Monthly Archives: March 2013

Step Back and be Thankful

“Praise ye the Lord. O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth forever” (Psa. 106:1).

I know that today’s thought will not be like most of the others I have posted and will post, but it has been on my mind a great deal in the last 12 hours and I wanted to share it with you.

We recognize that we are to always be thankful for the blessings and favor that God shows to us as his people. We also recognize that we cannot always tell when God, through his providence, has intervened in a situation or simply let the natural events of things take their course. However, we show our gratitude on a daily basis for all that God has done and has said he will do on our behalf. We state “to God be the glory,” that means I can take no credit for myself, nor do I desire to do so, but look at the events that have occurred as a means to give glory, honor, and thanks to my Creator for his bountiful blessings and mercy.

Yesterday was one of those days where being “thankful” to God seems to be an understatement. The day began with another trip to the doctor’s office (our 6th in 3 weeks) to get the results back from Shea’s biopsy that was done Monday. The first word out of the doctor’s mouth when he entered the room was “benign.” That in and of itself was an answer to many prayers and gave plenty for which to be thankful.

After we got home yesterday afternoon, we had a couple of hours to get ready for our monthly singing and fellowship at a family in the congregation’s house that evening. We then had the joyous opportunity to gather with about 20 other Christians and sing praises to the God who had answered so many prayers.

While we were there we received the icing on the cake for the day. (My oldest son, Daniel, had been wanting desperately to play baseball again this year. Unfortunately, because of our Gospel Meeting we had been busy with it and did not know that sign-ups coincided directly with the days of the meeting until the next weekend. We had called and asked if he could still sign up to play and had been told unequivocally “no.” So, as disappointed as Daniel was, we talked about why we had missed sign-ups and what was more important and he handled it with the right attitude.) Then we got the call last night at the singing that they had decided (3 weeks after they told us no) to open up sign-ups for one more night for those who still wanted to play. Though this is a game of no eternal consequence, it has been a great opportunity for us to get out and meet people in the community and do our best to exert a good influence before others; not to mention the joy it gives Daniel to play the game.

There are always things for which we should be thankful and grateful with each passing day, but when the difficult days come it is sometimes the hardest to remember the days when everything went right. Nevertheless, it is the remembrance of the tides of life, the beacon of hope that is the love, grace and mercy of God, and the times at which we can look back and give credit to nobody but God that will keep us through the dark days. Truly: to God be the glory.

“Praise ye the Lord. O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth forever.”

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Solomon Examines “Happiness”

We live in an age where people do not feel themselves bound by honor, commitment, and principle; instead, they live their lives looking for what makes them “happy.” They will argue that all God really wants is for them to be happy, or if they are happy God must be as well.

The book of Ecclesiastes may be the single most applicable book of the Old Testament to our lives today, and yet it is not studied nearly enough. It is the account of Solomon’s search for truth and the purpose of our existence on this earth. It details the various ways and means by which he tested what had value in life and how it all brought him back to the conclusion that the ultimate purpose of a life that would not end empty (in vanity) is to: “Fear God, and keep his commandments” (Ecc. 12:13).

Within his trials and studies, Solomon focuses one section on pleasure and happiness. Notice what he said: “I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine… I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools… I bought male and female slaves… I had also great possessions of herds and flocks… I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the children of man. So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem… And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Ecc. 2:1-11).

Solomon examined the notion that the purpose of life was found in “happiness,” he luxuriated himself in all of the things that brought him pleasure, yet he still found it to be empty. We must understand that a fulfilling purpose in life is not found in the happiness that the things of this world provide, whether that is possessions, sexuality, work, or other physical things. It is for this reason that so many people waste their lives looking for “true happiness” and never find it. Instead, true happiness with purpose is only found when I lay up treasures in Heaven (Mat. 6:19-21), seek after God’s will, and fulfill his word; because this is the only measure of life that extends beyond this empty existence and leaves a man’s life full and complete. It is the measure of a “blessed” life (the term in the original Greek simply meaning “happy”) according to Jesus (Mat. 5:3-12) and David (Psa. 1:1-3).

Can we serve God and be happy? Absolutely. But we must observe, as Solomon did, that any happiness which leaves God and his will out of the picture is empty and will leave man feeling so.

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Measuring our Love

The measure of one’s love is not seen in the way he loves his friends, but in the way he loves his enemies. Jesus said: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Mat. 5:43-48).

It is easy for us to love and look after those who like us, hold the same beliefs as us, and live after the same manner we do. It is far more difficult to love the one who despises all for which you stand, loves the things against which you must speak, and shows disdain and disrespect for you, your family, your beliefs, and your God. This does not mean we overlook their errors and do not try to teach them the truth; nor does it mean we treat them with hatred and indignity because “that is what they deserve.”

Remember, this is the measure of our love and also the standard of our godliness (lit. God-likeness). For Paul wrote, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). God loved us while we were working against his purposes. He sent Jesus to a world the Savior had made, knowing they would reject him and by that rejection redemption would be possible.

You see, God has already illustrated, in the greatest way possible, the principle Jesus described. Therefore, it behooves us in our desire to become more like our God in loving what he loves, loving whom he loves, and exhibiting that love daily, to understand and apply this amazing command. For the man who can love his enemies will never have any trouble showing love for his friends.

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Learning about Friendship from David and Jonathan

In our society we have often put friendship in a box. We often think that those who we can consider our closest friends are only those in the same age bracket or social position. Through such things as the public school system and societal pressures of “normalcy” our kids are often-times compelled to only build friendships with those that are within a year or two of them. This attitude often projects itself into adulthood and we often find, even in the church, groups of “friends” that include only those within certain age brackets or social positions.

Such should not be the case. We should not limit our opportunities for friendships and close relationships based upon age or some other superficial factor. Webster defines a “friend” as: “One who is attached to another by affection; one who entertains for another sentiments of esteem, respect and affection, which lead him to desire his company, and to seek to promote his happiness and prosperity.” This is not some perverse desire or lust, but a relationship of esteem and respect that brings about affection and the desire for one’s company. That type of relationship does not have the boundaries of age, social status, or physical makeup; and we should not try to force it into that box.

Consider the relationship of David and Jonathan. They are described in Scripture as loving one another, being as brothers, and being willing to take care of each other and put the other one first. Yet one thing that is often overlooked is the age discrepancy between the two men. Jonathan is leading Saul’s army by the second year of his reign (meaning he is at least 20 years old – 1 Sam. 13:1-2; Num. 1:3). David will be 30 years old when he begins to reign at the end of Saul’s 40 year reign (2 Sam. 5:4). This means that Jonathan was about 30 years old when David was born. There were three decades between two of the closest friends we read about in Scripture!

Wise friends can give some of the greatest council, but if the only friends we have are the ones that have shared our own experiences in life, the wisdom is limited and so is the council; therefore, we are in danger of being like Rehoboam (1 Kin. 12). We should not be teaching our children to limit the realm from which they take their friends based upon physical factors; instead, we should be encouraging them to choose their friends, whatever their age, based upon the esteem and respect they have for God and one another, reinforcing the assistance good influences can have on each Christian’s life.

I am thankful to be able to say that many of my closest friends are old enough to be my father (or grandfather in some cases); and the closeness of those relationships and the positive impacts they have on my life are blessings that are not held lightly or without appreciation. Take the lesson of David and Jonathan and let’s teach our children (both in word and example) the value of broad bases of friendships across the spectrum of age and societal position. It will strengthen their character and their ability to serve God.

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Making Christianity Attractive

This past Sunday I finished up a series considering the question “What makes Christianity attractive?” I thought that a brief overview of that study might be of interest to you. There is a great desire among Christians to make Christianity attractive to the world, but also to help keep it attractive to those who are already a part of the body of Christ. So how do we accomplish that goal? Consider 8 things that make Christianity attractive.

1. Good works make Christianity attractive. (Mat. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:12)
2. Love makes Christianity attractive. (John 3:16; 13:35; 1 John 4:7-11)
3. Our speech makes Christianity attractive. (Col. 4:6; Eph. 4:29-32; Tit. 2:7-8)
4. Unity makes Christianity attractive. (John 17:20-21; Eph. 4:1-3)
5. The Christian’s peace of mind makes Christianity attractive. (Phi. 4:6-7; 2 Tim. 4:7-8)
6. Consistency makes Christianity attractive. (Rom. 12:9-21; Phi. 1:27)
7. Devotion makes Christianity attractive. (Ruth 1:16-17; Mat. 27:55-56, 61; John 6:66-69)
8. Doing our best makes Christianity attractive. (Tit. 2:14; Mat. 6:33)

Notice what is not on that list? Things like entertainment, “modernizing” worship through “contemporary” services, and acquiescing to man’s desires and whims do not make Christianity attractive. They may draw men in for a while, but before long those same people are looking for something else because those things are empty and do nothing to help the soul.

If we want to make Christianity attractive, God has already shown us how and time after time it is successful. Let us follow the plan that has been proven true for the last 2,000 years and leave behind the schemes and inventions of men. Stay true to God’s Word, for he will always remain true to you.

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Snacking on the Word

Nutritionists now are telling us that it is healthier to eat 5-6 small meals per day than the 2-3 big meals to which we are accustomed. Part of the reason, they argue, is that it keeps the metabolism going all day instead of gearing up to high gear just to shut down again shortly thereafter. Therefore, you are actually using more of what your body ingests and there is less wasted or “stored for another time.”

From the spiritual perspective I believe very much the same thing could be said. What would happen if we went from doing our Bible study for the day all in one lump sum of 30-45 minutes at a time, to having 5-6 times per day where we took about 10-15 minutes to study and glean from the Scriptures. Maybe these times would include reading Bible articles, studying a particular passage or word, reading a chapter at a time, and various other pursuits of study that could be accomplished in short periods of time and yet leave the student with “food for thought” as they continued through the day. Instead of our spiritual metabolism using all of its energy for one “meal” and then going idle the rest of the day, such an approach would force it to be constantly working and digesting the Word.

I believe it is this principle that was the intention of the Psalmist when he wrote: “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day” (Psa. 119:97), and, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night” (Psa. 1:2). Think about your spiritual nutrition: are you getting enough, and is it working in your life the way it should?

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Do Christianity and Humor Mix?

Anyone who has spent much time around me knows that I enjoy humor. There is much comedic joy to be found in life and I do enjoy finding and taking note of it, whether it be silently or aloud. However, Christians are often portrayed as a bunch of old sad sacks who believe that anything more than a smile is cause for reprimand; and to tell jokes and be entertained by such things is slanderous behavior. Such observations are, by no means, true.

You see, the disconnect often comes with the lack of understanding of what “humor” really is. “Humor” is defined as “the quality or content of something such as a story, performance, or joke that elicits amusement and laughter; the ability to see that something is funny, or the enjoyment of things that are funny.” Thus, humor is simply the finding of amusement in something and gaining enjoyment from it. There is nothing inherently wrong with humor; for many people it is, and should be, a part of everyday life.

Nevertheless, there should be a difference between the humor that Christians find and the humor that the world accepts. In our world today, humor is generally presented as being found in sex, vulgarity, and irreverent behavior. Most “humor” in today’s society is fraught with blaspheming God, taking his name in vain, making light out of sin and wickedness, and belittling someone else so that the people hearing feel better about themselves. Such is not the standard of humor that Christians should accept or promote.

Paul wrote in Colossians 4:6: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (ESV). Did you notice that Paul did not put a modifier on that statement? He did not say to let your speech be gracious when around Christians, or that it should be seasoned with salt when in times of serious conversation. Do you know why that statement was made? Paul is writing in context of opening doors for teaching the Gospel. He precedes that verse with the statement, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time” (Col. 4:5). How could a Christian teach someone about Christ and serving him on the heels of a profanity-laced joke; or a story of promiscuous exploits that violates multiple aspects of Scripture; or the depiction of God doing or saying things that should never be attributed to his high and holy name?

Paul admonished that we should think on “whatsoever things are pure” (Phi. 4:8). The word “pure” means “clean, without fault, chaste, modest.” None of those descriptions fit the overwhelming majority of what passes for humor in today’s society.

It is for the above reasons that I cringe when I hear Christians speak of the enjoyment they receive in watching Family Guy or The Simpsons when they are full of vulgarity and objectionable humor. It is why I wonder how Christians can say there is nothing wrong with such shows as Saturday Night Live, when they obviously have no problem with blaspheming God and the actions of Jesus. It is why I get so frustrated when almost every animated movie that comes out has to be rated PG for “rude or crude humor.”

I am not against laughter, fun, or light-heartedness. What I am against is sin being purported as “harmless entertainment,” and the name and principles of God being dragged through the mud as though they were just as meaningless as the rest of the things about which people laugh.

Our pleasure and joy should never come with the demeaning of God or the despising of our morals and virtues. There is plenty about which to find joy and humor in life without cursing God, hurting other people, and promoting sinful actions. Let our hearts be filled with the joy, happiness, and pleasure that life can bring; but let it never be with disregard for God and our place in his service.

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