Christian Living: Back on the Straight and Narrow

The fifteenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel gives us the very familiar story of The Prodigal Son. There are many lessons that can be learned from this parable – all beneficial teachings – but the most memorable might be the scene where the father unconditionally accepts his son back into his open arms.

That’s an important point, but there’s more to the story than just this. Imagine for a moment how you would feel if your child left and you did not see him for months on end, maybe even years. Would he always be on your mind? In your heart? Would you find yourself looking for him in the crowds everywhere you go? Would you continually search the horizon, hoping to see him a long way off—coming home to you at last?

As unimaginable as it may be, God loves us more than we love our own children. Wouldn’t he be doing—and feeling— even more than we would? The Bible tells us that God is always looking down the road for us. He never stops. He sees the times when we begin walking in His direction but then veer off another way. He knows when we are up, and when we are down.

He sees when we are so broken we can barely crawl. He sees our outstretched hand and does the most astounding thing. Just like the father in our story, He breaks into a run and opens His arms to receive us home—unconditionally.

Keeping all this in mind, go to your Bible and read Luke 15:11-24 with fresh eyes. Do it now. Let God speak to you personally about the areas of your life that have been “prodigal.” Wastefully extravagant. Listen carefully. Then step quietly back onto the path that will take you home to Him. God will start running the minute that you do

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Words of Wisdom: Comfort in Times of Distress

In II Corinthians 1:8-11 Paul talks about one of his close encounters with death:

We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.

Another time Paul tells Timothy that “the Lord stood with me…and I was delivered out of the lion’s mouth.” There are many other passages that tell us about the hardships and suffering Paul endured, yet he did not die until he had completed the good work God started in him.

Today we may be threatened in different ways than Paul was, but there is still real and present danger in our world. North Korea promises to launch a missile, bombs go off killing and injuring hundreds of people, crazy persons shoot down innocent children. Our country is not immune to the increasingly violent and wicked acts of man.

The question remains: What can we do when we find ourselves in mortal danger as Paul did so many times in his life? The answer for us is exactly what it was for Paul in the first chapter of Second Corinthians. We must stop relying on ourselves and lean on God and the prayers of other believers. We can be confident that He will rescue us, stand with us and deliver us out of difficult circumstances, even death!

Does God rescue us every time we face death? Of course not! Someday we will complete the number of days He has given us and bring to a conclusion the good work He started in us. Until that time, however, we can be certain that He will stand by us and—with the prayers of the saints—deliver us again and again. No wonder then, that in the third verse of Second Corinthians, Paul refers to God as the “God of all comfort.”

Our confidence and reliance in times of trouble need be only in one Person. God. He will deliver us out of the lion’s mouth.

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Words of Encouragement: Understanding Worship

During a special time of meditation, God led my thoughts to different “defining moments” in the life of a believer. These moments are those significant events that occur unexpectedly in the course of the day, that end up changing forever how we see life from that point forward.

For some, it might be a moment when you finally realize God’s purpose for your life; or when you understand for the first time the immensity of the sacrifice Jesus made just for you. Or it might be a teaching during which you finally wrap your head around the mystery of the Holy Trinity or come to grips with a difficult passage of scripture.

Whatever you include in your list of life-defining moments, the circumstance of your salvation is surely the most life-changing of them all.

One of my defining moments occurred on a visit to Seattle where I was to attend a conference on evangelism. I returned home with far more than new thoughts on evangelism. Instead, I possessed an entirely new outlook on the purpose of worship.

I was a relatively new Christian at the time and an enthusiastic student of the Bible. I read about worship in the Old Testament and the New, and believed that I fully understood the meaning of the word. The worship service every Sunday at our church was the highlight of my week.

Looking back, however, I can now see that I was merely going through the motions. At the conference in Seattle, the day began with a session of group prayer, followed by praise and worship led by a very gifted worship leader. Beginning at the crack of dawn, we didn’t finish up until the conference began its daily agenda, about two hours later.

The day would end with another hour or so of more prayer and worship before bedtime. Both sessions were equally simple, direct and heartfelt. This was worship as I had never experienced it.

It changed my understanding of true worship forever.

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Bible Study: How the Bible Counts Days

For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. —Matthew 12:40

One of the more frequently asked questions about the Bible has to do with the period of time between Jesus’ crucifixion and His resurrection. In other words, if Jesus was crucified during the afternoon of Good Friday and is resurrected before the dawn of Sunday morning – the first day of the week – how does this fulfill the prophecy that the Messiah would be in the grave three days and three nights “as Jonah was in the belly of a huge fish”?

The Bible repeatedly declares that Jesus was crucified on The Feast of the Passover which occurred on Friday. By Western calculations, the “three days and three nights” would require the passage of 72 hours, which would put the resurrection on Monday afternoon at the same time of day that the death and burial occurred.

However, the Bible clearly states in Matthew 16:21 that Jesus would be “raised again on the third day.”

If Jesus was in the grave for the 72 hours that Westerners assume, that would put the resurrection on Day 4, not Day 3. Count them: Day 1, Friday; Day 2, Saturday; Day 3, Sunday; Day 4, Monday. Obviously, then, there is a difference in the way we understand today the phrase “three days and three nights” and the way the Bible considered it back then.

The ancient Jews counted any part of a day as a whole day. It didn’t have to be a full 24-hour period of time. In other words, if Jesus died during the afternoon on Friday, Friday counted as the first day. Saturday would be the second day, and finally Sunday would be the third day (even though only a few hours had elapsed of the day).

The people in Jesus’ day would have understood that the period between late Friday and Sunday morning was a period of “three days and three nights.” When Scripture says of Jesus in Matthew 16 that “He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life,” they would have known that this did not contradict the earlier statement (as it might appear to us).

Bottom line: Scripture is to be interpreted in light of the times in which it was written.

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Missions: Good News

Thanks to the overwhelming generosity of our ministry supporters, we were able to send funds to Philip that will take care of the remaining rent obligations.

The school building, the dormitory and Philip’s family home are all paid for the following year. Our thanks to you and our praises to God! Philip and his family are currently in far-western parts of the country, visiting with John Lain Be and believers in that locale.

They returned home at the end of April to prepare for the new school year which started in May.

At the local level, the ministry is asking for prayer support for our latest teaching endeavors at Asbury. Thank you all for your love and prayers.

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Words of Encouragement: Blessings

The Dreamers
by Theodosia Garrison

The gypsies passed her little gate
She stopped her wheel to see
A brown-faced pair who walked the road,
Free as the wind is free;
And suddenly her tidy room
A prison seemed to be.
Her shining plates against the walls,
Her sunlit, sanded floor,
The brass-bound wedding chest that held
Her linen’s snowy store,
The very wheel whose humming died,
Seemed only chains she bore.
She watched the foot-free gypsies pass;
She never knew or guessed
The wistful dream that drew them close
The longing in each breast
Some day to know a home like hers,
Wherein their hearts might rest.

These words from the poet Theodosia Garrison were shared by a dear friend of mine a long time ago.

I’ll always remember the occasion. Because, you see, my friend was lovingly reminding me that I was missing out on the life I had in hand while wishing I had something else. What a shame so many lives are wasted in this same way.

God gives us everything we need for life and happiness, but we sometimes fail to see it. Instead, we wish we had more money, a better education, a nicer house; the list goes on and on.

Paul tells us in Philippians 4:11 that he has learned to be content with whatever he has.

When I consider the condition of life in countries like Myanmar or Moore Oklahoma, I am sorely ashamed of my discontent. Things are not always what they seem. Sometimes we are so much better off than we imagine.

May God give us eyes to see how truly blessed we are.

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Christian Living: People In Our Lives

Believers know that God is Sovereign.

Our days are numbered according to His will. He has a good and perfect plan for each of us.
This plan includes — among countless other things — the people God has put, and will continues to put, into our lives. He decides who will touch our lives from birth to grave, and even the exact impact they will make on who we are.

Some will have eternal influence, and others merely a passing one. But you can be sure He is the one sending them our way. Looking back and seeing the people we have encountered already, we begin to realize how involved God has been in our lives all along.

The influence these people had — some good, some bad — has significantly shaped the person we are today. It’s truly amazing how God gives man free will, but at the same time surrounds him with those needed to steer him in the right direction.

There is much about God that we don’t understand, and probably never will. But occasionally He reveals Himself in the smallest of ways. Consider your life today and the people that are in it. Look closely and you’re see they are actually gifts from God to bring you joy, or to teach you something no one else can.

God doesn’t place people in our lives at random. It’s all part of an intricate, loving design that is specific to our needs. Our God doesn’t do things by chance but by His sufficient Grace!

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Bible Study: Preparing Your Hearts For Next Fall

We are excited to announce the new Road Map class that we will be leading this Fall: an eight-week course on the book of Zechariah.

Set in the post-exilic era, this book of prophecy recounts the word of the Lord as presented to the prophet Zechariah. It takes place during a time when the rest of the world is in peace, but Jerusalem lies in chaos.

The majority of God’s people had remained back in the land of their captivity; only a remnant returned to Jerusalem. The walls of Jerusalem are destroyed, Solomon’s splendid temple is only partially rebuilt.

It is a period of great sorrow for the returning Israelites. The people of that day were very much in need of a word of encouragement. Much like the people of our great nation today. This makes the message in Zechariah especially relevant to the church today.

The class begins September 3, 2013. Tuesday nights, 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

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Sovereignty of God: Comforting Words

Throughout the New Testament we read the promises we have in Christ. One such promise was made in the book of John: “In this world you will have tribulation, but take courage I have overcome the world.”

This is not a promise that necessarily brings a warm, fuzzy feeling to most of us. It begins with a warning, “In this world you will have tribulation,” but it ends with a promise, “I have overcome the world.”

Our world is becoming more and more anti-Christian. We are limited by what we can say about our Lord because it might offend others. Our nation is attacked in the name of a god who opposes the one true God. Countless believers all over the world are persecuted, or even murdered, because of their faith.

No wonder believers are concerned that persecution will eventually invade our nation as well.

How are we to deal with this persecution if, and when, it comes? How do we keep from being filled with fear? Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest puts it this way: “Either Jesus Christ is a deceiver, having deceived even Paul, or else some extraordinary thing happens to someone who holds on to the love of God when the odds are totally against him. Logic is silenced in the face of each of these things which come against him.”

Such comforting words from Oswald Chambers. But even more comforting are the words of Jesus when He said, “Take courage, for I have overcome the world.” Nothing can ever separate us from Him, so we must trust that whatever we need in the face of persecution, He will supply – whether we understand or not.

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Christian Living: Be Prepared

For many years, the Boy Scouts of America have used as their motto “Be Prepared.” This is a good standard for all of us to live by, since the nature of human beings is to dread having to do that for which we are unprepared.

Think about the audit by the IRS when you had failed to keep adequate records. Or the final exam in high school for which you did not study. Chances are good that you faced these assignments with fear and trepidation. Why? Because you were not adequately prepared.

The simple solution to fear of these types of events is to be prepared in advance. According to Ecclesiastes 7:2, the destiny of all men is death. It happens to all of us; there is no escaping. Some of us look forward to the event; others dread it and refuse to discuss it.

The difference often is in the degree of preparedness. Here is simple plan to help in that regard: Know Jesus as Lord and Savior—Really know Him. Know His promises to all believers. Know that He sent the Comforter to be with you and bring you peace. Know that He is always watching over you and will use all things for your good if you love Him and live according to His purpose.

Obey His commands — Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. These two commands cover everything else, but for more specific guidance, study all Jesus’ commands as found in scripture.

Pay particular attention to the amazing promises that accompany them. Know that your final destination is guaranteed.

Commit the promise of Ephesians 1:13-14 to memory. Recite it often, let it become the desire of your heart. You are sealed with the Holy Spirit. You are guaranteed the inheritance God promised long ago. The end of life brings the beginning of an eternity in the presence of the Father.

No one really knows what heaven will be like, but the Bible has great promises in regards to it. Nothing can compare with the magnificence that we will experience there. Nothing will ever equal the glory of the Father in whose presence we will worship throughout all eternity.

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