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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

The Bible and frustration

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“Now I do not want you to be unaware,
brethren, that I often planned to come to
you (but was hindered until now), that I
might have some fruit among you also, just
as among the other Gentiles” (Romans 1:13
NKJV).

“Therefore we wanted to come to you — even
I, Paul, time and again–but Satan hindered
us” (1 Thessalonians 2:18).

“Therefore when I was planning this, did I
do it lightly? Or the things I plan, do I
plan according to the flesh, that with me
there should be Yes, Yes, and No, No?” (2
Corinthians 1:17).

The noun “frustration” does not appear in the New King James Version of the Bible. Its verb form occurs 4 times:

Once referring to the actions of Israel’s enemies to prevent the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 4:5)

Twice describing God’s defeating the intents of the unrighteous (Job 5:12; Isaiah 44:25)

Once of the Jewish trio defeating the effort of Nebuchadnezzar to kill them for refusing to bow down before his image (Daniel 3:28).

It is apparent however that righteous people in Biblical times faced frustration. Paul’s missionary plans, made with the best of intentions, were not always carried out, usually through no fault of his own.

Jesus himself wept with apparent frustration over the hard hearts of the residents of Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37-38).

This has been a frustrating period for me personally.
Due to civil unrest and violence in Bangladesh I was strongly urged to cancel my spring visit there this year. I spent extra time in Nepal, and had a very productive period there, but it too was interrupted several times by strikes and other issues.

Such events are part of life, and are not unique to any individual or occupation. No one looks forward to them.  Sometimes they disrupt our plans and cause genuine difficulties.

How should we as Christians react? The temptation is to be irritated or even angry. That is hardly productive, however. There is a better way.

First we must understand the nature of these events, from God’s perspective. They are included as part of the “tribulations” (Romans 5:3), which seem to trouble us, but may be turned into occasions of joy. By overcoming the impulse towards anger and defeatism we develop patience and character, which are blessings which God desires for us.

Secondly, we may find that hindrances which prevent one planned activity provide opportunities for even better things. This was Paul’s experience on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:6-10).

He intended first to preach in Asia, then in Bithynia, but was not permitted to do either. The result was that he went to Europe (Macedonia and Achaia) and established the first churches of record on that continent.

Finally, we recognize that our patient acceptance of frustration stands as an example to others. It is not Christ-like to “rant and rave” over inconveniences. Far better that we should show patience with a calm and peaceful demeanor, overcoming discouragement.

No one enjoys disruptions. But even these events may be turned into blessings, when handled as God intends.

–by Michael E. Brooks @ www.forthright.net

What will we leave our children?

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Parenting becomes more important to me as I get older.
I want my daughters to find happiness and good health in life. While I am unable to leave them wealth, there are four things that I, and all Christian parents, can leave behind for our children.

1. To be in Christ.

There is nothing more important than being in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). We must teach them by word and deed what it means to be a child of God and to develop their own faith and beliefs (Hebrews 11:6; Philippians 2:12).

2. To shun materialism.

They must learn simplicity and that true wealth does not come in material things. Their god should never be the next gadget or big thing. They can enjoy peace, joy and happiness in what they have (Philippians 4:11; Proverbs 28:6).

3. To shun prejudice and hate.

Racism and hate are not inherent, they are taught. We must instead teach love and tolerance. God abhors prejudice and so should we (Acts 10:34; Galatians 2:11- 17; Genesis 1:26).

4. To desire a godly home.

Children must see a home that is filled with love, affection, respect and boundaries. They should learn responsibility and the ability to act independently.  Through observation, they must see how to raise strong, godly children (Ephesians 6:1-4; Deuteronomy 6:6-9).

Children must see love, respect and affection in their parents. They should never hear us mocking or insulting each other. We are the home they will build one day (Genesis 2:18-24; Ephesians 5:22-29; Matthew 19:6).

Adults cannot be healthy emotionally unless they have felt unconditional love. To know that someone will love and accept us no matter what, is empowering. We may not approve of their life choices but we will always love them without reservation (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a).

If all children came from healthy, happy homes, the world would become safer and stronger.

When we have children it becomes our absolute responsibility to teach, train, nurture and prepare them for the future.

We cannot shun this responsibility without unleashing on the world another poorly equipped and troubled adult. It is non-negotiable and a requirement from God (Proverbs 22:6). In a real sense, swelling prisons come from failed homes.

Wealth is temporal but true values can last into eternity. God’s people must do a better job training their children so the homes of the future will be resilient and godly.

by Richard Mansel @ www.forthright.net

When did God quit caring about his people?

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“For surely I know the plans I have for you,
says the Lord, plans for your welfare and
not for harm, to give you a future with
hope” (Jeremiah 29:11, NRSV).

There are a lot of young ladies with these words written on a chain around their necks, given by their parents. My daughter has one of her own, from exactly that source. There are many more who have sustained themselves through tough times by reading this passage and assuming that God does indeed have a plan, if they will only trust him.

There’s a rumor going around that this verse has “nothing” to do with us. Apparently somebody “discovered” that this was a promise given to Judah as she faced the terrors of Babylonian captivity. God assures them that even in these desperate circumstances, he still had a plan for them, and his intentions were for their good, not their harm. So that is the context of the passage.

But does that mean it has “nothing” to offer us?

When did God quit caring about his people? 589 BC? 33 AD? 1966? The Lord promised Israelite readers that if they trusted in the Lord “with all their hearts he would make their paths straight” (Proverbs 3:6).

The Lord promised Roman Christians that “in all things God worked for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). The Lord promised Hebrew readers “never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5)

The Lord promised the church in Smyrna that if they remained “faithful till death” he would give them a “crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). The Lord promised the Pentecost crowd that if they repented and were baptized they would receive “forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38).

Yet we readily (and correctly) draw courage from these and so many other promises. If I may say it as kindly as I can, to rob other Christians of these promises not only exhibits a lack of thoughtfulness toward others in dire straits, it also exhibits a lack of faith in God.

This is our God we’re speaking of; our God who plans for our “welfare,” who “makes our paths straight,” who “will never leave us nor forsake us,” who forgives us of our sins, who gives the faithful a “crown of life.”

Of course Bible passages always have an immediate context (Judah, Israel, the church at Smyrna). It also applies to us. Keep context in mind, but remember this is a God whose nature never changes, who cares about us profoundly, and who plans for our good, not our harm.
He loves us forever!

–by Stan Mitchell

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

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A friend of mine tells of the day he went with a group of people to an old age home, to the ward that cares for those suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Most of the residents were, to put it as kindly as possible, no longer there. Their stares were vacant, their memory as empty as a Montana prairie. They remembered nothing, knew no one, not even themselves.
It was a heartbreaking experience.

What could the visitors do? What could they say?
Because they didn’t know what to talk about, they sang hymns— “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know.”

And something astonishing happened. These elderly people began to sing along!

Silver heads perked up, feathery thin voices were raised in song. Apparently the earliest childhood memories are the very last to go, and these poor victims of this dreadful disease remembered the songs they sang in Sunday school.

Their oldest memories, dating to before the Fireside Chats, before the Waffen SS, before that street in New York crashed — these memories still lit these otherwise dark minds!

And they say that children don’t learn anything!

Of course “they” must have never had a child. Children are high fidelity microphones, picking up every breath, every inflection, every tone they hear.

When parents quarrel, they know; when ladies use language that once made sailors blush, they hear; when voices are raised in honor of an incomparable God, the sound and the words lodge deeply in the memory.

Tell an adult that God is right here, in our midst, and he will scoff. Tell a child, and he will say, “OK.”
Tell an adult that he should forgive his brother, and he will set his face in stone and intone, “Never!” Tell a child to forgive his brother, and in moments they will be lost in their play again. The Teacher said it
best:

“Let the little children come to me, and do
not hinder them, for to such belongs the
kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14, ESV).

We behave as if children are a barrier to worship, that their squirming and shuffling gets in the way of our time with God. Contrast this attitude with that of Jesus, who drew them into the very center of his activities. The disciples said, “send them away.” Jesus said, “bring them to me!”

Will you bring your children?

All of which makes me determined that we will put in our children’s memories things of substance, pieces of our spiritual heritage that have stood the test of time.

You see, the real tragedy is not when an Alzheimer’s victim forgets his childhood, but when a sick society forgets its conscience.

–by Stan Mitchell @ www.forthright.net

Reading the Bible is a learned art

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“And consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation – as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16 NKJV).

I enjoy maps. I am not much of a GPS person.
Electronic navigation tools may be fine for young folks who cut their teeth on computer games, but I like a good old paper map. Part of that is simply familiarity based on long time use. However a lot of it is that I enjoy the visualization of a good map. I can judge distance, gain perspectives, and get a feel for an area that I just don’t derive from hearing “Tom” talk me through the turns.

I realized long ago, however, that many people don’t use maps well. I have frequently asked preachers from Nepal or Bangladesh to locate their home area for me on a map. Most of the time they squint, look all over the sheet, and seem confused. Sometimes they place their area far away from where it actually is. In most cases this is the result of lack of familiarity with maps in general. Once they have been instructed as to how to interpret its symbols, they become much more proficient.

Reading the Bible is a learned art, just like reading a map. And it has been that way from the beginning of God’s word. Peter comments on the difficulty of understanding Paul’s epistles. If the inspired Peter had trouble, why are we so surprised that we do too? (I have always wondered if he was specifically referring to Romans).

At the beginning of the New Year, 2015, many will have made a resolution to read the Bible daily. Some will persist, while others no doubt will be distracted and perhaps discouraged and let this practice fall by the wayside. One reason often expressed for giving up is the difficulty of understanding. Some thoughts at the beginning of the process might be helpful.

First, though there are certainly difficult passages to understand in Scripture, there is much that is clear and plain to virtually anyone who will read with concentration and an open mind. The Bible was written by a variety of individuals, some of whom were “uneducated and untrained” (Acts 4:13).

God’s word was recorded in ordinary language of common people, not a special “heavenly tongue” nor in technical academic jargon. The subject matter of certain parts ensures a depth that requires more study.
Other subjects, however, are simple enough for children.

Inexperienced readers should focus on simpler thoughts and ideas and reserve the obscure and difficult for later times, when they may be more capable of understanding.

Second, the Bible should be studied specifically. One does not normally open a map and attempt to memorize every road or town on it. Usually we focus upon a route or destination which we intend to use. A frequent traveler may eventually learn an entire state or region well, but it is not done in one trip or by one look at a map. Reading the Bible completely through will give us a general familiarity; in-depth study of doctrine should be attempted one subject or text at a time.

Finally, reading the Bible should be given greater importance than any map. A map contains essential data to the traveler seeking directions. The Bible’s information is even more important. Consulting it is not optional for those who intend to travel towards Heaven. There is only one Way (John 14:6). It may be learned only from one source. Let us be persistent and faithful as we read.

–by Michael E. Brooks

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save

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A TRUSTWORTHY GOD

A defense attorney was cross-examining a police officer during a felony trial. It went like this:

Q: Officer, did you see my client fleeing the scene?
A: No sir, but I subsequently observed a person matching the description of the offender running several blocks away.

Q: Officer, who provided this description?
A: The officer who responded to the scene.

Q: A fellow officer provided the description of this so-called offender. Do you trust your fellow officers?
A: Yes sir, with my life.

Q: WITH YOUR LIFE? Let me ask you this, then, officer — do you have a locker room in the police station — a room where you change your clothes in preparation for your daily duties?
A: Yes sir, we do.

Q: And do you have a locker in that room?
A: Yes sir, I do.

Q: And do you have a lock on your locker?
A: Yes sir.

Q: Now why is it, officer, IF YOU TRUST YOUR FELLOW OFFICERS WITH YOUR LIFE, that you find it necessary to lock your locker in a room you share with those officers?
A: You see, sir, we share the building with a court complex, and sometimes defense attorneys have been known to walk through that room.

Sometimes it’s best not to pursue a particular line of questioning!

But it’s true that there are some people we can’t trust at all and there are others we can trust with our very lives. Our level of trust is based upon how someone has proven themselves to be faithful in the past. As you probably know from personal experience, it takes months and years to establish a high level of trust, but only a moment to destroy it. Because people do let us down, we are sometimes made to feel that there is no one we can trust. But fortunately, there is always someone.

“Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them — the LORD, who remains faithful forever.” (Psa. 146:3-6, NIV)

Father, thank you for being faithful, for proving over and over that you are indeed a God we can trust with our very lives. While there are others who have let us down, you never have. For that we praise you! May our trust in you be reflected in our willingness to allow you to guide us this day. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Have a great day!

Alan Smith

Evangelistic talk (ET)

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Christians must always be sensitive to what they say.  Scripture says that the tongue can set our world on fire (James 3:5). Souls matter more than anything else and we must do all we can not to lead them away from God (Matthew 16:26).

In a sense, everything Christians do involves evangelism. Our words and deeds must all be focused on glorifying God (Ephesians 3:20-21). When we violate these goals, we endanger our godly influence and threaten the work of the Lord.

When we are talking to Christians and non-Christians, what we say and how we phrase it will speak for or against God. Accordingly, we must very aware of our speech and demeanor.

Evangelistic talk (ET) means that we see all of life as evangelism and we utilize wisdom at all times. Each time we engage someone, we can do harm or good for their souls.

For example, an unfaithful Christian walks into the building for worship on Sunday morning. With negative evangelistic talk we would say something like, “Where have you been?” We have likely destroyed any chance at their repentance. We should have expressed how thrilled we were to see them and asked them to sit with us.

From the pulpit (in announcements, classes and sermons) we must be careful what we say. Berating the congregation in front of visitors is disastrous. They will have every excuse not to return.

Reproving and rebuking can be done in love and gentleness, if we are wise.

Do we give this any thought when we talk to other Christians? Do we insult weak Christians without realizing it and then wonder why they leave? Are we condescending when we should be gracious?

It is like a marriage. No one in the history of the world has ever become a better husband or wife as a result of nagging. Yet, we think that nagging will improve people’s giving and attendance. On the other hand, positive ET would give them a reason to want to be better and to grow.

“And my tongue shall speak of Your righteousness And of Your praise all the day long” (Psalm 35:28).

If this would constitute all of our evangelistic talk, the Lord’s church would thrive and unity would have a better chance.

Love, grace and mercy should saturate our speech as Christians. We can still stand strong for the Word while using positive ET with the world and our brethren. Souls depend on it.

by Richard Mansel @ www.forthright.net

We’re called to be completely selfless

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Well-meaning but misguided comments hurt people in unintended ways. Hope is a fragile thing. We try to be funny or lighthearted when we should be receptive and open. They extend their hearts to us and we slap it away.

Let’s consider some examples of conversations that happen far too often.

Us: “I can’t believe I’m turning 30…”
Others: “Well, wait until you turn 60…”

Us: I’m struggling going through…”
Others: “Well, wait until you go through…”

Us: “I’m having such a difficult time having lost my Mother…”
Others: “Wait until you lose both your parents.”

We could give a thousand different variations but it would be too painful. People do mean well but their words are cruel and heartless. Good words don’t make a good heart, action does.

The deepest human problem is pride and with it comes self-absorption. We are focused on ourselves and our needs and desires. Moreover, many people cannot see a world outside of their own experiences.

As God’s people, we must have a different focus. We’re called to be completely selfless (Matthew 5-7), being transformed by his Word (Romans 12:1-2). We love, sacrifice and give to our brethren (1 John 4:7-11).

To accomplish that, we must listen and focus our attention on our brother or sister in Christ. We must mute the running narrative in our minds so we can really listen.

When they come to us to share pain, suffering or a struggle and we disregard their difficulties as frivolous, we push them away. If that happens often enough, they’ll seek solace elsewhere. And once we leave Christ, Satan is the only alternative left.

And friends, when we’re partly responsible, there will always be a price.

–by Richard Mansel

Ever meet anyone famous?

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A Brush With Fame

Have you ever had a brush with fame? I had a professor in college who used to tell, in great detail, how he once sat next to Elizabeth Taylor on a flight. A Christian lady whom I once knew liked to tell how Tex Ritter came to her door after having an automobile accident, wanting to use her phone. Even my wife likes to tell of once sharing a bathroom mirror with Dr. Joyce Brothers. Many of you have similar accounts. I know, I’ve seen your pictures on Facebook! :-)

There’s just something about having a close encounter with a notable person. Those brief encounters remain with us for a lifetime, and we tell our story over and over again to all who will listen.

But now, here’s the thought. For those of you who are Christians, the Creator of this universe is your Heavenly Father. He’s not just your Master, he’s your Father (Galatians 4:6). You’re not just his servant, your his child (1 John 3:1).

Imagine that! Let that soak in! In God, you’ve had more than a “brush with fame,” you’re actually his child! Let that story be a lifelong story that you tell over and over to all who will listen!

–Steve Higginbotham

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God'” (Psalm 53:1, ESV)

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An atheist complained to a Christian friend:

“Christians have their holidays such as Christmas and Easter, Jews have their holidays such as Passover and Yom Kippur, and Muslims have their holidays. Every religion has its holiday, but atheists don’t have any.
It’s discrimination!” The Christian replied: “But atheists do have a holiday.”

“They do?” cried the atheist. When is it?”

“Well, the Christian answered…”

(What do you think he said?)

Early in April the bulbs begin to burst into color around here. I know that seems like a long time from now, but to enjoy a mass of buttery daffodils, or grape blue hyacinth, you need to plant them in the fall.

Consider the lowly bulb. It looks like an onion, its skin is dry and peeling. It’s nature’s way to help a plant survive hard times. Bulbs in Africa’s Namaqua desert wait for years for the rain.

When the soft showers fall on the desert sands, they burst into the pastels colors of the “African Daisy.”

The crocus bulb is designed to rest in the bitter northern winters, buried in the icy crush of snow, before becoming the first flower to bloom in the spring, usually some time before April.

Bulbs are a miracle (not the one Phillips manufactures). Within that homely brown ball is the potential for a show that no artist could duplicate, no computer create, no designer imagine. But in April…

I feel sorry for atheists. An atheist cannot find God for the same reason that a thief cannot find a policeman. When he feels grateful, who does he thank?
And when he enjoyed a great meal, does he believe there is no cook?

And when the lowly bulb transforms the starkest countryside, does he see a murky pool with single cell creatures?

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God'” (Psalm 53:1, ESV)

by Stan Mitchell @www.forthright.net

American Evangelical religion is a thousand miles wide and an inch deep

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“The English, not being a particularly religious people, were given the game of cricket to provide them with a concept of eternity.”

Now you don’t have to understand the particulars of this unique English game to see what the saying means.
A hundred thousand spectators will watch in hushed silence in Sydney, Australia, or London (yes, the one in England) to watch five days of a “test” match between England Australia.

Perhaps God gave churches sermons for the same reason – to give them a concept of eternity! Is the term “long winded preacher” redundant? Or, perhaps the term “short sermon” an oxymoron?

Society has changed, there is no doubt. In college we had to read Jonathan Edward’s sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” It took me an hour and twenty minutes! In contrast, in our day, we are impatient with any explanation that takes longer than a Pepsi Cola advert. “Get to the point!” is the primeval scream of the modern listener.

I have heard preachers who had imposed on their audience; they hadn’t studied, and their speech was as aimless as a puppy dog on a walk. But I fear that our understanding has become shallow. One theologian said, “American Evangelical religion is a thousand miles wide and an inch deep.” I think we can attribute it to our sheet cake thin Bible classes, our “Thought for the Day” sermons, and our non-existent private Bible reading.

“Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight” (Acts 20:7, ESV).

Professional football games, including half time festivities, will last more than four hours. The same goes for a baseball game. Is your time better used there than when you hear God’s word preached?

Don’t worry; this Sunday, if I preach till midnight, it will be because the song leader got me up there at
11:35 p.m.! But I can assure you that eternity will seem a lot longer in hell than it does in heaven!

by Stan Michell @ www.forthright.net

A Minister’s Heart by Dale Jenkins

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I picked up a book written by Dale Jenkins recently entitled “A Minister’s Heart.” It is packed with wise, heartbreaking, encouraging (and sometimes funny) advice. I’m glad he wrote it, and I intend to buy several copies and give them to some young preachers I know.

But I have a question.

Would you “ordinary” Christians like to hear some of these items? Would you like to know how the church looks to a preacher? Any preacher of at least two years experience knows exactly what brother Jenkins means when he says:

At least three times, you’re going to wince when a guest speaker comes in and your arch enemy says clearly so that you can hear it, ‘Now that’s the kind of preaching we need!'”

“You are going to bury your best friend and mentor.”

“You are going to wonder who counsels the counselor.”

“You will be scolded for not visiting someone when they were in the hospital, even though they never told anyone they were going to be in the hospital.”

“You will have at least two people say that they hate you. You will have to preach a message of ‘truth in love’ to those same people.”

“You are going to have to defend your kids for doing something that if any other church member’s kid did, it would be overlooked.”

“You are never going to make as much money in ministry as you could have using your skill set in the corporate world.”

“You will study 20 hours for a deep, meaningful, inspiring sermon only to be told that it was a ‘nice little talk.'”

“You will be told in every church where you preach that the ever elusive ‘they’ are not happy with your work.”

“You will have every aspect of your work and personality critiqued and criticized. And you will wonder, ‘Should I just quit for the good of the kingdom?’ Don’t quit.”

Beloved brethren, I have allowed you to look over the shoulder of a more experienced preacher as he counsels a younger preacher. Perhaps you have seen by eavesdropping this way how the world looks to the gospel preacher.

I know there are false teachers. I know there are preacher “head cases.” I know young men make young men’s mistakes. But a young man with a good heart is worth preserving.

Could you do this for me, please: Be conscious of the effect your words and actions have on a young man.
Understand that if he survives his young years as a preacher, he might become a massively important servant of the Lord in the mission field, in the US, or in a place that trains young men.

Satan wants these young people to quit the church in large numbers. Would you please do everything you can to disappoint him?

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

Preachers are responsible for the congregations they serve; congregations are responsible for the preachers who serve them.

–by Stan Mitchell @ www.forthright.net

When sin takes control of our lives, we think we control it

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Has this happened to you?

There’s three inches of snow on the ground. You drive your car out into the road as gingerly as a cat on a hot tin roof. You settle into a slow but steady speed, nervous and alert.

Suddenly there is a big vehicle right behind you, headlights seemingly in your back seat.

He seems to be thinking: “There’s three inches of snow on the ground yet I can still drive 55 mph!”

He’s also saying to you, “Speed up or get out of the way!”

Which raises two issues:

“Yes, you can drive 55 mph in your wonderful big vehicle; but can you stop?”

And also, “Perhaps you have the right to risk your life (you might ask your wife and children if they feel the same way, however), but you do not have the right to risk mine, and that of my family.”

When sin takes control of our lives, we think we control it. We drive along life’s highway convinced we can stop at any time. But horrific things happen when we try to stop. We spin out of control, we slam into other people, we cause dismay and fear to all those around us.

Paul suggested it was like being “enslaved” to sin (Romans 6:16-19). Slaves are not in control of their lives. They can’t come and go as they like. They can’t even quit!

But our sin is more serious than that. We endanger others with our reckless behavior. We careen, out of control. We have convinced ourselves that our actions are our own affair, but mark this, it never is! What we do affects others, whether you are a teenager who has broken your parents’ hearts by your behavior, a husband who has decided he has the right to abandon his wife and children, or a church leader who wants out.

In the snow and ice, it’s hard to stop. And when living lives of sin we become thoughtless of those whom we affect.

Long ago Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
(Genesis 4:9). Yes, O first son of Adam, you are.

by Stan Mitchell – www.forthright.net

Have you died to self?

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Go back into your history file.

Remember, Philippi, Macedonia sometime between 51 and 54 A.D.

Around midnight (Acts 16:25), an earthquake shook the foundations of the local, Roman prison so violently that all of its doors flew open and the chains of all the prisoners were unfastened (Acts 16:26).

According to the inspired account, only a jailer and his family died as a result.

Don’t remember that? Look again.

Immediately after the quake the jailer realized his spiritual plight and his need for salvation. So he asked two of the inmates (Paul and Silas), “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30.) The following verses reveal that this man and his loved ones, after having been taught by these two men, died to themselves and put on Christ in baptism.

That’s Bible.

“For he who has died has been freed from sin” (Romans
6:7.)

What about you, dear reader?

Have you died to self? Will it take an earthquake of sorts to make you realize your need for Christ and the forgiveness he offers?

Please don’t wait until then to obey him. By that time, it may be too late (2 Corinthians 6:2; James 4:14; 1 Peter 1:24; Job 9:25-26; 14:1-2.)

–by Mike Benson

God isn’t in a hurry

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Ours is the age of instant. We consume instant potatoes, instant coffee, and instant oatmeal.

Ours is the society of the drive thru. We can remain in the quiet comforts of our vehicle and still pick up our laundry, carry out our banking, grab our lunch, and buy our over-priced latte.

Ours is the environment of speed. We wield on-demand cable TV, 4G wireless service, and high performance internet access.

Hurry has become our most revered deity; waiting has become the cardinal sin–an abomination of the worst order. The devil is no longer a spirit entity who attacks our faith, but anything that causes us delay.
To be left in the waiting room is anathema.

These shifts in our cultural thinking and practice have impacted, not only our lives, but our views of the Almighty (Psalm 50:21). He too must hustle and rush at the same frantic pace of humanity. Since he transcends time, he ought to match his blessings to the gait of our hasty requests.

When a loved one is ill, God ought to bring instantaneous recovery. When we’ve lost our job, he ought to step into the time-continuum and open an immediate door of providential opportunity. When we wrestle with habitual defeating sin, God ought to bring about prompt delivery.

In essence, God ought to be instant, Someone we can pick up at the drive through, and faster than a speeding bullet.

The problem is–God isn’t in a hurry (2 Peter 3:8).
Ever. You could say he cooks like Grandma used to–without the luxury of a modern microwave.

Jehovah often allows his children to simmer in the crockpot of patient endurance (James 1:3-4). His divine recipe for our spiritual maturity includes nothing more dramatic than letting us wait (2 Corinthians 6:4; Colossians 1:11) for his perfect will to unfold.

You see, he knows real faith is refined in the oven of days, months, and years, not in the popcorn setting of a digital oven.

Think about it.

When Abram and Sarai were sure it was far too late to start a family, God allowed the couple to sauté yet another 25 years before blessing them with Isaac.

When Isaac and Rebekah wanted children to grace their home, God let husband and wife swelter the heat of perseverance for 20 years before answering their prayer.

When Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, God allowed 22 years elapse before the siblings were finally brought together and reconciled.

When Moses was ready to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt, God left the future deliverer in the oven of Midian for 40 years.

These Bible heroes grace the sacred pages of Hebrews eleven because they waited on God (Psalm 27:14; 37:9, 34; Isaiah 40:31) and learned to submit to his protracted plan. In so doing, they not only increased their faith, but gave Jehovah glory.

Dear reader, are you ever impatient with God? Are you tired of waiting? It is quite possible that you are in the crockpot–right where the Almighty wants you to be.

–by Mike Benson

Did religious leaders steal Jesus’ body?

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She made a false assumption. Mary came to the tomb and
found it barren. From her perspective, there was only
one plausible explanation for why this was so.

“They have taken the Lord…” (John 20:2b). “They”
whomever they were, had breached the burial chamber,
stolen the lifeless body of Christ, and then moved it
to an undisclosed location.

Atheist Richard Carrier, while neither willing nor able
to actually produce specific culprits for the burglary,
maintains that Mary was actually right./1 He asserts
that the empty tomb evidenced a theft, not a
resurrection.

But take just a moment to analyze Carrier’s flawed
logic. Truth should never be afraid of honest
investigation.

There are only two possibilities as to who might have
stolen Jesus’ body from the tomb. Either the enemies of
Christ did so, or the friends of Christ did so.

But 1) did the enemies, specifically the Jewish
religious leaders, steal Jesus’ body and–2) will that
answer stand up to real scrutiny?

Matthew’s inspired record says the chief priests and
Pharisees met with Pilate in an effort to foil any
attempts at taking Jesus’ body in the first place. They
said, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how
that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’
Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until
the third day…” (Matthew 27:63-64a).

These men were not worried that Jesus would actually be
resurrected; they were fearful that folks such as
Joseph, Nicodemus, Mary (Matthew 27:57-61) and perhaps
others, might stage a sort of mock resurrection in
order to propagate what Jesus had foretold (cf. Matthew
16:21; 20:17; 26:28; Mark 8:31; Luke 24:44).

They thought they had finally quelled Jesus and his
doctrine and wanted to make sure it wasn’t rekindled
again.

Pilate, in keeping with the religious leader’s pressing
request, secured the tomb and gave permission to set a
guard (Mattew 27:65-66, NIV; Matthew 28:11-15).

Now think about it. Why would the avowed enemies of
Jesus go to all of the trouble of preventing the theft
of his body, but then engage in the theft themselves?!

Why would they twist Pilate’s arm to protect the tomb
from any intrusion, but then steal what they had tried
so hard to secure?! What would prompt them to allegedly
pay off the security force, break the seal, and then
take possession of what they wanted nobody to acquire?!

Furthermore, when the apostles later preached a
resurrected Lord during the early days of the church
(cf. Acts 4:1ff), Why didn’t the religious leaders
simply produce the dead corpse of Christ?!

If they had, in fact, stolen the body, why didn’t they
display it for all to see? In so doing they would have
not only exposed the lie being propagated by Jesus’
followers, but they would have effectively killed
Christianity dead in its tracks!

The obvious reason the opponents of Jesus didn’t
produce his body was because they didn’t have it in the
first place.

Both Mary and Richard Carrier were mistaken. Nobody
took the body of Jesus. He was raised from the
dead–just as the Bible says (Acts 1:3; 2:32; 4:33).

–by Mike Benson

_________
1/ Richard Carrier, “The Plausibility of
Theft,” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave,
edited by Jeff Lowder and Robert Price, 349-368

He had a heart attack at age forty-eight

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Bob worried about his death. His anxiety consumed him, day and night.

At night, unable to sleep, he paced up and down his room, worrying. In the day his stomach churned like a cement mixer as he worried still more. When would he die? How could he avoid that? Would he die of cancer?
Or would some dreadful tropical disease lay him low because he shook the hand of someone who had shaken hands with someone else from the tropics?

He lost weight and sleep. His lack of concentration led to the termination of his job.

Finally, Bob died of a heart attack at age forty-eight, which is absurdly young for such an event. His doctor said he died of stress and worry.

Worry is such a waste of time and emotional energy.
Some things we worry about never come to pass so our worry is a waste of time. Other things will hit us, regardless of whether we worry about them or not.

Certain kinds of worry are healthy if they cause us to better ourselves and prepare for the future.

But some people’s worry becomes as paralyzing as a mouse in front of a cobra. Where are our kids? It’s two past eleven! They’re in a car crash! Their bodies right now are mangled on the freeway! What will I do for the rest of my life without them?

Will our congregation survive? What if our preacher leaves? What if the young people don’t develop into faithful leaders? What if a false teacher enters the flock?

Yes! Be prepared! No, don’t worry endlessly, obsessively.

Jesus said, “Therefore do not be anxious
about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious
for itself. Sufficient for the day is its
own trouble” (Matthew 6:34).

Today, after all, is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday. Someone else has pointed out that we should not be afraid of tomorrow because God is already there.
Will you exhibit fear or faith, consternation or confidence in God?

Don’t worry. It’s under control: His control.

–by Stan Mitchell

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