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Showing posts from August, 2016

Middle East Turmoil

The world’s attention is often fixed on the escalating violence in the Middle East. Nations scuffle as families suffer over the persistent loss of life. Some of this fighting takes place within a “stones throw” of where the greatest tragedy was played out nearly 2000 years ago.
    Many were convinced that peace was within reach. With eyes firmly fixed on the great prophecies of the past and with anticipation of a bright future, all hopes were pinned on the coming Messiah. He would bring peace. Impostors would NOT be tolerated.
    Oh how quickly a throng of admirers is turned to a howling mob controlled by the envious elite. “Crucify him!  Crucify him!” It was the blood of the Prince of Peace that was spilled that day in despised Golgotha. Three days later Hope was born.
    The day will come when they will no longer fight in the Middle East. All carnal warfare will end when the …

Seeking God’s Kingdom

Generations of Israelites eagerly anticipated the promised kingdom of God. They endured apostasy, exile, oppression, and subjugation while all the time clinging to the hope of liberation.
    Ironically when the actual Messiah arrived the Jewish people rejected Him (John 19:6). Looking only for an earthly kingdom they couldn't dream of the greater promises God was preparing to bestow (John 18:36). Many who did embrace Christianity failed to respect God's gracious dealings with the Gentiles and they again placed themselves in opposition to the true Kingdom of God (Gal. 5:1-6).
   History teaches us that we need to clearly understand the nature of the New Testament fulfillment of God's kingdom. There are four things necessary to constitute a kingdom. No kingdom, mortal or spiritual, can exist without these four things.
1.  A King. The angel Gabriel told Mary that God’s Son would “reign … for…

The Blame Game

Commonly associated with President Harry S Truman, the desk plate with "The Buck Stops Here" inscription is believed to have originated with Colonel A. B. Warfield, quartermaster with the US Army (The Phrase Finder [http://www.phrases.org]). A friend of Truman, Fred M. Canfil, saw the sign (or a picture of it) and thought that it was a good fit for the down-to-earth Truman. He had a copy made and sent to the President. The reverse side, the side Truman would have seen sitting at his desk, was inscribed with the words "I'm from Missouri" (a nod to the famed skepticism common with the "Show Me" state). The clear meaning of the phrase, "The Buck Stops Here," is the increasingly unfamiliar concept of accepting personal responsibility.     To be fair, our generation does not stand alone when it comes to the a…

The Masterful Planning of God

Providence is defined as foresight. Divine providence, then, describes God's ability to see ahead and thereby to work out His plans for the human race within history. This masterful planning is beautifully captured in Paul's letter to the Romans: "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).
    The idea of divine providence is often discussed from two widely opposing perspectives. Some see God as being "hands off" when it comes to the world He created. Others argue that God is a micro-manager over every aspect of life. The truth lies between these two extremes where God is involved in our lives in a non-miraculous way while recognizing individual free will (Ezekiel 18:20) and without showing favoritism (Romans 2:11).
    God is much more than just the Architect of this world. The Bible correctly p…

Becoming a Man of God

The California redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) holds the honor of being the tallest living tree on earth. These mammoth trees have been able to reach well over 350 feet in height and nearly 30 feet in diameter at their base. One famous redwood was so large that, in 1881, a tunnel and road were cut through it. Some redwoods are, according to scientists, said to be over 600 years old (with one reportedly more than 2,000 years old).     What does it take to grow a redwood? Let's state the obvious. They can't grow overnight! But with the right conditions, the tough little tree can easily become a giant.     What does it take to grow a godly man? Again, this is not a task that can be accomplished overnight. In fact, it is a lifelong pursuit beginning at one's baptism and branching out into all the relationships of life: husband, father, …

A Question of Love

For a moment think of how much God loves you. Consider the blessings so easily taken for granted: air, light, water. God provides these without regard to wealth, morality or spirituality (Mat. 5:45 - "He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust"). Without these basic blessings life could not exist. Yet they all exist because of God’s love.     God also provided other blessings we are free to pursue. Although available to all, they are sought by few. These include the great doctrines of forgiveness, grace, reconciliation, and hope, blessings that are found only in Christ.     So what keeps the human race from enjoying these greatest blessings of God? For some it is ignorance. To those we must carry the Word. For others it is indifference. We must convince them o…

Spiritual Hunger

Food is essential for life. Without this necessary nourishment our bodies would wither and die. Images of famine stricken families, especially children, in war-torn Syria over the past months dramatically illustrates the human race's basic need to satisfy hunger. But is the need to satisfy physical hunger really our most basic need?     Although I am a physical being, my most basic need is not physical. Fasting is one attempt to keep in touch with our spiritual need, to satisfy our spiritual hunger. Fasting is biblical because it is taught and practiced in the Bible. Fasting is demanding since at the heart of it rests the yielding of our personal desires and needs. Fasting is dangerous because it has often been misused to cover rather than expose sin and to exalt the “faster” rather than God. Therefore, Jesus warned: “when you fast, do not be …

He Lives!

On July 3, 1960 Alfred Henry Ackley died at the age of seventy-three. In most circles his life is of little significance. He was interested especially in music, both religious and secular, and was deeply devoted to the organized religion that his father before him actively supported.
    Mr. Ackley, like most fervent believers, was possessed with a desire to share his understanding of Jesus with those living about him. However, one particular individual proved most challenging. The time was the early 1930′s and a young acquaintance refused every effort of persuasion as to the true identity of Jesus. The young man’s insistent refusal to acknowledge Jesus as Christ greatly saddened Alfred. One conversation in particular remained prominent in Alfred’s mind. The young man explained that he was himself a Jew.  Then he declared, “Why should I worship a dead Jew?” Such a startling statement drew the immediate reply, “He lives!”

The Power of Prayer

If Christianity has no challenge it has lost its focus on Christ. Are you in need of a challenge? Read the book of James.
    James tells us, in chapter one, that if we are not struggling with temptation we are giving in to it. In chapter two he says that if we are not wrestling with it, our faith it is dead. Do you have to daily battle your tongue? James says you do unless you’re perfect (3:2). Do you find it difficult to talk to God, trust God, and submit to God? Is it hard to include God into your planning? In James chapter four we learn that we must. Is it hard to endure injustice but easy to mete it out? James tells us in chapter five that the Lord is watching (5:4).
    Chapter after chapter James takes an honest look at the challenge of daily Christian living. The light of truth is cast on the trials of life. Then the trials of life are cast before God. Life is more demanding than we can handle alone. The tempt…

The Crowd in the Boat

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Everyone's Favorite Sermon

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Meet Quartus

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Loving Like God

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Inspired Formula for Church Growth

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Where Are the Dead?

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Going Back to the Drawing Board

The idea of human flight intrigued Leonardo da Vinci who, in the sixteenth century, drew up plans for his famous ornithopter. There is no real evidence that his design made it further than his drawing board. What is clear is that others shared his vision. Giovanni Battista Danti, and later Paolo Guidotti, tried unsuccessfully to fly with feathers glued on their arms.     In more modern times old film clips establish that man, in his quest for wings, has spent much time planning and experimenting. There was the man jumping off a cliff with a pair of large bird-like wings. Others tried primitive helicopters and many other contraptions that came crashing down to earth. In spite of objections that man was not intended to fly, the quest for flight was not abandoned. Today, North Carolina is "First in Flight"…

How To Observe The Lord’s Supper

To state that “the Corinthians had a problem” is a gross understatement. Perhaps the depth of their divisions was nowhere more evident than at the Lord’s Table, where sharing was the farthest thing, and Jesus the farthest person from their mind. It is no wonder Paul upbraided them, “when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper” (1 Cor. 11:20).
    In contrast to their abuse, Paul offers the following instructions to ensure the proper observance of the Lord’s Supper.

· Think about the symbolic meaning of each element (the bread as symbolically representing Jesus’ physical body, the cup as symbolically representing His literal blood).
· Realize that the Lord will either be honored or insulted by each person’s observance (v. 27).
· To properly eat the Lord’s Supper one must “examine himself,” an honest evaluation of one’s spiritual condition (v. 28). 
    Throughout Pa…

Indestructible Words

Reports of Baruch’s activities came to the attention of King Jehoiakim, the mighty and feared ruler of Judah.Yet Baruch was neither afraid nor ashamed, because he came in the name of One greater. In his hands he held the inspired writings of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah. The great prophet called an unfaithful nation to repent and follow God’s will.
    The evil king was less than pleased with what he saw as foolish and unproductive talk of righteousness and repentance. He determined to personally oversee the destruction of Jeremiah’s spiritual propaganda. Ordering Baruch to hand over Jeremiah’s notes, they were read before Jehoiakim as he sat in his winter palace next to the crackling fireplace. Not only did the king look on without expression as Jehudi read, he also cut up the scroll, a leaf at a time, and cast it into the flames (Jer. 36).
    Then God sent a message to Jeremiah instructing him to write once again the i…

History Didn’t Just Happen

The amazed multitudes gathered out of curiosity to identify the unusual sound, that of a “rushing mighty wind.” Nothing could have prepared them for what they heard next. Jesus’ apostles were speaking in languages they had never studied (Acts 2:6, 8). It was against this amazing backdrop that Peter arose to address a sea of faces. With the “keys of the kingdom,” Peter led 3,000 of them to the door of salvation and then unlocked it (Acts 2;38).
    How did this crowd go from mocking to repentance? Peter led them through the prophecies: Joel’s anticipation of the Holy Spirit, David’s discourse on the resurrection, and the recent events surrounding the cross. And here was the irony: the “salvation” they anticipated was possible because of the Messiah they had rejected!
    Peter insisted that history didn’t “just happen yesterday.” The events that had brought them up to that particular moment were no accident. Instead, P…

The Modern Denial of Jesus Christ

It all began in the upper room with a prediction of denial and betrayal. Then came the oaths of loyalty to the point of death (Luke 22:33). Protestations aside, in the Garden Jesus is arrested and all His brave disciples bolt into the darkness.     An uneasy feeling was settling over the city as the curious gathered near a fire to watch the proceedings in the High Priest residence. Peter had a special interest in those events, Jesus' trial. But, true to the prediction, Peter seemed powerless to stop the words from escaping his mouth. Three times in no uncertain terms he denied Jesus. His anguish is powerfully revealed in a simple, well-timed glance from the One he just denied (Luke 22:61).     That was then. Today the followers of Jesus find themselves again huddled near the flames of the world’s fire. Here the …

God Is Love

John, the disciple "whom Jesus loved" (John 13:23), provides us with the most concise yet powerful identification of God's essence when he wrote: "for God is love" (1 John 4:8). From elsewhere in the scripture we see God's glory (Isaiah 6:3), majesty (Hebrews 8:1), wisdom (Job 12:13), power (2 Corinthians 13:4). eternal nature (Psalm 90:1-4) and many other spiritual attributes of God. Yet none are as compelling as this brief, pithy description of John's.
    If we are honest and truthful it can be easily (and logically) deduced that there is a God. We can see His creative hand in the natural world around us (Psalm 19:1) as well as in us (139:14). This marvelous and powerful God has chosen to further reveal Himself to us through His inspired Word. There we learn the most amazing thing about God: He WANTS a relationship with us. Consider these truths:
       God wants us to know Him (Jere…

The Highest Confidence

Before Christ's earthly ministry had a chance to begin, an audience heard the words, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). This was before He had any disciples, performed a single miracle or told His first parable. What He did have was the full confidence of Heaven.     Long after Jesus had called the Twelve, worked His first miracle and established a reputation as a master of the parable, those closest to Him would see His transfiguration, a reflection of eternal glory. They would hear the words, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 17:5).     God is on record twice for expressing complete confidence in His Son. And there is a simple reason for His confidence. God knew His Son. He knew that His Son understood the lifesaving mission upon which He had been sent and the consequences should He fail. And God knew that f…

The Origin of Labor Day

For many people Labor Day is the last gasp of summer. To others it signals the end of wearing white. The young see it as a last hurrah before settling into the daily routine of school. But what is the real significance of Labor Day?     According to Time.com, Labor Day can be traced back to a New York City parade organized by union leaders on September 5, 1882. However the idea didn't catch on immediately. It was not until 1887 that Oregon led the way in declaring the first official Labor Day. Seven years later, 1894, President Grover Cleveland set aside the first Monday in September as a national holiday. This move was fueled by the brutal and unfair treatment of overworked and under-appreciated workers near the turn of the twentieth century.     Students of God's Word will recognize much deeper and more significant roots. God has always valued and rewarded th…

Hope in a Child's Heart

The children's eyes glowed with amazement. They had heard stories told in the street and in the home about Jesus' compassion and power. Childhood wonder poured from their faces as they clustered around their hero, competing for His attention. A certain kinship seemed to weld these children to the recipient of their praise, a bond of spirit, of purity, of innocence, of willingness to believe and step out on that faith.
     The apostle's eyes betrayed amazement and consternation at the unbelievable spectacle before them. Women were leaving their daily chores, rushing through the streets with babes in arm and toddlers in tow. The Twelve knew by instinct their destination was Jesus. Not a moment could be lost to inactivity lest others be encouraged to join in on this mad rush. It was a far greater issue than a mere breach of etiquette. Theirs was a man’s world where children were not to be heard from or seen. Theirs…

God and His Word

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Upon This Rock

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His Last Words

They lived their lives in luxury; multimillionaires, philanthropists, frequent business partners, and brothers. In their later years the younger brother, Richard Mellon, focused more on their growing business interests while his older brother Andrew turned to political service, first as Secretary of the Treasury and then as a U.S. Ambassador.     What most people didn't know was that while these brothers were building their individual fortunes they were also engaged in a lifelong game of tag. While on his deathbed in 1933, Richard Mellon called his brother Andrew to his side and whispered his final words, “Last tag.” Andrew was "it" for the final four years of his life (Mental Floss).     After living a long life of service to his Lord and Master, Simon Peter prepared himself for the violent death Christ had…

Spiritual Slavery

Even today the word "slavery" is charged with political emotion. It is difficult to imagine a world where man bound his fellow man in chains and treated them as livestock. Among history’s accounts of brutality and oppression arise stories of compassion and forgiveness. Such is the case of Robert Smalls.     Born into slavery in Beaufort, South Carolina (1839), at the age of 23 Smalls escaped to freedom by commandeering a Confederate military transport and sailing for safety behind Union ships blockading Charleston Harbor. For Smalls, freedom would bring him great honor for service in the Union Army, the South Carolina State Legislature and the U. S. House of Representatives. Following the Civil War, Smalls would return to his hometown and purchase his former master's home in …

How Shall the Young Secure Their Hearts?

Isaac Watts was young once. He knew the travails of living in a hostile world. Born in 1674, the first of nine children, his father was a religious dissenter whose views more than once landed him in jail. Barred from the best schools in England because of his family's faith, at a young age he distinguished himself as a scholar (mastering Latin, Greek, French, and Hebrew before the age of thirteen) and a poet. Isaac developed the habit of constantly speaking in rhyme. When upbraided by his frustrated father, Isaac replied, “O father, do some pity take / And I will no more verses make.” When he kept complaining about the poor quality of hymns being sung in worship, his father challenged him to either stop complaining or write something better. That evening as the congregation met for worship Watts presented them with a new composition. Each Sunday for the next two years he came to worship with a brand new hymn.     He knew…

Almost Persuaded

Far, far away from Porcius Festus' Caesarean court, both in space and time, the words of Marcus Julius Agrippa still echoed. The year was 1871. The place and precise circumstances are no longer certain. But the preacher's sermon was drawn from Paul's sermon before the Roman procurator Festus and the Jewish king Agrippa (Acts 26). Paul's challenge to Agrippa elicited the infamous reply: "Almost, you persuade me to be a Christian” (26:28). On the day in question the preacher concluded his sermon with these words: "He who is almost persuaded is almost saved, and to be almost saved is to be entirely lost" (http://breadsite.org). There is no way that that preacher could have known the impact of his words that day.     Sitting in the pews that Sunday 145 years ago, listening to that sermon and he…

Be Careful Who You Follow

Her voice is pleasant, but authoritative, as she leads countless people every day to their destinations. "Bear right." "Turn left." "Stay in the left lane." "Make a u-turn." Even when it goes against our better judgment, the temptation is always present to blindly follow her.
    Perhaps that is precisely what an Illinois man was thinking in 2015 as he and his wife were traveling through Indiana. Authorities admitted that the driver was so focused on his GPS device that he ignored barricades, orange barrels, cones, and large signs declaring that not only was the road closed but the bridge no longer existed (it was demolished in 2009). Still the 64-year-old driver took the ramp up and off what formerly was the Cline Bridge (cnet.com). While he survived the 37 foot plunge, his wife was not so fortunate.
    As we navigate life it is crucial for us to know who it is that we are following. In every generation much heartache and loss could have b…

God Remembers What's-His-Name

In November 2011 security forces for a California university pepper sprayed a crowd of protesters holding a peaceful rally. Wanting to minimize adverse publicity the school paid around $175,000 to computer specialists to remove any hint of the unfortunate incident from search engines (Randy Cassingham, This is True, May 1, 2016).
     We serve a "forgetting" God. He has made the most amazing provisions so that those who come to Him in obedience to His Son, who died for the world's sins, could be forgiven (1 John 2:1-2; Hebrews 8:12). Of that we can be confident, as the beloved apostle John has written, "But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7).
     But we also serve a "remembering" God. Not only does God promise us repeatedly that "their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more” (Hebrews 8:12; 10:16-17), bu…

Doing Unto Others

Seeking solitude from the demands of His ministry, Jesus withdrew into the region of Tyre and Sidon. The disciples were diligent to shield their Master from any further interruptions when they encountered a woman whose daughter was possessed by a demon. She believed that the only One who could help her was Jesus. She knew that the time to secure His help was now (Matt. 15:21-ff). Yet there was one huge barrier between her and the miraculous help she so desperately needed for her daughter. She was a Gentile seeking help from a popular Jewish rabbi. Being so well aware of the long and unpleasant prejudice between these two groups she was banking on the unprejudiced character of Jesus.
    The disciples saw only a pesky Gentile woman. The fact that Jesus did not respond to her pleas convinced them He shared their view (v. 23). Then Jesus did the unexpected. He coaxed from her evidence of the faith that prompted her to seek His help. He even commended her for the rare qua…

Survey of Christian Baptism

The most controversial of religious responses must be the simple act of baptism. Confusion reigns as this doctrine is complicated by the conflicting conclusions of the religious world. What emerges in actual practice is often vastly different than what was originally delivered at the hands of inspired men. It is possible and imperative to cut through the confusion to rediscover the simplicity of Christian baptism.
     What is baptism? It is an immersion in water. Although many have sought to alter the form of baptism, no support is offered in scripture for sprinkling, pouring or any other employment of water to replace complete submersion (John 3:23; Acts 8:36-39; Rom. 6:4).
     Why should one be baptized? When Peter first called upon individuals to accept baptism, he did so as a means of acquiring the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; cf. 22:16). It is the point of entrance into a relationship with Jesus (Gal. 3:27). The clearest statement is Peter’s declaration that baptism now…

How Firm a Foundation

For all of its popularity attested by its inclusion in the majority of Christian hymnals since it was first published in 1787, the writer of "How Firm a Foundation" remains a mystery. First published in A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors, editor John Rippon listed the author simply to the letter “K.” There have been a variety of candidates for the hymn writer's true identity over the years, but in the end they are only guesses.
    "How Firm a Foundation" would become the volume's most popular hymn. Rippon himself wrote that the hymns “which have only a single letter prefixed to them, were ... composed by a person unknown” (HistoricHymns.com). After Rippon's death subsequent editors changed, without explanation, the "K" to "Kirkham."
    Two popular guesses for the hymn's author remain popular. Daniel Sedgwick attributed the authorship of "How Firm a Foundation" to George Keith, who composed hymns based on h…

The Church’s One Foundation

In the first centuries after the close of the New Testament, churches and church leaders were steadily drifting further from those inspired teachings. Division was creating havoc among them. It was around this time that a startling decision was made with severe consequences that linger with disastrous results in today's religious world. Rather than find unity in God's Word, it was forged in a few Bible thoughts upon which everyone could agree. So, in about 390 AD, the Apostles' Creed first appeared with many future human creeds to follow.
    Fast forward to 1866 England. Samuel Stone, a priest with the Church of England, was concerned that even the very brief statement of the Apostles' Creed was no longer clearly understood by his parishioners. His solution was to compose a series of twelve hymns corresponding to the Creed’s twelve articles. Of the twelve hymns published in his booklet Lyra Fidelium, The Church’s One Foundation is by far the best known today.
    A…

Remembering a Brother

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Today, August 15, 2016, would have been Phil's 60th birthday. Miss talking with him but thankful for the many good memories of growing up together.

Phillip Dale Bragg, 59, of Fort Mohave, Arizona (formerly of Sullivan) died Sunday (May 22, 2016) in his home following an extended illness.

Memorial services will be conducted by the family at 1:00 p.m. Saturday June 18, 2016 at French Cemetery, Allenville. Memorials are suggested to the American Cancer Society at cancer.org/donate or to a charity of the donor’s choice. Reed Funeral Home, Sullivan is in charge of arrangments. Online condolences may be sent to the family at reedfuneralhome.net.

Phil was born August 15, 1956 in Sullivan, the son of Don C. and Mary J. Ethington Bragg. He was a 1974 graduate of Sullivan High School and worked in construction with various companies in Florida, Tennessee, and Arizona. He also worked for a time with a taxi service in Bullhead City, Arizona.

Surviving are his wife of over twenty-seven years, …

Encourage Each Other

The famous pianist Andor Foldes told of an experience he had at the age of sixteen in Budapest. He had the rare opportunity to play before Emil von Sauer (a student of Franz Liszt). He played selections from Bach, Schumann and Beethoven.     Once finished, von Sauer kissed Foldes on the forehead. His next words were these: “My son, when I was your age I became a student of Liszt. He kissed me on the forehead after my first lesson, saying, ‘Take good care of this kiss – it comes from Beethoven, who gave it to me after hearing me play.’ I have waited for years to pass on this sacred heritage, but now I feel you deserve it.”     The anonymous writer of Hebrews wrote: “but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). What a beautiful admonition! The Christian is not to be …