Devotional

Within four days our nation has been plunged into an unbelievable fear. People are selling little masks for your face. People are talking about what if it comes to this country, and preachers on Tuesday are saying, "It's the scourge of God."

The day is over, you are driving home. You tune in your radio.You hear a story about a little village in India where some villagers have died suddenly, strangely, of a flu that has never been seen before. It's not influenza, but three or four fellows are dead, and it's kind of interesting. They're sending some doctors over there to investigate it.
You don't think much about it, but on Sunday, coming home from church, you hear another radio spot. Only they say it's not three villagers, it's 30,000 villagers in the back hills of this particular area of India, and it's on TV that night. CNN runs a little blurb; people are heading there from the disease center in Atlanta because this disease strain has never been seen before.
By Monday morning when you get up, it's the lead story. For it's not just India; it's Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and before you know it, you're hearing this story everywhere and they have coined it now as "the mystery flu". The President has made some comment that he and everyone are praying and hoping that all will go well over there. But everyone is wondering, "How are we going to contain it?" That's when the President of France makes an announcement that shocks Europe. He is closing their borders. No flights from India, Pakistan, or any of the countries where this thing has been seen.
That night you are watching a little bit of CNN before going to bed. Your jaw hits your chest when a weeping woman is translated from a French news program into English: "There's a man lying in a hospital in Paris dying of the mystery flu." It has come to Europe. Panic strikes.
As best they can tell, once you get it, you have it for a week and you don't know it. Then you have four days of unbelievable symptoms. Then you die. Britain closes it's borders, but it's too late. South Hampton, Liverpool, North Hampton, and it's Tuesday morning when the President of the United States makes the following announcement: "Due to a national security risk, all flights to and from Europe and Asia have been canceled. If your loved ones are overseas, I'm sorry. They cannot come back until we find a cure for this thing.”
Within four days our nation has been plunged into an unbelievable fear. People are selling little masks for your face. People are talking about what if it comes to this country, and preachers on Tuesday are saying, "It's the scourge of God."
It's Wednesday night and you are at a church prayer meeting when somebody runs in from the parking lot and says, "Turn on a radio, turn on a radio." While the church listens to a little transistor radio with a microphone stuck up to it, the announcement is made, "Two women are lying in a Long Island hospital dying from the mystery flu."
Within hours it seems, this thing just sweeps across the country. People are working around the clock trying to find an antidote. Nothing is working. California, Oregon, Arizona, Florida, Massachusetts. It's as though it's just sweeping in from the borders. Then, all of a sudden the news comes out. The code has been broken. A cure can be found. A vaccine can be made. It's going to take the blood of somebody who hasn't been infected, and so, sure enough, all through the Midwest, through all those channels of emergency broadcasting, everyone is asked to do one simple thing: "Go to your downtown hospital and have your blood tested. That's all we ask of you. When you hear the sirens go off in your neighborhood, please make your way quickly, quietly, and safely to the hospitals."
Sure enough, when you and your family get down there late on that Friday night, there is a long line, and they've got nurses and doctors coming out and pricking fingers and taking blood and putting labels on it. Your wife and your kids are out there, and they take your blood and say, "Wait here in the parking lot and if we call your name, you can be dismissed and go home."
You stand around scared with your neighbors, wondering what in the world is going on, and that this is the end of the world. Suddenly a young man comes running out of the hospital screaming. He's yelling a name and waving a clipboard. What? He yells it again! And your son tugs on your jacket and says, "Daddy, that's me!"
Before you know it, they have grabbed your boy. "Wait a minute, hold it!" And they say, "It's okay, his blood is clean. His blood is pure. We want to make sure he doesn't have the disease. We think he has got the right type."
Five tense minutes later, out come the doctors and nurses, crying and hugging one another some are even laughing. It's the first time you have seen anybody laugh in a week, and an old doctor walks up to you and says, "Thank you, sir. Your son's blood type is perfect. It's clean, it is pure, and we can make the vaccine."
As the word begins to spread all across that parking lot full of folks, people are screaming and praying and laughing and crying. But then the gray-haired doctor pulls you and your wife aside and says, "May we see you for a moment? We didn't realize that the donor would be a minor and we need. . . we need you to sign a consent form." You begin to sign and then you see that the number of pints of blood to be taken is empty. "H-h-h-how many pints?" And that is when the old doctor's smile fades and he says, "We had no idea it would be a little child. We weren't prepared. We need it all!"
"But, but..."
"You don't understand. We are talking about the world here. Please sign. We - we need it all - we need it all!"
"But can't you give him a transfusion?" "If we had clean blood we would. Can you sign? Would you sign?" In numb silence you do.
Then they say, "Would you like to have a moment with him before we begin?" Can you walk back to that room where he sits on a table saying, "Daddy? Mommy? What's going on?" Can you take his hands and say, "Son, your Mommy and I love you, and we would never ever let anything happen to you that didn't just have to be. Do you understand that?"
And when that old doctor comes back in and says, "I'm sorry, we've - we've got to get started. People all over the world are dying." Can you leave? Can you walk out while he is saying, "Dad? Mom? Dad? Why - why have you forsaken me?"
And then next week, when they have the ceremony to honor your son, and some folks sleep through it, and some folks don't even come because they go to the lake, and some folks come with a pretentious smile and just pretend to care; would you want to jump up and say, "MY SON DIED! DON'T YOU CARE?"
Is that what God is saying? "MY SON DIED. DON'T YOU KNOW HOW MUCH I CARE?"
Father, seeing it from your eyes breaks our hearts. Maybe now we begin to comprehend the great love you have for us...

I know that expressing myself openly to you may seem a bit risky since we are told you are a predatory enemy of the most vicious sort (I Peter 5:8). But we are also assured that to name you and defy you is to defeat you (James 4:7, I Peter 5:9), and that is what I intend to do with this letter - to name you, defy you, and encourage others to do so.

The pages of the Bible continue to remind us how clever and formidable you are, and we know that years of practice have only served to make you more sophisticated and efficient in leading us away from the narrow path of eternal life. We know that even when we feel we have defeated you, you may turn our triumph into pride, and by a sort of spiritual judo use our own momentum to defeat us. But we know well that your power is limited, that you are not invincible, that in Christ we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37). You are not perfect. I would like to remind you that Babylonian captivity ("a coup "you thought, I'm sure), resulted in a pure, powerful people of God. The savage persecution you leveled against the church for three centuries was certainly a great failure. I also have no doubt that the Saturday morning after Calvary you did your share of strutting around - but that was your death blow, wasn't it.

I strongly suspect that you are reveling in the fact that churches of Christ are debating the necessity of baptism for salvation. I certainly never thought any would doubt this essential Biblical doctrine. But here we are discussing it. Some ministers and leaders are marginalizing, and neglecting altogether the correct answer to the question "What must I do to be Saved?" You've lured so many by twisting their innocent desire for unity with people of shared moral values. You have used the name of Jesus Himself to bind some to the commands of Jesus. You've brought together great rallies, lots of media attention, even added a dose of pseudo-persecution to the mix to make your Trojan Horse more appealing. I'm sure you are very proud of yourself. But you've made a dumb move, Devil.

Your latest effort will only serve to make us stronger, and I will tell you why. First, baptism is an essential doctrine of the New Testament - frequently and clearly asserted. Your efforts have only focused us on what is essential. For so many decades you have kept us at bay by getting us to waste our time and reams of publicized matter rending each other over issues that have nothing to do with the essential doctrines of the New Testament. This fight is about something necessary. When we focus our attention and energies in discovering, and defending essential Biblical truth we can only become stronger. Surely we have lost a few who were never convinced of the essentials of New Testament doctrine, but if they were never convinced did we ever really have them anyway (I John 2:18-29)? Your getting us to focus on essentials now remind us how important it is to instruct and strengthen our infants in the faith - to ground them in first things.

Secondly, many of these men whom you feed a twisted gospel, are becoming better fathers and husbands by being exposed to the very scriptures you use to avert their gaze from salvation passages. The children who grow up in their homes will have a stronger sense of what it means to have a loving father - and thus will be easier to reach with the message about the Father in heaven. You may think you've warped us with your coalitions and rallies, but you've only made us stronger.

I worry, though, that your intent is even more insidious than that. Could it be you hope that in the fight we will let loose of our love for souls and each other. Getting us to do that has, too often, been easy for you. Perhaps your intent is that we end up like the congregation Ephesus - doctrinally pure but loveless - thus unrecognizable as a Christian congregation (Revelation 2:1-7). If so Devil, we commit ourselves to be ready to give our defense with gentleness and reverence (I Peter 3:15). But we are determined to remember you are our enemy, and that to stand and fight you is to win because He who is in us is greater than n you! (I John 4:4)

          We’ve all heard the phrase “He lacks a few bricks having a full load”. “Her elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top”, is another. Regardless of which one you use, the message is basically the same: He-She-It lacks the necessary requirements to meet the current need. Most of the time, these gibes are uncalled for because the person in question knows they are falling short already. Adding to their discomfort only speaks to the shortcomings of the speaker just as much as the one who is struggling to live up to the expectations of others.

          However, there are times when our stubbornness and pride warrants such phrases if nothing more than an indication that a change is in order. When this happens one can only hope that we learn a positive lesson from the experience!

          These thoughts lend themselves to our Faith, as well. You see, we can not afford to come up short of the hope of salvation. The writer of the book of Hebrews writes: “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. 2 For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” Heb 4:1-2

          We can’t come up ‘a few bricks short’ and be acceptable to God. Either we are “in Christ Jesus” or we have fallen short of the high calling of God.

          Sadly, this is the state of most religious people today. There are a myriad of religions which seen to be ‘Christian’ but which fall far short of the standards of Scripture regarding the one true Faith. They say they are followers of Christ but do not or will not adhere to the commandments of our Lord. These issues fall into the categories of salvation as well as worship in God’s church. This is so because there are specific things required to have salvation as well as the commanded form and pattern of The Bride of Christ.

          When it comes to NT Christianity, one can not depend upon Man to guide our steps. Either we are completely subservient to our Lord or we are not. That is not to say we have to be perfect, but it does demand that we are willing to accept the clear and plain commandments of our Lord. It is possible to ‘come up short’. Only careful awareness of our ‘walk in life’ will assure that we don’t.

          So today, we will speak to the issue of Needing Six, but Giving Three.

Remember the first time you actually rode a bicycle? I’m sure you do. But here’s another question: Did you have ‘training wheels’ bolted to the back before you actually did it? If you are like most of us, you did. But here’s the thing: Did they really help you to learn enough balance to get the job done? Probably not.

            In effect, the help that some folks give us … really isn’t help. Now I admit that those extra wheels saved me some bruises, skinned elbows and knees, but keeping me from falling didn’t teach me to learn the fine art of riding a bicycle.

            Eventually, we took the training wheels off and I wobbled myself down the hill in the backyard until I crashed. But I was able to say “I rode my bike”! In the ensuing months I had a lot of mishaps but I can truthfully say I was able to continue my glorious career of traveling on two wheels.

            The point of all of this is couched in the fact that not all ‘help’, helps us. Those who love us often endeavor to diminish the natural risks which are incumbent in growing up, but some things can not be avoided. Some things just take ‘practice’ to get good at it.

            Living the Life of Christ is one of those things. When we first come to the Lord we have no foundation of habitual obedience because we haven’t practiced living how God wants us to live. As we endeavor to be what we know we should be, it is natural that we will make many mistakes along the way. And some times it can be very painful to us.

            Having a broken heart for those mistakes is part of the process of living less like our old person and more like Jesus. But there is something we need to be aware of, as we ‘practice’ the Life of Christ’. With failure there are two things which are basic to spiritual growth: 1) sorrow for the failure and an accompanying desire to do better and 2), a measure of discouragement over that failure. The first is a naturally healthy motivation to try harder. The second can be a tool in Satan’s hand to convince us that we will never be good enough, so we should quit trying, altogether. We should be aware that the solution to sin is repentance, not quitting.

            If Satan can convince us that we will never be acceptable to God, it is easier to convince us to go back to our former manner of life. ‘Giving Up’ is his goal, here. And what he is ever ‘helping’ us to center our lives back on self, rather than our Lord. Once it becomes ‘all about me’ again … it’s a done deal. He’s happy and God has seen one more child fall back into the darkness.

           Brethren, there is ‘help’ and then there is help. We need to understand that God has not put ‘training wheels’ on Christian Living. Just like the bike, sometimes we are going to get bruises and scrapes. It’s called Practice, and there is no substitute for the process. As a matter of fact, because He loves us He allows us to learn the fine art of spiritually by letting us grow, painful or not.

            So you see, God’s kind of Help teaches us lessons we will use in Eternity. And yes, sometimes it hurts. But we should always ‘get back on’ and learn from the experience, to His glory.

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