Christmas carols often highlight the joy associated with the holiday season. The lyrics of “Deck the Halls” remind us, “‘Tis the season to be jolly.” For many, however, the attitude exhibited during this time of year is anything but jolly. Perhaps it is the stress of finding the perfect gift for a loved one that causes one to be impolite toward strangers, or the additional hustle and bustle in traffic on the roads and in the stores that brings out selfishness. Whatever the case may be, the attitude of Christmas shoppers is frequently the opposite of the joy expressed in the carols.
For the Christian, each day should be filled with happiness as we wait for the Savior and fellowship with each other. Do we demonstrate the delights of following Christ? Or do those around us look at our disposition and decide they would never want to be as miserable as we are?
The inspired apostle Paul wrote, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking by put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
Which words describe you? Bitter or kind? Angry or tenderhearted? Clamoring or forgiving?
Not only during this Christmas season, but throughout our Christian life, we must show others what is available in Christ. “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-29).
I experienced a bit of a setback this past week. Five and a half weeks after my back surgery, some of the pain started to come back. Emotionally discouraged and physically exhausted, my hope was that the pain was temporary and I took a little comfort in knowing that I was not completely healed but the pain should again decrease in the coming weeks as the mending continued.
Can this happen to us spiritually? Of course it can. The “fiery darts of the wicked one” (Ephesians 6:16) will come at us from every direction. Are we going to give in to that temptation from time to time? Yes, sadly, we will. John wrote, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). We will suffer spiritual setbacks. Just as physical pain can discourage us, spiritual weakness can lead to deep disappointment.
Thank God we have an Advocate, a High Priest who understands temptation and who is on our side! Thank God that He is full of grace and desires our fellowship and has given us an avenue by which we can be restored! “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). How grand is the grace of God! How tremendous is His mercy!
This month especially, as we count our blessings and give thanks, may we daily remember His love for us and seek ways to show our love for Him.
I asked on Facebook, “What are some excuses you have heard (or used) for ignoring or disobeying the will of God?” One of the many excellent responses came from brother Steve Davis, who replied, “We’re all on the same team.” This may be said many different ways, such as, “Go to the church of your choice,” or, “We’re all headed to heaven, just taking different roads to get there.” Is this a Biblical concept?
If we are on the same team, shouldn’t we be using the same playbook? When the quarterback calls a play, doesn’t he expect the wide receiver to run a certain route? The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:10, “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the SAME thing, and that there be NO DIVISIONS among you, but that you be perfectly joined TOGETHER in the SAME mind and in the SAME judgment.” Can this be said about all the denominational confusion in the religious world?
Instead of the “church of your choice,” wouldn’t it be wiser to worship with the church of God’s choice (Acts 20:28), in the many that He decrees (John 4:24)? There are not “different roads to heaven,” there is only the “narrow gate…which leads to life” (Matthew 7:13-14).
God’s will is revealed in His Word. The only way to know His will is to study His Word. James 1:25 encourages us to seek the truth and live according to it: “But he who LOOKS into the perfect law of liberty and CONTINUES in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a DOER of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.”
Denominationalism leads people away from God. Only the Word points to the Lord. May we all love the Lord and His revelation (John 14:15), and study, learn, and obey the things contained therein (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
I had an idea for a bulletin article earlier in the week but didn’t write it down immediately, and when it came time to submit an article, I had forgotten all about the idea. That’s not the first time it has happened.
Maybe mankind’s faulty memory is why God instituted so many memorials. Going all the way back to the flood when God instituted the rainbow as a memorial, not for the people, but for Himself. In Genesis 8:16, God said, “The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” At times, I get frustrated at the appropriation of the rainbow by the homosexual community, but maybe it is by God’s providential design. That rainbow represents a promise that no matter how wicked the world becomes, the Almighty will not destroy it again by flood.
Other memorials God instituted in the Old Testament include the Passover(Exodus 12:24-27), the jar of manna (Exodus 16:32-33), the twelve stones (Joshua 4:5-7), and even the Sabbath day itself (Exodus 20:8-11).
Still today, under the new covenant, we observe a memorial on the first day of every week. Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper just prior to His death on the cross. He said of the unleavened bread, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). Christ’s human life was not taken from Him; He gave it for us. What an amazing gift! He followed this with the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20). There is power in that blood, power to cleanse us of our sins so we might stand blameless before God.
I am thankful God gave us the Lord’s Supper so that we can continually, week by week, remember the awesome gift of His Son and the power of His blood.
Have you ever read something in the Scriptures that made you scratch your head? Jesus says in His famed sermon on the mount, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). How often have you felt “blessed” while mourning? Isn’t this a paradox?
Throughout the Scriptures, we see what we would consider negative events lead to positive results. Consider the inspired words of Romans 5:3-4 (tribulation –> perseverance –> hope), Hebrews 12:11 (chastening –> peaceable fruit of righteousness), 2 Corinthians 7:10 (godly sorrow –> repentance leading to salvation), and James 1:2-3 (trials/testing of faith –> patience). In each instance, we start with something negative, but the end result is something positive.
The mourning under consideration in Matthew 5 does not refer to everyday sorrows, as Paul tells us that “the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10). J.W. McGarvey writes in his commentary on Matthew and Mark that this is “those who mourn in reference to sin. ‘They shall be comforted’ because now there is an ample provision made for pardon.”
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” (Romans 5:8-11)
We no longer have to mourn over our hopelessness, but “rejoice” that “through (Christ) we have now received the reconciliation.” Truly we are blessed!
“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
How blessed are we to have so many opportunities to gather together and encourage each other? From Sunday morning Bible class and worship to Sunday evening, our mid-week studies, gospel meetings and seminars, we have many occasions in which we can receive sound spiritual nourishment.
When we come together, God commands us to exhort or encourage each other. One way to do this is by taking notice of the good things our brothers and sisters are doing, and thanking them.
Have you thanked any of the teachers from Vacation Bible School? Or those who helped prepare the snacks each day? How about those who led the singing, or those who helped with decorations, props, and bulletin boards? Many people were involved, and should be recognized.
Have you thanked the men and women who are taking care of our teenagers, organizing activities and driving them to youth rallies and camps? Or those who teach the children on Sunday morning and Wednesday night?
Have you thanked the parents who bring their children to learn more about God? There are many secular activities that can distract them from spiritual matters, and they need to be encouraged for attending as many services as possible.
I hope that everyone is praying for the elders and deacons, but have you told them that you are praying for them? Have you asked them if there is anything specific you can include in your supplications to the Almighty? James says, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16). Let us seek to live righteously and pray fervently for our overseers and servants.
Look for opportunities to encourage each other, and thank each other. “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
An All-Star second baseman, seemingly on the path to baseball immortality in Cooperstown’s Hall of Fame, was handed an 80-day suspension for using performance enhancing substances. However, it was not a performance enhancer that showed up in his drug tests, but a diuretic commonly used as a masking agent. In other words, the player was trying to hide what he was really doing.
Are we guilty of masking or hiding things in a spiritual sense? We may attend church services regularly, participate in Bible classes, lead in worship…but are we hiding something from our brethren?
Paul encouraged the brethren at Philippi to do the right thing, whether he was aware of their behavior or not. He wrote, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). We should always strive to be holy, even if no one on this earth sees us.
We can be sure of one thing: even if we are “successful” in hiding sinful behaviors from others in the church, we cannot hide from God. Paul assures us of this fact. “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust we are well known in your consciences” (2 Corinthians 5:9-11).
Let us not mask or hide our weaknesses, temptations, and sins from each other, but lean on each other for spiritual support and strength. “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16).
Actions speak louder than words. The apostle Matthew (also known as Levi) demonstrated his devotion to the Lord through his actions. He worked as a tax collector. The Jews had a very low opinion of tax collectors, but it was a financially lucrative occupation. When Jesus called Matthew, Luke says that “he left all, rose up, and followed Him” (Luke 5:28).
Matthew recognized the infinite value of the soul. He recorded the Lord’s words, “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). Knowing this surely made the decision to leave his position at the tax office less difficult.
The humility of Matthew also shines through in his account of Christ’s gospel. He writes, “As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ So he arose and followed Him. Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples” (Matthew 9:9-10).
Compare this with Luke’s account: “After these things He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ So he left all, rose up, and followed Him. Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them” (Luke 5:27-29).
Did you notice the differences? They are slight, but they are there. Matthew does not say that he left everything, but Luke wants to be sure the reader recognizes his level of commitment. Also, Matthew simply mentions a feast “in the house.” Luke tells us that Matthew “gave Him a great feast in his own house.” Matthew could have given himself credit for these things, but he didn’t want to draw focus away from Jesus.
Let’s remember to always give God the glory, showing others His love and grace.
Christians must be aware of the world around them. Inspiration teaches, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Our awareness of the world will help to guard us against falling prey to Satan’s schemes, and prepare us to help others find God’s truth.
NBC premiered a new program called Rise in March. The show focuses on Lou Massuchelli, an English teacher put in charge of his high school’s drama club. His first act is to announce the production of the controversial musical, Spring Awakening, which addresses several issues of teenage sexuality.
Rise includes a male homosexual student, a transgender female transitioning to male, and a straight male who is cast in a role that requires him to kiss another male. All of these are presented as completely normal, acceptable lifestyles to most of the other characters. The few that object are portrayed as narrow-minded people. Showrunner Jason Katims released a statement in which he affirmed the producers are “firmly committed to LGBTQ inclusion” and that Rise “portrays positive depictions of LGBTQ characters and stories…with honesty and sensitivity.”
In a recent episode, a parent asked the teacher, “What do you believe in?”
Lou responded, “I believe in the kids I teach. I believe in the truth. I believe in helping them to grow up in the sun and not in the shadows,” further reinforcing the character’s view that homosexuality and transgenderism should be accepted by everyone.
I am reminded of the prophet who cried, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).
Fornication — whether heterosexual or homosexual — is wrong, regardless of age. Transgenderism is wrong. Brother Ben Giselbach published an informative article about transgenderism in 2015 on his website, “Plain Simple Faith” (plainsimplefaith.com/2015/06/transgenderism).
Christians, be aware that many of your co-workers (adults) and classmates (youngsters) believe in the acceptance of deviant sexual behaviors. Be ready to defend the Biblical truth on these matters (1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3).
The Hebrews writer penned, “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
Stephen Hawking passed from this life into eternity on Wednesday, March 14, 2018. As of 2011, Mr. Hawking did not believe the words of inspiration. In an interview with The Guardian, quoted by USA Today, the physicist said, “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”
God blessed Mr. Hawking with intelligence, but the man refused to use that blessing to observe the Almighty’s creation all around Him and seek the designer of it all. In The Grand Design, published in 2010, Mr. Hawking wrote, “Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”
Sadly, to the best of my knowledge, Mr. Hawking never shed his self-proclaimed atheism. As Christians, we must mourn not only the loss of his brilliant mind but also the eternal state of his soul. We cannot rejoice in the eternal condemnation of the unbelieving, but trust in the righteousness of God. We need to share the desire of the Lord, who is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to the repentance” (2 Peter 3:9) and strive to reach those with whom we have some influence.
Mr. Hawking said, “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist.” Friends, all the answers that we need are found in the Holy Scriptures.
“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3).