Yes, I love lists! Okay, I’m a bit weird, but lists are great. Lists get right to the point of the subject at hand. “The facts, ma’am, we just want the facts,” (Sargent Friday, Dragnet.) Lists dispense with all the fluff. Lists give us the main points in short order. Lists boil things down to the essentials that must not be forgotten. God’s word is replete with lists: sin lists, blessing lists, things to be avoided and things to be pursued. The first list ever had only one item, “Don’t eat from the tree!” Lists get longer with the Ten Commandments, then the blessings at Mount Gerazim and the curses at Mount Ebal. The Old Testament prophets had whole laundry lists of problems that explained why the nations suffered negative consequences and even loss of national sovereignty. New Testament lists are, at times, a bit different. While the Old Testament prophets' lists are usually national in nature, New Testament lists are usually quite personal, guiding the individual reader into a more personal spirituality. There are several sin lists, including the better known ones found in Romans 1, I Corinthians 6, Galatians 5; II Timothy 3, et al. But there are also lists of good things, such as those found in, Philippians 4, Galatians 5, I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 (specifically about elders), and perhaps the premier list in I Corinthians 13:4-7 about love. Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; ]bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. This list is profoundly important because it helps us both define and recognize genuine love, which verse 13 says is the greatest of all. I adjure you to read this list slowly and carefully asking yourself, “Am I (each of these things).” God not only calls us to love but He has so carefully defined love and given examples of love that it would be hard for any serious reader to misunderstand. (Follow it? Hard at times. Understand it? Fairly easy.) When God gives lists He is making His point both clearly and firmly. When we see a list we should examine it deeply and seriously. God has given us His word for a very clear and specific reason, as seen in John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” Our joy is best found in seeing, understanding, analyzing and doing the will of God. The lists just make it easier! Hallelujah for God’s lists!!!
The Righteousness of God Joel Stephen Williams
An alchemist once went to Leo X and declared that he had discovered how to change ordinary metals into gold. He expected to receive a huge sum of money, preferably in gold, for his discovery. Leo was very clever in responding to this announcement, though. He merely gave the alchemist a large purse in which he told him to keep the gold he would make from other metals. God's way of working with mankind is very similar to what Leo did with this alchemist. In several places in Paul's writings he uses the phrase "the righteousness of God." The phrase often means "righteousness" which has its origin in God. This is in contrast to man's righteousness which we seek to develop within ourselves. Paul explains: "For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God's righteousness" (Rom. 10:3). If we appear before God and announce that we can change ordinary human thoughts and deeds into righteousness, God's response will be similar to that of Leo to the alchemist. Instead of rewarding us for our supposed discovery, he will give us the opportunity to stockpile our human righteousness. Our personal storehouse of righteousness will be as empty of merit as the alchemist's purse was of gold. Instead of achieving righteousness on our own--something impossible for us to do due to the universality of sin--we should lay hold of God's righteousness through faith. Paul said he wanted to "be found in Christ, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith" (Phil. 3:9). As the great hymn "Rock of Ages" by A. M. Toplady puts it:
Not the labor of my hands Can fulfill the law's demands; Could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears forever flow, All for sin could not atone, Thou must save and Thou alone.
BIBLICAL LOVE - A REAL CHALLENGE! Love is amazing, astounding and occasionally confounding. Love does crazy things at times. Love makes us a bit crazy at times. But love is often not what we have been taught to believe. In New Testament times the language of the day was Greek in many places. It is the most detailed and specific language ever spoken by man. The New Testament is written in Greek. The Greek language has four main words for love: agape, phileo, storge and eros. Agape is a high form of love from one’s will that seeks the highest good of another. (It is generally not very emotional.) Phileo is the deep and close “brotherly love” which one has for a friend. Storge is the family love which we have for family members. Eros is the word the Greeks used for sexual love. Unlike English speakers, the Greeks would never use the same word for loving your wife and loving your dog or your golf clubs! Mature people should strive to overcome our culturally learned ideas of love and seek to be more specific in our understanding and applications of love. Culturally, we think of love as simply that powerful emotional feeling that overwhelms us. Culturally, we even use a word for an accident: we “fall” in love. As one man told me, “I fell in love with my wife, but I just fell out of love with her. Emotions do that - on one day and off another. Biblical love, “agape,” seeks the highest good of another. When I agape my wife, I use my will (not my emotions) to seek what is best for her, not myself. When I agape my children, I seek what is best for them, not necessarily what is most comfortable. When I agape my brothers and sisters at church, I seek what is best for them, not necessarily what is soft or easy. When we love as God prescribed, we help one another become more mature, more genuine, more disciplined, more godly. I Corinthians 13, the “love chapter,” beautifully defines much of what true love is and does. Various other verses teach us that love is humble, love helps, love teaches, and love is even so bold as to correct. Our culture has taught us that love simply approves and supports. While that’s often true, it is often not. Genuine love seeks what is best for the other person. I would argue that it is best to help others mature and become strong, vibrant and loving persons themselves. Guidance, encouragement, help and even correction are vital in genuine loving relationships. No wonder God is telling us through Paul’s pen:
We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encouragethe fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. I Thess. 5:14
Let’s all join hands and hearts to help each other find our true potential as loving, growing, helping, maturing hearts.
Doing Your Best Joel Stephen Williams
Many years ago in a textile factory there was a sign on the wall, which read: "If your threads get tangled, send for the foreman." One woman who was fairly new was a diligent worker, but her threads got tangled one day. She tried to disentangle them, but her efforts only made matters worse. Finally she gave up and called the foreman. He came and looked for a few moments and then asked: "You have been trying to untangle them yourself, haven't you?" "Yes," she replied. "Why didn't you send for me, according to the instruction?" She shrugged her shoulders and said: "I did my best." With much tact, yet, with great insight, he quietly said: "Remember that doing your best is sending for me."
How often in life have we tried to straighten out our own messes, only to make things worse, and certainly not to solve things? We think that a little more human effort, a bit more human wisdom, and a touch of human ingenuity are the solution. But mankind in general and individuals in particular tend to make the same mistakes over and over again. Bad habits remain in place. Errors are repeated. We may even excuse our conduct by saying: "I did my best." Then God gently, yet firmly, reminds us: "Doing your best is calling for me."
Paul did the best that he could do, but it was not good enough. He mused: "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.... I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.... Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Rom. 7:15-24). But Paul had learned that to call on the name of Jesus was the best he could do and the solution to his problem (Rom. 10:9-13).
God Blesses Humility
James 4:6 is a very interesting passage, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” The truths here are deeper than one might suspect upon a cursory reading. First, we learn that one sure way to make God your enemy is to live in pride (this use of “pride” being the kind that exalts self and one’s own achievements without acknowledging God’s providence and provision.) God is opposed to that kind of pride because, by definition, it vaunts self in unhealthy, unspiritual ways. The Greek word here is huperephanois, which literally means to be “over appearing”- that is to say trying to appear to be what one is not. Since God gives us life, strength and intelligence we cannot properly claim to be the only source of our own achievements. We also learn from this verse that God, Himself, gives grace to those who humbly recognize Him as the source of their blessings and give Him the credit for the things in life which we do not control (our initial I.Q., health, genetics, et al). Grace (Greek karin in this passage) means unearned gifts or unmerited favor.) God intervenes in the lives of the humans He created and brings undeserved gifts based not upon actual earned items, but based on our humility, which includes giving Him the credit for who and what we are in those ways we cannot control. In the account of the death of Herod in Acts 12:20-23, we see clearly that he lost his life because he did not give God the glory for the abilities God gave him. The point is clear from James 4:6 and Acts 12:20-23, that our choice is to give God the credit for who we are, the inborn characteristics He gave us and the strength we used to develop them. He makes our hearts beat and He decides when it will stop! Our choice is a clear one, whether it is always easy or not - choose humility and be blessed by God, or choose pride and make God our enemy. Somewhere deep in the recesses of the human heart God planted within us an innate ability to sense and recognize pride in others. We have a natural inclination to react negatively against pride when we see it. It turns our stomach and destroys relationships. But wouldn’t it be great if we could develop the same sensitivity and distaste for pride in ourselves? We can! James 1:19-25 is a primer for personal maturity. Therein we also find that God’s word is like a mirror in which we can see ourselves more clearly. Then it becomes our challenge to remember what we read, apply it to our lives and give God the glory for our talents and abilities as we use them to His glory.
Ray Wallace For further study: Prov. 16:18; Proverbs 21:4; Proverbs 21:24; Psalm 101:5; Ezek. 16:50; Romans 12:16
Daniel's Success Corey Sawyers
There are several ways one may define success. How about this: A king honors you, gives you riches, and makes you ruler over the land. That is what happened to Daniel (Dan. 2:46-49), and not just because he interpreted a dream. There were three keys to Daniel’s success. First, Daniel ASKED God (2:16-18). When faced with a problem, Daniel went to God in prayer. When God’s people go to Him first, they are successful. When they fail to go to Him first, they fail. He also had his three friends pray with him. What a blessing we miss out on when we do not open up to brothers and sisters in Christ. Prayer is powerful (James 5:16), and praying together brings us closer. Second, Daniel APPRECIATED God (2:19-23). He thanked God when he received help. How often do we turn to God when times are tough and then forget how He helped us? When He blesses us with what we need, do we thank Him? Daniel thanked and praised God for answering his prayers. We need to appreciate Him (I Thess. 5:18). Third, Daniel ACKNOWLEDGED God (2:26-30). If Daniel was tempted to take credit, he never let on in the slightest. He credited God with his ability and knowledge. We are what we are because of God. He gives us talents and opportunities. When it works, we want the credit. Daniel did not. He wanted God to receive the glory (I Cor. 10:31). So, how can we be successful like Daniel? We may not have the ability to interpret dreams. Nonetheless, we can all be successful because we can all use the same three keys to success which Daniel used. We can ask God for help, thank Him in all things, and always do all for His glory and honor!
From The Daily Bread Look Out! Dean Murphy
Hubris! That is the only way I can describe it in retrospect. The idea that my presence could somehow control the chaos that comes with living in this world. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up a bit. For many years, my job has required a significant amount of travel. Sometimes I might be on the road for parts of many weeks in a row. In doing so, my thoughts are often distracted by care and concern for my family, who remain 1000 miles away. As many of us do, my habit has been to pause and pray to God for the safety and protection of my family. Interestingly, the phraseology of those prayers went something like this; “God, please take care of my family while I am away from them”. Think about that. That approach is basically saying that when I am home, “I got this”, but while I am away, please take over. As if God and I are tag-teaming the protection detail. Therein the hubris. As we look around us at the seemingly random nature of threats in our lives, it is ever more comforting to simply turn over the protection detail to God in its entirety. We should be encouraged by the sheer number of ways that God promises His protection throughout scripture. He has any number of tools that offer us comfort and peace. Here are examples of just a few of those tools:
Protection derived from His impenetrable strength Psalm 46 Protection as a result of His salvation John 10:28-30 Protection of His love that is constant Romans 8:38 Protection from sin and Satan 1 Corinthians 10:13 and 2 Thessalonians 3:3 Protection derived from wisdom He provides Proverbs 4:6 Protection from disaster/destruction Psalm 57:1 Protection from our enemies Psalm 59:1-4 Protection from fear Deuteronomy 31:6
A couple of weeks ago, our family went on a trip to southwest Colorado and southeast Utah. We stayed overnight in Ouray, in lodging that backed up to the Uncompahgre River. My son and I went for an extended hike along the river and along the way, passed a rather inconspicuous trail marker that led straight up the side of the mountain. Of course, we took it. The trail and the mountain were steep and along the way, we walked across several slide areas that had required obvious trail reconstruction over time (my clumsy use of the literary device of foreshadowing). We arrived at a dramatic overlook a mile or two into the hike, enjoyed the view and started back toward the trailhead. Roughly 50’ after passing the first slide area, a number of boulders (one being half the size of a VW Bug) cut loose from above and tumbled across the trail we had JUST WALKED, less than 10 seconds prior. The large boulders caused the ground to shudder under our feet as they gained air then crashed back down to earth while traveling at a high rate of speed down the slide. The trail crossing the slide was obliterated, and we listened wide-eyed, as large trees snapped along the path of the boulders careening down the mountainside.
This event confirmed several things in my mind. First, that we have no real chance to provide protection to ourselves and our families from events like the one above. We are frankly helpless without God’s help. Second, it causes one to consider how many times God protects us in less obvious ways, when we might not even know it. Consider the flow of traffic that places us at a certain place at a certain time, but not at another place, therefore avoiding potential tragedy. Third, God answers prayer. I pray for God’s protection for my family every day, but I don’t always see the result of those prayers. In this case, the result was obvious.
Later that evening (after we started breathing again and had scrambled down the mountain rather quickly) I remembered Psalm 121. “The Lord will guard your going out and going in (everything that you do) from this time forth and forever.” Be comforted that God is always vigilant is His promised protection of us. Nothing is random with God and He always delivers on His promises.
Who is Your Final Authority?
As we learn to be more like Jesus (I Corinthians 11:1), we face a veritable plethora of challenges in our modern world. It has been that way from the beginning, but we have the same basic hurdles as Christians in the first century. One of the most basic decisions that Christians have faced all along is this, “Who is your final authority?” The possible answers are numerous, but the basic ones are not. At the foundation of our life’s choices is simply, “Will Jesus be my final source of authority or not?” Let’s trace a lifetime timeline. When we are born, parents give us food, clothing, housing and safety. It’s rather easy for a child to recognize parents as a source of authority when they are the source of all else. As a child grows, they become a bit more independent. “I want ice cream!” “I want to go out and play, not do my chores!” Most kids go through these stages. But then the teen years come. Sociologists tell us that until the mid 1900s most young people became independent at about 18 years of age. Not only were the “out on their own,” but mom and dad were no longer their “primary source of decision making.” (That is a vitally important phrase!) That age has become lower and lower and is now frighteningly low. Some estimate that the age of independent thinking (parents no longer being the primary source of decision making) is usually around 12 years of age. Some one or some thing will become every person’s primary source of decision making consideration. It might simply be self. It might be the beliefs and morals of the family of origin. It might be one’s immediate peers. It might be the broader culture at large. It might be college professors or people in the work environment. The possibilities are quite numerous. Both biblical history and secular history are quite clear - from the French Revolution (originally rooted in atheism) to the American Revolution (based on faith in God), the results are obvious to any serious student of history. The French Revolution led quickly to a terrible series of abuses. The French finally gave up the atheism that led to those abuses. The U.S. on the other had, while having a few ungodly growing pains, actually became successful because of biblical principles built into our founding documents and practiced by the majority of our citizens. Basically, one could say with certainty that for many Americans (not all), faith in God, belief in His written word and commitment to His principles, were their primary source of decision-making consideration. God’s plan is that through teaching our children (parent to child, Deuteronomy 6; Ephesians 6:1, 2; II Timothy 1:5) we can raise up each new generation to be able and willing to make God and His written word our primary source of decision making authority. Then, and only then, will we genuinely put Christ above culture, purity above peers and self above sin. Who (or what) is your primary source of decision-making authority? The answer, if honest, will help you evaluate your relationship to Jesus and to His people.
Strength from Encouragement
Americans are a historically tough people. “We will pull ourselves up by our own boot straps, thank you very much!” We planted the seeds of a great nation 244 years ago, and generation after generation we grew America - with God’s help and direction, certainly, but we stepped up to the plate and accomplished amazing things. This “do or die” attitude is a powerful motivation and has kept us going through many grave challenges, wars, droughts, diseases and terrorist attacks. But not all people have had the blessing of growing up in a family that fosters such positive approaches to life. In fact, God, Himself, addresses the reality that sometimes we need encouragement from outside ourselves. We value and even celebrate inner strength but sometimes tend to look down on those who don’t have it. God’s plan calls us to a better way. In Romans 15:1-2, God calls us to this better way, Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. Edification means “to build up” someone. In our day we are seeing a lot of people who need to be built up through encouragement. As a nation, and often as a church, we underestimate the value, importance and need of encouragement. It is often particularly difficult for very positive and confident people to comprehend the need others have for their personal encouragement. God’s command is not optional. Sixty-three times in scripture we see examples of the word, “encourage.” In Acts 11:23, Barnabas (this nick-name means “son of encouragement”), went to the Christians in Antioch and, “he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord….” Notice he didn’t just say, “You guys and great, go feel good about yourselves.” His encouragement was quite specific: for them to “remain true to the Lord.” Paul taught the Thessalonian Christians to, “encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” The Hebrew writer calls on Christians to be encouraging while at the church assembly, “…not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near,” Hebrews 10:25. Somewhere there are individuals needing encouragement, your encouragement, personally and lovingly. God gives us strength in many ways, but sometimes He gives it through the encouragement of others. There are certainly personal responsibilities to be mature, do the right thing and think the right thoughts. But God gives His church family numerous commands to encourage one another in the process. Find someone to encourage. Do it with a smile. Do it with love. And do it with a hug - ok… and a mask!
Rules for Growing Christians
• Don’t neglect your prayer time. It is the breath of the soul (Luke 18:1). • Don’t neglect your Bible. It is your sword for conquest, your hammer for construction, your guiding light for dreary days (Rev. 1:3). • Don’t neglect your body. It is the capital on which you are to do business for the rest of your life (1 Cor. 6: 19,20). • Don’t neglect your mind. It is your channel for reaching up to the very thoughts of God (Phil. 4:8). • Don’t neglect your laugh. Bible teaches that “A merry heart does good like medicine” (Prov. 17:22). • Don’t neglect your reputation. It is the gold with which you will meet the demands of a complex civilization (Mt. 5:14-16). • Don’t neglect your influence. It will point others to the living God whom you serve (Prov. 11:6). via San Augustine church of Christ San Augustine, TX Bulletin Digest (Nov. 2007)
In recent years our nation was blessed with a drop in crime rates, especially violent crime. The crime rate in 2018 was far lower (about half) than violent crime rates in 1990. Numerous factors can be cited for the reason, but basically good law enforcement was the main reason. New York, in particular, benefited from basic, sound application of good administrative and enforcement policies. From simple, low level crime to serious offenses, the law was applied carefully and equitably. Profoundly interesting is the current, 2020 rise in crime, especially the murder rate and destruction of property, arson, looting, etc. in several large cities. It is painfully obvious that several political leaders have chosen to allow a certain level of lawlessness, which seems to have led to even more lawlessness. Is there a biblical parallel? Yes, indeed, and it is both clear and important. God gives us a clear picture of what happens when societal leaders ignore proper laws. In 1 Samuel, chapters two and three, we see that the sons of Eli were worthless men (1 Samuel 2:12) who were involved in various forms of wrong doing (both moral and legal). In chapter 3, verse 13, we find a revealing reality that was at the root of their misconduct, “…because his sons brought a curse on themselves and he did not rebuke them.” Eli knew of their evil conduct and yet chose not to rebuke them. The message is clear: When bad conduct is not rebuked, things become worse. What happened? The leaders did not follow God’s word. We see the very same message in Exodus 32. Moses was on the mountain meeting with God when Aaron let the people get out of control, in only 40 days! God’s word tells us where the actual responsibility was laid, “Now when Moses saw that the people wereout of control—for Aaron had let them get out of control to be a derision among their enemies— 26 then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me!” What happened? The leaders did not follow God’s word! God has designed human life such that leaders are tasked with the responsibility to not allow the people (population) to get, “out of control.” When people are allowed, by lack of law-abiding leadership, to get out of control, they will turn against one another (verse 29). Yet again, we see the God’s plan works toward “peace on earth” and a properly functioning society. We pray that our leaders, religious, federal and local will wake up and see their proper role in creating and maintaining a society of peace and harmony. Ray Wallace
What Motivates You?
To narrow the subject matter, perhaps it’s necessary to ask, “Motivates me to do what?” We all have differing motivations to do many things depending on the task at hand. Herein we ask, “What motivates you do the right thing?”What keeps you on the straight and narrow, not turning to the right or left from what is actually good and proper. What motives, deep inside, to help you make godly decisions and carry through with them? I submit that there are at least three major categories of motivation that help us walk righteously: 1. Inner motivation of shame vs. peace. “I wouldn’t do that, I’d be ashamed of myself. (The opposite, of course, is the self-centered pleasing of self.) 2. Desire to please my family and friends. “I love my parents (peer group, etc.) and I find great joy in meeting their expectations.” 3. Higher motivation that comes from loving God and desiring to please Him. “I love Jesus and find deep satisfaction in keeping His commandments.” Each of these positive motivations has a proper time and place. Each is important and each is a foundation stone in the building of mature character traits. But often we fail to recognize and use them in our daily lives. I’ve known socially mature, self-disciplined atheists. I’ve also known rather immature and self-indulgent Christians. I believe much of this seemingly contradictory situation can be explained by which of the three motivations above are at work in an individual’s life. Number ONE, above, can guide a person into a fairly responsible and even successful life on earth, but it does nothing to prepare one for eternity. Number TWO, above, can build a personality that becomes a successful employee spouse and parent, but again does little to prepare one for the heavenly home Jesus has for us (John 14:1-6). People who do quite well with both number ONE and number TWO above can seem to really have it all together. They might be a the top of their game at work, at home and in the neighborhood. They become respected community leaders who really do help their local cities. But when serious temptation comes and they fall (for lack of biblical faith and self-discipline) everyone wonders, “What happened? He / she seemed to have it all together. I just don’t understand!” In reality, we need all three types of motivations to keep us on track - personal, family, godly. And each of motivation should be fed and nurtured by love; proper love of self, proper love of family, proper love of God! Jesus neversaid, “If you are tough-minded, you will keep My commandments.” He never said, “If you are afraid of social rejection you will keep My commandments. But Jesus did say, “If you love me you will keep my commandments,” (John 14:15). Our American culture values discipline and hard work. We almost revere the mental toughness that simply does the right thing. But God has made us body, mind and spirit and we need all three motivations to be truly mature on earth and heaven bound for eternity. Think about it!
Chewing on Gristle!
Tough meat can be a bear to chew! (Excuse the pun!) But gristle is far worse! Don’t you hate it when you’re having a great steak and near the end you bite into a large, tough, nearly impossible piece of gristle! Submission is like gristle to the brain! You’re walking smoothly through life, enjoying a nice mental rib-eye steak when suddenly you come across some mental gristle - that part of life that bumps up against submission! Submission, proper, biblical submission, is so tough to chew that most people simply decide to pass it up, forget it or ignore it. That works, to a degree, at least in the short run. But sooner or later ignoring proper, Godly submission will turn out to be a nightmare. Remember Judges 21:25, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” In other words, in the absence of a king, no one paid any attention to what was right in God’s eyes!When people ignore proper, godly submission, you have the actual working outcome of anarchy. People ignore the law because no policeman is in view. People burn, loot and injure others simply because they have chosen to ignore proper, godly submission. I have never known anyone who wants to live in that world. “But I wouldn’t do anything like that,” you say, and it may be true. Your upbringing may have taught you enough proper behavior that you easily choose to obey the law and treat others the way you want to be treated. But in reality, you are describing your choice to be in submission to the standards learned in your family of origin. Many people don’t have that personal depth of child rearing that makes submission to good cultural norms easy. God is very clear in many passages of scripture that proper submission to proper authority is not only a good idea but actually required. I know, it’s hard, it’s uncomfortable and can even feel like enslavement! But proper submission to properauthority is actually the key to good and pleasant society in which to live. God designed human government to punish the wicked and to reward the good. In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, we see these gristle words in chapter 13:3-5: 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake.
It is not a matter of personal preference, but God’s mandate to His people concerning what it takes to secure a palatable society! The more we decide to chew on the gristle of proper submission to properauthority, the more we enjoy that palatable society in ways that reduce the gristle of every day life. Submission often feels like diminished personal freedom or even slavery. But in reality, propersubmission to proper authority is the path to personal peace, family harmony and social stability that cuts out most of the everyday gristle that ruins the freedom and joy of every day life. Keep on chewing the right stuff! Ray Wallace
Further study: Luke 20:25; Titus 3:1; I Peter 2:13-17
“I Will Build My Church”
“Church” - it’s such a loaded word these days that communication about it is often quite difficult. Imaging that you are discussing “bars” but no one is on the same page. Someone says “bars” and one hearer is thinking “drinking establishments” another is thinking “security devices on windows,” another is thinking “Klondike ice cream bars,” and yet another is thinking about the red cross bars on a Confederate battle flag. A terrible argument ensues as each man expresses his opinions about the “bars” he is envisioning in the conversation. It would be utter chaos and could even be dangerous as each one in the conversation asserts and defends his position on the “bars” he thinks are under discussion! The word “church” is like that in many modern circles and sometimes even among religious people. Like many modern terms, the connotation of the word “church” is both varied and rapidly changing. Some think, “the building,” some think, “a denomination with man-made bylaws and a home office with officials who run that entity,” some think, “those nice people at the church club,” some think, “those self-loathing people who are driven by guilt and sorrow,” some people think, “those gossiping, back-biting jerks,” and some think, “those self-righteous bigots who want to run everyone’s lives.” None of those connotations bear any resemblance to the church that Jesus built! It's not surprising because most Americans today get their working definitions of various parts of our culture from the evening news or social media rather than from an actual and authoritative source. The apostle Paul said, “…when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery for Christ,” Ephesians 3:4. “When you read,” is an assumption that humans are reading God’s word rather than pontificating about what they heard on campus or at the coffee shop. "When you read,” not, “If you read” is the key to properly defining and understanding the actual church that Jesus built. A few realities that actually reading will reveal: Jesus built His church, not man - Matthew 16:18 Jesus bought the church with His blood, so it belongs to Him not man - Acts 20:28; I Cor. 6:20; 7:23; I Pet. 1:17-19 Jesus’ church is the people, not a place - Eph. 1:22, 23; Col. 1:18; Jesus commanded His church to love one another - John 13:34, 35 Jesus commanded His church to forgive one another - Matt. 6:14, 15; Eph. 4:32 Jesus commanded His church to put away bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, malice and to be kind to one another with a tender heart - Eph. 4:31-32 Jesus commanded His church to worship in spirit and truth - Jn. 4:22-24 Jesus’ church imitates Him, not humans - I Cor. 11:1 Jesus’ church has the ambition of pleasing Him - II Cor. 5:9 Jesus’ church reaches out to share love and His good news with others - Lk 2:10; Acts 10:34; 13:32; Rom. 10:15-17; I Thess. 3:6
In doing these things, and many others, Jesus’ church becomes a family of loving brothers and sisters who worship together, pray together, share life together and are bound together in the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace, Eph. 4:3. Considering the actual, authoritative definition and description of Jesus’ church found in the actual text of the Scripture, we can and should properly conclude that the word, “church” deserves to be understood as a precious, loving, caring, giving, forgiving, family of brothers and sisters who seek to please Him and not self, not other men or the writings of men, and certainly not the negative connotations foisted upon our culture by the news media, entertainment media and social media of our day. “When you read you can understand!”
GOD’S THREEFOLD PLAN FOR PEACE AND SUCCESS
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). Then He created man, then woman, then their children. That means the first organization He created was the family. And we see them having a direct relationship with God. In other words, God created a system of worship, like we see in Noah’s family with Noah offering a sacrifice as his first act after stepping off the ark. Once there were enough families God then created a plan for everyone getting along with one another - in other words, a system of civil government. The short version is that God created three primary entities to help mankind grow, mature, get along and have peaceful, proper and productive relationships with others, both kin and country. Each of these entities, family, religious family and civil government have very specific purposes and biblically specified directives. In a plethora of passages God addresses family. In particular one could read Proverbs, Ephesians chapters 5 and 6, and numerous others. God addresses the husband/wife relationship, the parent/child relationship, the brother-to-brother (and sister!) relationship and even grandparent relationships. Through the family God has planned for humanity to rear caring, cognitive and law-abiding children who grow to be mature adults who promote not only their own families but also church families and functioning civil governments. In various other passages God establishes His church family. In particular, in this present age, one could read the entire book of Acts and most of the epistles for a clear and concise pattern of how God has built His church, how to make godly converts and how to administer His church, along with real world examples. In yet other passages, we see that God, Himself establishes nations, and sometimes brings them down. Romans 13 is one of the prime examples of this reality. When nations follow God’s plans they prosper. When they don’t…. they don’t. God blesses nations who follow his plan and He withholds blessings, or even brings curses on those nations who ignore His plans for properly administering governmental bodies. A vitally important understanding for proper balance and practical success is that we keep those three entities God has created, family, church and civil government, in proper perspective, properly identified and properly separated for their God-given purposes. If and when families try to govern, we usually see serious problems of personal power ruining the governing process. When we see churches try to do actual governing, we usually see a loss of the free-will freedoms God has ordained. When we see civil governments attempting to do the jobs God intended for families or churches, we see all the evils that totalitarian regimes have brought on godless nations for millennia. As God’s children today, we should remember that no matter what happens in civil government, we can still have both fine, faithful families and strong, vibrant church families. It was in a conquered and occupied nation that Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled, believe in God and believe also in Me,” John 14:1.
SEEING THE UNSEEN
There most definitely IS an unseen world. For anyone who believes God’s word, this should not be a surprising concept. God has not shared a great deal of detail with us about the unseen world but we have enough biblical information that we can understand the reality and the purpose of that realm. The Hebrew writer makes it quite clear in the first chapter of that book. Speaking of angels in the context, we see these words, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?” Yes, angels are real and they render help to God’s people. When and precisely how this happens is in God’s hands and He has not shared those details with us. Faithful Christians are content to allow God to handle the processes whether we know those details or not. One of the great events in the Bible is found in II Kings 6. The king of Aram (modern day Syria) was trying to capture Elisha, God’s prophet, in the city of Dothan (verses 11-14). Early in the morning Elisha and his servant rise to see the entire city surrounded by the army and cavalry of Aram. Elisha’s servant was understandably distraught, their demise seemed imminent! But Elisha knew and saw something that his servant could not see, the unseen realm! Elisha utters the now famous words, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” His servant must have thought Elisha had gone crazy. There are two of them facing thousands of enemy soldiers, mounted cavalry and chariots! They were hopelessly outnumbered. Then Elisha prayed that God would open the eyes of his servant. God grants the request and suddenly his servant sees the reality, “And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” Indeed, he now sees God’s own angelic army there in force, far out-numbering the Aramean forces! The rest of the story unfolds through verse 23 and it was the end of the marauding bands of Arameans attacking Israel in that generation. I wonder how often we, today, wring our hands in fear or frustration simply because we don’t see God’s plans or his angels. By definition, we can’t see the unseen. But we remember Hebrews 1:14, that God’s angels are ministering spirits sent out to render service to His people. I wonder how often our own spirits forget Psalm 73:1, “Do not fret because of evildoers.” I must confess that it is hard to follow that instructive when I see rioters, looters and arsonists running wild on the evening news. But I still remember God’s word and accept the challenge to keep my fears in check because, “… greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world,” I John 4:4. Fear, trepidation and frustration can only happen in one person’s heart! They do not exist out in mid air. Your heart can can find the strength to “not fret because of evildoers.” The process of personal peace is, not surprisingly, personal! It is not the herd mentality that peace is and never has been controlled by the culture! Read Philippians 4:1-13. Therein we find the magnificent reality that, “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The heathen rage (Ps. 1:1) and the enemies of God go about blindly (literally or figuratively, II Kings 6:15-19) but if and when we, as God’s people, really do put Him on the thrones of our hearts, the peace that follows will, astoundingly, surpass all comprehension!
When the Foundations are Destroyed…
King David was on the throne for 40 years, 1010 to 970 BC, according to many historians. His reign was marked by good times and bad, peaceful times and violent time. During part of his reign, he was forced off the throne by his own son, Absalom, and had to hide in the caves of Machpelah for fear of his life. Sadly, Absalom had undermined the authority of God and His appointed king. Sadder still, the basic rule of law and civil authority was on the chopping block. One wonders just how things had gone so terribly wrong, when there had been peace and prosperity under David’s rule earlier. The answer is and has been the same throughout human history: breakdowns occur when enough of the population of any nation decides to ignore the very laws that keep civil liberties viable for the entire nation. (Certainly there can be bad laws that should be changed or even ignored: see Acts 5:27-29.) In the United States, most of our laws have been tested and proven by both legal rulings and common practice to be viable and healthy in keeping the peace and protecting life and property. When those common-sense laws are disregarded by enough people at the same time, we see violence and destruction on a large scale. It’s happened the world over and it’s happening now in our nation. Law, in general, is one of the foundations that God has put in place for the peace and well-being of cities and nations. In our nation, our laws are widely based on the laws of God found in His word, the Bible. All of our major laws are directly founded upon God’s laws in both testaments: murder, theft, destruction of property, rape and violence of all types. The very things that make you safe and at peace at home and in public are the laws of God and the laws of our nation founded on His laws. In very real and practical terms those very foundations are, in many cities, crumbling at our feet. Time will tell if we have the resolve to reclaim these foundations. IF we stumble in our ability to keep law and order, we will stumble and perhaps even fall as a nation. The deciding factor is addressed in Psalm 11. King David, the rightful king, has been de-throned and law itself is hanging by a thread. The proper, legal king has been displaced by unlawful and violent men who seek to kill him (see Ps. 11:1-2).Then king David, by God’s inspiration, asks a question for the ages, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” In other words, if any culture is destroying the foundations which God has ordained for nations, the righteous (God’s people) can do little. Why? Because those very foundations are the basic principles of life and civility that must be upheld for any nation, regardless of political ideology, the bedrock, the foundational principles which keep lawlessness and anarchy at bay. We are not debating which laws are better. We are not facing a debate about the types of laws we have or the how they are enforced. We are living through an attack on law and authority itself. It is a grievous sin to “despise authority,” II Peter 2:10. Indeed, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Please pray for America! Ray Wallace
Why Do the Heathen Rage?
Romans 13 teaches us that God establishes nations. With that in mind, I believe that America is truly a gift of God to a people who understood who He is and how to create a nation of freedom, religious and otherwise. With so many freedoms and approximately one million immigrants per year who desire to move here because of those freedoms, why are so many unhappy and destructive? With more opportunity than virtually every nation on earth, why are we having protests turn to riots and demonstrations turn into looting? So many people I know are truly happy, yet so many I see in major cities in the US right now are in a rage! What can explain such a dichotomy? There may be many social or political answers, but the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart. God explains it quite clearly in Psalm 2. The King James text renders: Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His anointed, saying, "Let us break their bands asunder and cast away their cords from us." In verse one, God acknowledges the question many ask throughout history about why some people rage and pursue vanity (useless thing with no profit). In verse two, God answers their question - it is because those people are attempting to throw off anything that attaches them to God or binds them to His truths. Any and every group or nation which seeks to distance itself from God, or defy His rules or deny His existence, will, to some degree, experience rage. The very act of throwing off the cords which had previously restrained bad behavior creates the environment wherein the inner frustrations of the ungodly heart become the outer rage against godliness and eventually authority itself. One of the sins that Peter says is "especially" bad is "despising authority," (II Peter 2:10, NASB). Any sin can separate us from God, but some sins have gravely different results. The rioting and looting that have plagued our nation in recent weeks are prime examples of what happens when anyone or any group seeks to throw off godly principles that restrain lawlessness. Obviously there are few ideas more lawless than the "Abolish the Police" movement now gaining traction in some places. The answer, rather obviously, is a return to God and His word. Until that happens, national and local leaders will seek human answers that actually lead to more hand-wringing than heart healing.
Further study: Matthew 7:12; Romans 13:1-7; II Peter 2:9-10
Dwelling Together in Unity
Psalm 133 is the fourth shortest chapter in the Bible (if one considers a "psalm" as a chapter). Yet the breadth and depth of this passage is profoundly more important than its length might suggest. Great things often do come is small packages! Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, Coming down upon the beard, Even Aaron’s beard, Coming down upon the edge of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon Coming down upon the mountains of Zion; For there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forever. (NASB) This is one of David's "songs of ascent" (Psalms 120 - 134) that the people sang as they walked up the hill to Jerusalem to attend feasts and festivals. In this psalm, the people were singing the praises of brotherly fellowship and unity. To be together is merely a group, to be in unity is to be at peace as a family. As I consider these last few weeks in which we have chosen to follow the social distancing guidelines of our health departments, we have all missed the regular fellowship that is the hallmark of peace and unity. As David wrote, it is good and pleasant. He likened the pleasantness of this unity to some of the things that the Jewish mind recognized as wonderful: the oil that keeps the skin soft and healthy in a region known for dry weather; the dews of Mount Hermon that waters the morning grass. That mountain, 9232 feet above sea level, today houses the highest permanently manned United Nations position in the world. It gets enough moisture that there is a ski resort there! Indeed a wonderful respite in a dry land. As that cool, snowy mount is a relief from the arid heat, so is the good and pleasant atmosphere where brothers dwell together in unity. As we regroup to meet together to worship our Lord, I truly thank God for the good and pleasant unity that is a hallmark of this church family. Hugs and holy kisses (Romans 16:16; I Corinthians 16:20; II Corinthians 12:16; I Thessalonians 5:26) will have to wait for a later date as we keep social distance to keep one another safe, but until then, what a precious blessing it is to be together to sing praises to our God and to share personal fellowship with one another. All praise be to Him! Ray Wallace
God's Purpose for Government
I have thus far chosen to remain mostly silent about the current unrest in America, primarily because I wanted to see where things were headed before I addressed the situation. God's word is not silent about the role of government. My words here will be biblically based and not political, so... "what saith the scriptures?" - Romans 4:3 (which must be the basis of our beliefs). It is quite simple, actually. Romans 13:1-7 is exceedingly clear: Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7 Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. Yes, some people break our laws. And yes, sometimes people in positions of authority break our laws (including elected officials and even law enforcement who have been tasked with protecting and serving the public. When that happens, justice should always be served in every case, no exception for law enforcement or elected officials or the public at large! Therefore the governmental authorities (Romans 1:1-7) must hand out justice for all, including law breakers who riot under the guise of "protest." No exceptions for anyone of any race, creed or national origin! God commands us to obey the laws of our land (see also I Peter 2:11-17). Unless the authorities directly command us to disobey God's laws, we must obey the authorities. If we are told to disobey God's laws, then civil disobedience (not violence, merely non-compliance) are in order. (Read Acts 5:17-32). My brother was shot and killed by a black man when I was in high school (Dallas, 1964). After his funeral, my father said very distinctly, "The only man guilty here is the man who pulled the trigger. You must spend your life judging people as individuals." Dad lived that creed. When he passed away at home, at age 90, his daily care giver was a wonderful, caring black woman. She cooked, cleaned and cared for his home and lawn. As a Christian, dad loved her and her husband, and they loved him. Every sin, large or small, is an individual choice for which God (and we) understand is an individual infraction. We don't hold family members guilty for what others have done. We don't hold a race or a neighborhood responsible for what an individual has done. And we must likewise, not hold an organization (police department, city council or state legislature and governor) responsible for something one individualdid which was against the law. When people riot to try to punish others who broke no law, anarchy will reign and God, Himself, will bring down His own wrath on those who steal what belongs to Him. "Steals?" Yes steals. Romans 12 says, "Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Vengeance belongs to God. When you take it, you are stealing from God. If we are to survive as a nation, and have the blessings only God can give, then we must both understand and follow God's laws! Read carefully. Think deeply. Live biblically. Love purely. Forgive profoundly.
Seeing the Unseen
Anytime Christianity is contemplated, the bedrock basis of the consideration is whether or not there is more to human existence than meets the physical eye. In short, are there beings that transcend the physical plane? Is there a God? Was Jesus "God with us," do angels exist? Is there life after death? Obviously this is not a question for chemists and physicists, because by definition, those spiritual entities are not physical. When ask about the existence of God, Stephen Hawking, the world-renowned British theoretical physicist and cosmologist (one who studies the universe) answered that the question was not one for physical scientists, but for theologians. However, throughout history we see credible historians, including those who penned biblical texts, experiencing the realm of the unseen spiritual world having great effects on the realm of the visible and tangible. We see an angel of God destroying an entire army that was camped outside the Judean capitol city of Jerusalem. Read the nineteenth chapter of II Kings, then focus on vv. 35, 36: Then it happened that night that the angel of the Lord went out and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men rose early in the morning, behold, all of them were dead. So Sennacherib king of Syria departed and returned home, and lived at Nineveh. This was no mass hysteria or illness. It was an angel of the Lord taking control of a bad situation - a military attack which God would not tolerate. One of my favorite events in the entire Old Testament happened in II Kings 6. The Arameans were plotting to capture God's prophet Elisha. In this very eventful chapter, we see an astounding reality. The city was surrounded by enemy soldiers and cavalry. Elisha's demise, and that of the city itself, seemed certain. There was simply no military answer, no human defense. When God opened the eyes of Elisha's attendant, he saw the surrounding hills filled with God's angelic warriors, complete with chariots of fire. The enemies were stricken blind, and eventually set free. Verse 23 records, "And the marauding bands of the Amameans did not come again into the land of Israel." Yes, there is an unseen world, and through that world Jehovah reigns supreme in the universe. One day His angels will return to earth, destroy the wicked and deliver God's faithful unto heaven (II Thessalonians chapter one). Yes the unseen world is very real, but the more important question is a personal one, "Whose side are you on?"
Further study: Numbers 22, Balaam and his angel-seeing donkey
"Keep on Keepin' On" (Mid-week Study, 5-27-2020)
"Keep on keepin' on" - it was so common in the 1960s in some places in America that it began to supplant "Good-bye" when people parted company. The basic thought of "Good-bye" is that your life goes well in the "bye and bye," or until we meet again. Similarly, "Keep on keepin' on" was meant for both perseverance and encouragement to keep your chin up, keep working, keep trying, keep living life in positive ways, and don't let the crazy people get you down! Everyone knew what it meant and appreciated cheerful reinforcement. That kind of human encouragement has always been part of God's plan for His kids. Two thousand years ago the apostles had a follower from Cyprus named Joseph. He was such a profound encourager that they nicknamed him, "Barnabas", which means Son of Encouragement," (Acts 4:36). The Old Testament itself is an encouragement to New Testament Christians that we might have hope, (Romans 15:4). The next verse teaches us that God is the ultimate giver of both perseverance and encouragement. Hmmmm... sort of divine "keep on keepin' on!" To be like Jesus, we must be encouragers (Philippians 2:1). To be fellow workers for the kingdom of God, we should be encouragers of others, (Colossians 4:12). In fact, dozens of times in both testaments we find the words "encourage and encouragement." In Acts 27:22, in the midst of an actual ship-wreck, Paul tells the crew, "Keep up your courage!" In Colossians 3:1 Paul reminds the Christians there to, "...keep seeking the things above." Peter encourages us to, "...keep fervent in your love for one another, (I Peter 4:8) and also to "...keep on rejoicing" in 4:13. Likewise, "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial," James 1:12. Now would be a great time to read Romans 8:18-38. Paul acknowledges that we will face tough times. God never sweeps adversity under the rug. Yet He gives us hope to "keep on keepin' on" because He is with us and will never abandon us. In verse 39, Jesus is the answer. So, do not lose heart (II Corinthians 4:16). During a world war, famine or flood, drought, locust plague, or even a global viral pandemic, keep on keepin' on!
Further study: I Corinthians 4:7-18; Galatians 6:9-10
We are often amazed at new things. For instance a recent computer chip was tested that ran at over 44 Terabytes per second - enough to download ten high definition movies in one second! We love new technology and new things in general, new cars, new homes, new toys, etc. It is not a new or modern phenomenon. The Athenians on Mars Hill loved telling and hearing new things (Acts 17:16-21). But there is another item that often interests us - the rediscovery of old things that were either forgotten or ignored for a period of time. We've all experienced it, from finding an old doll in the attic to rediscovering a beloved item in a loved one's estate treasures. This is not a new phenomenon either! After the Assyrian's invasion of Judah, under their general Sennacherib, they besieged Jerusalem. Although the Assyrian attack failed, it left Jerusalem in bad shape. Judah's king Josiah saw that their nation's fate was brought about because they had ignored Jehovah God and His book. Josiah's men had found a dusty old book in the temple and read it to him. All were amazed - it was the book of the Lord! Following the discovery of that book, Josiah lead sweeping reforms, casting idolatry out of the nation and re-instituting feast and fast days prescribed therein. It was an astounding rediscovery from the not-so-distant past. (Read II Kings 22 and 23 for the details of this incredible story.) Likewise, in two of my favorite Old Testament books, Ezra and Nehemiah, God's people rediscovered their blessings. They had just returned from 70 years of captivity in Babylon and were rebuilding the capitol city of Jerusalem. They were rebuilding residences but neglecting the house of God. (See Haggai 1:1-4.) (For more info see also Ezra 1; 5:1-11; 6:14, and Nehemiah 2:11-20; 3: 26-31. In fact much of these two books are about the rebuilding and rededication of the temple.) Today, we have been "socially distanced" by various decrees and thus have missed some things very precious to us. In Acts 2:42, we see the congregation sharing four vital things, They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, the breaking of bread and to prayer. After speaking to each family personally, I am so very encouraged to see that we are all missing our fellowship and communion together. We certainly have not forgotten the things of God in these recent months, but we do, indeed, share the joy and deeper appreciation of these things we have missed. We may not be actually rediscovering forgotten things, but we are certainly recognizing the importance and the joy of coming together again to bless one another and to give honor to God for His unspeakable blessings. On June 7th we plan to resume our worship and our fellowship as His people.
The Importance of Fellowship
From America's earliest roots we have been individualists - tough, self-reliant bootstrap survivors. That approach to life and nation building has served us well in business, frontier settlement and even daily life. From mountain men to cowboys to modern industrialists we have risen to super-power status as a nation often because of our individualistic approach to self-motivation and accomplishment. But there is a downside. When we try to apply the "rugged individualist" approach to personal relationships we fail the vast majority of the time. The proverbial "macho man" seldom has deeply close relationships, even with his own family members. The testosterone fueled movie hero is not the same character as Tom Hanks in You've Got Mail. However, over the years the careful student of culture has often seen the rugged individualist become the lonely old man. Income and status make no difference. The lonely, aging Howard Hughes is not significantly different from the lonely, aging man under a bridge. Genuine human relationships are no respecter of social status. Enter "fellowship." The New Testament word is koinonia. Our old friend Webster defines it as: 1. the Christian fellowship or body of believers 2: intimate spiritual communion and participative sharing in a common religious commitment and spiritual community. Oxford's rendering: Christian fellowship or communion, with God or, more commonly, with fellow Christians. In common usage we could simply say, "Fellowship is the genuine sharing of life together as a closely knit family. As such we share (things and life), we communicate (happiness and heartaches), we really do participate in another's pains and parties. This genuine family spirit becomes a closeness wherein we can share our successes and our failures, knowing full well that we will be loved beyond and in spite of our fiascos. Then, and only then, can a church family actually live out the deeper meaning of the terms "brother and sister." During this Covid crisis, the quality of our actual fellowship is both felt and seen - the way we miss each other, the way we long to sing and praise God together, the depth with which we miss simple handshakes and hugs - all are indicators of the genuine closeness of our koinonia. Praise God that we can at least, call, text, swap phone photos and say "Hello" on facebook posts. If all goes well, on June 7th we will resume Acts 2:42 in earnest and in person: They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Be honest, be deep - we miss each other and we need each other as we walk the paths of life together toward our heavenly home. God made us that way. I'm excited!
Looking to the Future
It's day 53 of the "lockdown." Ugh! Stir crazy turns to cabin fever and cabin fever becomes cubical fallout! The home you love feels a bit like a cubical office and that white picket fence around your yard now your prison boundaries! Okay, maybe it's not quite that bad, but for some it's starting to feel like it. The present parameters bring up a valid question, "How can we keep our sense of well-being and our love of liberty alive while we languish in our homes?" It's not a new question. How could the early Christians keep joy in their hearts when the Roman government kept them oppressed? How could Paul keep his head on straight when he wrestled with rats in a Roman dungeon? (By the way, he wrote four of our New Testament epistles while in prison in Rome.) How could Joseph keep his cool when he was in prison on false testimony? The answer, for them and for us, is to both focus on others and focus on our future. Paul refers to this mental/spiritual process in Philippians 4:12-14: Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Focus on the future. Whether running the Boston Marathon, or the blustery marathon of life, we look to the future. The Hebrew writer reminds of this very process in the mind of Christ in Hebrews 12:1-3: ...lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Growing weary? Fix your eyes on Jesus. Losing heart? Run with endurance and remember Jesus "so that you may not grow weary and lose heart." Every stage of life has its challenges. Every challenge calls for our individual and unique response. Every response should be based on a deep and abiding desire to simple be like Jesus, to "...walk in His steps," I Peter 2:21. Just as Paul wrote in I Corinthians 11:1, "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ." One challenge I have learned to give myself in challenging times is to sing this song, "To be like Jesus, to be like Jesus, all I ask to be like Him. All through life's journey, from earth to glory, all I ask, to be like Him. Keep on keepin' on - in Him!
"Fret Not Thyself" A Mid-week Study, May 6, 2020
Many years ago I learned the marvelous value of finding parallel verses (or principles) in Old and New Testament passages. As Paul teaches us in Romans 15:4, there is much to be appreciated from Old Testament teachings, even though we are not under Old Testament law today (Romans 7:1-4; Colossians 2:13-15). A favorite parallel of mine is the principle of peace found in Philippians 4 and Psalm 37. Stop here and read carefully Philippians 4:4-13 then Psalm 37, all of it, but focus particularly on verses 1-11. In Philippians 4:4-13, God is teaching us through Paul's pen to both pray and to focus our minds on positive things. Not only will the peace of God be with us (v. 7) but also God Himself, the God of peace will be with us. Those promises only apply if we follow (do) verses 4-6 and focus our minds on the right things (v. 8-9). Remember, God has never given us a command that He has not empowered us to accomplish. Therefore, we must have within our grasp the ability to do those things commanded in this passage. Now focus on Psalm 37. "Fret not thyself" (KJV), "Do not fret" (NASB) because of evil doers. Please note that God is not promising to swoop down and deliver you from fret (worry, anxiety). He is actually commanding us, individually, to not fret! Again, He is calling us to accomplish, within our own minds, the very thing He as empowered us to do - Do not fret! As you read verses 1-11, notice specifically the commands given that we must indeed have the power to accomplish: Do not fret Trust in the Lord and do good Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness Delight yourself in the Lord Commit your way to the Lord Trust also in Him Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him Do not fret Cease from anger and forsake wrath Do not fret Be humble and delight yourself in prosperity We see a lot of commands in such a short passage. Notice that each of these is accompanied with a blessing or an expectation. So many times we wonder where the blessings are and when they will come. Most of the time, they are right around the corner waiting for us to follow the command. Then, and only then should we expect to reap the harvest of blessings, whether they are physical, spiritual or emotional. Sometimes enemies are easily seen and identified. Sometimes they are nebulous or even invisible. Sometimes we discover that the enemy is self and our lack of obedience to God's commands. Whether the enemies are visible, or invisible (like the present Corona virus) the beautiful commands and resulting blessings of Philippians 4 and Psalm 37 are still very real and unspeakably precious. As we continue the boredom and frustration of the current lockdowns and even the possible governmental over-reach, may we all remember that no challenge on earth can negate the promises of God, if and when we follow His directives! May God's peace overwhelm your spirit as you focus your thoughts on the right things.
"The truth, out of balance, always leads to heresy." This quote, which I heard many years ago, has helped me stay vigilant in my teaching and preaching. Some might use the quote to justify unbiblical teachings but it is meant guide us to the scriptures themselves to find God's own teachings in their fullest and truest sense. With that in mind, I want to address the current lockdown orders issued by various governmental entities from federal down to the local levels. The question on the table here is, "Should Christians ignore lockdown orders that demand we not meet for worship?" (A sensitive issue indeed.) "What saith the scriptures?" Roman 4:3. On the one hand, we are commanded to worship and not forsake the assembling ourselves together (Hebrews 10:24, 25). And we must not allow anyone, government or otherwise, to tell us we cannot share Jesus with others. On the other hand we are commanded to obey civil laws where we live, Romans 13:1-6. For now let's focus on I Peter 2:11-17: Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. The challenge becomes quite clear: what shall we do when government edicts collide with God's word? In Acts 5 the apostles chose to break civil law and continue to speak about Jesus. God's word must, in our minds, hearts and hands, take precedence over man's law. But is there a middle ground without ignoring scripture? I believe often there is. In Acts 5 the Roman authorities were trying to stamp out Christianity. In our current lockdown the authorities are trying to stamp out the corona virus, Covid-19. I see these temporary stay at home orders as good and proper quarantine procedures as we see in Leviticus 13 and 14. We see the practical working of that separation in Luke 17:12, wherein the man with leprosy stood away, social distancing. You may agree with me or not, but I believe the biblicalbalance here would be to follow the governmental mandates for the lockdown for a while to help curb the spread of this virus. If government officials, at any level, were to try to use this situation as an opportunity to stop our worship or evangelism indefinitely, I would choose to ignore those mandates as Peter and John did in Acts 5:27-32. Remember, it is also God's law to obey our laws as much as possible (Romans 13:1-6), to keep our behavior excellent among the Gentiles (non-believers here), and to honor the king (I Peter 2:17). In balance, we must not ignore God's laws, nor the laws of our nation. In balance, we must follow both. In balance, we can almostalways find choices that keep us in the proper context of submission and obedience that pleases God. So let us be diligent, honest, dedicated, careful and faithful as we navigate these challenging waters so that can, "Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king."
Patience and Perseverance
We’re in new territory, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say we are shut-in, in the very familiar territory of our homes. We could focus on terms like, “stir-crazy," "cabin fever" and "boredom,” but I think it’s far wiser to center our thoughts on, “patience" and "perseverance.” These terms are actually biblical terms that call us to mature responses rather than seeing ourselves as simply victims of circumstance. We would do well to remember that God has never called us to, nor commanded anything of us, that He has not empowered us to do. In Psalm 37:7 David shares a precious approach to daily life, “Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him….” When too much rest becomes boring or even frustrating, God is calling us to patience. And in the actual doing of that patience, we should realize that we are not simply waiting for earthly circumstances to change, but indeed, we are waiting for God and His will to bring about the changes needed to resume normal life. Let’s recognize that patience, when strained over time, must become perseverance! We might frame the approach like this: we start be being patient and over time that patience must become perseverance. One of my favorite lines from the movie, Josey Wales, is spoken by Lone Watie (played by Chief Dan George), “Endeavor to persevere!” He is quoting the US government’s advice to native Americans, “Endeavor to persevere.” Good advice, indeed (regardless of the political setting in the movie). When boring, shut-in days drone on into weeks we recognize the need for patience. Now that those weeks drip like molasses into months we must use our self-control (Ephesians 5:23) to force that patience into perseverance! Patience, called “long-suffering” in the King James translation, certainly calls us to stay faithful when suffering long. Perseverance means most simply, “keeping on keeping on.” We are not waiting merely for men of science to signal an “all clear.” We are waiting for the Lord! Absorb the message of Psalm 27:14: Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.” King David is telling us in no uncertain terms that patience and perseverance in waiting for God’s timing takes courage! It may seem surprising that waiting at home as a Covid 19 shut-in takes courage, but when things stretch out this long, I believe that it certainly does! Be strong take courage, wait patiently and through self-discipline, persevere! God is on our side (Romans 8:28-39). Ray Wallace
This “social distancing” might be taking a toll on many people. My policeman friend with the Durango PD told me last week that domestic violence is spiking. This and other anomalies make us wonder just how immature our culture has become. Certainly the “shelter at home” orders take their toll on us, but we must be strong, resilient and hold fast to our maturities, spiritual and practical. For instance, I decided I finally needed to go to the grocery store. As I was driving, just after dark, an amazing thing happened – I found myself dodging trees in the roadway, back and forth repeatedly. As I was wondering what happened, a squad car stopped me and the officer approached cautiously. He asked, “What is the world are you doing with all that swerving?” I answered that I was dodging the trees is in the road. He looked around for a while, then finally fixed his eyes on my rear veiw mirror. He said, rather indignantly, “Sir, that is your air freshener swinging back and forth!” OK, so that didn’t really happen. But for a comparison, let’s consider the situation of missing our weekly gatherings. Due to the “shutdown” we just might, if we are not careful, loose our skills, our edge, our sensitivity to God, to His word, or to one another, the precious face to face fellowship, the spiritual intimacy of sharing the Lord’s Supper, our interest in learning from class and worship (no comments from the peanut gallery!). Researchers tell us that a habit is easily formed when we repeat the same thing for about 6 weeks. It would be rather easy to consider missing corporate worship for 6 weeks and simply feel like this is the new norm. No wonder the Hebrew writer warned against missing the assembly with the word “habit.” No wonder the early Christians, “…devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers,” Acts 2:42, ESV. As life comes at us hard and fast, whether it’s a panoply of practical problems or a pernicious pandemic, we all have “trees” to dodge that might be real or might be perception. Regardless of the challenge, we must stay attached to the life-giving vine, Jesus, if we are to produce fruit as His branches. That is best done when we abide in Him and let His words abide in us. And that is best done when we stay connected to “one another.” A great exercise this week would be to look up “one another” verses in the Bible and realize the connectedness God has planned to for us, so that we can better “encourage one another.”
Further study: John 15:1-11; Hebrews 10:23-31; “one another” passages
In Times of Trial
Last Friday believers around the world remembered the crucifixion of Christ. We often focus on the pain of the cross and the forgiveness of our own sins, which Jesus bought with his blood. As horrible as the cross was, the resurrection was infinitely more profound. But we sometimes forget to continue to the rest of the story. And that is, that the resurrected Jesus is not only at the right hand of God, but His is also present with us, whatever be our trial or pain. There is an old Christian Hymn, In the Hour of Trial that is all but forgotten in many churches, but illustrates this precious concept. The message is one of patience in tough times specifically because of the presence of Jesus in our lives. But it is not merely His presence with us that counts, but our specific decision to spend time in His presence. The song itself is beautiful to sing, but the words, when simply read, are, in my estimation, more deeply understood and appreciated. That is often the case with old and familiar songs that we sometimes sing by rote and note rather than marvel and message. During these times of the COVID-19 virus and the social distancing required as part of the battle, please consider carefully the depth of the thoughts and the point of the poem. Read it deeply, consider it carefully and live it lovingly.
In the hour of trial, Jesus, plead for me, Lest by base denial, I depart from Thee; When Thou seest me waver, with a look recall, Nor for fear or favor, suffer me to fall. Should Thy mercy send me sorrow, toil, and woe; Or should pain attend me, on my path below; Grant that I may never fail Thy hand to see; Grant that I may ever cast my care on Thee. When the last hour cometh, fraught with strife and pain, When Thou, Lord, returneth to the earth again; On Thy truth relying as that hour draws near, Jesus, take me, waiting, to Thy presence dear.
Encouragement… What is it Anyway?
Merriam-Webster says to encourage means, “to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope.” So encouragement, the noun form is, “the act of encouraging; the state of being encouraged.” (The same source also says it can mean “to stimulate toward something.”) As we apply the whole thought of Hebrews 10:24, 25 we see the English word, “consider.” It is from the Greek word, Katanoomen, Strong’s Concordance relies on Vine, Unger and White for their definition, “ 2596, katá, "down along, exactly according to" and 3539, /noiéō, "to think") – properly, to think from up to down, to a conclusion; to consider exactly, attentively (decisively); to concentrate by fixing one's thinking,” 'to perceive clearly' (kata, intensive), 'to understand fully, consider closely.’ " So, as we “consider” how to do something it is a deep and careful consideration. Then we see the English word, “provoke” which is from the Greek parosusmon. It means to incite, encourage, provoke or even push! So, as we see the words used together “consider and “encourage” we must see it as as a strong, well-considered type of encouragement. (Some translations and commentators use the word “spur one another to love and good deeds”.) So basically, Hebrews 10:24 is telling us to think fully, clearly, examining well, exactly how we might encourage, stimulate, provoke or spur one another to love and good deeds, (or good works). We recognize that careful thought and examination is required from the very definition of the words. As we see the various needs of individual members, their ages, their interests, their strengths and their weaknesses, God is trusting us to use our wits and wisdom to come to a conclusion as to consider how to encourageeach individual member of our church family, particularly when tough times ravage the soul, the family or the nation. Remember the encouragement here is not simply to keep a stiff upper lip, but to actually get good deeds done in love. We all know from experience that few things are as encouraging as looking back at the day and seeing that we literally accomplished the doings of love and good deeds. The more we know each other personally, the more we share our joys and our sorrows, the more we spend time together sharing life (fellowship) the more we will know just exactly how each person in God’s family can be encouraged to live out the doings of love and good deeds. Great connections are formed when we take turns actually helping each other accomplish these tasks. Few things in life create such deep bonds and reciprocal appreciation as much as helping others accomplish God’s will! Wow - encouragement is powerful! Let’s use it well. As we consider the call to attend worship in verse 25, we can clearly see from verse 24, one of the reasons we meet together to stimulate one another to love and good deeds. In this time of social separation, let’s be sure to keep up that process as much as possible.
A Time to...
One of my favorite passages for many years is Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. Solomon had seen a lot in life, and he had been on both sides of the fence, with God and ignoring God. Late in life, God taps him to write this inspired book to help mankind see life from both perspectives, under the sun and above the earth... earthly perspectives and God's perspective. In chapter three, Solomon relates God's message that there are times for differing things - a time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, and time to pluck up what is planted, etc. In verse 5 we learn there is, "...a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing." Solomon gives a specific context for what those times may be, but we can certainly recognize that during this time of national and world-wide pandemic, this is a time to refrain from embracing! I have always been in hugging families and hugging church families. How sweet it is to "love one another as I have loved you," (John 13:34, 25), expressed with holy hugs and wholesome handshakes! But alas, there is a time to refrain from embracing, not out of fear but out of love! Last week, one New York college student, inquiring about the state's "shelter in place" directives asked, "What is the penalty if I ignore it?" The state official replied, "You might kill your grandmother!" OUCH! The vast majority of people who contract the COVID-19 virus will live, about 99 per cent, if treatment is sought early. But many will become very ill and require serious hospital care. The dangerous part is that many will never have symptoms, or have very mild symptoms and not recognize they are a "carrier" for several days. During that time they can infect others more vulnerable, like the elderly or infirm or those with compromised immune systems (like cancer patients, as one example). Love demands that we do all possible to stop the spread of this pandemic and the best medical professionals are telling us that "social distancing" is the single most effective way to stem this tide of increasing infection. So, we choose to "worship together - apart." Sunday is still the Lord's Day and we can worship as best we can at home. Whether you choose to take communion alone at home or not (I consider that your choice in such cases), we can and should worship. Many churches of Christ live stream their worship services and/or record them for convenient times across time zones. Or you many choose to have a family Bible study. Whatever you decide, worship God at home until we can worship Him again in our normal assemblies. And pray for Sandy - she's stuck at home with a preacher!!!
Scripture and Illness
God has several things to say about illness in scripture. From quarantine laws to healing, we can learn both laws and principles that can help us in times of illness. The first principle is an administrative one: Proper, God-given government is for the peace and protection of its citizens. While governments are quite often rogue and anti-biblical, proper and godly ones help keep the peace, punish evil-doers and promote the well-being of the people in positive ways. (Read Romans 7:1-4; I Tim. 2:1-3; I Peter 2:13-20.) The second principle is that of quarantine. When governments issue proper quarantine orders they are actually following Old Testament principles that protect healthy people. (Read 2 Kings 15:5; Lev. 13:4-46; Lev. 14:8; a number of other verses apply, but these are sufficient to show the principle.) The third principle is that of Matthew 7:12, often called the Golden Rule. "In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets." When we combine this verse with passages on the quarantine principle (protection from the possible spread of a very contagious pathogen) we could and should reason that it is wise to protect others by separating ourselves (currently being called "social distancing" or "self-quarantine"). As one current meme says about social distancing, "It's not fear, it's love." Before we end, let's all be reminded that we have access to worship and classes done by our brethren, while we are sheltering in place. There are several, but one we suggest is In Search of the Lord's Way. It can be found at Direct TV channel 307; Dish Network channel 239; and internet at KTTR.org (see times posted below).
Direct TV channel 307; Dish channel 239 - Sundays 8am Mountain Time Gospel Broadcasting Network (GBNTV.org) has live-streamed sermons. Bear Valley church of Christ - http://www.bearvalleycofc.com/podcast
Does Design Demand a Designer? Ray Wallace
The new rage in cosmology is the search for a convincing argument to “prove” that design does not demand a designer! Why has it become such an issue? Because the effectiveness of the argument is making some longtime atheistic evolutionists look a bit silly. An illustration: You find a Rolex watch in the woods. It keeps perfect time. Your friend is convinced that its existence is an accident of nature... lightening striking millions of times per year over a billion years has accidentally created the Rolex. You protest that such a fine chronometer could not be a result of random chance because of its evidence of intelligent design. Your friend will not budge, so to convince you of his “truth” he must search for a workable model to “prove” that design does not demand a designer. Mostly he waxes philosophical, but still he lacks evidence. Such is the state of affairs with the intelligent design (ID) debate. Let’s suppose the Rolex you found is 100 feet in diameter. Could you believe it is an accident? No. Suppose it is 100 miles in diameter and still keeps perfect time (although the neighbors complain about the loud ticking!). Could you believe the massive Rolex is an accident of nature? No. Suppose the watch is 100 light years in diameter and still keeps perfect time. Nope... still can’t believe such massive and intricate design is an accident! Guess what... the universe is a wonderful watch. You can actually set your Rolex by the movement of the heavenly bodies observed from earth. In fact a ship’s longitudinal position on earth can be found by the observation of the heavens (discerned by the time of local sunset, for instance). Some of the world’s top scientists agree about ID. Sir Fred Hoyle (world famous astronomer) wrote, “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question." In his book, Superforce: The Search for a Grand Unified Theory of Nature, Australian astrophysicist Paul Davies wrote of the intelligent design in the universe, “...how could it be supposed that those workings are merely a mindless accident, a product of blind chance?" (1984, pp. 235-236). For further quotes from scientists in their fields, go to: http://www.apologeticspress.org/inthenews/2003/itn-03-06.htm. For information from John Clayton, whose videos we are watching in Sunday morning class, go to: https://www.doesgodexist.org/index.html God has evidence. We must learn to recognize it. (See Romans 1:18-22.)
What Kind Does God Want? Ray Wallace
Let’s start with a powerful concept: Why did the presence of the Father continue to be with Jesus? Answer (from Jesus, Himself, in John 8:29), “And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him,” (emphasis supplied). Simple, but powerful. Paul understood this same concept. The Holy Spirit inspired him to pen 2 Corinthians 5:9, 10 Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Notice that Paul also understood this is an eternal issue! Paul understood that if he were still trying to please man he would not be a bondservant of Christ (Gal. 1:10). The same reality is true today. Who are we trying to please, self, others or God? If we are truly trying to please God (as Jesus and Paul were) then life, choices, daily life and even our worship become far easier to understand and choose. One vital, yet misunderstood, subject is, “What does God want in worship?” What kind of bread does God want in worship? Simple - unleavened bread. What kind of liquid does God want in worship? Simple – fruit of the vine. What kind of decency does God want in worship? Simple – in a decent and orderly manner (1 Cor. 14:40). When we ask, “What kind of music does God want?” the answer is simple (though some try to complicate it by adding to God’s word). Singing! That’s the answer, “Singing!” Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 are clear enough. The New Testament church followed the New Testament pattern for over 600 years, but then a few churches decided to add musical instruments to worship. It was resoundingly rejected my most until the 15thcentury!!! And instrumental music in worship did not become commonplace until the 18th century! Yes, instrumental music in worship has only been in popular use for less than 400 years of the last 2,000! But instrumental music in worship is never found in the New Testament. Like animal sacrifice and burning of incense, we leave Old Testament things to the past and follow the New Testament (Romans 7:1-4, et al). When we ask, “What kind of bread does God want?” we stick with a biblical answer. When we ask, “What kind of liquid does God want in our communion cups?” we stick with a biblical answer. When we ask, “What kind of music does God want?” we, at this church, will stick with an actual, biblical answer: …speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord. Scriptural command, biblical example and even secular history all confirm this reality: the early churches all sang a capella, that is without any instrumental music! May we have the wisdom and courage to follow what God wants!
Eternal Vigilance Ray Wallace
Andrew Jackson authored the now famous quote, "But you must remember, my fellow citizens, that eternal vigilance of the people is the price of liberty, and that you must pay the price if you wish to secure the blessing." He goes one to warn that the America's greatest enemies are from within, greed, power, etc., and not from foreign nations. Jackson continues: "Providence has showered on the favored land blessings without number, and has chosen you as guardians of freedom, to preserve it for the benefit of the human race. May He who holds in His hands the destinies of nations make you worthy of the favors He has bestowed and enable you with pure hearts and pure hands and sleepless vigilance to guard and defend to the end of time the great charge He has committed to your keeping. While quite true on our national stage, the concept is equally true on God's stage we call earth. Jackson both recognized that God is the giver of blessings (not man) and that man's faithful response is vital to the keeping of those blessings. I am here reminded of the myriad of conditional promises found in scripture with that fateful word, "If." If we life righteously, God will bless us. I fear that too many in America today (and perhaps too many in God's church) have forgotten that His blessings are dependent on our faithfulness to following His word. More specifically, in the Lord's church we must remember several key passages if we are to continue to receive His blessings, regardless of what happens on the national stage. 1. We can, indeed, read and understand God's word, Ephesians 3:4 2. If we keep God's commandments, He will bless us in many ways, Lev. 26:1-13; John 14:15; John 14:21; 15:10 3. Even our eternity depends on following God's word, John 8:51, 52; 4. The presence of God is with us IF we keep His word, John 14:23, 24, Rev. 3:10
As individuals, and as local congregations, we must understand the importance of keeping and teaching these concepts if we are to enjoy (as Jackson recognized) "...the great charge God He has committed to your keeping." Jesus was very clear in Rev. 2:1-5 that when a local congregation strays from God's plan, they must, "... remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent." I praise God that our congregation earnestly and lovingly seeks to follow, "in His steps" (I Peter 2:21) and to, "Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus," (2 Timothy 1:13). May His loving hand keep us strong in the seeking of His will and not ours - after all, that is the very essence of true faithfulness!
People Skills From God Dale Pollard
Some people just seem to be born with great people skills. Perhaps their personality type just naturally draws others to them. While natural ability may give some a leg up, the great news is that anyone can learn to work well with others and you can develop better interpersonal skills. In fact, it’s really a biblical command! The church is made up of all kinds of people and that being the case, we must all be in the people business. Thankfully, our Lord doesn’t leave us high and dry to try and figure these things out on our own.
Dispersed throughout the Bible we find several sections of scripture that teach us how to communicate, empathize, and get along with others effectively. God’s interpersonal skills cannot be matched. As the Creator, He understands exactly how humans think and behave. Here are twelve insights on interpersonal skills sent to us from above.
Speak evil of no one (I Thess. 5:14)
A soft answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger (Proverbs 15:1)
The wise of heart is called perceptive, and pleasant speech increases persuasiveness (Proverbs 16:21)
Be gentle and show courtesy to all people (Titus 3:2)
Do good to everyone (Gal. 6:10)
Bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2)
As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them (Luke 6:31)
Discern your own thoughts, identify your intentions (Heb. 4:12)
Treat others like you would treat Jesus. How would you interact with Him? (Matthew 25:40)
Season your speech with grace. It’s the saviors All-Spice for every relationship building goal (Col. 4:5-6)
Praise God and be joyful, it attracts people (Psalm 100:1-5)
Be ready for every good work, speak evil of no one, avoid quarreling, be gentle, show courtesy to all people (Titus 3:1-15)
Notice how many passages in the Bible command us to speak differently than everyone else? All of these insights can be simply summed up in just one sentence. Talk, walk, and live more like Jesus. He was perfect in every way and that includes how he interacted with others. Modeling ourselves after the Savior will not only improve our relationship skills with others, but also with Him. Jesus also teaches us that no matter how gentle and loving we are, we’ll still make some people upset. That’s alright! As long as we’re acting like the Lord in all things.
Always Believe Your Instruments Dick Brant
I can still remember my flight instructor telling me to "believe your instruments." Always. Oh, for sure when the weather is beautiful, you can look out the window. But when you can't look out, well, that's right, "trust your instruments." That is the reason you have them; it takes the guesswork out of things. As we live the Christian life, we need to believe the Words of God at all times. Are there some things hard to understand? Of course. Are there some things that you think could be or should be worded differently? Of course. I think it is a natural thing with: 66 Books, 1189 Chapters, 31,173, Verses, and 807,361 Words. But the fact remains, God has given us all that is needed and in terms that He knew we could understand. Note with me the two verses below. The first verse makes it clear that God has given us everything, and the second that some will turn away from the teachings of God. 2 Peter 2:2-3, "Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence." 2 Timothy 4:3, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths." Do we need to study? Of course. Are there some things that are hard to understand? Of course. But here is some good newswe are told by inspiration through the words of Paul in Eph. 3:3-4, "That by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read, you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ." As we consider the Word of God, note further with me, the words of Paul to the church at Corinth. 1 Cor. 14:37-38, "If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord's commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized." Make no mistake; we need to hold fast to His teaching. So the point is this. Just like flying, you must trust your instruments, or you will find yourself in danger and put others in danger. The same is true of God's word. We must believe His words, as recorded in the Bible. If not, we will find ourselves in great danger. That is a danger not only in this life but the next. While over the centuries, the Bible has been under attack, by many individuals and groups, but when the truth was fully known, the Bible has always been proven to be correct, right and true. As in believing your instruments, believe THE BOOK.
What Happened??? Ray Wallace I bought the plans, a beautiful model glider. I've always loved flying model airplanes and even designed a few in my younger days. It's really not hard so long as the designer makes the craft balance about a third of the way back from the leading edge of the wing and use enough engine. But this was a glider and the whole airplane had to be more carefully fabricated. Step one: cut out the tissue paper pattern. Step two: carefully pin the pattern pieces to the eighth inch balsa wood planks. Step three: cut the pieces with a sharp X-Acto knife. Step four: sand the pieces to make aerodynamic edges. Step five: sand the wings to have an airfoil shape (for lift). Step six: pin the pieces to the other tissue paper pattern and glue pieces together. Step seven: weight the nose for proper balance. Step eight: launch at a 45 degree angle and enjoy the flight!
But that is all so boring and takes so much time. Besides that, I had my own ideas about design and aesthetics. About half way through the building process I decided that I knew as much about things as the designer, so I made an amazing original! I put both wings on the same side of the fuselage and the tail at the front. It was an amazing idea. I was the only one who had such a modern design. (Modern art is all the rage, you know!) All my friends and neighbors praised my ingenuity. The human mind is so creative and almost anyone could recognize newness of my work. But there was one problem: my beautiful creation wouldn't fly! I re-shaped the airfoils. I adjusted the nose weight. I even painted it sky blue! Nothing helped. For all its beauty, it would not do the one thing it was designed to do - FLY! I even enlisted the help of my famous brother, surely if I get some agreement it will work. We both agreed about the excellence of the design, but we still couldn't get it to fly! We consulted the pattern, but it was just to limiting to my creative imagination. We called the designer and left a message about my plight. We weren't home when he returned the call, so he left a simple, but useless message, "Just follow the pattern." He obviously did not recognize our creative genius! We still have my treasured glider with two left wings. We visit it every Sunday morning and enjoy the design of our own creation. We hold it lovingly, we stroke it gently, we even talk to it in tender tones and repeat the poems we have written about it. We just love this creation of our own thoughts. It pleases us. It stands as a monument to our own prowess. Few things give us as much pleasure in life as this magnificent piece of art – a true homage to the discipline of aircraft design and our understanding of aeronautics. But alas, it just won't fly! Maybe we should have followed the pattern!
Wilbur and Orville Wrong
For further reading: Aircraft Design, by John P. Fielding 2 Tim. 1:13; Ex. 25:9, 40; Acts 7:44; Phil. 3:17; Heb. 8:4, 5
Following the Pattern God Gave Us Ray Wallace
Many churches today have decided to simply ignore clear scriptures that God gave us. The subjects are varied, but the outcome is the same – just ignore what God says. Maybe it’s homosexuality, maybe it’s the value of unborn human life, maybe it’s church organization and worship, but it’s still the same, simply put culture over scripture. God directed Paul to leave a young preacher named Timothy to remain at Ephesus to accomplish certain things for God. Notice the clarity of the mission in 1 Timothy 1:3-6: As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. (English Standard Version) It doesn’t take a Bible degree to understand that the young preacher, Timothy, would face a plethora of problems from within the church that were spawned by those who promoted things not found in scripture. Note that their “confident assertions” apparently sounded quite good to some, but had nothing to do with God’s written word (beyond which true Christians were not to go, 1 Corinthians 4:6). To solidify the concept, God gave us 2 Timothy 1:13, Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. The word “pattern” here means literally that. A first century Greek speaking woman would use the same word for a clothing pattern. Every time she cut out material using the same pattern it would be exactly the same! Likewise, every time we use scripture for our pattern we will create the same thing God planned. This makes it quite easy to understand God’s statement through Paul’s pen in 1 Corinthians 1:10, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment,” (ESV). That obviously cannot happen if and when we don’t actually follow the pattern of sound words….” In coming weeks our lessons will endeavor to understand and apply God’s word on what it means to “follow the pattern of sound words.” God has great plans for His people, and we can get to the right place, here and hereafter, if we follow the right plan – His plan, to get us there.
Drs. Carl Brecheen and Paul Faulkner were masters at teaching a biblical approach to life. Part of their teaching included something that seems a bit upside down. For years they taught, “You don’t sing because you’re happy, you’re happy because you sing.” At first I thought I’d mis-heard or that they had mis-spoken. But they went on to explain and I became convinced they are right! Sometimes even strong Christians get up tired, spent, burned out, etc. Think about it… you get out of bed a bit “bummed,” mope around half an hour, get a second cup of coffee and nothing seems to help. Then your favorite song comes on the radio, you sing along, you get a spring in your step, begin to sing a little louder, and before you recognize what’s happening, you are literally happier! I’m still OK with the old hymn, I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me. We can certainly sing because we are happy, but the question on the table is, “What do I do when I’m not happy?” That is the challenge here. Humanly speaking, it might seem odd that anyone would simply command another to rejoice. We respond, “You don’t know my sorrow; you don’t understand my pain,” which is often true, but not germane to the point. God, through Paul’s pen gives us an imperative command in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” Remember, God never gives us a command that He has not empowered us to accomplish! If He commands it, then it is possible! The imperative includes three sections: the what - “rejoice,” the where, “in the Lord,” and the when, “always” – then he repeats for emphasis. Dr. Breechen and Dr. Faulkner simply reminded us of Philippians 4:4-13 when they said, “We don't sing because we’re happy, we’re happy because we sing.” Can you do it? Read verse 13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Try it, you’ll like it!
He's Not In the Book Cory Waddell
As a child, my favorite Disney movie was Winnie the Pooh, the adventures of the cuddly bear "stuffed with fluff," based on the classic books by A.A Milne. One of the stories in the film tells of the time Pooh gets stuck in the entrance to Rabbit's burrow because he's had too much to eat. As they try to figure out what to do, a new critter appears - Gopher. Gopher has a habit of whistling out his consonants and seeks to solve digging problems with extreme tools like dynamite.
There is one witty line, though, which Gopher consistently utters. Whenever the chatty mammal leaves the scene his parting words are, "Remember, I'm not in the book." As a kid, I always took this to mean he's not in the phonebook (yes those were still around then) and you could only get in touch with him if he gave you a business card. It wasn't until many years later that I realized the pun. Gopher is NOT one of A.A. Milne's characters, and therefore, is not in the book. His existence in the story of Winnie the Pooh only happens because someone with creative authority chose to put him there.
The Bible tells the story of God's interaction with mankind. In its pages we follow, specifically, the narrative of his redemptive work through Jesus to rescue lost humanity from condemning sin. These words were composed within the limited scope of roughly 1,500 years of human history. Like Gopher, you and I are not technically "in the book," and thus one might think, not a part of the story. However, the story of Christ's redemptive work did not stop with the completion of Scripture.
The Bible has been preserved to show people in all eras that God's plan is for this salvation story to continue to the end of time. Jesus prayed in John 17:20-21, "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me."
When we submit to the Lordship of Jesus through our obedient faith, something wonderful happens. We are added to the story! Paul describes it in Colossians 1:13-14, "He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."
Walt Disney added Gopher to A.A. Milne's characters because he had been given the creative license to do so. We can be added to the salvation story of Jesus because God has the authority as the author to do so. What a joy it is to know when you read your Bible, the book may be finished, but the story is not over.
Joy and Time In the wonderful world we call America, we have been physically blessed beyond all people before us. Modern medicine has relieved more suffering than ever before. Modern production methods have delivered to us luxuries and amenities unknown to the kings of history. Trains, planes and automobiles transcend time as we flit to and fro in minutes across the miles that used to take months to travel. However, not all days are filled with pleasure. This is earth and not heaven. Tough times come and seem to overstay their welcome. Challenges knock on life’s door, then enter unbidden. We are tempted to wonder, “When will joy come home to live in the depths of our hearts?” God helps us through the difficult times. He is still close, still present and His word is still there, alive, living, more than ink on a page, it is peace between leather covers. His word is a “lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). And from that “light” we see more clearly that, “Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning,” (Psalm 30:5). We see Jesus, Who “for the joy set before Him, endured the cross,” (Hebrews 12:2). When your heart is at low tide, Jesus is still with you (Matthew 29:20). When you wonder whether life itself is worth the effort, remember Jesus’ words in John 15:11, “Theses 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). When tough times come, remember this wonderful pronouncement Jesus made after the cross, after His resurrection - Jesus appeared to the disciples and said, “Peace be with you,” (John 20:26). Life got you down? Jesus is close. Does it seem that the night is just too dark and too long? Remember, “Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.” I think I can see first light in the east. It won’t be long till the day dawns. “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings,” Malachi 4:2. Ray Wallace
Real Joy For many, life seems dull at best, and at worst, filled with anxiety and turmoil. Our nation’s constitution guarantees the pursuit of happiness as a right, but it does not guarantee our ability to find it. It often appears people are in need of a JOY transfusion. However, they may not know where to get one. I am persuaded that no method or program would attract unbelievers to the church like the message that real happiness can be pursued and gained in Jesus Christ, the Lord. Here comes the irony: most nonbelievers do not associate the concept of joy with church or Christianity. I have asked myself, do they have a reason to think that way. Haven’t we been to church services where the assembly looked like they had gathered to mourn a defeat rather than a victory? Too many Christians look like they were baptized in freshly squeezed lemon juice. God intends Christians to live a joy-filled life. The Psalms are full of invitations to come before the Lord with a spirit of gladness (Psalm 100:1-2). Brothers and sisters, we must remember that real joy does not come from things, nor is it found in some package. Real joy only springs forth from a close relationship with the Savior, Jesus. Clark Tatum
Looking Forward - Pressing On
It's the first Lord's Day of the New Year! That is always an exciting time. Our culture uses the images of an old man often called "Father Time" to represent the outgoing year and that of a baby to signify the incoming new year. What great images for us to consider as we start yet another trip around the sun! To the church at Philippi, Paul taught a very similar concept, but it didn't start with a new calendar year, it started with today - whatever the day may have been. His words speak of a great divider, not numbers that change on a bank check, but lives that change on our knees. In Philippians 3:13-14, Paul shows us this "past vs. future" scenario: 12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Notice how clearly Paul states the dividing line we call, "the present," ...but the one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead...."
As those who strive to walk "in His steps, we see our marching orders! In fact, Paul goes on in verse 15 to teach us to have this same attitude! Wow, God, through Paul's pen, beautifully teaches us to draw a line in the sand concerning yesterday and tomorrow, then forget yesterday and press on toward what lies ahead! As usual, God's plan delivers what we really seek, "...the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." May the new year, and each new day bless you with the peace that only God can deliver!
Live Every Day Successfully Christianity is the religion of today. Live every day wisely.
1. Acknowledge that today is the gift of God, Psalm 118:24. You are a steward of today, James 4:1-17.
2. Do more than is required today. Go the second mile, Matthew 5:42.
3. Cast all your burdens on the Lord, 1 Pet. 5:7, Matthew 6:34.
4. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, Ephesians 4:26.
5. Take a step today toward your goal, Philippians 3:13-14.
6. Lift up your eyes to the heights today, Psalm 123:1-2, Colossians 3:1-2.
7. Count all things as joy, James 1:2-4.
8. Take time to meditate on God’s word today, Psalm 119:97.
9. Renew your mind today, Romans 12:2. Study God’s word, 2 Tim. 2:15.
10. Remember today that God loves you and that you are created in His image, Genesis 1:27, John 3:16.
11. Place God first in everything you do, Matthew 6:33, and do all to His glory, Colossians 1:17.
12. Serve someone today, Matthew 25:31-46. Give. It is more blessed to give than to receive, Acts 20:35.
What will you do today?
Adapted from a sermon by Ronnie Morrison, Lincoln, Arkansas
Who is Jesus, Anyway?
“Who is this Jesus guy?” We shouldn’t be troubled by the question, but welcome it with open arms. If the question comes from an honest heart, it should excite us, but we should have a deep and reasoned answer. Some of the problems we face are based on cultural assumptions about the answer to questions. Perhaps we should have a better grasp on the assumptions that are commonly made by people who are more cultural than scriptural. To many, Jesus was merely a man who had some good ideas about how people should treat each other so they can get along better. To others, Jesus was a master psychologist who understood people and gave them a good view of the psychology of themselves and family and friends. To yet others, Jesus was a “divine” human (a cut above regular human) but not deity (God in the flesh). Sadly, to some, Jesus was a mean-spirited, judgmental man who was a self-righteous bigot! Those who believe that, see Jesus as simply a man who made too many rules that rob others of their fun and pleasure. After all, who does he (or “He”) think he (or "He") is to tell others how to live their lives? Who gave him or (“Him”) the right to make rules for others? The crux of the matter is rather simple – either Jesus is deity or He is not! That is the question of the ages. If Jesus was merely a man, and not the only begotten Son of God, then He was a usurper who had no right to make rules for others. Josh McDowell’s point comes rushing to the forefront, “Jesus is a LIAR, or a LUNATIC, or He is LORD!” If Jesus was not the actual Son of God, and Emmanuel (which means “God with us”), then He was a LIAR for claiming to be so. If Jesus thought He was the Son of God, but really wasn’t, then He was a lunatic. OR… Jesus was Lord, deity, the Son of God, God with us, Savior and King of Kings. And if He is deity, then He actually did die on the cross, for every man and woman alive – to take the guilt of their sins upon Himself! Thousands of former non-believers are now believers, including scientists, philosophers, historians, archeologists and biologists. Paul tells us that God has given us ample evidence of His own existence through the things He made (Romans 1:18-23). And Luke tells us that God has given us evidence that Jesus is who He said He was by the miracles He performed and by His resurrection from the dead (Acts 2:22-36). Many of us personally know men of science who are also men of faith. The primary questions that linger are simply, “Do you accept the evidence that Jesus really is deity, God in the flesh, King of kings, Lord of lords and God with us?” and "Are you able to explain who He is, when someone asks you that important question?" As 1 Peter 3:15 states, "but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence."
Power Vs. Power Have you ever considered how the Bible views where Christians were before they were Christians? Notice Colossians 1:13: “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.” Those outside of Christ are under the “power” of darkness.
The word “power” here is the same in the original as the word Jesus used in Matthew 28:18 (“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth”). That Word always carries the idea of “authority.” In other words, while we were outside of Christ, we were living under the authority of darkness (shadiness, i.e., evil). We were under its “domain” (NASB). Whether knowingly or not, everyone outside of Christ is under the authority of darkness (sin). We all have owed the wages of sin. Paul declared, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Because We all have sinned, we all have been under this authority (Romans 3:23).
We also are unable to leave the authority of darkness on our own; we have to be delivered (rescued, NASB). Yes, it is a choice we make, but it is an action that requires Divine assistance. Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). The only way to escape the power, guilt and condemnation of sin is to obey the gospel.
J. Brooks Boyd, Jr., Livingston church of Christ, Livingston, TN Bulletin Digest
One at a Time The story is told of a businessman who was overworked and decided to take some time off. While vacationing on the coast, a terrible storm hit. When it died down, he decided to take a walk down the cost to see what damage had been done. As he walked along the shore, he noticed thousands of starfish which had washed upon the shore. He knew that in a few hours the sun would come out and the starfish would dry out and die. As he thought about the starfish, he noticed a young boy who was throwing the starfish back one by one. The man was amazed by the youth’s diligence and shocked by his feeble attempts to make a difference. As he looked up the long beach, he saw thousands of starfish. When he caught up with the young man, he informed the boy that he could not possible save them all and said to the little boy, “You’ll never be able to make a difference to the starfish population.” The boy bent down, picked up a starfish, looked at it, then threw it back into the safety of the ocean. Then he said, “I sure made a difference to that one.”
We cannot personally make a difference in the lives of everyone that fills this world, but we can make a difference to a few of them. It is interesting that when Jesus spoke of those on His right hand on the Day of Judgment, he described them as having made a difference in the life of one person. He said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40). I sincerely believe that each of us can make a difference in the life of someone. This is how Jesus worked—one at a time. Sure, He preached to thousands, but He visited with families, and helped individuals.
Wade L. Webster, via Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ, Rock Hill, SC, Bulletin Digest
Rejoicing, Praying and God's Will
We should assume that a Christian has a deep desire to seek the will of God (if not, we should assume that the moniker “Christian” needs some serious investigation). Once a follower of Christ is developing a maturing desire to follow God's will in his or her daily life, something precious happens: fulfilling that desire to please God becomes wonderfully pleasing to the Christian’s soul! When the Holy Spirit gave Paul the words of the first Thessalonian letter, He chose to end with some amazing words – three verses that are very short yet are all-encompassing, 16 Rejoice always; 17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. v. 16 - Rejoice when and how often? “Always!” v. 17 - Pray when and how often? “Always!” v. 18 - In how many things give thanks? “In everything!”
I find it truly amazing how all-encompassing this triplet truly is. But we should all recognize the marvelous connection interwoven herein. Don’t miss that depth of the interplay between giving thanks, praying and rejoicing! “But my lot in life if not very conducive to praying,” one might assert. But that is part of the point here – “in everything give thanks!” When we give thanks only in the wonderful times, we are ignoring that call. When we give thanks in everything and pray without ceasing, then and only then do we experience the rejoicing! When, and only when, life is marked by giving thanks, and daily life is steeped in prayer do we partake of the type and the depth of rejoicing that God has planned for those who follow Him in this whole process. Paul then finishes the letter with a few other admonitions that put the finishing touches on our sanctification and Christians' interaction. Step up to the plate and find the depth of rejoicing that God has planned for you!
One of my favorite things about this time of the year is experiencing the beauty of Christmas lights. Ordinarily only dimly lit by dull street lamps, towns are now awash in brilliant displays of holiday cheer. So much more joyful than the rest of the year! Eventually, however, those lights will be taken down, packed up, and put away again until next December. One of my least favorite times of the year is when those lights—and the accompanying joyful attitudes—are hidden for 11 months. Too bad! Wouldn’t it be great if they stuck around all year long! Even more sadly, some Christians only let their lights shine during special occasions. Currently there is a surging wave of good will toward our fellowman as we all seek to do something good for those in need. But what if we didn’t just drag our Christian lights out only for holidays? Jesus told His disciples that they were the light of the world (Matt. 5:14). Accordingly, He told them, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Certainly we should do all the good we can during the holiday season, but let’s refrain from packing up our Christian lights and putting them away for the rest of the year. The world needs the light of the church and God’s word shining in the darkness! Will you be a light for Christ 365 days in the coming year? Matt Clifton, Judsonia church of Christ, Judsonia, AR (Via Bulletin Digest)
Thanksgiving Proclamation “Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.
“Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us. “And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.”
George Washington, President of the United States, October 3, 1789
Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations. Psalm 100:4-5
Another Face in the Crowd Thom Vaught
Proverbs 20:12 The hearing ear and the seeing eye, The LORD has made both of them.
Tyra Winters is a Senior at Rockwall High School in Texas. As she was riding on a float in her homecoming parade last month she heard cries for help from the crowd. As she looked out upon the crowd she noticed the cries were coming from a mother holding up her child. Then Tyra noticed the child's face was red and he was beginning to turn blue. Tyra sprang into action jumping from the float, running up to the mother, and telling her "I've got this". Tyra performed the Heimlich maneuver for a toddler as her mom had taught her. In doing so, she was able to clear the toddler's breathing passage and she made sure the child was breathing. Instead of hanging around for praise, Tyra ran and leapt back onto the float joining her classmates and finishing the parade. What can we learn spiritually from the brave and level-headed young woman from Texas?
First, Tyra was listening. In spite of being surrounded by her friends making noise along with the noise of the crowd, Tyra was listening for cries of those in need. Cries from help at church are often not as obvious as the cries of a mother for her choking child. It takes work on our part as listeners to hear one another's needs. We must move beyond the foyer conversation of "Hi, how are you doing?" and "Fine, how are you?" to actively listening and asking questions. We will never hear the cries for help from our spiritual family unless we listen and pursue a deeper conversation. We must get to the heart of each family member's struggles and needs in order to help them.
Second, Tyra was looking. Certainly Tyra saw both familiar and unfamiliar faces along the parade route. However, once she knew that someone was in trouble then she began looking for signs of trouble in their faces. What do you see when you look across the auditorium at a brother or sister? Do you just see just another face in the crowd? When you focus upon their face are you looking for signs of trouble? Do you see grief in their eyes or worry on their face? Only after we hear and see the struggles of a brother or sister can we spring into action and help them back on their way.
Each member of our family will experience trouble in their lives. The struggles of this world and draw of sin can choke out their lives unless we are there to help. We must be vigilant. We must be listening for their cries of help. Also, we must be looking for ways in which we can help. Remember, the person you see across the auditorium is not just another face in the crowd. They are your family.
On Honoring our Veterans
On Veteran's Day, I get up early and put my flag out and remember the veterans and fighting men and women in prayer. We owe a great debt of gratitude as a nation to those who have fought for freedom at the price of death, disabilities, imprisonment, and continuing psychological casualties. We encourage them, pray for them and express our gratitude to them and for them.
We have much to be thankful for at this holiday season. I recently read an article by Jay Lockhart that mentioned another set of veterans – veterans in the faith. We in the church stand on the shoulders of many who have preceded us in faith. We may not sing the song often, but ours is indeed a "Faith of Our Fathers," ever new and ever renewed in each generation. The church has multiplied veterans of faith. We today benefit from the sacrifice and vision of those who planted churches, purchased buildings, established colleges and universities, began a host of benevolent efforts, and pioneered mission work in places where few were (and are) willing to go. We are recipients of the generosity of many who made it possible for us to be where we are today. They preached sermons, taught Bible classes, evangelized their communities, and passed on faith to their families.
I encourage you to make your own personal list of veterans – whether in the military or in the faith – and give thanks for them at this season. We can honor them most by making sure that the sacrifices they made will not be in vain--that we will continue to carry the torches of freedom and faith.
Adapted from an article by Robert J. Young
The Greatest of These…
There are many wonderful things in our world, but we often fail to see and experience them because the worries of life block our vision. God knows how He put this world together and He knows how He put our hearts together. When we lose sight of those two things, life gets tough and it can do so very quickly. Every single thing we really want in life falls under one of nine categories listed in Ephesians 5:22, 23 – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” In daily life, in our marriages, our families, and every other worthwhile endeavor, those nine items lie at the heart of everything else we seek. Notice that the list starts with “love.” It’s not surprising, that is the hope of the human heart. As God’s word says in 1 Corinthians 13, no matter what we may have or do, if we have not love, it profits us nothing! Faith is critical, without it, we cannot please God, (Hebrews 11:6). Hope is vital, without it disappointment will rule our lives, (“hope does not disappoint,” Romans 5:5, NASB). Paul mentions faith, hope and love at the end of 1 Corinthians 13 and He teaches us, “the greatest of these is love.” Why? Because love is the greatest motivator in our existence. Love changes us. Love guides us. Love creates self-discipline by which we keep ourselves straight! Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” John 14:15. In the next few weeks we will dig deep into God’s word to mine the riches of His truths on this precious subject of love – love of God, love of others, and a biblical view of love of self. (Yes, that’s in the Book!) Let us open our hearts and minds to His truths, His love, and His plan for our lives!
"If there is a God..." Steve Higginbotham
Have you heard the story about a very militant, atheistic professor who made it a point in his class to belittle the faith of those who believed in God. After spending nearly a semester of ridiculing Christianity, he felt rather confident to sarcastically ask, "Are there any believers in God in this class?" He didn't expect anyone to respond, but one young man did. He said, "Yes, I'm a believer in God." The professor reveled in the thought of making a fool of this young man, so he stood before the class, looked up toward the ceiling with outstretched arms and said, "If there's an all powerful God out there, I challenge you to strike me dead right now!" A hush fell over the classroom for a moment, then the professor arrogantly smirked and said, "See, if your God exists why am I still standing here? This is proof that your God doesn't exist." Very calmly, the young man said, "No professor, this isn't proof that my God doesn't exist. However it is proof of something. It's proof that the God I serve is a merciful God." "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God...'" (Psalm 14:1).
There is No Excuse Mike Riley
Herbert Spencer (1820-1903, British philosopher, sociologist, and evolutionist, announced before his death that there are only five “manifestations of the unknowable” in existence — time, force, action, space, and matter. This was hailed as a great announcement and discovery at that time. However, it’s interesting to note that when the Holy Spirit directed Moses to pen Genesis 1:1 (2 Peter 1:20-21; cf. Acts 1:16), he put the same elements in it long before Mr. Spencer announced them. Moses wrote: “In the beginning” (time); “God” (force); “created” (action); “the heavens” (space); “and the earth” (matter). Paul states in Romans 1:18-20, that men will have no excuse in not believing in the God of creation: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heavenagainst all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (cf. Psalm 19:1-6).
God’s Plan for Emotions We live in an age where emotions rule and logic takes a back seat to feelings. In some venues that situation can be fairly harmless, but in the vast majority of human endeavors, life is negatively affected when emotions reign over logic. Emotions are not bad, they are a gift from God. But they have some specific purposes designed by God, Himself. Emotions help keep us close, connected to our loved ones. Emotions can be a great joy and even negative emotions, like grief, can be healing. As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. Research shows that even the shedding of tears can be cathartic. In July, 2018, the website Psychcentral.com published an article entitled 7 Good Reasons to Cry: The Healing Property of Tears. But there is a dark side to our emotions, as noted in James Dobson’s book, Emotions, Can You Trust Them. The short answer is, “No!” God outlines one of the primary purposes for emotions in Roman 6: 17, 18
But thanks be to God that [l]though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. Notice that the Roman Christians had a commitment to what they knew, but Paul was commending them for becoming obedient “from the heart” to that commitment. They had discovered truth with their logic (mind) and had a deep-hearted commitment (emotion) to that teaching. Undoubtedly, the mind (logic) is used to discern truth from error, God’s teachings from made-made dogma. But once that teaching us understood by the mind, the heart is then used to bolster that commitment! The trouble comes when humans try to discern the teachings of Christ with their emotions. When emotion prevails over logic in matters of teaching, the mind of man almost always defaults to whatever he wishes were the case. In other words, when emotion prevails over logic, we tend to decide that truth is whatever makes us more comfortable, more relaxed, or more pleasured.
Revel in the precious and proper emotions God gave you. Rejoice from deep within your heart when God’s will is both understood with the mind and followed with the heart. But never, ever try to decide doctrine with your emotions! That's Satan’s recipe for disaster in logic and in life.
God's Loving Holiness "Who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds" (Titus 2:14).
What comes to your mind when you think of God' holiness? Do you gloss over it as a characteristic of God? Or like Isaiah and others, are you afraid? Or perhaps like C.S. Lewis, who said, "No I'm not afraid -- I am afraid." Our sinfulness doesn't make God holy by contrast. Rather, God's holiness reveals our sinfulness. We aren't worthy to come before the holy God. However, the holy God doesn't seek to destroy the sinner. The holy God seeks to destroy sin within us. He seeks to restore us to life with Him.
God desires us to have life with us. He desires this more than we desire to have life with Him. The Father God sent God the Son to redeem us from our bondage in sin. God doesn't stop there. He is determined to purify us. God's loving holiness causes Him to pursue us to make us clean, strong, and pure.
God seeks the destruction of everything that is opposed to His holiness. What we forget is that God rages against un-holiness on our behalf. He does not rage against the sinner. He wants every single person to come to Him (I Timothy 2:4). God calls us to be holy like He is (I Peter 1:15-16).
Look at Jesus. Examine His dealing with sinners and see His loving, gentle work of redemption and His uncompromising dealing with sin. Jesus called people to follow Him and let Him change them to be like Him. God works to purify or clean us up so we will be holy as He is holy. He wants us to live with Him. We need to make His word a part of us. He means us no harm.
The Mystery of Christ Tyler King
Growing up in the church, Jesus has never been a mystery; or at least that's what I thought. Passages such as Colossians 4:3 that mention "the mystery of Christ" have always been glossed over in my personal studies. I figured I already knew the premise behind the Messiah, why should I then continue to use such mystic terminology? In the ancient language, the word mystery literally means "secret" or "that which transcends normal understanding." So then, what is the secret of God that is now revealed? If you remember the dialogue between Daniel and God, you'd remember when God told him, "go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end" (Daniel 12:9). God was keeping a secret from Daniel and the readers of the scroll. We as 21st century Christians have a more complete picture though. The vision Daniel experienced was referring to the events that would take place at the end times. One of those events was the coming of a king and a kingdom (Daniel 2:44). Christ's coming was affirmative but He came in a manner far more glorious than the "normal understanding" of the people's perception. The Jews expected an earthly war-lord who'd come and lay waste to the nations that were oppressing them. This, however, was not the will of God. The will of God was to raise up a King who'd express love and care toward His creation by teaching the gospel before He returned to claim His own (Rev. 19:11-16). Prior to Colossians 4:3, Paul brings up the mystery of Christ as that which has been "hidden from ages and generations" (Col. 1:26). To the outsider, God's plan is weak, incomplete, and non-effective; life continues to move in a stagnant manner. On the contrary, to the believer, God's plan is nothing but victorious. Notice how a single verse later, Paul states the glory of the mystery is "Christ in you" (Col. 1:27). This mystery is what put Paul in prison (Col. 4:3), and was the basis of his preaching (Col. 4:4). To summarize, the mystery of God encompasses a variety of aspects concerning His plan. First, it was a secret for over 4,000 years; since man sinned in the garden and needed a savior. Second, it was a secret that was alluded to for at least 600 years with prophecies from men such as Isaiah and Daniel - Certainly Paul's words can echo this reality as he states "hidden for ages and generations." Third, God's secret was Christ. Jesus, even among all of His teachings, had somewhat of a secrecy to what He was doing while on earth (Mark 1:43-45; 4:11; 8:27-30). God had a plan from the very beginning to send a Son in order to make atonement for sinful man. This all leads us to Paul's request for the church in Colossae to pray that a door might be opened for him to declare the mystery of Christ (Col. 4:2). The world may know the name, Jesus, but do they know the mystery of His saving power? Do they know the depth and magnitude of who He is as God's glory? Read Colossians 1:15-20 and see if "transcending normal understanding" is an accurate way to encompass that section of scripture. Jesus truly is mysterious, in that, no man can fully grasp how incredible He and His message is.
Isaiah and His Two Big “Eyes!”
We often forget the value of the Old Testament, but Paul reminds us in Romans 15:4 that it is of great value to our perseverance and encouragement. The O.T. prophets give us great insight into what is necessary for a nation to pleasing to, and thus blessed by, God. Isaiah is a prime example. Besides being the most Messianic of the prophets, Isaiah has two big “eyes” to see the two big “I’s” of Israel's problems: Idolatry and Immorality. These two have always gone hand in hand when nations leave Jehovah God. Even a cursory reading of Isaiah will clearly reveal both God’s will for nations and, sadly, Israel’s failure to understand and follow the paths to blessings. In Isaiah chapter five we see a very basic challenge to any family, church culture or nation: deciding what is truly valuable and what is not! He who manages to place value (or lack of it) on the things of life will ultimately determine the direction of that family, church, etc. Exquisitely stated in verses 20-22 is the reality of the value of properly labeling good and evil: 20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! 21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight! 22 Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink, 23 who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right!
In verse 20 the root cause of much of the rampant evil that tore their nation apart was the reversal of what is good and what is bad; what is light and what is darkness. The two big “I’s” of Idolatry and Immorality had been labeled as bad by God, but good by the nations of Israel. Because it was never corrected, Israel (the ten northern tribes) were conquered and taken into captivity by the Assyrian army in 722 B.C. Those tribes never returned and are called, “the lost tribes of Israel” to this day. Ten of the twelve tribes descended from Jacob (renamed “Israel” by God in Genesis 35:10) went into oblivion simply because the people had lost the discernment to recognize and properly label good and bad, darkness and light. For the 2700 years since then, we see nation after nation going down the same path to perdition for the same reason. We, as God’s children, must do our best to help others see which things are genuinely good and genuinely bad, then help our nation do the same, lest we suffer the same fate as others.
“It’s Greek to Me!”
“It’s Greek to me!” is a phrase meaning something hard to understand. For centuries the Bible was available in very few languages - Hebrew, Greek and Latin to the European world. Indeed Greek is a difficult language! If we count grammatical cases (nominative, objective, etc.) genders (male, female, dual, neuter), number (singular or plural) and mood (indicative, interrogative, etc.) the possibilities of verb conjugations and noun declensions become rather dizzying! In fact, there are 24 ways to spell the near demonstrative pronoun, “this” and 24 ways to spell the far demonstrative pronoun, “that!” Whew! After a few weeks of Greek, the student begins to wonder if this is a language or a bad joke on history! However, God gave us the New Testament in KOINE Greek (“common” Greek), the language of the marketplace. In today’s world we might call it “newspaper Greek” or “personal letter” Greek. Once scholars thought the style of New Testament Greek was specific to the scriptures. But discoveries in the last 150 years have brought new light to our understanding of biblical Greek. In his book, Light from the Ancient East,by Adolf Deissmann (originally published in 1927 and now back in print again) shows conclusively that the New Testament is notwritten in “Holy Spirit” Greek, as formerly assumed, but is written in the language of the people. Drawing from letters to and from family members, commerce in the market place, etc., Deissmann concludes that the greatest book ever written is in the language of the people - not “high brow” Greek like Homer’s Iliad or Odyssey, but rather the language people would speak over the back fence. What a master work of the Holy Spirit – to give us the book for God’s word and wisdom in the language of everyday life. “So what?” you say? So - don’t be afraid to read the Bible. It is to you, not merely scholars. Yes, a fewverses are hard to understand (II Peter 3:14-16), but personal time with God, in His love letter to you, is a vast treasure awaiting those who open the Book. Read, you can understand. Ponder, you will grow. Meditate, you will thrive like a tree planted near the water (Psalm 1). Why not have lunch with Jesus today or read a little over your dinner or ponder a bit of scripture before you turn out the lights tonight. He’s waiting, just for you, just inside that leather cover!
Dare to be a Daniel!
Daniel was an extraordinary man, not because he was different from other men, but because he knew God and trusted that God was in control. He knew that by serving Him, rather than seeking the approval of man, he could stand strong in the midst of incredible loss and vital threat.
Victor Frankl, in his celebrated book, Man’s Search for Meaning, maintained that man cannot avoid suffering but can, indeed, cope with it. Frankl was a Jewish prisoner in four different Nazi concentration camps while his wife and other close relatives were killed. Frankl was convinced that it is not our circumstances that make or break us, but how we respond to those circumstances. (Highly recommended reading – over 10 million copies sold in four languages.)
Daniel was such a man. He trusted God and on the basis of that, survived the defeat of his homeland and his enslavement in a foreign nation. His strongest keys: a. he kept trusting God when he could not see the outcome b. he did not fear death, even imminent death, at the hands of his captors.
Daniel, and his three friends trusted God, NOT merely for life and deliverance, but whether the events lead to life or death – Daniel 3:17, 18: "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (NASB) There are many things that can enslave a person, but fear of death is the one that has enslaved more people than any other single factor. The author of Hebrews focuses on that specific issue in Hebrews 2:14, 15, "Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death weresubject to slavery all their lives."(NASB, emphasis supplied).
Daniel’s circumstances did not create his faith and courage, they simply revealed them. Daniel was a man of God from the beginning. His courage was based on his trust of God and his faith that God is in control. Daniel simply continued to live a life of faiththat had begun in his native Jerusalem and continued into his captivity. Daniel knew a deep reality: We are not physical beings having a spiritual experience – we are spiritual beings having a temporary physical experience here on earth!
In what is your trust? What (or whom) do your fear? Is there any fear that has enslaved you, personally? Stand up. Stand strong. Have the courage to be a Daniel, no matter what!
The Power of Prayer The wonderful thing about praying is that you leave a world of not being able to do something, and enter God's realm where everything is possible. He specializes in the impossible. Nothing is too great for His almighty power. Nothing is too small for His love. Corrie Ten Boom
What’s It All About?
Religion! Cursed by some, embraced by some but misunderstood by almost everyone! Christianity is not about finding comfort in this life, but comfort is a common by-product of following Jesus. Christianity is not about finding a life of prosperity, but many who live a life of self-control (Ephesians 5:23) do earn a good income. Christianity is not a philosophy of life, but a relationship with a Savior. Christianity is not a psychology of life, love or politics, but those who read scripture will, indeed, gain insights into the study of the psyche (Greek psuche). Christianity is not merely an educational system of behavior and interpersonal relationships, but those who walk in Jesus’ steps gain understandings of humanity few ever find. Long life and security and safety are not the goals of Christianity. Power, personality, popularity and peace are not even the goals of Christianity. In fact, faithful Christians often face increased persecution, not increased peace (Matthew 10:31-40). The one main goal of Christianity is not even about church or worship or benevolence or holiness. All of those things actually comprise the methodologieswhich seek the goal, but they, in and of themselves, are not the goal. The goal is heaven.Jesus did not die so we could be comfortable. He died to take the punishment for our sins, so we could be forgiven and live with Him forever. The goal is heaven.Jesus did not die so we could learn to be kinder and gentler in this life, although He has called us to that lifestyle. He died to buy us back (“redeem” us) from Satan, to whom we sold ourselves by our own sin. The goal is heaven.Jesus did not go to prepare a syllabus for a social agenda to be delivered at the second coming. He went (John 14:1-6) to prepare a place for us in heaven that where He is we may be also, and He will come again and we will meet Him in the air, and thus we shall ever be with the Lord (I Thessalonians 4:13-17). The goal is heaven.It will be worth every tough discipline. It will be worth each insult or attack the world throws at us. It will be worth every sacrifice, every pain, every slander Satan will ever coordinate against us. The goal? You know now. We sing the truth, “Heaven willsurely be worth it all!”
Something to Think About
Evil is the absence of God, as… Dark is the absence of light; Cold is the absence of heat; Injustice is the absence of justice; Death is the absence of life; Immorality is the absence of morality; Lies are the absence of truth.
The atheist argument is that since God created everything, He is responsible for the creation of evil. However, "evil" is a word that we use to describe certain things that happen to us (most of which are caused by other people). In reality, it is not a physically created thing at all and, therefore, does not fall within the realm of something createdby God. So, the argument is fundamentally flawed. Evil is allowedby God so that free will beings can choose between good (i.e., God) or evil (absence of God). Without evil, it is not possible to choose between good and evil, and the universe would have no ultimate purpose.
A young man approached the foreman of a logging crew and asked for a job. "That depends," replied the foreman. "Let's see you fell this tree." The young man stepped forward and skillfully felled a great tree. Impressed, the foreman exclaimed, "You can start Monday!"
Several days rolled by. On Thursday afternoon the foreman approached the young man and said, "You can pick up your paycheck on the way out today." Startled, he replied, "I thought you paid on Friday." "Normally we do," answered the foreman, "but we're letting you go today because you've fallen behind. Our daily felling charts show that you've dropped from first place on Monday to last on Wednesday."
"But I'm a hard worker," the young man objected. "I arrive first, leave last, and even have worked through my coffee breaks!" The foreman, sensing the boy's integrity, thought for a minute and then asked, "Have you been sharpening your axe?" The young man replied, "I've been working too hard to take the time" (William D. Boyd, Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome).
There is great value in keeping our tools sharp. In his wisdom, Solomon talked about the futility of working with a dulled tool: "If the axe is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength. Wisdom has the advantage of giving success" (Ecclesiastes 10:10).
At some point, we need to take time for ourselves to sharpen, strengthen, and improve. Sometimes in the church, we can get so focused on just being busy, that we've forgotten to keep ourselves sharp. We do many things, but few make a significant impact. Let's not forget to take time to continue to learn, read, listen, and soak in spiritual knowledge.
It's so important to sharpen our spiritual axes. The impact will always be greater than before.
Thought for the Day
Do not go where dark thoughts dwell; leave behind your self-made hell. Look to God who lives on high, sees each tear and hears each sigh. He will lead as you follow, o’re the hill, through the hollow. Think on Him and trust His grace; look upon His lovely face. Dwell on things of truth and beauty, good and right, as is your duty. Your heart rests in His deep peace; he’s the One who gives release. Fret and worry are no more; love and mercy are His store.
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, [dwell on these things. 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.
Courage and Confidence
Courage is a rare commodity in today’s world. I’m convinced that a large part of that is the general lack of confidence, but not the kind of confidence we usually think. “Self-confidence” is not a bad thing, unless it is accompanied with arrogance and pride. Yet God speaks of confidence 46 times in scripture. In 2 Kings 18, 19 we see Assyria thinkingthat Hezekiah, king of Judah had confidence in their ally, Egypt. In reality, Hezekiah had confidence in God. (See 2 Kings 18:19-25.) And that confidence led to both trust in God, (2 Kings 19:8-11) and ultimately to victory for the people of God (2 Kings 19:32-17). Hezekiah had confidence in God, in His message from the prophet Isaiah (chapter 19) and subsequently saw victory through the power of God! Confidence is found throughout the Book! The enemies of God’s people losttheir confidence when they realized that the Israelites had the help of God (Nehemiah 6:16). Eliphaz recognized that Job’s confidence was in God (Neh. 4:6). Asaph, recognized as a deeply wise man, wrote in Psalm 78:5-7, That they should teach them to their children, That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, That they may arise and tell them to their children, That they should put their confidencein God And not forgetthe works of God, But keep His commandments…. We should remember that our confidence must include the admonition “not forget the works of God” and “keep His commandments.
Keep Your Flame Lit Brett Petrillo
The Olympics has a very long and illustrious history. For thousands of years, some of the most talented people in the world have displayed their abilities. Over such time, several events have come and gone. One such event was a Greek race with a strange objective. Each person was given a torch, but the goal wasn't to win. The goal was to simply finish the entire race with your torch still lit (J. Stowell, Fan The Flame, Moody, 1986, p. 32).
The Christian life is often compared to a race (Hebrews 12:1; Galatians 5:7; 2 Timothy 4:7). It's not a sprint. The point isn't to get to heaven the fastest. The goal is simply to make it to the finish with our spiritual torches still aflame.
Satan would like nothing more than to see us fail this race. Far too many storms and difficulties threaten to blow out our spiritual flames. We must endure (James 1:12; Romans 5:3-4; Hebrews 10:36).
So keep going. Keep pressing on. Keep your eye on the prize. Don't give up. Let's assist each other. Let's support each other. Let's help each other get to heaven. Then, at long last, we will be rewarded with that prize, the crown of life, for finishing the race (Revelation 2:10).
No matter what, keep your spiritual flame going and finish this race!
"I just can't" Tyler King
In the summer of 2018, there was an incredible ordeal concerning the Thai soccer team fiasco. On June 23rd, 12 young men and their coach went on a cave exploration in celebration of one of the kid's birthday. Unfortunately, heavy floods blocked off their escape, leaving them stranded and isolated. I can't begin to try and imagine what kind of stress and anxiety was experienced in this moment of trial. Perhaps the feeling of inability was one of the most frustrating and antagonizing realities this team faced while trapped in the cave. They knew that they, by themselves, could never escape. If you're like me, frustration becomes a product when you know you can't solve a problem. The first seven chapters of the book of Daniel offer a great solution to our conundrum. There is a certain Hebrew word ("ykl" or "to be able") that occurs over and over, all within significant events of the book. Follow this thread with me:
Daniel 2:10 "There is not a man on earth who can meet the king's demand"
Daniel 2:27 "No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show the king the mystery"
Daniel 2:47 "You have been able to reveal this mystery"
Daniel 3:17 "Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us"
Daniel 3:29 "There is no other God who is able to rescue in this way"
Daniel 4:18 "But you are able for the spirit of the holy God is in you"
Daniel 4:37 "Those who walk in pride He is able to humble"
Daniel 5:16 "But I have heard that you can give interpretations"
Daniel 5:16 "Now if you can read the writing and make known to me"
Daniel 6:4 "They could find no ground for complaint or any fault"
Daniel 6:20 "Has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?"
Daniel 7:21 "The saints prevailed over them"
The main point pertaining these verses is the fact that man has a great inability and disadvantage when God is not involved. Add God to the equation and you can expect great things. It may not be on your timetable, and it's probably not how you would expect, but the fact still remains that God is able. I do not know what your hypothetical cave is, but the feeling of entrapment is certainly familiar to many. In order to seek a path of escape, God must always be included. If you have thought to yourself, "I just can't," then you may be right. But you couldn't be more wrong in saying "God can't."
(Today's bulletin features articles by Tyler King. He is the youngest man on staff at the Bear Valley Bible Institute - 23 years old - and doing excellent work there.)
A Common Hallelujah The word "hallelujah" is pronounced almost the same exact way in languages such as Slovakian, Italian, Spanish, Bulgarian, Chinese, Czech, French, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Khmer, Russian, Swedish, Welsh, and Swahili. I first noticed this while I was in Cambodia. During worship, they were singing in Khmer with English words projected on the screen for us Americans. At one particular point in the song, both the English and Khmer lined up perfectly for us to communally sing, "hallelujah." The word has its roots in the ancient languages of the biblical text, and is a transliteration of "praise Yahweh." The phrase gets condensed into one word and is then pronounced "Hallelujah." It is merely a reverent way for the soul to remember God's worthiness to be praised. Exclamations of hallelujah come only when one recognizes the Almighty's power, and can be seen in the book of Revelation. In Revelation 19, "hallelujah" is used four times. Each of them are aimed directly at God for His salvation, glory, power, and reign. In both, the heavenly realm and the earthly realm, God's creation can't help but praise Him for who He is, what He does, and how He does it. Not only does the word "hallelujah" exceed the border of countries and languages, but it even goes beyond the physical realm, on into the spiritual world. This simple fact has triggered a number of thoughts in my mind, but there is one that stands out more than the rest. Am I living a life of Hallelujah? Because no matter where I go in the world, people can understand it. Hallelujah has become the universal way of praising God in almost any part of the globe. Therefore, my intentionality in praising God should not just be seen in Sunday worship, but everywhere I go. "Hallelujah" is an opportunity to reach a commonality between man and spirit. Tyler King
PRAY FOR PEACE
After some opening comments in I Timothy 1, Paul begins with an interesting plan, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity,” (I Timothy 2:1,2 NASB).
“Kings and all who are in authority” have a great influence on tranquility in our world. As citizens of our nation and of God’s kingdom, we desire a “tranquil and quiet life” and are instructed to pray for such. We all want peace, here and abroad. We all desire resolution to conflicts, military and domestic.
Question: How much time have you spent in “entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings” in recent weeks? God, Himself, is urgingus through Paul’s pen. “Urge” is a form of the well-known Greek word “parakaleo” meaning to urge, exhort, entreat, comfort, encourage, appeal, beseech or beg. God is not merely invitingus to askHim, He is beseechingus to begHim for peace!
War is not and never has been a glorious affair. Yes, victories are wonderful, but mainly because it means that the horrors of war, tyranny, etc., are over. There is a grave difference between the way young men see going to warand the way front line battle veterans see actually being in war.
Peace is a blessing from God and war is a punishment from God (against one side or the other!). But war is always horrible, even when necessary... and sometimes it isnecessary to arrest the progress of the violent.
Pray for peace, urgently. Pray for kings and all who are in authority. Pray for the warriors who so valiantly serve our country, as well as their families.
Some who die will be remembered for having possessed profound skill, such as Babe Ruth’s ability to hit 60 home runs in a single season. Virtuous leaders of countries are mourned universally when they pass from this life – they are missed because of the good influence they had on the lives of millions of people. But looking from an eternal perspective, is any of that really important? Would it not be far better to say of one who lives no more, “He walked with God?”
The prophet Amos said, “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). He was not talking about man walking with man but our walking with God. If I don’t agree with God, my attempts to walk with Him will not be joyful. It makes men miserable when they try to walk with God but do not agree with Him. It is not God who must agree with how I want things to go or what I like in religion, it is I who must agree with God in order to walk with Him.
“Walking” As God “Walks” Most of us feel that our walking with Him could be closer — sometimes we feel close, other times we feel separated. That is usually true, because we have not spent time with Him in worship, prayer or letting Him speak to us through His Word. Closeness is identifiable in our lives with how much He lives in our thoughts and character. Walking with God means walking where He walks(cf. 1 John 1:5-6; 1 John 2:5-6). It also means that we walk in the same manner as He walks which involves a transformation of character to become like Him (Romans 12:2; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:1; Ephesians 4:23; Colossians 1:9-10; Colossians 3:1-10; 1 John 4:7-8). Have you ever noticed how much husbands and wives become very much like each other after 50 years of marriage?
The Implication Of “Walking” Walking with Him in light does not mean that we are perfect, nor that we never stumble. God still walks with us, if we turn our feet back again to the pathway of righteousness (1 John 1:9; 1 John 2:1-2). “Walking” implies a direction, a consistency, not perfection. Building a closer walk with Him begins with an intimate knowledge of His character and will and is finalized in becoming like Him — Jesus is that perfect example that we are to emulate (1 John 2:6; 1 Peter 2:21).
Conclusion: The briefest but most praiseworthy epitaph of a man’s life is recorded in Gen. 5:22:“Enoch walked with God….“ When this writer crosses that river of death, all I really want to hear is, “He walked with God.”Nothing else really matters.
Courage and Belief
“Courage!” The word itself inspires visions of history’s heroes. From battlefield generals to soldiers on the front lines, from firemen and policemen at work to astronauts in space, courage defines who we are and what we can become. The courage of others builds courage in ourselves. The events that call for courage and acts of the courageous that meet those challenges work in symphony with each other to call forth the best in us. But some are courageous and some are not. Some answer the call and some just let the phone ring when the caller ID says, “Courage Calling.” Where does courage actually come from? Are some just born with courage and others not? Is there some DNA component that spurs some to courage while others rock back in the recliner? I’m convinced that courage has many sources, but most of them come from our family of origin and company we choose to keep as we mature. But one of the roots of courage is often unrecognized and/or overlooked, even as we search for sources. As we realize that courage grows exponentially when we are with the right people, we must recognize that deep and abiding courage becomes profound when the one we are with is Jesus! When Peter was literally with Jesus, he courageously drew his sword to fight a band or Roman soldiers (Matt 26:47-55). A few hours later, Peter was still with some of the disciples, but he was not with Jesus. His courage evaporated like a mist. He denied Jesus three times before morning! A few weeks later, Peter stood courageously for Jesus. What made the difference? One thing: the presence of Jesus with Peter. In the Garden of Gethsemene, Jesus was there with him. When he denied he even knew Jesus, he was alone. When he preached the first gospel sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) the presence of Jesus was with him. WHAT? How could Jesus be with Peter in Acts 2? Jesus ascended back to heaven in Acts 1! But Peter remembered, and lived by, the reality of Matthew 28:19-20. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Peter knew Jesus was with him, “even to the end of the age.” Peter’s realization of the presence of Jesus gave him the power. Peter’s realization of that current reality gave him courage! Jesus was with him, even after His ascension but to put the power to work, Peter had to believe that reality. We are reminded of Acts 27:25, “Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told.” Paul inspired his shipmates to keep up their courage because he believed the promises of God! Where is your courage? How deeply do you connect the realization of the presence of God with you to your ability to “be strong and very courageous” (Joshua 1:7) just as Joshua was, when he knew that God was with him (1:9)?
A WORD FITLY SPOKEN
We are all familiar with the beautiful analogy in Proverbs 25:11. Here, the "apples of gold in pictures of silver" are the right words spoken at the right time and in the right way. Maybe a situation calls for words of teaching. Just the right words can bring someone to obedience. Maybe the situation demands words of encouragement. Words fitly spoken can cheer a depressed person, or a sick brother or sister. Some of us are so wrapped up in our own situations that we cannot see that others need those precious words from us that would mean the world to them at that moment. Perhaps a call to a shut-in would bring joy to their heart. Perhaps a visit to an erring Christian would bring about their restoration. Perhaps a word to a faithful worker in the church would elevate them to greater heights of service. We all have this power to say that "fitly spoken word".
John Wright (Woodbine church of Christ, Nashville, TN)
"I'll Carry It For You"
A preacher back in the 1800s was feeling extremely stressed and loaded down with the troubles and pressures that came through his ministry. One day he came home and was greeted by his young daughter, Minnie, whose legs were paralyzed. He was about to carry a package from the mail upstairs when Minnie said, "Daddy, I will carry that package upstairs for you." The preacher replied, "Minnie dear, how can you carry the package?" With a smile on her face, Minnie said, "If you will give me the package, I will hold it while you carry me." This sweet gesture from his daughter reminded him of the way God wants to help us with our own burdens. God is fully aware of the stresses and burdens we bare. He also wants to help us with them. In the book of Isaiah, God gave Israel a reminder, "Even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; and I will bear you and I will deliver you" (46:3-4). The stresses of life can become extremely heavy and burdensome. We don't have to bear all of this alone. He cares when we are stressed out. Let's remember that God is willing to take the load for us (Matthew 11:28-30; 1 Peter 5:7). What a loving God we serve!
True Desire – John 5
It started as an average day. Healthy people walked to and fro while the sick and crippled begged. Most were ignored by the busy hustle and bustle of everyday life. The healthy were seeking relief from the pressures of the daily grind, the search for a job, the need for money for food, the concern of the occupying Roman army. Others were pretty satisfied with their lot in life. The lame and the sick were much the same. Some were content to beg – not too bad a life to visit with friends and not be expected to work. Enter Jesus! He is Jesus. He knows the man’s plight. He knows the man’s heart but He asks a probing question, “Do you wish to get well?” Is it an unfeeling question? It seems so, but the One asking is our loving Lord. Is it a challenge to the man’s own man’s own view of his life? Absolutely. The story is simple. The outcome is astounding. “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” And he does! In verse 14 they meet again and Jesus says, “Behold you have become well; do not sin anymore so that nothing worse happens to you.” Jesus knew his heart, yet he asked, “Do you wish to get well?” Perhaps God wanted all of us to see the interchange. Many today are hurting, confused and emotionally ill. But that question rings in our ears today, “Do you wish to get well?” In our “please accept me” society, sometimes we don’t wish to get well. It is easier to be accepted, to go along with the crowd, to not risk rejection. It’s not an unfeeling question. In fact, each on one of us must ask the one in the mirror, “Do you wish to get well?” (John 5:1-14). He was transformed by the renewing of his body. We must get well by the renewing of our minds. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect,” Romans 12:1-2. Jesus called to the lame man about his body. He calls to us about our mind, our heart and our spirit. Is today your average day? His blessings await. Love calls and love must answer.
Encouragement! Life gets real. Reality sometimes steals your rejoicing and circumstances creep in to chip away at your peace. Worries about war and concern for church or community wrinkle your brow and bump your blood pressure. The list of what you can’t control expands and your faith shrinks. What now? Where to go? What to do? Withdrawal is a natural response. Hiding is a common temptation. And shrinking back from the daily delirium seems the only sensible choice to save your sanity. Even Paul said he worried about the churches (2 Corinthians 11:28). You need an antidote for the serpent’s venom of worry. God gave us several personal items, but there is one that others can actually administer: ENCOURAGEMENT! We can actually inject this antivenin for worry into one another’s hearts by the means of encouragement. Consider the partial list of commands to encourage: `“Encourage one another day after day....” Hebrews 3:13
“Encourage one another, build up one another....” I Thess. 5:11
“Encourage the fainthearted....” I Thess. 5:14
“Encourage the exhausted and strengthen the feeble.” Isa. 35:3
“Encourage them in the work of the house of God....” Ezra 6:22 Our God is an awesome God (Neh. 9:32). He knows how to overcome worry and depression. The answer? Encouragement. It is more than a nice gesture; it is the specific antidote to Satan’s venom of anxiety. It is the tool we use to lift up others even when life’s circumstances cannot be changed. It is the anvil that wears out the hammers of evil that try to beat us into submission. Encourage someone today. It is strong medicine. Take it seriously. In fact, take two, and call the Great Physician in the morning. Ray Wallace
If You Don't Know, It Could Be Dangerous!
While in the military service in the early '70s, there was a man in the squadron that owned several single-engine planes. And from time to time, we would get together and take a few short trips. On one occasion, I was to fly the 1938 Luscombe. Now it was beautiful and well cared for, good electronics, (for the day) and good Cleveland heel brakes, well, it was just nice all the way around, even though you had to hand prop it to get it started. Howey propped it, I got it started, taxied out, took off and was back on the ground in less than five minutes. The reason? The engine quit as soon as I was off the ground. Next, I banked left back over the grass, lined-up, and as I was about to put it on the ground, the engine started. That was a shock. You can imagine I was a bit concerned. When I taxied back to the line, shut it down, got out, and said to Howey, "That was exciting." He said, "Oh, I forgot to tell you it doesn't have a fuel pump. So don't put the nose above the horizon. It is gravity fed. " With the new information, I was back in the air, with no other problems. Now the point is this; the fact that I didn't know it didn't have a fuel pump didn't make any difference. Truth is truth; rather, you realize it or not. And the result is the same; rather, you know the truth or not. In the case with the little Luscombe, it didn't matter if I knew it or not, it still didn't have a fuel pump. When the word of God is considered, it is the same. There are consequences for not knowing the truth just as if you know the truth and chose not to obey. Note two verses with me. 2 Thes. 1:6-8, "For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus." Luke 12: 47, "And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more." The point is: rather we KNOW the truth and fail to put it into action, or we DON'Tknow the truth and can't put it into action, the consequence is the same. So let us be learners, and teacher, that all may be doers of God's Word.
If Only I Could
Sometimes we convince ourselves I just can't do "it." And of course, that "it" would include anything that we think we can't do, and yes, sometimes things we don't want to do. We all know events from history where there was a victory because of an individual or a group did what they knew they couldn't do. But they did. Maybe it was a sports team that won against all the odds. It could be on the job, meeting a deadline that no one thought was possible. But not only was the deadline met, but it was met with time to spare. Many, many times the key to success is thinking we can, and never when we feel we can't. As a child, I remember the story of "The Little Engine That Could." And of course, the line that fits so well with the thought of this article is, "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can," and sure enough, the little engine made it. Our life can be like that in many areas, and you know it is true; we can do many things we never thought we could if we will give it a try. Now, it is also true that as time goes by, our true abilities change. I don't think many can do the things at 60 or 70 they did in their 20's and 30's. Still, there is a work and a place for all in His service. Of course, some of the best news is, He never leaves us to do it on our own He is always with us. Consider these thoughts: Hebrews 13:5-6, "Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, "I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU," so that we confidently say, "THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID. WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME?" Mat 28:19-20, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Philippians 4:12-13, "I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction." Philippians 4:6-7, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." So again, the good news is we are never alone. God is always with us and wants us to be successful in our work for Him. He wants all peoples to be saved, and His plan is for those that know the truth to teach the truth. When the verse in Mark 16:15, is considered, And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." If we are not careful, we can get the impression we need to travel far away. It could be we just need to go next door. Indeed, our thoughts should NOT be, "if only I could," but, "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."
God's Grace Is Free But Not Cheap
In John 1:14-17, John records the following about our Lord: And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.
The word “grace” simply means “unmerited favor” — favor that one receives which is undeserved and unearned. The idea of grace being “free” means that it became available to us without cost to us (Ephesians 2:8). However, it does not mean it was without cost at all, for it cost God plenty to offer it to us without charge (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:9). Grace is indeed priceless, but Someone else paid the price because we couldn’t afford it. With these thoughts in mind, let us look at some aspects of what grace costs:
1. Grace is Costly Because It Cost God The Life of His Son. The church was purchased with the blood of God’s Son (Acts 20:28). We “have been bought with a price.” (1 Corinthians 6:20) “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. ”Romans 5:8)
2. Grace is Costly Because It Calls Us To Follow Jesus. We are permitted the privilege of choosing the way of grace and become disciples of Jesus. To be a disciple means to follow after the Teacher. To follow Jesus means to put His kingdom and righteousness first (Matthew 6:33). The cost of discipleship means that we must put other things second, third, etc. Another cost associated with discipleship is picking up and bearing a cross of self-denial (Matthew 16:24).
3. Grace is Costly Because It Condemns Sin. Grace justifies sinners — not their sins! Grace does not make lying, adultery, or greediness any less sinful. What it does freely offer is conditional forgiveness. All have sinned (Romans 3:23) and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). While grace brings the potential for forgiveness to those under this sentence of death, we must continue in the grace of God (Acts 13:43; cf. Acts 14:22), “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts” (Titus 2:11-13).
Grace is indeed free, but it is not unconditional. If it were, then everyone would be saved. But it is conditioned upon our response to it. In the Bible, our response to God’s grace is called “faith” (Romans 10:17). This is why we are said to be “saved by grace through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). Let us praise God each day for the gift of His wonderful grace, and let us properly respond to it by being obedient to His will (Matthew 7:21; cf. Luke 6:46; James 1:22).
A beautiful and popular Christian song asks a haunting question, “Some folks may ask me, some folks may say, Who is this Jesus you talk about every day?”
When was the last time a friend or coworker asked you about Jesus? When was the last time you realized that you talk about Jesus everyday? Is your work place hostile to religion? What about lunchtime? What about inviting work partners over for dinner? What about neighbors?
Some will be friendly toward Christianity, some will not. But you will never know until you try. In Acts 17 Paul lovingly but clearly proclaimed Jesus and the resurrection. The response of the hearers (v.32) is still typical, Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.”
Paul didn’t “weed out” potential disciples by whom he thought might listen or not. I have been amazed over the years by the response of people whom I thought would listen but wouldn’t, but ever far more amazed by the response of foul-mouthed, immoral weirdoes who listened, learned and are now deeply committed disciples living a sanctified life of dedication.
When the Holy Spirit inspired Peter to write 2 Pet. 3:9, “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,” He obviously intended for us to share the good news of salvation through Jesus with “all.”
Perhaps it’s time for you, as an individual, to figure out what to say and how to say it so that that you are “teaching the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
One approach is to write a friend’s name on the top of a tract about salvation. Simply hand it to him or her and say, “I read this last week and I thought of you. Let me know what you think of it. I care about your eternity.”
I love Psalm 107:2, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so...” And indeed, King David was willing to say so. As he receives forgiveness in Psalm 51, he addresses the marvelous work of joy in the lives of those forgiven (verses 13-14): Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, And sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Thy ways, And sinners will be converted to Thee.
Are you saved? Are you reveling in the joy of salvation? Are you allowing God to sustain you with a willing spirit? Are you teaching transgressors God’s ways? Are sinners being converted to Him because of you? Let’s talk.
Oh, the song: “He is my Savior, He set me free, Now listen while I tell you what he means to me.”
Ray Wallace (For further study: Acts 4:20; Ps. 119:46)
Freedom Isn’t Free!
The ghostly, gray figures ascend the small hill, ever vigilant, ever brave. Some carry rifles, some carry radios, but none ever move. I slowly climb the hill to the right, study their faces, forever frozen in time, and I contemplate my own freedom. Then I notice the wall - mirror-polished granite with figures that seem to be deep in the three dimensional scene, some flying, some fighting, some doctoring – men and women of all nationalities - all engaged in the efforts of war. And I, like others beside me, see my own reflection, half dim, half clear, suspended among the soldiers as if I were actually in the granite scene… with the life-sized ghost-soldiers reflecting behind me and the granite wall soldiers in front of me. As I top the hill I read the words, “Freedom Is Not Free” carved deeply in the granite. Such were my first few minutes at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. The meaning is painfully obvious. Those figures represent the spirits of those who fought and those who died in that conflict and many others to keep America free! They died so I, (yes, I personally) can be free from the harness of tyrants. “Freedom Is Not Free” – the phrase sticks in my mind the rest of the trip back to Virginia and all week. I cannot help but remember Jesus’ words from John 8:32, “And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” “The truth.” What truth? “The truth.” The truth that Jesus died, voluntarily, in my place on the cross, so I can be free from the curse of sin and death. Jesus, the Soldier on the cross is now calling me to be a soldier of the cross. Jesus, the sinless One, took my sin – all our sins – and bore them on His own back, on His own cross, so we can live free from the harness of that eternal tyrant, Satan! I was impressed by the stately Washington monument. I was in awe of the Lincoln Memorial. I was deeply moved by the World War II Memorial and shed tears at the Viet Nam Wall, but I was and am haunted by parallels of the Korean War Memorial and John chapter eight. We all climb the hill of life – at the top, the cross – at the top, the crown – at the top the Savior constantly reminding us “Freedom Is Not Free.” It cost Jesus His life on earth to buy our eternity in heaven. Victory is at hand! Fall in, soldiers!
A new meme is circulating that says a lot about humanity, “If your god allows you to do anything you want, your god is really yourself.” I totally agree. But most people seldom think about genuine, or ultimate authority. Most simply go through their day making decisions, large and small, that merely seek ease, practicality, efficiency or pleasure as they see it. But analyze that approach to life for a moment – an approach that merely seeks self and any freedom that seems to supply temporary pleasure or satisfaction. The result is actually revealed in the Bible, “ In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25). Did you catch it? Each individual simply created his or her own reality about what was right or wrong. For a few sweet, magnanimous individuals, that might create a safe and comfortable culture. But, as we see in virtually all places on earth, many others use that approach to life to decide, “I want what you have” and satisfaction of self is the only true goal and thus self becomes the only true source of authority. Crime and chaos are the inevitable result. The human will answer, “But our creed is do anything you want so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.” The man on the street answers, “That’s fine for you, but I have the same freedom to decide my own creed, and that shall be crime!” The humanist answers, “But we have cops that have guns, and they will stop you!” Then the criminals answer, “Only if you catch us!” And thus our modern inner cities are born! Why? Because without a wide-spread acceptance of God’s authority, mankind will always degenerate into ungodly chaos and unchecked brutality. From the 19thcentury gangs of New York to the 20thcentury dictators who spread war across the globe, the result is the same – kick God out of the country and the resulting chaos will bring unspeakable human misery, sooner or later. From ancient dynasties to modern nations, when the true source of all authority, God, Himself, is ignored, mankind will assert himself as final authority, and the (again inevitable) result will be armed conflict, whether in the inner city or between nations, large and small. God told Ezekiel quite plainly and succinctly, that if the people followed God with all their hearts, blessings would ensue. But since they didn’t, endless wars would result. For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. You have acted foolishly in this. Indeed, from now on you will surely have wars. (II Chronicles 16:9) The choices are simple and the outcome clear, follow God with all our hearts or suffer grave consequences. And that is true nationally and personally. Make God your source of authority or get ready for never-ending, and heart-braking conflict. No wonder Joshua said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Think about it!
The Mind of Christ
The daily schedule grinds you down, the kids’ noise winds you up and finances stress you out! What a challenge, this thing we call “modern life.” Where is all the free time promised by kitchen conveniences and power tools? Shouldn’t 40 hour work weeks and gigahertz computers bring more peace to life?
Good news: peace doesn’t come from prosperity and joy is not found in conveniences. It is much more simple. We often forget that the “peace that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:4-7) comes from a right relationship with God.
Read the passage, “...rejoice... have a gentle spirit... overcome anxiety... pray. Then, and only then, will you have the peace that comes from God and guards your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.
Why? Because as you develop that relationship with Jesus and apply His peace in your life, you are developing the mind of Christ... His attitudes, His priorities, His trust in the heavenly Father.
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). Indeed the apostles had the “mind of Christ,” but can we, today, have the mind of Christ? Of course... two ways.
One: we have the “mind of Christ” between two leather covers... the Bible, the revealed, written word of God. In it we have “everything pertaining to life and godliness,” 2 Peter 1:3.
Two: we have being created in our minds, the mind of Christ. As we live and learn and grow we have Christ formed in us (Colossians 1:27). We learn to think like He thinks, love like He loves. In short, we are not merely taught the facts, we are discipled to become like Him (1 Corinthians 11:1). Rejoice to be like Jesus and have the mind of Christ.
Make it a Momentous Monday Neal Pollard
Pick out a local church leader and pray for him and his family for several minutes, being very specific in your petitions on their behalf.
Email a missionary to encourage them and get an update on how their work is going.
Buy a gift card and try to give it anonymously to a young or struggling family you know.
Thoughtfully select several people to compliment and encourage by writing on their Facebook wall or other social media platform.
Briefly visit a brother or sister in an assisted living facility or nursing home.
Ask a co-worker, classmate, or neighbor what you can be praying for them about.
Listen to a book of the Bible in its entirety on your commute.
Let go of a grudge or deep-seated resentment.
Do an unexpected deed of kindness for a random stranger.
Speak to someone you see regularly about your faith-what God is doing in your life, what's going on at church, etc.
Spend some one-on-one time with one of your children (playing a game they enjoy, going for a walk, taking them out to eat, etc.).
Show love to your mate in some tangible way you know he/she enjoys (speak their "love language").
Practice pleasantness with everyone you meet today, being mindful of your facial expressions and body language.
Carve out some time for meaningful, personal devotion (including Bible reading, singing, and prayer)-make worship more than a Sunday matter!
None of these are overly time-consuming. Pick as many as you can. If you cannot get to them all today, then pick up where you left off tomorrow. Grow your list. Use your imagination and creativity. Find yourself looking and acting more like Jesus! See yourself in Matthew 5:13-16.
Everything Depends on the Resurrection – Everything!
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time… (1 Corinthians 15:3-6). But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. (1Corinthians 15:20).
If Jesus was not resurrected from the dead, then the Apostles who died for Him, died for what they knew was a hoax! But it wasn’t.
If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then all 500 people who saw Him alive afterHe was crucified were lying. But they weren’t .
If Jesus was not dead and just fainted on the cross, then the Roman soldiers who were professional executioners, and those who handled His body after the cross would have handled a warm, limp body, not a cold stiff one. But they didn’t.
Pilate was worried that Jesus might not be dead and called the Centurian in charge of the execution to make sure He was dead before he granted Joseph’s request to take the body, (Mark 15:44, 45).
Eye witness testimony from the Jews, eyewitness testimony from the Roman soldiers, eyewitness testimony from His followers, all agreed Jesus was dead, really dead. Then He was alive!
And Jesus promised His followers that He would be preparing a place in heaven for us to live with Him eternally, in precious joy and happy fellowship. Without a resurrected Jesus, Christians are just another group of deluded philosophers. With the real resurrection of Jesus, we are heaven-bound believers walking “in His steps,” (1 Peter 2:21) so that, as He, Himself said, “that where I am, there you may be also, (John 14:3). Jesus loves us so much that He died on the cross to take our punishment for our sins, just so He could have us living with Him forever in His heaven!
Do you believe the evidence? Because we do, we celebrate His resurrection every first day of the week, just as the Christians did in the first century. In God’s plan, every Sunday is what the world calls “Easter Sunday.”
The Way of the Righteous The first thing one must do in order to understand the Psalms is to start at the beginning. That may seem the obvious first step for any book, but it is especially true when it comes to this collection of songs and prayers. In Psalm 1 and 2, we have a great double door that must be passed through before entering the study of the Psalms. These two Psalms aptly begin the book with the idea that one must honor the word of God and the Anointed of God if he or she is to be approved of God (blessed). Lord willing, we will look at the latter of those next week, and the former today.
In Psalm 1, great contrasts are seen. On one hand is the way of the righteous, and on the other is the way of the wicked. Each of us come to this great fork in the road of life and must determine which path we will take. After that, we must daily choose whether we are to stay on the path on which we travel, or abandon it for the other. When we look at the contrasts within this Psalm, the choice should seem simple.
THE BLESSED MAN: He is not... A. Following the advice of the world (1a). B. Following the actions of the world (1b). C. Following the associations of the world(1c). He is... A. Delighting in the word of God (2). B. Dwelling on the word of God (2b). C. Digging into the word of God (3a). Note that the "rivers" or "streams" comes from a Hebrew word meaning "channel" or "irrigation ditch." The enriching water of God's word does not come to us naturally, we have to dig! D. Displaying the word of God by yielding fruit (3b). E. Developing by the word of God (3c). He isn't withering, he is growing! All of this makes his a prosperous life and able to stand before God (3d, 6a)! THE WICKED MAN He is not: A. Saturating his life with God's word as the righteous man (4a). B. Standing among the righteous (5b). He is: A. Useless like chaff (4b). B. Unstable like chaff (4b). All of this makes his a perishing life and unable to stand before God (5b, 6b)!
So, when you look at the two paths, the choice should be clear. Choose the way of God. Choose the way of His word. Choose the Way of the Righteous!
One of the Christian’s Biggest Mistakes!
Since the early beginnings of the church, Christians have faced many challenges, mostly from outside attacks, but we face inner challenges also. When contemplating this we usually think of various types of temptations and their attendant struggles. But there is another, usually unrecognized (and thus unaddressed struggle) that many Christians have. That struggle is to think, “It’s all about me!” (Or perhaps, “It’s mostlyabout me.”) It is a very easy, perhaps natural, mistake to make. After all, Jesus came to seek and save the lost (that's us), Luke 19:10. And the cross was about saving us! And God’s blessings and provision are about providing for us. All of that is true. Jesus came to earth and died for us,for our salvation, for our eternal home in heaven with Him. He loves us, each and every one. But we often forget what Jesus planned for us while we are still on earth. When we focus on self, and getting what we want instead of what God wants for usin our daily life, we are simply notbeing like Jesus! How do we know? -Jesus considered others more important than Himself, Phil. 2:1-5 -Jesus gave Himself up for us, John 3:16, Romans 10:1-10; 1 Tim. 2:6 -Jesus took our punishment for us, 1 Peter 2:21-25; Eph. 5:2, 25; 1 Tim. 2:6. To be like Jesus, we have to focus on blessing other people. Satan wants us to feel cheated. He wants us to believe that God is holding outon us, not blessing us as He promised. When we believe that somehow God is not holding up His end of the bargain (giving me what I want because I was converted), then Satan has a heyday with our daily life. Conversely, when we bless God, when we praise Him daily and live in continual thanks (I Thess. 5:18), live a lifestyle of blessing others (Luke 6:28; Rom. 12:14), take the focus off of ourselves and consider others more important than ourselves (Phil. 2:3), something wonderful happens. We learn the precious, almost unspeakable wonder of this truth: Happiness (joy, peace, etc.) are a byproductof being a blessing to others. Happiness simply cannot be obtained by focusing on and serving self. (Caring for widows and orphans would be prime example, James 1:27). If a Christian does these things just to get a reward,it doesn’t work – that actually constitutes an attempt to manipulate God! But when we stop focusing on pleasing self and decide to please Jesus by blessing others, the buds of life blossom into greater joy than serving self ever could. Who do you focus on? How do you bless God and His people? Think about it.
Self-Esteem Bill Flatt’s book. Restoring My Soulhas some interesting and helpful information about “self-esteem.” He defines it by saying, “It is how you feel about being you, how you feel about being alive. It results from an evaluation of your self-image, how you feel about the way you see yourself. It is influenced by the distance of the gap between your self-image and your ideal image,” p. 106. It’s unfortunate that so many in our society determine self-esteem by good looks, intelligence, money, position, and athleticism. Often when one does not measure-up in those areas, one’s self-esteem drops. The standard for good self-esteem according to the world is far different from God’s standard for self-esteem. We ought to have good self-esteem because we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). That is the greatest reason for each to have good self-esteem. Good self-esteem is not determined by the color of our skin, nor where we live, nor how much money we have in the bank, nor those other standards set by the world. Even though all were made in the image of God, many people still struggle with low self-esteem. Often it manifests itself by feeling guilty, or being overly sensitive, or being hypercritical. Often one covers his low self-esteem by being shy, or being the-class-clown, or the opposite extreme of manifesting an arrogant attitude. It may manifest itself by failing to take responsibility for one’s actions, but always blaming others. It even manifests itself through various kinds of addictions. Flatt says that it is often connected with distress, depression, preoccupation with self, fatigue, chronic health problems, and negative attitudes toward self and others, page 106.
Good Self-Esteem Versus Pride Even though God expects us to have confidence through our self-esteem, there is just a fine line between good self-esteem and manifesting arrogance and pride. The apostle Paul wrote in several passages about the attitude one ought to have about himself. “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith” Romans 12:3. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” Philippians 2:3-4. “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself” Galatians 6:3. It seems that the difference between having good self-esteem and being arrogant is where one’s confidence lies. If confidence is thought to be through the person’s own ability, that is arrogance; if one’s confidence is in God, it is good self-esteem. When Paul was talking about his financial condition he said, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me,” Philippians 4:13. Even though it was brethren who furnished his material goods, he recognized that it was God who enabled him to do all things. When he spoke about our battle against opposition he said, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” Romans 8:31-32. Again, he stresses that it is God who enables us to win the victory. Good self-esteem realizes that God is the source of one’s confidence, not one’s own abilities.
Humility and Low Self-Esteem When is giving in to another person humility and when is it a sign of low self-esteem? God expects us to be humble and to acknowledge the greatness of the other person (Philippians 2:3-4). Often those who have low self-esteem will not accept a challenge and will always give in to the other person. As we have seen above, good self-esteem is when one has confidence that God can use him to accomplish a task. Poor self-esteem is when one does not have the confidence that God can accomplish a task through him. When one will not accept a challenge, but always giving in to the other person does not reflect humility, but poor self-esteem. Biblical humility is not low self-esteem, but rather it is a willingness to submit to another person, even though the one submitting realizes he/she has the ability to accomplish the task at hand.
Too Much Emphasis on Good Self-Esteem Although each of us needs to have good self-esteem many in society have taken that too far, to the point that we should not do anything to damage anyone’s self-esteem. We see this in youth sports programs. Everyone gets a trophy whether his team won all their games or lost all their games. I’ve read that some school districts do not allow teachers to use red ink to make corrections on students’ papers because it may damage their self-esteem. We have seen it in the school districts passing students to the next grade even though the student really did not do the work required to be promoted. The Bible does not teach that concept. Strength can come from failure. One may learn by failing than by winning, especially in the realm of sports events.
Conclusion God wants us to have good self-esteem, but that simply means that one has confidence that he/she can accomplish a task. Let’s remember that good self-esteem is confidence in God, not confidence in self. Let’s realize that we are valuable, not because of what we can accomplish, but because we are made in the image of God and He loved us enough to send Jesus to die for us. We are valuable and because we are valuable, we should think highly of ourselves. That is the proper kind of good self-esteem.
The Foolish Owners and their Donkey
Once a father and a son were coming back from a village fair, where they had purchased a donkey. They overheard a man saying, "See those fools, they have a donkey but are still walking on their feet." Both of them thought it was a good idea and they sat on the donkey. On their way, another villager saw and spoke, "Look, look at the poor donkey. He can hardly walk with two people on him." The kind-hearted father felt sorry for the donkey and he got off and let his small son ride. While crossing the fields a woman remarked, the son is young and healthy he should walk and let his father sit on the donkey. The son said to his father, “I’m sorry, Dad, please come and sit on the donkey.” So they changed places. As they were about to reach their village, a passerby said, “Hey, look at the selfish man, his poor son is walking and he is enjoying the ride." Both of them without another thought tied the donkey upside down to a long bamboo stick and carried him through the village. By the time they reached home, all were laughing at them. A village elder came forward and asked, “Why are you carrying your donkey like this? Can’t it walk?" The father explained what happened on the way home from the fair. The old man said, “Everyone is laughing at you because instead of using your own sense you kept on doing what other people said.” Moral: 1. You can’t please everyone. 2. Any person with a normal IQ and a negative demeanor can always find something to criticize, be it right or wrong. 3. Decide carefully and intelligently what is right, proceed confidently. One of the major problems in the world today is that people are not deciding intelligently what is right, and, for fear of disapproval, they decide that everything is “right” and nothing is “wrong” - it is called “political correctness” and is ruining all we hold dear! Several states have judges who have ruled that other judges may use sharia lawin deciding cases. In reality, elected officials and judges have take an oath to support and defend the constitution and the laws of the united states and their individual states! We will be as foolish as the owners of the donkey if we listen to the world and ignore our God and our laws! Hosea 4:6 still says: My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. Ray Wallace
Does Design Demand a Designer?
The new rage in cosmology is the search for a convincing argument to “prove” that design does not demand a designer! Why has it become such an issue? Because the effectiveness of the argument is making some longtime atheistic evolutionists look a bit silly. An illustration: You find a Rolex watch in the woods. It keeps perfect time. Your friend is convinced that its existence is an accident of nature... lightening striking millions of times per year over a billion years has accidentally created the Rolex. You protest that such a fine chronometer could not be a result of random chance because of its evidence of intelligent design. Your friend will not budge, so to convince you of his “truth” he must search for a workable model to “prove” that design does not demand a designer. Mostly he waxes philosophical, but still he lacks evidence. Such is the state of affairs with the intelligent design (ID) debate. Let’s suppose the Rolex you found is 100 feet in diameter. Could you believe it is an accident? No. Suppose it is 100 miles in diameter and still keeps perfect time (although the neighbors complain about the loud ticking!). Could you believe the massive Rolex is an accident of nature? No. Suppose the watch is 100 light years in diameter and still keeps perfect time. Nope... still can’t believe such massive and intricate design is an accident! Guess what... the universe is a wonderful watch. You can actually set your Rolex by the movement of the heavenly bodies observed from earth. In fact a ship’s longitudinal position on earth can be found by the observation of the heavens (discerned by the time of local sunset, for instance). Some of the world’s top scientists agree about ID. Sir Fred Hoyle (world famous astronomer) wrote, “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question." In his book, Superforce: The Search for a Grand Unified Theory of Nature, Australian astrophysicist Paul Davies wrote of the intelligent design in the universe, “...how could it be supposed that those workings are merely a mindless accident, a product of blind chance?" (1984, pp. 235-236). For further quotes from scientists in their fields, go to: http://www.apologeticspress.org/inthenews/2003/itn-03-06.htm. God has evidence. We must learn to recognize it. (See Romans 1:18-22.)
WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM APOLLOS The Bible is not just a Book of Teachings, it also contains the stories of people, and their reactions to those teachings. As the old saying goes “A picture is worth a thousand words.” This is very true. And a life is one of the best kinds of “pictures” we can have. One of the most interesting characters in the New Testament is a man named Apollos. He is first introduced in Acts 18:24: “Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures.” Notice what we see here: 1) He was a Jew who was born in Alexandria. Alexandria was in Egypt, and it was one of the greatest centers of learning of its day. There was a vast library there, and it contained, among other treasures, the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Old Testament. There was an amazing amount of other material in the library at Alexandria, much of which has been discovered in recent years. There were also great teachers at Alexandria, and Apollos had apparently sat at their feet and been trained. 2) He was an “eloquent” man. This means that he had an ability to speak and to teach others what he had learned. Not everyone has this gift, but Apollos did. It also seems that he had been impressed with the importance of sharing his knowledge with others. That may have been one of the main reasons he was at Ephesus. 3) He was “mighty in the Scriptures.” Not only was Apollos eloquent, he had learning in the Scriptures behind that eloquence. He knew what he was talking about—he had “put in the time” to learn God’s Word, and he was willing to teach others what he knew. We see that there was a void in Apollos’ education, though, for Acts 18:25 says: “This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John...” So, here is a well-educated Jew who is teaching in the synagogues, but he’s not teaching Judaism, he’s teaching Christianity! He understood what many Jews of his day did not—that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law of Moses; that He was truly the Messiah! So, he is “teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus,” but there was a problem, he was acquainted only with the baptism of John. His information about Jesus was a bit outdated. Apollos knew a lot, and he was not afraid to teach what he knew. The problem was that he didn’t know everything he needed to know. Next we see Aquila and Priscilla entering the picture. They have been introduced earlier in Acts 18. Paul first met them at Corinth, and has now brought them to Ephesus. They realize that there is a gap in Apollos’ understanding, so they take him aside and “explain to him the way of God more accurately” (Vs. 26). What we need to see about Apollos though, is that he was not too proud to accept teaching from someone else. He realized that there was more he needed to know, and was willing to be the student, as well as the teacher. Apollos is a powerful example to all of us. Are we willing to imitate him? Ken Dawdy, Dahlia St. church of Christ, Denver, CO
Loving Your Time with God John Newton was a rough, violent slave ship captain that eventually left that evil profession and decided to seek Jesus. We know him today because he penned the words of the magnificent song, Amazing Grace. Newton well remembered his days running from God and chasing his dream of more and more British pound sterling – he had made cash his god. But after his decision and repentance, Newton sought solace in serving others and spending time in God’s word and in prayer. It was during this period of his life that Newton’s memories of his former life and his realization of the unspeakable grace of God, that he wrote that now world famous song. A personal realization of his and other’s relationship with God brought Newton to his knees, but also to his pen. One of my favorite quotes from this incredible soul points to differing responses we often seen in those who wish to follow God: The religion of some people is constrained, like the cold bath when used, not for pleasure, but from necessity for health, into which one goes with reluctance and is glad when able to get out. But religion to the true believer is like water to a fish; it is his element; he lives in it and could not live out of it. - John Newton We do well to ask ourselves if our worship, our reading or our time with God is more like the cold bath or more like the element in which we live, body, mind and spirit. Personally, I often go home spent after teaching and preaching – but there is a certain peace and joy in that tiredness. There is a personal happiness and deep satisfaction that comes from spending time with the Father who loved us enough to let His only begotten Son die on the cross for our sins. What precious solace it is to live and love in Christ with our brothers and sisters who share that treasure. I am reminded of 2 Corinthians 1:3, 4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. What does time with God mean to you, a cold, uncomfortable bath just to get clean, or a warm, quiet repose of the soul with your creator? Ray Wallace
Add to Your Faith by Gene Taylor When one becomes a child of God, he is born again spiritually (John 3:1-5) becoming a spiritual babe who is to grow (1 Pet. 2:1-2; 2 Pet. 3:18). One grows spiritually by feeding upon the word of God (Acts 20:32), developing a spiritual appetite in order to hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matt. 5:6). 2 Peter 1:5-11 tells of the necessity and nature of such growth. "But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." "Virtue" is the determination to do right. "Knowledge" is knowledge of God's word because it is the only source which tells what is right. "Self control" is the application of that knowledge in your life using it to govern your thoughts and actions. "Perseverance" is remaining steadfast to the Lord and His cause. "Godliness" is being like God, as He would have you to be. "Brotherly kindness" is tender affection toward brethren in Christ. "Love" is devotion to God, Christ, and your fellowman which is expressed in obedience to God and service to man. If you are to be fruitful in your service to Christ, these things must abound in your life. If you lack them, you are blind as to what your life in Christ should be.
via Centerville Road church of Christ, Tallahassee, Fl
Sir Walter Raleigh was continually submitting requests to Queen Elizabeth on behalf of convicts. Once the Queen said to him, “Sir Walter, when will you stop being a beggar?”
“When Your Majesty ceases to be a giver,” was the wise answer.
Oh, how wonderful it is to know that God is the inexhaustible source of blessings! “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17).
via Opp church of Christ, Opp, AL Bulletin Digest
It is in the field of prayer that life’s critical battles are lost or won. In prayer we bring our spiritual enemies into the presence of God and we fight them there. J. H. Jowett
Day of Mourning
At various times in scriptural history we see God’s people, and sometimes other nations such as Nineveh, repent from their sins and even sit in sackcloth and ashes as they seek to turn from sin and more closely follow God’s plans for life. Those calls for repentance are clearly seen in the book of Jonah and in many places in the Minor Prophets (the last 12 books of the Old Testament). Calls for repentance are seen regularly in the New Testament also (Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 2:38; et al) Repentance is usually a personal process, but as in the case of Nineveh in the book of Jonah, it can very well be a national process, which, of course, happens when individuals in a nation, as a population, repent in large numbers. While I seldom follow national trends in America, thousands, perhaps millions, are planning a “Day of Mourning” to mourn about and pray for the abortion plague that is infecting our nation. Sandy and I do, indeed, plan to observe this plan which I outline herein. The “Day of Mourning,” for those who choose to participate, will be on Saturday, February 23, two weeks from now. The plan is to: a. Wear black b. Not shop (send no sales tax to our increasingly corrupt governments) c. Close business you might own and post signs as to why you are closed. d. Pray for all the unborn and for all mothers who have had or are considering abortion Jesus forgives and He forgives completely. He forgave Peter for denying Him three times in one night. He even forgave the apostle Paul who bore the guilt of having Christians imprisoned and killed. God can and will heal and restore nations who follow His word. America is seeing a growing number of people, especially young people who are both recognizing and rejecting abortion for what it really is, the killing of young humans made in the image of God (Genesis 1:29; 9:6). The unborn John recognized the unborn Jesus and rejoiced in the womb (Luke 1:39-45). David recognized that, “…it is God who has made us and not we ourselves” (Psalm 100:3), and that He knits us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 119:13-16). It is a personal choice, but we ask you to join us in observing what has now become a National Day of Mourning, for our nation, for the unborn and for the sorrows of those touched by this sad situation.
EAGER. You’ll run across people who are eager to do all sorts of things this week... Eager to comment. Eager to critique. Eager to criticize. Eager to argue. Eager to tear down. Eager to gossip. Eager to slander. In Ephesians 4, disciples of Jesus are told exactly what we ought to be zealous for and eager to do: "…walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:1-3) In person, online, with brethren, strangers, and even those who are determined to be our enemies for now, may we walk worthy of that calling and continue to pray for hearts that are EAGER to do so. http://www.ingodsimage.com/2019/01/eager/
Bless the Beasts and the Children
In 1971 the Carpenters song Bless the Beasts and the Childrenbecame famous as the theme song from Stanley Kramer film by the same name. The film saw moderate success, but the song lingered on for years, partly as an unofficial theme song or the hippie set of the day. Today, the sentiment of that song is lost on modernity as our culture sinks in to the unfathomable abyss of blessing the beasts but killing the children. Several states in the US now have abortion on demand, for any reason (or no reason at all) up to the day of delivery. Abortion was illegal in the various states of the U.S. until nine justices on the Supreme Court decided that they found some new federal law in the Constitution that somehow overrode existing state laws. (Keep in mind that this new rendering had never before been seen in our Constitution!) Contrast sickening reality with the fact that stealing an eagle’s egg from a nest will garner 1 to 5 years in prison and $5,000 to $25,000 in combined federal and state penalties for any person evil enough to steal one! As always, we must ask either, “What pleaseth the community?” or “What saith the scriptures?” (Romans 4:3). We must ask that second question in every endeavor of life, if we to be pleasing to God (2 Corinthians 5:9; Galatians 1:10)! It is the only question that will keep us from egregious error. Always remember Jesus' words from Matthew 22:29, “You do err, not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God.” In an effort to know the scriptures, consider the following (in relationship to killing unborn children): Jeremiah 1:5“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you….” Psalm 139:13-16 For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them. Proverbs 6:16, 17 There are six things which the Lord hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood…. And one last question, “Who was the first person on earth to rejoice at the coming of baby Jesus?” The answer is John, Jesus’ cousin. Mary and Elizabeth were sisters. Elizabeth was pregnant with John, Mary with Jesus. When Mary walked into the room, John,in the womb, lept for Joy in the presence of the unborn Jesus! (Please read Luke 1:39-45.) Yes, we can understand it very well, but will America heed the truth! Pray for the beasts and the children, born and unborn!
Ray Wallace Pine Valley church of Christ, Bayfield, Colorado
How Strong is Satan? Tyler King
If we were to hypothesize some sort spiritual hierarchy, where would Satan be on that list? For whatever reason, we have the tendency of making him inferior only to the Godhead and no one else. A popular train of thought might put Satan second to God, then angels, and humans as last. What this ideology accomplishes is a handicapped perception of our ability to fight back against the devil and break free. A false illusion of power can create a real submission by the subject.
Revelation 12:8 reveals an angel that gives us a glimmer of hope. The angel's name is Michael and he has some sort of army. The following verse notes that the dragon was defeated by Michael's militant force and the later text reveals the dragon to be Satan. This angel is never given the title of deity, yet he was strong enough to defeat Satan. Rev. 20:1-3 is another scene where Satan is being bound up by an angel and thrown into a pit. This further indicates that angels can have strength over Satan.
The book of Job reveals a man who is able to overcome Satan's tactics. In the first two chapters of the book, Satan is given permission by God to test Job. Satan's energy and focus was entirely on Job at that point. Literally every aspect of Job's life fell to pieces. Yet, when you fast forward to chapter 42, Job is seen as triumphant and is further blessed by God. Many lessons can be gleaned from Job, but perhaps one of the greatest of all is the reality of victory over Satan.
Matthew 4:1-11 reveals a Savior who is stronger than Satan. In this popular scene of Jesus vs. Satan, Satan tries every form of deceit (lust of flesh, lust of eyes, lust of pride; cf. 1Jn 2:15-17). Yet, the Messiah was able to come back with arguments against Satan and further resist him. This eventually caused the devil to flee (James 4:7). One might think that this example is a no-brainer since Christ is God. However, keep in mind that He emptied himself and took on the form of man (Ph. 2:5-8). This meant that He was tempted and tried just as we are (Heb. 2:18).
So then. If angels can have strength over Satan, and man can have strength over him, and the Savior can too, what's preventing us? I want to encourage you -- though Satan may be adequately equipped to make our lives miserable, he is not omniscient, omnipresent, nor is he omnipotent. His energy and abilities are limited. But I know a God without limits, and a God who yearns to help us. I don't know what temptation you're dealing with and I don't know your situation, but remember that you have the opportunity to be stronger.
Seven Abominations Proverbs 6:16-19 There are six things which the Lord hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers.
Conquering The Anger of Man
Anger! The very word sounds evil. Anger is the bane of man and follows the failure of negotiation. Anger is often the root cause of breakdowns in relationships – far more than the situation over which someone is angry. Expression of anger is an outpouring of frustration that often roadblocks the very answers for which we search. Anger exacerbates the actual problem and exasperates both people involved. Anger vexes the spirit and can even kill the desire to solve the problem being discussed. In fact, anger encourages the opposite – rather than solve the problem, anger goads normal people to become combatants and that leads to revenge and counter-attacks rather than forgiveness and resolution. No wonder God has a lot to say about anger. James, the brother of Jesus, was inspired to write: This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20). The next verse defines anger as a type of “filthiness” and “wickedness” that must be dealt with through personal humility in receiving “the word implanted which is able to save your souls.” Obviously there is a lot at stake when anger reigns. Proverbs 19:19 speaks to the very personal aspect of handling anger. The control must come from the person beset by the anger. Others cannot somehow reach into his or her psyche and yank out anger. Solomon wrote: A man of great anger will bear the penalty, For if you rescue him, you will only have to do it again. (Proverbs 19:19) When we remember that God never gave man any commandment that he cannot accomplish, we must realize that the ability to conquer anger is, indeed within our grasp. The nine items of the fruit of the spirit are, I believe, the quintessential tools that give us that power. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). When we abide in God’s word (John 15:7) our prayers become part and parcel of the power to overcome anger. We rely on God for strength and wisdom, then dig deep inside ourselves to make personal use of those two things. When abiding in God’s word is accompanied with strength, wisdom and the fruit which the spirit supplies, you are equipped to conquer anger like conquering a military enemy. Remember to use the spiritual/military equipment of Ephesians 6:10-20 and you will be well on your way to conquering the anger of man!
“Fear” – the very word brings an icy grip that has unimaginable power. For some people fearis the one thing the controls them most of the time. Fear of death, fear of losing a loved one, fear of failure, fear of physical attack, fear of emotional rejection, etc. Some fears are indeed legitimate, such as fear of falling when near a tall precipice, fear of failing a test when you haven’t studied, fear of crashing when you were driving too fast on ice, etc. Fear can be a wonderful tool to keep us from nonsensical and dangerous behaviors. Fear is a healthy friend when it adds to our drive to succeed through vigorous work and wise self-discipline. But far too many fears are unhealthy, dangerous and can even lead to slavery! Yes, slavery.Consider Hebrews 2:14, 15, Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. Did you catch it? Jesus sets free “those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” They never overcame their fear of death! Obviously that means they lived in fear until they died! What a terrible life sentence! In the face of imprisonment for their faith and even possible death, Jesus gives great encouragement in Rev. 2:10, Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. While on earth we must focus on the eternal “crown of life,” Jesus has for us in heaven with Him forever. Anything less and we will be lifetime slaves through a fear of death. In Proverbs 3, Solomon shares the confident way to live without fear, Then you will walk in your way securely And your foot will not stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid; When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Do not be afraid of sudden fear Nor of the [onslaught of the wicked when it comes; For the Lord will be your confidence And will keep your foot from being caught. On the cross, Jesus won! Three days later, at the resurrection Jesus won. And on the final day, through the blood of Jesus, we will win! Fear not!
Cheerful Givers I learned more from my children as they were growing up than from anyone else other than my father. I'm not sure why but I have a suspicion it's because they were not really trying to teach me anything. They just went about their busy little lives totally unaware that anyone might be watching. I watched our children on Sunday mornings for several years. Like most parents, we made sure our three children had some money in their hands whenever the collection plate came by. We wanted to teach our kids to give. It seems rather humbling that my children would wind up giving me a lesson on giving. Have you ever noticed how fast the collection plate moves.?We're very slow and deliberate with the Lord's Supper, but when we reach the collection it's amazing how fast we can move those trays. The only thing that slows down the collection plate is kids. I would drop in my check, put the plate in front of the kids and each one would drop their money in at an agonizing pace. I had to resist the urge to reach over and pry the money out of their little hands so we could get on with it. I finally asked my self one Sunday why are the kids so slow and the adults so fast? I could only come up with one answer — my kids enjoy giving more than I do. Putting that money in the plate is something that they only get to do once a week: They wanted to take their time and enjoy it. They wanted to make sure that they got the maximum pleasure out of giving that money. They weren't worried about where the money came from or where it's going or even how much it is. All they know is that they got to give some money to God! The more money we put in their hands, the more they give and the more they enjoyed it! God loves a cheerful giver!!
Tim Woodward, Smithville, TN
What Are You Looking For This Morning?
Scott Scrooge went to worship one Sunday morning. He heard the song leader miss a note during the singing and he cringed. He saw a teenager talking when everybody was supposed to be silent in prayer. He felt like the man passing the offering plate was watching to see what he put in, and that made his blood boil. He caught six grammatical errors in the sermon by actual count. As he slipped out the door during the closing song, he muttered to himself, "Never again! What a bunch of clods and hypocrites!"
Joy Jones went to worship one Sunday morning. She heard them sing an arrangement of "A Mighty Fortress" and she thrilled to the majesty of it. She was glad to see that there was a special collection being taken for a work being done in a foreign country. She especially appreciated the sermon that Sunday — it answered a question that had bothered her for a long time. She thought, as she walked out the doors of the church building, "How can anyone be here and not feel the presence of God in this place?"
Both went to the same worship service on the same Sunday morning. Each found what he/she was looking for. We have all come this Sunday looking for something and it is almost certain that we will find it. WHAT WILL YOU FIND THIS MORNING?
Every Day is "New" With God Neal Pollard We sing a new song (Ps. 40:3; Isa. 42:10; Rev. 5:9). We gain new strength (Isa. 40:31). We have a new name (Isa. 62:2; Rev. 2:17). We have a new covenant (Jer. 31:31; Heb. 8-9). We have God's compassions which are new every morning (Lam. 3:23). We have a new heart and a new spirit (Ezek. 36:26). We observe a new commandment with each other (John 13:34). We walk a new life (Rom. 6:4). We are new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17). We are part of that new man, united with all children of God (Eph. 2:15). We have put on the new self (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). We have been given a new and living way (Heb. 10:20). We are looking for new heavens and a new earth (2 Pet. 3:13). We anticipate the day when Christ makes all things new (Rev. 21:5). Some of those promises were made thousands of years ago, but they are as fresh and bright today as they have ever been. Some help us overcome the guilt of our past. Others give us strength for the present. All of them give us hope for the future. We don't need "new truth," but so many of the truths of Scripture deserve our renewed dedication and attention. As a New Year descends, try and put your arms around all the daily renewal our great God makes available to us on January 1st and every other day of the year! " Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16).