Earthen Vessels Archives 2014

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  • For Want of a Nail by Dana Nolan
  • The Benefits of Walking by Nancy Reaves
  • The Journey (poem) by Natalie Sommerville
  • Walking on the Old Paths by Dana Nolan
  • Will You Make the Jump? by Alan Smith
  • Rejoice Always! by Dana Nolan
  • Focusing on Christ by Dana Nolan
  • My Choices
  • Rosebuds Here On Earth (poem) by Harry Presley
  • Like a Tree by Jesse Flowers

 

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"For Want of a Nail"

by Dana Nolan 

For want of a nail a horseshoe was lost,

for want of a horseshoe a horse went lame,  

for want of a horse a rider never got through,  

for want of a rider a message never arrived,  

for want of a message an army was never sent,

for want of an army a battle was lost,  

for want of a battle a war was lost,   

for want of a war a kingdom fell,

and all for want of a nail.

   -- author unknown

 

When I studied literature in high school, I was introduced to this short verse. It always has made a huge impression on me, and I have had many occasions to recall this poem and its lessons in my life.

One Christmas, years ago, we got a beautiful new Golden Retriever for our kids. She was so cute and cuddly--at first. Then, she began to try our patience. One night, while sleeping in our kitchen, the pup discovered a small piece of our weather stripping sticking out from under the back door and started chewing it. I discovered her antics the next morning, and I tried to stuff the stripping back under the door frame. But it was too late! Puppies love to chew, and she had found her new chew toy. She didn't stop until it was completely pulled off.

The next thing I knew, water was coming under the door when it rained. It wasn't flooding all the time, but it kept happening. I'd clean it up when I noticed it and go on, not realizing the damage that was being done. Then we began to detect that the floor was starting to feel mushy near the door. One day I came home to find that my husband had ripped up half of my linoleum in the kitchen, cut out my floor, and was cutting out and replacing the floor joists. What he failed to note before tearing the floor up was that our pattern of linoleum was no longer available. For want of a piece of weather stripping, which probably would have been less than $10 to replace, my entire kitchen floor was lost.

Events like the one mentioned above have caused me to meditate on what "nails" could be missing from my life in a spiritual sense. Nails, like glue and tape, hold things together that otherwise would not bond. Without nails, our earthly homes would just fall down. What about our spiritual "houses?" Are we missing a few nails? Many nails?  It is a serious subject, worthy of consideration. What are some areas of our spiritual lives where something is missing that could cause us to lose our souls someday?

Faith

Faith in God and in Jesus as the Christ is essential for a Christian to have. Many start out with a basic faith when they begin their walk with God, but they never really grow that faith. Sometimes, faith is lost altogether. Hebrews 11:6 tells us that, not only must we believe in Him, but that belief actively compels us to be diligently seeking to know more and more about Him all the time.

Hebrews 11:6 says, "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him."

Is there a nail missing here or there in the house of our faith? Like Peter, in Matthew 14:30, we are sometimes faced with "boisterous winds" in our lives. These winds threaten to blow us down! We either step out into the turbulence in faith and walk on the water with our Savior, or we sink from our lack of faith.

Romans 5:3-4 explains a progression which happens when our faith is tested by the winds of tribulation. "And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope."  What separates those who make it through trials stronger in their faith from those whose faith becomes shipwrecked? I submit that they have put down the very weapon which God gave them to battle the fiery darts that the devil is hurling! Their shield of faith is missing! (Ephesians 6:16)

We need not only to have faith, but we need to have a child-like faith. Just as a child believes that his parents will protect him from every imaginable danger, a Christian believes that his Father in heaven is watching out for and protecting him in all circumstances. (Psalm 34:15; Psalm 23; II Thess. 3:3) Whenever he encounters a trial in his life, he will not fear, but rather he will know that God will guide him safely through it. Jesus is always there, asking each one of us, "Oh ye of little faith, why did ye doubt? (Matthew 14:31) We are there marveling at the wonderful works of God, and exclaiming, "Lord, increase our faith." (Luke 17:5) Even if we lose our lives, we know that God promises not to leave us alone, even through the valley of the shadow of death. Having this kind of unwavering faith in the Father allows us to walk through life in complete confidence and obedience.

Knowledge

In Hosea 4:6, we read of the plight of Israel, just before they were conquered and carried away by the Assyrians. God said, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge."  It wasn't that God had not given them every tool they needed to understand Him and His laws. He had given them priests to explain the law. He had given them prophets to preach to them about their sins and try to convict their hearts. The people had merely rejected knowledge. Listen to how God described them: 

"There is no truth or mercy Or knowledge of God in the land. By swearing and lying, killing and stealing and committing adultery they break all restraint, with bloodshed upon bloodshed." (Hosea 4:1-2) 

Does that not sound like our countries on the earth today? There is no fear of God, because there is no real knowledge of God, based on reading His Word. Jesus Christ was called "The Word!"  (John 1:1) God and His Word are inseparable!

One must first fear God to have the motivation to seek out what He wants from each of us. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction." (Proverbs 1:7) According to this truth, the majority of humans are foolish, because they do not seek out God's will. Most presume to know what God thinks on several matters, but their presumptions are far from what God has stated IS His will.

Those in Christ's church often think that they are doing the Lord's will, when really, they are just as deceived as the world. Churches begin to take liberties with the various acts of worship God commanded. Individual Christians start to allow things into their lives that God never intended for Christians to embrace and practice. When a few "nails" are  missing where knowledge is concerned, it can mean destruction instead of salvation in a Christian's life.

Each of us needs to ask, am I doing God's will in regards to things like modesty, temperance, benevolence, use of the tongue, sorcery, or sexual immorality, to name a few? It is not wise to just THINK we know what God wants. We need to be able to back it up with "God says...."  To do that, we need to have a good working knowledge of the scriptures so that we can show others what God has said from His Holy Word.

The controversy around homosexuality in our nation right now is just one example of how people will be destroyed for lack of knowledge.  Many, many people actually think that God never legislated about men being with men, and women being with women.  They totally ignore passages like Jude 1: 5-8:

"But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.... Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. Likewise also these dreamers defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries."

The sin going on in Sodom and Gomorrah is described as "sexual immorality and (going) after strange flesh, and defiling the flesh." God's penalty for this is "the vengeance of eternal fire." So the logical question is, if God is okay with homosexuality, why are people that practice it going to be sent into eternal fire?

Jesus described the marital relationship that He, the Father, and the Spirit had intended from the beginning in the Garden of Eden:

"And He (Jesus) answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)

Note that God did not make "Adam and Steve" or "Adam and Eve and Evelyn." God made precisely one man and one woman for each other, and their relationship was permanent, severed only by death. (Romans 7:2-3) Any other arrangement is outside of what God legislated, and therefore, sinful,  To terminate the marriage before death implies sin on the part of at least one of the individuals. Yet, man often fails to read what God has said, understand it, and do it. Each of these steps--reading, understanding, and doing is a vital nail in building one's knowledge.

We need to do what Paul admonished Timothy to do in I Timothy 6:20-21:

"O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge— by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith."

Only by accurately handling the word of God (II Timothy 2:15) can we be sure that our zeal for God is according to true knowledge! (Romans 10:2) Anything else is futility and leads to destruction, just as Israel faced. We must never presume to know what God desires of man, because His ways are not our ways. (Isaiah 55:8)

How many of us could have these very words said to us today by the Lord: "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot,  I will vomit you out of My mouth." These were the words spoken to the church at Laodicea in Revelation 3:15. The Lord's solution for the problem was for those Christians to repent and be zealous. (3:19)  

It is likely that most Christians walk through life neither "hot" or "cold." They do what they are supposed to every day, make most services of the church, and will even tell people they are Christians if asked. But most Christians, unfortunately, are not proactive to the point that they can be labeled as zealous!   

Two good examples from the Old Testament of zealous men are Phinehas (Numbers 25) and Jehu (II Kings 10). Phinehas saw hideous immorality going on right in the camp of Israel. Rather than wait on someone else to take care of the problem, he picked up a javelin and killed the two committing harlotry. Jehu recognized the horrible evil that Ahab and Jezebel had introduced into Israel, and he set about to rid as much of it from the country as he could. He said to Jehonadab, "Come with me, and see my zeal for the Lord.”  Then the text says, "And when he came to Samaria, he killed all who remained to Ahab in Samaria, till he had destroyed them, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke to Elijah." (II Kings 10:17) Zeal causes us to do more than to just talk about doing good for the Lord! It actually causes us to "put legs on our prayers!"

Today, as in every era of the past, zeal for the Lord is not as prevalent as it should be. God wants people who love Him with all of their hearts, souls, strength, and minds. (Luke 10:27)  When we love God with anything less than our all, we are not zealous. Like Peter, in John 21, who could not answer Jesus honestly with an enthusiastic "yes" when Jesus asked him if he loved (agape) Him, but rather responded with a less-than-enthusiastic "Yes, Lord, I (phileo) you,"  we are followers of Christ in name only. Our actions do not indicate that we are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:14) We need to be able to say truthfully, "Yes, Lord! I AGAPE you!" 

When we love God above all else in our lives, we do not think, "What is the bare minimum that I can do and still get to heaven?" We do not look at ourselves in the mirror and wonder if the outfit we are wearing fits the minimum requirements of God's standards for modesty. We do not have to ask ourselves if it is really necessary to attend all the scheduled services of the church or special "feedings" that our shepherds schedule for the flock.

Instead, we look DAILY for a cross to take up and bear for the Lord! (Luke 9:23) Just as God's mercy and compassion is new to us every morning (Lamentations 3:22-24), our zeal must also be renewed with every new day! It is something that must come from within us; remember that in Revelation 3, the Laodiceans were told to repent and be zealous! Both actions come from the heart! We joyfully seek out what we can do for others and in service to God. True joy comes from a heart of gratitude to God for all He has done and continues to do for us!  If we cannot find our zeal, then it is time to spend some hours reflecting on our innumerable blessings;

There is one battle that was not lost for the want of a nail. The battle with Satan over sin and spiritual death was won by Jesus Christ when He died, nailed to a cross, and rose from the grave. Jesus, through His sacrifice on the cross, rendered "powerless, him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives." (Hebrews 2:14-15) Jesus has freed us from certain spiritual death, the penalty for sin. Since all have sinned, all would have been eternally lost. Jesus could have avoided the nails and saved Himself, but He did not. He bore the cruelest of deaths for a world of sinners.

When we are selfish and uncaring in our lives, we fail to appreciate Christ's sacrifice offered for every man. Because God is perfectly righteous, He will not grant eternal life to those who reject the sacrifice of His Son and spurn the free gift of salvation. While God is abundantly merciful, we must do our part to show our appreciation for those nails driven through His Son's hands and feet. We can accept the free gift, obeying His will, and being baptized into the body of Christ! (Romans 6:3-6)

After studying these passages and thinking on these thoughts, I hope that you will never look at a nail in quite the same way. There are many, many other areas besides the ones I have noted where we could be found wanting. We must constantly examine ourselves honestly to see what could be lacking.

In closing, remember these words recorded by Peter, who found his zeal and maintained it until he died, apparently a martyr for Christ:

"But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.

Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

 

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The Benefits of Walking

Nancy Reaves 

 

Years ago one of my sons said to me, “Mom, you eat a healthy diet, but you have only half the picture.  You need to exercise.”  Raising four kids didn't qualify.  O.k., o.k., I'll exercise!  It felt like a part-time job!  Fibromyalgia kept me up at night and I felt in a daze, but I decided to be committed to this effort.  Three months down the road my ankles no longer ached.  By six months, my knees no longer throbbed.  I was converted!  Fit and energized, the pattern was set.

    

Are we spiritually fit?  It is noted in Genesis chapters 5 and 6 that Enoch and his great-grandson, Noah, “walked with God.”  Now that is a program we need to join … and we can, and we should.  Just as a workout has to become part of your regimen or lifestyle to reap the benefits, walking with God has to be a constant.  You shouldn't take a vacation from God, or skip a month or more, or just be there “when the doors are open”, and expect to be considered spiritually fit.  Walking with God is a pattern, a commitment.  Deuteronomy 13:3-4 expresses the spirit of servitude...”for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.  You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him and keep His commandments and obey His voice.  You shall serve Him and cleave to Him.”  Note the verbs: love, walk, fear, keep, obey, serve, cleave. This is your spiritual fitness program in a nutshell.   

    

Enoch lived 365 years, a short lifespan at that time; then the scripture simple says, “God took him.” God desired to have him in heaven; that is the ultimate compliment! Enoch, this man of God, was the father of Methuselah.  What a role model!  Fathers pass down from one generation to the next family values, stories, and history.  Just imagine Methuselah teaching Lamech and his grandson, Noah, all about God.  Picture him getting to the exciting part, the incredible conclusion to their family history, the amazing story of Enoch who “walked with God and was not, because God took him.” How impressive!  Noah was raised in a God-fearing family. This reverence and faith in God is found in the character of Noah...”but Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.  This is the genealogy of Noah.  Noah was a just man, perfect in his generation.  Noah walked with God.” The legacy of loving the Lord was strong in Noah.  The last verse in the chapter ends with this wonderful tribute to Noah, “according to all that God commanded him, so he did.”  From the time we become Christians and decide to “walk in newness of life”(Rom. 6:4) until we finish running the race (I Cor. 9:24), we should be “walking in faith.”(II Cor. 5:7).  Over and over we are exhorted concerning aspects of our walk.  Here are some examples to add to your spiritual fitness regimen:   

                

                I John 4- “walk in truth”

                Col. 4:5- “walk in wisdom”

                I John 1:7- “walk in the light”

                I Thess. 4:12- “walk honestly”

                Eph. 5:2- “walk in love”

                Eph. 5:15- “walk circumspectly”

                Acts 9:31- “walking in the fear of the Lord”

                Col. 1:10- “walk worthy of the Lord”

    

Just as a healthy regimen can suffer if you practice it half-heartedly, so it is with your spiritual life.  We hear excuses.  We hear intentions and procrastinations.  We all know there is no benefit to good intentions.  So...we sleep, or rest, or vacation, or skip-- and only occasionally and half-heartedly take God's hand and walk with Him.  It isn't enough nor did God ever say it would be sufficient to waltz in and out of commitment to our Savior, or to be simply a pew warmer.

    

So many decide to use the New Year as a motivation to improve some aspect of their spiritual lives.  Typically, it has been established that by January 17th most individuals have failed to keep their new resolutions.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with using a new year as a new beginning to motivate oneself.  But often it is self-defeating.  Why not just determine to “walk with God?”  God expects and commands good works and service, study and growth, reverence and love. It is a daily process and a total commitment.  It is a pattern, a way of life.  Sure there will be hills and valleys, but God will be with us.  In our walk is the joy and reward that comes from walking with God.  As women who rock the cradle and guide the home, let's set such a deeply ingrained pattern that hundreds of years later our generations will still follow the Lord like the generation of Enoch.

    

Isaiah 40:31- “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

 

To have a home in heaven, walk with God.

Be fit for heaven, walk worthy of God.

 

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               The Journey

I only prayed when things were bad
When it seemed the only choice
I would press my hands together
And let God hear my voice.
 
Then when I awoke from sleep
And everything seemed just fine
I would forget to thank Him
I just never found the time.
 
But one day life became so hard
Despite my desperate plea
I said aloud to the Lord
Why won't you rescue me?
 
The Lord replied, my dear child
I hear your cries of woe
But before we go any further
There are things you need to know.
 
A relationship goes much deeper
Than a few words here and there
It's more than answering anxious cries
But a journey we have to share.
 
So I'm asking you to walk this way
There are things you need to see
Place your hand right into mine
Come now, walk with me.
 
I promise to never leave your side
So trust me with all your heart
Wherever this road may lead us
Our hands will never part.
 
If you join me on this journey
You'll learn that I love you
And as we both walk hand in hand
You'll learn to love me too.
 
       by Natalie Sommerville  

 

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Walking on the Old Paths

Dana Nolan 


It is surely no big revelation that our society has changed much in the last fifty years. We know our culture is really in a constant state of change. The changes every few years are astounding, as present generations look back on the beliefs and practices of their grandparents and great-grandparents and compare them to their own convictions and  actions. 

It is probably a well-documented truth that successive generations usually relax the standards of their ancestors. While this is not true in every case, it seems like each generation that is produced gets a little more lax with standards passed from their parents both in religious matters and in the affairs of daily living. Sometimes, progress brings positive change. But often, "progress" means straying from the standards that God has established, standards which are non-negotiable. From the beginning of time, God has legislated how Man should behave, often comparing it to walking on a path. He has made it clear that one path leads to safety, while getting off this path and taking another way leads man to destruction. 

Of course, God only allows blatant rebellion and sinfulness to go on so long in a nation before He brings judgment upon that people. Then they are disciplined; as a result, they seek out God and re-discover His laws, and they return to His path for a while. Unfortunately, this cycle has been endlessly repeated since the earliest days of mankind. 

So, today, where are God's people in the cycle? I fear that many of us have strayed from the "old paths."  We have become as the people of Jeremiah's day:

"...For I will stretch out My hand
Against the inhabitants of the land,” says the Lord.
“Because from the least of them even to the greatest of them,
Everyone is given to covetousness;
And from the prophet even to the priest,
Everyone deals falsely.
They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly,
Saying, ‘Peace, peace!’
When there is no peace.
Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination?
No! They were not at all ashamed;
Nor did they know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;
At the time I punish them,
They shall be cast down,” says the Lord.
Thus says the Lord:

“Stand in the ways and see,
And ask for the old paths, where the good way is,
And walk in it;
Then you will find rest for your souls." 
(Jeremiah 6:12-16)

What does it mean to ask for the old paths? In the days before paved, sophisticated roads, men made their way from one place to another by looking for well-worn paths made by previous travelers. If they were wise, they would ask for directions so that they could take the best path which was free of danger. Likely, a well-worn road indicated that many travelers had successfully made it to their destinations. 

By the time of the prophet Jeremiah, Israel had stopped asking God for spiritual direction. God still loved them and wanted to lead them. But the people wanted to walk contrary to God's laws, and He was warning them that if they persisted on the dangerous path they were on, that they were going to be punished. 

What do we have in common with those of Jeremiah's day? Well, our generation is also covetous, prone to deal falsely with others, hesitant to call things as they really are, unashamed, and unable to blush at what is shameful, etc. 

I think it's fair to say that most men at least claim to seek God's approval. Most want to say that God is on "our side," and we covet His blessings. However, many are too lazy or too distracted to really seek out what one must do to be approved by God. Verse 16, above, tells us that rest for our souls comes from walking on the good way, asking for the old paths! Let's examine some ways that we may fail in doing the Lord's will and see what God would have us to do instead.

"Everyone is given to covetousness...."

Merriam-Webster defines covetousness as "feeling or showing a very strong desire for something that you do not have and especially for something that belongs to someone else." The age of social media makes it especially easy to peek into the windows of everyone's lives and become envious of what they have-- from their houses, to their cars, to their vacations, and even their spouses and children. If we are not careful, we begin to measure our own prosperity by comparing our lives to those of our friends, family, and brethren. When we find ourselves lacking in things that others seem to have, we may even be tempted to do whatever it takes to get those things we covet.  Many have gone into deep debt to keep up with others around them. Others have resorted to stealing not only material things but even the mates of other people. Once covetousness takes root in a heart, the possibilities for sinning are great.

There are many warnings against covetousness. In Luke 12:15, Jesus spoke against it, saying, "Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." in Colossians 3:5, Paul urged, "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”  In this passage, covetousness is equated with idolatry. Idolatry is the worshipping of something or someone instead of the true God. When we let the acquiring of possessions or illicit relationships rule our hearts instead of being content with having just enough, we have strayed off the old paths. 

In Luke 12, Jesus makes it abundantly clear that life on this earth is not about acquiring possessions. Material things are given to us so that we can first be "rich toward God" (12:21) and so that we can help our fellow man. I John 2:15-17 instructs us:   "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.

We need to not take our eyes off the goal of heaven, because it is very easy to get distracted and let the "treasures" of this world become our focus. Everything here will fail, fade, age, and pass away. Only heaven and it's glories will be eternal! Let us desire the things that are not made with hands!


"Everyone deals falsely...."

I am greatly troubled by the way truth is unashamedly being compromised in every facet of life. While it is true that "there is nothing new under the sun," I am old enough to remember a time when men and women were generally more honorable and truthful than they are now. Men exchanged a simple handshake as the sign of a promise. Today, people seek protection from fraud by issuing and signing complicated contracts. Yet, these promissory notes often mean nothing to the parties involved.  Truth is, in this modern day, regarded as something that can be "spun" to make facts fit whatever someone would have you to believe. Lying is not considered to be shameful; instead, those who can spin the truth artfully are considered shrewd and worthy of praise. 

In the church, truth is often compromised, as Christians seek to accommodate practices they feel will keep younger generations interested and pacified. Occasionally, strange doctrines begin to creep in, and the words of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 1 are ignored: "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed." We often let preachers tickle our ears instead of demanding they preach the purest truth. (II Timothy 4:3)

Dealing falsely with others can encompass so many things. Proverbs 6:16-19
enumerates seven things the Lord hates! Look how many of them are related to dishonesty:

"These six things the Lord hates,
Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:
A proud look,
A lying tongue,
Hands that shed innocent blood,
A heart that devises wicked plans,
Feet that are swift in running to evil,
A false witness who speaks lies,
And one who sows discord among brethren. 
(Proverbs 6:16-19)

Yet, our world has become callous to the dangers of dealing deceitfully with others. This has filtered down into our daily lives, where family members think nothing of lying to one another, justifying it by saying "What he/she doesn't know won't hurt him/her." Others say, "There's nothing wrong with a little white lie." We watch our politicians and our role models tell obvious lies with impunity, and we somehow justify telling "smaller" lies, as though there are really degrees of lies.

We seem to have lost sight of the fact that anything that causes one to deal falsely with others is wrong. We need to put away lying, cheating, and any deceptive practices to be pleasing to God.  Instead, we should do as Ephesians 4:15 instructs: "But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ...." I like this explanation of the passage: "Rather, let our lives lovingly express truth [in all things, speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly]. Enfolded in love, let us grow up in every way and in all things into Him Who is the Head, [even] Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One)." (from the Amplified Bible) Maturing Christians learn the wisdom in "buying the truth and selling it not!" (Proverbs 23:23)

"Nor did they know how to blush...."

I don't think many would dispute that, as a country, and as a world, we have much to blush about. We should be ashamed of the rampant homosexuality, the baby-killing, the blatant nudity, the coarse language, open sexuality, and filthy jokes that are pervasive right before our eyes in real life, on television, and on the Internet. The name of God is casually used in every way possible; this should cause us to grieve the most, but unfortunately, we often get pulled into the cycle instead of breaking it. 

There is a Biblical warning to those who have forgotten how to appropriately address sin:   "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!...Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust: because they have cast away the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. 
(Isaiah 5:20,24)

Those who would walk on the old paths--the good way--and have rest for their souls will be conscientious in their lives to live with integrity, every moment of every day.  A Christian will do what's right whether anyone is watching or not and regardless of whether anyone will ever know of his or her actions. God is always watching, and He knows those who are truly His. 

Jeremiah 10:23 states that "...it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps." God has provided the right way in which to go. Jesus has proclaimed, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me." (John 14:6) In Christ, one can find a narrow but solid path, paved in truth, which leads straight to the Father. And where the Father resides is the only place where one can find true rest for the soul!

 

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Will You make the Jump?

Alan Smith

In the movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Butch and Sundance, running from the law, run up to a cliff hundreds of feet high overlooking a river. They are outnumbered by lawmen who have taken up their positions and there is no way out. They get ready to shoot it out, but they know it's a suicide mission. Then Butch looks out over the cliff and sees the river below and says, "I know, we'll jump!" Sundance thinks he's crazy. Butch tells him it's their only hope. Sundance is still reluctant. Butch assures Sundance that the lawmen would never follow them, saying, "Would you make a jump like that you didn't have to?" Sundance says, "I have to, and I'm still not going to." Finally Sundance gives the reason for his reluctance. He says, "I can't swim." Butch just laughs and says, "Are you kidding? The fall will probably kill you!" But Suncance, because of the predicament, knows he's out of options, and though he can't swim, he jumps.

I think there are times that the Lord leads us into predicaments where the only reasonable thing to do is to jump and trust the Lord. And we know that He'll never let us down. Over and over, the Bible stresses that one of the primary attributes of God is His faithfulness. God is always dependable. You can count on Him. He makes His word good. When He tells you He'll do something, you can believe that He will do it. When He makes a promise, you know H's going to keep it. Because God is faithful.

It's interesting to notice how the Bible connects stability in the lives of Christians to the faithfulness of God. Thus, we find statements like this: "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful" (Hebrews 10:23). 

The reason a Christian is able to stand when life's storms come against him is that his faith is grounded in a God whose promises to him will always be honored. In Hebrews 11, Sarah is praised with these words: "By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed and she bore a child when she was past the age because he judged him faithful who had promised" (Hebrews 11:11). Here were two people who shared the disappointment over the years of being childless. They had no tangible reason to think anything had changed. Yet, God gave His word to them. And they knew that God was faithful. He wouldn't let them down.

It is essential that we understand this very important truth: God keeps His promises. And it doesn't mater whether it was made to Abraham, David, Paul or you. God has never given a promise that He failed to honor. He is faithful. All you need to do is to jump. 

Have a great day!

 

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Rejoice Always!

by Dana Nolan 

I've always been a "big picture" kind of girl! I wanted to see the whole timeline rather than just one isolated moment in history. When i was young, I asked lots of questions of my elders, because simple answers were never enough for my racing mind. I was always thinking ahead to the next logical leap. One of the subjects I had quite a hard time with concerned "rejoicing always" and being joyful during times of sadness and distress. Unfortunately, though I am half a century old, I still struggle sometimes with "rejoicing always" and dwelling in a state of perpetual joy!

The concept of joy in a Christian's life has always been a fascinating subject to me, because doing what God says to do about rejoicing is often counter-intuitive. This is one area where seeing the big picture is very necessary. If we are too focused in "the moment," we can lose our joy.  I would like to look at a few passages which address our attitude in relation to life's events, and see if we can gain some clarity about what God expects. 

Let's face it! There are some times when life on this earth is just not fun! Trials are not fair, we reason, because we are children of the Most High God! As a daughter of the Creator of the Universe, I have not always understood how my Father can allow me to suffer through trials like sickness, deaths of friends and loved ones, and perhaps even mental or physical persecution because I am a Christian!  Further, I REALLY have not understood how He can ask me to REJOICE in these things. Yet, He does, and being the inquisitive child that I am, I seek to understand and reconcile these two concepts. How do we begin to do that? Let's take a Bible and use it as we examine this important topic!

First, I think we must stop and think about who we are! By nature, I believe we tend to have an over-inflated sense of self. Even Moses, who was divinely called the meekest man on the face of the earth (Numbers 12:3) managed to get himself banned from the Promised Land because he defied and disobeyed God and momentarily put himself on the same level as God. Here is the account:

(God said,) "Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink.” So Moses took the rod from before the LORD, just as He had commanded him; and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” ( Numbers 20:8-12)

Did you catch Moses' slip? "Shall WE bring forth water for you out of this rock?" Moses simply forgot who he was (a servant) and placed himself on the same plane with God! Then, he got all theatrical and struck the rock instead of speaking to the rock as God instructed. 

Before we criticize Moses too hastily, we need to examine ourselves to see if we have the same attitudes sometimes. While it is true that as Christians, we are "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people...," (I Peter 2:9) we need to also recognize that we are bond servants of Christ, purchased with His blood. (Acts 20:28; I Cor. 7:23) As servants, we have no right to demand anything of the one we serve! Jesus made this point in Luke 17: "So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do."(Luke 17:10)

When we realize how very small and powerless we are, and when we realize that God does not "owe" us anything, it is only then that His gifts of grace and mercy to mankind come to mean so much to us. I literally have to stop and meditate on the magnitude of God's gift, because it is just almost too much to comprehend.  His mercy keeps us from getting what we deserve for our sins (death), and His grace gives us what we don't deserve (His favor). Consider these verses:

"The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love... He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgression from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust." (Psalms 103:8,10-14, NIV)

These truths are at the very foundation of our faith. Our God does not owe us anything, because He made us. He makes the rules! I have no inherent rights! He set down a very basic rule: "the man who sins will die."(Ezekiel 18:20) And eventually, all men sin. (Romans 3:23) So, all men should die. Once separated by sin from God, we should be cast away from his presence forever. The place reserved away from God's presence is Hell. I should be there.

Here is where I get to rejoice! Jesus came to pay the price for my sin! He redeemed me (bought me) with his blood! So, now I can be restored to a relationship with the God Who made me! I don't have to suffer eternal torment when I die physically! As long as I honor the new covenant God has made with man, I am no longer a slave of sin. I willing serve Christ instead. Now I can rejoice in my salvation and that I serve a loving Master!

When we study about having joy and rejoicing always, it doesn't take very long to see that our state of mind is not dependent on our circumstances. Look at these verses:

Philippians 4:4 - "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!"

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 - "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

II Corinthians 6:4,10 - "But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses,...sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything."

The Apostle Paul suffered every trial that we can endure today. He was persecuted, beaten, abandoned by friends, physically sick, chronically plagued by fleshly infirmity, lonely at times, hungry, homeless, discouraged, falsely imprisoned, gossiped about, maligned, and the list goes on and on. Yet he is the one who, by inspiration, said, "Rejoice in the Lord always!"

Many who read here have had devastating losses, demoralizing setbacks (physically or financially or both), and "more than their share" of trials. It is easy to get discouraged during these seemingly endless times of stress. However, we need to look to those in the Bible who trusted in God as examples of what our attitudes should be. Here are some wonderful truths which should encourage us:

(Elihu speaks, in Job 33:26)  "He prays to God and finds favor with him, he sees God's face and shouts for joy; he is restored by God to his righteous state."

Psalm 71:23 -  "My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you--I, whom you have redeemed."

Romans 5:1-4 - "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope."

James 1:2-4 - "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

If we are in Christ, we can rest in the knowledge that "the hard part" is done! We have been snatched from sure death (spiritually) by a loving God who cares about us and wants us to be eternally united with Him. Though we still have the responsibility to do His will the rest of our lives on earth, we can rest with pure joy in the assurance of our salvation! Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who had no fear of the fire they were about to be thrown into (Daniel 3), we do not need to fear fiery trials either! We, too, will have one "in the fire" with us! (Daniel 3:25)

Consider I Peter 4:12-13: "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy." 

Not only do we have many, many heroes of faith who accepted their lot in life joyfully, who can serve as encouragement for us, but we have the Author and the Finisher of our faith who can understand us, because he took on the form of not only a human, but a human servant! And note His motivation--joy!

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2)

And this:
"Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:14-16)

So we see several themes that just become more and more entwined as we study the subject of joy in a Christian's life. We can have joy because we are redeemed by the precious blood of the Lamb, who is also a sympathetic High Priest! Even if we suffer physical death, we can rest assured that our permanent home will be a place devoid of suffering, discomfort, or sinful things. 

Because of these truths, we can rejoice in circumstances where it doesn't seem logical to have joy or be rejoicing. Our God, Who is an Awesome God, is bigger than any of this life's circumstances, and He has it under control, even when we think we don't! Yes, we will have times of tears, when discouragement or sad events momentarily knock the wind out of us. But through prayer, reading the Word, and gaining encouragement from other Christians, we can return to a joyful, rejoicing state of mind. 

In closing, I leave you with the words of a beautiful song which is in many of our hymn books. Why, indeed, should we be overcome by sadness, when there is much to be thankful for in our lives? Always remember, if he cares about the little sparrows, how much more does he care about those made in His own image? (Matthew 10:29)  "Rejoice always! And again, I say rejoice!"

                          "His Eye is on the Sparrow" 
                   by Charles H. Gabriel and  Civilla D. Martin  

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heav’n and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant Friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Refrain:
I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

“Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear,
And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;
Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

 

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Focusing on Christ
by Dana Nolan

A few years back, I purchased a 35mm camera to be able to take really nice pictures at my son's wedding. I had a dinky little camera, but for this event, I wanted the camera to have good picture quality. Much of whether a picture is good or not depends on the quality of the lens and how well the picture is in focus! I quickly learned that having an expensive camera does not assure good pictures. Because I had not properly learned to use the camera, many of the pictures I made were out of focus and unusable.

Focus is a concept that is rather difficult to express in words. Webster's defines focus as "a point at which rays (as of light, heat, or sound) meet or from which they draw apart or appear to draw apart; especially : the point at which an image is formed by a mirror, lens, or optical system."  For things that we see, rays of light must come together in such a way as to illuminate the object we are seeing. Generally speaking, in any picture, only one point can be in focus; all else in the photo will be blurred to various degrees.  If there is not enough light, we cannot see that which we want to see. Or, other things may block or obscure what we are trying to see--like fog, which greatly hinders visibility. the object in the distance we are trying to see may seem out of focus. 

Such a concept is difficult for my mind to fully grasp, but I know that these are part of natural laws God put in place. There is such a thing as spiritual focus, too, and we can draw many parallels from looking at God's natural laws. 

It is easy for our lives to get out of focus. If we were perfectly focused, we could compare each facet of our lives to a ray of light. The point at which all these line segments converged would be the spot where a perfect person stood in absolute crisp focus. Every aspect of his life would be balanced, and every role he played would be impeccably done! As we know, this is nearly impossible to achieve.  Even the greatest men and women usually have one or more areas of their lives where they have fallen down and maybe even completely failed. 

So, we ask, how does a Christian get focused and stay focused?

FIND SOMETHING WORTHY UPON WHICH TO FOCUS

First, I believe that we have to have a focal point! When we begin to take a picture of something, it is in the distance, out ahead of us. Our eyes are the most magnificent cameras ever made. They self-adjust to the amount of light present and the distance to the object. If we are holding a man-made camera, we make adjustments until we can see the subject clearly in the view-finder. 

The Christian must pick something, or rather Someone, upon which to focus!  Hebrews 12: 2 tells us that we need to fix our eyes on Jesus, who already won the race we are now running. We should study His example and see how He did it, because He never lost His focus! He set His sights on finishing the race He had been given so that He could return to heaven to be with God. On the cross, He triumphantly proclaimed, "It is finished!"

It is very easy to lose focus on Jesus, even sometimes when we think we are doing His will. The bible class teacher who becomes more focused on creating extravagant lessons for her class may let her personal relationship with the Lord suffer if she quits spending time in prayer, meditation, and in the reading of the Word. She may teach for so many years that she is drained, because she hasn't been studying and growing in knowledge of the Word.  

The preacher who searches the Internet for exciting sermons to preach, but loses his own relationship with God has similarly lost his focus. I remember, sometime back, when a young preacher with a family got into some serious trouble which landed him in federal prison. Someone asked him what happened that caused him to sink so far down.  I remember that his answer was, in part, that he had just stopped reading and studying his Bible. He searched for "canned sermons" on the internet, so he would not have to study and put sermons together for his congregation. His lack of effort was merely a symptom of the "heart problem" he had. He had lost the focal point in his life. 

That seems like an odd thing for a preacher to say. His job is to delve into the Word and teach it to the congregation--to reprove, rebuke, and exhort! (II Tim. 4:2) It's hard to imagine being able to teach others without ever reading what you are supposed to be teaching. I can only imagine that maybe Christ was being left out of his sermons as well! Feel-good preaching full of fluff and funny stories may keep the masses entertained and the paychecks coming for that preacher. But it is only a matter of time before both that preacher and the group he is preaching to both fall in the proverbial ditch! (Matthew 15:14

THEN, DON'T LOSE THAT FOCUS!

It's easy when you are taking pictures to lose your focus. You might be trying to take a picture of a person, and instead, the camera focuses on a flower nearby. In spiritual matters, it's easy to become distracted and become focused on things that are temporal. Mark 4:19 reminds us,  "and the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word and it becometh unfruitful."

We need to keep our eyes on Jesus, even when other situations in our lives may try to pull our focus away from Him. In Matthew 14:22-33, we read of a time when Peter found himself in a boat in the middle of the sea, and the waves were tossing the boat around pretty forcefully. The disciples looked up and saw Jesus coming toward them, walking on the water. Peter wanted to get out of the boat and walk to the Lord. Jesus told him to come to Him. For a minute or so, Peter was doing fine. His focus was on Jesus, and not the things around him. But then, in fear, he noticed the wind and the waves and completely lost his focus and began to sink. Jesus reached out and saved him, and all in the boat were convinced that truly, Jesus was the Son of God! 

In this life on Earth, we encounter many storms of all types. We have disasters with health, both our own and that of friends and loved ones. We suffer financial setbacks, betrayal by those who should love and protect us, and catastrophic damage to our land, homes, and possessions. Sometimes, we are afflicted in multiple ways at the same time, as Job was. 

There is only one way our lives can have meaning. We can only stay centered in the storms of life if we have our focus on the one who can anchor us. No matter how fiery the trial, our Advocate with the Father knows what it means to be sorrowful nearly unto death! If we look to Him in faith, He promises to never leave us or forsake us. Just as the Israelites kept their eyes on God by following a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, we have to focus on the One who has promised to lead us to Heaven! He already forged a path for us. 

"...For he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me." --Hebrews 13:5-6

 

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My Choices

 

I choose love... No occasion justifies hatred; no injustice warrants bitterness, I choose love. Today I will love God and what God loves.

 

I choose joy... I will invite my God to be the God of circumstance. I will refuse the temptation to be cynical...the tool of the lazy thinker. I will refuse to see people as anything less than human beings, created by God. I will refuse to see any problem as anything less than an opportunity to see God.

 

I choose peace... I will live forgiven. I will forgive so that I may live.

 

I choose patience... I will overlook the inconveniences of the world. Instead of cursing the one who takes my place, I'll invite him to do so. Rather than complaining that the wait is too long, I will thank God for a moment to pray. Instead of clinching my fist at new assignments, I will face them with joy and courage.

 

I choose kindness... I will be kind to the poor, for they are alone. Kind to the rich, for they are afraid. And kind to the unkind, for such is how God has treated me.

 

I choose goodness... I will go without a dollar before I take a dishonest one. I will be overlooked before I will boast. I will confess before I will accuse. I choose goodness.

 

I choose faithfulness... Today I will keep my promises. My debtors will not regret their trust. My associates will not question my word. My wife will not question my love. And my children will never fear that their father will not come home.

 

I choose gentleness... Nothing is won by force. I choose to be gentle. If I raise my voice may it be only in praise. If I clench my fist, may it be only in prayer. If I make a demand, may it be only of myself. I choose self-control... I am a spiritual being.

 

After this body is dead, my spirit will soar. I refuse to let what will rot, rule the eternal. I choose self-control. I will be drunk only by joy. I will be impassioned only by my faith. I will be influenced only by God. I will be taught only by Christ. I choose self-control.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These I choose. To these I commit my day.   

anonymous

 

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 ROSEBUDS HERE ON EARTH 

 

Christian lives are rosebuds growing 

Now within an earthen womb

‘Til the day when they’ll be going 

To the place where they will bloom.

 
Here each rosebud has a duty 

To obey what God has willed

 That they might burst forth in beauty

When their season is fulfilled.

 
God will take those bulbs so tender 

Where they’ll be forevermore

  Seen in all their promised splendor

  In His house on Heaven’s shore.

 
There delivery will be given 

And by that celestial birth

 They’ll be roses up in heaven

  Who were rosebuds here on earth.

 
By Harry Presley
 

 

 

 

 

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Like a Tree

by Jesse Flowers

 

In three very important areas the Bible reveals that the Godly individual is "like a tree."

1) The man who meditates day and night in God’s law "shall be like a tree" (Psalm 1:2-3). When we consistently spend time studying and reflecting upon the Word of God it makes us stronger in our faith and knowledge (2 Timothy 2:15; 2 Peter 3:18).

This regular meditation in inspired Scripture will cause fruit to be born in our lives (v. 3; Luke 8:15; John 15:2). Reading and applying the Bible will cause our way to prosper (v. 3; James 1:25). So are you "like a tree" in this way? Do you have spiritual strength and deep roots of faith because your "delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law" you meditate "day and night"?

2) The man who trusts in the LORD "shall be like a tree" (Jeremiah 17:7-8). God stated in the previous verse that "the man who trusts in man...shall be like a shrub in the desert" (vv. 5-6). What a difference it will make in our lives if we make flesh our strength or the God who created all things! We need to heed the admonition given in the Book of Proverbs.

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths" (3:5-6). Are you "like a tree" or "like a shrub" in the desert? It depends on where you’ve placed your trust.

3) The man whose hope is in the LORD "shall be like a tree" (Jeremiah 17:7-8). To hope in anyone or anything else in this life is futile. There is only "one hope" (Ephesians 4:4). It is a hope that will not disappoint (Romans 5:5). This hope is "an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast" (Hebrews 6:19). This hope that we have in the Lord will help us to maintain purity in our lives (I John 3:3). Heaven is the most important goal of all, so let’s "lay hold of the hope set before us" (Hebrews 6:18). Is your hope in the Lord? If it is not, then you are without hope!

May each one of us be "like a tree" in these three vital areas!




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September/October 2017