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Ready or Not ... 2017

Ready or Not ... 2017

    Can you believe another year is in the books? Time marches relentlessly onward without asking for either our consent or approval. 2016 isn’t even cold yet and 2017 is already relentlessly marching forward. Nothing you and I can do will ever get that time back. With each passing day we creep closer towards time's end. But, as always, with Jesus there is good news.
    2017 will bring with it days of defeat and success.
    2017 will bring with it both sadness and great joy.
    2017 will bring days of suffering balanced with days of healing.
    2017 will bring with it days of loss and others of enrichment.
    For some 2017 will bring with it a day of finality.
    But there will not be a single day in 2017 that you will have to encounter alone! We have One who can lift us up from defeat, comfort us in sadness and sustain us through suffering. There is One who can truly place momentary loss into eternal perspective. And not to be forgotten, we have each other, c…

Breaking Resolutions

The thresholds of life often give rise to resolutions. So it is common to make promises to others, God and ourselves at the dawn of a new year. Perhaps you have your own set of “New Year’s Resolutions.” However, the point at hand is not how you feel about making such agreements but how you feel about keeping them.
    Various studies could be cited but the final results appear strikingly similar. Thirty-eight percent (38%) of New Year’s vows are broken during the first week. Around seventy percent (70%) will never see the light of February. Hardly any will ultimately be fully kept.
    Perhaps this is true because our resolutions are too vague. Goals need to be realistic and reachable. For example, a common resolution made within the church is, “to live a better Christian life that the previous year.” Such a vow must be broken. A year is much too long to set our sights upon. Why not resolve each day to present a better example of spiritual service than the previous day? Now that is …

It Just Doesn't Pay

Coming from central Illinois it should come as no surprise that my family has deep roots in farming. My grandfathers on Dad's side all worked the soil on the same farm. It's never been an easy way to make a living, but many farmers never lose their sense of humor. So, when I started reading an article written by a friend in a Kentucky church bulletin, a man sharing deep roots in farming, my first thought was that this must have originally been told by a farmer. Edd Sterchi wrote: "There was once a farmer who was going broke farming, so he quit and started selling hammers. He would buy hammers for $3 apiece and sell them for $2 each. He was selling a lot of hammers and seemed happier than before. A friend soon reminded him that for every hammer he sold he was losing $1. To which the he smiled and replied, 'Yeah, but it’s more profitable than farming.'”
    It is only natural for one to expect their efforts to be rewarded. No one wants to waste their time spinnin…

It Is A Wonderful Life

George Bailey learned the hard way what the world would have been like if he had never existed. Friends, family and events, once taken for granted, took on richer meanings. Unrealized dreams suddenly seemed unimportant. Viewers could reflect on Jimmy Stewart’s intriguing performance and come away with a clearer understanding of the important things in life.
   This time of year Jesus becomes popular. The story of His birth is rehearsed repeatedly. Joy and peace become the operative words as goodwill is mingled among the shopping frenzy. But life is not a Frank Capra film. We cannot experience what the fictional character George Bailey experienced. There is no Clarence Oddbody, Angel Second Class, ready to grant us a second chance at life and no evil Mr. Potter terrorizing Bedford Falls.
   Yet, in the inspired discussion of Jesus’ life and ministry an interesting observation was made by Christ Himself, upon which we would do well to dwell. He said, in John 15:22, “If I had not come ……

The Birth of Jesus

Luke's words, although relegated to a particular season, are familiar to most in our modern world: "9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:9-12).
     Unlike our modern world, the early church had little more than a passing interest in commemorating the birth of Jesus. For them it served to attest His divine origin and mark the fulfillment of long anticipated prophecies. Christ’s birth also helped confront inaccurate teaching about His physical nature that slowly crept into the church (2 John 7). Of the eighty-nine chapters in the four Gospel accounts of…

One Special Day

In 1912 C. P. J. Mooney wrote an editorial, which appeared in The Commercial Appeal, a Memphis, TN newspaper. His thoughts were not only true then, they remain true today. He began with the words, “There is no other character in history like that of Jesus.” Plato was a great thinker, Aquinas a great philosopher, Napoleon a great soldier but Jesus was the Son of God, Savior of the world, “the perfect man.”
    James A. Francis also wrote truth about Jesus when he penned that, although born in obscurity and living unencumbered by possessions and worldly honor, after nineteen centuries He remains “the central figure of the human race.”
    Francis continued, “I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that were ever built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as that One Solitary Life.”
    We have now come to that special day above al…

One Devil

Read: Revelation 20:10

    Reflecting on the exuberant spirit accompanying Japan's surrender ending WWII, a sailor told of receiving orders to destroy the big shells on board his ship. At first, he related, the shells were handled most carefully, cradling them gently to the side and easing them overboard. As time passed they began treating the shells as if they posed no threat, tossing and kicking them off the ship.
    Satan's presence lurks in the Bible from Genesis 3 to Revelation 20. He is referred to as the Serpent (Gen. 3), Beelzebub (Luke 11:15), the father of lies (John 8:44), the god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4), a roaring lion (1 Pet. 5:8), and the great dragon (Rev. 12:9), among other names. While this one Devil is treated with caution throughout the Bible, wreaking havoc on the entire human race, by the time we come to his end, Revelation 20:10, he is treated with complete contempt. Like powerless bombs sinking harmlessly to the ocean’s floor, this one Devi…

Failing to Heed the Warnings

Residents in Milan, Italy were concerned earlier this year when they began hearing strange noises on Sunday night and Monday morning. Digging noises. They grew concerned especially because of the proximity of the noises to a central downtown bank. Some reportedly contacted the police with their concerns as the noises continued into the week. A few of these concerned citizens confessed that they had joked among themselves, "Are they robbing the bank?” (www.theguardian.com) No real action was taken until early Friday morning as bank alarms started ringing. When the police arrived at the bank they discovered shaken employees who had been forced by four thieves to open and empty safety deposit boxes. By then, however, the bandits had made their escape through the tunnel they had been industriously digging for days. Embarrassed, the police were forced to admit that they had failed to heed the warnings.
    Nearly everybody is bombarded with warnings daily. They alert us to danger. …

Pray for Peace

Prayer is a common topic in Paul's epistles. It seems he bathed each letter in prayer before putting pen to paper and again before sending it out. No subject was too minor to take before God. No person was too great or too lowly to find a place in his prayers. Paul prayed for his work and fellow workers. He prayed for Christians laboring in their home congregations to bring the light of Christ into communities darkened by Satan's influence. He prayed for the lost searching for light and for the saved seeking the lost.
    As Paul wrote to Timothy he urged him to pray. Pray for the governing officials (1 Timothy 2:2). Pray for peace (2:2). Pray for evangelism (2:4).
    Oswald Smith is remembered as saying, "When we work, we work. When we pray, God works." But Paul said it first. In a troubled time he told Timothy that prayer was the avenue for peace to prevail. But he also urged him to be ready to act when his prayer was answered and doors of opportunity were ope…

Home and Thanksgiving

Family is a huge part of Thanksgiving. The home is one of God’s greatest blessings. As the oldest divinely established institution, the home is the earliest and most successful training ground for becoming the men and women God wants us to become. It comes as no surprise that the home is also the most effective training ground for Christ's church. This week most Americans make their way home to share old memories and make new ones. No family is perfect. But the family that strives to meet God's expectations will excel in these four traits.
Honor.The apostle Paul calls upon children to “honor your father and mother” (Eph. 6:2). It is in the home that children must first learn to honor parents. And when parents live honorable lives, their children will possess a fuller appreciation of what it truly means to honor God.
Obedience.Paul also commands children to &…

The Making of a Saint

The story is told of a group touring a very old village that featured a beautifully ornate cathedral. As a tour guide described the history, art, and architectural features displayed in the well-preserved building he finally came to the impressive stained glass windows depicting various religious scenes. A curious young boy stood amazed as the sun shining through the window left a clear reflection of the scene on the floor. Their guide explained to them the lives of various saints and the story of their lives.
    Suddenly interrupting his presentation, the guide asked the group, "Does anybody know what a saint is?"
    Immediately the young boy's hand flew up as he said “I do, I do!”
    As all eyes turned toward him the boy said, “A saint is someone that the light shines through!”
    Jesus said, "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12). But He also said, "You are the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14). Understanding how these two Bible passages re…

A Gift From Johnson Oatman

Over a 100 years ago Johnson Oatman gave a wonderful gift to Christian worship. It sprang out of a gift he himself had received from his father.
    Born in 1856, at Medford, NJ, Johnson Oatman inherited his father's love for music. An excellent singer, the elder Johnson's voice filled the Oatman home and made an indelible impression in the mind of his young son. After college the younger Oatman was a partner in his father's general store and later in the insurance industry while also serving as a denominational preacher. But from the age of 36 much of his "spare time" was spent on his real passion, writing hymns of which he reportedly authored more than 5,000. Hymnologist Jacob Henry Hall wrote of Oatman, "no gospel song book is considered as being complete unless it contains some of his hymns" (hymnary.org). While we are familiar with Oatman's favorite hymns, Higher Ground and No Not One, it is Count Your Blessings(written in 18…

Born of Water and Spirit

John 3:1-5

     One of the most amazing examples of light shattering the darkness was Nicodemus’ night visit with Jesus. That evening the Pharisee sought clarity based on the clear evidence of Jesus' miraculous power. These miracles were undeniable proof that "God [was] with Him.”
     Not even Nicodemus was prepared to fully unravel the answer he received from Jesus. But when you consider that these two men had vastly different definitions of what "kingdom of God” means it only stands to reason that they have drastically different concepts on what it takes to enter it. In fact, that is exactly what Jesus did in placing the new birth, of water and the Spirit (i.e. baptism), as essential in gaining entrance into, and membership in God's kingdom, the church of Christ (Acts 2:38).
    Truly that night as Jesus [spoke] with Nicodemus “the light shines in the darkness” (John 1:5). I hope that Nicodemus’ …

The Origin of Halloween

All Saints' Day, celebrated on November 1st, is a day set aside by Roman Catholic traditions to honor their "saints" and martyrs. Pope Boniface IV (A.D. 608-615), introduced this holiday, originally observed on May 13. Among the many names associated with this day is All Hallows. The evening prior to All Hallows Day, October 31, is then All Hallows Eve or, Halloween (dated back to A.D. 1745).
     Tracing the name's origin is much easier and less controversial than describing the day's origin. One line of thought associates Halloween with its roots as a "Christian" holiday (outlined in the paragraph above). The more popular explanation goes back much further. What we know as Halloween began as a pagan celebration of the dead observed on October 31st. In time these two opposing cultures, pagan and “Christian,” collided. Rather than forbidding the continued practice of a pagan holiday, the Catholic Church of the ninth century simply adjus…

Can You See To the End?

Read: Romans 8:29
    An old farmer, the only witness in a murder trial, was questioned by a defense lawyer trying to cast doubt on his reliability as a witness. The crime was at dusk in poor lighting and the farmer was asked about his eyesight. The attorney questioned him, "Can you tell the jury just how far you can see?"
    The farmer confidently replied, "Will, I can clearly see the moon, how far is that?"
    While Paul's words in Romans 8:29 are often twisted to justify the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination, the real import of his inspired words are sometimes missed. The apostle is reassuring Christians in Rome, and ultimately each of us, that God in His omniscience can see to the end. And what does He see? He sees all those who have come to Christ in the prescribed mann…

Paul's Politics

When it came to civil government, Paul's priority was to seek the best possible environment for sharing the gospel. He refused to allow the ill-will of officials to sidetrack his desire to preach Jesus.
    Paul's eyes focused on seeking the lost where ever and whenever he could. To make that easier he commanded Christians to submit to governing leaders and ordinances that did not violate their higher obligation to obey God (cf. Acts 4:19-20). They were also instructed to pay taxes (Rom. 13:6-7) and to pray for their often hostile leaders (1 Tim. 2:1-4). Then Paul encouraged them to be busy spreading the good news of Jesus with the world.
    As a Roman citizen Paul was not to be bound and publicly beaten. He asserted that right in Acts 22:24-29, which he used as an opening to address a Jewish audience. But he did not always use that privilege (cf. 2 Cor. 11:24-25). He chose not to demand his rights in Philippi, perhaps because to do so would require abandoning Silas (Acts 1…

The Lord’s Supper

Simple. The elements are easily obtainable in any geographic location. Bread from the Jewish Passover was the simple unleavened variety used for generations. The fruit of the vine was nearly as common as water. While we see cups, trays and tables, these two simple elements constitute the Lord’s Supper.
    Regular. The early church understood that they were to partake of these two simple elements on a regular basis. This would prove to be a practice that would keep Jesus, the One symbolized in that observance, in the forefront of their minds. Sunday, the day of Jesus’ resurrection and the day of the beginning of the church, was the one day of every week that believers would come together to worship including the communion of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7).
    Celebration. As Jesus lifted the bread from a plate in the upper room on that infamous betrayal night and gazed into the eyes of His confused followers, who sensed trouble in the air, He turned His attention heavenward and gave…

Amazing Grace

Puteoli, Appii Forum and Three Inns may have been, for many, three insignificant places on the road to Rome. For Paul, bound by a chain, worn down by his recent shipwreck and the prospect of his Roman detention, these villages would be a Godsend (Acts 28:13-15).
    Paul had longed to preach the gospel of Jesus in Rome (Acts 19:21), Now he would get that chance, but as a prisoner. Still, at Puteoli Paul was welcomed into the warm fellowship of Christian love. At Appii Forum fellow Christians from Rome awaited his arrival. Buried among the unfamiliar faces were the smiles of friends from long ago (Romans 16:3). By the road to Rome they celebrated the amazing grace of God that made them one.
    Grace is a central doctrine that is often misunderstood. It is deeply embedded in the very personality of God, expressing His love and blessing to an undeserving and often unappreciative humanity. The world desperately needs to see God’s grace at work in His people and to hear the priceless me…

Marriage Was God's Idea

Someone has said that the difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has limits. We live in a truly mixed-up world. Modern culture preaches "tolerance," a special type of tolerance. By definition, "tolerance" is showing patience and kindness to beliefs you do not personally hold. Modern culture has redefined "tolerance" to mean approving the opinions, beliefs or behaviors of others that differ from your own, and recognizing those beliefs and behaviors as just as valid as your own. What does this mean in a practical sense? We are asked to "tolerate" alternative lifestyles, denominationalism and other religions (Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, etc.) as just as valid and just as true as New Testament Christianity. To them, there is no longer a constant standard of truth (John 17:17). The result is sadly very familiar: "every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25).
    It should come as no surprise that the w…

On Winning and Losing

Meet Ezra Marsh Boring! He rose from obscurity as Jesse R. Grant’s stable boy in northern Illinois to leadership in a major denomination. From his prominent station Boring championed reform in the pressing issues of his day: woman's right to vote, support for veterans of the Civil War, and the rights of former slaves. He was considered by many to be an example of success.
    Yet, Ezra Boring also knew the pain of loss. He was living in Chicago when the great fire of 1871 devastated the city, losing "thirty years of work,--save what I have retained in my memory." Even in the face of great loss Ezra maintained an appreciation for what really matters. He wrote of finally resting with his family in the safety of a friend’s home as “the happiest moment in my life. My property was gone, but my family was all alive, and life was the only thing that seemed worth anything to me at the time. I was in a state of ecstasy, of excessive joy over the event." Even when he "…

You Are Important!

Have you ever set out to put together a jigsaw puzzle only to realize as you place your last piece that you are one piece short? It is then that you realize just how important each piece is for the whole picture to come together properly. At this point you will probably decide that since it is only a sky piece it is not important to the overall picture, right? Unlikely.
    As you appraise the incomplete product you become uneasy. That missing piece begins to haunt you. You know that if you tried to go to sleep you would only dream about it taunting you from its hiding place. As you look at the hole in your puzzle you try to ignore it, but it stands out like a sore thumb. Then you realize that it is not just a sky piece, but rather it is a bright, blue and beautiful part of something larger than itself. Actually, it has an intricate part in the overall picture. Its beauty is enhanced and complemented by its fellow pieces. IT IS IMPORTANT!
    Of course you know that it is no mere ji…

The Ugly Truth About Sin

Big things often come in small packages. While this may sound cliché, it is especially true in the case of sin. On the surface it may appear harmless. Three simple letters. Yet those three letters can literally make an eternity of difference for those who seek to please God.
    All sins bring about the same result, separation from God (Isaiah 59:1-2) and spiritual death (Rom. 6:23). While there is no real basis for dividing sin into grades of infraction, such as mortal (murder, adultery, grave and intentional sins) versus venial sins (lesser, forgivable sins), the New Testament does recognize the consistent nature of every sin:
·         "for whatever is not from faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23)
·         "to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin" (James 4:17)
·         "sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4)
·         "All unrighteousness is sin" (1 John 5:17).
The Bible labels ALL sin as deadly and ALL sinners as terminal. No matter…

The Dangers We Face

We lock our doors. We set our alarms. We take careful precautions to avoid the dangers of the world which we feel are lurking all around us. But the most important dangers we will ever face are not impeded by locked doors and set alarms. They are impervious to the various precautions we may set because they are not physical.
    The devil is the perennial enemy of all who would follow Jesus. He will stop at nothing when it comes to pulling people away from Christ. Satan is proficient at lying (John 8:44). He is ever vigilant (1 Pet. 5:8). But he is not our greatest danger.
    We face the danger of drifting from God's truth (Heb. 2:1). We hear or read of false teachers who seek to infiltrate the church, introduce the latest innovation, the latest doctrines, and the newest trend. And while we must never let down our guard, thereby giving them an open opportunity to corrupt us individually, or damage the Lord's church, false teachers are not our greatest danger.
    Our greates…

We Can Do Anything

This was a man who daily laid his life on the line of service. He withstood the diabolic pressures of the world to crush the message he proclaimed. He endured the complacency within the church to resist the transforming power of the Word he preached. He accepted the “thorn” in his own flesh as a challenge towards greater dedication. Tirelessly he labored without questioning. His extensive travels took him to the far reaches of society but he was never satisfied with what had already been accomplished while the lost could still be found. Then this man, who seemed capable of doing anything, revealed his secret.
     The Apostle Paul, writing to the church at Philippi, revealed the obvious when he wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). All across the brotherhood we should be hitting ourselves on the forehead saying, “Why didn’t we think of that?” Paul’s success emanated from the confidence that he couldn’t fail as long as he maintained his connec…

Vital Signs

It is commonplace today. We think nothing of it when, before ever seeing the doctor, a nurse connects us to a blood pressure monitor, sticks a thermometer under our tongue, puts a flashing chip on our finger, and takes our pulse. From these "vital signs" a sketch of your overall physical condition emerges. According to Dictionary.com, the phrase "vital signs" (referring to one’s temperature, blood pressure, pulse rate, and respiration) first emerged around the time of World War I.
    While our physical health can be generally evaluated by a few critical measurements, our spiritual health may not be as easily assessed. Appearances may be deceiving. One individual powerfully illustrates this point. He walked with Jesus, preached the approaching spiritual kingdom, used his talent and training to serve Jesus (John 13:29), and even worked miracles by healing the sick (Matt. 10:1). Yet, in reality, he was a thief (John 12:6) and betrayer (Matt. 26:15). Although he wa…

The Church of Christ

The. It is the one and only. Contrary to popular opinion, the Bible lays claim to only one body (Eph. 4:4), one church (3:10), and one eternal kingdom of the saved (Dan. 2:44).
Church. The original Greek word for church signifies the “called out,” and refers to a people, not to a building. Individuals are called out of the world, out of sin and out of condemnation. Individuals are called into God’s assembly, into forgiveness and into grace. The church is the body of believers who have been saved.
Of. This body has a Master and Lord. Someone owns it (Acts 20:28). Like a husband, He cares for the church (Eph. 5:23). He alone authorizes its teaching and worship. He alone adds to its membership (Acts 2:47).
Christ. Jesus was born to reign over God’s kingdom (John 18:36). He died to purchase unto Himself all who would submit to Him in baptism (Acts 2:38). Anointed by God and adored by men, Jesus Christ today awaits the day His church comes home.
     The church of Christis the product of centu…

The Common Thread

Sin entered the world through a thought that gave birth to a desire. Growing, this desire began to overshadow that which is undeniably right. From this springs lust that takes root in the human mind, control of the human will. Then sin is produced which, when its dastardly work is complete, brings forth death (James 1:14-15). Behind all this ugly activity snickers the one who planted the thought, Satan.
    Adam and Eve fell victim first to the lies of the Devil. They were forced to give up their paradise home due to their open rebellion and refusal to abide in the commands of God. Since then mortal man has ignorantly followed the example of their first parents.
    Very specific plans crafted in the peace of Heaven began to emerge. Prophets reveal glimpses into the unbelievable length God is willing to take to bring man back to Him. A promised Savior is to be born of a virgin. A kingdom is to be founded in Jerusalem. A New Testament will be given to the people of God.
    Eventually…

The Fires of Discouragement

Carmel shook as the fiery hand of God consumed Elijah’s sacrifice (2 Kings 18). The prophet, clad in camel’s hair, stood victorious as idolatry was dealt yet another crushing blow by Jehovah. Baal’s prophets died that day by the waters of Kishon.
    Jezebel shook with fury, consumed with hatred, at word of Baal’s defeat. The evil queen vowed that not even God could deliver Elijah from her death sentence. She sent him word that he had but twenty-four hours to live.
    Elijah shook with terror as he was consumed with fear. Reflecting back, his efforts seemed futile. He felt alone in the struggle to loosen the clutches of idolatry, convinced that nobody cared.
    The fires of discouragement raged in his troubled mind as the sacred prophet ran for his life. Along the way he was sustained with food and water and encouraged to return to the mountain where Moses received the Law. There the prophet came face to face with a mighty wind, an earthquake and a furious fire. Elijah found comfor…

Our Father’s Business

“Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” These were the first recorded words of Jesus (Luke 2:49). His last recorded words before ascending to heaven are also enlightening:
“Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:46-49).
Every word Jesus spoke in between seems intentionally directed towards preparing the believer for carrying out the business of God.
    But just what was the “Father’s business”? In Jesus’ own words it was “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Our Father’s business is evangelism, or more precisely, obeying the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
    …

An Audience With God

In the Old Testament man enjoyed direct contact with God. Men such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, and Moses enjoyed their own private audience with God.
    Christians are permitted to have an audience with God today because of Jesus’ mediation as High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16). The word “pray” (or a form thereof) is used three hundred and sixty-one times in the Bible. One might draw the conclusion that God intended prayer to be a central part of life. Here are a few important reminders about prayer:
·         God eagerly waits for Christians to speak to Him (John 4:23).
·         The power of prayer rests in seeking the will of God (1 John 5:14).
·         The success of prayer rests in the obedient life of the one praying (James 5:16).
The Christian who has learned these vital “secrets” to successful prayer will open the door to untold blessings. Not only will they enjoy an audience with God through their constant prayers (1 Thessalonians 5:17), but they will most certainly be prepare…

Reassessing Our Commitment

Confidence! Webster tells us it is the quality or state of being certain. God tells us it is a valuable asset in the human character (Eph. 3:8). But an overabundance or imbalance can lead to problems.
    Commitment! Webster tells us it is the state of being entrusted with a charge. Jesus tells us it is a willingness to obey (John 14:15).
    One night these two concepts came into direct conflict as the apostles surrounded their Teacher in the Garden. He predicted that night that they would soon abandon Him. They reasserted their commitment: “Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended … Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee” (Matt. 26:33, 35). Such were the words of all eleven.
    But all serious commitments must be proven. When tested that night, all of the disciples failed. As the arrest of Christ went down they all fled into the darkness!
    It was in Peter that the test that night was most clearly seen. Not long after his bo…

The Long Lost Book

Josiah, king of Judah, ordered his men into the run-down part of town to see what could be done in rebuilding the weakened faith of his nation. As his search party wound through the dark slums of Jerusalem they came to an old, weather-beaten house. It must have been impossible to imagine that many generations ago this building was the pride of Israel. Now it was on verge of being condemned.
    As they rummaged through the old Temple of Solomon someone may have literally stumbled onto an amazing discovery. What first appeared to be an old record book turned out to be the Hebrew Scriptures. Although they may have heard stories about it, they had never actually seen a copy of God's Word.
    Young Josiah was anxious to study the contents of this ancient document. As he did he came to understand that, despite its great age, this book was remarkably relevant. Not only did it contain a detailed history of God's people, it also prescribed how God desired His people to live and wor…

The Real World

Moses recorded the stories that Israelite children were exposed to from the cradle up. Somehow the stories gradually lost their suspense as childhood faded, their attraction was replaced with the glitter and romance of “the real world” as adulthood dawned.
    Six brothers pursued the glitter and romance, leaving behind those childhood stories. Riches and leisure awaited them, the reward for years of toil. They enjoyed their wealth to their heart’s content until death entered the family. Five brothers mourned as they buried the deceased, then they divided the wealth left behind.
    In “the real world” the feasting, frolicking and indulging would soon resume. However, in a land vastly different than that one familiar to us the one brother stood face to face with a world long since forgotten, buried beneath a deluge of wealth, nearly suffocated under mountains of worldly cares. There he would plead for one to return to warn his brothers to change. “They have Moses and the prophets,” …

In Search of Truth

“What is truth?” Pilate’s question, in John 18:38, is continually asked in modern times. Contrary to popular sentiment, truth is not an elusive, slippery ideal. It does not present itself in contradictory, multiple-choice format suitable to adjust to the seeker’s convenience. Our society is reaping the consequence of the “relative truth” it seeks.
    The consistent nature of truth is illustrated in that Jesus answered Pilate’s question hours before it was asked when He identified God’s Word as truth (John 17:17). Here right and wrong are clearly defined. In God’s revelation the penetrating light of truth dispels the darkness of sin.
    Lasting success is only achieved in a successful search for truth, recognizable by a life conformed to God’s will. No matter what one’s chosen profession, truth will empower them to become an example of righteousness. Solomon clearly identified the power of truth (Prov. 23:23). The promises of Jesus reflect a similar appreciation of truth. The one w…

The Power of a Promise

The disciples, having seen so much good accomplished through the ministry of Jesus, cherished only bright hopes for the future. Dreams of the restored glory of Israel, with themselves occupying positions of honor and prestige, illuminated the years ahead.
    But more and more it seemed that Jesus spoke of denial, betrayal, and a cross. They were encouraged as Jerusalem recently overflowed with praise when the Lord rode into town on a donkey. Why couldn’t Jesus see that the people were for Him? With the tide of public opinion behind them, nothing could stand in the way of certain conquest against the Romans. But as they were looking to the start of a kingdom Jesus was preoccupied with His end.
    As they gathered in an upper room Jesus announced once again His imminent departure. He told His stunned followers that they would not be permitted to accompany Him. Sorrow settled over the room as they sat about the table. The cup and bread before them had been vested with new meaning the…

God Didn't Cooperate

What do Ann Lee, David Koresh, and Jim Jones all have in common? They were delusional. They were power hungry. They were manipulative. Two answers are most certainly true: they all claimed to be Christ and they were all wrong.
     In 1772, Ann Lee, a leader of the Shakers (an off-shoot of the Quakers), preached a "gospel" of communal living, rejection of marriage, and celibacy. She carried her radical views with her from England to New York in 1774. Eventually she claimed to be "the second coming of Christ" in female form. Today the only remaining Shaker community consists of less than five members. Outside of those five, the whole world recognizes that Ann Lee's claims to deity were wrong.
    In 1955 Jim Jones founded a group known as the Peoples Temple in Indianapolis, Indiana. His mother is said to have believed that she had given birth to the messiah, and Jones was happy to comply with her delusional beliefs. His plans came to an abrupt end with the Nov…

Thy Kingdom Come

A prayer was answered. A kingdom came. No kingdom was ever forged at a greater cost: a cross and sinless blood. Around the world the message was hurled as this kingdom embraced the outer rim of the inhabited creation. Spanning the ages it remains through the power of inspiration. It reached farther than any kingdom had, to the depths of the human soul. This kingdom was entrenched in mankind’s heart. It was called the church.
    His kingdom is inhabited by the saved, but not the perfect. Its mission is to publish and perpetuate the unfailing love of God. To that end all the commandments lead (1 Timothy 1:5). Its method to achieve this mission is obedience. Its ultimate goal is heaven. It is sustained by Christ who serves as its head (Ephesians 4:15), guided by the Spirit through the Word and empowered by the God who conceived it (Ephesians 1:4).
    Even today Jesus takes the compliant soul and places it where He knows best (1 Corinthians 12:18) as He continues to build His kingdom.…

The Divine Policy

“With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Our’s is a powerful God. He created the seas, then parted them. He placed the sun in the heavens then made it stand still in the skies. He gave Israel a Law then demanded that they keep their promise of obedience. When they couldn’t, He gave us His only begotten Son. It would seem nothing is too difficult for our God.

    The writer of the Hebrew letter did, however, think of one thing God could not do. “It is impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18). Limited only by His own holy nature, the One who inspires scripture is eternally truthful. Writing to the church in Rome around the turn of the first century, Clement, an uninspired writer, recognized this central trait of divine integrity in God. “Let our souls be bound unto Him that is faithful in His promises and that is righteous in His judgments. He that commanded not to lie, much more shall He Himself not lie: for nothing is impossible with God save to lie.”

    Clement clearly…

Being a Disciple

There is a difference between an apostle and a disciple. An apostle is “one sent on a mission.” Jesus selected twelve men to fulfill a specific mission for which He equipped them to succeed. A disciple is “a student, learner, and follower.” At times these were described as “multitudes” and at other times mere handfuls remained (cf. John 6:66.). In the familiar story of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-22) three traits of discipleship emerge.
    Discipleship demands learning. This young man displayed a good foundational knowledge of the will of God and could boast of his success in applying these truths to his daily life (vs. 20). Yet to be a disciple of Jesus demanded that he learn even more about the deeper truths of God’s will as it was revealed in Christ.
    Discipleship demands leaving. To be a disciple of Jesus demands that one leave behind the things of the world that distract from the ultimate goal (vs. 21).
    Discipleship demands living. It demands that our lives change. …

Leading the 21st Century Church

A man, decked in a disheveled uniform and out of breath, stopped at a  remote country gas station to ask the attention if he had seen a group of fourteen boys pass that way.  “Why, yes,” responded the worker, “about twenty minutes ago.  They were headed that way.”  “Thank you,” replied the man as he started down the road, “I have to catch up with them because I’m their leader.”

Christian leadership is rightly associated with the office of Elder.  However, its repercussions run much deeper.  The truism that the church can never exceed its leadership is challenging.  As we consider the next generation we face our greatest questions of leadership:  Who will lead us?  How will they lead us?  Where will they lead us?  If the Bible is our guide in answering these questions the future of the church will be in good hands, God’s!

David Bragg

Courageous Christian Men

The church in Corinth seemed to have more than their fair share of trouble. Division. Lawsuits. Sexual sin. They abused spiritual gifts, the Lord's Supper, and misunderstood the resurrection. Some of their problems were so severe that Paul would have to send an additional epistle to more fully address them. Spending some time reading about their problems only brings into sharper contrast our blessings.
    As Paul closes his first letter to the Corinthians, amid his recognition of certain individuals and congregations and plans for future travels, he offers them some valuable advice that really hits close to home. "Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong" (1 Cor. 16:13, KJV). The best way to avoid problems is to be alert ("Watch ye"), obedient to God ("stand fast in the faith"), and to be courageous ("quit you like men [NKJV: be brave], be strong"). All these many centuries later, God is still searching for courage…

A Fresh Start

Her life was a mess. She had parceled away her self-respect and gotten nothing in return, except guilt and public shame. It seemed so easy. Popularity, she reassured herself, would be worth the sacrifice. Any suspicions were cast aside when someone stood ready to encourage her in this pursuit. Never did she dream that she would become what she became.
    Perhaps it was a trap, but that could never excuse her sin. Now she only longed to undo what could not be undone. She stood at the mercy of the good people calling for the full extent of the law. Stripped of her pride she felt helpless, discarded and worthless. This was the price she paid for allowing herself to be used. Knowing she was guilty, she was ready to give up.
    Then something remarkable happened. She was brought before a Jewish rabbi. Her accusers shouted for the death sentence. Then she, for the first time, encountered love. Even after living in a world of lust she recognized true love. It was understanding without co…

Think On These Things

“The trouble with being optimistic is that some people will think you’re illiterate.”
    “If it weren't for the optimist, the pessimist would never know how happy he isn't.”
    “A pessimist can hardly wait for the future so he can look back with regret” (E. C. McKenzie, 14,000 Quips & Quotes).
    The world is predominantly pessimistic. Good things happen daily but bad things get more exposure in the media. People tend to think negatively about themselves, others and life in general. We expect the worse and are not surprised when we find it. Sin has such a powerful grip on society that it influences all of us no matter how careful we are to avoid it. No wonder the pessimist feels bad when he feels good for fear that he’ll feel worse when he feels better.
    In Jesus we find more positive thoughts to center our lives around. He provides us a haven from the negative vibes of the world. Christ upheld the conclusion of Solomon (Prov. 23:7; Mat. 15:18-20). Keeping our mind p…

Spiritual Maintenance

Maintenance is hard work. Over time most things deteriorate. That is true of buildings, bodies and souls. Some, prepared at one time for eternity, may no longer be ready. Here are just a few items that will help you maintain your spiritual well-being.
    1.  Pray regularly. Rather than just pray daily, why not think about praying throughout the day (1 Thes. 5:17)?
    2.  Worship meaningfully. Be prepared to join the church on every occasion of worship. Come ready and excited about the opportunity before you (Heb. 10:24-25).
    3.  Study often. Spiritual weak spots can often be strengthened with a working knowledge of Scripture. We all need to dig deep into God’s Word, but we also need to possess a wide scope of familiarity with Scripture in general. Some things we just need to know (1 Tim. 4:13).
    4.  Practice your faith. Paint is difficult to appreciate while still in the can. When we take the truths learned in God’s Word and put them into practice we enable ourselves, and othe…

It Is Written!

He was well armed for the confrontation, being acquainted with God’s Word. He knew how to skillfully utilize them Bible in obtaining his ultimate goal. Often he would contemplate beloved passages and seek to find special opportunities to apply them in his work.
    When he came to the mountain of temptation he was ready and eager to unleash his expertise with the Word of God. He coaxed from the top of the Temple, gazing to the jagged rocks far below, “If you truly are the Son of God jump. For it is written that angels are watching you to catch you when you fall lest you strike your foot against a stone.”
    Jesus arose to the challenge. “It is also written that you shall not put God to the test!” Three times the Devil had thrown his worst at the Lord, three times the Lord repelled the attacks by relying on the pure Truth of God.
    In Matthew 4 Jesus reveals to the modern reader the special power that resides in those simple words, “It is written.” To understand that power is to re…

Happiness

Happy … favored by luck, fortune or circumstance: FORTUNATE” (Webster’s Dictionary). Etymologically the English word “happy” derives from the Middle English hap or happe and the Icelandic happ meaning luck or chance. Happiness then is a favorable response based on outward circumstance, which, by nature, is constantly changing.
    For the majority, luck or chance governs happiness. Herein is the very reason unhappiness runs rampant in near epidemic proportions. Constantly shifting moods fluctuate between peaks and valleys. At times happiness is a frequent guest and at times it is an unfamiliar acquaintance. Happiness personifies the elusive pursuit that few realize and fewer still retain.
    Yet our Lord promises that for the Christian happiness is a guarantee wrapped up in the abundant life (John 10:10). It is uprooted from luck and replanted in the fertile soil of assurance. While once chance watered worldly happiness, now spiritual happiness is nurtured at the fountains of hope.…

I Love the Church

The church meant everything to him. It is obviously more valued than anything else on earth because of the time and energy he devotes to it. You can see his love in his respect for the Bible and his concern for holy living. Because of this he holds an irreplaceable position in the church’s teaching program and is involved in each and every phase of personal evangelism. He always stands ready to serve.
    Members are known by name along with their needs and concerns. Anyone can call on him at any time and he will be there for them. He looks forward to the various assemblies of the church, being aware of all that transpires there. Prayer plays a major role in his life, for he knows well its power. He has learned firsthand the need to be prayerful in all areas of life.
    This person loves to give to the church. Much thought has gone into his personal giving as he knows that one’s love for God is manifest in his sacrificial giving. He is concerned about the work of the church, church…

Seeking Christ’s Church

What did it take to get you here this morning? For some of us it took a special effort, as we are not in the habit of regular attendance. For others it required little thought or planning, it was Sunday and that’s what you do on Sundays. Without a clear understanding of the church of Christ some of us will neglect the Lord’s church and others of us will take it for granted.
    Just a few short years ago this community had no real presence of New Testament Christianity. While we have increased in number over the years there remain many of our neighbors who may be unaware of the true important of Christ's church. To them there is very little difference between the Northwest church of Christ and any other religious group. Our "story" (history) is not nearly as important as our message, the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.
    Beyond a congregation’s unique history is a rich heritage that we could be guilty of taking for granted – the New Testament Church. If all you knew w…

Beating Worry

Time has a way of improving the conditions of daily lives. What posed as hardship for my grandparents are today’s luxuries. Surrounded with gadgets and gizmos to make life easy, why can’t they invent something, anything that will remove worry from our lives?
    Volumes have been written to abate the damage worry causes. Man may find more things to worry about, but Jesus alone holds the secret to beat worry. Jesus said that to neutralize stress one must keep clear, spiritual priorities (Mat. 6:33). The Christian is entitled to place his trust in God. Unlike the rest of creation, God gives the faithful disciple the benefits of His protection (v. 26). Let God have priority over any and every problem and one can live without being crushed by worry.
    Worry, and the stress it spawns, can be reduced by living one day at a time (Mat. 6:34). Jesus teaches that God is well aware of our needs. Dream…

The Altar Builder

You can trace the life of Abraham through the book of Genesis. From the early days in Ur of the Chaldeans to his final resting place at the Cave in Machpelah, near Hebron, a remnant of his visit would be left behind: an altar.
    Worship was central in the life of Abraham. He openly praised God without reservation or shame. Throughout his 175 years he came to trust the God who had called him to inherit the “promised land.” He went where God led him. He was willing to offer what God demanded, even if it was his only son. God was his strength. Abraham was God’s servant.
    To those who would follow, Abraham’s relationship with God would be greatly admired. “The God of Abraham” would become a familiar address to the one true God of heaven and earth. Today Muslim, Jew and Christian all hold Abraham in high regard. Like Abraham, we must value worship. We must leave behind us a trail that indicates our strength was found in God.
    Abraham is remembered for his righteousness. He is cons…

The Greatest Confession

Jesus made the good confession before Pilate when He agreed to be Israel’s promised king (1 Tim. 6:13). The Ethiopian, groping for spiritual light, made this confession before Philip, “I believe Jesus is the son of God” (Acts 8:37). For us such a confession can clear the air as we approach God to accept His offer to forgive (Rom. 10:10). Those of us who have made this good confession can now anticipate the greatest confession of all.
    How can any other event compare to the life-changing impact of voicing the conviction of Jesus’ divine nature? Those precious words of submission stand fittingly between the decision to repent and the saving waters of baptism. What can be greater than proclaiming our faith in Christ? Only Jesus’ promise, which He gave in Matthew 10:32.
    The good confession will be followed by the greatest confession. It stands in stark contras…

The Courage of Convictions

Courage was a rare commodity as Israel camped on the edge of the Promised Land. Messengers had confirmed that the land indeed flowed with “milk and honey,” but also warned that giants roamed the land (Numbers 13). Fear, discouragement and anxiety spread like a swarm of grasshoppers over the defeated children of God.
    The flames of fear were fanned by ten of the spies sent in to survey the countryside. They told of walled cities and strong residents and convinced a nation not to trust the promise of God but rather the reality of what lay before them.
    Joshua and Caleb had a different spirit. Resting on their conviction of the faithfulness and power of God they reminded the nation of what God had already accomplished. They labored to stir within the people’s heart the flickering wick of faith. Standing by their convictions they called for God’s people to arise and claim the victory waiting just across the border.
    In the wilderness Israel choose to stay. In the wilderness God …

Just a Member?

The last chapter of Romans is special. Although Paul had never visited that city, and his long anticipated arrival would not occur for many years, his affection for the brethren there was strong. He had many friends in the capital city with long-standing ties in Christian service.
    Priscilla and Aquilla lived and worshiped in Rome (Romans 16:3). Together they shared memories of Corinth and Ephesus (Acts 18). Andronicus and Junia apparently had connections with the apostles preceding Paul’s career (v. 7). Then there was Rufus (v. 13). He was dear to Paul, not just for what he had accomplished as a member but for the mutual affection they shared for his mother.
    Others are listed in this beautiful chapter: Epaenetus, Tryphena, Asyncritus, Philolgus. Today we stumble over their names. Back then Paul memorialized their lives of dedication to Christ. None of them were “just members.”
    Every member of the body of Christ is special in the eyes of God. They have been set in the body…

Philip

Four men in the New Testament bore the name Philip. One was an apostle (John 1:43-51). One was a king’s son (Mat. 14:3). One was a governor (Luke 3:1). One served tables (Acts 6:5).
    This latter Philip was no ordinary waiter. His selection to fulfill the work of serving tables reveals deep spiritual traits (Acts 6:3). Seeing the need and heeding the call, Philip set out to be the best servant he could be.
    When persecution settled upon the young church, its members began to scatter. The need was no longer to wait tables but to spread the Gospel of Jesus in the new areas into which they fled. Philip, true to his nature, accepted that challenge also. His travels brought him to Samaria where his powerful preaching met with immediate success (Acts 8:12). Philip’s preaching even touched the hardened heart of Simon, a sorcerer, and the searching heart of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:13-39).
    His was an exciting life. Do you find yourself saying, “If only God used us as He did Phil…

A Barrier to Growth

Peter wrote to Christians living in difficult times, when suffering was their routine lot. They frequently found themselves at odds with government officials and mistreated in the marketplace. The apostle’s first epistle outlines useful advice on how to handle the adverse situations. At the heart of Peter’s counsel is the valid assumption that the process of living the Christian life will present opportunities for sharing one’s faith in Christ. To take advantage of these openings Christians must possess the ability to clearly explain their belief. He wrote:
“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed” (1 Pet. 3:15-1…