Have you ever watched a dog chase his tail? He works at it so hard but most times he is unsuccessful in capturing that elusive target. No matter how many times he tries or how hard he tries, it seems just out of his reach. Oh, occasionally he grasps it, but when he does, he can't continue that way. He has no hope in his victory, but it doesn't stop him from trying.

As for my Christian walk, I often feel like that dog chasing his tail. I try to live a Christ-like life, but no matter how hard I try, it eludes me. One day I think I've done a good job, until I really examine my day and realize I fell short in so many ways. Occasionally, I seem to seize the idea of how I should conduct myself, only to recognize I cannot maintain my grip. It slips away from me. All the while, Satan laughs at my struggle as we do a dog chasing his tail.

But the difference, the comfort and assurance, is that as a Christian I have hope! God is interested in my struggle. He understands that, unlike the dog with no chance of holding on to his tail, I will eventually be rewarded a winner in Christ Jesus for my efforts. Contrary to the dog, who usually gives up and seeks other activities, I must continue the chase until He calls me home to my success. God has promised to allow me to live with Him because His Son bought me a long time ago.

So Christians, take heart. God is aware of your chase and if you obey His gospel, He will give us victory!

1 Cor. 15:57-58..."But thanks to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."

Valentine's Day

Today is Valentine’s Day! A day set aside in our society for showing love to our significant other. Now, I have no vendetta against the holiday, but have you’ve noticed that “love” is marketed to us in the forms of jewelry, flowers, candies, and stuffed animals. That is what I have seen my entire life, so I think it’s safe to say that society sees “love” as tangible. Something that you give in the form of gifts. There’s more to love though.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Surely, we can show our love to our significant other through gift giving, but there is so much more to love than what is tangible. Can we work on how to love better through our actions and attitudes? Once that question is asked, it’s not hard to apply that question everyone we come into contact with, not just our significant other.

So, as we celebrate this day today, let’s try to go forward thinking about what biblical love is and make every day “Valentine’s Day.” 1 Corinthians 13: 13, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Exodus is Us

As Israel was freed from Egyptian slavery, so all who have obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ have been freed from sin!

But the Israelites were not happy campers. Regardless of God’s profound care for them, they seemed determined to find reasons to complain. Pharaoh’s gonna get us! Thirst is gonna get us! Hunger’s gonna get us! The giants are gonna get us! Something’s gonna get us! We’re all going to die! So God essentially said, “Alright then, die”.

Is the exodus an analogy for Christians today? We’ve made our exodus from sin’s grip, being freed from the slavery of sin. We are, however, obliged to walk in the wilderness of this world until the Lord brings us home to his promised land. There’s plenty to complain about here, but there’s also much to enjoy in this modern-day wilderness and then still have eternity to look forward to.

Having this kind of faith doesn’t mean we’re naïve to all that’s wrong in the world, and it certainly doesn’t make us immune to the pain. Faith just means that we can see beyond this mess and see something so good up ahead that we keep on going, even in the middle of the desert.

As Jesus’ apostle wrote in his letter to the church at Philippi:

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain” 2:14-16

We are now in the midst of our own crooked and perverse generation, but the day of Christ is coming! Hang in there church and let your light shine. Oh, yes, remember that this letter was written from prison. So, unless you are reading it in prison, get a grip. You gonna be alright. Ain’t nothin’ gonna get you, not even in the wilderness of this world.

The Blind the Leading the Blind

Solomon was the wise king of Israel who brought his nation to its zenith of power and prosperity. He did so, however, by overtaxing his people.

When Solomon died, his son Rehoboam took the throne. The new king was immediately approached by one of his father’s former servants as well as representatives of the entire nation. They promised faithful service to Rehoboam if he would only lighten the heavy yoke Solomon had placed on them.

Afterward, Rehoboam spoke with the elders who had served his father. These men also assured him that by easing the burden on the people he would procure for himself the benefit their faithful service forever.

But wise counsel needs a discerning ear, and Rehoboam had none. Instead, he met with the “young men” with whom he grew up (he was forty-one when he took the throne). They told him to make the people’s burden even more difficult to prove to them that he was even more powerful than his father.

Rehoboam was indeed in the perfect position to be a greater king than Solomon. Through the voice of inexperienced, self-centered immaturity, however, the unity of Israel went down the tubes, nearly erupting in civil war.

The nation was split in two, never to unite again. As it happened, each half, Israel to the north & Judah to the south, was continually plagued by the other as well as their surrounding enemies. Both estranged nations were eventually overrun and enslaved.

Rehoboam's failure to listen to reason resulted in his own downfall and contributed to the demise of his people. He abandoned Godliness and thus failed to honor his father or have compassion for fellow Israelites. Rather than become a great king as he was poised to do, he lost everything.

Rehoboam’s reign is later described as evil, prolifically idolatrous and one in which sodomites (male cult prostitutes) were brought into the land and the practice of sensual abomination became rampant (1st Kings 14:21-31).

Jesus would later say, “If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:14).

My friends; be careful whose counsel you heed, especially when they tell you what you want to hear.

Secondary Side Effects of Covid-19

By now, you probably know that Covid-19 can give you headaches, upset stomach, difficulty breathing, body aches, fever, impact your ability to taste & smell and a variety of other such symptoms (including death) that seem to vary from one victim to another.

As if the above were not bad enough, I have seen that this malady can now boast what I believe to be even more tragic secondary side-effects. See if you have noticed anyone suffering from the following:

Þ Division over opinions about how seriously we should take Covid

Þ Division over opinions regarding changing assembly times because of new cases of Covid

Þ Division over opinions about personal attendance of assemblies based on the risk of spreading/contracting Covid

Þ Division over opinions about having Bible classes in addition to worship

Þ Division over opinions on the effectiveness & the need for masks

Þ Division over opinions about the importance of “social distancing”

Þ Division over opinions regarding our adherence to local government mandates

Þ Division over opinions regarding the safety and effectiveness of vaccines

Þ Division over opinions about the political aspects of Covid

Þ Division over opinions as to whether our response to Covid is based in faith, fear or common sense

Jesus teaches us to care for the sick, and I am proud to say that this congregation seems to excel at that. Prayers, cards, calls, food, medicine, errands and much more have been lovingly provided to those who are suffering.

But how do you minister to a church that is struggling with division over the secondary side-effects? What would you prescribe? What would the Great Physician prescribe?

Patience, maybe like we see in Job? How about some of that longsuffering & forbearance we read about in Ephesians? A strong dose of tolerance for other’s opinions could help. Submission like Hebrews instructs is part of the plan too (even for Americans). Above all, there must be daily injections of love; love for individuals; love for the church; and love for the future of the Lord’s church here once we are “past” all this present mess.

Thankfully, many who’ve had Covid have survived it. Will the church survive? Oh, I assure you, the church will survive. I suppose the question is, “What will I have ministered to the church during this crisis?”

The 7th Day or the 1st Day?

Nothing in the New Testament leads us to observe the Sabbath. What we see beginning in the gospels and continuing in the rest of the New Testament is a break from the Sabbath with a new emphasis on the first day of the week.

Each gospel writer carefully points out that Jesus’ resurrection was on the first of the week, Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1-2, Luke 24:1 & John 20:1. Why did the Holy Spirit inspire each of these men to record this fact unless to make a point with the reader?

Jesus began his church on the feast of Pentecost, which fell on the 1st of the 8th week. “Pentecost” is the Greek name given to the original feast of the harvest (the feast of weeks) because it fell on the 50th day after the Passover (Exodus 23:16, 34:22, Leviticus 23:15-16, Numbers 28:26 & Deuteronomy 16:6-11).

You ate the Passover lamb whose blood spared God’s people from death at the designated time for the Passover feast. Then you counted seven Sabbaths (49 days) and on the next day, the 50th day, the 1st day of a new week, you celebrated the harvest.

The harvest feast of Pentecost seemed specifically designed to lead Israel to this 1st day of the week. God raised his slain lamb (our Passover) on the 1st day of the week and then ordained the 1st day of the week by sending his Holy Spirit to the apostles on the 1st Pentecost following Jesus’ resurrection. On this day, Jesus church was established (Acts 2).

The first day of the week is also the day that God reports to us that the saints assembled to break bread (Acts 20:7) and the day upon which the saints were to make their own sacrifice for the saints (1st Corinthians 16:1-2). Rather than being random or incidental matters, these points of scripture appear more like guideposts leading us in the direction God desires.

Are there New Testament references to any other day of the week, the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc.? Not that I know of. Only the first is noted, and this from the gospels on.

As J.W. McGarvey once said, “Those who are willing to be guided by the slightest indications of the will of God in preference to their own judgment, will find sufficient to satisfy them”.

Bad Boys, Bad Boys, What'cha Gonna Do....

Judah’s citizens had practiced 57 years of apostasy & idolatry when Josiah became king….. and he was just eight years old! But he would set his heart to follow God.

When Josiah was 20, he began a purge of the idolatrous images and high places. Then at age 26 he sent workmen to repair the neglected temple in Jerusalem. Somehow during this project, a priest came across a copy of the Law of Moses. When the book was read in the hearing of king Josiah, he tore his clothes fearing the wrath of God for the nation’s unfaithfulness.

Immediately emissaries were sent to Huldah the prophetess for a word from God, and God told Josiah the following through her:

“Behold, I am bringing evil on this place and on its inhabitants, even all the curses written in the book which they have read in the presence of the king of Judah. Because they have forsaken Me and have burned incense to other gods. That they might provoke Me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore My wrath will be poured out on this place and it shall not be quenched” 2nd Chronicles 34:24-25

All the curses! No quenching! God was coming to Judah for their rebellion, their neglect, their arrogance and their foolish belief in idols. But when? When would the boom be lowered on these faithless people?

God was clear about one thing: He would not come until Josiah had been gathered to his fathers in death (many years later). God’s reason? Josiah humbled himself before him, tore his clothes and wept over their departure from God, and so it was promised to him that he would not see the evil that was coming. Wow! An entire nation enjoyed a brief reprieve from judgment due to this one righteous man.

This brings up the question, “How is my life impacting the timing of God’s judgment?” I have to wonder if am I helping stave it off a bit longer, or am I egging it on?

Just a thought.

Find the Good You Are Looking For

“And Jesus said unto them, ‘Go forth and nit-pick’”, from the book of 1st Darkened Imaginations 13:13. Right.

Nit pickers are everywhere, taking great pride in pointing out all that is wrong with the world. They can see a flaw from a mile away… in the dark.

Finding fault is the lowest of human skills. The last thing I need is some self-assigned critic pointing out the woes of our existence at every turn. And rest assured, someone who finds pleasure in telling you the faults of others behind their backs, is likely telling others your faults once your back is turned.

What should we be doing instead? We are taught to find the good and make that our focus, like Jesus’ apostle Paul wrote:

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things”
- Philippians 4:8

Paul also wrote to the church in Colossae:

“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life, is hidden with Christ in God.”
- Colossians 3:1-3

What did Jesus say?

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you,”
- Matthew 6:33

Looking for good, I believe, is the best way to welcome the new year!

Vaclav the Good

Perhaps you know him by the German name “Wenceslas”? He reigned as monarch in Bohemia from 922-929 and was so known for his benevolent nature that he became the patron saint of the Czech people.

Mr. J.M. Neale (1818-1866) wrote a song that purports to recount one of Vaclav’s many acts of kindness. The song has long inspired me as to the beauty of those given power being influenced by the love of God. They set a wonderful example for the rest of us.

Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen,

When the snow lay ‘round about, deep and crisp and even.

Brightly shone the moon that night, though the frost was cruel,

When a poor man came in sight, gathering winter fuel.

Hither page, and stand by me; If thou knowest it telling,

Yonder peasant, who is he, where and what his dwelling?

Sire he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain,

Right against the forest fence, by St. Agnes’ fountain.

Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine longs hither,

Thou & I will see him dine, when we bear them thither,

Page & monarch forth they went, forth they went together,

Through the rude wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.

Sire the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger,

Fails my heart, I know not how, I can go no longer

Mark my footsteps my good page, tread thou in them boldly.

Thou shalt find the winter’s rage, freeze thy blood less coldly.

In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dented,

Heat was in the very sod, which the saint had printed,

Therefore, Christian men be sure, wealth or rank possessing,

Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

As in the song, there is no better path to follow, than the one made clear by the steps of the Lord Jesus Christ. We follow where our king leads, doing good for all in our path.

The Possibility: "Peace on Earth!"

Two millenniums ago in a shepherd’s field,

A Heavenly Host sang—as God willed—

“Peace on earth,” the Almighty decreed:

A Savior was born to meet our need!

That Heavenly Host was “praising God,”

For His response where human’s trod;

From the beginning blood had flowed,

As Cain—like conduct growed and growed!

Jesus, that Savior, solemnly warned You and me,

That “wars and rumors of wars” would continue to be;

Now in today’s headlines, what do we see—

More slaughter and stabbings by humanity!

Periodically, as we thoughtlessly hasten along,

We momentarily pause to note that Heavenly song;

Annually that Message is given a re-birth;

Choral groups sing, “Peace and goodwill on earth!”

Yet, Gangs and Military Power seem to rule the day;

How refreshing it will be to hear men caringly pray,

As church bells clang and jingle bells ring,

“Peace on earth” is still a song that we sing!

Hearts are uplifted with realistic hope,

For the Message that Luke long ago wrote;

Shedding Divine light on the path we trod;

Knowing that Message came from Almighty God!

“Peace on earth” is truly a possibility;

It’s the best gift extended to You and me;

That a Savior was born in Bethlehem—

Let Heaven and Earth give all glory to Him!

Amidst all the lights that beautifully glisten;

To His Commands and Promises let us listen;

For ever since the time of His immaculate birth,

God has planned for us ”Peace on earth!”