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“And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace” (Jeremiah 29:7 NKJV).

Christians are often a persecuted minority in a hostile environment. Some from ethnic minorities in parts of Asia find their titles to land challenged by majority members who want to claim it for themselves. Some authorities are sympathetic to the majority, upholding unjustified seizures. In other locations church buildings are burned or torn down, and individual Christians are threatened, harassed and sometimes physically harmed.

Even when direct persecution is not occurring, Christians in countries dominated by other religions face discrimination and other problems. For example, property may be hard to find in which they can live or worship.

One preacher in Bangladesh is about to move into a new building. The Hindu owner has a number of religious specific rules for his occupants, including a ban against eating beef (cows are holy to Hindus) or possessing it on the premises. Frequently churches have lost their leases because neighbors objected to singing or other acts of Christian worship. Sometimes the landlord is pressured by his own religious officials to evict Christians.

In such circumstances it is easy to experience anger, dislike, or even hatred for those around us. They consider us their enemy; should we not feel the same about them? How can we practice love and mercy to those who trouble us in so many ways, and who treat us unjustly?

Jeremiah ministered to a people who were in that same circumstance. The Babylonian army had taken their King and other important people into exile. In about ten more years the Babylonians would attack and destroy the land of Judah and take all of its higher classes into captivity, also robbing every treasure and valuable from the land. Babylonians were cruel idolaters, denying the true God of Israel – how could a faithful Jew not hate them?

The prophet wrote a letter to those who had been taken into captivity, instructing them to purchase property, plant crops, and arrange marriages in Babylon for their children (Jeremiah 29:1-6). They would be there for a long time. They should prepare for the long haul.

As part of their preparation they were also to adjust their attitude about Babylon. Jeremiah instructed them to “seek the peace of the city” and to pray for it. Why should they pray for their enemy? Why should they work for the benefit of their captors? The answer is given, “For in its peace you will have peace” (V 7).

Do we sometimes “cut off our noses to spite our faces?”  That is, do we say mean and hateful things about our families, or our circle of friends? About our co-workers or our churches? Do we get angry at some one or few of those within a group to which we belong and say or do something harmful to that group? When we do such things, who are we really hurting? Only the one at whom we are angry, or are we not actually harming ourselves equally?

The Jews were going to have to live in Babylon for seventy years. It was better for them to get along with the Babylonians and help secure the city. If it were harmed, both the captives and their captors would suffer. How would that benefit the Jews?

Before one burns down a house, he should ensure that he and all that is important to him are well outside.  Before we are critical of our families, our churches, or our workplace, let us consider the effect of our actions upon ourselves. Our peace is bound up within the peace of such institutions. Better for us that we work positively on their behalf.

by Michael E. Brooks

A good motto: IF I CAN, I DO

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“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10 NKJV).

While traveling I have adopted a simple motto as my standard operating procedure. When it comes to basic necessary functions (i.e., eating, drinking, sleeping, etc.) I practice the formula, “If I can, I do.” The reality is that in the kind of traveling I do one never knows when the next opportunity will arise. If there is food, and I have any level of hunger at all, I eat.  Ditto with other bodily needs. The alternative may well be prolonged periods of enforced fasting or sleeplessness.

This principle is even more appropriate when it comes to spiritual needs and opportunities. The Hebrew writer urged his readers to “Exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). If one neglects an opportunity to encourage a brother or sister, one or both of them may be tempted and fall into sin before another such opportunity arises. The word of exhortation which may have averted the fall was never spoken.

The Bible contains numerous examples of those who understood the urgency of spiritual tasks. Nehemiah refused to be distracted by his enemies who insisted that he pause in his labors to talk with them on the plain of Ono. His response was, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:3).

Jesus answered in a similar way when Herod threatened him. “Go, tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected'” (Luke 13:32). In other words he said, “I am busy with my work and cannot be distracted by others, even by the King.”

Perhaps the most general statement of this principle is that of the apostle Paul. “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16).  In all that we do we must act wisely, recognizing that our time is limited and precious.

Note these particular spiritual activities which we are admonished to perform in a timely manner (i.e., at every opportunity).

Prayer: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men” (1 Timothy 2:1).

Benevolence: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all” (Galatians 6:10). Evangelism: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19). “And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14).

Bible Study: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).  “Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine . . . Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them” (1 Timothy 4:13-15).

Good Works: “Being fruitful in every good work” (Colossians 1:10). “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Worship: “Therefore by him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Hebrews 13:15).

These represent only a few of the many opportunities to serve God that will present themselves to us in the future. Let us take advantage of each of them. “If you can, do!”

–by Michael E. Brooks

Everything I do has an effect on others

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When I was a kid, a neighbor had a large trampoline in his back yard. What fun we had in the long summer days on that canvas!

We took off our shoes, and bounced, all eight or nine of the neighborhood kids, screaming with delight. I remember one ploy in particular. Three of us would try to bounce, all together on one side of the trampoline, and watch as some unsuspecting (and light-weight) kid on the other side shot high into the air, like popcorn in a popcorn popper. The look of surprise on his face was enough to send us into gales of laughter.

Life in a Christian family is like that, too.  Everything I do has an effect on others. Unwise decisions, unethical business dealings and sharp, unkind words affect the whole church.

This is Paul’s point in I Corinthians 6-9. Listen to what he says about the fact that the church is an organism, and that our every action affects the rest of the organism.

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful” (1 Corinthians 6:12, ESV). “But take care that this right of yours does not does not somehow becoming a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9).

“Though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them” (1 Corinthians 9:19). Christians are not rugged individualists. The church is an organism, where every action and every word affects others, where a little consideration uplifts the church as a whole.

Or, to put it another way, when you bounce hard on the trampoline, someone else will shoot up like popcorn in a popcorn popper. Try to ensure that they land softly, and safely.

–by Stan Mitchell

I may be wrong, but

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It’s amazing how the things people say do not always match up with reality. Consider the person who begins a statement with the words, “I may be wrong, but…”

Usually he really means, “There’s no way that I could be wrong!”

Consider the person who says, “I hate to say I told you so.”

Of course he’s enjoying it immensely!

And what about the one who says, “I’m sorry if I have done anything to upset you.”

What he really means is, “You’re so hypersensitive.  This shouldn’t have upset you!”

There are two things which young people find hard to do in sports; winning and losing. It’s hard to lose gracefully, and it’s hard to win graciously. It is also hard in a family — whether it be a church family or a physical one — to win and lose. It’s just so hard to hide that gleam of triumph when you were right after all, the satisfied smirk when your dire prediction of “disaster” came true.

As if you’re glad to see God’s people hurt. That is sad!

One writer used to repeat a line that makes a lot of sense: “If you’re wrong, admit it,” he would declare, “and if your right, shut up!”

Paul said it this way: “Let your gentleness be evident to all” (Philippians 4:5, NIV); and elsewhere, he said, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21 ESV).

Being “right” does not justify acting unkindly towards others. You can differ with another without attempting to destroy him. The question I always ask myself when speaking to another is this: Have I equipped him, enabled him, to serve God and God’s people better?

To quote the apostle again, “Let all things be done for building up”(I Corinthians 14:26, ESV). Why should this be?

Simply put, because we always view others as being more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:1-4).

Don’t we?

–by Stan Mitchell @ www.forthright.net

I don’t love you any more

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A young man speaks to his wife of ten years:

“I don’t love you any more, and it would be
hypocritical of me to continue acting as if
I love you when I don’t. I’m leaving you for
(whoever it is he mentions). What she and I
have is real love.”

What’s fascinating about this scenario is that the one speaking has made a virtue out of an act that would normally be considered spectacularly immoral. Our man might be selfish, feckless and cruel, but please note he’s no hypocrite.

Where did we get the idea that if we felt anger or resentment toward someone we should give our wrath full vent rather than controlling our words?

Where did we get the idea that if someone did not merit our love we could simply dismiss them from our minds?

Where did we get the idea that biblical love, godly love, was something we could fall in to, or out of?

Where did we learn that we could simply walk away from God and his people and make a virtue of that action because to do otherwise would be hypocritical?

The lesson from hypocrisy is not to become a foul pagan, but to do the right things with sincerity.

The book of Proverbs frequently counsels us to control our words, not just blurt them out:

“Whoever guards his mouth preserves his
life; he who opens wide his lips comes to
ruin,” (Proverbs 13:3, ESV).

One of the fruits of the Spirit is “self-control”
(Galatians 5:23).

The problem, of course, is that we have confused the nature of biblical love with hormonal overflow. If all it took to be in a loving marriage were hormones, then thirteen-year-olds would be prime candidates for marriage. Their raging hormones seem to occur at an optimum level.

Hollywood (and our selfish hearts) has told us that love equals romance, the heart, something we fall in to, or logically fall out of. Biblical love insists that we be loving to those who do not deserve it, when we no longer feel like it, when it is not convenient.

Biblical love is a behavior, not a warm fuzzy feeling.
Love is tough. It overcomes obstacles. It does not walk out on its commitments. It is selfless. In a word, it is what Christ did for us.

Can you imagine Jesus declaring:

“I don’t feel like dying for those people
(he didn’t); they’re not worthy of my love
(we weren’t), and it would be hypocritical
of me to act as if I do feel like it.”

People walk away from church because they do not understand that true love is a commitment to others.

People leave the Lord because they do not understand that commitment is an integral part of love.

People turn their backs on marriage because they see it only in terms of how it makes them happy.

True love does not desert when something better comes along, it exhibits determination when the times get tough.

–by Stan Mitchell @ www.forthright.net

Restoring the fallen

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In more than twenty years of traveling to preach the gospel, including several treks to remote areas in the Himalayas, I have only fallen on the trail one time.  That was in the middle hills of east Nepal.

Several of us were walking to a village on a narrow path. I stumbled briefly, but had a hiking staff and was using it to recover when the Nepali following me reached out to grab my shoulder.

Unfortunately he missed, striking me on the back and causing me to fall. His intentions were good, but what he intended as help proved my undoing. Thankfully I fell onto dirt (not rocks) and was not harmed.

We all, being human, make occasional missteps. These may be of a physical nature like my fall, or of a spiritual nature. Though occasionally we may be able to steady ourselves without the help of others, frequently our stumbles are severe and outside assistance is necessary.

Not all help is of the same quality. In case of a sudden stroke or heart attack any assistance is appreciated, but if an experienced doctor is available that is far better. The assistance of trained professionals may be the difference between life and death.

So it is spiritually. When one stumbles and is in danger of losing his eternal salvation, encouragement and support from any Christian may be effective. But it is far better for all Christians to be properly prepared to give the best possible assistance to those in need.

How do we prepare to lift up the falling? The New Testament provides several qualities that are needed by those who would help others in spiritual distress. Paul stressed the need for spirituality and gentleness in restoring those who have sinned.

“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any
trespass you who are spiritual restore such
a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering
yourself lest you also be tempted”
(Galatians 6:1).

When we observe a brother or sister’s needs,let us reflect upon our own spiritual maturity and ensure that we are properly equipped to guide them. Let us also approach them with gentleness (some translations read
“meekness”) so as to encourage proper behavior, not to punish with harsh words.

Jude encouraged faithful brethren to rescue those in danger with compassion (Jude 22) and from fear (Jude 23). The mature Christian who sees another in sin must empathize with him showing compassion and understanding. He must also realize his own vulnerabilities, and have full respect for the peril being faced.

James emphasized the urgency of the task of restoring one who has gone back into sin.

“Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from
the truth, and someone turns him back, let
him know that he who turns a sinner from the
error of his way will save a soul from death
and cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-
20).

The Nepali brother whose attempt to save me actually resulted in my falling acted impulsively. In his rush to help he did not exercise sufficient care. A slightly slower response may have been more successful.

In the same way our efforts to restore sinning Christians will benefit from a brief consideration of the exact circumstances, and the best method of approach. They also will always be improved by thoughtful prayer. We should not delay our response to these needs, but proceed with proper preparation.

Michael E. Brooks @ www.forthright.net

12 hours on a bus to Katmandu

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“When Jacob saw that there was grain in
Egypt, Jacob said to his sons, ‘Why do you
look at one another?’ And he said, ‘Indeed I
have heard that there is grain in Egypt; go
down to that place and buy for us there,
that we may live and not die.’ So Joseph’s
ten brothers went down to buy grain in
Egypt” (Genesis 42:1-3).

At one seminar for preachers in Nepal I asked one of the attendees where he was from and how long it took him to travel to our program.

He replied that he was from one of the high Himalayan districts and he and his companions walked three days through the mountains to get to the road, then rode about 12 hours on a bus to Katmandu.

I was impressed by their desire for Bible knowledge that led them to such inconvenience.

Later when I traveled the same route to visit these men and their congregations I was even more impressed as I witnessed firsthand the difficulties and dangers they so willingly faced.

Each time such things happen I cannot help but ask whether most of us in developed countries would go to so much effort for the same purpose.

Long ago in the Ancient Near East there was a prolonged famine. People in all the extended region were starving.

When word came that there was a surplus of grain in Egypt they immediately made plans to go there for food.  Jacob’s sons were simply one example. They traveled a few hundred miles by donkey and on foot. Others may well have traveled much further.

This response is completely understandable, and no one questions the wisdom of it. Hungry people will do anything possible to acquire nutrition. That is reality.

Jesus played upon this truth in the beatitudes.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6).

When our desire to know and do that with is truly right equals the desire of a starving person for food, we will be happy indeed.

There are few if any limits to what most would attempt to prevent physical starvation. No journey would be too long, no obstacle so great that one would not try to surmount it. Our physical hunger is a great motivator — spurring us on constantly.

We are not one dimensional. There is a physical component to human life, and there is also a spiritual component. Basic laws and principles apply to both.

Just as there are basic needs which our bodies must acquire to survive, so our spirits demand the same.  They must be nourished just as much, if not more, than our bodies. The nourishment our spirits need is given only through the word of God. Without a constant diet of God’s truth, we weaken and die.

“For though by this time you ought to be
teachers, you need someone to teach you
again the first principles of the oracles of
God; and you have come to need milk and not
solid food” (Hebrews 5:12).

“Receive with meekness the implanted word,
which is able to save your souls” (James
1:21).

“Till I come, give attention to reading, to
exhortation, to doctrine. . . . Meditate on
these things, give yourself entirely to
them, that your progress may be evident to
all. Take heed to yourself and to the
doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing
this you will save both yourself and those
who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:13, 15-16).

How far are we willing to travel, and how much effort are we willing to expend in order to nourish our spirits? As much as we would do for a good meal when we are hungry? If not it is time for some serious self- examination.

–by Michael E. Brooks

Are there little sins and big sins?

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“But I say to you; it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the Day of Judgment than for you” (Matthew 11:22 NKJV).

Three times thus far I have traveled to the mountainous district of Dhading in north-central Nepal. Each time I have crossed passes of up to 14,000 feet elevation. Is that high? Well it depends.

Considering that I have spent most of my life at elevations well under 1,000 feet, and have lived much of it in a state whose highest point is less than 3,000 feet, one might say that 14,000 is very high. It is far higher than anywhere else I have ever been, and far higher than the altitudes to which I am accustomed.

In Nepal’s Himalayas, however, 14,000 feet is a fairly modest altitude. Most of the popular mountain trekking routes for tourists will cross passes well over 15,000 feet, and more than a few approach or exceed 20,000.
Mount Everest, of course, is just over 29,000 feet in elevation. We were still short of half-way to its peak when at our highest point.

All comparative adjectives are relative. How hot is hot water? How far is further? The answer must depend upon the frame of reference – that to which something is being compared.

Spiritually there is a natural interest in the relative seriousness of sin. Are there little sins and big sins?  Which is which? Is God more incensed over some human actions than others? Many people seem comfortable practicing some things which they have decided are not serious enough to excite God’s wrath. “He won’t really mind” about those things seems to be the attitude.

Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 11 may be used to justify this approach. The lack of faith found in Capernaum and other Galilean cities brought his wrath upon them.  Stating that it would be “more tolerable” for notorious cities like Tyre and Sidon than for these sleepy Jewish villages was equivalent to proclaiming, “You are worse even than they.”

Some take this to justify our being satisfied with a lesser state of sinfulness. If I can prove that someone else is worse than me, does that not mean that God will punish them and let me escape? It is like the person driving 10 miles over the speed limit who complains to the officer who stopped him, “Another car passed me a minute ago like I was standing still; you should have stopped him instead of me.”

The guilt of others is irrelevant to our own. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

That another’s sin may seem worse than ours does not lessen the evil and abomination of our own. Sin is not relative. God’s word is true; his commands are authoritative. We ignore or violate them at great peril, whatever others may do.

“Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).

by Michael E. Brooks

Have you read Psalm 88?

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Hope from the saddest Psalm

When we suffer, we run to Psalms and Proverbs for comfort. Wisdom Literature is a treasure that could only come from God.

However, one Psalm appears to be bereft of comfort until we look deeper into the text.

Psalm 88 is a mystery. We don’t know why it was written. Some suppose that the author was near physical death, a leper or a type of Christ. All we know for certain is that the author of Psalm 88 was completely miserable.

He was:

“full of trouble” (Psalm 88:3).
“near to the grave” (Psalm 88:3).
“counted with those who go down to the pit” (Psalm 88:4).
“has no strength” (Psalm 88:4).
“Adrift among the dead” (Psalm 88:5).
“Like the slain who lie in the grave” (Psalm 88:5).
“in the lowest pit” (Psalm 88:6).
“in darkness, in the depths” (Psalm 88:6).

Horrors attack him like a relentless wave (Psalm 88:7).

His final words illustrate his depression and loneliness (Psalm 88:18). Despite this oppression, he sees God as his salvation (Psalm 88:1) and prayer as his voice (Psalm 88:2,9).

No matter how low we go, God will be there (Hebrews 13:5). Misery cannot take us where God cannot go (Psalm 138:7-12). He is longsuffering and eager to forgive and forget (Jeremiah 31:34).

“For I am persuaded that neither death nor
life, nor angels nor principalities nor
powers, nor things present nor things to
come, nor height nor depth, nor any other
created thing, shall be able to separate us
from the love of God which is in Christ
Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

God will always shower blessings on his children (Ephesians 1:3). We cannot allow this misery to take Christ away from us. Satan will hit us hard (Job 1), but we must be resolved and firm (Hebrews 11:6; Ephesians 6:10-17).

While the psalm ends with the appearance of hopelessness, we can nonetheless be comforted by the spiritual reality that in the end, that is all mankind possesses. Only in Christ can we be saved (Romans 5:6- 11).

Walk in Christ every day and live in his light and the horrors of this world will serve only to usher us into our new homeland where such things no longer exist (Revelation 21:3-4).

Christ is our anchor in the storms of this world. Cling to him and find victory today!

–by Richard Mansel

Forgiveness and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

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“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34

Last Sunday I was away on a trip and missed the opportunity to editorialize a lesson on the subject of “forgiveness” that would have been so appropriate to the date of December 7th. As a lot of you know from personal remembrance and the rest of us know from history studies, on that date 73 years ago, the Japanese, in a Sunday morning surprise attack, bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii causing great devastation and a catastrophic loss of life and material. On Dec. 8th, 1941 President Roosevelt uttered the immortal words that have since defined that date and occasion: “A date which will live in infamy.”

But, you might be asking, “How does the bombing of Pearl Harbor have anything to do with ‘forgiveness?” and you’d not be remiss in asking such a question. I’m going to relate something to you that directly pertains to that event and also directly relates to a tremendous lesson on “love and forgiveness.”

Of course, nothing of this temporal, earthly life can compare with the lesson shown to man by Jesus Christ on the cross when he uttered the above cited words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” The people Christ forgave from the cross were killing the Son of God, the Messiah sent from God to save man from his sins. But, the lesson stemming from this terrible and tragic event of Dec. 7, 1941, which began the long and destructive war with Japan, I feel can be a powerful one.

In setting the scene for our lesson, let me give you a few more dates that will come into play. April 18, 1942; September 2, 1945; the years 1948 and 1949. You will see how these dates come into play as we go through this lesson. And now, let’s get the lesson started.

On the morning of Dec. 7th, 1941 a flying armada of 183 bombers and fighters, led by Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, attacked the various military bases at Pearl Harbor and nearby towns. As earlier mentioned, it was a devastating attack. Capt. Fuchida was the pilot who gave the now-famous radio call “Tora Tora Tora” which signaled the attack. He was also at the Battle of Midway and several other major battles of the war. Was shot down several times and also wounded several times, however he survived each time and was assigned to Japan when the war ended.

On the date of April 18, 1942, sixteen B-25 Mitchell bombers, led by LtCol. Jimmy Doolittle took off from the USS Hornet and bombed Japan. After the raid, one of the planes landed in Russia with the rest going on to China where all of them crash landed off the shore or on land. Some were captured and executed, some were saved by the Chinese and others were captured and taken to Japan as prisoners.

On Sept. 2, 1945 Japan officially surrendered to the U.S. on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Capt. Fuchida was present at the surrender signing. He had also been in Hiroshima on military duty until the day before the atomic bomb was dropped there.

After the war, Capt. Fuchida was very bitter and was determined to prove that the U.S. had mistreated Japanese prisoners of war and began interviewing the returning POW’s for this purpose. He found that he could not substantiate any mistreatment, in fact, several of them told him about how well they were treated. Especially by a young 18 year old social worker by the name of Margaret “Peggy” Covell at the POW camp. They told of how much love she showed them while they were there.

He eventually met “Peggy” Covell and learned from her that her parents had been missionaries in the Philippines and had been beheaded there by Japanese soldiers. Because of that fact he could not understand her showing such loving care towards Japanese POWs at the camp. She told him that she knew that her parents had forgiven their captors before they killed them and Capt. Fuchida said that he later determined this to be true.

Intrigued by Miss Covell’s attitude of forgiveness, Capt. Fuchida bought a Bible in 1948 and began reading it. It was also around this time that he saw an American passing out pamphlets entitled “I Was A Prisoner Of Japan” and he took one. This American was Jacob DeShazer, one of the captured crew members from the Doolittle raid and who had spent 40 months in a Japanese prison. He had returned to Japan after the war as a missionary and was teaching “forgiveness to one’s enemies” as taught by the Scriptures.

Capt. Fuchida said that he did not understand what motivated these two people, Miss Covell and Jacob DeShazer, to show the forgiveness and love towards those who had wronged them so much. Then, in 1949, he read Luke 23:34 and realized that this was the source of their love for their former enemies. Capt. Fuchida subsequently converted to Christianity from Buddhism and, because he was revered as a hero of the Japanese Empire for his exploits during the war, was reviled severely for having done so. He became a world traveling missionary himself and wrote a book entitled: “From Pearl Harbor to Calvary.”

I’m going to close with a statement made by Capt. Fuchida in 1970 that I feel speaks directly to our lesson here. Read them with me and see if you don’t agree that his words can’t be echoed by all of us when it comes to “forgiving” and understanding the source of our strength to change our lives and be able to “forgive.”

“I would give anything to retract my actions of 29 years ago at Pearl Harbor, but it is impossible. Instead, I now work at striking a deathblow to the basic hatred which infests the human heart and causes such tragedies. And that hatred cannot be uprooted without assistance from Jesus Christ. He was the only one powerful enough to change my life and inspire it with His thoughts.”

How many of us would “give anything” to “retract” some of our past actions? But, as Capt. Fuchida said, “it’s impossible.” What’s done is done. But, also like Capt. Fuchida, we can change. With the help of Jesus Christ we can change our “heart,” cleansing it from the evil and hatred that brings about those “actions” which we wished we hadn’t done and will keep us from doing them in the future. If we remove “hatred” we can “forgive.”

Ron Covey

A woman would be more charming if one could fall into her arms without falling into her hands

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Ambrose Bierce was a cynic about many things. He is said to have left American society for the “good, kind darkness” of Mexico because of the things he felt were wrong in American society.

Here are some Bierce definitions:

“Advice – the smallest current coin.”
“Bore – a person who talks when you wish him
to listen.”
“Cynic – a blackguard whose faulty vision
sees things as they are, not as they ought
to be.”
“Prejudice – a vagrant opinion without
visible means of support.”

And here’s what he said about the fairer gender. “A woman would be more charming if one could fall into her arms without falling into her hands.” Not only was he a cynic, with this view he was probably also a bachelor!

Perhaps women understand, better than most men, that a relationship is only really fulfilling when it carries a level of commitment.

Many steer away from Christianity for the same reason.  They sense that living for Christ demands more than simply “falling into” Christ’s arms, that it also requires that we “fall into” his hands.

Typically we want to hit pay dirt without getting dirty. We want the Christ of the cross without taking up the cross of Christ.

But the true rewards of Christianity are not won cheaply. One must invest energy into it by means of study and prayer. One must make lifestyle changes (the Bible calls this repentance) before the fulfillment Christ brings can be felt. Jesus put it this way:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny
himself, take up his cross, and follow me”
(Matthew 16:24, ESV).

Christ wishes to be more than charming; he seeks to save. Are you ready for an investment? Then begin to get dirty!

–by Stan Mitchell

Beware of the church that does not ask you to change

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These days people are offended when you warn them. They would rather have their feelings smoothed over than to avoid the calamity they are about to experience.

We’re offended at the doctor who suggests we need to lose weight;

We’re offended at the policeman who suggests we obey the rules of the road;

We’re offended at the politician who suggests we should sacrifice for the good of the country.

As Wilfred Owen once put it, “All the poet can do is warn.”

You can get annoyed at the weatherman, but you had better also get the umbrella if he says it’s going to rain.

The Bible, too, is full of warnings. These are not the popular sections of scripture.

“Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, ESV).

So will we become peeved and perish?

“Whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).

So will we believe and be baptized, or will we be condemned?

Consequences for sin are real. Eternal punishment is real. God’s anger towards the unrepentant is real.

Sometimes a prophet shouts from the rooftops to convey his message. Sometimes he whispers his warning, even in tears. Paul did:

“Therefore be alert, remembering that for
three years I did not cease night and day to
admonish everyone with tears” (Acts 20:31).

I remember a conversation when one speaker declared: “I like that church (the one she had just joined) because they don’t ask me to change anything in my life!”  Really?

Was she implying that she did not need to change anything? Or that she resented the implication that she needed to change? Or that God requires no change in our lives?

Beware of the church that does not ask you to change. To repent is to change; to be converted is to change; to become a Christian is to change; to grow spiritually is to change!

We need warnings; we need to change. We will probably not do the second until we hear the first.

by Stan Mitchell @ www.forthright.net

When we make value judgments based on race, ethnicity, country of origin, we’re sinning

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You take a racial or ethnic group that you don’t like and find the worst behavior among them, extrapolating that to the entire group. Holding each person responsible for that behavior, you inwardly feel superior to them.

Surely any honest Christian would agree that these attitudes are unacceptable in the eyes of God.

Thankfully, the Lord’s Church is making progress in the Black-White issue. Nevertheless, there is still an enormous amount of work to do. Sadly, another evil has moved into the hearts of Christians.

If such behavior is wrong in relation to Black and White, then why do we see and hear so many Christians exhibiting the same behavior toward people of Middle Eastern countries?

Undeniably, terrorism and war have ruined countless lives. Americans painfully remember the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 where a cadre of Muslim men killed 3,000 innocent people.

This is a volatile issue. However, we must move past emotion, allowing reason and a clear head to lead us to truth.

God hates all sin equally because it comes from Satan (John 8:44; Romans 3:23; 6:23). He loves every soul created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27; 1 John 4:7-8) and wants everyone to be saved (2 Peter 3:9).

God sees the entire universe in a spiritual sense and in his eyes, physical divisions are immaterial (Revelation 20:11-15). When we make value judgments based on race, ethnicity, country of origin, we’re sinning. Every soul stands on their own behavior and merit (Ezekiel 18:19-20).

In God’s eyes, there is truth and error, and God hates that which stands against his Word (Galatians 1:8-9; Psalm 119:104). Islam is a false doctrine and is no different than every other religion that violates God’s will.

God wants us to take the gospel to the world (Matthew 28:19-20). We should hate error, but we must separate doctrine from souls. Everyone who is in a false religion needs our prayers and God’s truth instead of hate and recrimination.

Christians must develop this nuanced approach with people in the Muslim world. We divide error from souls and treat these individuals with respect and love.  Christ is our standard, not the weaknesses of men.

Terrorism and the behavior of others doesn’t absolve Christians of racist attitudes against people of Middle Eastern descent. In the end, we won’t find justification in the eyes of God, but judgment and condemnation.

by Richard Mansel @ www.forthright.net

I was once an NBA player for the Los Angeles Lakers and won an Oscar for the movie I was in

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Gossip

As we all know, the church’s most spiritual members gossip about their brethren. If a man continually berates the church, its leadership, its efforts, that proves that he is a dedicated Christian.

And while we’re at it, everyone knows that a gossip is always very concerned about checking the facts before he speaks, and cares deeply for the well-being of those about whom he speaks.

Oh, and one more thing: I was once an NBA player for the Los Angeles Lakers and won an Oscar for the movie I was in.

The truth is that words are far more potent than we give them credit. Words build and give life — or maim, injure and take life. When our words leave our mouths (or our pens, or when we hit send) they have a life all their own.

Solomon calls a gossip a person who “lacks sense.” Yet we frequently treat him as if he is full of godly wisdom.

“Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense,
but a man of understanding remains silent.
Whoever goes about slandering reveals
secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit
keeps a thing covered” (Proverbs 11:12,13,
ESV).

We speak our harsh words flippantly, even casually, yet do not think that like a burning match, tossed carelessly out of a car window, we might cause a forest fire.

“The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood, but the mouth of the upright delivers him” (Proverbs 12:6).

Please allow me to be forthright: a gossip is neither wise nor insightful, still less loving. He is hard on others, inspires no one to live better, and has harmed God’s people over and over again.

The Christian is called upon to develop his ability to use words, to be kind and thoughtful with them.

“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul, and health to the body” (Proverbs 16:24).

It was Will Rogers who said, “The only time people dislike gossip is when the gossip is about them.”

We have all been the victim of gossip, whether face-to- face or on the internet; the hurt we felt should be motivation enough to stop gossiping.

–by Stan Mitchell

A gorgeous cross

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As I walked by three ladies huddled over a catalog, the voice of one rung out with crystal clarity, “I just love that cross! It’s gorgeous!”

As a guy, this struck me as a moment of friendship and fellowship among some Christian ladies joyfully participating in a wish list shopping experience. In the relaxed climate of friendship, someone shared her appreciation for the artistry and craftsmanship of some jewelry.

As a Christian, I wondered whether any of them heard what was said. A gorgeous cross?

Don’t misunderstand. We should be deeply grateful for whenever someone has a profound appreciation for Christ’s death. Furthermore, we ought to rejoice whenever disciples are emboldened to identify themselves with Christ crucified within the public realm.

Yet, somehow her words sounded more like a response to a marketing ploy than the torn flesh of one hanging from the cross beam for her. After all, how does “a gorgeous electric chair” or “a gorgeous noose” strike you?

Passing within ear shot to simply catch a few words, I may have completely misunderstood. My hope is that whether those ladies wear cross jewelry or not, that none of them will trivialize the price paid for their lives.

Writing to Christians, Peter wrote, “You are … a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).

My prayer is that all of us will proudly and publicly acknowledge our absolute dependence upon God’s Son, who died for us and was risen again. Let’s focus on the message, not the medium.

by Barry Newton @ www.forthright.net

ARE YOU A BREAD SQUEEZER?

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Samuel Feldman is the world’s most famous bread vandal.

He did $8,000 worth of damage to bread and cookies throughout the Yardley, Pennsylvania, area. He was going around “squeezing, smashing and poking” bags of bread and packages of cookies. Finally, one store, suspecting Feldman, put him under surveillance and caught him three times in the act. He is charged with one count of criminal mischief. Three years of aggravation and loss, caused by an idle person with a mean streak.

There is always at least one bread-squeezer in any group. The church may even sometimes harbor a few bread-squeezers, too. These are the sore tails, nitpickers, storm clouds who live to rain on others’ parades, those who seem to enjoy causing friction and irritating others, those who hold petty grudges, and general pot-stirrers. They are the busybodies (2 Thessalonians 3:11; 1 Timothy 5:13). Solomon calls one a worthless and wicked person “who spreads strife” (Proverbs 6:14; cf. 19– “who spreads strife among brothers”). Paul laments lovers of controversy because they provoke “envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction” (1 Timothy 6:4-5).

These bread-squeezers flatten a congregation’s morale, squeeze the worst side out of others, and pick and poke at everyone from the church’s leaders to any other Christian whose name passes between their cross-hairs. They taint the productivity, good will, good deeds, attitude, and joy of a congregation. They brighten entire rooms just by making an exit.

Are you a bread-squeezer? How do you reply when asked, “How are you?” How well do you speak of other Christians? Are you moody? Do you lash out at others when you feel you have been wronged? Do you give the cold shoulder? Do you not speak to others, only to complain that others are unfriendly because they don’t approach you first? Do you wear your feelings on your sleeve? Are you the type that prefers the role of critic, since there are plenty of others to be the “cheerleader”? If so, then you are a bread-squeezer!

A bread-squeezer is as needed in a congregation as Feldman was needed in Yardley! He was entirely destructive and he caused others to pay for his bad habit. Barnabus wasn’t a bread-squeezer (Acts 4:36). Neither were Judas and Silas (Acts 15:32). Certainly, Jesus wasn’t! The church is always in need of more encouraging, uplifting, positive, happy, and contented members. Don’t squeeze the bread!

–Neal Pollard

 

Let’s constantly remember to give our Heavenly Father the praise and thanks He so rightly deserves

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Sometimes a discouraging part of parenthood is dealing with ingratitude. Sure, we have trained our children to say, “please” and “thank you,” but true gratitude is something they may not really understand yet. Small children simply don’t know everything parents do for them. They don’t realize that every meal, every drink, and every piece of clothing has been paid for. They don’t realize that the home they live in, the furniture they sleep in, the heater that keeps them warm, and the air conditioner that keeps them cool have all come out of their parents pocketbooks. They don’t realize the long hours of thought, care, and prayer that have been devoted on their behalf.

I did not really come to grips with how much my parents did for me until I was married and had children of my own. When all of the bills and responsibility came pouring down on me, I quickly realized how much I had taken my parents for granted. Despite times of ungratefulness and ingratitude, parents are happy to provide for their children because of their love.

While we may remember to thank our physical parents, rarely do people stop to consider just how much the Heavenly Father has done for us. He has literally given us everything we have. Best of all, He has given us spiritual blessings, something no one else can give us, not even our parents (Ephesians 1:3).

As 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 instructs us, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Let’s remember to be grateful to our parents, but more importantly, let’s constantly remember to give our Heavenly Father the praise and thanks He so rightly deserves.

–Brett Petrillo

Storms are coming

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“Let every soul be subject to the governing
authorities. For there is no authority
except from God, and the authorities that
exist are appointed by God” (Romans 13:1
NKJV).

Southern Bangladesh was under threat of a major cyclone when a friend there emailed me to please remember all of the people there in my prayers.

He warned that communications might be interrupted, and I might not hear from him for a few days. After an anxious time, I got word that all there were safe and there was minimum damage from the storm.

His email contained a phrase one does not often hear from citizens of Bangladesh: “Government took very good pre caution and that is why it was not devastating like before (sic).”

Several times over the past few decades the national government of Bangladesh has been rated by surveying organizations as “the most corrupt government in the world.”

Bangladeshi people are very cynical about the treatment they are likely to receive and the services which are provided. Compliments to the government are rare.

That is why my friend’s comment took me a little by surprise. He essentially said, “Our government did very well.” This prompted several personal applications.

First, governments are human, but they are divinely authorized (Romans 13:1). One is serving and obeying God when he submits to the rulers of his nation.

Second, we must “give honor to whom honor is due”
(Romans 13:7, summarized). It is normal for us to be critical of the government when it acts in ways we do not approve of, or when it fails in a time of crisis.

If we do that, however, is it not right and just for us to applaud that same government when it rises to the occasion?

Almost any government, no matter how vile or corrupt, will sometimes do something right. Similarly, almost any government, no matter how wise and beneficent, will occasionally make mistakes.

A third application is the reflection that government action never replaces individual responsibility. In this case, the government provided early warning that enabled people to make adequate preparations.

But it was the individual citizen’s responsibility to make those preparations. If anyone suffered loss because preparations were not made, he had only himself to blame.

This is a point which we all should take to heart. God, through his word, has clearly given us warnings and instructions which will protect us from spiritual storms.

One who reads and obeys the Bible will find it far easier to avoid and resist temptations. When he does, he will find healing and salvation. Preparation will be made for death and judgment. Satan’s lies will be exposed and his threat diminished.

But only if the reader heeds the warnings and obeys the instructions. God’s word points the way to salvation; it does not save apart from our involvement.

Storms are coming. In this world there will always be tornadoes, hurricanes and cyclones. There will also be temptation and sin. Ultimately all will die, and face God in judgment (Hebrews 9:27). We can be prepared, but only if we listen to the warnings.

by Michael E. Brooks

Can God save me?

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Someone will say they can’t become a Christian because God won’t accept them because of their terrible sins.  God will be so appalled by their heinous nature that he will recoil and banish them forever.

We must let the world know the fallacy of this idea.  God does accept sinners. If he didn’t, no one would be saved (Romans 3:23). God developed grace for that very reason. He will never turn us away, no matter how firm a hold evil has on our lives.

The world must be told that God is eager to accept the world’s worst sinners (Matthew 21:31). Anyone, no matter what, can come to Christ for salvation.

Do we realize the people God has already accepted?

The great Apostle Paul, one of the greatest men of the Bible, was a mass murderer (Acts 9:1-2; Acts 22:3-5; Acts 26:10-11). Paul said he was the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:12-16). Yet, he was one of the greatest preachers and missionaries who ever lived.

Moses, the leader of the Jewish nation and the recipient of the Law of Moses (Exodus 20), was also a murderer (Exodus 2:11-15).

Peter was called upon to preach the first gospel sermon and the first to take the gospel to the Gentiles, despite being a violent bigot (Acts 2; Acts 10; John 18:10-11; Galatians 2:6-16).

Look who is in the lineage of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-6):

* Rahab, a harlot (Joshua 2).

* Bathsheba, who committed adultery with King David (2 Samuel 11).

* Tamar, who disguised herself as a prostitute to seduce her father-in-law (Genesis 38).

God loves us and will forgive our sins if we will humbly come to him (Hebrews 4:16). The blood of Christ is stronger than our sins (1 John 1:7). We are not saved because of our good so we cannot be denied heaven because of our bad (Ephesians 2:8-9).

If we believe Jesus is the Savior (Hebrews 11:6), will repent of our sins (Luke 13:3-5), confess Christ as Lord (Matthew 10:32) and be immersed for the remission of our sins (Acts 22:16), we can be saved no matter what kind of sins we have committed.

Finally, we can join the other forgiven sinners in heaven forever (John 14:1-6). Christ is waiting for our imperfect lives to come to him today!

Richard Mansel

Saying no may be the kindest, most loving thing we can do

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“Standing like an enemy, he has bent his bow; with his right hand, like an adversary, he has slain all who were pleasing to his eye; on the tent of the daughter of Zion, he has poured out his fury like fire”
(Lamentations 2:4 NKJV).

While traveling throughout the world I often find myself having to refuse someone’s request. It may be for medical help, to assist in evangelism, or simply a personal loan for some private business. Some of these are legitimate needs, but I have limited funds; no one can do everything. Others seem less valid and are turned down for lack of merit. Rarely is there anything “personal” in the decision.

In spite of this, any refusal will often create tension in our relationship. It is a very human tendency to take any negative as an attack. Whether it be a no to a request, or a criticism of some word or deed, we don’t like to be disagreed with. Those are the acts of enemies, not friends. At least that is the thinking of many.

The writer of Lamentations (believed by many to be the prophet Jeremiah) speaks of God “standing like an enemy” against Zion (Jerusalem). Lamentations is the prophet’s poetic mourning over the city and its people.
Writing just after Babylon’s mighty army had invaded and destroyed the nation of Judah and taken its people hostage, he acknowledges the justice of God and the righteousness of this punishment for sin.

In the next verse he repeats his description. There “The Lord is like an enemy.” That is to say, he treated Judah as an enemy might, but that does not mean he hated the nation or its people or was against them.

Rather God’s love for his chosen people, the descendants of Abraham, is attested throughout the Old Testament (Hosea 11:1; 1 Kings 10:9). Far from being an enemy, God had chosen Israel (including Judah), freed her from bondage, established a covenant with her, and put her into a fertile land. His love was manifest.

Yet many generations of the Israelites strayed from faith in God and turned to idolatry and many abominations. After centuries of appealing with them through prophets and occasional righteous kings, God proclaimed that it was enough. He judged the land and brought Babylon against it.

As Jeremiah recognized, God’s actions were justified and necessary. Their purpose was to bring Judah to repentance, allowing God to eventually reestablish them in the land and fulfill his eternal purpose for them in Jesus Christ.

Most readers of the Bible understand that while God did things apparently against his people, he never ceased to love them or call them his own. Why can we not then recognize that sometimes others may offer constructive criticism, or refuse a request from us, without being against us?

A long running campaign against drunk driving once stated, “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.”

Saying no may be the kindest, most loving thing we can do. Parents need to realize this. No child should be granted every whim or desire. Withholding some things does not indicate a lack of love.

Whichever position we are in, the giving or receiving end of negative responses, we must seek to understand the nature of true biblical love. That is, to seek and pursue the best interest of others. Sometimes that means dealing positively and generously to help in their needs. At other times however, it may mean saying no.

“Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

by Michael E. Brooks

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