There is a spiritual war going on. We are in the midst of this constant struggle between good and evil. In the trenches and the front-lines, we fight this battle on a daily basis. However, we are not alone in this battle. We have a leader who volunteered to show us the way.
There are many acts of bravery documented in Stephen E. Ambrose’s book D-Day. One account that has stuck with me is about Lt. Robert Mason Mathias serving as a platoon leader in the 82nd Airborne Division.
Lt. Mathias was riding in a C-47 Dakota over France at 0227 hours on June 6. Nearing the jump zone the plane starting to take flak from German guns. Lt. Mathias stood and took the first jump position at the open door. You may think this is strange. Leaders are supposed to take up the rear where it is safe. However, this is not the case in the Airborne. The leader is the first to jump out the door. As Lt. Mathias was standing in the door a shell burst beside him. Red-hot flak ripped through his reserve chute into his chest, knocking him off his feet. He pulled himself back to his feet as the jump light came on. He could have stayed on the plane and gotten medical care. Instead, he raised his right arm, yelled out “Follow me!” and leapt into the night. Whether Lt. Mathias died on the way down or from the impact of landing is not known. He was the first American officer killed by German fire on D-Day.
In like manner, our spiritual leader was not willing to command us from the safe confines of heaven. Knowing well what it would cost Him, our Lord made the leap from heaven to earth. Jesus entered the front-lines of the battlefield and ordered us to follow him (Matthew 10:38). Lt. Mathias and countless other soldiers sacrificed themselves to free Europe from the oppression of totalitarianism and protect the freedoms we enjoy today. Likewise, Christ, upon the cross, sacrificed Himself to free us from the oppression of sin (Matthew 26:26-28). When you find yourself feeling alone and lost in the battle, remember that Jesus has been there before. He has fought the battle and won the war. What we must do is follow Him.
Be A Light Through Your Story Johnny Miranda Every time I share my story of how I obeyed the gospel, I can see other people light up with joy. How beautiful it is that God’s power is able to change an ordinary young man like me into someone who has given up many things for the sake of Christ. What is funny is how older folks consider me a young man with a lot of time ahead of me, but I often look back at what could have been if I had obeyed God earlier in my life. To be honest, there is not much that I can do to change that, but I can use my current life experiences moving forward to His advantage. Being able to relate to people through our conversion story is an incredible source of evangelism. Look at the apostle Paul, who considered himself to be the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Although he felt that way, he knew that his unworthiness would be beneficial for others who can see the change in his life through the gospel. If God changed the heart of a man who persecuted His church, what can God do your life? The answer is, He can change your life too if you allow Him to. I challenge you to use experiences that have molded you into the person you are today. My only caution is that you do not lose focus on the power of God’s word that you neglect God in your story. In doing so, it will not guarantee that someone will be interested from the start, but it will surely plant a seed in their heart.
Monday is Memorial Day. It is a patriotic holiday set aside to remember those who gave their lives in military service. It is observed the last Monday of May each year. The government made it a federal holiday in 1971. No one knows exactly when or where Memorial Day was first observed. According to tradition, it originated during the Civil War when some Southern women chose May 30 to decorate the graves of both from the Union and Confederate Armies (World Book Encyclopedia "Memorial Day").
We need to remember those who have given us the freedom and liberties that we enjoy in this country. You may have seen the following as it made the rounds in cyber space, but it is worth reading again:
It is the VETERAN, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion.
It is the VETERAN, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the VETERAN, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the VETERAN, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to assemble.
It is the VETERAN, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the VETERAN, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote.
Not only are we thankful for those who have given their lives for us, but we are mindful and appreciative of the young men and women who are serving us today through the military. We are especially mindful of those from this congregation.
A Spiritual Memorial Day
Each Sunday faithful followers of Christ gather in the appointed assembly for the purpose of a memorial - remembering the death of Christ (Matthew 26:26-29; Acts 20:7; I Corinthians 11:23ff). Without His death we would still be dead in our sins and iniquities. But, because of His death we have freedom, forgiveness, and hope of a future home with Him in heaven. Whereas it has taken the death of thousands to give us the freedoms we enjoy in this country, His blood was so powerful that it took only the death of one to give us spiritual freedom.
May we never let His death or this memorial become mundane. May it always be a fresh and real reminder each Lord's Day of the great sacrifice that was made on our behalf.
Wayne Burger, Bear Valley Bible Institute
Whose Life is it Anyway?
“Whose life is it, anyway?” I’ve heard that question for most of my life, usually used as a challenge to mean, “You can’t tell me what to do!” For the most part, I agree, we cannot tell other adults what to do. We can educate them, help them see the light, show the where various chosen paths will lead, but God gave each of us a free will and nothing takes that away. Sharing wisdom is an excellent part of loving others, but we cannot and should not try to force others to take our advice. That said, our first order of recognition is the actual answer to the question, “Whose life is it anyway?” Truthfully, for the Christian, Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore, glorify God in your body. - 1 Cor. 6:19, 20 NASB The purchase transaction is even clearer in 1 Peter, If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. God bought us back with something more precious than gold, the blood of Christ! Another thing it tells us is that He loves us more than humans can comprehend! God bought you back, redeemed you, from the claws of the devil simply because He loves you! Back to the question, “Whose life is it, anyway?” It’s His, God’s, because He bought you. Some don’t like it. Many try to ignore it, even after their conversion, but truth is truth. I belong to Him, and you do too. Frankly, I am ecstatically glad that I do. He loves me, He guides me, He leads me to the springs of life’s joys (Psalm 23). Like a deer who pants for the water brook, we need to learn to look to Him for life, for wisdom, for guidance. Our best course of action is to rejoice with a deep smile when we consider, “Whose life is it anyway?” and rejoice at the answer, “I belong to Him.” So many are so horribly deceived into thinking that following Jesus steals our joy. “I can’t be happy without my Sunday morning fishing trips with my buddies!” In actuality, following “in His steps,” (1 Peter 2:21) is life’s best road to joy! These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. - John 15:11 You see, He owns me, and when I follow my owner, He gives me the gift of unspeakable joy that can come from nowhere else. We belong to Him. He has our best interests in mind, He can see the future. He can lead if we will follow. The cross-shaped hole in every heart can be filled by none other than the one who bought us with His blood. Who does your life belong to? Him!
The Hand That Rocks the Cradle is the Hand that Rules the World
As I was researching a quote for this Mother’s Day article, I learned that the quote for which I searched is actually a full-blown poem! “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world,” is a world-famous quote today. I thought it was ancient, but it is actually part of a poem written the mid 1800s by William Ross Wallace, a Kentucky born attorney and son of a preacher. The poem is far better than the article I planned to write. Happy Mother’s Day! (Deut. 5:16; 2 Timothy 1:5)
Blessings on the hand of women! Angels guard its strength and grace, In the palace, cottage, hovel, Oh, no matter where the place; Would that never storms assailed it, Rainbows ever gently curled; For the hand that rocks the cradle Is the hand that rules the world.
Infancy's the tender fountain, Power may with beauty flow, Mother's first to guide the streamlets, From them souls unresting grow— Grow on for the good or evil, Sunshine streamed or evil hurled; For the hand that rocks the cradle Is the hand that rules the world.
Woman, how divine your mission Here upon our natal sod! Keep, oh, keep the young heart open Always to the breath of God! All true trophies of the ages Are from mother-love impearled; For the hand that rocks the cradle Is the hand that rules the world.
Blessings on the hand of women! Fathers, sons, and daughters cry, And the sacred song is mingled With the worship in the sky— Mingles where no tempest darkens, Rainbows evermore are hurled; For the hand that rocks the cradle Is the hand that rules the world.
An Unrecognized Challenge
I like what I like, unapologetically. Liver and onions, chicken livers and gizzards, brussel sprouts, frog legs and riding motorcycles are all on my “like” menu. Most of us simply like what we like, and much of the time that is totally okay. But sometimes it’s not!
One of life’s major steps to maturity is the ability to tell ourselves, “No,” when the occasion warrants or when the action contemplated is, by God’s definition, simply wrong. In his book, The Road Less Travelled, Dr. M. Scott Peck brilliantly noted the importance of delaying gratification, e.g., “self-control” in Galatians 5:22, 23.
That said, we do err greatly when we live life by our own personal preferences, regardless of spiritual considerations. Not such a big revelation: feeling good feels good! Food on the tongue, a nice back rub or even a spiritual high all simply feel good! But “feeling good” is a poor substitution for “doing good.” Feeling spiritual is a poor substitute for following in the footsteps of Jesus (1 Peter 2:21). Most Christians recognize the Bible quote to follow, “in His steps,” but few remember that within the verse itself are the words, “since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps….”
“In His steps” means pleasing the Father, doing things God’s way, denying self and taking up our cross. “In His steps” means know what God wants and striving to live the life described in the New Testament, not felt in our emotions. Far too many live a sort of bumper sticker theology of doing what feels good, feels right or feels spiritual, rather than actually following scripture in daily decisions. “Attend the church of your choice” was a popular bumper sticker in the 1970s. Really? Do humans actually get to define and choose what they “feel like” God may have said?
Did Jesus die on the cross to ratify personal preferences, or to ratify His last will and Testament? I’m all for individual freedom, but the point at hand here is pleasing God, not self (2 Corinthians 5:9-11).
We can test the veracity of our spiritual choices by examining our own minds: Did I “find a church I like?” Or did I search the scriptures to learn what God says? The last I checked, Acts 17:11 still says, “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” Do I do that which makes my emotions feel spiritual, or do I make daily, personal and spiritual choices that match the word of God?
If we are not gravely careful, if we are not deeply seeking God’s truths through scripture, then we will most likely fall prey to the unrecognized path of pleasing of self rather than our heavenly Father. If we are not deeply committed to what God is telling us in His own word (which we can understand, Ephesians 3:4), then we will unwittingly please self, thinking we are pleasing Him. If we subconsciously allow our emotions to be our guide, rather than His word, we will invariably choose that which pleases self rather than that which pleases God, even while convincing our minds that we are following Him, because it just feels right!
Let’s be people who follow the steps of the Apostles (1 Corinthians 11:1). Let’s be people of the book (1 Timothy 3:16, 17). Let’s be people of God on His terms, not ours (Proverbs 14:12).
CAUGHT BY THE CULTURE
In 1985 a dear preacher friend suggested I read Neil Postman’s then new book Amusing Ourselves to Death. What a deep and important blessing that was. Postman recognized that our culture is racing headlong toward entertainment as a life goal and moving away from education, maturity, and success strategies. As such, on average we in the west are becoming less educated and more addicted to entertainment media - music, movies, social media, internet, etc.
Postman compares Orwell’s book 1984 to Aldous Huxley’s book Brave New World. He correctly points out that Orwell predicted a harsh, surveillance, totalitarian government which burns books and controls every facet of the culture. Conversely, Huxley described a culture in which books are abundant and leisurely amusements the goal of life. The books are not burned, they merely languish on the library shelves, ignored, and even scorned. As Postman’s book describes, the population was merely amusing itself to death. Any intelligent observation clearly shows that Huxley has been far more correct in his predictions than Orwell.
But God, Himself, teaches us there is a third option, and it is obviously neither over-controlling tyranny nor irresponsible, lazy leisure. God’s option is following in the footsteps of Jesus. We must remember He said, “I tell you these things that My joy may be in you and your joy may be made full,” (John 15:11). God calls us to joyful self-discipline. The fruit of the Spirit begins with love and joy, and ends with self-control, (Galatians 5:22,23).
Peter tells us that the devil goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, (1 Peter 5:8.) Before a lion can devour, he must catch. And the primary way we get caught is by the culture. “Do not be deceived, bad company corrupts good morals,” 1 Corinthians 15:33. Those who think they can keep what Paul would call bad company, are, indeed, being deceived. Like a bird comes to the hunter’s call, today’s culture shrieks the siren song, sin. Make no mistake, sin can be fun. Sin can bring pleasure. But the pleasures of sin kill true success and deliver failure and sorrow.
The culture will call you a dozen different ways, from frat parties to politics; from board rooms to bordellos; from the forced tyrannies of totalitarian governments of communism to the lax applications of capitalism. Anything short of scripture will fail to bring the joy of which Jesus speaks in John 15:11, “that My joy may be in you and your joy may be made full.”
Further study: Rom. 6:13; 8:13; I Cor 6:9-11; 9:26, 27
I Stand by the Door By Sam Shoemaker
I stand by the door. I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out. The door is the most important door in the world – It is the door through which men walk when they find God. There is no use my going way inside and staying there, When so many are still outside and they, as much as I, Crave to know where the door is. And all that so many ever find Is only the wall where the door ought to be. They creep along the wall like blind men, With outstretched, groping hands, Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door, Yet they never find it. So I stand by the door.
The most tremendous thing in the world Is for men to find that door – the door to God. The most important thing that any man can do Is to take hold of one of those blind, groping hands And put it on the latch – the latch that only clicks And opens to the man's own touch.
Men die outside the door, as starving beggars die On cold nights in cruel cities in the dead of winter. Die for want of what is within their grasp. They live on the other side of it – live because they have found it.
Nothing else matters compared to helping them find it, And open it, and walk in, and find Him. So I stand by the door.
Go in great saints; go all the way in – Go way down into the cavernous cellars, And way up into the spacious attics. It is a vast, roomy house, this house where God is. Go into the deepest of hidden casements, Of withdrawal, of silence, of sainthood. Some must inhabit those inner rooms And know the depths and heights of God, And call outside to the rest of us how wonderful it is. Sometimes I take a deeper look in. Sometimes venture in a little farther, But my place seems closer to the opening. So I stand by the door.
There is another reason why I stand there. Some people get part way in and become afraid Lest God and the zeal of His house devour them; For God is so very great and asks all of us. And these people feel a cosmic claustrophobia And want to get out. “Let me out!” they cry. And the people way inside only terrify them more. Somebody must be by the door to tell them that they are spoiled For the old life, they have seen too much: One taste of God and nothing but God will do any more. Somebody must be watching for the frightened Who seek to sneak out just where they came in, To tell them how much better it is inside. The people too far in do not see how near these are To leaving – preoccupied with the wonder of it all. Somebody must watch for those who have entered the door But would like to run away. So, for them too, I stand by the door.
I admire the people who go way in. But I wish they would not forget how it was Before they got in. Then they would be able to help The people who have not yet even found the door. Or the people who want to run away again from God. You can go in too deeply and stay in too long And forget the people outside the door. As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place, Near enough to God to hear Him and know He is there, But not so far from men as not to hear them, And remember they are there too.
Where? Outside the door – Thousands of them. Millions of them. But – more important for me – One of them, two of them, ten of them. Whose hands I am intended to put on the latch. So I shall stand by the door and wait For those who seek it.
“I had rather be a doorkeeper,” So I stand by the door.
Not One Without the Other
There is a wonderful old song entitled Love and Marriage that says, “Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.” It’s a fun little ditty made famous by Frank Sinatra in 1955. It was later recorded by Dinah Shore (both versions made the hit parade charts). The song proved so popular that it was recorded by Peggy Lee and Bing Crosby. It was such a popular song that it was used in TV commercials for Campbell’s Soup, Cadbury chocolate, Kellogg’s breakfast cereal, Ban deodorant and Duncan Hines chocolate chip cookies! Virtually everyone in America, even kids, knew the song. The younger generation will recognize it as the theme song for the somewhat rude TV sitcom, Married with Children.
Part of the charm was the sweet-hearted melody, but the main theme was the real winner: Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage! Neither one, without the other, can do as well as either alone!
Likewise, in Christianity, what we call “Good Friday” is useless without Resurrection Sunday” and vice versa. Good Friday is the day Jesus was crucified for the sins of all mankind. But without the resurrection, Good Friday is just another death sentence and crucifixion of some guy in Roman occupied territory. Likewise, Resurrection Sunday, without the shedding of the blood of our precious Jesus, would just be a weird anomaly in human history.
But the blood of the only begotten Son of God, shed on what is commonly referred to as Good Friday, is the watershed moment of human history. Why? Because the blood of bulls and goats does not take away sin (Hebrews 10:4). But the blood of Jesus, more precious than silver or gold (1 Peter 1:17-19), is our only hope for eternal life with Him.
The blood shed on the cross to redeem us from sin and death literally takes away our sin. The resurrection proves both that Jesus is who He said He is, and also shows us what will happen to us after our own physical death (1 John 3:2; Romans 6:4). As the old hymn says, “In the resurrection morning when the trump of God shall sound, we shall rise! Hallelujah! we shall rise!” Thank you, Jesus!
Is My Name Written There? Dan Jenkins, Palm Beach Lakes Church of Christ
There is no way that the author of a hymn has of knowing just how widely it may be used. In every generation, there are songs which briefly appear and just a few years later they are rarely used. There are other songs which have been around for decades, and there must be a reason for this. There was no way for Daniel S. Warner to know in 1893 that the song he published would be around over a century and be translated and sung in both Russia and Germany and become part of over forty hymnals. It is not sung as much today as it once was, but the message it conveys is timeless. My name is in the Book of Life, Oh, bless the name of Jesus; I rise above all doubt and strife And read my title clear. I know, I know, My name is there; I know, I know, My name is written there.
Jesus describes the new birth by which one becomes part of the family of God. The Spirit of God uses the words of God to convict men of sin, righteousness and of the coming judgment (John 16:8) and brings them to a burial in the waters of baptism (John 3:5). The Lord says that if this does not happen, he will never enter the kingdom of heaven. However, when one is baptized, he is added to the kingdom his name is “…registered in heaven” (Heb. 12:23). There is a divine book that has within it the names of all who have been born again.
At the final judgment that book which contains the names of all the redeemed will be opened. “And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15). It is these words which lie in the background of the hymn written 130 years ago.
Can you know that your name is there? The Holy Spirit has revealed how one becomes a child of God in His family. Believers who repent (decide to turn their lives over to Jesus) are led by the Spirit to be buried in water, into the death of Jesus, as they call upon God to save them (1 Pet. 3:21).
These words of the Spirit bear witness that if one does obey Jesus his name will be written in that book. The sobering question is whether your spirit can bear witness that you have obeyed the words of the Spirit. There are two witnesses needed to establish truth. The witness has been given from heaven, there is another witness and that is that your spirit (your soul). Can you say that you have obeyed the Lord and I know your name is written there? The Bible does not say “to my spirit,” but says “with my spirit.” The Spirit bears witness with my spirit that I am saved (Rom. 8:16).
Don’t Be Frightened by Fear “Don’t be frightened by fear?” That might sound a bit odd, a bit like circular reasoning. We are generally frightened by things or situations, wild animals, or darkness. Yet God, Himself, teaches us, “...do what is right without being frightened by any fear.” God is reminding us that we can be frightened by fear itself. (See 1 Peter 3:6.)
In his inaugural address in 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt said, So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. He defines the fear of which he speaks as “unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts....” Today, physically, spiritually, and emotionally, we see more and more people unable or unwilling to advance in life or overcome obstacles simply because they are paralyzed with fear. Usually a fear of loss, fear of rejection or fear of failure. Yet paralysis from fear literally creates failure itself!
Phobos (Greek for “fear” from which we get the English “phobia) and delia (Greek word for “timidity”) are both vital if we are to understand that God gives us a spirit of power over any type of fear. One example is found in 2 Timothy 1:7, For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.
It is important to notice that God does not simply give us a lack of fear. He actively gives us power and love and discipline. Also notice that once He gives us power and love and discipline, we must use that gift of discipline and put it to work with the power and love He gives.
To live life with power and love requires the strong and careful application of discipline. He gives us the gifts, but we must put them to practical, daily use through the exercise of discipline. Power and love without discipline will create sad frustrations in the minds of intelligent people because they cannot help but see their failure to do what lies before us. Even if we clearly see the power and deeply experience the love, without discipline we fail to appropriate the gains that could have been accomplished.
The most common problems that roadblock success are our fears, whatever they may be in whatever realm of life, family, relationships, business, or spirituality. We must trust God, move out, get our feet wet (Joshua 3:14-16), and use the power, love and discipline God gives in abundance. Long before Nike coined their famous phrase, God taught us, “Just do it!”
The Ability to Reason Correctly
As God begins to warn Judah through the prophet Isaiah and plea for them to remain faithful to Him, He makes this familiar statement, “Come now, and let us reason together” (Isa. 1:18). God makes His “reasoned” case through Isaiah and expects the people to understand and reason correctly back into a right relationship with Him.
While many today suggest that truth is relative and everyone has their own truth, that does not match in any way what the God of truth (Isa. 65:16) reveals to us. Jesus said that there is “the truth” (objective, not subjective) and that man would be able to “know” it (John 8:32). While children have not developed the ability to know the difference between “good and evil” (Deut. 1:39; Jon. 4:11), as individuals mature, and especially as they engage with God’s Word, they will “by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:14).
“If I’m lying, I’m dying!” That’s a common phase where I grew up. It is used when a person is about to relate a story which is true but is so far-fetched that that it’s going to a bit hard for others to believe. So here we go…. It was a warm summer Sunday evening worship service where I was the preacher in a small, rural town in southwest Colorado. It was fairly common to have deer on the church property and would often be a distraction as they wandered into view of the congregation. The first time it happened, so many were staring out the side door that I left the pulpit to take a gander myself. But this particular evening I was preaching from Matthew 25, the chapter wherein Jesus tells of judgement day when God would separate the sheep (the saved) and the goats (the lost). About halfway through the lesson a goat, a full grown, literal four-legged brown goat walked up to the main door at the back and stuck his head inside the propped open double doors. I’m pretty sure I paused just a bit too long, then said “There’s a goat at the front door!” Considering the passage under consideration, a mild giggle passed through the church. “No, I mean a real goat… at the front door.” Now a hearty giggle gurgled up from the church family. I should have expected that because I’m known for pulling pranks like that. “Y’all look, it’s a real goat. ZERO people turned around to look, but several rolled their eyes, thinking some version of, “What’s the wacky preacher guy doing now?” Finally, I called on a deacon who was sitting on the middle aisle, “Joe, would you please turn around, look up the aisle and tell everyone what you see?” Joe smiled, figuring he was about to be the object of some joke, but he did look. He turned back with wide eyes and said, “Well, there is a real goat at the front door.” At this point a lot of people turned to look for themselves. Yes, I pretty much lost the attention of the whole crowd! After the giggling stopped the goat dutifully followed the Matthew 25:33 and exited to the left! Yes, really! (An image of that goat is now on our electronic picture frame that cycles through several hundred family photos. It can be seen exiting to the left.) What’s the point? Today, many people have a hard time believing that Jesus is actually going to come back and separate the saved from the unsaved (see Matthew 25:31-33.) Today, Jesus invites us to picture the scene as we read, just as in person then. Christians sort of know, sort of remember, but little time is spent seeing the view in the mind’s eye. Like the people of Ezekiel 12:21-26, many today doubt that Jesus will come back anytime soon. That approach to Jesus’ words has led the last several generations to ignore that passage or deny its reality. We should train ourselves to look for daily reminders of important scriptures that must be remembered if we are to be prepared. Of course, sometimes, even when we aren’t looking for those reminders, God sends little events like a real live goat, when some preacher is speaking on Matthew 25!
The Greatest of These is Love
Most Christians are familiar with 1 Corinthians 13, “the love chapter.” And for good reason, without love even great sacrifices are of no profit, clearly stated by Paul within the chapter, “And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” (13:3, NASB).
What many Christians miss is that “love” in that passage is “agape,” the type of love that seeks the highest good of another person. Our modern western minds use the word “love” mostly to describe a wonderful, emotional high toward a person for whom we have deep and active feelings, often, but not always, romantic.
Fast forward to modern American and we begin to see a problem developing… many Christians today define “love,” just about any kind of love, and think themselves spiritual as they appeal to 1 Corinthians 13. True, biblical spirituality must include true, agape love or it is not, true spirituality. But that reality is little understood, even by many who claim the name of Jesus.
Whether speaking of warm, fuzzy personal feelings or group outpourings of love and wonderful emotions, we must remember God’s use of agape and ask ourselves, “Is what I am experiencing wonderful and personal, or godly, spiritual love. Never forget, even atheists can be magnanimous, giving and caring. Likewise, they can be filled with joy, and seek to bring joy to others. It won’t do them much good on judgment day, but they can, indeed, be very caring.
However, biblical love for God and one another must be based on His love for us. John reminds us of that reality in 1 John 4:19, “We love (agape) because He first loved us.” We must recognize that our love must be a reflection of His love, not merely an outpouring of emotion in song and feeling. Agape mandates obedience (“If you love Me you will keep my commandments,” John 14:15) and also action (as the benevolence outlined in James 2:14-19).
In today’s news we are seeing a revival in various areas of the United States. I do, indeed, hope these emotional outpourings lead to a greater understanding of biblical truth and a deep repentance that leads to true spirituality. Emotions can be good. Paul calls us to a dedication from the heart, in Romans 6:15-18. But notice that the dedication must be to the teaching they had learned, not merely to a wonderful, loving feeling.
Many people today are starved for love and are easily swayed toward any outpouring of emotional love. That can be good, but it can be bad, if and when emotional human love draws people away from the love of God. E.g., a girl might be drawn to the love of a man, but often that emotional human love ignores God’s call not to choose bad company which corrupts good morals, (1 Corinthians 15:33).
Our first and foremost love must be loving God’s truth. Why? Because, if we don’t we will not be saved, no matter how much we love in other ways. Listen to Paul’s warning in 2 Thessalonians 2:9, 10, “…that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.” “What IS truth?” the world asks? Jesus answers in His prayer to the Father, “Thy word is truth,” John 17:17. God’s truth must guide all of our emotions!
Who do you love? What do you love? People? Emotionalism? Kind-heartedness? Outpouring of emotions? Or do you love God’s truth so as to be saved? And do you love others as Jesus has loved you? (John 13:34, 35).
Two Types of Blessings
The faithful Christian widow I sat with had been a devout New Testament Christian almost all her life. I’ve known very few Christians who were as deeply dedicated as she had been. Well into her eighties, she said something that caught me off guard, “I just hope I’ve been good enough for God to let me into heaven.” Being the brash young preacher that I was, I stated flatly, “Well, let me say, ‘You haven’t.’” Her shocked look bore no words. I continued, “No one is getting into heaven but by the grace of God.” She relaxed, then a slow smile replaced her concern, “Why can’t I remember that? I’ve known that all my life!” We shared a soft chuckle.
Many Christians struggle to process God’s truths on the subject of grace. Part of that struggle is that it simply seems too good to be true. Indeed, it does seem too good to be true, but it is. God forgives our sins through the blood of His Son on the cross, not through our work on earth. Paul reminds us that if we try to be saved by our own works, we actually lose His grace (Galatians 5:4).
Another reason some Christians struggle to process their full understanding of “grace” is that there are two types of blessings. One type of blessing is grace, itself, which we cannot earn (Ephesians 2:8-10). It is a gift which must be accepted on God’s terms, not ours. Accepted, not earned, such is the very nature of a gift. Salvation itself depends on it.
The other type of blessings are earthly blessings that come from keeping God’s word. Close marriages are a blessing from God. He rewards husbands and wives who are faithful and loving, treating each other with grace (forgiveness for the dumb things we all do). One clear example is Proverbs 10:3, “The Lord will not allow the righteous to hunger, But He will reject the craving of the wicked.” Physical sustenance is a blessing from God’s earth, sun and water to those who are righteous… not to the wicked. Notice that God, Himself, will see to the needs of the righteous - a physical blessing earned by righteousness - not the spiritual blessing of salvation, which comes through God’s grace, not our works (back to Ephesians 2:8).
Many, many blessings are the result of our success in doing the right thing (by God’s definition, not man’s). That is true for hard work, caring for the sick, helping the poor, etc. We get, physical, emotional, and spiritual blessings from personal righteousness. Healthy, loving, cooperative church families come from the righteousness of the members. Godly children come from godly, faithful, spiritual parenting, and so on for a myriad of blessings.
Let us strive to understand and remember that the grace of forgiveness is one type of blessing from God, a gift never earned. Other blessings are, indeed, earned by faithful righteousness in loving obedience to God.
For further study: Psalm 18:20; Psalm 19:11; 2 Chronicles 15:6-8; Matthew 6:1,2
The Oddity of Human Holidays
Human holidays can be a bit weird. Some cultures celebrate “The Day of the Dead” wherein they celebrate dead ancestors by dressing up like a dead person, dancing and celebrating by eating candy shaped like human skulls (yes, really… look it up!). Weird huh?
One of our odder holidays in western cultures is happening this week. It’s quite friendly, even romantic but the origins of Valentines’ Day are not so sweet. There were several Christian martyrs named “Valentine” the most notable was Valentine of Rome who was killed for his faith by the Roman government in 269 A.D. His skull is decorated with flowers and has become an object of worship in the Catholic church. Another person named Valentine was martyred 273 A.D. The Catholic Encyclopedia says there was a third, but there are few details about him.
As is common among humans (or at least some odd ones), some have taken the murder of early Christians, added chubby little baby angels with magic arrows (that make people fall in love when skewered by one) added red hearts (which are not shaped like hearts) and peppered the holiday with exchanges of candy and other gifts. I can’t help but wonder what the martyred Christians would think of the celebration of the death in this modern way! Remember, of course, the holiday has somewhat of a religious flair with the addition of “Saint” added. “Saint Valentine’s Day” is, like most holidays, quite commercialized for the sale of millions of dollars’ worth of cards and candy - even in grade schools where each kid in the class gives “valentines” to each of the others.
I suppose most of this man-made holiday is fairly innocuous, especially since it has become more of a cultural day of kindness and romance rather than memories of martyrs. But the whole thing does bring up a good question, “How do all of these oddities come to be?” Without going into long, detailed histories, suffice it to say, man strays from real history constantly. Whether by intention or by accident and imagination, man strays from reality quite often.
That’s where written record comes in. The written record of martyrs named “Valentine” gives us a permanent history that does not change. Odd but true: ink on a page is more trustworthy than human memories and cultural ideas.
That’s where scripture comes in. In God’s infinite wisdom, he chose ink on a page, first from the pens of the apostles and early scribes, then from the plates of a printing press. There, locked on the unchangeable pages of God’s word, are the messages from His heart to ours. There are truths of God to the ears and minds of men… the very “Testament” which Jesus died to ratify (see Hebrews chapter 9). Therein are the truths that set us free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). Therein are the words of eternal life (John 6:68, 69).
Man will always have his man-made frivolities, some innocuous, some rather odd! But we will always have Jesus’ words life. God’s truths will not fade away like the grass but will endure forever (Isaiah 40:6-8).
The Depths of Deception
Many years ago, a study was done on the effects of television programming on adults. Most college students in the study agreed that a lot of TV viewing had negative effects on most people, but over 80% said it didn’t affect them, personally.
Scientific American Magazine, Science times Magazine, Harvard University and many other respected institutions have published research showing numerous deleterious effects of too much TV time. Yet most people think it affects others, but not them. That’s the way deception works - we usually think others are deceived, but not ourselves!
This article is not really about television, that is just one example. There is only one passage of scripture that says Satan has one tool that affects the whole world: “deception.” “And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world…” Rev. 12:9.
We might notice that each one of us is part of “the whole world!” We like to imagine that we are above the fray, too educated and thoughtful to fall for Satan’s deceptions. But in reality, that is nothing but arrogant… not that we are arrogant people in general, but that is an arrogant position. Part of Satan’s deception is to convince us that we are above deception itself!
Dr. Benjamin T. Moore, III wrote a small but compelling book, Let My People Think. In this 132-page book, Dr. Moore plays off Moses’ words to Pharoah, “Let My people go!” Often mankind creates political, social, and financial freedom while still, unknowingly, being chained mentally and spiritually to the world’s system of thinking. It happens to Christians also, even strong ones!
Seemingly small things like allowing anger to continue past the close of day, open up opportunities for Satan to come in and destroy a person personally and destroy his or her relationships. (See Ephesians 4:25-27.) in verse 25, Paul teaches us that the first step is to be “ridding yourselves of falsehood,” (NASB) and the precursor to that is put on a new self… in the “holiness of truth,” (verses 20-24).
Obviously, forming a new self in the holiness of truth is not an easy task. Why? Specifically, because Satan’s deception is so… well… deceptive! Taking specific steps to allow scripture to form and/or refine my understanding of the world, of God and of myself, then taking practical steps to form the mind of Christ is an absolute requirement if we are to overcome the deceptions of Satan. Ephesians 4:17 reminds us that without God, we are doomed to walk in the futility of the mind.
Peter calls us to a high plane in I Peter 1:13: “Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
We must be constantly vigilant to prepare our minds by using God’s word to expose the deceptions of Satan in our culture and in our personal hearts and minds.
Searching for Truth
Diogenes of Sinope (404-323 B.C.) was a Greek philosopher who is still somewhat famous to this day. He advocated for truth over nice manners, which is still a difficult balance in friendly circles, “Does my new hairdo look good, sweetheart?” There’s a challenge for any man! But Diogenes is most famous for walking about at night with a lantern, holding close to people’s faces saying he was looking for an honest man. A serious search for honesty must include two things, finding truth, then finding those who will hold fast to the truth. It is such a controversial issue that many professors teach that man cannot know truth. I would submit that man is literally afraid to find and defend truth for fear they will become an outcast in their own circle of friends and family (or be electronically canceled by big tech!). One grave problem is that established media outlets quite often hide or spin truth to suit their own agendas, political or social. Media outlets who do that become, by default, part of cabal seeking to either advance or defend an agreed upon mantra, rather than do the hard and often dangerous work of literally reporting truth and letting the proverbial chips fall where they may. Through either obfuscation or biased mistake, the truth is subdued. I see a strong parallel in the religious world wherein truth (God’s truth, not some human version of it) is not sought from God’s written word, but rather a pre-determined, man-made doctrine is defended, even if it flies in the face of God’s written truth. In John 17:17, Jesus, praying to Father, said of the disciples, “Sanctify them in truth, Thy word is truth.” Let’s be frank, two churches cannot teach directly opposing things and both be right; e.g., one church teaches that Jesus is deity and another that He is not deity. They cannot both be right, no matter how loudly modern (anti-logical) thought claims that they can! I submit that every thinking person alive must, if he wishes to find truth, be brutally logical and practically careful in his or her search for truth. Truth matters, whether in a court of law or the court of public opinion. All too often people are so afraid of public opinion that they capitulate by either agreeing with error or simply remaining quiet for fear of ostracism. When, oh when, will people, in general, seek the maturity that only comes from a restless, energetic, logical search for truth? In Colossians 2, God settles the debate about the deity of Jesus in verse 9, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity dwells in bodily form….” But notice verse 8, “See to it that there is no one who takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception in accordance with human tradition, in accordance with the elementary principles of the world, rather than in accordance with Christ.” Most people severely underestimate the depth and power of earthly influence, and when they do, the principles of the world become the basis of their thoughts, ideas and assessments of what they choose to call “truth,” (or their denial of it). Let us be gravely careful to grow the courage to see, understand, be dedicated to and then proclaim God’s truth, from His written word, no matter what religions gurus try to tell us! Buy truth, and do not sell it, get wisdom and instruction and understanding. Prov. 23:23.
Don’t Equate Difficulty with Evil
When you were a child, there were times when you faced some difficulty or perhaps discipline and it felt like something bad. You may have even perceived it as evil. I certainly had plenty of those moments. As we grow older, we begin to see reality in a brighter light. I speed, I get a ticket. I stay in the parking space too long and I get a parking ticket. Some cause and effect events are fairly clear and obvious.
Some events in life are not so obvious. Often things in the spiritual realm are not so easily sorted out, particularly if we are not soaking daily life in God’s word. When that happens and life seems to get sideways, we are unsure of what is happening. Job is a perfect example of confusing the struggles of normal life on earth with discipline from God. Job was suffering, indeed, but the sources of his suffering were first, Satan’s bringing actual maladies and second, the verbal attacks from his friends who had misconstrued what was happening (Job 42:7).
We, like Job’s friends, can easily mistake normal life challenges for discipline from God, and vice versa!Americans today are fairly insulated from second and third world problems if we live a proper disciplined life. For instance, very few who work hard with a good attitude will become homeless, etc.), but it’s still easy to mistake God’s loving discipline for evil… Satan loves to deceive us in this earthly realm (Rev. 12:9).
We see a principle at work in Jeremiah 29:11: For I know the plans have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.
People love to appeal to that verse in troubled times, but it was not written to us! The verse was written to people whom God, Himself, had driven from their homes and their nation because of abject sin. God’s own people had allowed violence, immorality and idolatry to flood into their nation and their own lives. Verse 11 is given to speak of their future 70 years later! Notice the previous verse: “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. And verse 12: Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.
They are in the midst of God’s discipline, and it isn’t going to end anytime soon! The principle of verse 11 still applies: after God has disciplined a sinner, he can seek God in prayer and God will listen. The principle is just as clear in Hebrews 12:3-11, which ends with this wisdom: All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. When we allow God’s discipline to train us, we then enter the “peaceful fruit of righteousness” stage we love. POINT: be gravely careful that you do not misinterpret the loving discipline of God to be evil. AND be gravely careful not to misinterpret actual evil as if it were an expression of God’s love. How do know the difference? My only answer is to soak life’s sores in the wisdom and healing of God’s word. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” (Ps. 119:105).
Forget Me Not
For the gardeners among us, the Forget Me Not is joyous little half inch flower, usually sky blue, that grows in dense clumps of simple beauty. I’ve always marveled at the name, almost an admonition not to forget the beauty these little gems impart to those who gaze upon them.
The same term is often a love thought that passes between loved ones as they temporarily part ways for some distant journey. “Forget me not” at its root is a term of endearment that is both gentle and a bit of a request based on love’s longing to be in the other’s thoughts and dreams.
Virtually every true Christian is aware of the reality that 1 Corinthians 13 is nicknamed, “The Love Chapter.” Yet virtually every conflict among God’s children is, in one way or another, a lapse in the memory, a sort of forgetting of the precious description of love itself.”Oh, that we might learn to use the term and the application of “forget me not” to request not merely a thought from a person but a memory of the passage!
We all know the call: Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…. (English Standard Version).
Countless sermons and classes have been taught from this passage and the personal applications are endless. But in reality, it is so very easy to forget the actual specifics of the call to apply these qualities in our personal relationships!
I have an idea: open your Bible and get a pen. In the margin write “Forget Me Not” as bold as your pen will allow. Then put a star beside it. Then put a circle around it. Then draw a little 5 petaled blossom of the Forget Me Not flower beside it, then color it blue, then put a check mark at the top outside corner of the page, the dog ear the page, then put a bookmark there, then… well, you get the idea - forget it not!
From childhood sweethearts to life-long marriages, from dearly beloved Christian brothers and sisters, from head-to-head and heart-to-heart, agape the highest, least selfish form of love binds heart and lives to one another, and binds our souls to the Son of God. Indeed… Forget Me Not must apply to the passage as well as the person. “Let all that you do be done in love,” 1 Corinthians 16:14. When we live the love, the flowers of our faith will brighten the path of all we meet. Don’t forget!
Thought for the Day
The apostle Paul had been arrested, imprisoned and confined without cause for well over two years because he preached “the resurrection of the dead” (Act 23:6; 24:21; 28:20). When he finally stood on trial before King Agrippa, Paul asked the question to the king and the multitude that was gathered, “Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?” (Acts 26:8). Think about that question.
If God is truly God, what is there that is “impossible” (Mark 10:27) for Him? What is there that He is not “able to do” (Eph. 3:20)? As the Almighty God “who made the world and everything in it” (Acts 17:24) and “who made you and formed you from the womb” (Isa. 44:2), why should it be thought incredible that God raises the dead or does any other mighty work? Child of God, do not limit your God! Do not make Him fit your expectations! Do not demote Him or doubt His might! Why should it be incredible to you that He can make a difference in your life? David Sproule Palm Beach Lakes church of Christ, Palm Beach Gardens, FL
In the blockbuster movie series, Back to the Future, we see many interesting things, but one important lesson even children easily notice is that decisions and actions based on those decisions can completely change long term outcomes in life! Through the application of self-discipline (Galatians 5:23) decisions become actions which change the courses of our lives. Self-discipline is certainly a key ingredient in life’s recipe, but without good, proper decisions, self-discipline could actually be used to pursue an evil goal. So let us focus for a moment on the decision side of life’s equation. Eighty-two times we see some form of “decide” or “decision” in the New America Standard Bible. Obviously, this is a major concept in a Christian’s walk with God. If we also consider forms of the word “choose” we see 233 occurrences of those words in the NASB! Decisions happen in the head, then choosingis usually logical and practical application of our decisions. Example: on a playground, kids decide who they want on their team, then they actively choose those persons. It would be hard to over-estimate the number of decisions and choices every person makes daily. Food choices, purchase choices, reading choices, time and activity choices, word choices, TV choices, movie choices, etc. for virtually every thought we have and action we take. One famous passage shows the importance of our choices: “…choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served, which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” - Joshua 24:15 The choice made “…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” had the outcome of great blessings and even national success for the nation. The challenge issued by Joshua can and should be applied today. We must make a decision in our heads, then make the practical choice which results in serving the Lord. Like Back to the Future, we can and do change our futures when we make decisions and then choose courses of action. Be gravely careful that you do not make important life decisions based on comfort or pleasure. Be gravely careful that you do not make important life decisions sub-consciously but consciously, looking to your future, on earth and in eternity. Joy in this life and unspeakable joy in the next are inextricably linked to your decisions and choices today. You CAN and DO change your future with your choices today. Choose well.
Seeing the Unseen
Sounds a bit impossible. But God calls us to see the unseen and He never gives us a command which He does not empower us to accomplish. Example: God never commanded me to jump over the Grand Canyon. I wish He would, then He would empower me to be able to do it, and it would be so much fun! And I would hold the long jump record forever!
Back to the topic: seeing the unseen. There are two ways we do that. First through what we often call the “eye of faith.” After all, the very definition of “faith” found in Hebrews 11:1 is, “Now faith is the certainty of things hoped for, a proof of things not seen.” Did you catch it, “… not seen.” In verse 8, Abraham left not knowing where he was going, he couldn’t even see the next pit stop in his journey. But he obeyed God and followed the daily instructions of the journey.
We must do the same. Although we cannot see God’s plan for tomorrow, we follow “in His steps” as Peter says in 1 Peter 2:21. The only way we can follow Jesus is to put our feet in His footsteps day by day. “But I can’t see His footsteps!” you say? Ah… that is the point… you follow even though you cannot see. “But that’s nonsense,” you say? It is nonsense only if you cannot see with the eye of faith!
“OK, where do I get this faith? How do I develop it?” I’m glad you asked. God answers through Paul’s pen in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” As you read, you can not only understand (Ephesians 3:4), but you also “see” because reading and understanding give you the ability to see, through the eye of faith, exactly where to walk, “not as unwise but as wise,” (Ephesians 5:15).
In the great hall of faith, Hebrews chapter 11, we are called to see not only the footsteps forward, but the memory backward. It is not our own personal memory, but through faith in God’s word we “see” the great faith giants of the past, how they walked in faith in deeply challenging times. The call, through that walk down memory lane, is to build our faith to the point where we can see, understand, and walk in the same faith that created courage and discipline in those men and women of Hebrews 11.
By faith, we see the past, the great men of old, the birth of Jesus, the strength of the apostles, the faithfulness of the average Christians in spreading the good news, Acts 8:4. As we read, we understand, we see, we share the memories of the first century and we then see the future, the “unseen” of tomorrow, next year and, by the grace of God, our eternity with Him.
Be Not Deceived
Deception is one of the most common things we see in human interactions. From personal interaction to national discourse to international intrigue, deception is almost the norm! Deception is rampant for many reasons, including the pursuit of power, money, control, domination, and the fact that it often works! If deception seldom worked, only the naive would attempt it. But deception is, indeed, often successful for the simple reason that deception, by its very nature, seeks to hide the real agenda behind the attempt. To state the obvious, deception deceives. Some attempts are more effective than others but being deceived by every whim of others is not inevitable. God has a lot to say about deception, in both event and warning. God tells us through Paul’s pen, “Do not be deceived…” in serval passages. The entire Bible has nearly 100 passages about deception (depending on which English translation is being used. “Be not deceived” is actually in the imperative mood, meaning it is a command. Knowing that God never commands what we cannot achieve, we should know deeply in our hearts that we can live a godly life that, more often than not, we can avoid being deceived. From the beginning of time, God’s people have had to deal with deception. Eve was deceived by Satan, 1 Timothy 2:14. Laban deceived Jacob, Genesis 31. Wine and strong drink are deceivers, Proverbs 20:1, and on and on. And we must remember the ever-present deception that is common in our culture – simply being with those of bad morals, “Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals,” 1 Corinthians 15:33. King Saul was corrupted when he listened to the people and feared their voice, “I have sinned, for I have violated the command of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and listened to their voice,” 1 Samuel 15:24. In today’s world it is a challenge to avoid people of bad morals! But we must, as much as possible. Yes, we must associate with people void of faith (1 Corinthians 5:9-11). But each of us can mitigate the time we spend with “bad company.” It might be embarrassing at times. It might even cause loss of former friendships, especially when a friend is in the process of becoming bad. Many I know have had to sever former relationships when their friend ignored what is right. We must be on guard because our hearts can be deceived from deep within. Deuteronomy 11:16, “Beware that your hearts are not easily deceived, and that you do not turn away and serve other gods and worship them.” Once a heart is deceived, it often deceives others: Isaiah 44:20, “…a deceived heart has misled him. Deception does not need an outside source, “The arrogance of your heart has deceived you, “Obadiah 1:3.” Likewise, 1 Corinthians 3:18 warns, “Take care that no one deceives himself.” Perhaps the most egregious deception is precisely that, self-deception,” which is usually born of the desire to ignore God’s word in one’s personal life. From outside influences to internal desires, each of us must take great care not to be deceived, consciously or subconsciously and thus begin a trek that leads away from God.
Discerning Empty Philosophies
Some passages of scripture are umbrella verses that can cover a lot of ground. For example, in Luke 6:27 Jesus said, “…do good to those who hate you.” That’s an umbrella verse that covers a lot of life. “Do good” might be a thousand different things. Herein the focus will be on an umbrella verse that calls for a lot of wisdom and understanding, Colossians 2:8: See to it that there is no one who takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception in accordance with human tradition, in accordance with the elementary principles of the world, rather than in accordance with Christ.
The challenge is for the faithful follower of Christ to both recognize and avoid the philosophies and empty deceptions of his or her generations. In Ephesians 4:14 Paul refers to the problem as, “the trickery of people, by craftiness in deceitful scheming….” Similarly, in Ephesians 6:11 he warns that, “We must not be ignorant of the devil’s schemes. His schemes come in a plethora of ways that deceive many people in every generation.
One of Satan’s schemes that often goes unnoticed is the slow creep of what we could call “normalization.” That happens when the culture, as a whole, slowly begins to accept a sin and define it as good. God has warned us about that problem for over 1700 years, Isaiah 5:20: Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
Like the proverbial frog being slowly boiled without jumping out of the pan, many in society and sadly, even some Christians, begin to slowly but surely accept abject sins that previous generations recognized and rejected. The heinousness of the sin is of little consequence. From “little white lies” to abortion and same sex marriage, slow acceptance of sin is common when Christians pay more attention to culture than to scripture. One of the dangers comes for the slow nature of the societal change. The ungodly change, even at its slow pace, must be recognized and confronted by faithful Christians in every generation.
Today, some philosophies and empty deceptions seem to be more deceptive than ever, but in reality, every generation of God’s people have had to be biblically educated and practically aware to be able to overcome the schemes of the devil. We must, each one of us, make it a personal and individual goal to live life by the gospel, the power of salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). Satan’s schemes can be extremely deceptive. Our spiritual wisdom must be profoundly deep. If we fall short of this goal, we will normalize sin without realizing our failure.
Author Melody Beattie wrote, “Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” True, indeed. That’s what gratitude does, but what is gratitude? National Medal of Arts winner, Lionel Hampton, a multi-award-winning jazz musician in the 20th century, defined it in a very practical way, “Gratitude is when memory is stored in the heart, not the mind.” That’s a lovely thought with which I agree. But that only works if one’s heart is in the right place.
As our nation recently celebrated Thanksgiving Day, we must not let it escape our notice that the deepest giving of thanks must be accompanied by genuine gratitude. Being grateful is actually a prerequisite for thankfulness. Once we are genuinely grateful, we must recognize the source of that for which we are grateful. We must recognize that the vast majority of what we have, life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, food, family, friends, fun, shelter and clothing and joy, God is the giver, for He has created the raw materials from which we build those things. Gratitude is the fertile soil of the soul from which true thanksgiving grows.
If we don’t recognize Jehovah God as the great creator, builder, giver of life and source of all blessings, we will most likely live in frustration, feeling under the thumb of mindless circumstance, or we will begin to credit ourselves with whatever we have and become smug, feeling superior to those who have less, and inferior to those who have more.
To the contrary, when we live in genuine gratitude which flows into thanksgiving to God, we begin to know we are loved by Him, and blessed by Him, and the attitude those two create becomes a life lived in a positive place, even if the world is falling apart. No wonder Paul commands us to let our mind dwell on positive things (Philippians 4:4-8).
In this often dark and foreboding world we must, as the famous author Anonymous one wrote, “Put some gratitude in your attitude. There’s always something to be grateful for.” He also gives us the practical process of getting there, “Spend the day appreciating every little thing that comes your way and you’ll end the day feeling deeply grateful for your life!”
Yes, I know the world is coming apart at the seams. But remember Jesus said in John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
And on that day you will say, “Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name. Make known His deeds among the peoples; Make them remember that His name is exalted.” Isaiah 12:4
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His faithfulness is everlasting. 1 Chronicles 16:34, Psalm 136:1
That I may proclaim with the voice of thanksgiving And declare all Your wonders. Psalm 26:7
A completely dark room is hard to navigate. A dimly lit room is only a little better. Have you noticed that the best lighting in a room is when it is hanging from the ceiling, so that the whole room benefits from it? That’s exactly what Jesus said that Christians are to be! We are to be “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14), but where are we? Are we a “light” that is kept down low near the ground, where we are less visible? No! Are we a “light” that is shaded to keep from being too obvious or bright? No! Christians are to be a light that is put “on a lampstand” (5:15). The lampstand would be in a prominent place in the home. It was elevated to provide maximum coverage for “all who are in the house.” Do we want our faith to be prominent in our lives, or do we hold it back? Do we seek to provide maximum coverage for all people, or are we selective about who we want to see our faith? True Christians are unshaded lamps of the gospel of Christ (2 Cor. 4:3-7).
David Sproule Palm Beach Lakes Church of Christ, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida We Are a Bit Different As Christians, we are certainly different from the world - we all know that. But we are not very different from Christians in the first century. We are saved by the blood of Jesus, we are despised by some in the world (the darkness hates the light John 3:19-21) and we have peace that surpasses all comprehension of those who don’t have it (Philippians 4:4-13). But in one way we are very different. In the first century, in most of the Mediterranean countries, all people were under the thumb of the Roman Empire. They had been conquered, militarily, and were subjects of the whims of the emperor. They had no say in governmental affairs. In America today, we are greatly blessed by God to live in the nation where all citizens, including Christians, are actually the sovereign. We the people, are the final word, the kings in command, the final arbiter of the entire government. (Yes, I know some want to change that, but so far it is still in effect.) We the people decide who rules, by vote and appointment of those we elected. We the people gained the responsibility of this contract on June 21, 1788, when New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the Constitution. Ever since then, we became different. The principles that apply to government, in the scriptures, now, necessarily, apply to us… we the people, who control our nation. In essence and in law, we the people are now responsible to our nation and to God for the governing laws we create. As God held King David responsible for Uriah’s death (not Joab), God holds responsible those who have the final power and authority. (See 2 Samuel 11-12 for that story). Today, that sovereign authority is squarely in the hands of we the people, as a group. Certainly, we don’t always get what we vote for, but the majority does. The majority may vote in people who go against God’s word (and often do). But that does not negate every Christian’s personal responsibility to do all they can to vote for people who will support what is good and right. This responsibility weighs heavily on me, personally, and we should all take it very seriously. A dear personal friend once taught that ability plus opportunity equals responsibility. When we have an ability and also the opportunity, we have, thereby, responsibility. If I have the ability and the opportunity to save someone from a burning house, the I also have the responsibility. If I have been granted by God and our founding fathers the ability and the opportunity to shape our nation toward good and away from evil, the I also have the responsibility to do what I can to affect that outcome. This Tuesday, Americans, including Christians, will make choices as the sovereigns of our nation. On every ballot will be choices between good and evil. Please, please, as in all other endeavors, make sure your choices are as godly as you know how. The choices of sovereigns make or break nations.
Think on These Things Over the years it has been interesting to see how often culture aligns with scripture... not very often. But when it does, it is noteworthy. Obviously, our culture is becoming increasingly evil. Crime, immortality and even idolatry are on the rise. Without God, these cultural crashes inevitably bring frustration and despair in our society. But individually, it is not so inevitable. Back in the 1960s, Bob Luman recorded a song written by Boudleaux Bryant entitled, Let’s Think About Living.” The opening lyrics are quite honest about songs reflecting violent crime and despair, but move quickly into the chorus with, “Let’s think about living, let’s think about loving... let’s forget about the whining and the lying and the shooting and the dying and the fellow with the switchblade knife, let’s think about living, let’s think about life.” God’s plan is for His faithful people to respond to His word and this song parallels that plan. Frustration is natural, normal, and often the right response, but despair is not. Paul covers some very important bases in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 He is very open and honest as he recognizes negative things in life, but he quickly moves to the antidote: 7 But we have this treasure in earthen containers, so that the extraordinary greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying around in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who live are constantly being handed over to death because of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our mortal flesh. 12 So death works in us, but life in you. Then, after reminding us of our own coming resurrection and the grace of God in verses 14 and 15, Paul seals the passage with this encouragement: 16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer person is decaying, yet our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. We are, indeed, “perplexed but not despairing” (v. 8) if and when we focus not on things temporal, but on the eternal (v. 18). Maybe Paul was serious when he taught us to rejoice, pray and to let our minds dwell on the positive things in Philippians 4:4-9. Ray Wallace
Listening For God’s Voice
A Native American and his friend were in downtown New York City, walking near Times Square. It was during the noon lunch hour and the streets were filled with people. Cars were honking their horns, taxicabs were squealing around corners, sirens were wailing, and the sounds of the city were almost deafening. Suddenly, the Native American said, “I hear a cricket.” His friend said, “What? You must be crazy. You couldn’t possibly hear a cricket in all this noise!” “No, I’m sure of it,” the Native American said, “I heard a cricket.” “That’s crazy,” said the friend. The Native American listened carefully for a moment, and then walked across the street to a big cement planter where some shrubs were growing. He looked into the bushes beneath the branches, and sure enough, there was a small cricket. His friend was utterly amazed. “That’s incredible,” said his friend. “You must have super-human ears!” “No,” said the Native American. “My ears are no different from yours. It all depends on what you’re listening for.” “But that can’t be,” said the friend. “I could never hear a cricket in all this noise.” “Yes, you can,” came the reply. “Here, let me show you.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a few coins, and discreetly dropped them on the sidewalk. And then, with the noise of the crowded street still blaring in their ears, they noticed that every person’s head within twenty feet turned and looked to see if the money that tinkled on the pavement was theirs. “See what I mean?” asked the Native American. “It all depends on what’s important to you, and what you’re listening for.” What’s important to us? What do we listen for? Are there times that we fail to listen to God, because we are focused on other things that are more important to us? Regarding the Jews, Jesus said, “For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear.” (Matthew 13:15-16; cf. Isaiah 6:9-10; Acts 28:26-27). Brethren, amid the distractions of the world all around us, may our ears always be open, not only ready to listen for, but to hear and be obedient to God’s voice as He speaks to us through His word (1 Samuel 3:9-10; cf. John 8:47; John 10:4; John 10:27; 1 John 4:6).
Some folks may ask me, some folks may say, “Who is this Jesus you talk about every day?” He is my Savior, He set me free, Now listen while I tell you what He means to me.
This is far more than a kids’ camp song. It is a reminder to all who call on the name of Jesus as the only begotten Son of God. All too often Christians can unintentionally allow our religion to become a set of rules and regulations void of relationship.
The church that Jesus built does, indeed, have rules and regulations. To deny that is to deny Christian love itself. Why? Because Jesus, Himself, said, “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments,” - John 14:15. Without commandments to keep, we cannot fully love Him as He commanded.
The problem comes if Christians either, A. Deny there are rules and regulations to obey (“Just fell the love!”), or B. Begin to believe that rules and regulations are the only things in Christianity.
I agree with James Dobson’s comment, “Rules without relationship create rebellion.” I’ve spent my 43 years preaching career seeing some people reject the rules because they do not have love for Jesus, nor recognize Jesus’ love for them. Far too may forget the powerful reality found in 1 John 4:19, “We love because He first loved us.” We can love, simply because He first loved us! Since it is virtually impossible to express love without some sort of sacrifice, it makes sense when we read, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son….” Love gives. Love sacrifices. Love often gives up something.
In our case today, love gives up sin to “keep His commandments.” The more we love, the more we talk about the object of our love. The more we talk about the object of our love, in this case, Jesus, Himself, the more people hear us talking. The more they hear us talking, the more likely they are to ask, “Who is this Jesus you talk about every day?” Then we can answer the question as an expression of our love for Him and for them:
He is my everything, He is my all He is my everything, both great and small He gave His life for me, made everything new, He is my everything, now how about you?
Pessimism and Optimism, Personal and National
Optimism vs Pessimism has been debated since the time of the great Greek philosophers. Aristotle was known for his optimism, but he connected it to positive actions, not merely thoughts or moods: He wrote “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Modern counselors have also recognized the link between actions and mental health. It is now widely understood that good, disciplined actions in heart and in hand, are basic parts of good attitudes and good moods. But optimism is a growing challenge when daily life is growing tougher. Inflation has some families deciding between heat and eats. Political arguments are dominating the news tempting us to give up hope. Personal friends are attacking personal friends for perceived social infractions and even families are drawing battle lines and rejecting one another for social or political offenses. There truly are many things in our nation that are currently challenging our pursuit of love, joy, peace and patience. The international scene is not any better, with active wars, pipeline sabotage, sky-rocketing crime rates and supply chain problems, including food. We should never deny the realities of those things. Denial of reality is never God’s plan for your peace. But optimism should never be the result of circumstances you do not control personally. Again the Greeks recognized the pursuit of optimism as a basic reality of life - a reality many have missed today. Democritus wrote, “Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul.” Keep in mind that these were secular philosophers who, somehow, somewhere, stumbled on these timeless truths that things and situations do not control or deliver optimism or pessimism. So, what does? In reality, you do. Optimism vs pessimism is a personal choice - it is now and always has been. All my life I have seen individuals who are in the same place in the same circumstances, yet one is happy and optimistic and the other is unhappy and pessimistic. Optimism is simply not a result of ignorance or denial of bad circumstances. It is a result of an individual’s response to the circumstances! Never forget that. Write it on your bathroom mirror in eyebrow pencil (that works very well, ask me how I know). Frame it in fancy calligraphy on your dining room wall. And write it on the tablet of your heart. And remember that the concept applies to national and international situations as much as personal ones. No matter what is happening outside our minds, we still control our personal, inner responses. I’m not saying a positive response is always easy, but Paul tells us it is possible, as God inspired him to encourage the church at Philippi to combine positive thoughts, with positive actions:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, think about these things. As for the things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Did you catch it? We must allow our minds to dwell on positive things! Control your thoughts and practice the things Paul has taught! When you actually live in that reality, “the God of peace will be with you.”
Seeing the World Through Your Own Headlines
Sometimes I just want it to stop. Talk of Covid, protests, looting, brutality. I lose my way. Become convinced that that this “new normal” is real life.
But then, I meet an 87 year old who talks of living through Polio diptheria, Vietnam, protests and yet is still enchanted with life. He seemed surprised when I said that 2020 must be especially challenging for him. “No,” he said slowly looking me straight in the eyes, “I learned a long time ago to not see the world through the printed headlines. I see the world through the people that surround me. I see the world with the realization that we love big. Therefore, I just choose to write my own headlines. “Husband loves wife today.” “Family drops everything to come to Grandma’s bedside.” He patted my hand. “Old man makes new friend.”
His words collide with my worries, freeing them from the tether I had been holding tight. They float away. I am left with a renewed spirit. My headline now reads, “Woman overwhelmed by the spirit of kindness and the reminder that our capacity to love is never ending.”
(From Facebook 2022)
Nature and Nature’s God
I love the forest. I grew up hunting, hiking and camping. In my mid teen years I would camp with other teens for days, and “live off the land” as we imagined ourselves modern versions of Daniel Boone, eating rabbits, bull frogs, and fish. I find the forest a place of solitude and reflection, rest and rejuvenation. But I’ve never found my soul there! Since the hippie movement of the 1960s, many Americans have looked to nature rather than nature’s God for everything from folly to philosophy. In reality, when humans supplant the true God with physical nature, they are merely rejecting the Creator of nature and allowing their own desires to become their personal god. In Romans 1:22-25, Paul warned true followers of Jesus about this very thing (they worshipped created things rather than the Creator). Likewise, the founding fathers of our country would refer to nature and Nature’s God. I don’t know how many times I have heard some say (Christian or not), “I can be closer to God camping on a mountain top than I can in church.” That comment reveals a deep, but often unrecognized reality within that person’s mind: My religion is one of personal emotions and enjoyment of pleasing self, rather than one of seeking to please the almighty God who created me and gave His Son to die on the cross to redeem me from my own sin. Every true Christian should desire to show his or her love for God in the way God, Himself, has given us in scripture, “If you love Me you will keep my commandments,” - John 14:15. It is quite easy, even for faithful Christians, to supplant God’s will with their own version of His will, without recognizing it. The peace of the woods (which is very real) can be easily mistaken for the “peace that passes understanding,” - Philippians 4:7. John Muir’s famous quote reflects that mistake: “And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” – John Muir Muir was a great naturalist and I enjoy reading his work. But scripture has taught me to recognize the difference between the allure of simple, emotional peace and the deep, true peace the comes from knowing and pleasing Him. Let us all imbibe deeply of this wonderful natural world that our loving Father has created for our enjoyment and sustenance, while remembering who He is and His loving call to be closer to him than anything in this world. Perhaps our mantra would better read, “Into His worship I go, to lose my anxiety and find my soul.”
Being Agreeable? I have seen an evil developing and increasing. The evil casts unwarranted doubt on others, destroys friendships and wrecks reputations. The evil is wrong agreement! We love to have an agreeable disposition. It just feels Christian. Being agreeable also avoids argument, buys a peaceable reputation and makes it easier to be around our friends - they know we are agreeable! To be sure, we should not be trouble-makers, in general... most of the time... when we can.. but not at the expense of truth, not at the expense of another’s reputation and not at the expense of our own Christianity. But isn’t it “Christian” to be agreeable? Sure, mostly, when we can, when it is merely social. But in today’s world it has become unfashionable and even considered gauche almost anytime one is disagreeable. Consider this, you are standing around the water cooler at work and someone berates a co-worker. Several agree on what a jerk he or she is and they all look at you waiting for the personal affirmation of your agreement! You’re on the spot, you can feel the hot seat. Agree or be an outcast. Agree or you’re no longer in the in crowd! Agree or you get “cancelled,” if not by Facebook, at least by friends. You must choose: friendship or personal integrity... cool factor or cancellation! You are convinced the subject of the gossip is actually a very nice person. You know that person better than any of the gossipers and you know they are simply wrong and judgmental. Do you agree to be sociable? Do you go along to get along? You know the right thing to do but you also understand the consequences. In the closing chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul gives a sobering command to Jesus’ followers: Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. (1 Corinthians 16:13, 14.) “Act like men, be strong.” To follow Jesus’ command of treating others like you would want to be treated, (Matthew 7:12), you simply must step up to the plate. We can be and must learn to disagree without being disagreeable. Try these: “Truthfully, I’ve never seen that person be unfriendly.” “Maybe he was not feeling well this morning, let’s not be judgmental.” “You know... all of us are out of sorts at times. Let’s be supportive.” “Have you actually confirmed this negative story? I’m not sure it’s true.” “Let’s be more friendly to him/her. Maybe they’re having a tough time at home.” (You can think of more.) Reputations are tough things to earn and they can easily be damaged by a lying tongue, a hateful word or malicious gossip. “You shall not bear a false report; do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.” Exodus 23:1. (Psalm 35:19 and 1 Timothy 3:1-5 will add understanding to the challenge. Don’t let fear control you Be kind. Let all that you do be done in love.
Spirit of Confusion Part 2 Kyle Click To say there is a misunderstanding about the Holy Spirit would be an understatement. The issue in the churches of Christ today stems from a reaction to the extreme views of the Pentecostals and miraculous healing. This has caused brethren to view the Holy Spirit to be detached and uninvolved. In our last article, we discussed the idea of who the Holy Spirit is and what He does, past, present, and future as described in the Bible. Now that we understand who the third person of the godhead is, let’s break down the two most common views of the Holy Spirit’s operation in us today that are found in the Lord’s church. These two views reflect on what does the “gift of the Holy Spirit” mean? This question is based on Acts 2:38, “Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The first view is commonly held in Bible Belt congregations and explains that the “gift” is the Holy Spirit which is miraculous in nature and is given by the laying of the apostle's hands. This argument says Acts 1 & 2 are only talking to the apostles and the Christians who were there at Pentecost. Because of this understanding of Scripture, the Holy Spirit does not literally indwell us today but is in the Word only. This argument uses Acts 2:1-4 as evidence that this is speaking only to apostles. The brethren who hold this view make sure that it gives no room for Pentecostalism. If this position is true, then it is saying that Acts 2:38 is only three-quarters applicable: repentance, baptism, and forgiveness, omitting the gift of the Holy Spirit for Christians today. The other common view is the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This view believes that the Holy Spirit indwells Christians today. The “gift of the Holy Spirit” is the Holy Spirit Himself and is a seal or a pledge for the one who obeys the gospel, (2 Corinthians 5:5, Ephesians 1:14). To sum up this idea nicely brother Mike Vestal puts it this way “We become Christians by lovingly obeying the truth in repentance and baptism at which point He forgives us of our sins and gives us the non-miraculous Holy Spirit in a non-supernatural way as an assurance that God will give us the inheritance.” In conclusion, the Holy Spirit is a subject where many brethren have differing views. Whether Biblical or not, it can be a heated topic in the brotherhood. However, the gift of the Holy Spirit is a promise of God and promises have nothing to do with salvation. We don't have to fully understand a promise of God to receive it and not understanding does not make a Christian not right with God. We cannot let this divide the brotherhood and become a fellowship issue. We are all baptized into Christ and members of His one church for which Jesus died. We must not divide over promises God has made because if one is a true New Testament Christian, one will receive the promise whether they understand it or not. “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment” 1 Corinthians 1:10.
Spirit of Confusion? Part 1 Kyle Click In today's religious world there are many different ideas about what the Bible says on things like faith, salvation, and church organization. With so many differing views on such things, people who are searching for God can easily get lost in the weeds of religious dogma. The most confusing of these doctrinal topics in the “Christianity” culture today is the Holy Spirit. It seems nearly every manmade denomination has a different idea of who the Holy Spirit is and how He works in our lives today. In this first article, we will discuss who the Holy Spirit is and how He works in the book of Acts. Part 2 will discuss the various views of how the Holy Spirit works in our lives today that are found in the churches of Christ. Before we jump into Acts let’s introduce the idea of the “measure of the Holy Spirit” found in the gospel of John. In John 3:34 it says, "For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure.” In other words, Jesus got the full measure of the Holy Spirit. Now let’s let this Biblical term help us understand the different “measures” of the Holy Spirit’s power that are illustrated in Acts and how different people got different measures. First, there is the measure of the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit.” This was given only to the apostles in Acts 2:1-4 and Cornelius and his household in Acts 10:1-11:18. In Acts 2, the apostles were given the Holy Spirit to give them the power to confirm the word through miracles to the ones they were preaching to (Mark 16:20). The purpose of Cornelius being baptized was to prove to the Jews that Gentiles could be saved (Acts 10:44). The second measure of the Holy Spirit is the “laying on of hands measure.” This was when an apostle laid hands on a person to impart a miraculous gift. This could only be transferred from an apostle to an individual and the individual could not pass that gift on. Once the apostles and the ones who had the laying on of hands measure had died, the source of the miracles died with them. There are five examples of laying on of hands in Scripture, Stephen, Philip, and others in Acts 6:6-8; disciples in Acts 8:18; Acts 19:5, 6; Romans 1:11; 2 Timothy 1:6. The third and final measure is the indwelling of the Spirit. This is the measure the author believes New Testament Christians have today. In Acts 2:47, Peter gives two promises, forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 5:32 says those who obey God have the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13, 14 as well as 2 Corinthians 1:21, 22 mention that the Holy Spirit is a seal and a pledge. A down payment or earnest for what is to come in our reward. How do baptized Christians know they have the indwelling Holy Spirit? In the same way we know we have forgiveness of sin, through faith (Ephesians 3:16-19). In a world of religious confusion, it’s easy to get misled about something like the Holy Spirit, especially when there are so many opinions and ideas floating around. However, if we get back to the Bible and understand the context of these important verses that mention the Holy Spirit, we can have an understanding of this amazing promise that our Almighty God has given us.
Returning to God’s Word
Thomas Campbell has been regarded as “the architect of the Restoration Movement.” He was the one who really got the ball rolling for this movement to begin. Thomas is best known for his work among The Christian Association of Washington. This group was not a church but was a group of church reform advocates. Thomas Campbell wrote a document called The Declaration and Address to identify the purpose of this association. That document became the single most influential document of the entire Restoration Movement. Thomas Campbell said some of the most famous words in describing the basic principle of this group. Here’s what he said: “Where the Bible speaks, we speak. Where the Bible is silent, we are silent.” This principle was one of the most earth shattering statements of the Restoration Movement. In fact, it was so shocking that one man responded by saying, “Mr. Campbell, if we adopt that as a basis, then there is an end to infant baptism.” Thomas Campbell’s reply was, “if infant baptism be not found in Scripture, we can have nothing to do with it.” Too many people who wear the name “Christian” today aren’t speaking where the Bible speaks and are speaking loudly where the Bible is completely silent. If we want to be true biblical Christians, we must base everything we do on the Bible. We must take the Bible as our only guide, and speak where it speaks, and be silent where it is silent. Thomas Campbell was one of the most influential preachers of the Restoration Movement because he based everything he did on this principle. We need more people today like Thomas Campbell who will speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent.
“Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other.”
What is Heaven Like?
What a great question. Like planning for an extended vacation, we all want to know what it will be like before we go. What heaven will be like is addressed in scripture so that’s where our answers should be found. For millennia mankind has asked and answered the question with varying degrees of accuracy. It is common for people to wax eloquent with their own imaginations, and we could all do that easily. One might say, “If it’s going to be heaven then they must have golf courses and permanently excellent weather,“ etc. But we, like Paul wrote to the church in Rome, should ask, “What saith the scriptures?” Romans 4:3. So… what is heaven like? The full answer exceeds the space we have here, but let’s address it briefly from a few verses. But recognize that the term, “kingdom of heaven” is also used to describe the Lord’s church, but those in that kingdom are the ones bound for heaven itself (Matt. 3:2; 4:17). First, Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven several times in the beatitudes, but He does not, therein, tell what eternal heaven is like. Jesus does describe the “kingdom of heaven” as a hidden treasure that brings so much joy that it is worth all we have, Matt. 13:44. (That would apply to the earthly kingdom, the church, as well as the heavenly kingdom. Likewise, it is like a pearl of great price, etc. (several times in Matt. 13 parables). In Matthew, Jesus refers to heaven with “enter into the joy of your master.” (vv. 21, 23). But still, those are comparisons which do not include descriptions of what God’s eternal heaven is like. For that we first look at Acts 7:56, wherein Stephen, as he is being stoned to death by unbelievers, says, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” So, God the Father and Jesus the Son are reigning there. But what is it like? Some think I Corinthians 2:9 say that man can’t imagine what God has prepared for us! Most likely, in context, Paul is describing the unspeakable wisdom God has prepared for us, but heaven may very well be implicated, generally, as one of the things God has prepared for us. “Preacher… you still have not described heaven for us!” True. Let me say that God has given humans some introductory material, but we are limited to what the human mind can imagine, even with God’s own descriptions! John 14:2, “In My Father’s house are many mansions,” KJV. Rev. 7:9, 10 Multitudes from every nation praising God. Rev. 7:17, eternal joy, "God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” (OK, now the good stuff…_ Rev. 21:10-21, every kind of precious stone, jasper, sapphire, chalcedony, emerald, sardonyx, huge pearls etc. Basically, more beauty than the mind of man can imagine. And Jesus, Himself, the Father and Son are the temple (v. 22). What about streets of gold, Rev. 21:21? imagine taking some gold treasure to heaven with you. God lets you in and He asks, “Why did you bring some pavement with you? Beauty beyond imagination, but the real treasure is simply to be with Him for all eternity!
“Racoon” John Smith Kolton Ballance
During the American Restoration Movement, there were a number of prominent preachers that made an impact in restoring the New Testament church. Of those preachers, there were perhaps none as colorful and quirky as a man named “Raccoon” John Smith. He earned the name “Raccoon” when he explained who he was in a sermon by saying that he grew up “among the coons”.
John Smith was best known for his humorous way of converting people's way of thinking. He once drug a Methodist preacher down to the water to be baptized against his will to show him that baptizing babies against their will was an invalid baptism. There are numerous stories like these that make up John Smith’s colorful preaching career.
However, one of the highlights of his preaching career was in the meeting between Alexander Campbell’s restoration movement and Barton Stone’s restoration movement. At this meeting John Smith is attributed as the force that united these two movements into one group under the same plea: unity under the Divine Standard of Scripture. Here are the famous words of “Raccoon” John Smith on that day:
“Let us then, my brethren, be no longer Campbellites or Stoneites, New Lights or Old Lights, or any other kind of lights, but let us all come to the only Book in the world that can give us all the light we need.”
This plea for unity under God’s inspired scriptures was one of the highlights of the American Restoration Movement. This same plea for unity under God’s words is what the religious world needs today. When you look around the religious world there are Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, etc. that are all separated because they all follow different teachings. But Biblical unity cannot be achieved as long as we all follow different beliefs! We must get back to the Bible alone as our only statement of faith. We must do as John Smith said and be no longer separated under different beliefs, but be united under God’s word. What our world needs is more “Raccoon” John Smiths to preach the simple truths of the Bible in pursuit of unity, love, and restoration of the Biblical pattern.
I Stand and Look... Michael Hite
I stand and look at the storm and the wind and waves declare Your majesty. The lightning flashes and the earth trembles; the winds roar along their course and the trees bow down and worship. We, on the earth seek shelter from its relentless hurrying. We stand in awe of the power displayed. Our vision in the storm is obscured by the raging. We strain to see clearly, what is dimmed by our struggles, but even in the midst of the storm You bring calm to Your children. For this we know, the great storm will pass. Unending days of cloudless skies await us. By faith our eyes seek to see it. Yet You see it all. The storm speaks of Your greatness and my heart has heard it.
Who am I, so small in this storm, that You are mindful of me? With your glory before me I cannot help but fall to my knees. I am so small, just one voice among billions, but I know the Creator and He knows me. I am unique in this vastness. I am Your special possession. I am Your child. I am loved.
I stand and look at the sea and the oceans declare your majesty. The storm that was once so great now appears small in comparison. The expanse of the waters and the depths of its canyons express Your power. With a word You spoke it into existence; with a word You carved its fathoms. The grains of sand under my feet are inadequate to number the creatures You placed under its waves. Swarms of fish dart through its currents; giants prowl its depths. Life teems even in the darkness, yet You see it all. The seas speak of Your greatness and my heart has heard them.
Who am I, so small on this shore, that You are mindful of me? With Your glory before me I cannot help but fall to my knees. I am so small, just one voice among billions, but I know the Creator and He knows me. I am unique in this vastness. I am Your special possession. I am Your child. I am loved.
I stand and look to the skies, and the universe declares Your majesty. The expanse of galaxies and the brightness of stardust express Your glory. The oceans shrink to a speck from distances measured only by speed and time. With a word You set light on its journey to my eyes. The stars in the heavens are inadequate to number the miles above me. You set me among this vast Creation. Clouds of gas fly through its emptiness; giants collide in its depths. Places yet unseen exist in its darkness, yet You see it all. The heavens speak of Your greatness and my heart has heard them.
Who am I, so small in this universe, that You are mindful of me? With your glory before me I cannot help but fall to my knees, I am so small, just one voice among billions, but I know the Creator and He knows me. I am unique in this vastness. I am Your special possession. I am Your child. I am loved. (Editor’s Note: Reformatted from original for space)
Who IS this Jesus? Many years ago a wonderful Christian taught our church family a pivotal song: Some folks may ask me, some folks may, Who is the Jesus, you talk about every day? He is my Savior, He set me free, Now listen while I tell you, what He mean to me. Chorus: He is my everything, He is my all. He is my everything, both great and small. He gave his life for me, made everything new. He is my everything, Now how about you? (There are more verses, but you get the idea.) Who IS this Jesus? The true answer to that question is quite commonly corrupted by believers and non-believers alike. Most often, people seeking Jesus remake Him in their own image (consciously or subconsciously). In Asia you will often see Asian looking paintings of Jesus. In South America, the paintings look South American. In the US you might see white European, blond paintings of Jesus. Those are outward, visual representations, almost always wrong. Herein, let’s focus on the real person, Emanuel, God with us. Who IS He, what are the characteristics that define Him? We can say, God in the flesh, Son of God, Savior, etc., and those are correct, but those terms say little about His personality. Some imagine Jesus as an old softie that just loves us as we are and is too kind to call us to change, to repentance. Some imagine Jesus as Judge, frowning and condemning people and gruffly tossing them into Hell. Both extremes bear little resemblance to reality. Jesus is a loving Savior who loves us so much He died for our sins. He is also the Lion of the tribe of Judah. He was a suffering servant 2000 years ago in the gospels, and He will return as a triumphant conqueror in the book of Revelation (see also 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18 and 2 Thessalonians 5:5-10). Picture an older brother who loves his siblings deeply and, when necessary, corrects them, then on occasion protects them from the wolves, four legged and two legged! Picture the Master Shepherd leading the flock lovingly to new green pastures and to fresh, clear water (Psalm 23). Picture that shepherd with a thick wooden staff beating back a lion or bear (2 Samuel 17:34-37). Whenever you contemplate the question, “Who IS this Jesus?” remember the wonderfully diverse and deeply complex roles Jesus fulfills in the lives of every individual on earth, either positive or negative, depending on who WE are! Then ask yourself openly, honestly, “Who is this (insert your name here): . Then you can more stringently examine yourself to see if you are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5) and how well you are imitating Paul as he imitates Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). Are you walking in His steps (1 Peter 2:21)? Ray Wallace
Philosophy, Tradition, Deception and Elementary Principles of the World
The culture in the first century city of Colossae was deep and broad. It was well developed, but not in a good way. Colossae was in Asia Minor, not far from the cities Laodicea, Philadelphia and Aphrodisias (the latter being known for having one of the temples of and a statue of Aphrodite, the goddess of love who was worshipped by visiting temple prostitutes). Yes, you could find anything you wanted in Colossae, good, bad and everything in between. While most believe that Epaphras actually founded the church at Colossae, Paul’s letter to them is deeply personal as he warns them of the dangers of worldly traditions and philosophies. Listen carefully to Paul’s warnings in Colossians 2:8: See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. The Holy Spirit was directing Paul to address some of the major temptations that could easily draw Christians away from Christ. The same is true today. Christians must certainly avoid the physical temptations so common in the pagan religions of the day, but there were, and are, more subtle influences that can wreak just as much havoc on one’s spiritual life. Notice the four categories Paul mentions: 1. Philosophy 2. Empty deception 3. Tradition of men 4. Elementary principles of the world. These are not as readily recognized as sexual temptations are, but they are just as deadly. Because of the stealthy nature of these things, the careless Christian might accidentally and unknowingly adopt some of the world’s beliefs and attitudes without realizing what is happening. “Philosophy” is a love of wisdom, but very often becomes a love of earthly wisdom rather than godly wisdom. “Empty deception” is just that, deception (that which deceives), thus is not recognized for what it is. “Tradition of men” is not complicated but is very attractive because it both allows us to partake of the forbidden and also brings with it earthly acceptance and approval of those who are not God’s children. And “elementary principles of the world” are simply the base elements of society and culture that appeal to those, whether erudite or elementary, who have no desire for the spiritual maturities to which God has called us in Ephesians 4;14-16. In 1 Peter 5:8 we are warned: Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. In today’s world, as in Colossae, Satan seeks to devour us through philosophy, empty deception, tradition of men and elementary principles of the world. Stay alert, stay strong. Love Him with all your heart, mind, soul and strength!
Fear Not, Stand Still, Be Quiet And Watch Donnie Bates
Sometimes when we're walking down the straight and narrow path, just when it seems things are getting really good in life, suddenly all the wheels come off at once. You immediately think of James 1:2,3 and you say, "Lord, I know I'm supposed to be joyful right now, but I just don't see how this time," or "I know You said You'd provide a way of escape, but I don't see any way out of this." It always seems that these things happen at the worst of times. That's because there are no good times for disaster. A great lesson can be learned by listening to Moses' words to the children of Israel when they were convinced that the Egyptian army was about to kill them all (Exodus 14:13, 14): But Moses said to the people, "Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent." When God says, "Fear not!" He usually has something big in mind. Moses knew ahead of time that Og, king of Bashan, would not destroy the Israelites (Numbers 21:33-35). This is how it would be in every battle (Deuteronomy 20:1-3). However, like so much of God's law, this was conditional (Joshua 7:2-5,8-12). The same is true today. We already know Who is going to win (Romans 8:31-37), but it's still conditional (2 Corinthians 13:5). When God says, "Stand still!" we must do things His way. Impatience will get us into trouble every time. Just look at Abraham and Ishmael (Genesis 16). God's priests were to stand patiently and wait on God to stop a flooding Jordan River (Joshua 3:8). Receiving strength from God depends on waiting patiently on Him (Isaiah 40:31). Patience is necessary to receive the promise (Hebrews 10:36). It's also important not to sound your own horn! He says, "Be quiet!" God says not to worry about our enemies or the things that threaten us; He is the Victor (Isaiah 7:1-6). Moses, who was more humble than anyone else (Numbers 12:3) was not interested in glory; only in serving his God (Exodus 32:9-14). Now "Watch!" "Behold the power and majesty of God!!" The goodness of God is visible today (Psalm 27:13); we see answered prayers, the awesome evidence of creation, etc. We are invited to see His works (Psalm 66:5). It has all been plainly visible for quite some time (Romans 1:20). Read 2 Kings 6:8-18. When we enter into life's battles they can quite often be pretty scary (2 Chronicles 20:1-7). Whenever we do battle in this world we must make sure whose side we're on. If we find ourselves against the Lord, we must change sides quickly. If we find ourselves on the Lord's side, read what will happen in 2 Chronicles 20:14-17, 20-24: Then in the midst of the assembly the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, the Levite of the sons of Asaph; and he said, "Listen, all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: thus says the Lord to you, 'Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God's. Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the valley in front of the wilderness of Jeruel. You need not fight in this battle; station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.' Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out to face them, for the Lord is with you." ...They rose early in the morning and went out to the wilderness of Tekoa; and when they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, "Listen to me, O Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, put your trust in the Lord your God and you will be established. Put your trust in His prophets and succeed." When he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who sang to the Lord and those who praised Him in holy attire, as they went out before the army and said, "Give thanks to the Lord, for His lovingkindness is everlasting." When they began singing and praising, the Lord set ambushes against the sons of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; so they were routed. For the sons of Ammon and Moab rose up against the inhabitants of Mount Seir destroying them completely; and when they had finished with the inhabitants of Seir, they helped to destroy one another. When Judah came to the lookout of the wilderness, they looked toward the multitude, and behold, they were corpses lying on the ground, and no one had escaped. There will be times when you come out the winner and you have no idea how it happened that way. Just give thanks to God Almighty. Have a wonderful week.
Teaching Faithful Men God’s plan is precious, and it works when we follow it. Usually, we think of His plan in terms of initial conversion or church structure or even personal holiness, but it goes much further. God’s plan for life on earth as well as His church has more facets than a Cartier diamond. One we often forget is from 2 Timothy 2:2: The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Churches who forget this command fail to prepare the next generation for faithful teachers to help Christians stay on track with faithful, biblical service to God and others. Since knowing the truth (God’s truth) is what sets us free and keeps us free (John 8:32), we absolutely must have faithful, educated men who have been taught in such a way that they can teach others also. That is the fulfillment we must seek to obey God’s command in 2 Timothy 2:2. There are various ways Christians can fulfill this command, personally and congregationally. One of those ways we help teach others is parallel to the way Paul was helped financially by the church in Macedonia (2 Corinthians 11:9; Philippians 4:15). That way is simple: as we teach at home, we also financially support the teaching of faithful men in faithful biblical schools. This congregation has astounded me in how beautifully and generously you have supported faithful men who are teaching others as well as the others they are teaching. Today, we are blessed with the opportunity hear teaching and preaching from a student (currently a senior) at the Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver, Kyle Click (son of our members Scott and Kim Click). This congregation has helped make it financially possible for Kyle (and his wife Lyndsay) to learn to teach others also. Next week we will be blessed to hear teaching and preaching from Donnie Bates, instructor and academic dean at the same school. Once a year this congregation has a special contribution to help financially support Donnie and his wife Noma to be able to perform godly service in their roles there. (Remember to bring your special contribution check for Donnie next week!) May we continue to do our part to obey God’s command to teach faithful men who will be able teach others also. And may God continue to bless these two families as they present themselves to Him for service in His kingdom. Ray Wallace
What will man risk for freedom? That’s an easy question to answer. Life and limb! Consider all the wars that have been fought to procure or protect freedom, even in our own nation’s history. Our forefathers pledged their, “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” in their quest for freedom. Freedom is one of man’s greatest battles and carries one of our greatest rewards. As Samuel Adams attempted to call men to fight for freedom, he chided the timid with these immortal words: If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen. - Samuel Adams, 1776. The same is true for spiritual freedom. There is a fight to be fought, a war to be won. Paul calls us to “fight the good fight” (I Tim. 6:12; II Tim. 4:7). And he teaches us how to prepare for that battle in Ephesians 6:10-19. Peter warns us not to be surprised with the fiery ordeal comes during that battle, (I Peter 4:12-14). Make no mistake, it is a battle, and the enemy is powerful. But his power pales compared to God’s power working through His faithful soldiers. Patrick Henry recognized the battlegrounds, physically and spiritually. He famously wrote: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” Henry also knew the immutable bond between religious freedom, both political freedom of religion and an individual’s spiritual freedom from sin. A less famous but perhaps even more important quote from Henry is this: “It is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains.” In other words, when we lose freedom from sin, we lose political freedom. As with Samuel Adams’ physical call to physical arms, we must heed God’s call to spiritual arms. If you fall from fear or fail from weakness, “may you crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your (spiritual) chains rest lightly upon you and (to further paraphrase Adams) God will forget that you were our (spiritual) countrymen.” This Independence Day let us all remember the importance of religious freedom from sin as well as political freedom from king George! That said, let us always remember Patrick Henry’s words, “It is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains.”
Who is Supreme?
There IS a high court, but it’s not the U.S. Supreme Court. It might be ahighcourt, but it is not the high court. Americans have been duped into believing that the U.S Supreme Court is the highest court in existence. It might be the highest human court in the America but God, Himself, reigns supreme over all of mankind, including the United States of America.
That said, we rejoice that abortion (the killing of unborn human babies) no longer is protected by the federal government. The reversal of Roe v. Wade (originally ruled on January 22, 1973) does not make abortion in the US illegal. It merely rules, and properly so, that there is no Constitutional right to abortion found in the U. S. Constitution. The Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade this week merely turns the decision back to the individual states, as it has been since the Constitution was ratified June 1, 1788 (effective March 4, 1789).
We stand firmly against abortion at any stage, anytime (unless the mother’s life is truly, medically, physically in eminent danger). Researchers the world over know that an unborn child feels pain after 15 - 20 weeks of gestation. But that is not the point.Whether an unborn child feels pain or not, abortion still stops a beating heart and thus takes the life of an innocent human being. No wonder killing an unborn child was a punishable offense in the Old Testament. Consider this verse: “Now if people struggle with each other and strike a pregnant woman so that she gives birth prematurely, but there is no injury, the guilty person shall certainly be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. (Exodus 21:22).
That is for an accidental death, but it shows that God regards the unborn child as having humanity and human value. Abortion is an intentional death and therefore is the intentional taking of a human life.
We, as God’s people seeking to follow His word in our lives and condemn the intentional taking of innocent human life, including abortion. As His children, we applaud the courage, wisdom of the Justices and concur with their Constitutional decision. But there is more work to do at the state level to protect the lives of innocent human babies.
We must remember that God forms our inward parts before we are born (Psalm 139:13-14). God and His laws reign supreme. We must obey God rather than men, (Acts 5:29). Pray hard!
Honor, God’s Way
Jack was a bright young man with a challenging life ahead. His mother died when he was only three and his only memories of here were those of her illness shortly before she passed. His father remarried and Jack had two step-brothers. He was very close to his grandmother, but she died when young Jack was away at the war. Jack married and had children but his 20-year marriage ended in divorce and Jack was broken-hearted. Eventually he remarried his sweetheart, but they divorced again. Amazingly, 20 years after the second divorce, Jack married his sweetheart a third time and they remained married until Jack died after the turn of the century. Why do I relate this story? Because after all the challenges life had thrown at Jack and Katherine, they gave their lives to Jesus, Katherine near retirement and Jack at age 79. “A lot of water under bridge,” as Jack would often say, eventually lead to the waters of baptism. This and every Father’s Day I am reminded of this love story which took many turns before arriving at heaven’s door, simply because Jack and Katherine were my parents. They taught me to love Jesus when I was a child, long before either of them really knew Him. In 1975 I baptized Mom into Christ and in 2001 I baptized Dad. They took their conversions seriously, and began to read God’s word in earnest and learn of the great love He has for them. “Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise,” Deuteronomy 5 and Ephesians 6. My mom and dad were far from perfect, but they were caring parents who loved and provided for us preciously. Some of you didn’t have loving parents. Some of you never knew one or perhaps both of your parents, but God provided a path for you to arrive on planet earth. Perhaps your parents were not worthy of honor, some aren’t. Perhaps your early years were more of a challenge than a blessing. But one thing is for sure: our heavenly Father is worth of more honor than humans can even give. On this Father’s Day, another thing is for sure: somewhere, perhaps in the present, perhaps in the past, perhaps in heaven there is an earthly father or a heavenly Father whom we can honor for all the blessings we have in life, practical and spiritual. It is a wise person who gives honor where honor is due (Romans 13:7), and a happy person who takes that command seriously. Let’s honor fathers where that honor is due and remember that honor to our heavenly Father is always due, for He is not only a Father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5), but also a Father to us all.
Who Rules Your Heart?
“There is nothing wrong with entertainment. As some psychiatrist once put it, we all build castles in the air. The problems come when we try to live in them.” The words above were penned by Neal Postman, a prolific writer who published 20 books, including the now famous, Amusing Ourselves to Death. Postman was a fairly early pioneer in recognizing what electronic media does to the culture and the individual. He saw the negative effects of electronic media on the brains of young and old alike (TV, movies, computers, etc). Jesus warned us that the mouth speaks out of the abundance of the heart (Matthew 12:34). The “heart” as used in scripture usually refers to the inner man; what psychologists call the “subconscious.” (Yes, I know that is a debated topic, but let’s use that for the purposes of this article.) That “inner man” is shaped and sculpted by that to which we expose ourselves. Many social researchers in numerous countries see this inner self (psyche, subconscious, heart) being malformed by exposure to electronic entertainment media (even small amounts can affect the very young). In one study, college students claimed electronic media has no effect on them, while believing that it does affect almost all others around them. We speak here of entertainment media, NOT serious electronic dialogue. I’m aware of the irony of this article, as I type it on a computer, but the focus here is not on word processing but entertainment media that forms far too much of our beliefs about the world and its inhabitants. Study after study has found that those surrounded by electronic media have their belief systems morphed, primarily unconsciously, by the media they see. That should not be surprising since God, Himself, formed our brains to become like the audio/visual images we see/hear in life. No wonder Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived, bad company corrupts good morals,” 1 Corinthians 15:33. In our modern scenario the audio/visual “bad company” is the electronic entertainment media. In calling us to re-evaluate how entertainment media affects our inner selves, Postman wrote, “Everything in our background has prepared us to know and resist a prison when the gates begin to close around us . . . But what if there are no cries of anguish to be heard? Who is prepared to take arms against a sea of amusements? To whom do we complain, and when, and in what tone of voice, when serious discourse dissolves into giggles? What is the antidote to a culture’s being drained by laughter?” Is it any wonder that even elected officials in our nation’s capital cannot seem to get a serious grasp on the problems we face and “dissolve into giggles” when asked serious questions? They are, after all, products of this same entertainment driven, amusement formed culture affecting us all. The antidote is: “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17. “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:32 “My word is truth.” John 17:17 What is shaping YOUR heart?
Count Your Many Blessings It is often said that it would be difficult to write down all of the ways we have been blessed. Following are a few examples of various ways we are encouraged to be thankful:
Giving thanks for ______ _________ (1 Tim. 2:1)
Giving thanks to ______ ___________ (Heb. 13:15)
Giving thanks to ________ the __________(Col. 3:17)
Giving thanks for the __________ thru ___________ (1 Cor, 15:57)
Giving thanks for our ___________ (1 Tim 4:3-4)
Giving thanks through our ________________ (Col. 4:2)
Giving thanks for our establishment in the __________ (Col. 2:7)
Giving thanks for all _____________ from God (2 Cor. 9:11)
Giving thanks to having been called in ______________ (Col. 3:15)
Giving thanks to ________ ________our __________ (1 Tim. 1:12)
Jay Launius, Maud church of Christ, Maud, TX
God Is Waiting
How long do you wait? You are at a traffic light. It goes from red to green. The person in front of you is clearly distracted, and your lane is the only one not moving. How long do you wait before you take action? You are seated at a restaurant. Ten minutes pass, and no one has taken your drink order. It is busy but not slammed. They should’ve come to the table by now. How long do you wait before you leave or talk to the manager? While in some cultures time is viewed very differently, for us, we are a very fast-paced society. Our expectations of timely results and actions are very high. So, when we are forced to wait, as in the scenes afore mentioned, we are put to the test. How long will we wait? I bring this up to reflect on the patience of God. Peter, in his second letter, brings to our attention that in the latter days there would be mockers saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation” (2 Pet. 3:4). These that Peter mentioned were mocking God and using it as evidence to His contrary. However, it is still a question we might ask. How long, O Lord? Peter reminds us of some facts to help keep things in perspective. The first is that the world has been destroyed once already. “For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Pet. 3:5-7). We know from genealogies in the book of Genesis that the time from creation to the flood was roughly 1,656 years. How much of that was God’s patience tested? The second fact is that God does not reckon time as we do. “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day” (2 Pet. 3:8). We must remember that time is a created construct that He is not bound by. It was hundreds of years from the promises given to Abraham until they were brought to fruition. It was thousands of years before the messianic prophecies were fulfilled. We need to remember God is playing the long game. Finally, Peter reminds us that we serve a patient God. “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). God is waiting for us. He hasn’t blown the horn yet. Knowing that He will, Peter reminds us how we should live in holiness for a day that will come (3:11).
“GO” For some reason or another Christians have changed the commission of spreading the Good News of Jesus from “go” to “come”. We build nice, fancy church buildings and meeting halls then say to the world, “Come and hear about Jesus!” It’s a noteworthy invitation no doubt but how does it compare to the biblical instruction? • “Go” tell what great things the Lord has done – Mark 5:19 • “Go” and tell these thing to the brethren – Acts 12:17 • “Go”, I sent you out as lambs among wolves – Luke 10:3 • “Go” and bring forth fruit – John 15:16 • “Go” and do as the Good Samaritan – Luke 10:37 • “Go” in to all the world and preach the gospel – Mark 16:15 • “Go” and make disciples and baptize them – Matthew 28:19
It’s easy to see that we are to “go” and take the message to the people rather than expecting them to come to us. - Jay Launius, Maud church of Christ Maud, Texas
Faith Should Provide Peace
By Michael Hite (Bear Valley Bible Institute)
Turn on the news or plug into your favorite flavor of social media and within seconds you will hear about suffering all around us. There are countries tragically at war. We face a looming recession and economic struggles. The political divide and race relations continue to rage. There was another school shooting in Texas. All of these situations certainly can and do bring suffering into our lives. It seems that everyone wants us to be wound up and stressed out. I read one brother in Christ recently post, “prepare for the coming chaos.” Now I’m not going to suggest that there aren’t problems and that times are tough - they are. They may get worse. Only time will tell. But as Christians, we have a great opportunity to show people around us what faith does for us in difficult times. FAITH SHOULD PROVIDE PEACE.
At the end of Peter’s first letter to the early church, he encouraged them to remember who they are and what that provides. “Peace be to all who are in Christ” (1 Peter 5:14). Peace is a sometimes misunderstood quality. Some would define peace as the “lack of conflict.” The idea is that we will have peace when there is no strife or struggling. While that is a common way of looking at the word peace, God never promises a “lack of conflict.” We live in a fallen and sinful world. Man’s push to put himself first and satisfy his own desires often give rise to conflict and suffering. But the word “peace” in Scripture is more often talking about a calmness of heart in the face of conflict rather than a lack of conflict. It expresses “a state of tranquility” even as the struggles swirl around us. Peter addresses persecution and great suffering in his letter and yet he says that we are to “seek peace and pursue it” (1 Peter 3:11). The question becomes, are we feeding the chaos and panic in people’s lives by echoing the chaos or are we seeking and pursuing peace by showing others the calmness that comes from trusting God to see us through anything that comes? Are we contributing to the “worries of the world,” choking the word of God out of the lives of our brethren by echoing the doom and gloom around us? Or are we showing the tranquility and peace that comes from a saving relationship with the Master of the Universe? If we have “entrusted our souls to a Faithful Creator (1 Peter 4:19) there should be a marked calmness and peace that surrounds us.
May we be lights in the world that brings peace (a calmness in the face of conflict) to those around us. May our behavior be so different in difficult times that people will ask us to explain the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15). But more than that, may we be those who show the world that “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard OUR hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7). Truly, may “peace be to you all who are in Christ.”
Once upon a time, two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side-by-side, sharing machinery and trading labor and goods as needed without a hitch. Then, the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference and finally, it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.
One morning there was a knock on John's door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter's toolbox. "I 'm looking for a few days' work," he said. "Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there I could help with? Could I help you?" "Yes," said the older brother. "I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That's my neighbor. In fact, it's my younger brother! Last week there was a meadow between us. He recently took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done