Tag Archives: Issue 8

Giving and Receiving

Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality (Romans 12:13).

Christians are instructed to be hospitable several times in our New Testament, and hospitality is highlighted as a necessary behavior of elders and worthy widows in the church (Romans 12:13, 1 Timothy 3:2, 5:10). Hospitality is a strength demonstrated in the characters of both Abraham and Lot (Genesis 18:1-8, 19:1-3). The widow of Zarephath was richly rewarded for her hospitality to Elijah (1 Kings 17:7ff) and the wealthy woman of Shunem was blessed by God for her hospitality to Elisha (2 Kings 4:8ff, 8:1-6). The hospitality of Abraham and Lot, sharing food and shelter with strangers, stands in stark contrast to the attitudes of the men of Sodom in Genesis 19, validating God’s mercy to Abraham and Lot while condemning Sodom and Gomorrah (and later generations of Judah, consider Ezekiel 16:49-50). Their example is referenced as a reason for God’s people today to also be diligent about hospitality, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). Hospitality, sharing our food, our homes, our transportation, our resources, with others, is putting Christian faith and love into practice. Perhaps the more we have that can be shared the more responsibility we have to share it, as when Paul warned that the rich should not put confidence in wealth, but rather, “Command those who are rich in this present world … to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:17-18). Whether we have much or little, Christians are called upon to share and be hospitable even to strangers, and especially to fellow believers.

The caveat, “willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:18), means that hospitality calls for not only sharing a meal or a ride or time or conversation or a place to sleep, as a duty, but also doing so with a gracious and willing heart. “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9). As one who has been a guest in many homes and at many tables, I personally greatly appreciate willing hospitality, and know that it can be very uncomfortable to be the recipient of hospitality given grudgingly, as an obligation rather than a generous gift. How much a person has may not directly reflect the willingness to share. Some of the finest hospitality I have ever received has been graciously given by people who had very little, and for whom the giving was actually a sacrifice. Such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

The story of the Philippian church begins in Acts 16, with the conversion of Lydia by the river. She promptly extended an offer of hospitality to Paul and his companions, to use her home as their residence and base of operations, an offer the itinerant preachers promptly accepted (Acts 16:14-15, 40). That gracious beginning for the Philippian church led to a congregation that flourished and continued to engage willingly and enthusiastically in “the matter of giving and receiving” as they shared with Paul several times during his travels, from Thessalonica to Corinth and even to Rome.

 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God (Philippians 4:15-18).

In this “matter of giving and receiving,” Paul wrote that the giving was credited (by God) to the account of the Philippian brethren, a pleasing sacrifice. Consider though, that for their gracious gift to do its job, it was necessary for it to be graciously received. The story of Philippi might have been much different if Paul and company had declined the offer of hospitality from Lydia. The story of the gospel, from the traveling of Jesus and the first sending of the twelve through the rest of the New Testament has depended both on the gift of hospitality and on gracious reception of the gifts provided. Consider the many times Jesus was a guest in people’s homes, and especially the hospitality of Peter in Capernaum. Recall too the instructions Jesus gave the twelve about their demeanor toward those who would volunteer to host them, and the blessing they should bestow on the kind and generous (Matthew 10:11-13, and consider Luke 10:5-8). It is important not only to be gracious in offering hospitality, but also gracious in receiving it.

Perhaps most of us have witnessed at some time a competition to be the giver, reluctance to be the recipient of buying lunch or some other small kindness. Sometimes such a competition to be “the giver” can become toxic, spoiling the happiness of the sharing and distorting the spirit of generosity. Recall that the Lord said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'” (Acts 20:35). So, it is important to be a giver, to practice hospitality, but it is also important to graciously let others practice hospitality and be blessed in the giving. Excel in giving, and also let others excel in giving. It is the Lord’s will that we be willing and gracious hosts, and also his will that we be gracious to others by accepting their hospitality in turn, as did Jesus himself.

~ Charles Fry

Submitting for the Lord’s Sake

Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God (1 Peter 2:13-16).

In verse 16, Peter makes the astounding statement that we are free. Paul speaks to this freedom in Romans 6:18, “and having been set free from sin,” and again in Romans 6:22, “but now having been set free from sin.” Sin and its wages bound man (Romans 6:23). Romans 8:1-4 explains that through Christ Jesus we are able to overcome the flesh and walk according to righteousness in God’s perfect law of liberty. We are free indeed!

In Romans 8:14, Paul explains that, “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” God gave us His Spirit as a guarantee that we are adopted and thus are joint heirs with his Son (Ephesians 1:13-14). This same concept is used in Philippians 3:20, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” 

Paul tells us in Romans that we are adopted into the family of God and in Philippians that we are citizens in heaven. The family of God is a nation of people, a kingdom which “shall stand forever” (Daniel 2:44). We belong to a kingdom which breaks down physical barriers. Ephesians 2:6 goes so far as to say that we already sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. We dwell in a spiritual habitation which cannot be bound by family or nation. There is no race, no nationality, and no language to distinguish one from another for, “Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11). In the only kingdom which will stand forever, it does not matter whether one is American, Asian, African, European, or Australian. All, through the Spirit of God, are one family and one nation under one perfect law which liberates us from sin and death.

Peter, however, reminds us that liberty is not for vice. Have you heard children say they cannot wait to grow up so they can do whatever they want and then 10 years later they are pining for the simplicities of childhood? Liberty does not come without responsibility. Our freedom from sin means we are bound by the responsibility to do what is right. Romans 6:18 states, “And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”  We don’t say, “Oh boy, I’m free in Christ, therefore I’ll have a good time in this life, because He will have to forgive me.” Rather we say the opposite. Because of our freedom, we make it our aim to be pleasing to him.

As Peter explains, we are to set aside our rightful liberty to obey the commandments and ordinances of man. Though we are free in regard to earthly bounds, dwelling in a spiritual kingdom, we acknowledge God’s goodness and put to silence the ignorance of foolish men by submitting ourselves to earthly kings (1 Peter 2:15).  Verse 13 is very clear that this is “for the Lord’s sake.” Consider this example: how many enjoy paying taxes?  I’m certainly thankful to have earned a living, but paying and filing the resulting taxes are not a real thrill. According to Peter, we pay our taxes not for our own sake (for keeping us out of the courts or saving our reputation), but for the Lord.  Romans 13:1-2 go even further, suggesting that governing authorities are authorized by God. This suggests that our submission to governing authorities is evidence of our obedience to God. We might be free from physical bonds, but we must remain subject to the physical institutions God set up.

For many, this may be troubling, because we see governments continuing to pursue policies accepting evil as good. Let us not forget we are free from that progression toward evil. We dwell in a kingdom of righteousness and truth. Regardless of man’s opinions, God’s kingdom will still uphold truth. Therefore, we are not free to speak ill or refuse to submit to the governing authorities, even when they tarnish righteousness.

Consider the circumstances under which Paul and Peter wrote. Nero was emperor, and he led the empire as a glutton for sexual impulse, a soul devoid of love, and a pagan. History writes that he committed incest, kicked his pregnant wife to kill their unborn child, married men, and committed rape.  More notably, Nero is said to have blamed Christians for a fire in Rome. Rumors spread that Nero set fire to the city for his own amusement. To get the heat off, Nero directed the masses to the Christians, enacting the first government enforced persecution against the followers of Christ. One would be quite hard pressed to find much good to say about Nero. Yet that very bleak backdrop was not justification, according to both Peter and Paul, to forego submission to the governing authorities. Even Nero received his authority from God (John 19:11).

Our ruling bodies receive their power from above. Whether they recognize where their authority comes from or not does not matter. Therefore, we must submit ourselves to them, and speak no evil of them. Not for their sake. Not for our sake. But for the Lord’s sake.

In a world that is ever decaying and decomposing, we have hope (Romans 8:18-21). We are free from this world. The rulers of our day may make decisions contrary to the law of God, but they cannot destroy the law of God. God’s perfect law of liberty will stand firm forever. We must submit ourselves to governing authorities knowing they are appointed by God, and our submission is well pleasing to Him.

~ Joshua Riggins

I Know Whom I Have Believed

We know it by the chorus of a hymn when we sing, “For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto him against that day.”

What does it mean to believe?

The Bible indicates that the Holy Spirit works in our hearts and enables us to understand what we should believe to be saved (John 16:7-11). Belief is also an act of the will because it involves a decision on our part (John 7:17).

There are great statements made by Paul when he wrote Timothy and that we need to consider.  Paul makes a final great affirmation that God is able to guard and keep totally safe everything we have deposited with God.  The Scriptures exhort us to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

Our spiritual growth may be generally discussed as occurring in three seasons of development. Please do not use this teaching to examine where others are, but use it to examine yourself to see if you are indeed growing and maturing in the knowledge of Christ.  (I will use the terms “childish,” but not with the intention of disdaining the young. I am simply contrasting maturity with immaturity, adulthood with childhood.)

Our children are still immature, but we cannot expect them to be anything other than immature so long as they are children. And we must lovingly commit to their long-term growth, step by step. In the same way brethren, let us not despise the spiritually immature or the weak in faith of our brethren in Christ.  Instead, the Word tells us to receive them and watch over them (Romans 14:1). For those of you, who are further along, never forget how many years of God’s dealings it took to bring you to the level of experience you take for granted today.  With those words of introduction, let me share with you some things that I know is important to consider the beginning season of the Christian life.

The child says, “I know WHAT I believe.”

1 Peter 2:2, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation.”

In the beginning of the Christian walk, we are primarily concerned with WHAT we believe.   We depend heavily upon other Christians, the teachers, our parents, or the church leaders to tell us what we should believe. Our belief systems are established according to what we hear, see, or are taught during these formative years of spiritual development. We naturally give attention to those Christians who have known the Lord longer that we may learn the essential doctrines of our faith. Whoever or whatever influences us as a spiritual child will usually shape and mold us into what we will become tomorrow.

New Christians (or even old Christians who remain childish) are acutely interested in WHAT they believe. Once they are settled into WHAT they believe it is nearly impossible to convince them otherwise.  A good example is a big religious group in the Philippines:  they indoctrinated to their children that Jesus Christ was not God and they carry over that teaching.  They believe it and they fight for it!  Any perceived threat to their belief system is met with hostility, anger, confusion, even depression. Children are often told to do thus-and-so, and when they invariably ask why, the answer is usually they receive is, “because I said so.”  Such an answer is sufficient for them at that stage, but when the child becomes a teenager, a simple “because I said so” is insulting to them because they felt like a robot.  As an adult, “because I said so” is also offensive. Why? Simply because it does not allow anymore input, feedback, or explanation.

The young adult says, “I know WHY I believe.”

Hebrews 5:13, “for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.”

The one who knows WHAT they believe is always threatened by the one who knows WHY they believe. Unfortunately, some never grow to the point that they never ask why. They see no need to ask why, and therein lies the reason for their perpetual childhood.  An immature Christian is one who does not permit himself or others to question anything incorporated into their belief system.

Yes, it is true that many who grow up in the church and begin asking WHY often appear to backslide or end up leaving the church altogether. You know why? Because we are always taking them back to the beginning.

–     Because I said so

–     Because that was what the preacher said

–     Because that waswhat your dad, mom, uncle believe and so on….

This healthy questioning, searching, and seeking for truth is what Jesus called, “hungering and thirsting after righteousness.” There is a promise when they ask questions! Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled (satisfied).”  The quest for truth, and the subsequent filling, almost never takes place where we are, but WHERE GOD WANTS TO BRING US!   So, the best answer for WHY is just simply to bring them more closely to Christ or we can show them what the Lord said.

WHAT is an important first step in the Christian life, but that is all a first step, a means to an end, not THE end.  I am not suggesting that you do not have to know WHAT you believe. I am saying that real progress begins when you begin to get an inkling as to WHY you believe.  This is the middle stage of spiritual growth. Like knowing what, knowing why is an important step, but it is not the end either. It is merely a rite of passage between childishness and maturity.  It is the literal enlargement of one’s capacity for truth, and of course, for Christ who is truth.

An exciting thing begins to happen in the spiritual life of the Christian who desires to grow and become mature.  It is hoped that after some progress in spiritual things, we will ask, “Is there more to the Christian life than what I am experiencing?” This is a blessed question!  How God has worked long and hard to bring the Christian to this point! And the answer which God so desires to give us is, “Yes! There is more to this Life!” WHAT they believe is no longer good enough, and they want to know WHY.

We sing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” because we know the words of the song but it is better to know because we have truly experienced the great faithfulness of Jesus Christ. This is the difference my brethren.  We know WHAT we are singing, but more importantly, we know WHY we are singing. And WHY we desire fellowship with one another. And WHY the Bible is the inspired Word of God. And so on.  Most importantly, Christians at this stage of growth are liberated from the limiting beliefs imposed upon them by other people, even other good people.  The young adults are full of argument, opinion, defense, and either/or thinking.

The mature adult says, “I know WHOM I believe.”

Hebrews 5:12-14, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food.  But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

There is a certain downside to the intermediate stage of growth, and that is a danger to lean upon our own understanding instead of looking to Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). Now that we know WHAT and WHY we believe we are apt to begin teaching the younger ones.  People will look to us for answers. We tend to tell them all we know, even more than we know; simply we know whom we believed. We are in danger of falling prey to an intellectual faith instead of a Spirit walk. Their reasoning: This is what my brothers told me or even this is what my teacher/mentor said in the bible school.

Naturally speaking, matured adults have a lot of knowledge.  However, academic learning is no substitute for experience, and experience takes time. In spiritual things, we will always be growing. The bible is the fountain of wisdom: Isaiah 34:16, “Seek and read from the book of the LORD: Not one of these shall be missing; none shall be without her mate. For the mouth of the LORD has commanded.”  Even the spiritually mature will continue to grow and learn. Again it is because “we know whom we believeth!”  This is the difference between revelation and head-knowledge, between seeing for ourselves and merely hearing about.

Once we know what we wanted to know and why we need to know, then we can say, “I know whom I have believed” and be accurate, even though a person does not know anything in and of himself or herself because he or she is in the process of learning.  This is faith!

To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for/assurance, to be certain/conviction of the things we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1).  It is a case of owning nothing, but possessing everything. The Christian is poor in material life, yet blessed with every spiritual blessing.

Christianity is a spiritual paradox designed to confound man’s wisdom and reduce him to Christ. We decrease but Christ MUST increase (John 3:30).  Sometimes we want other people to know us and other brilliant people instead of knowing Christ.  It is all about giving up our own life in order to receive the eternal promise with our Lord.  This world is not our home; don’t love the world (1 John 2:15). Some religious people claim that they know Jesus. But our Lord said I never knew you (Matthew 7:23).  God allows mankind to distort and misrepresent and bring people to a place of despair, just so He can then step in and reveal Himself for who He really is. When we realize we don’t know anything, then Christ becomes our Wisdom so we CAN know.

When we are children we are apt to say, I know WHAT I believe. As we grow out of infancy and begin to wrestle with the deeper questions and issues of the Christian faith we will learn to say, I know WHY I believe. The ultimate experience, however, is to be brought to a place where we can say with confidence; “I know WHOM I have believed.”

– Knowing WHAT is a beginning.

– Knowing WHY is growing/progress.

– Knowing WHO is my Lord and my Savior Ultimate/Final.

Everything leads to Christ. All the questions, all the answers reduce to Him, for He is the sum of all spiritual things. When we are reduced to Him, then we will be satisfied. The Lord said it is a form of idolatry to love your possessions, education, wife, children, or even our life more than Him.  The Lord said the idolater is not worthy to be His disciple (Luke 14:26-27, 33; Matthew 10:37-39).  Let us lose our life/renounce all… that we may gain our Life because WE KNOW WHOM WE HAVE BELIEVED. Amen.

~ Roger Wanasen

Honor to Whom Honor Is Due

“Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”  ~ Romans 13:7

In the Ten Commandments that God gave to Israel, the fifth commandment was “honor your father and mother” (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16). When Paul gave instructions for Christian families, he repeated the fifth commandment verbatim, “honor your father and mother” (Ephesians 6:2). Jesus also quoted the fifth commandment as an area of moral failure for the Pharisees in his generation, because they taught that people could avoid financial responsibility for aging parents by dedicating their property to the temple in a sort of “living trust” arrangement (Matthew 15:3-6). He then proceeded to use that same word, “honor,” in reference to God, citing Isaiah 29:13, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

We probably have a notion of honor as respect or esteem, which reflects an attitude, and Jesus also directly connected honor with behavior, fulfilling an obligation. Even so, consideration of the command to “honor your father and mother” inevitably brings up questions about having respect or admiration or esteem for a parent who did not behave admirably, a father or mother who was abusive or negligent, or perhaps a parent who abandoned marriage and family for self-indulgence. In such circumstances, how does the child of God honor a parent for whom they have no admiration, and may harbor feelings of anger, resentment or enduring fear? In fact, since God is often pictured as a parent, a father, a loving authority figure and disciplinarian, some people have additional hurdles to overcome in living a godly life because of issues with their own father/parents.

Consider that Christians are not only commanded to honor father and mother (and God), but also commanded to “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17). When Peter instructed Christians to “honor all people,” he was talking about the kind of respect or esteem that comes with recognizing everyone as a human being made in the image of God, with an eternal soul. Everyone deserves honor in that sense, whoever they may be, whatever they may have done (including parents who abused or abandoned their position). And then too, “honor the king.” In Peter’s era, there were local kings, like the Herods, and higher up the ladder was the Roman emperor, king of kings in his own right, the Roman emperor being Nero at the time Peter was writing. Many of those kings, including the Herods and Nero, were not admirable in their character or behavior, were not just or fair, were not godly, and yet Peter instructed Christians to honor them.

Paul similarly wrote to the Roman church to “be in subjection to the governing authorities” because governing authorities are established by God (Romans 13:1-7) ending his thought with the command to give “honor to whom honor” is due.

Why is honor due to a king, an emperor, a parent, or indeed “all people?” Clearly, it isn’t based on the integrity or character or achievements of the person, rather it is based on honor for God himself. A king or a father who behaves badly doesn’t reflect well upon himself, or upon God who established the authority and responsibility of the position, God who gave them authority, but the person who honors the king (and the parent) does reflect well upon God who established family and government, honoring the maker and designer, even when the ruler (or parent) who is a “servant of God” (Romans 13:4) is not honoring God themselves.

Ultimately, besides a general respect for those in authority, both Peter and Paul depict the practice of honoring rulers as practicing good behavior, living exemplary lives in this world, cooperating with lawful authority as much as possible, and generally doing what is right (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 3:13-17).  The same really is true of honoring a parent who was dishonorable. God’s primary way to honor a parent, no matter how they behaved, is to live a life of wisdom and righteousness. Solomon’s first proverb puts it this way, “A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish son is a grief to his mother” (Proverbs 10:1). The same idea is recapitulated in Proverbs 15:20, 17:21, 17:25, 28:7, and 29:3. Doing what is right is the best way to honor father and mother, no matter who father and mother may be or what they may have done, and is the way to honor God as well. One doesn’t have to like or admire the person who is king, president, governor, or father or mother to honor them. Honoring by being respectful and doing what is right and good is part of God’s design for our own well-being and how we honor God himself as well.

Proverbs 23:24-25

The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice, and he who sires a wise son will be glad in him.  Let your father and your mother be glad, and let her rejoice who gave birth to you.

~ Charles Fry

In Paradise

When Jesus was dying on the cross, one of the robbers crucified along with him that day asked Jesus to “remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus’ answer was, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43). Jesus promised that the hours of agony on the cross would end and that paradise would come right afterward.

The word “paradise” came from Persian into Greek and then into English. It refers to an enclosed garden, a sanctuary full of beautiful flowers, fruit trees, and herbs, with flowing water and pathways and shade. A paradise was a place of life, romance, abundance, beauty, safety, and peace (see Song of Songs 4:12-16). Such

gardens were built by people of wealth and power, and the word “paradise” became emblematic for the Jews of the “Garden of God,” the original Eden provided to Adam and Eve (Septuagint version, Genesis 2:8), and also the destination of righteous souls in death. When Jesus spoke to the thief of paradise as their mutual destination, he promised they would shortly be together in a place of rest and comfort with pristine pleasures for those privileged to enter.

Jesus’ promise to the penitent son of Abraham was immediate. “Today,” he said. This was not a promise of distant future reward in the resurrection after the judgment, but immediate consolation when they left the flesh behind. And certainly, “paradise” evoked the idea of being welcomed into good things that they would be aware of and participate in, not mere slumber and certainly not oblivion. The penitent man would be together with the Lord that day, they would know each other and they would be in a garden of serene beauty with every need satisfied.

Jesus had previously spoken of such a place in the story of two men, a sick and poor beggar named Lazarus and a rich man who was utterly selfish (Luke 16:19-31). In that story, the rich man died, his body was buried, but he himself was then in Hades. (Hades was the abode of the souls of the dead, both good and bad, also called Sheol in the Old Testament, and was Jesus’ destination when he died, before he overcame death and arose on the third day, Acts 2:25-31, grave/hell = hades.) In Hades the rich man was very much aware of his own miserable circumstances, being “in torment.” That word, “torment,” refers to “the instrument of torture by which one is forced to divulge the truth, trial by torture” (Complete Word Study Dictionary of the NT). What the rich man was experiencing was like the torture Jesus experienced on the night of his betrayal before he was charged or tried by the governor (and see Acts 22:23-26). The other character in Jesus’ story, the poor man Lazarus, had also died and he himself, out of the body, was carried by the angels to the side of Abraham, a place reasonably identified as paradise, accessible only to the chosen few. Abraham and Lazarus were far away from the rich man, impossible to come together, but he was aware of them, and cried out to Abraham. The conversation between Abraham and the rich man demonstrated that the personality of the dead is intact, the rich man had his memories and his attitudes were unchanged. Abraham likewise was completely cognizant and reasonable, knowing himself and those around him. The dead are able to recognize one another, and speak of past life and experiences. Lazarus, meanwhile, was enjoying the comforts of his circumstances, unlike the rich man in torment. The comforts that Lazarus was enjoying at the side of Abraham, quite different than his experiences on earth, fit what Jesus called “paradise” when he hung on the cross. While Lazarus was consoled, the one who had been a rich man in this world knew that the physical world continued, that he had living siblings who were behaving as badly as he had, and dreaded that they would face the same fate he did, if they didn’t change.

When Jesus told the story of Lazarus and the rich man, he was warning his people against unbelief and selfishness, urging them to believe the law and the prophets and so to believe in himself, the prophesied

Christ. The story is fraught with warnings against dying unprepared, but also, like the thief dying at Jesus’ side, it is full of assurance for those who die in faith, putting trust in the Lord and his promises. Those who die in faith arrive, promptly, in paradise, in comfort, personalities and memories intact, together with the faithful who have gone before, including Abraham the friend of God (see also Hebrews 11:39-12:3, 12:22-24), free from the “bad things” experienced in the world of flesh, comforted and provided for in every good way.

To be a guest at Abraham’s side, to be in paradise, is a great life outcome, full of assurance and worth any price, but the scriptures are clear that in itself this is a step toward future glory, which has even more in store for those faithful to the Lord when the resurrection comes and death is destroyed, when the saints are clothed in the immortal body (1 Corinthians 15:35-58), when Jesus comes again and the wedding supper of the Lamb begins (Revelation 19:6-9), in the Heavenly Jerusalem, the home of righteousness (Revelation 21:1ff).

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them” (Revelation 14:13).

~ Charles Fry

Our Tychicus

Few men have influenced my life so much as Richard Riggins. He radiated something which made it impossible to merely say one liked him. One had to think of him in terms of love.

As a dirt poor boy in Charleston, Illinois, Richard went into a used book store and bought a dilapidated book for six cents. He took it home and stitched it together with a needle and thread his mother had. And that was his Bible for the next several years.

When Richard talked about the Bible, he made you want to find a quiet corner and read it. He communicated his love of the word. You accepted that love as valid and were inspired to possess it for yourself.

One time Richard was meeting with a young couple he was soon to marry. The young man asked, “Is there anything we should read before we get married?” Richard replied, “Yes, read the Bible. You have three months.”

As a younger man, he was a force of nature. When he was speaking, his jet black hair fell down in his face, he worked his mouth so hard his lips turned purple, and his arms flailed. He was the only man who could comb his hair, clean his glasses, and blow his nose during a talk, and make it all seem perfectly natural–vintage Richard.

He was an artist painting a biblical fresco, like Michelangelo, strapped to his scaffold and hurling tremendous brushstrokes onto the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. His attention to detail was staggering. He could take a verse of the Bible and pull out thread after thread.

Richard saw a world in a grain of sand and eternity in an hour. He had a keen intellect and enormous curiosity. In college, he read a book a day for three years. He had an amazing ability to concentrate, and when doing it, he lived in an interior world.

Wilford Landes told me that one time he was taking Richard somewhere. He heard a mumbling from the passenger seat. He said “I asked him, ‘What are you doing?’. Richard said, ‘I’m supposed to teach the book of Hebrews, and I don’t have time to study it, so I’m memorizing it.’”

Years ago I asked him a question. It was months before I saw him again. When I did see him, he met me in the congested center aisle of a meetinghouse. Amidst lots of people and lots of noise, with no prompting from me, Richard began answering my question from months earlier. It seemed that none of our surroundings existed for him. He was fully focused on answering the question. And I thought, “Man, this is the coolest guy in the world.”

Richard took the Lord’s work with the seriousness it deserves. Over forty years ago he had the responsibility for a certain congregation. I was holding a meeting there. About halfway through my Sunday morning speech, Richard walked in and sat down. I never did know why he was so late. But I had the impression when he came in that he had been in the entryway listening to what I was teaching when I didn’t know he was there. If so, that was a very wise and responsible thing for him to do.

Richard was instant in season and out of season. On one occasion he was called on to help with a troubled situation in a congregation. It was one of those things that nobody prefers to be involved in. Richard had already passed his threescore years and ten. He had a lot of trouble hearing. His wife was in ill health. He could have used several excuses not to go do that work. But when he was called on, his immediate response was five words: “Tell me when and where.”

After I’d been in the work long enough to get knocked down a few times, and had been working in some problem places, I said to Richard, “I hope you live a long time, because I’m not sure what’s going to happen to the church when your generation is gone.” I won’t say he looked at me with disdain. But he did look at me with those piercing eyes of his, and as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, he said, “Well, the young men will just have to grow strong in the Lord, that’s all.” And I knew he was right.

I heard him say once that “there are no great men in Jesus, but there are men in whom Jesus is great.” I agree with that, and I say that if you knew Richard Riggins, you brushed with greatness.  Jesus Christ lived in him.

Richard united the simplicity of a child with the dignity of an ambassador. I called him Tychicus, because Tychicus delivered the Ephesian letter. More than any other man, Richard delivered the Ephesian letter to my generation. And no one will ever be able to take that away from him.

This world will be a lot less interesting to me without Richard in it. It will go on without him, though not as well. This humble, unassuming man went way beyond what some thought him capable of, and somehow pulled it off. I found that extremely inspiring and endearing. There is no way to convey the loss. I have known no better man.

~ Rick Sparks

Who Do You Love?

One of the most widely recognized characters of Greek mythology is Narcissus. Narcissus, the Greeks tell us, was strikingly handsome and drew the attention of many admirers, but arrogantly rejected them all. Concerned about her son, one version of the story relates, his mother inquired of a seer as to what would become of him. The seer assured her that Narcissus would live a long life “if he but fail to recognize himself.” These words proved accurate. Years later, while one day walking alongside a body of water, Narcissus stopped to get a drink and for the first time saw his countenance reflected back to him. Not realizing he was only looking at himself, he was immediately taken with the face before him. Captivated by his own reflection, Narcissus pined away at the water’s edge, neither eating nor drinking, until he finally died.

Narcissus has given us the term “narcissism,” designating a mindset and group of behaviors that have long been observed in various people in varying degrees. Narcissism is characterized by excessive self-love, manifests itself in selfishness, a bloated view of one’s own importance, self-centeredness, and diminished empathy. It is contrary to what God desires for His people: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Philippians 2:3).

Significantly, narcissism began to receive a great deal of attention from psychological professionals in the 1970s, eventually finding its way into the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1980. The growing interest appears to have been prompted by a growing problem in the population, one that only magnified in the past three decades. A recent study of 16,000 university students (aged 18-19 years old) found that 30 percent were classified as “narcissistic” according to a widely used psychological test. This number was double that found in 1982 (15%). This finding confirmed what had been revealed in a previous study in which 35,000 people of varying ages were interviewed about their own experiences. When participants were asked if they had ever had symptoms of narcissism, three percent of those in their sixties said they had, compared to ten percent of those in their twenties. Add to this another study that found a 40 percent decline in empathy among young people since the 1980s, and a rather disturbing picture emerges.

It all reminds one of Paul’s words to Timothy: “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: for men will be lovers of themselves…” (2 Timothy 3:1-2a). Perilous times. Or as other translations render it: “difficult times” (NASB, ESV), “terrible times” (NIV), “distressing times” (NRSV). These are times that try men’s souls. Ours certainly isn’t the only age to see self-centeredness soar; other cultures have blazed that trail before us. But probably none of us has ever seen our own culture quite as self-absorbed as it now is. Times have changed. And in times like these, it behooves us not only to note what is transpiring around us (Matthew 16:3), but more importantly, to remember what ought to be transpiring within us.

On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being “Almost Always,” 5 being “Almost Never”), how would you rate yourself on the following questions? 1) When making a decision, I consider how the decision will benefit me, rather than how it will benefit others or glorify God. 2) I think a great deal about how others don’t love or appreciate me. 3) When people hurt or offend me, I tend to just write them off and have little or nothing to do with them. 4) When others are blessed with things that I dearly want, I find it difficult to rejoice. 5) When I meet a new person, I spend more time thinking about how to impress him/her than how to serve him/her. 6) I long to be noticed more than I long to be godly. 7) I am excessively competitive. 8) I am a taker rather than a giver.

Questions like these help us see what’s going on in our hearts and reveal to what extent the spirit of the age has impacted our outlook.

God calls us to selflessness, to a love that is directed outward, not inward. “Love…does not seek its own” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). He calls us to a love that is about giving, not getting. Jesus, who “did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28) showed us how this works. He “loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25). “Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us” (Ephesians 5:2). “[T]he Son of

God…loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 5:20). Jesus was a giver, not a taker. Love is not love until it’s given away.

God calls us to give up self-seeking (Romans 2:8), and instead seek the good of others: “We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Romans 15:1). “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven…” (Matthew 5:44-45). The flesh balks at this approach to life, but we must let the Lord have His way with us. It’s the only way to enjoy His blessings.

God promises us that self-seeking will only bring trouble: “For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there” (James 3:16). Family troubles, marital troubles, troubles in the church—all have self-seeking as their common denominator. The only solution is to “[l]et each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). This is the mind of Christ. Let us make up our minds to think like Him.

~ John Morris

Hospital Gardening

Whatever we believe in our hearts is broadcast every day to those around us by the way we talk and live, no matter what those beliefs might be. People can see the fruit of our beliefs in the way we live. Either they are attracted to the way we live, or they are repelled by the message our lives present to them.

Our lives will be judged by those who are watching us, no matter how much you may protest or beg them not to “judge” you. Your personal beliefs not only reflect on you, but to a certain degree, on all who hold those same convictions.

I have spent the last four days in a hospital in St. Louis. That is one way of describing the past week. Or, I could describe the time in the hospital as an opportunity to sow the seed of the gospel. “Hospital Gardening,” if you will.

Paul had an interruption in his preaching schedule when he was imprisoned by the Romans. He wrote a beautiful letter from prison to the good brethren at Philippi which was a great encouragement to the brethren who were concerned about Paul’s state.

His letter was encouraging because it supplied the Philippians with a refreshing perspective on what was happening. Rather than worry about how Paul was being kept from traveling and preaching the gospel, he helped them to see that even in bonds, he was still able to sow precious seed for Christ!

For one thing, brethren were being prodded by his imprisonment to do more preaching on their own. True, some did it for the wrong motives, but still Paul rejoiced knowing that at least the gospel was being preached!

He also told his brethren that those he was spending time with were hearing the gospel! What an amazing thing that happened to Paul! He was given the privilege to speak to Caesar, as well as his household, which probably added up to a large number of souls. Paul understood how God was going to use his situation to sow the seed of the gospel, even in a place most would think was “unreachable” since it was a group comprised of political leaders who often were corrupt people. How encouraging to see that Paul was given an opportunity to witness to the most powerful man on earth at the time, along with a lot of Romans along the way!

I’m no Paul, but his life has really encouraged me to look at life the way he did. During my time in the hospital I have shared a room with a friendly man recovering from a surgery similar to the one I had back in 2008 to remove the cancerous tumor from my colon. His situation brought back memories of my time of recovery over six years ago. I could relate to the problems he was going through for they were very much like mine.

I am in here to figure out how to manage the pain that comes from the cancer in my body, and it looks like they are close to a resolution to the problem which will give me more time to labor in the Lord’ Garden, if it is His Will. Because I hurt, I was not a very chatty person, and of course, he was going through his own recovery. As a result, we didn’t talk too much, though I did get to have some influence with the doctors and nurses during this time. I hope that I represented Christ to them faithfully so that they are left with a good impression of the Gospel and the Church of our Lord.

Today something very encouraging happened as my roommate’s time drew closer to an end. LuAnn and I found out that he also lived in the same town we do! Of all the people in this large metropolitan area of St. Louis and in a hospital with a very low census due to the July 4th holiday, how did this man and I end up in the same room?

I had learned his name this week, along with other things about his life. We had talked some yesterday, including an enlightening conversation on the problems that he said his church was having. He apologized and felt embarrassed for the shortcomings of his group as he indicated to me that he didn’t attend there a lot. The conversation went well until we had to cut it short due to other hospital demands.

But today he brought up the subject of religion again as he was waiting for his ride home, asking me what religion I was. I told him about my faith and what church I was a member of. He was very interested in learning more about our congregation and said he might come and visit. I told him I was on the program to speak this Sunday and that we would love to have him. He wasn’t quite sure he was ready for a visit that soon, but the seed has been sown, for which I am very thankful. I pray that he will take his soul more seriously and that I might get to see him fully follow the Lord!

Thank you for praying for my family and me. It is a pleasure to stand still and watch His salvation and how well He takes care of us during the trials of this life. He has ONLY been good to me throughout this trial, and my whole life. Today I hope we will all ask ourselves how our spiritual gardening has been going and what kind of crop we expect to have when this life is all over. I hope that you, my friends, will have a harvest that will make you beam with joy and eternal happiness, not a crop that brings only shame, shame, and more shame. Sow the seed with patience and with tears; JOY will come in the morning! The harvest will make you forget all about those hard parts of farming and give you eternal pleasure at the Right Hand of God!

 Thomas W. Woody
~ P.O. Box 148, Brighton, IL  62012-0148

Jesus Christ, the Son of God

“I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” So said the Ethiopian treasurer (Acts 8:37). So say I. And so say most/all of you who regularly read this paper. Perhaps, then, it seems strange to devote this month’s front page article to the content of that confession. But the words of Peter and Paul come to mind. Peter wrote two epistles, he said, to “stir up…pure minds by way of reminder” (2 Peter 3:1). Paul affirmed, “For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe” (Philippians 3:1). Revisiting old ground is in the apostolic tradition.   It’s safe and sound.

Revisiting old ground also reminds us of what is important. And what could be more important than Jesus’ true identity? On that, our faith and future depends.

Some have asserted over the years that Jesus never claimed to be the Son of God, that it was others who claimed this for him. But Jesus tells us differently. On one occasion, while in the region of Caesarea Philippi, after being informed what the crowds were saying about him, he asked his disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus’ response? “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:15-16). A ringing endorsement. On another occasion, when Jesus was speaking to a Jewish gathering in Jerusalem, he referred to God as “My Father.” At this, the unbelieving hearers prepared to stone him for what they supposed to be his sin of blasphemy (speaking words that denigrate or defame God). Jesus responded to them by asking, “[D]o you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?” (John 10:36). He had said it; they just didn’t believe it. Yet again, the night before his crucifixion, Jesus stood before the high priest and was asked directly, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” His answer was unequivocal: “I am” (Mark 14:61-62).

So Jesus did say that he was the Son of God. But what did he mean by it? To understand that, we must understand the beliefs of the first-century Jews, beliefs based on their reading of the Old Testament. There, they found this prophecy: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel [literally God with us]” (Isaiah 7:14). They also found this one: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). These prophecies shaped what the Jews understood “Son of God” to mean. For centuries they had believed a “Son” would one day appear, a man who had been miraculously born of a virgin (hence, the son of a woman, but not of a man—God would be his father), and who would also be God in human form (“God with us,” “Mighty God”)! Any Jew who claimed to be “the Son of God” would have been claiming to be the fulfillment of these prophecies.

This is, indeed, what Jesus was claiming, and the Jews did not miss his meaning. As they were preparing to stone him in the aforementioned instance for his supposed blasphemy, they said to him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because you, being a man, make Yourself God” (John 10:33). And when Jesus earlier called God “My Father,” we read: “Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18). One must be a human to be equal with a human, and one must be God to be equal with God. Jesus was, in terms clear to his hearers, claiming to be Divine (“God” in the sense that he is part of “the Trinity”—three in one). Amazing, but true. And this claim was emphasized by other actions of his.

Jesus said and did several things during his ministry that make sense only in the context of him being God. For example, he referred to himself as “I AM,” a designation of eternal, self-sufficient existence that God used of himself when speaking to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14; John 8:58). Jesus also allowed people to worship him. Eight times, the gospel accounts record him accepting worship (Matthew 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 28:17; Mark 5:6; Luke 24:52; John 9:38). This is very significant, since both he and those worshipping him believed that worship is only for God; the Scripture taught and he himself had said, “You shall worship the LORD your God and Him only you shall serve” (Matthew 4:10). Furthermore, Jesus forgave people of their sins—sins they had committed against God. Only the offended can forgive the offender. Those who overheard him doing this understood the significance of his actions; they said to one another: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7). Finally, Jesus said that he pre-dated the world, a claim that only God (who made the world) can make: “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5).

Jesus’ words and works cried out who he was—the prophesied “Son of God,” “God…manifested in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16). This is what we believe. This is what we confess. This is what we must not forget.

John P. Morris
~ 420NW 1251st Rd., Holden, MO  64040

Thoughts on Marriage

Here’s how to have a problem-free marriage from a man with 55+ years of experience:

Put Christ 100% into your life.  Let him take charge of your marriage (Ephesians
5:21-28).

Refuse to accept the idea that the honeymoon is over after three or four days of marriage. It can last as long as you live (Ruth 4:14)!

Court each other every day as long as you live (Proverbs 5:18-19, 6:24-25).

Reject the idea that marriage is a 50-50 proposition.  Each partner needs to give 100% of their time, energy, and devotion to the marriage as well as to each other.

When problems arise (and they will), discuss them rationally and realistically.  Refuse to discuss any problem “under heat” (Romans 12:18, Ephesians 4:26, Proverbs 15:1).

Know each other thoroughly.  Can you wake up each morning knowing how the other feels before he or she wakes up?

Prepare yourself to be subject to your spouse’s needs!!!  Give up something you want (Ephesians 5:21, Philippians 3:3).

Keep your marriage on a positive pinnacle.  Never let it become negative.

Refuse to look for mistakes or errors in your mate.  Your mate is just as human as you are. When you go looking for mistakes in your mate, you will always find them.  Look for the goodness, kindness, etc. (Philippians 3:4-5).

Reject the philosophy that a fight is good for your marriage.  Both people are hurt in a fight.

Never marry someone on the advice of someone else.

Never marry someone you don’t love.

Dale Loney
~ 3830W.. Anderson Dr., Glendale, AZ  85308