Monday, December 17, 2012

The Kids in Newtown

Twas' 11 days before Christmas, around 9:38
when 20 beautiful children stormed through heaven's gate.

Their smiles were contagious, their laughter filled the air.
They could hardly believe all the beauty they saw there.

They were filled with such joy, they didn't know what to say.
They remembered nothing of what had happened earlier that day.

"Where are we?" asked a little girl, as quiet as a mouse.

"This is heaven." declared a small boy. "We're spending Christmas at God's house."

When what to their wondering eyes did appear,
but Jesus, their Savior, the children gathered near.

He looked at them and smiled, and they smiled just the same.
Then He opened His arms and He called them by name.

And in that moment was joy that only heaven can bring,
those children all flew into the arms of their King.
And as they lingered in the warmth of His embrace,
one small girl turned and looked at Jesus' face.

And as if He could read all the questions she had
He gently whispered to her, "I'll take care of mom and dad."

Then He looked down on earth, the world far below
He saw all of the hurt, the sorrow, and woe

Then He closed His eyes and He outstretched His hand,
"Let My power and presence re-enter this land!"

Then He and the children stood up without a sound.
"Come now my children, let me show you around."

Excitement filled the space, some skipped and some ran.
All displaying enthusiasm that only a small child can.

And I heard Him proclaim as He walked out of sight,
"In the midst of this darkness, I am still the light."


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What is the Best Study Bible?

If you're looking for a great study Bible for yourself or as a gift to someone else, I would suggest one of these:

~Life Application Study Bible (in the NIV or NLT)

~NIV Study Bible

The Life Application Study Bible is the one I recommend the most times because it's goal is to help you understand what you are reading and help you understand how it applies to your life and helps you today. It features over 10
,000 application notes and outstanding introductions on each book of the Bible that are written to help you understand the overall theme and emphasis of each book in the Bible. Also included are over 100 "character sketches" on some the most notable personalities of the Bible, in-text maps, charts and diagrams (in-text means on the same page with the chapter and verses you're reading) and helpful indexes to all the wonderful features of this Bible.

The NIV Study Bible has been around since the early 1980's and it has undergone some major revisions (the latest was in 2011 and is the one I would recommend, so look at the copyright page) that has placed it - in my opinion - back as one of the best study Bibles available today. It has lots of features including in-text maps and charts plus nearly 20,000 study (commentary) notes on the Biblical text. It also includes book introductions and outlines, archaeological information with full-color in-text pictures of ancient artifacts and cities.

Either of these study bibles are EXCELLENT and would be of great help to anyone wishing to understand God's word. I use both of these Bibles on a regular basis as they bring unique, helpful perspectives on each passage in the Bible. So if you're buying for yourself, you may want to splurge and get both!

Another thing I like about both of these study Bibles is that they remain theologically neutral. In other words, they have less theological bias than other study bibles. They try and present multiple views on "tricky" passages and allow the reader to formulate their own opinion. At times the study notes in the NIV Study Bible will, after presenting various views, will indicate perhaps what they believe is the most preferable view. The Life Application Bible does the same kind of thing, but then it will back up to the 30,000 foot level and draw out a principle that applies to everyone regardless of what view they take.

Well, I hope this info proves to be helpful for your studies!

Psalm 19:7-8 NIV
The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How Can I Pass My Faith Along to My Children?

Ephesians 6:4 (NIV)
"Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord."

How do we raise our children "in the training and instruction of the Lord"? There may be many answers to this question, but one that isn't often spoken about is perhaps the simplest. It goes back to a pattern of life in Jewish culture, when the primary way of passing along their faith was through stories. They called it "oral tradition." Very few people had access to printed copies (i.e. handwritten) of the scriptures and so the way they passed along their faith was by telling and re-telling the accounts of how God had moved among his people.

This brings questions to my own mind: what kind of stories about God's love, faithfulness, power, etc. am I telling my children? Not just the stories we find in the scriptures (though certainly these), but what has he done in my life? What has my experience been with God? How have I experienced his movement in my life? His deliverance? His help? His faithfulness? These are the stories that my children will remember and these are the stories that will perhaps be more personal and real to them.

So, let me encourage you to think about how God has moved in your life through your struggles and triumphs. Those are stories to which your children will be personally drawn. These stories will help build their faith and confidence in God; it is a story of their family, their parents.

This is important for parents, but it is also important for Grandparents. Children are mesmerized by the stories of their grandparents.

"We have heard it with our ears, O God; our ancestors have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago. With your hand you drove out the nations and planted our ancestors; you crushed the peoples and made our ancestors flourish. It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them." Psalm 44:1-4 (NIV)

So parents and grandparents, share your stories and in so doing you will inspire faith in the hearts of your children and grandchildren. Teach them of God's love, faithfulness, provision and power.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Why Read the Bible?

Hey friends! I want want to encourage you to read from the Bible today. A chapter from Psalms, Proverbs, Luke and Acts are good places to start.

The more you read, the more you are drawn to your Heavenly Father. The more you read from the Scriptures, the more you understand his ways and his desires for your life.

Don't give up reading, even when you don't understand everything. There is plenty you

will understand from Psalms, Proverbs, Luke and Acts - and plenty that will give you daily direction.

Reading the Scriptures daily is one of the most important and powerful things you can do to deepen your walk with God and shape your heart and mind after him. His Word reveals his desires and ways for your life. So, dive in today and see what he has to say to you.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Are Prosperity and the Favor of God the Same?

"Many, Lord, are asking, 'Who will bring us prosperity?' Let the light of your face shine on us. Fill my heart with joy when their grain and new wine abound." ~Psalm 4:6-7 (NIV)

It seems that one of the most asked question Americans have these days is "Who will bring us prosperity?" Now, before you get nervous about where this post is going let me be very clear: there is nothing wrong with being prosperous. Nothing at all.** The danger is when our first question becomes, "Who will bring us prosperity?"

The writer of this Psalm understood that to be a dangerous and misleading pursuit. He responds to the prevailing question by saying, in effect, "God may we understand that real wealth and true riches are not matters of financial prosperity." He points out that true prosperity is when we have God's affirmation, grace, and compassion being poured out upon us. The phrase "your face shine on us" was one that reminded Jewish people that God's favor, not his anger, rested upon them. His pleasure was with them. In other words, he took pleasure in them as a father and mother does their children. As he looked upon his people, his face beamed with pride. His favor was upon them. They had his approval.

I don't know about you, but given the choice between prosperity and God's approval ... well the decision isn't even close. The point is that those who have God's approval - his face shining on them - already have something of immeasurable value - indeed it is true prosperity and wealth! It is this "wealth" and favor that the Psalmist here is seeking and valuing.

He says that when everyone else is rejoicing in prosperity - the abundance of things (i.e. "grain and new wine") - that he would rather have a heart filled with joy that comes from God's favor and approval. As most are very aware, things don't bring the heart joy and contentment. Only God does that - and that is what the Psalmist is seeking. Prosperity and the favor of God are not the same. You can have one without the other.

And for those of you wondering ... yes, David wrote this Psalm. And, yes, David was wealthy - very wealthy. How encouraging it is to us that someone with great wealth knew it's fleeting benefits and instead sought the favor of God.

Wise words for us all.

**Many followers of God in the Bible were very prosperous (Abraham, Job, Solomon, Joseph of Arimathea, Cornelius, and Matthew, just to name a few). What the Scriptures do say about wealth is that it can be something that causes our hearts to stop trusting in God. The danger of wealth is in loving it and seeking it. As you read the Scriptures, you begin to understand that God is not against wealth; in fact, he blesses his people with wealth so that they can be generous to a needy world.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Reading, Desire and Understanding the Bible

If you have no desire to read the Bible it's probably because you aren't reading it. The discipline of reading Scripture produces the desire to read more. The more you read the Bible, the more you will understand what you read. The discipline comes first, the desire and understanding follow.

So ... dive in to reading each day. I suggest you begin by reading one chapter from each of of the following books each day. Try it for for 30 days and see what happens.

One chapter from Psalms
One chapter from Proverbs
One chapter from Luke
One chapter from Acts

This is a simple 15 minute plan that will produce results in your heart.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Does the Bible Tell Us How To Vote?

Here is a thought provoking article from Dr. Jack Cottrell, professor of theology at Cincinnati Christian University. He has five degrees including an MDiv from Westminster Theological Seminary and a PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary. I've posted his thoughts here without any editorial comment.


QUESTION:  Does the Bible tell us how to vote?

     The answer to this question is:  yes and no.  No, the Bible obviously does not give us the names of any candidates, nor any political parties.  Yes, the Bible does tell us what God wants presidents, senators, judges, commissioners, and other governmental leaders to do.  In other words, the Bible does not tell us for WHOM to vote, but it does tell us HOW to vote.  I will now expand on this by asking three questions.

First, is this even a proper question?  Some say no, because they think the Bible is only about “religious” stuff, such as Jesus, salvation, and the church.  And as everyone knows, we must never mix religion and politics!  But the right answer is yes, this is a proper question, because the Bible is a world view.  The Christian faith is not just about Jesus, salvation, the church, and heaven.  The Bible is about everything, beginning with creation (Genesis 1:1).  And it definitely has a lot to say about government.

What does the Bible say about government?  First, God has ordained or established government as such.  See Romans 13:1-2:  “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.  Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.”  This says that God has ordained that there shall be government, but it does not say that he has ordained any specific form of government (such as monarchy, or democracy).  Nor does he usually ordain or appoint specific governments.  Second, God has ordained government for a specific purpose.

This leads to our second main question, namely, what is the purpose of government?  Here we must examine two passages of Scripture:  The first is Romans 13:3-4:  “For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil.  Do you want to have no fear of authority?  Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good.  But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.”  The second is 1 Timothy 2:1-4:  “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.  This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

What do these passages teach?  This can be summed up in the key word, JUSTICE.  In this context “justice” means giving a person what he is due, or what he deserves.  As such, justice takes two forms.  First, there is PROTECTIVE justice, or the protection of the rights of individuals.  These include the following, which are part of living a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity:
  1. The right to LIVE.
  2. The right to live in FREEDOM:  freedom to pursue happiness, freedom to pursue our own way in life, freedom to serve God openly, freedom to work, freedom to own property as the result of our work.  Note:  this does not necessarily include what is called “economic justice.”  Also “economic justice does NOT require equality of ownership, but equality of opportunity.                  
  3. The right to live in freedom from FEAR:  fear that someone might take away these rights.
Government’s main job or purpose is to protect these rights.  This should be carefully noted:  the job of government is NOT to PROVIDE us with these rights; rights are something that already belong to us by nature.  Nor is it government’s job to PROVIDE us with all the things we have a right to.  Its job is simply to PROTECT our right to have them.  This protection is the only entitlement we have from the government; it is the only thing the government OWES us.

The second form of justice is PUNITIVE justice, or the punishment of evildoers.  (Here, “evildoers” means those who attempt to violate or deprive us of our rights).  Punishment (God’s own wrath and vengeance) is the means by which government protects our rights.  The application of swift, straightforward punishment to those who take away the rights of others is designed to instill fear in the hearts of evildoers, to deter or restrain their criminal attacks on others.

Here are some examples of how this works.  It is government’s job:
  1. To protect our right or freedom to WORK – not to prevent or discourage us from working.
  2. To protect our right or freedom to OWN PROPERTY – to protect us from thieves and to refrain from seizing one person’s property (money) just to give it to someone else.
  3. To protect our right or freedom to get a good education, to have good health care, and to serve God in good conscience (but not to provide us with these things).
  4. To protect us from all who would take away our rights and freedom, e.g., murderers, thieves, terrorists, invading armies.
This leads to the third question:  what does all this have to do with voting?  (Note: voting for government leaders is not an inherent aspect of good government.  It is a privilege we should be grateful for.)

We might ask first, how DO people decide how to vote?  How do they decide whom to vote for, or whom to vote against?  Here are some possible reasons for one’s choice:
  1. Party affiliation (“My family has always voted Democratic, so....”).
  2. Something personal:  looks, personality, wealth, color of skin, speaking ability, etc.
  3. Personal economic benefit:  How would this candidate affect my personal finances?
  4. General economy:  How would this candidate affect the economic health of our nation?
  5. Adherence to the Constitution:  Would the candidate follow it or flout it?
  6. Religious affiliation:  Whoever is a Christian.
NONE of these reasons should be our first consideration in making this decision.  How then SHOULD we decide to vote?  By applying this one main criterion:  which candidate will enforce God’s purpose for government?

Here is an analogy:  How would you choose a doctor, e.g., a heart surgeon?  What would be your main consideration?  The one who is the best looking?  The one who gives you stuff, like a telephone?  The one who is cheapest?  The one who is a Christian?  Or the one who knows how the heart is supposed to work, and who knows how to make it work properly?

The above criteria for deciding how to vote may sometimes be useful, but they can never be decisive.  Party affiliation?  There is too much inconsistency here.  Personal qualities?  These are generally irrelevant or even frivolous.  Personal economic benefit?  Can you say “selfish?”  What about the general economy?  This is important, but not decisive.  Some things are more important than money.  Adherence to the Constitution?  This is also important, but not decisive.  Christian or not?  This is always preferred, but it is not decisive.  Some Christians are really confused as to why God established government, while some non-Christians “get it.”

Thus the one basic, decisive criterion for deciding how to vote is this:  which candidate comes closest to the Biblical purpose for government?  Which candidate will do the best job of fighting for justice and freedom?  Which candidate will do the best job of protecting our rights?

(c) 2012 by Jack Cottrell

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Understanding the Bible

If you find the Bible difficult to understand, you are not alone. So what should a person do? Well, for starters, avoid reading the difficult parts and begin with the books that are easier to understand! And for a little kick start, here's a list of 32 (of 66) books that you may find easier to understand:

Old Testament
~Exodus 1-20
~1 Samuel
~2 Samuel

~1 Kings

New Testament
~1 Corinthians
~2 Corinthians
~1 Thessalonians
~1 Timothy
~2 Timothy
~1 Peter
~1 John

Need further clarification? You can't go wrong with Psalms and Proverbs in the Old Testament. I encourage people to read one chapter from each every day. They are quick reads.

For the New Testament, I would encourage you to read Luke & Acts (they are written by the same author and combined they make one seamless narrative of the life of Jesus and the early Church). Other quick, helpful reads from the New Testament would be Ephesians, 1 Thessalonians, James, and 1 Peter.

If you're looking for a GREAT study Bible, I would highly recommend the Life Application Study Bible, New Living Translation (NLT).

A book you may find helpful in learning to read and study the Bible is "Living by the Book" by Howard Hendricks.

Another one is "Talk Thru the Bible" by Wilkinson & Boa.

Hope these suggestions help you as you read the Bible.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ultrasounds are Invasive?

Hum... I just heard a pro-abortion advocate blast states where ultrasounds were mandatory prior to an abortion saying that the ultrasounds were "invasive and unwanted." Really? And abortion is not "invasive"? I guess we are to believe that abortion is not invasive as long as the baby is unwanted. Wow.

Isaiah 5:20 reads "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter."

For those of my friends who think I'm getting political ... I would beg you to understand that abortion is first and foremost a moral issue - an issue of the sanctity (or not) of life. Please stop and think through the rhetoric for a moment and listen to what we are saying.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Dealing with Your Anger

Anger is a secondary emotion. It's like a warning light on the dashboard of your car. The light isn't the problem, it's a symptom of a problem.

In effectively dealing with anger you must determine what is the real issue. Generally the top three sources of anger are hurt, frustration, or fear. So when you feel anger rising to the surface ask yourself: "Why am I angry? What's the cause?"

When you get to the root cause you'll be better prepared to deal with the anger.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Brittany Viola: 2012 USA Olympic Women's Dive Team

Please take a moment and introduce yourself to Brittany Viola. Recently she made the USA Women's Dive Team for the 2012 Olympics. In fact, she ranked first among women divers.

Interview: Brittany Viola from UBC Miami on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Local Government and the Church

Enjoy this article from my guest blogger Paul Rivera:

One of the dearest things to churches is owning their own facilities.  Most churches today start out in a living room, school cafeteria, daycare, or hotel conference room.  As they grow they usually rent a facility, with the hope of one day buying land and building their own facility.  This dream is now under attack by hostile local governments.  Cash strapped, many county governments have begun to look for ways to make churches pay property taxes. Let me give you four local government attempts to tax churches.

The room by room strategy

A church in New Hampshire was taxed by the city of Concord on forty percent of its facilities, claiming that certain rooms such as storage closets, upstairs bathrooms, and other rooms were not used for religious worship and were, therefore, subject to property tax.  When the church disagreed, it had to take its fight to court and the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled 4-0 in favor of the city.  At the present moment, all churches in New Hampshire are subject to a room-by-room assessment of their property.

Refusal to comply with public policy

The state of New Jersey revoked the property tax exemption of a Methodist group because they refused to rent their facilities for the purpose of performing a same sex civil union.  I see that in the near future many states and even local governments will pass laws that will put churches at odds with them.  These laws usually require that churches engage in or allow certain activities that are in conflict with their doctrines and sincerely held beliefs.

Building on your facilities

A church in Florida had to pay $40,000.00 in property taxes on the land they purchased.  At the time they purchased it, it was raw land.  They soon began to develop it and built a new sanctuary.  Some time later the county assessed a property tax on the church stating that during the time they were in construction the land was not being used for religious worship and therefore it was subject to the property tax.  More than ever, it is important that you assess the way you are using your church's property to ensure that all of it is being used for the church's religious purposes.

Taxing church attendance

The city of Mission, KS adopted an ordinance that taxed a church based on the number of trips in and out of the church's driveway. The city was desperate for new tax revenues.  So, naturally it went after churches, which are exempt from property tax.  In essence, this ordinance taxes a church based on its attendance.

Staying ahead of the curve

With so much to do and so little time to do it, how is a church supposed to stay ahead of the curve?  Not only is a church supposed to stay compliant with hundreds of laws and regulations, it now has to keep watch for new and wacky laws by local governments trying to raise additional tax revenues.

You never know when

A church in Chicago, IL lost its facilities because it was assessed taxes for "unidentified taxable activities."  The worst part is that the tax bill was mailed to the wrong address.  When the church finally discovered that it had an unpaid tax, the county had already foreclosed on its property.   As I researched this article a thought came to mind.  Many thousands of churches rely on the timely publication of the StartCHURCH news blogs as a way to stay up to date with the changing laws and tax issues that affect them.   We want to encourage you this week to stay faithful to reading these blogs because you never know when one will be the answer to your prayers.

(c) Paul Rivera

Thursday, May 3, 2012

National Debt

Folks, we've got issues, even if only half of this video is true.

Friday, March 30, 2012

We Are Free

I met Brad & Rebekah a few years ago on a cruise. We were teaming up for a "conference" of sorts where I was the speaker and they were the worship leaders. Here is one of their latest songs that I thought you'd like!