There is a battle that rages in homes all across America. The child gets something (maybe a piece of candy) and says nothing. Dad or mom tells the child: "say thank-you." Through shyness or stubbornness the kid refuses. Maybe they are told again: "say thank-you." A little head shakes no. At this point the determined parent tells the kid: "you’ve got two choices. Say thank-you or give the candy back." And then usually at that point there is at least a mumbled "thank-you." I get that this battle can be tedious but it is certainly worth fighting. Parents give their children a tremendous blessing when they train them to be appreciative of the things they receive. Our Heavenly Father encourages the same attitude: "give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
But what if we don’t learn to be appreciative? What if we were given pieces of candy as a kid but didn’t learn that we should be grateful for the gift? Well, I suspect we would have a different kind of mindset at that point. I might think that I was given that candy because I was just so cute. (I was cute at one point, ask my mom). I might come to think it was the other person’s Christianly duty to give me candy. And if that happens I might come to expect the candy, perhaps even becoming upset when a good Christian person walks by and doesn’t give me candy. And that, my friends, would be no fun to be around. It sucks all the joy out of giving when the person you’re trying to bless expects you to do it.
Let me make a suggestion. Be thankful. Even if you didn’t learn the practice early train yourself to be super appreciative whenever someone does something for you. Especially be in the habit of praising God. "Praise him – he is your God, had you have seen with your own eyes the great and astounding things that he has done for you" (Deuteronomy 10:21). Many people are MUCH more vocal about the things they don’t have, or the things that are going wrong. But I think God delights in those who spend more time in praise for all the many blessings they do have. Wouldn’t you?
Energizer made a very clever move when they came up with the bunny who wouldn’t quit. That bunny has been drumming since 1988. Yes please – I want my battery powered devices to last thirty years. I think Energizer came up with some effective advertising by tapping into our respect for things that persevere. All the other toys around that bunny have long given up, but he just keeps going and going and so on and so forth.
We respect that. We respect those who refuse to quit. This is a quality that God likes as well: "And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good" (2 Thessalonians 3:13). You are called to just keep serving and loving and serving and loving . . . Of course, we probably don’t always want to keep serving. The devil is always trying to discourage us from loving actions to varying degrees of success. His goal is to get us to think that all of our efforts are not worth it, that they won’t amount to anything. He wants us to think that the people we serve will disappoint us and that our relationships are doomed to fall apart. If he is succeeding in your life I would like to direct your heart and mind to the love of God.
Has God ever quit on you? Has He, not day after day, reached out to you and encouraged you to be near Him? Of course, He has, for God is love. And love "always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres" (1 Corinthians 13:7).
When you see a fighter who takes punch after punch and just keeps going you probably respect him for it. When you see a bullied kid courageously keep walking to school day after day you may cheer him on. And you should! But also cheer for the "friend who sticks closer than a brother" (Proverbs 18:24). There are a lot of ways a friendship can fall apart – but the ones you really want to have are the ones who just will not give up on you. That is godly love. Respect the marriage that lasts fifty years. There are a number of ways that a marriage can fall apart, but give credit to the man who is faithful to the "wife of his youth" (Malachi 2:14). This is godly love – a love that always protects, always trusts. always hopes, and always perseveres.
Black Friday has changed through the years. Today Black Friday is known as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season when the retailers mark down their goods and bribe people with “good” sales. Going to the department stores is like risking your life; people cutting people off on the highway, people not yielding to pedestrians, driving the wrong way, people stopping in traffic, and that is before you get into the store. I have joked that to go into a department store this time of year one needs a “Hummer” with machine guns and bazookas, just to get in the parking lot. Then you would need full body armor just to go into the store. This all sounds funny until we hear someone getting trampled and killed because of the mad dash to go shopping. Black Friday has definitely changed over the years.
It would do all of us good to reflect on the first “Black Friday” that took places over 2,000 years ago on a hill called Golgotha. This Black Friday is when Jesus went to the cross to die for our sins, so He could offer salvation to all people. Isaiah 53:4-12 prophesied that “Black Friday” this way:
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds, we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.”
We read in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that this event took place just as Isaiah predicted. Although this “Black Friday” ended in the death of our Savior, the good news is that three days later Christ arose from the grave and ascended into Heaven, where He lives today! As one author put it, “There is only one Black Friday which offers eternal savings.”
Jesus will save and give eternal life to those who accept His offer on His terms: place your faith and trust in Jesus (Acts 16:30-31), turn from sin in repentance (Acts 17:30-31), confess Jesus before men (Romans 10:9-10), and be baptized (immersed) into Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). He will continually cleanse the sins of those who continue to walk in the light of His word (1 John 1:7).
Now, this is “savings” which is really worth going after!
By Mark T. Tonkery
(The following article is written by Doug Wells, who has recently been hired to work with the congregation here. To help get to know him a little better his articles will be featured in the bulletin. Please keep Doug and his family in your prayers as they make this transition.)
As a Christian person I don’t fear many things. The One who is in me is greater than the one in the world. However, being a preacher of the Word is a responsibility I try to approach with a healthy level of respect. I fear saying something that isn’t biblically true because I didn’t study enough. I also fear saying something that turns someone away from the faith. Perhaps this is something that is true but is said in an unloving way, convincing some seeker of truth this isn’t the place to be. What a terrible thought! My Lord has made it abundantly clear to me that being the cause of someone turning away from the faith is a bad thing. "Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!" (Matthew 18:7).
It is not lost on me that the people Jesus had the strongest words for were religious leaders. God has never been fond of shepherds who drive the sheep away instead of bringing them near. "Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!" declares the Lord (Jeremiah 23:1). Instead, a shepherd is called to show the flock good pasture and to bring lost sheep back into the fold. The shepherds of Jeremiah’s day were doing the opposite of that. I don’t want to join them. I don’t want my actions or my words to drive anyone away. I do believe than an unloving conversation with someone can be one "of the things that cause people to sin." If someone is driven from the Lord sin is what fills the vacuum.
Let this be my prayer: "O Lord, help me be someone who brings people near you, not someone who drives them away." Will you join me in this goal? We are all leaders (or will be leaders) to somebody. So I encourage you to "make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way" (Romans 14:13). God’s way is already narrow. What do you think happens when you put a block in the way? A hard way becomes harder. So let us put it into our hearts that every sheep is precious. And let us pray to God that all our words and actions reflect His love.
Written by Doug Wells
Everyone knows the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11). Even people who don’t know much Bible know this story, and in fact it is often used against people who do know a lot of Bible. It’s very easy to cast any religious folks who try to take a moral stand as the hypocrites with the rocks.
People use the phrase “cast the first stone” to say, “If you have ever sinned, you have no right to judge my sin.” But that is not the moral of this story at all.
Jesus is not saying we can never confront someone else’s sin, and he is not throwing out traditional values. He is not doing what so many people try to do with this story because so often they ignore the last line:
John 8:10-11 (NIV) Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
No one, sir,” she said.
Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
He doesn’t say, “Well, you know, the Old Testament stuff is really harsh and contradictory, and those narrow restrictions on our sexuality are entirely unrealistic.”
Jesus never ignored or minimized anything God said about right and wrong. He doesn’t flinch one bit when telling her the way she was living was immoral.
But he doesn’t just leave her there in her sin with no hope. That’s what the Pharisees did: they all walk away and leave her like a scrap of litter on the side of the road.
We don’t want to be like them. So I just want to pull out two simple applications for us. Here’s the first: Scriptures are not to be thrown like rocks at people we don’t like.
Nobody is going to care if a scripture is true if you are hurling it at them like a rock. I hate the videos on Facebook that promise to show an atheist or a liberal get “demolished” by someone quoting scripture. I don’t want to demolish anyone. I want to be able to share God’s word in a way that makes people at least willing to listen, to engage in a conversation.
There is a right way to tell someone they are wrong. In John 8 Jesus told both the Pharisees and the woman caught in adultery that they were wrong, and he used scripture, but he didn’t destroy anyone. He did it quietly and decently, and in a way that called everyone to be better.
And that leads to our second application: Our concern over sin should be about how that sin is damaging a real person.
What these Pharisees did to her had nothing to do with defending marriage or really even upholding scripture. This woman was not a real person to the Pharisees. The Pharisees presented this woman to Jesus like a trick question on a quiz so they could “demolish” him. She was just something to talk about.
That feels like what we do so often now. Church, I just want to remind you when you get on social media, or when you start talking about a certain person or group that you don’t like, to check your motives. The politicians on both sides of the aisle are all real people. Liberal or conservative, black or white, pagan or homosexual or protestor, they are all sons and daughters, parents and spouses to someone. We need to remember that when we talk about them. We need to ask if we’d act differently if we really did care about saving them instead of demolishing them.