Category Archives: Church Life

The Root of the Pornography Problem

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A few weeks ago, the national conversation–especially online–turned for a few moments to pictures of Kim Kardashian. The model had a series of photographs taken for a magazine (that I had never heard of), which showed her in various stages of undress. The shoot ended with fully nude photos of the star. (No, I have not seen them, and do not want to.)

While these pictures were considered “soft core” pornography, they did lead to some conversation over the nature of the entire pornography industry. There can be no doubt that our society is far more sexualized than it was even just a few years ago. That manifests itself in everything from immodest dress to pornography addictions, and many things in-between.

What, though, would lead to Kardashian taking such pictures? What would lead to people gawking at images and films that are meant to do nothing but bring a few moments of seduction for hours on end?

In other words, what is at the root of the pornography problem that is running rampant in our world?

In one word: selfishness.

The woman who would allow for these pictures or videos to be taken is selfish. She is selfish for attention. She is selfish for money. She is selfish for recognition.

At the other end of the lens, those who produce this material are selfish. They will use anything–no matter how sordid–to make a buck. They will treat the women on film like they are something special, then dismiss them as soon as they lose their looks.

And, on the consumer end, those who view pornography are selfish. By clicking on the pictures, buying the magazines, or watching the videos, they are saying that their own sexual “thrill” is all that matters. There is no regard for a spouse (or future spouse). There is no thought about the soul of the person in the images.

…and there is no thought about God and His standards by anyone involved.

I think it is safe to say that the main reason we have seen such a growth in the “adult” industry is because we have also seen a growth in the amount of selfishness in our society. No one is the standard but ourselves. I get to choose for myself what I want to do, and I shouldn’t have to deal with any consequences if what I choose is unwise. The only thing that matters is what brings me a few bucks or a momentary thrill.

That is the very definition of selfishness, and it is what leads to the ever-growing problem of pornography in our world.

If we ever thought of other people as eternal souls bound for eternity, pornography would never be an issue. Sadly, too many are only thinking of themselves and one more day on this earth with a few sensual pleasures.

Every actor and actress, every producer and director, and every viewer and consumer of pornography has a soul. Will we reach out to them with the Gospel? Will we see every person in that light and fight back against the plague of pornography simply by kind words and good deeds?

Or will we be selfish, too, but selfish with the Gospel?

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Always Good but Never Better

Are you a good person? Are you a Christian? Do you worship regularly? Do you pray before meals, read your Bible, and for the most part, are you an unselfish person? If so, that is great. God is looking for people just like you for His eternal city. Heaven is going to be full of good people.

It is too bad, though, really. I mean that you are good and all – because your goodness may be your biggest spiritual problem. I bet you are one of those people who even give a little more to people who regularly serve you at Christmas-time, like maybe a mini-bonus. And you are probably the person who buys all the gifts for everyone in your family, too (even the in-laws and out-laws). And this is the time of year where you are absolutely worn down and tired because you have given all a good person can give. Because that is what you do. You already teach a Bible class. You fix meals for people who are sick or bereaved. You write cards to the elderly. You are good. Good does things like that. Good never stops being good.

But good people who are always good are rarely better. They are the ones who struggle with further instructions. They are the ones who have a hard time forgiving others. They are the ones who seem to hold people to standards which can rarely be met. Let’s face it. Good people think they are good enough. Good people don’t understand why bad people exist. Good people expect everyone to be good just like them. Good people like when the preacher tells them they are doing it right. They like to go home from a day of being good and say to themselves that they have had a good day and they have served others and now they can rest easy because all of the good boxes have been checked. They are surely going to heaven now.

When Jesus came to earth He did not come to try and fix the people who thought they were good enough. He came to heal the broken and to challenge those who were already good but were still open to being better. He could have chosen any twelve men on earth to be His disciples. Some might even say He could have chosen men that were better at being good than the ones He picked. But God is not interested in how good we are. Because He knows on our best day we are still sinners, and we are not altogether like Him. On our best day Jesus still needed to go to the cross to save us from our perceived goodness.

But don’t be discouraged, good people. Don’t stop being good. Jesus went about doing good (Acts 10:38). That’s what good does. Just realize that good can be better. And the only way good can be better is through understanding that only God is good. And good people still need to keep the commandments: ALL of them. And when good people fail, they need to repent and respond to God’s grace.

“Now behold, one came and said to Him, ‘Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?’ So He said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good?  No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.’”

– Matthew 19:16-17

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A Very Special Day

It happened recently. 

Because our son-in-law and I are both preachers, my wife and I don’t get to worship with him, our daughter, and their children very often. On this particular Sunday, we did. That made it a very special day for us.

However, it was not the only reason it was a very special day. It was not even the primary reason it was a very special day.

It happened again a week after that. 

Our son was beginning his new work with the 9th Avenue church of Christ in Haleyville, AL. He had been there before and had served as the associate/youth minister there. After preaching at the Lebanon Road church of Christ in Nashville for about 6½ years, he took on the responsibility of doing the bulk of the preaching for the 9th Avenue church.

Once again, we were able to worship with a part of our family (a rare treat for preachers). The fact that we could be with our son, his wife, their children and our son’s father-in-law and mother-in-law made it a special day. The fact that we could be there on the very first Sunday of his new work made it even more special.

However, these were not the only reasons that last Sunday was a very special day. Once again, they were not even the primary reasons.

On the way home that Sunday evening, we stopped to worship. We were surprised to find that one of our former summer interns was leading the singing. That also made that particular Sunday special for us.

However (do I need to type these words again?), all of this is not what made last Sunday a very special day. They do not qualify as the primary reasons.

It happened again on the Sunday following these two special Sundays.

After being gone for a while, we were privileged to be back with a church family we love and appreciate. For almost fourteen years, we have worshiped, served, laughed, and cried together with these good people. I only wish I had the words to express how special that is.

However (here we go again), as special each that experience was for Donna and me, this was not what made that Sunday a very special day. There is another and, to us, a much more significant reason.

For many, Sunday is a day of rest, recreation, shopping, sports, and other personal (selfish) interests. Some officials in The Church of England have recently let it be known that, because of these factors, worshiping on Sunday is just too “inconvenient” for most of its members. To them, there is nothing special about any Sunday; except perhaps one set aside for some seasonal observances which, by the way, are not mentioned in God’s Word.

However, those who are serious about their relationship with God have a different idea about all of that. Every Sunday is a very special day.

The first day of the week (Sunday) is the day when…

…the Lord’s tomb was found to be empty (Matt. 28:1ff, Mark 16:2ff; Luke 24:1ff; John 20:1ff).

…the church that was always in the mind of God (Eph. 3:10-11) came into existence on the earth (cf. Acts 2:1-47).

…the Christians in the first century met to worship (cf. Acts 20:7. 1 Cor. 16:1-2). 

It should be the case for all of us that every Sunday is special. Every Sunday is the Lord’s day (Rev. 1:10). 

How special is His day to you?

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The Main Issue is Not Women’s Role (or Instrumental Music or…)

One week ago, I published a post that I thought would be read a handful of times and forgotten. Most of the time, between hits on our site, email subscribers, and rss, our posts are read a little more than 1000 times in the few days after publication. While not a huge number, we are thankful for every person who takes a few moments to consider what we share.

Then, last Thursday happened. The post I thought would just be another “regular” post went crazy. As I write this, it has been viewed well over 50,000 times and continues to garner share after share on social media.

Of course, the post dealt with a controversial issue: the public role of women in the life of a congregation. But as I read the many comments, emails, and social media notes about the post, it made me do a lot of thinking. With the perspective of this past week, I have come to several conclusions, but there is just one I want us all to focus on today.

We are not arguing–primarily–about the woman’s role in the church when we talk about this issue.

We are really arguing about the authority of Scripture.

The same is true when it comes to any number of issues we could discuss. Think with me for a moment.

The New Testament could not be any clearer on the subject of the necessity of baptism. Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, literally every conversion account in the book of Acts, Romans 6:3-4, and several other passages make it abundantly clear that the plan for God’s people includes that one be baptized in order to be saved. The argument against baptism has nothing to do with Scripture. Instead, it has everything to do with trying to fit Scripture to a Calvinistic viewpoint, meaning man’s teaching supersedes God’s eternal word.

Instruments of music are noticeably absent from New Testament worship, even though they were present in the Old. The New Testament makes it clear that we are to sing (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19; Hebrews 13:15, et.al.), but not “play.” The argument for including instruments is about how it makes us feel or how it sounds to us. The other argument is the terrible, “Well, God didn’t say not to!” None of these is based upon clearly seeing the authority of Scripture.

The organization of the church is clearly laid out in the New Testament. Each congregation is to be led by elders and served by deacons. If a church is able, and the elders find it appropriate, a preacher can be used to help with the public proclamation of the Word, and then every member is to be actively involved in the work. And that’s it. There is no superstructure above that. The only justification for a superstructure is manmade, and has to then take man’s directives instead of God’s.

And the role of women is clearly laid out in the New Testament, as well. They are to work hard in the church and they are vital in many aspects of the work of the Lord. Ladies teach, but not in a way that is “over” a man. They sing along with the men, because they are not leading and, therefore, are not holding authority. They do personal work and a myriad of other great things that are vital to the work. But God has clearly stated that the leadership of a congregation is to be male. The arguments for ladies having a leadership role are just our own thinking: “That’s just archaic.” “It was only cultural.” “That doesn’t work today.” No one ever justifies women leading by saying, “The New Testament clearly teaches it.”

Do you see what we are doing? While we must speak to each issue, we must also look behind each issue and agree on the standard. If we are going to say that our own feelings, or culture, or some “movement” is our standard, then anything goes. In fact, if those are the types of standards we are going to follow, then there are no issues to discuss, because we can do whatever we please and God will just have to accept it. It’s our own way that matters; not His.

If, however, we believe that the Bible is God’s Word and our unchanging standard, then we must fit its mold; not the other way around. We must stand boldly for what it teaches, both in action and attitude. We will never be perfect, but again, we are not the standard!

So why would I ever write an article that deals with such an issue?

Was it to garner views for the site? No, I never dreamed the post would take off like it did.

Was it to be “the standard” (as many have charged) that others are to follow? No, I am not the standard, because I am fallible, too.

Was it to be “the police” (as others have charged) of the brotherhood? No. I only made this public because the video was placed on YouTube, which the last time I checked, gets a few more views than our little corner of the web.

Was it to be mean-spirited (even, as one person stated, “the spirit of anti-Christ”) toward anyone? Any person who knows me knows that is not my intent, no matter how what I say or write might come off.

So, why would I write about such an archaic and “Pharisaical” issue?

It was because I believe that all of God’s Word is worth standing for, no matter the age or culture in which we find ourselves. I believe in rightly dividing the Word, and standing for the New Testament which my Lord put in place with His perfect blood.

My aim for all people is simple: I want them to conform their lives to the standard of the Word of God, and toward that end I will give my every breath.

All the way back in Genesis 3, Satan began his temptation of Eve with a powerful question, “Has God really said…?”

Somehow, about 6000 years later, that same question still works for the tempter.

Yes, God has really said. And yes, God really means what He has said.

And I will do my best to defend the words of the Lord every day of my life.

Will you?

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Why Christmas is Not a Matter of Faith

I do not celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. Some may ask why, and some may even be offended that I do not. They may want to know why a preacher who loves the Lord and who is responsible for preaching the truth about Jesus and the gospel every week would not celebrate the birth of Jesus with the rest of the world on December 25th.

While we could spend some time in history examining how Jesus’ birthday was not celebrated until the fourth century, or about how the pagan sun gods were already being worshiped on December 25th (hence the assigned date), let’s refrain from a lengthy discussion. Any scriptural investigation would argue against a December date for the birth of the Savior. Evidence from the timing of the birth of John (the immerser) and the service of Zaccharias in the temple (John’s father), coupled with the 6 month difference in the births of John and Jesus argues for a September birth date.  We could include facts about the census and the shepherds’ outdoor care for their sheep and quickly understand Jesus was not born during winter. But the December 25th assignment for the birth of Jesus has nothing to do with why I do not celebrate it as a religious observance.

When Paul by inspiration wrote to the Romans, he addressed liberty in Christ in chapter 14. Some Jews observed days of past Judaism and those days were significant to them because of their heritage (Rom. 14:6). These days were of no significance to the Gentiles, who had their own traditions. In this same text Paul also deals with the eating of meats, and the possibility that doing so in the church might be offensive to others. There were meats that had been sacrificed to the pagan gods. There were also Jewish traditions regarding certain foods. While meat to the Christian is nothing more than meat, for some early Jewish converts to Christianity it was a matter of conscience. In the church, all of the sudden Jews and Gentiles were thrust together into a spiritual family and they were trying to figure out what to do with the Law of Moses, pagan culture, and a life that was once alienated from God by the world and its practices.

Take note of part of Paul’s conclusion in Romans 14:23 – “Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.” This passage is not saying that we can do whatever we approve. It does say that we should be acting according to faith. When we do not act according to faith, when we practice something that is not according to God’s divine instruction, we are sinning against God.

“Now faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Since faith begins and ends with understanding God’s word, believing it, and obeying it, faith is not subjective. It is not open to the whims and wishes of the individual. I do not celebrate Christmas as a holy day because God’s word has not commanded me to observe it as such. It is not a matter of the Christian faith. Christmas, contrary to popular belief, is not a holy day in the mind of God. It is a day mankind has accepted to remember the birth of Jesus.

I am thankful that there is a time in our struggling society when the majority of the world has chosen to recognize the birth of Jesus. While there are constant attacks against Christianity, and efforts never end to remove God from the 21st Century world, it is great to know some things will not be taken from us. If a person chooses to think about the birth of Christ on December 25th, and thank God for sending Jesus to this sinful earth that desperately needed a Savior, what greater thing could one consider?

But let us keep this in mind: God wants us to remember Jesus every day. Not just His birth, but also His life, His death, His burial, and His resurrection. He wants us to remember that Jesus is now sitting at His right hand to make intercession for us. He wants us to make Him Lord of our life. He wants us to understand He is coming a second time, apart from sin, for salvation. And when he comes on that Day, He will judge the world in righteousness.

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” – Isaiah 9:6-7

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An Open Letter to the 4th Avenue Church of Christ

[NOTE: Recently, a video has been making the rounds introducing Lauren King as the new Preaching Intern for the 4th Avenue Church of Christ in Franklin, Tennessee. If you have not seen the video, it is embedded below this paragraph. Then, what follows, is an open letter to the congregation, sharing my heart about this matter.]

To the members of the 4th Avenue Church of Christ:

The next step has been taken, and it is safe to say that you made a big step. In fact, it is described as “a movement” that “is coming.” And, while I agree this is a movement that will take hold in many places, today I am sad. I would like to take a few moments to tell you why I am sad.

I have watched the video that shows your new preaching intern. The well-made video shows some snippets of the sermon as well as some behind-the-scenes interviews. None of that is disheartening. The video is well-done and engaging. But, like so many other things in our modern times, the content can be lost in the production value.

Your new preaching intern is female. Would some of you read that again? Would some of you read that and ask yourself, How did we get here? Some of you are proud of this moment, while others are disheartened, but you love that congregation so much that you just go along with it, so as not to disrupt anything.

But today, as I reflect on this “movement,” and that one sentence (“your new preaching intern is female”), I am sad.

First, I am sad that your Senior Minister thinks that Paul’s words carry so little weight. In his portion of the interview, he states,

What the Bible does is tells me about Jesus; and I don’t read Jesus through Paul. I read Paul through Jesus. And I think the churches of Christ are getting this, that we no longer read all of the Bible as equal.

Is Jesus the centerpiece of Scripture? There can be no doubt about that. If I may quote Paul (though he doesn’t carry the same weight as Jesus, apparently), “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). The message of Jesus was clearly the focal point of all that Paul, Peter, and others said and wrote.

However, was it not Jesus Himself who stated that the Holy Spirit would guide His apostles into all truth (John 14:25)? When Peter, Jude, James, and–yes–Paul wrote, were they not writing exactly what Jesus wanted them to share? And, should some of those teachings seem strange or even archaic to us today, does that indicate that Jesus did not mean them?

Your preacher has tried to take the easy way out. Sadly, he has taken a clear command and stated that it was nothing more than cultural. The line of thinking goes that Paul only meant this teaching for that ancient time and culture. He even states that there are only two passages that talk about this particular concept, and, should we believe that Paul meant it for anything beyond “Corinth and Ephesus,” we are stating that the apostle was “trying to undue the rest of Scripture.”

So, I guess God has to say it, what, at least three times to make a command binding? Or He had to have Paul’s teaching be corroborated by Jesus to make it binding? Such is the thinking.

But is the idea of male leadership in the church nothing more than a cultural construct? If we are going to affirm that “all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God” (sorry to quote from Paul again, but it is just so hard not to; 2 Timothy 3:16), then we must also take the rest of that passage into consideration. “All Scripture…is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

Please notice the first thing on that list. Paul did not say, “The ‘red letters’ are for doctrine.” He did not say, “Take the words of Jesus and throw mine out when setting your doctrine.” No, all Scripture is profitable for doctrine. We dare not take our proverbial knife and chop out the parts of Scripture we personally do not like and just chalk it up to a “cultural difference.”

But today I am also sad because an obviously talented young lady thinks that this is not only okay, but sanctioned by the Lord. Let me be clear: her gifts and abilities are evident. But I know a lot of talented ladies who also are willing to submit to the will of God, teaching only those allowed under the dictates of the New Testament. My wife, sister, and mother all have spoken at ladies’ days and taught numerous ladies’ classes. Each has encouraged men in private settings to be more faithful to the Lord’s way. My mother speaks 4 or more times each year to ladies at Polishing the Pulpit. But these talented ladies, and many, many others I could name, realize that God has clearly and timelessly stated that they are not to usurp authority over a man in public leadership within the church. That includes being an elder, and, yes, it includes the public proclamation of the Gospel when adult male Christians are present.

Additionally, today I am sad that this young lady speaks of such an issue as nothing more than a “tradition” among churches of Christ. I am more sad that she is not alone in this concept. Traditions are fine, but they are not worth fighting for. Doctrine is! As an example, Wednesday night Bible study is a tradition. Scripture nowhere states that a congregation must come together in the middle of the week for Bible study (or “prayer meeting,” or anything else). Over the years, though, these midweek services have become a tradition. If a congregation decides to move these services to Tuesday, or discontinue them altogether, I may not like that decision and may even consider it unwise, but since it is a tradition, it is not worth arguing about. That is a decision made by a local eldership for those people. The elders have that right to, in prayerful wisdom, make such a decision.

However, when Scripture has clearly spoken, we are no longer dealing in the realm of “tradition.” We are dealing in the realm of doctrine. Every time Scripture speaks to a matter, we must stand for Scripture and defend boldly what the Lord has stated. If 4th Avenue has some traditions that change over the years, so be it. That is your prerogative and I pray they help you grow closer to Christ and to one another. But if your leaders decide to change, add to, or ignore the clear teachings of Scripture, you must stand with Christ and not simply accept these things as changing some tradition.

Finally, I am sad today for a personal reason. I am sad that this video does not shock me. We all know that this so-called “movement” is coming, and will gain momentum quickly. Too many congregations have so long ago abandoned a willingness for standing for all Scripture, and I believe many more will follow this “movement.” When we think that we can pick and choose what parts of the New Testament to follow and what parts are irrelevant, videos like these will be more and more common.

As a lover of Christ, His Word, and His people, know that I am praying for you and your leaders. I want you to deeply consider all that Scripture has to say on every matter, and not make following Him all about your own personal preferences. If He is truly Lord, then He is to be obeyed.

Sincerely,

Adam

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5 Preaching Pitfalls That Accompany Laziness

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Preachers are wonderful people. Just as no one can understand, say, a teacher’s life more than a fellow teacher, so no one can understand the life of a preacher like a fellow preacher. Since I have the blessing of knowing literally hundreds of preachers, I am constantly amazed by my preaching brethren, and so many give me a great example of ways in which I need to improve.

However, most preachers live a life that is fairly unsupervised (at least by other humans; God knows all, and we need to keep that in mind). It takes intrinsic motivation to stay focused in the work of preaching week in and week out. Too often, laziness can set in, maybe when discouragement is part of the preacher’s life, or maybe when we are simply facing the temptation to be lazy.

When laziness sets in, there are some pitfalls that will accompany preaching. I want to share five, and hope others will add more in the comments.

1. Saturday Night Specials. I’ve said on Twitter before, “Saturday night specials usually aren’t.” Preachers can feel as if they know enough to get away with just throwing some verses together late in the week and then relying on their natural ability to get through 30 minutes on Sunday morning. Every preacher has had to put together a sermon late in the week due to unforeseen circumstances a few times. If this is what you are constantly doing, however, it could be that you are avoiding the work of study, and that could be a sign of nothing more than laziness.

2. Reading Only From Authors With Whom You Agree. We all have a handful of trusted sources that we consult on a regular basis (and we should). However, preachers need to do the hard mental work of reading from writers with whom we do not agree (and I would suggest we need to do it often). It forces us to think through our beliefs and to strive to see how certain scholars arrive at their beliefs.

3. Only Using Personal Illustrations. There are many areas in the pulpit in which I need to improve, and illustrating sermons is right at the top of the list. That said, if every illustration a preacher uses is about himself or his family, that’s lazy. It shows he isn’t looking to other parts of the world (literature, history, sports, nature, etc.) for ways to make a text or topic come alive. His mind needs to be constantly looking for ways to help illuminate the text of God’s Word instead of just sharing stuff from the life of himself or his kids.

[Bonus tip for preachers: if every illustration you make is personal, it can come across as arrogance, especially over time. While you may not think of it that way, and you certainly don’t mean it that way, do you like to hear people talk about themselves all the time?]

4. “Borrowing” Sermons More Than Preparing Your Own. It is fine to borrow sermons at times (so long as you receive permission or give credit). We all have heard a sermon or lecture that helped us and made us think, “The people where I preach need to hear that.” That’s fine! But if you are always just using the outlines of other people, you are shortchanging not only the congregation, but yourself.

5. Relegating Your Ministry to the Office. Should you spend time in the office in deep study? If you don’t know the answer to that question after reading this far into the article, I don’t know what to say. Of course, we do! But, it is easy to just sit behind a desk doing “something” instead of balancing our day or week with time visiting the sick, the erring, the lost, and doing other works that help the congregation grow and be encouraged. For most of us, sitting and reading/studying is easier, because there is no danger of confrontation or getting our schedule thrown off. However, a preacher who is working will get out of the office either daily or at least regularly throughout the week, because he is constantly looking for more ways to “fulfill [his] ministry.”

As I conclude this article, let me say that I have struggled (and still do) with all of these. This is an article for me first, but I hope it helps each of us who preaches to do all we can in the work of the Lord.

QUESTION: What would you add? Share in the comments some of the temptations that accompany laziness in the life of a preacher.

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God Has a Plan

God has a plan and it is different than yours. The sooner you get over this fact the better. While you are accepting this please remember  – God is eternal and He has been about this plan for literally forever. So He has thought it through and since all wisdom begins and ends with Him you can be sure His plan is superior to yours.

Abraham never planned to leave home, but that was God’s plan for Abraham. Abraham never thought he would have children, but God’s plan included the Seed coming through Abraham. After Abraham was told by God what was going to happen, when it did not come soon enough Abraham tried to invent a plan on his own. It was not a very good plan. In fact it was downright deplorable, and all of this from “the father of the faithful.”  In the meantime God’s plan prevailed.

Look back on your life to this point and think about some of the plans you have made that never were realized. What about the person you did not marry that you once thought would be your spouse? What about the occupation you were pursuing, the city you were thinking about making your hometown, or the things that you assumed would still be a part of your life that are now gone? It is humbling to examine where you are and what you are doing and who you are doing it with and compare all of those things with your original plan. It will remind you that you have far less control than you think.

This week marks the ten-year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. That was not in the plan. This year was the 18th consecutive year I have lived in the south. Being from California I can tell you this was never in the plan. We have three wonderful children – again, not in the original discussion.  I am working with a church which a few years ago I never knew existed, in a town I had never visited before, and now it is home and I know of no other place at this moment I could call home this side of heaven.

While we know the providence of God is working in those who love Him (Rom. 8:28), I do not believe for one moment that my choices had nothing to do with where I am today. Some things are chosen for us, because life throws curve balls. Some things we choose ourselves, because we have free will. But through it all we need to let go and let God. We need to understand that our plans are feeble and imperfect. But God’s plans are perfect and if we will accept them He will always work them out to our best eternal interest.

Before the foundation of the world, God had a plan (Eph. 1:4). This included Calvary and a Man hanging on a tree. It is the most beautiful story ever told. It is the theme of the everlasting kingdom of heaven. When you think of any plans you are making, always think of the cross. It will remind you that no matter your goal, God’s plan for you is even greater. Pray and plan within His will. His will is going to be done either way. And it is your choice to be in His will or not.

The Bible is God’s written will for man. God’s providential care is God’s unwritten will for those who follow the will that has been written. God’s plan is that we obey the first and trust in the second. When we do this, somehow everything turns out better than we could have ever dreamed.

“There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the Lord’s counsel—that will stand.” (Proverbs 19:21).

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Bible Study Basket: A Great Christmas Present Idea

Last year, we shared some links for a Christmas shopping list, and many of you took advantage of some of the ideas. [If you want to see that list, here’s the link.]

This year, instead of tons of different products, we thought we’d give you one idea that you can build in your own way. This is a great idea for all those holiday parties or for that one hard-to-buy-for person on your list, because it is flexible and something that is actually important.

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It is a Bible Study Basket!

The idea behind this gift is obvious: it is a collection of items that helps someone with their Bible study. It is all those “little” things that someone never seems to have on hand right when they need them, all in one place.

Of course, this gift assumes the person already has a Bible they like to use for their own personal study. In case they don’t, however, here are 4 that might be a great gift to help them get started with their own Bible study.

English Standard Version Wide Margin Reference Bible

The MacArthur Study Bible (New King James Version). [Note: We do not endorse every study note in this study Bible, but it is good overall.]

New American Standard Bible Side-Column Reference Wide-Margin Bible

…and the ultimate, if you have a lot of money to spend: New American Standard Bible Wide-Margin Reference Bible (goatskin cover)

Now that we know the person has a nice Bible to take notes in, let’s start building the basket! Here are some things to include in the gift for the Bible student on your list:

1. A Companion Book. We suggest one of the following two options, depending on your budget.

Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible by Scott Duvall ($28.90). We have not read every word of this book, but it is a great tool to helping you work through serious Bible study without being so technical that it will bore the reader.

A Study Guide to Greater Bible Knowledge by Wayne Jackson. The link provided is just to show you the book. Likely, you can find it in a bookstore less expensively by calling around. I know, for example, that Gospel Advocate keeps it in stock most of the time. This is a wonderful little book that helps someone get started with how to study the Bible.

2. Two kinds of pens. Serious Bible students are crazy about selecting a type of pen or marker. Honestly, I have never tried tons of kinds, but I have found the ones that follow to be the best of those I have used, and several articles and videos online agree. These are a must-add to the basket.

Pigma Micron Pens. These archive-level pens have a very small tip and almost never bleed through the page. I love them, and use them for a lot more than just marking in my Bible. Depending on your budget, mix and match these different packs:

6-color pack ($13.12)

An extra black pen ($5.83)

Crayola Twistables. No, I’m not kidding! Highlighting is a staple of Bible study for a lot of people, but regular highlighters bleed through the pages terribly. These crayon sticks rarely bleed through and, personally, I like the color more than a regular highlighter, which is too bright. Admittedly, I have only tested these, but I like the results. If your Bible student is a fan of highlighting, they will love these! Pick up at least one pack, and depending your budget, you may want to add two or three packs.

Crayola Twistables, 18-pack ($5.69)

3. Straight edge. For those who like to make sure their notes and underlines are perfectly straight, an edge is really helpful. Again, we offer two options, based on your price range.

Helix Stainless Steel 6-inch ruler ($6.38). This may seem a bit pricey for a ruler, but the metal ruler will stay in place as you work better than lightweight plastic.

Oxford Half-Sized Index Cards ($1.79). These 3 inch x 2 1/2 inch cards serve a dual purpose. They help keep a straight edge for underlining or writing, and they serve as notecards for those who want to use them for extra notes or memorizing verses. The price above is for a pack of 200 cards.

4. A bag to put it all in. Here is where you can save even more money. Instead of buying an actual basket to put all these things in (that may or may not get used again in the future), why not get your Bible student a nice bag to put their Bible study material in, and give the gift in the bag! Obviously, this is an optional part of the gift, but it might make a nice touch for someone on your shopping list.

Mead Five-Star Stand and Store Pencil Pouch ($9.78). This bag is small, but the best part about it is that it stands on its own while someone is using it, so the Bible student can see all his or her pens, rulers, etc. at a glance without cluttering up the workspace. It also makes studying when a big workspace is not available much easier, since everything is together.

So, there you have it. A customizable gift that will actually be helpful. Hope you enjoy this little idea, but more than that, we hope the gift of Bible study helps someone you know and love prepare for eternity!

QUESTION: What did we forget? Put your suggestions for items to include in a Bible study basket in the comments below!

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Thanksgiving Proclamation

This Thanksgiving Day, I would hope that all of us would take some time away from parades, meals, football, and preparations for ‘Black Friday” to reflect on how this unique holiday got started. It is interesting to me that, both the Congress and President Washington were involved in this proclamation.

It seems to me that, while we may have made a lot of progress in a lot of  areas during the past 225 years, we might be well advised to “return to our roots” when it comes to our acknowledgment of, and dependence upon, God.   — Jim Faughn

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Thanksgiving Proclamation

Issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington