No Oscars for Me

I did not see Will Smith slap Chris Rock at the Oscar’s award ceremony this past Sunday night. I long ago decided that this award show is not for me. I do not enjoy hearing members of the Hollywood elite chastise and belittle me for my conservative political views, my life choices and my Christian beliefs.

We shouldn’t be surprised when some of the actors and actresses and other members of the Hollywood crowd gleefully look down their noses at people who try to live godly lives. Their own life choices reveal that they truly do not know the secret to living a successful life. Success is not measured by beauty, riches or popularity. Success is based on obedience to God.

The Bible teaches that those who live godless lives have a tendency to revile those who do live for the Lord. 1 Peter 4:3-5 says, “For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”

Those who have nothing but scorn for God and his people will have their day of reckoning. In the meantime, no Oscars for me.

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Speaking Frankly

The apostle Paul had a special place in his heart for the church at Corinth. 2 Corinthians 7:4 helps us to see the kind of relationship he had with that congregation—“I have spoken to you with great frankness; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.” Let’s take a closer look at this verse and see what we can learn about how Paul related to the Corinthians.

Notice how Paul says that he has spoken to them with great frankness. Whether it was in person or through his letters, Paul did not mince words with the church. He did not attempt to scratch anyone’s itching ears. Instead, speaking the truth in love, he told them what they needed to hear. Paul chastised the congregation concerning several matters, including: the divisions they had in the church, their tolerance for sexual immorality, the fact that they were filing lawsuits against one another, their lack of love for each other and their chaotic worship services. Paul didn’t pull any punches. His reprimands could be quite harsh. He was clearly not pleased with many of their actions, and he spoke quite frankly with the church about correcting their wrong behaviors.

Does your preacher speak to the church with great frankness? Can you count on him to point out from the Bible how certain behaviors are incompatible with Christianity and to challenge those who are sinning to repent? We live in an age where many church-goers would take offense at such preaching and would be quick to seek out a church where the preacher would not be so demanding as to insist that Christians actually obey Jesus!   

It is refreshing to hear of preachers who are not afraid to speak frankly to their congregations. They understand that in order to truly love their people they have to be outspoken about sin in the church and what must be done to correct any serious misbehaviors. It is also encouraging to see that some church members are mature enough to accept a much-needed rebuke when they hear one. Too many people claim to follow Christ, but they don’t want to hear about the need to make any changes in their attitudes or their actions.  

By the way, the duty to speak frankly is not limited to preachers only. Every mature believer has the obligation to help straying brothers and sisters to get their priorities in order and get back on the path of following Jesus. Galatians 6:1 says, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” Jude 22-23 implores us, “Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” James 5:19-20 states, “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”

The Bible clearly states that we need people in the church who will speak frankly the truth of God’s Word. And the church needs to listen carefully to those who speak such truth.

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Our English word “opportunity” comes from the Latin and means “toward the port”. It suggests a ship taking advantage of the wind and tide to arrive safely in the harbor. In the short time we have here on earth, let’s try to make the best of the opportunities God gives us to be a blessing to as many people as possible.

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”—Psalm 90:12.

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.”—Colossians 4:5.

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Love Is the Key

Galatians 5:22-23a gives a list of the fruit of the Spirit. The qualities listed there are the evidence of a Christian life. It is no coincidence that love is at the top of the list. Some believe that the other eight qualities listed are all under the heading of love.

Donald Grey Barnhouse puts it this way: “Love is the key. Joy is love singing. Peace is love resting. Long-suffering is love enduring. Kindness is love’s touch. Goodness is love’s character. Faithfulness is love’s habit. Gentleness is love’s self-forgetfulness. Self-control is love holding the reins.”

Let’s always do our best to see that this fruit is evident in our lives. And let’s always remember that love is the key.

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Great Stories

Some of the greatest stories you will ever read are found in the Bible. Think about the Old Testament stories: Creation, the fall of man, the great flood, the tower of Babel, the adventures of the patriarchs, the Egyptian captivity, the plagues, the exodus, taking the Promised Land, and the exploits of the kings and prophets.

Then consider the great stories recorded in the New Testament: the birth of Christ, the miracles of Jesus, the parables that Jesus told (including all-time favorites like the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan), and the remarkable experiences of the apostles and the early church.

These are just some of the biblical stories that many of us have heard all of our lives. We learned them in Sunday school. Our parents taught them to us. We have read and re-read them many times. Hopefully the timeless truths taught in these stories have become ingrained in us and have helped form us into the people that God wants us to become.

The great stories of the Bible are critical to our Christian life. These stories lead us away from paths that lead to destruction and steer us along the road to heaven. These great stories from God’s Word not only teach us about God and his wonderful plans for us. They also give us hope in a world that is desperate for hope. They inspire us to become all that God has created us to be. These stories encourage us to take action and to, somehow, become a part of God’s Big Story to save mankind through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Let’s not underestimate the power of great stories. Great stories tell us of a great God who does great things for his people. Great stories remind us of the great power God gives to those who believe in him. Great stories inspire ordinary people to do great things for the Lord and his kingdom.

So, let’s read these stories over and over again. Let’s share these stories with others as we try to win people for Jesus. Let’s use these stories to encourage other Christians as they face difficulties in their lives. Let’s apply the lessons of these stories as we help other believers grow in their faith.

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Jerks Need Not Apply

Warren Buffet had this to say about his hiring practices—“We employ decent and talented people—no jerks.”

Buffet’s principle for seeking employees could be applied to how we look for workers in the kingdom of God. Paul said something similar to Timothy, although he did not use the “j-word”. In 2 Timothy 2:2, he writes, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”

This is a very important Scripture concerning how we must spread the gospel and make disciples for Christ. The task is far too important to be entrusted to unreliable people. We need to be seeking those who are serious about their faith and encourage them to use their influence to teach others about salvation through Jesus and living the Christian life.

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Paper Cuts

Ancient prison

A seminary professor once spoke about a trip that he took to the Holy Land. One of the most impressive sites that he visited was an ancient prison that is thought to be where the apostle Paul was once imprisoned. While we can’t be sure that this is true, the prison was at least very much like the one where Paul stayed.

The prison was nothing like modern-day prisons in the United States. There were no cots; prisoners slept on the floor. The cells were dark and cold and damp. The government provided no food. A prisoner had to count on the benevolence of others, perhaps family or friends, to bring them food. The food was shoved through a small opening in the cell. On the floor of the cell was another small opening that served as the toilet. Cells were often overcrowded, sometimes to the point where it would be impossible to sleep without brushing up against a fellow inmate. If a prisoner had done something that was gravely offensive to the authorities, he might be put in an inner cell, one that was even darker, and was equipped with stocks and chains that bound the prisoner more tightly, and much more uncomfortably.

These were the conditions that Paul endured when he wrote some of the letters that he penned to the churches. Knowing that context gives extra meaning to what Paul wrote about such matters as maintaining our joy no matter what circumstances we might face, the freedom that we have in Christ and, of course, suffering for Jesus.

As they exited the prison, the professor and one of his travelling companions were overcome with emotion. One cried out, “I have suffered so little!” The other added, “It has cost me nothing!”

These statements were exaggerations, of course. No one, whether you are a professional or a lay minister, serves Christ without suffering in some significant way. Jesus says that life as his disciple consists of self-denial, sacrifice and opposition from many. He says that the world will hate us and persecute us. Truth is, those who follow Jesus will have to endure suffering.

What the visitors to the prison were trying to express was that they had suffered relatively little in light of what Paul had suffered. We should not take lightly the demands of discipleship and the cost of following Jesus. However, we must keep it in perspective. When we compare our suffering with that of Paul and the heroes of the faith described in Hebrews 11, the wounds that we suffer for Christ seem slight in comparison.

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.”—Philippians 1:29.

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Unchanging Reality

Abraham Lincoln was trying to make a point, but the person he was talking with was stubborn and unconvinced. So Lincoln tried another angle. He said to the fellow, “Well, lets’ see now. How many legs does a cow have?” The disgusted reply came back, “Four, of course.” Lincoln agreed, “That’s right. Now, suppose you call the cow’s tail a leg; how many legs would the cow have?” The indignant man retorted confidently, “Why, five, of course.” Lincoln came back, “Now that’s where you’re wrong. Calling a cow’s tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg!”

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”—John 8:32.

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All Is Forgiven

A story is told in Spain of a father and his teenage son who had a relationship that had become strained. It got so bad that the son ran away from home. His father, however, began a journey in search of his rebellious son. Finally, in Madrid, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an ad in the newspaper. The ad read: “Dear Paco, meet me in front of the newspaper office at noon. All is forgiven. I love you. Your father.”

The next day at noon in front of the newspaper office 800 Pacos showed up! They were all seeking forgiveness and love from their fathers.

That story may be entirely fictional, but the truth is, there are a lot of people who are seeking forgiveness from their heavenly Father. Thankfully, through Jesus, that forgiveness is available!

“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”—1 John 2:1-2.

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Love’s Flame

A lady was escorted to a wedding by her twenty-four-year-old bachelor son. He appeared to be unaffected by the ceremony until the bride and groom lit a single candle with their candles and then blew out their own. With that he brightened up and whispered, “I’ve never seen that done before.” She whispered back, “You know what it means, don’t you?” His response: “No more old flames?”

I suppose the young man was partially right, but there is so much more to a successful marriage than renouncing old relationships. It takes more than that to ensure that love’s flame will continue to burn bright. Married couples must never take each other for granted, but they should try to fan the flames of their love every single day.

“However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”—Ephesians 5:33.

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