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OWNERSHIP OF THE GIFT
A humanitarian group in Africa, noticing the filthy water, sewage, and disease, built clean water and sewage system for a village. Months later, they visited the village, but it was back to square one with filthy water, sewage and disease. [from Pickthebrain.com]
The chief told the humanitarian workers: "And what did you expect? These people had been many years without clean water. Then you gave it to them for free in abundance. They took all they could use and more. The people did not work for those water stations. They do not own them, and they could not be persuaded to maintain them."
The humanitarians were silent. The chief had spoken truth. The great gift alone had not been enough and the reasons could be clearly observed. Perhaps it is human nature to abuse a gift. The humanitarians returned to their camp and thought long and hard about how they could help the villagers.
The next day the humanitarians returned, determined to rebuild the water and sanitation systems with the following conditions.
1. The villagers would have to pay for water and sanitation. Not more than they could afford, but there would be no gift giving this time.
2. A group of villagers would work with the contractors to build the system and would be taught how to repair every aspect of it. These villagers would in turn train others so the system would never fall into disrepair.
With these new conditions in place, the water and sanitation systems were restored. This time the people had respect for the systems because they owned them. This time they were able to repair the system when it broke down. To this day the villagers have plenty of clean water and live free of filth and disease.
C. S. Lewis, “Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Do you guys remember the cartoon with Wiley Coyote and Ralph the sheep dog. I use to love that cartoon. Every morning Ralph and Wiley would meet at the time clock which was mounted on a tree. As they clocked in they would great each other and then they would go to their respective departments.
Ralph the sheep dog went to his post on the cliff and took his position as head of the sheep protection department. Wiley, true to his nature, would slink away in to the forest to plan his strategy as head of the sheep acquisition and consumption department.
As the day wore on Ralph sat patiently at his post with a protective eye looking over the flock as Wiley tried one scheme after another in hopes of making his quota of sheep for the day. However, no matter how hard he tried it seemed that poor Wiley’s plan was always thwarted by Ralph at the last moment. Inevitably as the day drew to a close just before the whistle blew, Wiley would pull out all the stops and slip into his sheep costume and meander into the fold with the hope of finally catching his prey only to realize after his pray was in fact none other than Ralph the sheep dog who had dressed himself up as a sheep in anticipation of Wiley’s scheme. Poor Wiley never caught a break.
Wiley’s sheep costume illustrates a tactic that is used by our enemy the devil. In fact in Matthew 7.15 Jesus warns us that in similar fashion Satan will send ravenous wolves into the fold dressed in sheep’s clothing to catch the sheep unaware and snatch them away by false teaching. As we learned last week Satan will do what ever he can to destroy the flock. Therefore, it is imperative that we have discerning spirits so that we can discern the motives of those who are among us.
However, our generation, as I’m sure it has been in generations past, I believe the greatest danger to the work of the Kingdom of God is not as much when wolves come in dressed as sheep, but it is when the sheep go in to the world dressed in wolves clothing. The greater problem in modern American Christianity is when “so called” Christians wear their sheep’s clothing on Sunday only to put on their wolves clothing on Monday.
THE REFINER'S FIRE
The story is told of a group of women that met for Bible study. While studying in the book of Malachi, chapter three, they came across verse three which says: "He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." This verse puzzled the women and they wondered how this statement applied to the character and nature of God. One of the women offered to find out more about the process of refining silver, and to get back to the group at their next Bible study.
The following week, the woman called up a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him while at work. She didn’t mention anything about the reason for her interest, beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver.
As she watched the silversmith work, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire, where the flames were the hottest as to burn away all the impurities.
The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot, then she thought again about the verse, that "He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver."
She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the entire time the silver was being refined. The man answered yes...
More than anyone else Christian parents can have the most influence on their children, because when Christ died upon the Cross the veil was ripped open so they could enter into the presence of God who sits on the Throne of Grace. The call to pray is from God’s Word and we are given a sure promise, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16b) One mother who knew this truth was Monica Augustine, the mother of St. Augustine who after a long struggle was converted to Christianity. St. Augustine was born in North Africa (Tagaste, Numidia) to a Christian mother and his father was a pagan until very late in life. Augustine’s childhood was marred by stealing pears and his ability to learn led him to one humanistic philosophy after another. He even had an obsession with the occult for a season in his life. During his period of exploration he lived a life of excessive fleshly desires causing him to become the father of a child by a mistress. After his conversion to Christ Augustine became the author of many great works writing about the “…City of God,” “On the Trinity,” “On Faith,” “Hope,” “Love” and “Christian Doctrine.” Augustine’s most widely read book is “The Confessions” which are several books that record how he felt about the Lord and his prayers to God. Studying Augustine’s life during that period of living in selfish sin shows that the Christian living he saw in his mother and the Christian teaching he received was not a waste of time. Thirteen years before his conversion he was moved in his prayers to return to God (Confessions #3:4) but he could not make himself do so. One year before his conversion Augustine was influenced by a man (Ambrose) who he knew was presenting “healthy teaching on salvation,” yet he could not return to the teaching and lifestyle he saw in his mother because of self-living. Listen to these confessions of Augustine while he struggled with sin and surrendering to Christ. “I was storm tossed and you [God] held the tiller.” “I was swept away by your beauty [Lord] and then I was torn away from you by my own weight [of sin] and fell back groaning toward these [lesser] thing [in life].” While being exposed for nearly a year to “healthy teachings of salvation” he wrote, “But salvation is far from sinners of the kind that I was then.” When Augustine was being moved to prayer to return to God he writes, “[I was] on fire to leave earthly things behind and fly back” [to God]. But there was an obstacle that kept Augustine from reaching God, he writes, “The Name of Christ was not there…” Augustine writes about how the Name of Jesus Christ was his mother’s milk and His Name touched his heart tenderly, but the fruit of his life was surrendered to self-will and not God’s will. Finally in early August 386 Augustine abandoned his teaching career and his proposed marriage and went off with some friends to live a life of contemplation. One day he heard how some men had moved to give their whole heart and life to serve the Lord. Augustine was suddenly confronted with his sin of self-living. He rushed out into the garden and flung himself under the fig tree and wept bitterly, crying out to God, “How long, how long, why should not this hour be an end to my baseness?” From a neighboring yard he heard the voice of a child say, “Take and read” Augustine went over to a bench where laid a copy of the Apostle Paul’s Epistle and he read Romans 13:13-14, “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Romans 13:13-14) At that moment Augustine put on Christ, took on the Name that was missing, the only key person missing in his life that would enable him to live for God. Long before we even came into this world the grace of God confronted Augustine as dramatically as God’s grace did the Apostle Paul. At age 31 Augustine’s struggle came to an end and through him came teachings and service that laid the foundation of Western theology. Augustine has often been call “Bishop of Hippo” and “Doctor of the Church.” The opening prayer of Augustine’s “Confessions” sums up his whole experience in life. He writes, “Our hearts are restless until they can find peace with you [Lord Jesus].” Augustine and one of his friends put on Christ and they went and told Monica his mother. Fredrick S. Leahy wrote about this time in Christian history, “Over the years she had prayed for her wayward son with tears. Now her prayers were answered yes to and her heart’s wishes granted.”
Heaven, an Inheritance
Jesus said, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. In My Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going... I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:1-4, 6)
The Holy Scriptures teach clearly that heaven is a real place, a permanent place, a personal place and a holy place. It is also an inheritance for those who say "yes" to Jesus Christ.
In his gospel, the beloved John conveys a powerful truth of what one must become in order to inherit eternal salvation. "...I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." (John 3:3) And once more, "...You must be born again." (John 3:7) Twice Jesus tells Nicodemus, already a Pharisee and religious leader, "I tell you the truth..."
The truth for you is that a preacher saying nice things, nor beautiful hymns being sung at your funeral, nor the local paper announcing that you were a member of such and such church, nor even being in church nearly every Sunday will gain you entrance into heaven. Being truly born again is a necessity.
Many Scripture passages tell what God will do for a person who through repentance accepts Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Ezekiel 36: 26, 27 is one of the most clear. It has been used frequently by Dr. Billy Graham to explain what God wants to do in the hearts and lives of those coming forward to receive the forgiveness found only in Christ. The verses say, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My decrees and be careful to keep my laws."
A "heart of stone" is inflexible, unyielding and insensitive. It is not apt to receive from or have any devoted affection toward its Creator. A man with a heart of stone has no fellowship with the Lord. He does not do the will of God, thus, he does what seems right in his own eyes which will lead to his own destruction. God alone gives physical life and He alone can give spiritual life in what Jesus says is being "born again."
When God supernaturally gives a repentant person a "heart of flesh" and puts His Spirit in a new believer, that person becomes sensitive and alive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Only then can he determine and do the will of God. This enables him to know the joy that comes from obedience to the Word of God. Once the Holy Spirit of God has entered the heart and life of a repentant person, they are never the same! Guaranteed! The Bible says they are a new creation, the old has gone and the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Jesus made these truths very clear to Nicodemus, and He desires to make them crystal clear to all who will hear even now. In heaven there will be only those who are born again, those who have trusted Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord.
The Holy Spirit moved the apostle Paul to write to (and about) authentic Christians, "You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ." (Romans 8:9)
Will you receive Christ today?
AUGUSTINE AND THE BIBLE
For 2,000 years the Bible, often unaided by any human intervention, has transformed the lives of those who read it, many times dramatically so. St. Augustine is a good example. For most of his life he was a famed academic in the Roman Empire. He was very successful in rhetoric, a noble profession. But he lived a thoroughly dissolute, self-indulgent, immoral life. The time came when he began to consider the claims of Christianity.
He was alone in a garden one day when he heard a child singing out a line from a game: "Pick it up and read, pick it up and read." He turned to his copy of the Scriptures, which was opened to Roman. 13. His eyes were drawn to the following words: "Not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature." (Rom. 13:13-14)
Deeply convicted, he surrendered to Christ, and the Roman rhetorician went on to become the Christian bishop of Hippo, the greatest theologian after Paul, and one of the most formidable intellects of Western civilization.
Philip Yancey, in his book "Reaching for the Invisible God" describes the way God get’s blamed for things in this way.
"When Princess Diana died in an automobile accident, a minister was interviewed and was asked the question “How can God allow such a terrible tragedy?” And I loved his response. He said, “Could it have had something to do with a drunk driver going ninety miles an hour in a narrow tunnel? Just How, exactly, was God involved.”
Years ago, boxer, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, killed a Korean opponent with a hard right hand to the head. At the press conference after the Korean’s death, Mancini said, “sometimes I wonder why God does the things he does.”
In a letter to Dr. Dobson, a young woman asked this anguished question, “Four years ago, I was dating a man and became pregnant. I was devastated. I asked God, “Why have you allowed this to happen to me?”
Susan Smith, the south Carolina mother a couple years ago who pushed her two sons into a lake to drown and then blamed a fictional car-jacker for the deed, wrote in her confession: “I dropped to the lowest point when I allowed my children to go down that ramp into the water without me. I took off running and screaming, ‘Oh God! Oh God, no! What have I done? Why did you let this happen?”
Now the quest...
GENERATIONS AND THE BIBLE
A new research report from the Barna Group examines recent nationwide studies on how different generations of American adults view and use the Bible. For the purposes of this research, the Mosaic generation refers to adults who are currently ages 18 to 25; Busters are those ages 26 to 44; Boomers are 45 to 63; and Elders are 64-plus.
There is often more that unites the various generations than divides them. The Barna research regarding the Bible confirms the central role this revered text has for most Americans. A majority of each of the four generations believes that the Bible is a sacred or holy book. Another commonality is that millions within each of the generations report reading the pages of Scripture in the last week.
There is also significant generational overlap regarding people’s views on the nature of the Bible. Similar proportions of the generations embrace the most conservative and most liberal views. For instance, the highest view of the Bible is that it is the actual word of God and should be taken literally, word for word, is embraced by one-quarter of Mosaics (27%), Busters (27%), and Boomers (23%), and one-third of Elders (34%). The extreme view on the other end is that the Bible is not inspired by God is embraced by proportions that are also statistically close to one another, including Mosaics (25%), Busters (19%), Boomers (22%), and Elders (22%).
However, despite these similarities, the Barna studies show that the youngest generations are charting a new, unique course related to the Bible. Here are the types of changes being forged by young adults:
Less Sacred: While most Americans of all ages identify the Bible as sacred, the drop-off among the youngest adults is striking: 9 out of 10 Boomers and Elders described the Bible as sacred, which compares to 8 out of 10 Busters (81%) and just 2 out of 3 Mosaics (67%).
¡öLess Accurate ¨C Young adults are significantly less likely than older adults to strongly agree that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches. Just 30% of Mosaics and 39% of Busters firmly embraced this view, compared with 46% of Boomers and 58% of Elders.
More Universalism: Among Mosaics, a majority (56%) believes the Bible teaches the same spiritual truths as other sacred texts, which compares with 4 out of 10 Busters and Boomers, and one-third of Elders.
Skepticism of Origins: Another generational difference is that young adults are more likely to express skepticism about the original manuscripts of the Bible than is true of older adults.
Less Engagement: While many young adults are active users of the Bible, the pattern shows a clear generational drop-off, the younger the person, the less likely then are to read the Bible. In particular, Busters and Mosaics are less likely than average to have spent time alone in the last week praying and reading the Bible for at least 15 minutes. Interestingly, none of the four generations were particularly likely to say they aspired to read the Bible more as a means of improving their spiritual lives.
Bible Appetite: Despite the generational decline in many Bible metrics, one departure from the typical pattern is the fact that younger adults, especially Mosaics (19%), express a slightly above-average interest in gaining additional Bible knowledge. This compares with 12% of Boomers and 9% of Elders.
David Kinnaman, who directed the analysis of the research, explained that the central theme of young people’s approach to the Bible is skepticism. They question the Bible’s history as well as its relevance to their lives, leading many young people to reject the Bible as containing everything one needs to live a meaningful life. This mindset certainly has its challenges but it also raises the possibility of using their skepticism as an entry point to teaching and exploring the content of the Bible in new ways.
The president of the Barna Group pointed out that since many young people want to learn about the Bible it should be an opportunity for Christian leaders.Perhaps young people want to participate more in the process of learning, not simply attend Bible lectures or be trained in classrooms. Mosaics and Busters have come to expect experiences that appear unscripted and interactive, that allow them to be open and honest with their questions, that are technologically stimulating, that are done alongside peers and within trusted relationships, and that give them the chance to be creative and visual. Their expectations may or may not be entirely healthy, but without considering these issues, the Bible will continue to lose hold on the next generation.
Recently a Baptist Pastor in Illinois received a visit from the FBI. They came in response to an anonymous caller who took issue with something the Pastor said in his sermon. According to the Baptist Press news service, “Nov. 23, 2004, started out like any other normal morning for Randy Steele, senior pastor at Southwest Christian Church in Mount Vernon, Ill., a town about 80 miles southeast of St. Louis… [until]… the phone rang. It was the FBI. Steele said they wanted to meet with him personally…. When two FBI agents arrived at the church, Steele said they traded small talk for a few minutes before the suspense got to him and he asked about the nature of their visit. Their answer stunned him. “One guy opened a file,” Steele said. And he said, “’This is pertaining to a sermon that you preached on Memorial Day.’” On Memorial Day 2004, Steele was in the middle of preaching a sermon series he called Life Issues dealing with controversial cultural issues from a biblical perspective. One such sermon was about abortion and Steele chose Memorial Day to preach about it. “I shared the number of people who have died in wars versus the number who had died through legal abortion since 1973, Steele said. “I stated that we are in a different type of war that is being fought under the ’presupposition of freedom.” Steele said that he went on to name an abortion clinic in Granite City, Ill., a city just outside St. Louis, and pointed out that they perform as many as 45 abortions per week. Somebody in the church that day apparently misunderstood Steele’s different type of war comment to mean that he was actually calling his congregation to a physical war against abortion clinics, so he or she placed an anonymous phone call to the FBI. (Now, don’t any of you get any ideas) This informant allegedly told the FBI that in addition to Steele calling for a war against abortion clinics, he also said he was willing to go to jail over such a cause. Steele said that he had spoken about his willingness to go to jail, but that he made those remarks in a different sermon that dealt with homosexuality from the same sermon series. “I had mentioned a pastor in Canada who had been arrested for speaking about homosexuality in his church,” Steele said. “The pastor said he went on to tell his congregation that if speaking the truth means that we go to jail, then by golly, that’s where I’m going to be and I’m going to save you a seat next to me.” “That was the major gist of why [the FBI] felt like they could come here and look through my sermons,” Pastor Steele reported. ….Steele said that after the two FBI agents examined his two sermons in question, they realized he was not a physical threat to abortion clinics and apparently dropped their investigation. …Pastor Steele said he was initially a little irritated that the FBI would ask to see his sermons, especially since he had to take time away from the grieving family in his congregation to answer questions, but he said he has no plans to stop preaching messages that are culturally relevant. “As a pastor I believe that as Christians we are called to speak the truth no matter what,” Steele said. “And we have to continue to speak that truth in love to all people and to share the message of Christ because it’s the only message that’s going to change the lives of people.” Like this Pastor, the message of Jesus was controversial in his day. If Jesus were around today I am certain the FBI would question him about some of the things he said.