Archives for : December2011

Locked Fire Hydrants

Eric Aderholt can speak as an expert about the ramifications of a locked fire hydrant.  His suburban Fort Worth, Texas, house burned down this past August, not because fire fighters took so long to arrive but because they did not have the key to unlock the hydrant.  In response to Homeland Security measures in the wake of 9/11, many rural neighborhoods’ hydrants were outfitted with a locking device meant to prevent vandalism and especially terrorism.  When there was no fire, that hydrant in Aderholt’s Alexander Ranch community may have provided some sense of security and confidence just by being there.  But when the need existed, the very substance that could make the difference was not even introduced.  There was no water when water was most needed.

A great fire will come at a time no one expects (2 Th. 1;7-9).  God has provided a means to keep us from suffering total loss when this occurs.  The “key” to proper preparation rests in one of the most neglected “tools” of all time-the Bible.  How do we know about the fire?  How do we know about eternal loss prevention?  How do we know about the only true and living water (cf. John 4:10-11)?  How do we know Who the fire escape is?  Yet, so many who think everything is OK are unprepared.  Even more tragic are those who should know better, who have even been shown the “key.”  They throw it away or refuse to take it.  They chose not to be protected.  The fact of Jesus’ sacrifice and grace is wonderful, but that fact will not save.

We must unlock the benefit of God’s grace by faith-filled obedience (cf. Heb. 5:9).  Simply acknowledging His existence or even His identity is insufficient.  There is a “key of knowledge” (Luke 11:52).  Let us use it and show others how to use it, too!

–Neal Pollard

That's not nudity, that's art

As a junior in a high-school history class, I remember watching a movie that covered several important times, events and people in American society. At one point it flashed a topless pose of Marilyn Monroe.

I was shocked that they would show this to a class of high-school students. My teacher quickly stopped the classroom buzz by saying, “That’s not nudity, that’s art.”

There is no question that our society is obsessed with pornography. While it is never a comfortable issue to address, it has become an American epidemic.

Though pornography has been a problem for a long time, only recently has it become something so public. People are no longer ashamed, but actually quite proud, of the pornography industry. Pictures of the “Playboy” bunny are now found on clothing, car stickers and other places.

The pornography industry makes more money than professional baseball, football and basketball combined.

It is a true problem in the world around us and, sadly, it has even filtered into the church.

We need to guard ourselves and our families by whatever means possible to keep from being sucked into this godless pastime.

Job said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; why then should I look upon a young woman?” (Job 31:1 NKJV).

We, too, should make a covenant with our eyes and keep from joining in with the sex-crazed society around us. Our prayer should be like the psalmist who said, “Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, and revive me in Your way” (Psalm 119:37).

Sadly, we live in a world of perverts who call pornography art.

Let us not be one of them, but let us make a covenant with our eyes, and let us turn away our eyes from worthless things.

–by Garrett Bookout @ www.forthright.net

How to better understand women

IN HIS BOOK “The Purpose and Power of Love & Marriage,” Myles Munroe says:

.  When a male demands, a female reacts; she doesn’t respond.

.  When a male gives, a female responds.

.  When a male commits, a female submits.  Nothing is more precious to a female than a committed male.  Nothing is more depressing to a female than an uncommitted male.

.  When a male abuses, a female refuses.  Whenever a man abuses a woman, she refuses to respond.

.  When a male shares, a female cares.  If you find a man who is willing to share with the woman in his life, you will find a woman who is willing to care for her man.

.  When a male leads, a female follows.  When a man carries out his God-given responsibility for leadership, a woman responds by following his lead.  Leadership does not mean being bossy, always telling others what to do.  Good leaders lead by example, not by decree.  Jesus led by example, and so did Moses, Peter, Paul, and all the other great leaders in the Bible.  Leading by example means doing ourselves the things we wish others to do.

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.  So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”   This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”  Ephesians 5:22 – 33

Mike Benson

A trick used by thieves

FORMER POLICE officer tells of the tactics of roving bands of thieves:

They enter the store as a group. One or two separate themselves from the group, and the other start a loud commotion in another section of the store. This grabs the attention of the clerks and customers. As all eyes are turned to the disturbance, the accomplices fill their pockets with merchandise and cash, leaving before anyone suspects.

Hours–sometimes even days–later, the victimized merchant realizes things are missing and calls the police. Too late.

THOUGHT: How often this effective strategy is used by the devil! We are seduced into paying attention to distractions, while evil ransacks our heart and lives.

“Lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices” ( 2 Cor. 2:11).

–Mike Benson

What do you give a baby?

For those of us with parents in the “golden” years, it’s a challenge to give them something for Christmas. They already have everything they need and what they don’t have, they can buy. It’s similar to giving Christmas gifts to your baby for his/her first year or subsequent years. What do they need? Nothing. What can they play with? Not a lot. It’s a challenge.

What did the wise men bring to Jesus? Gold, frankincense and myrrh. What kind of good did that do a baby? Not much. Maybe Joseph and Mary used the gold to buy food and sold the frankincense and myrrh to have funds to travel back home. They were expensive gifts no doubt. But not practical. What do you give to someone who doesn’t need anything?

The girls came home from school and said, “Dad, my friends get more allowance than I do.” I responded, “You don’t even NEED an allowance! What do you NEED that we don’t give you anyway?” What can you give someone who doesn’t need anything?

What does God need from us? Nothing. What does God want from us? Nothing. He doesn’t need anything. Nothing we can give God makes Him any wealthier or happier. It’s all His anyway. If He wanted something, He could produce it out of thin air.

When we first started giving an allowance to the girls, one Sunday I asked the girls what they were going to give to “church.” They held out their hands with all of the allowance. My first reaction was, “You DON’T give all of it!” (We’re trying to teach them to budget.) But then I stopped myself. Isn’t that what God tells us to do? Doesn’t He want us to give Him everything? We can’t give God any thing. He doesn’t need it.

But what God does want is all of us. If we are immersed in Christ, there’s no question how we’ll use our time.  If we are immersed in Christ, there’s no debate over how we’ll use our money. If we are immersed into Christ, we don’t have to make decisions about whether to use our abilities to serve Christ.

What does God want? He wants a living gift. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2).

Today, remind yourself that your time and money are on loan from God. How will you use it for Him?

–Paul Holland

Then I get scared

In a Peanuts cartoon, Linus tells Charlie Brown, “When I hear those coyotes howling at night, it totally depresses me. I start to feel lonely … Then I get scared.”

Charlie Brown says, “I thought holding onto that blanket made you secure.”

Linus replies, “I think the warranty has run out.”

Isn’t that true for us? We fear life, we fear death, and everything in between. We are afraid of little things like a black cat crossing our path or spilled salt. Or, leaving our home at night lest we become a victim of crime. Or, the fear that floods our hearts as we wait for the doctor to
tell us if we have cancer. Or, the fear that startles us when the shrill sound of the telephone jolts us awake in the middle of the night.

The antidote to our fears is found in the coming of Christ into the world. The first words of Adam are “I was afraid.” But the first words at the birth of Jesus are, “Don’t be afraid.”

Ian Chapman, Don’t Be Afraid

God became flesh

The following story was told many years ago by Paul Harvey on his popular radio broadcast.  The first time I heard it I was deeply touched by its message.  I still am, and hope you will be too.

The Christmas story—the “God-born-in-a-manger” and all that—escapes some moderns.  Mostly, I think, because they seek complex answers to their questions, and this one is so utterly simple.  For the cynics, the skeptics and the unconvinced, I submit a modern parable.

This is about a modern man.  One of us.

He was not a Scrooge.  He was a kind, decent, mostly good man.  Generous to his family, upright in his dealings with other men.  But he did not believe in all that Incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas time.  It just didn’t make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise.  He just could not swallow the Jesus story.  About God coming to earth as a man.

“I am truly sorry to distress you,” he said to his wife, “but I am not going with you to church this Christmas Eve.”  He said he’d feel like a hypocrite.  That he would much rather stay home.  But that he would wait up for them.

He stayed.  They went.

Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall.  He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier, then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper.

Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound.  Then another, then another. At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window.

When he went to the front door to investigate, he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow.  They had been caught in the storm, and in a desperate search for shelter had tried to fly through his large landscape window.

Well . . . he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze.

He remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony.  That would provide a warm shelter if he could direct the birds to it.

He quickly put on coat, galoshes.  Tramped through the deepening snow to the barn.   He opened the doors wide and turned on a light.

But the birds did not come in.

He figured food would entice them in and he hurried back to the house, fetched breadcrumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide-open doorway of the stable.

But to his dismay the birds ignored the breadcrumbs and continued to flop around helplessly in the snow.

He tried catching them.  He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms.  Instead, they scurried in every direction—except into the warm, lighted barn.

Then he realized they were afraid of him.  “To them,” he reasoned, “I am a strange and terrifying creature.  If only I could think of some way to let them know they can trust me, that I’m not trying to hurt them, but to help them.”

How?
Any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them.  They just would not follow . . . they would not be led or shooed because they feared him.

And then – snap – the thought struck him.  “If only I could be a bird myself.  If only I could be a bird and mingle with them and speak their language and tell them not to be afraid and show them the way into the safe, warm barn.”

“But I’d have to be one of them . . . so they could see and hear and understand.”

At that moment the church bells began to ring.  The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind.

He stood there . . . listening to the bells. . . Adepter Fidelio . . . listening to the bells pealing the glad tiding of Christmas.

And he sank to his knees in the snow.

Hugh Guilford

Government cuts woman's vocal chords

Zhang Zhixin was a young Chinese woman who opposed Mao Zedong’s communist government. She was executed in 1975 for her struggle for human rights. Before her death, in order to ensure she could not speak out again at the last moment, the authorities cut her vocal chords.

Tyranny seeks to squelch the voice of freedom.

Satan seeks to do the same to Christians. The great danger is not oppressive governments and persecution from authorities, but from saints who let timidity, cowardice and conformity to the world silence their proclamation of the gospel.

The Gospel of Mark is known as a vigorous account of Jesus’ actions. But in the first chapters it also highlights Jesus’ principal activity and mission: proclaiming the forgiveness of sins. This he does, even in the midst of opposition.

His example calls us to do the same. Let’s see seven points where Mark establishes Jesus’ major activity.

#1. The gospel opens declaring “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Instead of telling about Jesus’ birth or childhood, it goes directly to the forerunner, John the baptizer, whose principal job is “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (1:4 NET). Though John is before Jesus, his message signals what Jesus will be about.

#2. When Jesus started his ministry, soon after his baptism at the hands of John, he “proclaimed the gospel of God” (1:14). The content included the imminent arrival of the kingdom, repentance and faith in the gospel (v. 15). He called men to do the same, to be “fishers of people” (v. 17).

#3. When the disciples search for Jesus to appease the crowds, he refuses and declares why he came to earth: “Let us go elsewhere, into the surrounding villages, so that I can preach there too. For that is what I came out here to do” (1:38). Jesus came to preach. If he didn’t allow his vocal chords to be cut by Satan, neither would he become a panderer to crowds or a miracle-worker for physical and material good.

#4. After four men strained to get their paralytic friend in front of Jesus, the Lord offers him … forgiveness of sins! (2:5), because he knew what the man most needed. Only to prove that he had authority to forgive sins did he finally heal the man.

#5. Infrequent as Jesus’ declarations of purpose are in the gospels, it is surprising to see another so soon after 1:38, but in Levi’s house, among publicans and sinners, he answers a question put to the disciples: “Those who are healthy don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (2:17). The calling comes by going to the sinners and inviting them into the forgiveness of God.

#6. Mark lists three reasons Jesus designated twelve apostles, or envoys: “so that they would be with him [to learn from him] and he could send them to preach [to continue what he started] and to have authority to cast out demons [confirming the message, Mark 16:20]” (2:14-15). And when he did send them out, what did they do? “So they went out and preached that all should repent” (6:12).

#7. The story about Jesus’ family attempting intervention surrounds the accusation that he cast out demons by Satan’s power. He meets that accusation head on, but winds up speaking about what? Forgiveness and non-forgiveness of sins! “I tell you the truth, people will be forgiven for all sins, even all the blasphemies they utter. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (3:29-30). Jesus winds up the family issue by saying that his family (the forgiven ones!) are those who do the will of God. A good part of that will, as John and Jesus and the disciples taught, was repentance.

This short survey of the beginning of Mark’s gospel establishes that Jesus came to preach and offer forgiveness of sins. (Mark 10:45 will establish the means.) Jesus spoke at every turn, in the face of opposition, criticism and bald attempts at intervention.

If we want to be like Jesus, we will do the same. For Satan will cut our vocal chords only with our permission.

–J. Randal Matheny @ www.forthright.net

The truth about Christmas

At year’s end for centuries, even before the birth of Christ, people in Europe enjoyed a holiday season. An occasion of rejoicing [for] the fact that at year’s end the northern hemisphere was at its farthest point away from the sun and was about to turn back closer to its light and warmth. Days would begin to lengthen. Gradually the long nights would be shorter. As a symbol of returning life the ancient Teutonic tribes decorated their houses with evergreen and the fireplace burned brightly with the yuletide log. Good luck gifts were freely exchanged. It was a time of joy and good cheer.

Over three hundred years after Jesus was born the year’s end holiday season was appropriated to make a religious celebration. It was recognized that Jesus was not born in the winter time, for shepherds do not have their flocks out in the open around Bethlehem in December. The continual weather forecast for December is “Hail. Snow on higher hills, and occasionally on lower levels.” Nevertheless, the date of December 25 was selected by Liberius, bishop of Rome, in 354 A.D., to coincide with the established year’s end holidays. Since that time, bishop’s order has been followed by the Roman Catholic Church, and when the Protestant churches were established, they began following Rome’s lead in making December 25 a sacred day.

God did not make any day of the week or of the year as a holy day for Christians. If anyone does so, it is his own private doing from “his own mind” (Rm. 14:5). And if he does so, he must not push that day on others, for, said Paul, “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls (Rm. 14:4). The Christians in Galatia were pushing holy days, and they received a blistering condemnation from Paul: “You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you” (Gal. 4:10-11).

The first day of the week to Christians is not more sacred that any other. Every day is a gift from the Lord, and so every day is the Lord’s day, but Christians do remember the first day of the week as a day of precious memory that Jesus arose on that day (Mk. 16:9), and they call it the “Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10). But they do not regard Sunday as a sabbath or a more holy day than any other. On that day by apostolic teaching they assemble to observe the Lord’s supper and to make financial offerings (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2).

After the Roman Catholic Church had fitted an erroneous birthday of Christ to coincide with the established holiday season, more and more additions became part of the celebration. “St. Nicholas” was a 4th century bishop, who was called “the patron saint of children, sailors, and scholars,” now called “Santa Claus.” In the 11th century someone invented the word “Christmas,” meaning “Christ’s Mass” (Christes Masse). In France the word was “Noel,” meaning pertaining to a birthday.

The burning of candles and the use of bright lights during the December holidays are believed to have come from the Jewish custom in their celebration of the Feast of Dedication, the Hanukkah, the “Feast of Lights,” December 23-30, mentioned in John 10:22.

The use of trees as decorations began in German mystery plays as symbolic of the Garden of Eden. The use of mistletoe came from the English belief of its magical powers: If one’s enemy stood under the mistletoe he would disarm himself.

Manger displays started in Italy, and mincemeat pies began to be baked in oblong shapes to represent the manger. The poinsettia was discovered in Mexico, and came to be called the “Flower of the Holy Night.” The sending of greeting cards originated in England. Today such a custom spreads good cheer the world around.

To thousands, Christmas does not mean a mass for Christ, just as Saturday does not mean a day to worship Saturn, and as Thursday does not mean a day dedicated to the war god, Thor. To thousands, Christmas means only a time for families and good friends to get together, to exchange gifts, and to relax.

All Christians rejoice that the great Father planned that Mary, sitting on a donkey’s back, riding toward Bethlehem, had, in her womb, God in the flesh, being protected by a water bag. But when inns are full, theyarefull.Sleepwhereyoucan.So,inastable,“Goddeep in the flesh became deep in the straw,…waving little arms, hungrily sucking a fist, like any other newborn baby.” This was the super-miracle, for lying in a feeding trough was the creator of the universe (Jn. 1:3), one who would become a brother (Rm. 8:29), a friend (Jn. 15:14), the sin-bearer (2 Cor. 5:21), and the redeemer (1 Pt. 1:18-19).

On any day at any season of the year it is edifying to sing songs about the birth of the Anointed One, the Christ-child. Songs about the birth of the Babe of Bethlehem continue to make millions happy and draw them closer to one another and to the One who came to live among humans and who wants to take them to heaven. The earliest of such carols, from the 4th century, is “Jesus, Light of All the Nations.” Other famous ones are: “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Away in the Manger,” “Joy to the World,” and “Silent Night.”

G.K. Wallace (GOSPEL ADVOCATE, 12-15-1966) asked “What shall we do this Christmas?” He gives 12 answers:

Seek out a forgotten friend and write a love letter.
Dismiss suspicion and learn to trust.
Share a treasure and give a soft answer.
Manifest loyalty in word, in deed, and encourage youth.
Find time to do what needs to be done and keep our promises.
Forgive an enemy and forgo a grudge.
Listen, understand, and apologize, if you are wrong.
Be gentle, be kind, and so act as to deserve confidence.
Learn to laugh and take up arms against malice.
Do not become complacent. Express your gratitude.
Gladden the heart of a child, welcome a stranger, and take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth.
Speak your love. Speak it again. Speak it still once again and our Holiday will be a happy day.

–by Hugo McCord (Deceased)

The Compliment Guys

Have you heard about Brett Westcott and Cameron Brown? They are known as the “Compliment Guys.” A couple years ago, on the campus of Purdue University, they decided to stand in a common area and give compliments to anyone who walked by.  They attracted a lot of attention, even going on tour!
Is common friendliness and nicety so rare that it’s not really common? That it does attract so much attention? But being friendly – just giving a single compliment – is just so easy.
The wise man wrote: “Many seek the favor of a generous man, and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts” (Proverbs 19:6). If we want more friends, if we want to attract more of the lost to Christ, we could try giving away the gift of a compliment and encouragement – to a perfect stranger!
Proverbs 15:23 is also apropos: “To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!” Or verse 30: “The light of the eyes rejoices the heart, and good news refreshes the bones.” Resolve now to be a “Compliment Guy/Gal” and compliment a stranger today!

–Paul Holland

Cancel Bible classes and worship services on Christmas Day

I’ve been reading in the news lately of several churches who are deciding to cancel their Bible classes and worship services on Christmas Day because it fall on Sunday. Several rather influential churches have announced that they are closing their doors on Christmas day, which of course, falls on Sunday this year. Apart from the obvious inconsistency in this practice and their oft repeated statement, “Jesus is the reason for the season, there is another factor I would like for you to consider.

According to these churches, the reason for closing their doors on Christmas is because they value families, and want families to be able to spend time together. Having to schedule opening presents, a meal with all the trimmings, and all that goes along with Christmas, around Bible study and worship service is considered to inconvenient, so those who have preached we need to put “Christ back into Christmas,” will be locking the doors to their houses of worship, keeping those who have accepted their message locked outside in the cold.

But now consider. Where will this end? How long will it take for someone to see the logical end of such a position, and call for its practice. Imagine this Spring the following AP News Headline…Churches Cancel Worship Services Since Easter Falls On Sunday. “In order to promote family time, churches across America will be closing their doors on Easter Sunday so that families won’t be inconvenienced with having to schedule their Easter egg hunts and Easter egg paintings around Bible study and worship…”

Who are we fooling? This isn’t about valuing family. It’s about individualism. It’s about consumerism. It’s about having what we want, when we want it, the way we want it. And apparently, even God can’t be allowed to get in the way.

Friends, while I value my family and respect others who value theirs, I am reminded that family should not be elevated about my relationship to the Lord. It was Jesus who said, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26).

Are these churches really prepared to stand by their logic which elevates family over the Lord when special occasions fall on Sunday? If so, I wonder what will occur on Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Labor Day Weekend, 4th of July, President’s Day, Groundhog Day, etc… I guess time will tell.

Steve Higginbotham

Are you a control freak?

“The preparations of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:1 NKJV).

“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9)

“O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).

Are you a control freak? Conventional wisdom says that most men tend to be. I would agree with that, but with the added observation that the same thing applies to most women as well.

The truth is that most people would like to determine their actions and situations all of the time. The harsh reality is that no one can do that, and that most of us are truly in control of very few of the circumstances of our lives.

When I first began to travel in other countries to preach the Gospel, I found myself wanting to dictate almost everything that pertained to the work. I wanted to choose the hotels where I stayed, the restaurants in which I ate, the cars and drivers in which I traveled, and the times of departure of each trip, not to mention the schedule and topics of Bible studies and evangelistic meetings.

It was frustrating to me when the local Christians directed the driver to stop without asking me first, or invited other passengers to share our already crowded vehicles without prior consultation, or when they invited other speakers to participate that were not prearranged.

After all, who did they think was paying for this trip? Who was in charge?

With experience and a measure of maturity, I have learned not only to delegate many decisions to others, but also that there are some things that I am not necessarily in charge of. The fact that I initiate or organize a trip and secure the necessary funding does not make it exclusively mine.

Others are involved and are as vital to success as I, or more so.

They are often in a better position to make arrangements than I am, and they don’t really need my help (or my interference). This is not even our work — it belongs to the Lord. We are stewards of his gifts, to use them for his purpose.

Much of our frustration and feeling of helplessness can be overcome by faith. We are not in charge of events on this earth, but we serve the one who is. Speaking of Jesus, the Holy Spirit teaches:

“For by him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he may have the preeminence” (Colossians 1:16-18).

When confronted with adverse situations, we can react negatively with anger, depression, or a sense of failure. Or, we can respond with faithful patience, relying on God to present us with alternatives which will lead to progress.

Or, it can leave us with courage and strength to survive the difficulties. Often the best approach is not control, but submission — the willingness to “let go, and let God.”

–Michael E. Brooks @ www.forthright.net

Jeremiah felt a fire in his bones. What was its source?

For years I wondered why firefighters carried axes to the scenes of fires. Hadn’t the fire done enough damage without chopping away at the remaining roof or walls? Then I learned that those axes serve a valuable purpose: They uncover smoldering hot spots that might later ignite. It keeps the firemen from having to return.

A famous passage in the Bible regarding fire is found in Jeremiah 20. Jeremiah had to confront strong opposition to the message he preached. And why did he preach that unpopular message? It was what the Lord gave him to speak. In verses 7 and 8 he described those who opposed him: “O Lord, you induced me, and I was persuaded; you are stronger than I, and have prevailed. I am in derision daily; everyone mocks me. For when I spoke, I cried out; I shouted, ‘Violence and plunder!’ Because the word of the Lord was made to me a reproach and a derision daily” (NKJV). The prophet faced hecklers whenever he spoke, and it was getting wearisome.

Jeremiah resolved what any of us likely would have: “Then I said, ‘I will not make mention of him, nor speak anymore in his name'” (v. 9a). But that plan didn’t work for long: “… But his word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not” (v. 9b).

That kind of motivation to speak up for the Lord is needed in all ages. Jeremiah was not the first to face opposition for preaching the truth, and he wasn’t the last. But where was the “hot spot” in this man that compelled him to speak up for God when others fought him?

He pointed to the source in verse 11: “But the Lord is with me as a mighty, awesome one. Therefore my persecutors will stumble, and will not prevail. They will be greatly ashamed, for they will not prosper. Their everlasting confusion will never be forgotten.” Beyond the daily frustration of fighting the enemies of God, Jeremiah could see the awesome Lord for whom he spoke. That was what kept the fire burning in his heart. That was how he could press on against such great opposition.

When problems come, we can’t help but focus on the problems. When they are especially large, we grow discouraged. But the same formula that worked for Jeremiah will work for us. By shifting our focus from the trials to the almighty God we serve, we’ll find new courage and energy. We’ll soon be able to exult with words like Jeremiah’s: “Sing to the Lord! Praise the Lord! For he has delivered the poor from the hand of the evildoers” (Jeremiah 20:13).

–Tim Hall

God is our shield

There are twenty passages in the psalms which depict God as a shield. From Psalm 3:3: “But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head” to “he is my steadfast love and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me” (Psalm 144:2). God is our defense. Our fortress. Our deliverer. Our shield.
Two passages in Proverbs call God our “Shield”. “He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity” (Proverb 2:7).Notice here that Solomon says God is the shield to those who “walk in integrity.” “Integrity” means “complete, unbroken, whole.” Here, in means that our outward walk is consistent with our inward beliefs.
The second passage that calls God a Shield in Proverbs is 30:5-6: “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar” (Proverbs 30:5-6). We must seek refuge in God and His word will be our shield. That means that we cannot add to His words. They are true. If we add something to them, we become liars.
To seek refuge in God and His word means that I trust His word. I trust what He says even if I can’t see the end result. I walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7), believing that what God says must be the right thing to do. I don’t have to argue this or that. My answer, the foundation of my heart’s tranquility, is: “God said it. That settles it.”
When we live our lives that way, God is our Shield. We walk in integrity and we take refuge in Him.

-Paul Holland

Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint; But he that keepeth the law, happy is he – Prov 29:18

It is important to have vision. If you don’t have any idea where you are going, how do you know you’ve arrived? Often, Christians will use Proverbs 29:18 to support this, admittedly good, idea. That passage says, “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, but happy is he who keeps the law” (NASV). The problem is, that’s not what the wise man is saying. He’s not talking about dreams and goals. What is he talking about?

First, remember that proverbs are written with a parallel format. That is, the second part explains either through elaboration or contrast the first part. So, “happy is he who keeps the law” explains what the wise man means (through contrast) by saying “where there is no vision.” This shows that “vision” is parallel to “law.”

The word for “vision” here (hazon) refers to a God-given message. It is used of prophets receiving their message from God. “In other words, where there is no instructional word from God (by way of the sages), people will lack restrain” (Bland, Dave. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, & Song of Songs. Joplin, MO: College Press, 2002). Without a “Thus says the Lord,” man has no restraint. Consider the English Standard Version: “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.”

One last point – the first part is collective (“people”), the second part is individual (“he”). In order for people to have “vision”, the individual needs to keep the law.

–Paul Holland

A ward of Alzheimer’s patients

A FRIEND OF mine tells of the day he went with a group of people to a nursing 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 the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).

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 society forgets its conscience.
(Stan Mitchell) @ www.forthright.net

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

Exhort one another daily

IN HIS LITTLE book Fully Human, Fully Alive, author John Powell relates an experience which happened to a friend while he was vacationing in the Bahamas…

The friend was sightseeing when he noticed a crowd gathered toward the end of a pier.  He walked down to investigate the commotion.  Powell says:

“…he discovered that the object of all the attention was a young man making the last making the last-minute preparations for a solo journey around the world in a homemade boat.  Without exception everyone on the pier was pessimistic.  All were actively volunteering to tell the ambitious sailor all the things that could possibly
go wrong.  “The sun will BROIL you!”  “You won’t have enough food.”  “That boat of yours won’t withstand the waves in a storm.”  “You’ll never make it.”

When my friend heard all these discouraging warnings to the adverturous young man, he felt an irresistible desire to offer some optimism and encouraragement.  As the little craft began drifting away from the pier towards the horizon, my friend went to the end of the pier, waving both arms wildly like semaphores spelling confidence.  He kept shouting: “BON VOYAGE!  You’re really something!  We’re with you!  We’re
proud of you!”

THOUGHT: How much could be accomplished if there were more brave souls on the end of the pier smiling and affirming?  (Charles Swindoll)

“But exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”  Hebrews 3:13 ESV

–Mike Benson

Advice From An Older Preacher

Many years have passed since the late Guy N. Woods was editor of the Gospel Advocate.   I was a young preacher, and I admired and looked up to those who were “seasoned” in the faith.   Guy N. Woods, B.C. Goodpasture, G.K. Wallace, and Gus Nichols were among those preachers who were “giants” in my eyes, and if I could but have a small portion of their abilities I would feel that my life as a preacher could not help but be successful.   One of my first articles published in a brotherhood publication was submitted to the Gospel Advocate during the time that brother Woods was the editor.  The title of that article was, “What I have learned after ten years of preaching.”  I recall receiving a very nice letter from brother Woods (that was before the days of computers and emails) commending me for the article.  My heart sank as I read the first few lines:  “As editor of the Gospel Advocate I do no usually print articles having to do with personal preaching experiences.”   Had I dismissed the letter and not read the remainder I would likely have spent the rest of the day downtrodden and disappointed, and may very well have given up any attempt to write again.  But the next line was tremendously encouraging.  Brother Woods wrote: “But your article was especially touching, and I plan to print your article in the next issue of Gospel Advocate.”   Wow! Talk about an honor!

Three decades have come and gone and occasionally I will receive an email or a phone call from a young preacher asking for advice concerning some issue in the church, or my thoughts on a passage with which he might be having difficulty.   I feel honored that some would ask concerning my thoughts, but humbled that some struggling preacher would trust the advice from this “seasoned” preacher.   Were I able to address an audience of young men aspiring to preach the word, or who, having recently graduated from college or a preacher training school, were to seek my advice, I think I would focus my remarks upon the advice given by an older, well known preacher who lived almost two  thousand years removed from our time, to a younger man who was aspiring to be an evangelist.  Of course I speak of the advice that Paul gave to Timothy as contained in 1 Timothy 6:11-16.   Using the words of the apostle himself, we focus on the following.

First, “flee these things.”   Sometimes the best way to avoid being taken captive to the devil is to “flee.”  When Potiphar’s wife sought to seduce Joseph, that young man did not hesitate to make haste and flee from her presence.  He did not attempt to rationalize or reason with that woman.  Instead he ran, leaving his garment in her hand (Gen. 39:12).   When Paul told Timothy to “flee these things,” he had just warned the young evangelist about the dangers of (1) false teachers, and (2) the uncertainty of riches.  When men love error more than truth and money more than the Master, they are ripe for apostasy.  No wonder Paul told Timothy to “flee these things.”   That is good advice for any preacher – in fact it is good advice for every one of us.

Second, “follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.”  The verb here (as in the previous admonition) is “present active imperative” (Robertson).    The intensity inherent in the word “flee” is contained in this admonition as well!   While fleeing error, the preacher is to be in “hot pursuit” of this sextuple of Christian virtues.   Time and space does not allow a detailed discussion of these traits, but every single one of them is indispensible in one’s service to God.   One brother summed these traits up thus:  “Righteousness (personal integrity which stems from the glorious gospel);  Godliness (the mentality that seeks to be like God inall things, personal piety); Faith (faithfulness, dependability); Love (the willingness to sacrifice for the well being of others); Patience (endurance even while under trials); Meekness (exerting controlled power)” (Rick Popejoy).   I could not put it any better!

Third, “Fight the good fight of the faith.”  The Christian has been enrolled in God’s army, and he called upon to “suffer hardship…as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:3).  There are three words that beg consideration in this admonition of Paul to Timothy.  The first is “fight.”  The child of God cannot compromise, collaborate, or capitulate.  There is too much at stake!  We must take our stand like Paul did in the face of the enemy and determine to “give no place in the way of subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth might continue” (Gal. 1:5).  The second word is “good.”  The fight in which we are engaged is one that is, by its very nature, “good.”  It is good because of the eventual outcome of that battle. It is good because it is one to which we are called to engage, and that calling is from God through the Gospel.  It is good because it will help the church grow and survive.    The third word that begs consideration is “faith.”  More specifically it is “the faith.”  Paul is not telling Timothy to fight for his own faith, though the young evangelist most certainly must to that.   The ASV reads, “fight the good fight of the faith” (emphasis mine, TW).    Jude put it this way: “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).  When we engage in spiritual warfare we are defending “the faith,” i.e. the entire system of belief as revealed in the word of God.  The admonition to “fight the good fight of faith” is good advice for any preacher, young or old.  In fact, it is good advice for all of us!

Fourth, “lay hold on eternal life.”  The idea is that we are “get a grip on” the promise of eternal life.   Try to imagine someone attempting to pick up an object, or apprehend someone.  It used to be that a teacher could “lay hold” of a student and discipline that child for any misbehavior that might disrupt the class.  A policeman will “lay hold” of a criminal and thereby arrest him.  Eternal life is not something that is going to fall into your lap without any effort on your part.  Each one of us must “lay hold” of the promise if we are to receive eternal life!

Timothy evidently heeded the aging apostle’s advice, for the younger man became a travelling companion with Paul and a wonderful servant in the kingdom of the Master.  Perhaps Paul’s advice will fall on good and honest hearts in our generation as well.

Man returns cash he stole 60 years ago!

In the late 1940s a man made a bad decision and became a thief. He stole $20 to $30 from a Sears cash register. Just the other day, now 60 years later, an elderly man came in with an envelope addressed to the Sears manager. Inside was a note and a $100 bill. In the note, the man explained what he had done and how he wanted to pay back what he stole with interest. Even though the amount the man stole wasn’t much, clearly this was something that plagued his conscience for a good long time. Maybe even for 60 years.

There is both good and bad to this story. Obviously what he did was wrong. Even though he wanted to pay back the money, it seems he didn’t want to face the possible consequences of his actions. He didn’t leave a name or any information about himself. Despite this, the great thing this man did was he listened to his conscience. Even though it took 60 years, eventually the guilt was enough to drive him to action.

Our culture seems to be similar to the culture in Jeremiah’s day. Notice what the Lord says about them, “‘Were they ashamed because of the abomination they had done? They certainly were not ashamed, and they did not know how to blush; therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time of their punishment they shall be brought down,’ Says the LORD” (Jeremiah 8:12). This people “didn’t know how to blush,” or in other words, they stopped listening to their consciences a long time ago. They were no longer embarrassed and bothered by sin.

Christians are becoming more like our culture, and Jeremiah’s, every day. Christians are less bothered by sin, less likely to come forward during the invitation for sin, and more likely to justify their sinful actions. God placed a conscience in us for a reason. He wants it to bother us. He wants us to feel guilty. Why? Because usually these feelings cause us to make changes. The real problem is when we don’t feel bad anymore. We can’t let ourselves get to that point.

Let’s learn to listen to our consciences more often. But most of all, when we feel the guilt of sin, let’s do something about it!

–Brett Petrillo

What to do with a dead horse

The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians, passed on from one generation to the next, says that when you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.

However, in modern business, because of the heavy investment factors to be taken into consideration, often other strategies have to be tried with dead horses, including the following:

1.  Buying a stronger whip.

2.  Changing riders.

3.  Threatening the horse with termination.

4.  Appointing a committee to study the horse.

5.  Arranging to visit other sites to see how they ride dead horses.

6.  Lowering the standards so that dead horses can be included.

7.  Reclassifying the dead horse as living-impaired.

8.  Change the form so that it reads: “This horse is not dead.”

9.  Hire outside contractors to ride the dead horse.

10.  Harness several dead horses together for increased speed.

11.  Donate the dead horse to a recognized charity, thereby deducting its
full original cost.

12.  Providing additional funding to increase the horse’s performance.

13.  Do a time management study to see if the lighter riders would improve
productivity.

14.  Declare that a dead horse has lower overhead and therefore performs
better.

15.  Promote the dead horse to a supervisory position.

(author unknown)

We’ve all done it before — committed a significant amount of time and energy to a particular project (or even a person) only to find that all our effort was to no avail.  But we find it difficult to cut our losses and move on, so we keep trying and keep trying, pouring more and more of ourselves into it, all the while taking away resources that could be spent on something more profitable.

As difficult as it may be at times to do, the Dakota Indians were right — when you find you are riding a dead horse, the only sensible thing to do is to dismount.

Jesus put it this way:  “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.”  (Matthew 7:6)

Jesus was saying that there may come a time when we need to realize that we are wasting our time and energy trying to reach someone who has shown a total disregard for God and the things of God.  We dare not reach such a conclusion too quickly (many of us are thankful for others who refused to give up on us), but once you become convinced you’re riding a dead horse, there’s only one sensible thing to do.

Take a look at how you’re spending your time.  If you’re “spinning your wheels” and not making any progress, make sure that the horse you’re riding is still alive.

Have a great day!

Alan Smith