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November/December Issue 2004 - Volume 23 Number 6
"Turning Cream Into Butter"
Two frogs fell into a tub of cream. One looked at the sides of the tub, and saw that it was too high to crawl over and said, "It's hopeless." He resigned himself to death, relaxed, and sank to the bottom. The other one determined to keep swimming as long as he could. "Something might happen," he said. And it did. He kept kicking and churning, and finally he found himself on a solid platform of butter and jumped to safety.
It's very possible that you may find yourself in a tub of cream today. Perhaps it is your own fault. You made some bad choices and now must face the consequences. Perhaps it is no fault of your own. Bad things happen to good people all the time. Look at Job. It is easy to fall into a tub of cream when you live in a fallen world. No matter how you landed in the cream, the matter of most importance is what you are going to do about it.
Joseph's jealous brothers sold him to a band of Midianite traders. Some might blame his father, Israel, for Joseph's predicament. If Israel had not shown favoritism to Joseph and given him that colorful coat, then maybe his brothers would have treated Joseph differently. Some might lay the blame at the feet of Joseph. He had tattled on some of his bothers on at least one occasion. He also told his brothers about some dreams he had. The dreams were not very flattering for his brothers. Surely the brothers themselves must bear the burden of guilt for their own behavior. It was less than brotherly. They contemplated murder but settled for kidnapping and selling their younger brother into slavery. Joseph was tossed into a tub of cream against his will.
The real issue is what will Joseph do about these unfortunate circumstances regardless of how he landed in Egypt. As we read the story of Joseph, we discover that he was a championship swimmer. When Potiphar's wife falsely accused him, Joseph kept on swimming. He became a model prisoner. Joseph could honestly say that he really didn't commit the crime. Pharaoh's butler later forgot Joseph, but he kept swimming. Eventually Joseph churned all of the lies, slights, disappointments and reverses into butter and he hopped out of the tub.
How did Joseph do it? How could he survive and not become bitter? We find a key to his survival in Genesis 39:2, "The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian." Joseph didn't throw up his hands in hopeless despair because God was with him and Joseph was faithful to God. Years later Joseph could look back on these dark days and tell his brothers, "But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive" (Genesis 50:20). These are not the words of a cynic. They are the words of a thankful man.
As God’s faithful children we should be grateful for the opportunities that God affords us to encourage those who are churning in the cream. Keep on swimming. By the Lord's providence the cream will turn to butter, and you will jump to safety.
Foundation Forum – December 2002
“A People Who Care”
There were a lot of tourists in Jerusalem that day--well, perhaps they were not tourists in the strictest sense, because the Hebrew males were expected to travel to Jerusalem to keep the feast. So, the city was filled with Jews from other nations. People who had migrated to other countries had now returned to the homeland of their forefathers to keep commands God had given through Moses.
You can imagine the planning and scheduling that was necessary in order to make this trip. Provisions had to be carried, legal tender had to be provided with which to make the journey, and on which to live during the stay at Jerusalem. Today, it is not so difficult, and cash money is not so necessary--just drag out the credit cards, we can pay when we get home. But, this particular year was a bit different, a big event had been stirring, a man who claimed to be God, or the Son of God, had been crucified outside the city of Jerusalem on a garbage heap used as a place to execute criminals.
Normally the death would have resolved the situation--the media would no longer be interested in such a one after the execution, but this was a little different. The claim was made by some that the disciples of the crucified one had stolen the body and then claimed he came back to life. These followers were still around 50 days later and some unusual things occurred. These followers had gathered in one place and there appeared tongues of fire, and a sound like a howling wind was heard--these men spoke to the crowd that gathered, and the audience heard in their native languages. Anyway, these happenings, and the accompanying teaching of these followers, persuaded a great number of hearers that day. Three thousand obeyed the gospel and were added to the group. Shortly thereafter the group had grown to a number of five thousand (Acts 4:4).
A lot of these people were still away from home, without possessions, and without funds. (It probably would have been difficult to arrange a bank transfer.) No doubt these were concerned about existence. This situation demanded bold action and a great deal of determination. Acts 4:32 said: “And the multitude of them that believed...neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.” An example of this was shown when Barnabas sold property and gave the proceeds o assist those who needed it. This probably included the tourists and also the widows of Acts 6. It is apparent from the statement of Peter in Acts 5:4 to Ananias, that giving this property was not a requirement either for becoming a Christian or remaining one. But the atmosphere that existed in Jerusalem was “WE CARE.”
Churches today must “care.” We must care enough to take the Good News to the Lost. We must care enough to render assistance to those we meet (Gal. 6:10).
In churches today, we have men and women who are interested in Christ and the Church. We have people who are intelligent enough to do unusual things in the kingdom.
In any successful corporation today, there are people scattered throughout that company who have the responsibility of determining how to save money or to assist that company. I believe we can do the same in the church. We may have to launch out with new ideas for being good stewards of God's money. We may have to form co-ops for burying our dead, or for handling our medical bills, or perhaps someday even the purchasing of necessities. Sure, if we become more efficient in some of these fields this does not insure that the average member will be any more supportive of the work of the Church, but at least we may be able to give him a better opportunity to do so. Have you any good ideas? I would like to hear about them.
If we can convince the community in which we live that “WE CARE,” it's going to be a lot easier to convince the community that God cares.
In a sense, we are all just tourists on earth. Some scriptures say we are in a strange land, that we are sojourners, nothing permanent here. Let's make the most of our time while we are traveling through.
Foundation Forum – December 1998
“A Shrewd Manager” (Luke 16:1-13)
Many, no doubt, have wondered why the Master commended the Unjust Steward. As I see the story it was not given to teach a moral lesson. It was given to teach that we are called to make the most of what we have.
The people of this world use money wisely in preparing for social security in their old age. The children of God should use their money wisely and prepare for spiritual security. Paul shows children of God their real incentive for making money in Ephesians 4:28.
In the story of the Shrewd Manager Jesus makes this observation: “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.”
Isn't He saying that people who look after the flesh do a better job of preparing for social security than people who are trying to walk after the Spirit do in preparing for spiritual security? We must use all of our resources wisely and be mindful of those who are in need.
One of the lessons of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) is that our love and service to God is determined by our love and service to others. Jesus demonstrated this great principal of service to others when He gave Himself to die on the cross for mankind (Matt. 18; Rom. 5:8).
A further teaching of this great story is the principle of opportunity. The priest and the Levite missed the opportunity to serve and be a good neighbor, but the Samaritan seized the opportunity and proved himself a good neighbor.
The first one mentioned was a priest who should have been keenly aware of the needs of others. Many ideas have been advanced as to why he did not help the distressed man. All I wish to say about this is that he missed his opportunity. The Levite missed the opportunity to serve for perhaps the same reasons. The Good Samaritan seized the opportunity and showed himself as a good neighbor.
As God’s children we must be looking for opportunities to serve and be a good neighbor. And who is my neighbor? He is the man who has a need that God has given me the ability and opportunity to supply.
Ralph D. Gage
Foundation Forum – March 1998
“What Can I Do For The Church?”
Four decades ago we elected a president who, in his inaugural address, made the statement, “Ask not what my country can do for me, but ask what can I do for my country.” This would be a good attitude to hold regarding the Church.
Acts 3 relates an incident when Peter and John were going to the temple at the time of prayer. A beggar, crippled from birth, was carried each day to the temple gate called Beautiful to beg alms. He asked for money and, no doubt, expected to receive such. However, that which he received was worth far more than silver or gold. For the first time in his life he was able to leap, walk and move as others. We ask things of God every day; we pray for our daily bread; we pray that He will keep our family and friends safe and secure; we pray that He continues to bless each of us as we have need. Many times we, like the beggar, ask for one thing but that which we receive is better than what we requested. It might be worthwhile to earnestly ask for things like: knowledge of God and his will, along with the wisdom to assist others; boldness to seize the opportunities that come our way each day to lead someone to the Savior; courage to grasp the chance to make a difference in another's life.
I am convinced there are exciting times ahead for the Church. In Daniel 2:44 the prophecy said the church would never be destroyed. God sent that prophecy; He made the earth and sustains it. He is still in control.
In 1958 there was an Associated Press release that claimed the Churches of Christ were the fastest growing religious movement in the U.S. A short time later this was no longer true. What brought about the change? OUR ATTITUDE! It is not surrounding circumstances; it is not more sin; it is not more money; it is our attitude. One of our former associates used the expression, ‘stinkin thinkin’ to describe the reason some do not succeed in the sales field. The same is true with the church. For a number of years Satan has circulated negatives about the religion of Christ, and we bought into it. He said, “The church is dying; people will not listen to the truth anymore; people do not have time for religion, they want entertainment.” The list goes on. You could add other excuses we have heard that explains why the church doesn't grow. In Matthew 13:31 Jesus said the Kingdom is like a mustard seed, small but able to grow into a huge plant.
So, the next time you go to the temple at the hour of prayer, look there by the gate called Beautiful and you will find someone who needs something from you. They might not realize how valuable the gift is that you give, but tell them anyway.
Foundation Forum – March 2002
“You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.”
In five short words Peter painted a distinct portrait of the character and activities of the Lord during His time on earth; “He went about doing good.” What is said in this brief summary of what Jesus did distinguished Him from the Jewish leaders of that day as well as other leaders of renown. He did not make it His business to seek the good will and applause of people. Nor was He seeking wealth, ease and comfort of life. Wherever He traveled He simply did good to bring comfort, peace and joy to all who came under His influence. Open-minded people who saw the good things He did were simply amazed. They said, “Nothing like this ever been seen in Israel.”
Precisely what “good things” did He do? “Good' things” may not mean the same to every person, but Jesus, quoting from the prophet Isaiah, gave a description of good things He came to do:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19).
Poor people always received special attention from the Lord. Generally, poor people being without resources are helpless. Most often they are accounted of lesser importance than those who have abundance. Jesus changed all that. He made it possible for “...the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him.” Jesus preached this “good news” to the poor. That is one “good thing” He did.
There was no limit to the good things He did. Through miracle He healed every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people. He fed the hungry and raised the dead to life. He gave sight to the blind, physically. But more importantly He gave spiritual insight to those separated from God through sin. A woman in the bondage of sin, under condemnation, facing the sentence of death was brought before Him. He released her from the bondage of sin and gave her the liberty to “go her way and sin no more.” This was surely a “good thing” Jesus did for this woman.
Jesus did the many “good things” for the people totally for the benefit of the recipient; there was no gain for Himself. He said: “I have come, not to be served, but to serve others.” Did He not set an example for us? As He fulfilled His purpose for being in the world by “going about doing good,” we will also fulfill the Lord's purpose for placing us in this world and we will experience the greatest joy of living when we make it our aim to spend a life time “doing good.”
“So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people; and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Galatians 6:10).
Foundation Forum – March 2000
“If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” James 2:26-27 NASB
Religion speaks of a person's relationship and devotion to God. In the above statement James speaks of “pure religion” as contrasted to “vain religion.” He mentions three ways pure and flawless religion is expressed in our lives. Let us be clear, religion is not limited to these three ways, but all three are essential in Christianity.
First, He said if a person does “not bridle his own tongue...this man's religion is worthless.” In the next chapter James said, “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty” (James 2:12). Jesus made a very thought provoking statement in Matthew 12:36-37: “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” It would not trouble me so much if the Lord had said I would have to give account of every vulgar word in the day of judgment. But, He said every careless word!! That should make us always think before we speak.
Paul reminded us to be truthful in all we say: “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another” (Ephesians 4:25). And just a few verses later he gave a positive use for what we say, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). If a person's religion is pure, his speech is pure.
Next, James said pure religion means one will “visit orphans and widows in their distress.” In the time when James wrote orphans, or “the fatherless,” and widows represented that part of society who were powerless to provide and defend themselves. God has always had a special concern for them. Psalms 146:9, which speaks of the Lord as an abundant helper says, “The Lord protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow.” Through Isaiah, He commanded His people to do the same, “Learn to do good, seek justice; reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan; plead for the widow.”
Finally, according to James, pure religion also means to “keep oneself unstained by the world.” God has always made pure, holy living a must. In the book of Hebrews it is plainly stated: “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”
In one of His beatitudes Jesus states: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” According to the Apostle John a desire to see God creates within an individual the desire to be pure in heart, “We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is, And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” Pure religion means pure hearts in those who strive to live for and to serve the Lord.
If churches with their leaders concerned themselves with pure religion as much as they do with attractive meeting places, impressive worship services and effective programs, the impact made for the glory of God would be enormous in our world today.
Foundation Forum – December 2000