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Soldier4Christ
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« Reply #15 on: July 15, 2006, 08:17:42 PM »

What Stirs The Heart

    If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Sprit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose (Phil. 2:1-2).

Drawing near to God creates in each of us a sensitivity for the activity of the Spirit of our living Lord. At the mention of God and His activity, our hearts begin to dance. And not just that His Name is mentioned, but that it is fondly spoken of by others of like heart, and like spirit to that of your own. They too, thirst for the living God. They too desire to walk a blameless and holy life after the similitude of Jesus. They too become enthralled by discussions that center entirely around the work and person of the Lord. We find within moments with kindred spirits, a time of open and honest sharing that stirs our soul like nothing else.
Where two or more are gathered. . .
Prayer times can be elating. Within the moments of a simple quiet time, we can feel the presence of God so strongly that we cling to the moment and hope that it never pass. And as wonderful as those times are, they seldom are as uplifting as the times that two or more come together in like spirit to pray together to God. In Matthew 18:20, Jesus said, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." This does not imply that He is not with us when we are away from others. But see for yourself the difference as you come together with others who love God dearly. The presence of God is strong, and the moments within these quiet time circles are often extremely uplifting.
The Word of God is living. . .
God's Word is a wonderful source of encouragement and guidance. His Word is "living and powerful." It often moves and stirs the soul of the reader. And while it is a refreshing stream in the dry and thirsty land; it is a drink more refreshing when shared than when drank in the solitude of one's quiet time alone. It is the cup that overflows. We are filled with it so that it will spill over into the lives of those closest to us. And as we share the living waters with another who loves God, and they share with us as well, we begin to probe the depths of God's fountains together, to discover treasures we would not have come to alone.
What stirs the soul of one who loves God? For me, probably more than anything else--it is to hear the voice of another who loves God speaking out from that love for God, and about God. It is to see the enthusiasm in another's eyes as they talk about what God means to that person personally. It is to see in the soul of one who lives today, the passion of Paul for the lost, or the boldness of Peter to proclaim God's good, or a deep love like John held for our Lord. It is in the heart of one who truly loves God, that another who loves God will find a place of the stirring of the soul. Where two or three are gathered together, there are few blessings as precious as a mutual love for God
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Joh 9:4  I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.
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« Reply #16 on: July 15, 2006, 08:18:25 PM »

To Count It All Loss

    He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me
    (Matthew 10:37).

I am not from a Catholic family, but I have some relatives who are Catholic. Some of their rituals fascinated me when I was younger. It seemed quite strange that anyone did church different than the way I had grown accustomed to. I remember that once a year, my cousins would give up something for what they called "Lent." It was something I thought was kind of funny and strange that my cousin often gave up chocolate zingers or the like. But I guess what really stands out in my mind is how each year they were learning how to sacrifice some things that pleased them--giving them up for a period of time if for no other reason than that it seemed to them the right thing to do.
I really do not know what it meant to them to give up something for Lent. I have no idea what kind of thoughts went through the minds of my aunt and uncle as they gave up something each year, and also led their children to do the same. I have never asked them what it means to them, but I look forward to the next time I see them so I can ask them that very question. It is always interesting to know why people sacrifice the things that please them, even if only for a season.
True sacrifice is not something that is easy to make, but it is something that is made because the benefits from the sacrifice are seen to be greater than the sacrifice itself. Within my own denomination there is often an emphasis on giving tithes and offerings, and an encouragement to give sacrificially. Occasionally, the pastor might call the church into a church wide fast to take place on a particular day, in which he encourages the congregation to be in prayer regarding a particular issue of importance. And there is the occasional sacrifice of time to go to the church on "work day" or to do something else for the church or community. But in our efforts as a denomination, not to become ritualistic I do believe we have succeeded. For there are very few, if any, rituals of any kind that are performed any longer. Rituals with all intents and purposes of drawing one's thoughts toward God, or regularly making sacrifice of something more from our lives than a tenth of our income or a Saturday church work day. Outside of Sunday morning, it would seem that we do very little else to draw our thoughts toward God as a whole. The times we come together to fellowship have become social gatherings most often designed toward recreation and entertainment than toward drawing our thoughts toward God. And, in most cases, our worship has become the dry and empty ritual that we have tried so carefully to avoid.
"The 40 days from Ash Wednesday until Easter observed by Christians as a season of fasting and penitence." That is one dictionary's definition of the word "Lent." What long periods of time have we set aside to focus on our need for God, to hunger for Him and realize our need to draw further away from our selfish and sinful state?
What if our pastors were to get behind the pulpit this coming Sunday, and to tell us that God is calling us to sacrifice some of the pleasantries in this life, so that we could draw closer to Him? And what if the pastor began to define some of those things, to include things like TV or movies, or perhaps types of music that we like? How soon do think it would be before the church asks him to resign? But the fact is that Christ has already asked us to give up everything, and has told us that if we are not willing to give up all of it--then we are not worthy of Him. Clinging to our precious earthly treasures is keeping us from drawing closer to Him, and therefore keeping Him from drawing nearer to a world that needs Him. For we say that the world needs Jesus, and rightly so, but God cannot do His work through us in this world because we do not draw near to Him. We say we want to draw near to Him, but we cling to the earthly treasures. Because of this, He cannot draw near to us, and therefore cannot bring the thousands of lost souls into His Kingdom. Are we willing to count it all loss--to look at what we desire from this life as something to be sacrificed--just so one person might come to know the Love of God in Christ? How long will be continue to be blinded by our selfish wants?

    But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served. . .in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).
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Joh 9:4  I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.
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« Reply #17 on: July 15, 2006, 08:19:05 PM »

The Way Of Cain

    So Cain went out from the Lord's presence. . .(Genesis 4:16).

This is perhaps one of the saddest statements in the Bible. Cain had killed his brother Abel, and he had to suffer the consequences. But the passage of scripture this verse is in does not imply that God threw Cain out of His presence. Instead, it was the willful act of Cain to go out from God's presence.
Perhaps Cain was so ashamed or guilt ridden that he believed himself to be unforgivable. No longer did he see himself fit to come into the presence of the Lord, so he made his dwelling, his life and his home outside of God--outside of His influence and outside of His presence.
But the presence of God is a place wherein our spirit longs to dwell. Our spirit longs to be in God, rest in God and trust in God. Our spirit longs to have fellowship with our Creator, to walk with Him in the cool of the day, to talk with Him and to hear Him talk to us.
But all too often we break off our fellowship with Him as we choose to abide outside of His presence. Perhaps we are attracted by the things of this life, and therefore choose to remove ourselves from God just far enough so that we can enjoy certain aspects of this world that we desire to. Perhaps we are uncertain as to whether our dreams, ambitions and desires for ourselves are things that God wants for us as well. It may be that we are so much like little children afraid to ask God 's permission about something because we fear the answer will be a firm "No." And for one reason or another we draw away from God, choosing to dwell on the outskirts of His person rather than coming near.
We must find the strength to avoid the distractions of this life. For we have a loving and gracious Heavenly Father who longs to spend time with us--who desires to have His children near. And it must break His heart to see us come near, only to turn away from Him when something 'more appealing' catches our eyes--and we proceed the way of Cain--to go out from the presence of the Lord. And it must break His heart to see us come near, only to turn away from Him when something goes wrong--when we fail Him--when we are ashamed.   Whether it is because our eyes are filled with our wants or our failures, both blind us.  And so we fail to see our Father calling us back.  But if we take our focus off of the things and our failures, and fix our eyes on Him; then shall we see clearly to draw near to Him once more.
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« Reply #18 on: July 15, 2006, 08:19:39 PM »

Following

    And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed
    (Acts 14:23).

We live in a society in which we hope that the democratic process will be something that is practiced in truth--not just in theory. We desire that our government and institutions be of the people, for the people and by the people. This is a land in which, through democratic processes, the majority is said to rule. And if indeed we live beneath the rule of the mindset of the majority, how does this affect us as individuals? Better yet, if we use the same democratic process in our church business, what should we expect will be the outcome?
We have, within our churches, adopted the civil and orderly ways to conduct business as is predominant in the mindset of our nation. We see the many needs within our individual local churches, and respond to those needs through business meetings and church votes. What the church does is often what the majority of the people agree should be done.
However, perhaps there is a problem with this kind of business like conduct concerning the matters of the church. That problem is that of what kind of people the majority of the church is made up of. Let me explain. When we consider the number of spiritual giants (so to speak) within a church body, how many people might we consider to be so--to be the kind of people who we believe walk closely with God--having more interest in the matters of God's desires than for the matters of their own desires? How many members of a church body would we consider to be spiritual leaders within that body? Is the number large--or small? Even as there are few who find the road that leads to life, there are few who are willing to lay down their lives or right to a life of their choice in this world, for the sake of the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Therefore, I think the answer to the previous questions must be that there are few who walk with God, there are few who truly seek Him and there are few who are truly the spiritual leaders within a church body.
Does that make the rest of the body evil? Not at all. But it certainly disqualifies many from making up a spiritual leadership of a church. We must remember that in conducting the business of a church (whose purpose is to serve and minister as a spiritual light in the world), that worldly logic and thinking cannot apply to the churches matters. Every part of who we are and what we have, both collectively and individually, belongs to God. We are simply the stewards of what He has and has supplied us. Therefore it is not our place to do with God's things as we think best, but to do with God's things as He would have us to do. Not according to majority consensus brought to be by human reason, but according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit through humble prayer.
If decisions are to be made that most closely resemble what Christ would do, then they should be made by those within the body who are the most Christ-Like. Each church can often readily pick out those people who are Christ-Like--it is seldom an issue for debate.
It is the position of spiritual leaders to lead a church toward a direction that God would have them to move. To involve the majority is to taint the reasoning with earthly thought from a worldly mindset. If we as God's church are going to follow God's desires, we are going to have to realize that the majority of us are spiritually weak, and that the best choices will be made by those who are walking closest to God. It is all a matter of whose best good we desire--do we desire God's greater good to be accomplished--or our own?
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« Reply #19 on: July 15, 2006, 08:20:21 PM »

Providing

    If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever
    (1 Timothy 5:Cool.

How do we label a man who is slack concerning his responsibilities to care for his family? Do we see him as lazy and irresponsible? Do we see him as immature and uncaring--seeking only to satisfy his personal wants while letting the needs of his wife and children to go unattended? Do we see him to be "worse than an unbeliever," or do we see him worse yet?
I was raised, as many men have been, to see it as my responsibility to take care of my family. As a husband and father, it is my God given place to look after my wife and children, to see to it that their basic needs are met--and if necessary--to sacrifice what I might want for me, for the greater good of the family. 1 Timothy 5:8 firmly supports this. However, though the scripture tells us to provide for our family, that provision does not end with a regular paycheck and food on the table. In fact, that is only the beginning.
For we know that the members of our family are much more than flesh and bone, they are also spirit. While flesh and bone require food, clothing and shelter to sustain life, the spirit also has needs--needs that often go unnoticed and unmet. A person's spirit has need to be fed spiritual food so that the child of God might grow up strong in the Lord. The spirit has need of spiritual clothing--the armor of God (if you will)--that protects the child of God from a cruel and godless environment. And the spirit has need of spiritual shelter that can be found beneath the protective love of God as a child of God is shown the way to draw nearer to God each day.
Though we know these things to be true, we have fallen short of our fatherly and parental duties to our families. For we will spend 40 hours per week making money so everyone can fill their bellies and so the family can afford some entertainment as well. Yet, the amount of time we spend teaching our children about God is almost negligible.
It is no father's desire to give his children a stone if they ask him for bread. A good father wants to give his family what is best for them, to meet their real needs and to make them strong and healthy in body, mind and spirit. We must realize that good godly instruction will go further to helping our children than all the hours we spend carving out a living. And we must also keep in mind that providing for our families goes far beyond their physical needs, we must nurture our familie's spirit as well. Keep in mind the words of Paul, "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Timothy 5:Cool.

Providing we care--providing: we care.
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« Reply #20 on: July 15, 2006, 08:20:58 PM »

Heart And Soul

    Thy word I have treasured in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee (Ps.119:11,NAS).
    Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man. . .(Mt.7:24).

A number of years ago, my grandfather gave me an old wooden, Gibson ukulele. It had been his for a long time, and I do not recall why he gave it to me, but I was so excited when he did. My dad showed me a few chords on it an even taught me a little song. It was probably the only song I ever learned to play on it, and the chords he taught me were probably the only chords I ever learned.
The ukulele is something that I treasure. I treasure it because it was my grandpa's and it still reminds me of him. But it sits in its case most of the time--collecting dust--and about the only time I have gotten it out lately is when we have moved from one house to the next. I am sure it is way out of tune, and I am sure I do not remember how to tune it. My memory of the chords that formed the song I once knew are a vague memory. I would have to struggle very hard just to remember one chord.
I also have a guitar. It sits in a corner or closet most of the time. When I first got it I sat for hours at a time trying to learn the chords and learn some songs. I was hoping to get good enough with at least a few songs so that I could take my guitar to different church functions, like youth retreats and children's summer Bible schools. But after a time and only a few learned chords, I stopped picking up my guitar. And now, most of the time, it is like my ukulele--sitting somewhere gathering dust. My skills are rusty at best. My memory of what I did know is fading and is only somewhat refreshed when I go back and tune the guitar, strum it a few times, and then put it back in the closet.
Our Father in Heaven has given us a treasured possession--it is His word. It is something so many of us, His children, were very excited about when we first began to pick it up. We began making our way through it, hoping to read the whole thing within a certain amount of time. Perhaps we memorized favorite verses, and even committed daily to sit down in a morning quiet time to read and study the Word. But for one reason or another, our skills have become rusty. Perhaps the practicing of the Word became too difficult, time consuming or tedious. Perhaps we just lost interest somewhere along the way, but cannot recall when that was. And now, the Bible we treasure still reminds us of the One who gave it to us, but it spends most of the time sitting--unopened and collecting dust.
There are many, however, who still pick up God's Word daily to read it and perhaps even memorize a verse or two. But for many of them, perhaps it is obligatory--like a child being forced to learn the piano--they're present, but their heart just is not in it.
We can't all play the ukulele, the guitar, or the piano--or at least play skillfully. But there is one thing all of us who are children of God can do, we can become skilled in God's Word, learning how to apply it to our lives and making it a very real and vital part of who we are. We can "practice" the Bible each day with a desire to become better and better--learning more and more of its "chords" and sharpening the skills we have already learned. We can even become good enough to use our skills to minister to others--like the playing of a song to soothe a wounded heart, our knowledge of God's Word can help others in their darkest hours. If we practice long and hard, we might discover that reading and applying God's Word is not a tedious task but actually a joy. We might learn that any thoughts we have ever had that we would "never understand" or learn His Word were mistaken. And we might discover that what it takes to become skilled in God's Word is really no different than what it takes to become a great pianist--it is all a matter of what you put into it--it is all a matter of heart and soul.
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« Reply #21 on: July 15, 2006, 08:22:38 PM »

Of Greater Influence

    These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, whey you lie down and when you get up (Deut.6:6-7).

Parental pains and parenting problems may be perpetuated by paranoia. Then again--maybe not. None the less, being a parent is not easy. It is a job we first take on with no experience and little training. Many of us go into it with less instruction than is required to take a driver's test. And we do so often simply because we want to be a mommy or daddy--not fully realizing the implications of just such a commitment. Not fully understanding the responsibility, trials and fears that will accompany our love for our children. And whether we consider it being anxious or just being concerned, most parents will readily confess that they often fear for their children.
Are those fears substantiated? You will have to answer that question for yourself, and only truly answer it once you have been or are a parent. For we know that we have many fears that are unsubstantiated, but also many that are substantiated. I watch my son climb a tree like I once did and it makes me nervous. Is that unsubstantiated? I still don't know the answer to that one. Nevertheless, I still get nervous and fear for his safety, and I try to let go of him a little more each day, entrusting him into God's capable Hands. But that's not always easy.
While parents have many fears for their children, perhaps one of the greatest fears is in regard to how others will influence our children. Within the child's early years many of them spend a great deal of their time with a baby sitter. It is soon thereafter that they are enrolled in school and surrounded by more people than they have come into contact with within the short span of their lifetime. Their teenage years are filled with trying to find their place to fit in and peer pressure becomes a strong motivating force in their lives. Throughout their lives, they will be exposed to beliefs, thinking and viewpoints through their contact with others, with television, movies, music, books, with school, church, and work. Within all of this we hope they will be levelheaded and listen to the right influences, while turning away from the bad.
So what determines who or what becomes of greater influence? Is it a question of time? If it were a matter of time alone we could all be doomed when considering the amount of time that is spent in front the television set. Is it a question of quality teaching within those teachable moments we encounter along the way? Perhaps, for a few well chosen words at the right time can impact a person and stay with them for a lifetime. But even still, if those words are few and far between, we will wonder, what is of the greater influence?
It is most certainly the quality and quantity coupled together, and supported by a good parental role model who has genuine concern and love for the welfare of the child that will be of greater influence. And as we cannot raise our children in a glass bubble, only allowing them to be exposed to our influence, it is vital that we take advantage of our time with them in effort to counter the worldly influences with plenty of godly influence. It is imperative for the sake of our children, that we have them in church and spend time with them, loving them, caring for them, and teaching them the Word of God and how to live holy and righteous lives "in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation" (Phil.2:15). And if time does not seem to permit, then we are going to have to carefully weigh the possible consequences of our inability to spend time with our children, and determine who we are going to allow to be of greater influence.
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« Reply #22 on: July 15, 2006, 08:23:14 PM »

Of Sound Mind


    Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him (Lk.12:35-36).

Read Matthew 24:36-51

Time will tell, and usually does, whether the words of a prophet are truth or nothing but vain ramblings. There are some in our world who with the best intentions proclaim that God has revealed the date of His return. These people often manage to draw many to follow them to a place where they will be ready for Jesus to come and gather them home. But to their sorrow, they discover their error and leave perplexed--wondering where they went wrong with their interpretation of the signs of the times.
As the end approaches, Jesus warns, "At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, there he is! do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect--if that were possible. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time" (Mark 13:21-23). Again He tells us, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man" (Mt.24:36). Of these matters, Jesus warns us, "Watch out that know one deceives you" and "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come" (Mt.24:42).
"Therefore watch," Jesus says, conveying to us the importance of being ready and alert. It is a statement of urgency and exhortation. "Be on your guard." Be ready, watch, be alert and do not be deceived. There are two sides to this coin, we are either as Noah in the days before the flood, preparing for what was to come and watching for the signs of the Lord's movement; or we are as the people who continued to live life as "business as usual." Those are they who shunned the truth--choosing to live in blissful ignorance because the truth was something they would not tolerate.
As we live our day to day, perhaps it slips our minds that Jesus is coming back. Maybe we have fallen into doing life as "business as usual," and have become slack in our preparations for the inevitable. Perhaps we prefer the blissful ignorance over the painful truth of coming storms, lives lost and certain disruption of our way of life. None the less, the day approaches and soon will be. And what shall we say to God when we stand before Him to confess our belief in Him, after living a life as though He was never coming back.
Many of us have already, or will, make preparations for the time we will leave this earth. Considering what we will leave behind for our loved ones is a sobering and serious venture, one in which we must attest to our being of sound mind. It is a preparation for an end. Most of us do not go around in denial, pretending that we will never someday die. To do so would pretty much nullify our claim to be of sound mind, and our last will and testament would not likely hold up if it were strongly contested. And while we may consider it a bit crazy for someone to live their life as though they are immortal, we do not make the same judgment of those who live as though Christ will never come again, because that would probably be the majority of us. For we do not truly watch for His coming, and we do not make preparations for it. Instead, we go on living our daily lives--"business as usual"--living a denial of the truth, even while professing that truth. If we were really of sound mind, knowing that Christ could come tomorrow, we would live as though it were truth. But we have settled to become a part of the large and silent mass and there is no longer anyone to proclaim the truth of the coming "floods."
Can you think of someone who is urgently proclaiming the coming of the end? Is it a wacko? Is it a preacher? Is it you?
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« Reply #23 on: July 15, 2006, 08:24:05 PM »

Silent Pondering

    But Mary kept all these things, and pondered [them] in her heart
    (Luke 2:19).

There are those things we would proclaim upon house and mountain top, wanting everyone to know what we know and share in our excitement. And there are those things that we quietly treasure within our hearts, like some special sentimental secret which reveals itself only through the glimmer in our eyes. Mary observed the reactions of the shepherds to the birth of Jesus, and she marked well the many words, events and jubilant expressions that accompanied. And she "kept all these things," and treasured them, "and pondered them in her heart."
It is a very special love that exists between us and our Lord. There are many aspects of our times with God that we cannot wait to share with others. We look forward to telling others about some new thing God has revealed to us, or some new way God has moved within our lives. It is, after all, and encouragement to others and to us when we come together to share excitements over a common love we have for Jesus.
But every morsel of truth is not necessarily meant for public knowledge, and every movement of God does not have to immediately be moved beyond the confines of our personal relationship with Him. There are those times when what God allows us to be a part of is something that He would have us keep and "ponder them" in our hearts. Within any close relationship, there are those things that are kept within a small and intimate circle. It is then nurtured and grows and soon flourishes beyond expectation.
What God gives to us is sometimes meant to be a small piece of a greater whole. It is meant to be preliminary to things to come, as well as being laid upon things already present. It is a process of the revelation of God's will and desire in our lives. To ponder it is to allow it to unfold. We are not always meant to act upon it immediately or to proclaim it loudly. But sometimes, we are simply meant to take it in, think about it, pray and wait upon the Lord to fully develop our understanding.
Some things are meant to stay between us and God. Those things will be like a rose bud on a stem, concealing a beautiful secret that it is not quite ready to share. Much of God's work in our lives is part of the ongoing process, and much of it requires our patience and the necessary time to allow the rose bud to become the rose. While we would not want to keep the rose bud forever closed, we would also not want to rush the process of it's opening.
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« Reply #24 on: July 15, 2006, 08:24:46 PM »

Clothed In Christ

    You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Gal.3:26).

Read Galatians 3:26-4:20

A friend of mine told me a story of a time he went to a Baptist church, where one Sunday, there was a baptism service being held. The pastor began to tell everyone that baptism has no real significant meaning, but that it is only something done to enter the membership of the church. I could not believe what I was hearing. I have attended a number of Baptist churches and I have never heard such a statement. In fact, most Baptist churches spell out the significance of Baptism in their church doctrine, and it goes far beyond a ritualistic right of passage into church membership.
Could it be we are coming to an age where we will no longer think it is necessary to baptize new believers? Most assuredly so. For it is only a matter of a simple following of suit. The reason such important sacraments could be easily set aside is that they have already been set aside in the heart. The writer of Galatians tells us that "you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." It stands to reason that a generation who have clothed themselves like the world would see no reason to clothe themselves in Christ. After all, who puts on two sets of clothing?
To some, Baptism is a step in the salvation process. To others, it is a outward expression of and inward happening. For many, it is the identification with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. For Jesus, it was so that all righteousness might be fulfilled (Mt.3:15).
Our believing in God concerning Christ identifies us with Abraham who "believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." We are made righteous through our faith in Christ because we have believed God, that Christ is the way to salvation for all of us, and that salvation is as secure as He that has offered it is faithful.
When a baby is born, one of the first things we do is put clothes on the baby. Clothes that we have picked out with and excitement and love for the new child. When Jesus came up from the baptismal waters, God said "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." When we are baptized in Christ we are clothed in Christ and are thereby identified as God's child. And just like the new child in the maternity ward, we too shall be taken home to be with our Father.
Baptism can mean a great deal to us, or it can mean almost nothing. The condition of one's heart will determine which. For if someone desires to be clothed in Christ yet continues identifying with the world, then he is trying to wear two sets of clothing. This will get quite uncomfortable and will lead him to eventually remove the set of clothing that is not worn closest to his heart. To the one who sees baptism as nothing more than right of passage, he will not identify himself with Christ as a child of God. To the one who sees baptism as very significant and somewhat mysterious, he will continue to discover the awe-inspiring implications of what it means to be clothed in Christ and identified as a child of God--one day to be taken home to be with the Father.
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« Reply #25 on: July 15, 2006, 08:25:51 PM »

Stretching

    Come unto me, all [ye] that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest into your souls. For my yoke [is] easy, and my burden is light (Mt.11:28-30).

A dear friend of mind has often referred to trials and tribulations as "growing times." These words are often accompanied with a deep sigh that rings of the weariness experienced within such times. They are times we do not particularly want to endure. Nevertheless, we know there is no way to get around them--except to go through them.
The weary times can stretch us so thin, that we fear we will snap somewhere in the middle if things keep going the way they are. We become so fatigued by our life circumstances that just a little thinking is something that seems to be to much to do. And it is just when we think we cannot take any more that one of two things usually happens. Either something is added to our load and we learn that we can take more than we thought, or we come to the end of our burden to find a much anticipated rest. Regardless, we do find our rest, and within it--we find God.
It is a wonderful Sabbath rest. It is the walk in the garden in the cool of the day. It is the time when the work and weariness is finally at an end and we can take a long deep breath, relax, and just be with Him. We do not purpose to find rest, and therefore we do not arrange our circumstances to bring about the Sabbath rest. But we discover that rest only after the work is done. It is a reward to those who seek no reward. It is a taking of pleasure in looking back and knowing you did well within your struggle.
But before that kind of rest is reached, we will most assuredly be stretched. It is the picture of our arms spread as wide as they can be. One hand holds that which we must release to put behind us, while the other hand strains to grasp that which must be held. We try to hold on to both to feel secure but we cannot truly enter into the rest until we let go of what must be put behind.
The things that must be put behind differ for each of us. Some of us must release life dreams or ambitions. Some of us must let go of what we once may have loved or treasured because it is already gone but we fight to keep it going. Wishing for things that cannot be only frustrates us. That frustration can turn to anger and the anger into bitterness. The more we struggle to cling to the things we can never possess, the greater our frustration, anger and bitterness will become. And our hearts will not know rest, for we will struggle within the quietness the same as we do in chaos.
If life is like a jungle, we must keep in mind that we won't make it very far if we refuse to release one vine to take hold of the next. The growing times are there to bring positive change to our lives.  The stretching is seldom fun, but always necessary, as we are continually shaped within the hands of our Creator.
Work hard to allow God to stretch you as He needs, and then, discover the joy of His wonderful Sabbath rest.
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« Reply #26 on: July 15, 2006, 08:26:49 PM »

Don't Go Empty Handed

    Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all [was] vanity and vexation of spirit, and [there was] no profit under the sun
    (Ecclesiastes 2:11).

We have each been given two hands. With our hands we greet strangers with a friendly handshake, we open doors on buildings and cars, we pick things up and we put things down. With our hands we embrace what is dear to us, and with our hands we push away what we do not like. But two hands are all we have, and they will only hold so much. So we must choose what we will hold and of what we will let go.
We come into the world empty handed. Many things will pass through our hands as we learn and grow. And as we grow, we are bound to find some things that pass through our hands that we do not wish to let go of. We embrace them and decide that we will hold on to these things while continuing to try out new things.
But there comes a time of letting go. We may choose to hold on to what is most pleasing and let go of those things that do not bring as much pleasure. Nevertheless, we cannot hold onto it all.
It is obvious that by hanging onto some things that we will miss out on some others. We might even become afraid of what we will miss out on and never really hang on to anything, only to discover that we let something of value slip through our fingers.
We are continuously letting go of one thing while clinging to another. It is kind of like musical chairs in some cases, as we quickly move from one chair to the next, ready to settle into one chair but cautiously moving forward. And we hope that when the music stops that we will have what we want.
But God gave us two hands--only two hands--why not more? Like anything else, God has given us what is needed and therefore we can say that it is because we do not need any more than two. But and if He did, think of all the extra things we could hold on to. Think of all the things we could try to cling to while at the same time clinging to our Heavenly Father.
But even with two hands, perhaps we can hold on to the Father and also to something else. Yes, and indeed we do. But what is it we try to hold on to, and is it meant to be held on to, and can it go with us into God's Kingdom? Consider what things we hold on to and then consider how far they will go--will they make it to Heaven?
Perhaps if we could truly let go of what the one hand hangs on to that is of this life, we might discover what it was meant to grasp. For while one hand holds tightly to the Hand of Christ, the other would be holding the hand of someone who needs Christ. And as we hold that person's hand and draw them toward the Lord, he will grab onto His hand and turn ours loose. Then his hand will be empty, as will ours, and we then can grab onto the hand of another to continue the process.
Consider what you can hold onto that you can take to Heaven--it is the hand of another who would come to know Christ once we choose to release our grip off our wants and this world. Embrace the truth, and your hands will hold more in Heaven than they ever could have held on this earth.
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« Reply #27 on: July 15, 2006, 08:28:43 PM »

Severed Ties

    Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought form death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master because you are not under law, but under grace (Rom.6:12-14).

Read Romans 7:7-8:1

                              Sin

                    Ebony cubes
                    enclosing all
                    who stray from God
                    in endless pain.
                    Within the chamber
                    of it's grip,
                    blackened soot
                    fills every breath.
                    Children
                    suffocate to death.

And so we wonder just what sin is. Is it something to be saved from? Is it something we cannot escape? Is it something we are born with or into? Does it threaten to suffocate us within it's walls and keep us in bondage to it's grip? Perhaps we should spell it out rather than summing it up in a single word. Sin is disobedience to God. But it is not just disobedience, to think so might cause one to think that obeying the rules is enough.
To sin against God means that we have offended Him or wronged Him in some fashion. It happens, just as in our relationships with others, when we ignore what we know is desired by the other so that we can have what we want. It is in not doing what is for the good of another, or it is in doing that which is harmful, even at the most remote level. To live in sin is to subscribe to our Selfish Nature--putting the self ahead of others regardless of what is right or wrong.
Now we know that by our sin, our relationship with God was severed. But we know as well that God made a way for us to restore that relationship and be reconciled to Him through His Son, Jesus. And that restoration is complete. We cannot do anything to add to or take away from the work of Jesus. All we can do is to trust that what He did was sufficient to restore us to the Father, once and for all.
With this in mind, we need not confuse broken fellowship with God as being a separation from Him like unto the separation we have from Him before we trust in the work of Christ and are reconciled to Him. We will sin against God even after we have been reconciled to Him, but the relationship remains secure because it is dependent upon the work of Christ, not upon the tally of my wrongs and rights or goods and bads.
Our fellowship with God is broken or hindered by our sin, but we still think to see this as a separation from God like that before we trusted Christ. It is not a complete separation. If that were the case there would be no thought to make things right. For our God does not turn His back on His children, but reaches out to them to bring them back. Away from Him we sense no need to repent, but as He draws us near we feel the friction within the relationship that is there because of our selfish acts. And we are faced with dealing with our sin if we are to have peace in Him once more.

    God [is] faithful, by whom you were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Corinthians 1:9).
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« Reply #28 on: July 15, 2006, 08:29:44 PM »

Guard Your Heart

    When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, "I will return to the house I left." When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first (Lk.11:24-26).

More than once I have left a church service convicted over sin in my life. More than once I have repented of that sin and determined to do better. And more than once I have lost the battle before it barely got started. It would seem that feeling remorse for my sin and good intentions to do better are not quite enough. Sure, I manage to do well at first--I face temptation head on and come away victorious. But that often does not seem to last long. It seems that I have, more frequently than I would care to confess, found myself right back where I started--failing to a temptation I thought I had gained a final victory over.
However, we must first consider the first mistake; and that is the attitude that we will not make the same mistake again. For as soon as we think we stand, that is truly when we will be blind-sided and knocked to the ground in humiliating defeat. Keeping in mind that we are not above sinning will help us to keep a watchful eye open, and to be on guard against the devil's fiery darts.
A second thing that we must keep in mind is that we cannot keep fighting against our selfish nature--we must change it. Fighting against our selfish nature will wear us down until a time we are weak and that nature will prevail. That is why we never try to fight temptation alone. Instead, we turn to Christ saying, "Lord, save us." And we rely on Him to provide us a way to escape. We come to Christ to be our strength, and we come to Him so that through our prolonged contact with Him, our selfish nature might be changed.
But let us keep in mind that just because we have chosen to lay off the fatty foods and sugars, we have not decided to give up food. We can turn from temptation, and we can fight it by the power of God, and we can draw near to Christ to be changed, but Christ did not come to empty and clean our "house" of the bad, without providing something good to take the place of the bad. As we fight off temptation, quitting what is wrong may give us a victory over a battle; but without fortifying the walls of the fort, the enemy will eventually penetrate our defenses. It is necessary not only to be cleaned, but to be filled. For example, if you feel that you need to avoid television and movies because of their godless influence, you might determine to not turn the TV on except for the news and perhaps public TV. Perhaps you will just not watch it at all. And so, you have emptied yourself of the godless influence that would normally come through that medium. The problem is that your person is going to want something to replace that, and the flesh is weak. This craving for want and the weak flesh combined, spell out trouble. But if we were to go out of our way to find videos, movies or TV channels that are entertaining, and have spiritual benefit while containing no godlessness, then we would be filled with something good to replace the bad. The result will not only be more frequent victories over the sin, but our tastes will change to enjoy the godly things, which will cause us to lose more and more of the desire for the things that are godless.
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« Reply #29 on: July 15, 2006, 08:30:17 PM »

Following On

    Teach me, O LORD, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end. Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart. Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight. Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word (Psalms 119:33-37).

“Nobody said it would be easy, they only said it would be worth it.” Those familiar words ring in the ears of many who seek to remind themselves why they sacrifice, or why they uphold godliness in the face of adversity, or why they simply keep following the Lord no matter what the cost. No one said that you would have no more troubles or that God would snap His fingers and make your life perfect in every respect. God did not promise us that. What He promises instead is that He will never leave us nor forsake us, and that He will provide for our needs in Christ Jesus. And with that, we see within His grace another well known matter of fact--and that is that “He may not make your troubles go away, but He will help you make it through.”
“Nobody said it would be easy...”
In fact, truth be known, most will tell you that the Christian life is anything but easy. It is a life of growing pains and hard lessons. I remember one particular time when I was so excited about reading my Bible that I read it on my job while neglecting some important work. Did God want me reading my Bible? Of course. Did He want me reading it instead of doing a job I was being paid to do? No. And in fact, God kindly warned me through three different times and ways. He did so until I finally reaped according to what I had sewn and so I received a stern reprimand from my boss. That was a hard lesson learned. But it was only one of so very many.
I remember another time shortly after I had become a Christian, when while in my enthusiasm, my pastor told me that I would have to come down out of the clouds sometime. I know He meant well, but I have to admit that I resented being told that this was some kind of elated “cloud nine” experience that was sure to pass. In time I learned that a certain amount of the excitement would diminish, but I also learned that a loving relationship with God goes much deeper than spiritual highs and momentary mountain top experiences.
“...they only said it would be worth it.”
The pain and hardship is nothing new to believers in Jesus. And neither is the reward that comes as a result of the trials. You may have heard someone say that you won’t find a rainbow without going through some rain. And just as the world around us needs rain to bring growth, so also it would seem that in order for us to experience growth in our Christian lives, we must also go through some rain. James tells us to, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1:3). In Romans 8:18, we are encouraged as Paul explains “that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” In fact, we find much encouragement throughout the Bible as we look into the lives of children of God who realized that the riches in the Lord were far greater a prize than anything of this earth--and they were willing to suffer to attain what God has for those who will continue to follow Him.
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