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Silencing the arguments of doubters will not silence their wrath

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Anyone who shares the unadulterated Gospel will find hostility (2 Timothy 3:12). Yet, it is easier to destroy the messenger than the Message (Psalm 119:89).

We must internalize the truth that the Gospel is more powerful than the arguments of fallible humanity because it comes from the omniscient God (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Saul, the mass murderer, laid waste to the church (Acts 8:1-3), when he was forced to see his folly (Acts 9:1- 1-7; 22:4-10). Struck blind by God, he complied with Ananias who was sent to immerse him into Christ (Acts 22:16).

At some point Saul began to preach. In Acts 9:20, the text says “immediately.” However, in Galatians 1:13-24, Saul headed to Arabia to get his mind together. It’s likely that he did preach at Damascus first before going to Arabia.

If he spoke at Damascus immediately, we see the influence of the Spirit. How could Saul preach a Gospel message he knew nothing about? Clearly God was with him.

Saul went to the synagogues and confounded the scholars of the Law. He tied the Old Testament prophecies together, placing them alongside the life of Jesus, producing incontrovertible proof of Jesus’ Lordship (Acts 9:22).

We can confound our critics today as we take them through the Scriptures and knit them together into a tapestry that no man can refute. When Jesus was 12, he confounded the greatest Biblical minds in the Jerusalem temple (Luke 2:46-47).

Saul stood in Damascus and delivered undeniable truths shortly after he consented to the death of Stephen for doing the exact same thing in Jerusalem (Acts 6:10).

Silencing the arguments of doubters will not silence their wrath. We must have the courage to speak these truths to the lost no matter what happens to us. We have the courageous examples of the past, and we have the power of Christ behind us (Hebrews 13:5).

Let us never be silenced because the lost need the Word and no matter what they have been taught, the Gospel can touch their hearts, leading to repentance (Romans 5:6-11).

The sword of the Spirit cannot be defeated (Ephesians 6:17). Yet, it cannot accomplish anything if it never leaves our scabbard.

–by Richard Mansel

Honor your father and mother

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Anyone who claims to have all the answers to raising children is either a devout believer in the Easter bunny or unmarried.

I once asked some parents who had raised three faithful Christian children how they did it. The father surprised me (it shouldn’t have been a surprise) by saying: “Well, we prayed a lot.”

Every successful parent has prayed a lot, of that I can assure you. Every successful parent has also made mistakes. Of that I can assure you too.

I don’t mean to berate broken-hearted parents whose children no longer live a Christian lifestyle. I do hope to be an encouragement to those parents whose children are still young and in the home.

Teachers can tell a myriad of stories about being confronted with indignant parents of children whom they have reprimanded. It becomes quickly clear that the children’s lack of respect for authority came from their parents.

If I were asked what was the greatest mistake made by parents in our day, I would respond: A failure to discipline them.

By this I do not mean a return to the days when “whipping” kids was the parental default. Losing cell phone or Internet privileges (a fate considered by the young worse than death) might be used.

Use of the carrot as well as the stick helps: “If you don’t obey, this privilege will be taken away, if you obey, this privilege will be given”). Children in schools exhibit signs of great indulgence by their parents and little discipline.

“There was a time when we expected nothing of children but obedience,” Anatole Broyard observed, “as opposed to the present, when we expect everything of them but obedience.”

Kids need to be taught the following: Respect for their elders. Consideration for others. Keeping one’s word.
Humility. Whatever one’s hand finds to do, do it with all one’s might. Fairness and compassion for those less fortunate. Love for the church. Love for God.

Especially the last two: Parents, please speak positively of the church before your children. Please do not give them the impression the church is there for our harsh, mocking derision. I am not saying the church is beyond criticism, but please be aware of eager, impressionable ears.

And if I can put it kindly but clearly: If the Lord’s cause is not number one in our lives, it is unlikely it will be number one in their lives.

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (this is the first commandment with promise), that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land” (Ephesians 6:1-3, ESV).

–by Stan Mitchell @ www.forthright.net

Ebola and threats to America

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Threats to America: Ranked
America has been obsessive with the Ebola and ISIS pandemonium. However, one article recently ranked the current threats to America by their “actual threat value instead of the media hype.” Here is their list of the top 9 threats to America (MSN):

9. Ebola
8. Your Own Furniture – 30 Americans killed and about 40,000 injured per year.
7. ISIS
6. The Flu – Thousands die every year from the flu (typically the elderly and very young).
5. World War 3 Breaking Out in the Baltics.
4. Climate Change
3. Guns
2. Traffic Accidents – About 34,000 deaths in 2011
1. Heart Disease & Cancer – Currently the top two killers of Americans.

Agree or disagree, this list is intriguing. This list communicates a lot about our world. It speaks of current trends and ideals, realistic or otherwise. It talks of other nations’ angry and disagreements. Above all else, this list communicates the aspects our society worries about the most. In reality, most of these have a pretty low threat value. We will probably never encounter the majority of these in our lifetime, yet we continue to stress over them.

I get it. There are a lot of scary things in this world. But let’s not forget that if we are living faithfully, we have God in our corner. This is why God tells us to “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). In the absolutely worst-case scenario, a faithful Christian dies from some of these and goes to heaven (Revelation 21:4; 2:10).

We can drive ourselves crazy by worrying about everything in this life (Matthew 6:25-34). Instead of doing this, let’s abide by a good rule of thumb:
1. Stop worrying.
2. Fix what we can control (better health, safe driving, corner protectors on furniture).
3. Place everything else in God’s control.

Brett Petrillo

“A poor man who oppresses the poor is a beating rain that leaves no food” (Proverbs 28:3, ESV).

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The little boy slipped out of the backfield, and broke free into the secondary. The quarterback saw him, and threw a perfect spiral his way. The pass landed, soft as an autumn leaf, in his hands.

And he dropped the ball!

But that’s not the part I remember most. His father, a large man, and apparently an ex football player himself, rose from the stands, his face contorted in
anger: “No son of mine,” he yelled so that all could hear, “drops a pass like that.”

The little fellow hung his head in embarrassment, and returned to the huddle. But here is my question: If you were that little boy, would this type of paternal “motivation” make you more likely to catch a pass next time around, or to drop it?

I worry about the long-term effect of this kind of parenting on this boy, but ironically the short-term effect also falls short of the father’s desire. Likely, this little boy will not be in an emotional state to make the next play, either. Not only is his father not fulfilling his role as dad, but he is also not as good a coach as he thinks he is!

I expect the next pass to fall harmlessly to the ground, also.

Solomon tells of rainfall, which is normally beneficial, falling in a driving storm, and causing more harm than good. Rulers who intimidate their populations, spouses who nag their partners, and parents who constantly criticize their children will find that the effects are the opposite of the ones they desire.

Next time, try this: “Better luck next time! You can do it, I believe in you!”

by Stan Mitchell @ www.forthright.net

I’m gonna die

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It would not be accurate to say that he talked about it all of the time. But it would also not be accurate to say that he never talked about it.

Jesus talked about death–specifically, his death.

“From that time Jesus began to show to His
disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and
suffer many things from the elders and chief
priests and scribes, and be killed, and be
raised the third day” (Matthew 16:21).

He told those closest to him, “I’m gonna die.”

I think of those occasions when I learned of a friend’s or loved one’s impending death. “I can’t believe it! It can’t be so!” I was in denial. In retrospect, I realize now that my reaction was pretty normal.

Peter felt the same way.

“Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him,
saying: ‘Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You’” (Matthew 16:22).

He was in denial, too. Evidently, he didn’t want to talk about it either. Either he had different expectations for Jesus, or he couldn’t wrap his brain around Jesus in a tomb.

And yet the Lord kept bringing up that awful, scary subject (Matthew 17:23; Luke 9:22). “I’m going to die, fellas.”

So why did he keep talking about it? Why did he keep mentioning his death?

Part of the answer is that he was preparing them beforehand; He was teaching them how to work through the cross and the tomb. But part of the answer is that he was teaching them, and us by extension, how to navigate with faith through the valley of the shadow.

You see, merely talking about death didn’t kill Jesus.
The murderous crowd did that.

But talking about his death helped the twelve work through their fear, anticipatory grief and bereavement.
It helped them, whether they realized it or not at the time, to process and prepare for that awful day when Jesus would breathe his last.

This is helpful to me. I don’t know that I need to be talking about death every time that I sit down at the dinner table, but I do know there are times when I should-and must-broach the subject. especially when either I or a loved one knows that death is approaching.

* “I’m feeling scared about dying.”

* “Okay, let’s talk about it together and see what the
Bible says.”

* “It’s okay for you to go on–I don’t want to you fight
and suffer just for me.”

* “What do you want at your memorial service?”

These kinds of conversations are healthy and biblical.
Spiritually healthy people talk and communicate about any and all subjects–even death.

Jesus said, “I’m going to die, guys. Let’s talk about it.”

by Mike Benson

Homosexuals and the Catholic Church

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More and more warning signs are appearing. It really started rolling when Pope Francis was elected. Just a few months into office Pope Francis said, “When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them?” (CNN). Continuing the warning signs, a few months ago Pope Francis married 20 different couples. Some of these couples had been living together, some already had children together outside of wedlock, and some had even been married before (ABCnews). The last time a pope had married anyone was 14 years ago, back in 2000 (ibid). Since this is so rare, it makes one wonder what message the Pope is trying to send since he specifically chose these couples to marry.

Most recently, the Vatican released a document regarding a meeting they had called, “Relatio post disceptationem,” which translates as “Report After Debate.” One specific section in this debate was entitled, “Welcoming homosexual persons.” Here is a part of this section:

“Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?” (Zenit).

Thankfully, the document did not proclaim any definitive changes as of yet. It does recognize some “moral problems” with homosexuality and they would have to “compromise” on doctrine. What is alarming, though, is the fact that these questions are even being asked.

This document is essentially the starting point for more conversations to happen among Catholic leaders. Over the next year or so other discussions will take place on several topics in addition to homosexuality. Once these discussions are done, the Catholic Church will then tell people what their final word is on these topics.

This is extremely unsettling. Since when are God’s laws up for debate? Since when did God allow men to discuss and decide which commands to obey? Since when are any of us allowed to change what God has already firmly decided upon?

The answer should be clear: if God has already decided, then there is nothing to discuss or debate, no matter the topic. The reason this is the case is because the faith has already been handed down “once for all” (Jude 1:3). God has already given us “everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). God has already given us all the commands we need to be “equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We should never expect, nor look for, nor accept anything different than what Scripture has already commanded (Galatians 1:6-9).

God has always strictly warned against the changing of His commands. He gave such warnings in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 4:2), in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 4:6; Revelation 22:18-19.). At times God even struck down those who dared to go beyond His commands (Leviticus 10:1-2). Anyone who is questioning which of God’s laws to follow is walking on the edge of a treacherous cliff. Man does not get to give the final word. Not even the Pope has the privilege to give the final word on God’s commands. The final word belongs to God alone.

However, let’s not think for one second that this message is just for the Catholic Church or some other denomination. This message is for you and I. We must not change God’s laws just because our world disagrees. Our culture places extremely heavy pressure on us to change our ways. Let’s not be shaken. If God commands it, let’s stand with Him!

Brett Petrillo

Jesus our high priest

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The Perfect Priest – Hebrews 7:23-28

Do you like your doctor? I do not have a doctor here in Swartz Creek (yet). When we first moved to Kentucky, I obtained the services of a doctor. He is close to my age and I told him that I wanted to have a doctor with whom I could grow old. We do not like to change doctors.

That is something like how the Israelites were in the Old Testament when they had priests. How would you feel if you had to bring an animal sacrifice to a priest to offer for you and your sins while you knew that he himself was dishonest or immoral?

There are some examples of that. Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10). Eli’s sons (1 Samuel 2:27-36). Samuel’s sons (1 Samuel 8:3). The prophets frequently rebuked the priests of Israel.

For these and other reasons, we need a permanent, perfect, holy High Priest. He is Jesus Christ. “High priest” is mentioned 17 times in the book of Hebrews!

JESUS BECAME HUMAN TO BE PRIEST – 2:17:
In verse 9, the writer says that Jesus, being the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of God’s nature (1:3), was made a little lower than angels, that is, He became man “so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.”

JESUS IS SYMPATHETIC AS PRIEST – 4:14-16:
Verse 15 is so encouraging! We have a high priest who can sympathize with the feelings of our weaknesses! Jesus knows what it is like to be tempted! Jesus knows what it is like to have to control your thoughts! He knows what it is like to have to control your tongue. He knows what it is like to control your attitude. He knows what it is like to be tempted in all things as we are – yet without sin! No wonder Jesus can be our priest!

JESUS’ SACRIFICE IS ETERNAL – Chapter 7:
The point of chapter 7 in comparing Jesus to Melchizedek is largely to show that Jesus is eternal. Melchizedek is actually the very first man referred to as a priest in the Old Testament. Verse 3 says that, as far as the historical record is concerned, he had no father, no mother, no genealogy. No record of his birth, no record of his death. God put him into the historical record to serve as a pattern for the coming of the high priest, who would be a priest forever.

So, in 7:23-28, the Hebrew writer summarizes what he had been saying. The former priests, under the Law of Moses, had to be appointed often because they were prevented by death from continuing in their service. I lost my medical doctor when I moved to Michigan. But I did not lose my High Priest!

JESUS OFFERED THE PERMANENT SACRIFICE – HIMSELF – 9:11-14:
Chapters 8-10 are a trilogy on the sacrifice of Christ. The writer shows that animal sacrifices could never take away sins. Because of that, the Law of Moses needed to be done away. A new covenant had to be inaugurated based, not on the death of animals, but on the death of the High Priest Himself. “All things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (9:22).

HOW DO WE RESPOND TO THIS HIGH PRIEST?
We need to hear Him – Hebrews 2:1
We believe Him – Hebrews 4:3
We confess Him – Hebrews 3:1
We obey Him – Hebrews 5:9
We repent of our sins – Hebrews 6:6
We must be washed with pure water – Hebrews 10:22
We must remain faithful unto death – Hebrews 3:6

–Paul Holland

Adverse consequences of bullying

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Over the past several years, the adverse consequences
of bullying have been brought to light. Statistics
based primarily on survey data, which have typically
found that at any given time between 20 and 30 percent
of students are involved in bullying, either as
perpetrators, victims or both.

According to researchers this action is as harmful to
the perpetrator as to the victim. For the perpetrator
there can be devastating consequences such as school
discipline, arrest, legal problems, violent
retaliation, and the haunting memory of their actions.

One man noted:

   "I still remember the names and faces of
   kids I picked on, and I'm troubled today
   with their memory and the haunting questions
   of whatever happened to them."

Victims face a multiplicity of harmful effects:

physical
mental injuries,
anxiety,
depression,
headaches,
abdominal pain
fatigue.
Suicide
violence

These harmful actions affect both the perpetrator and
the victim throughout their lives.

The action of bullying is no stranger to the inspired
text. There are examples of how people suffered, and
how far bullying could go.

Consider:

the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4,
the story of the flood in Genesis 6-9,
the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19,
the story of Isaac and Ishmael in Genesis 21,
the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25-28,
the story of Joseph and his brothers from 
    Genesis 45-50,
the story of Exodus 1-15,
the story of Gideon,
the story of the sons of Ba’al in 
    Judges 17-21,
and several of the stories of the kings in 
    Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, etc.;

In the New Testament, Paul condemns such things as
"...enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger,
disputes, dissensions, factions, envying" (Galatians
5:20-21), which are characteristic of bullying.

In essence, individuals, "who practice such things will
not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:21).

Bullying is not only destructive to individuals
physically and mentally, but also spiritually. Even
though such actions are promoted as acceptable in our
society one should really consider the outcome of
involving themselves in such.

Exhibiting Christian love would certainly be better and
truly pleasing to God than tormenting the innocent.

What kind of thinker are you?

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There are three basic kinds of thinking.

Egocentric thinking puts our own needs above everyone else’s.

Sociocentric thinking means that we put the group’s needs above our own.

Rational thinking strives to develop a realistic, critical sense of the world.

As babies, we are egocentric and frame the entire world in terms of our own desires. Everyone has to serve us, or we become angry. At some point as children we develop an intense need to be accepted by our peer group.

Few people break from the pack and enter into the third realm. Critical thinking requires higher thought, and we must be able to see the world outside of our own needs. We develop the courage to see ourselves critically.

The critical thinker desires to see themselves as others do so they can, to some degree, examine themselves dispassionately.

As a Christian, we consider these three forms of thinking and find a wealth of insight.

When we are immersed into Christ (Acts 2:38; 22:16), we are added to the body of Christ (Acts 2:47; Ephesians 1:22-23). Once we are in Christ (Galatians 3:27; Romans 6:3-4), we are transformed by the gospel so that Christ becomes the Lord of our life (Romans 12:1-2).

His Word becomes our domain (John 1:1-5,14), and we must immerse ourselves in it.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light
to my path. I have sworn and confirmed that
I will keep your righteous judgments” (Psalm
119:105-106, NKJV).

In Christ, we develop a spiritual mindset so that we make our decisions based on God’s Word (Romans 8:1-6; John 14:15; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). We remain within that Word as a perpetual boundary (Colossians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 4:6).

The three forms of thinking above are fleshly to the extent that they do not include God’s voice. As Christians that must be our only realm of thought.

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in
Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God,
did not consider it robbery to be equal with
God, but made himself of no reputation,
taking the form of a servant and coming in
the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5-7).

Once we develop a spiritual mindset, we can think critically about ourselves and the world. While we must put others above ourselves, that must always be secondary to Christ (Philippians 2:4,16).

Satan establishes a form of truth that resists Biblical truth and uses his human facilitators to force all of us to accept this new standard.

Without Christ, Satan is working very hard at Groupthink where we put the good of the group above everything else. This is how Satan will bring society inline with his beliefs. Groupthink pares down human language and ideas until they are subsumed into what the group [Satan] desires.

Groupthink, however, is a misnomer, because it is not based on pure democracy but a dictatorial system where peer pressure forces their will on people by violence, if necessary. Except instead of an evil government, Satan is the dark power behind the veil.

When Christians become more afraid of societal standards than we are of God’s, we begin to accept abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia and all kinds of depravity.

In order to save the world, we must remain focused on God-thinking and teach others to develop this mindset before it’s too late. Corrupt patterns of thought will doom the world, and we must avoid that certain death so we can save some.

–by Richard Mansel

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find

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“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Luke 11:9-10 NKJV).

We had walked from Katithok to Dordor in the middle hills of Nepal to have a Bible Study at the home of a family there. When the study was completed the mother of the lady in whose home we had studied asked us to come with her to her house. It was a 15 to 20 minute walk around the village and through some terraced crop land to her home.

When we arrived it was obvious why she wanted us to visit. She is obviously very poor, and quite elderly, so unable to work. Her home was one room, with thatched roof well past needing to be replaced and walls of sticks held together with a few rickety poles of framing. She pointed out all of the problems and asked us to help her improve her house.

As humans, we have limited resources, and therefore are often unable to meet all the needs with which we are confronted. Jesus pointed out that even so, a good father or neighbor will often inconvenience himself to give to his children or to friends who request something from him (Luke 11:5-8; 11-13). The desire to give to those in need is a natural response, even to selfish humans.

God on the other hand has unlimited resources plus an infinite love and generosity.

“For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. . . . The world is mine and all its fullness” (Psalm 50:10, 12).

“Now to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).

God is the giver of all good things, the source of light (1 John 1:5), life (Genesis 2:7; 2 Peter 1:3), mercy (Titus 2:11; 3:4-5), material necessities (Matthew 6:31-33; Acts 14:17) and all spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3).
Regrettably, none of us can provide for every need of the poor or helpless in this earth. However, that does not relieve us from the obligation to help when we can.

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

“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

As Christians, we are “to be ready for every good work” (Titus 3:1). We must give as we can, sharing the blessings which God has so liberally bestowed upon us. By doing so we not only obey Jesus’ commands, but we give testimony to the love and glory of God.

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

There are times (frequently) when each of us – even the wealthiest – have needs which cannot be satisfied by man alone. At all such times we should remember our Father’s richness and love and ask him for help. As James wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).
We have learned to be dependent upon government, charities, and even our family and friends. Their ability and willingness to help is limited at best. Let us not forget that we have an all-powerful and loving Father whose resources never cease, and who will never tire of helping his children. “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

by Michael Brooks

Whippin’ sermons

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Over 30+ years of ministry, I’ve occasionally heard various church members say, “Preacher, I think we need a sermon on_____________________.”

The subject suggestions have been as diverse as those who offered them. Frequently, but not always, the proposals leaned towards moral issues like modesty, sex, or beverage alcohol.

Sometimes they gravitated more towards specific doctrinal issues like marriage and divorce, giving, or the oneness of the church.

I’ve always been curious as to what really prompts people to offer sermon suggestions in the first place.

Sometimes I’ve been courageous enough to inquire as to why they think a particular message needs to be addressed.

What I’ve discovered from listening is that some brethren request specific sermons because they’ve got a burr in their saddle.

They’re aggravated with a fellow church member who doesn’t meet their own personal–dare I say it–Pharisaic expectations, and so sermon suggestions are tendered as a means of fixing folks. “So-and-so is doing this…and so you need to preach a good sermon on this”–whatever this may be.

I call these, “whippin’ sermons.” Whippin’ sermons are where I’m urged to preach on pet subjects and verbally whip a church member or members into submission.

In essence, Mike needs to tell off weak members via the pulpit in one glorious fire and brimstone message; he needs to correct folks and one whippin’ sermon will do the trick.

I’ve never been able to find quick-fix, duct-tape, whippin’ sermons in the Bible. I do find occasions where some preached with improper motives (cf.
Philippians 1:15-16), but even they didn’t reap immediate, instantaneous results.

What I do find in the Scriptures is where prophets and preachers did a lot of seed planting (Luke 8:4-8; 11- 15). They scattered the seed–Word, cultivated it, fertilized it, and watered it in anticipation of an eventual God-given harvest (1 Corinthians 3:6).

Strange as it may sound, it is not a preacher’s job to fix anybody. Correct (2 Timothy 3:16-4:3), yes; fix, no. It’s not his job to tomahawk members of the body of Christ into compliance.

It is his God-given responsibility is to scatter the precious Word–seed on different soils and then let God do his part (Isaiah 55:10-11).

A preacher knows the seed is good. He knows some soil is good. He also knows some soil will soften over time given the right conditions.

Have you ever heard of a person who listened to just one whippin’ sermon and obeyed in totality?

More likely what you’ve witnessed is that over time, with repetitive, consistent, loving seed-planting and instruction, as well as godly influence and patience (1 Peter 3:1-4), a person eventually came to the truth and made a successive, gradual change.

If either a preacher or a farmer forces seed on blacktop, you can be certain there won’t be any growth or legitimate conversion. That’s true in the field as well as in the pew.

Do I covet sermon suggestions? Absolutely! Do I intend to preach one-hit wonders so that somebody can vicariously get at somebody else in the assembly? Not for a minute.

Give that a thought the next time you find yourself saying, “Preacher, I think we need a sermon on____________________.” The person who may really need a whippin’ won’t be the “weak” brother, but you.

by Mike Benson

ISIS and Ebola

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If one were to ask what ISIS and Ebola have in common it seems that both are deadly, strike fear into those who know about them, and their reputation is well known.  It’s an unseemly but congruent parallel with how God worked in the OT to give the children of Israel victory over wicked nations.

We can first understand the message Moses gave to Israel about why God was going to give them victory over nations mightier than they; “Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thine heart, dost thou go to possess their land: but for the wickedness of these nations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee, and that he may perform the word which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Deut 9:5). And so it was when the spies came to Jericho, Rahab said, “…I know that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed (Jos 2:9-10).

When you read about the extent of God’s punishment for the nations that He destroyed, it demonstrates just how little we understand of God’s work and way.  His message to Saul, “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” (1Sam 15:3). It’s hard to understand the reason behind this direction but we know it was for His purposes and when Saul disobeyed, he was taken from power.

But there were also terrible diseases that God used for destruction and in fact, it’s interesting He told Israel that He would protect them, “And the LORD will take away from thee all sickness, and will put none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which thou knowest, upon thee; but will lay them upon all them that hate thee” (Deut 7:15). And later He promised to punish them with disease if they did not observe His commands, “Then the LORD will make thy plagues wonderful, and the plagues of thy seed, even great plagues, and of long continuance, and sore sicknesses, and of long continuance. Moreover he will bring upon thee all the diseases of Egypt, which thou wast afraid of; and they shall cleave unto thee. Also every sickness, and every plague, which is not written in the book of this law, them will the LORD bring upon thee, until thou be destroyed” (Deut 28:59).

When you read messages from God you’ll see the direction to “fear not”; the only exception being to fear Him. Samuel’s admonition would serve us well today, “Only fear the LORD, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things he hath done for you” (1Sam 12:24). Jesus commanded us to do the same, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:2). I don’t know how God is working all things today, but we should know that He rules in the kingdoms of men (Dan 4:32-35), that Christ has all power in Heaven and earth (Mtt 28:18), and that all things are working for good to those who love God (Rom 8:28).  Let’s be guided by faith and fear of God, rather than of man or disease.

–Matthew Johnson

 

choosing righteousness over unrighteousness

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Telling people they are rejecting Jesus will provoke an angry outburst and an accusation of judging. Their emotionally charged response highlights an important problem in Christianity.

Countless people are rejecting Jesus and they have no idea they are guilty of such a heinous act. All they know is that claiming to be a Christian is sufficient for them. It is immaterial that their claims have nothing to do with their lifestyles and morality.

It comforts us to have control over everything in our world. Making up our own rules is intoxicating. As a result, the world is full of people who claim they are spiritual but not religious, so they can design their own spirituality.

They desire the feeling without any change in their lives. They will not cede control of their lives to anyone, including God. They want God to be their servant, ready to clean up their messes. They will put their fleshly preferences and peers over their souls and when time allows, and when the mood strikes, they will recall God for a few blessings.

God is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9) and we must remember that God is love (1 John 4:8).
However, we also have the responsibility to choose righteousness over unrighteousness (Deuteronomy 30:15- 19; Ezekiel 18:19-23).

If we see things from God’s perspective, we will be healthier spiritually. God established the ground rules of freewill, conditions that we love, so we must accept the boundaries God has given us.

In John 12:26, Jesus tells us that following and serving him are one and the same. If we serve Jesus, we will be honored by God and glorify Christ (John 12:26; Ephesians 3:20-21).

If we walk with Christ, we will walk in the light (John 12:35; John 8:12; 1 John 1:5). In John 1:1-5,14 we find that Jesus is the Word, the very thoughts and expressions of God. To follow the Word is to walk in the light, while a dismissal of the Word leads us to darkness. Jesus cannot be separated from the Word.

“I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness” (John 12:46, NKJV).

We know that Jesus will be the judge at the judgment day (2 Timothy 4:1, Romans 2:15). Yet, John 12:47 says that Jesus will not judge us. The next verse clarifies when Jesus says, “the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).

We accept Jesus by accepting his Word. Conversely, rejecting the Word is to reject the Christ. Our claims, titles, beliefs and rationalizations will have no effect on our eternal destiny.

The ultimate decision will be made by two facts:

One, are we in Christ, by God’s standards (Acts 2:38,47; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27). If we are in Christ, we will not miss heaven (Romans 8:1).

Second, our works, meaning our obedience, are an inescapable aspect of our salvation (Matthew 16:27; Revelation 20:12).

We cannot hope to enter heaven without the grace of God, no matter how perfectly we have lived (Ephesians 2:8-9; Luke 17:10). However, our works, meaning our daily walk in Christ, is evidence of our allegiance (James 2:24).

We cannot separate Jesus from the Word. It is blasphemous to even try. We must live the Word if we will follow the Savior. Submission, not superiority is the spiritual order of the day.

by Richard Mansel

Luke says Jesus sobbed – He got all torn up.

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Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt (Luke 19:28-36).
Some folks were giddy with excitement while others were furious (Luke 19:37-39).

Part of the crowd welcomed Christ as their earthly sovereign whom they thought had come to establish the Davidic kingdom and overthrow the Roman empire.

A smaller segment of the people experienced anger towards Jesus because they interpreted his ride into the city as rank arrogance and blasphemy. Somewhere between all of this praise and verbal aggression, Jesus cried.

“Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it”
(Luke 19:41). It’s interesting to note that according to the Greek, the word “wept” in verse Luke 19:41 is different from the word used of Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb.

The word in John 11:35, means “to weep silently.” But the word here in Luke 19, refers to laments and sobs.
It’s the same word employed in Luke 8:52, when folks were upset over the death of Jarius’ daughter.

Think about it for just a moment. Jesus didn’t just weep and cry over Jerusalem. He sobbed; He got all torn up.

God has:

chosen
nurtured
loved
forgiven
chastened
protected
and restored her.

And yet she rejected and killed the prophets–and would soon crucify the Son of God. And just as she was judged by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., she would again be judged, in A.D. 70, by the Romans.

Josephus claims that 1,100,000 people were killed during the siege of Jerusalem, and that 97,000 were captured and enslaved. H.H. Milman, in The History of the Jews, notes:

“The slaughter within was even more dreadful
than the spectacle from without. Men and
women, old and young, insurgents and
priests, those who fought and those who
entreated mercy, were hewn down in
indiscriminate carnage. The number of the
slain exceeded that of the slayers. The
legionaries had to clamber over heaps of
dead to carry on the work of extermination.”

The sad thing about it all was that Jerusalem refused to see what was going to happen to her again (Luke 19:43-44; Matthew 24:2).

She was blind to her own iniquities and inevitable doom. But Jesus wasn’t; He could see her sins and deficiencies all too well. He knew her streets would run red with blood. And that got him “all torn up.” He didn’t just weep, he sobbed.

May I ask a personal question, dear reader?

What gets you all torn up?

As you contemplate the spiritual plight of millions who are lost in sin and headed for eternity in a devil’s hell (Matthew 7:13-14; Matthew 7:21-23), what gets you all torn up?

As you think about your own deliberate sins and how they separate you from the pardon of Jehovah (Hebrews 10:26-31), what gets you all torn up?

As you ponder loved ones who embrace religious error and division (1 Corinthians 1:10-13; 1 Corinthians 3:1- 4), what gets you all torn up?

As you recall the awful price paid on Calvary’s mount on your behalf (2 Corinthians 5:21), what gets you all torn up?

Luke says that Jesus sobbed. He got all torn up.

Think about it.

–by Mike Benson

Am I my brother’s keeper?

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It was Cain, of course, who asked this question.

“The Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel, your brother?’
He said, ‘I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?'”
(Genesis 4:9).

It was a rhetorical question. Cain meant, “Of course I’m not responsible for my brother’s welfare!” Seldom in history has anyone been more wrong. “Yes Cain, you are your brother’s keeper.”

So can I move the apostrophe over for a moment? “Am I my brother’s keeper” (see the punctuation mark between the “r” and the “s”?) Put it after the “s.” Am I my brothers’ keeper? Because, beloved, we are. We are to look after all our brothers and sisters.

They say that in churches 20% of the people do 80% of the work. That means that 8 out of 10 church members basically sit in pews and do nothing for God’s kingdom.
Their inaction becomes a lifetime habit.

I urge you to begin a lifetime habit of service to your local congregation. Mentor little children! Visit elderly saints! Teach Bible classes! Volunteer to help!

Get to know, not just friends your own age, but those from different demographic groups. Greet visitors before you greet your friends. The latter (that is, your friends) will still be there after you’ve met the newcomer.

Your local congregation provides you with Biblical preaching, rejoices when you rejoice, weeps with you when you weep, provides a pool of Christian friends, mentors, and offers opportunities to serve.

As author and preacher Dan Winkler put it:

“The church ‘somewhere’ cannot weep with us when we weep,’ cannot serve us when we are in need, cannot provide guidance when you’re lost. Every Christian should be a part of a local church. “Floating members make sinking churches!”/1

Every Christian should feel the responsibility for his congregation, its moral and spiritual health, its unity, its faithfulness to God and his word! Frequently Christians want all the blessings of a church without the responsibilities of a church.

So I have just one question for you. Where is your brother (or sister)? You are their keeper!

–by Stan Mitchell

God’s ever-present help

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“Be diligent to come to me quickly; for
Demas has forsaken me, having loved this
present world, and has departed for
Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:9-10 NKJV).

Occasionally over the years of travel I have found myself unexpectedly alone in strange places. I have known of others also who were in similar circumstance, by themselves with limited knowledge and resources for dealing with unfamiliar situations.

Once I had to leave a companion behind at a foreign airport, because the correct papers for flying back into the United States had not been filed.

On another occasion a friend spent more than a week trying to deal with customs issues. More commonly I have traveled alone spending several days en route without company.

It would not be difficult, nor perhaps inappropriate, to read a little human despair or discouragement into the words of Paul as he described his lonely state.
Imprisoned in Rome, under sentence of death, left by his most trusted associates, he pled with Timothy to hurry to him.

Yes, Luke was there, so he was not totally abandoned, but even late in his life Paul had goals yet to accomplish and time was running short. He needed help–not just human companionship, but fellow laborers who could assist him in his important work. Hence his appeal to Timothy.

It is often observed that humans are social creatures.
From creation it has not been good for us to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Even Jesus could express the feeling of abandonment.

His most poignant words on the cross were “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). However one may interpret the meaning and purpose of that cry, it serves to illustrate the human need for help.

Thankfully, help is assured to all who are in Christ.

“For where two or three are gathered
together in my name, I am there in the midst
of them” (Matthew 18:20).

“If God is for us, who can be against us”
(Romans 8:31)?

God’s help is certain, and he will not abandon us. Nothing can separate us from his love in Christ (Romans 8:38-39). We cannot go anywhere that he does not see and hear us (Psalm 139:7-12).

We cannot ask for anything which he is not able to provide (Ephesians 3:20).

As vital and true as it is that we trust in God’s ever- present help, this does not diminish the value and need of human assistance as well. At least part of the reason for the establishment of the Church is to provide fellowship in work, worship, and all of the challenges of life.

Christians are not asked to resist Satan alone. Nor are we expected to do the work of Christ by ourselves. Help is provided. Paul described the process by which the Church can succeed:

“But, speaking the truth in love, may grow
up in all things into Him who is the head–
Christ–from whom the whole body, joined
and knit together by what every joint
supplies, according to the effective working
by which every part does its share, causes
growth of the body for the edifying of
itself in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).

The church, and every member within it, is brought to maturity and completion by mutual effort. What each one does helps support and encourage every other person.
None are insignificant.

by Michael E. Brooks

Does truth exist?

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“That,” someone says sweetly, “is just your interpretation of scripture. There are,” they add knowingly, “many other interpretations.”

“You know,” someone else says during a religious discussion, “that’s not what that passage means to me.”

There is in our society today only one absolute truth:
There is no absolute truth! There was a time when we admired a man for standing on conviction, expressing his beliefs even if they were unpopular. Today we call such a man a bigot.

“These truths we hold, well, uh, to be unreliable …”

You know, it’s funny, when we talk about morals and doctrine, there seem to be no truths that we can know for certain, but that’s not the way we behave in any other walk of life!

When a policeman pulls you over for speeding, you were either guilty of speeding, or you were not. It’s possible of course that the policeman’s mechanism was faulty. But in that case the truth is that you were not speeding.

Nashville is either the capital of Tennessee or it is not. You might wish it were not — you might prefer that the capital be Pinson. You’re allowed to have your opinion about which town should be the capital, but until some change is made, your opinion does not change the truth one whit. The state capital is still the Music City.

Truth frees us. “You shall know the truth,” Jesus declares, “and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32).

“Sanctify them by the truth,” he declares elsewhere, “your word is truth” (John 17:17).

Without truth, there are a lot of people still in bondage. There are a lot of people who have not been sanctified.

I’m sorry — that’s the truth!

by Stan Mitchell

What will we do with scripture?

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When would you be willing to abandon your intended goal in order to allow scripture to carry you on its ebb and flow? The Christian knee-jerk response is predictable.
I’m always ready to follow scripture! Really?

Whether preacher, non-Christian or Christian, we all face this question in practical ways.

Consider the plight of the preacher who wants his sermon to bless the congregation with a particular message. He selects a Biblical text. However, as he digs into that passage of scripture he confronts an unwelcome discovery.

Perhaps the biblical message does not fit his theological outlook. Perhaps the message within this portion of scripture is running in a slightly different direction than where he wants to go.

Will he force a parable or snippet from Paul to bend his knee to his will and great ideas? Or will he cut anchor to allow the deep current of scripture to carry him where it wants to go?

Think this is a hypothetical situation? As one who has stood before a congregation on a weekly basis, it is not.

In fact, this question of whether to follow scripture or insist upon what we deem is good, confronts anyone who listens to God’s word.

Whether someone is a follower of Christ or not, each of us will discover at one time or another an uncomfortable message within God’s Word. Perhaps the clear biblical message about lifestyles or salvation does not fit into what we value and like.

Maybe our Christian outlook is so shaped by obedience that we feel compelled to reign in what it teaches about grace. Or perhaps we are so stepped in grace, that we desire to pummel into submission any voice about obedience within the text.

What will we do with scripture?

From within Ecclesiastes we hear that there is an appropriate time for every type of activity (Ecclesiastes 3:1). There is a time to rip and a time to sew (Ecclesiastes 3:7).

When we encounter that time when what we want the text to proclaim differs from its actual voice, it is the time to tear ourselves away from what we might be confident is a great idea in order to hear God’s message.

I have lost track of how many times the lesson I have presented was not the sermon I had set out to preach. I guess that is good. Hopefully, the congregation heard God’s word and not my thinking.

–by Barry Newton @ www.forthright.net

The chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death

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“Let’s Kill Lazarus…”

It is impossible to read the sentence without some incredulity. John records, “…The chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death…” (John 12:10).

Think about that word–”priests.” It’s plural.

One spiritual leader didn’t scheme to murder Lazarus; many spiritual leaders schemed to murder Lazarus. And these guys were supposed to be the religious right–the moral elite of ancient Jewish society!

The ESV says, “…The chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well.” “As well…” In truth, they didn’t want to murder just one man, but two. They wanted to kill Jesus (cf. 11:53) and Lazarus.

“Why?” you may ask. Re-read John 12:9-11. A great many Jews believed in Jesus. And why did a great many believe in Jesus? Because Lazarus had been raised from the dead.

Remember that the Sadducees taught that there was no resurrection (cf. Matt. 22:23-28). Unfortunately for them, Lazarus illustrated that their dogma was at obvious variance with the Biblical data. He was a living, breathing entity despite the fact that he had been entombed for four days (11:39).

Lazarus was concrete evidence to the contrary; he was the doctrinal deathblow to their misguided, man-made tradition.

It was impossible for the chief priests to argue with or against him. Any sane, thoughtful, sincere individual wouldn’t even attempt to debate with Lazarus. He was absolute proof that Jesus could perform miracles. He was the undeniable corroboration of the divinity of Christ (cf. John 20:30-31).

And that’s why the chief priests wanted to kill Lazarus and Jesus.

A few thoughts rattle around in my neocortex as I ponder this curious incident:

If Jesus could resurrect a dead man, why did the chief priests entertain the idea of killing Lazarus in the first place? Couldn’t Jesus resurrect Lazarus again, if he so desired? What this teaches me is that you can’t expect coherent thinking and behavior from people who insist on upholding their agenda over truth. If Jesus could, and obviously did, bring a dead man back to life–as Jesus had also done on previous occasions–e.g., the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17) and the daughter of Jairus (Luke 8:40-56)–wouldn’t that serve as affirmation of his divine power? Had the chief priests really thought about the futility of trifling with the miracle Man of God? The chief priests in John’s story remind me of a critical point: unbelief is not due to a lack of evidence; unbelief is due to a lack of conviction. People don’t reject the truth because there are no facts; they reject the truth despite the facts.

Even when there is incontrovertible testimony, some folks simply choose not to believe. If their hearts are hard and their motives are impure, you can expect them to be antagonist towards truth and to engage in sinful, destructive behavior.

On the other hand, if their hearts are soft and their motives are pure, you can expect them to investigate, believe in, and follow the Lord.

Was the world created in six literal days? Is there life beyond this transient walk? Is immersion necessary in order to be saved from sin? Is it possible to live in adultery? Is homosexual behavior sinful? It depends.  It depends on whether or not a person wants the truth and is willing to follow it to its inevitable conclusion.

The chief priests weren’t willing to do that. Dear reader, are you (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:10)?

–by Mike Benson

Christians and non-Christians

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“I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord” (Philippians 4:2 NKJV).

“Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak
the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).

It is generally accepted that there is a distinctive difference between the eastern and western mind.

Certainly there are no significant organic differences, nor is that is what is meant by the distinction. Rather the observation has to do with differences in the way people of different cultures think, reason, and learn.

Processes of thought which seem perfectly logical and undisputable in one culture may make little or no sense to people of another. A given set of facts may lead two groups to completely differing conclusions.

Peter noted that Christians are a distinctive culture with different rules of logic and different goals and attitudes.

“In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you” (1 Peter 4:4).

In other words, unbelievers just don’t understand Christians.

It is in part that change of thinking which results from becoming a Christian.

“If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

We are Christians because we have learned Christ and therefore desire to be like him. We continue to change our thinking (i.e., renew our mind) in order to continue to apply those things which we have learned, that we may become even more like him.

This idea of a new mind–a different way of thinking–is given an additional application in Scripture. Since Jesus taught one truth (John 8:32; 17:17), its effect on everyone should be the same. All Christian’s minds have been renewed from the same source, modified for the same purpose.

That means simply that Christians should think alike.
The distinction between Christian thought and worldly thought is just one side of the story. The other is the like-mindedness that each Christian is to share with all others.

This does not apply only to doctrinal interpretations (though it certainly does apply to those). It also means that two quarreling sisters in Christ should settle their dispute amicably and get along in peace and love (Philippians 4:2).

It means that rival factions in a congregation must maintain unity and come to an agreement, not only on matters of faith, but also those of judgment (1 Corinthians 1:10).

How can humans come to such similarity of thinking? The New Testament gives us the answer:

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

That is precisely what the world (whether east or west) will not do. Only if we truly submit to Jesus Christ and his love can we achieve this likeness of mind.

by Michael E. Brooks
d.

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