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EDITORIAL: Thanksgiving – Thanks Living

There is no question in my thinking that our pilgrim forefathers had Deut. 26 in mind when they established the first Thanksgiving in our country centuries ago. The law of the offering of the first fruits was God’s instruction to Israel to acknowledge His abundant provision once they entered Canaan, the Land of Promise. It was also designed to highlight His grace and mercy in delivering them from their bondage in Egypt and leading them to that place that flowed with milk and honey. It was the chronicle of God’s mighty power toward them as a nation and His continual goodness and grace upon them afterwards. Similarly, despite the initial hardship the pilgrims experienced in coming to the New World and their arduous first year here, they also declared that same goodness of God on their behalf in more ways than one – just as Israel did in the past and as we should do today.

The details of this law were simple. Upon entering the land, the grateful offerer was to take the first fruits of their produce and place them in a basket, setting it before the priest as an act of worship, v. 2. What followed was a firm declaration that God had indeed kept His word and brought the nation into their inheritance, v. 3. The priest would then take the basket from his hand and offer it to the LORD, v. 4. The testimony was that as a nation they were ready to perish (v. 5), describing the way they were mistreated in the world and afflicted and how in the midst of this horrible misery, the cry went up to the Lord who heard their plea. With a mighty hand and outstretched arm, He greatly delivered them from their bondage in Egypt, as recorded in Exodus 2.

As believers, we too were on the brink of perishing, but were delivered from “so great a death” (2 Cor. 1:10). But God in mercy, raised us up and made us to sit together in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). We too, have obtained an inheritance (Eph. 1:11) as they did. Like Mephibosheth, we have been made to sit at the king’s table, despite our weakness and past infirmities (2 Sam. 9). Indeed, God has kept His Word and as a certain songwriter has penned it: “My Redeemer is faithful and true, everything that He said, He will do; every morning His mercies are new; my Redeemer is faithful and true”. Like that one leper who came back to the Lord, falling on his face and giving Him thanks, Luke 17:16, we too need to come back to the Lord regularly and give Him thanks for what He has done when we were helpless and hopeless. We declare with the same conviction as David in Psalm 40:1-3: “He heard my cry and brought me out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay and set my feet upon a Rock and established my goings. He put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God”. It is our privilege to express with grateful hearts, the work of redemption in our hearts each Lord’s Day as we thus remember Him. We are to bring our “baskets” full – whatever size they be – to our Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus, who offers it up and adds “His sweet perfume” before our Father in Heaven. As this is done, we are to give thanks to the Father who has “made us fit to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light because He has delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son” (Col. 1:12-13). Praise His name.

But it does not stop there. As with Israel long ago, our thankfulness for our spiritual and temporal provision should not be confined to ourselves, but shared with others in practical ways. Rejoicing in every good thing that the Lord, the grateful offerer was to share what he possessed with others, the “stranger, the fatherless, the widow… they they may eat within your gates and be filled” (v. 12). The essence of true thankfulness is sharing with others what we have received and enjoy. The four lepers in 2 Kings 7 were smitten in their hearts when they realized that what they possessed, they were actually keeping to themselves. They acknowledged their wrong and determined among themselves that they needed to go and tell the king’s household and share with others what they had. We should do this with the Gospel, telling others of the Gospel of God’s free grace in Christ, whenever we have the opportunity to share the hope that lies within us, (1 Peter 3:15). We should also share of our material possessions as a tangible means to back up our words and give them weight.

At this time of year, let’s look for opportunities to share with others, both in word and deed how the Lord has blessed us and provided for our all our needs in Christ.

“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. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” (Heb. 13:15–16)

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2018
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Knowing the Will of God

The late J. Christy Wilson was raised on the mission field in Persia, present day Iran. In the mid-1950’s, he and his wife became the first missionaries to Afghanistan. They had a valuable ministry with Mrs. Wilson developing braille for the Afghan language. She taught blind Afghan children and in a class of 17 students, 13 confessed Christ. Although this was in the pre-Taliban period, the government was nevertheless still repressive towards Christianity. Therefore in 1972 the government deported the Wilsons. After they returned to the U.S., I heard Mr. Wilson speak on the subject of God’s guidance. Below is an enlargement of Mr. Wilson’s teaching on decision making.

Follow Biblical Commandments

The most important commandment is to accept “You must be born-again.” This is foundational to all decision making in life. Once a person has become a Christian, they should attempt to follow two commands the Lord Jesus gave which cover all areas of morality. First, they should love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. Second, they should love their neighbor as them self. (Mk. 12:29-31). ​

Follow Biblical Principles

The difference between a biblical command and a biblical principle is that commands are explicit and principles are inferred from commands. For example, there is no command in scripture to refrain from spending long hours (unrelated to work) looking at electronic screens. But there are commands to redeem the time, to be careful about what we look at and to be separated from the world. Being obedient to biblical principles is essential to making right decisions.

Knowing the law does not empower us to follow these principles and commandments but to honor the Lord we must walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). The indwelling Spirit gives us the power to obey God’s laws from the heart (Acts 1:8; Titus 3:5).

Prayer, Scriptural Meditation and Fellowship

We speak to God in prayer and he teaches us through Scripture. In order to follow biblical commandments and principles, regular devotional time with the Lord is essential. For spiritual growth there is no substitute for one-to-one fellowship with the Lord. Fellowship with other believers is also extremely important. The Christian who does these things from the heart will better be able to discern the Lord’s guidance.

Listen to the Advice of Parents and Mature Christians

Christian parents love their children and usually give good advice. Further, unsaved parents may also have a lot of wisdom to offer that is in accord with biblical teaching.

Seeking the advice of mature Christians helps to avoid making bad decisions. In Proverbs 24:6 we read, “For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war: and in multitude of counselors there is safety.” We have decisions to make every day, many of which are minor, others which are more important. Then there are the decisions which have a huge impact on our lives. What career should I pursue? Should I go to college, and if so, what college? How should I (we) spend money? Where should I (we) live? Where and how should I be involved in Christian ministry? Should I marry and if so, whom should I marry?

In the major decisions of life listening to the counsel of godly people helps to give spiritual and emotional protection.

Feelings

It is fine to ask God to open the right door and close the wrong doors. However, sometimes two or more doors are quite open! Following the aforementioned principles is very important to be able to discern how the Lord is leading in our circumstances.

The Lord can give peace regarding decisions. But feelings are last on the list in terms of importance because they, like circumstances, can change rapidly and be difficult to analyze. The key to having peace is to be practicing the above principles.

Jim Elliot was a man who had right priorities in decision making which had life and death implications. He and four other young men were killed in Ecuador by the Auca Indians in 1956. Elizabeth Elliot’s biography of him, “In the Shadow of the Almighty,” gives insight into how he decided to go to the Aucas. In his journals, he showed an intense desire to be spiritually obedient. He was a man of prayer, was regularly in the Word, and he was continually fellowshipping with other Christians. He had a close relationship with his godly parents and at the close of his last letter to them he wrote, “The gospel to every creature.”

After arriving in Ecuador, he had a decision to make as to where he should minister. Should he stay in the rain forest town of Shandia and work with the Quichua Indians, who numbered in the thousands or should he risk his life and work with the Auca who numbered in the hundreds. He came to believe that the Lord was leading him to the Auca, and he had a feeling of peace regarding that decision. In the years following his death, the majority of the Auca, including the killers of the five men became Christians. The testimony of the five martyrs resulted in a large increase of young people becoming overseas missionaries. Jim Elliot practiced good principles of decision making and the Lord was with him and guided him.

God’s Will and His Guidance

As we seek God’s guidance for many everyday decisions, there are other things that God plainly states to be His will. For example, it is God’s will that we pray. In fact, we should pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:18). We should also mediate on God’s Word (Josh. 1:8) and fellowship together (Heb. 10:24-25).

Even one following God’s basic will stated in the Bible can sometimes make a wrong decision. In those cases, God is still able to work it out for good (Rom. 8:28). This teaching is a comfort, given that no Christian always makes correct decisions. We are eternally grateful to the Lord for his grace and mercy towards us! Let our goal be, “to commit our way unto to the Lord; to trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.” (Psa. 37:5). Doing so, He will continue to guide us in decision making as we look forward to being in heaven with Him forever.

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Walking with God

In biblical and modern history, a few brave souls have chosen to walk with the Almighty. Meeting people like this can make a lasting impact upon us.

Enoch was one. The Bible says, “Enoch walked with God three hundred years.”1 He did not take a few steps and then turn back. He was in it for the long haul. He stayed the course no matter how tough it got. He kept on walking with His Lord.

Noah was another.2 He did so in a world much like our own. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.”3 He walked with God when no one else did.

As we choose to walk with God we become more like Christ.4 That’s makes us different from other people, living separated, holy lives, following the God who said, “Be holy, because I am holy.”5

Those who desire to walk with the Lord still sometimes stumble and may even fall. King David was such a man. Reading the Psalms reveals that David walked with God. God said, “I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My will.”6 Not long after, David fell flat on his face. He took another man’s wife and had him killed. God sent a prophet to rebuke David, saying, “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?”7 David repented, confessed his sin, got up, and started walking again.

Elijah, walking with God most of his life, also temporarily stumbled. After one of his greatest victories, Elijah fell apart. “I have had enough,” he told God. “Take my life.”8 God encouraged Elijah in “a gentle whisper.”9 Like David, Elijah got up and started walking again.

One day, a chariot swooped down from heaven, scooped him up, and he was gone. The same thing happened to Enoch. The Bible says, “Enoch walked with God, and then he disappeared because God took him away.”10 The Bible says Enoch “obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God.”11 Someday, Christ is going to come in the clouds and whisk all believers up into heaven. These are men and women of whom “the world was not worthy.”12

Of course, the only one who perfectly walked with God was the Lord Jesus. God declared Him such, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I have found my delight.”13 His walk with the Father was like none other, such that He could say, “I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me.”14 At the end of His life, His final steps on earth completed, God took Him up. “He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.”15

What about today? Are there any who still walk with God? Look for someone like Jesus, someone who walks “in the same manner as he walked,”17 and who touches others the way He did. Jesus promises the person who believes in Him that “rivers of living water shall flow from his innermost being.”18

Amy Carmichael (1867-1951) was such a person. For 55 years, she served in India, helping girls and young women escape sexual slavery. Read Carmichael’s poetry, and you will know that she walked with God.

Jim Elliot (1927-1956) was another. He was martyred at the age of twenty-eight while trying to tell primitive tribal people in Ecuador about the Lord. I had a friend who met him briefly and said there was nothing special about him. After Elliot’s death, my friend read his published diary. Then he knew that he had walked with God.

Has not Jesus invited all of us to walk with Him, saying, “Follow me?”19 Is this not what God desires most from us? The prophet Micah writes: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?”20

Endnotes:
1. Genesis 5:22 NASB
2. Genesis 6:9 NASB
3. Genesis 6:5 NIV
4. 2 Corinthians 3:18 NASB
5. 1 Peter 1:16 NIV
6. Acts 13:22 NASB
7. 2 Samuel 12:9 NIV
8. 1 Kings 18:4 NASB
9. 1 Kings 19:12 NIV
10. Genesis 5:24 NET
11. Hebrews 11:5 NASB
12. Hebrews 11:37 NASB
13. Matthew 3:17 NWT (J. N. Darby)
14. John 14:11 NASB
15. Acts 1:9 NASB
16. Matthew 23:12 NASB
17. 1 John 2:6 NASB
18. John 7:38 NASB
19. John 1:43 NASB
20. Micah 6:8 NKJ

27
Nov
2018
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Pitfalls in Parenting

Parenting is no easy task and the Bible gives no guarantees of the outcome. Prov. 22:6 is a proverb, not a promise. Experientially, all of us know many that have not gone on for the Lord. There is no easy answer to this reality, most of us know of families where one or more children have gone on well and others have walked away with no evidence of faith. Children make moral choices and each individual is personally responsible before the Lord. Some children from the best of homes have abandoned faith while some from the worst of homes are sound in their profession of faith.

A growing reality is that some who go on in the Lord choose a different style of local church. It is not always easy to surmise why this is so; there are likely many reasons depending on the individuals involved. None of us is perfect but some parents make the following mistakes that may contribute to these two situations.

I have been in homes and in other situations where parents openly criticize other believers. Sometimes the elders are the object of their critical words. Children constantly exposed to this are unlikely to be attracted to your assembly or perhaps to any assembly. It is not likely to leave a good impression on young minds. This type of conversation undermines what parents want for their children in terms of faith and fellowship.

Some believers are contentious by nature, they just seem to find something to fight or complain about. It may not be every month, but over time any numbers of issues raise their ire. I know of meetings where the atmosphere is toxic and all joy is gone. In these situations, others may be drawn into the conflicts and the youth may be so affected that these events are imprinted in their minds forever. Undoubtedly, issues will arise with differences of opinion, but in these situations, we need to individually apply Ephesians 4:2-3. A humble attitude and the desire to maintain the unity of the Spirit will go a long way. I know of a number of young people, who exposed to such contention have abandoned their own fellowship, gravitating instead to other local churches. Although not always the reason in such cases, it can be a contributing factor.

A lack of commitment is plaguing many NT assemblies. Of all the institutions on earth, the Lord places the greatest value on the local church. It would seem obvious, that if it is precious to Him, then it should be precious to us. Sadly, many believers in North America do not share this view. In our culture, many choose other activities at the expense of the local church. It may be leisure, the pursuit of things, or just that the assembly is not the highest priority. Their children may participate in sports, dance, or other activities that interfere with meeting times. If these situations persist, it becomes difficult to convince children that their fellowship is to be a priority in their lives.

Closely related to the lack of commitment is a lack of consistency. All of us have lapses in our lives when we are not all that we should be. Some believers have large gaps or serious periods of inconsistency. Our children will see through the facade, when we say one thing but our behavior says something else. The Lord calls for perseverance and faithfulness in our lives and this type of consistency will speak to our children. Certainly, this should apply to our “church life” so that our children see that the local assembly is important to us. As well, consistency in our own devotional lives, and the priority of the Word and prayer in our homes shows what we value.

This is not an exhaustive list but from my experience, the above can take their toll. Even in homes where none of these happens, we know of children who have abandoned the faith and/or their local fellowship for a number of reasons. In parenting, some things are outside of our control but this list has activities we can control. It comes down to priorities, passion, and perseverance on our part.

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Dressed for the Occasion

In the book of Revelation there is an impressive number of references to clothing which encompasses a variety of Greek words. Often in Scripture, the believer’s garment represents righteous works done in faithful obedience to God (e.g., Rev 16:15; 19:8).

For the sake of brevity, we will examine a few of the verses in Revelation which mention the himation, an outer garment or cloak that was typically woven from wool or linen. The himation was put on over the chiton, the inner tunic, and was worn by Jews and Greeks alike. The Hebrew style and the Greek style were virtually indistinguishable. When himation occurs in the plural, it can refer to both the outer and the inner garment.

Three occurrences of himation are found in Revelation 3, the second half of Jesus’ seven letters to the churches in Asia Minor.

Sardis

Jesus told the church at Sardis, “You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments [himatia]; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy” (Rev 3:4).

Some believers in Sardis had remained faithful to Christ, even in the midst of a church which He had called “dead.” Jesus promised that those who overcome “shall be clothed in white garments [himatiois], and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels” (Rev 3:5).

It quickly becomes evident that the himatia mentioned here are much more than physical garments; they also refer to lifestyle choices and deeds. Each believer must take care to guard his own “garments,” and for those who do, there is the promise of great reward.

Laodicea

We find the third occurrence in Jesus’ letter to Laodicea: “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments [himatia], that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed…” (v 18a).

Jesus gave them a list of items they needed to purchase from Him in order to change their status. The white garments Jesus mentioned in v 18 represent the “righteous acts of the saints” (see Rev 19:8). At the time of this letter, the Laodicean church had no righteous acts to their account.

Apart from Christ, our lives will not produce righteous acts worthy of God’s approval. In encouraging the believers in Rome to “put on Christ” (see Rom 13:14), the Apostle Paul used a word regularly employed to describe putting on a garment. We must “put on Christ” if we want to live lives that produce works pleasing to God. Jesus and His Word are the only sources from which God-approved works flow; they do not flow from self, a lesson the Laodiceans badly needed to learn.

The Greek word translated “nakedness” in Rev 3:18 can mean the state of being completely stripped of all clothing, or it can simply refer to the lack of a himation. Whether the word here refers to complete nakedness or merely to the lack of an outer garment (and thus, a lack of righteous acts), it is clear that shame is a real possibility when a believer is assessed by the Lord.

He Who Watches

A significant use of himation is found in Rev 16:15b: “Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments [himatia], lest he walk naked and they see his shame.”

The Greek word translated watches refers to spiritual alertness and vigilance, while keeps denotes both observing and preserving.

In other words, it is the believer’s responsibility to take care that his works are pleasing to the Lord. Good and godly works do not occur automatically in the believer. If they did, the Bible would skip everything between Acts and Revelation.

Note that vigilance leads to blessing, but a lack of vigilance leads to shame (see also 1 John 2:28). A believer who is not watchful is in danger of not producing works pleasing to God (hence, the nakedness referred to here), and therefore not reigning with Christ in the Kingdom. This is more evidence that there are various degrees of rewards and experience for believers in the life to come.

Jesus’ Garments

Just as our himatia will reflect our righteous deeds, so, too, does the Lord Jesus’ himation reflect His.

When Jesus returns to earth at the end of the Tribulation, His clothing is noteworthy: “He was clothed with a robe [himation] dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God” (Rev 19:13).

Jesus’ himation is dipped in blood, not His own, but that of His enemies (see, e.g., Isa 34:1-8; 63:1-6; Mic 2:12-13; Hab 3:12-16). Jesus’ himation commemorates His righteous works. He has acted righteously as Avenger of Israel and Conqueror of God’s enemies. His himation will be inscribed with the title “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Rev 19:16). Operation Footstool will be accomplished at last!

Getting Dressed for the Occasion

A cursory survey of clothing mentioned in Revelation demonstrates the importance of the topic, especially as it relates to the himation representing righteous acts approved by God. Each believer is responsible for the condition of his himation, and no believer can accomplish anything without Christ: “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).

It is beneficial to remember that “we must all appear before the Judgment Seat [Bema] of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor 5:10).

Are you planning now what you will wear at the Bema? Do you need to update your spiritual wardrobe?

First published in Grace in Focus, May 2018,
used with permission.

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2018
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Priorities in Preaching

That God has ordained and blessed the world through preaching should be obvious. Scripture records the spiritual advances that have been made through the preaching of God’s Word1. In addition we are specifically exhorted to “Preach the Word”2. It follows therefore that we should encourage preaching to be done in the finest way possible.

There are many helpful books giving instruction on the preparation and delivery of messages. These are useful and teach something to preachers of any age. However, preaching should not be thought of as merely an exercise in public speaking. While it may share some characteristics of the orator or public speaker, true preaching of the Word of God has a high spiritual content and is dependent not on natural ability but on spiritual gift bestowed through the Holy Spirit.

In light of that we can identify characteristics of the working of the Holy Spirit in public preaching. Here are some that should mark every message.

Exaltation of Christ

The ministry of the Holy Spirit is to communicate Christ. When a man preaches he should always give Christ His rightful place – the highest. This has many immediate benefits in the message.

Firstly, He should always be spoken of with honor and respect and held high in our language. “God has highly exalted Him”3 and so should we.

Secondly, truth about Christ should resonate with every believer. Being “in Christ” means we respond to things about Him. This will truly feed believers. Consider for example the account in Luke 24:13-35. Luke records, “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself.”4 They said “Did not our hearts burn within us, while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the scriptures?”5 We want a “heart burning” ministry in preaching.

Thirdly, exalting Christ means we do not exalt ourselves. Many a message is ruined when a preacher includes too much of himself and makes himself the hero of every story. A true preacher is not interested in what people are thinking about him; a true preacher is interested in what people are thinking about Him.

Edify Believers

The object of the exercise of gift is to build up believers. Not everything is edifying. It is possible for preachers to stir up controversy over issues that have little if any, practical spiritual benefit. Paul warned against “endless genealogies, which minister questions rather than godly edifying.”6 We are not guaranteed an answer to every question we put forth, and when there is no clear answer from scripture, we should remain silent on the subject. Even when the apostles wrote to correct believers on their spiritual deficiencies, there was always a heavy dose of building up in the process. There is a way to correct without tearing down.

Evangelize the Lost

In almost every gathering of the assembly, it is likely that unbelievers will be present. Children or others who are showing interest may not know the Lord. In the process of expounding scripture, elements of the gospel should be present. It is always wise, if even for a few minutes, to pause and bring up some issue of the gospel for people to think about. You never know who is listening. Preaching the gospel is also a help to believers. It too, is part of the “apostles’ doctrine” that the early church steadfastly continued in7. Make every effort to evangelize the lost.

Expound Scripture

The scripture has its own supernatural power to change both believer and unbeliever alike. It should be a great relief to a young preacher to realize he does not have to be clever or knowledgeable in himself, but simply preach the Word. Let the Bible speak for itself in its own way of explaining things. We cannot improve on God’s Word. It has its own ability to interact with the mind and heart quite apart from what we say. Paul exhorted Timothy to “…give attendance to reading”8 that is, the public reading of scripture. Poor preaching is usually the result of insufficient time spent thinking and meditating on scripture. Again, Paul tells us, “Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.”9 If you think about the preachers you like and have found them to be helpful, you will notice that they preach messages that are heavily immersed in scripture.

Energized by the Holy Spirit

The preacher relies on the work of the Holy Spirit to bring power to the message. While there is a human side in study, prayer and preparation, there is also the divine side of the power of the Holy Spirit. Peter writes, “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles [mouthpiece] of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be gloried through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”10

The Spirit’s chief ministry is the communication of God’s Word and He will take that Word and use it in people’s lives. Praying preachers and prayed-for preachers will know much of the Spirit’s power.

Spiritual gift shows itself in different ways with different preachers. There is not a uniform way to preach. Each has his own gift. However, there are some common elements. We would know more power and effect in preaching if these priorities for preaching were found in every message. May the Lord help us to “Preach the Word.”

Endnotes
1. Nehemiah 8:7-12
2. 2 Timothy 4:2
3. Philippians 2:9
4. Luke 24:27
5. Luke 24:32
6. 1 Timothy 1:4
7. Acts 2:42
8. 1 Timothy 4:13
9. 1 Timothy 4:15, 16
10. 1 Peter 4:10, 11

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2018
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According to Thy Word: The Birth of Christ

I love Christmas! I especially like reconnecting with family and friends via their Christmas letters to find out how their year has been. I also enjoy reading the biblical account of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ and the events surrounding it: first, as prophesied in Genesis (3:15; 49:10); second, as foretold by the Hebrew prophets (Isa. 7:14; 9:6; Dan. 7:13; Mic. 5:2; Ps. 40:6-8; cf. Heb. 10:5-9; Mal. 4:2); third, as recorded in the gospels (Mt. 1-2; Lk. 1-2; Jn. 1:1-14); and finally, the exposition of His incarnation in the epistles (Rom. 1:1-4; Gal. 4:4-5; Phil. 2:5-11; 1 Jn. 4:9).

A number of years ago in Israel, I was teaching the physical settings of the Bible. We visited a shepherd’s field, a threshing floor, Herod the Great’s weekend retreat at the Herodium, and finally the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. At each stop, we discussed the biblical accounts connected with the birth of the Lord Jesus and how the history, geography, and culture impacted the biblical text.

Here are some important facts surrounding the birth of our Lord that need to be remembered at this time of year when so many are celebrating His birth:

First, the Bible does not give a specific date as to when the Lord Jesus was born. It is known that He was born during the reign of Herod the Great who died in the spring of 4 B.C. (Mt. 2:1). Herod had an indication from the wise men when Christ was born because he had all the male children of Bethlehem, two years old and under, killed (Mt. 2:16).

At His birth the shepherds were with their flocks in the fields (Lk. 2:8). In the winter months, the shepherds stay out in the Judean desert, but in the late spring the farmers want the shepherds to bring their sheep into their harvested barley fields around Bethlehem to eat the stubble off the ground and leave their excrement on the field for fertilizer. The earliest recorded date for the birth of the Lord Jesus in church history is by Clement of Alexandria (2nd century AD) who gives the date as May 14, 6 B.C. On the Hebrew calendar that date was Shavuot (Pentecost), the beginning of the wheat harvest, late spring.

Second, Mary and Joseph probably arrived in Bethlehem a few weeks prior to the birth of the Lord Jesus. Luke 2:4 assumes their arrival, because verse 6 says, “While they were there …”

Third, the word translated “inn” was part of a private house (Lk. 2:7). It is used only one other time in the New Testament (Lk. 22:11-12) and there it is translated “guest chamber.” It is used to describe a large, furnished upper room. A different word like a caravan station, is used in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:44). Apparently, the guest chamber was occupied so Joseph decided to go to the stable.

Fourth, the stable was in the house. Typical houses, like in Bethlehem, would be one room houses with a guest chamber (Mt. 5:15). The one room would be used for domestic affairs, cooking and eating during the day and sleeping at night. Underneath the room was the stable where the animals were kept at night (Lk. 13:15). In the winter months they provided warmth for the house and they were also the burglar alarm if somebody tried to sneak into the house.

Fifth, when Mary laid the baby Jesus in a manger, it was most likely made of stone and not wood. In the 1960’s a stone manger from the Early Roman period (first-century) was excavated at Gibeah of Saul, nine miles north of Bethlehem.

Sixth, the Bible does not say how many wise men there were. We assume there were three because there were three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but no number is given.

Seventh, it was probably at least two months to a year after His birth. Matthew 2:1 says the wise men came “after the birth” but does not say how long. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus is called a “young child” six times (2:8-15), but not a babe like in Luke’s gospel. When Mary goes to the Temple for the ritual of purification after the birth of her firstborn, she offers two turtle doves (Lk. 2:22-24), the offering of the poor (Lev. 12:8). If the wise men had arrived at the birth of the Lord Jesus, Mary would have been obligated to offer a lamb and a turtledove (Lev. 12:6) because she would have been well-to-do with the gold from the wise men.

Life Lessons to be Learned

The most important Christmas message is this: a Savior was born in Bethlehem (Lk. 2:11). Later He died on Calvary’s Cross and rose from the dead. He was called Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins (Mt. 1:21). Have you trusted Him as your Savior?

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Report: Story Book Lodge Christian Camp, Minnesota, USA

“The Lord’s work, done in the Lord’s way, in the Lord’s time will have the Lord’s supply.” This was the guiding light of Story Book Lodge Christian Camp’s founding director. Ben Tuininga, a recent graduate of Wheaton College was like so many other graduates of Bible colleges. Idealistic and a little discouraged, Ben was unsure of his life’s direction but told the Lord that whatever direction He led, as long as the Lord supplied his needs, he would be occupied with sharing the gospel.

With a friend, he traveled from place to place preaching. Neither he nor his friend were eloquent speakers, but one by one, souls were saved. At the Oak Hills Fellowship camp ground near Bemidji, MN, he met a young woman with a passion to serve the Lord. He asked her to marry him. She was taken aback. Marriage had not been on her agenda. After some soul-searching prayer, Margaret “Peggy” McPhee agreed. After their marriage, she was known by her middle name “Jean.” In 1948 Ben and Jean agreed to host a new Bible camp at Story Book Lodge, a small resort on the Iron Range of Minnesota. Then both their names were permanently changed. He became Uncle Ben and she was now Aunt Jean.

Story Book Lodge was started by Elizabeth Spriestersbach, a high school Home-Ec teacher who had endless energy, and a heart for the needy. In 1929, she purchased a 45-acre plot on Cedar Island Lake for $1,700. The land came with one 10’ by 12’ hunting shack on it. Year by year, with the help of many unemployed men, cabins were built with story book themes; the Three Bears, the Pumpkin, the Bird House, the Farm House, the Shoe, Green Gables, Noah’s Ark, and the Dream House. She transformed the hunting shack into a lodge, put in a stone fireplace, and rented the cabins out to vacationers.

In 1941, she attended a tent meeting where a Scotsman named Neil Fraser was preaching. Elizabeth learned that all her good works were of no use before a righteous God. At age 44, she took the Lord Jesus as her personal Saviour and immediately her good works took a new direction. She now had a vision to turn her little resort into a Bible camp for boys and girls.

The first camp was for one week in the summer of 1948, with eleven campers. Elizabeth (Aunt Elizabeth), was the cook, Aunt Jean was the life guard, counselor, hand crafter, and story teller. Uncle Ben was the camp director, counselor and Bible teacher. No fees were charged and several came to Christ. Elizabeth paid the total cost of $137. During the 1950’s, the camps eventually expanded to the whole summer, with each camp for two weeks. In 1954, a brand-new ranch style house became Elizabeth’s home and her basement had enough tables for the camp’s capacity of 45 people. The Ranch House had running water. What a luxury! Prior to this, all the dishes were washed outside, rain or shine.

Today at Story Book Lodge there are nine one-week camps and one two-week camp, each with around 110 campers and over fifty staff. Besides a large kitchen, dining hall, and story book themed cabins, there’s a gymnasium, chapel, playground, and two volleyball courts. The camp has three resident staff families and one bachelor caretaker.

It takes lots of volunteers, all with a spirit of humility and love to make Story Book work: the camp board, resident staff, volunteer summer staff, and passionate speakers with a gift to communicate the gospel to rambunctious kids of every background. And one more rather mundane thing – money. We had a man several years back who was so impressed with how Story Book operated; that he felt it necessary that we put in the camp’s official bylaws that we would never charge a fee for any of our camps, and that we would never make any solicitation for funds. “Story Book should always be an example to all of the Lord’s provision,” he said. But though it is the Lord who supplies, many of the Lord’s servants sacrificially give to make this principle work out.

We’ve had more kids sign up for camp this past summer than we have ever had before. We are thankful that year after year kids have not lost their enthusiasm for coming to Story Book, having been told stories by their parents, grandparents and great grandparents who also attended the camp. But every year we have a few campers who haven’t the slightest inkling of the gospel. This past summer a girl asked her counselor, “Why are they always saying ‘Jesus Christ?’ Isn’t that a bad word?”

During our teen camp this past summer we had a couple of foreign exchange students from Italy and Austria. When the Italian student with long dreadlocks but a soft heart heard the gospel message, his heart was immediately touched. After asking lots of questions, he made his decision for Christ. His gentleness was very charismatic and he was soon encouraging others to also respond to the message of salvation.

A young man came from Texas, whose Christian mother had flown him up in a last-ditch effort to save him from a life spiraling into violence and despair. Soon a cabin mate challenged him to a fight. He was ready to go home. He called his brother who persuaded him to stick it out. Over the two weeks, the gospel message got through to him. When he left Story Book, he was thinking, “I’m scared to death to get on that plane, I know I’m not yet ready to die.” Later, while at a party he knew he had to get away. He wandered about thinking and considering, before praying for salvation. He told his mom, his mom who he had heard praying for him in the wee hours; his mom who had felt led to send him to a camp that was over a thousand miles away from their home.

The daily camp schedule has remained the same from the beginning: two chapel meetings; a devotional after every meal; and an evening campfire with a story, sports report, and an enthusiastic time of singing when kids shout and listen so they can hear their echo across the lake. The day concludes with an earnest plea for campers to respond to the gospel.

So, every year we have teenagers who come to Story Book and can’t believe it – “this is like some place from an outer planet.” But every year many of those same kids respond to the message they hear at Story Book, a message much older than Story Book.

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Why do some Christians stop “going to church”?

Some quit because they were never saved (1 Jn. 2:19). However, when genuine believers depart, relational problems are often the root cause. Yet leaving one’s assembly should be the last option. If we must leave, it’s important to find another local church as soon as possible. Going it alone is not a viable option. In the early church, the believers were continually gathering together in His Name (Acts 2:42-44; 4:31; 12:12; 14:27; 20:7), and the epistles clearly exhort us to meet together with Him (Rom. 12:3-8; Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Cor. 11:18; 14:1-40; 16:1-2; 1 Tim. 3:1-15; Heb. 10:23-25). Every believer is a member of Christ’s body (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; 12:12-27; Eph. 1:23) and we express our unity (Eph. 4:4) by gathering together in local churches.

Recently, a US survey omitted “to serve” as one of the reasons to attend church.1 This was very revealing. If we attend a local fellowship only to receive, it becomes easy to leave when things don’t go our way. Though we don’t want to minimize legitimate hurts, we must all take heed that we do not become too self-focused. Instead, we need a Christ-focused mindset with a sacrificial desire to build up His body. Remember, when we gather together with other believers we are also gathering together unto Him (Mt. 18:20). He is in our midst and must have the pre-eminence. Hebrews 10:25 exhorts us to not “forsake the assembling of ourselves together.” To desert shows disloyalty to Christ, shirks our responsibility to other believers, and stunts our spiritual growth. If one loses an arm, they will learn to function without it. Yet, the detached arm will stop growing and begin to decay. Similarly, the local church will still function without the detached believer but would be much better with them and their unique gifts. However, the ones who remove themselves cannot thrive spiritually.

Ephesians 4 reveals the link between the local church and spiritual growth – both personal and corporate. First, everyone is unique and by God’s grace can make a distinct contribution to the body’s growth (vv. 7, 16). Second, it is in the local church that we are equipped or prepared for ministry (v. 12). It is where one discovers and develops their spiritual gifts for fruitful service. Third, it is here where we fulfill ministry’s purpose – to promote the spiritual growth of our brothers and sisters (v. 12). Fourth, as we are built up, we continue to mature in doctrine and Christlikeness (v. 13). As the apostle’s doctrine is taught, it nourishes, encourages, and unifies us. This stimulates us to be doers of the word, exemplifying Christ’s loving concern for each believer. Fifth, the truth is proclaimed in an atmosphere of love (vv. 15-16). When one is hurting, there is opportunity to provide comfort. When one needs material help there is opportunity to share. When one requires guidance, there is opportunity to provide wisdom from God’s Word. Finally, there is protection in the local assembly from unscrupulous false teachers (v. 14). Those who say they watch church on TV or online open themselves up to deception. Since the devil is a master deceiver, fellowshipping in a sound bible believing church provides protection from false teaching.

Getting along in God’s family takes love, submission, and hard work. Christ has brought together wide-ranging believers from many nations: Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, married and single, young and old, and republican and democrat. We may have differing interests and opinions but what unifies us is Christ. Since the elders are accountable to God for the flock, if one suggests an idea to them and they say no, let’s respect their decision and pray for them. If someone irritates us, pray for them. Publicly commend others, but when someone wrongs us, talk to them privately. As an artisan once told me, “if you’re not satisfied, tell me, if you are, tell others.” Let’s not criticize other believers but instead be an example to them “in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). If you are presently sitting at home, it’s time to start growing again in a local church.

Endnotes:
1. www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/july/church-attendance-top-reasons-go-or-stay-home-pew.html
If you have a question for this column please submit it to gferrier@cornerstonemagazine.org