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How much unnecessary weight are you carrying?

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“Come right in here, please.” He held the door with his left hand and invited her to enter with his right.

“What is this place?” She scanned the room, hesitant to enter.

“It’s safe, I promise.” Tools hung from hooks on the walls above worn work tables.

She hesitantly entered and noticed an old kitchen table and chair to her left. “What now?”

“Over here, Stephanie. I want to show you something.”
They moved toward the distant corner of the room where a wooden table sat against the wall.

Dr. Lince moved the tarp on the table and unveiled an old fashioned ball and chain.

Stephanie gasped and moved toward the artifact. “How old is it? Where did you get it?”

“Well,” he said as he caressed the metal, “it’s from the Civil War and it belonged to my Great-Great-Great Grandfather. It passed down through generations until it came to me.”

Turning to look at his face, she trembled as she spoke.
“Was this used on slaves?”

“Yes. Now you know our family secret. He owned around
100 slaves. He was wealthy and ruthless. He used these chains to punish slaves who disobeyed him. It was the last step before he killed them.”

Chilled, she pulled her sweater tighter around her shoulders. “What a horrible thing.”

“He would chain them to the wall and starve them.”

“No, Dr. Lince. This is just too much for me. I need to leave.”

“Stephanie, please. Wait. I have a reason for bringing you here. There’s a valuable lesson to be learned. I need you to see it.”

She crossed her arms defiantly. “I can’t imagine…”

“Please, come sit down.”

She relented and moved to the table and chairs.

“Stephanie, I’ve worked with you for several months now. It’s been time-consuming for you and, frankly, very expensive. This is my last hope. I hoped a visual would help.”

“What visual? What does any of this have to do with me?” Her temper was escalating.

He raised his hands to calm her. “Please, let me explain.”

“Slavery was a nightmare and my family is shackled with this awful past. We tried to live it down, contributing a lot of money to help the children of slaves. Any way to make this right. To remove the stain. Yet, we couldn’t erase the past. All we have is today and what we can control. I keep this reminder for a reason. Do you know why?”

Stephanie looked suspicious, waiting a few moments before she answered. “No.”

“It’s a reminder that the past is over. We have today and what we control. We must let the past go. Do you see how that impacts you?”

She began to pace. “I can’t change the abuse I endured as a child. I just have to learn to deal with today.
That is what you are telling me.”

Dr. Lince smiled. “Yes, but it’s more than that. By allowing that past to control your present, you are wearing that heavy ball and chain and it’s weighing you down. You have to let it go. Let the past rest but learn from it. Gain strength and loosen the chains.  Only you have the key.”

For the first time since she began treatment, a hint of a smile moved across Stephanie’s face. “I think you have something there, Dr. Lince.”

“It’s time to be free. Memories can no longer be your prison. You need to start living again.”

Finally, her tears began to fall as the shackles began to fall from her body.

“Do not remember the former things, Nor consider the things of old.” (Isaiah 43:18, NKJV).

–by Richard Mansel

I have had the honor several times of laying the “corner-stone” for new church buildings

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“Therefore, leaving the discussion of the
elementary principles of Christ, let us go
on to perfection, not laying again the
foundation…” (Hebrews 6:1, NKJV).

I have had the honor several times of laying the “corner-stone” for new church buildings in Nepal and Bangladesh. This ceremonial occasion represents the beginning of the building process.

I have never yet been asked to go back and relay those stones. Once in place the remainder of the building was constructed and the foundation served it well.

Conversely, there have been some occasions when I and others went to new areas to preach the Gospel, with resulting conversions and the planting of new congregations. Not often, but occasionally, the converts turned away from the Gospel and the congregation ceased to exist.

On other occasions key members moved from the area, with the same unfortunate result.

In those cases it is necessary for evangelists to return to the same place and lay once again the foundations of faith, repentance and baptism, that others might be saved from sin and the church begun again.

In almost every instance, the second effort is a more difficult task. It is far better, and usually much more successful, to build well and quickly upon the first foundation.

One principle that guides our evangelistic efforts is the “Necessity of Continuity,” otherwise called “Follow-up.” Those with whom I work do not go to any new area to preach unless there are plans in place for repeated regular visits to ground and mature any potential converts, and to win additional souls.

This is in harmony with the great commission:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the
nations, baptizing them in the name of the
Father and of the Son and of the Holy
Spirit, teaching them to observe all things
that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-
20).

Note that the task of teaching all the commands of Jesus is given equal emphasis to baptism. One is as essential to the task as the other.

This is illustrated in Acts 2 where we read that those converted to Christ on Pentecost “Continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). That is, they were taught the commands of Jesus, just as he instructed.

A key to properly understanding the great commission is to recognize the goal stated by Jesus–to “make disciples.”

He has no interest in counting baptisms or confessions of faith. Our goal is not to accomplish some numerical achievement. Rather it is to teach and interact with lost humans in such a way as to bring them into the fellowship and likeness of the Son of God.

A disciple is a follower and helper. One partial synonym is “apprentice.” Evangelism seeks to recruit and train new workers for the kingdom of God. Enrolling them is only the first step. They are of little value in their vocation until they develop necessary knowledge and skill.

An apprentice program assigns a trainee to work under the supervision of a skilled tradesman, learning his craft through imitation and experience. Is that not what the apostles (disciples) of Jesus did, following and assisting him for more than three years, then inheriting the work as their own upon his ascension to Heaven?

We easily recognize the need for new trainees (converts). Are we as quick to admit the need of master tradesmen–experienced and skilled mentors who will pass on their knowledge and skill?

The Hebrew Christians were chastised because they were still students when they should have been teaching and mentoring others (Hebrews 5:12). Tragically the same applies to many today. If our foundation has been laid, let us build upon it, going on unto perfection.

–by Michael E. Brooks

I have a BAD temper

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I have a hot temper and that’s just the way it is.
Because of some bad past experiences, I will always have trust issues. Genetics dealt me this hand for how I feel. How many of us have heard someone say these things or something similar?

Perhaps we were chatting with a friend, when suddenly we discovered a fatalistic attitude toward change. I must confess that in those moments I wonder whether I am hearing the despair of resignation, an excuse for apathy or carnal desire seeking permission.

The God who can transform a caterpillar into a gooey protein jelly within a chrysalis only to reorganize it into a butterfly has the power to remake our lives. In prayer Paul longed for Christians to comprehend God’s power toward the believer (Ephesians 1:18-19).

Ephesians 2:1-6 captures that initial transformative moment. God’s power starts with us being spiritually dead, but recreates us into new creatures alive with Christ. However, this is neither the end of what God desires for us nor the extent of his ability to reorder our lives into something healthier and greater. God’s power continues to work daily in the lives of his people, enabling us to put on the new self created to be like God (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 3:20, 4:24).

Yet, nothing in scripture suggests that such a change is automatic or imposed upon God’s person. Rather, as we learn from Christ we are to exert effort in discarding old undesirable ways. We do this by deliberately seeking to practice those behaviors and attitudes of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:21-24; Galatians 5:16).

Paul promised a powerful principle. Since the ways of the Spirit and of the flesh pull in opposite directions, if we live by the Spirit we cannot simultaneously do what our flesh craves (Galatians 5:17). Therefore Paul instructs us to intentionally engage in pleasing the Spirit (Galatians 6:8).

Satan might wish for us to believe change is impossible. Our flesh might desire for us to abandon all hope. Yet, God’s power can be revealed through our lives to his glory.

We must decide to choose. New life emerges from choosing God. Continued transformation occurs by choosing to live by God’s Spirit. Praise be to God for his love, power and mercy.

by Barry Newton

Kindness opens doors anger would never see

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Social media brings out the worst in so many people.
Anger, hostility, rudeness and profanity have replaced civility and younger generations are accustomed to obscenity as the soundtrack of their generation.

Perceived humor in our day is built on innuendo and without it, this generation is practically speechless.

As we age, we see the trends come and go, and they become less important to us. We can ride the waves in a desperate attempt to remain relevant or we can try the timeless approach.

Regardless of what is considered cutting-edge in any year, the practice of kindness never goes out of style.

We spread flowers, not hate and nastiness, when kind, positive words emanate from us. In so doing, we change the people around us and bring light to dark worlds (Matthew 5:16).

God’s people should make kindness a law in their lives (Proverbs 31:26). A kind word soothes the savage beast.
A smile banishes the scowl and warms the frozen heart.
People gravitate to kindness and appreciate its medicinal value.

Kindness disarms anger (Romans 12:20) and transcends time and place so it is never out of fashion. Kindness touches the heart and soul of humanity as nothing else can. We need it desperately in a coarse and hateful world.

If every soul were treated with kindness, so much evil would be overcome. When we add Christ to a kind disposition, it is an unstoppable force for good (Colossians 3:12).

Spread kindness, goodness and love to the world and then share Christ with the open heart.

Kindness opens doors that anger would never see. When we lift others above their doldrums, they begin to see the world in a different light. In so doing, we create the possibility that Christ can finally be seen.

Richard Mansel

Righteousness: A very important word

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Righteousness: A word to live by

(1 Pet. 3:12)

  • Let’s study the word translated “righteous” in 1 Pet. 3:12.
  • The first time we find this word is Mt. 1:19.
    1. Joseph was thinking about how he could “privately” end things with Mary.
    2. As the Bible describes Joseph’s thinking and intentions it says he was a “righteous” man.
  • Righteous people have no desire to humiliate and embarrass others.
  • The second time we see the word “righteous” in the Bible is found in the Sermon on the Mount; Mt. 5:45.
    1. As a righteous being, God is willing to extend kindness to His friends and His enemies.
    2. Is this also true for us?
  • In Mt. 10:41 the Lord spoke of a reward which will be received by “righteous” people.
  • Mt. 13:17 Jesus used the word “many.” READ
  • An illustration of the reward promised to righteous people is found in verse 43 of Mt. 13 – READ
  • Righteousness is so important to God the saved will shine like the sun.
  • Verse 49 – READ
  • Verse 50 – READ
  • Mt. 23:28 – READ
  • Verses 29-30 as well – READ
  • The Lord knew many seek appear to be “righteous,” but what is said and done is all a façade (fake).
  • Truly righteous people have the right heart and their righteousness flows from there; notice Mt. 25:37-40 – READ
  • Those who seek righteousness and practice it will be the ones who receive “eternal life” (Mt. 25:46).
  • Before Jesus died Pilate’s wife came to believe Jesus was a “righteous man” (Mt. 27:19).
  • Luke (1:6) noted how the father of John the Baptist and his wife were BOTH “righteous” before God.
    One of the best things available for a strong, healthy and happy marriage is “righteousness” by both spouses.

    1. Preachers like Paul (Acts 24:25) “reasoned” with people about “righteousness.”
    2. We still need discussions about righteousness for reasons like those found in Lk. 14:14.
  • In Lk. 15:7 the Lord spoke about a “lost sheep.”
  1. Do we remember how the 99 safe sheep are described? They are called “righteous” persons.
  2. 18:9; here He said there are those who:
  3. Many judge themselves by themselves and conclude they are righteous.
  • Paul – the “just” (our word for “righteous”) shall live “by faith” (Rom. 1:17).
    1. Prior to this passage (Rom. 1:5) this apostle spoke about the “obedience” of faith.
    2. Related to these two verses is Rom. 10:17; here Paul said “faith comes by hearing God’s word.”
  • If we are to live by faith (Rom. 1:17), and faith comes by the Scriptures (Rom. 10:17), we must live by the Bible.
  • We cannot be righteous by ourselves; Rom. 3:10 says “There is none righteous, no not one.”
  • Only God can justify people (Rom.3:26) and He justifies (makes righteous) those who obey Him.
  • In other books we find this same teaching; Gal. 3:11: “the just (righteous) shall live by faith.”
  • Phil. 4:8
  • Righteousness – elders in Tit. 1:8.
  • The just (righteous) shall live “by faith” (Heb. 10:38).
  • 1 Pet. 3:12.
  • Jas. 5:16.
  • 1 Pet. 3:18 pretty much sums things up:

 

God’s plans & our plans

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Man is full of plans and projects. Sometimes they work out, when he manages to successfully conclude them.  Other times, they’re a flop.

God’s projects, on the other hand, always work out as he wants them to. This infallible success is a two-edged sword: it works for the good of those who love him, but for the ruin of those who forget him.

To the nation of Assyria, the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah, “Be sure of this: Just as I have intended, so it will be; just as I have planned, it will happen” (Isaiah 14:24 NET).

At that moment, the plan was to punish the Assyrians, for their disdain for the evidences of the only true God. And in case they thought they could free themselves from punishment, he said further,

“Indeed, the Lord who commands armies has a plan, and who can possibly frustrate it?  His hand is ready to strike,
and who can possibly stop it?” (verse 27).

The answer is obvious: No one can stop God from fulfilling his purposes. But isn’t that how man thinks? He believes that, by his power, intelligence, or money, he can avoid God’s punishment and even win applause for his cunning.

God, however, is not a man who changes his mind at the last minute. Neither does he compromise his holiness, to ignore our evil. He acts by principle, not by playing favorites.

On the other hand, the person who seeks him with his whole heart has the same certainty of salvation.

Even the punishment which God sends upon some is often part of the salvation of those who submit to his will.
Every act of God contributes to fulfill his greater purpose of saving, in Christ, the obedient.

God will fulfill his plan. It remains for me to decide on which side of that fulfillment I will fall. As Paul wrote to the Galatian Christians,

“Do not be deceived. God will not be made a
fool. For a person will reap what he sows,
because the person who sows to his own
flesh will reap corruption from the flesh,
but the one who sows to the Spirit will
reap eternal life from the Spirit”
(Galatians 6.7-8).

When we decide to insert our plans within God’s project, we’ll have much greater chance of success here on earth, and we will be sure of success in eternity.

–by J. Randal Matheny

A soft tongue will break a bone

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“With patience, a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone” (Proverbs 25:15, ESV).

Once, according to Aesop’s Fables, the wind, rain and sun were watching a man walking along the road bundled up with gloves, a hat and an overcoat. These three decided on a competition to see which one could make the man remove his warm clothing.

First, the wind began to blow, in an effort to tear the coat off, but it only succeeded in making the man wrap his coat more tightly about himself.

Next the rain began to pelt him with hail, hoping the coat would be forced off, but he hunched up even more.

Finally the sun came out, shining warmly. After an hour or so the man was so warm and comfortable that he took his coat off!

“Honey,” we say these days, “will catch more flies than vinegar.” Impatiently we think we should be able to change people overnight. “Why doesn’t our fifteen year old behave like a mature adult?” parents wonder. “Why doesn’t my husband see things from my point of view?”
wonders the young wife.

Be patient. Allow them the one element they truly need to mature — the passage of time. Demanding things of others, nagging and accusing them, usually makes them hunch over in a defensive posture. How much better to allow the sunshine of your love to make the changes they need.

by Stan Mitchell

My Sheep Hear My Voice

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While working in India over the past decade or so, I have had opportunity to witness firsthand how small animals, even in large herds, respond to the call of the herdsman. The small village roads in India are ideal for driving goats from one grazing field to another. Even the National Highway (India’s equivalent to our Interstate Highway system) is used to get rather large herds to some other destination. When travelling the small back roads to some isolated village, we obviously have to travel much slower than on the super highway. When we encounter a herd of goats on the road they are usually spread across the road, blocking our passage, and we have to stop, and slowly make our way past the flock of goats and those attending to their safety. I have never asked Nehemiah to translate what a particular herdsman is saying, but I can hear the voice calling out to the goats. Occasionally it takes a little nudge with the herdsman’s rod, but usually the goats respond to the sound of the voice of the one leading and caring for those goats.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28). Was Jesus speaking about literal sheep? Was He a herdsman keeping watch over a flock of sheep? I think not, and I think you know better. We are the sheep of His pasture, the “flock of God” over whom shepherds keep watch, with Jesus as the chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:1-4). Here are some wonderful lessons we can draw from our Lord’s words in John 10:27-28.

First, we belong to Christ. “My sheep!” There is great comfort and consolation that comes with knowing we belong to God, and that He cares for us. Willing to leave the ninety and nine, He sought us out, paid the price for redemption, and gathered us into His flock. The compassion and love our Lord has for each one of us is summed up in those two words: “My sheep!” It was late one evening and Nehemiah Gootam and I were on our way home from a preaching appointment. We passed a herd of goats, now being led home in order to be bedded down for the night. One young man led the flock, and an older gentleman was following at the rear with staff in hand. Over his shoulder he cradled a small goat that had evidently grown weary with the journey. Although the goat was fast asleep, it lifted its head only briefly as we passed by. I thought to myself, “How much like our Lord who will carry us, protect us, feed us, and care for us,” all because we are His sheep! Beloved, don’t ever lose sight of the fact that we belong to Christ, that we “were bought with a price,” and that we are to “glorify God therefore in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20).

Second, we are God’s “sheep.” The metaphor is so fitting. Sheep are completely defenseless against the wolves that would seek to devour. Without the protection of our Lord, we are vulnerable to those things that would destroy us. If you doubt that for a moment, take a look at the multitudes of lost souls that have refused to draw near to God, whose lives have been ravaged by the wolves that are out there, “separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). Drugs, alcohol, materialism, pride, lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, the vainglory of life, hedonism, and humanism. Though the words are spelled differently, the bottom line is that each one represents the dangers that lurk in the shadows of the dark places of a world without God. Unfortunately, sheep are ignorant and gullible. Not recognizing the dangers that exist, a sheep will keep his head to the ground, grazing on the grass, while ignoring the dangers about him. Humans are like that. We get so consumed with our daily activities, the cares of this life, the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, that we keep our heads to the grindstone, unaware of what dangers threaten, or exactly where it is we are headed; unaware, that is, until we suddenly lift up our head and notice our world is crashing in upon us.

Third, as God’s sheep, we “hear” the voice of our Lord; not “have heard,” and since ceased to listen; not “might hear” if we get the opportunity to squeeze in a few moments late at night to read a small portion of our Bible. We are identified as Christ’s sheep because we heard the gospel, responded to it, and keep on hearing His voice. It does not come as some small, still voice in the night. Neither does it come as a bolt of lightning out of the sky. We hear Christ’s voice in His words; words revealed to the apostles and prophets, recorded for our reading and examination by divine inspiration, and laid up in the heart by practical application and holy living.

Fourth, as sheep, we “follow” the Lord. We follow in full expectation of receiving eternal life, “whom not having seen ye love; on whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice greatly with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Pet. 1:8). We follow Him submissively, obeying “from the heart that form of teaching whereunto ye were delivered” (Rom. 6:17). We follow Him exclusively, realizing that He is “the way, and the truth, and the life,” and that “no man cometh unto the Father” but through Him (John 14:6). We following Him in “fullness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience: and having our body washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22).

Finally, as His sheep, we “know” Him. I am not denying that He knows us! He does; in fact He knows us better than we know ourselves. But we cannot be known by Christ without our knowing Him in return. Paul put it this way: “For I know him whom I have believed” (2 Tim. 1:12b). Knowledge of Christ goes much deeper than a superficial awareness of the facts surrounding the life, death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord. “Yea verily, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but refuse, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed unto his death; if by any means I may attain unto the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:8-11).

Tom Moore shared the following story with his readers, and with which I will close this article:

I read of an American tourist who was traveling in the Middle East. He came upon several shepherds whose flocks had intermingled while drinking water from a brook. After an exchange of greetings, one of the shepherds turned toward the sheep and called out, “Manah. Manah. Manah.” (Manah means, “follow me” in Arabic). Immediately his sheep separated themselves from the rest and followed him. Then one of the two remaining shepherds called out, “Manah. Manah,” and his sheep left the common flock to follow him. The traveler then said to the third shepherd, “I would like to try that. Let me put on your cloak and turban and see if I can get the rest of the sheep to follow me.” The shepherd smiled knowingly as the traveler wrapped himself in the cloak, put the turban on his head and called out, “Manah. Manah.” The sheep did not respond to the stranger’s voice. Not one of them moved toward him. “Will the sheep ever follow someone other than you?” The traveler asked. “Oh yes,” the shepherd replied, “sometimes a sheep gets sick, and then it will follow anyone.”

The Lord is speaking. His voice is loud and clear. Are you listening?

–by Tom Wacaster

I am the LORD

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It’s fascinating to watch this story unfold in the sacred text. Inspiration records a vivid drama that not only instructs, but convicts.

Moses had finally gotten on board with God, despite earlier excuses to the contrary (cf. Exodus 3:11,13; 4:1,10). He would be, with Divine assistance (Exodus 3:12), God’s agent with God’s message to the most powerful man in the world (Exodus 5:1).

Moses eventually met with Pharaoh and delivered Jehovah’s edict (Exodus 4:22-23; 5:3).

To Moses’ chagrin, the king was defiant, and since Egypt considered him fleshly deity, he not only rejected the orders which had been brought before his throne, but he forced the Hebrews to scour the topography of Egypt in search of the straw necessary for his building endeavors (Exodus 5:6ff).

As a result, the children of Israel were no longer capable of meeting their brick quotas. And since the bulk of their time was now devoted to searching for the components to make bricks, they weren’t able to produce to Pharaoh’s satisfaction.

Hebrew construction supervisors, not surprisingly, took the bulk of the blame. They were beaten for not meeting the necessary brick allotments.

They in turn took their angst to Moses. “…And they said to them, ‘Let the LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us abhorrent in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to kill us'” (Exodus 5:20-21). From their perspective, Moses had not only not delivered the Hebrews as promised, but he was primarily responsible for their pain.

Moses, like his peers, took his troubles upwards. He blamed the next “leader” up the chain of command – which, in this case, was God Himself. “Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Why is it You have sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people; neither have You delivered Your people at all” (Exodus 5:22-23).

Mull the whole story over in the recesses of your cranium. God sent Moses. Moses went to Pharaoh. Pharaoh rejected God and Moses and punished the Hebrews. The Hebrews and their supervisors blamed Moses. Moses blamed God.

It was Eve, Adam, the devil, and God all over again (cf. Genesis 3:8ff). “God, it’s all Your fault!”

But have you ever considered what God said to Moses on this occasion? He told Moses simply, “I am the LORD”

(Exodus 6:2).

Maybe that doesn’t sound too profound at first, good brethren, but it’s essential that we ponder, meditate upon, and internalize this truth!

Please don’t miss this point! Over and over again, when Moses encountered opposition, God told the prophet, “I am the LORD” (Genesis 6:6-8, 29; 7:5, 17; 8:22; 10:2; 12:12; 14:4). You see, He wanted his servant to understand that the answer to every problem was to be found in Him!

When we’ve stood for the right and boldly, and yet lovingly, spoken the Truth only to be the recipients of criticism and harsh censure, it is then we must open our ears and hearts to one fact – “I am the LORD!”

When we’ve rejected the cries of the politically correct and those who seek to foster immorality on our culture, it is then we must ponder, “I am the LORD!”

When the world insists that we water down the doctrine of Christ in order to accommodate the masses, we must dwell on God’s affirmation to Moses – “I am the LORD.”

Are you being criticized for doing and speaking the right thing? Remember God said, “I am the LORD!”

by Mike Benson

Why don’t we ever have squash?

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Janie finalizes supper preparations, while her husband, Sidney, sets the table. Their daughter Rebecca and Janie’s brother Larry sit down at their usual spots.

Larry asks Janie, “Why don’t we ever have squash?”

“Larry, we’ve had squash 4 or 5 times this year. But, you missed all those meals.”

“How’s that possible? Why don’t we have it when I’m here?”

“Because I buy the groceries, Larry, and fresh produce needs to be cooked. Maybe you can buy it when you know you’ll be here.”

Larry just shakes his head and mumbles that they never have squash.

Larry is like many members of the Church. They would rather complain than act as evidenced by the following examples.

* The congregation isn’t spending time together outside of worship. Yet, they don’t set up activities or attend those that are planned.

* They complain about the lack of youth activities, but don’t attend organized events.

* They protest fellowship meals because of the amount of cleanup involved but are nowhere to be seen cleaning after meals.

Why do people behave like this? By appearances, they want the church to grow. Yet their desire is illusory.
Their love for complaining paralyzes them and they cannot do anything else.

When Jesus promised to go to the house of Zacchaeus, he angered the people in the street (Luke 19:1-6). Their murmuring was described as the sound of bees, which is perfect considering that bees sting (Luke 19:7).

Paul urged the Philippians to “Do all things without complaining and disputing” (Philippians 2:14, NKJV).
God hates complaining because it destroys unity and stunts spiritual growth (Exodus 16:8; Numbers 11:1-4)

How can the Lord’s church ever grow if uncooperative complainers poison the congregation? They want their way rather than God’s way and the Lord will not tolerate that (Matthew 16:23; 1 Corinthians 1:10).

If we’re one of those complainers, we must wake up, repent, and work with the Lord rather than against him (John 14:15).

We must step out of our comfort zones and replace our fear with faith. We must be humble and allow God to do his work, because he is the real reason for the Church (James 4:10; Ephesians 20-21).

–by Richard Mansel

Is social media hurting our influence?

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Facebook allows a window into humanity that exposes many traits and tendencies, many of which are negative.

They aren’t new, but in Technicolor through social media.

As human beings, we love people who agree with us.

While that is not exclusively a bad thing, it nonetheless can create problems.

In politics and in volatile news stories, social media is ripe for conflict. Oftentimes, people post things that are ridiculous and erroneous. Bias births error and truth is discarded like the trash. Moreover, bias isn’t teachable, and it assumes a life of its own.

The sources we cherish may say more than we realize.

They can expose underlying racism and radicalism without a word from us. We must be especially careful about these issues because once our credibility is gone; no one will listen to anything else we have to say.

Three questions many need to ask themselves:

Do we hate the President more than we hate Satan?

Are our political views more important than the gospel?

Would we rather fight than evangelize?

Christians need to ask themselves some hard questions.

When we enter the Church (Acts 2:38,47), we enter the kingdom of Christ (Matthew 16:18-19; Ephesians 1:22- 23). Everything we do must be to glorify Jesus (Ephesians 3:20-21).

As Christians, we are dual citizens. In the fleshly world, we must never allow our lives to supersede our spiritual lives. We must be careful how we conduct ourselves because holiness never takes a day off (Matthew 28:18-20; Romans 12:1-2).

Our politics, race, hobbies, beliefs and relationships should never be more important than the Lord, or Satan will have an inroad into our hearts (1 Peter 5:8).

Richard Mansel

The desire to impress others is universal

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“Now behold, one came and said to Him, ‘Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life” (Matthew 19:16, NKJV).

The desire to impress others is universal. Wherever I travel I meet those who are eager to tell me of their accomplishments and qualifications. Sometimes this is in an effort to find employment, but often it seems to be nothing more than pride and self-importance.

It is human nature to want attention and to incite admiration. Most of us fall prey to that temptation at least occasionally.

I have long wearied of interviews with athletes who say, “I just want to show everyone what I can do.”  Maybe it is a sign of my age, but it seems that a few decades ago it was more often about the team – “I could not have done it alone, everyone had a part.”

Now it seems that too many are willing to take full credit for any accomplishment.

Perhaps I am being too hard on the young ruler of Matthew 19, but it is easy to see some of that attitude in his request. “What good thing can I do?”

With all his money and talent there must have been some noteworthy act of charity or religious ritual which would really get God’s attention and assure his entrance into the Kingdom. After all he was young, rich and powerful. Surely God needed someone like him

I am reminded of Naaman the Syrian leper, who was offended when Elisha required only that he bathe seven times in the Jordon. After all, he was the commander of Syria’s army, and the prophet would not even come out to greet him personally.

Naaman’s servants wisely asked, “If the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it?” (2 Kings 5:13). They knew it was Naaman’s ego that was bruised – he was just more important than Elisha was willing to recognize.

Jesus had previously given us the answer to the ruler’s question. “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Before one can be a faithful servant of God, he must recognize that it is we who need him; not the other way around.

Christianity is not about me. It is about God, always and only. I must come in humble submission to his will (James 4:7-10), recognizing his glory and power, and trust him to meet my needs, fulfilling his promises.

There is no mighty act which can prove human worthiness, no “good thing that I shall do.” Neither wealth, nor social position, nor physical abilities makes one acceptable to God. Only faith can do that (Habakkuk 2:4; Ephesians 2:8-9).

–by Michael E. Brooks

Chronic pain

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People who suffer from chronic pain know what it means to hurt. While they cannot eliminate all of the discomfort from their lives, they can limit its severity by being careful and wise in their activities.

They plan their days, making accommodations so they can carry out their responsibilities. However, sometimes events are so important that the pain becomes secondary.

A day with loved ones or a thrilling activity can be worth the pain. So the chronic pain sufferer prepares themselves to perform something beyond their abilities such as walking or standing for long periods of time.

They know they will pay dearly afterwards, but they see it as an investment to accomplish something important.  Cherished time with family, for example, may be worth extra pain or time in bed.

A spiritual application can be made.

As Christians, there is enough work for all of us to do. This work includes activities that we may fear such as talking to strangers or conducting a Bible study. We naturally shy away from such things because we fear failure and embarrassment.

Call it investment pain because it has to be done by someone. Like the chronic pain sufferer, we do that which requires us to step out of our comfort zones.

We must be willing to suffer the discomfort required to do God’s will. Nevertheless, we must put the Lord first and advance his goals by giving our lives completely to his service.

Christ suffered the indignity and excruciating pain of the crucifixion when he did not want to do so (Matthew 26:36-39). His ultimate investment pain should certainly lead us to do our small part.

All Christians can do something to advance the cause of the Lord. When we are transformed by the gospel, we must overlook our own comfort and place ourselves in his hands (Romans 12:1-2). We are his instruments for good (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

Haggai condemned the nation of Israel for building fancy houses while God’s house lie desolate (Haggai 1:2-3). It is easy to think of ourselves, but that does nothing for God (Haggai 1:6).

It is time to invest in discomfort and to do God’s will, no matter what he needs us to do.

by Richard Mansel @ www.forthright.net

If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?

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“For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. . . . For in fact the body is not one member but many” (1 Corinthians 12:12, 14 NKJV).

One of the pleasures of traveling to many distant places that I enjoy is that I get to see a lot of different things. These include different geographical features, cultures, man-made attractions, and (perhaps my favorite) different animals. I don’t see many water buffalo in Alabama, nor do I get to see yak very often (yes, there really is such a creature).

On a recent trip to the mountains of Nepal I saw a man milking his yaks. It was not much different than milking cows, but still, that was a first. Yaks look a lot like cattle – just more hair and a different tail – but they are not cows, and that matters. Those few unique features not only define a separate species, but it also allows for special uses (carrying loads over high and steep mountains, for example) to which those particular animals are put.

It is important as well for us as humans to recognize that each one is unique. No one else shares the same DNA; no one else has quite the same collection of talents, experiences, resources, and opportunities.

Paul discusses this fact in reference to the church that Jesus established. It is his body (Ephesians 1:22- 23), and it is comprised of many members. Each member of the church, like each part of the human body, has its own characteristics and its own function.

Those unique features create a need and value for every follower of Christ. “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling” (1 Corinthians 12:17)? In another passage he teaches that the body is “joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share” (Ephesians 4:16).

No one is unimportant. Each Christian has a role to fulfill and tasks to perform. Christ would no more desire to dismiss one of his followers than we would choose to cut off some part of our bodies. Yes, disease may make such surgery necessary on occasion, but it is always to be avoided if possible. This is true spiritually as well as physically.

Our human tendency is to shun differences. This is a root of racial prejudice. It is also a cause of much division in churches. We like people around us with whom we share common features, whether they be racial, linguistic, nationality, or simply interests and customs.

Scripture encourages us to embrace differences, welcoming others who are unlike us, so that we may be strengthened by their contributions. Let each part do their share, so that the whole body might be built up and improved. After all, “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing?”

by Michael E. Brooks

In this manner, therefore, pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name

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In This Manner, Pray
Michael E. Brooks @ www.forthright.net

“In this manner, therefore, pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
Amen” (Matthew 6:9-13 NKJV).

Prayer seems to be a feature of all religions, regardless of what else they may or may not have in common. Nearly everyone who professes faith in a deity has some method of communication whereby needs and wants may be expressed.

Muslim prayers are offered at set times as indicated by the broadcast prayer calls (five times each day).  Devout Muslims prepare themselves, kneel on dedicated prayer rugs facing toward Mecca, and prostrate themselves as they chant memorized ritualistic prayers.

Hindus and Buddhists write many of their prayers on wheels or flags which then are released to their gods when the wheel rotates or the flag flutters in the breeze. Since those prayers are often written in classical Sanskrit rather than the languages of the people, it is probable that many of those praying do not actually know what it is that they are requesting or professing to their gods.

The method and characteristics of prayer are of significance. When Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) he was critical of the long, repetitious, but insincere prayers of the religious leaders of the Jewish people. In contrast he commanded the people to pray in a different manner. What are the distinctive characteristics of acceptable prayer to “the living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9)?

First, it must be sincere. Christians are commanded to pray like we mean it (James 1:6). In Matthew 6 Jesus condemned the Pharisees’ good deeds, prayers, and fastings, because all were being done “before men, to be seen by them” (verse 1). Memorizing and repeating a few words as a ritual for particular times is not of itself genuine prayer. There must be intent and purpose from the heart.

Second, prayer may be short and simple. One does not have to pray for long periods in order to be heard by God. Yes, Jesus once spent all night in prayer (Luke 6:12) and long prayers may be needed and acceptable.
However, length alone does not make a good prayer. The model prayer found in Matthew 6 required only a few seconds to recite, yet encapsulated what the Lord considered necessary to spiritual communication with God.

Third, prayer should regularly include certain components, among which are praise (“hallowed be your name”), petitions for others (“your will be done on earth”); petitions for our own material needs (“give us this day our daily bread”); and petitions for our own spiritual needs (“forgive us our debts”). Additional elements of prayer may be found in the many other passages which treat the subject.

Note that there is no mention of posture, dress, directional orientation, or other physical requirements in our prayers. Christians are encouraged to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) but not a certain number of times per day. Paul mentions “lifting up holy hands” in prayer (1 Timothy 2:8). However, the acceptable prayer of the tax collector in Jesus’ parable was given “without so much as rais[ing] his eyes to heaven” (Luke 18:13).

Christian prayers are not about ritual, form, or quality of speech. They are sincere faithful communications between weak and mortal humans and the God who made us. Let us pray “in this manner.”

Death is not the end!

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Cemeteries house the remains of the dead. The world calls this their final resting place, but Scripture has another view.

We all have an unavoidable appointment with judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Death is a passage, not the end, because we’re preparing for what happens next every single day.

Eternity looms and no one can escape. One day those seemingly dead cemeteries will come to life as the Lord appears in the air and the books will be opened (1 Thessalonians 4:16; Revelation 20:11-15).

In the Garden of Eden, sin entered the world and has plagued mankind ever since (Genesis 3:1-16; Romans 3:23). Yet, God commissioned his Son to be the answer (Genesis 3:15; John 3:16; Romans 5:6-11).

Jesus died but God didn’t leave him in the grave (Psalm 16:10-11). He arose and conquered death (Luke 9:21-27).

We follow the same pattern. We emulate his death, burial and resurrection in baptism (Romans 6:3-4) and in our physical death (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).

When the Lord returns, we will all be changed because flesh and blood cannot enter a spiritual kingdom (1 Corinthians 15:50). The physical body is temporal while the spirit is eternal and will live on in either heaven or hell (Matthew 25:46).

The dead will rise and the living will be transformed “in the twinkling of an eye” into a new spiritual form (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). This will happen very quickly and we cannot know what we will be. Jesus’ post- resurrection body is a clue, but even then we cannot know to what extent.

Our corrupt bodies, both physically and spiritually, are insufficient without Christ. Our relationship with him determines our place in this new existence (Matthew 11:28-30; John 14:1-6).

If we are in him, we will have a home in heaven (Galatians 3:26-27; 1 Thessalonians 4:27). Otherwise, we will go with our father, the devil, to eternal destruction (Revelation 20:1-10).

We cannot know what form we will have, but we can be assured that the Word is certain about the state of our salvation. Unless we repent and live for him, we will be lost forevermore (Luke 13:3).

by Richard Mansel

God is our shield and defender

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“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid: For the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song…”—Isaiah 12:2

We live today in a world of unrest socially, politically and even spiritually. It is a world in which men are lovers of their own selves, covetous, unthankful, heady, high-minded and lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God. It is a world in which wickedness, envy and deceit seem to fill the hearts of men (2 Tim. 3:1-5, Rom. 1:21-32). Sometimes I have a tendency to become a little tired and weary and want to cry out, “How long O Lord, How long.”

The greatest and most important decisions we ever make in this life are those that have to do with our eternal well being once we put off this earthly tabernacle. Our eternal salvation will not come from the words and deeds of any mortal man. The author of our salvation is the one who died for us on the cross of Calvary (Heb. 5:8-9). We need to be impressed with the love that God had/has for us (John 3:16, Rom. 5:8, 1 John 3:1). It is by the hand of God that we are delivered from the kingdom of darkness and placed into the kingdom of light (Col. 1:12-17). Truly, as is often sung, “My hope is built on Christ the solid rock, all other ground is sinking sand”. The one thing I desire above all else is to one day be ushered out into eternity to meet my God and hear him say, “Well done good and faithful servant” (2 Cor. 5:10, Matt. 25:21). I trust that all who read this will feel the same way.

My friends, with our trust place firmly in God we will be safe and secure. You see, he is our shield and defender (Psalms 18:1-3). His presence is ours and because of this even though dangers may threaten, we know that they will never be able to harm us or separate us from the love of God (Heb. 13:5, Rom. 8:31, 35-39). With the utmost conviction we can say, “The Lord is my helper” (Heb. 13:6). Peter tells us to cast our burdens on him because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). Hear the writer of Hebrews as he tells us that we can come boldly to the throne of grace and receive mercy and help in time of need (Heb. 4:16). One of the greatest assurances of this comes from Psalms 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”. Never forget, when the storm clouds gather, the wind begins to blow, the lightening flashes and the thunder roars, we are safe in his arms. As a child of God we can sing from the deepest recesses of our hearts, “Safe in the arms of Jesus, Safe on His gentle breast, There by his love o’ershaded, Sweetly my soul shall rest”. Hear him, believe him, confess him, repent of sins and be baptized into him (Rom. 10:17, John 20:21, Luke 13:3, Rom. 10:10, Gal. 3:27).

At this hour of our lives, joy should reign supreme in our hearts because we have been washed whiter than snow. We really have no reason to be fearful and/or sad even though this is a dreary old world in which we live. Paul instructs us to rejoice in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4). I only pray that each of us will express our joy in living daily for Jesus, letting our lights shine so that he will be glorified. To God be the glory forever and ever—Amen.

Charles Hicks

True love

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How many people have experienced firsthand the exhilaration of being swept up by love in the same way a thundering surf lifts and propels a small piece of driftwood? Probably most people know what it is like to be overwhelmed by love.

Just as swimmers cannot control the surf or the ebb and flow of the tide, so too the profound tug of romantic love can dominate our feelings. Whether we want to admit it or not, while we certainly remain in control of our decisions, quite likely the feelings of our hearts will be like a rudderless cork tossed to and fro by the whim of the events unfolding around us.

When it comes to romantic love, we can never be fully in charge of our feelings, because they gain their strength from our perception of events beyond our control. The mood experienced during a wonderfully romantic dinner can suddenly be shattered by the other’s crude, hurtful and selfish comments or actions. In spite of an iron will commanding those feelings to return, the warmth is gone.

There is, however, another form of love that we do command. We are responsible and can be held accountable for whether this love resides in our heart, breathing its existence into our actions and words.

This is the type of love we first see God exuding toward us when he sent Christ to the cross. This is the love that determines to seek the well-being of someone and then act upon that decision. This is agape.

Agape is the kind of love that Jesus’ disciples are commanded to possess for their enemies. Agape is to be the motivation behind a Christian husband’s actions and words toward his wife. Agape is to be the driving force shaping how God’s people behave.

We can never be in control of any form of love which is dependent upon forces or situations beyond our control. Such is the fickle nature of the feelings of friendship and romantic love.

However, we can be in control of that type of love that determines to do good to others in spite of opposition or what our circumstances might be.
Furthermore, this agape kind of love has some beautiful side effects. Often it can contribute toward the type of circumstances enabling other forms of love to thrive.

Since Jesus walked a blood-stained path to the cross for us, how appropriate for him to tell his disciples, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love (agape) for one another” (John 13:35; 14:23).

by Barry Newton

This will be the last post till 12/31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Michael E. Brooks

A good motto: IF I CAN, I DO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–by Michael E. Brooks

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