Scott Gage

PO Box 3425
Fayetteville, AR 72702



March/April Issue 2008 - Volume 27   Number 2

Practicing What We Preach

According to church history scholars and research groups, American spirituality is a mile wide but appears to be only an inch deep.  D. G. Hart, a church history scholar, states, “America is awash in faith, but people often are not clear about what their religion teaches.” David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, after directing a recent study on Americans’ beliefs and behavior said, “Most Americans do not have strong and clear beliefs because they lack a consistent and holistic understanding of their faith.”

Here are a few of the results from the Barna study: 

ü      Eighty-three percent identify themselves as Christians, yet only 49 percent of them said they were absolutely committed to Christianity.

ü      One-third strongly disagreed that Jesus sinned. Two-thirds either said Jesus sinned or weren’t sure.

ü      One-quarter endorse the belief that Satan is a real spiritual being. Two-thirds said he is not or weren’t sure.

ü      Within the week of the survey, 83 percent of those responding said they had prayed; 43 percent had attended a religious service; 41 percent had read the Bible outside the church; and 20 percent had attended Sunday school. Fifty percent had donated to a congregation in the last year. These changed little from the previous year.

Kinnaman further states: “Millions of Americans say they are personally committed to Jesus Christ, but they believe he sinned while on Earth. Many believers claim to trust what the Bible teaches, but they reject the notion of a real spiritual adversary. Millions feel personally committed to God, but they are renegotiating the definition of that deity. One reason Americans’ views are so inconsistent is because they hold few convictions about their faith. Most Americans have one foot in the biblical camp and one foot outside it. They say they are committed, but to what? They are spiritually active, but to what end? There is increasing pressure on Christians to bend and shape their views into something that’s popular, something that fits the pop culture’s view of what spirituality ought to be. And why would so many Americans---seven out of 10---say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus but show so little evidence in their lives?”

What America needs is a return to a simple trust in God's Word. Our writers in this issue call us to examine the "blessedness" of those who walk in the way of the Lord and to understand the pressures we must sometimes endure while we strive to do what God's word says is good. As we study and apply God's Word in our lives, may our spirituality not only have breadth but depth.



Blessed Are Those

“Blessed are those who walk in the way of the Lord” – Psalm 119

It’s easy to see the problems we have in our contemporary society.  Immorality is far too common with the sanctity of marriage lowly regarded.  Homosexuality is accepted by many churches and integrity is rare.  Interest in serving God falls easily behind our other pursuits.  We might think that there just is not much to celebrate these days.  However, there is one great positive we have in modern society.  God’s word is readily and easily available to so many.  We can access it on the Internet, get it on tape, CD or a DVD.  We often see Bibles in motel rooms and many are given out for free.  We have many versions, languages, print sizes and even Braille.  We are able to have the Bible just about anyway we want.  What a change from the time when only a few could read and study the Holy Scripture.  Interestingly the more available something is to us the less cherished it is.  Growing up on a grape farm there were grapes everywhere.  Neighbors to the west had grapes, to the north, south and east, all had grapes.  Folks from a distance would visit and be so excited about the abundance and often free access to grapes our farm afforded.  As a little boy it was difficult to understand their joy.  Now as a grown man living in an urban setting it is easier to appreciate what was available.  Perhaps God’s word is a little like those grapes, we just don’t appreciate what we have.  God’s word is such a great blessing to those who embrace it.  We can speculate, pontificate or philosophize about right and wrong.  The only way we can know for sure is listen to God’s direction from His written word.

The writer of Psalm 119 has a great appreciation for the blessing in God’s word.  In Psalm 119:9 we are asked a question and given the answer.  “How can a young man cleanse his way?  By taking heed according to Your word.”  The young would do well to heed this advice.  So many young fall into “youthful lusts” and destroy their lives before they really start.  God has always wanted only the best for us.  He created us in His image, loves us and leads us to righteousness.  “Taking heed,” means to trust and obey His direction.  We want the blessing of God in our lives but it only comes by walking in the Lord’s way.  Too many are persuaded God’s blessing will come by only acknowledging he exists.  They then think His great power, love and mercy will do all the rest.  Our part is not finished by merely saying we believe.  How can God help us if we refuse to do what He tells us?

The blessing of marriage comes only to those who honor their vows.  If we do not love, honor and cherish our mates, do not expect marriage to enhance our lives.  Can anyone help another if we do not take their advice?  Somehow we want God to bless us as we do as we wish.  It is important for us to search the scripture and discover God’s pathway.  As we study, learn and practice the word of God we will begin to appreciate the beauty of His way.  Imagine a world where all obey God’s commands.  It would be a world with no marital infidelity, no lies and no murder.  It would be a world of compassion, love, forgiveness, kindness and care.

Man has always thought he has a better idea.  There is no better walk than the clean pure path of God.  When we learn this important lesson we will understand Psalm 119:97.  It teaches, “Oh, how love I thy law!  It is my meditation all the day.”  It is easy to love that which makes us feel good.  A young couple falls in love and they want to be with each other as much as possible.  Parents love their children or grandchildren.  It is easy for them to talk in glowing terms about those they love.  When we come to love God’s word we won’t be able to stop thinking about it.  Outward action may not display the true feelings of the heart but it would be nice if we demonstrated our true love of the scripture.  Working in a Jewish area left an impression watching as they entered their houses and kissed the mezuzah.  It is placed on their doorpost and has two passages from the book of Deuteronomy in it.  Also impressive is watching as the Jews scramble to the end of a pew to kiss the scrolls of the Torah as they are carried through the aisles during a Jewish service.  As one Jewish man stated, “Sometimes it is just habit.”  Wouldn’t it be great if from the heart we loved, respected and honored God’s word, as this outward action would suggest.  Instead, the Bible is often tossed about with careless regard.  More importantly, we from the heart do not love and meditate as we should.  God’s mind and will is revealed to us in His word.  It is one of the ways we can grow close to Him.  Further, it is the only way we can know how to please Him.

In Psalm 119:105 we are told, “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.”  Being in the dark can be very scary.  It is not knowing where we are or where we are going that is the most terrifying.  God will light the way for us but only if we use the light.  Isn’t it the saddest thing, we have this light with such ease and yet won’t use it.  Its there, its available, just turn it on!  Instead many stumble, fall and hurt themselves when it could so easily have been avoided.  Jesus wants his people to be a light but we won’t be of much help unless we are walking in that light.  The writer of Psalm 119 understood the value of God’s word.  Do we hang on every word as it is spoken or read?  Too many want entertainment and not enlightenment.  God’s word enlightens us.  It reveals our innermost thoughts and motives.  It tells us why we are here and where we are going.  If God had a sick sense of humor he could have placed us on earth with no light.  Imagine, no light so we can see things clearly.  More important, imagine that there is no spiritual light, no word of God.  Each of us should kiss the word each day and scramble to hear or read it.  When we find the true treasure we have and treat it with the reverence it deserves, then we will receive the blessing of God.  There are a lot of problems in the world today but we have one of the greatest blessings, God’s word.  It is the answer to all our problems but left untouched by us it can do very little.  As the old expression goes, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”  Likewise, God gives us His word but doesn’t make us use it.  The choice is ours and hopefully we will make the right decision and use God’s word in our lives.

…Ron Collins

Los Angeles, CA


Why It's Better To Do Good

"For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil."  (I Pet. 3:8-17 NKJV)

Doing good is an uphill endeavor.  Sometimes it is confining and most always inconvenient.  Still it is the better choice of the two: doing good or doing evil.  However, Peter's conclusion seems almost too obvious.  Only the criminally insane would disagree here.  Yet when we consider the context of his words, we see more fully the challenge of choosing good over evil. Here, Peter is writing to Christians who are being persecuted.  He tells them at one point, "Do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you…" (4:12), but, "If you should suffer for righteousness sake, you are blessed. And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled" (3:14).  

Evil behavior, generally speaking, has historically been punished, and good behavior rewarded, thus making the choice for good much easier.  But in some cultures and in some historical settings, as in the infancy of the church, good and evil were in some measure reversed.  Since then, wherever Christianity was outlawed, doing good was not always an easy choice. 

This is the sort of religious climate that existed when Peter and other apostles wrote and therefore practicing what they preached was challenging, to say the least.  The daily threats against them only compounded their struggle to do right.  Most tempting was the normal human reflex to strike back when wronged.  Therefore Peter says, "…not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing..."(3:9). Perhaps just as alluring was the impulse to do nothing,  fearing that their good works would witness against them and lead to persecution.  Yet Peter says, "And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good?”(3:13).  No doubt, a good example is a powerful force but choosing to do so under duress is an immortal one.  Such was the case of those heroes of faith who "had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes and of chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were tempted, were slain with the sword...being destitute, afflicted, tormented...and all these...obtained a good testimony"(Heb.11:37-40).

For a long time we in America have lived in a "Christian bubble" so to speak.  We have been free of persecution for the most part, even enjoying certain rights bestowed upon the church by the government.  Therefore, admonitions such as "it is better to do good," are not always fully appreciated, primarily because in the last two hundred years our choices for good have been supported by our society.  If in the future, however, things should change legally and our choice, for example, to attend church should lead to imprisonment, we might think twice about "doing good." 

If it seems difficult to imagine good deeds being banned, simply look at Christ and his times.  Once He healed a man's hand and once He made a lame man to walk (Matt. 12:9-14, Jn. 5:1-16), and each time the Pharisees, the "religious police" if you will, conspired to destroy Him.  His crime?  He healed on the Sabbath. Never mind the fact that he was well within the law to do so; He did however breach the twisted laws of men and was, by their standards, guilty.  Nevertheless, Christ challenges us to continue doing what is good despite what men may think or do.  "If the world hates you", He said, "you know that it hated me before it hated you"(Jn.15:18).

God's Spirit, speaking through Peter, wants us to be aware that persecution can come at anytime and in anyplace to sway our choices.   Therefore, He reminds us of some fundamental things we can do to prepare.  One is performed inwardly and involves the heart, the mind and the conscience.  Secondly, there is an amazing amount of good which can be done in our speech.  Finally, our behavior before the world is a powerful multipurpose tool which, in a single instant, can invite the lost,  encourage  the saved and  shame our accusers.

First, "sanctify the Lord God in your hearts"(I Pet.3:15), that is, give to God and His word that hallowed and revered place within our deepest sacred thoughts.    Do not, by any means, allow "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye or the pride of life" to occupy that sanctified realm which is God's exclusively.  Otherwise we are attempting what Christ warned against; serving both "God and mammon".  Therefore Paul says, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,"(Phil.2:5)  He goes on to list those thoughts we should allow into our mind.  "Whatever is true...noble...right... pure...lovely...admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things."(Phil.4:8)

"And always be ready to give a defense...", Peter continues, with a similar idea which first grows inwardly and is finally called forth by others.  It is the explanation of our hope in Christ Jesus.  Every true child of God has it but not all feel they can articulate it.  Therefore it is all the more important we "be ready".  Just as we may participate in various safety drills, from fire to terrorist attack drills, so let us be diligent to understand the foundation of our hope and thus prepared to speak.  "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom..."(Col. 3:16) 

Now more than ever we should commit ourselves to prayerfully reading and understanding God's word.  Phil Sanders wrote in The Search Light (Dec.07) "Today the fastest growing religious group in America is "no religion".  More than 30 Million adults now say they have no religious affiliation of any kind."  He goes on to say, "America is now the third largest mission field in the world".   Indeed the "fields are white unto harvest" here at home.  Odds are, we will be asked, "why do you believe in Jesus Christ?"  Can we answer in a way that will bless those who ask?  If we're not sure, take up David's prayer, "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight , O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer."(Psa.19:14)  Then commit to memory that unforgettable King James text, "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." (II Tim.3:15)

Finally, Peter exhorts us to have "a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed."(I Pet.3:16)  One of the greatest weapons we possess is a good example, directed by a good conscience.   If we live before others the life which Christ has blessed us with, we can accomplish more than we thought possible.  As this text may imply, our behavior in front of our despisers, works much like a mirror to reflect  their own spiritual and moral depravity.  In time, those who are honest with what they see can be saved, all because we chose to do what was good.  

At the same time, that good example is much like the sweet scent of a rose, pleasant and inviting to those who are outside looking in.  Curious about who we are and drawn to ask about or faith, our hope, our purpose.  Can we offer them the same water Christ gave us?  If our good works drew them, by all means let's show them the Man behind those good works - Jesus.  

One more thing, the same good works which shame our detractors and lure the curious also provide some much need encouragement for the church.  Families are looking for other successful families to emulate.  Members in general are looking for other successful members to follow.   Let's give them that good example and a reason to rejoice.  "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.(Matt. 5:16)   

...Danny Johnson

West Monroe, LA




During a Sunday potluck dinner one of the elders stood up and asked, "How many of you have forgiven your enemies?"

Eighty percent held up their hands. The Minister then repeated his question. All responded this time, except one small elderly lady.

"Mrs. Jones?"   "Are you not willing to forgive your enemies?"  "I don't have any," she replied, smiling sweetly.

"Mrs. Jones, that is very unusual. How old are you?"  "Ninety-eight." she replied.

"Oh Mrs. Jones, would you please come down in front and tell us all how a person can live ninety-eight years and not have an enemy in the world?"

The little sweetheart of a lady tottered down the aisle, faced the congregation, and said, "I outlived all of them."

...Via email: 2/27/2007



A Visit With Ol' Man Lister


In Ponder Point, if you need fresh bread or special baking done, you go to Christi's Daily Bread store.  The warm, fresh aroma floats out of Christi's front door and will pull you right in if you're not strapped down.   And Christi is just as sweet as her double dipped cinnamon rolls, especially when she shares her faith with her customers.  She calls it being a "leavening" influence.

One day, ol' man Lister and I went in to pick up a cake for the welcome home party the town was giving for Gil Granger, and Christi remarked how good the Lord had been to Gil, pulling him through his illness.

Lister asked her, "Christi, don't you ever worry about talking too much about Jesus?  Some would say it could ruin your business."

Christi smiled.  "My business is to tell others about Jesus.  I only run a bakery to cover expenses."

As we left, Lister remarked, "Kid, if the rest of us Christians were more like Christi, Ponder Point would be a better place."

You know…I reckon he's right.

...Steve McLean

Lockney, TX