Stars Still Shine

Posted: October 27th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Articles

Someone wrote: “Two men were walking along a country road one evening. One was bewailing world conditions. Everything was wrong — civilization was being swept away, religion was defeated, there was no future but darkness. When the speaker paused for breath, his friend pointed to the sky and commented, ‘The stars still shine’.”

In this age of scientific discovery, nuclear fission, etc., accompanied by man’s craze for recognition and power, human society seems to be balanced on a powder keg. Scientific minds admit the possibility of a war that could wipe out most of the populace and set the rest back many decades. In addition to this, the economic situation is highly unstable. With the world becoming more wicked daily, potential dangers of various kinds are mounting. In view of it all, the human mind is highly disturbed. Fear, perplexity, anxiety and distrust are mounting on every hand. Even in the church there is unrest. Faithfulness to the Lord’s standard is made more trying by the lowering of the moral standards of world society and a pulpit policy that fails to properly indoctrinate the immersed in the fundamentals of New Testament Christianity.

Yet, “the stars still shine,” and the Lord is still with His own. His message to the Christian says: “Be ye free from the love of money; content with such things as ye have: for Himself hath said, I will in no wise fail thee, neither will I in any wise forsake thee. So that with good courage we say: The Lord is my helper; I will not fear: What shall man do unto me?” (Heb 13:5).

Even in this present life, our blessings far exceed our understanding; and it behooves us to “be ye thankful” (Col 3:15) instead of dwelling upon the unpleasant potentialities of tomorrow. Much of man’s sorrow stems from his trust in material and temporal things. We can never find true and lasting security until we look to the right source; and when we do this, the things over which men worry so much will become less important to us. To the Christian – the baptized believer whose trust is in God and His Son and message – the important thing is not what he has done upon the earth, but what his state will be when the elements have melted with fervent heat. For, as Paul wrote: “. . . we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor 4:18). As the stars in the heaven continue to shine, though the world is troubled, neither our earthly sorrows nor the removal of earth and the stars can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, while we remain faithful to Him.

-R. L. Hester


Eagles In A Storm

Posted: October 21st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Articles

Did you know that an eagle knows when a storm is approaching long before it breaks? The eagle will fly to some high spot and wait for the winds to come. When the storm hits, it sets its wings so that the wind will pick it up and lift it above the storm. While the storm rages below, the eagle is soaring above it.

The eagle does not escape the storm. It simply uses the storm to lift it higher. It rises on the winds that bring the storm. When the storms of life come upon us, and all of us will experience them, we can rise above them by setting our minds and our belief toward God.

The storms do not have to overcome us. We can allow God’s power to lift us above them. God enables us to ride the winds of the storm that bring sickness, tragedy, failure and disappointment in our lives. We can soar above the storm.

The wise man wrote, “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future” (Eccl 7:14). Solomon fairly well summarized life. There are good and bad days that attend our lives. Make the best of both. When things go well, rejoice and praise God; when they go wrong, and adversity attacks the soul, rest on the assurance that God is there and he cares.

His goodness is shown in the providential help he offers in time of need. “Let us therefore draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace to help (us) in time of need” (Heb 4:16).

Remember, it is not the burdens of life that weigh us down, it is how we handle them. The Bible says, “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles.” (Is 40:31)

-Unknown

 


The Greatest Story Ever Told

Posted: October 21st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Articles

Wait a second! Before you start reading, open your Bibles to Ephesians 1. Do you have it in front of you? …Okay, you may continue.

Eph 1:3-14 tells us of the masterful story written by our Lord that has been and continues to be played out upon the stage of time. A story of how He has provided abundant spiritual blessings to those in Christ (v. 3). How has accomplished this? Well, this story has three acts… what we might call the building action, climax, and resolution. Each of these sections is divided out for us by the phrase, “to the praise of His glory” or “…the glory of His grace” (vv. 6, 12, 14).

In this story’s plot, first we have the building action (vv. 4-6). Even before the world was established and time began, God had a plan. In His foreknowledge, God designed a way in which He could adopt us, make us holy and blameless in His sight, and set us apart as His own chosen people. His plan of salvation was not an afterthought. He created us knowing full well that a day would come when He would have to save us from the destruction of our disobedience.

Why did He still choose to go through with it? First of all, because He loved us (vv. 4-5). Yes, He loved us even before we were created. And nothing would make Him happier than to have us as His children. It was the “good pleasure” or “kind intention of His will” (v. 5). But beyond that, it was for “the praise of the glory of His grace” (v. 6). It was so that, through us, His grace might be illustrated, magnified, and glorified. It was so that we would “bless” Him in return (v. 3).

Next, we have the climax (vv. 7-12). Slowly, but surely, God began putting His plan into action. For a long time it was a mystery how God was going to make us holy and blameless. How could He adopt us as His children if we were still in bondage to sin? He gave us glimpses of His plan throughout history until finally, at just the right time, He removed the curtain and tied up all the loose ends in an amazing climax—Christ! (vv. 8-10)

Out of all the abundant riches of God’s grace He took the most treasured possession of all, His only Son, to pay the price for our sins. He purchased us out of slavery by Jesus’ blood and invited us to be His children. And now, as members of His household, we have access to an abundant inheritance in Christ.

Why did He do it? So that as His thankful children, we would not cease to praise His glorious nature and magnify His name.

Finally, we have the resolution (vv. 13-14). We belong to Him now, but we have a journey to complete before we can be welcomed into our eternal home. In the meantime God has given us the Holy Spirit as His mark of ownership. Just as a groom signifies his promise through an engagement ring, we have a pledge of His devotion. However, our wedding date and final inauguration into His family is yet to come. While we wait, we hold fast to the promise He has given by walking in the Spirit.

Why did He give us such a magnificent proposal and pledge? So that everyone can see how much He loves us. A plastic ring from a vending machine could have done the job, but He wants everyone to know how much He values us. From the treasure store of His grace he selected the Holy Spirit itself to give us, unto the praise of His glorious love.

What an amazing story! And to think that we are able to be a central part of it! “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1). What a glorious God we serve! He is worthy of all praise and honor! Stand in awe of His wondrous grace! Bless His holy name!

-Grady

 


Lust or Life?

Posted: October 21st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Articles

I recall how surprised I was back in the late 1980s when the “aids” scare was prominent and the number of 18-40 year old women who were sexually active actually increased by 5% in a year’s time. “Aids” at the time was pretty much a death sentence and I had assumed that a rather sizable number of fornicators would exchange “lust” for “life.” It would have made some sense if the percentage had decreased by 5 or 10 percent. Shows you what I knew then about the modern American mind. And there is more reason today to believe that both men and women prefer “lust” over “life.”

I have 25 more years of experience in talking with folks about the gospel since those statistics came out and I am now more fully convinced that the number of people who are willing to sacrifice “fleshly lusts” for “spiritual life” is extremely small.

Let me be clear, brethren. When I speak of “lust,” I am not speaking specifically and only about the lust for sex. And I do not even speak only of “sinful lust” when I say “fleshly lust.” The word “lust” is defined as “passion” or “strong desire” and can apply to everything from sinful sex to covetous greed to fishing to boating to golfing to novel-reading to movie/TV viewing to hobby addicts to IPad/IPhone gaming, etc. It can equally refer to slothful procrastinators who yearn to be “couch” or “Lazy-boy” potatoes. It doesn’t even exclude the garden or yard fanatic.

The point is that we live in prosperous times and a materialistic society, and a large majority of us are wedded to this world—its riches, its things, its pleasure, its ease, and its unlimited opportunities, avenues, and attractions for our fleshly beings. This life, of course, to many is all there is. And, as an old commercial used to say, they plan to “get all the gusto” they can. And all of this affects us—Christians. Some among us believe that 3 or 4 hours a week at the public worship services will suffice and even many who don’t believe that practice it. Beyond these few hours a week, we assume the rest of our time is ours to do with as we please—depending on our “passions,” “desires,” “lusts.”

Our Lord was fully aware of this problem. In the Parable of the Sower he spoke about the seed that “fell among the thorns.” This, Jesus taught, represents hearts in which the word of God is “choked with cares and riches and pleasures of life.” Rather than producing spiritual fruit of 30, 60, or 100 fold, these lusts interfere and these encumbered hearts “bring no fruit to perfection” (Luke 8:14).

Spiritual fruit and life are choked out because our hearts are not attuned to daily prayer, daily Bible study, daily family devotions for the children, weekly preparations for Bible classes, occasional visits to the sick or lonely, regular phone calls to discouraged or weak members, evenings of hospitality or social functions for the disconnected or friendless, a quarterly or yearly stint at teaching one of the classes, etc.

That was an exhausting paragraph to write. But think what would be “choked” if our lives were filled with these practices. “Lust” would be “choked by the cares and riches and pleasures” of the inward life of devotion to God and affection for things above. Putting the kingdom of God and righteousness first would be lethal to “worldly lusts”—even those that are innocent of themselves (see Col 3:1-2; Matt 6:33).

Yes, brethren, we are out of control in this land of the “free” and the home of the “brave” and “plenty.” Fear of “aids” didn’t quell the lust that the world had for sex and neither has anything else since those days. Until we fill our hearts with the “hope of heaven” and the “fear of hell” we will never come to love God with all our hearts and souls, walk in the obedience of faith, and exalt spiritual life above worldly lusts.

-L. A.

 


Whatever Draws Us Closer To God

Posted: October 13th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Articles

“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).

We ought to define as good anything that draws us closer to God. Most things are good in some ways and bad in others, but if the overall result of a thing is that we are drawn closer to God, then we’d have to pronounce it good. We shouldn’t complain about anything that enhances our hope of heaven!

It should be obvious, but we often overlook it, that whether we see something as “good” depends entirely upon our value system. If the here and now is our main concern, then values like “ease” and “pleasure” will be primary and anything inconsistent with those values will be seen as “bad.” As Christians, however, we judge things by a different standard, and based on our values, we often welcome thing that the world rejects, and vice versa.

If God is our main concern, then nothing will be more important than drawing closer to God. Spiritual growth will be our ultimate priority; it will be the value against which we measure everything else. In short, whatever is conducive to spiritual growth is good, and whatever hinders spiritual growth is bad.

Many of the things that are conducive to spiritual growth, however, are painful to experience! Are we prepared to give thanks for the experiences that make us grow? Well, we should. As Christians, we should find ourselves expressing gratitude for many things the world goes to great lengths to avoid. Turning worldly wisdom upside down, Paul said, “I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” And James said, “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:2,3).

So we have a choice, We can back away from suffering or we can welcome it. But having made our choice, there will be consequences. If we make mere pleasantness our priority, then we won’t grow in godliness. That result can only come from the other alternative: the patient endurance of hardship. We can’t have the result without embracing the means that lead to that result.

“It is the fire of suffering that brings forth the gold of godliness” (Jeanne Marie de la Mothe Guyon).

-Gary Henry

 


Praying For The Sick

Posted: October 13th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Articles

Folks, even some Christians, are convinced that God will make all faithful Christians healthy, wealthy, and powerful. It is often assumed, for example, that a child of God who is sick can pray to God and He will heal him/her. Clearly we are told that God will hear and answer the prayer of faith when offered sincerely by God’s children of righteousness (see 1 Pet 3:12; James 5:14-15).

But an important factor often forgotten about prayer is that God’s answer is not always “yes.” The wisdom of God is as high above man’s as the heavens are above the earth and He may not always agree that our requests are in our best interest. He has made clear that “if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” and will grant our petitions (1 John 5:14). God knows exactly what is good for us—spiritually. Things that may be good for us “physically” and “materially” may not benefit us eternally.

Even our Lord requested that “this cup” of death pass from him. But that would have left all men in sin and subject to eternal punishment. So God said “no” to Jesus, which Jesus humbly accepted, went forth from Gethsemane, and died for the sins of the world. Paul prayed for God to remove a “thorn in his flesh” to which God said “no” (2 Cor 12:1-10). Jesus was sinless and Paul was a dedicated servant of God, but God said “no” to both of them and they suffered in the body. So today God may say no to our requests for healing.

We believe that in answer to prayer God can send “rain,” can “heal” the sick, or “lead” the indigent to jobs. But He may also see value in droughts, in sickness or death, and in loss of jobs. When we don’t understand these things, it is because we do not know God’s will, His values, and His workings among men. God’s ultimate goal for His children is not “bumper crops,” “bodily health,” or “treasures on earth.”

Pray for Healing. Yes, we should pray for God to heal the sick, but in the context of “thy will be done.” We know if God can work miraculously beyond the laws of nature to heal, that He can also work through natural law to heal. God does not have to form clouds miraculously to bring rain; He can do it by use of the natural laws He created. So it is with healing the sick. He can work by doctors, medical labs and medicines, surgeries, or the natural resources of a man’s body. We cannot plumb the depths or scale the heights of God’s wisdom to understand His workings, but we do by faith trust His promise to work out in our lives what is good (see Rom 8:28).

Pray for Sufficiency. When God decided to leave the thorn in Paul’s flesh, He explained to the apostle that His grace is sufficient even in suffering to meet the apostle’s needs in life. If healing does not fit God’s plan for our lives, He will by His word and power provide the inner strength and spiritual character to accept the pain, endure the suffering without murmuring, and get on with the business of serving Him in faithfulness and contentment (Php 2:14; 4:6-7, 11-13).

Pray for Perspective. The right perspective about life in the flesh and bodily suffering is great medicine for the soul. By this we know that bodily affliction is but for a moment and that beyond the grave disease and death will cease forever. God’s people can meet the challenge of sickness and pain by relegating it to the realm of unimportant matters (see Rom 8:18). While we now pray for God to heal the sick, we also focus on the glorious body God promises us in which there is no more groaning, mourning, suffering, and pain. If we by unbelief, unfaithfulness, or bitterness miss or overlook this, we have missed what really matters (Php 3:20-21; 2 Cor 5:1-4; Rev 21:4).

-L. A.

 


Forgetting What Lies Behind

Posted: October 6th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Articles

“Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Php 3:13-14).

Paul the apostle had quite a few skeletons in the closet of his past. He never forgot where he was when Christ called Him. He was on the road to capture and kill the very Christians that he now regarded as his brethren. He had not forgotten his former life as a “blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor” (1 Tim 1:13). He still viewed himself as the “chief of sinners” (1 Tim 1:15).

How did Paul live with himself? Imagine visiting the church in Jerusalem and sitting next to the families of those he had been active in putting to death… children without a father, wives without a husband, siblings without a brother, parents without a son. Every face was a reminder of the horrible atrocities he had committed against the Lord’s people.

No, Paul could never truly forget what he had done. But he did not allow it to cripple him in his service to the Lord. He left the past behind him and determined to focus rather on the work at hand and the great prize laid up ahead. Every time he thought about the depth of his sin, he thought about the even greater depth of God’s grace.

“I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Cor 15:9-10).

Paul never escaped the memory of his sins, but by God’s grace he had escaped their guilt. He had drowned out their memory with shouts of praise for God’s goodness. He had filled his life so completely with the work God had given him to do, there was not room for the haunting memories to dwell.

In this sense, Paul was able to say he had forgotten what lay in the past. He had set his hand to the plow and there was no time to look back (Luke 9:62). He was reaching forward and pressing upward each day. God’s call of grace was stronger than the call of guilt coming from his past.

God has promised His people, “I will be merciful to their iniquities and I will remember their sins no more” (Heb 8:12). If that was good enough for Paul, it’s good enough for me. We don’t have to forget the past, we just can’t dwell there. Onward! Upward! This is the call of God. Praise His grace each step of the way!

-Grady

 


Looking To Jesus

Posted: October 6th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Articles

The focus of a Christian’s life is without question—Jesus. Over and over again brethren have heard preachers tell them: “Keep your eyes on Jesus.” That’s good advice, not because some preacher said it, but because God said it. The writer of Hebrews wrote to wayward Christians in words of exhortation and encouragement to tell them that they are in a race and that they must run it with steadfastness, “looking unto Jesus” (Heb 12:2).

The day or moment Christians forsake this biblical note of truth and wisdom is the time they begin to wander away. As “Christians” they are devoted to Jesus, the Christ, and focusing on anything other than His life, His example, and His teaching spells spiritual trouble. Taking their eyes off Jesus is not a trivial or incidental refocus of life; it is a major shift in direction which takes them out of the narrow way to life into the broad way that ends in eternal destruction from the face of God and His eternal glory (see Matt 7:13-14; 2 Thess 1:7-9).

This happens to Christians whose focus becomes their jobs. They find themselves devoted to “greed,” or to “power”—to securing that next raise or higher position. When these goals consume their time and thoughts to the neglect of the Lord, worldly pursuits are the prize set before them. The same can be said of women who may have had to work outside the home to meet family needs but are still, though beyond those needs, unwilling to leave the work force and commit themselves to the kingdom business of hospitality, teaching a class of children, and lifting the spirits of the indigent or elderly saints. It is often a choice between God and mammon in which mammon wins (see Matt 6:24).

This is frequently a problem with the elderly who are focused on retirement. What waste of talent and wisdom is found in a fishing boat, on a golf course, or in a travel-trailer. They’ve done their time. Seniors (and I am there and can testify) have a lot less energy and each year it becomes much easier to occupy a pew and leave the work of the Lord to the next generation. And yet, think of the “seasoned” spirituality and talent that is being wasted by the inactivity of brethren who are tired.

And, of course, the younger generation is caught up in the “pleasures of life” and is having too much fun to focus on regular Bible study and prayer at home, family devotions with the kids, giving themselves to the preparation for teaching a Bible class one quarter a year , and to putting assembling ahead of sporting events. Plenty of time is given to TV, iPads, iPhones, sporting events, but so little to activities that lift the disheartened, offer company to the lonely, and make friends of God’s children.

Whether our pursuits are for greed, power, pleasure, leisure, or evil desires, our focus is essentially on ourselves and we are not, as the apostle Paul, “forgetting the things which are behind and stretching forward to the things before” us. “Looking to Jesus” means we “press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Php 3:13-14).

Brethren, this is not a shot at anyone in particular, but about the vital, biblical principle of focus that every one of us needs. Is each one of us “looking to Jesus” or are we in one way or another filling our lives with “mammon”—the pursuit of the material world. When brethren seek the things above and put the kingdom of God first, mammon will be an incidental concern in their lives (see Col 3:1-2; Matt 6:33). Their eyes will be focused on Jesus and their lives will then be dominated by the spiritual goals their Lord himself met and set for them.

-L. A.

 


Grace Teaches Us To Say No

Posted: October 6th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Articles

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Tit 2:11-12).

God’s grace means that we’ve been liberated from the guilt of our past sins and made free to do what is right in the present. It does not mean that we are free to do anything we please. To those who might see grace in this kind of permissive way, Paul asked, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Rom 6:1-2). Grace means that we have “died to sin,” and if we are sincere in seeking God, then this is a truth that we must take very seriously.

There is a difference between “freedom” and “licentiousness.” Our English word “licentiousness,” like its cousin “license,” comes from the Latin licentia, which meant freedom. But licentiousness is not true freedom; it is nothing more than the lack of restraint. It is the stolen freedom of the person who disregards the rules of reality and throws discipline to the wind.

But because licentious conduct respects no standards except those of its own pleasure, its effect is not to liberate but to enslave. Speaking of those who taught that God’s grace confers the freedom to engage in immoral conduct, Peter wrote, “While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage” (2 Pet 2:19).

There is simply no way around the fact that there are some “thou shalt nots” in the Scriptures. Grace does not mean that we never have to say no—it means that we say no to the things that we should say no to. Teaching us to “deny ungodliness,” grace says that “we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.” And in this sense grace is the most powerfully motivating force in the world.

Forgiven of our past acts of rebellion against God’s love, we respond gratefully. We never lose our healthy respect for God’s justice, but we learn to keep God’s law primarily out of love and appreciation for Him. This is “renunciation” in the very highest and noblest sense, and it is by no means an infringement on our freedom. It is simply the kind of commitment that is willing to make sacrifices for the sake of love.

-Gary Henry

 


Evangelism Report – September 2014

Posted: October 6th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Articles

“Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ…” (Col 4:3).

This has been a continual prayer of mine since Erin and I moved here in 2012. We need God’s help to open doors, open hearts, and give us wisdom as we strive to share the gospel with the lost. I hope this is something that has been ever present in your prayer-life as well.

This past month God has affirmatively answered these prayers and opened many doors for His word in our community. Let’s start out by talking about our meetup Bible studies.

In the past month our STL Bible Study group has gained 14 members, only 6 of which we know to be faithful members of the Lord’s church. That’s 8 new evangelistic contacts! Out of these 8 new faces, 6 have already RSVP’d to one of our Bible studies. In all, we have 9 planning to attend our James study on October 2 and 5 people planning to come to our Ephesians study on October 14.

If you have not visited www.meetup.com/STL-Bible-Study/ and created an account, I would encourage you to do so. Even if you are unable to attend any of the studies, you will be able to keep track of what is going on with this effort. Your membership will also strengthen our credibility as an active and thriving group.

Most of all be praying for the success of these efforts. God has given us many open doors, let’s be praying for open hearts as well.

I have also set up 2 new personal Bible studies this past month. Visitors to our assemblies and strangers at coffee shops can often turn out to be open doors for the gospel. I am optimistic about both of these individuals and would appreciate your prayers.

Our gospel meeting was another wonderful opportunity to spread the word. In the two weeks proceeding our meeting we passed out well over 500 flyers in our community. I am unaware of anyone who actually came because of these flyers, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t planting seeds.

We received a message on the church phone from someone who had received one of these flyers and wanted to inquire further about it. Even if they didn’t show up at the door, people who receive these flyers are seeing that we are more than a landmark at the corner of Big Bend and Geyer. They see we are a group of active laborers in the Lord’s kingdom. Who knows what that seed may produce in time?

Other efforts are still in the beginning stages. I have corresponded with student leaders at Washington University about teaching or at least joining in Bible studies on campus. Their response was very favorable. As the start of the school year business begins to subside, I hope to get this ball rolling again.

Our evangelism videos have been on a temporary hold as well. I want to do everything possible to make them look professional and attractive. In November my brother-in-law who works as a videographer will be traveling through St. Louis. I hope to work together with him to figure out the best camera angles, lighting, and methods for filming our videos.

If God is opening up evangelistic opportunities for you, feel free to share them with me. Let’s keep this discussion open, laboring together in the Lord’s vineyard. Let Christ’s goal of seeking and saving the lost be ever at the forefront of our minds.

-Grady