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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.”
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.”
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.
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...
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.
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.
TALE OF TWO KINGS
Two of the greatest love stories ever told. The one, at Camelot; the other, at Calvary. Two of the noblest kings ever to live. The one, King Arthur; the other, King of the Jews. The one is adorned with a jeweled crown; the other, with a crown of thorns.
The comparisons and contrasts between Camelot and Calvary are many, but one scene from Camelot illustrates a great theological dilemma that only the cross could resolve.
Prior to His appointment with destiny on the brow of that fateful hill, Jesus agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane: "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done" (Lk. 22:42).
Understand, on an emotional level, that this is the pleading of a son to his father. If your child came to you in such agony, wouldn’t you do everything within your power to grant the request?
But this Father, this time, didn’t respond as expected. And that’s the theological rub. He denied the request of His Son, His only Son, His beloved Son. In Gethsemane, that Son was asking:
"Is there no other way?"
The Son is betrayed, arrested, deserted, denied, beaten, tried, mocked, and finally crucified. Tacitly, the Father answers:
"No, there is no other way."
But why? Why was there no other way?
We find the answer to that question in a scene from Camelot, where the adulterous relationship between Queen Guenevere and Arthur’s most trusted knight, Sir Lancelot, has divided the Round Table. When the scheming Mordred catches them in a clandestine encounter, Lancelot escapes. Guenevere is not so fortunate. She faces a trial. The jury finds her guilty and sentences her to the flame.
As the day of execution nears, people come from miles around with one question in their minds: Would the king let her die?
Mordred gleefully captures the complexity of Arthur’s predicament:
Arthur! What a magnificent dilemma!
Let her die, your life is over;
Let her live, your life’s a fraud.
Which will it be, Arthur?
Do you kill the queen or kill the law?
Tragically but resolutely, Arthur decides: "Treason has been committed! The jury has ruled! Let justice be done!"
High from the castle window stands Arthur, as Guenevere enters the courtyard. She walks to her unlit stake, where the executioner stands with waiting torch. Arthur turns away, emotion brimming in his eyes.
A herald mounts the tower where Arthur has withdrawn: "The queen is at the stake, Your Majesty. Shall I signal the torch?"
But the king cannot answer.
Arthur’s love for Jenny spills from his broken heart: "I can’t! I can’t! I can’t let her die!"
Seeing Arthur crumble, Mordred relishes the moment: "Well, you’re human after all, aren’t you, Arthur? Human and helpless."
Tragically, Arthur realizes the truth of Mordred’s remark. Being only human, he is indeed helpless. But where this story ends, the greatest story ever told just begins.
Another Execution Scene.
Another time. Another place. Another king.
The setting: A world lies estranged from the God who loves it. Like Genevere, an unfaithful humanity stands guilty and in bondage, awaiting judgment’s torch.
Could God turn His head from the righteous demands of the law and simply excuse the world’s sin? If not, then could He turn His head from the world He loved? Would the king burn Guenevere?
Like the wicked Mordred, Satan must have looked on in delight:
God! What a magnificent dilemma!
Let them die, Your life is over;
Let them live, Your life’s a fraud;
Which will it be, God?
Do You kill Your world or do You kill the law?
Without even waiting for His Guenevere to look up in repentance, the King stepped down from His throne, took off His crown, laid aside His royal robes, and descended His castle’s polished steps into humanity’s pockmarked streets. Paul’s words in Philippians are thought by some scholars to be the lyrics of an ancient hymn, singing about the King of kings.
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross! Phil. 2:6-8
That scene in the movie was an epiphany of understanding. Suddenly, it all made sense. We know now why He had to die, why there was no other way.
When love and justice collide, only the cross offers a happy ending.
Source: Abridged excerpt from Ken Gire’s book Windows of the Soul. Copyright © 1996 by Ken Gire, Jr. Zondervan Publishing Houses.
A GLIMPSE OF ME—COMMUNION MEDITATION
In Mel Gibson’s Movie, “The Passion of Christ” there is an obscure detail in the crucifixion scene that probably goes unnoticed by most people, but it is a detail that says so much.
When Jesus is being placed on the cross, the camera comes close to watch as a large spike is positioned in the middle of Jesus’ hand. Then, a mallet comes into focus, and a rugged hand swings it to drive the spike. Those are all things you expect to see.
But there is something you don’t see. You never see the face of the one who drives that nail. You never get a glimpse into the eyes, or heart of the one who so assuredly pounds away until the spike has passed through Jesus’ flesh and comes to rest in the wood of the cross.
You might be interested to know that the person who plays that role in the movie is the director himself, Mel Gibson. But why does he never show the face of the one who put Jesus on the cross? Why does he not give us the identity of the one who had the gall to put the Son of God to death?
He didn’t show us that face because that face was his. It was ours. We are the ones who put Jesus to death. It wasn’t the Romans. It wasn’t the Jews. It was our sin that nailed Jesus to the cross.
Colossians 2:13-14 says: “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all...
THANKS FOR THE HELMET
Cecil Conrad was a farm boy, tired of waking up at the crack of dawn to clean up after cows. He lied about his age, joined the Army and helped free Asia from the Axis.
But it was in the next war, battling Communists in Korea, that Conrad might truly have regretted his change of career.
In a too-shallow foxhole, somewhere north of Seoul, the 188th Airborne Division soldier held his gun close to his head, trying to shield himself from fast-flying ordnance that "whistled through the air like birds tweeting," he said.
Then the world exploded in his face.
"It was like being smacked with a baseball bat. It knocked me backwards," Conrad said.
Dirt had hit him, a chunk of sod flung up by a shell, Conrad thought, as he gradually accepted the fact that he was still alive.
Then he touched his helmet, and felt the hole that a shell had torn out of the steel.
"I knew a piece of sod couldn’t do that," he said.
By the laws of nature, that big bullet ought to have kept on going, making a fatal journey through his skull and brain. Instead, it struck the steel at such an angle that it cut through the metal and then arced away. He had a bruise and a headache, but he would live to tell the story.
Conrad still has that old helmet, with its tell-tale furrow in the brow.
A Korean vet thankful for the helmet that saved his life
SOURCE: "Korean Vet Thankful For The Helmet That Saved His Life" by Cliff Davis. 11/10/2002. ©The Progress-Index 2002. http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?BRD=2271&dept_id=462946&newsid=6014233&PAG=461&rfi=9
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?