This Is Just a Test

Our American tendency is to see the troubles of life as just that: troubles. We view them as inconveniences and destructive to our plans and life but the Scriptures take a completely different view. That view is clearly demonstrated in the writings of the apostle James.

The Gk. word periasmos is translated by both “trial” and “temptation.” Its meaning is rooted in the Old Testament, where a variety of Heb. words speak of “tests” that God brings into the lives of believers. There the Heb. words (nasah, sarap, and bahan) indicate a difficult situation as a test devised by God, but intended to demonstrate the quality of an individual’s faith or to purify his or her character. Thus tests are shaped by God to enhance our lives.

While a difficult concept for us to accept, we can view God’s intent in the example of a coach. A coach knows us for our strengths and weaknesses. He knows that in the ‘game’ our opponent will exploit those weaknesses and avoid our strengths. As a player, this sets us up for failure. When pressed, we continue to play to our strengths to little avail. The coach knows that victory can only be achieved when we improve at our weaknesses. So the God of the Old Testament can be envisioned as strengthening our weaknesses so we can experience more victory.

In the New Testament, there is an increased focus on our personal development. The Father is as concerned about our spiritual health as He is the outcome of the game. So periazo and periasmos, whether rendered as “trial” or as “temptation” also indicate a test, devised by God, with the intent to benefit His own. It is in view of this reality that James urges his fellow believers to welcome trials with joy, knowing that while they test one’s faith, if we persevere they will contribute greatly to the development of spiritual maturity.

What are your facing today? Where are you the weakest? Ask God to draw near and strengthen you in those weak points. Accept your struggles for that purpose and dig a little deeper in the world but most of all apply it. As we said in yesterday’s message, the blessing of God does not come in the study of God’s Word. It comes in the ‘doing’ of God’s Word.

Play well today. Michael

Bigger is Not Better

New things are exciting. “Bigger,” “better,” “newer” are the words the advertisers use to get us to sit up and pay attention to their products. New cars shine, smell fresh and drive with zip. New clothes look sharp and keep us in style. The problem with new things, however, is that they get old. Today’s new clothes will be out of style next year. And besides that, they stop holding their shape and begin to look shabby. New cars lose their shine, get dents and upkeep costs increase to the point that we eventually want to get rid of them. But what if there was something that was always new, fresh and just beginning that never got old?

What if the excitement of new ideas and fresh opportunities kept on forever? That is what the gospel of Jesus Christ is like. It began 2,000 years ago with the ministry of John the Baptist and Jesus, but, because it is about the eternal God who is the source of new life, it never gets old. When we read about the events of the gospel in the New Testament, we are never reading about things that just happened long ago and ended. What we are reading about is the start-up of the ministry of Jesus which began then and, because he rose from the dead, will continue on forever. This means that you and I can get in on the action.

We too can be a part of this world-changing, life-changing good news ministry of Jesus Christ. Thinking of heaven in 2011.

Prayer for a Hungry World

God of love, who through Jesus Christ shares our suffering, forgives our sins and delivers us from the bondage of oppression, help us to desire and nourish in ourselves sustaining community with our brothers and sisters everywhere. Give us courage tosh re suffering when it comes. Restore to us the joy of Resurrection that in the midst of situations we can hardly bear, we may sing out HALLELUJAH!

God of hope, whose spirit gives light and power to your people, empower us to witness to your name in all the nations, to struggle for your own justice against all principalities and powers and to persevere with faith and humor in the tasks that you have given to us. Without you we are powerless. Therefore we cry MARANATHA!

Thomas Pettepiece

This Christ

This Christ is a living Person. He loves you with a personal love, and He looks every day for the personal response of your love. Look into His face with trust, till His love really shines into your heart. Make His heart glad by telling Him that you do love Him. He offers Himself to you as a personal Savior and Keeper from the power of sin. Do not ask, can I be kept from sinning, if I keep close to Him? But ask can I be kept from sinning, if He always keeps close to me? And you see at once how safe it is to trust Him.

Change in a Nation

No greater moral change ever passed over a nation than passed over England during the years which parted the middle of the reign of Elizabeth from the Long Parliament. England became a people of the book, and that book was the Bible. It was read at churches and read at home, and everywhere its words, as they fell on ears which custom had not deadened, kindled a startling enthusiasm. As a mere literary monument, the English version of the Bible remains the noblest example of the English tongue.

But far greater was the effect of the Bible on the character of the people. Elizabeth might silence or tune the pulpits, but it was impossible for her to silence or tune the great preachers of justice and mercy and truth who spoke from the Book. The whole temper of the nation felt the change. A new conception of life and of man superseded the old. A new moral and religious impulse spread through every class.

John Richard Green, A Short History of the English People

Isn’t It Strange

Isn’t it strange how we can spend hours and hours with good friends, talk a lot, do things together, and yet not really know them? Or how unknown we can be to those we work with, plan with, eat with, talk with? Sometimes this is because we don’t want to be known. The risk is too great. Maybe we won’t be liked if we reveal ourselves to others. At other times it is because we choose not to make the effort to get to know others, though they may desperately want to be known.

Jesus lived with his disciples for three years. He chose them, taught them, worked miracles before their eyes, prayed with and for them, and taught them to pray. He loved them deeply and attempted to reveal himself and the Father. But when it was time for him to die, and they didn’t fully know who he was. Thankfully, Jesus didn’t give up. He tenderly leads them to this knowledge of himself as he prepares them for his departure from this world.

Isn’t it strange how we can spend hours and hours with the church, talk a lot, do things together and not really be prepared for our departure from this world. Christ has chosen you and wants to reveal himself to you. He wants to lead you to an intimate knowledge of himself so you will be prepared. Talk to him!

Needed: A Part-Time Congress

Written by Cal Thomas

The finding by the bipartisan House Ethics Committee that Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., is guilty of financial misconduct and the conviction of former Texas Republican Rep. Tom DeLay by a jury in Austin, Texas, on charges of political money laundering brings a question: Are we getting the Congress we’re paying for?I’m with Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, who told Human Events last week, “Make them part time; give them term limits. Don’t let them become lobbyists. When they have to live under the same rules and laws they pass for the rest of us, maybe you’d see some more common sense coming out of Washington.” Jindal, a former congressman, said once elected, too many lawmakers become entrenched in Washington and are transformed into the very people they campaigned against.I’ve seen no polling on this question, but I would bet most Americans are not clamoring for Congress to pass more laws. Several states have part-time legislatures that meet every two years to consider a budget and other truly important matters.

I’ve seen no polling on this question, but I would bet most Americans are not clamoring for Congress to pass more laws. Several states have part-time legislatures that meet every two years to consider a budget and other truly important matters. At other times, the part-time legislature is on-call should anything momentous occur. Should Congress follow suit? Maybe if it did we would be better off. A part-time Congress might reduce the temptations exemplified by Rangel and DeLay.

Serving in Congress should be seen as just that: service, which is distinct from self-service. It ought to be considered a privilege, not a profession.

The Founders were keenly aware of the danger of a Congress divorced from the realities of the rest of the country. During the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Roger Sherman of Connecticut wrote, “Representatives ought to return home and mix with the people. By remaining at the seat of government, they would acquire the habits of the place, which might differ from those of their constituents.”

Returning home shouldn’t mean flying home for long weekends and then coming back to Washington. It should mean returning to a real job where the member can’t raise his own pay, receive top medical care at reduced or no cost, print and spend other people’s money, or count on others to pay into his retirement fund. If he owned a business, he would have to meet a payroll and balance the budget. The member would also have to rely on Social Security, like other Americans.

Some states are getting as bad as Congress in their cost and ineffectiveness. The Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives writes of Pennsylvania’s legislature: “With a price tag that’s grown to $300 million, Pennsylvania’s 253-member General Assembly is the most expensive (and second largest) state legislature in the country. It’s also among the four ‘most professionalized’ in the nation with staff totaling nearly 3,000. For perspective, the legislatures of Illinois and Ohio—the states closest in population to Pennsylvania—have 1,023 and 465 staff, respectively.”

Only 16 percent of Pennsylvania voters think the state legislature is doing a “good” job. Congressional job approval is also pathetically low.

Would congressional term limits work? They seem to in states that have tried them, opening opportunities to people, including women, who might not otherwise have been able to challenge entrenched and well-funded incumbents. Opinion is clearly on the side of abbreviated terms. In September, a Fox News poll found that 78 percent of voters favored term limits for Congress.

Former Missouri Republican Sen. John Danforth has said, “I have never seen more senators express discontent with their jobs. I think the major cause is that, deep down in our hearts, we have been accomplices to doing something terrible and unforgivable to this wonderful country . . . we know that we have bankrupted America and that we have given our children a legacy of bankruptcy. . . . We have defrauded our country to get ourselves elected.” That’s because too many have stayed too long at the fair. Limiting their terms would be good for them, good for the rest of us, and the best thing to do for America.


Where Are the Leaders? Barna

This is an interesting era for tracking the appeal and lifespan of leaders.On the one hand, we live in a time when more and more people think of themselves as leaders – more than six out of ten adults say they fit that description. This is probably egged on by the “everybody is a leader” nonsense that some people teach. What a happy day it will be when serious trainers of leaders realize and communicate that leadership is not something you choose to do, it is a calling that God gives to some; that relatively few people are called to this challenge; that those who are called are discernible by the gifts and abilities they are given by God so they may succeed in fulfilling the calling; and that godly character is one of the prerequisites for receiving and maintaining that calling.On the other hand, we have been witnessing a revolving door among leaders, perhaps as a reflection not of the public’s fickleness, but of the absence of the calling, character and competencies that enable one to succeed in leadership in their times of intrusive media scrutiny, public micro-management, unreasonable performance expectations, and widespread skepticism and cynicism. As you explore the downfall of many of these so-called leaders, you find several things in common.

One is the absence of vision, which is a clue that the “leader” is merely playing a role without the requisite substance. Over the years I have made it a practice to study the vision that propels people in leadership positions forward, and have found a galling paucity of vision among those attempting to lead. In my experience, a majority of those who seek the chance to lead are simply pandering and posing in order to get the platform to pursue outcomes that are peripheral to the needs of the public they seek to represent – not necessarily bad outcomes, but certainly not the critical results that the audience they serve deserves.

Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that a recent Pew study discovered that about three-quarters of Hispanics in America are unable to identify America’s primary Hispanic leaders – that is, the people who best represent their needs and interests in this multicultural society. With all due respect, the most frequently named Hispanic “leader” – recently appointed Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor – is hardly the kind of leader that the Hispanic community needs at the forefront. I do not mean that she is not skilled, intelligent, or trustworthy. The issue is that her position precludes her from providing frontlines leadership. Justices are discouraged from publicly speaking out on issues, do not organize people to fight for causes, typically write about matters of policy and social substance (other than Court opinions) only after they retire, and maintain a low public profile. By the way, Justice Sotomayor topped the list even though she was mentioned by only 7% of Hispanics.

Hispanics are not alone in struggling with this leadership vacuum. A recent study among registered Republicans revealed that six out of every ten party members were unable to identify who they believe is the true leader of their party. While we’re at it, let me note that Christians are in the same boat. Past Barna Group studies found that both Protestant pastors and individual Christians are generally unable to agree on individuals – other than Jesus Christ – whom they believe are providing significant leadership to the Christian body in America.

It is not hard to list a plethora of reasons why people are unable to identify leaders. But one of the reasons that may get too little attention is that we have ceased to understand what a genuine leader is. It is not someone who has a title, training, tenure, or even popularity. It goes back to the marks of leadership that we can readily distinguish: a clear and compelling vision, upstanding character, commitment to serving people, skills that facilitate progress, a track record of accomplishment in leadership situations, ability to attract a competent team of leaders to work with, a history of openness and accountability, and a blend of courage, confidence, wisdom and humility.

I think there are more of these kinds of leaders out there than the media would have us believe. We encounter them every day in business, government, churches, schools, non-profits, and families. And how great it would be to begin highlighting the good ones, and being able to support and learn from them.

Who are some of the leaders – not by virtue of position, but as recommended by their calling, character, competencies, vision, performance, and commitment – who have impressed you? What have they done that has made that impression upon you? Surely we can all point to alleged leaders whom we have found to be disappointing, or even counterfeits – people more interested in the position, perks and power than in serving people with humility, justice and righteousness. We don’t need more attention cast upon those who are not getting the job done. Instead, focus on those whose behavior you believe deserves some credit. What did they do that set them apart from the rest? What can you and I learn from their example?

Heavenly Realms

I know now that there is a dimension surrounding us called the heavenly realms. Most people are not aware of this dimension. Certainly non-Christians are not. Sadly, because we are so immersed in our secular and materialistic society, Christians to whom this dimension should be home are only dimly aware of it, if at all. The heavenly realms, to believer and nonbeliever, seem like a distant echo reserved for people who have died.

This needs to change. Christians have blessings in the heavenly realms and have access to them now.

This movement into the heavenly dimensions of life and the blessing that Jesus Christ brings is a two-staged process. The first stage is spiritual regeneration. We need to have our old self-centered hearts of stone replaced with hearts that are centered on God. This regeneration may take place in a dramatic conversion or it may take place quietly during a Sunday-school teacher’s lesson. However it happens, it is a gift of God that we do nothing to deserve and can’t achieve through our own efforts.

The next stage in the process, however, is different. It is the development of a Christian mind. The apostle Paul writes, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” Romans 12:2.

It is with the new mind that we begin to distinguish the sights and sounds of the heavens and that we begin to discern with our hearts. As we learn to think Christianly, we are able to articulate the individual notes of creation that sing God’s glory, whereas before, the notes were all compressed together. Our minds are like prisms that distinguish the colors of God’s glory that previously seemed a brilliant white light.

How we get this Christian mind is no mystery. Nor is it a mystical experience. It comes through the process of education. Just as it takes years of education for an engineer to think like an engineer or a doctor to think like a doctor, so it takes years to learn to think like a Christian. It requires all the effort that we can muster and then some. And even then, the transformation comes slowly, over a period of time.

…from Spiritual Encounters

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