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Contributed By:
John Sattler
 
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SINS ARE HABITS

I’m reading a book right now called "The Power of Habit" (http://charlesduhigg.com/the-power-of-habit/) about how so much of our daily life is lived by habit. We have to. Our brain needs habits in order for us to be able to function. Just about everything we do is habitual.

How we walk... you don’t have to think about how to move your legs and to lift your foot and bring it forward and to shift your weight. When you’re 2 and learning how to walk, your brain spends a lot of energy training your brain to do that. But now you don’t even think about it... until there is some disability or arthritis or when we trip over something... and then suddenly our brain has to move that thought to our conscious brain.

But if we had to think about every single movement or how we do anything, our brain would be so overwhelmed, we couldn’t get anything done. God designed our brains in a way that most of what we do is done in a small part of the brain that just takes over to free up our conscious brain, that takes more energy.

Try something once (just go with it here). Cross your arms.
Now do it the other way. You have to think about it don’t you?

Almost everything we do, we do by habit... or a series of habits. Walking, talking, eating, driving a car... how you get ready in the morning... and so God designed us this way so that we could function most of the time.

When you get to the top of a set of stairs, your brain already knows what this looks like and so the brain hands it over to the amygdale (part of the brain) to do that hard work of which foot goes first and how the stepping motion works, so that you can focus instead on any surprises that might change the habit, like stuff ON the stairs, that you need to avoid.

It’s a really cool function of the brain to help us handle all the decisions we face constantly everyday.

And if that’s true, then it makes me wonder how much of what we do by instinct and is NOT what God wants us to do, is more from habit than it is a temptation from satan.
Because not only is the good stuff habitual... but so are the things we’d rather change... and it’s why it’s so hard to change our habits...because it has been moved to that part of the brain deep inside that tends to work on instinct instead of consciously.

And so a lot of our sinful behavior isn’t really from satan (per se)... as much as it’s just the habits we have fallen into and developed over time...stuff we have done so much that it is just the way we respond by instinct without a lot of conscious thought going into it.

 
Contributed By:
Jim Kane
 
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Redemption and Restoration in Real Life


I conclude this morning with a story about what happened since a tragic event that took place 9 months ago around Christmas time at New Life Church in Colorado Springs. I share it because I think it makes a point about moving beyond the 'Who, Them?' To THEM!

The event was the shooting of several people in the church parking lot and building that left three dead and three wounded. The young man, who had done the shooting, killed himself after being shot by a security guard. Earlier that day, he had entered Youth with A Mission Headquarters in suburban Denver, shooting four and killing two. His name was Matthew Murray, and he had been raised in a Christian home.

The tragedy shook the church that had just started to come out of the painful and very public story about their former pastor's, Ted Haggard, sexual sin. Now they were faced with this terrible tragedy.

In a recent Christianity Today article, it was told that after granting the interview to talk about that day and its after effects, it was revealed that Brady Boyd, the current Senior Minister, called Murray's parents and asked if they would like to come to New Life and see where 'their son had passed away.' They said they had wanted to, but had refrained from do so because of their concerns for the church. They were also asked if they would be willing to meet with members of the family who had lost two teenage daughters that morning. They said yes. The same invitation was extended to the victim's family, the Work's. They said yes.

After showing the Murrays around the church where the tragic events took place, they met with the Work's in Boyd's office. "What happened there in the two hours in my office ... was the most significant ministry moment I've experienced, maybe in all of my life," Boyd said. When they first entered the office, the two families embraced. They sat, wept, and cried together, Boyd said, for "I don't know how long." Then they prayed together.

Later Jeanne Assam [the security guard who shot Murray] was invited to join them. When Jeanne, who had undoubtedly saved many lives but had been forced to shoot the Murray's son, walked into the room, "the Murrays embraced her and hugged her and released her from any guilt and remorse. The dad looked at Jeanne and said, "Please know we're so sorry that you had to do what you did. We're so sorry."

The article concludes with these words from Boyd, "We can talk philosophically about repentance and redemption and going forward with God," Boyd said, "but what I saw in that room in my office was the greatest testimony of forgiveness and redemption that I have ever seen. It was a testimony that God really can restore and redeem."

 
Contributed By:
Steven Simala Grant
 
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Let me tell you a story from Alberta history: Cree Chief Maskepetoon met Rev. Robert Rundle, and at their first meeting declared "I will never become a Christian as long as there are horses to steal and scalps to take." Nevertheless Maskepetoon became a staunch friend to Rundle and his attitude towards religion began to change. He became a great and feared warrior, but then later became a Christian and a champion of peace.
John McDougall (son of pioneer missionary George, for whom McDougall United is named) later told about the murderer who stopped to shake hands with him while he was traveling with Maskepetoon. When John said "This man wants to shake hand with you," Maskepetoon, apparently under great strain, gave his hand in greeting. He later said to John, "that man killed my son and I often longed to kill him but because I wanted to become a Christian I have kept, with great effort, from avenging my son’s murder. Meeting your father and sitting beside you has softened my heart and now I have given him my hand. It was a hard thing to do but it is done and he need fear no longer as far as I’m concerned."
The story continues: on another occasion the Crees were camped near what is now the city of Wetaskiwin when the Blackfoot asked for a truce. The truce was granted and the Blackfoot came to smoke the pipe of peace. One of their number had murdered Maskepetoon’s father years earlier.
Maskepetoon saw this old warrior, his father’s killer, approach with the others. He ordered his best horse saddled and brought to the tent, then ordered the culprit to stand before him. The murderer expected to be killed. Instead he was asked to be seated. The Chief handed him his best, richly decorated suit. Then Maskepetoon spoke, "you killed my father. The time was when I would have gloried in drinking your blood, but that time is past. You need not fear. You must now become a father to me. Wear my clothes, ride my horse. Tell your people that this is the way Maskepetoon takes revenge."
"You have killed me, my son!" cried the old murderer. "Never in the history of my people has such a thing as this been known. My people and all men will say ’The young Chief is brave and strong and good. He stands alone.’"

Do you see the power of forgiveness? It turned a fierce warrior, who desired nothing more that to steal horses and men’s scalps, into a man who could shake the hand of the man who killed his son. It turned him into a man who could look his father’s murdered in the eye and say, “you killed my father, you must now become a father to me. Wear my clothes, ride my horse.” I want to leave that image in your mind, because it is almost the exact thing that God says to you and I: “Your sin hurt me deeply. You killed my son – your sin killed my son. Wear my clothes, ride my horse. You must now become a son to me.”

 
Contributed By:
Davon Huss
 
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CYMBALA'S EASTER STORY

Jim Cymbala preaches at a church in the slums of New York. He tells the following story: It was Easter Sunday and I was so tired at the end of the day that I just went to the edge of the platform, pulled down my tie and sat down and draped my feet over the edge. It was a wonderful service with many people coming forward. The counselors were talking with these people.

As I was sitting there I looked up the middle aisle, and there in about the third row was a man who looked about fifty, disheveled, filthy. He looked up at me rather sheepishly, as if saying, “Could I talk to you?”

We have homeless people coming in all the time, asking for money or whatever. So as I sat there, I said to myself, though I am ashamed of it, “What a way to end a Sunday. I’ve had such a good time, preaching and ministering, and here’s a fellow probably wanting some money for more wine.”

He walked up. When he got within about five feet of me, I smelled a horrible smell like I’d never smelled in my life. It was so awful that when he got close, I would inhale by looking away, and then I’d talk to him, and then look away to inhale, because I couldn’t inhale facing him. I asked him, “What’s your name?”

“David.”

“How long have you been on the street?”

“Six years.”

“How old are you?”

“Thirty-two.” He looked fifty--hair matted; front teeth missing; wino; eyes slightly glazed.

“Where did you sleep last night, David?”

“Abandoned truck.”

I keep in my back pocket a money clip that also holds some credit cards. I fumbled to pick one out thinking; I’ll give him some money. I won’t even get a volunteer. They are all busy talking with others. Usually we don’t give money to people. We take them to get something to eat.

I took the money out. David pushed his finger in front of me. He said, “I don’t want your money. I want this Jesus, the One you were talking about, because I’m not going to make it. I’m going to die on the street.”

I completely forgot about David, and I started to weep for myself. I was going to give a couple of dollars to someone God had sent to me. See how easy it is? I could make the excuse I was tired. There is no excuse. I was not seeing him the way God sees him. I was not feeling what God feels.

But oh, did that change! David just stood there. He didn’t know what was happening. I pleaded with God, “God, forgive me! Forgive me! Please forgive me. I am so sorry to represent You this way. I’m so sorry. Here I am with my message and my points, and You send somebody and I am not ready for it. Oh, God!”

Something came over me. Suddenly I started to weep deeper, and David began to weep. He fell against my chest as I was sitting there. He fell against my white shirt and tie, and I put my arms around him, and there we wept on each other. The smell of His person became a beautiful aroma. Here is what I thought the Lord made real to me: If you don’t love this smell, I...

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A young man learns what’s most important in life from the guy next door.

It had been some time since Jack had seen the old man. College, girls, career, and life itself got in the way. In fact, Jack moved clear across the country in pursuit of his dreams. There, in the rush of his busy life, Jack had little time to think about the past and often no time to spend with his wife and son. He was working on his future, and nothing could stop him.

Over the phone, his mother told him, "Mr. Belser died last night. The funeral is Wednesday." Memories flashed through his mind like an old newsreel as he sat quietly remembering his childhood days. "Jack, did you hear me?" "Oh sorry, Mom. Yes, I heard you. It’s been so long since I thought of him. I’m sorry, but I honestly thought he died years ago," Jack said.

"Well, he didn’t forget you. Every time I saw him he’d ask how you were doing. He’d reminisce about the many days you spent over ’his side of the fence’ as he put it," Mom told him. "I loved that old house he lived in," Jack said. "You know, Jack, after your father died, Mr. Belser stepped in to make sure you had a man’s influence in your life," she said. "He’s the one who taught me carpentry," he said. "I wouldn’t be in this business if it weren’t for him. He spent a lot of time teaching me things he thought were important...Mom, I’ll be there for the funeral," Jack said.

As busy as he was, he kept his word. Jack caught the next flight to his hometown. Mr. Belser’s funeral was small and uneventful. He had no children of his own, and most of his relatives had passed away.

The night before he had to return home, Jack and his Mom stopped by to see the old house next door one more time. Standing in the doorway, Jack paused for a moment. It was like crossing over into another dimension, a leap through space and time. The house was exactly as he remembered. Every step held memories. Every picture, every piece of furniture....Jack stopped suddenly.

"What’s wrong, Jack?" his Mom asked. "The box is gone," he said. What box?" Mom asked. "There was a small gold box that he kept locked on top of his desk. I must have asked him a thousand times what was inside. All he’d ever tell me was ’the thing I value most, ’" Jack said.

It was gone. Everything about the house was exactly how Jack remembered it, except for the box. He figured someone from the Belser family had taken it. "Now I’ll never know what was so valuable to him," Jack said.

"I better get some sleep. I have an early flight home, Mom."

It had been about two weeks since Mr. Belser died. Returning home from work one day Jack discovered a note in his mailbox. "Signature required on a package. No one at home. Please stop by the main post office within the next three days," the note read.

Early the next day Jack retrieved the package. The small box was old and looked like it had been mailed a hundred years ago. The handwriting was difficult to read, but the return address caught his attention. Mr. Harold Belser" it read. Jack took the box out to his car and ripped open the package. There inside was the gold box and an envelope. Jack’s hands shook as he read the note inside.

"Upon my death, please forward this box and its contents to Jack Bennett. It’s the thing I valued most in my life." A small key was taped to the letter. His heart racing, as tears filling his eyes, Jack carefully unlocked the box. There inside he found a beautiful gold pocket watch. Running his fingers slowly over the finely etched casing, he unlatched the cover. Inside he found these word s engraved: "Jack, thanks for your time! -Harold Belser."

"The thing he valued most...was...my time."

Jack held the watch for a few minutes, then called his office and cleared his appointments for the next two days. "Why?" Janet, his assistant asked. "I need some time to spend with my son," he said. "Oh, by the way, Janet...thanks for your time!"

 
Contributed By:
Jason Bonnicksen
 
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WHITE AS SNOW

Ash Wednesday — it’s kind of a solemn day. It’s the start of Lent —a word which means “spring” in German. But more than this, it’s the time each year when we intently focus on the path Christ Jesus laid out for us to follow — to be true to his word, true to his calling, and true to the faith, hope and life we share in him.

You know though, sometimes it’s kind of hard to focus on spring when winter is in full force around us. Today it’s been snowing, and within the past week alone, the mountains surrounding our communities have received over 50 inches of fresh snow. For, while we’re beginning to look forward to spring, we have still have to live in the reality that we’re still surrounded by the billions of fluffy white flakes from the Lord’s heavenly storehouses.

Snow — the bible speaks of it often, likening it to that which is pure, clean, and righteous. Truly, the crystal formations of snowflakes are beautiful. There are many different shapes and sizes of snowflakes; amazingly, each and every one is unique.

But despite their uniqueness, snowflakes have one common thing: dirt at the core. Oddly enough, snowflakes start as tiny dust particles, which serve as the center of the snowflake.

Like snowflakes, we have been beautifully created by God. We are the greatest of all God’s creation. We are his pride, and his joy; and like snowflakes we are all created uniquely. Yet, like snowflakes, we too have dirty hearts. We’re all marked by sin; we’re all stained at the core of our being; we’re all dirty in the middle. But through Jesus Christ, we can all be made clean. The dirt at the core of our being can be washed way, and we can be made pure in Christ Jesus

 
Contributed By:
Bruce Howell
 
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Many years ago, a day was dawning on a battlefield in northern France, through a fog so thick that no one could see more than a few yards from the trenches. In the night the Germans had drawn back their lines a little and the French had gone forward. But between the two positions a lonely farmhouse was till standing. As the sun rose, heavy guns began to boom. But suddenly on both sides the firing ceased and there fell a strange, dead silence. For there in the green meadow, crawling on it’s hands and knees was a little baby. It appeared perfectly happy and contented and the baby’s laugh was heard as it clutched a dandelion. Not a shot was fired that day!
And when the babe of Bethlehem lay in his mother’s arms, it signaled the entrance of the Prince of Peace into a hostile world. His coming would eventually cause men to cease their hatred as they looked by faith to Him.

 
Contributed By:
Tim Zingale
 
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A LITTLE GIRL’S PRAYER

One night I had worked hard to help a mother in the labor ward; but in spite of all we could do she died, leaving us with a tiny premature baby and a crying two-year-old daughter. We would have difficulty keeping the baby alive, as we had no incubator (we had no electricity to run an incubator) and no special feeding facilities.

Although we lived on the equator, nights were often chilly with treacherous drafts. One student midwife went for the box we had for such babies and the cotton wool the baby would be wrapped in. Another went to stoke up the fire and fill a hot water bottle. She came back shortly in distress to tell me that in filling the bottle, it had burst. Rubber perishes easily in tropical climates. "And it is our last hot water bottle!" she exclaimed.
As in the West it is no good crying over spilled milk, so in Central Africa it might be considered no good crying over burst water bottles. They do not grow on trees, and there are no drugstores down forest pathways.

"All right," I said, "Put the baby as near the fire as you safely can; sleep between the baby and the door to keep it free from drafts. Your job is to keep the baby warm."
The following noon, as I did most days, I went to have prayers with any of the orphanage children who chose to gather with me. I gave the youngsters various suggestions of things to pray about and told them about the tiny baby. I explained our problem about keeping the baby warm enough, mentioning the hot water bottle. The baby could so easily die if it got chills. I also told them of the two-year-old sister, crying because her mother had died.

During the prayer time, one ten-year-old girl, Ruth, prayed with the usual blunt conciseness of our African children. "Please, God," she prayed, "send us a water bottle. It’ll be no good tomorrow, God, as the baby’ll be dead, so please send it this afternoon."

While I gasped inwardly at the audacity of the prayer, she added by way of corollary, "And while You are about it, would You please send a dolly for the little girl so she’ll know You really love her?"

As often with children’s prayers, I was put on the spot. Could I honestly say, "Amen"? I just did not believe that God could do this. Oh, yes, I know that He can do everything. The Bible says so. But there are limits, aren’t there? The only way God could answer this particular prayer would be by sending me a parcel from the homeland. I had been in Africa for almost four years at that time, and I had never, ever, received a parcel from home; anyway, if anyone did send me a parcel, who would put in a hot water bottle? I lived on the equator!

Halfway through the afternoon, while I was teaching in the nurses’ training school, a message was sent that there was a car at my front door. By the time I reached home, the car had gone, but there, on the veranda, was a large twenty-two pound parcel. I felt tears pricking my eyes. I could not open the parcel alone, so I sent for the orphanage children. Together we pulled off the string, carefully undoing each knot. We folded the paper, taking care not to tear it unduly. Excitement was mounting. Some thirty or forty pairs of eyes were focused on the large cardboard box.

From the top, I lifted out brightly colored, knitted jerseys; eyes sparkled as I pulled them out. Then there were the knitted bandages for the leprosy patients, and the children looked a little bored. Then came a box of mixed raisins and sultanas --- that would make a nice batch of buns for the week...

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A DYING CHURCH

An artist was once asked to put on canvas what he considered to be the picture best symbolizing a decaying and dying church. After several months, he returned and reported that he had finished the task. The hour finally arrived when the painting was to be unveiled. Several people standing around the easel had already given their description of what they thought the church would look like. Some had said it would be a rundown building in great need of repair and paint. Weeds would be growing in the church yard, and there would be some broken window panes. Everyone in the group seemed to have a similar picture in mind.

However, when the cloth was removed, a hush fell over the group. Everyone was stunned. Before their eyes was an absolutely beautiful church building. The grounds were well kept and the exterior of the building was in excellent condition. After a few minutes, one person stepped forward and said to the artist, "I thought we asked you to paint a dying church?"

The artist smiled and invited everyone to step closer to the painting. He pointed through the windows to the empty pews and to the collection plate on the table. There was nothing in the plate but cobwebs.

The church that has cobwebs in its collection plate is a church that is decaying and dying. Without the giver, there is no giving. Without the giving, ministries cannot be conducted by the church. Without ministries being conducted, the mission of the church cannot be carried out. If the mission of the church is not carried out, the church is purposeless and dead.

(From a sermon by Terry Blankenship, Igniting a Lifeless Church Service, 2/7/2011)

 
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How James Montgomery Boice Faced Faced Death from Cancer

On May 7, 2000, Dr. Boice stood in this pulpit for the last time to speak about his cancer that would take his life in a month. Here is an excerpt:

"If I were to reflect on what goes on theologically here, there are two things I would stress. One is the sovereignty of God. That’s not novel. We have talked about the sovereignty of God here forever. God is in charge. When things like this come into our lives, they are not accidental. It’s not as if God somehow forgot what was going on, and something bad slipped by. It’s not the answer that Harold Kushner gave in his book, Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. God does everything according to his will. We’ve always said that.

"But what I’ve been impressed with mostly is something in addition to that. It’s possible, isn’t it, to conceive of God as sovereign and yet indifferent? God’s in charge, but he doesn’t care. But it’s not that. God is not only the one who is in charge; God is also good. Everything he does is good. And what Romans 12:1-2 says is that we have the opportunity by the renewal of our minds—that is, how we think about these things—actually to prove what God’s will is. And then it says, 'His good, pleasing, and perfect will.' Is that good, pleasing, and perfect to God? Yes, of course, but the point of it is that it’s good, pleasing, and perfect to us. If God does something in your life, would you change it? If you’d change it, you’d make it worse. It wouldn’t be as good. So that’s the way we want to accept it and move forward, and who knows what God will do?

"So that’s the way we want to accept it and move forward." James Boice could accept what was happening because he knew the faith and he had the knowledge of the Son of God. And this church, as much as we might have struggled with our loss, could accept what was happening because we have been grounded in the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God. We know that God is sovereign. We know that God is good. We need only look to Jesus Christ to know that. And it is from that gospel truth that we are able to renew our minds and renew our hearts, whatever comes our way.

(From a sermon by D. Marion Clark, Attaining Maturity, 11/12/2010)

 
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