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A Word from our Sponsor

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This is a post from 2009, but I thought it needed to be published again. With Coronavirus, quarantines, and a lot of uncertainty, the gospel of Jesus Christ is something we can absolutely count on. It’s the most important message of this, or any, time.

Coram Deo

 

Every now and then, we need to be reminded of what’s really important. What’s really important is the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

As the church of Jesus Christ, we know our purpose – to glorify God, our mission – to make disciples of all the nations, and our objectives – evangelism, worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry/service. But what is our message? Our message is the gospel.

God created us to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. We were meant to have intimate fellowship with Him and each other.

It’s painfully obvious, though, that something has changed in that relationship. It’s called sin. Adam and Eve, our first parents, disobeyed God and sought to be their own gods, in effect. As a result, they were removed from the garden of Eden, alienated and separated from God. Adam and Eve also passed their sin on to you and me…

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gehrig

Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig by Jonathan Eig is a book I’ve waited a long time to read. Gehrig has always been one of my favorite baseball players, especially after I watched a movie called “Pride of the Yankees” when I was in elementary school.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the movie is a Hollywood version of Gehrig’s story and not the complete picture (as is true of most movies). Eig’s account gives the actual story of a great baseball player cut down in the prime of life by a disease that now bears his name. It’s gritty, touching, and, most importantly, real.

It’s said that we should never meet one of our heroes because we’ll be disappointed. Reading about them in a biography can have the same effect, but in this case (for me) it helped to know that everyone is a package. We all have strengths and weaknesses – we’re mixed bags (even those of us who are Christians!) as was Gehrig. I learned a lot about Gehrig and was surprised in spots, but not disappointed.

Eig has captured Gehrig the baseball player and Gehrig the man in his book. I recommend it!

Benedictus

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I needed the passage of Scripture I read and meditated on this morning in my devotions. It was Luke 1:67-80.

(Take a few minutes and read it. Go ahead, I’ll be here when you get back!)

It was so important because I can be irritable, and there are times when it doesn’t take much to trigger it. With all that is going on because of the Coronavirus, my old “friend” irritability has knocked on the door quite a few times. 1 Corinthians 13:5 says that love is not “irritable” (ESV), which the NASB translates as “provoked.” Irritability is closely related to ungratefulness and unthankfulness, both of which are poisonous.

The Lord spoke directly to this in His Word this morning. Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, was unable to speak after he balked at God’s promise of a son (Luke 1:18-20). After his son was born, Luke 1:67-68 say, “And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and accomplished redemption for His people.”

Notice the first words that came out of the priest’s mouth were praise and thanksgiving, as he was filled with the Holy Spirit. He praised God because his son, John, would be the forerunner and prepare the way for the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus Christ! The rest of the passage (verses 69 through 79) is a string of pearls – quoting one Old Testament prophet after another – exclaiming his great joy.

What grabbed me was this: I can always praise God and give thanks to Him for the redemption of His people, which was accomplished by His Son Jesus Christ! My circumstances or feelings, like thick fog, can obscure my view of the many, many blessings which God has given me by His grace. But I can be certain there are clear skies above that fog – beautiful blue skies – and that there is coming a day when there will be no more fog (and no more irritations or irritability), only because of the saving work of Jesus on our behalf.

Thank God for a needed Benedictus, or “blessing”!

 

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What follows is an account of the martyrdom of forty brave soldiers for Jesus taken from the Christian History Institute. If you’re a Christian, this is part of our family story. Be encouraged and inspired!

“Consider—you alone of Caesar’s troops defy him! Think of the disgrace you bring upon your legion. How can you do it?” Governor Agricola was speaking to forty soldiers in the 12th Legion of the Roman army who refused to offer sacrifice to the emperor while they were stationed near Sebaste in modern-day Turkey.

“To disgrace the name of our Lord Jesus Christ is more terrible still,” replied one of the soldiers.

The governor became exasperated. “Give up this stubborn folly. You have no lord but Caesar! In his name, I promise promotion to the first of you who steps forward and does his duty.”

When that lure did not break their ranks he increased the pressure. “You persist in your rebellion? Then prepare for torture, prison, death!”

The soldiers stood firm. “Nothing you can offer us would replace what we would lose in the next world. As for your threats—we’ve learned to deny our bodies where the welfare of our souls is at stake.”

Agricola ordered them flogged. Guards dragged the men out into the cold where they were stripped and tied to posts. Whips with hooks of iron tore the men’s sides. Unbelievably not one of the forty surrendered. “Chain them in my dungeons!” roared Agricola. He referred their case to Lysias, commander of the 12th Legion, whose coming was soon expected. When Lysias arrived he threatened a sharp penalty if the soldiers continued to disobey.

On this day, 9 March 320, the men remained respectfully defiant. A new torture occurred to Agricola. Nearby was a frozen pond. The March air was sharp. “You will stand naked on the ice until you agree to sacrifice to the gods,” he said.

The rebel soldiers tore off their own clothes and ran toward the pond in the freezing air. “We are soldiers of the Lord and fear no hardship,” shouted one. “What is our death but entrance into eternal life?” Striking up a song, they marched onto the frozen pond. Baffled, Agricola posted guards. He had baths of warm water heated as an incentive to the forty to come off the pond.

As dark closed in, the forty prayed, “Lord, there are forty of us engaged in this battle; grant that forty may be crowned and not one be missing from this sacred number.” It appeared their prayer was doomed to disappointment, however. Babbling, one of the forty crawled away from the ice. Guards helped him into a bath but the heat proved too much of a shock to his frozen system. He immediately went into convulsions and died.

However, one of the guards had seen a vision of angels with crowns hovering over the pond. Impressed by the bravery of the remaining thirty-nine, he shucked off his clothes and ran onto the ice. The martyrs numbered forty again!

When the sun rose, Agricola was told that the forty were dead. He ordered the bodies burned and their ashes dumped into a nearby river so the bones could not be collected and venerated. When the guards began stacking the stiff corpses onto a wagon, they discovered that Melito, the youngest of the soldiers, was still alive.

Melito was a local boy. The soldiers recognized his mom nearby. “Listen, Mother, take your boy home, save his life if you can. We’ll look the other way,” they said.

“What kind of talk is that?” scolded the woman. “Would you cheat him of his crown? I’ll never let that happen!” As the wagon began to roll away, she hoisted her son in with the others.

Ephrem the Syrian, who was a teenager when the forty were martyred, wrote an account. Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, near-contemporaries, also produced accounts. Attempts to keep the forty’s relics from veneration were unsuccessful. Bits of bone washed up at a bend in the river. Faithful Christians gathered fragments and deposited them at churches dedicated to the forty.

Polycarp – Today in History

Polycarp

From the Christian History Institute

POLYCARP holds a special place in church history. He was an intermediary between the age of the apostles and the church of the second century, as well as being one of the earliest martyrs about whom we have an eyewitness account. His writings quote from most of the books of the New Testament, confirming their authenticity.

Born around AD 70, Polycarp evidently became a Christian before he was thirty, for he learned the gospel at the feet of the apostle John, who is thought to have survived until the onset of the second century—the last of the original twelve apostles. Polycarp in turn mentored a young man named Irenaeus, who became famous for his writings against heresy. Polycarp’s character reflected John’s. He had the same gentle spirit, yet was inflexible in speaking out against error. Irenaeus later reported that Polycarp would literally run from heretical speech.

When John died, the truths of Christianity lived on with his disciples, of whom Polycarp, by then bishop of Smyrna, became the best-known to posterity, not only because of his frequent appearance in the literature of the early church, but also because of his triumphant death.

In John’s Apocalypse, Christ had warned the church at Smyrna they were about to face persecution and promised a crown of life to those who were faithful unto death. Polycarp undoubtedly encouraged his flock with these words when the Romans hauled several of them off to face death by wild beasts or fire. Polycarp soon had to apply the promise to himself. Not satisfied with the blood of their first victims, the Roman mob called for his death.

Friends persuaded him to hide in a farm-house and later to flee to another. While praying, Polycarp had a vision.  He turned and said to those with him, “It must be that I shall be burned alive.” By torturing two slave boys, the authorities learned Polycarp’s whereabouts. They sent men to arrest him. This time Polycarp refused to flee, saying, “the will of God be done.” He ordered food set before the soldiers and asked for an hour to pray. His prayer was so impressive that the soldiers questioned their orders to arrest such a good man. They allowed him two hours with God before leading him back to town.

A magistrate ordered Polycarp to renounce Christ and give obedience to Caesar as Lord. Polycarp answered: “Eighty and six years have I served Christ, nor has He ever done me any harm. How, then, could I blaspheme my King who saved me? You threaten the fire that burns for an hour and then is quenched; but you know not of the fire of the judgment to come, and the fire of eternal punishment. Bring what you will.”

On this day, 23 February 155, Polycarp died at the stake. Miracles accompanied his death and the faithful collected his remains as relics. The church of Smyrna recorded all this in a letter they sent to sister churches.

Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, is an example of faithfulness to the Lord we would do well to emulate. Hebrews 11:13-16 says,All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.” (NASB)

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The Puritans exemplified maturity; we don’t. Spiritual warfare made the Puritans what they were. They accepted conflict as their calling, seeing themselves as their Lord’s soldier-pilgrims…not expecting to be able to advance a single step without opposition of one sort or another…Today, however, Christians in the West are found on the whole to be passionless, passive and one fears, prayerless. Cultivating an ethos that encloses personal piety in a pietistic cocoon, they leave public affairs to go their own way and neither expect nor, for the most part, seek influence beyond their own Christian circle…[but] the Puritans labored for a holy England and New England – sensing that where privilege is neglected and unfaithfulness reigns, national judgment threatens.

(J.I. Packer)

We desperately need to recover the Puritan ideal and vision of applying the Bible to every area of life.

A Modest Proposal

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Near the end of one year and the beginning of another, I make a modest plea to anyone who will listen: Read the Bible from beginning to end this coming year.

You’ll learn, ask questions, wonder, think deeply, laugh, cry, and more other things than I can name. Most importantly, you’ll get to know God better and you’ll grow spiritually. It won’t be easy. You’ll be tempted to quit more than once, but resist it! You’ll be glad you did. As has been said, the Bible is like a body of water that a child can wade in and in which an elephant can drown.

Ligonier Ministries has a list of Bible reading plans from which to choose. Look them over and go with the one that you think would work for you. Then get started!

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers. (Ps. 1:1-3)

Don’t let your Bible look like the one in the picture!