Archives for : July2016

Contrasts and comparisons between Christ’s birth and death

BIRTH AND DEATH

Undoubtedly, one could find more contrasts than comparisons between Christ’s birth and death. Yet, a study of both reveals some interesting parallels. Both changed the world and have altered the impact of eternity. Consider the following:

1) At both, He was rejected of men (Luke 2:7; Mark 15:15).

2) At both, He was cast “outside” (Luke 2:7; Hebrews 13:12).

3) At both, Mary was there (Luke 2:7; John 19:26).

4) At both, myrrh was present for use upon Him (Matthew 2:11; John 19:39).

5) At both, there was darkness (Matthew 2:10,14; Matthew 27:45).

6) At both, His body was wrapped in clothing (Luke 2:7,12; Mark 15:46).

7) At both, a Herod becomes curiously involved (Matthew 2:7ff; Luke 23:7ff).

8) At both, there was worship-though the first was genuine and the second mocking (Matthew 2:11 and Luke 2:13-14; Mark 15:19).

9) At both, wise men recognized His deity (Matthew 2:1ff; Mark 15:39 and Luke 23:41)

10) At both, Jew and Gentile were there.

11) At both, He was hailed as King-though one was in earnest and the other in jest (Matthew 2:2; Mark 15:26,32).

12) At both, an “honorable” man named Joseph was present (Matthew 1:19 + Luke 2:16; Mark 15:43).

13) At both we find the chief priests and scribes involved (Matthew 2:4-6; Matthew 27:1ff).

— Neal Pollard

We hold the world together because we care

“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by his Son, whom he has appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds; who being the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:1-3 NKJV).

On a bill-board just outside the international airport in Dhaka, Bangladesh is the following proud boast: “We hold the world together because we care.” The company making this claim is a manufacturer of zippers.

On first reading this I chuckled and applauded the company’s clever allusion to the nature of its product.

Zippers are indeed used worldwide to hold things together. Further reflection however caused me some serious points of contention.

First, I question any commercial company’s claim to be doing business because they are so concerned about their customers’ well-being. For-profit corporations are in business for profit. They want to and must make money and that need / desire dominates virtually all decisions and activities. That is just the nature of the enterprise. Yes, they may be compassionate and show concern for the environment, humanity or other entities, but they are in the business of making money.

More importantly however, zippers don’t really hold the world together. I know the company was being cute and not seriously making that bold of a claim. However, it is easy for any person or organization to develop a magnified sense of their own worth. A company can grow large enough, and its products be popular enough, that it feels a sense of entitlement and importance far out of proportion to reality.

It is not an accident that the first requirement to a real personal relationship with God is humility. “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and he will lift you up” (James 4:10). Whereas the world wants to exalt self and claim great importance, people of faith recognize that only God is great. We are his servants. Jesus taught, “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do'” (Luke 17:10).

Hebrews 1 makes a legitimate claim about holding the world together. Jesus, the Son of God, created all things and upholds them by the word of his power. And he really does hold it together because he cares. “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16) explains all of his gracious gifts including but not limited to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

The most powerful and useful fastener ever developed is not a button, zipper, snap, or hook. It is love. The love of God sustains the created universe. Our love for him and for one another builds relationships, empowers families, and provides motivation for all of our productive activities.

Zippers are indeed used worldwide to hold things together.

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

— by Michael E. Brooks

Incredible Kindness

Many years ago a woman in a small German town advertised a piano recital she was going to give on a certain day. Her posters falsely identified her as a student of the famous Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt. To her dismay, Liszt visited her little village at the very time of her performance. Knowing she would be found out as a liar and have her budding career ruined by the scandal, she went to the place where Liszt was staying and asked to speak with him.

Through tears of embarrassment and humiliation she made her confession to the great man. Liszt responded to her penitence and tears in an unanticipated manner. “You have certainly done a terribly wrong thing,” he said, “but we all make mistakes. The only thing to do now is to be sorry, and I think you are truly sorry. Now will you let me hear you play?”

As surprised as she was embarrassed at that point, the girl began to play the piano, making several errors at first. She played better as she gained more confidence. Liszt corrected her at certain points and made suggestions at others.

When she had finished, the famous musician said, “My dear, you are NOW a pupil of Franz Liszt. I have given you instruction this afternoon. Tomorrow you may go on with your concert as advertised. And the last number on the program will be played not by the pupil, but by the TEACHER.” *

It was a kindness that was certainly undeserved.  The aspiring performer had misused the name of the masterful and prominent pianist.  Yet Liszt was gracious enough to forgive, save a woman from humiliation, and help advance her career.

Due to our sins, WE have treated the Master (God) similarly.  We have dishonored His name by disobeying His will.  As a result, we deserve the humiliation and the punishment that comes from our rebellion.

Yet in His loving kindness, the Master – the heavenly Father – offers salvation from sin and eternal life in heaven.  God gave His Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins so “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6-7).

We can accept His gracious offer by: placing our faith and trust in Jesus (Acts 16:30-31), turning from our sins in repentance (Acts 17:30-31), confessing Jesus before men (Romans 10:9-10), and being baptized (immersed) into Christ for the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 2:38).

We have ALL “done terribly wrong things.”  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  But due to His incredible kindness and love, the heavenly Father offers AMAZING GRACE through His Son.

Won’t YOU accept His offer on His terms?

David A. Sargent

Proverbs 7:10-12

“Then a woman comes toward him, decked out like a prostitute, wily of heart. She is loud and wayward; her feet do not stay at home; now in the street, now in the squares, and at every corner she lies in wait” (Proverbs 7:10-12). If you put yourself on the path to temptation, temptation will find you each and every time. Solomon now switches from describing the naive young man to the woman who is going to seduce him. She is dressed and behaving in a seductive way. She is dressed to be seen and wants to make sure she is seen. She is not where she ought to be. Instead, she is making herself available by hanging around at corners and the intersections of streets. It is not hard to find her.

Women of this caliber are admired today in movies, posters, ads, and on the internet. Today, many women take pride in being thought of as attractive and seductive. They want to be seen just like the woman described here. These are evil desires that invite sin. Women dressed in immodest ways should not be seen as beautiful by godly Christian men; they should be recognized for what they are: impure and inviting sin. Immodesty is directly related to immorality in this passage. We are to flee from such women, cf. 2 Timothy 2:22. This foolish man has chosen a different route and is going to pay the price for his poor choice.

Jeremy Sprouse

We don’t want to hear what anyone else has to say.

Tommy Bolt, winner of the 1958 US Open, tells the story of an incident he had during one of his golf tournaments.  Bolt arrived at the golf course for the tournament and was approached by a youngster, “Mr. Bolt, do you need a caddy, sir?”  Bolt went to the caddy master and asked about the youngster.  The man said, “He’s a real good caddy, knows the course, the greens, and the rules of the game. But he talks a lot.”

So Bolt went back to the youngster and said, “You can caddy for me on one condition: Don’t say a word.”  The young man accepted and carried Bolt’s bag.  The first three rounds went well, and Bolt was in contention in the fourth round, when an errant tee shot landed in the rough. The ball was sitting down in a bad patch of turf, with a difficult shot to the green which was well guarded by water on the right.

Bolt asked his caddy, “You think a five iron will do the trick?” The kid shook his head no, but never said a word.

“What, you want me to hit a six iron?”  Again, the kid shook his head no, but did not speak. Bolt grabbed a six iron and lashed the ball out of the rough and landed on the green, rolling to within three feet of the hole.

As they walked to the green, Bolt said, “Aren’t you going to say something now, after seeing a shot like that?”  His caddy then replied, “Mr. Bolt, that wasn’t your ball.”

Many of us go through life like that.  We don’t want to hear what anyone else has to say.  In fact, we don’t even want to hear what God has to say.  And when we become intent on doing things our way without listening to the voices of wisdom around us, we are headed for disaster.

Solomon advised us to, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

He also encouraged us to:  “Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge; For it is a pleasant thing if you keep them within you.” (Proverbs 22:17-18)

If you’re inclined to tell others, “I don’t want to hear anything that you have to say”, you may want to reconsider.  The time may come when you wish you had listened.

Alan Smith

If There’s A God…

Have you heard the story about a very militant, atheistic professor who made it a point in his class to belittle the faith of those who believed in God.  After spending nearly a semester of ridiculing Christianity, he felt rather confident to sarcastically ask, “Are there any believers in God in this class?”  He didn’t expect anyone to respond, but one young man did.  He said, “Yes, I’m a believer in God.”

The professor reveled in the thought of making a fool of this young man, so he stood before the class, looked up toward the ceiling with outstretched arms and said, “If there’s an all powerful God out there, I challenge you to strike me dead right now!”  A hush fell over the classroom for a moment, then the professor arrogantly smirked and said, “See, if your God exists why am I still standing here?  This is proof that your God doesn’t exist.”

Very calmly, the young man said, “No professor, this isn’t proof that my God doesn’t exist.  However it is proof of something.  It’s proof that the God I serve is a merciful God.”

“The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God…'” (Psalm 14:1).

Steve Higginbotham.

I saw a man wearing a pair of ladies maternity pants

We live in a world where change is a constant. No matter what area of life to which you look, you will see change, change is inevitable, you can’t stop it, but I would suggest that you can control how it affects your life to some degree.

The thing with change is that if it is going on around you, you often don’t notice it happening. Having lived in Africa for a number of years we were perhaps more aware of changes in America. These changes were more evident to us when we visited, than those who are living in the midst of them. For example: On one of our furlough trips we stopped at a restaurant while traveling. I went to pay our bill and in front of me were a family with teenage children. The daughter had thong underwear pulled up on her hips and shorts that were worn far too low. Somewhat embarrassed for them I thought, “This must be a poor family, they can’t afford clothes that fit their children.” Of course later I found that this was a “fashion statement”.

I realize that I am somewhat “older” than some of you, and maybe I am “behind the times” and an “old fogie,” but I don’t see this as a good change.

Not long after returning to live in America we attended a funeral (the first after returning). We dressed in a way we felt was appropriate, you know what they used to call “church clothes.” I wore dress slacks, a tie and jacket and my wife wore a dress. We walked in and were shocked because there were young women there wearing halter tops, short shorts and flip flops. Apparently the “dress with respect” aspect of our society had shifted even more. And again, I don’t see this change as a good thing.

Another change I noted is how folks dress in our Bible studies and worship assemblies. Now I realize that there are no “clothing guidelines” in the Bible, other than to behave decently and modestly and I certainly am not suggesting that we try and mandate any. But I am suggesting that modesty be considered regarding proper attire for those who claim to be in the presence of God. I thought to myself the other day, I wonder how folks would dress if they really thought that Jesus was going to be there when they arrived? Of course we know He is, isn’t he?

Now I realize that this is a very subjective and personal observation, because what I feel is modest or decent may not be the same thing you think it is. When we were in Africa I saw a man leading the song service wearing a woman’s, short, sheer negligee instead of a shirt. He didn’t know what it was, it came in a good will box from America and he thought it was better than the one tee shirt he had with holes in it. I saw a man wearing a pair of ladies maternity pants with the large elastic panel on the front, because again he didn’t know what they were and they were nice pants with no holes. I however know better and wouldn’t wear those things.

All of this is to suggest that perhaps the changes as to what is acceptable in our world may not always be good things. And, I would ask that you consider how your attire is perceived by those around you. Paul puts it this way, “We are free to do all things, but there are things which it is not wise to do. We are free to do all things, but not all things are for the common good. Let a man give attention not only to what is good for himself, but equally to his neighbor’s good.” (1 Corinthians 10:23-24 – BBE)

–Russ Lawson

Did you ever see a cat bring in a pair of slippers?

Do you remember that marvelous advertisement that had a bunch of cowboys herding cats? Thousands of cats ran helter skelter across the prairie, with those hapless men in chaps waving their hats and yelling, “Git along little kitties!”

The words “cats” and “orderly,” do not usually appear in the same sentence. Cats are independent, unwilling to be trained, taught or led.

Did you ever see a cat bring in a pair of slippers?  Have you ever heard of a “seeing eye cat,” a “sheep cat” or a “watch cat,” or one that would even acknowledge his name? A friend has the theory that all cats think their name is “Dinner time.”

Our cat, as empty-headed a ball of fluff as any, would survive in the wild exactly six minutes. She is uncoachable, uncontrollable, yet dependent on us for nourishment, protection and shelter.

Not that she would acknowledge any of it, or express gratitude of any kind. I notice that every time it rains, though, our little bundle of indifference saunters in again, making herself at home on the most freshly laundered clothing.

There is a book on leading the church entitled, “Herding Cats.” In churches, everyone wants to be nourished, pampered and allowed to sleep for days on end. No one wants to be directed, corrected or trained in righteousness.

We expect and never thank, we wander all over the neighborhood yet expect attention on demand, and if the food in the old kitty dish is not the finest cuisine, we “walk” next door, or down the street requesting neighbors to give us what we want.

All of which is to say that as members of the church, we should expect more of ourselves than the average tabby. We should make the job of our elders easier, the success of our church more assured.

“Obey your leaders, and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy, and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17, ESV).

— by Stan Mitchell

“Statistics show that only one in seven dwarfs was Happy.”

OK before anyone becomes upset with me, just read that statement a couple of more times. Need some help? Well, the other dwarfs were Doc, Sneezy, Dopey, etc. Remember the story of Snow White?

I wonder if it’s also true that one in seven Christians are happy? Now I mean happy in the sense of contented, pleasant to be around, with a smile on the face and a warm greeting on their lips. That kind of happy.

I am aware that people face heartbreak and difficulties. If you lost a loved one, or your job, or your health, I understand how you might not be entirely happy on this particular day.

But should a Christian’s life be characterized by unhappiness?

I’m sorry, I don’t understand how a Christian can come to worship, sit on the back pew, arms folded in defiance as if to say, “I’m mad at everyone! Just try to make me sing! Why is this church not serving my every whim?”

Recall that one of the fruits of the Spirit is joy:

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace …”

(Galatians 5:22, ESV). Recall that the Lord promised he would give us “life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Recall that Paul commanded, yes, commanded us to “rejoice in the Lord,” then repeated himself: “Again I say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).

Happiness is not what happens to you; it’s who you are.

Recall that Paul’s statement is: “Rejoice in the Lord.”

Your relationship with God is the key to your happiness.

After all, there is another dwarf (if you remember the story). His name was Grumpy. Don’t be Grumpy, Christian. Be happy.

— by Stan Michell

So often, our complaints, angry words, unrestrained speech, and foul mood reveals far more about who we are than the object of our disgruntlement.

I was recently checking the customer reviews for an upcoming hotel stay.  The reviews were from verified members of the hotel club of that particular chain.  74% of the raters gave it the highest possible rating, but it was interesting to read the remarks of the smattering of people who ranked it poorly.  One said, “I’d rather drive an extra 30 miles than stay at this hotel. The staff is impossible to deal with.” Another put, “This hotel is nothing more than regular. Expect nothing great for a high price. Bad choice for the night of your wedding.”  A third wrote, “Very overpriced for quality of accommodations. Mold in bathroom, poor upkeep, poor bed quality. Would not recommend this hotel.”  Surrounding these aberrations are gushing reviews overflowing with superlative words like “by far the best,” “amazing,” “could not have asked for better,” “very happy,” “very clean,” etc.  My best guess is that somebody did something to upset the “exceptions” or, as experience has shown, the guests may not have handled themselves well and helped matters escalated.

 

Here is something that is certain.  So often, our complaints, angry words, unrestrained speech, and foul mood reveals far more about who we are than the object of our disgruntlement.  Two people could receive the same customer service and react completely differently.  Two aggravated people express themselves totally unlike one another.  The waitstaff may be lacking at a restaurant, and one encourages while another berates.  A teacher may have a bad day and one student might sympathize while another brutalizes. 

 

Paul urged Colosse, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Col. 4:6).  This is said in the context of evangelism, though the principle prevails in all our interactions.  The late Wendell Winkler often said, “If you are not kind, you are the wrong kind.”  Are we cognizant of the power of our tongues to heal or kill (Pro. 18:21)?  Jesus says, “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man” (Mat. 15:18).  More than once, my parents admonished me in my formidable years to “watch my mouth!” What sage advice for grown-ups, too! We might think we have good hearts, but our words reveal who we really are!

–Neal Pollard

Dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy

MATTIE, WHOSE FULL name was Matthew Joseph Thaddeus Stepanek, was born in Washington, D.C., on July 17, 1990…

He had a serious disability, dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy.  His disability interrupted automatic functioning like breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature.  As a result, he needed a breathing tube and ventilator; a tube was inserted into the top of his heart to administer medicines and IV fluids.  Mattie was confined to wheelchair.  He died just weeks before his fourteenth birthday.

But that didn’t stop him from becoming a bestselling author and poet, an award-winning speaker, and a recognized advocate for disability and peacemaking.  All five of of Heart-songs series of poetry books were New York Times bestsellers.  Before he became confined to his wheelchair, he had earned a first-degree black belt in the martial art hapkido.

Despite the challenges of his situation, he was a practical joker who lived by the philosophy “Remember to play after every storm.”  Mattie’s enthusiasm for life was infectious, and people around the world were touched not just by the poetry he wrote and the words he spoke, but by the example of how he lived his life.

Mattie refused to allow circumstances to control his destiny.  Rather, he mastered his circumstances.

The fact is, all leadership begins with self-masteryYou can’t lead others until you can first lead yourself.

As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  To truly lead, and make a difference in the world, you must always start with yourself.”  Mark Sanborn, “The Six Principles of Leadership,” You Don’t Need A Title To Be A Leader, 27-28

“For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, 8 but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.”  Titus 1:7-9

— Mike Benson

 

What…happened…here…today?!

ONE AFTERNOON A man came home from work to find total mayhem in his house…

 

His three children were outside, still in their pajamas, playing in the mud, with empty food boxes and wrappers strewn all around the front yard.  The door of his wife’s care was open, as was the front door to the house.

 

Proceeding into the entry, he found an even bigger mess.  A lamp had knocked over, and the throw rug was wadded against one wall.  In the front room the TV was loudly blaring a cartoon channel, and the family room was strewn with toys and various items of clothing.  In the kitchen, dishes filled the sink, breakfast food was spilled on the counter, dog food was spilled on the floor, a broken glass lay under the table, and small pile of sand was spread by the back door.

 

He quickly headed upstairs, stepping over more toys and piles of clothes, looking for his wife.  He was worried she may be ill, or that something serious had happened.  He found her lounging in the bedroom, still curled up in the bed in her pajamas, reading a novel.  She looked up at him, smiled, and asked how his day went.

 

He looked at her in bewilderment and asked, “What…happened…here…today?!”

 

She smiled and answered, “You know every day when you come home from work and ask me what in the world did you do today?”

 

“Yes,” he replied incredulously.

 

“Well, today I didn’t do it…” 

 

THOUGHT:  We may not always see or perceive the extent to which someone has contributed to our family, whether in the church or at home, but let us make sure we express and show appreciation where it is due.  Jesse Wagner

 

“Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”  Romans 13.7

 Mike Benson

In times past, the only women who flaunted themselves were women of low morality

Elegance is rare today because too many women have forgotten what it really means to be a woman. She has majesty and power inherent in her being. Elegance is simply an extension of their worth as God’s creation and her walk in the Lord.

Elegance means, “Refinement, grace, and beauty in movement, appearance, or manners; gracefully refined and dignified”

Women today see elegance as a relic of a male dominated society, taking them back to where they were simply the property of men.

As women have gained liberation, they can choose to live in a way that will elevate them to the level they deserve. Whether they are demeaned by choice or force, matters little in the end. Women deserve better than what is admired in today’s world.

Elegance allows her femininity to blossom like never before. Her character, intelligence and grace are more important than her body and she gains value as a person by focusing on who she is inside.

She realizes that her femininity is a gift that should never be cheapened by debased living.

Coco Chanel said, “Elegance is refusal.” It is the refusal to demean her name with the squalid and the shameful. Elegant women are comfortable in who they are.

God’s woman should know how God has blessed them in beauty, salvation and peace. Elegance when combined with humility is a powerful force.

Sadly, the worldly woman is more interested in profanity and sex appeal. Instead of elegantly floating above the filth of the world, they dive in and wallow.

Elegant women are calm, focused and gracious. A woman of elegance does not need controversy or drama. Elegant women fill a room with their strength, beauty and joy.

Restraint enhances her beauty and image.

In times past, the only women who flaunted themselves were women of low morality while the ladies of better society carried themselves with elegance and pride. Now society says that a fully-clothed woman has little value.

An elegant woman is modest, strong, independent and respectable. Elegance sees beyond itself and is able to live without fear of those around them. Elegance elevates her value, rising above the shallow and wasteful.

If women of God strove for elegance, the Church would make a bigger impact in the world. Christian women should dress, live, speak and walk above the world rather than imitating them in their weaknesses.

Christian women should be examples rather than willing participants in the downward spiral.

Scripture tells us to “to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” (Ephesians 4:1, NKJV). A godly woman looks to Scripture for what a woman should be, instead of the street or fashion magazines.

Her morality is pure because she has pride in herself and remembers that God deserves the glory, not her (Ephesians 3:20-21). She has no interest in showing off her body, only her character and spirituality because in a spiritual world, where Christ reigns, that is truly what matters (Romans 12:1-2).

—  by Richard Mansel

Giving in secret

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.  Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-4 ESV).

The traditional contribution basket, so familiar in the United States, is not so common in South Asian countries like Bangladesh and Nepal.

There the favored implement for collecting donations in worship assemblies is the offering bag. This is typically a long narrow tube-like cloth bag held open at the top by a metal band, to which is attached one or two wooden handles.

The usher extends the bag to each worshipper who usually plunges his or her hand, holding their contribution tightly, deeply into the bag, preserving privacy as to the amount of their donation.

Most of the time everyone present in the assembly will give, even the very small toddlers. The amount of their gifts is normally modest, but so is their income. Their commitment to giving at least a little however is to be commended.

When Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5- 7), his emphasis was to define acceptable religion before God. It was not, as was popularly believed in his day, the outward ritualistic performance of such leaders as the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20).

Rather he demanded a complete submission to God, in spirit and in flesh (Matthew 5:48).

In Matthew 6:1-18, Jesus points out the inadequacy of the hypocrites external religious actions — notably giving, prayer and fasting. He does not criticize them for doing such things. In fact he makes it plain that true worshippers will perform those (and other) outward rites.

In each case he condemns the hypocrites for their motives (and consequential methods). He then says, “When you give (or pray or fast).” He makes it plain that the faithful will give, pray and fast. There is nothing wrong with these activities and we are not to demean them.

Jesus’ emphasis is that the motive and attitude behind ones actions may validate or invalidate them. All prayers (even some “in the name of the Lord”) are not heard. All gifts do not honor God. The worshipper must examine himself (1 Corinthians 11:29) to ensure the worthiness of his actions.

Some have taken Jesus’ statement in Matthew 6:3 that one is to be so secretive that he hardly knows what he is doing himself, as an excuse for miserly giving. The Sermon on the Mount is filled with extravagant expressions (“cut off your hand, pluck out your eye,”

etc.). These give emphasis and importance to his instructions. Our gifts (and all religious activity) are to honor God, not ourselves. We are not the focus of our rituals — God is.

Unfortunately, some may take advantage of the privacy provided by the offering bag to conceal their stinginess, not to show modesty in their giving. God sees in secret, and knows our hearts.

Such grudging gifts do not please God, or bring him honor (2 Corinthians 9:7). Rewards will no doubt be withheld. But the generous sincere gifts of genuine believers will be rewarded publicly, both now and eternally.

— by Michael E. Brooks

Did Paul really exist?

Recently, Paul’s bold claim struck me afresh: “Paul, an apostle (not from men, nor by human agency, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father…)” (Galatians 1:1).  Within just a few words, Paul quickly dismissed any doubt regarding the authority behind his commission.  It rested solely upon Christ and God.

 Powerful statement! If true, he has prepared his readers to be confronted with a message bearing genuine apostolic authority, a message worthy of scrutinizing attention.

 Enter the skeptic. Did Paul even exist?

 A simple line of reasoning appears to not only be instructive, but also to lead us to Jesus himself. The method involves merely seeking the best explanation for the book of Acts.

 Whether composed within fifteen years of when Paul’s missionary activity, as described as having occurred, as some believe, or even around thirty years later, as others ascribe, imagine the ruckus that would have arisen when Acts began to circulate if Paul had not made those missionary journeys!

 In every congregation where I have been a member, the old timers knew not only the history of their congregation, but also what well-known speakers had passed through. If Paul the apostle had not made those missionary journeys, voices of dissent would have arisen from Rome and Corinth to Philippi, Ephesus, Lystra, and both Antiochs! A repeating chorus would have been, “Paul is claimed to have done what here?”  Acts would have been rejected.

 Similarly, as those same early Christians read Acts’ portrayal of Saul of Tarsus, they would have naturally compared it with what they knew of Paul’s personal history. If it did not ring true, the book of Acts would have been rejected. The best explanation for Acts would seem to be that its story of Paul fit with their own congregational knowledge of, and experiences with, Paul.

 If this is true, then what can account for the conversion of the powerful young Saul of Tarsus, who possessed even personal access to the Sanhedrin and whose convictions against Christ ran so deep that he persecuted the church, into the Christ-driven missionary Paul?

 In Paul’s own words as recorded in Acts, “I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ He said to me, “I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting'” (Acts 22:7,8).

 Nothing short of seeing the risen Lord adequately explains why Saul would have abandoned his position and convictions to become the persecuted apostle Paul. 

As many have pointed out, the stark transformation of Saul of Tarsus is indicative that Christ has indeed been raised from the grave.

 Returning full circle to Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we hear Paul prepare us for the message of one who was commission by Christ himself and by God.  The best explanation is that not only does Paul’s apostleship not have a human origin, neither does the gospel.

—  by Barry Newton

Worry is debilitating and can take God from our lives.

We can immerse ourselves in God’s Word and remain tethered to the Lord through prayer and combat the attacks of Satan.

However, there are other strategies available to us.

One is to learn a coping technique. When Fibromyalgia came into my life in May 2010, I suddenly lost the ability to walk, some of the motor skills and strength in my hands and arms and was left with a great deal of pain.

During my treatment I attended a pain clinic and received a lot of guidance about the effects of stress, worry and the pressures of life on our bodies.

In order to deal with the stress and worry in my life, I developed a strategy that works for me. It can be adapted to fit someone else’s context.

Worry was one of the hallmarks of my life until I realized that I must end the cycle. Learning to deal with the forces assaulting me and my family, I was better able to handle their attacks.

While studying biofeedback at the pain clinic, I began to construct a cabinet in my mind. This cabinet is in front of me, but not attached to me. It has plenty of room to facilitate my needs. I placed all of my worries and fears in that cabinet.

The contents of that cabinet are real and viable. The responsibilities still need attention and the stresses of life still exist. But their weight is no longer on my shoulders. I can look at them and attend to them whenever I need to but they are not in me, eating at me like acid.

By removing them from within me, I feel liberated.

Self-preservation can push us to do things we would not normally do. I now handle stress and worry better than ever. I am calmer, more loving and gentle than before.

My fibromyalgia is still real and painful. I still stumble around and have trouble with my arms and hands but I am freer from the viciousness of worry. In that respect, fibromyalgia has been one of the best things to enter my life because it finally pushed me to cast off the beast.

The worrier, the addict, the obese and the sinner all face the urgency to turn their lives around. In some areas, we succeed and in other areas we fail. However, God can lead us through the wars if we will allow him to have the throne of our lives (Philippians 4:4-9).

—  by Richard Mansel

Does He ever get weary of my redundancy?

I will speak for me. I probably need to spend more time thinking about what I’m actually saying in my private prayers.

“Father in heaven…”

If I am not very careful, the phrase may constitute little more than a thoughtless, repetitive habit.

Strangely enough, I don’t talk to my earthly father that way, but I tend to do so with my heavenly Father.

Does He ever get weary of my redundancy?

What am I really saying when I articulate the words, “Father in heaven…”?

First, “Father” means I am a member of God’s family.

“For you are all sons of God through faith

in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were

baptized into Christ have put on Christ”

(Galatians 3:27).

Just as a suit which I put on envelops me and identifies my appearance, my immersion in water (Romans 6:3-4; cf. 1 Peter 3:20-21) was the culminating act of faith by which God added me to his spiritual household (1 Timothy 3:15) and identified me as his kin.

Second, “Father” means I am a recipient of God’s special provision.

“Or what man is there among you who, if his

son asks for bread, will give him a stone?

Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a

serpent? If you then, being evil, know how

to give good gifts to your children, how

much more will your Father who is in heaven

give good things to those who ask Him”

(Matthew 7:9-11)?

If I, as an earthly father, endeavor to meet the dietary needs and requests of my child, how much more (cf. Ephesians 3:20) will my heavenly Father accommodate the requirements (cf. Philippians 4:19; James 1:17) of my life (cf. Psalm 37:25)?

Third, “Father” means I am the beneficiary of God’s loving discipline.

“My son, do not despise the chastening of

the LORD, nor be discouraged when you are

rebuked by Him; for whom the LORD loves He

chastens, and scourges every son whom He

receives” (Hebrews 12:5-6; cf. Proverbs

3:11-12).

Because God is my Father in heaven, he, on occasion disciplines me for my long term good (cf. Hebrews 12:9- 11). He wields the rod (Psalm 89:32; Proverbs 22:15) of pain and corrects me as an expression of his special relationship (Hebrews 12:8) with  me.

“Father in heaven…”

The phrase ought to be more than some rote recital of words. It should be an indelible imprint on my heart–that I have a Father who…

takes me in as his own

gives me all that I need

chastens me to help me mature.

— by Mike Benson

 

Flaws in Creation?

I still remember the first time I read the allegation that our biological world was not merely clumsily cobbled together by evolutionary forces, but modern engineers could have designed better living systems.

The assertion struck at the heart of the worldview asserting, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

One such attack comes from Kenneth Miller and Richard Dawkins, who contend that the vertebrate eye contains a functional flaw.

Since the optic nerve in vertebrates extends over the retina instead of protruding out from the back of the eye, Miller has claimed that its “visual quality is degraded because light scatters as it passes through several layers of cellular wiring before reaching the retina.”/1 In Dawkin’s words, the retina is “wired in backwards” because light sensitive cells face away from incoming light thus revealing “the design of a complete idiot.”/2

In contrast to their derisive analysis, further examination of the eye’s organizational design reveals optimization for visual acuity. If retinal cells were turned around to aim directly at the incoming light as Miller and Dawkins propose, this design would interfere with the blood supply needed for high-quality vision. Solving this problem would then require capillaries to lie over these light sensitive cells resulting in even greater blockage of light than the optic nerve!

Sometimes it just takes time to discover our ignorance. As of 2010, it was discovered that special “glial cells” cover the retina. These cells channel light through the optic nerve wiring directly onto photoreceptor cells keeping images clear.

This is hardly a clumsy cobbled together biological system. Rather, the vertebrate eye produces the highest degree of vision quality revealing the work of a Master Craftsman.

1/ Kenneth Miller, “Life’s Grand Design,” Technology

Review (February/March 1994), pp. 25-32.

2/ Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: The

Evidence for Evolution (Free Press, 2009), p. 354.

by Barry Newton

 

2 wives and a bald head

THERE IS AN old tale, attributed to Aesop, concerning a man who had two wives…

One was old; one was young.

The man was getting gray.

His younger wife did not want to be confused for his daughter, so when he was with her, while he was sleeping, she would pluck out his gray hairs.

The older wife welcomed the gray hairs. She was tired of being confused for his mother, so when he was with her, while he was sleeping, she would pluck out the dark hairs.

Soon, he was completely bald.

THOUGHT: If you try to please everyone, you will please no one.

“Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God.” 1 Thessalonians 4.1

Mike Benson

Just as “freedom” from worldly oppression wasn’t “free,” neither is “freedom” from sin.

Today is America’s celebration of our independence from Great Britain.  It’s designed to be celebrated with merriment and joy.  With the idea of it being a happy occasion.  That’s all well and good, but I sometimes wonder if our “pursuit of happiness” takes precedence over remembering the cost of that independence.  We’re going to talk for a few moments today about “remembering” and the cost of “freedom.”

Just as “freedom” from worldly oppression wasn’t “free,” neither is “freedom” from sin.  Perhaps I should say from “slavery to sin.”  No, the price paid for that “freedom” was the death of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross.  Another way to look at it is in parable form.

All of us are familiar with paying for something and sometimes the cost is dear for that “something.”  We don’t like to pay out our money and then not use the item we bought, do we?  Basically, that’s just a waste of the product that was so dearly paid for.

Yet, isn’t that exactly what we’re doing when we ignore the price God paid for man to have salvation?  To have “freedom” from sin?  In Luke 4:18 we read the  opening statement of Jesus’ ministry.  In it He tells us His purpose for coming to earth as a man. “He (God) hath anointed (given me my mission) to preach the gospel…..to preach deliverance to the captives (slaves to sin)…..to set at liberty them that are bruised.”

The Greek word for “bruised” means to be “broken down” or “oppressed.”  In Gal. 5:1 we find Paul describing it as the “yoke of bondage.”  And we understand that the term “yoke” always portrays the picture of being “captive” or of being indentured to something.  But especially, it gives us a picture of not being free.

America’s and the Christian’s “freedom” from oppression can also be seen parabolically, however, the main difference between America’s and our “freedom” from “oppression” is simply this.  America fought a war for our “freedom,” our “independence” and here is why I mention that and it takes us to this point of the lesson that I wish all to remember.

Israel’s “freedom” from slavery in Egypt is often used as a “type” for visualizing our “freedom” from sin.  And that’s okay to use that analogy, but when doing so, remember this: Israel did not gain their “freedom” because of anything they did.  They received their “freedom” because of what God did.  Our “freedom from sin” is just the same.  It’s not something we did to earn it, we only have it because of what God did.

Well, let’s start wrapping this lesson up with the rest of my thoughts today.  Let’s return to Christ’s opening statement that we read in Luke 4:18.  Recall, He said that He came “to preach the gospel.”   That this “gospel” would “deliver the captives” and “set at liberty” the oppressed (“bruised”).

Now, open your Bibles to the 6th chapter of Romans and we’ll see there this equation.  In verse 3 we read where “those who are baptized into Jesus, were baptized into His death.”  Then we go on down to verse 7 and there we read that if we’re “baptized” (dead in Christ) we are “freed from sin.”

But that’s not the end of the equation.  Just like we shouldn’t celebrate our country’s independence one day out of the year and then forget the cost that was paid for that “freedom,” parabolically speaking, we can spiritually do the same thing.

We can’t just be “baptized” and say “that’s it” can we?  Let’s go back to Gal. 5:1 and look at the entirety of that verse.  Paul tells us there to “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”

The celebration of our “freedom from sin” is not memorable just one day a year as is America’s remembrance of its liberty.  No, Christians have a day of “remembrance” set aside every first day of the week.  (Acts 20:7).  And a reading of 1 Cor. 11:23-29 gives us the details of this ceremony, this celebration.

That we “do this in remembrance of me.”  And that we always “stand fast” and never forget the sacrifice made for our “eternal freedom.

Respectfully submitted,

Ron Covey