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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Has anyone ever seen God?


                                            FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION

            "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - His eternal

             power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from

             what has been made, so that men are without excuse." Rom. 1:20 (NIV)

During last Wednesday evening's Bible study I asked the class if they had ever seen God. The question was asked in making a point regarding faith. Of course, in the actual sense of the question, the answer was no. But it caused me to recall a little story I once read, and since I didn't have time then to tell it, I thought I'd do so here for you to consider.

This little story I'm going to cite to you closely relates to the above passage from Romans. I feel that this passage, combined with the story, shows us that, even if some have no faith in The Almighty or claim to be atheists or agnostics, this very world and all therein, removes any excuse they have for their unbelief. See if you don't agree.

The story is really just a few thoughts, penned by an unknown author, and entitled:

                                                            "WHISPERS"

The man whispered, "God, speak to me" and a meadowlark sang.

    But, the man didn't hear.

So the man yelled, "God, speak to me" and the thunder rolled across the sky.

    But, the man didn't listen.

The man looked around and said, "God, let me see you" and a star shone brightly.

    But, the man did not see.

And the man shouted, "God, show me a miracle" and a life was born.

    But, the man did not notice.

So, the man cried out in despair, "Touch me God, and let me know you're here."

    Whereupon, God reached down and touched the man.

        But the man brushed the butterfly away and walked on.

Today's editorial is going to consist of two short lessons and this will begin the second. It too has a scriptural lead-in to this portion and it reads as follows.

                    "That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be

                      sincere and without offence till the day of Christ." (Phil. 1:10)

The topic of our second lesson is related to the word "sincere" seen in the above verse. Sincere is a word synonymous with "genuine" or "pure or true." Something that, in reality, is what it claims to be. Not phony or deceitful.

I once read an article that explained the roots of the word we now know as "sincere." Reportedly it came from ancient Rome and even though I sometimes feel that old, I wasn't there to confirm the veracity of the article. In any event, it does provide us a good illustration for our lesson subject.

The origin of the word "sincere" is said to have come from Rome's marble quarries and the subsequent business of selling the marble. There were some unscrupulous stone dealers back then who made a practice of covering imperfections in the marble with wax. Because of this deceitful practice, the Roman government intervened and made it illegal to do this.

After addressing this shady practice by the dealers, the Roman Empire began certifying its marble as being "sine cera" or "sincerus," meaning that it was "genuine" or "without wax." It's from there that we derive our word "sincere."  So, let's look for a moment at this word "sincere" and apply it to Christians.

Just like our passage reads, Christians are to be "sincere." To be "genuine." The real thing and not phonies. Not just putting on a front or, as the story said, covering up the blemishes with wax, but we are to truly be what we tell the world we are - disciples of Christ. And this means "at all times." Not just "sometimes" when we think someone might be watching us.

In Titus 2:7 we read these words, "In all things showing thyself a pattern (an example) of good works; in doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity." Titus is referring here to the very nature of a Christian. The character and manner of living seen in "all things" Christians do in living their lives.

The word "always" occurs in the New Testament 29 times (by my count) used in relation to things such as prayer, being thankful, hearing the Word, good works, remembering Christ's death, burial & resurrection, being ready to teach and in obedience. In like manner, in order to be "true" Christians, we have to be "sincere" at all times. Why? Because the world will be watching us. Can we "sincerely" represent Christ to the world if we are not "sincere" ourselves?

Let me tell you one more little story to help illustrate this point. Back when President McKinley was in office, he had to make a decision as to who to appoint as ambassador to another country. There were two candidates for the position and, on the surface, both were equally qualified. While he was weighing his decision, he recalled an occasion when he was still in Congress and had an opportunity to observe the conduct of one of the candidates.

McKinley recalled being on a streetcar during rush hour and had been lucky enough to get the last available seat. Shortly thereafter, an elderly woman carrying a basket of clothes got on and walked the length of the car looking for a seat. No one offered her theirs.

She ended up standing right in front of one of the men who later turned out to be one of the two ambassadorial candidates. McKinley noted that he deliberately shifted his newspaper so that it would look like he didn't notice her. McKinley got up, walked down the aisle and took the woman's basket from her and gave her his seat.

Here's the point of the illustration: no matter what other qualifications this candidate possessed, due to this one act of disrespect and uncaring attitude towards others, it cost him the ambassadorship and the receiving of a great honor because President McKinley chose the other candidate.

Conclusion: if you say you are a Christian, then you have to "practice what you preach." And that means "always." At "all times." If you "do not" or "are not" such, believe me it will be known sooner or later. Moreover, God "always" sees and "knows." If we are not "sincere" in our Christianity, I believe that we'll be like the losing candidate and miss out on a great honor.

Ron Covey

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?

Have you ever thought of how we get locked in to one way of thinking about
things? Really, while most of us may feel that we are open minded or at
least not locked into only one way of thinking, we sometimes are. It is
sometimes the little things in life that help us to refocus, things that jar
us out of our rut and cause us to re-think things.


There is a cute story I ran across that illustrates this point (I think).
Notice the "other point of view" seen here: While I sat in the reception
area of my doctor's office, a woman rolled an elderly man in a wheelchair
into the room.


As she went to the receptionist's desk, the man sat there, alone and silent.
Just as I was thinking I should make small talk with him, a little boy
slipped off his mother's lap and walked over to the wheelchair.


Placing his hand on the man's, he said, "I know how you feel. My mom makes
me ride in the stroller, too."


That story brings to mind the words of Jesus found in Matthew 18:1-4. "At
that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the
kingdom of heaven?" He called a little child and had him stand among them.
And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little
children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever
humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of
heaven."(NIV)


Throughout the four Gospel books Jesus confronted the Scribes and Pharisees.
In general I don't believe it was because they were bad people, but they
could only see a thing from the context of what they had been taught was the
way to believe and act. They could not understand that the one they claimed
to serve was standing in their midst, they were in a rut, locked into seeing
only through the filter of men's teachings.


I will readily admit that I am somewhat fixed in my thinking. I know what I
believe and more importantly, why I believe what I believe. I admit that I
have a filter through which I see and interact with the world in general. It
is the filter of the Word of God. I know that I sometimes fail, but my goal
it to be like the Bereans in Acts 17:11 and search the scriptures every day
to see that my beliefs are in line with God's Word. I strive to filter my
relationships in the same way that I might see others as the child in the
story, without prejudices, only with a desire to help. I know that I don't
always succeed in this, but that is my goal.


I pray that God will help each of us humble ourselves, if necessary to see
things and people differently, so that we might be worthy of His kingdom.
How do you see the world around you?

--Russ Lawson

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Sir John Franklin, a British explorer

An interesting map is on display in the British Museum in London. It's an
old mariner's chart, drawn in 1525, outlining the North American coastline
and adjacent waters. At that time most of the new continent's interior had
not as yet been explored with but a few hundred miles of coastline being the
only evidence of what lie beyond.

The handful of explorers who had visited the Americas had relied upon the
scattered Indian tribes for information about the land. In many cases, since
the natives had no wish that these strange visitors from the sea should
venture forth over their land, they had created fanciful tales and legends
as being an accurate description of what the new land held in store for
anyone adventurous or foolhardy enough to take the risk.

With these tales in mind, the cartographer made some intriguing notations on
areas of the map that represented regions not yet explored. He wrote: "Here
be giants," "Here be fiery scorpions," and "Here be dragons."

Eventually, the map came into the possession of Sir John Franklin, a British
explorer in the early 1800s. Musing over these fanciful, even mythical
inscriptions, he scratched them out one by one and in their stead he wrote
these words across the map: "Here is God." *

What lies in store for us along the "coastlines" of our lives is known only
to God. But, He has not been so unkind as to give us no hope for tomorrow.
He has mapped out a course that He desires that we should follow. This Map
(God's Word) identifies:

Where we are: lost in sin and doomed to destruction (Romans 3:23; 6:23).

Where God wants us to be ultimately: in heaven with Him for an eternity
(Romans 6:23; 1 Peter 1:3-4).

The Way to eternal life: "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God
is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). Jesus said, "I am
the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through
Me" (John 14:6)

When we were lost in our sins, God sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross
to pay the price of redemption for us (Ephesians 1:7). He has promised to
save those who will place their faith and trust in Jesus (Acts 16:30-31),
turn from their sins in repentance (Acts 17:30-31), confess Jesus before men
(Romans 10:9-10), and are baptized (immersed) into Christ for the
forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). Then He wants us to continue to "fix our
eyes on Jesus" and follow Him faithfully all the way to heaven (Hebrews
12:1-2).

If we trust and obey Jesus and follow Him faithfully, the promise of
tomorrow is bright. NO dragons, NO scorpions and NO giants; only God - "who
desires ALL men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1
Tim 2:4).

Won't YOU trust Christ and follow Him?

David A. Sargent

Friday, January 13, 2012

Governor Haley Barbour pardons 210 prison inmates

There's a storm brewing in Mississippi.  Just hours before Governor Haley
Barbour left office as governor of that state, he issued pardons for 210 prison
inmates.  Some of those who were pardoned were convicted of rape or robbery.  To
be pardoned means that they are now considered as having paid their debt to
society.  They don't have to serve any more time in jail; they don't even have
to report to a parole officer.

Families of the victims of these crimes are understandably upset.  No
explanation was given for the pardon of most.  In many cases there was no notice
given that the convicts might be pardoned, something required by Mississippi
law.  Authorities are looking into the matter, and it may be that some who have
been released will have their pardons revoked.

A similar situation happened in Tennessee in 1979.  Outgoing Governor Ray
Blanton issued pardons to a few convicts on January 15, including a man who had
been convicted of murdering his ex-wife and her boyfriend.  Fearing more pardons
were about to be handed down, Governor-elect Lamar Alexander was sworn into
office on January 17, three days ahead of the scheduled inauguration, thus
depriving Blanton of the power to pardon any others.

As we grumble over examples of powerful people pardoning the unjust, shouldn't
we look upward as well?  Isn't that precisely what God has offered to do for
each of us - to forgive our sins (or, in legal terms, to pardon those who are
guilty of breaking the law)?

It is well known that Jesus came to earth to make forgiveness possible.  But
this tendency of God is found before Christ's appearing on earth.  Here is how
the prophet Micah portrayed God: "Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and
passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?  He does not
retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy" (Micah 7:18).  Doesn't
this put God in the same bad light as the governors mentioned above?

Here's the difference: In the Mississippi and Tennessee cases, justice had not
been served.  In our case, justice has been served.  But how?  I've never been
punished by God for sins I've committed.

Paul gave the explanation in Romans 3:24-26.  Jesus, Paul wrote, is our
"propitiation".  That's a word that means appeasement.  Things have been made
right with one who has been offended.  Jesus, who lived a perfect life, shed His
innocent blood to pay the price for the sins of mankind.

This helps us to understand a most important point in verse 26: "To demonstrate
at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier
of the one who has faith in Jesus."  Even though God regularly pardons those who
have broken His laws, He is just in doing so.  Jesus paid the price for us.
Justice has been served for you and me.

But God's offer of pardon has to be accepted.  And accepting the offer of
salvation involves more than just believing: "And having been perfected, [Jesus]
became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him" (Hebrews 5:9).  If
obeying Jesus means that my violations of God's laws will be pardoned, I'll be
happy to obey anything He says!

Come to the light God offers!  Study His word, the Bible.  Worship Him in spirit
and truth (John 4:24).  Get in touch with us if you'd like to discuss these
ideas further.

Timothy D. Hall
 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Colony Collapse Disorder

 
 Some years ago, I wrote a Daily Bread article comparing the ecological crisis known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which in many places is causing the honey worker bees to disappear, to our hardworking church members whose absence makes all the difference in what gets done or does not get done in a congregation. I wrote:
    "Think about how many in the church are like the honey bee.  They work almost undetectably, behind the scenes and unheralded.  Without them, however, much work would go undone.  Occasionally, these workers may get discouraged by opposition, unappreciation, and criticism.  In some instances, they may be prone to give up and 'disappear.'  Yet, think about what happens to the life and work of a congregation that loses or lacks these quiet workers.  Bulletin boards aren't decorated.  Kitchens aren't cleaned. Tract racks aren't stocked.  Shut-ins and the sick aren't contacted.  Cards aren't sent.  People aren't encouraged and new Christians and new members aren't exhorted.  Visits aren't made.  Individually, these workers may not be able to do much, but collectively their impact is huge!"
(from "Missed When Absent," Neal Pollard) 

I ended by writing to those who are those hardworking, behind-the-scenes members, "We notice you, and we need you."


I found it interesting that buried in today's Denver Post is the probable cause of Colony Collapse Disorder.  Scientists in northern California think "a parasitic fly hijacks the bees' bodies and causes them to abandon hives" (1/5/12, 11A).  The fly has been a known parasite in bumblebees (ibid.), but may now be the culprit decimating honey bee hives in the United States and overseas.

If that is true, what an illustration of a warning God gives His workers in Hebrews 12.  "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith..." (1-2a).  Be it discouragement, lack of endurance, personal sin, or some other "parasite" of faith and faithfulness, we must keep them away and fix our eyes on Jesus.  No matter what tempts us to veer off course or how difficult the challenge is to stay at the work, that is exactly what God wants us to do and what we must do!
 
--Neal Pollard  

Important events from 2011

 

It's amazing how eventful this last year has been. Every time we turned around, it seems something huge was happening. Just take a look at some of the events in 2011:

  • January 11: Massive flooding and mudslides in Brazil (killing 903).
  • February 11: Egypt's leader, Hosni Mubarak, is forced from power.
  • March 11: A 9.1 magnitude earthquake and tsunami hits Japan (killing 15,840), and results in a nuclear crisis.
  • April 29: An estimated 2 billion people watched the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
  • April - May: Huge tornados hit the Southeast and Midwest.
  • May 2: Osama Bin Laden is killed.
  • July 21: NASA's space shuttle program is ended.
  • July 31: Massive flooding in Thailand, affecting over 12 million people and causing $45 billion dollars in damage.
  • August 27: Hurricane Irene hits the east coast.
  • September 17: The "Occupy Wall Street" movement begins.
  • October 20: Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is killed.
  • October 31: Global population reaches seven billion.
  • December 15: End of the Iraq war.
  • December 17: North Korea's leader, Kim Jong II, dies.

This list only scratches the surface of the events of 2011. This doesn't talk about people who died, our bad economy, record high unemployment numbers, or other events that impacted us this last year. Our world is not the same as it was one year ago. Chances are, neither are you. This may have been a terrific year for you, or maybe it was one of the worst.

 

Only the Lord knows what will happen in 2012. He knows who will live and who will die. He knows what disasters will occur. He knows who will be President in 2012. He even knows what will happen in your life this year. God knows exactly what this year will be like. Which is all the more reason to put Him first.

 

There is no other way to ensure a great 2012 than serving the Lord. Joshua's words are just as true then as they are now,
"If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve...but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:15). Chose to serve the Lord, it will be the greatest choice you make all year long.
 
--Brett Petrillo

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Strange church building in Mitterfirmiansreut, Germany - God's Igloo

If finding warmth in a place of worship is your preference, be forewarned: a new
church in Mitterfirmiansreut, Germany may not appeal to you.  Constructed
entirely out of snow and ice at a cost of $200,000, this structure opened just a
few days after Christmas.  More than a novelty, this building commemorates an
actual event 100 years ago.  Denied permission to build a church in 1911,
villagers constructed a place to worship using nothing but frozen precipitation.

The life of this house of worship is naturally limited.  Its opening was delayed
by an unusually mild December, and it will melt away with the onset of spring.
Until then, however, some will worship here, but even more will be moved by
curiosity to see this chilly church building.  (To see photos of this
phenomenon, go to http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/12/28/life-idUSRTR2VOPZ)

This curious ice cathedral, dubbed "God's Igloo", would undoubtedly be a
interesting site to see in person.  Let's use it just now, however, to lead us
into some thoughts about what Jesus had in mind with His original concept of
"church".

First, a church is not a building.  The word Jesus used in Matthew 16:18 in
announcing His plans to "build My church" is ecclesia.  That Greek word had
already been used for non-religious purposes.  When the people of a town were
called together to hear the decree of a king, for example, the gathering was
called an ecclesia - the "called out".  The people had been called out of their
homes for some important purpose.

Peter had that idea in mind when he spoke of the identity of Christians: "But
you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special
people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness
into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).  Those who choose to follow Christ
(Christians) are the church because they have responded to the Lord's call and
have come out of darkness.  Nowhere in the Bible is "church" used of a building.

Second, Christ's church is not threatened by heat, as "God's Igloo" will be when
spring arrives.  Jesus made this affirmation in Matthew 16:18: "... on this rock
I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it."
Jesus' ministry on earth would be brought to an abrupt end by His arrest and
execution.  But His death would not prevent the establishment of God's kingdom
(the church).  Death stops the plans of all mankind, but Jesus was more than a
man.

Death was a serious threat to Christ's early followers, too.  Persecution by the
Roman Empire took the lives of thousands of Christians.  The apostle John urged
Christians to remain steadfast: "Do not fear any of those things which you are
about to suffer. ... Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of
life" (Revelation 2:10).  Such promises emboldened many early saints.

In 197 AD the persecution was still raging, but Tertullian was able to make this
claim to the officials of the Empire: "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of
the church".  Though the government applied its fiercest "heat", the church did
not melt.

God's plans lead to victory!  Those who are wise will align themselves with Him
and His Son.
 
--Tim Hall


Monday, January 2, 2012

Mysteries in life

Life it seems; is full of mysteries, (Things you can't fathom or
understand). Sometimes it is the little everyday things that can be the
greatest mystery. For example, my wife's purse! We have been together for
close to 46 years and it is still a mystery to me. I'm not saying that I
don't appreciate that she carries one and all of the things she has with her
when I or she need them. What I find a mystery is first, how she gets so
many things inside of that small bag and second, how she finds the things
she needs. Some of the most dreaded words for me are, "it's in my purse,
just get it." I have sworn off looking for anything in her purse. The
scenario generally goes something like this: "It's in my purse, just get it
yourself." I pick up the purse, peer inside, move around the various items
for awhile and eventually give up with these words, "I can't find it."
Frustrated at my inability to find the thing she takes the purse and in a
few moments she delivers the item which had evaded me.


Another thing I find a mystery is the kitchen drawer with plastic storage
containers. I find it an overwhelming task to match a container with a lid
that fits. Many times I have opened to drawer, stared blankly into it for a
few moments, closed the drawer and just walked away. It is a mystery to me
how my wife can find a matching set. Somehow my wife has the mysterious
ability to perceive some things that I cannot.


Another mystery for some folks is the Word of God. They look at the bible as
a mysterious book full of unfathomable stories or tales. It is
incomprehensible to them that they could find the answers they need for
dealing with life's problems, much less find God speaking to them through
it. To be honest, much of the confusion surrounding the bible is fostered by
men (and women) who claim to have some special understanding of it.


Just yesterday, one of our church members shared with me that a friend at
work had made a statement about something which their church practiced. They
were adamant that if another church did not practice that thing then they
were wrong. They could not tell them where in the bible the idea was found,
but "their preacher said, so it had to be true."


Well, that's another mystery to me I guess. Why would anyone blindly take
the word of another person (even if they wear the title of preacher or
pastor) about something that affected their life in eternity? It is a
mystery to me that people do not just read the bible for themselves. You
see, I am on a life long mission to urge people to read the bible. It is God
speaking to us about the most important thing in the world, our living with
him.


You might say, "But the bible is a mystery to me, I can't understand it."
That statement is just not true, but then don't take my word for it. Notice
what the apostle Paul had to say about it (in the bible). "God himself
revealed his mysterious plan to me. As you read what I have written, you
will understand my insight into this plan regarding Christ.." (Ephesians
3:3-4, NLT)


I kind of like the way this paraphrase of this passage puts these verses:
"As you read over what I have written to you, you'll be able to see for
yourselves into the mystery of Christ. None of our ancestors understood
this. Only in our time has it been made clear by God's Spirit through his
holy apostles and prophets of this new order. The mystery is that people who
have never heard of God and those who have heard of him all their lives
(what I've been calling outsiders and insiders) stand on the same ground
before God. They get the same offer, same help, same promises in Christ
Jesus. The Message is accessible and welcoming to everyone, across the
board." (Ephesians 3:4-6, The Message)


Yes, the Bible clears up the mysteries, "the Messages is accessible and
welcoming to everyone, across the board." There is only one catch! You have
to read it to understand it!

--Russ Lawson

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