Saturday, June 28, 2014

24-Karat Friendship

By Alan Smith

    As the Winter Olympics come to a close, I am reminded of a beautiful story from past Games.  Those of you who are even mildly acquainted with Olympic history will recognize the name of Jesse Owens.  At the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Owens was the United States' response to the German leaders' claim for "Aryan superiority."  He achieved international fame by winning four gold medals; one each in the 100 meter dash, the 200 meter dash, the long jump, and for being part of the 4x100 meter relay team.
    However, you may not have heard the story behind his long jump competition.  It was a competition he seemed certain to win.  After all, the year before, Owens had jumped 26 feet, 8 1/4 inches -- a record that would stand for 25 years.  But at the 1936 Olympics, he was almost out of the long jump shortly after qualifying began.  Owens fouled on his first two jumps.  A third foul and he would have been out of the competition.
    As he walked to the long-jump pit, Owens saw a tall, blue-eyed, blond German taking practice jumps in the 26-foot range.  Owens felt nervous. He was acutely aware of the Nazis' desire to prove "Aryan superiority," especially over blacks. At this point, the tall German introduced himself as Luz Long.
    "You should be able to qualify with your eyes closed!" he said to Owens. Then Long made a suggestion. Since the qualifying distance was only 23 feet, 5 1/2 inches, why not make a mark several inches before the takeoff board and jump from there, just to play it safe?
    Owens took the advice from his stiffest competition and qualified easily.  In the finals that afternoon, Jesse Owens won the gold medal with a jump of 26-5½. The first to congratulate the Olympic record holder was Luz Long.
    Owens said, "It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler.  You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn't be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment."
    I wonder -- in the church, do we more often view ourselves as competitors who are trying to do better or look better than the next guy, or as friends who are there to encourage others to accomplish what we know they can do (even if it surpasses our efforts)?
    What great value there is in having (and being) a real friend.  Solomon said, "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor.  For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.  But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up." (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
    Indeed, woe to the man who doesn't have a friend -- someone he can talk to, someone he can lean on, someone he can pour his heart out to.  Writer Patrick Morley has made a stinging observation.  He said that while most men could recruit six pallbearers, "hardly anyone has a friend he can call at 2:00 A.M."
    Let me ask you, "Do you have a friend you can call at 2:00 in the morning?"  More importantly, are you that kind of friend to others?  Solomon said that "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." (Proverbs 17:17).  Who do you have in your life that you can turn to without hesitation in the midst of adversity?  Who do you know that can confidently turn to you?
    We need to be reminded by the example of Luz Long that we were not created by God to compete with one another; we were created to encourage and exhort one another.  God intended for us to be (and have) friends.
     Have a great day!

- Alan Smith, author of the popular "Thought For Today," and minister for the Fayetteville Church of Christ in Fayetteville, NC, may be contacted at alansmith.servant@gmail.comA

An Added Burden

By Alan Smith

    I read once about a missionary who was living in Africa.  He was disturbed over something he was seeing.  The women walked around with heavy loads of wood piled on their backs.  Their husbands, on the other hand, carried nothing more than a walking stick and walked several yards in front of them.  It was considered an honor for the women to carry these heavy loads for their husbands.
    Feeling sorry for them, this missionary saw a need for some wheelbarrows.  So he sent a telegram back to the United States, ordering 200 of them to be shipped immediately.  When they arrived, he showed the women how to load the wood in the wheelbarrows.
    A few weeks later, he returned to the village to find the wheelbarrows all parked in a neat row -- unused.  He asked, "Why aren't you using them?"  One woman explained, "Well, you see, when we got the wheelbarrows loaded and all of that up on our backs, they were just too heavy!"
    That incident suggests the way a lot of people have experienced religion.  It holds out a promise to them of a fuller, richer life where all their problems will disappear.  In reality, it just brings additional burdens -- one more thing to do, one more thing to worry about.
    That's the way, in fact, that the Pharisees saw religion -- a list of rules to be kept, a pile of commands that they saw as their responsibility to enforce.  Jesus rebuked them, saying, "You load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them." (Luke 11:46)
    But Jesus offered something that the Jews found nowhere else - a relief from those burdens.
    "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
    Do you find that religion is a burden for you, or have you discovered the "rest" that Jesus intends his followers to know?
    Have a great day!

- Alan Smith, author of the popular "Thought For Today," and minister for the Fayetteville Church of Christ in Fayetteville, NC, may be contacted at alansmith.servant@gmail.com



Belief Is What You Need

   A man was lost while driving through the country.  As he tried to read a map, he accidentally drove off the road into a ditch.  Though he wasn’t injured, his car was stuck in the mud.  So the man walked to a nearby farm to ask for help.
   “Warwick can get you out of that ditch,” said the farmer, pointing to an old mule standing in a field.  The man looked at the haggardly mule and looked at the farmer who just stood there repeating, “Yep, old Warwick can do the job.”  The man figured he had nothing to lose.  The two men and Warwick made their way back to the ditch.
   The farmer hitched the mule to the car.  With a snap of the reins he shouted, “Pull, Fred! Pull, Jack! Pull, Ted! Pull, Warwick!”  And the mule pulled the car from the ditch with very little effort.
   The man was amazed.  He thanked the farmer, patted the mule, and asked, “Why did you call out all of those other names before you called Warwick?”
   The farmer grinned and said, “Old Warwick is just about blind.  As long as he believes he’s part of a team, he doesn’t mind pulling.”

- via The Lantern, Highway Church of Christ, Sullivan, IL  Ron Thomas serves as preacher and an elder for the congregation and you may visit their website as http://www.highwaycofc.com



“Belief That” or “Belief In”?

By Lance Cordle

     In the opening pages of his book, Cold-Case Christianity, J. Warner Wallace tells a story involving a fellow police officer, Mark Walker. Officer Walker was on evening patrol when observed an automobile being driven er- ratically, weaving back and forth in the road. The obvious first guess was that the driver was under the influence of alcohol or some other drug. The officer went through the process of pulling the driver over and approached the driver. When in conversation with the driver, he smelled alcohol on the man’s breath. Walker then asked the driver to get out of the car.
     What Officer Walker did not know was that the man was a parolee who was in possession of a handgun at the time of this incident. In fact, the pistol was tucked inside the waistband of the man’s pants. The police officer asked the driver to turn around so he could do a pat-down. As the man turned, he drew the pistol and fired. Walker knew that he had been beaten to the draw and even as he drew his own weapon, that he would not fire the first shot. So, he braced himself for the impact.
     The positive about the incident that evening was that Mark Walker was wearing a bulletproof vest. In his training, he had learned to use the vest, and up until that moment, the vest had not been called upon to stop a bullet. How- ever, it did stop the bullet and the police officer lived to tell Detective Wallace and others about his experience.
     What is most interesting to me about this incident is the way Wallace sums up the experience of Officer Walker: “In that singular moment, Mark went from ‘belief that’ to ‘belief in.’ It’s one thing to believe that the vest can save a life; it’s another thing to trust it to save your own life.” (J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity, Kindle Edition, locations 97- 111).
     Let’s briefly relate that summation by Wallace to our daily walk. We can and should believe that Jesus is the Son of God. The evidence is there (John 20:30, 31); we can agree with that statement. However, until we move from the belief that Jesus is the Son of God, to a belief in him (and obedience to him as Lord as part of that belief), we will not completely live for him, nor will we be willing to die for him. 
     Jesus put it this way: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25, ESV).

- via The Encourager, the weekly bulletin for the Calvert City Church of Christ, Calvert City, KY.  Lance Cordle preaches for the congregation.  He may be contacted through the congregation's website: http://www.calvertchurchofchrist.com


The Bridge

By David A. Sargent

     Once upon a time two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side by side, sharing machinery, and trading labor and goods as needed without a hitch. Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference, and finally it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.
     One morning there was a knock on John's door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter's toolbox. "I'm looking for a few days work" he said. "Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there. Could I help you?"
     "Yes," said the older brother. "I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That's my neighbor, in fact, it's my younger brother. Last week there was a meadow between us and he took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I'll go him one better. See that pile of lumber curing by the barn? I want you to build me a fence-an 8-foot fence-so I won't need to see his place anymore. Cool him down, anyhow."
     The carpenter said, "I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I'll be able to do a job that pleases you."
     The older brother had to go to town for supplies, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day. The carpenter worked hard all that day measuring, sawing, nailing.
     About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job. The farmer's eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped.
     There was no fence there at all. It was a bridge – a bridge stretching from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work, handrails and all – and the neighbor, his younger brother, was coming across, his hand outstretched. "You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I've said and done."
     The two brothers met at the middle of the bridge, taking each other's hand. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox on his shoulder. "No, wait! Stay a few days. I've a lot of other projects for you," said the older brother.
     "I'd love to stay on," the carpenter said, "but I have so many more bridges to build." *
     When WE were separated from God due to our sin (Isaiah 59:1-2), God, because of His great love for us, sent His Son Jesus to “build a bridge” of reconciliation.
     Actually, Jesus WAS and IS the bridge that reconciles man to God, for Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for our redemption (Ephesians 1:7).  Through Jesus, we are reconciled to God (see 2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
     To access the Bridge of reconciliation to God... we must place our faith and trust in Jesus (Acts16:30-31), turn from our sins in repentance (Acts 17:30-31), confess Jesus before men (Romans 10:9-10), and be baptized(immersed) into Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38).
     Don’t remain separated from God!  Cross the Bridge of reconciliation through your trusting obedience to His Will.
     Won’t YOU?

- David A. Sargent, minister for the Church of Christ at Creekwood in Mobile, Alabama, is also the editor of an electronic devotional entitled Living Water." To learn more about this excellent resource contact David via their website: http://www.creekwoodcc.org

* From illustrations data base at www.bible.org, Author Unknown

Courage or Foolishness?

It takes a lot of courage  
    To put things in God's hands,
To give ourselves completely--  
    Our lives, our hopes, our plans-- 
To follow where He leads us    
  And make His will our own-- 
But all it takes is foolishness  
    To go the way alone!      

      - Author unknown

- Edd Sterchi preaches for the Broadway Church of Christ in Campbellsville, KY. He may be contacted at eddsterchi@comcast.net


Firm Foundation

By Terry Livingston and David A. Sargent

    The bell tower of the cathedral in the Square of the Italian city of Pisa is popularly known as "The Leaning Tower of Pisa." It dates from 1173 when the foundation was begun, and it required hundreds of years for completion due to political disturbances and technical challenges. Several architects have been credited for contributions, including Gugliemo, Pisano, and Diotisalvi. It was noted by one of his students that from this Tower, Galileo conducted some of his experiments on gravitational descent. Today it is known worldwide as a popular landmark for tourism due to its historical lean of about 3.97 degrees.
    Modern engineers have attributed the tilt of the Tower to its original foundation, being a mere eight feet in depth and set in unstable, sandy soil. Throughout its history, it has been in motion, causing a progression of projects to be done to prevent it from leaning too far and toppling, such as soil removal and reinforcement with cables. Interestingly, the builders tried to counter the lean by designing some of the walls in the upper stories to be shorter than the opposing walls. Even if the foundation were straightened perfectly, the ceilings in the upper stories would not be level! Thus, the unstable foundation led to other imperfections in those things which it supports. *
    The Tower of Pisa reminds us that a structure is only as stable as its foundation. Like the Tower, our lives are also built on foundations. For many, that foundation might be a family history, a career, a famous philosophy, or political leanings. But like the Tower’s foundation, these too are subject to shifting and change.
    The question is "What foundation could we use to set the structure of our lives, a structure which is timeless, stable and unwavering?" The answer is found in Holy Scripture. JESUS CHRIST is that one true reliable Foundation upon which we may build our lives with full confidence.
    "On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand." –
Edward Mote. See Matthew 7:26-27. To build our lives on any other foundation will only lead to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14).
    Jesus said: "Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock" (Matthew 7:24-25).
    To build our lives on the solid, eternal foundation of Jesus, we must place our faith and trust in Him (Acts 16:30-31), turn from our sins in repentance (Acts 17:30-31), confess Him before men (Romans 10:9-10), be baptized(immersed) into Christ for the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16), and continue to HEAR His Word, and DO it (Matthew 7:24-25; 1 John 1:7).
     Won’t YOU build your life on the only Foundation that will lead to eternal life?

- David A. Sargent, minister for the Church of Christ at Creekwood in Mobile, Alabama, is also the editor of an electronic devotional entitled Living Water."  To learn more about this excellent resource contact David via their website: http://www.creekwoodcc.org


* Sources: New World Encyclopedia, Iowa State University Engineering Department


Fishing – For Men?

By David A. Sargent

     Neal Pollard recently reported: “In July of 2001, Kjell Wilhelmsen was fishing for salmon on the Gaula River in Norway.  What he saw in the water took precedence.
     It was Jens Ovesen, a 246-pound man, who had been swept away by a strong current.  Wilhelmsen had fished that river for a quarter-century, so he knew the movements of that current.  He ran across a bridge and waited for Ovesen to come his direction.  Then, with his homemade lure, Wilhelmsen caught the burly 60-year-old by his rubber waders on his first cast.  He ‘used every fishing trick he knew to reel the big man without breaking his light line’ (via Associated Press, 7/29/01).”
     Ovesen’s helpless condition in being swept by the current reminds us of
our OWN condition in sin....
     Sin results from our bad decisions, and we can be “caught up” in it (Galatians 6:1), enslaved by it (John 8:34), and because of our sin, find ourselves headed toward certain death (Romans 6:23).
     But Someone came to our rescue! God loves us so much that He sent Jesus to this world to live as a man and then to die on the cross for our sins (John 3:16; Hebrews 2:14-17).  “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were STILL sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8 NIV).
     In His death, Jesus paid the price for our sins (Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 2:24).  Because of His atoning sacrifice, the “hand” of salvation is extended to save those who are drowning in the swift current of sin.  He will save those who will “take His hand” through their trusting obedience.
     Jesus will save those who place their faith and trust in Him (Acts 16:30-31), turn from their sin in repentance (Acts 17:30-31), confess Him before men (Romans 10:9-10), and are baptized (immersed) into Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38).  Then, as we continue to follow Jesus in the light of His Word, His blood continues to cleanse us from sin (1 John 1:7).
     Those who accept His offer of salvation are then called to become “fishers
of men.”  Jesus approached two brothers who were casting their nets into the Sea of Galilee for fish.  Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19 NKJV).  “They immediately left their nets and followed Him” (v. 20).  They joined Jesus in the work of “fishing for men” – saving them from destruction and offering them eternal life.
     Won’t YOU accept Jesus’ offer of salvation and life on His terms?
     THEN, will you join Him in fishing for men?
     It is the GOSPEL of Jesus Christ that will save when it is believed and obeyed (Romans 1:16; 6:3-4).  One way to share the “Good News” of what Jesus has done for us is by sharing Living Water.  See the archive for other presentations of the life-giving message: http://www.creekwoodcc.org/LivingWaterArchive.htm

- David A. Sargent, minister for the Church of Christ at Creekwood in Mobile, Alabama, is also the editor of an electronic devotional entitled Living Water."  To learn more about this excellent resource contact David via their website: http://www.creekwoodcc.org

* From “Fishing for Men” by Neal Pollard, in Daily Bread, Thursday, 3/13/14.  Neal serves as the minister of the Bear Valley church of Christ in Denver, CO.  See his articles on his blog: http://preacherpollard.wordpress.com


Helping or Honking?

By Steve Higginbotham

     You’ve probably heard the story of the lady whose car broke down in the middle of a busy intersection. Of course, that would be a nightmare for any of us. But this lady kept her head and was doing her best to restart the car.
     However, after several unsuccessful attempts at restarting her car, the driver immediately behind her began to mercilessly honk his horn. His honking just escalated an already stressful situation.
     So, after enduring several moments of his incessant “honking,” this woman exited her car, walked back to the man in the car behind her and politely said, “Sir, I seem to be having trouble starting my car. If you would be so kinda as to help me get my car started, I would be more than happy to sit here and honk for you.” Well, needless to say, the honking stopped!
     Friends, how would you characterize yourself and your relationship to the church? Are you a “helper” or a “honker?” Sure, problems will arise from time to time. That’s just part of dealing with imperfect people. No church is without problems. But more than likely, where you see a problem or an inefficient program at church, you’ll also find godly men and women at wits end doing the very best they know how to fix the problem.
     Next time you see a problem at church, please don’t honk. It really doesn’t help, and usually frustrates those who are trying to fix the problem. Instead of “honking” why not lend a hand and help?

- Steve Higginbotham preaches for the Karns Church of Christ in Knoxville, TN. He may be contacted through the congregation's website at http://www.karnschurch.org     



“In Him”

   Abraham Lincoln was walking into town one day when he was overtaken by a man in a wagon going in the same direction.  Lincoln hailed him and asked, “Will you have the goodness to take my overcoat to town for me?”
   “With pleasure,” responded the stranger, “but how will you get it again?”
   “Oh, very easily.  I intend to remain in it!”
   Mr. Lincoln’s humor aside, his idea for a ride roughly parallels what happens when we trust Christ as Savior.  We put on Christ and are clothed in His righteousness.  Because we are in Him, we are assured of reaching our destination: salvation and eternal life.  But apart from Christ we are left, as it were, standing by the side of the road—and no amount of good works or ritual-keeping can save us.
--Biblical Illustrator

   “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived, and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.  We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.  But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit, Whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs, having the hope of eternal life..”  (Titus 3:3-7)

- via THE SOWER, a weekly publication of the Arthur Church of Christ, Arthur, IL. Ron Bartanen, who serves as minister and editor, may be contacted through the congregation's website: http://www.arthurchurchofchrist.com



It Does Matter What You Believe

By Steve Higginbotham

     Just yesterday, I learned of the death of Jamie Coots.  Jamie died after being bitten by a poisonous snake during a "snake handling church service."  Coots could have received medical treatment, but he refused it based on his religious convictions and died.
     Coots became a celebrity of sorts by appearing in the National Geographic television series, "Snake Salvation."  This television show documented the beliefs and practices of a Pentecostal church in southeast Kentucky that "handles poisonous snakes."
     Members of this religious sect believe that Mark 16:17-18 commands them to engage in this practice. However, a more careful study of the Bible will reveal that Jesus wasn't commanding Christians to be involved in a "side show" involving snakes.  He was stating that his followers would be given miraculous abilities that would assist them in confirming the message they preached.  An example of what Jesus was talking about is found in Acts 28:1-6 when the apostle Paul was bitten by a poisonous viper on the Island of Malta.  Instead of dying as the natives surely thought he would, Paul simply shook the snake from his hand, and he was alright.  Furthermore, these miraculous gifts were temporary (1 Corinthians 13:8-10; Ephesians 4:8-13) and were never intended to last for all time.
     Sadly, Mr. Coots' misguided faith and interpretation of the Bible cost him his life.  While, most of us reading this will not make the same mistake that Mr. Coots did, we may make other mistakes that could be just as harmful to our spiritual health?  If we don't give great care and attention to reading and studying the word of God, we too can be hurt.
     You see, in spite of what you've heard some people say, it does matter what you believe.

- Steve Higginbotham preaches for the Karns Church of Christ in Knoxville, TN. He may be contacted through the congregation's website at http://www.karnschurch.org


The Most Dangerous Selfie Ever?

By Lance Cordle

    In 2013, the word “selfie” officially became a word, being included by both American Heritage and Oxford Dictionaries. According to an article in Time.com, it was actually coined in 2002 when a Australian photographed the results of his face-first fall down some steps (NewsFeed.Time.com, No- vember18, 2013). The term basically refers to a photograph (usually taken with a smartphone) that is of the taker (sometimes with others)  and then posted on social media. The situations range from comical, to scandalous, even  outrageous.  Because of the popularity of the action, as well as  the scandalous nature of many of the photos, 2013 has sometimes been called “The Year of the Selfie.”
     Now, in 2014, comes another selfie, this one in the realm of the danger- ous (The Daily Mail, February 4, 2014). A young man, identified  only as “Christian” is captured by a photographer as he snaps his selfie. Christian is pictured running with bulls in Houston, Texas over the weekend. Christian holds the smartphone in typical “selfie” style (arm up and in front of him, backhand to people). Walla! Instant social media craze! The Daily Mail reporter asks the important question, “Is this the most dangerous selfie ever?” You see, the bull was right behind Christian and could have easily injured or killed him.
     Though the social media craze is recent, doing odd things, scandalous things and dangerous things in the interest of promoting oneself is not so new. Pride will motivate people to do some pretty ridiculous things. 
     My point is not to condemn all self-taken photographs, or even the post- ing of such. But there is an inherent danger with constant occupation with self. In the name of popularity, fame, and other motivations, we can, at least forfeit our good influence and at worst, forfeit our soul.
     Marriages and families are endangered when self is exalted. Friendships of long or short term can be ended quickly when self is emphasized to the exclusion and/or belittlement of others. The paradox of self-exaltation is that, eventually, the people a person is  trying to impress, turn away  because such behavior repels them.
     Paul put it this way: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to  his own interests, but also to the interest of others” (Philippians 2:3, 4 ESV).
            
- via The Encourager, the weekly bulletin for the Calvert City Church of Christ, Calvert City, KY.  Lance Cordle preaches for the congregation.  He may be contacted through the congregation's website: http://www.calvertchurchofchrist.com


Potholes Of Safety

By Tom Moore

   Since The Portuguese withdrew from Angola , many years ago, the country’s roads, bridges and transportation systems have fallen into disrepair while the country engaged in civil war.  Trucks sit beside the roads, lacking the replacement parts that would enable them to run.  Bridges have collapsed and the roads are full of potholes.  On a trip to Angola , a representative from a benevolent organization was being driven through the impoverished, war-torn country to assess the needs, when he noticed that his driver made no attempt to avoid the deep potholes and ruts characteristic of that nation’s highways.  In fact, the driver seemed to be avoiding those places where some repair work had been carried out—those few holes that had been filled in.  Curious, he asked his driver why he avoided those few relatively smooth patches of road.  “Because,” came his reply, “that’s where the land mines are.”
   Friends, we need to be careful, for the smooth and easy way is not always the best way—there can be hidden troubles.  The easy way, spiritually speaking, leads to destruction.  Our Lord said, “Enter in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.  Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).  Avoiding the potholes of life may not always be the safest route.

- via THE SOWER, a weekly publication of the Arthur Church of Christ, Arthur, IL. Ron Bartanen, who serves as minister and editor, may be contacted through the congregation's website: http://www.arthurchurchofchrist.com



Saved by the Book

By David A. Sargent

     Rickey Wagoner, a driver for the Greater Dayton [Ohio] Regional Transit Authority, said he stopped his bus to check a mechanical problem around 5 a.m. Monday (2/24/14) when three men approached him.  A struggle ensued.  Wagoner was shot three times – two times in the chest and once in his leg – and stabbed in the arm.  He was able to wrestle the gun away from his attackers, and they fled.
     Wagoner called 911 reporting the incident and the injuries he sustained.  He was taken to the hospital and released the following day!  How could he recover so quickly – especially since he had been shot twice in the chest?
     The two bullets fired at his chest had been slowed by a book of paraphrased Bible verses that he was carrying in his shirt pocket.  Wagoner said in his 911 call that he felt two shots to his chest and that he felt like he’d “been hit with a sledgehammer.”  Police later reported that two small-caliber bullets hit the booklet called "The Message," which has Bible verses in contemporary language, and were found lodged inside the book.
     That Bible book saved his life!  The Bible can save OUR lives, too!
     Observe James 1:21-25:  “21Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.  22But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23For 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. 24For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25But 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.”
     Our sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:1-2) and is FATAL (Matthew 7:13-14).  But “the Book” (the Bible) informs us that God loves us so much that He gave His Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins (John 3:16; 1 Peter 2:24).  Through Jesus, we can enjoy the forgiveness of our sins and receive the gift of eternal life (Ephesians 1:7; Romans 6:23).
     In order to accept His offer of salvation, we must “plant” the Word by receiving and believing the message that Jesus, the Son of God, died for our sins.  We must place our faith and trust in Him and His perfect sacrifice (Acts 16:30-31).  We must “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness” through our repentance (Acts 17:30-31).  Then, confessing our faith in Jesus (Romans 10:9-10), we must be baptized (immersed) into Christ for the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16).  Then, as we continue to walk in the light of His Word, the blood of Jesus continues to cleanse us from all sin (1 John 1:7).
     Receive it, believe it, and obey it and you will be “saved by the Book” – for the Book tells us about Jesus who “took the bullet” for our sins and died in our place so that we might have forgiveness and receive the gift of eternal life.
     Won’t YOU implant the Word in your heart and be saved by Christ through your trusting obedience?

- David A. Sargent, minister for the Church of Christ at Creekwood in Mobile, Alabama, is also the editor of an electronic devotional entitled Living Water."  To learn more about this excellent resource contact David via their website: http://www.creekwoodcc.org

* Information gleaned from CBSnews.com



Stop Trying to Hide

By Edd Sterchi

     A preacher phoned the home of some recent visitors to church services.  A voice answered very softly and quietly, “Hello?”  The preacher asked, “Who is this?” The whisper on the other end said, “This is Jimmy.”  The preacher asked, “How old are you, Jimmy?”  “I’m four years old,” the boy replied.  The conversation continued.  “Jimmy, may I please speak to your Mother?”  “No, not right now; she’s very busy.”  “Well then can I speak to your Dad?”  “No, he’s really busy, too.”  The preacher, wondering why this little boy was taking the calls, began to get concerned that perhaps the boy was home alone, so he asked, “Are there any other adults at your house?”  “Yes, the police,” said Jimmy.   The preacher was really worried now.  Was this little boy in trouble?  Did something happen to his parents?  What could be going on?  So he asked, “Well, Jimmy, could I speak to one of the police officers?”  “No, they’re all very busy too.”  The preacher, really worried now declared, “Jimmy, what’s happening?  What are they all busy doing?”  The little whispering voice came back and said proudly, “They’re all looking for me.  I’m playing hide and seek, and I’m winning;  Bye.”
     Sadly, many people are like little Jimmy.  They are living in secret sin, thinking they are hiding it from their families, or even worse, from the Lord.  Jimmy got found (or should I say “caught”), I’m sure.  And for those who think they have committed the perfect secret sin, be warned: “your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23).
     The Bible declares that God will one day judge the secrets of every heart (Rom. 2:16).  He “will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecc. 12:14).   Note one more admonishment concerning this matter from the lips of our Savior: “For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known” (Luke 12:2).  Friend, take notice: There is no thing as the perfect cover-up when it comes to sin.  Those who think they can evade shame by sinning in secret will discover one day that open disclosure of their secrets before the very throne of God is the worst shame of all.
     It is folly to think we can mitigate our sin by keeping it secret. It is double folly to tell ourselves that we are better than others because we sin in private rather than in public.  And it is the very height of folly to convince ourselves that we can get away with sin by covering it up.  “He who covers his sins will not prosper” (Pro. 28:13).
     But there is good news.  The rest of Pro. 28:13 reveals it.  Here’s the verse in it’s entirety: “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.”  If we, as children of God, will acknowledge and confess our sins (1 John 1:9), repent of them and pray for forgiveness (Acts 8:22), we are promised that those sins will never be held against us.  But then, as the Proverbs text suggests, we must also forsake those sins.
     All sin is an assault against our holy God, whether it is done in public or in secret.  And God, who beholds even the innermost secrets of the heart, sees our sin clearly, no matter how well we think we have covered it.  The best thing to do with secret sins is get them “out in the open” before God, get them forgiven, abandon them, and change our lifestyle.
     “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden.  I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.” (Psa. 32:5)

- Edd Sterchi preaches for the Broadway Church of Christ in Campbellsville, KY. He may be contacted at eddsterchi@comcast.net


     

The Things Kids Say!—

   Larry watched, fascinated, as his mother smoothed cold dream on her face.  “Why do you do that, Mommy?” he asked.
   “To make myself beautiful,” said his mother, who then began removing the cream with a tissue.
   “What’s the matter?” asked Larry.  “Giving up?”

- via THE SOWER, a weekly publication of the Arthur Church of Christ, Arthur, IL. Ron Bartanen, who serves as minister and editor, may be contacted through the congregation's website: http://www.arthurchurchofchrist.com



The Value of Criticism

ByAlan Smith

    Winston Churchill exemplified integrity and respect in the face of opposition.  During his last year in office, he attended an official ceremony.  Several rows behind him two gentlemen began whispering.  "That's Winston Churchill."  "They say he is getting senile."  "They say he should step aside and leave the running of the nation to more dynamic and capable men."
    When the ceremony was over, Churchill turned to the men and said, "Gentlemen, they also say he is deaf!"
    Criticism.  Nobody enjoys being criticized, even if it's done in a kind, loving way.  But it's even more difficult to accept when the criticism is harsh or unfair.  The fact is, however, that we all find ourselves from time to time in a position of being unfairly criticized.
    Criticism -- even destructive criticism -- may serve a useful purpose.  We need to listen to it and, if possible, profit by it.  We ought to be humble enough to recognize that some criticisms are justly deserved.  Even when critics are unkind and when they exaggerate our failures, there may still be some truth in what they say.
    So, when faced with criticism, we need to look at the situation honestly and ask these questions:  Is it true?  If so, how can I overcome the condition that caused it?  If not, is there something I can do to eliminate future criti­cism of the same type?
    It was reported to Abraham Lincoln once that one of his cabinet members had called him a fool.  Having verified the fact that Mr. Stanton had indeed referred to him in this manner, Lincoln said, "Mr Stanton is a wise man.  If he said I am a fool, then I had better look into the matter."
    It has been said, "We learn much from the disagreeable things people say, for they make us think, whereas the good things only make us glad."
    For Christians, criticism should be a stepping stone to spiritual growth!  It's an opportunity to learn what we're doing wrong and what we need to correct.  It provides us with the motivation we need to change and mature.
    "If you listen to correction to improve your life, you will live among the wise. Those who refuse correction hate themselves, but those who accept correction gain understanding." (Proverbs 15:31-32, NCV)
Have a great day!

- Alan Smith, author of the popular "Thought For Today," and minister for the Fayetteville Church of Christ in Fayetteville, NC, may be contacted at alansmith.servant@gmail.com



What He Did Best

By David A. Sargent

    Adam Kemp wrote: “Rodney Carroll always wore the right hat in the right situation.”
    Rodney lost his hair at an early age, so he was always wearing a hat.  He wore a Red Sox hat during baseball season, an “Indian Jones” style hat during Bible camp, and a flat cap for everyday wear.
    The expression – “he wore many hats” – also describes Rodney in that he not only served as the minister for Ninnekah Church of Christ in Chickasha, OK, but also as a counselor and patriarch for the Chickasha community.
    It was while he was wearing one of those “hats” that Rodney lost his life....
    He was returning from picking up his wife, Diana, at the Oklahoma City airport when the car in front of them lost traction on an icy road near Chickasha and struck a barrier.  Immediately, Rodney, age 61, put on his characteristic “helping others hat” and jumped out of his SUV to try to help the hurt couple in the car.  “That’s when a school bus behind them also lost control on the ice, striking Rod and killing him,” reports Kemp.
    The 26 church pews inside the small sheet metal building that houses the Ninnekah Church of Christ were filled to capacity on the day of Rodney’s funeral.  Memories were shared and appreciation was given concerning the life of their friend, mentor, and counselor.
    “We lost the best man we’ve ever known,” said his wife, Diana. “He left this world doing what he did best and that was helping others.”
    Rodney’s life and even the circumstances of his death reflect the life and death of the One concerning whom Rodney preached.
    You and I have wrecked OUR lives due to our sin....  But Jesus came to our rescue!  In order to save us, however, He had to give His life for us.  Only the precious blood of Jesus, God’s Perfect Son, could pay the price for our redemption (1 Peter 1:18-19).  Jesus, who lived His life seeking to help and to save others, willingly laid down His life (John 10:17-18) so that we might have forgiveness of our sins and receive the gift of eternal life (Ephesians 1:7; Romans 6:23).
    God will save those who place their faith and trust in Jesus (Acts 16:30-31), turn from their sin in repentance (Acts 17:30-31), confess Him before men (Romans 10:9-10), and are baptized (immersed) into Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38).  He will continue to cleanse from sin those who continue to walk in the light of His word (1 John 1:7).
    Jesus lived and He died “doing what He did best"... and that was helping – and saving – others.”
    Won’t YOU accept His offer of salvation on His terms?

- David A. Sargent, minister for the Church of Christ at Creekwood in Mobile, Alabama, is also the editor of an electronic devotional entitled Living Water."  To learn more about this excellent resource contact David via their website: http://www.creekwoodcc.org

* Information gleaned from “Chickasha minister wore many hats for his community” by Adam Kemp in The Oklahoman (3/9/14) and “Oklahoma minister — who died while helping others — remembered for reaching souls, changing lives” by Erik Tryggestad in The Christian Chronicle (3/10/14).  See www.christianchronicle.org


Writing Our Own Testimonials

By John Gipson
 
     I read of a young lady applying for a position as a housemaid.  She showed her recommendations to her prospective employer.  After reading them, the woman said to the applicant, “You certainly have some fine recommendations here.”  The girl replied, much pleased, “I’m glad you like them.  I wrote them myself.”
     Do you suppose she might have been a relative of ours? We are good at commending ourselves.  It was said of one preacher that he would “strut while sitting down.”
      Paul rebuked some of his enemies in the Corinthian church for extolling themselves.  He wrote, “Not that we venture to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves.  But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding” (2 Corinthians 10:12).
     What a temptation it is to look around and say, “Well, at least I am better than so and so,” and fall into complacency, while patting ourselves on the back.  It’s always easy to find someone near us, against whom we show up pretty well.
     Rather than measure ourselves with those around us, we are called to a higher standard.  We are to press on “until we all attain to…mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”(Ephesians 4:13).
     With Christ as our standard, all of us are quickly brought to humility.
     As Christians, self commendation is both folly and dangerous.  Timothy was told, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed…” (2 Tim. 2:15).
     It’s God’s approval that really matters.  How do we measure up there?

- John Gipson, longtime minister and elder for the Windsong Church of Christ in Little Rock, AR; via THE SOWER, a weekly publication of the Arthur Church of Christ, Arthur, IL. Ron Bartanen, who serves as minister and editor, may be contacted through the congregation's website: http://www.arthurchurchofchrist.com