Archives for : May2013

THE WEAPONS OF OUR WARFARE

Weapons are ancient implements that have been found in every culture of every age.  They are used by both aggressors and defenders alike.  They are designed to stop, defeat, and snuff out the life of the enemy.  I can see how some find them fascinating, from their mechanism to their power.

Paul calls upon the “weapon” metaphor in 2 Corinthians 10, saying, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled” (4-6).  He is defending his apostolic authority against unspecified critics.  How sad that one as productive and effective for the Lord as Paul would be subject to the kind of criticism and disparagement he was, but he is a model for how one should respond to such.  Along the way, he gives us some great encouragement about the weapons of our spiritual warfare today.

OUR WEAPONS DESTROY.  Paul employs three present active participles to describe the function of our divinely-given weaponry.  Through this, he identifies the function and capability of what God has given us in our arsenal.  First, he says our weapons destroy.  Effective weapons must serve to eliminate the enemy.  What is the target in our spiritual war?  Paul says it is “strongholds”–arguments and high things that exact themselves against the knowledge of God.  We are equipped to answer and overcome the false ideas man produces to oppose the Lord (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 3:15).  We are admonished to get into the Word to prepare ourselves for erroneous things man says to lead us away from the will of God.

OUR WEAPONS CAPTURE.  We should not automatically be trigger happy in our battles.  Christ wants men taken “alive,” to do His will.  So these weapons bring false and erroneous thoughts into captivity.  We are taken men prisoners of war so that they might be “free” (John 8:32), knowing these men have already been taken captive by Satan to do his will (2 Tim. 2:24-26).  We know what a torturous captor he is.

OUR WEAPONS AVENGE.  The English words, “being ready to punish” (6, NKJ), actually come from a single, compound Greek word that literally means “bring out right” or “help to justice.”  We have got to be ready to use our weapons to defend righteousness and holiness against the terror and evil of disobedience.  That usually requires wise tactics and steely nerves.  Being shaky with a weapon can cause us to be ineffective as a soldier of Christ.

Now, our weapons are not dynamite and bombs.  Neither are we to have an itchy trigger finer.  Yet, we are to be soldiers willing to fight.  “Fighting,” as Paul mentions is, should not conjure images of gritted teeth, hateful speech, and venomous angry.  The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, and the like.  However, Paul urges boldness in fighting the evil in this world.  Let us be sure we are equipped to do battle for God in this way.

–Neal Pollard

Sexist hate speech Facebook

Perhaps you have heard the latest flap about “sexist hate speech” that has purportedly gone unpunished by the social media giant Facebook.  Activists and advertisers are teaming up to pressure Facebook into addressing particularly pages that “celebrate violence against women.” Facebook has resoundingly responded with a cadre of new or improved guidelines to eliminate such appalling rhetoric.  While some are crying foul over perceived first amendment trampling, most see the move as desirable and necessary (via CNN online article by Doug Gross, “Under pressure, Facebook targets sexist hate speech”).  This is the world, but even the world gets that there are lines in speech that should not be crossed.

Of course, the Christian has a much higher standard when it comes to what speech is appropriate.  Well before the line that is crossed by talk that glorifies rape and sexual violence there is the line that is set by Christian courtesy, love, meekness, holiness, and several, similar qualities. Sadly, after over four years of having a Facebook page and seeing on my news feed the comments of “friends” that are mostly Christians, I have seen some lines crossed by those who know better.  Let me name some of the worst offenders:

–Chronic Contradictor

–Compulsive Complainer

–Unsolicited Buttinsky

–Chip On-The Shoulder

–Relentless Ranter

–Suggestive Speaker

–Boldfaced Boaster

–Condescending Christian

–Self-Proclaimed Unqualified-Expert

–Worst-Assuming Writer

–Attacker Under-The-Guise-Of-Humor

–Worldliness Glorifier

I am positive that you have other “friends” within your Facebook circle different from the ones I singled out to you.  For ourselves, may we choose the needed, endangered qualities of restraint, forethought, kindness, thoughtfulness, and any similar trait embodied in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-24).  Facebook feels anonymous, but it is not.  Just because we can type it without looking someone in the face as we say it to them does not make it acceptable.  Let us dedicate ourselves to using every forum of influence we possess to encourage and assist everyone under the “sound” of our “voice.”

–Neal Pollard

86,400 seconds

EVERY MORNING GOD doles out a limited amount of time to every soul on the planet…

86,400 seconds, 1,440 minutes, or 24 hours–depending upon how you count time.  We can do what we want with this daily allotment: spend it, use it, waste it, kill it, invest it, or just ignore it.  Whatever we do it it, our time for that one day will be gone  There is no way to save any of it.

“The day of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off and we fly away.”  Psalm 90:10

–Mike Benson

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6

Keep the Customer Satisfied

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

Harold left the church meeting depressed. He couldn’t put a finger on it, but something in the tone and topic of the meeting bothered him. As he pulled his car into traffic, his mind went over the things that had been said.

“We’ll lose our kids,” a father of teenagers declared, “unless we make church fun!”

“We won’t reach our community unless we find activities that meet their needs,” another declared.

Why was it, Harold wondered, that the word “needs” always came out sounding like “wants”?

A third had spoken of songs: “It’s about time,” he had said, “we got to sing the hymns that we want!”

Fine, Harold thought, but there’s something missing here. Still another held up a bestselling book on “church growth,” and spoke of how church growth and business principles were really one and the same.

“Identify and meet the needs of the customer,” he concluded triumphantly, “and your church will grow.”

Another added, “Why don’t we take a community poll, and find out what it wants?” That brought about a large number of “amens,” and that bothered Harold, too.

He thought about the phrase, “The customer is always right.” Good business principle, he thought, but was the customer always right? Often he was wrong, and the business simply accommodated his wishes. So did church work all boil down to the “customer’s” wishes?

Did church amount to something so simple as the wishes of the customer, the members, the young, the old? Or was there something bigger than them all? Suddenly the thing that had been bothering him all along came to him.

What about what God wants? Why don’t we poll God, identify his wishes, and run a church that way? No, he thought sardonically, that would probably never work.

–by Stan Mitchell @ www.forthright.net

The Apostle John and the word overcome

Are you an overcomer?

Pope Francis says atheists will be in heaven?!

My little garden spaces boast a wide mix of plants, and my “wish list” for new additions keeps growing. I have even made a Pinterest board with links to the garden catalogues so that I can get them when the time is right.

This begs the question; what plant is worthy to enter the place we lovingly refer to as “The Backyard of Serenity and Songbirds?”

This little spot is my escape from the world’s cares, my bit of heaven on earth. I am becoming very choosy about what new plants to accept into this limited space. What about God’s Heaven? What would it take to reserve a spot there?

The new Pope shocked the religious world this week by his announcement that atheists will go to heaven. While his remarks centered on the fact that atheists can also do good things, he used the word “redeemed,” which is reserved for those saved from their sins and destined for heaven.

Here are his words:

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ, all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!” We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there” [http://www.catholic.org/hf/faith/story.php?id=51077].

Francis’s attempt to appear tolerant is nothing new. This trend seems to be pervasive, even in the church.

While I love all flowers, and want every new one that I discover, they will not all end up in my garden. I have limited them to certain criteria. God, who is infinitely wiser and more just than I, has similarly limited the entrance into the gates of eternal glory.

In Matthew 7, there is a sad account of those who performed miracles in the name of Jesus and were not admitted into heaven. Why not? (I hesitated to write this question, as no one on earth has the authority to question God’s motives.)

Because God has laid out a plan for Man’s redemption in the Bible. It is not hard to understand. But it’s more than a simple command to do good.

“There is none who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:12b). “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It is a dangerous misconception that our good deeds can save us; they are like filthy rags compared to God’s righteousness (Isaiah 64:6).

The pope was right in one thing, he understood that some of the differences that divide various belief systems don’t matter. The larger truth that Francis missed was that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

“No one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). Perhaps the concept of anything goes comes from a refusal to follow specific requirements set out clearly in the Scriptures.

Once we say repentance is not necessary, then we are free to say that faith isn’t even a requisite for our redemption. Once we say that baptism (literally, “immersion”) can be done by sprinkling or pouring water, we might ignore the fact that baptism is “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38).

The gradual chipping away of belief in the tenets of the Bible has led Christianity down the path that ends in pretending that God didn’t really mean what he said.

I dearly love nemophila maculata, or “Five Spot Flower,” and fancy tulips, but neither will make it into my garden for various reasons. Find out what God’s expectations are for your redemption (Philippians 2:12).

Then do good.

Christine Berglund – www.forthright.net

Christine Berglund

WE DON’T TAKE REQUESTS!

Today, about lunch time, I was near a Pizza Hut outside my immediate area and decided to stop for the buffet.  After entering this establishment and seeing the poor food choices I asked if someone could put in an order for a specific kind of pizza.  The greeter politely but firmly said, “We don’t take requests for our buffet.”

This restaurant is certainly entitled to decline buffet requests from lunchtime customers and it exercised this right.  Customers also have the right to decline to eat at this kind of establishment and I exercised my right.  I firmly but politely said I would be getting lunch somewhere else and promptly left.

On the way out the door and wondering where to go next for lunch I thought about the waitresses’ words in relation to spiritual things.  Might there be times when heaven says, We don’t take requests?

The Apostle John believed there are times when God does not take requests (1 Jn. 5:14).

James believed there are times when God does not take some requests (Jas. 4:2-3).

Jesus spoke about God refusing some requests in Mt. 15:8-9.  Man has often asked God to accept his worship, but Jesus said some of these requests are rejected because of incorrect worship.

If Pizza Hut has the authority to turn some things down, certainly such is also true of God.  Do not make requests of God or request that God accept things which He has not authorized.

Brad Price
www.lordletmegrow.com

Playing Church

The story is told of a mother who was cleaning house one day when she heard the water running in the upstairs bathroom. So she naturally went to investigate. When she reached the top of the stairs, through the open bathroom door, she could see her son holding one of his sister’s baby dolls above a nearly full bathtub saying, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and in the hole you go.”

Well, it goes without saying that this young boy had been exposed to church, but had not really comprehended what it was all about. However, in spite of his lack of understanding, children playing church is a good thing. It certainly beats some of the alternatives that are available these days. But there comes a time when we reach adulthood and we need to quit “playing” church and realize it’s not a game.

Intellectually, we know that, but practically, we need to be reminded. For how much difference is there in the boy in the above illustration and the adult who doesn’t pay attention to the content of the words he sings? How much difference is there in the boy described above and the adult who day-dreams during the sermon and prayers? Both are “playing” church, aren’t they?

Friends, it may be a long time since you last baptized a baby doll in a bathtub, but it might not be so long since the last time you “played church.” Give it some thought.

–Steve Higginbotham

Oklahoma tornado damage

Everyone has been left shocked and heartbroken by the recent tornado in Moore, OK. Meteorologists have said this tornado was about a mile wide, traveled 17 miles on the ground, and produced winds up to 200 mph, making this tornado an EF4 (and these numbers may increase). From the immense damage to structures to the deaths of 24 people so far (including 9 children), this has been a horrific event.

Strangely, as I was hearing reports, seeing pictures, and watching videos of this tragedy, a specific song kept repeating in my mind. The song is one many teens have sung called, “I Am a Sheep.” This might seem like an odd song to be thinking of at a time like this. However, the specific phrase that came to mind is the chorus, which says, “And when the winds blow He is my shelter, and when I’m lost and alone He rescues me.”

In Oklahoma, people took to shelters and looked for safety when the tornado sirens began to blare. Some found protection, but at least 24 did not. When the winds begin to blow, even if it is in the form of 200 mph winds from a tornado, faithful Christians can take comfort in the fact that they are spiritually sheltered even when physical shelter is no where to be found (Psalm 91:1-4). Many people are lost, missing, and alone in the wake of this tornado. Even though we might be physically lost and alone, faithful Christians can take comfort in the fact that we have been rescued spiritually (Colossians 1:13-14).

This song came to mind because it describes the wonderful feeling of comfort which comes from a relationship with God even when tragedy is happening around us. Let’s be sure to pray for those affected by the recent tornadoes. However, let’s also use this event as a reminder that there is no greater shelter and protection on earth than being “in Christ Jesus” and “clothing ourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27).

Brett Petrillo

Teach us to number our days

I READ OF an old Norwegian who had kept very careful notes of his life in a series of notebooks he kept on the shelf of his business…

On his eightieth birthday he went to the store and pulled the books from the shelf and began to compute his life.  He was surprised to find that he had spent five of his eighty years waiting on customers.  He had spent six months tying neckties, three months scolding children who had been running around the store, and eight days telling his dogs to lie down and be quiet.

THOUGHT: Some stuff is pressing (i.e., urgent); some stuff is consequential (i.e., important).  We need to learn to distinguish between the two and then act accordingly.

“So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”  Psalm 90:12

Mike Benson

Sufferings faced by Jesus

Jesus died an awful death.  Ruthless assassins, terrorists, sadistic and serial killers, and perverted criminals all have received much more humane treatment.  What Jesus endured at the cross can only be described as vicious.  Consider the violent aspects of His crucifixion.

THERE WAS PHYSICAL TORTURE.  He was scourged, beaten with a jagged whip (Mt. 27:27).  He was fitted with a crown of thorns (Mt. 27:29).  He was hit on the head repeatedly with a staff (Mt. 27:30).  The soldiers struck Him with their hands (Jn. 19:3).  He carried His heavy cross until it fell on Him (Jn. 19:17).  He was nailed to a cross (Jn. 20:25).

THERE WAS MENTAL ANGUISH.  His countrymen hatefully yelled for His death (Mt. 27:25).  Soldiers mocked Him and pretended to worship Him (Mt. 27:29).  People hurled abuse at Him (Mt. 27:39,40).  Religious leaders mocked Him (Mt. 27:41-43).  The thieves on the cross insulted Him (Mt. 27:44).  The Heavenly Father left Him alone (Mt. 27:46).  His disciples followed Him, mourning and wailing (Lk. 23:27).

THERE WAS SOCIAL EMBARRASSMENT.  They stripped Him (Mt. 27:25).  He was spit upon (Mt. 27:30).  The soldiers gambled for His clothes (Mt. 27:35).  He was watched like a sideshow (Mt. 27:36).  They jokingly put an elegant, purple robe on Him (Lk. 23:11).  He endured great shame (Heb. 12:2).

The sheer brutality of the crucifixion tells one how serious sin is!  The proposal from heaven is, “Stop sinning and serve the Savior!”  In the light of the cross, examine Heaven’s every demand, command, and reprimand.  What expectation from the Father or requirement from the Son is too great?  Before answering, look back at the cross!

Neal Pollard

The Bible: Many stories, one book

IN HER BOOK Mystery on the Desert, Maria Reiche describes a series of strange lines made by the Nazca in the plains of Peru, some of them covering many square miles…

For years, people assumed these lines were the remnants of ancient irrigation ditches.  Then in 1939, Dr. Paul Kosok of Long Island University discovered their true meaning could only be seen from high in the air.  When viewed from an airplane, these seemingly random lines form enormous drawings of birds, insects, and animals.

Similarly, people often think of the Bible as a series of separate, unrelated stories.  When we view the Scriptures as a whole, however, we discover that they form one great story of redemption–from the first “In the Beginning” of Genesis to the final “Amen of Revelation.  Weaving through all the diverse strands of the Bible is a divine story line, the overarching story of how God has rescued, redeemed, and restored humanity, from the first nanosecond of creation through the final cry of victory at the end of time.  (Mike Macintosh)

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.”  Ephesians 1:3-10

–Mike Benson

Some thoughts on *reputation*

It was a cool morning in Jerusalem when they came face to face. One, a ruler, had come to town due to politics; the other, a King, had come out of love.

A son of Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, was worldly, cruel and ambitious. He was rebuked by John the Baptist (Mark 6:18) and called a fox by Jesus (Luke 13:32). Even some of the Jews, whom he sought to cater to (merely to serve his own political aspirations), were leery of him. We must remember that he built the great city Tiberius, named for his friend the Roman Emperor Tiberius, over a Jewish cemetery /1.

Yet one day life brought this Tetrarch of Galilee before the Son of God.

When Herod finally met Jesus he, like many today, desired entertainment not salvation (Luke 23:8). While the Jews, who witnessed this encounter may have been honored to stand before the powerful and well-known monarch, Jesus, a man of perfect character, wouldn’t even speak to him.

Reputation is how the world perceives us whereas character is who we truly are. Too many times Christians have reputations that don’t equal their character. We are devout followers on Sunday morning and maybe even Sunday night, but once Monday rolls around we casually slide into a ‘work week’ Christianity.

We talk as the world talks and act as the world acts, leaving our friends and co-workers dazed and confused when we mention anything spiritual. Our hypocrisy drives others away from God and then we have the audacity to question why the church isn’t growing.

In order to fortify our character, we must be a people of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Note the word perfect isn’t in that list. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect although He does want us to desire perfection as we daily strive to live like his Son.

Our Father understands that we will sin and have times of weakness, trials and discouragement. However, it isn’t the difficult times that define our character. Our character is revealed the moment we stand up, shake the stresses and disappointments of this world off, and begin again to follow him.

As we ponder our relationship with God, let us forget about our worldly reputation and take inventory of our character. For only a good character has the potential to save the lost and change the world.

Paula Harrington

Honesty is the best policy

THE STORY IS told of a father who took his two boys one afternoon to play miniature golf…

The father walked up to the man at the ticket counter and said, “How much is it to get in?”  The young man replied, “Three dollars for you and three dollars for any kid who is older than six.  We let them in for free if they are six or younger.  How old are your two?”  The father replied, “This one is three and the other one is seven, so I owe you $6.00.”

The young man at the ticket counter said, “Hey mister, did you just win the lottery or something?  You could have saved yourself three bucks if you would have told me that the older one was six; I wouldn’t have known the difference.”

The father replied, “Yes, that may be true, but the kids would have known the difference…”  (Steve Higginbotham)

“The integrity of the upright will guide them…”  Proverbs 11:3

Mike Benson

Job 11:6

This statement was not made regarding the final judgment of man.  Instead, a grieving Job is responding to the poor perceptions and assumptions of an arrogant man, Zophar the Naamathite.  Zophar had rashly said such things as, “Know therefore that God exacts from you less than your iniquity deserves” (Job 11:6).  Job lost every dollar and asset he owned, as it were, all ten of his children died in the same accident, he was an outcast from society, and he had a painful, extremely aggravating infirmity, and he had to cope with the sorrowful feelings that his God had abandoned him.  Yet, Zophar says, in essence, “Job, you deserve worse.”  Zophar concludes that Job is deceitful, wicked, and empty-headed (12, cf. 20).  The miserable friend urges Job to repent so that he could have God’s favor restored (14ff).  Can you imagine what Job felt to have a “friend” making such presumptions and judgments about him, how that must have compounded his trials?

Amid his masterful answer, Job makes the statement of the above caption.  Job is saying, “If that view is right, how are you going to fare when God picks your life apart like you say he has picked apart mine?” (cf. 13:9).  Let’s consider an important principle borne out by this suffering servant of God.  It is so easy for us to smugly sit back and make judgments about people’s situations, why they lost their job, why their child has left the Lord, why they are embroiled in a lengthy series of setbacks or trials, or the like.  Yet, we had better be careful that we are not pulling a Zophar, rashly concluding and assuming without benefit of the whole picture.  Remember, in Job the whole picture is the Satan’s desire to test Job’s faithfulness.  All of that is going on “behind the scenes.”  Even Job was unaware of it.

What is called for in our dealings with each other is empathy, the benefit of the doubt, that loving cloak that hides rather than searches for faults, patience, and a love that does not think evil of others.  We need that humility that causes us to consider the question Job raises here before we snap to hasty assumptions about the unfortunate circumstances of others.   Almost always, we are not privy to the whole picture.  Instead of gossip or harsh judgment, may our response be one of desiring to help, encourage, and show love.  By taking such an approach to life, we can be assured that it “will be well when He searches us out.”

–Neal Pollard

The Scarlet Letter

HAD IT NOT been for a confident and encouraging wife, Sofia, we might not have listed among the great names of literature the name of Nathaniel Hawthorne…

When Nathaniel, a heartbroken man, went home to tell his wife he was a failure and had been fired from his job in a customhouse, she surprised him with an exclamation of joy.

“Now,” she said triumphantly, “you can write your book!”  “Yes,” replied the man, with sagging confidence, “and what shall we live on while I am writing it.”  To his amazement, she opened a drawer and pulled out a substantial sum of money.  “Where on earth did you get that?” he exclaimed.  “I have always known you were a man of genius,” she told him.  “I knew that someday you would write a masterpiece.  So every week, out of the money you gave me for housekeeping, I saved a little bit.  So here is enough to last us for one whole year.”

From her trust and confidence came one of the greatest novels of American literature, The Scarlet Letter.

THOUGHT: When most people who’ve achieved great things tell their stories, they mention those who encouraged him along the way.  (David Jeremiah)

“Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.”  Acts 11:22-24

Mike Benson

The power of thought

AS A MAN Thinketh by James Allen is arguably the best non-inspired book ever written on the power of thought…

Allen compared the mind to a garden and its owner to a master gardener.  A good character is not the product of chance any more than a beautiful garden could happen by accident.  Integrity is a natural result of continued effort in right thinking.

The overarching theme of As a Man Thinketh is that individuals control the development of their character through controlling their thoughts.  At the very moment one chooses his thoughts, he also chooses his destiny.  Allen’s garden analogy well-illustrates this cause and effect relationship.  Just as plants come from seeds, actions grow from thoughts.  The challenging part is getting the right seeds into the garden of the mind.  Useless seeds find their way there all by themselves, but useful ones must be purposely planted.  Good thoughts must be deliberately sown and carefully nurtured to produce the fruit of righteousness.  Bad thoughts must be eradicated in the same way one removes weeds to preserve a well-kept garden.  Good thoughts cannot produce bad acts and bad thoughts cannot produce good acgts.  The law of sowing and reaping is as true in the mental and moral realm as it is in the plant world (Galatians 6:7-8).  Holiness, like husbandry, requires planning, effort and diligence.  (Aubry Johnson)

“Keep your heart will all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.”  Proverbs 4:23; cf. Romans 12:2

–Mike Benson

“He hath blessed thy children within thee”

The Psalms contain some wonderful lessons for every generation of mankind.  Though written more than 3,000 years ago, these songs and devotions of David provide insight into the nature of God and the very nature of man.  The 147th Psalm is no exception.  Israel has returned from a long night of Babylonian Captivity.  It has been seven decades since they left their homeland.  Now they have come home with thanksgiving in their hearts and praise on their lips.  Would you focus on Psalms 147:13-14 for a moment?  Note four blessings that Israel would enjoy as a result of their restoration to God, and to their homeland.

First, God had “strengthened the bars of thy gates.”  A nation is secure so long as they trust in God for their guidance and protection.  If armament and military power provide security, then the former United Soviet Socialist Republic would still be standing.  While we would not discount the importance of a strong military, we dare not ignore the importance of godly principles as a guide for those who lead that army.

Second, God had “blessed thy children within thee.”  Our generation has enjoyed the benefits and blessings of God’s gracious lovingkindness.  As the “children,” “grandchildren,” “great-grandchildren,” and even unto “great-great-grandchildren” of our forefathers, we have enjoyed the benefits of the seeds of righteousness and godliness planted by our forefathers in the early years of this nation. Don’t let anyone tell you that this nation was established as a “secular” nation – it was founded upon Biblical principles. To deny this truth is to ignore history.  The horn of plenty has been turned upside down on America, and we reap the benefits of peace, joy, and happiness because of the seeds planted by our forefathers.  It has been observed on more than one occasion that America is rooted in a deep respect for God and His word.  Our founding fathers believed that the great experiment of democracy and the establishment of this nation would not succeed without divine blessings.  Men were given the freedom to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.  But that life and liberty they held so dear was not a pursuit of fleshly lusts or materialistic gain. It was the pursuit of God and His purpose in our lives.   And so, for more than two centuries God opened up the windows of heaven and gave to this nation unparalleled opportunities and abundant wealth.

Third, God “maketh peace in thy boarders.”  Until that infamous September day many years ago, this nation had never been attacked on its homeland by an outside enemy.  It is no accident that our boarders remained secure from the intrusion of those who would overthrow our way of life and rob us of our determination to seek God’s blessings on us as a nation.  This generation has enjoyed unparalleled peace and tranquility that has been the envy of the world around us.  Even during those stressful days of the cold war, we enjoyed peace within our boarders, and a sense of deep contentment within our hearts.

Fourth, God has “filled thee with the finest of the wheat.”  Who would argue that our nation has enjoyed the best of the best?  Who would dare deny that our standard of living has been the envy of the world?  Millions have sought to come to America to enjoy the prosperity this nation has had to offer to her citizens and those who would seek to become a part of that great American dream.  Our generation has enjoyed the best that America has had to offer.  Whereas previous generations had to struggle through economic crises such as the Great Depression, we have had at our disposal abundant and unparalleled prosperity.  Walmart Super Centers provide every good imaginable; all we need to do is pick up a cart, move up and down the aisles and pick off the shelf anything we might desire.  And if we don’t have the cash to pay for our basketful of goodies, we can pull out a plastic card and, zip zip, no questions asked – we can walk out the store with our baskets overflowing.  From necessities, to luxuries and entertainment, it seems as if there is nothing we cannot get our hands on.

But now there has arisen a generation that does not know God.  The pursuit of life, liberty and happiness has become a pursuit of the gratification of the flesh.  God has been “expelled” from almost every institute of higher learning.  The word of God has been banned in the halls of our public schools.  Now the humanists and God-haters have pushed the throttle to full speed in an effort to rid us of every vestige and display of the name of God from our coins, strip it from our halls of justice, and eradicate it from our monuments.   God has been left out of the lives of our citizens, the Bible has been banned from our institutes of learning, and the only mention that Jesus receives in Hollywood is in another movie that seeks to shock our sensitivity and display our Lord as nothing more than a homosexual pervert or radical cult leader.  Unless things change drastically, our generation will not be able to pass along to the next generation the things we have too often taken for granted.  What does this generation have to offer the next?  This generation no longer studies the Bible; this generation has fed on the husks of humanism, and drank deeply from the well of Charles Darwin; this generation has capitulated to the demands of the liberal left; this generation has grown fat and lazy, irresponsible, and irrational.  Oh, there may be a few exceptions, and perhaps the silent majority has remained silent for too long, but for the most part, I do not see anything on the horizon that holds out a lot of hope for the future of our country and the next generation.

Reread the Psalm again.  Learn what Israel learned.  God blessed her children only when Israel turned back to God.  If we would have something to give to those generations yet in the distant future, let us like Israel, begin our journey home to God.  Therein lies our hope; only then can it be said of unborn generations, “He hath blessed thy children within thee.”

by Tom Wacaster

Give people hope

WHEN SIR ERNEST Shackleton set out to sea in 1914, he did so with the ambitious goal of making the first land crossing of Antarctica…

But his ship, the Endurance, never even reached its base camp.  It became stuck in the icy waters for months and eventually sank.  Shackleton and his twenty-seven-member crew were stranded more than twelve hundred miles from civilization, drifting on ice floes in the terrifying cold with just three rickety lifeboats, a few tents, and limited provisions.

Eventually, they reached a small island and waited while Shackleton and a handful of men took one of the lifeboats eight hundred miles over tumultuous seas to a whaling station.  Shackleton returned with a rescue ship, and every man survived the eighteen-month ordeal.

How did he keep the hopes of his men from fizzling out…?

First, he modeled optimism.  Shackleton, who once described optimism as “true moral courage,” always believed he and his crew would survive, and his optimism was contagious.  He communicated that optimism to everyone around him.

Second, he nurtured his men’s sense of significance.  He kept everyone involved by seeking their opinions and by giving them tasks that made them feel like they were part of the solution.

Third, he encouraged them with humor and promoted a lighthearted atmosphere.  Shackleton recognized that under extreme pressure, the ability to lighten the mood neutralizes fear and enables a team to focus, reenergize, and prevail over daunting obstacles.  People might find it strange that one of the few items that Shackleton rescued from the sinking ship was a crewman’s banjo.  He did it so the group could have music.

It was Napoleon who said that a leader is a dealer in hope, and Shackleton was a prime example of how one person can keep hope alive.

If you know someone who is in the middle of a difficult trial–a long illness or a period of financial strain–your words of kindness and love, your confidence in them, your ability to lighten their load can bring hope and encouragement to their lives.  (John Maxwell)

“He who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.” Romans 12:8

Mike Benson

How badly do you want to go to heaven?

Back in August, a 20-year-old British girl named Emma French wanted to take her driving test. She was pregnant and suffering labor contractions but did not want to forfeit her opportunity to take the test she had failed five months earlier. Even when her water broke and everyone telling her to go to the hospital, she finished her test, passing it. Then she drove herself to the hospital later that day. Little Eva was born to a mom with some strong determination!

How badly do you want to go to heaven? How important is it in life – like Emma French – and for eternal life to have the ability to not gratify immediate urges? Can we work through the pain and discomfort of this life, knowing that if we remain faithful to God, we’ll have something far better? Too many people can’t do that. Too many people are too easily knocked off course – fear, doubt, persecution, self-denial of various forms. There are a lot of “labor contractions” that Satan tries to use to get us to get out of the car and go somewhere else.

Can we use Emma French as an example of someone who knew what she wanted and was willing to tolerate the pain necessary to get it? How badly do you want to go to heaven?

So we do not lose heart. “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

–Paul Holland