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Practical Considerations Of An Active Faith — Dave Redmond

A few years ago, I wrote a bulletin article concerning “Freedom in Christ.”  While preparing, I became aware of a wonderful blessing.  Under the Old Law, the Jews were expected to keep hundreds of rules and regulations.  I realized that as Christians, while we are expected to keep commandments under the New Covenant, we have the freedom to choose the way we wish to serve God.  This makes the Christian’s service joyous.

Today we are discussing the importance of an active faith.  Hebrews chapter 11 is known as the “Faith Chapter,” but calling it the “Active Faith Chapter” is also appropriate.  Here, the writer reminds us of Noah, who lived in a time of great wickedness.  He was commanded to build a huge ark in order to save his family and the world’s animals.  This was no small undertaking.  Not only was it physically challenging, but took many years.  All who watched thought he was foolish.  They had not seen rain, much less a flood.  Also, the writer tells us of Abraham, who left his home when God called him.  He was not even certain where to go!  Can you think of a harsher climate than in the Middle East?  With large families, animals, and all their belongings, it must have been a tremendous effort to move even a few miles.  Noah and Abraham are men who listened to God, really believed Him, and followed His instructions.  We are here today with the hope of salvation because of their active faith.

Most of us are familiar with James 2:26:  “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”  Perhaps less familiar is Ephesians 2:10:  “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”  Here we find our purpose as Christians.  We were created so that we can perform “good works.”  Amazingly, our loving and omniscient God prepared these opportunities ahead of time.  We have the choice of accepting these opportunities, but we are humbled that He would consider us worthy.  Our decision to demonstrate an active faith serves a greater purpose.  God tells us why we are to perform good works in Matthew 5:16:  “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.”

Unfortunately, after we obey the gospel of Christ it is easy to become complacent in our Christian walk, becoming caught up in the problems of life.  Our faith can weaken, and we can neglect opportunities to serve God.

While we are usually motivated by God’s love, fear of punishment is also effective.  Jesus used the parable of the talents to warn against complacency and laziness when it comes to making use of our abilities and opportunities.  What happened to the man who hid his Lord’s money?  In Matthew 25:26 Jesus described this man as a “wicked and lazy servant,” and he was cast out into outer darkness (v. 30).

The verses which follow in Matthew chapter 25 are sobering.  Here Jesus is describing the judgment, and one’s destiny was determined in very practical terms.  Those who were blessed to inherit eternal life had cared for their fellow man: the hungry, thirsty, sick, homeless, imprisoned, or naked.  Those who did not were rewarded with everlasting punishment.  Jesus said that when we care for others, it is as if we are caring for Him.  When we neglect others, we neglect Jesus too.  He expects us to have an active faith and to demonstrate our faith by our actions (James 2:18).  James then reminds us, “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (4:17).

Over the years I have seen Christians of all ages and backgrounds serving God in practical ways.  The remainder of this message is a practical application of the preceding Scripture.

For the child, one of the best ways to serve God is by honoring and obeying parents.  Nothing honors a parent more than to hear from a teacher or neighbor, “Your son or daughter is so well behaved.”  While the child does not understand what faith means, the habit of obedience is developed.

For the Christian teen, it is a blessing to be part of a youth group which serves others while having fun.  Youth groups can visit older people, those who may need help with cleaning the house or yard, and the blessings are mutual.  I remember a sweet older Christian who insisted on serving lemonade after our youth cleaned her yard.  Looking back, these were joyous memories.

After high school, we can demonstrate an active faith through our chosen vocation or during higher education.  For those who can attend college, I think it is a blessing to attend a Christian school.  However, many state universities have a Christian support group and this can offer tremendous encouragement at a time when we become independent.  Several of our local congregations support a campus minister who helps our young people remain faithful.

I remember the wonderful congregation and Christian friends we had during military service.  My wife and I were newly married, and a local church took us under her wing.  For me, learning to lead during worship services was a blessing.  My sweet wife was encouraged by the older ladies, and sometimes we would take communion to an elderly Christian.  We now look back to those years as formative in our relationship, and these were simple ways to put our faith in action.

Whether we remain single or marry and start a family, we can find opportunities to serve in our congregations by teaching, preparing communion, helping in the church office, holding a Bible study, inviting others to services, feeding the needy, donating clothing, or simply asking the church leadership what needs to be done.  For those with young children, getting in the habit of bringing our children to Sunday School is one of the difficult but most rewarding aspects of being a parent.

During our middle years, it is a blessing to be a part of a congregation with elders and deacons.  By now we know more about our talents, our strengths, our interests.  A deacon and his wife gain valuable experience in helping the church.  This is the time when some with children are older, and it becomes more convenient to open up our home to others.  Often, we can be of tremendous assistance during Vacation Bible School and other youth activities because we are old enough to be more mature, but young enough to have the energy.  By now we are often settled in our home and community and there are many ways we can give back, glorifying God by our actions.

As older adults, we usually have a little more time to put our faith in action.  In the congregation, the younger ladies look up to the more mature ladies as examples of faith and service.  Perhaps there is time to attend a ladies Bible class, visit those in the hospital, or prepare food and flower arrangements for various needs.  Also, this is the time when we often begin to lose friends to death.  We can be an encouragement to the depressed, downhearted, and those who are facing financial hardship or difficulties with children.

For the older man, this is the ideal time for self-reflection, perhaps offering to serve as an elder in the congregation.  This is also the time when an older gentleman may be an encouragement to the congregation’s minister, since the preacher is often overworked and goes through the same hardships as others.  Many older men and women are ideal teachers.  In the community, there are ample opportunities to help our neighbors and those in need.  In our congregation, some with financial means help support an orphan’s home, a widows’ ministry, and a Bible camp where our youth interact and some respond to the gospel.

Some of the greatest examples of active faith I have seen are by our most elderly sisters in Christ.  I remember one who continued to teach Cradle Roll, getting down on the floor even when her knees were arthritic.  Another took the time to teach the young girls how to bake unleavened bread and in the process conveyed the importance of the Lord’s Supper.  Yet another would call members of her Life Group, providing updates on the sick, requesting various needs in food, and simply encouraging the lonely.  Age was not a hindrance to serve.

In summary, there are endless ways to exemplify an active faith, demonstrate Christ in our life, and bring glory to our Heavenly Father.  Good works which God has prepared for us are waiting.  Just as in Matthew 25:23, we yearn to hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Dave is a former elder at the Long Creek Church of Christ in Columbia, SC. He is a retired physician who started his career in the U.S. Army Medical Corps.

 

 

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Faith Shown In The Elah Valley — Jon Mitchell

The sun shines down on the valley of Elah.  The giant walks tall and proud close to the brook which meanders its way through the valley just north of Shochoh and northwest of Hebron.  Goliath stands at about nine and a half feet in height, the modern equivalent of the biblical record of “six cubits and a span” (1 Sam. 17:4).  James Coffman’s commentary on 1 Samuel cites John Willis’ estimation of the actual weight of Goliath’s armor.  With the bronze helmet on his head, the coat of bronze mail weighing “five thousand shekels” (17:5) or 125 pounds, the bronze armor on his legs, and the bronze javelin slung between his shoulders with a shaft “like a weaver’s beam” estimated to weigh 17 pounds and the head of the spear weighing in at “six hundred shekels of iron” (17:7) or 18 pounds, Coffman and Willis estimate that Goliath’s armor “probably weighed in the neighborhood of 200 pounds!”  It is definitely a physically formidable soldier who can fight so effectively while wearing such weight so as to be the champion of an entire army, which is exactly who Goliath was according to the inspired writer (17:4).  A champion soldier of the Philistines.  A confident killer.  A warrior who has successfully defied the entire army of Israel and struck great fear in their hearts (17:8-11, 23-24).

Facing him across the brook is the youngest of eight sons of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, a patriarch named Jesse (17:12-14).  The king of the Israelites, Saul, correctly recognizes this youngest son of Jesse to be “but a youth” (17:33), a na`ar in Hebrew, a child, a lad, nothing but an adolescent boy of no older than twenty.  Unlike three of his older brothers, this boy is no soldier (17:13-14), a fact not lost on his oldest brother Eliab who incorrectly thinks his little brother to be a foolish lark only interested in seeing a battle (17:28).  The boy is likely tall in stature like his king, considering that he was able to fit into the king’s armor when it was offered to him.  Yet he is still no soldier, at least not a full-time, professional military man who is fully trained to fight; he is not even ready or able to successfully test out Saul’s armor (17:38-39).  Rather, he is a shepherd boy used to carrying a staff, shepherd’s pouch, and sling (17:40).  The only reason he came to the Elah valley this day is because he is his father’s errand boy, sent to bring food to his brothers and their commander and  then immediately return home with some token from them (17:17-18).  The boy’s name is David.

If you spent any decent amount of time in Sunday School as a child, you know what happens next.  The shepherd boy chooses five smooth stones from the brook and puts them into his pouch.  Sling in hand, he approaches the Philistine giant (17:40).  Goliath approaches David disdainfully, mocking the boy and cursing him by his gods, promising to use his carcass to feed the birds and animals (17:41-44).  David replies, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head.  And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear.  For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand” (17:45-47).

The two approach each other, David running quickly toward the battle line to meet Goliath while taking a stone from his bag, slinging it, and striking the Philistine on his forehead.   “The stone sank into his forehead,” killing him (17:49-50).  David then cuts off the giant’s head with Goliath’s own sword (17:50-51).  Seeing their champion dead, the Philistine army flees and is pursued by the Israelites “as far as Gath and the gates of Ekron” (17:52), both of which were important cities in the Philistines’ own country.

The Hebrew writer would later allude to David while writing of the faith of the people we read about in the Old Testament (Heb. 11:32).  When he wrote that “through faith” David and others were able to “escape the edge of the sword” (11:33), he might have had the encounter with Goliath on his mind.  This would be with good reason, for it certainly would require an enormous amount of faith in God to prompt anyone to go up against an immensely strong nine-foot-tall giant who “has been a man of war from his youth” (1 Sam. 17:33).  What was it that made David’s faith in God so strong?

Past Experiences

When Saul protested David’s intention to fight the giant, saying, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth” (17:33), David replied that he had successfully killed both lions and bears as a shepherd defending his sheep (17:34-36).  Killing a hungry bear or lion is no small feat.  Both animals have been known to easily kill hunters who were likely stronger and more experienced than David.

David knew this.  He understood that it was not his own might and prowess that had delivered him from death from these predators.   Perhaps God had earlier bestowed upon David supernatural strength after his anointing when “the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon” him, similar to what the Lord had given Samson (16:13; cf. Judg. 14:6).  Another possibility would be that God had providentially cared for David while he was fighting these beasts.  Regardless of the methods used, David was confident enough of the Lord’s involvement in his deliverance from death to say to Saul, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (17:37).  He likewise told Goliath, shortly before he killed him, that “…the Lord will deliver you into my hand…” (17:46).

How could David have been so confident that God would protect him from death?  It was because he had remembered God’s promises.

God’s Promises

At some earlier point in time, Samuel had been sent by the Almighty to Jesse’s home because, as God told Samuel, “I have provided for myself a king among his sons” to replace Saul (1 Sam. 16:1).  After having had all of David’s older brothers pass by him and being told by Jehovah that none of them were His anointed, Samuel had asked Jesse if there were more sons available and was told that David, the youngest, was keeping the sheep (16:6-11).  After sending for him, the Lord told Samuel upon David’s arrival, “Arise, anoint him for this is he,” and Samuel did so (16:12-13).  From that day forward, the Spirit of the Lord was with David (16:13).

Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that David knew that he was God’s chosen anointed to replace Saul at some point.  Either Samuel had told him, or the Holy Spirit had somehow promised him that he would one day be king.  David therefore trusted God to keep his promise, so much so that he was willing to fight the giant Philistine while knowing that God would deliver him.

I am reminded of Abraham, whose faith in God was tested in a similar fashion at least three times. God had promised him that he would make of Abraham a great nation and would give the land of Canaan to offspring he had yet to produce (Gen. 12:2, 7).  Yet, Abraham’s faith in God at that time, while strong enough to obey His directive to leave his country and strike out for parts unknown (12:1ff; cf. Heb. 11:8), still faltered when he traveled to Egypt.  Rather than trust that God would keep him safe because He had promised him future offspring, he persuaded Sarah to lie in an effort to keep him from being killed by the Egyptians (12:10-20).  He did something similar later with Abimelech (20:1-18), again showing that his faith in God had faltered.  Yet when God told him later to sacrifice his son Isaac as a test of his faith, Abraham unhesitatingly did so to the point where God had to stop him from killing his son (22:1-19).  He went through with it even though at that point Isaac had yet to marry Rebekah, produce more offspring, and thus bring God’s promise closer to fulfillment.  The Hebrew writer attributes Abraham’s willingness to obey what to any parent would  be an extremely difficult and agonizing command to faith that God would keep His promise to give Abraham more offspring through Isaac, a faith so strong and deep that he surmised that God would resurrect Isaac from the dead after the sacrifice (Heb. 11:17-19).  Clearly, Abraham’s faith in the promises of God, while in many ways already strong, had grown even stronger!

David undoubtedly had a similar faith in the promise that God would one day make him king of Israel, and his faith in that promise motivated him to defend the honor of God against those like Goliath who would oppose Him.  This was also a reason behind David’s decision to face the giant.

Righteous Indignation

Goliath had “defied the armies of the living God” (1 Sam. 17:26), and thus had defied God Himself (17:45), much like Saul of Tarsus would later persecute Christ by persecuting His followers (Acts 9:1, 4-5).  The Philistine did this repeatedly, morning and night, for forty days (17:16).  The Targum, a collection of uninspired Jewish commentaries of the Old Testament, records the Israelite tradition that Goliath claimed to have been among the Philistines who had captured the ark of the covenant and had personally killed the priests Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli (cf. 4:10-11).  If true, then the pagan giant had a history of openly opposing and showing contempt towards Jehovah God.

Upon arriving at the Elah valley, David heard Goliath’s blasphemous challenge for the first time (17:23-25).  His immediate response was to ask the soldiers around him, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel?  For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (17:26)  This earned a rebuke from his oldest brother Eliab, but his indignation over Goliath’s insults remained undeterred (17:28-30).  His angry rebuttal of the Philistine’s blasphemy reached the ears of Saul, who sent for David and was told by the young man, “Let no man’s heart fail because of (Goliath).  Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine” (17:31-32).

Lessons For Christians Today

This account of David’s encounter with Goliath is recorded in the Old Testament for a reason (Prov. 30:5).  God inspired the apostle Paul to inform Christians that what was written in the Old Testament was written to instruct and encourage us, give us hope, serve as an example to us, admonish us, teach us, reprove us, correct us, and train us to be righteous so that we may be complete and equipped for every good work (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).  Such is the case when we see the faith in God David displayed in the Elah valley that day and choose to compare it to our own faith.

We sing a spiritual song called Count Your Many Blessings.  The lesson behind the hymn is to remind us of our past experiences with Jehovah and all He has done for us, just as David had remembered how God had delivered him from predators.  Do we regularly remember with gratitude all the wonderful things which God has done in our lives?  “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” (Ja. 1:17).  Everything we have comes from God (John 3:27), not the least of which is an undeserved salvation from eternity in hell!  (Rom. 6:23; Tit. 2:11)  Do we take such blessings for granted and rarely remember their Source, or do we continually offer our heart-felt gratitude to Him in prayer (Col. 4:2)?  Our honest answer to this question has a direct impact on the strength of our faith and our resulting willingness to obey God, no matter the perceived cost.

Just as David had faith in God’s promise to make him king, do we trust in God’s promises to us?  He has promised eternal life to all who obey Him (Heb. 5:9) and eternal condemnation to those who do not (2 Thess. 1:7-9).  How strong is our faith in those promises?  Satan wants to play the same trick on us that he successfully played on Eve: to trick us into believing that God doesn’t mean what He says (Gen. 3:1-5).  That’s why Christians who have been taught the will of God sin, you know.  Our faith is weak during those times.  We know what the Bible promises, but we deceive ourselves that God will make an exception on our part because He wants our immediate and temporal satisfaction which would come from “the passing pleasures of sin” to be fulfilled.  Thus, we would obey God only when convenient rather than choosing to risk the sacrifice of even our lives as David’s faith prompted him to do.

Finally, let us consider what easily arouses our anger and indignation.  James said that man’s anger does not produce God’s righteousness (Ja. 1:20).  Does God get angry over the same things which infuriate us?  Many typically get upset when our own honor is insulted and we don’t get our way, and tend to only shrug with mild irritation at best when we see the sin of others or our own.  Yet David was angry because he saw Goliath defying God and was motivated to defend his Lord.  Are we like him?

Think on these things, my friends.  Let David’s example motivate us to deeper faith and service!

carolinamessenger@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

Baptism: Are We Saved By Works? — Jon Mitchell

The Scriptures clearly teach that baptism is something one must do in order to be saved and have sins forgiven (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21).  Yet many disagree with this for several reasons.  One such objection stems from a very understandable line of thought, mainly this.  The Bible says we are not saved by works in Ephesians 2:8-9.  Baptism is a work.  Therefore, baptism is not necessary for salvation.

Certainly baptism is something one does, and therefore is a “work.”  However, is it a work of merit (by which one earns salvation)…or is it a work of faith (by which one receives salvation)?  Furthermore, who is the one doing the work?  Is it the man or woman who submits to being immersed…or is it God who forgives and regenerates them through the blood of Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit?

In answering these legitimate questions, it must first be pointed out that there are different kinds of works.  There are works of merit which are done to earn something.  Those who have done such works believe they deserve something; they believe they will be saved because they did good deeds and went to church, or read their Bibles, or something to that effect.  Yet all the good we might do cannot outweigh even one sin (James 2:10).  That’s why we need God’s grace and our faith in order to be saved (Rom. 3:27-28; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:4-5).

There are also works of faith which are done to receive something.  Those who do works of faith believe that they deserve nothing because they understand that their obedience does not earn or merit their salvation.  They know their salvation rests upon God’s grace and mercy, not because God owes them anything.

This is why works of faith could also be called works of God.  In fact, Jesus calls faith exactly that (John 6:28-29).  Other works of faith which God commands are repentance (Acts 17:30) and confession (Rom. 10:9-10).  Jesus Himself will specifically state on the day of judgment that those who enter Heaven do so because of the benevolent deeds done by them in their lives, while those condemned to hell are in that terrible state because of the lack of benevolent deeds done in their lives (Matt. 25:31-46).

To those who say one does not have to be baptized in order to be saved because baptism is a work, I ask this.  Does one have to have faith in order to be saved?  Jesus said so (John 3:16; Mark 16:16).  Does faith require works, something done by you?  Yes (James 2:14-26).  Does one have to repent of sins in order to be saved?  Jesus said so (Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30).  Is repentance a work, a deed done by you?  Yes.  Does one have to confess their faith in Christ before men in order to be saved?  Jesus said so (Matt. 10:32-33; Rom. 10:9-10).  Is confession a work, an action done by you?  Yes.  Does one have to do good to all men at every opportunity in order to go to heaven?  Jesus thinks so (Matt. 25:31-46; Gal. 6:10).  Are benevolent deeds works, deeds done by you?  Yes.

So what’s the difference between obeying God’s commands to have faith, repent of sins, confess one’s faith before men, and do good to all men at every opportunity in order to be saved…and obeying God’s command to be baptized in order to be saved?  To ask is to answer.  Would one say that one does not have to have faith, repent of sins, confess faith, and do good to others in order to go to heaven?  Such notions blatantly contradict what the Bible teaches.  Yet if faith, repentance, confession, and doing good are required of us in order to be saved…why not baptism also, since it also is commanded by God?

What’s hard for some to understand is that even though works such as faith, repentance, confession and benevolent deeds are commanded by God, they are not meritorious works; we do not earn salvation through them (Luke 17:10).  Instead, they are works God has ordained we do in order to receive His salvation.  When all is said and done, salvation is still by God’s grace and mercy.

Baptism, therefore, is a work of faith.  It requires faith (Mark 16:16; Acts 8:36-37), and is an act of faith by which one receives (not earns) forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).  Through it one receives (not earns) union with Christ in His death and is raised with Him to a new life (Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:27).  The fact that baptism is not a work of merit is emphasized by Paul when he wrote that God saves us “through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:4-5).  This alludes to baptism, especially when we compare this phrase to John 3:5, 23 and Acts 8:36-39 and 10:47-48.  Yet Paul still says that baptism does not save us by “works of righteousness” (i.e., works of merit).  God does not owe us salvation because we were baptized.

Baptism, like faith, repentance, confession and benevolent deeds, is simply an act of faith by which we receive salvation.  This is so because baptism involves the working of God (Col. 2:11-13).  God does the work, not us!  It’s God who makes us alive through baptism, praise His name!

 

Addressing Society’s Problems — Adam Carlson

Editor’s Note:  Brother Carlson’s article on recent societal problems mentions the tragedies in Dallas, TX, in July, 2016.  Since the completion and submission of his article for publication, other similar tragic events have taken place and made national news in Baton Rouge, LA, Tulsa, OK, and Charlotte, NC.  These calamities and the similar afflictions which have taken place repeatedly in recent times show the relevancy of brother Carlson’s thoughts from scripture as expressed in this article.  May we take these words to heart, and pray for our nation, the friends and families of all those tragically affected by these violent acts, and each other.

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There are many sad and heavy hearts in light of the recent shooting deaths of two civilians at the hands of law enforcement and the murder of five police officers in Dallas, Texas.  When these tragedies happen there is much debate as to whether anger at law enforcement or abuse of authority by law enforcement is justified.  During these trying times, Christians must be proactive rather than reactive so we can bring about the positive change so many in the world desire.  The following six points for consideration will now be proposed so that each of us as followers of Christ may live in a godly manner in this ungodly society in which we find ourselves.  My prayer is that this may be of benefit to everyone who reads this article.

First, we must pray.  Prayer is a given…but when one finds themselves in afflictions such as the Dallas shootings, for what are we to pray?  We should pray that God comfort the loved ones of the victims (2 Co. 1:3-4).  We should also pray for those who perpetrate these acts because God’s desire as stated by Paul is that “all people…be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Ti. 2:4).

These acts of violence sadden and anger us but we must not let our anger blind us to God’s love (Ep. 4:26-27, 31-32).  It is easy to resort to calls for justice in these situations; certainly there does need to be consequences for those who commit acts of violence.  Yet we must not let that blind us to the fact that Christ died even for these individuals (Mk. 2:17).  We must remember that even we, before our conversion, were ungodly (Co. 3:5-7; Ti. 3:3-7).  God’s grace is for all (T. 2:11-14).  We must also remember the commandment of Jesus to love and pray for our enemies (Mt. 5:43-45).  These are not optional matters.  How can one proclaim the gospel but have animosity in their heart towards perpetrators of evil deeds?

Second, we must take action in a positive way.  “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.  But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (Ja. 1:23-25).

James calls Christians to put faith into action.  Listening is a good thing but one can listen to a sermon on loving our enemies and even agree with it…but it’s more challenging to put it into practice.  This is what must be done.  It goes beyond shouting slogans, hashtags, and updating profile pictures on social media.  This is a call to put our beliefs into practice by helping our fellow man.

Third, remember the real issue.  Violence against law enforcement or anyone for that matter is symptomatic of a larger issue.  It is easy to treat outward symptoms of a disease, but more difficult to treat the disease itself, said disease being how societal issues are manifested in the public arena.  Race or any issue which divides is used by Satan to his advantage.

We must heed Paul’s reminder to the Christians at Ephesus:  “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ep. 6:12).  How sad it is that these matters may be used even to divide brethren!  This is why it is imperative that we must be on guard and remember that Christ died for all…including the ungodly (Ro. 5:6).  Remember that it is because of our own selfish desires that strife arises among the body.  “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?  Is it not this that your passions are at war within you?”  (Ja. 4:1)

Fourth, remember that the world needs the blood of Christ.  We are redeemed by His blood (Ep. 1:7).  If one wants society to change for the better, this is the message which needs to be proclaimed.  Catchy slogans, demonstrations in the streets, politicians’ legislations and proposals…none of these will solve these issues.

Only the message of redemption through Christ will solve these problems.  As the song we commonly sing with children says:  Red and yellow, black and white, they’re all precious in His sight.  Regardless of our outward appearances, His blood covers all.  It is only through that avenue that true peace and equality will be achieved.  Only when we all realize that everyone has value in God’s eyes and it’s only by Christ that this is made possible (Ga. 3:26-28).

Fifth, take note of your conduct while you react.  There already has been and for the foreseeable future there will continue to be much debate regarding these matters.  Emotions and tempers will be running high.  This is why Christians who choose to engage in discussion on these matters must continually examine themselves and their conduct.  If one chooses to participate in debate, regardless of which side of the issue you may fall into, God expects you to conduct yourself in a way which glorifies Him (Co. 4:6).

We can expect ungodly behavior from those in the world.  It is for that reason we must be cautious to set a good example for them.  Hateful, divisive rhetoric is no excuse for a Christian to stoop to that level; we’re called to put away things such as that (Ep. 4:29, 31; Co. 3:8; 1 Pe. 2:1, 21-23).  It’s easy for one to be carried away by inflammatory statements made by others, but Christians should be careful that we don’t do the same thing.

Apply the “Philippians 4:8 Test” before speaking, especially on the Internet, and ask before one verbalizes or writes for the world to see if what you are about to say is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or worthy of praise.  If there is any doubt, then simply find another way to say it or discard it completely.  There’s a reason we’ve been given two ears and only one tongue (Pr. 14:29; 15:1; Ja. 1:19-20).  There is a right way and a wrong way to speak, and at times it is even best to be silent altogether (Ec. 3:7).

Sixth, learn to listen.  Another problem which arises is the refusal to open our ears and listen to others.  This is due to either pride or the stubborn desire to be right in what we believe.  Paul gives Timothy attributes which the Christian must possess:  “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.  God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Ti. 2:24-26).

We’re not always going to agree with thoughts or ideas put forth, but we must take the time to listen to other viewpoints.  This is not to say we must accept everything that’s said, but we should also not be quick to dismiss opposing viewpoints.

It’s easy to become angry and disillusioned when we see our society crumble before our very eyes at the sight of evil.  The prophet Habakkuk struggled with this very scenario as he questioned God about how ungodly Babylon could seem to get away with what they were doing:  “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?  Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?  Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?  Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise” (Hab. 1:2-3, emp. added).

Many today join him in struggling with this question.  In time the prophet learned to trust God and learned that God was using Babylon for His purpose:  “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.  God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (Hab. 3:17-19, emp. added).

As mere men we won’t always fully understand…yet we must trust.  Faith must be learned.  We must remember that God can and will use all things, regardless of how evil it is, for the purpose of His will.  Everything we do is to be done according to His will (Co. 3:17).  May everything which we do be done in a scriptural manner!

adamcarlson130@hotmail.com

Adam preaches at the Valley Church of Christ in Kingsport, TN. 

Building On One’s Faith — Gantt Carter

Are you growing as a child of God? How much have you grown spiritually since you first obeyed the good news of the kingdom? In 2 Peter 1:5-7, the apostle Peter sets forth a list of eight qualities for the Christian to acquire. The qualities listed are faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. He goes on to reveal that, “if these qualities are yours and are increasing (growing, abounding), they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the full knowledge of our Master Jesus, the Messiah” (2 Pe. 1:8). Who wants to be ineffective or unfruitful in their walk with the Master of heaven and earth? Do you?

The first of the eight traits Peter encourages us to use as the building blocks of our growth in the Messiah is that of “faith” (2 Pe. 1:5). One is hard pressed to find any aspect of godly growth and living that does not in some way fit into one of these eight categories of thought and behavior. I suggest that Peter places each of these qualities in the order that he does for a reason. Each of the eight is a prerequisite for the one that follows it, but it is not that we move from one quality to another. Even after we have reached the final “step” of love, we must continue to grow in all eight characteristics listed.

A good working definition of faith is that of taking God at His word. Luke records Paul explaining to the sailors, “I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told” (Ac. 27:25). Paul had been given an inspired message about the results of the journey, and he fully believed in God and in the words of God. Many individuals believe in God (in His existence), but how many actually believe God? Trust is a good synonym for faith. I may believe in God and in certain facts about Him, but I am I willing to take refuge in Him?

In the eleventh chapter of the letter to the Hebrews, we are given a wonderful list of examples of faith in the past. It is important to note that the writer emphasizes how each of these saints of faith acted without physical sight of the promises. They obeyed God out of their faith in Him and in His words (cf. Ja. 2:14-26). The chapter opens with this powerful description of faith’s strength: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of matters not seen” (He. 11:1). Faith is looking at the evidence that exists, and then believing and obeying God without having to see Him or the promises. As Paul observed to the Corinthians, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Co. 5:7). The power of our faith allows us to see the invisible (He. 11:3, 27). The living faith of the child of God is looking to the reward of God Himself (He. 11:26-27).

How important should faith be in our lives? To begin answering that question, we need to also ask ourselves, “How important is pleasing God?” The Hebrew writer reveals that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him” (He. 11:6). Please note again the way proper faith is more than just being a theist; true faith in God’s sight is a faith that possesses a deep confidence in Him and in His revealed will.

Faith is listed first in Peter’s list because it is so foundational to every part of the life of a Christian. Faith, along with hope and love (see 1 Corinthians 13:13), is an immense motivator and manifestation of God in our hearts and lives. We repented of our sins initially because of our faith in God’s word (cf. Ac. 17:30-31). By faith we responded properly to the good news of King Jesus by being immersed into Him and into His death (cf. Ro. 6:3-6). Faith is what will continue to cause us to serve God and to show His love and spread His reign in this world.

Since faith is important to pleasing God, we need to find out how to increase our faith. What is the source of faith? How do we cause our faith to grow stronger and deeper? In discussing the rejection of the Messiah and the need for spreading the good news about Him, Paul explains, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Ro. 10:17). The word of God is the source of our faith in God. If faith is taking God at His word, then it should not surprise us to learn that faith originates from the word of God.

If you want a faith that is alive and vibrantly growing, then spend time reading, studying, and meditating on the words of the mind of God in the Bible. One cannot skip time in God’s holy word and expect to grow in their faith. Soon His words will dwell in us richly and our hearts will be so full of His grace, that we will be teaching and admonishing one another with thankfulness in our hearts to Him (cf. Co. 3:16).

Peter starts this letter by referring to the great amount of treasured promises God has made to us (2 Pe. 1:3-4). These promises give us the privilege of partaking of the divine nature and fleeing from this corrupt world of sin and death. It is upon the foundation of these promises and privileges that Peter exhorts us to grow in our faith and the other seven characteristics.

“Therefore, brothers, be all the more energetic to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.  For in this way there will be richly granted to you an entrance into the unending kingdom of our Master and Savior Jesus, the Messiah” (2 Pe. 1:10-11).

koinewords@gmail.com

Gantt currently resides with his wife and two children in Elk City, OK.  He has been preaching in some form since 2007, and is currently the preaching minister for the 2nd & Adams congregation in Elk City.

 

A Shipwrecked Faith — Curtis Kimbrell

Our faith is one of the most cherished assets which we possess.  Yet there are many times in our lives when our faith is stronger than at other times.  When I am truly honest with myself and do some real “soul searching,” I may ask myself, “How can I really make myself more faithful?”  Or I may ask myself, “What can I do as a Christian to improve my faith and make it stronger?”

To answer these questions, I could easily revert to the well-known verse:  “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of God” (2 Ti. 2:15).  I may think of improving my prayer life as is stated by Paul to the Thessalonians:  “Pray without ceasing.  Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Th. 5:17-18).  When we take our Christianity seriously and it becomes more than just showing up at the church building on Sundays and Wednesday nights, it will greatly impact our lives and the lives of others.

But what do we do when something happens that threatens every thread of our faith?  When an event takes place in our lives that challenges us to even dare to ask God, “Why me?”  What if another person or Christian hurts us so badly that we feel like we are falling into a bottomless pit of hopelessness and despair?

Let’s briefly consider God’s servant Paul as we examine just one of his many hardships and how he dealt with it and overcame all odds with God’s help.  In the latter part of the book of Acts, we find that Paul was literally shipwrecked while sailing to Rome (27:13-44).  He was a prisoner sailing alongside many other prisoners and the ship’s crew when a wind known as the Northeaster hit them so badly that they eventually had to give into it (vs. 13-15).  They couldn’t fight what was coming at them.

In our lives, things are find at certain times…but sooner or later something beyond our control comes our way and there is absolutely nothing we can do.  Part of us says, “Give up!”  Another part tells us that God has a plan and we just need to hang in there a little longer.

Paul and his shipmates tried with difficulty to secure the boat.  They even threw over cargo in an effort to desperately save themselves (vs. 16-19).  In like manner, we try various ways to stay afloat through the storms that occur in our own lives.  It’s often difficult, even when others are there trying to help us.  Again, this goes back to the question:  How strong is my faith in the fact that God really will take care of me?

The others on Paul’s ship abandoned all hope (v. 20).  Each of us knows that we have felt like this in some way or another in our own lives.  No matter your age or experiences, it’s easy to think that giving up is the easiest and perhaps even the only way to handle things.  We forget that God’s timing and our timing do not always coincide.

While everyone was feeling hopeless on the ship and things were at their most critical, Paul began to encourage them.  He even told them that no life would be lost (vs. 21-24).  Do we encourage others when we feel hopeless?  Paul’s faith was at a stronger level than the others’ and he was reassured by the Angel of the Lord.  God’s Word reassures us that things will be okay in the darkest of times (Ro. 8:28).  Yet, so often we neglect to read it.

Paul had been told that he must stand before Caesar (v. 24).  God was not done with him, and he knew it.  He still had much work to do and a purpose to fulfill.  So as he continued to encourage these men, he told them to “take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told” (v. 25).  Yet, notice that he also gave them a warning that the journey wasn’t going to be easy because they would have to run the ship aground (v. 26).  The crew knew this would not be pleasant at all.  That’s why they were so fearful (vs. 29-30).  Yet, Paul cared enough to exhort them to not give up.  He told them to eat for strength, that “not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you,” and still managed to give thanks throughout all that was going on!  (vs. 33-35)

When we go through the worst times of our lives, do we have Christian friends who support us regardless of the cost or hardship?  Do we have that kind of support from our brothers and sisters even if we are fearful?  Are we ourselves willing to offer this needed support to others during their dark times?  It makes a world of difference in the outcome of our faith!

Paul gave the crew enough confidence to trust in God enough to throw the remaining food overboard (v. 38).  After that, they had to run the ship aground just as Paul had told them.  All 276 lives were spared thanks to Paul (vs. 39-44).  The apostle was leading and directing…but God was in control.  So many times control of the situation was out of the crews’ hands, but they continued to believe in God’s Word, spoken through Paul.

I truly believe there are times when we all feel that our faith is shipwrecked.  It could be a situation out of our control, a problem with another Christian, sickness, depression, or a host of other things which come up in this life.  If it becomes such an issue that we “quit church,” our faith was misplaced.  It was placed more in people than in God.

All of us need to read Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 11:25-28.  Being shipwrecked was only one of the vast amounts of hardships which this man endured for Christ, His church, and ultimately for God.  Since we do not endure anything close to these types of events, it should make our faith easier to sustain.  Our faith is something which no one can take away from us.  We are the ones who decide to grow spiritually, stay spiritually idle where we are, or fade away.  Our faith should describe who we are, how we live, and every aspect of our lives.  Don’t get me wrong.  We all fail.  Sometimes we fall flat on our faces in our spiritual walk.  This is where our faith is tested.  It helps us overcome, repent, and then lean on God’s grace and mercy to continue walking down the narrow path.

Friends, I do not even feel worthy to write these words to you.  Because of two loving brothers that encouraged me to do so, it has helped to edify me and build my own faith.  I hope and pray this has been helpful and encouraging to you, and that it will get you even more motivated about wanting to grow in your own personal faith.  God bless you all!

curtisk29374@yahoo.com

 

 

God Is Bigger Than Cancer — Caleb Sams

Part of all this trial is coming face to face with the man in the mirror, in God’s hands, by the trial, God is showing you what kind of man you are really and what kind of God he is really and what it really is he wants you to be.” –Mike Mobley 

My desperate prayer and hope for this story is that you read this and become enamored with the strength, faithfulness, and love of our God. Pause perhaps for a moment even now before you continue reading and praise Him for his marvelous works in your own life. May we know deeply that it is not any one of our stories that matters, yet his alone; it is not about my name, but all about exclaiming his wondrous name.

For the purposes of information let me explain my circumstances. In September of 2012 I began to experience pain in my left ankle, thinking I had re-injured a spot of tendinitis I thought nothing of it. I wouldn’t be able to rest my leg  (the required treatment for tendinitis) until mid-December, so I acted as if it was fine and continued life as normal as possible for the next few months. When I got home in December I stayed off of my leg for 3 weeks the pain and large amount of swelling that had already taken over my ankle only got worse. I went to a sports clinic fearing that I had pushed my leg to far and snapped a tendon in my ankle. They ran X-rays and found a large fracture in my tibia that was the source of the pain; it was the source of the fracture that caused the doctor to pause. I was told that they would need to have a radiologist examine the X-rays and I would hear from them within the next day. The radiologist called within the hour. It was January 3rd; I was home alone sitting on the couch when I was told about something called osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer. It only took 4 short days for tests and other doctors and surgeons to confirm the radiologist’s fear. After they biopsied the tumor in my ankle and received a pathology report from it I was informed that it was stage four cancer. Based on the location of the tumor and the way that it had ruined my tendons and ligaments I would never walk again without amputating my leg. Within the next month I had already began aggressive chemo treatments almost weekly requiring hospital stays of up to five days. At the end of the treatment, about nine months away, there would be a chest surgery on my lungs to remove all of the tumors found within. Osteosarcoma isn’t a soft tissue cancer, the cells rapidly growing are bone cells, and the tumors in my lungs were calcifying and could not remain there.

I could continue, I could explain in detail each treatment or hospital stay. Or the side effects of chemo or about the nausea, but that’s not what’s important. In fact my story isn’t important. You have your own. Whether it’s cancer or not, your story can do one of two things: it can break you or it can create you.

My entire life I’ve been extremely good at knowing the right thing to say, I’ve been able to pass as a Christian for a very long time, I could live however I wanted, but look extremely pure. I’ve wasted a lot of God-given talents and opportunities throughout my entire life. I’m not trying to beat myself up, I’ve done good things but I’ve masked my life in many ways. For the last six months of 2012 I was praying that God would put something in my life that either completely broke me and ruined my faith or on the other end required me to lean wholly on him. This year he has blessed me with an opportunity to experience a situation in which I had no hope if I relied on my own strength and yet if I gave it to him I had all hope. You story, your trials or sufferings can either break you or create you.

I’ve had one prayer on my heart throughout this process, I’ve begged and pleaded with God that if I were going to have to go through this valley that it would have a purpose. My prayer was simple. That God would use my cancer to make his name great. I could care less of any other outcome, but it would mean something if my story caused people to praise God. Something that came to me early was a phrase, the title of this article actually, God is bigger than cancer. Anything I sent out from then on, any update or tweet or email or Facebook post was sure to have that hashtagged along with it. #Godisbiggerthancancer became something people could hold on to. It’s a cry for hope that no matter what lies ahead God is bigger than it. The thing I’ve learned though is that, sure God is bigger than cancer, but he’s also bigger than me. I’ve never had to stare death in the face before. One of our biggest concerns in life is control. I’ve learned that I have none. Even better still, I’ve learned that I want none.

Two verses seem to have oddly become coupled to me throughout this process.  1 Corinthians 13:13 and Hebrews 11:6. The first: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” The second: “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he is the rewards those who seek him.”

1 Corinthians 13:13 starts with faith. This remains, why? Because we must have it to please God, not just to please him, but because it is the foundation of everything God hopes for us to access in our lives. What does he hope for us? Listed more times than any other commandment all throughout scripture, listed even more times than the commandments to love God and love one another, is the commandment fear not. Why is that his greatest desire? Because someone who fears nothing this world or Satan tries to throw at them is someone who is fully invested in God; a God that forms mountains and breaths life. Base your faith on that principle: that God is bigger than anything.

When you fully believe and know that God is everything he says he is 1 Corinthians continues, that kind of faith breeds hope. Why? Because if you truly believe with all your heart, soul, and mind that God is able you will find that he is active. See he doesn’t just offer his proof, he offers his power, Hebrews 11:6 ends with him currently being described as the rewarder. Doesn’t that give you hope? Hosea is placed in constant turmoil in his life to be a direct example to Israel of their relationship to God. He describes a valley, the valley of Achor, which literally translates to the valley of trouble, in chapter 2.  In the beginning of chapter 1 God explains that he will put an end to the house of Israel and “on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley.” Hosea explains the trouble Israel will go through.  In chapter 2:14-15 there’s a turn, though.  He writes:  “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. Egypt.” Their trouble became hope. God, who is able, was active.

Faith gives you the strength to get through trials. Hope, bred by faith, gives you the sight to see the end of trials. But love, why does love remain and why is love the greatest? It’s simple, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 3:18-19.) Notice the language of being perfected in love. Perfected how? “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (Jas 1:2-4). How do we know that he first loved us? Because instead of just existing, which was enough, he chose to reward us.

Therefore faith, which produces strength, gives birth to hope, which produces sight, which harvests love that proves our hope and invigorates our faith and eliminates our fear. In love we understand Paul’s writings “‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:54-57).

We have a victory, because God is bigger.  “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Ps 107:1)!

cmo.sams@gmail.com