All posts by Nate Bibens

Why Paul Would be Unpopular Today

There is a preacher who preaches for a megachurch in Houston, Texas who has been described as “the most popular preacher in America.”  The church he preaches for televises their worship services and he is seen all over the country.  The church takes in 70 million dollars a year in contributions. He has written several best-selling books and for one of his latest books he was paid an advance of 13 million dollars.  Based on all the foregoing I can see why he is considered to be the most popular preacher in America.  If the criteria for popularity is money and the number of people who follow you he certainly qualifies as popular preacher.  But, I wonder, if the Apostle Paul were alive today would he be popular?  Would he even be allowed into the pulpits of most churches today?  I believe Paul would be unpopular today for the following reasons.

The aforementioned most popular preacher in America begins every sermon with a joke.  Sometimes his listeners send him jokes and he uses them to start off his sermons.  He uses very little scripture and really his sermons are just feel good talks about how to be successful and get ahead in business and life.  It’s the power of positive thinking wrapped up in a fluffy feel good package.  Can you imagine the Apostle Paul beginning one of his sermons with a joke?  In I Corinthians 2:1-5 Paul described his style of preaching.  “I came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring to you the testimony of God.  For I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  In Romans 1:16 Paul declared that the gospel he preached was the power of God unto salvation and in Acts 20:20-27 Paul reminded the Ephesians that he had kept back nothing that was profitable for them.  “I am pure from the blood of all men, for I have not shunned to declare the whole counsel of God.”  That kind of preaching would not make Paul popular today!  It is the kind of preaching still needed in the world and in the church today. 

The Houston preacher described above never preaches on sin.  In fact, in one interview he was asked why he never mentions the words sin, judgment, or hell.  He answered that he has not been called to judge people but to encourage and inspire them therefore he never uses those words.  When I heard that answer I knew why he is considered the most popular preacher in America! The way to build and maintain a megachurch is to never preach about sin.  Paul used the words sin, judgment, and hell in his preaching, however.  In II Timothy 3 Paul wrote that perilous times were coming when men would be covetous, boasters, blasphemers, unholy, without natural affection, truce breakers, traitors, despisers of those who are good, and lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.  By the way, if those times are not here already, may the Lord have mercy on us when they arrive!  I think it obvious, however, that we are living in a time when it is perilous and dangerous to be a Christian and to take a stand against sin.  In Galatians 5 Paul declares the works of the flesh are adultery, fornication, uncleanness, murder, drunkenness, etc.  Are these still sins today?  If so, it is the “calling” of every preacher to preach against them just like Paul did. If Paul were here today he would preach against sin and that would not make him the most popular preacher in America!

If Paul were here today he would still preach that there is a pattern for the work and worship of the church.  That would make him unpopular not only with outsiders, but with many people in churches of Christ today.  The popular notion that it does not matter how we worship as long as we are zealous and sincere would be contradicted by Paul.  In fact, it is contradicted by Paul in the epistles he left us.  In I Corinthians 11:2 he praised the brethren for “remembering him in all things and keeping the ordinances as delivered.”  When Paul praised them for remembering him, he meant they remembered and recognized his apostolic office and authority.  Paul, as an inspired apostle, set down the pattern for the observance of the Lord’s Supper and he declared it should be kept as delivered.  After giving a pattern for the assembly in I Corinthians 14, Paul says in verse 38, “If a man does not recognize this he is not to be recognized.”  In II Thessalonians 2:15 Paul admonishes us to stand fast and hold on to the traditions we have received by the word of God.  He is speaking, of course, of inspired traditions. If he were here today Paul would preach that the traditions, ordinances, and patterns revealed in the New Testament must be kept today if we are going to serve and worship the Lord acceptably.  That kind of preaching would make Paul unpopular even in churches of Christ!

If Paul were here today he would preach the same thing he preached about baptism as he preached 2000 years ago  He would not be popular and in fact many would accuse him of preaching “water salvation.”  In recounting his own conversion Paul declared that he was told, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”  He immediately arose and was baptized, and it was after his baptism that he stopped praying and rejoiced knowing his sins were forgiven.  Paul preached that baptism puts us into Christ where all spiritual blessings reside. (Romans 6:3-5 & Galatians 3:27)  Baptism is so essential to salvation that Paul commanded 12 men he met in Ephesus to be baptized a second time because their first baptism was invalid. I wonder what would happened if Paul told all those who have been baptized thinking they were saved before baptism that their baptisms are invalid and they need to be baptized again for the right reason? I do not think that would make him the most popular preacher in America! 

The point to this whole article is, of course, that Paul would be unpopular today.  The reason is not because Paul’s preaching would change – it would not – it is because people have not changed.  Paul was not popular in his own day because people did not want the truth, and that has not changed.  Paul, undoubtedly, was not concerned about popularity but preaching the truth and so should we.  I do need to say, in closing, that Paul was popular with those who loved the truth, and if I may say it this way, he was popular with the Lord.  That is all that mattered to Paul, and may it be what most matters to us!

Article By: Jerry Dickinson




When it comes to Old Testament heroes, arguably the greatest of all is Moses.  Of all the great men and women of the Old Testament, few could put together a resume comparable to that of Moses.  Moses set the standard for leadership, delivered the law that ruled God’s people until the time of Christ, wrote at least five Old Testament books, and worked some of the greatest miracles recorded in the entire Bible.  More importantly, Moses had a relationship with God that is nearly unparalleled by other Old Testament characters.  Truly, Moses is one of the greatest characters we can learn from in all of the Bible.

The story of Moses’ life is amazing in and of itself.  He was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter in a time that his people were enslaved by the Egyptians.  At the age of 40, Moses was forced to flee Egypt after killing an Egyptian for beating an Israelite.  In the land of Midian, Moses was called by God to return to Egypt to free the Israelites.  God wrought ten devastating plagues on Egypt, until finally Pharaoh released the nation.

Moses led the nation to Mount Sinai, where he was given the Ten Commandments as well as the rest of the law that would govern God’s people until the formation of the Church.  After the law was given, proper worship was instituted, and the tabernacle was built, Moses led the nation to Kadesh-Barnea where they were to begin the conquest of the Promised Land.  Due to the nation’s rebellion at Kadesh however, the Israelites were cursed to wander the wilderness for 40 years, until all the fighting men over the age of 20 had died. 

On one occasion during the years of wandering, Moses struck a rock to bring forth water instead of speaking to it as God commanded.  Because Moses failed in that instance to hallow God before the nation, Moses was barred from the Promised Land himself.  He continued to lead the nation, until the 40 years was completed, and the old generation had all passed away.  Then, from the plains of Moab, Moses retold the Law to the new generation as they prepared to begin their conquest of Canaan.  Finally, at the age of 120 years, Moses went to the top of Mount Nebo, where he was shown the Promised Land by God before passing away.

Countless lessons can be gleaned from the life of Moses. First of all, Moses shows us that anyone can be a successful worker for God.  When God called Moses in Exodus 3, Moses was unwilling to go, and felt unqualified for the job God required of him.  Once he listened to God though, and followed God’s instruction, Moses became the greatest leader in Israelite history!  Moses teaches us that no matter what we think of our own abilities, we can be successful in working for God if we will follow His instruction.

Secondly, Moses teaches us what it means to be a true leader.  Other than Jesus, perhaps there is no character that truly defines leadership better than Moses.  Moses lead an entire nation out of slavery and to the borders of the Promised Land.  More impressively, he did so with one of the most difficult nations of people imaginable.  For all his effort and hard work, Moses usually received nothing but complaining and rebellion.  At times the nation wanted to stone Moses; at times they wanted to leave Moses and return to Egypt; and at one point his own brother challenged him.  Yet through all of the hardships Moses faced as a leader, he continued to do his job.  It would have been easy for Moses to give up on the nation; they had given up on him multiple times.  But he never did.  He continued to lead as he knew he should, until the nation arrived at the banks of Jordan, ready to enter the Promised Land.  Today, leaders face hardships and struggles, and often their hard work is met with complaints by the people they are trying to help and lead.  It is a temptation to give up on the work and give up on people, but leaders must remember the example of Moses, and stay true to God and stay true to their duties as a leader of His people.  While their efforts may not always be appreciated, they will be instrumental in guiding God’s people to the true Promised Land.

As a leader, Moses teaches us the great lesson of love.  Moses wasn’t only patient with the nation he lead, he truly loved them.  In fact, on at least two occasions, the nation outraged God to such a degree that He was ready to wipe them out and start over with Moses.  Both times however, Moses intervened, and pleaded for the people.  After all they had done, and after all of the mistreatment towards Moses, his goal was still to get the nation to the Promised Land.  Leaders today need to have attitudes of love towards those they lead like Moses had towards the nation of Israel. 

Lastly, an unfortunate lesson that Moses teaches us, is that even the greatest of men can fail.  In Numbers 20, Moses struck a rock, and in a sense took the credit for the water that came forth, instead of hallowing God and speaking to the rock as he had been commanded.  For his mistake, Moses was barred from the Promised Land.  After putting up with all that Moses had put up with for nearly 40 years, he wasn’t even allowed to enjoy the Promised Land himself.  When Moses died, he was shown the Promised Land from a mountain in Moab, but he never tasted the land’s fruit, enjoyed the lands milk and honey, or rested in a home in the Promised Land. All Christians should take note; if Moses could fail and face such great consequences, so can we.

So many lessons can be gleaned from the life of Moses.  All Christians today should read and study this great man’s life, to strengthen them on their journey to the Promised Land.


Article By Nate Bibens


Back to the Front Line

First Kings 15:5 declares that “David did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, and turned not aside from any thing that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.”  This shows that when David plotted to have Bathsheba’s husband murdered, in an attempt to cover up his adulterous relationship with her, a stain was left on the record of his life that could not be sugarcoated.  Uriah was a soldier in David’s army, but more than that, he was a man who had ably demonstrated his worth on the battlefield.

Bear in mind that he was one of the thirty-seven “mighty men” of David, as those elite group of soldiers are called in 2 Sam. 23, and his name appears at the end of that list (verse 39).  Indeed, that fact alone tells us that he was a man of extraordinary valor, leadership and great deeds.  In spite of the obvious obstacles that he undoubtedly faced, his story is a compelling one because of what he was able to accomplish.  To begin with, he was a Hittite!  According to Josh. 9:1, when the Israelites entered Canaan to possess the land, the Hittites took part with the other nations in trying to stop them.  Yet, Uriah ends up being a part of David’s army and becomes a red-hot patriot for Israel.  Surely the implication is that he had undergone a conversion— a life-changing decision that led him to place his faith in Jehovah and to turn his back on the false gods of his people.

We don’t know all the details about his life, but we do know that he married a young Jewish maiden by the name of Bathsheba, obviously a woman of great beauty, and in the army he moved up quickly through the ranks to a place of prosperity and promise.  His house must have been near the complex where the king himself resided, explaining why David was able to see Bathsheba bathing from the “roof of the king’s house” (2 Sam. 11:2-4), and all of this indicates that he was a man of great worth in David’s army.  While he had his faults and imperfections, like all men do, in many ways he was a good example of what every soldier should aspire to be.  Ironically, this is the very thing that led to his death.   

After discovering that Bathsheba is going to have his child, David calls for Uriah to return home from the war between Israel and Ammon, hoping everyone will assume that the baby is the Hittite’s offspring.  However, the diabolical plan fails when Uriah refuses to cooperate.  Although he has permission from the king himself to go home and spend time with his wife, “Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house, with all the servants of his lord, and went not down to his house” (2 Sam. 11:9).  When David asks him why he acted in this fashion, he gives an answer that is full of honor, devotion and integrity– “The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents; and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open fields; shall I then go into mine house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife?  as thou livest, and as thy soul liveth, I will not do this thing” (2 Sam. 11:11)      

David granted Uriah’s request by sending him back to fight with his fellow-soldiers on the front-line, but not as he expected.  In a letter written by the king himself, the Hittite delivered unto Joab, the acting general of the army, his own death sentence– “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retreat from him, that he may be struck down and die” (2 Sam. 11:15/ NKJ).  What a shameful and dishonorable way for a soldier to die!  Instead of being betrayed by his king and commanding officer, he should have been given a medal of honor.  Usually such a valiant soldier’s name is inscribed on a monument of some kind in order to keep his memory alive. Well, in a very real sense that’s what the following information amounts to– “And Jesse begat David the king.  And David begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Uriah” (Matt. 1:6/ASV). 

Think about it!  You cannot read Matthew’s record of the ancestry of Jesus, the Son of God Himself, without finding the name of Uriah and being reminded of his story.  All of this points to some important truths and principles that we need to understand and appreciate today.  After all, as followers of Christ we are soldiers in the army of the Lord.  Since our duty is to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12), we must not sit idly by while the battle is raging all around us.  Although the warfare we are engaged in is spiritual in nature (2 Cor. 10:3-5), the very things that Uriah was ready to defend still apply in principle today.  With that in mind, let’s notice the reasons he gave for wanting to get back to the front-line.

By bringing up this sacred chest that was so precious to the people of God, Uriah lets us know where his heart was.  The ark was overlaid with gold, had two cherubim that sat on the “mercy seat” (the lid) facing each other, and whereon the blood of the yearly atonement was sprinkled by the high priest.  All of this came with a special promise from God: “And thou shalt put the mercy seat above the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee.  And there I will meet thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony . . .” (Ex. 25:21-22)  Hence we see in this a representation of God’s presence (abode) with them.

Surely this is why the Israelites took the ark into battle, symbolizing the fact that God was leading the way, because they knew that it was the Lord’s cause for which they were fighting.  That was the point that Uriah was making.  Knowing that God’s cause and honor was at stake, this devoted soldier was not content to stay away from the fray and take it easy, but was eager to get back to the front-line where he could make a difference.  Brethren, what about us today?  If we allow the cause of Christ to be besmirched and go undefended, failing to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude, verse 3), what a terrible disservice we are doing to God’s cause and honor.

How can we be satisfied to be on “furlough” (a leave of absence from duty) when we ought to be “fighting” the good fight of faith?   Defining the word “fight” in 1 Tim. 6:12, W. E. Vine says that it is used “metaphorically, to contend perseveringly against opposition and temptation” (P. 414).   This is the duty of every soldier of Christ.

Of all the many nations that we read about in the Old Testament, Uriah recognized that Israel sustained a unique relationship with God.  Since the Lord had chosen them “to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth” (Deut, 7:6), this faithful soldier was proud to take his stand with the people of God.  Today we should see in this a representation of the Lord’s church, Christ’s spiritual body of whom He is the Savior (Eph. 5:23), because in Jesus we are no less than “an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s on possession” (1 Pet. 2:9/ ASV).   

No wonder Satan attacks the church, wanting to destroy its identity and uniqueness, because he hates what the church is all about!  He knows that it is destined to take its flight to glory one of these days (1 Cor. 15:24), and its mission is that of saving souls (1 Cor. 1:21).  While the influence of the church is suffering in some places because of apathy, worldliness and apostasy, are we content to be on “furlough” and sit idly by?  No, let’s “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27).  

Evidently when Uriah married Bathsheba, he married into the tribe of Judah, so in that sense they stood for family.  One of the best reasons for taking our stand on the front-line of serving God and maintaining doctrinal purity has to do with our children and grandchildren, not to mention even future generations that we may never see.  As should be obvious to all, the home (as God defines and regulates it) is under attack today by Satan and the world, but every parent should consider this as a “front-line” where we are going to take a stand for what is right. 

Taking such a stand cannot involve a compromising of our Bible-based convictions, even in ways that might seem small and insignificant, but we must bring our children up “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). This involves the commitment to not allow anything into our homes that is destructive and detrimental, realizing that there is much truth to the old adage– “As goes the home, so goes the church.”  May the Lord help us to realize how true that is!

Uriah ended his statement by saying: “My Lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open fields.”   What was he was trying to convey to David?  It was that he felt a personal responsibility to stand alongside Joab (the commander) and his fellow-soldiers in the fight, wanting to do his part in battle.  Unless this is our attitude, realizing that there is something of value that we can bring to the fight, we cannot be a “good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3).   


Article by: Billy D. Dickinson



The Way

Throughout the New Testament, there are various names and descriptions given for the Church.  It is referred to as the Church of God (Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:13; 1 Tim. 3:5), the Church of Christ (Rom. 16:16) and the church of the firstborn (Heb. 12:23).  In Luke’s record of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, he uses a name and description for the Church that is unique to the book of Acts.  In Acts 9:1-2 Luke writes:

Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

Most of the Jews viewed the Christians as a sect of falsehood, and it is likely that Saul viewed them as such as well.  That being the case, it is unlikely Saul viewed the Church as The Way so this name is more likely to be Luke’s wording.  Following his conversion however, Saul of Tarsus, or the Apostle Paul, would also view the Church as The Way and refer to it as such.  Later in life when Paul retold the story of his conversion to Felix, he also referred to the Church as The Way (Acts 24:14).  In addition to the conversion account of Saul, the Church is referred to as The Way three more times in the book of Acts (Acts 19:9, 23; 24:22).

The fact that Luke, guided by the Holy Spirit, chose to refer to the Church as The Way is no accident.  It is purposeful and meaningful.  First of all, it was an important distinction and acknowledgement in the first century.  There was a false notion in the first century that Christianity was simply a sect, or a party, or Judaism, much like the sect of the Pharisees or the Sadducees.  The Church was not simply an off-shoot of Judaism however – it was the fulfillment of the prophets and the kingdom of God (and it still is!)  In referring to the Church as The Way, Luke and Paul showed this truth clearly.  They did not view the Church as a part of Judaism; they viewed the Church as the only way of truth.  Just as the name The Way was important to the first century Church, the name is still important to the Church today, and offers us many valuable lessons about the nature of the Church. 

The Church is Singular
By referring to the Church as The Way the Holy Spirit indicated the singular nature of the Church.  This simple truth is often misunderstood or twisted in the world today where people want to have many paths to God.  Additionally, people do not want the Church to be singular, because something that is singular is by nature exclusive.  People do not want there to only be one church, or one plan of redemption, or one way of salvation.  The world wants options, choices, and diversity.  God’s Word makes it quite clear though, there are not many ways to please Him, there is one way and only one way to Him – His son Jesus. 

The Apostle Peter made the singular nature of salvation very clear during one of his early trials before the Jewish leaders.  As Peter responded to the questioning of the high priest and his council after the healing of a lame man in Acts 3, Peter stated, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  At that point, it was important for the Jews to learn that salvation was not found in the name of Moses – it was found in Jesus.  Today the same truth needs to be recognized by the world; salvation is not found in Buddha, Muhammad, Gandhi, or any other man or woman.  The sole way to salvation is still through Jesus.

It is also important to understand that even within Jesus, there is only one way.  Some people will agree that salvation is only found in Jesus, but they believe all “christian” doctrines are acceptable in the sight of God.  When we turn to the inspired word of God though we do not find this to be the case.  The Way is obviously one way, not many ways.  The Way is not made up of multiple bodies of Christ, or a plethora of faiths.  The singularity and oneness of the Church is made abundantly clear in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. 

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Eph. 4:4-6)

As the New Testament makes clear, the Church is the body of Christ (Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18, 24).  Since there is only one body, that means there is only one church.  Also there is only one faith, not many faiths.  Even when you look at the many denominations in the world, you find multiple faiths. Obviously, in denominationalism there are many faiths, not just one.  Thus we cannot say that the church does not matter as long as it is Christian.  A church is not The Way if it is not the Church built by Christ (Mt. 16:18), the Church of the New Testament.

The Church is Absolute
In that the Church is singular, it is also absolute.  This message does not settle well with much of the world today, because the world hates absolutes.  The world claims there is no absolute truth.  There is no black and white, no right and wrong.  People much prefer a squishy and fluid set of guidelines, a grey area, or a relative truth to live by.  This essentially allows people to live however they want and find a way to justify themselves and their lifestyles.  After all, if there is no such thing as absolute truth, then one can’t fully know the truth, and thus one can’t be judged for not living according to the truth.  But for this philosophy to work, one must reject that there is truth, which is exactly what so many have done.  Many today have ascribed to the sophistry of a website motto I once saw which read, “All religions contain some truth, no religion contains all the truth.”  Sadly, two millennia later, people are still asking the same question as Pilate, “What is truth?” (Jn. 18:38). 

It is important to understand that Jesus taught in absolutes.  Jesus definitely felt truth was absolute and knowable.  As He prayed to His Father in John 18, He prayed, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.”  Jesus did not say that God’s word was part truth, or His personal version of truth, or even mostly truth.  Jesus said God’s word IS truth.  God’s word is all truth, it is the definition of truth.  It is difficult to be more absolute.  Jesus also didn’t teach that there were many ways to the Father, or even a few ways to the Father.   When Thomas admitted he did not know the way Jesus was going or the way Jesus was speaking of, Jesus responded by saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jn. 14:6).  Again, Jesus’ words are absolute in this instance. 

Additionally, when Jesus taught about salvation, He did not teach there were many plans.  In terms of salvation, Jesus taught in absolutes.  Jesus taught that without belief, one would die in their sins (Jn. 8:24).  Belief is absolutely necessary to avoid spiritual death.  Jesus also taught that without repentance, one would perish (Lk. 13:3).  Jesus taught quite absolutely that if man is not willing to confess Him, but instead denies Him, then Jesus will deny that man (Mt. 10:32-33).  And as Jesus gave His final commands to the disciples, He did not offer a suggestion or an idea; He issued an absolute command to, “…make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19).  This command is incredibly absolute, and seems very strange if baptism is not absolutely essential for salvation.  Also, as Mark records, in this final commission to His disciples Jesus taught in unmistakable language that, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned’ (Mk. 16:16).  The world shutters at the notion of an absolute plan of redemption that must be followed.  But to deny such a plan is to deny the absolute teaching of Jesus.

The Church is a Journey
The Greek word that is translated as The Way in Acts 9:2 is Hodos, which according to Strong’s Greek Dictionary means, “progress, a mode or a means, a journey or a highway.”  Many times people talk about living life to the fullest, capitalizing on the moment, or living in the now.  What is meant by these slogans is basically, “Have as much fun as possible right now, because life is short.”  It is true that our lives are quite short in the grand scheme of things (Jas. 4:14), but living life to the fullest should mean something different to the Christian than it does to the world.  While the world wants to party and have as much fun as possible in the here and now, the Christian must remember that our brief time on this earth is not the end all be all.  Instead, our time on this earth is merely a highway to another place – our eternal destiny. 

In truth, all life is a highway to eternity.  Jesus taught that there were two roads an individual could travel on; the broad way leading to destruction or the narrow way leading to eternal life (Mt. 7:13-14).  It is always important for Christians to remember this fact, and keep their eyes focused upon eternity, not the moment or the here and now.  Christians must realize that even as a part of the Church, this life is not all there is.  It is possible to get caught up on temporal things even within the Church. 

When one accepts this life is just the journey, and learns to focus upon the reward of eternity, great things can be accomplished.  Some of the most faithful and fruitful children of God had this great characteristic in common.  Abraham was greatly blessed by God with wealth and honor, and an entire land that was promised to his descendants.  But the wealth and honor and territory were fleeting in the eyes of Abraham, whose eyes looked far beyond flocks, herds, and possession.  Even with all of the physical blessings and an entire land to call his own, Abraham viewed himself as a stranger simply travelling through a foreign land.  As the Hebrew writer records, Abraham’s great obedience and faithfulness were not a result of his physical well-being, but because he waited for the city whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:9-10). 

Many other men and women have accomplished great things for God, made great sacrifices, and given their life completely following the Creator because they looked towards the reward instead of the here and now.  Today, Christians can have the same faith and fervor as the faithful giants of old, if they will simply remember this life is a journey and keep their eyes on the goal.  If that is how we live our life, then even we today can have the attitude of Paul that for us to live is Christ, but to die is gain (Php. 1:21). 

It must be noted, that to make it to the destination, we must be on the right path.  Many people today have their eyes on Heaven, but they are not travelling the way that leads to Heaven, because they are not in The Way.  This is a tragedy because the way is not hidden from man.  Some of the most beautiful and comforting words in all the Bible are found very shortly before the most troubling and difficult days of Jesus’ life.  As Jesus prepared His disciples for the pain they would soon encounter by His death, and the potential sorrow of His departure, He comforted them by saying,

Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.  And where I go you know, and the way you know. (Jn. 14:1-4)

God and Christ’s desire is for man to be saved and to dwell with them eternally (2 Pet. 3:9) and thus They have revealed the way to Heaven.  Our Creator has shared with us the one, true path that leads to eternal life with Him.  It is through His Son, by obeying His word, and being a part of His body the Church.  God has provided the path and has promised to provide the eternal home – the question is are you in and on The Way?


Article by: Nate Bibens

The Church at Philadelphia

Faithful, patient, tried, and full of integrity are all fitting terms describing the church at Philadelphia.  Philadelphia, along with six other congregations, was blessed with the unique privilege of receiving a letter from their Lord and Savior (Rev. 3:7-13).  Unlike some of her sister congregations, Philadelphia received a letter filled with compliments, reassurance, hope and opportunity.  This small letter, when applied, provides powerful lessons for the church today.

The city of Philadelphia was founded in the second century B.C. By Eumenes, king of Pergamum.  There is little doubt it was named after his brother Attalus, whose loyalty had earned him the name Philadelphus.  From its very beginning, the city had a spirit of faithfulness.  With this disposition ingrained in their hearts, it is easy to understand why these Christians remained faithful to the cause (Rev. 3:8).

The land around the city was very fertile and successful in the production of fruits and vines.  To this day, grapes, corn, cotton, and tobacco are found as favorable crops there.  Some scholars hold the view Eumenes founded the city to take advantage of the quality wines produced in the area. 

Philadelphia, an economic success in agriculture, was hampered with several disastrous earthquakes making living in the city burdensome and fearful.  It was heartbroken several times and “the great earthquake of A.D. 17 ruined it completely” (Zondervan Pictorial Bible Encyclopedia).  No doubt, the words of Rev. 3:12, providing hope of a new city, lifted the spirits of the Philadelphian Christians.

As a good Bible student, one must remember the context and language of this revelation recorded by John.  This book is full of signs and symbols that, when properly understood, can unlock the vast amount of meaning contained in the divine writing.  “And unto the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth” (verse 7).

The key mentioned by Jesus is a sign of authority.  In Matt. 16:19 our Lord told Peter, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  We understand Peter was granted the power to unlock the kingdom of heaven, the church.  This successfully occurred on the day of Pentecost, A.D. 33, when Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, used this key and preached the first gospel sermon.  Three thousand souls obeyed the gospel giving the church a glorious beginning, and from that day forward “the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2).

According to Isa. 22:22 David had such possession of a key.  With it he was granted the authority to open and shut, as he desired.  Christ, given all authority from his Father in heaven (Matt. 28:18), has the ultimate key.  Christ, through his atoning sacrifice on the cross, has opened the door of salvation.  With this open door, no person has the power to shut it, save the doorkeeper himself.  Satan, his evil forces, and even man cannot change the blessed gospel and the steps of obedience one must take to have his sins washed away.  Jesus declares, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved” (John 10:9).  If one desires to enter, he must follow the steps laid forth by Christ: believe (John 3:16), repent (Lk. 13:3), confess (Matt. 10:32-33), and be baptized (Mk. 16:16).

Just as Christ has opened the door, he will, at the appointed time, shut it.  When it is shut, no person will be able to reopen the wonderful door of salvation.  Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).  When he closes the door, time shall be no more, all will gather  for the great judgment day.  There will be no more occasions to do the will of the Father (Matt. 7:21).

“I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name” (verse 8).  Christ declares, “I know thy works.”  He was well aware of the activity of the Philadelphian congregation.  He knew what they were doing to evangelize their family, friends, and community.  Because they were keepers of the great commission, remained faithful, and stayed true to the cause, they were granted an open door of opportunity.  This refers to great opportunities to preach the gospel to lost souls (Acts 14:27; 1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12).  This was an amazing opportunity granted to these Christians.  Because they were tireless in doing the work of the Lord, they were blessed with more occasions to speak the truth.

The Apostle Paul, a great soldier for the cause on the Asian battlefield, realized the importance of having opportunities such as this.  Col. 4:3 informs us, “Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ.”  This reflects the tremendous amount of godliness possessed by Paul.  While under control of Roman guards, Paul was not concerned for his physical welfare, but for the welfare of the church.  He lays a request upon the Colossian brethren; they are asked to pray “that God would open unto us a door of utterance.”  With the remarkable example before us, how many pray on a daily basis for God to open doors?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every person in your local congregation would pray such a prayer every day?  If that is the case, God will make doors available!

“Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee” (verse 9).  Like many other cities in Asia Minor, Philadelphia had a large population of Jews.  Those who were staunch in the Jewish faith were arrogant concerning their special relationship with God.  They were so blinded by their egos they were unable to see Jesus as the Messiah.  In view of their spiritual blindness, Christ appropriately calls them, “of the synagogue of Satan.”

It had been the concentrated effort of the Philadelphians to convert Gentiles.  The Jews were stubborn; the majority of them rejected the truth.  When the door was opened, Christ made opportunities for those of Philadelphia to teach the Jews for the purpose of conversion.  They were to come and worship before Christ’s feet, not worshiping the Christians of this humble congregation, but joining with those faithful brethren and worship God.  Some came to proper understanding, acceptance, and embracing of the truth. 

“Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I will also keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth” (verse 10).  Christ pays this congregations one of the greatest compliments possible, “thou hast kept the word of my patience.”  Keeping the word as it is written, avoiding defiling the “faith which was once delivered” (Jude 3), is a worthy endeavor.  It would be grand if Christ could say the same of our home congregations. 

The hour of temptation the Philadelphians are to be kept from is unclear.  Many scholars have drawn various conclusions concerning this thought.  Adam Clarke states, “Many understand by the hour of temptation the persecution under Trajan, which was greater and more extensive than the preceding ones under Nero and Domitian.”  Persecution of the first-century church brought delight to many Romans.  Even though ungodly men ruled Rome, the church stood firm and continued to grow.  The promise of keeping them from the hour of temptation was a real comfort.

“Behold, I come quickly; hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.  Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name” (verse 11-12).  Heartbroken, downtrodden, and depressed over the condition of their hometown, the Philadelphian Christians anticipated something better.  If heaven is our goal, and we are dedicated to accomplishing that goal, then we will receive the same compliment of faithfulness as the Philadelphians.  To those who remain faithful to the end, they will “receive a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).

Article By: Brad Shockley


The Church at Smyrna

“And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are of the synagogue of Satan.  Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.  He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.” (Rev. 2:8-11) 

The church in Smyrna was the persecuted church.  Indeed, it was a dangerous thing to be a Christian in ancient Smyrna!  A city located about 40 miles north of Ephesus and originally founded by Alexander the Great, it has been called “the seat of the Imperial Cult.”  While Damascus had her “street called Straight” (Acts 9:11), Smyrna had her “Golden Street”– a thoroughfare lined with infamous temples to Apollo, Aphrodite and Zeus.  “The Glory of Asia” was noted for its scenic beauty, and while it was a great commercial metropolis that provided many of its inhabitants with affluence, the Lord’s church in that city was facing great opposition.

The purpose of the letter was to comfort their troubled minds and to exhort them to remain faithful.  Notice how Christ identifies Himself: “These things saith the first and last, which was dead, and is alive.”  Isa. 44:6 has Jehovah declaring, “I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.”  By using the same language, Christ is affirming that He is God and is referring to His eternal existence.  “In the beginning was the Word,” John writes in the prologue of his Gospel, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:1-3).  It is with impressive credentials, and the fact of His resurrection, that Jesus encourages the church at Smyrna.  Although they are suffering persecution, it is through their faith in Him, the one who conquered death itself, that they can be victorious.  Oh, how they needed this letter from the Lord!

Christ acknowledges that He is aware of their afflictions: “I know thy works, and tribulation . . .” (verse 9).  “Tribulation” is a word indicative of pressure– a burden or pressing down.  It must have been a source of great strength to those brethren to realize that the Lord knew of their woeful circumstances!  Surely this proves the truthfulness of Peter’s statement in 2 Pet. 2:9, a statement that contains a blessed promise to every Christian: “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished.”

When we today are weighed down with burdens and trials, let us take comfort in the fact that the Lord is watching over us with infinite awareness.  The following hymn displays how we should rejoice in serving a Savior who possesses an omniscience that enables Him to hear our faintest cries:

He knows the bitter weary way, the endless strivings day by day, the souls that weep, the souls that pray, He knows, He knows.  He knows how hard the fight has been, the clouds that come our lives between, the wounds the world has never seen, He knows, He knows.  He knows when faint and worn we sink, how deep the pain, how near the brink, of dark despair, we pause and shrink, He knows, He knows.  He knows, O thought so full of bliss!  For though on earth our joys we miss, we still can bear it feeing this, He knows, He knows.


The Lord also acknowledged that the brethren at Smyrna were living in an area that was a stronghold for evil, declaring that “the synagogue of Satan” was in that place (verse 9).  While their persecutors claimed to be followers of God, in reality they were followers of the devil, as they railed against the church with false and hurtful accusations.  Jesus makes it plain that it was actually Satan, through the lives and deeds of wicked men, who is the source of the persecution: “Behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison” (verse 10).

Here is a principle that we need to understand and appreciate.  The devil does his work on earth by using wicked men to spread his lies and do his bidding.  Sometimes they are deceived and unconscious enemies of the cross, but the work of the devil is accomplished when men are led by “the spirit of error”– i.e., a disposition that is friendly to error (1 John 4:6).  Likewise, the Lord has His followers who do His will, and it is through them that the gospel is preached and souls are saved.  The principle is clearly stated in the writings of Paul: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.  And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.  Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (2 Cor. 11:13-15).

After saying that He also knows of their poverty, the Lord turns right around and says, “but thou art rich” (verse 9).  How can this be?  Surely the Lord’s declaration here flies in the face of the so-called “doctrine of prosperity” that some are preaching today!  While it is true that God blesses His people and has promised to provide us with our needs (Phil. 4:19), it is a false claim that all believers are promised financial prosperity.  Yet, some preachers will almost make you feel guilty for not being rich in material things, because they say that it is God’s will for you to be as rich as you want to be.

What are the advocates of this doctrine actually teaching?  They are asserting that financial poverty eventually becomes proof of spiritual poverty!  According to them, a believer is not rich with money because: (1) He does not understand the “laws of prosperity” (as they define them), or (2) He lacks the faith necessary to practice them.  However, what Christ says about the church at Smyrna puts things in perspective for us.  Many of those who were persecuting the church were living affluent lives while the Christians were poverty-stricken.  Yet, the fact that wicked men enjoy prosperity was not a sign of godliness, and the fact that brethren at Smyrna were poor did not mean that they were lacking in their spiritual lives!  Jesus said that they were poor, but rich.  That means that they were rich in the things that matter most.  They were possessors of the “true riches” (Luke 16:11); they were laying up for themselves “treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:20); they were “rich in faith” (James 2:5) and “in good works” (1 Tim. 6:18).

The church at Smyrna is living proof that fidelity is possible even when facing great adversity.  In fact, not only is it possible, it is something demanded by the Lord: “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer . . . be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (verse 10).  Think about it!  The Lord acknowledges their suffering and even says that things are going to get worse.  Some were going to be cast into prison, as they would undergo a period of tribulation for “ten days”– a number that undoubtedly suggests a short period of time.  Yet, they are commanded to not be afraid and to remain faithful!  The Lord explains that they are being put to the test to decide their ultimate commitment, and their faithfulness unto death is a necessary condition for receiving a crown of life.  The translation by Richard Weymouth renders it like this: “Be faithful, even if you have to die for it.”

If Christ expected them to remain faithful during times of persecution, even if it meant becoming martyrs, is less expected of us today?  If eternal life was only promised to those who kept the faith at Smyrna, how can people today believe that children of God may live in willful disobedience without losing their heavenly reward?  The idea of “once saved, always saved” is not taught in the Scriptures; faithfulness and godly living are necessary to going to heaven.  The Lord’s letter to the church at Smyrna is proof of that fact, reminding us that those who live an overcoming life through Christ will “not be hurt of the second death” (verse 11).


Article By: Billy D. Dickinson


If Others Followed You

In Philippians 3:17, Paul encouraged the brethren to be “followers together of me…”and to “mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.”  When the Apostle Paul told the Philippian brethren to “follow” him, he also instructed them to first make sure he was worthy of being followed. It was not that the apostle thought highly of himself or of his service. In fact, he was quick to point out in a later writing that he was “chief” of all sinners.” His point to the brethren was that he knew some of them WOULD emulate him; some of them were already looking to him as an example. His caution to them was to only follow him if he was worthy of being followed. They should only follow his example if that example was one that would lead them in the right direction.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 11, he told those brethren to be followers of him “as I am of Christ.”

With those two scriptures in mind, let us consider this question: Would you want others to follow you?

It can certainly be a sobering thought.  Would I want other brethren to follow my lead? Would I wish upon them a life like mine? Would the Church be stronger if all the other members showed the faith I displayed?

We can translate the passage from Philippians into a series of statements that more resembles how people would talk today, without taking them out of context. What Paul might write to us today might say something like this: Be what I am in Christ. Be as strong as I am. Be as dedicated as I am. Be as knowledgeable and forgiving as I have shown myself to be.

Would you encourage others in the Church today with those same words? Would you WANT your brethren, your children and anyone else who sees you on a daily basis to be the kind of Christian you are?

Parents are sometimes asked to consider their children and then to consider the example they give those children on a regular basis. Would we want our children to speak as we do, to live as we live and to behave as we behave? Sometimes, of course, the answer would be a resounding, “NO.”

Likewise, those of in the Church need to stop from time to time and consider whether or not we are presenting an example of Christian living worth emulating.  Remember Paul’s admonition to the young man Timothy in 1 Timothy 4, verse 12. He told him first to understand that anyone in the Church has the same expectations – even the young. A baptized believer of any age is expected to “be an example of the believers’ in every aspect of his or her life.

What about your speech?

If we are to be an example of the believers, then surely our language is one of the areas we must consider. Our speech, as James so eloquently pointed out (James 3), is one of the most powerful examples of our daily influence. We can do so much good and an equal amount of evil with the words we utter under various circumstances.

“If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect …” James said.

What about your words? What about you habits when it comes to how you express yourself vocally during difficult times?  Should brethren pattern themselves after you when it comes to their speech?

In Ephesians 4 verse 29, Paul told us to “let no corrupt communication proceed out of (our) mouths.” That’s a tall order, when you consider how many words we speak during a normal day or week. He told us to weigh EVERY word to ensure that we only speak edifying things.  Jesus said it was not the things that went into our mouths that would defile us, but the things that come out (Mark 15:11). And Paul, in Colossians 4 verse 6, told us to season all of our speech with salt.

And so, if we truly examine ourselves in regard to our speech habits, can we honestly say that our brethren would be wise to follow our example? Would the Church be stronger in speech, more pure in conversation, if our brethren were as strong as we are?

What about your daily living?

There are a great number of passages where scripture commands and encourages us to be careful in how we live daily. Christians are told to walk, dress and behave in a manner that “preaches Christ” or lets “our light” shine to the world.

One of those is in 1 Peter 2 verse 12, where Peter tells us to have a conversation that is “honest among the Gentiles.” What that means is that we never forget that the world (referred to here as Gentiles) is always watching us, and that we need to be mindful of how we present ourselves in every aspect of living.

What if every person in the Church was just as honest as you? What if the world thought as highly of all the brethren as they think of you?  Would that be a good thing, or would it be a shame?

Consider, for instance, what Paul wrote in Philippians 1:27, when he told us to have our “conversation only be as it becometh the Gospel.” Our “conversation” that he spoke of refers to our overall life. He wanted us to focus on making sure that everything we present to the world is worthy of a Christian’s example.

Then he went on to say he hoped to hear good things when he “heard of (our) affairs.” That’s also a not-so-very-subtle message to us, reminding us that people are going to speak about us in one way or another. Paul said that, even if he was never in Philippi, he would “hear” about the brethren and how they had been living.  What would he hear about us?  And, if our brethren followed our example, what would he hear about them?

What about your Bible knowledge?

Going back to Paul’s letters to Timothy, we find an often quoted passage in 2 Timothy 2:15, where he wrote “Study to show thyself approved unto God.” He went on to tell us how we can make ourselves “not ashamed,” because of our ability to “rightly divide” God’s teachings.  Our preachers have encouraged us all our lives from the pulpit to read the Bible more, to truly study God’s word in more detail and with more frequency.  But why? For what purpose?  Paul tells us it not only helps us to know what God’s commands are, but also how to apply them.  Peter said God has given us “all things that pertain unto life and godliness,” and yet many Christians continue to avoid the scriptures as if they were the plague.

So, what about you? Would the brethren be better off if their study habits were equal with yours? Would the Church be better armed with scriptural wisdom if everyone spent as much time with the Word as you?  What if every member of your congregation knew as much, or as little, as you did about why we worship the way we do?  What if every member of every congregation was just as strong, or just as weak, as you in their ability to lead someone through the Scriptures and explain to them the plan of salvation?

Do you truly understand and appreciate that “all scripture is given by God,” and that it is “profitable (meaning helpful) for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and for instruction in righteousness”?  Honestly, if we all TRULY believed that with all our hearts, would there be anything that could keep us from spending more time studying and learning those things?

There are many other topics we could address along these lines; topics like our work habits, our tendency to forgive and other truly important aspects of our Christian life.  But, hopefully, these few things we have addressed in this article will encourage all of us to consider our example before the world and especially before our brethren. We live in a world where our brethren face so many evil examples every day. They desperately need us to be all that we can be when it comes to a strong and willing example of godly living.


Article by: Roy E Deering

Rock of Ages, Unchanging Still!

On every New Year’s Eve – now for over half a century – as many as a thousand folks from all over the country gather in an auditorium in Oklahoma City and sing the old year out and the new year in.  It’s one of the most awe-inspiring moments you’ll ever see.

As midnight draws near, our longtime brother Johnny Elmore leads the final song of the night, and it’s been the same song since sometime well into the last century: “Rock of Ages.”

“Rock of Ages, cleft for me. Let me hide myself in thee.”
I’ve been considering this “Rock of Ages” since the great song has ushered in another year, and I am glad to know that here in 2017 some things never change. It’s hard, indeed, to keep up with the changes in this world, so we have to hold on a little tighter to those things that don’t change. You understand, I’m sure.

I want to tell you today what I believe our Rock of Ages to be as real and solid and unchanging as anything in this world! This Rock is still as solid and real as ever; and He will never be out of date.

An Emphatic Truth
The Holy Spirit commands this truth to us when He opens the curtain of inspiration in the very beginning declaring without qualification: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

Have you ever noticed that our Lord never goes about “proving” His existence in His Word? No, He simply declares it, profoundly and emphatically! Should a man choose to question the great truth, the Spirit seems to shrug, as it were, and announce forcefully: “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God” (Psalm 14:1).

Greatest Moment in History?
A few months ago, I was reminded how the world foolishly tends to question God’s powerful Word and the blessed Rock of Ages. I stumbled upon a panel discussion on one of the national news stations where the host asked several guests to share a great scene in history they would go back and witness if possible. One by one the panelists recounted some great American moment they would re-visit, such as Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you …” speech, or to Martin Luther King’s speech at the great Lincoln Memorial.

But one panelist surprised the rest of the group when his turn came. He said, “I think I’d go back to the resurrection.”  He had his mind on the Rock of Ages, and we admire him for it.  The panel laughed loudly, thinking, it seems, “What a strange request! How could you go back to a scene that never really happened?” Of course, we know better. We know the resurrection is the greatest event in the history of the world, the event that secured eternally the great victory for our Lord and for all the redeemed (Revelation 12:11). We must only, by faith, “obey that form of doctrine” ourselves, dying to sin, being buried in a soul-cleansing baptism, and then rising triumphantly “free from sin” (Romans 6:3-4, 17-18).

I could not help but think as I listened to the scoffing TV panel: What a sad thing for a man or woman to live such a faithless life! I thought: Show me your foundation, good friend, and let’s compare it to the blessed Rock of Ages.

The host of the show – obviously in reaction to the previous gentlemen – said, “Well, I think I’d go back to the big bang.”  The group was more than pleased with that countermove and chattered on a good while about that worldly response. When the chatter died down, the first gentleman – unwilling to concede to faithless notions – said boldly, “Well, I subscribe to a different belief.”

Out of Date?
It was refreshing to see a man – on national television – subscribe to what the world sees as an old, archaic, out-of-date belief. I am glad that “In the beginning God created” still stands for many. It may be out of date to the world, but it is not out of date to us! And it was not out of date to those writers whose pen the Holy Spirit guided long ago.

The psalmist writes pointedly: “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth … For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast” (Psalm 33:6, 9).

Nehemiah, one of the last writers of the Old Testament – writing around 400 B.C. – echoes David’s declaration, “Thou, even thou, art Lord alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all: and the host of heaven worshippeth thee” (9:6).

Then the Hebrew writer concurs powerfully centuries later, “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Hebrews 11:2).

David, Nehemiah, nor Paul are eyewitnesses of the creation. They are not there when God creates the heaven and the earth suddenly by a mere word. They are not there when God takes invisible objects we now know as “atoms” and makes all of matter. They are not there when God’s Spirit glides majestically across a formless, unorganized mass of water and matter (Genesis 1:2), adding organization and structure to a vast universe and to an earth designed for life. And they are not there when God reaches down to the dust of the ground to shape the crown of His creation – man – in His very image (Genesis 1:26/ 2:7).

True Faith Is Knowing!
But these inspired writers choose to believe in God’s creation by “faith” – no, not by “blind” faith, but by the vast, undeniable “evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). There is something the world needs to know about this idea of “faith” that the apostle mentions here in Hebrews: Faith does not mean we cannot know. Faith only means we cannot see! The world does not understand this fact at all, nor can it understand it spinning along on a sand-filled foundation.

The world’s intellectuals may want to ascribe God’s Truths as a matter of “blind faith,” but our faith is based upon the soundest of evidence, the power of God’s Word. The truth is, every concept of the world’s beginning is based on faith, for faith is based on things no man can “see.”

Have you ever thought that – even had there been a “big bang” – no man was there to “see” it! Man is forced to accept that feeble theory based on “faith.” It is based on the flimsy man-made “evidence” of things not seen.

An Ever Changing ‘god’: Time
However, our faith is built on the Rock (Matthew 7:25). The world’s agnostics have no Rock of Ages, so they must create a god they call “time.” Given enough eons of time, anything becomes possible (so they think), even life developing from non-living matter, organization emerging from chaos, and intelligence evolving from non-intelligence. “Time,” though, is a flimsy god, and it is a far, far cry from the “Ancient of Days.”

Man may deduce the glory of the heavens to some random, accidental explosion. We, too, believe in a magnificent explosion, but it was not accidental. God “spoke, and it was done. He commanded and it stood fast”!

We stand today with the psalmist, and we declare with assurance: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork …” (Psalm 19:1, ESV).

The Solid, Unchanging Rock!
I have to say I was proud the other day of the gentleman on that panel of worldly scholars. He took the unpopular stance of faith amidst an unbelieving crowd. While that stance may be old, archaic, and out of date to the world, to us who believe it is still new and refreshing, just like the early morning dew.

As we sing in a new year, we cling to that which is unchanging, to an anchor safe and sure. The world may opt to continue to build on a crumbling foundation, but we will choose something different – both in this New Year and for as many years the Lord supplies us, by His grace. We will choose to build, by faith, on the blessed immovable and unchanging Rock of Ages.

            “Oh, Rock of Ages, cleft for me. Let me hide myself in thee …”

Article by: Steven Bowen

The Call to Courage

Different news anchors have used a variety of sign offs at the end of their newscasts.  Here are a few examples: Edward R. Murrow-”Good night and good luck”; Chet Huntley and David Brinkley- “Good night, Chet . . . Good night, David.  And good night from NBC News”; Walter Cronkite- “And that’s the way it is . . .”   However, it was Dan Rather who once ended with the words, “Thank you for joining us tonight.  Courage!”  He actually used that sign off for only a week, being forced to find another one, because people thought it was bizarre.  Then on the final night of his 24 year career as a CBS anchor, Dan Rather got the last word with this message, “To our soldiers in dangerous places.  To those who have endured the tsunami and to all who have suffered natural disasters, and who must find the will to rebuild.  To the oppressed and to those whose lot it is to struggle, in financial hardship or in failing health.  To my fellow journalists in places where reporting the truth means risking all.  To each of you: Courage!”   

Indeed, courage is an attribute that is given great emphasis in the word of God.  In fact, God calls us to be valiant in doing His will and in facing the trials and temptations of life.  The truth is that living for the Lord is not for cowards, meaning that we must put away from ourselves timidity and indecision, and we must “endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3).  That’s why it is necessary to do as Peter exhorted in 1 Pet. 1:13, “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”  He’s telling us to brace up our minds for action, to keep cool and maintain self-control, and to fix our hope on the mercy that we will receive when Jesus comes again.  Yes, in Christ we have receive the call to be courageous!

It was Joshua who received an important “call to courage” when he was chosen as the new leader of God’s people after the death of Moses.  In Josh. 1:1-9, no less than three times God commanded Moses’ successor to “be strong and very courageous.”  Make no mistake about it, this was a command from the Lord: “Have I not commanded thee?  Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (verse 9).  It isn’t hard to imagine why Joshua was probably a little intimidated by the burden of responsibility that was placed upon his shoulders.  After all, it was a daunting task to step into the shoes of a great leader like Moses and, if that wasn’t enough, the awesome task was before them of possessing the land of Canaan.

The story is told about a sergeant in a parachute regiment, who was a seasoned jumper, and one day he found himself sitting next to a lieutenant in a plane.  Fresh from “jump school,” the lieutenant looked a bit pale as they approached their jump zone.  After being asked if he was scared, the lieutenant’s reply was: “No, just a little apprehensive.”  When asked about the difference between those two things, his explanation was: “Apprehensive means I’m scared with a university degree!”  Likewise, Joshua must have been feeling a little apprehensive about the task of leadership he had inherited, leading God to make him the following promise: “There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.  Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I swore unto their fathers to give them” (verse 5-6). 

This makes it very clear that in a Biblical sense, the “call to courage” involves several things– (1) Bravery in the face of danger, (2) steadfastness in the face of opposition, (3) action in the face of resistance, and (4) optimism in the face of despair.  With these things in mind, let’s notice some principles of truth that will help us to answer successfully our “call to courage” . . .

As long as we abide in Christ we have no reason to fear because He is the one who makes us strong, victorious, and acceptable in God’s sight.  When we “put on the whole armor of God” (Eph. 6:11), that enables us to “stand against the wiles of the devil.”  According to Paul, that’s how we can “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might” (Eph. 6:10).  After all, it is “in Christ” that all spiritual blessings are found (Eph. 1:3), so we have all the incentives and tools we need to remain focused and steadfast.  Think about it: We are God’s possession (1 Cor. 6:20), Christ’s friends (John 15:15), members of the Lord’s body (1 Cor. 12:27), “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1 Cor. 1:2), and Jesus is our High Priest through whom we have direct access to God (Heb, 4:14-16).

If we really understand our position in Christ, that should embolden us to take our stand for the Lord!  The key is found in the following language of Paul: “Seeing that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech” (2 Cor. 3:12).  This shows that the faith and hope we have in the gospel of Christ should cause us to proclaim it boldly.  It is said that Nikita Khrushehev, once premier of the Soviet Union, often denounced many of the policies and atrocities of Joseph Stalin.  As he was denouncing Stalin in a public meeting one time, someone shouted from the audience, “You were one of Stalin’s colleagues.  Why didn’t you stop him?”  The reply was, “Who said that?”  After agonizing silence, as no one dared to speak up, Khrushehev declared: “Now you know why!”  Brethren, let us never shrink back in trepidation and fear from declaring the glorious gospel of our Savior.  Instead, we must be “bold in our God,” as Paul wrote in 1 Thess. 2:2, “to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention.”  

Courage does not necessarily mean that we have no fear at all, but it means that we have the strength to face our fears and deal with them.  General George Patton once said that “courage is fear that holds on one more minute.”  Captain A. Riddenbacher said: “Courage is doing what you are afraid to do.  Where there is no fear there is no courage.”  It has also been said that “courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”  To repeat a point that has already been made, it is to cultivate optimism even in the face of despair.  It goes back to the idea of having complete trust and hope in God (no matter what happens).  The following words of David illustrates the point: “Be merciful unto me, O God: for man would swallow me up; he fighting daily oppresseth me . . . What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.  In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust: I will not fear what flesh can do unto me” (Psa. 56:1-4).

It’s obvious that David confronted his fear on that occasion and he found strength in the knowledge that his trust was in God.   We need to have the attitude of a woman who was deathly sick.  After stating to a neighbor that she simply wanted what pleases God, the visiting friend asked, “But what if God were to refer the matter back to you?”  Her calm response was: “Then I would just refer the matter back to him.”  That’s the kind of faith and trust in God we’re talking about!  It is to believe that God loves us, He knows what is best, and we are willing to place all circumstances into His hands (come what may).    

We must learn to live with the realization of God’s love for us (and the power that it generates in our lives), instead of nurturing fear that is generated by Satan against us. Consider the words of John: “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us.  God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.  Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.  There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth our fear: because fear hath torment.  He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:16-18).

Please remember that either fear will push love out or the love of God will push fear out.  We need the confidence that Paul had: “For the which cause I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed . . . Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:12-13).

Article by Billy D Dickinson

Six Signs of Spiritual Strength: Part 2

God wants you to be strong spiritually and you can see you have developed and matured in some of these ways. You may even be able to say you have been diligent in each: 1) accumulating knowledge; 2) communicating truth; 3) increasing faith; 4) serving in generosity; and 5) sacrificing. And if you know someone with all of these qualities, you deeply admire him. Surely someone like this would be a shoe-in for heaven, right? No doubt all of these traits are critical, but if you had all of these and had not the sixth trait of spiritual strength, all of the others would be meaningless.

Go to 1 Corinthians 13:1 for strength number six; this strength gives all the others value. “Though I SPEAK with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.” No matter how skillfully you communicate truth to the lost or the saved, publicly or from house to house, if your message is not deeply rooted in love – in God’s eyes you do no better than bang on pots and pans. I’m not, but I could be the most powerful debater, the most eloquent preacher, the most effective soul-winner and the smoothest conversationalist, but if my words – or your words – are not driven by love, God says I might as well beat around on an old metal trash can with a baseball bat – because I’m wasting my time.

Paul makes the same point in Ephesians 4:15, “Speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head — Christ.” We need to reel in our emotions and be aware of the messages we send with facial gestures, tone of voice and body language that do not communicate love. Otherwise, we can unravel all the good we try to accomplish. I’m not the only one that can grow in this area.

1 Corinthians 13:2, “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge… but have not love, I am nothing.” I love reading and studying the word and will of God, don’t you? Over time, diligent study rewards us with increased knowledge. But, no matter how much we know, our knowledge will always be dwarfed by our ignorance. Socrates said, “The more I learn the more I realize how little I know” – and that’s right! Imagine you knew the Old and New Testament. You not only had it memorized, but you had a perfect understanding of every Scripture. You understood every controversial issue; you were the expert! You grasped every symbol in Revelation and could explain it so a child could understand. That would make you the most valuable Christian on earth, right? Wrong! Unless this knowledge involved the understanding and application of the teaching on love, it would be inadequate. Listen, “though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand ALL mysteries and ALL knowledge… but have not love, I am nothing.”

We need to know the scriptures and we need to know the truth, but there’s an equally important fact: “People don’t care how much you know till they know how much you care.” True, but that goes for God as well. GOD doesn’t care how much we know till he knows how much we care! See, our knowledge can be used as a trap by the devil. Never forget that! Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 8:1, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Only one form of knowledge will not puff up. It is taught in Ephesians 3:19, “to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ever wonder why, with all the trouble in Corinth that Paul drops the great chapter on love at the climax of the book? Simple! With all the ills plaguing the church at Corinth, none was greater than their lack of love. Does that mean other issues were unimportant? Not at all! But we need to be abundantly clear: if we cannot consistently demonstrate love – wholehearted, unselfish, unmistakable concern for the welfare of others – we lower our ability to influence long-term those in error. Now, we may intimidate a few for a little while, but if they are not personally convicted the Jesus’ way – by speaking the truth in love, helping them secure long-term change will elude us.

1 Corinthians 3:2, “And though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” Is this as hard for you to grasp as it is for me? I can have a great faith in God as Creator, in Jesus as God’s Son and still be NOTHING. Clearly, love must come first!

This is why we find love at the pinnacle of the Christian virtues in 2 Peter 1:5-9. Then, 1 Peter 4:8 reads, “Above all things have fervent charity among yourselves.” Romans 13:10 adds, “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” Next, Matthew 22:35-39 teaches that the greatest command is to “love God and thy neighbor as thyself.” Jesus singles out one of the identifying marks of the genuine Christian in John 13:35: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Never downplay the importance of love. It is the first fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22! Get this: Corinth had all the gifts of Holy Spirit, but lacked the fruit of the Spirit. They had the gifts of the Holy Spirit, yet were spiritually impoverished. No matter how gifted you are, if the use of those gifts is not powered by love, they are meaningless. Do you get it? Love is the acid test of discipleship. No amount of faith can compensate for a lack of love.

The apostle Paul is not done. 1 Corinthians 13:3, “And though I bestow all my goods to feed poor… but have not love, it profits me nothing.” This word for “goods” refers to possessions, property and wealth. Warren Buffett pledged$30 billion to the Bill Gates charitable Foundation, but he kept his $14 billion fortune. Can you imagine, though, someone liquidating ALL their assets – emptying bank accounts, cashing in stocks and bonds, draining IRA’s dry, selling their house, car, appliances, jewelry, electronic gadgets and all their clothes except those on their back and then giving the money to the poor and needy? You could have that kind of amazingly generous servant heart and it would still mean nothing to God without love!

Finally, the Holy Spirit insists, “and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” Surely, if I was willing to sacrifice my body and die for my faith, God would be so impressed that He would overlook my inadequacies. Stories about Christians dying for their faith so impress me. Polycarp, an elder in Smyrna who studied under John, died in about 155 A.D. The Pro-consul threatened Polycarp: “Take the oath and I’ll let you go, revile Christ.” Polycarp responded: “For 86 years I have been his servant. And he’s done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me? The Proconsul rejoined: “I have wild beasts. I will deliver you to them, unless you repent.” Polycarp did not waver: “Call for them, for repentance from better to worse is not allowed…” More intense, the Proconsul pressured Polycarp: “I will have you consumed by fire, unless you repent!” Polycarp remained focused: “You threaten me with a fire that burns for a time and is quickly quenched, for you do not know the fire which awaits the wicked in judgment to come in everlasting punishment. But why are you waiting. Come, do what you will!” Then he was fastened to the instruments which had been prepared for the fire. He prayed and was burned at the stake. But now, even if any of us were going to go to such lengths in standing for the truth, Paul says “though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing!”

Love is the greatest sign of spiritual strength. As we develop the strengths we’ve noticed, we will strengthen the church and souls will be saved, but Paul is telling the Christians at Corinth to reexamine their motives – the “why” behind the “what.” In fact, in both letters we have to Corinth, he stresses need for self-exam. He writes in 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith.”

Article by Brett Hickey