Tag Archives: missionary

If you can, do

Helping-hand

by Michael E. Brooks

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10Galatians 6:10
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10 So then, as we have opportunity, let’s do what is good toward all men, and especially toward those who are of the household of the faith.

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NKJV).

While traveling I have adopted a simple motto as my standard operating procedure. When it comes to basic necessary functions (i.e., eating, drinking, sleeping, etc.) I practice the formula, “If I can, I do.” The reality is that in the kind of traveling I do one never knows when the next opportunity will arise. If there is food, and I have any level of hunger at all, I eat. Ditto with other bodily needs. The alternative may well be prolonged periods of enforced fasting or sleeplessness.

This principle is even more appropriate when it comes to spiritual needs and opportunities. The Hebrew writer urged his readers to “Exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13Hebrews 3:13
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13 but exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called “today;” lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

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). If one neglects an opportunity to encourage a brother or sister, one or both of them may be tempted and fall into sin before another such opportunity arises. The word of exhortation which may have averted the fall was never spoken.

The Bible contains numerous examples of those who understood the urgency of spiritual tasks. Nehemiah refused to be distracted by his enemies who insisted that he pause in his labors to talk with them on the plain of Ono. His response was, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:3Nehemiah 6:3
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3 I sent messengers to them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I can’t come down: why should the work cease, while I leave it, and come down to you?

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Jesus answered in a similar way when Herod threatened him. “Go, tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected'” (Luke 13:32Luke 13:32
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32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I complete my mission.

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). In other words he said, “I am busy with my work and cannot be distracted by others, even by the King.”

Perhaps the most general statement of this principle is that of the apostle Paul. “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16Ephesians 5:15-16
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15 Therefore watch carefully how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise; 16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

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). In all that we do we must act wisely, recognizing that our time is limited and precious.

Note these particular spiritual activities which we are admonished to perform in a timely manner (i.e., at every opportunity).

Prayer: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:171 Thessalonians 5:17
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17 Pray without ceasing.

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). “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men” (1 Timothy 2:11 Timothy 2:1
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2 1 I exhort therefore, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and givings of thanks, be made for all men:

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Benevolence: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all” (Galatians 6:10Galatians 6:10
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10 So then, as we have opportunity, let’s do what is good toward all men, and especially toward those who are of the household of the faith.

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Evangelism: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19Matthew 28:19
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19 Therefore go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

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). “And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14Romans 10:14
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14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in him whom they have not heard? How will they hear without a preacher?

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Bible Study: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:152 Timothy 2:15
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15 Give diligence to present yourself approved by God, a workman who doesn’t need to be ashamed, properly handling the Word of Truth.

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). “Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine . . . Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them” (1 Timothy 4:13-151 Timothy 4:13-15
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13 Until I come, pay attention to reading, to exhortation, and to teaching. 14 Don’t neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the elders. 15 Be diligent in these things. Give yourself wholly to them, that your progress may be revealed to all.

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Good Works: “Being fruitful in every good work” (Colossians 1:10Colossians 1:10
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10 that you may walk worthily of the Lord, to please him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;

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). “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:581 Corinthians 15:58
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58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

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Worship: “Therefore by him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Hebrews 13:15Hebrews 13:15
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15 Through him, then, let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips which make confession to his name.

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These represent only a few of the many opportunities to serve God that will present themselves to us in the future. Let us take advantage of each of them. “If you can, do!”

Something new

languages
by Michael E. Brooks

“For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21Acts 17:21
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21 Now all the Athenians and the strangers living there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing.

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NKJV).

“That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9Ecclesiastes 1:9
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9 That which has been is that which shall be; and that which has been done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

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The curriculum for Khulna Bible College was designed several years ago when the school first opened for classes. But it has not remained exactly as it was. Some courses have been revised, others dropped, and new ones added to replace them.

These new courses represent a fresh approach or a different means of presenting material to the students. Sometimes material not previously studied will be added. However, all involved with the College are fully aware that none of the material is of new invention. The mode of teaching may change but the Truth by which men are made free (John 8:32John 8:32
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32 You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

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) is eternally the same.

One simple definition of the labels “Liberal” and “Conservative” describes one’s attitude towards old and new. A conservative is by definition a traditionalist; one with a preference for maintaining established beliefs and practices.

A liberal prefers change and the refreshment of new ideas and new ways of doing things. This is perhaps an over-simplification, but generally true.

Some of the tension between these widely different philosophies may be eased by recognizing that there is value in each. Relative age of a practice or teaching is not a valid measure of its worth.

The law of gravity was scientifically formulated centuries ago, yet no one suggests it is outmoded and irrelevant today. Conversely, information gained through computer technology or space exploration within the past few years is greatly enhancing modern performance. It is useful, even if new.

Certain truths are ancient, even eternal. Yes there are those who contend that there is no absolute truth, but that is itself a logical contradiction. If nothing is absolutely true, then it is not true that there is never an absolute truth. One cannot have it both ways. Most would concede that some things may be depended upon as constant – they are true.

People of faith believe that God is true and eternal. He is unchanging. He is “the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last” (Revelation 1:11Revelation 1:11
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11 saying, “ TR adds “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last.”What you see, write in a book and send to the seven assemblies TR adds “which are in Asia”: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”

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). Further, we believe that his word is true.

“Sanctify them by your truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17John 17:17
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17 Sanctify them in your truth. Your word is truth.

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It is not blind traditionalism to hold to that which is ancient and true.

Neither is it irresponsible liberalism to be open to fresh insights, new applications, or additional methods of responding to truth. Much has changed since the time the Bible was written, not in the basic nature of God or humans, but in technology, culture, and human experience.

Having an open mind to ways to practice truth is far removed from believing that truth changes or that all essential truth has not yet been revealed. However there are limitations even to new methods or approaches.

Some things that have been proposed are clearly contradictory to those they seek to help understand. For example some modern methods of critical Bible study are founded upon the presuppositions that inspiration and miracles have never existed and that the Bible has no special authority for Christians today. Such methods must fail to aid in understanding of truth.

Some new practices are in opposition to commands other than those to which they respond. It is wrong to break one command of God in order to obey another in a supposedly better way.

A gullible fascination with the new and a blind allegiance to tradition are both certain to lead to error. We must have a balanced approach, “testing all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:211 Thessalonians 5:21
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21 Test all things, and hold firmly that which is good.

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Covering all the bases

Bible

by Michael E. Brooks

“Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble” (2 Peter 1:102 Peter 1:10
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10 Therefore, brothers, The word for “brothers” here and where context allows may also be correctly translated “brothers and sisters” or “siblings.” be more diligent to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never stumble.

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NKJV).

The children who are raised on the Khulna Bible College campus are regularly exposed to multiple languages. Most of the time Bengali is used by the staff and students.

Some, however, are members of ethnic groups with their own languages and culture, and in the home, or to others of the same group, those languages are spoken. When Americans are here English is used some of the time.

One little boy about 2 years old struggled with keeping all those tongues distinct. Bengali has two common words for water – jal and pani. For a while Abishai would ask when thirsty, “Give me jal pani water.”

There are times when it is good practice to make certain, to cover all possible bases. In our desire to serve God acceptably that is a good policy. Peter called it, to “make your calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:102 Peter 1:10
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10 Therefore, brothers, The word for “brothers” here and where context allows may also be correctly translated “brothers and sisters” or “siblings.” be more diligent to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never stumble.

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That was the approach that sincere men took two hundred years or more ago as they sought to rid their churches of division. They determined to abandon any doctrine or practice for which they could not find conclusive authority in Scripture. “Speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent” was not just a clever motto; it became a philosophy of life.

For more than a century it was common to hear their spiritual descendants demand, “Give the book, the chapter, and the verse.” Sermons and discussions were filled with Bible references. Bibles were worn out by study, not molded and yellowed on the shelf.

Sadly that is often not the case today. Congregations are divided and movements begun over human innovations, desires, and doctrines. Scripture is ignored or explained away by some “New Hermeneutic.” Popular opinion, majority preference, or common logic are appealed to as authority.

But those things are fickle and ever changing. What is politically (or religiously) correct today by those standards will be gone and forgotten in another generation. There can be no certainty, only opinion and preference if that path is chosen.

Only God and his word are eternal and unchanging.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away” (Mark 13:31Mark 13:31
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31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

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God is incapable of lying (Titus 1:2Titus 1:2
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2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who can’t lie, promised before eternal times;

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“God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should repent. Has he said, and will he not do? Or has he spoken, and will he not make it good (Numbers 23:19Numbers 23:19
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19 God is not a man, that he should lie, Neither the son of man, that he should repent: Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not make it good?

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What God revealed in the first century remains his will today. What the church was commanded to do is still its mission today. The instructions of Jesus which guided Christian life in his days continue to be our guide and rule today.

We continue to need the fulfillment of the second element of the great commission:

“Teaching them to observe all things which I have commanded you; and lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20Matthew 28:20
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20 teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

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Jesus’ teaching is never dated or obsolete. It is as true and relevant today as when he gave it. And it is just as authoritative (Matthew 7:29Matthew 7:29
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29 for he taught them with authority, and not like the scribes.

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For everything which we as Christians should do, there is indeed a book, a chapter and a verse. They are in the Bible, and only there. Let us return to them and be certain.

Spiritual exercise

walking feet

by Michael E. Brooks

“But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-81 Timothy 4:7-8
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7 But refuse profane and old wives’ fables. Exercise yourself toward godliness. 8 For bodily exercise has some value, but godliness has value for all things, having the promise of the life which is now, and of that which is to come.

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We had planned a strenuous five or six weeks of work in the hills and mountains of Nepal. In preparation for that, Brenda and I had devoted ourselves to a pretty extensive conditioning routine throughout our months in the U.S. and also while in Bangladesh where we have suitable facilities.

Anticipating a week or more in Katmandu where there would be no exercise equipment we observed that we would get a lot of walking, which would help to retain our condition, while just getting around from place to place in the city.

At one point I asked, “Is it still exercise if we are walking to the ice cream shop?”

On reflection I realized that is actually a fairly significant question. Yes, one is still walking, and walking will produce some benefits regardless of destination or purpose. But obviously too much zeal in the ice cream shop will quickly remove all of those benefits and more. There are better places to which to walk, if improving one’s health is the goal.

That is true of spiritual exercise as well. Paul reminded Timothy that it is a good thing to keep one’s body in fit condition. It is an even better thing to devote more attention to the exercise that leads to godliness, that is, to spiritual conditioning.

What kind of exercises do that? How does one exercise spiritually? The answer is simple and basic. First there is the decision to focus attention on things above, where Jesus is (Colossians 3:1-2Colossians 3:1-2
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3 1 If then you were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth.

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). One must commit to walk by the spirit, not the flesh (Romans 8:1Romans 8:1
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8 1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who don’t walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

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Once that goal is established one pursues it by doing spiritual things, such as prayer (1 Timothy 2:1-41 Timothy 2:1-4
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2 1 I exhort therefore, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and givings of thanks, be made for all men: 2 for kings and all who are in high places; that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and reverence. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; 4 who desires all people to be saved and come to full knowledge of the truth.

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), Bible study (1 Timothy 4:12-16; 21 Timothy 4:12-16; 2
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12 Let no man despise your youth; but be an example to those who believe, in word, in your way of life, in love, in spirit, in faith, and in purity. 13 Until I come, pay attention to reading, to exhortation, and to teaching. 14 Don’t neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the elders. 15 Be diligent in these things. Give yourself wholly to them, that your progress may be revealed to all. 16 Pay attention to yourself, and to your teaching. Continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. 2 1 I exhort therefore, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and givings of thanks, be made for all men: 2 for kings and all who are in high places; that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and reverence. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; 4 who desires all people to be saved and come to full knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all; the testimony in its own times; 7 to which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle , a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. 8 I desire therefore that the men in every place pray, lifting up holy hands without wrath and doubting. 9 In the same way, that women also adorn themselves in decent clothing, with modesty and propriety; not just with braided hair, gold, pearls, or expensive clothing; 10 but with good works. 11 Let a woman learn in quietness with all subjection. 12 But I don’t permit a woman to teach, nor to exercise authority over a man, but to be in quietness. 13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 14 Adam wasn’t deceived, but the woman, being deceived, has fallen into disobedience; 15 but she will be saved through her child-bearing, if they continue in faith, love, and sanctification with sobriety.

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Timothy 2:15), helping the needy (James 1:27James 1:27
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27 Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

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), and telling others of the gospel of salvation (Acts 8:4Acts 8:4
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4 Therefore those who were scattered abroad went around preaching the word.

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A consistent practice of these things will lead to the development of spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22-24; 2Galatians 5:22-24; 2
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22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts. 2 1 Then after a period of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus also with me. 2 I went up by revelation, and I laid before them the Gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately before those who were respected, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain. 3 But not even Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. 4 This was because of the false brothers secretly brought in, who stole in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage; 5 to whom we gave no place in the way of subjection, not for an hour, that the truth of the Gospel might continue with you. 6 But from those who were reputed to be important —they, I say, who were respected imparted nothing to me, 7 but to the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the Gospel for the uncircumcision, even as Peter with the Gospel for the circumcision 8 ; 9 and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, they who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcision. 10 They only asked us to remember the poor—which very thing I was also zealous to do. 11 But when Peter came to Antioch, I resisted him to the face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before some people came from James, he ate with the Gentiles. But when they came, he drew back and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. 13 And the rest of the Jews joined him in his hypocrisy; so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they didn’t walk uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live as the Gentiles do, and not as the Jews do, why do you compel the Gentiles to live as the Jews do? 15 “We, being Jews by nature, and not Gentile sinners, 16 yet knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but through the faith of Jesus Christ, even we believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law, because no flesh will be justified by the works of the law. 17 But if, while we sought to be justified in Christ, we ourselves also were found sinners, is Christ a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I build up again those things which I destroyed, I prove myself a law-breaker. 19 For I, through the law, died to the law, that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me. That life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me. 21 I don’t make void the grace of God. For if righteousness is through the law, then Christ died for nothing!”

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Peter 1:5-7). And as Paul pointed out to Timothy, they give promise of a better life both here and here-after.

But are all spiritual exercises of equal benefit? Or are some of them possibly like walking to the ice cream shop? Consider what Jesus said of the hypocrites of his day:

“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1Matthew 6:1
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6 1 “Be careful that you don’t do your charitable giving before men, to be seen by them, or else you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

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He goes on further in the chapter to say similar things about hypocrisy in prayer and in fasting (verses 5, 16es 5, 16
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16 But Yahweh of Armies is exalted in justice, And God the Holy One is sanctified in righteousness.

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). Though the hypocrites were doing spiritual things, they were getting no spiritual benefit, because their purpose was wrong.

Both the prophets of the Old Testament and Jesus in the New often pointed out that contradictory practices and immorality will certainly negate any efforts to worship God. Quoting from the prophet, Jesus said:

“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. And in vain they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men'” (Mark 7:6-7Mark 7:6-7
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6 He answered them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, But their heart is far from me. 7 But in vain do they worship me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

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Exercising towards godliness is not only a matter of regularly doing religious acts. Those must be accompanied by a pure and sincere heart. Only such exercises will produce benefits.

Christ is all

crowd

by Michael E. Brooks

“And [you] have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:10-11Colossians 3:10-11
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10 and have put on the new man, that is being renewed in knowledge after the image of his Creator, 11 where there can’t be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondservant, freeman; but Christ is all, and in all.

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NKJV).

The assimilation of diverse groups into one harmonious whole has been a universal problem throughout human history. Sodom (Genesis 19) and Gibeah (Judges 19:22Judges 19:22
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22 As they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, certain base fellows, beset the house round about, beating at the door; and they spoke to the master of the house, the old man, saying, Bring forth the man who came into your house, that we may know him.

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ff) are by no means the only cities to abuse foreign visitors.

There is very justified anxiety on the part of almost everyone who goes for the first time to distant places. One’s welcome reception may never be taken for granted.

Known for a long time as the “melting pot” because of the diverse origination of its population, the United States has struggled continuously with prejudice, discrimination, and the demands and divisive outcries of various minority groups.

The liberation of European colonies in Africa brought new freedom to hundreds of millions from many tribes and nations. It also opened the door to renewal of tribal feuds and hatreds that had been repressed for more than a century. In countries like Rwanda genocide was the result.

In the early church there were tensions between converts from various religious and ethnic backgrounds. This was particularly true between the idolatrous Gentile nations and the Jewish people who distrusted one another. Each attempted to impose their will and their views of Christianity on the other. We see evidence of these struggles in Acts 6 and 15 and in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

When we had a vacancy on the Khulna Bible College campus there was recommended to us a couple from the hill tracts of south-eastern Bangladesh. They visited the campus and we agreed to give them work. In the interview we learned that they are a “mixed couple”; one is from the Chakma tribe and the other is Tripura. One’s religion is Hindu; the other is Buddhist.

As long as I have been traveling to South Asia, this is the first such marriage I have found. I have met Christian women whose husbands had not yet converted, but never a blend of Hinduism and Buddhism. I will be interested to observe their relationship over the years to see how well they make it work.

In marriage there are always differences, though not necessarily of that order of magnitude. But we understand that if we want to marry, and if we want to be successful in marriage, we must come to an agreement on our differences that leads to harmony. It is best if the differences can be resolved completely.

So it is in the church. Christ’s church is the “general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven” (Hebrews 12:23Hebrews 12:23
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23 to the general assembly and assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect,

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). In other words, it is the total collection of all who are saved from every nation and every tongue.

Of that assembly the Holy Spirit said, “There is neither Greek nor Jew . . . but Christ is all and in all.” There must be no differences among Christians (1 Corinthians 1:101 Corinthians 1:10
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10 Now I beg you, brothers, The word for “brothers” here and where context allows may also be correctly translated “brothers and sisters” or “siblings.” through the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

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). Race does not matter. Former religion does not matter. Social status, wealth or lack thereof, education level, caste – none of these things exist in Christ.

“For you died and your life is hidden with Christ” (Colossians 3:3Colossians 3:3
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3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

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Unity and peace in the church can only exist when we put away all those things that used to matter in our former life, before Christ. Like Paul we must resolve to seek only him and his kingdom (Philippians 3:7-10Philippians 3:7-10
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7 However, what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ. 8 Yes most assuredly, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and count them nothing but refuse, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed to his death;

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Spots

hindu marriage

by Michael E. Brooks

“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27James 1:27
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27 Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

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One persistent tendency of human beings is to mix cultures or traditions. This is often seen in religion.

A new faith enters an area rich in religious heritage. Many converts are quickly made. However, there are elements of their previous practices that continue to have great appeal. Almost invariably these become assimilated into the new religion.

This process is called syncretism, which simply means to bring two things into harmony. The effect is to blend or merge elements of two different items (in this case religions) into one unit.

One need only to study the history of exploration and conquest to see examples. Europeans who conquered lands in the Americas or Africa or Asia and remained to administer their colonies soon took on characteristics of the local culture.

In the same way, a religion may have distinctly different forms and rituals in separate areas of the world, or even in distinctly different regions of the same country.

A wedding I witnessed in South Asia provides an illustration. Both bride and groom are devoutly practicing followers of Jesus. They are serious about their Christian beliefs, reading the Bible daily, talking to others about Christianity, and promoting it in their workplace.

But their wedding celebration, including a reception on the second day, included dress and ornamentation with traditional meaning to other religions. The complete ceremony was an interesting blend of East and West, of Christianity and Hinduism.

It is common to see people converted from Islam, Buddhism, or Hinduism continue to use traditional jewelry and clothing, including symbols with some lingering religious meaning. One common sight is a young child with a dark round spot on its forehead or face. This is a good luck charm, believed by many to ward off demons.

Many converted Hindus will continue to abstain from beef. In Islamic Bangladesh many Christians still refuse pork, like their Muslim neighbors.

Some relics of one’s former faith are much more sinister. They may include attempts to continue to practice the former religion along with the new, reliance upon symbols or icons believed to have supernatural effects, and the desire to bring former rituals and practices over into the new faith.

James’ definition of true religion includes staying unspotted by the world. His immediate purpose was probably to warn against immorality. But the world manifests itself often in false religion. Those practices are equally ungodly and defiling.

It was James who authored the letter to the Gentiles (converts from pagan idolatry) in Acts 15:23-29Acts 15:23-29
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23 They wrote these things by their hand: “The apostles, the elders, and the brothers, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: greetings. 24 Because we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, ‘You must be circumcised and keep the law,’ to whom we gave no commandment; 25 it seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose out men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who themselves will also tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay no greater burden on you than these necessary things: 29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality, from which if you keep yourselves, it will be well with you. Farewell.”

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. In that letter the apostles and elders commanded, “That you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well” (Verse 29).

Almost all the things in that list could be found, among other places, in the various religions of the Roman world. Christians were not to assimilate pagan practices into the worship of the true God. Idolatry has no place in the church. Immorality and all things that defile must be avoided and denied.

The world will always seek compromise. It will always try to dilute true faith and defile the righteous. We must ever be on guard against it. Wearing traditional clothing for special occasions may be harmless. Other types of syncretism are certainly not.

Later than you think

Time

by Michael E. Brooks

Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. . . . While it is said, “Today, if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion (Hebrews 3:12-13, 15Hebrews 3:12-13, 15
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12 Beware, brothers, lest perhaps there be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God; 13 but exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called “today;” lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 15 while it is said, “Today if you will hear his voice, Don’t harden your hearts, as in the rebellion.”

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There are many stories and jokes about broken clocks chiming many more times than were needed to tell the time. A similar incident really happened.

At Khulna Bible College in Bangladesh the night guard rings a bell for every hour of the night and one ring for each half-hour. One night Brenda and I were awake at midnight and heard 13 rings. We looked at one another and one of us said, “It is later than it has ever been.”

Though perhaps funny in its context (or at least it was to us), that is really not just a joke. It truly is later right now than ever before, and each moment advances time to another new record. All creation is getting older and closer to its end, including each one of us. Time is passing, swiftly, and whatever we might want to accomplish we need to recognize a sense of urgency. It is often quite literally, “now or never.”

The writer of Hebrews understood that urgency. Today is the time to renew faith and commitment to God. Today is the day to exhort one’s neighbor to faith and righteous living. We may never have another day. Our time is growing short.

James left a similar warning.

“You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14James 4:14
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14 Whereas you don’t know what your life will be like tomorrow. For what is your life? For you are a vapor, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away.

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Do not arrogantly plan for a future that God may not provide. Rather seek his will and live according to it.

Paul states the same principle in a positive way.

“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16Ephesians 5:15-16
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15 Therefore watch carefully how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise; 16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

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This is a strong admonition to use our time wisely, hoarding each moment as an irreplaceable treasure.

These three passages provide a valuable “To Do” list for each day of a Christian’s life.

  1. We should pray, as we consult God’s will and surrender our day to his service and glory.
  2. We should help our neighbors and fellow Christians, telling those outside of Jesus about his love, and encouraging the faithful to greater service.
  3. We should walk wisely, resisting temptation and the ways of the world.
  4. We should live with urgency, recognizing every day as God’s precious gift, taking advantage of every opportunity it provides.

Paul said in another place, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24Colossians 3:23-24
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23 And whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord, and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.

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Not only is there urgency in life, there is also the need for enthusiasm. Too many go through the day begrudging every moment. They wake to a dread of what faces them, and go to bed that night regretting things done, or things failed of doing, during the day.

In Christ we can live with joy and purpose, approaching each task and each event heartily, knowing that it will present an opportunity to please our Lord. And at the end there is the promise of his coming in glory (Matthew 16:27Matthew 16:27
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27 For the Son of Man will come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then he will render to everyone according to his deeds.

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3 If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will receive you to myself; that where I am, you may be there also.

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“Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20Revelation 22:20
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20 He who testifies these things says, “Yes, I come quickly.” Amen! Yes, come, Lord Jesus.

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The heavens declare

DSC_0038 - 2

by Michael E. Brooks

“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1Psalm 19:1
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19 For the Chief Musician. A Psalm by David. 1 The heavens declare the glory of God. The expanse shows his handiwork.

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When I read the opening words of Psalm 19, I normally think immediately of the night-time sky, especially of a clear cool night with the Milky Way clearly visible and familiar constellations like the Big Dipper plainly outlined. Few things in creation are so overwhelmingly beautiful. Few speak so loudly of the power, wisdom and goodness of their Creator.

A friend from Bangladesh took the picture that accompanies this article. It is a rare sighting of the sun dimmed behind a dark spot, nearly black, that is outlined by a perfectly round rainbow of color.

Science may have a name for this effect, but this is the first occurrence of it known to me. It is one of the most unusual and beautiful daytime pictures of the sky that I have ever seen.

After the great flood God promised Noah (and all mankind) that he would never again destroy all living things by water. To seal that promise he said, “I set my rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between me and the earth” (Genesis 9:13Genesis 9:13
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13 I set my rainbow in the cloud, and it will be for a sign of a covenant between me and the earth.

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I don’t know if the prismatic effect shown in the picture is properly called a rainbow or not. But whatever scientific explanation might be made for it, I am confident that God made it, and placed it there. It, along with every other created thing, is the result of God’s wisdom and power, a consequence of the forces and laws that he established long ago.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:18-20Romans 1:18-20
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18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known of God is revealed in them, for God revealed it to them. 20 For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse.

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Television programs, popular magazines, and educational textbooks are filled with explanations of the origins of the universe and its creatures that deny or ignore any Creative Power other than natural process. Their explanations have repeatedly been shown to require even more faith than does the Biblical account of creation.

The Bible tells us to simply look around us and ask, “How did this all begin?” “From where did it originate?” Since there must be some beginning point to our search, we first ask, “What came first? ” That is, what has always existed? There are two choices. Inanimate matter and energy, or an eternal creative being, a god.

Scripture is confident that man’s reason, if not prejudiced by fleshly desire (see the following discussion in Romans 1:21-32Romans 1:21-32
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21 Because, knowing God, they didn’t glorify him as God, neither gave thanks, but became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless heart was darkened. 22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, 23 and traded the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed animals, and creeping things. 24 Therefore God also gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to uncleanness, that their bodies should be dishonored among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. 26 For this reason, God gave them up to vile passions. For their women changed the natural function into that which is against nature. 27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural function of the woman, burned in their lust toward one another, men doing what is inappropriate with men, and receiving in themselves the due penalty of their error. 28 Even as they refused to have God in their knowledge, God gave them up to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil habits, secret slanderers, 30 backbiters, hateful to God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but also approve of those who practice them.

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The alternative, that matter and heat (i.e., energy) are eternal, and that all the complex universe came about through undirected coincidence, is simply incredible. It defies all human experience and logic.

The world around us has something to say. It declares, “God Is!”

The wisdom of Jesus

Humble seat

by Michael E. Brooks

So he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noted how they chose the best places, saying to them: “When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘give place to this man,’ and you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you” (Luke 14:7-10Luke 14:7-10
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7 He spoke a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the best seats, and said to them, 8 “When you are invited by anyone to a marriage feast, don’t sit in the best seat, since perhaps someone more honorable than you might be invited by him, 9 and he who invited both of you would come and tell you, ‘Make room for this person.’ Then you would begin, with shame, to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes, he may tell you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.

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It works! Brenda and I were invited to a reception and luncheon which began with a period of devotional songs and prayers. We took our seats near the rear of the auditorium. Before long the host came and asked us to please move to the front row.

That is not the first time in Asia that I have been so honored. And each time I remember the words of Jesus in the parable above. Jesus knows human nature better than anyone. He understands our pride. He understands our shame.

People will almost always seek to put themselves forward as far as they feel they can go. But our own self-evaluation seldom matches that of others. Each one of us has an easy, personal answer to the question “who is the most important person in the world?” That’s easy; it is me. But, sadly that is true only from my own perspective.

Such self-glorification will inevitably lead to conflict and humiliation. A public exposure as a pretender is unpleasant in the extreme. Jesus showed how easily this risk may be avoided. Let others assign your place. Trust them to deal fairly and equitably, and surprisingly you will not often be disappointed.

But even better is to learn true humility. When we really feel that others are just as important as ourselves we will not fear being left on the back row. Our joy comes from their exaltation, and the way we ourselves are treated is of no importance.

Some of Jesus’ harder sayings are often disputed, if not by direct argument, then simply by the majority ignoring them. “Turn the other cheek?” You have to be kidding. Everyone knows that is just not practical. “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature?” Who really believes that can possibly happen?

But those who try to actually do what Jesus taught find that the Savior is much wiser than are we. His “advice” works. His simple solutions to difficult problems have an amazing ability to bring about successful resolution.

God once said, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” (Psalm 34:8Psalm 34:8
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8 Oh taste and see that Yahweh is good. Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

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Of course Jesus’ advice is not really that at all. His instructions are commands, and we are under obligation to obey them.

“But why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do the things which I say” (Luke 6:46Luke 6:46
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46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do the things which I say?

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Those professing faith in Jesus must obey him in all that he commands whether it seems sensible to us or not. The fact that his commands actually work and help us resolve our problems makes “his burden easy and his yoke light” (Matthew 11:30Matthew 11:30
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30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

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Recycled souls

reuse-reduce-recycle

by Michael E. Brooks

 “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Peter 2:20-212 Peter 2:20-21
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20 For if, after they have escaped the defilement of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the last state has become worse with them than the first. 21 For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.

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People in undeveloped countries are frugal from necessity. They never purchase a thing new if they can find a serviceable substitute at less cost, or even better, for free.

Students at Khulna Bible College like to keep filtered water in their rooms for personal use. They can get water free from our filtration system downstairs. But they need containers. Whenever anyone is off campus and forced to purchase bottles of water, they are carefully kept for refilling. It is an understood rule here: you just don’t throw away a good bottle.

Satan also recycles. Just because a person comes to faith in Jesus and obeys the Gospel, having his or her sins removed, does not mean that the Devil will give them up as un-claimable. Paul warned Christians to keep their guard up against his darts (Ephesians 6:16Ephesians 6:16
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16 above all, taking up the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one.

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8 Be sober and self-controlled. Be watchful. Your adversary the devil, walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

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Sin will reclaim us as it did Ananias and Saphira (Acts 5:1-10Acts 5:1-10
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5 1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira, his wife, sold a possession, 2 and kept back part of the price, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back part of the price of the land? 4 While you kept it, didn’t it remain your own? After it was sold, wasn’t it in your power? How is it that you have conceived this thing in your heart? You haven’t lied to men, but to God.” 5 Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and died. Great fear came on all who heard these things. 6 The young men arose and wrapped him up, and they carried him out and buried him. 7 About three hours later, his wife, not knowing what had happened, came in. 8 Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” She said, “Yes, for so much.” 9 But Peter asked her, “How is it that you have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 She fell down immediately at his feet, and died. The young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her by her husband.

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13 Simon himself also believed. Being baptized, he continued with Philip. Seeing signs and great miracles occuring, he was amazed. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me also this power, that whoever I lay my hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart isn’t right before God. 22 Repent therefore of this, your wickedness, and ask God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.”

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). He is clever, persistent, and powerful. We must always be watchful against his deceptions.

But Satan is also not alone in recycling. God practices it too. He calls it forgiveness. After listing a number of sins that will keep souls from heaven Paul proclaimed, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:111 Corinthians 6:11
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11 Such were some of you, but you were washed. But you were sanctified. But you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and in the Spirit of our God.

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What a glorious thought. Just because a person has been used by sin, that does not mean his fruitfulness is ended. God can redeem him. He can create him again as a new creature “in righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24Ephesians 4:24
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24 and put on the new man, who in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.

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People may also recycle their relationships. It is done exactly like God does it, through the practice of forgiveness. “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

None of us has failed to hurt or offend someone for whom we care. Sometimes that has meant the end of trust and therefore closeness. Marriages, friendships, parent-child relationships and many others are tragically marred or ended by our blunders.

Rarely is such separation intended or desired, but it happens. And all too often pride, stubbornness, and plain hurt feelings prevent either party from seeking to heal the breach or to make restitution for the wrong done.

The late beloved Marshall Keeble once said something like this, “Marriages often fail because neither party will back up; I wouldn’t buy a car without a back-up gear.” That was his folksy wise way of saying we must learn to apologize and ask for forgiveness.

No one stays married happily, nor does any other relationship last, without an “I’m sorry” and “You are forgiven” being exchanged from time to time.

If water bottles are too precious to throw away after only one use, how much more true is that of souls, and of precious and rare relationships? Let us learn to recycle, as God does.