible!

So, in light of forgetting, pressing and focusing, a good prayer for 2016 would be—God, clear my blurred vision to see goals from You! Happy New Year!

J. Robert Hanson

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Endurance_title

“And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1:4

Once upon a time, in what now seems like long ages past, I had gym membership. For some reason my kids became interested in “working-out” and I chose to signup with them—what was I thinking? I went to the gym early in the mornings, prior to my work day, before the herd of endless bodybuilders showed up; these are the folks who actually know what they’re doing. And while roaming through the midst of all these glorious machines, it became obvious I had no idea what I was doing. I must have looked somewhat pathetic. After a week of wandering, one of the trainers, watching my exploits, ventured my way offering help. It was an immediate love/hate relationship. Not long after his volunteering, I discovered this whole ‘working-out’ thing was much more difficult than originally anticipated.

My ‘personal trainer’ was great—I’m sure of it. He showed me how each machine worked, taught me the motions and movements of limbs and torso while instructing what muscles were effected by exertion. Most of all, and this is possibly where the hate developed, he shouted encouragements in cadences while pressing me to go beyond what I thought was humanly possible. It seemed he was attempting to get me to embrace this enduring, steadfastness of purpose, even when limbs and torso seemed to painfully disagree.

This is the meaning of ‘steadfastness’ in James 1, verse 4: “And let steadfastness have its full effect….” Many translations use ‘endurance’ for the meaning of the Greek¹ word. Thayer’s Lexicon adds the thought of ‘consistency’ while yet another Bible Commentary² suggests using the Greek root word as a foundation. That root word is the idea of someone remaining under discipline though the naturally tendency is to rebel—sort of like what I wanted to do against my ‘personal trainer.’ All-in-all, the idea of ‘steadfastness’ describes the quality of character that’s developed in an individual by not succumbing to trial of discipline.

To increase the value of that thought, James points out that ‘steadfastness’ is a choice as the author chooses to lead off with the word, ‘let’—“let steadfastness have its full effect.” That word is a present imperative command implying submission to endurance. It’s similar to the choice an athlete makes in complying with a trainer’s strengthening program. In other words, the person chooses to be uncomfortable for the sake of development and growth. There is no compulsion, only voluntary compliance.

Together the phrase, ‘let steadfastness’ denotes a duration of time for development. Vine’s Expository Dictionary adds that the phrase is translated ‘patient enduring.’ The idea is a surrender that’s done for the long-haul over a great period of time.

So the question now becomes, just how long does the time element of ‘steadfastness’ need to take place? When is it I no longer need to patiently endure the trial or disciplines of life? James even has an answer for that:

“…let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Hmm, ‘perfect and complete, lacking in nothing’! That could take awhile to accomplished. In fact, it takes a lifetime of ‘working-out.’ Exactly how much trial am I willing to endure? Before throwing up arms in surrender and exhaustion, it’s important to realize God has the training program that’s in perfect balance. Paul understood this to be true when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 10, verse 13 (reading from The Message Bible):

“No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.”

He is the perfect trainer understanding just how far to press and He knows when to stop. God alone has all the insights for speaking encouraging words or demanding cadences—which ever is needed. He’ll never let down or fail. God is committed to the training program for the duration of our stay on earth. He’s not discourage by failure or inadequacy. He’s a ‘personal trainer’ that never quits, nor pushes past limits. God’s one goal for us is Training for Endurance that “…steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

J. Robert Hanson

¹ Strong’s Concordance, G5281; hupomoné: a remaining behind, a patient enduring.

² http://preceptaustin.org/james_13-4.htm

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I_Quit“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.” 2 Corinthians 4:1 (ESV)

God gave the Apostle Paul an amazing ministry! It was a special specific calling that literally transformed a world. Historically few men have been as effective in furthering the life of Jesus Christ as this apostle born out of due time (1 Corinthians 15:8 KJV). His writings dominate the New Testament. Narratives of how God used this man overshadow the second half of the Book of Acts. Of all men and women who’ve ever been ministers of the Gospel, no doubt Paul’s ministry runs at the forefront as both succeeding and fruitful.

However, as I perused 2 Corinthians chapter 4, verse 1 from the English Standard Bible, something new dawned upon me at the words, “…having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.” The missive seems to imply that even the Apostle Paul found the possibility of losing heart over pressures of the ministry—whether internal or external.

Though we look at the body of Paul’s work as a huge success, apparently, personally he didn’t always view it that way. It’s interesting to me that the thought of “losing heart” even comes up—I mean, this is THE APOSTLE PAUL we’re talking about here! Yet, in this verse he’s pointing out his need for mercy in the midst of this great commission. In fact, the Message Bible has an interesting way of saying these thoughts:

“Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we’re not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into occasional hard times.”

Do the words “I quit” mean anything to you? Apparently they did to the Apostle Paul. But, walking off the job was not an option of consideration as the mercy of God was ever prevalent for the ministry given to him. God’s grace was available to help Paul through all the hard times! In fact, by God’s enabling power he found the courage to move forward—we read that Kenneth Wuest translates this verse as:

“Because of this, having this ministry [of the new testament] even as we were made the objects of mercy [in its bestowal], we do not lose courage,”

So, when difficulties arise, whether internal or external, the opportunity for finding the grace of God elevates above the level of giving up and quitting. If we’ve reached the point of frustration—throwing up our hands and walking off the job—remember the mercy of God is greater. Before saying, “I quit” to the ministry generously given, discover God’s grace can give help in time of need!

J. Robert Hanson

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Weary“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9 ESV

This is an interesting little verse. The one thing it makes clear is how deeply the Bible understands the basics of human nature—a certain degree of stamina is required to stay focused on doing what’s right. You’d think that wouldn’t be the case. When it comes to “doing good” we expect that a natural never-exhausting flow of energy should come from us.

Evidently, that’s not the case! In fact, I’ve discovered most the time it’s just the opposite. It seems that with loathsome mischief behaviors comes this never-ending fountain of vigor. In high school there were always certain kids (generally boys) who excelled at pranks and rebel rousing. If something of a mischievous nature happened, you’d find the source of the problem by contacting one or two miscreants.

And rarely ever do these troublemakers confess, “I’m tired of pulling pranks—I want to quit—I want to be good person!” Thankfully, the occasional makeover does happen. A delinquent’s conversion occurs and society, loving a good transformation story, offers all the accolades and hurrahs meant for a prince. But in the shadows, eclipsed by the sunshine of the convert, is the soul that has spent a whole lifetime doing the good. Life isn’t fair! And at such a sight the individual persistently working hard at the good becomes disillusioned.

If you’re that person, this verse is for you! Paul writes, “Let us not grow weary in doing good.” In fact, I think this verse possibly just may be for everyone who’s grown exhausted by the activity of doing what’s right.

Weariness is lacking strength, energy, or freshness. In Galatians 6, verse 9 the word “weary” in the Greek language means to be spiritless, exhausted, lose heart, and to despair.¹ That’s the danger Paul is warning about—losing your drive to “do good” and giving up! The Kenneth Wuest Translation captures this thought in Galatians 6, verse 9 as it reads:

Let us not slacken our exertions by reason of the weariness that comes with prolonged effort in habitually doing that which is good.

Dullness sets in from the blunting edge of weariness. Service for God loses value and the loss of hope results in discouragement leading to giving up.

To combat weariness let’s read the end of verse 9 from The Amplified Bible:

…for in due time and at the appointed season we shall reap, if we do not loosen and relax our courage and faint.

That little statement gives us a way to combat weariness. If the idea of weariness is losing our motivation for “doing good,” then we’ve got to discover a tangible motivation in the opposite direction! We read, “In due time and at the appointed season we shall reap.”

The Bible scholar John Stott once wrote of this verse:

Some incentive is certainly needed in Christian well-doing. Paul recognizes this, for he urges his readers not to ‘grow weary’ or ‘lose heart’. Active Christian service is tiring, exacting work. We are tempted to become discouraged, to slack off, even to give up. So the apostle gives us this incentive: he tells us that doing good is like sowing seed. If we persevere in sowing, then ‘in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart’

Persevere in doing good knowing that eventually a profitable crop comes from sowing! This is the tangible motivation for overcoming weariness. Are you weary? According to Paul refocusing our values from immediate gratification to the end results will renew spiritual life!

J. Robert Hanson

 

¹ 1573 enkakeo | ekkakeo Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words

² (Stott, J. R. W. The message of Galatians: Only one way. Leicester, England; Downer’s Grove, Ill., U.S.A.: Inter-Varsity Press or The Bible Speaks Today NT)

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Popups_title“Then Esther spoke again to the king. She fell at his feet and wept and pleaded with him to avert the evil plan of Haman the Agagite and the plot that he had devised against the Jews. When the king held out the golden scepter to Esther, Esther rose and stood before the king…” Esther 8: 3-5 (ESV)

Just prior to this incident, Haman—enemy of the Jews—was executed upon gallows he had built for Esther’s kinfolk, Mordecai. By this one decisive final act of vanquishing the adversary it was hoped a long season of peace and serenity would follow. Sadly, that’s not the case. Still lingering like a troubling cancer was the earlier orchestrated edict created by the hand of Haman to annihilate Esther’s race. He was gone—his misdeeds lingered on. And though a significant battle was won, a war was still progressing.

You see, not all victories are as instantaneous and thorough as we like. The defeat of Haman was only the start of ending the terrible nightmare pressed upon the Jewish people. The work-in-progress was defeating the devilish plan of annihilating the Hebrews—a strategy set in motion and unchangeably legislated before Haman went to meet his Maker face-to-face.

Many times issues have deeper roots than first imagined. We don’t always see it as we’re caught-up with the joy of being released from a major problem. The ancillary issues take awhile to manifest. The answer: a cursory remedy always needs an absolute commitment to find complete victory.

My wife’s computer contracted a nasty virus. She installed some program awhile back that self-started every time she turned on the machine. The results were annoying. She’d go online to visit websites and popup advertisements would open indiscriminately one right after the other. It was annoying and aggravating. She defeated that problem by installing a popup blocker. It resolved the immediate crisis and she was as happy as a pig in the mud.

However, over time she noticed her computer was running slower than ever. She’d won the battle but not the war. She finally contacted someone who knew what they were doing with computers and together they discovered a nasty little program running in the background of the computer’s operating system—effectively eating CPU processing power. They uninstalled the repugnant program and the war was won, victory complete!

Esther must come before the king to plead her case. She must again brave the bowing of the golden scepter to intercede her case for her people. The point being, not all problems have an immediate fix. Courage must continue in the face of adversity in order to press through to victory. Faith must increase to realize deliverance. The victorious must continue to press to completion to gain the complete victories of life.

J. Robert Hanson

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pursuit_titleStrive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14 ESV

The author of Hebrews considers peace and holiness important. In fact, these two nouns are so critical that the writer uses a forceful word of command in connection—strive. Interestingly, many English translations display the Greek word for strive differently. The King James Version uses follow while the New American Standard Bible uses pursue. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon adds it’s insight by defining strive as, “to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing.” It presents the word as an object running after a target. In my mind I picture a dog chasing after a jackrabbit, the hare just inches ahead of the barking pursuer. There are two things to pursue and strive all out to reach: peace with everyone and holiness.

First: peace with everyone. Is that a vain and empty pursuit? The point of the verse is not to create disillusionment, but urgency. Like the hound that never gives up on chasing the hare, never give up on making peace with everyone. Obnoxious people are easy to quit on. Someone upsets us and we’ll avoid contact with the person. Paul writes in Romans 12, verse 18:

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

It’s like Paul expects us to initiate resolutions. He actually seems to believe we ought to at least try to live peaceably with all! Mix that together with Hebrews 12, verse 14 and the idea of pursuing peace sounds like a hound chasing a hare—it’s a real adventure. Strive for peace with everyone means even those we find most disagreeable to be around.

Second: strive after holiness. Initially, you might think of holiness as purity of conduct and righteous living. In the case of Hebrews 12, verse 14, according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, holiness is most accurately represented by the English word sanctification. It embraces the idea of a person being in separation to God. This is not so much the action of a person’s performance as it is behavior resulting from devotion. It’s the hare inviting the hound to chase so to speak.

Thinking of holiness as activities of “doing good” is easy, natural. But the thought is much deeper. It’s the idea of behavior coming out of devoted pursuit—as the hound focuses on the hare. We chase after holiness out of the pure devotion and focus of discovering the Living God. We know Him personally and that makes a difference in our behavior. F.B. Meyer put it:

“Holy souls see God amid the ordinary commonplaces of earth, and find everywhere an open vision.” – F.B. Meyer

The idea is that holy souls are happening all the time. This is the striving for holiness that finds existence from a 24/7 devotion. According to F.B. Meyer, that devotion is not something tucked away and hidden in seclusion. Holiness is the soul pursuing God amid the ordinary commonplaces of earth! Without pursuing this type of devotion no man will see the Lord.

In conclusion, here are two things to be in hot pursuit of, like a hound running swiftly after the hare: strive for peace with everyone, and holiness!

J. Robert Hanson

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speech_salt_titleLet your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Colossians 4:6

What the Bible says about speech amazes me. Paul considered the topic so important that he wrote down some specific thoughts on it. Point being, the words we choose to use in everyday conversations do matter! Paul views this concept as, “speech seasoned with salt.” Every once in awhile I hear someone with an attitude that basically says, “If you don’t like what I have to say, you don’t have to be around me.” To lovers of Jesus Christ, I think the above verse gives an answer to that type of insolence. It shows that we all need to ask God to pass the salt to add a little seasoning of grace to our tongues.

Interestingly, Bible translators, in almost every case, decided to begin the sentence structure of verse 6 with the word, “let.” For the most part the idea is that gracious speech is a choice and not something that uncontrollably happens. Yes, people have the capacity to use poor judgment in selecting words. Destitute phrases originate from a careless heart. Jesus is clear in this fact when He notes that our words come out of the abundance of our hearts.¹

I recently read of an individual who believes he can “once in awhile” use the “F-bomb” in conversation and Jesus is okay with that. If this person were listening, Paul would answer him with Ephesians 4, verse 29:

Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.²

Apparently the words coming out of our mouths do matter to Jesus! He’s not “cool” with the use of the “F-bomb,” even if it’s used only once in awhile. We can choose to make the habit of gracious speech a pattern of life. I was recently reading F.B. Meyer who made the point: “Nothing so tests the quality of our minds as our use and choice of adjectives.” The man who has control of his adjectives knows the mastery of thought.

Verse 6 from The Message Bible instructs us what this speech seasoned with salt sounds like when heard:

“Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out.”

Speech seasoned with salt sounds like conversations that bring out the best in others. It’s easy to add nasty, cutting comments in banter. Caddy words about a person’s dress or snarky remarks toward an individual add nothing. To belittle, or put someone down in the shrewdest of ways does not build up at all. In fact, the only thing a snide comment strengthens is the assurance that the user is a hurtful, caddy, petty person that others will not want to be around. If you enjoy living alone, be a caddy, snarky person. However, please understand that a cutting wit only enhances the conformation of an insecure individual.

The point The Message Bible is making: learn to bring out the best in others in conversation. Speech seasoned with salt enables a person to have a compassionate answer for each life he/she touches. So, for my speech, please pass the salt!

J. Robert Hanson


1 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.
2 The Message Bible

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