Lost but Found

It is amazing how much drama, energy, anxiety, expense, and the like one may spend losing something and then looking for it.  This past week was a whirlwind of activity for me as I combed the area looking for my wallet presumably lost, or stolen, a week ago yesterday.

I am a creature of habit.  I put things in specific places deliberately to foil my natural absent-mindedness so when it was not where I normally keep it I didn’t worry too much figuring it was in one of those two or three places.  I didn’t need it Sunday, but on Monday when I got to work, I did not have it.  I figured it was somewhere at home.  The next morning when I went to get it before leaving for work, it was not where it should have been, in one of the few places I normally keep it.  A quick search netted nothing.  Panic set in.  I called in to get a day off.  Then the real hunt began.  I searched the house and my car all over several times.  I drove to Greensburg trying to back track, went to the last place I remember using it, a restaurant.  It was not there.  I scoured the church building, inquired at City Hall, the Police Station… nothing!

I fretted but prayed, asking others to pray too.  Fearing the worst, I canceled my debit card and got a new driver’s license.  I felt a keen measure of anxiety and, except for an appeal to God’s mercy that I might find it, tried to let it go.

Then, a few days ago, while looking for a slip of paper, as I was standing beside a chair at my computer desk, I glanced down at the chair.  Lying in a canted position, within a recess formed by the back of the chair supports and the padded seat, lay my wallet!   It had apparently fallen out of my pants pocket when I had laid them over the chair.  I was stunned.  I had sat on the chair numerous times.  My wife had pushed it around.  An examination revealed that one had to be viewing the recess in the back of the chair from a certain angle.  Any other angles would have blocked the view of it.  I could have sat there a hundred times, but had I not been standing where I was, and looking at that spot, it might have lain there for a long, long, time.  I praised God and thanked those who had prayed with me about it.  I thought about the woman who lost her coin and then found it.

I realized that the search for salvation often works exactly like that.  We can look and look and look for it in all the wrong places, spending countless hours, believing, thinking, and doing all we can think of to find it – all in vain.  We can use all the logic and intelligence we can muster, go to places, talk to people whom we think might know, read books and commentaries, looking far and wide, but unless we look in just the right place, we will never find it.  It may not even make sense to us when we DO find it, but that’s where faith steps in.  The New Testament is the source for the information.  God is trying to lead us to salvation there, to learn about the One Person who holds the Key to Salvation – Jesus Christ and the terms He has set to unlock that door.

Salvation is and has always been simply a matter of location, where we stand with God.  It is IN Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).  There is only ONE WAY to be IN Christ Jesus and that is to obey the Gospel, the Good News (Mark 1:14, 15; John 8:24; 14:6).  The only aspect of the Gospel which we can possibly obey is the terms of salvation.  God’s part we cannot do.  God’s part is grace (Romans 3:24, 25; 4:16; 5:15, 21; Ephesians 2:8).  Without grace, no salvation is possible.  It is not by any human works of merit, no “earning” it (Romans 11:6).  The terms of the Gospel are these:  faith in Christ which comes only by hearing the Gospel (Romans 10:17), leading one to repentance “unto life” (Acts 11:18); prompting a public confession that Jesus is divine (Matthew 10:32; Romans 10:9, 10), followed immediately by water baptism, the act of faith which crowns it all (Acts 8:35-39; Galatians 3:26, 27), whereby Christ adds us to His Body, the church, all of the saved, whom He conveys into His Kingdom (Acts 22:16; Acts 2:47; Colossians 1:13, 14).  Unless we respond in that precise way to God’s grace, we will NEVER find salvation for our eternal souls no matter how long or how hard we look.

We have to be at the right place, looking at exactly the right angle, to find it.  Even then it may take us by surprise because it was not what we expected.  God will lead us there by His Spirit through His Word if we permit Him – if we really want it.

Stop wasting time.  Like my wallet was, so is the truth about salvation and how to get it – it’s right under our noses, waiting for us to find it.

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Islam: Enemy of Christianity

Popularity does not concern me.  Truth does.  In a time when people are being told lies about a religio-political system which permits altering facts to cover its tracks, it is needful for me to write this as a warning.  I do not write it with any animosity or hate toward anyone.  Christianity is the antithesis of hate; it does not permit it to be practiced by believers.  Therefore, anyone who suggests that this article is ‘hate speech’ is merely muddying the water to distract from its purpose and point: to alert everyone, especially Christians, to what is looming over the horizon in the form of Islam and its insistence upon a world governed by Sharia Law.

“Know thy enemy” (Sun Tzu) is a sound tenet of military doctrine.  It is most applicable here.  Unless we know the differences in our religions we will be ill suited to tackle the task of debate, lacking the ability to be conversant when we attempt to bring Muslims to Christ or protect ourselves when and if Sharia Law becomes commonplace.  I therefore offer the following reasons why Islam is the enemy of Christianity:

1.    Islam’s master teacher, Mohammed, in the Qu’ran, affirms it:

“Regarding Christianity, however, the approach seems to remain static and constant. For instance, 5:14: “And from those who call themselves Christians, We took their covenant, but they have abandoned a good part of the Message that was sent to them. So we planted amongst them enmity and hatred till the Day of Resurrection, and Allah will inform them of what they used to do.” Soon after, 5:51 has: “O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians as friends, they are but friends to one another. And if any amongst you takes them as friends, then surely he is one of them. Verily, Allah guides not those people who are the wrongdoers.” And then 5:73: “Surely, disbelievers are those who said: ‘Allah is the third of the three (in a Trinity).’ But there is no god but Allah. And if they cease not from what they say, verily, a painful torment will befall the disbelievers among them.”  Matters don’t improve for Christians, and as we move forward we read 8:39, which says: “And fight them until there is no more disbelief in Islam and the religion will all be for Allah Alone…” and then 9:23: “O you who believe! Take not for supporters your fathers and your brothers if they prefer disbelief to Belief. And whoever of you does so, then he is one of the wrong-doers.”  [1]

If its own founder says so, then what I am saying should come as no surprise.  As a side note, early passages (some peace oriented) in the Qu’ran are superseded by the older ones which, when Islam had grown powerful, are militaristic and warlike.

2.    Islam teaches Jesus Christ is not deity (divine).

There is no Christianity (known in the New Testament) which excludes the confession that Jesus is the very Son of God.  The substance of that confession is what Christ’s visible Body on earth, the church, is founded upon (i.e., His deity) (Matthew 16:18).  To Muslims, Jesus is not divine but only another of God’s (Allah’s) teachers and a lesser of Mohammed.  The Apostle John makes this a huge distinction between those who are “of God” and those who are not and are branded as “anti-Christ” (1 John 2:22; 4:3).

Jesus warned that others would come claiming to be the Messiah (i.e., God’s anointed one) and that their testimony would be so convincing as to nearly deceive the elect, yet they were not to be believed nor followed as they were deceivers (Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22).  Mohammed is surely among those of whom He spoke.

Jesus said, “…if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).  In using the description that God (Yahweh) designated for Himself (Exodus 3:14), which His detractors knew He was doing deliberately and wanted to kill Him for, Jesus makes it unmistakably clear:  He is the equal of the Father, Yahweh, and to fail to believe that as truth invites eternal damnation.  Islam not only does not recognize Jesus as divine, such an idea is, in their view, blasphemous.

3.    Islam is “another gospel” and is therefore a false one.

The Apostle Paul stated in no uncertain terms: “If we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel that that which we have delivered to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8, 9).  To ensure clarity and for emphasis he repeated it.  Islam is another gospel, another way of salvation.  Just as one cannot have two masters, one cannot have two gospels, two different ways of salvation.  One has to be wrong. and the other right.  One either preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ or that of Mohammed.  In doing so one is either correct or cursed.

4.    Islam is a legalistic system of salvation, one of works of human merit,  not of grace as is Christianity.

As with all other religions, major and minor, Islam is legalistic in nature.  It is a system of  justification by works defined by a religious code.  These activities are of merit and count towards effecting in the performer a measured righteousness.  Christianity is entirely different.  Righteousness is by faith in Jesus Christ.  Any “works” performed are those which are by faith (trusting obedience) and which believers are appointed unto (Ephesians 2:8ff).  Salvation is by grace through faith in Christ Jesus, Him being the Son of God.  One cannot mix meritorious works and grace (Romans 4:4, 5).  Islam is entirely about a believer’s works of merit.  Christianity is about the atoning work of Jesus Christ whose selfless offering of His own blood is the only justification for sin (Hebrews 1:1-3; 10:38).  The two systems, therefore, are diametrically in opposition to one another and can never find common ground.

5.    Islam forbids Christian evangelism.

Christianity is the preaching of good news concerning God, humanity, sin and salvation.  Jesus Christ commissioned Christians to preach the gospel to all nations and then to baptize believers (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15, 16; Acts 1:8).  Islam demands Christians disobey what their Lord has specifically commanded them to do.  To that we must add our voice to that of the apostles “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).  Muslims who convert to Christianity are widely hounded and persecuted unto death.  Christians in Muslim countries are persecuted also.  If Christians do not preach Christ in some fashion, they fail in their mission and purpose.  Islam seeks to assist them in that failure.

6.    Islam authorizes murder and deceit.

History is replete with barbaric episodes wherein “Christians” (so-called) have murdered, looted, and behaved shamefully in the Name of Christ.   There is no doubt about that.  Christ’s words were, and are, either ignored or taken out of context by those with manical, racist, xenophobic, and homicidal agendas.  One look at Jesus’ own words should convince anyone that Christianity is a non-violent religion in principle and practice (Matthew 5:43-45).  The fact is, Jesus Christ never authorized His followers to use violence to achieve His aims.  When He spoke of the use of swords, it was figurative (Matthew 10:34-39) or in fulfillment of a prophecy (Luke 22:35-38).  He specifically forbade violence (Matthew 26:52) as did the Apostle Paul (Romans 12:17-21).  Not so with the Qu’ran.  It specifically commands its followers to enslave, kill or destroy all who will not submit to it.  For Christianity it is universal love and peace between God and humanity, and humans to one another (Matthew 22:34-40; Luke 6:27-38).  Islam’s Jihad (holy war) stands in stark contrast.

Islam also authorizes its adherents to lie when necessary.  It is called Taqiyya.  This is akin to the Roman Catholic doctrine of  Mental Reservation [2].  Taqiyya is:

“Falsehoods told to prevent the denigration of Islam, to protect oneself, or to promote the cause of Islam are sanctioned in the Qur’an and Sunna, including lying under oath in testimony before a court, deceiving by making distorted statements to the media such as the claim that Islam is a “religion of peace”. A Muslim is even permitted to deny or denounce his faith if, in so doing, he protects or furthers the interests of Islam, so long as he remains faithful to Islam in his heart.” [3]

According to the New Testament there is no occasion for lying or deceit of any kind be it Taqiyya or Mental Reservation.  The Apostle John states:  “…and all liars shall have their part in the lake of fire…” (Revelation 21:8)  One cannot find a more explicit denial of any right to lie than that, even for one’s religion.

We would do well to remember this when listening to Muslim spokesmen or organizations when they defend Islam or seek to stifle protests of Islamic terrorism and bigotry.  They may not all be lying, but this proves they well may be.

7.    Islam has females subordinated as virtual slaves to males.

Everything about Islam insists upon male domination of females.  Women are forced to wear special garments (Burqa) and participate in ritualistic mutilation [4] as deemed necessary.  Males have complete control in all walks of life with legal power of life and death over all family members.  In Christ, females have become liberated from ancient traditional roles in work and service (Galatians 3:26ff).   Only in certain areas of public worship were females required to take lesser roles than males (1 Corinthians 14:34-37; 1 Timothy 2:12-14).  It was Christianity which elevated females from a subordinated, inferior, position to men towards equality in religion which ultimately gave way (at least in some areas) to a measure of social equality and standing with males.  Had it not been for the teachings of Jesus Christ there is a very real probability that females would have continued to be treated as little more than slaves even until today.  Islam insists upon a male-dominated society with females as second-class citizens.

Other reasons could be cited, but these should suffice.

Do not foolishly and vainly imagine Islam can co-exist with Christianity.  They are religious systems which are in direct opposition to one another.  One must submit or convert to the other before there can be peace of any kind.  For Christians to “submit” to Islam means they get to keep their heads but lose their money [5] and not seek to make converts.  For Muslims, converting to Christianity means losing their lives, once for Christ’s sake (Matthew 10:39) and possibly their physical one for having betrayed Islam and Allah.

Islam is not and never has been the “religion of peace.”  Christianity, practiced by those who live by its pure New Testament form as we all must do, has held that title for more than two thousand years.  It has not been eradicated by famine, sword, nakedness, atheism, paganism, or perils of any kind throughout that time.  Like all other enemies of Christianity, Islam will fail and fall, but Christian, prepare yourself.

“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it”
(Matthew 16:18)

“The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.”

[1] http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/3207/The_Qu’ran_and_Christianity.aspx
[2] http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10195b.htm
[3] http://www.islam-watch.org/Warner/Taqiyya-Islamic-Principle-Lying-for-Allah.htm
[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_genital_mutilation
[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jizya

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The Church and Politics

Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?  If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.” 1 Cor. 3:16-17 (NKJV)

In the context of the passage quoted above Paul is warning Christians against all divisive actions which might result in the disruption of the church’s effectiveness as the Body of Christ.  To do so invites serious condemnation.   What he states makes clear that no Christian should become a negative, divisive, abusive or hurtful force in championing issues which have no bearing on the mission, work, and purpose of the church.  It is an especially timely warning at this time for Christians.

As an aside, I quit Facebook not long after the last presidential election (2012).  What I read on it brought out the worst in me and others whom hitherto I admired.  I observed attitudes I wish I hadn’t.  I was shocked to see the enormous gulf between their mindset and mine; that those who claimed to be a Christian did not act like one.  (Judging is within our prerogative:  “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment”  John  7:24, that is, as long as we take an objective look at the facts before reaching any conclusion).  By their own words they condemned themselves, and I knew I had done it to myself too.  The hatred, animosity, lies, slander, and all manner of vile, venom spewing became revolting.  I repented and determined to avoid any part of it in the future.  Exiting Facebook seemed the best way to handle it.  (That was not the only reason I dropped out of it, but it was a big one).

This election cycle makes the last one look tame by comparison.  It is one of the bitterest, most confrontational, rabidly antagonistic, uniformly biased and nationally divisive ever known and it is not the fault of any one party or candidate.  Both have always behaved in a manner inferior to the least of all God’s saints.  The last thing we need is to bring the rancor associated with either of them into our midst.  The devil would be thrilled once more to parade our imbecility before the Father.  We need to ask ourselves, “Whom do we love more, a brother or sister in Christ or a political party—the Body for which Christ died or some human organization that has fooled us into believing it exists to serve us and our needs?”  Is the choice really that hard?   Are we so blindly absorbed in politics that we treat our brethren like anything less than what they are – children of the Most High God?  If so, we are doomed.

No doubt many of us have strong feelings about politics.  It is a righteous thing to deplore and condemn policies that are immoral and unrighteous, and rebuke those who promote them (Mark 6:18).  It is our right to do so in this nation.  What is not righteous is for Christians to sacrifice principles in the process.  We have every right to display our support for someone without painting a caricature of the opposition, demonizing them.  (The news media excels in this – beware of them; they only show you what they want you to see).

The last thing the church needs is to “bite and devour one another” over someone as worldly-minded as politicians and something as grossly self-serving as political parties.  Let us always remain the united family of God, focused on what really matters: the saving of souls and the building up of the Body of Christ.  We can do that well enough without politics.

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Being Christians in a Mad, Mad, World

The headlines we read and the news reports we see clearly indicate that something is terribly wrong with our nation and the world in general.  The world has not been “right” since the Garden of Eden incident and at times things are worse than at other times.  Yet for a country which was, indeed, founded upon Christian ideals, America, only one thing comes to mind “…how have the mighty fallen” (2 Samuel 1:19, 25).

Whether the violence is done in the name of justice (police killings) or as a reaction to it (the killing of police), it remains violence and it is very easy for people to be caught up in it, into the emotion of the moment and the hurt that goes with it.  The temptation to lash out, to allow the bitterness and deep-seated animosities people feel, to “go to seed.”  It is at times like these that our heart and our Christianity is put to the test.  Will we, like many others, get caught up in the madness and fall prey to it, or will we keep cool, level  heads and warm, God-trusting, people-loving, hearts?

For one thing, we should not be surprised.  Jesus said this would happen:  “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars… for nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places” (Matthew 24:6a, 7, 8).  He also told us how to react to it:  “See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet” (Matthew 24:6b).  In short, there is always going to be conflict in the world among people and nations.  Surprise is not warranted.

This is not to say we should just stick our heads in the sand and pretend nothing is happening.  Christians have a responsibility to love (John 13:34).  This is not limited to people of our own nation, our own race, our own religion, or anything else.   When we see pictures of violence done to people, one thing is common to them all:  the victims bleed red, not green, purple, or any other color.  Blood ties us to one another as human beings crafted in the image of God.  So it is the Christian’s duty to treat others that way—no matter what.  We need to do several important things:

1) Pray that love will prevail over hate.  Hate of any kind, racial, ethnic, religious, etc. is counterproductive to everything Christianity actually is and stands for.

2) Monitor our own thoughts and language.  Beware the temptation to lash out emotionally or “rail against the machine.”

3) Set a good example of sober-mindedness.  Do not permit other people, no matter who they think they are, tell us how to think and act, dictating what our thoughts and actions should be.  There are just too many people in high and low places who are educated above their intelligence.

4) Keep faithfully preaching and teaching the Word of God, working to restore the face of our nation toward our Lord Jesus Christ.  I know, we have our work cut out for us, but start at home, in our own communities, counties, and states.  Great avalanches sometimes begin with a few dislodged, rolling stones.

5) Make sure we set the proper example.  If we are caught up in the madness, others may imagine that the Christian response is no different and think it is just fine to spew hate, malicious words, slander and condone violence.  The Lord Jesus expects us to love, period.  Therefore, Christians cannot be “haters.”

Our nation and the world will no doubt continue on its course of evil and violence.  Jesus said it would.  Evil things will continue to happen and they will take many forms.  The question is, how will real Christians respond?  Will we do what we should be doing or will we allow the madness take hold of us too?  Of all people, we must never allow that to happen.

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The Illusion of “Radical Islam”

Radical – “2 a) favoring fundamental or extreme change; specifically, favoring basic change in the social or economic structure.”[1]

According to Webster’s for something to be “radical” it must favor either fundamental or extreme change.  Therefore, whatever the root or source is, it must be something less than that, at least moderate, or less emphatic, less extreme in nature.  It should be clear also that, for anything to be called radical, the subject matter must be abused, taken out of context, disputed, erroneously reported, egregiously handled, or in some way made out to be more than intended.

Ever heard of “Radical Christianity”?  “Radical Buddhism”?  “Radical Hinduism”? “Radical Judaism?”  If so, then which of these current major religions have among their followers, on an enormous scale, those who have taken the sacred texts of their religion to such an extreme that would earn them that title?   Why then do we hear constantly of “Radical Islam”?   Is it because a certain small minority of its followers have taken their religion, based upon the Quran, too seriously, extreme, out of context?  That is what we are led to believe when we hear “Radical Islam.”

Listen well.  There is no such thing as “radical Islam”; there is only “Islam.”  Oddly enough, Muslims who truly believe the words of their “Bible” the Quran are inspired, will completely agree with me on this.  They know there are at least 109 references in the Quran which not only incite, but demand, that Muslims be belligerent, hostile, militant, tyrannical and even murderous, toward non-Muslims.  Allow me to list a few examples:

Quran (4:74) – “Let those fight in the way of Allah who sell the life of this world for the other. Whoso fighteth in the way of Allah, be he slain or be he victorious, on him We shall bestow a vast reward.”

Quran (4:89)“They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing (as they): But take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah (From what is forbidden). But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and (in any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks.”

Quran (8:12)“I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them”

Quran (9:5)“So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them.”

Quran (9:14)“Fight against them so that Allah will punish them by your hands and disgrace them and give you victory over them and heal the breasts of a believing people.”

Quran (9:29)“Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”[2]

“Radical Islamists” are not those who, through ignorance, willful or otherwise, take their scriptures, religious commands and precepts out of context or too far.  No, they are the ones who ARE keeping them as they were meant to be.  They consider heretics all those who will not take their religion as seriously as they do.  That’s why they do not really care if they kill some Muslims along with the infidels;  those who are not giving heart and soul to the cause as they do are simply apostates, cowards, or both.  In believing and acting this way, they are NOT the radical ones – they are the true believers who follow the Quran, obeying all the things it bids them do to the “infidels” who will not convert.

The reason I am writing this is to help people wake up!  Islam is not the “religion of peace” as we are told it is.  That is not what they mean by it.  There is a qualifier to that statement that we almost blindly miss:  the peace they speak of is ONLY found when one converts to it.  For those who will not, there is no peace at all, only war, militancy, bigotry, all working toward ultimate world hegemony, ruled by Sharia Law.

To attempt to justify it by countering that Judaism and Christianity has its radical element is a sad diversion that will not stand up to scrutiny.  Christians (so-called) who use violence to enslave, torture, steal from, harm and murder others are not the faithful ones.  They are not following Christ nor their New Testament.   Jesus the Christ said this to His followers:

“But I say to you who listen; Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also.  And if anyone takes away your coat, don’t hold back you shirt either.  Give to everyone who asks you, and from one who takes your things, don’t ask for them back.  Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them.  If you love only those who love you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners love those who love them… But love your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.  Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High.  For He is gracious to the ungrateful and evil.  Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful” (Luke 6:27-32, 35-36 Holman Christian Standard Bible).

That does not sound like He is advocating violence, does it?  Therefore, He would never have authorized nor condoned the mindless violence and rampages of the Crusades, Middle-Ages, (and beyond – the Inquisition, etc.) done in His Holy Name and any current violence committed by so-called disciples.  His words are clear on all matters of human interpersonal relationships:  “Love one another” (John 13:34).

Islam has only one goal:  to force all nations to acknowledge Allah as the only god and Mohammed as his prophet.  Those who seek to do the will of him and his prophet according to their scriptures are not the “radical” element.  They are the true faithful and their numbers are legion and swelling, even if it is largely out of fear and retaliation.

In concluding this, I would, as any Christian should, extend an invitation to anyone, Muslims included, to learn of the Christ and find a new Way, the only Way, to live both now and forever.  If you want to know how to do this, please read things I have posted here.  Contact me.  I will be honored to show you that Way, the One Way, the True Religion of Peace found only in the Lord Jesus Christ who loves us all and died to save us all.

[1] Webster’s New World Dictionary, page 1107, Third College Edition.

[2] http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/pages/quran/violence.aspx

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Some Not-So-New New Year’s Resolutions

Last week saw the old year 2015 slip away from us. Actually we never had it to begin with, did we? Such is the way of things. As we get older it seems the days, weeks, and years, fly on by. Plans and dreams we intended to realize or put into effect in the previous year may or may not have been fulfilled. Yet each new year gives us a good reason and opportunity to start over with a clean slate.

Here are some resolutions I think are worth at least striving for. The list is by no means comprehensive. Just consider it a good starting point:

Pay more attention to things that matter: Bible reading, prayer, participation in church services and programs, being a good neighbor no matter what. We are children of the Day (1 Thess. 5:5-11). Let’s walk in the light of it as God’s elect.

Keep a tight rein on the tongue. Hold it when necessary, loose it when useful. It can render help or hurt, praise or poison, grace or slander, love or hate. Be mindful that all of us will give account to God concerning its use, and abuse, on Judgment Day (Matthew 12:36). Let’s ask ourselves if what we mean to say to someone about others builds them up in their eyes or tears them down. Then we can make a righteous decision on whether to say it or not.

Look for the good, the best, in others and yourself. It is so easy to find fault, even within ourselves. God made us in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). That alone is testimony to our worth and value to Him as it should be to one another. People who consistently keep a negative view of others can never truly be happy in this world. They, above all people, should be pitied. Don’t be like them.

Stop making excuses. No matter what it is: ill behavior, apathy, foul language, bad habits, unwise associations, absenteeism, etc. Excuses are for losers and faithful Christians are anything but that. Correct what needs correcting and move out with renewed zeal in the Lord’s service (1 Corinthians 11:31).

Be the best you can be at whatever you can do. God has given us all different skills, talents, and abilities (Romans 12:4-8). He expects us to use them for His glory and the good of others. If you cannot decide what it is you can do, ask God for wisdom (James 1:5). He will show you the way.

Try doing something you have never done before, or have been afraid to do. Sometimes we make a monster out of something that turns out to be a teddy bear after we do it. The old saying, “You never know until you try” is both true and wise. How can we say we cannot do something before we even try? Who knows, we might surprise ourselves and others when we do! Ask God to give you strength, courage, and ability and trust that He will. We can do more than we think we can if we rely upon Him.

Nothing about these is new. You may be doing them already. If so, keep up the good work! The Lord will not forget it (1 Corinthians 15:58; Hebrews 6:10); the world will be better for it, and so will the church. May God bless us in the doing of His will each and every day of every year.

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Are You a Sabanrab?

The world is filled with unhappy, discontented, people who cannot stop themselves from finding something to criticize in others. Far from obeying the Lord’s command in Matthew 7:3-5 to remove the glaring defects (beams or logs) of their own lives before pointing out the minor inconsistencies (motes or specks) of others, they unfailingly finger-point, harp, carp, and find ways to turn others’ joy into pain. Psychologists might elaborate on that, telling us since such people have very low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy they seek to tear down others to make themselves feel better at others’ expense. Regardless, it is something that needs correcting because it is a sinful, ungodly, habit (2 Corinthians 12:20; Colossians 3:8).

In the New Testament, Barnabas stood out as one who was known for his efforts to build up others. His nickname, “son of consolation (encouragement or exhortation)” (Acts 4:36) proves it. He was a generous giver (Acts 4:36-37), a missionary (Acts 13:1-3), and one who stood up for someone who was rejected by someone else (Acts 15:36-39). He symbolizes the spirit of the type of person who, in the vernacular of today, “has your back.” (Dear Lord, what ever became of that spirit? Did it die with him?)

I am sure in the process of exhorting he had to do some rebuking and correcting, but it was done out of love and no doubt face to face, not behind the back. Those who persist in being critical, gossipy, and even slanderous, are him in reverse.

Scripture tells us not to find fault (tear down) but to edify (build up) (Colossians 4:6; Ephesians 4:29). The difference is important. Fault-finding is merely the ability to detect inconsistencies in others and do nothing except talk about them. It is at the root of all gossip and slander. Encouraging others means that while we may observe those inconsistencies, we 1) keep quiet about them unless they are serious, and 2) when they are, we offer advice and counsel directly and only to those affected. Encouraging can and should be done from the pulpit through preaching in a general way (1 Corinthians 14:3) but also face to face and one on one. Furthermore, while fault-finding is motivated by selfishness and evil desire, encouragement originates from love, the seeking of another’s welfare.

The following are some examples of both. Can you see the difference?

“They are always late to church.”
“Brother, it might set a better example to try to be in worship on time if it can be helped.”

“He is stuck up and snooty to me. He won’t speak unless spoken to first!”
“Brother, are we all right? I’ve noticed you readily extend a handshake to others but never to me.  Have I wronged you in some way?”

“They’ve got another new car. How many does that make them – one a year?” (The insinuation is that they make too much money or waste it or both).
“That’s a nice car! New isn’t it? You’ll have to take me for a ride in it sometime!” (smiles and means it).

The difference is clear.  The italicized statement is a spoken critique, a gossip-generating topic of conversation directed at no one in particular and having no value to anyone. The other is a voiced concern aimed only at the one affected or a compliment at another’s good fortune, a blessing if you will.

The church, not to mention the world, would be a far better place if people would say things only that build up others, keeping the harmful negativity to themselves. That’s not just for others’ sake, but for the sabanrabs as well since sins of the tongue left unchecked will land one, no matter how holy they think they are, squarely in the fires of hell (James 3:5-12).

No one is immune. Preachers are some of the worst gossips around, using it as a means to show just how much they know of others merely to impress somebody. They are not alone. Otherwise doctrinally sound members, who could debate the Bible all day with their religious neighbors and friends, cannot help themselves from passing on a juicy tidbit of gossip or toss around slander as if they are entitled to it.

It does matter. The Bible says so. It is a nasty, vile, habit, and if we are doing it we had better repent right now.  And yes, this physician will seek to heal himself too.

Are you or I a Barnabas or a sabanrab?

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