Who Complicated My Life Did God Really Say That? Troubles... Sideshows... End Zone Views Turning On The Light Christmas Gifts
by Don R. Richards
With the start of a new year I many times found myself thinking that I ought to be making some new year's resolutions. Are we not supposed to be making commitments to ourselves as to how we will better our lives over the next year: examining our lives and goals and establishing certain specific plans to improve our weaknesses.
Certainly there is nothing wrong with reviewing our lives and "starting over" with some aspects of it or establishing some mid course "corrections." We should do it, though, with certain basic thoughts in mind.
Too many times, my thoughts on resolutions are tied to my desire for material things -- usually concerning the need for more money to "buy" more comfort or security for myself or my family. We live in a complicated world. It is a world of high technology in which we heavily rely on our inventions and our "high tech" toys and appliances. We are seemingly becoming more and more dependent upon our machines of communication, information and entertainment. It seems we are lost when our inventions temporarily fail us.
And if one thing is clear, it is that our inventions will, at various points in time fail us (usually when we need them most).
God did not make our lives so complicated. The "rat race" is of our own invention. God made us very simple, it is us who have complicated it.
"Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions." Eccl. 7:29.
God made us very simple and uncomplicated. He made us innocent; He made us upright. We took over from that and have done a good job of complicating our lives and finding sin. This is one of the most important lessons we can learn about setting our course for the future.
Following God's commandments would keep our lives uncomplicated. That is the best resolution we could make. Yet we have problems following such simple rules. Adam and Eve's lives were uncomplicated and innocent until they ate of the forbidden fruit. They then discovered they were naked. We have sought out inventions our entire lives. We constantly seek ways to improve ourselves; material ways to add security and comfort to our lives; worrying about our future and our ability or inability to meet our basic needs. We are who complicates our lives. God commands it very simple.
Let us remind ourselves of one of Jesus teachings in the Sermon on the Mount:
"Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?" Matt. 6:25.
Jesus tells us to "behold the fowls of the air" and that the "Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they." 6:26.
Jesus asks us a question that we should take to heart: "Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?" Will "worrying" help us in any manner. Will it improve us in any way?
If I am a worrier about the future, then Jesus speaks to be clear and straight forward in Matt. 6:30: "...O ye of little faith?"
Jesus tells us that Gentiles constantly seek thoughts of worry about what we shall eat, what we shall drink and what will we wear. Then he tells us what our priority should be:
"...for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
"But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." Matt. 6:33.
Our resolutions should start on the basic premise Jesus lists for us -- seek first the kingdom of God. If we start right, our lives -- even in a complicated world -- become simple again.
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by Don R. Richards
Early in the Book of Genesis, a question is posed that essentially asks the question: "Did God really say that? Surely he did not mean it."
That question was asked of Eve, and I have learned over the years that I can identify a lot with the situation Eve found herself in. I have been deceived into discontent because I have listened to Satan pose that same question to me.
In the first verse of the third chapter of Genesis we learn that "the serpent was more subtle (i.e. cunning or crafty) than any beast of the field" which God made. Satan was the serpent who approached Eve in the Garden of Eden and tempted her to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The serpent posed the question:
"Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?" Gen. 3:1.
Eve responded that she and Adam could eat of all trees except the one forbidden tree in the middle of the Garden: "God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die." Gen. 3:3.
To which the serpent responded: "Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good from evil." Gen. 3:4-5.
We know what happened next: Eve ate from the fruit and gave it also to Adam.
Has Satan ever posed that question to you? He has to me; and I wish I could say that I have fallen for it only once.
The Lord has provided for us instruction as to how we are to conduct our lives through the Scripture. From the Ten Commandments through the Sermon on the Mount and the prophets and apostles' writings, we are provided guidance in the conduct of our lives. We usually know the things we are not supposed to do because the Lord has told us.
But then Satan comes along and asks us: "Did God really say that? Surely he did not mean it, because God knows you will learn and enjoy what he has forbidden you to do."
The Lord gives us the guidance to be content with our lives. Satan finds ways to deceive us into discontent. We are tempted to do things we know are wrong because of our curious nature and carnal desires. Satan understands this weakness well.
Instead of focusing on the many blessings we have been given by the Lord, we instead are deceived into focusing on those worldly things we can not have, and usually do not enjoy that much after we get them.
We could learn from the teachings in First Corinthians, where the Apostle Paul tells us the lesson he learned about desiring those things we can not, or should not, have:
"...for I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content." I Cor. 4:11.
Our lives would be much simpler if we could learn that lesson. Most of the problems we find ourselves in is because we have not learned to be content with the state in which we are in. We are tempted into discontent and are miserable.
It is not hard to identify the people around us who have learned this lesson. They are happy. They are content.
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by Don R. Richards
I think I could get a lot more out of daily life if it were not for the troubles I run into.
It seems I sometimes draw troubles like a magnet. I know I must be getting more than my share. Surely there is somebody out there with no troubles and I am getting their share and mine too.
Seems like we ought to be protected from troubles. Life should be full of only joys and laughter and happy people. Instead each of us secretly knows that we have more troubles than what our share should be.
One thing ought to be clear -- we cannot be happy during our troubles. At least I did not think so until I began thinking about the words of James in the first chapter of his epistle.
"My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall in divers temptations; ..." James 1:2.
James opens his epistle with an extremely important concept. One that we can learn a tremendous amount from as we approach our lives daily. He teaches us here about what our approach should be to the daily trials of life. James tells us here that we should not look upon troubles with sweetness, but with joy. That is a difficult concept for most of us to accept.
It seems that troubles are a necessary part of our lives. No one escapes the daily trials of this world. Few of us learn the important lesson taught here to really accept our troubles and use them as God would have us use them.
No one escapes troubles. Even those whom we consider the most devout Christians have their share of daily strifes and temptations. Good people still have their share of problems ... and tells us why.
We know that satan endeavors by sufferings to us to draw men into sin and to keep them from worshipping and praising the Lord. But the afflictions are intended for our improvement. They are there for a test of our faith and we are told to joy in the various temptations that come our way.
"Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." James 1:3-4.
We are told to ask "in faith" for any wisdom we lack to address our problems. We are told to trust the Lord and seek His guidance through our problems.
"Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him." James 1:12.
One of the real Christian virtues is to be able to exercise joy during our troubles. James has told us to "count it all joy" when we fall into temptations. Why should be "joy" at troubles?
We should joy at the learning process we are going through. We should not sink into a sad or depressed state of mind which only adds to our problems. Experience is one of our greatest teachers. We learn how to approach our problems; we learn to keep our spirits up so as to be able to better address our problems in their true sense; but more especially we learn to trust the Lord and turn to his guidance during our troubles.
It is through our troubles that we become more comfortable with Christ as our leader, and the one to whom we can turn with our problems. It is the Lord who can bring us out of our problems. When we learn this, we learn what James was teaching us when we are taught to "joy" in times of trouble. We can learn to joy during our afflictions because of the good that comes out of it. The worst suffering of man is the man in trouble with disparity and no hope and no one to whom he thinks he can turn. It is joy to see a child of grace face problems with the joy and faith that the Lord will provide.
The working of one grace produces another. I know through my troubles over the years, I am more patient than I was earlier when the next trouble hits. The Lord allows troubles to humble us, and to teach us the manner in which to approach our problems -- by turning to Him in prayer and praise.
The testing of one grace produces a second grace. The more suffering graces we have the stronger we grow. As James tells us, we should let patience have its perfect work, that we might become perfect and entire, "wanting nothing." We should not try to limit our patience ... but let it have its full work. When our troubles come one after another, our patience becomes an important factor in our faith -- we should let it become perfect. When our patience is complete, we learn to want nothing, but to instead look to the Lord for all our daily needs.
"For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise." Heb. 10:36.
We take gold and put it under tremendous heat to purify it and make it into a precious metal. Our troubles do the same to us. Troubles teach us patience, they test our faith, they put us through heat to purify us.
When we learn this lesson, we learn the reason of our troubles and we can understand James' instruction to "joy" during our trials and temptations.
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by Don R. Richards
The world can a perfect trap for people like me.
I am easily distracted. Too many little (and many times useless) things about life are of interest to me. It is the "sideshows" of life that too often distract me from the main event.
My actions remind me of children, including my own, who have difficulty going to such things as the circus or the fair -- because of the difficulty in getting past the sideshows. We go to see the main event, yet almost miss it because of the distractions of all the various types of sideshows.
I know I have gotten aggravated at my children when Melba or I take them to an major event, only to almost miss the main attraction because of the numerous sideshows in route. Of course, I have no right to get aggravated, because I have never been able myself to get past the sideshows without being pulled in. (But please do not tell my children I am admitting this.)
The world is full of sideshows.
Have you been to the grocery store recently. I am one of those who loves to go grocery shopping. Rarely do I come back home with just the items I started out to purchase. There are always new displays; and usually I go when I am hungry and thus more easily tempted. I simply get distracted from the main reason I am there.
There is no better place than a good hardware store for distracting sideshows. There is practically no way I can go into a hardware store and stay on my intended mission -- I am distracted by the sideshows on every isle.
It is always the sideshows which distract our attention from the main attraction. And if we are not careful, it is the sideshows which get all our time and attention at the risk of missing entirely the main event.
This is not a new problem. It is not a problem which has just surfaced in recent years. The problem of sideshows has been around for some time.
Moses faced this same problem as he led his people through the wilderness from Egypt into the promised land. The 4th Chapter of Deuteronomy is good reading for those of us who are easily distracted by sideshows -- just as Moses feared for his people.
Moses instructed the Israelites to be cautious of all the "sideshows". He instructed them to keep focused on the "main event" -- to follow the Lord's commandments and teach the Lord's statutes to their children and grandchildren so as to help them avoid the sideshows.
"Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers giveth you."
"You shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish aught from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you." Deut. 4:1-2.
Moses told the Israelites to avoid the sideshows, and to instruct their children likewise.
"Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life; but teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons..." Deut. 4-9.
Moses provided a special warning regarding forms of idolatry. Deut. 4:15-19.
Idolatry is the ultimate form of a sideshow -- it is a total distraction (a substitute) from the main event. Moses warned about the worship of "graven images" in human form, bird form, animal, reptile or insect, or fish.
He warned about worship of the sun, moon or stars as a distraction from the main event --which is the worship of the Lord.
"And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the Lord thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven." Deut. 4:19.
Just as Moses told the Israelites more than 2,000 years ago, we should be cautious that the "sideshows" do not distract us from the main event. As with all things, the side shows are there in the first place only because of the main event. If there is no main event, there certainly would be no sideshow.
Look at the moon and stars tonight. They are beautiful. We can appreciate them, for all their brightness and their height and their influence; but we should not worship them, because they are a sideshow. We may be tempted to worship them, as many people in today's society do. But no glory is warranted to the sun, the moon nor the stars. We should worship the one who is responsible for putting them there for us.
Look at the majestic mountain range of the Rockies, or the Grand Tetons -- or the beauty of the great rivers -- and thank God for providing them to us.
Look at the many other beauties and conveniences (and even the important people in our lives) God has provided to us, but do not be distracted from first praising the one who gave them to us. The Lord has provided us an abundance of blessings -- but they are merely sideshows when it comes time to devoting our praise and thanks to the Lord who provided them.
We also should look around in our churches. Have we put too much time and attention into a "sideshow", slighting the main event for which we are there?
Moses told the same thing to the Israelites: he reminded them it is the Lord who brought them out of the furnace of Egypt and it is the Lord upon whom they should keep them attention.
Examine your life and your church for all the sideshows. Look around you and admit the many tempting sideshows which distract from the main attraction. Consider all the temptations and the corrupt inclinations we have.
We need to review the sideshows in our lives and then remember, as Moses said, to "keep thy soul diligently" and focus our praise and worship on the main attraction -- not the sideshows.
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by Don R. Richards
It's football season.
I say that with excitement because I am an avid football fan. My father was always a follower of the local high school football teams; and my brothers and I all played on the football teams in our high school days.
My friends know of my loyalties to the Texas Tech Red Raiders and the Dallas Cowboys. I enjoy the games, the pre game activities, the halftime reports and the follow up stories.
I know not everyone shares in my enthusiasm for the sport. However, I find that even of those who are not football fans, they nearly always can name one thing that has become reasonably commonplace at football games.
There is one sight that has become so common and it is done so often, that even the reluctant football fans are familiar with it.
When one team is preparing to score a touchdown, an extra point, or a field goal, the TV cameras are usually at one end of the field and they zoom in behind the team with the end zone in the background. In most cases, some fan holds up a sign in the end zone with a reference on it to a biblical scripture.
Can you name the scripture. It nearly always is the same scripture, and some fans holds up the sign at nearly every game.
The scripture, of course, is "John 3:16." Almost everyone who has been to a game, or see part of one on TV, has seen such a sign.
Do you believe the sign? Have you looked in the Bible to determine what the scripture says?
"For God so loved the world, that he gave up his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16.
I believe the sign, but I know that my interpretation is probably a lot different than most of those people who hold up those signs.
I wish I felt that everyone who quotes this scripture really understands it. However, my opinion is that few of those who quote it really understand it.
First, the word "world", as used here does not mean all humanity. Most people "in end zones" who used this scripture interpret this scripture to mean that a person will not perish "if ...", and usually include the words "accept Christ." But that is not what the scripture teaches.
I was fortunate a few years ago to hear Elder Hulan Bass preach on this very subject, and he gave all the background as to the much-quoted scripture to provide a full understanding of it. Perhaps I can talk Elder Hulan into putting his sermon into print for the Banner of Love.
First, the quoted scripture begins with the word "For". That should tell you something -- it should tell you to back up a few verses to read the introduction to the scripture and get the appropriate context.
The first few verses of the third chapter of John tell us about Nicodemus and his conversation with Jesus. It provides us the background (from Numbers 21:9, including the Lord's instruction to Moses to use the brass serpent on the rod to help people attacked by snakes).
When you study this, you also should read at least one verse past John 3:16:
"For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." John 3:17.
If we interpret John 3:16 the way most of the "end zone" people think it is, then verse 17 is inconsistent and meaningless. If the "end zoners" believe each of us "must" accept Jesus, then non acceptance on their terms means condemnation. Therefore, the result of Jesus' coming would mean condemnation to the world -- something John 3:17 tells us is not so.
The third chapter of John is a story of promise and salvation. It is not an "scare" offer to get you to buy insurance, as many people would have you believe.
Look for the "end zoners". But understand the context of the scripture they are quoting.
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by Don R. Richards
Close your eyes.
Assume, for a minute, that you are in a room with the lights turned off. Now, assume that with your hand you reach for the wall switch and turn the lights on as you again open your eyes.
What do your see? You probably see all those objects (i.e. the furniture) in the room around you.
Now, answer a question. What caused the furniture to be there? Is the act of turning on the light what caused the furniture to be there? Or, was the furniture already there? Did the turning on of the light just allow you to see what was already there?
What if I see the furniture, but refuse to accept that the furniture is there. What if I am blind and cannot see the furniture? Is the furniture not there because I cannot see it, or because I fail to accept it?
That is not a hard test. Our turning on of the light, or anything else we do, does not have anything to do with the furniture or anything else in the room. The light simply illuminates the room and its objects so that we can clearly see what was already there.
That is an easy idea to follow. However, that concept is not as easy for much of the world to believe. We have a lot of people in this world who believe that their act of "turning on the light switch" does not just illuminate. They believe that the act of lighting the room is what puts things in place in the room.
The Scriptures teach us that our eternal salvation is a free and unconditional gift from a God. We are taught that the Lord established His elect long before the world began. Our eternal salvation is not pursuant to our own works, fears or actions. He did it His way according to the riches of His grace, pursuant to the mysteries of His will, His good pleasures, and His purposes. See examples at Ephesians 1:4-9, 11-14; Romans 9:11; Matt. 19:25. Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9.
A lot of people do not believe salvation is purely of the Lord's purpose; but that additional actions of man are needed to "complete" God's calling. It is suggested that we are not totally saved until we exercise our wills to "accept" it.
To me, that constitutes a doctrine "according to works" and of "fear", and not according to God's purpose.
We are told that God did not give us a "spirit of fear" but one of "power, and of love, and of a sound mind." 2nd Tim. 1:7.
The Apostle Paul teaches us the lesson of "turning on the light switch" in the first chapter of book of 2nd Timothy where Paul is exhorting to Timothy "to stir up the gift of God":
"Who hath saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.
"But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel..." II Timothy 1:9-10.
Now, is Paul telling us that Christ, or the gospel (or any act of ourselves in "accepting" ), actually brings us life and immortality? No, that is not what he is telling us. We know Christ paid the price, and it is through him that the Lord's purpose is illuminated.
We learn here that God's "holy calling", which is "according to his own purpose and grace" and which took place "before the world began", is "now made manifest". Christ and the gospel bring to light the "life and immortality" given us by the Lord.
The gospel, or our acceptance of it, does not give us life and immortality. The gospel is there to "turn on the light" and illuminate for us what is there.
Just as with the dark room, the furniture is not created by the act of turning on the light. The furniture, which is already there, is made manifest because of the light.
We should study the scriptures. We should teach them to our children, our families. We should preach the word. But the gospel, and especially our study, our preaching (or acceptance) of it is not what gives us eternal life. The gift of eternal light is of the Lord, according to his purposes and good will, and which he exercised before the world began.
The gospel (and our studying of it and preaching of it) is just the light switch. When that switch is turned on, it allows us to see what the Lord has already done for us and it gives us great pleasures in helping to eliminate the fears of the world
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by Don R. Richards
Have you made your Christmas lists this year? What are giving for Christmas gifts this year?
As we begin the annual holiday season, it is time to start thinking about those trips to the toy store, hardware store, sporting goods store, clothes stores, etc.
Christmas shopping is tough. At least it is tough for those of us who always start too late.
There are tremendous pressures on people at Christmas time, usually associated with the perceived need or desire to spend money purchasing Christmas presents for friends and family. Usually it involves spending money we really can not, or should not, spend. In many cases, we do not actually spend it, we simply put it on charge cards so that we can pay it over the next several months.
Pressures at Christmas can be great. The holiday season, even though we enjoy it, is also known for producing stress and depression.
I am not sure we will ever be able to rid ourselves of the "demon" of excessive gift buying at Christmas. But, the holiday season can become more rewarding with a little different approach to our mind set of giving.
For a moment, forget about a gift list. Instead, think of the people list.
Who is special in your life? Who are those individuals, day in and day out, who mean the most to you? What can you give to those special people that will be the longest lasting?
What did Christ give to us that is long lasting? He gave himself. Maybe that is a good example for us to follow.
Give yourself for Christmas.
Start this process by thinking back in your own life. When I do this I try to think of the toys or gifts my parents gave to me. There are always a few items I remember receiving, but generally I have real difficulty in remembering with any detail the toys or which Christmases I received them.
What I do remember with substantially more detail is the special time I had with my parents, my grandparents, my brothers and sisters, and my friends.
I remember with great detail a number of times my Dad and I were togethr, and the discussions we had as I was a teenager and young adult -- many of those took place in simple settings such as in a car on the road during his travels to churches.
I remember my mother teaching me a few basic cooking lessons so her son could survive through college (Her hand-written chocolate chip cookie recipe hangs framed on a wall of our kitchen as a special gift from my wife, Melba).
I remember my grandfather asking me to spend time with him and his "needing" me to read the Bible to him -- only to have him recite from memory the Bible verse endings before I could finish the verses. Or as a kid when he escorted me to watch the circus come to town and those many little moral values he talked to me about while I was with him.
I remember each Christmas I spent with my brothers and sister and other family members, and the fun and fellowship we had simply by being with each other.
The special gifts I remember most came in the form of love, not in material items.
Make yourself a list of those people who are special in your life. Find ways to give yourself to them.
If you have a special friend -- write them a note for Christmas. Tell them now what we always save for saying at their funeral. Tell them how important they are to you or how they have inspired your life.
Provide a home-baked basket (or even store-bought) of goods to an elderly person, especially those living alone.
Spend time with your children. I know you are around them every day, but spend one-on-one time with them devoted to them. Teach them to cook, push them in a swing, go walking through a neighborhood, teach them a game or a skill you learned as a kid, teach them how to use a knife, play marbles or spin a top.
Children love to have "stories" read to them. The Bible is full of wonderful children's stories (David and Goliath, Jonah and the whale, Daniel in the Lion's den, The Tower of Babel, Noah and the Ark, Moses and the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Sea and the 10 Commandments, the birth of Jesus, etc.)
Spend time with a friend's child or a neighbor's child. Volunteer to give an overworked neighboring mother a day off by keeping her child for an afternoon.
Grandparents hold a special place in life for children, because Grandparents are the "experts" in almost everything. That is an advantage grandparents should exploit. Teach your grandchildren about life, explain about God, and the Golden Rule. Grandparents are the best at explaining to grand kids the problems faced by parents in working and raising kids, and saving the resources for gifts and college educations. Grandparents perhaps can best encourage kids to honor their mothers and fathers. Kids do not forget the times (even the simple do-nothing times) with their grandparents.
If you are into gift-giving, then follow Jesus' example at the 6th chapter of Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount in the teachings on alms-giving. Do it secretly, privately and without public recognition.
Prepare a gift of food or charity and provide it anonymously to someone in need. It will not be anonymous -- you will know, and God will know, and "thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly." Matt. 6:4.
Christmas is a wonderful time for gift giving. The best gift is the gift of yourself.
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