PO Box 3425
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?”
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
Blessed Are Those
“Blessed are those who walk in the way of the Lord” – Psalm 119
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
It's Better To Do Good
it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for
doing evil." (I Pet.
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).
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.
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
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."
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
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.
"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)
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
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)
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.
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.
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)
a Sunday potluck dinner one of the elders stood up and asked, "How many
percent held up their hands. The Minister then repeated
you not willing to forgive your enemies?"
Jones, that is very unusual. How old are you?" "Ninety-eight."
Mrs. Jones, would you please come down in front and tell us all how
little sweetheart of a lady tottered down the aisle, faced the
Visit With Ol' Man Lister
Ponder Point, if you need fresh bread or special baking done,
day, ol' man Lister and I went in to pick up a cake for the
asked her, "Christi, don't you ever worry about talking too
smiled. "My business is to
tell others about Jesus. I
we left, Lister remarked, "Kid, if the rest of us Christians
know…I reckon he's right.