Our 66th Year Talking and Listening Small Things by Small People The vine, branch and fruit Spirit of Fear vs. Spirit of Love Makes Sense to Us, But Nonsense to God Speak slow, but have a quick ear Take Time for God and Family Picking Peas The sparrows, . . .the puppies, . . . and us Unaware of Angels Waiting for Better Times Setting Priorities (ministers included)
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by Don Richards
This issue marks the beginning of the 66th year of publication for The Banner of Love. We dedicate ourselves to another year in the same manner we attempt to do each year at this time. Our basic standards remain the same.
First, in a civil and political context, we believe in and endorse our United States First Amendment constitutional rights of Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech and of the Press. That is about as political has we intend to ever be in this publication.
Were it not for those basic political rights, we would not have the legal ability and freedom from government intrusion to provide the religious forum we attempt to provide for our readers, or to express our basic belief of the fruits of the Kingdom of Heaven provided for us through the inspired Scriptures contained in the Old and New Testament. We strongly endorse those very basic constitutional governmental and political concepts.
Our publication is intended to be one that provides good news and information to benefit our readers based on the causes, beliefs, and tenets espoused in the foundation and principles of the Primitive Baptist faith. The Banner of Love was established in the early 1930s by Harden G. "Hard" Richards, our grandfather. The publication was named by his wife, Dora Richards, based on the biblical verses at Songs of Solomon 2:4 and Psalms 60:4.
The Banner of Love was a follow up to its affiliated predecessor "The Glad Tidings" which was edited and published in the 1920s by P. W. Hampton "Hamp" Richards, Hardís father. It became an economic victim of the Great Depression.
This publication, from its start was based on the premise that it would never serve or be used "as a battleground" or similar forum for debates over disagreements. Instead, it was dedicated as a medium to provide good news, information, and basic explanation of Godís historical and doctrinal sovereign grace as instructed in the Scriptures.
We acknowledge and greatly appreciate the articles submitted by our numerous readers and guest writers. We would have no publication but for the inspirations reduced to writing and provided to use for our readers benefit.
The Banner of Love is not a commercial publication. It is not a "for profit" venture -- not "monetary" profit. We accept absolutely no paid advertisements. The subscription price is intended to cover the actual "out-of-pocket" costs of operations, primarily printing and (ever increasing) postage. At various times we have struggled, both economically and physically, to continue its regular and consistent publication. Each time the Lord has provided the means for us meet publication requirements, and continues to so provide.
As we struggle to meet the deadlines and material requirements of publication, our faith rests on Godís spiritual guidance and instruction: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness," and all others things of material need will be provided to us. Matt. 6:33. The Lord has always been good to us far in excess of what we deserve.
As we continue our too-often feeble attempts to provide the "good news" and "glad tidings" to our readers, we seek your written contributions, your critique and your prayers that Godís will be done. Please let us hear from you with your comments and news.
Our new year resolution for each of you: we pray the upcoming year will provide you with the Lordís guidance and blessings. Take time daily to thank Him for those blessings that we all too often take for granted.
Devote time daily to reading and studying the Bible. In it you will find daily guidance, freedom from the troubles and fears of the world, and the comfort and personal security that only the Lordís free and unconditional sovereign grace gives you:
"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." 2 Tim. 1:7.
"For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." Rom. 8:2.
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by Don Richards
My mouth gets me into a lot of trouble.
I have been known to have a quick wit, and that does not translate into a "smart" wit. My mouth too many times goes into gear earlier than my brain.
There are a lot of lessons we can benefit from by learning to listen more, and talking less. We especially have a lesson to learn with regard to those times when our mouth shoots off in anger with words we later regret.
I especially see the error of my ways when I attempt to deal with my family. As young kids often do, my kids from time to time do things that they are not suppose to. They either get playful and reckless or they push times I find myself in quick anger at them, only to see the results of my anger and the hurt it causes in their faces.
The way we deal with our families is no different than how we deal with our friends and colleagues. We would so many times be better off listening, than talking. We cannot learn a lot while we are talking; yet it is amazing what we can learn, and the good we can do, when we are good listeners.
The 12th and 13th chapters of Proverbs provide to us teaching tools for our tongue and our ear. We learn we should engage our ears a lot earlier than our tongues.
How many times do we speak in quick judgment without knowing all the facts of a situation?
How may times do we quickly lash out at our spouses and children, without taking a moment to listen and think about the consequences or harshness of our words?
How quick are we to join in the rash judgment (and gossip) by others of a friend?
Our words have a way of piercing others far more powerful than a sword. We use our tongue to punish, when we should listen first and then speak only for constructive purposes.
"There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health." Prov. 12:18. Reckless words hurt us and especially hurt others ó far more than a sword. But wise words have real healing power. Think about this. Do we gain by anger and reckless talk in the heat of the moment; or is it better to use kind and firm words out of love, showing our love?
In my business of providing legal advice, one of the primary tools I use for instruction is the advice of silence. Too many times people cause themselves legal problems by speaking too much. They may not have had legal problems, but dig themselves into a legal problem by continuing to talk when they should be silent.
"He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life: but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction." Prov. 13:3.
Think about those around you. Are you impressed most by that individual who talks constantly, or by the person who appears wise by his or her careful listening and mysterious silence.
My dad used to tell me occasionally a humorous saying when we jointly observed someone who had put their foot in their mouth: that it was always better for you to keep your mouth shut and let people think you are an idiot, then to open your mouth and remove all doubt of it.
"A prudent man concealeth knowledge: but the heart of fools proclaimeth foolishness." Prov. 12:23. We all know of certain television talk-show hosts and so-called political analysts we might suggest read Proverbs.
When we do speak, we should know the importance of the truth. Even though we know the importance of truth, we do not always follow it.
"He that speaketh truth showeth forth righteousness: but a false witness deceit." Prov. 12:17.
"Lying lips are abomination to the Lord: but they that deal truly are his delight." Prov. 12:22.
We could also refer to the Ten Commandments: Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
There is great wisdom in listening, and not speaking. A great listener is a cherished friend. Counselors are trained in their art of being listeners as the primary tool for healing.
If we would first listen to our children, listen to our spouses, listen to our families and friends. If we know and understand the facts and problems, speaking comes easier, come wisely, and comes prudently.
There is an art to listening; and a wisdom to knowing when to speak. The book of Proverbs is a good teacher.
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Back to March 1999
by Don Richards
I read with interest recently the conclusions being reached by certain religious affiliated groups with regard to their desire to change the politics of the federal government, and thus the country. This group had been extremely active in politics, in support of certain candidates in hopes of addressing and changing the government. Their pronounced goal for the past several years has been to raise the religious awareness of the American people and change the thus the moral values of the country.
They had become disillusioned with their results. Despite having successfully backed the candidates of their choice, they had felt unsuccessful in their goal of raising moral values for the masses of the people.
Several of their leadership were being quoted as stating they were considering a reconsideration of their strategy. Instead of focusing on national level politics aimed at the masses, they said they were considering a return to the grassroots level of work in their individual churches and communities.
I have not agreed with the "political strategy" of this group for years. I generally disagree with the making of your religion a political element because the mixing of religion with politics simply lowers your religious beliefs to a part of the political debate. My religion is far more worthy to me than to have it made an element of political debate. In my opinion, subjecting my religion to political debate is nothing more than casting my "pearls before swine" to have it trampled at political feet. See Matt. 7:6.
I strongly feel we should examine the moral credentials of people seeking political office because those moral values will influence their civil lawmaking; but when we attempt to legislate very specific civil laws according to religious some personís specific religious beliefs then we are headed for problems and the religious elements involved will be trampled at the feet of the masses.
Too many times I see religious leaders attempting to become political leaders based on their religious credentials. I am concerned this is actually an effort to "sound a trumpet" standing on the street corners "that they may be seen of men". As we know, they have their reward, but it is not the goal they should be seeking as dictated by Scripture. See Matt. 6:2-5.
I agree that our efforts to raise the moral values in this country should be returned to our churches, our homes, and our communities. If we address this matter as we should, the politics of the federal government will handle itself.
I recently read the words to a song by a lady named Daniebelle Hall, written in 1977. It caused me to think on this subject of who, and how, should the Lordís work be accomplished: it does not involve national figures legislating nationwide mandates to the masses. It involves the "small" people (you and me) doing our simple, "small" part.
"God uses ordinary people just like me and you who are willing to do as He commands. God uses people that will give Him all, no matter how small your all may seem to you because little becomes much as you place it in the Masterís Hand."
Ms. Hall wrote small words with deep meaning.
We do not need to attempt to take on a massive nationwide agenda. We simple need to do as He has instructed in our families and in our churches. We should not complain about the decline in Bible reading, Bible study, or church attendance nationwide, if we ourselves are not reading the Bible, attending church or so instructing our children, grandchildren and friends. If each of us, in our small families and homes, provided the moral instruction and guidance that we are instructed to do, there would be no decline in nationwide morality.
Our quiet work on small tasks has a way, in Godís hands, of making major positive change.
Our ego sometimes wants us to take on massive, large-scale or very public tasks of "leading" the people. However, that can very easily take on the appearance of sounding our trumpet on the street corner. Instead, we should focus our work privately and quietly -- on that one child or "small" individual in our family or church who may be struggling with some moral dilemma. Lets make sure the children within our on families and church are properly instructed and cared for. We should especially focus on the small tasks, and the small children. "Inasmuch asa ye have done it unto one, the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Matt. 25:40. The Lord is not expecting us to move the masses ó He expects us to take care of the "least" of His brethren. Until we accomplish that task, we should wait on "converting" the masses.
Likewise, we sometimes feel we must meet in large groups and encourage large congregations. Its because we have the attitude that we do not accomplish much with only one or two people. Yet that is not what the Lord instructs us.
"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Matt. 18:20.
The Lordís work involves a lot of "small" people doing "small" jobs. Let your light so shine with your small tasks ó whether thatís guidance for your family, preaching to small congregations, or praying for a bitter-attituded neighbor or misguided child -- the Lord will take care of the masses.
Let each of us focus on those small jobs we have been instructed to do. The Lord will make the rest happen.
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by Don Richards
How busy are you in doing the Lordís work? Are you doing any? Are you accomplishing anything?
Do you get so busy with it, that you are not getting anything done? Jesus gives us simple guidance in this matter.
With winter gone and spring upon us, it becomes time for annual spring cleanups. One of the tasks growing up as a child around our house involved cleaning up dead winter growth, scalping the grass, and pruning of trees and shrubs and vegetation.
As we have recently witnessed the annual weekend gardeners begin pruning their trees, shrubbery and vines, we are reminded of one of Jesusí well-known lessons in conducting our lives while we live in this rough world.
Like many of Jesusí teachings, he provides us a simply analogy that symbolizes how our lives should be fashioned. We are not talking about keys to our eternal salvation (which Jesus controls; see John 17:1-4, 9-12; Rev. 1:18), but a lesson in how our faith and good works guided by the Spirit will benefit us and glorify God while we reside in this world.
Jesusí apostles were subjected to a number of special sermons and instructions by Jesus during the time of the last supper until the arrest of Jesus. We read in the gospel of John beginning with the 13th chapter that Jesus conducted the last supper and then spoke well-remembered words to his apostles.
One of the best known instructions he provided them was the example of humility in feet washing. Between the last supper and Jesusí visit to the Garden of Gethsemane (Chapter 18, where he was confronted and arrested), we can read of Jesusís last teachings to his apostles. It is here that Jesus provides us insight to the importance to followings his examples and leading our lives in the spirit he discusses.
Jesus gives us the lesson in pruning our fruit trees and vines. By removing the unnecessary and unbearing branches of the tree and vine, the remaining good vines can produce more fruit. It is a practical lesson we all learn as children from our parents in the arts of gardening. Pruning back the vine makes the remainder bear bigger and better fruit. The branches that a cut away soon wither and die once separated from the main vine. Even with the best branches that we expect to bear fruit, we cut away from those branches the small "shoots" and growth to insure that the branch is totally devoted to bearing bigger and better fruit, rather than the sap being used up in numerous smaller and small-bearing branches.
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman." John 15:1.
"Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit."
"Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing."
"If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit . . ." John 15:4-8.
Jesus explains to us our world relationship with our Lord. We glorify him with our good works. He uses the grapevine analogy of which, in a practical sense, we are familiar. Jesus is the grapevine, God is the gardener. We are the branches. All the dead branches are cleared out to allow more and better fruit from the other branches. The branches are purged of small, unnecessary "shoot-offs" so that the branch can concentrate all its sap on producing better fruit. The branches so pruned off will wither and die in the sun and are gathered up an burned as trash.
If we, as branches, abide in Jesus by following his teachings of love and good works, the Lord will trim back away from us those unnecessary branches and shoot-offs of our lives which drain our ability to produce the best fruit of the spirit. Galatians 5:22 gives us examples of the fruit of the spirit: "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance."
Picture yourself in the analogy Jesus provides to us. If we "abide" in Jesus, we will produce much fruit. We can bear no fruit except that we stay attached to the vine. If we focus on serving the vine, God as the gardener will prune off the other non-productive branches, as well as to purge us of non-productive "shoot-offs" in our lives that distract from our producing the fruits of the spirit.
We each need to examine our lives. As branches are we dedicated to serving the vine. If so, we will produce a lot of good fruit. Without the vine, we produce no good fruit and may find ourselves with the other pruned branches which are cast off to clear the way for the productive branches.
There is a lot of fruit in the spirit that allows us to lead fruitful and productive lives in this rough world. We can provide much fruit to Godís children who need it. Are we dedicated to serving the vine? Are we allowing too many "shoot-offs" to drain our sap to produce the best quality fruit?
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by Don Richards
Much of the religious world revolves around the spirit of fear. We are told that we are to fear for ourselves and our eternal fate. We are instructed that if we do not take certain actions to "cement" our lives, then we must fear the eternal consequences of that inaction.We do not have to watch much television to find a minister skilled in the art of selling a ministry of fear. We are told we must confess... , we must accept..., we must repent..., we must be baptized..., we must support with our resources and finances. The consequences are the "fears" of our failure to perform these good works. These doctrines of "fear" work pretty well in our world today, just as they have been for hundreds of years.
People respond to these doctrines of fear. Our human nature is to respond to action out of a sense of fear. We do it most days of our lives. In fact, too many times in our day to day lives we wait to respond to situations until we fear the consequences.
False prophets capitalize on our fears. Fear of the consequences is a great worldly selling point. That is why we see lots of religious conversions in jails. It is the human nature in all of us.
However, a doctrine of "fear" goes against the teachings and instructions of God. Do not be confused with our having a respectful "fear" of the power of God. We all should respectfully fear the power of God ("fear of the Lord is wisdom" Job 28:28). That fear is respect.
We are talking about a worldly spirit of human emotional "fear" of eternal consequences for our failure to perform good works. It is this fear that is exploited by other men in the world to get us to "save" ourselves eternally with our works and actions and decisions. God instructs us against such fear.
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is in the first chapter of II Timothy. It is the Apostle Paulís second letter to Timothy.
He talks to us about our worldly fears of our eternal salvation.
"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and of a sound mind." II Tim. 1:7. An understanding of Godís plan with us should give us comfort and security with its power, love and soundness of mind. It should ease our conscious, not stir it up. Our fellow man givers us the spirit of fear; God gives us the comfort and security of our salvation.
The Apostle Paul adds to his instruction: he tells us not to be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, but to be a "partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God..." v.8.
We are told we should expect afflictions in this world. We should prepare for them, expect them, and be willing to take on these afflictions with the understanding of the spirit of power, love and a sound mind. We should sympathize with others who suffer, and suffer with them, and suffer like them. When we suffer our afflictions with a sound mind and power and love of the spirit, then we have the ability to bear and be content with those afflictions.
We all will suffer afflictions; but we can bear them together with the contented conscious that comes with the spirit of power, love and sound mind.
Paul adds important instruction to Timothy, explaining why we should not have the spirit fear : He tells us that God ... "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 Ti. 1:9-10.
We are taught by many men that our eternal fate is in our own hands and we should "fear" our inactions. But the Apostle Paul tells us that God saved us and called us not according our ourselves, but according to "his own purpose" ó and he did so through Jesus Christ "before the world began."
The gospel does not bring us "life and immortality". The gospel brings life and immortality "to light".
In a simple analogy, the gospel does for us what a light switch does to a darken room. We turn on the light and suddenly "see" the furniture which fills the room. Our good deed of turning on the light did not put the furniture in the room; our turning on the light switch simply lets us see what was already there.
The Apostle Paul tells us the same here. The gospel reveals to us ó brings to light ó that which the Lord has already done for us with his sovereign grace according to his own purpose to secure our immortality through Jesus Christ. He saved us before the world began; the gospel reveals that fact to us.
God provides for us the security of His purpose. We perform good works in appreciation for his free grace and to make our daily world and its afflictions better for our fellow man and ourselves.
The spirit of fear provides just that: fear. The spirit of God is of "power , and of love, and of a sound mind." Reading and studying Godís word will provide you the security of a sound mind, content with the afflictions that will come your way.
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by Don Richards
There are a lot of things that I do that make sense to me. Thatís why I do them. There are things you do which might make sense to you, but that do not make sense to me. We spend a lot of time talking, arguing, negotiating, and litigating to convince others that our actions are the ones that make the most sense. We spend a lot of time and energy trying to justify our perceived common sense actions and plans to others .
We naturally do those things that make sense to us personally. Thatís the way human nature works. God does not do things with regard to the sense that human nature would give it. God is on a considerably higher plane that those of us in this world.
God has a plan. His plan may be a mystery to a lot of us, but it makes sense to Him, and is in the best interest of us all. We are protected under Godís plan, even when we do not know it or realize it.
"Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God." Luke 16:15.
Letís look at a few examples where Godís plan doesnít make sense with the way human nature would handle the situation.
We all have the basic human desire to be rich. We want large bank accounts, large savings accounts, big houses, lots of material tangible property.
We want money for material worth. It puts us in a high place in our community, it lets us purchase those material things that show our material wealth. It makes sense to us to have material riches to live in this world. If we let this desire get out of control, we have greed. Greed it still one of the greatest and most frequently committed sins. A large number of people get into trouble because they let their desire turn into greed. God approaches it differently:
"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Matt. 6:19-21.
Then letís give our riches away (maybe only part of our riches?). We will give money to a charity so we get a tax deduction and they can put our name on a building. Letís be recognized for our large contributions to the operation of the church. We can receive a lot of public recognition because we are so charitable. It make a lot of common sense to us.
Being charitable is good, and giving contributions to the church is good. But how we do it is where the Lordís plan is different from our common sense approach.
Read Matthew 6:4. We learn that our "alms-giving" is to be done in secret. If we seek public recognition, then we get our earthly reward with recognition. If we seek treasures in heaven, then we should give secretly, and the Lord will reward us openly. Letís talk about our enemies. It makes sense for us to hate them. But what are we taught by Scripture: "Love your enemy." Matt. 5:38-44. Give him food, give him drink, because in so doing you "heap coals of fire on his head".
Letís talk about payback for the trespasses by our enemies on us. We know from our common sense logic that virtually nothing is more "satisfying" than getting revenge on an enemy. Do we really want to know what the Lord says about vengeance and who owns vengeance? I bet you are thinking ahead of me on this one!
"Avenge not yourselves, give place unto wrath; ...Vengeance is mine; I will repay" saith the Lord. See also Deut. 32:35. Forgive your trespassers, if you expect the Lord to forgive you of yours.
How about our passing judgment on other people? Have you ever passed judgment on another? If you have not, then you are a long way behind me. Read Matt. 7:6. Judge not, lest someone judge you.
Letís talk about eternal salvation. Isnít it important that we help the Lord save souls? Donít we need to do good works to make sure we save as many souls as possible? Isnít that in itself a good work: talking about the number of souls we have saved? It makes common sense to us.
Read Eph. 2:8. There is only one soul-saver. The job is already filled. Our salvation is the gift of the Lord and is not accomplished by our good deeds, our "acceptance" or our soul-savings efforts on other people. Salvation is "not of yourselves." It is "not of works lest any man should boast." See Titus 3:5.
This religious stuff can get complicated. We need to get deeper into this and lay out the complications, and all the possibilities, and all the various legal questions that could arise. It makes sense to us to speculate on all this religious law.
"Avoid foolish questions and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law: for they are unprofitable and vain." Titus 3:9.
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by Don Richards
Last month we talked that many aspects of the Lordís teachings are exactly opposite of what our human nature would have us do. We focus on another of those aspects today; but an important one that Christís brother lectures us on.
I enjoy talking a lot more than I do listening. Thatís not a good thing. We learn from the disciplined, trained and educated counselors that a good listener is one of the most important things we can be. It is amazing what a good listener can accomplish. Our society and human nature place a lot of trust and confidence in a good listener. We trust a good listener a lot more than we do a good talker. Yet, too many of us cannot seem to learn this lesson ó weíd rather talk first, and listen only if we absolutely have to.
Good listeners are hard to find. Yet we value them tremendously. Without saying a word, good listeners come across as sincere, concerned and intelligent. It is amazing how much smarter we can be, and appear to be, simply by focusing our attention on becoming a good listener.
James, Jesusí half brother, told us the same thing a long time ago.
"Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath." James 1:19.
We are told the same thing in Proverbs: "he that refraineth his lips is wise". Prov. 10:19.
"He that hath knowledge spareth his words: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit. Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding." Prov. 17:27-28.
Listening is a true art. You have to give up your own ego and pride, in order to focus your attention on the words and gestures of others. But listening pays off. First, you focus on what another is actually saying, not what you think they are saying, or what you hope they are saying.
We are not good communicators. Most of us stumble with our words and talk around what we really want to say. However, if you are a good listener, you get the message the talker is attempting to communicate.
We would all be considerably better spouses, and better parents, if we learned to observe and listen, before we speak. A lot of communication is done through simple listening. A listener cares what I am saying. That means a lot. It is not as important that there be an answer if the listener hears me.
James goes on to tell us more about his instruction of being slow to speak. He notes in chapter three that we put a bit in the horses mouth to get the horses attention. James tells us that although the tongue is small, it can kindle great fires.
"But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison." James 3:8.
As to our temper, James also emphasizes our need to control it: ". . . slow to anger".
Proverbs joins in here again:
"He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city." Prov. 16:32.
Maybe there is something to that old saying my mom used to instruct me on about counting to ten before I explode.
"Swift to hear", and slow to speak and slow to anger. Our human nature tells us to do exactly the opposite of that. Think of how you respond to others. We love good listeners, we despise ongoing talkers, and we avoid those with rapid tempers. Yet we have a hard time applying this to ourselves.
A fast ear and a slow mouth. It is something to listen to without talking about.
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by Don Richards
It is not always easy to give advice. Who made us an expert on life? To even make friendly, constructive suggestions can many times be perceived wrongly.
We all can give advice better to our neighbor, than we take ourselves it ourselves. It is so much easier to resolve issues in other peopleís lives, than to resolve our own problems and shortcomings.
It is especially tough to try to give advice to our ministers. Especially when we try to start quoting scripture to them. They always know more of it than the rest of us, and can quote more of it back.
Ministers, with their knowledge and given "expertise" on biblical history, counseling, understanding of moral positioning, and general "ministering" duties, are many times intimidating to the layman.
But ministers need guidance, counseling and advice like all of us ó and they especially need encouragement. But ministers, like all of us, need encouragement from time to time to "get back to the basics".
As a teenager, like all teenagers, I was pretty much an expert on numerous issues. I never hesitated to give my father advice. It wasnít always good advice, but as a teenager, I was not as intimidated by my dad being a minister, as I was of other "non-dad" ministers. I never quoted much scripture, because I frankly did not know that much and especially did not know exact biblical citations. Even though I did not know exact citations, I learned a number of biblical passages over the years from hearing them preached and from the friendly discussions primarily between my father and my uncle ó my dadís brother-in-law (he knows who he is).
I know now that I never really gave my dad much good advice. But I do remember a conversation in the car during my high school
days when I would frequently drive for my dad to his Sunday appointments. I was young and could drive long hours, and if gave him the opportunity to study and rest.
He had been especially busy in the last few months "ministering". He had had numerous funerals, weekend and Sunday appointments, and lots of hospital and home visits and late-night calls with individual requests for help. He never complained about it, but it was wearing on him mentally and physically.
I advised him to "slow down" and look at priorities. I know a lot of people were calling on him wanting a piece of his personal time; but he had a duty to his God and to his family.
With regard to myself, I am not as smart now as I was then. There are many times today when I need someone to give me that same advice. I suspect you do to; and I know many of our ministers need to heed that advice. Before, I did not use scripture; this time I will.
Too many of us, and especially our ministers, feel the burden to say "yes" to all requests of all people. Itís our duty. . . itís our duty as a child of God. We are supposed to love our neighbor, care for the poor, visit the sick tend to the needs of the congregation, and even go search for that one lamb who has wandered off from the flock.
After all, we are instructed that to whom much is given, much is expected and required. See Luke 12:48. That is correct, but we need to balance that with our real priorities: first, God, and then family.
How much time lately have you taken to pray? Letís ask again. How much actual time have you taken recently to study, pray and meditate? Is it sufficient time to justify your top priority of God? Are you prepared to defend the word of God; are you ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear? 1 peter 3:15. Have you set aside undisturbed time to pray for those you love, as well as for your enemies?
Letís talk about our family. How much quality time have we spent with our spouses?, our children?, our grandchildren? A Commandment of the Lord is for us to honor our mother and father. Have we spent sufficient time fulfilling our duties under this commandment? Have we dedicated sufficient time to providing love, guidance and care to our families? Have we sufficiently spent time to instruct our children in the ways they show go? Do we spend enough time visiting, talking, listening and loving our spouses so that we know and love our spouses as well as we know and love ourselves?
I plead guilty to all of the above. How are you (including the ministers) doing?
But wait. What about our needs to the poor. What about the multitudes that need us?
Letís look to Jesusí example. Go to Matthew 26:11. As Jesus was teaching his disciples not to be critical of a woman who they felt had wasted precious ointment on Jesus instead of being given to the multitude of poor.
"For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always."
Think about priorities. The poor will always be with us, always in need of our help. Letís not forget our priority to God first. He has ways of helping the poor without our help. Letís set aside time first for Him.
Remember also the time Jesus spent in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to his betrayal and arrest. At Matthew 26, beginning at verse 36, Jesus instructed his disciples to wait and watch for him while he went in alone to pray. Jesus isolated himself from those closest to him, in order to tend to a higher priority: He said: "Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder." Matt. 26:36.
At Matthew 8:18, Jesus saw the multitude around him (who obviously desired his full time and attention). One person asked to follow Jesus where ever he went. He instructed his disciples that it was time to leave so that he could get rest in order to properly attend to his priorities:
"The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not, where to lay his head." Matt. 8:20. Like all of us, Jesus needed some quiet time, some rest and meditation time.
At Matthew 14:22, Jesus instructed his disciples to leave him alone and to head out on a journey before him, "while he sent the multitudes away. And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone."
There could be no greater demand on someoneís time and attention than there was on Jesus from his disciples and the multitudes. Yet Jesus sometimes said "no" to the demands on his time, so that he could rest, and so that he could spend sufficient time with his first priority: praying to his Father and Lord.
It is a good example. It is good advice. The poor and needy will always be with us. We should help them. It is our duty to help them. However, our number one priority is to our God, to his honor, and to his glory; and then to our family.
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by Don Richards
I recently accompanied my son and his Scout unit on a field trip to assist a local food bank. We have a local organization that serves as a central point for people to donate food items, which are in turn distributed directly to those in need.
These scouts were volunteering their time to provide weekend help with the collection and distribution of food.
Usually, assistance is needed sorting out the variety of canned food items so that a nutritional assortment can then be provided to those who need the food. However, the food bank was running low on supply and they requested assistance from the scouts in another way.
A local couple had donated a small portion of land for the food bank to raise fresh vegetables. The crops were ready to harvest recently, and the food bank was using this fresh food to supplement its current low supply of canned goods.
We took the scouts to this farm on the edge of town, and the lady in charge gave quick instruction in the art of "pea picking". A few of us adults then joined in with about 15 of the 7-11 year old scouts in wading into the blackeyed pea patch to harvest the crop. The lady had told us that what we picked on that day (Saturday) would be cleaned and distributed Monday morning and would probably be eaten before the day was out. She encouraged us that we were indeed helping to feed the poor on an immediate basis.
As we waded through the field of vegetables, we listened to the conversations of the young "city" boys talking about helping to put food immediately in poor peopleís mouths. Many of them had never been in a farm field and seen actual vegetables growing. Many had not previously known that peas came from such ugly and sticky stalks. It was a good self-taught lesson in duty to help the poor and a clear recognition of the need of the poor.
I was reminded of the lesson and duty given in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy. The lord gives us instruction in the harvesting of our own crops, to also care for the poor. At Deuteronomy chapter 24, we are told that we should leave a portion of the harvest to be gathered by the poor and needy and fatherless who need nit for survival.
The lord instructs us in our harvest to leave some remains for the "stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the works of thine hands." Deut. 24:19.
The Lord tells us whether in the harvesting of crops in the field, or olives beat from the trees, or grapes from the vine, we are not to attempt to go back to recover every fruit or vegetable. We are to leave the last portions of the harvest for the poor. The Lord reminds us that once we all were Ďbondsmen in Egypt" and he commands us in duty to care for the poor with a portion of our harvest.
It is the time of season upcoming when this becomes very important. Forget the governmentís welfare program. Look to ways you can help the poor and needy in your community. The result will be that the Lord will "bless thee in all the works of thine hands."
Look to Jesusís teaching in the Sermon on the Mount as to the procedure for helping the poor: Matt. 6:1-4. Do not do your alms before men, to be seen and bragged upon by men. Help the poor by not "sounding the trumpet" as the hypocrites do in the streets.
Instead, do your charity work for the poor quietly, and secretly. "Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly." Matt 6:3-4.
Would you hare your peas with Jesus? If Jesus appeared at your door, would you feed him, clothe him and take him in? Pick some "peas" for the poor and needy in your community. You know who they are, or you can find them easily.
What you do for the "least" among your brethren, you have also done it to Christ. Matt. 25:40.
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by Don Richards
As happens with many parents, Melba and I got caught in the "dog trap". We got talked a couple of years ago into getting a dog for our two children.
You have heard this story before, about how well the kids pledge to take care of the animal, how they will always be the ones to feed it, water it, take care of it. You also are familiar with verse two: it is mom and dad that wind up taking care of the dog, feeding it and watering it.
We made the additional mistake two years ago of getting talked into a female (a golden retriever ó a really beautiful and reasonably trainable dog). We subsequently were talked into allowing the dog to have "one" liter of puppies. ("one" liter is my limit; I have drawn the line).
Last week the dog had its puppies. She delivered eight, but within 24 hours we lost one and were down to seven. It has all been an interesting experience, and we have tried to use it as a learning tool for the children. But it has also been a re-learning tool for me in the mysteries and wonder of God.
We took a new golden retriever puppy two years ago which then had a hard time walking. We laughed as it stumbled over its own feet. Two years later we now have a wonderful mother to its puppies. We did nothing to teach this inexperienced dog the skills and traits of a mother, but the dog has all the signs of a trained a long-experienced nursemaid. We have watched in amazement at the perfectly tuned skills of this new mother with her children; and especially at the attempts of this new mother to save the one puppy that we lost within the first 24 hours. Who trained this dog in motherhood . . and first aid?
I will skip the many details of the gestation period and go to the birth last week. We knew from the first moments that we had problems with one pup. He was weak and off-colored. He was to only one which could not nurse the mother, and he did not seem to join in the "pile" of golden-furred rat-looking, closed-eyed pups scratching and clawing to stay in the warmth of the motherís curl.
The mother constantly was working with the sickly pup. She tried all she could to get the pup to nurse. Melba and the kids joined in. She called the vet and secured supplement and they went about feeding the new puppy with an eye dropper. The mother would take the puppy back, clean it up and lick it down.
We were amazed at the motherís natural skill when the puppy almost died the first time. At first it scared us as we thought the mother was eating her pup. Then we realized the mother had simply taken the head of her pup into her mouth to resuscitate it. The mother tried hard and kept the pup alive for a while.
We explained that the Lord had taught the mother how to be such a good mother and nurse. Even after we were sure the pup had died, the mother kept working on it and we let her try all the first night. She kept the pup between her paws and worked on it all night, even while constantly watching over and cleaning the other healthy seven pups.
Melba prepared for us a grave marker and the children helped us provide a funeral for the puppy they named "Halo".
I was reminded throughout this experience that God works wonders and mysteries with the intricate and detailed way He has created our world. The song came to mind: "His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches over me."
We are told in the gospel of Matthew at the Sermon on the Mount, that the Lord watches over and feeds the fowl of the air and the lilies in the field. He watches over us also and we should always have faith in that.
Not a single sparrow falls to the ground without the Lord knowing. He knows the number of every hair on our head. Matt. 10:29-31.
Nothing separates us from the love of God. Rom. 8:35-39. We are called unto him according to his purpose ó not our purpose. His unconditional love for us is so strong it will not be denied by anyone, including ourselves.
We are wrongly told too many times that God loves, but his love only goes so far ó He can do only so much -- then we must accept or respond. My God loves me in spite of my own ignorance, in spite of my own sin.
His eye is on the sparrow. His eye is on the puppies. His eye is on us. He proves this all to me daily. I take great comfort in that.
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by Don Richards
It is the Thanksgiving Season. This starts off what we refer to as the annual holiday season.
We traditionally associate a lot of fun and excitement with this season. And rightfully so, it is a time of family gatherings and reunion. It is an especially memorable time for the children.
Three thoughts come to mind as we enter this season:
First, remember to give thanks (you have more blessings than you can count), and remember to whom you are to give thanks.
Second, the best gift you have to offer to a family member (or anyone for that matter) is not material. Your best gift is highly personal. It is you! It is your time, your attention, and your love.
Third, your gifts should not all go to those you know. You have the duty to support even strangers you do not know who are in great need of your help. You never really know who that stranger might be!
First things first. Pause a lot to give thanks a lot. The Apostle Paul instructed us by his actions in every epistle he authored in the Bible, none more clear than the passage he wrote at I Thessalonians 5:16-18:
Pray without ceasing.
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you."
Next. Give the best gift you have this Holiday season. Give yourself. Find ways to encourage others. "Let your light so shine" that others will notice and give thanks to God. Matt. 5:16. Spend time with your kids, grandkids, your mother, father and grandparents. Send them a note, a picture or give a call. Give them reason to live, and have hope, and be optimistic. Give them a reason for them to share themselves with others. Age is unimportant: either on the giving end, or the receiving end.
How many specific gifts to you remember getting as a kids? Probably very few. And how many details of special times do you remember when you spent time with a parent or friend? You can create some of those same memories that others in years past have created for you.
Finally, do not limit your giving to those you know. Give to those in need. Do it privately without seeking public recognition.
Do not "do your alms" before men to be seen of men. Do not "sound the trumpet" when you help the needy. Matt. 6:1-4. Instead, secretly provide for the poor and needy. The Lord will see what you do and He will reward you far greater than any human reward. Teach your children this lesson.
Who are you helping when you help a stranger? Do you know whether they are actually a stranger?
"I was hungry and you gave me meat; I was thirsty and you gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in." Matt. 25:35. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Matt. 25:40.
Remember the teaching of the Apostle Paul at Hebrews 13:1:
Do not forget to entertain strangers: "for thereby some have entertained angels unaware."
Make the holidays a joyful season. In making it joyful for someone else, you will make it joyful for yourself.
To be joyful it does not take money. It takes you. The Lord is watching what you do. He will help you do it.
The Lordís angels are out there. Whether you know it or not, you might actually help one of His angels. And, whether you know it or not, you might actually be one of His angels.
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by Don Richards
I am waiting for better times to arrive. There are a couple of events in my life that, when they occur, things will be much better.
My whole life has been premised on that assumption. At one time the major event was becoming 16 year old and getting a driverís license. Later, it became "when I get to college" things will be better.
Now, itís "when I pay off the mortgage", or "when I get that salary raise," Iíll start doing things differently.I recently read a short article by a man named Robert J. Hastings. He talked about this "vision" we all have of traveling on a train across the continent. We look out the windows and watch the world pass by and see children playing, cattle grazing and rows of planted farm fields. Always uppermost in our minds is not the site along the way, but the final destination. So many wonderful dreams will come true once we arrive at a certain point. All our lives will suddenly fit together once we reach some elusive destination point.
Too many times our lives become like that train ride. We have some dream destination, and we miss out on the ride:
"When I turn 18 . . ."
"When I get out of debt..."
"When this year is over..."
"When I find a new job..."
"When I get my children raised..."
"When I get a new car..."
What we need to realize, is that the true joy of life is the trip. We miss out on wonderful things because we overlook them day to day.
We all know we have a wonderful destination at lifeís end. But we are on earth for a purpose during our life. We need to enjoy the moment; enjoy the ride through life.
Our final destination is the gift of eternal life. But we are not here on earth solely for that end. If son, why were we put here to start with?
As John the Baptist is quoted as saying in the third chapter of Matthew: "...the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
God has given us a job day-to-day. His kingdom of heaven "is at hand" day-to-day. We can enjoy that kingdom every day. We know there is peace and rest at the destination; but there also is comfort and enjoyment in the trip to that destination.
King David penned the 118th Psalm in which he stated at verse 24:
"This is the day which the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it."
Think about that. Are we getting caught up in the worries of tomorrow, or the regrets of yesterday?.
The Lord made today. Thank the Lord for today. Stop every day of the journey and thank the Lord for the blessings of today.
As Christ said in his Sermon on the mount"
"Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness..." Matt. 6:33. If we do that, tomorrow will take care of itself.
The Lord has provided to us his kingdom of heaven while we journey through this life. We need to stop and enjoy it, and take comfort and security in it.
We do not need to "wait" for better times; the Lord has provided us comfort and security for the day. There are always artificial deadlines. The Kingdom of heaven is at hand ó today. You do not have to wait.
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