Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

The Perfect Church

Posted on: February 18th, 2024

We know that the Lord’s church was crafted in the mind of God before the world began (Eph. 3:10-11). We know that it was built by the Son of God Himself through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). We know that the Lord equipped the church with apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to bring it to the “unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). We know that the New Testament is a perfect pattern, allowing the church to be “complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). With everything the Bible teaches about the church, we ought to expect to find perfect churches in the world today, but we do not. Why not?

Before we get too discouraged with the lack of perfection we find in local churches today, I remind you that perfect churches were not easy to find in the First Century. The closest thing to a perfect church that can be found in the Bible is the church in Jerusalem in the early part of the book of Acts. They “were of one heart and one soul” (4:32), and “continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (2:42). However, that perfection was soon shattered with the apostasy of Ananias and Sapphira recorded in chapter five. Things get worse as one progresses through the remainder of the New Testament. The Epistles showcase local churches that were beset with problems. The church at Corinth was a case study in church problems (division, lack of discipline, perverted worship, error concerning the resurrection, etc.). The churches of Galatia were foolishly abandoning the pure gospel of Christ. The Thessalonians were held up as examples to all believers of their day (1 Thess. 1:7), yet they had a problem with members who would not work (2 Thess. 3:10-12). Timothy had to guard against those who taught another doctrine in the church at Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3), while Titus had to set the church in Crete in order (1:5). Five of the seven churches addressed in Revelation 2-3 had sins of which they needed to repent. One would be hard pressed to find a perfect local church in the New Testament. What makes us think we can find one today?

Does a perfect church exist today? I have not found one. I have found that some churches are stronger than others, but every church has problems. The fault for this does not lie with Christ or the pattern set forth in the New Testament. Local churches are made up of people: people who come from different backgrounds, with different attitudes, experiences, values, reactions, habits, levels of understanding, etc. Given this fact, personality conflicts, peculiarities, protests, pouting, pity-parties and the party-spirit will always persist to one degree or another in every local church. Such is unavoidable. The church is made up of people. I have yet to find a perfect church because I have yet to find a group of perfect Christians (to say nothing of a single perfect Christian).

What should we do if we discover we are members of an imperfect church? Should we leave? That all depends upon what imperfections we have found and the efforts we have put forth to correct them. Yes, there may very well come a time when one must leave an unfaithful church. Interestingly, we do not find this action taking place in the New Testament. We do find Christians moving from one church to another, but not in a search for perfection. Aquila and Priscilla are found in different churches throughout the New Testament, but this was because they were actually moving to different places, sometimes against their will. Men like Paul, Barnabas, Silas and Timothy moved around, but they were not church-hoppers. They were traveling to different cities, doing the Lord’s work. If anyone would have been justified in leaving a church, it would have been the faithful brethren in troubled churches like Thyatira and Sardis. Yet, surprisingly, they were not told to leave. They were told to “hold fast” and to “overcome” (Rev. 2:24-25, 3:4-5). Their faithfulness was a much needed positive influence at those churches.

What should we do about the imperfections in the local church? We should never become tolerant of them. Jesus gave Himself to sanctify and cleanse His church, that she should be holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:25-27). It is our duty to keep her that way. Perfection is our goal, and we must constantly be striving toward it. What should we do? We can start by being the best member that we can be. Imperfections are brought into the church by the members. We need to make sure that we are not a part of the problem. Next, be an example for good. Imperfections on the part of other members do not keep us from being the best Christians that we can be. Allow your life (including your good attitude) to be a good influence upon the church. Next, there may be times when you need to personally address a problem. Perhaps you need to talk to a member about the sin in their life (Gal. 6:1; Jude 22-23). Perhaps you need to make the elders aware of a situation that needs their attention. They may be the shepherds of the flock, but that does not mean they know everything that is going on. Get involved. Finally, be patient. Old habits die hard. Few lasting changes occur over night. God gives Christians time to grow, and we need to do the same.

“Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all” (1 Thess. 5:14).

“But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good” (2 Thess. 3:13).

Encouraged By Example

Posted on: February 11th, 2024

  This past week I witnessed kids of all ages attend Vacation Bible School to worship God and to learn about how they can be “Serving One Another.” It was amazing to see young men anxiously wanting to be picked to lead a prayer or to see a little one excited as they recited the Memory Verse of the week with ease. Seeing their enthusiasm and excitement to learn about God shows that we have many young people who will continue to grow in their love towards serving the Lord.
     You may have heard this phrase spoken about young people within the church,  “You are the future of the church.” The problem with this is that the phrase may be giving the impression to young people that they aren’t that important now, but will be eventually. In fact, some are already serving and some are currently working towards being elders, preachers, song leaders and teachers. 
     But no matter which age group you may fall into, we all have a duty to serve and encourage one another as servants in Christ: mentoring, training and educating one another to grow stronger, and to be used for the Lord’s purpose. 
   One of the great mentorships we read in the Bible is Paul’s fellowship with Timothy, who was a young minister of the gospel and accompanied Paul on some of his missionary journeys. Paul had great confidence in Timothy and gave him advice and encouragement as a fellow worker. 
   The letter of First Timothy was written as a reminder to what Timothy’s mission was while living among the pagans and false teachers in Ephesus. Nearly two thousand years later, Paul’s wisdom and encouragement to Timothy is still effective and contagious even to this day as we continue to minister and live by the gospel. 
     First Timothy 4:12 “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”
Timothy was believed to be between the ages of 30-40 during the timing of this letter, which was a young age to be in the position that he was in. Paul challenges Timothy to set an example for the believers, particularly those older than him, by teaching the word correctly, having good conduct, by being loving, faithful and pure. 
     For us, our lives should be a reflection of the gospel. Our age does not signify our knowledge about the Word, nor does our age permit our eligibility to serve. The words we read from Paul should be challenging to us to set an example for the believers, so that they may see and follow. 
    This comes with more responsibility as we read in the following verses:
First Timothy 4:13-14 “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have which was given to you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.”
    Verse 13 shows that Timothy was spiritually qualified to do the work that he was given. In verse 14, Paul notes how Timothy was prophesied to have this gift and it was given to him by the council of elders. This indicates that not everyone has this gift to do what Timothy was doing. During his time in Ephesus, Timothy may have had doubts about his purpose and may have felt discouraged at times. Paul reminds Timothy that he was right where God wanted him and that he had a very important job to do. 
    But one thing he was told not to do was to neglect the gift that he had! 
    These ancient words still ring in my ears when I read it. (Mainly because I have been told words similar to this in recent times.) While we each have a gift and a function, whatever that may be, the gift we all share as Christians is the gift of eternal life. It may sound silly to hear, but we must not even neglect that gift, (why would we anyway?) The gift of eternal salvation should encourage us to live under the example of Jesus Christ, devoting ourselves to the scripture, living by the Word and setting examples for believers. 
    I will conclude with this: To elder brethren, as Paul was to Timothy, being a spiritual mentor is a blessing. It’s helping and encouraging younger believers to build their foundation on Jesus and to prepare and continue a life of servanthood. To younger brethren, As Timothy was to the church in Ephesus, do not let anyone despise or discourage you about your age or purpose, you are a part of the church and have a responsibility already to serve and to set an example. 
    Let us continue to be examples to each other as we worship, pray and teach. Let us not be despised because of our purposes and let us not neglect the gift that we each have. 

Article by Andrew Green—Southside church of Christ

Is The Bible Relevant?

Posted on: February 4th, 2024

How relevant is the Bible in today’s world? Some think it isn’t relevant at all. But I submit to you, that if the Bible is not relevant, then God is not relevant, because God cannot be separated from His Word! Thankfully, many millions of people, however, are still finding the Bible relevant to their lives and problems. That is one reason it is still the best-selling book.

It has been said, “The Bible has not been tried, and found wanting; it has been found difficult, and not tried.” How true that is. The reason some think the Bible isn’t up-to-date is because they dislike its answers. The answers work, but they aren’t always easy answers. For some, nothing is relevant unless it is easy, self-indulgent, and self-justifying.

Others just assume the Bible must be out-of-date because it wasn’t recently written. They forget that human nature, and human problems, haven’t changed at all. They also forget that God could foresee modern problems long ago, and give the world a message relevant to any age. Then there are many others who just do not know what the Bible really teaches. They listen to skeptics and others who misrepresent the Bible’s teachings. They see weird TV evangelists who exploit religion by perverting the Bible’s teachings. They may even have opened the Bible at random and unsuccessfully sought an answer, but they themselves really don’t know the answer. So, it isn’t surprising when someone unaware of the Bible’s true teaching doesn’t perceive its value and relevance.

The Bible is actually as up-to-date as tomorrow’s newspaper. Furthermore, it will still be relevant when tomorrow’s newspaper is forgotten! First Peter 1: 25 says the “Word of the Lord endures (abides) forever.” Isaiah 40: 8 says: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever.” A bumper sticker reads: “God said it; I believe it; that settles it.” But it should read: “God said it; that settles it; I believe it.” When God speaks in His word that settles it whether one believes it is relevant or not! I recommend that you read God’s Word regularly, and live your life by it, and you will see its relevancy.

Think on these things.

Article by Dennis Abernathy.

Idealistically Speaking

Someone has defined the “expert on child-rearing” as the one who has no children. If that be true — then several weeks ago, during a series on marriage and the family, a group of young married “experts” met to study the subject of raising children. When we began to look at what the Bible has to say on the subject, it was sobering to learn of the awesome responsibility God has given the father. Yet, what was even more sobering was to realize how many fathers are not fulfilling their responsibility.

In II Cor. 12:14, Paul refers to the principle that parents are to provide for the physical needs of their children. However, caution must be exercised so that this obligation does not overshadow a much more important responsibility. A third grader wrote —”Dear Abby, My dad works all the time. He is never home. He gives me money and lots of toys, but I hardly ever see him. I love him and wish he would not work all the time so I could see him more. Signed, Jeff.” Too many fathers emphasize the physical care of their children to the neglect of spiritual upbringing. Paul admonishes, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Spiritual training takes time. Jeff’s dad, after reading his son’s letter, wrote —”I realized I was depriving my family of something far more important (than physical luxuries — ko), myself and my time I quit both part-time jobs and we adjusted our standard of living accordingly …I have learned that the greatest gift a man can give his children is himself and his time.” The Psalmist says that “children are a heritage of Jehovah; and the fruit of the womb is his reward” (Ps. 127:3). It’s sad that some fathers often complain about the burdens, anxiety, and heartaches associated with their offspring — and they seldom consider the blessings which are brought about by the same. As an older preacher told me, “Why, the education alone is worth the investment. My children have taught me more than I will ever be able to teach them — they have taught me to be patient, unselfish, sensitive to others, to live consistently with what I teach…” With this attitude, fathers can say, “As the arrows in the hand of a mighty man, so are the children of youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them” (Ps. 127:4,5).

The responsibilities of becoming a father are rapidly being placed upon my shoulders and my thoughts are turning in that direction. In writing about the relationship of fathers to their children, I can understand how some fathers would resent a younger man giving them his opinion on how they should raise their children (especially if he has no children). In Job 32:6, Elihu admitted, “I am young and ye are very old”— yet he went on to say, “the breath of the Almighty giveth them understanding. It is not the great that are wise, nor the aged that understand justice.” The key in striving to be the ideal father is to stick with the ideal. It doesn’t take an “expert” to read and understand God’s instructions to the father. May we continue to encourage each other to follow His will and may He help us all to be ideal fathers.

Article by Kevan O’Banion.

Leaning Toward the Lamentations – 4

Posted on: January 28th, 2024

Royce Bell

At last, we are at our final introduction to the Lamentations  of Jeremiah. While the  immediate theme of the book is, of course, the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, we cannot ignore certain emotional aspects of sorrow which seem to ooze out of the weeping eyes of the prophet. But, he is not the only one who is weeping. For example, what emotions must have pierced the heart of the mothers of whom we read in 4:3? Surely, they sought in vain for water and food for their infants. And once the famine had taken their little one where only Yahweh (Jehovah) holds control, what must they have felt, when the only way to preserve their own lives was to make wise (?) use of the little ones emaciated corpses (4:10).

Is there no hope?

Is there no deliverance?

A Short Reading

Lamentations 5

A View of the Broader Context 

1. In each of the preceding chapters the ensuing result of disobedience is laid at the feet  of all, but the peculiarity unique cause of the judgement of God is laid at the feet of the priests (4:13, 16) and prophets (2:9, 14; 4:13). 
2. Let’s attribute to the priests and prophets the highest, most noble of motives (perhaps being mere men, they were so wrapped up in the geopolitical events in Egypt, Edom, Ninevah, Shechum, and Babylon, they simply were overwhelmed with the weight of  duty which fell on them. You’ve been there; you’ve failed; you’ve neglected the weigher matters of the law while  training a gnat and swallowing a camel, haven’t you? 
3. If you persevered to read chapter 3 (you did, didn’t you? It’s the best part of the scroll!) you saw Jeremiah’s personal outpouring of his own distress. Like all good men of conscience and sincere  duty to a troubled and endangered people, Jeremiah included himself with the guilty, who was suffering the same dangers which fell on the city and nation. Think of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “…that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the Earth”; or consider Ezra who, after all the great things accomplished upon the return from captive, was shocked at the confession of the officials that the people, protests, and Levites were in direct disobedience of God’s instruction. Did he rail upon the guilty? No, indeed not! Read Ezra 9:6-7 to see what he confessed to God, defining the “we”—himself included—as guilty and worthy of God’s judgment

Narrowing the Focus

The hopeful echo of Jeremiah’s own faith—”The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (3:22-23)—closes chapter 5. See 5:21-22. But, this hope is tempered by a litany of complaints, because  chapter 5 is an expression of collective memory (and complaint, for memory remembers long what  acknowledgment of personal culpability prefers to give dispensation).

This week, place a small dash in the margin of your Bible which identify  the complaints listed in 5:1-16. If you ignore the parallelism in each verse (and I’ve counted correctly), you’ll see 32 complaints. If you see the parallelism (and you should, though not always easily), you’ll count 16.

We are going to enjoy the study of Lamentations, but I have to tell you, it’s not an easy read and you are going to be really challenged.

Leaning Toward the Lamentations – 3

Posted on: January 21st, 2024

Royce Bell
 
In previous studies, we’ve read the 1st and 2nd chapters of the Lamentations. This week, we’ll skip chapter 3 (it’s 3 times as long and you might be tempted to say, “I just can’t read that much!” Don’t you just love that I’m so considerate of your feelings?) and look at  chapter 4. Once again, you’ll note two specific things (if you don’t see #2, trust me, it’s there):

1. Like chapters 1 and 2, it has 22 verses, and
2. Again like chapters 1 and 2, each verse begins with one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, from Alef to Tau. Note: Your Bible may not indicate these letter? Take some time to do a little research into how those letters are included. 

A Short Reading

Lamentations 4

A View of the Broader Context
 
1. Drawing from what we note last week from reviewing chapter 2 and reading chapter 2: you’ll remember, chapter 1 focuses on the judgment of God (cf. 1:8-9) and Jerusalem’s self-pity (1:12-19), while chapter 2 identifies the source of the judgment as God and His righteous anger (2:1-8). 
2. Even though we’re not reading it, yet, chapter 3 is the pinnacle of Jeremiah’s lament, but to get there, we will experience several rises and falls (if you will, undulating waves) of sorrow and sadness. You may recognize the similarity with your own grief or sorrow, from time to time.
3. In chapter 4, the emotion is somewhat abated. What is there is quite harsh and off-putting (cp. 4:3-4 with vr. 10). It is similar to chapter 1, but far less strident and much more subdued. Yet, it is matter of factly frank and honest.

Narrowing the Focus

Have you ever noticed how some cultures show subdued expressions of grief, while others are very vocal and even, dramatically expressive (not all all suggesting artificiality or insincerity of emotion). As a former funeral professional, I interacted with scores of funeral directors hundreds (thousands?) of times over a 50+ years long career in ministry. For decades, I facilitated scores of grief aftercare group sessions (and baptized several from those connections). Trust me: The strict and austere Victorian culture of those of British or European ancestry is not at all superior, more reasonable, or more appropriate to that of African and Jewish ancestry and culture. Asian cultural expressions of grief are often even more restrained and symbolically expressed than Anglo-European, African, or Jewish cultures.

Think of your own culture. How did you learn to grieve or show sorrow? Does your culture or family have special customs, perhaps even centuries or millenniums old? Consider the following:

• Do you remember when a deceased family member was laid in state in the front room of the family home? Do you remember the sad, slow, and dirge-like songs which were often sung with those who visited the bereaved?
• Were you raised in a culture or home in which adults often sat sleepily awake throughout the night, “sitting up with the dead”?
• Have you ever heard of awakening children in the middle of the night upon receiving news of the death of a family member?
• Have you ever been with a grieving family which was alternately, acutely expressive of grief and a few minutes later, subdued and even calm, even though still in grief?
• Do you know the feeling of deep regret for words ill-spoken or having imposed hurt or harm to another? Were you able to overcome feelings of despair or deep disappointment in your attitudes or actions?

Leaning Toward the Lamentations – 2

Posted on: January 14th, 2024

Royce Bell

This is the second of four short articles intended to help you be ready for our study of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, one of the most neglected, yet profoundly important and interesting sections of scripture. Last week, as I Narrowed the Focus, I said, “The Lamentations of Jeremiah are an excellent and very important study in the consequences of disobedience.” But, that’s not all contained in the book. In fact the very title suggests another purpose: The expression of deep, intractable sorrow, both in Jerusalem and (more perceptively), Jeremiah.

A Short Reading

Lamentations 2

A View of the Broader Context

1. In reading chapter 1, you may have noticed how Jerusalem is described under the figure of a female and female characteristics: She, widow, daughter, beauty, her princes, virgin daughter, my lovers, etc. Notice how chapter 2 reflects the same under the figure, “daughter of Zion.”
2. Both chapters 1 and 2 are structured with 22 verses, presented as stanzas of three lines each. Take note of that in your own Bible, using a slash ( / ) to separate the 3 lines of each stanza / verse. Hint: ALWAYS mark your Bible with pencil (easily erased)!
3. Point: Where chapter 1 focuses on the judgment of God (cf. 1:8-9) and Jerusalem’s self-pity (1:12-19), chapter 2 identifies the source of the judgment as God and His righteous anger (2:1-8 specifically identifies 32 Judgments: Count them).

Narrowing the Focus

If one compares the judgment on Israel at the hands of the Assyria (see prophecy of Amos), and (in Lamentations) the judgment on Jerusalem and Judah at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon, the question arises: Was Shechem really worse than Ninevah, or Jerusalem worse than Babylon? Then, why?

Last week, I wrote, “Interestingly, the Lamentations of Jeremiah are about sin consequences toward the covenant people of God, His city, and the place where God recorded His Name.” But, it is more than that: Have you ever suffered deep grief? Sometimes, it’s the loss of loved ones, parents, children, even grandchildren; but think about grief you brought upon yourself. How did it feel? Did you weep? Did you come to realize the futility of resentment? What benefit came from your anger?

Leaning Toward The Lamentations

Posted on: January 7th, 2024

Leaning Toward the Lamentations

January 7, 2024

Royce Bell

Over the next four weeks, in preparation for the Lamentations study now set to begin on February 4, I’ll have a short article in the Sunday bulletin. Each of these four articles will focus on three points intended to help you be ready for the study of what is one of the most neglected, yet profoundly important and interesting sections of scripture.

● Reading from the Lamentations
● The Broader Context
● Narrowing the Focus
A Short Reading

Lamentations 1

A View of the Broader Context

1. Comparing the length of chapter 1 with the length of chapter 2, what do you realize? How many verses in each chapter?

2. Now, look at the length of chapter 4. Now, chapter 5. Now, look at the length of chapter 3. What do you see?

3. What do you make of this?

Narrowing the Focus

As we will presently see in the course of our study together, the Lamentations of Jeremiah are an excellent and very important study in the consequences of disobedience.

Other Old Testament examples include the entire book of Judges, as well as several examples used by the writer of Hebrews. What specific examples can you remember to show the consequences of disobedience?

Interestingly, the Lamentations of Jeremiah are about sin consequences toward the covenant people of God, His city, and the place where God recorded His Name. It is not about God’s judgment on those who were not His Covenant people. What does Hebrews 2:2 suggest about this very fact toward we who live in the later days, who share in the the dispensation of the blessings of Christ and the revelation of God’s grace?

Bring In The New Year!

Posted on: December 31st, 2023

 Lose weight. Exercise more. Quit some bad habit. Read the Bible from start to finish. The new year is upon us, a time when we make plans about how we’re going to spend the next twelve months. But one of the best resolutions you can make for 2013 is the decision to bring someone to the Lord. That is not only a commitment that will change another’s life; in the process, you will start your own revolution.

Bringing someone to Jesus makes you take a closer look at Him. I have found that there is no better way to get to know the Savior than to tell other people about Him. Since you want them to come and follow Him as you have, you will seek to present His case in the most persuasive and convicting manner.

When you describe His miracles and wonders, you will have a better appreciation of His deity. When you tell of His temptations, sufferings, and tears, you will have a greater grasp of His sympathy with the human race. When you explain His sweat that fell as drops of blood and the nails that were driven through His hands and feet, you will have a more graphic picture of the destructive nature of sin. And when you tell of His glorious resurrection from the dead, you will grow the anticipation of your own promised victory over the grave.

Help someone see Him through the eye of faith and watch how your vision for the unseen becomes even clearer.

Bringing someone to Jesus makes you take a closer look at the Scriptures. No matter how many times you have read Rom. 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek”, those words will take on a new meaning when you see them in action.

It is that gospel that has the power to penetrate stone hearts and to break stubborn wills. It is that gospel that causes hope to be realized with the news that “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Pet. 2:24). It is that gospel that brings people under the condemnation of their sin and provokes the response of “what must I do to be saved?” It is that gospel that produces inexpressible joy over the forgiveness of sins like the eunuch, after he was baptized, “went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39).

Show someone the passages that led you to the obedience of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It will only draw you closer to Him who authored that same message.

Bringing someone to Jesus makes you take a closer look at yourself. If you want to point someone to Christ, then let them see Him living in you. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). Your life is no longer about you. It’s about Him.

Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father Who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Who was more qualified to make that statement than He who practiced what He preached? Jesus never took the approach of “Do as I say, not as I do.” And He needs disciples who will follow in those steps of sincerity. You can’t recommend a way of life that you are not willing to live yourself. People have to see Jesus when they see you. Not only will that allow you to be a good example to those you come in contact with, it will ultimately bring glory to God.

Live the life of a Christian. Evangelism is as much about showing as it is telling.

The story of Jesus is too good not to tell. It’s too good not to live. You say you want a resolution? Ring in the new year by bringing someone to the Lord.

Be at Peace With One Another

Posted on: December 24th, 2023

 Over the course of my lifetime wartime conflicts have taken place, mostly in the Middle East and Africa. Even now there is again another war going on in the Middle East region.  It is very hard to ignore exactly what is happening and what drives these wars, particularly in the Middle East.  Both sides of the current conflict look to spiritual issues as their driving force, just as we Christians should do in regards to our everyday life.  Mark 9:50 tells us to “be at peace with one another.”  Is that our attitude as we live here in our peaceful little corner of the world?
    Being at peace with a world that is so full of evil is no easy task; the wiles of the devil are constantly bombarding us to see how we will react.  It is during these times that we need to stay strong and follow what should be guiding our lives all the while, the Bible.  Our lives and our patience are continually being tested by the world.  How many times does something happen to you every day that simply boggles your mind?  Do we have conflicts while driving or speaking with people who are extremely disrespectful for completely unknown reasons?  This is just another way the devil looks to have us make foolish choices which will in turn lead us to sin.
    Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matt. 5:9).  While we all know this, putting it into action is another story.  And make no mistake, I am not comparing our everyday lives to the issues and war going on in the Middle East.  I am showing how we as Christians are supposed to act in our current situations; while we do not have to worry about going into battle, we do have to worry about the battle for our souls that rages every day.  This may involve something as simple as a bad call at a sporting event.  Are we remaining in control and showing the world how we are supposed to “live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18)?  Our influence not only is important for ourselves, but it can show those around us how Christians need to act.  When you stop to think about it, the responsibility is massive; the world is constantly looking at us to see if we will mess up; and make no mistake, we will mess up.  However, the reality is that we have to continually be moving, “pressing toward the goal for the prize of the upward call” (Phil. 3:14).   This is no easy task, for sure; however, with God all things are possible.
    The world always looks to what is pleasing to the flesh, and in most cases, what is easiest to do.  Do we lose control?  Do we avoid working out differences or troubles that arise?  Paul contrasts life in the flesh with life in the spirit, and the life of the flesh always leads to conflict.  One small piece of land is a driving force in the issues facing the Middle East.  Yet God teachers us to be content with what we have, which in turn will help us achieve that peace we look for.  Living for the spirit leads to that peace that we so greatly long for and are commanded to seek.   Every day we see the world actually eroding before our eyes. The peace our streets and cities once had have since been replaced with violence and evil of all sorts.  When nations stop looking towards God as their compass in life, sin is allowed to take hold and break down the fiber that was once there.  Galatians 5:19 clearly shows the negative consequences of the works of the flesh.  When these evils are prevalent and accepted, the peace that we long for is made so much harder to obtain and maintain.  Isaiah 48:22 tells us that the wicked have no peace, and we are sadly seeing that play out everyday.  Remember we must “be in the world but not of the world” (John 17:16).  While we live our everyday lives, trials and tribulations will surely come. However, we must remain at peace with all men, no matter our differences.  
    While we are not in a physical war like the one playing out in the Middle East, we are in a war for our souls against the wiles of the devil.  Every day he looks for ways to disrupt our focus on our Christian duty, which is doing what is right and acceptable towards God.  There is a reason that we are instructed to seek the kingdom of God and to dwell on him continually. If we let our guard down, the devil will slowly erode our thinking until good looks like evil and evil looks like good.  Stay on guard, brethren, and constantly be looking for that “peace which surpasses all understanding” (Phil 4:7). God be with us, and may we always seek peace with all.   

What Is Religion To You?

Posted on: December 17th, 2023

    I was asked recently, “What is religion to you?” and had to think about it for some time before giving an answer. After some deliberation I finally came up with the answer.
    Religion to most everyone is confusing. Have you ever thought about how many different religions there are? Some people worship God, others follow the doctrines of men, some relate to the weather for direction, others give their allegiance to animals, and yes, some people worship themselves. Some believe in one god and others are convinced that there are many gods. Even the way in which people worship varies greatly. In the name of religion, people have sacrificed their very children by putting them in fire (2 Kings 17:31). Worship for some meant engaging in fornication with temple prostitutes (Numbers 25:1-3), while others renounce all relations for their entire lives. Religion is confusing!
    The apostle Paul dealt with religious people as his travels took him through Athens, Greece, a city “given over to idols” (Acts 17:16). Using their religious practices as an opportunity to preach the gospel, Paul says, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an alter with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:22, 23). Paul preached to them about the one, true God and then His only begotten Son, Jesus.
    As religion goes, even Jesus has been the object of great confusion. Who was He? Even while He walked the earth, people offered differing opinions of His nature. Jesus asked His disciples who people were saying that He was. “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Matt. 16:14). Was Jesus just a good man or perhaps a prophet? Instead of asking “What is religion to you?” a more direct question might be “What is Jesus to you?”
    Jesus made claims that other religions would not dare to make. He claimed to be the only way to God. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one gets to the Father, except through Me” (John 14:6). Either He is or He isn’t.
    Jesus also claimed to be the solution to man’s problem with death. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25). Man has searched for the Fountain of Youth in many ways. All men who have no hope fear death. Jesus claims that through Him, man can live after death. Do you believe that?
    Perhaps the most disturbing claim to people is that Jesus said He was deity, or God in the flesh. When asked by the elders, chief priests and scribes if He was the Son of God, Jesus answered, “You rightly say that I am” (Luke 22:70). This infuriated some of the people to the point of putting Him to death. The claims made by Jesus demand an answer. Savior or sinner? Christ or crazy?
    What is Jesus to you? Peter answered that question with, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Other people today give that same answer, yet they do not live their lives in accordance with what Jesus has said. “But why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). Jesus demands total allegiance. He is the authority for everything we do. Some people will follow Him as long as it doesn’t make them change their current lifestyle or do something uncomfortable. After a hard teaching, many of Jesus’ disciples turned away and followed Him no more (John 6:60-66). Jesus asked the apostles if they too, wanted to leave. “But Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’” (John 6:68). Peter recognized that even though Jesus may teach and demand some difficult things, there was nowhere else to go, no one else to turn to.
    The religious world is a confusing place. We can find whatever we want to satisfy our spiritual curiosity. Whether it be going to worship once a year or worshiping yourself every day. However, our answer to who Jesus is will not only have eternal consequences, it will show in how we live our daily lives.
    Jesus is my Savior. He paid the price for my sin on the cross; a punishment I deserved. Jesus is my Lord. He has authority and say so for everything I do in my life. Jesus is the truth that I believe. No other religion makes sense to me. God has given me everything I need to believe that Jesus is His Son through His word. Jesus is my way. He alone has the words of eternal life.
    What is Jesus to you? Maybe we should be asking our friends and neighbors that question!