universal love

Universal Love of God

A guest post by Nic Bryson

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

universal loveI’ve wondered how the world can be so prejudiced. We as humans look on the outside but God looks on the inside.

We look at the color of a person’s skin, their disabilities, or the way they are dressed. At the same time God is looking at the person that is on the inside and how caring and compassionate they are.

I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16). In this scripture, again, God is saying that no one is less equal or inferior but that we are all the same.

Another good reference is, “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile–the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him” (Romans 10:12). Here again He is saying that He cares not about race.

Back in the Bible times there was prejudice also, it’s not just a recent thing in the past few centuries. The Jews and the Gentiles are just one example of it.

The Jews were the “superior” race (because they were God’s chosen people), and the Gentiles were “inferior.” Although when Christ came and preached the word to everyone, like these scriptures say, He did not look on the outside of the people He was preaching to, but on the person.

We think that no one is prejudice anymore, but just the other night my family and I sat down to watch a video that my father brought home.

It was about two men, who worked together side by side everyday, who were taken by a news crew from 20/20 to test the different responses of people depending on the color of skin.

They took them to the same places and each of them did the same things as the other. Yet, they still received different responses, all of them favoring the man whose skin was lighter.

In the same way, it happens everyday around us  and we say that people are not like that anymore, but they are. I just hope that one day we will be able to say it does not happen and that statement be completely true.

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finish line

Fighting the Good Fight

A guest post by Randy Teller

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (II Timothy 4:7-8).

finish line

Living the Christian life is the best fight we will be in.

Paul uses metaphors throughout his letters to Timothy, talking about athletes, training, winning, and awards. I’m sure this was a common subject in New Testament times because of Olympic games, just as it is common today.

Our life is a battle against sin and Satan. Everyday we must arm ourselves with the tools of battle (Ephesians 6:13-18). Just as an athlete must train regularly to compete for their gold medal, we, too, must train regularly to compete for our gold medal, Heaven.

As it is with all types of training, you must constantly push yourself to do better than the day before. When we become complacent with our spiritual lives we are no longer growing closer to God.

Do you pray?

Can you pray a little more?

Do you give?

Can you give a little more?

Do you serve others?

Can you serve a little more?

Physical training is important for physical well being and spiritual training is important for spiritual well being (I Timothy 4:8).

As we train and develop our bodies for this contest, it is also normal to train longer and harder than the actual race or contest. A wrestling match is only 6 minutes long. A wrestler will train for hours every day to prepare for those few minutes.

He does it for one reason: to go the distance.

It does no good to be ahead, only to stop short of the finish line. There is little respect for the athlete who is ahead the entire race only to quit just before the end of the race.

We are in that type of event. It is of no value to lead a spiritual life only to fall away just before reaching the finish line…Heaven.

The Christian’s race is different because it doesn’t matter when you start; just make sure you finish the race. There are many runners in a long distance race and while winning it is a special privilege, finishing the race is the mark of true character (Philippians 3:13-14).

Yes, physical and spiritual training are both vitally important. However, as with all contests, there are rules and regulations that must be followed. This ensures that all contestants will be judged fairly.

Personally, I cannot tell the difference between a double toe loop and a double axel. To the judge it is as obvious as night and day.

As Christians, we, too, have a judge, but we have two advantages.

First, our judge is honest and righteous at all times.

Second, if we don’t get it right the first time, we can ask for and receive a second chance; God does give us rules to live by each day (II Timothy 2:5).

The apostle Paul was a spiritual champion. It is not to say he had a perfect, easy life (II Corinthians 11:23-27). He did, however, have a most precious goal in sight: the crown of righteousness, the gift of eternal life in Heaven.

In his last days he was at peace because of three things: he had fought the fight, finished the race, and had kept the faith.

May God bless you with the desire and ability to say the same.

Me? A Wrestler?

A guest post by Vicki and Bill Tyner

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).

The idea of such combat is objectionable to most of us, but wait a minute. What does the Scripture say? Read the above Scripture again. There is bound to be a lesson in there for us.

First, the danger against which a Christian wrestles is not of “this world.” The Christian knows that this world “lies in wickedness” (I John 5:18). Such information should arm us against its encroachments on our lives in Christ.

Yet our conflict arises from forces in league with the world. It may be even within ourselves or our closest associates and like the demons of Gadara, they are many.

Then we must remember they are “mighty.” A little casual Bible reading will illustrate how they have brought down the mighty, strong men have been overthrown. Adam and Eve in the absence of other evil forces were overthrown.

Our enemy is invisible. If he was flesh and blood we could escape him, but like pestilence he is the unseen enemy whose strength comes from his craftiness, pictured in the Bible as the “wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11), or the “beguiling” of the serpent.

We are warned of Satan’s “devices” for as the Bible says, he was a murderer from the beginning.

Like Pharaoh pursuing the children of Israel, he will follow us and that is why we need the protection afforded by the armor of God, in Paul’s further illustration in Ephesians 6. The figures of speech may seem a little confusing, but the message is clear:

We are to be wrestlers!

Our Main Objective in Life

A guest post written by Danni C. DeVera (Philippines)

I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

Paul illustrated his main objective in life by the athletic contests of the day. The runner had only one thing in mind – to win the race, and receive the crown.

Maybe, Paul liked sports and that is why he uses the runner as an example. Paul must have been concerned with his physical health and wanted to be physically fit in order to do the work of the Lord.

Christians must have this kind of objective in life. We are to set our mind on what is our priority in life (Matthew 8:33).

Paul had an attitude to do one thing at a time, and this one thing was the only one he had in mind to do (Philippians 3:13).

Paul reaches forth with strong exertions like a runner in the race. He was running in this world in order to reach heaven for eternal life. In reaching forth, he forgot what was behind, reaching out to what was ahead.

All opportunities lie before us, and we must go onward no matter what, to obtain our objective in life – eternal life. We all need to go forward because God wants us to (II Peter 3:18).

Our main objective must be to press toward the mark. We should not run outside the line, nor stay off the course that we may not be disqualified.

Our run must not be hindered by any obstacles (trials, suffering, persecutions, etc). In running for our goal, we need to lay aside all excess weight – sins. We must always abide in the doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ (II John 9). in order to receive the crown of life.

If we fail to observe the rules of the race we will not reach the finish line. Like Paul, we must always keep our eyes on our objective, which is our Lord Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2).

If we do not keep the goal in view, we will not know the direction we are running. We must, like Paul, keep our main objective in life.

Faith

A guest post written by Anita Bontjes

For we walk by faith, not by sight” (II Corinthians 5:7, NKJV).

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

“By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3).

“By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, and was not found, because God had taken him, for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was gong. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:5-10).

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).

“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22).

The Significance of Baptism

Much water

“Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” (Romans 6:3, NKJV).

Baptism is described variously in Scripture. It is called “the adoption of grace,” “the washing of regeneration,” “the new birth of water and the Spirit.”

In Romans 6, Paul says that “as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death.” This means that through baptism, the saving benefits of Christ’s death become yours (i.e. forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation).

In baptism you share in the death of Jesus Christ in this saving way, so that His merit becomes yours. Then, as “Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:1-11).

Ask God to help you die daily to sin, and to rise spiritually in newness of life through faith and union with the living Christ.

“…The churches of Christ greet you…” (Romans 16:16, NKJV), “…serving together as God directs…” (Philippians 1:27).

Christian, Live Like This! — Happy Are the Persecuted

Guest Post Author: David Swanger, Outreach and Involvement Minister (Hendersonville church of Christ ~ Hendersonville, Tennessee)

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:10).

Jesus ends the beatitudes by saying, “Blessed are those persecuted, reviled, and spoken against.” Would anyone care to get in “the blessed line” after hearing that?

Most of us prefer popularity, praise, and prosperity over persecution. Certainly applause is more appealing than abuse, and we’d much rather have one’s support than be slandered.

From a Christian perspective, persecution isn’t that hard to evade. One needs only to live as the world lives and by default approve of its standards, or lack thereof; simply engage with the world by using its language, adopting its practices, and enjoying its entertainment.

Furthermore, never confront any sin or engage a sinner in a discussion of his eternal destiny. Never, ever suggest that Christ is the only way and any other religious “system” is a lie. If questioned, lie about your convictions (which you don’t have) and never publicly take a stand for God or Biblical truths.

Could it be that we suffer so little persecution because we have don just that?

Truth be told, our lives are just not that different form the world. Surveys repeatedly reveal that professing Christians do not live that differently from the world in that their stated faith has had little impact on how they live their daily lives.

While they profess faith and attend services, most tend to watch the same movies and TV programs, listen to the same music, dress and talk the same, and pursue the same goals.

The divorce rate among Christians is almost as high as that of the world, as are the rates of school cheating, teens lying to parents, alcohol use, and premarital sex.

We want to point to the world and blame it for the change in our own behavior. In our hearts we know that isn’t the problem.

The fact is we have lowered our personal standards for righteous living. While our standards have changed, God’s standards for righteous living have not. Personal holiness is still part of the required curriculum for following Christ.

Followers of Christ have been called t olive righteous lives. In the context of this study, we have been called to live a beatitude kind of life.

Here is the hard reality of such a life: Anyone who lives out the first seven beatitudes is guaranteed at some point to experience the eighth.

The word for “persecuted” (dioko) means to harass or to treat in an evil way. The word for “revile” (oneidizo) means to abuse with vile, vicious, mocking words. It is the word used by the thieves in Matthew 27:44 who “heaped insults” on Jesus. The phrase “falsely say all kinds of evil against you” means to slander by stating things that are not true.

Jesus was clear in that one who chose to follow Him and live by His standards would encounter opposition and persecution.

He spoke of carrying a cross and counting the cost (Luke 14:27-28). He made it clear to His disciples that just as He had been persecuted, they would experience a similar fate (John 15:20).

Paul echoed that same truth often with such words as, “All who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (II Timothy 3:12).

The early Christians were persecuted horribly. Christians were flung to the lions, wrapped in pitch and burned, sewed in animal skins and torn to death by hunting dogs, tortured on racks, burned to death by molten iron being poured over them, body parts cut off and roasted before them, and many other such horrific acts of torture.

They were accused of eating each other, committing immorality, participating in orgies, setting fires to cities, being revolutionaries, inciting political unrest, and breaking up families.

When Paul wrote, “For to you it is given in behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29), those were far more than words on paper to those maligned and persecuted Christians living in Philippi.

Those called to bring peace had discovered the price for such, and that price was often persecution and death.

It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote, “When a man encounters Jesus, he will do one of two things. Either he must die, or he must put Christ to death.” The question each must face is which of those two we have done.

A beatitude kind of life s a death wish.

Bankrupt in spirit, broken with grief, submissive to God’s leading, living with an insatiable desire for righteousness, sharing the mercy received, seeking purity in everything they do, and sharing the message of peace, one finds himself totally committed to living a Christ-centered, God-honoring, kingdom-focused, self-denying life.

One also finds himself at odds with a sinful, selfish, self-indulgent world. Every virtue stated in the beatitudes is at odds with the world of which we are a part. A broken spirit stands in stark contrast to the proud, self-promoting world in which we live.

Mourning sin certainly creates issues in our “I’m okay, you’re okay” culture. Submission to and a hunger for God is a foreign concept in our selfish, self-centered world.

One who lives a life of mercy and purity while promoting peace through a relationship with Christ will find himself swimming in unfamiliar, uncomfortable, hostile waters.

I want to tell you that persecution is something you read about in the Bible and something that no longer happens. The reality is there were over a quarter million individuals killed last year because of their faith in Christ throughout the world.

While the vast majority is in other countries, one has to have his head in the sand to fail to see the constant progression of opposition to Christianity in our own country. In 2012 there were 115 incidents of church-related violence reported, 63 of which resulted in death.

When we think about violent opposition to people of faith, we are reminded of Columbine a few years back when Cassie Bernall was asked, “Do you believe in God?” and when she answered “Yes,” she was shot. Rachel Scott, a young lady known for her faith, was also killed.

Where the opposition to and persecution of Christianity is headed is anyone’s guess, but at present things are not getting better but worse.

How is one to respond to persecution?

Biblically, one needs to understand that persecution can serve a good purpose, a sit forces us to look heavenward, take stock of what we believe and are committed to, strengthens our faith, and encourages others who may endure a similar fate.

To handle persecution in a God-honoring way, I would suggest that you:

(1) Recognize the source. Ephesians 6:12 tells us that we will always be in a battle with the “forces of evil.”

(2) Refuse to retaliate. Romasn 12:17-19 tells us that vengeance is not a part of the Christian’s job description. Vengeance belongs to God.

(3) Respond positively. If you are always trying to get even, you will never get ahead. Romans 12:21 tells us to overcome evil with good.

(4) Reflect on God’s will. David in Psalm 37:7-9 reminds us to “rest in the Lord and wait patiently on Him.”

Jesus never preached a prosperity gospel. His final promise in the beatitudes was a promise of persecution for those who lived out those qualities listed before.

God’s greatest were persecuted. That will never change. How are you doing?

This article was written by David Swanger. David currently serves as the Outreach and Involvement Minister at the Hendersonville church of Christ in Hendersonville, Tennessee. If you would like more information about heaven, happiness, or how to be saved, please be sure to check out www.alivewithchrist.com.