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Archive for October, 2015

It has been said that the Christian army is the only one that shoots its own wounded. Sadly, this is true all too often. God’s Word clearly teaches that we, the members of the body of Christ, should seek to restore our brothers and sisters in a spirit of love when they have sinned in ways that dishonor Christ and His church.

The apostle Paul forthrightly asserts, “Brethren, if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:1-2 NASB).

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every church became known as a place of genuine restoration? Too often we wait for our wounded and fallen brothers and sisters to come crawling back, saying, “I’m sorry.” But so often, the guilt and shame associated with being overcome by temptation prevent them from doing that.

The ministry of restoration, first of all, involves our seeking out fellow Christians who have fallen. Once we have gone to them in a spirit of love and concern, it is our responsibility to help them up. This is only one of the many ways we can genuinely “bear one another’s burdens and fulfill the law of Christ.”

We are far too skilled at writing off those who fall by the wayside. We find it easy to say, “I told you so”, or to push them even further down. Many will not return to church either because of guilt or fear they will be rejected. This is why it is the responsibility of mature Christians – “those who are spiritual” – to take the initiative. A fallen brother or sister is a family matter. Families should always support one another.

One reason why Christians should go to those who are guilty of a major trespass of God’s Law is that all of us are susceptible to being overtaken by temptation. We find it easier to criticize a fellow Christian who has sinned than to realize and acknowledge, “Except for the grace of God there go I.”

Some of the great men of faith mentioned in the Bible committed major sins and were restored to great usefulness – King David, for example. He committed adultery with a neighbor, arranged to have her husband killed so he could have her for himself. Then he tried to cover it all up. He trespassed outside the boundary lines of the Word of God. Yet he was fortunate enough to have a friend, the prophet Nathan, who hunted him down – and helped him up. Nathan went straight to the heart of the matter. He confronted him in a spirit of gentleness, and said, “You have sinned against God!”

Read Psalm 51 and you will see the result of David’s restoration. He repented and was restored to usefulness because Nathan sought him out, helped him up, and held him up so he could move forward. Otherwise, a major part of the magnificent book of Psalms would not exist.

Paul wrote the epistle to the Christians in Galatia at the end of his first missionary journey. A young man by the name of John Mark had accompanied Paul and Barnabas in that mission. However, as they approached Perga on the Asian peninsula, John Mark suddenly deserted the missionary party and went home. As we might say, “he chickened out and hit the road,” leaving Paul and Barnabas in the lurch.

This is not the end of the story, however, for John Mark was later restored to full fellowship so his talents could continue to be used in the building of God’s kingdom on earth. And how did this happen? Barnabas, being a spiritual man, hunted him down, helped him up, and restored him to usefulness again. Otherwise, the Gospel of Mark, the oldest of the four gospels, would not be in the New Testament.

Arthur J Balfour was on target when he said, “The best thing to give our enemy is forgiveness; to an opponent, tolerance; to a friend, your heart; to your child, a good example; to a father, deference; to your mother, conduct that will make her proud of you; to yourself, respect; to all men, charity.” And George Herbert adds these true words, “He who cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself.”

Forgiveness is the perfume that the trampled flower casts upon the heel that crushed it. When a fellow Christian makes a mistake, don’t rub it in. Rub it out. We are like beasts when we kill; we are like men when we judge; we are like God when we forgive. Jesus looked down from the cross, saw those who had crucified Him, and lifted His voice in prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Do you know a fellow Christian who has been overtaken by a major sin? You have two choices – rejection or restoration! Which will you choose? Expressed in a way that makes your choice considerably easier, which would you want chosen if you were the one overtaken in a major sin?

 

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Chuck Swindoll, in Seasons of Life, published an interesting article that had appeared in the Springfield, Oregon, Schools Newsletter. As he read the article, it dawned on him that he was reading a parable of the kind of frustration that often takes place in Christian churches today. The parable is as follows:

“Once upon a time the animals decided they should do something meaningful to meet the problems of the new world. So, they organized a school. They adopted an activity curriculum of running, climbing, swimming and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals took all the subjects.

“The duck was excellent in swimming – in fact, better than his instructor. But he made only passing grades in flying, and he was very poor in running. Since he ran so slowly, he had to drop swimming class and stay after school to practice running. This caused his web feet to be badly worn, so that he was only average in swimming. But average was quite acceptable, so nobody worried about that – except the duck, that is.

“The rabbit started at the top of his class in running, but developed a nervous twitch in his leg muscles because of so much make-up work in swimming.

“The squirrel was excellent in climbing, but he encountered constant frustration in flying class because his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of from the treetop down. He developed ‘charley horses’ from overexertion, and so only got a C in climbing and a D in running.

“The eagle was a problem child and was severely disciplined for being a non-conformist. In climbing classes he beat all the others to the top of the tree, but insisted on using his own way to get there.”

What powerful truth this parable contains! The moral it conveys is both simple and very profound. Each creature has its own set of capabilities in which it will naturally excel – unless it is asked and expected to fill a mold that doesn’t fit. When that happens, frustration, discouragement, and even guilt will lead to mediocrity or even complete defeat.

A duck is a duck – and only a duck. It is built to swim, not to run or fly, and certainly not to climb. A squirrel is a squirrel – and only that. To move out of its greatest strength, climbing, and expect it to swim or fly would drive the squirrel crazy. Eagles are beautiful creatures soaring high in the air but could not succeed in a foot race. The rabbit would win every time – unless the eagle got hungry, that is.

What is true of creatures in the forest is true of every Christian church. God has not made us all the same. It was He who planned and designed our differences and capabilities. So concerned was He that we understand this He explains it to us in the thirty-two verses of 1 Corinthians 12. Be sure to read this chapter.

God brought the members of your church together. When each member operates within the realm of his or her ability, unity and health are far more likely to occur in your church. Some of your church members will be ducks. Others will be rabbits. Still others will be squirrels or eagles. The church that succeeds in the mission God desires for it to accomplish will find a way to assign responsibilities to members whose spiritual gifts and interests equip them to get each task done. In other words, don’t put rabbits on the swim team!

The apostle Paul explains it this way: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).

 

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On a December morning in 1944 something happened that could have seriously affected the course of World War II. The Allied offensive, which had begun six months before, had rolled across Western Europe. Suddenly, on that December day, a major portion of our powerful military forces ground to a halt. A counter-offensive had been launched by the German army, and a huge bulge in the battle lines became apparent. If the counter-offensive had succeeded, the end of the war might have been indefinitely delayed. The drive by Hitler’s Third Reich almost did succeed.

A few days before, German soldiers, dressed in American uniforms, driving American jeeps, had been parachuted behind American lines. They carried no weapons. Their mission was to drive over the roads on which reinforcing Allied armies might travel and change all the signs pointing to strategic towns and villages. Their task of turning the signposts in a way that would give wrong directions had deadly consequences. The Allied Forces that were fighting in what was known as the “Battle of the Bulge” called for help, but much of the needed help never arrived. Whole battalions were lost trying to find their way across a countryside where the signposts were either down or pointing in the wrong direction.

Is there not an important message here for our country today? We live in a time when the signposts found in God’s Word have either been torn down or changed to point in the wrong direction – signs that are moral, ethical, and religious. Individual liberties are being eroded that throughout our nation’s history have been highly treasured and taken for granted. The so-called “separation of church and state” doctrine in the U.S. Constitution is often interpreted by our federal courts to mean “separation of God and state.” A tragic and disastrous breakdown of the family is accelerating at a steady pace.

When we follow signposts that have been changed to point in wrong directions we lose our way. We, individually and collectively, forget the reason for which God created us. We serve that which is temporary in nature and forget those things that are important and eternal. Instead of working together and loving one another, we lash out at each other. It is the kind of thing that happened in a Sunday Charlie Brown comic strip a few years ago. Lucy says, “Life is a mystery, Charlie Brown. Do you know the answer?”

Charlie Brown answers: “Be kind. Don’t smoke. Be prompt. Smile a lot. Eat sensibly. Avoid cavities, and mark your ballot carefully. Avoid too much sun. Insure your belongings, and try to keep the ball low.”

Before he can get to another platitude, Lucy interrupts, “Hold real still, Charlie Brown, because I am about to hit you with a very sharp blow upon the nose.”

There is nothing wrong with the signposts given by Charlie Brown, but they do not go nearly far enough. As stated earlier, the right signposts to follow, those that will never mislead in any way, are found in the Bible. An excellent beginning signpost for our nation, and for each of us as an individual, is found in Micah 6:8 – “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

This signpost and many others found in God’s Word will never lead you, your family, or our nation in the wrong or counterproductive direction.

 

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Very few people, if any, get through life without facing disappointments. Something we have planned or for which we have labored eludes our grasp. A cherished possession is taken away. If we do not learn to handle life’s disappointments in a constructive way we will find it extremely easy to become bitter.

How do you handle the disappointments that come your way? I have often said to persons dealing with unexpected difficulties, “If you will trust God, your disappointment can become His appointment.” This doesn’t mean that in the face of difficulties you should piously fold your hands and say, “This is the will of God, and I must bear it.” It is even possible that your disappointment is the will of God for your life. It could be the only way He could get your attention.

The Apostle Paul tells us how he handled his disappointments, “. . . and having done all, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13). He doesn’t say, “And having done all, give up and quit.” He says, “Stand!” This calls for deliberate and continued action on our part. Sometimes we are traveling in one direction, and God wants us to go in another direction. We need to know that when God changes our direction, there will always be an open road before us.

Several years ago a boy who lived in Decatur, Illinois was deeply interested in photography. He carefully saved his money to buy a certain book on photography and he happily ordered it. The publisher, however, made a mistake in his order and sent a book on ventriloquism instead. The boy was not interested in ventriloquism. He didn’t know he could send the book back and perhaps did not have the money for postage. He could have put the book aside and nursed his disappointment. Instead, he opened the book and began reading, and he became interested. He learned how to throw his voice and eventually got a wooden dummy which he named Charlie McCarthy. Out of his disappointment, Edgar Bergen built a great career.

Victor Hugo, at the age of forty-eight, was banished to the island of Guernsey to live for twenty years in lonely exile. It was, of course, a bitter disappointment – but it was there that he wrote Les Miserables, one of the greatest novels of all time. Without the disappointment, his best work would never have been written. Where does accident end and God’s providence begin? Who can tell?

Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “Whenever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you . . .” (Romans 15:24). To go to Spain was his dream and his plan. It would have been a challenging adventure that would have filled his heart with joy. Instead of experiencing the glory of conquest for Christ in Spain, he landed in a dirty prison cell in Rome and beyond that – execution and death.

Paul might have cursed his fate, raved against the other prisoners and his captors, and become bitter and rebellious. Or he might have said, “I have done my best but my path was blocked, so I will surrender to the will of God and sit here and complain.” However, he took another course. He turned to God and in so doing he transformed and glorified his imprisonment and wrote triumphantly these words: “I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ . . .” (Ephesians 3:1). And later he wrote: “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” (Philippians 1:12). In that prison cell Paul wrote some of his finest epistles.

Perhaps you, like Paul, have failed to reach a cherished goal and are currently in the dark prison cell of disappointment. If so, why not turn in God’s direction? Your disappointment can become His appointment.

 

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“The Fugitive”

Approximately three decades ago there was a popular television program called “The Fugitive.” It captured the imagination of the nation so totally that in the early 1990’s it was made into a major motion picture starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. It was the story of a man running away from his home because he was falsely accused of something he did not do. In each of the segments of the original TV program those who were pursuing him would manage to locate him, but he would at that point elude their grasp.

Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines “fugitive” as “one who flees or tries to escape; moving from place to place, wandering.” Today, just as in the television program and in the movie, there are lots of people in our society who are fugitives. Others may not know it, but they are running from something.

Some of them still reside at home, but their hearts and minds are miles away. They pretend to listen to their families, and participate to some degree in the routines of family life. They go through the motions, but they are on the run. The effort it takes for them to be a functioning family member has been diverted elsewhere. Often it has been used up at work or in many other kinds of detouring commitments.

May I suggest that you ask yourself these questions: “Am I now, or have I ever been, a fugitive? Are there responsibilities, burdens, or duties, from which I would like to escape? Am I running from anything – something in my past, something I would consider threatening if others were aware of it?” If your answer to any or all of these questions is in the affirmative, you are a fugitive. You, of course, would have some very good company – three of the Old Testament’s greatest leaders were fugitives:

Moses, one of the mountain peak personalities in the Old Testament, was a fugitive for forty years, but he finally got his act together. Having killed an Egyptian whom he saw kill a young Hebrew, this was reported to the Pharaoh. Moses ran away. He became a fugitive for four decades, but God used these years to shape his life and prepare him to lead His chosen people out of bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land.

King David regarded by many to be the greatest Old Testament leader of God’s people, was on more than one occasion a fugitive, because someone, including his own son, Absalom, wanted to separate his head from his body. God still used David in a mighty way. A huge percentage of the book of Psalms was written by him. Millions of people throughout the succeeding centuries all the way to this very day have been blessed by his psalms. The greatest of these is undoubtedly the Twenty-third Psalm.

Jonah, the prophet God chose to carry the message of His love to the faraway city of Nineveh, became a fugitive. He, in essence, said to God, “If I go preach to them, I know what they will do. They will believe, and I don’t want that to happen. I don’t like them. They aren’t like us. So, I’ll run away.” And he did this, but God sent a storm that rocked the boat on which he was running from God, causing the sailors to become afraid. Believing Jonah’s presence on the boat had caused the storm, they threw him overboard, whereupon he was swallowed by a large fish that God had prepared to swallow him. Later, after Jonah repented, the huge fish to spit him up on the beach. As has been often said, “You can’t keep a good man down!”

From whom was Jonah running? He was running from God! Are you also running from God? Perhaps you, like lots of others, have searched in many directions for life’s meaning, but have not found it. Joy and a sense of fulfillment have eluded you – all because you are running from God. You are a fugitive!

If this is the story of your life, why not stop where you are, turn around, and go home? You will find God waiting with open arms to welcome you home. Read Luke 13:31-35 and begin your journey today.

 

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