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Monday, December 6, 2021

“BLACK FRIDAY”

By Bill Brandstatter

    “Black Friday” has come and gone. This is the day after Thanksgiving when retailers lure customers with all kinds of special incentives. People line up at stores early in the morning to get the special “door buster” savings. People will flock to stores and spend large amounts of money just to take part in the euphoria of “Black Friday.”
    A long time ago there was a “Black Friday” that was even more significant. In Mark’s gospel account we read: “Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.” (Mark 15:33) For three hours, the earth was dark. This was a dark day because Jesus was being crucified. We know it was Friday because Mark adds “Now when evening had come because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath...” (15: 42 NKJV) Since the Sabbath fell on Saturday, we know this day was Friday.
    What made this “Black Friday” so special? It was special because of the price that was paid. Jesus paid the price for the sins of all mankind. Peter described it this way: “Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.” (1 Pet. 2:24) There was another special purchase made on this day. Paul told the elders at Ephesus about this purchase. He said, “Shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood...” (Acts 20:28) Our salvation and the church of our Lord are worth more than all of Solomon’s riches.
    It was special because of the people that were there. The crowd of people who wanted Him crucified were there. (Mark 15:13) Simon, the Cyrenian, was there. (Mark 15:21) The soldiers who led Him away to the cross were standing there mocking Him. (Mark 15:16) The chief priests were mocking Him also. (Mark 15:31) The reason Jesus died was for those that were there and for those who were not there. Jesus stated, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34) He was willing to forgive them while they were crucifying Him.
    It was special because of the people who were not there. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. (Luke 19:10) His blood opened the way to heaven for many. (Eph. 1:7; John 6:54) His blood did away with the Old Testament and brought about a new. (Heb. 9:14,15) His blood enabled people of all generations to be saved through the message of the gospel and through access to His blood that was shed on that “Black Friday” a long time ago. (Gal. 3:28; Rom. 1:16).
    Have you participated in the events of the “Black Friday” of Jesus’ life? Are you saved by His blood? (Matt. 26:28; Rev. 1:5) Have you put Him on in baptism and taken part in all that His death purchased? (Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27) What did that “Black Friday” mean to you? Would you stand in line to worship and to hear about the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?
- Bill Brandstatter preaches for the Marion Church of Christ in Marion, IL. He may be contacted through the congregation's website: http://marionchurchofchrist.com/


Called to Extravagance

By Joe Chesser
 
    This may shock you, but nowhere in Scripture are we called to be mediocre. In fact, Jesus condemned mediocrity (lukewarmness) in the church in Laodicea (Revelation 3.15-16). Nowhere in Scripture are we called to be drifters. Instead, we are warned of the danger of drifting spiritually (Hebrews 2.1). Nowhere in Scripture are we called to be ordinary, common, or average. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus gave example after example how his followers needed to exceed the lifestyle of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5.20). Going the extra mile, turning the other cheek, loving our enemies and laying up treasures in heaven demonstrate but a few ways we are called to rise above the ordinary to live lives of extravagance.
    And why not? Our God is an extravagant God, and we are called to be like Him! Think of the extent of God’s creation from the galaxies in the universe to the creatures in the sea to the changing of seasons. Extravagance does not adequately describe creation. Yet creation is nothing compared to how He lavishes grace (Ephesians 1.7-8 NIV) and love (John 3.16; 1 John 3.1 NIV) on us. Plus there are His promises of forgiveness (1 John 1.9) and comfort (2 Corinthians 1.3-4) and power (Ephesians 3.20-21) that fills us with strength and hope. And words like gold and pearls and fine jewels can never describe the extravagance of an eternal heaven that awaits His people (1 Corinthians 2.9).
    The most amazing thing of all is that this incredible, extravagant God has chosen to call us to become like Him and to be united with Him forever (Ephesians 1.3-14). This passage uses terms to get us excited about our calling to be in Christ, words like “every spiritual blessing … chosen … holy and blameless … predestined … redemption … grace … forgiveness” and many more. When we accept God’s call for salvation in Christ we are given the opportunity to rise above the common, ordinary world around us. Extravagance for Christians is not defined by excessive wealth, fame, power or position. It’s not about being flashy or noticed. It’s about doing even ordinary things in extraordinary ways.
     As the Apostle Paul urged, we are to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4.1). A part of what that means is for us to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1.16); to forgive as God forgives (Ephesians 4.32); to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5.7); to be a cheerful and generous giver as God is (2 Corinthians 9.6-8); to seek the lost with the passion of God (Matthew 28.19-20); to value others as God does (Mark 12.30-31); to be faithful to God all our lives (Revelation 2.10); to use the gifts God has given us (1 Peter 4.10-11; Matthew 25.14-30); and to worship God regularly in spirit and in truth (John 4.23-24). Extravagance is learning from Jesus how to live above the world.
    Since God is extravagant, and we are called to be like Him, why would we ever be content with being ordinary or lukewarm? God is challenging us to rise above human standards and accept His call to be extravagant!  How are you answering that call?
- Joe Chesser preaches for the Fruitland Church of Christ, Fruitland, MO.  He may be contacted at joeandareva@yahoo.com


Peace of Mind

By Ron Thomas

    Some will look at Proverbs 2 and see the exhortation and admonition, interpreting it exclusively as a warning to males to stay away from females not belonging to them. This certainly is a significant teaching of the chapter, but not an exclusive one.
    The Holy Spirit has more in mind that just that. The wisdom that comes from God permeates all areas of life, both the sensual, emotional, intellectual, and moral. The knowledge of God (2:5) is more that just a sensual warning against stepping out on the wife of one's youth.
    The effectiveness of the Word of God in a person's life is that it educates and reshapes a person to be different than the world around him (and her). It gives a moral and spiritual compass that surpasses anything of this world and it moves the one who "abides in God" beyond this life to the life He prepared for us after the sensual, physical life we live is over.
    As you look at the proverbs, be sure to remember the exhortations from the Lord are more than warnings from delving into sensuality. In them we have a peace of the Lord's mind. 
- Ron Thomas preacher for the Sunrush Church of Christ, Chillicothe, OH. He may be contacted through the congregation's website. www.sunrushchurchofchrist.org


Don’t Block God’s Light

By Adam Faughn

    Descriptions of God that have to do with light are found throughout Scripture. The most direct--which we noticed in last week's sermon--is in 1 John 1:5, where the text simply states, "God is light and in Him is no darkness at all." The majesty and holiness of God are clearly in view when we think of the comparison of God as light.
    Taking that picture further, though, we are told to share that light with the world. Jesus stated, "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). It might be helpful for us to remember that the light we are to shine before others is really God's light, and we are seeking to "reflect" it to the world.
    At times, however, we fail to do that. In fact, if we are not careful, we can even block God's light by the way we live.
    The story is told of Alexander the Great returning home after conquering a tremendous amount of the known world. He wanted to report the news to his teacher, the philosopher Aristotle. Upon returning home, he was told that Aristotle was taking a bath, but that did not stop Alexander, who went right up to where his teacher was bathing.
    In his excitement, it is said that Alexander said something along these lines to his teacher: "Teacher, I have conquered the world. I am ready to give you anything you would like. What may I give you?" The wise philosopher, who kept right on bathing, is said to have replied, "Right now, I would like you to stop blocking my light."
    Tragically, we can often be like Alexander in that story, so caught up in the things of this world that we forget to stop blocking the light! To be certain we are not blocking God's light from those around us, here are three things we must remove from our lives.
    Sin. This would be the most obvious since sin is so often equated in Scripture with darkness, including in 1 John 1:5. When we are openly doing things that go against the will of God, those around us simply will not see His light shining in our lives. If people see me openly using foul language, being cruel to my spouse, or mocking the Church Jesus died for, how would they ever think that I am striving to reflect God's light into the world?
    Self-Glory. Our world teaches us to "look out for ol' number one," and we are simply to assume that "number one" is myself. So, we spend our time telling our own exploits and all the things we have done. We talk about all we are helping and the great things we are doing. But Who is left out of the picture? When the attention goes to us, but we do not give the praise and credit to God, how can people glorify Him? Instead, they will glorify us, which is the exact opposite of what it means to truly serve and adore God.
    Silence. If people do not hear us praise and honor and give credit to God, are we not blocking His light in the world? Part of shining His light is not being silent concerning what the Lord would have us to do. We dare not be ashamed of His message, and we dare not be ashamed of His way of living. If, however, we are not willing to tell anyone about Him or His ways, we are blocking His light in their life.
    Certainly, there will be times when we fail to share God's light perfectly. As people, we often fall short of His glory (Romans 3:23), and we are not perfectly righteous at all times (Romans 3:10). That said, our aim should always be to draw nearer to Him so that we are more like Him. No matter who we are around, whether we are offline or online, or what our place in life happens to be, we must put forward every possible effort to shine God's light into a very dark world.
- Adam Faughn preaches for the Central Church of Christ in Paducah KY. He may be contacted through the congregation's website: http://www.centralchurchofchrist.org Visit the Faughn Family blog, A Legacy of Faith.


A Life Worth Living

By Joe Slater

    In 1978 Waylon Jennings had a hit song about the obscure central Texas town of Luckenbach (current population 13). The opening line of the song was: “The only two things in life that make it worth livin’ . . .” Then it proceeded to name those two things. The first was well-tuned guitars (or, to quote the song, “guitars that’s tuned good”). The second I will omit for reasons that are obvious to those familiar with the song.
    As fine as well-tuned guitars might be, I submit the song’s writer had no idea what brings real value to life! However, I should credit him with at least realizing that happiness doesn’t result from great riches. One of the lines suggested to his wife that they sell her diamond rings, buy some boots and faded jeans, and go away. Another mentioned the failure of their big house with a four-car garage to bring contentment.
    Jesus warned, “Take heed and beware of all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15). To illustrate His point, He told the parable of the rich fool (vv. 16-21). That man had so much wealth stored away that he had to build larger facilities to store the current harvest! Does that sound like a problem you’d like to have? If so, think again! The rich fool’s focus on himself brought him nothing but condemnation.
    “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord, than great treasure with trouble” (Proverbs 15:16). The next verse follows up: “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a fatted calf with hatred.”
    Fear of the Lord and love: Those aren’t the only two things in life that make it worth living, but I’ll put them up against the two in the country song any day!
- Joe Slater serves as minister of the Church of Christ in Justin, TX. He may be contacted through the congregation's website: http://justinchurchofchrist.com


Friday, December 3, 2021

God’s Epitaph

By Al Behel

     Three men were asked, "When you are in your casket and friends and family are mourning you, what would you like to hear them say about you?" The first guy said, “I would like to hear them say that I was a great doctor and a great family man.” The second guy said, “I would like to hear them say that I was a wonderful husband and school teacher who made a huge difference in our children of tomorrow.” The last guy said, “I would like to hear them say… LOOK! HE’S MOVING!!!!”
     What would you want people to say about you? What would you want written on your tombstone? The answer comes from how we define our purpose in life and the extent to which we consider that we have achieved that purpose. We want others to think that our lives made a difference.
     Several years ago I selected my epitaph, one which I think could be written by the hand of God. It reads simply, “To Be Continued….” A lady heard me deliver a sermon in Alabama in which I reference my epitaph. She “stole” it and placed it on her husband’s headstone. I think my purpose on earth is to prepare to live eternally in the presence of God.
     How do you measure success? Is it by titles or degrees, bank ac[1]counts, or the address on your home? Is it by how many people know you by name, your appearances on television, or in magazines? What you think makes a person successful really defines how satisfied or fulfilled you are in life.
     Is your idea of success centered in God’s idea of success? Is every thought and every action directed toward accomplishing His purpose for you? Or have you gotten side-tracked by lesser causes and goals? Jesus said it clearly, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be yours as well” (Matthew 6:33).
- Al Behel preaches for the Great Smoky Mountains Church of Christ in Pigeon Forge, TN. He may be contacted through the congregation's website: http://greatsmokymountainschurchofchrist.com/



Choose the Original

By Adam Faughn

  An art dealership recently ran a very odd sale. They had one original sketch from pop artist Andy Warhol for sale, which is not that unusual for an art sale or auction. What made this sale unique, however, was that they also put up for sale 999 elaborate forgeries of the sketch, done on paper that was "aged" by a machine, so they looked like the original in virtually every detail.
   The sellers then randomly sold the 1000 pieces, each for $250, letting buyers know that only one was the original but not telling them which one it was. 999 buyers would end up with a forgery (which is essentially worthless), while one would end up with the original sketch, estimated to be worth around $20,000.
   Now, there is a certain oddity to this type of sale that would draw interest, I suppose. That said, it is hard for me to think about spending a significant amount of money knowing that I would only have a one-in-one-thousand chance of receiving a "real" item and a 999-out-of-one-thousand chance of getting what is essentially a fake. It just does not sound like a solid use of money, does it?
   However, when it comes to our spiritual lives, how many people are doing something even more egregious, and many are doing so intentionally? When we read in Scripture about the Lord's Church, it is abundantly clear that we can go back to the original; that is, we can make certain that we are doing things exactly the way Jesus desires and demands them to be done. Yet, so many intentionally choose to risk their eternal soul on what is, spiritually speaking, a forgery.
   For example:

• The New Testament makes it clear that a person must be immersed in water--baptized--in order to be saved (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; Romans 6:1-3; Galatians 3:27; et al.). That is the "original." So many, though, choose to do something else in order to try to find salvation, things that are conspicuously absent from the New Testament. Why would they think, then, that they are choosing something other than a forgery?
• The New Testament is straightforward in saying that those who lead a congregation as elders and those who serve as deacons must be men who are married and have children (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 2:5-9). That is the "original." However, in the name of political correctness or "modernity," many choose to ignore those teachings and have women lead or serve in those capacities. Why would anyone intentionally choose this forgery?
• The New Testament is clear that Christians are to sing, but also that singing is to be the extent of that avenue of worship (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 13:15). That is the "original." A tremendous number, though, choose to add to that command by having choirs or praise teams or mechanical instruments of music. Why would someone choose such a forgery?

   The examples could go on, but these should suffice. I chose the story of the art sale, in part, because "all" that was for sale was a sketch. While I certainly could not create such a thing, in terms of pure art, it is not all that impressive. Still, though, the original is the original, and nothing else is! That is what gives it such immense value.
   When people look at the "original" of the New Testament church, they may also see something that can seem a bit outdated, boring, or out-of-step with society. However, it is the original, and nothing can replace it. To replace it or seek to alter it in any way is to destroy something of eternal value because it was given to us by Jesus Himself. As such, we must protect it and seek to make sure we search always for the original in all that we do, never settling for a forgery.
 
"...contend for the faith that was once delivered to the saints"
- Adam Faughn preaches for the Central Church of Christ in Paducah KY. He may be contacted through the congregation's website: http://www.centralchurchofchrist.org Visit the Faughn Family blog, A Legacy of Faith.