Solar Eclipse

In just a few short days there will be a solar eclipse that is visible from the United States of America. It will cut right across this country. For some it will be a total solar eclipse lasting a little more than two minutes. For most of the country it will be partial eclipse. The moon will not block all of the sun.

Though I live where it will be a partial I am still looking forward to seeing it. Wether you are in the total or partial foot print it will be amazing to see. The next total eclipse to cross the U.S. is not due until April 8, 2024 but on October 14, 2023 there will a annular eclipse. That is where you see a ring of fire around the moon like the photo on this page.

If you are interested in the eclipse schedule click this link.

Traditions: Milestone or Millstone

A milestone is not something that we see now. I can’t even think of a place that still has them. They were stones set up along the road to mark each mile. The serve the same purpose as mile makers on the interstate. As a kid I remember watching the mile markers as I kept track of how far to our exit. Though we don’t see milestones anymore we understands their purpose to measure distance.

A millstone has a completely different purpose. In old mills there were two stones used together for grinding up wheat or corn. The lower stone that is stationary and the upper stone that moves around on lower. Big heavy things millstone are. Not something you can just toss around. Jesus mention that you would drown with a millstone hung around your neck and tossed into a lake.

Now to explain what milestones and millstones have to do with traditions. Traditions in church life can be milestones that mark where they have come from and how far they have come. Those are good traditions. Traditions can also be millstones that weight the church down. Hold it back from reaching the goals that Jesus desires for the church. If the traditions gets to big they can crush a church out of existence.

So what is a milestone tradition and what is a millstone tradition. There is no clear answer to that question. For each church that is different. A tradition in one church because of its community might be a milestone. Where as in another church the same tradition is crushing the life out the church.

So what we need to do is to constantly examine ourselves and our church to see if we are holding onto something that is crushing us or is it marking our path. The best thing to do is when a tradition is questioned is to go back to the Scripture and see if it is Biblical and then get on our knees and talked to God about it. We don’t want to cling to something that is getting in the way of us serving Jesus both corporally as a church and individually.

Lego

I just read an interesting article about Lego. You can read it here. It got me thinking. Legos were one of my favorite toys when I was growing up. Right up their with my tinker toys and erector set. I loved and still do love building things.

I had adventures all over the world and galaxy with legos. One involved a friend of mine who taught me how to make bottle rockets motors. Then he and I would strap the rocket motors to lego dragsters we made and launch them across the porch.

Later in life with my son grew old enough to play with legos I gave him my old Legos. We had many adventures together. I did not teach him how to build bottle rocket motors but a few of the legos had the burn scars from when I was a teen.

I must confess that even as I an adult I have played with legos. Once while my family was gone a three week trip, I built a castle using all of my sons legos.

Good Soldiers Are Not Entangled With Affairs of This Life

You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier (2 Timothy 2:3,4, NKJV).

When I read 2 Timothy 2:3,4 I think of the Children’s song about being in the Lord’s army. We do not often think of ourselves as soldiers but that is one aspect of being a Christian. This earth is a battlefield, not just a physical one but a spiritual one. Many today are worried as they have love ones in military service around the world. In the spiritual war there are souls on the line all around us. Souls are even more precious than lives because should a soul be lost it is lost forever. It is not that lives are not valuable, they are, for to each life a soul is attached. The spiritual war is often overlooked because it takes spiritual discernment to see it.

When Japan surrendered that became the official end of the WWII in the pacific. That however was not the end of fighting in the pacific. There were many Japanese soldiers scattered across islands that did not know that Japan had surrendered. They fought on until they got the word. 

Almost two thousand years ago Jesus Christ died and rose again. Jesus won the war but he did not vanquish all of the enemy. Battles still rage for souls. People are still dying and going to hell. Jesus Christ has enlisted all faithful believers into the war effort. Our duty is to rescue souls. We are soldiers in the spiritual war. We do not volunteer for this duty. Jesus has drafted us. It is part of the very essence of salvation.

Paul reminds Timothy that his activities need to be guided by the war effort to rescue lost souls. There are three things that stand out for the Christian soldier in those two verses. First the Christian soldier must endure hardship. The Christian life is not about the easy road. Christ never promised that we will have an easy life in following Him. What He promised is the way to life is difficult (Matthew 7:14), we must take up our own cross (Luke 9:23, 14:27), and be persecuted in His name (Matthew 5:10-12). Hardship is an expectation of the Christian walk.

Second, we must not allow ourselves to be entangled with the affairs of this life. This is probably the enemies greatest weapon against us. An example is how some Christian get so wrapped in sports that they skip church so they can watch the games. They can tell you the full name, and stats of the players on their favorite team, but they can’t name the ten commandments. It is okay for us to participate and enjoy the things of this world like sports. We are not to become entangled by them. That is encumbered by them so that they drag us down.

Third, Our focus should be on pleasing our General. Jesus is the one that purchased us on the cross. It is His army that He enlisted us. We should focus our life around Him. Jesus taught us that no man can serve two master. You are either serving Jesus or you are not. The more you focus you life on Jesus the easier it becomes to endure hardship and avoid entanglement.

Surveyor 3

It has been fifty years since this lunar lander was sent to the moon. Launched on April 17, 1967, Surveyor 3 landed on April 20, 1967. Two and a half years later the crew of Apollo 12 visited Surveyor 3. They photographed the spacecraft and removed some of its instruments to bring back to Earth to study how instruments were affected by their time on the moon. This is the only space craft that we have launched that has been later visited by man.

You can read more about Surveyor 3 here.

Sunday School

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that in the last few months I have been pushing the idea that you need to be involved in Sunday school. You know you need to be reading your Bible daily. You know you should be involved in public worship in a church. But do you really understand the importance of small group Bible study? In the early days of the church it is written:

“And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” Acts 5:42, NKJV.

They were involved in public corporate worship in the temple. Our Sunday morning service is a descendant of this worship time. The disciples were also moving from house to house teaching. They didn't have Sunday school class rooms to gather in so they would meet in homes to discuss the Word of God on a more personal level and in more detail. It was small group Bible Study. Some churches today have gone back to that model. No longer do they have Sunday school but meet through out the week in homes. I am not concerned about the location, in homes, in Sunday school class rooms, or in the back corner of a restaurant is okay with me. I am concerned about your involvement in small group Bible study.

Even years later as Paul prepares to return to Jerusalem he says:

“how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house,” Acts 20:20, NKJV.

Decades later we still have public (church worship) and from house to house (small group Bible study).

It is in small group that others learn who you are and you learn who others are. You build bonds so that when you need help they are there for you and when necessary you are there for them. Small group Bible study lets you ask questions so that you can grow in knowledge of the Bible. It is the best help for your personal Bible study.

I really want to encourage you to become a regular attender of a small group. Right now at Callaway we have grade separated small group meetings on Sunday morning at 9:45 am and an all age Bible study on Tuesday at 7:00 pm. I hope one day that we will have more small groups meeting through the week.

One final note if any of you wish to start a new Bible study let me know. I will be glad to help you organize a new class.

Twitter

I have given up on Twitter so many times. This time I deleted my account. I just would rather visit a news providers web site once a day than follow their Twitter stream. It is too easy for one sites twits to be lost in the excessive chatter of another. I kept paring down who I was following until I was just following a few. If Twitter had just made using list easier on mobile I would have stuck with it a little longer. What I would have loved is an option to pay like $20 a year to have an ad free version and I could only be @ replied by other paying users. Oh, well, I hope they do well with the customers they seek.

The United States is NOT a Christian Nation

The United States has the reputation of being a Christian nation. It is just assumed that the majority of Americans are Christians. But that depends on what your definition of Christian is.

One definition of Christian often used by polls is if a person answers yes to the question, “Do you identify as a Christian?” I have seen that the number of self identifying Christians in the United States ranges from 66% to 80%. The latest Pew Research Poll puts the number at 70.6%. From my personal experience that seems like a fair assessment. So with that definition the United States is a Christian Nation.

But calling yourself a Christian does not make you one. A genuine Christian is radically changed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They are marked with many new characteristics like love, joy, peace, giving, mercy, Bible study, and fellowship. For this article I am going to focus on two characteristics. Genuine Christians have a deep desire for Bible Study and fellowship with other believers.

Think of it this way, would you say that a man loves a woman if he doesn’t like her body and her mind? How can a person love Jesus if he doesn’t like Jesus’ body, i.e., fellowship with other Christians, church attendance, and small group meetings? How can a person love Jesus if he doesn’t like Jesus’ mind, i.e., the Bible, group and personal Bible study?

Many claim that around 40% of Americans attend church regularly. That would mean that the United States is not a majority Christian. In all the places I have lived, I have never seen a rate of 40% regularly church attendance, unless what you call regularly is attending once a year.

A 2005 study revealed that weekly church attendance of Americans is at 17.7%. Weekly attendance does not make you a Christian but it is a good sign. The number of people that attend two or more weekly services drop off to a third of that in my observations at 5.9%. Now there are some genuine Christians that only attend one service a week. It may be job, health or a lack of discipleship that hinders them from attending more often. That puts the genuine Christians in the United States at some where between 6% and 17%. That means that the United States is NOT a Christian Nation.

The majority (53% to 64%) of the United States is folk Christians. Folk Christianity is a thin veneer of Christian terminology slapped on top of a thick base of personal relativism. Sadly, the folk Christians are the ones that make the most noise. They are more concerned about boycotts, protests and passing special interest laws than about making disciples, which is a genuine Christian concern.

Be of good cheer, rejoice for even though genuine Christianity is a minority in the United States, Jesus is still Lord over all. His is able to save as many as come to Him.

Reference

- http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/

- http://churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/139575-7-startling-facts-an-up-close-look-at-church-attendance-in-america.html

Alex and the Cat

Years ago we lived in house with a sliding glass door that was extremely difficult to open and close. Our cat liked to go outside. We would let her in and out by the carport door. One day she wanted in through the sliding glass door. Ronny said she was not going to let her in that door. The carport door is the proper way.

Jesus is the proper way to Heaven. Like the cat we try many times to get in our own way but it won’t work. Jesus said “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9). We need to look towards Jesus for the proper way.

Alex wanted her to come in but she would not come in the right way when we opened the carport door and called. So Alex went out the carport door, walked around the house, picked her up and brought her around in through the carport door.

Jesus likewise knows we are trying to come our own way. So He comes and gets us. He can bring us through the right door. “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

I hope that you are not stubborn like the cat and beat you head against the wrong way door. But rather you come when called. Jesus said, “... the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” (John 10:3).

On that day Alex did not go get any of the other cats in the neighborhood for they did not belong to us. Jesus will save all his but there are some not his. Jesus said “All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:32). He explained his people will get eternal life and the rest get eternal destruction for they reject Him.

I suggest that you come while Jesus is calling. If you are reading this because someone handed the newsletter to you or sent you the web link, understand that it is not your friend leading you to Jesus. It is Jesus using your friend to call you to Himself. Had the cat put up a fight Alex would not have brought her in. Jesus calls but he is not going to fight you.

Bible Reading Helps

When studding the Bible there are four basic questions you could ask yourself about a section you read.

The questions are: 

1. Is there a lesson to be learned?
2. Is there a promise to be claimed?, 
3. Is there a sin to avoid or repent of?
4. Is there a truth to understand? 

Before I explain more about the question I feel I need to explain what I mean by a section. A section in the Bible is a complete thought, argument or pericope. Man has divided the Bible into chapters and verses. These divisions are not always in the most ideal location. Sometimes a verse is a complete sentence (John 3:16) and sometimes multiple verses make up a sentence (John 4:1-3). John 3:16 is a complete sentence but it is part of a larger section that runs from John 3:1 through John 3:21. Today many publishers marked sections with italic subtitles. In my main Bible John 3:1-21 is subtitled “The New Birth” and John 3:22-36 is subtitled “John the Baptist Exalts Christ.” In older Bibles publishers marked sections by a paragraph mark.

First question, is there a lesson to be learned? This question often comes to play in narrative text. In 2 Samuel 1:1-16 a young man lies to David about how Saul died. The young man takes credit for killing Saul. However, in 1 Samuel we are told that Saul committed suicide. Apparently the young man felt that David would reward him because he killed David’s enemy. Unfortunately the young man did not know that David had passed up two opportunities to kill Saul. David knew that Saul was the Lord’s anointed. David had the young man executed based on the young man’s testimony. A lesson to learn from this text is that trying to earn other people's respect by lying will backfire.

Second question, is there a promise to be claimed? Sometimes God makes promises to His people. We can claim some of those promises. In James 1:5, NKJV it is written, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” Reading the context of that whole section (verse 1:1-8) you will see the promise that we can claim. The promise is if we are bond servants of the Lord Jesus Christ during times of testing our faith we can ask God for wisdom and He will grant it if we ask in faith and without doubting.

This text is a good example on why it is important to read the whole section. If verse 5 was by itself then the promise would appear to be anyone who wants to be wiser just ask God and He will make you wiser. It is the context that establishes the verseеs meaning. Look up James 1:1 in your Bible. In verse 1 James defines himself as bond servant of Jesus and then addresses the letter to the brethren. That is people who like himself are bond servants of Jesus. In verse 2 the context is further set in times of trials. Verse 6 the promise is narrowed to asking in faith and without doubt.

I know that it looks difficult to figure out the promise in James 1:1-8, but it really is not. It is just a matter of practice. The more you read the easier understanding what you read will become. Don’t worry if after a few minutes you canеt find the lesson, promise, sin, or truth of a section. There may be another section you need to read. In the 2 Samuel example you would not know the young man lied unless you read the death of Saul in 1 Samuel.

Third question, is there a sin to avoid or repent of? The Bible contains many sins that we should avoid. These are the easiest applications to look for. These type of applications usually applies to you same way that they apply to the people in the Bible. In Genesis chapter 3 we read where Adam sins against God through disobedience. The sin to be avoided here is disobedience. God says don’t do something then we are not to do it. Repentance is an integral part to recognizing the sins. As you read the Bible you will discover sins that you need to avoid. You will also discover that you have already committed them. As you find sin that you have committed you need to repent of them.

Repentance is more than just asking God to forgive you. It is turning from that sin and doing it no more. Pretend your neighbor is angry and backs over your mailbox on purpose. Then suppose he realizes his sin and asks you to forgive him. This is how we should do God, recognize our sins and ask for forgiveness. Now on the next day, your neighbor gets up on the wrong side of bed and backs over your mailbox again on purpose. He then seeks your forgiveness. For the third day in a row your neighbor runs over your mailbox and again seeks your forgiveness. He truly recognizes his sin and truly wants your forgiveness. He has not repented until he stops running over your mailbox on purpose.

The final question, is there a truth to understand? Some parts of the Bible are meant to just be understand and accepted. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1, NKJV).” This verse contains many truths that God expects us to just accept and believe. Here are some of them. God existed before the beginning of everything that we know. There is only one God. The one God created everything. Materialism is futile because it is not greater than the Creator. We are not greater that God because He created us. God has to reveal Himself to us for we cannot discover Him.

It is amazing at how much easier it is to trust the rest of the Word of God if you will just accept Genesis 1:1 as fact. Much of the Gospel of John is truth that we need to believe.

You really should develop a habit of reading in the Bible every day. The discussion of the four questions was only meant to help you. I know it is easy to become discouraged if you don’t understand importance of what you read. The greatest help is just read a little every day for the rest of you life. God considers His word so important that Psalm 119 (the longest chapter in the Bible) is all about His word. Jesus said “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God’ (Luke 4:4, NKJV).”