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Swim Parallel to the Shore

            Last week I called a gentleman whose wife I had helped him bury about three months ago.  He’s one of these guys who doesn’t really believe in anything he can’t see—that gets in the way of believing in God, doesn’t it?  As we talked it wasn’t long before he revealed that he was really hurting, grieving over his wife’s death.  He mentioned having read a number of books and articles on grieving and used an illustration from one how the grief and sadness seems like an ocean wave—100 feet high ocean wave crashing down on you.  And that one knocks you down and here comes another one.  And you don’t know what to do.  I chimed in with “Be careful of the under tow!”  He heard that and agreed and recognized that this is the danger of being overwhelmed with grief.  I asked him, “What do you do when you sense the ocean undertow?”  He said, “swim parallel to the beach.”  That’s exactly right—if you can remember where the beach is—which you should always know if you are in the ocean!  When dealing with grief, recognize that the 100 foot waves will come and knock you down.  Be aware of the undertow—rip tides!  And when you sense that you are being drawn down and out into deeper water, swim like crazy trying to swim parallel to the shore.  Remember where the shoreline is and swim alongside it until the riptide passes and you can again stand in the shallow water.  Grief is a good thing—it is God’s way of helping us deal with loss.  But grief can sometimes be so overwhelming and we must be careful that we not allow ourselves to be sucked into the deeper part of the ocean where we drown!   The good news is that the 100 foot waves become 80 and then 50 and gradually, over time, they diminish in size and we are no longer knocked off our feet due to the loss we’ve experienced.  This man is only three months into his grieving—and he, naturally, feels sometimes as if he’s going crazy!   But he isn’t.  He’s going through something that is very normal for an absolutely unnormal situation.  One doesn’t lose a spouse every day.  You don’t lose your life’s savings every day.  You don’t lose your health every day.  We do experience loss in life—and grieving helps us deal with the losses.  But we must be careful that we not get swept out in to the “deep” and not be able to recover.  Thank God for Grief—and for His strength to help us deal with losses and recover.      JG

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Being CAREFUL to Obey God

The rebellion of people against God is not a new thought.  “Rebellion is bound up in the heart of a child” the wise man said.  And such rebellion is graphically seen in the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures, as the apostle Paul wrote, “The things written aforetime were written for our learning” and again, “All Scripture . . . is profitable. . .” (Romans 15:4; 2 Tim 3:16-17).

Just after God instructed Moses to tell the Israelites to sew into the corner of their garments a “tassel with a blue cord/thread” as a reminder to them to keep the commandments of God (Numbers 15:37-40), three amazing accounts are recorded that illustrate the need for such a reminder and that, in spite of the reminder, humankind often rejects God’s commands and rebels against Him.

First, notice the rebellion of some of the Levites against Aaron and Moses, against their authority.  Korah, Dathan, Abiram and On raised 250 men of renown to question the position assumed by Aaron and Moses.  God confirmed His choice of Moses and Aaron and Korah and his followers were swallowed up by the earth because of their rejection of those God placed in authority over the Israelites. 250 died that day.   Numbers 16:28-35. 

Second, on the heels of seeing that, “all the congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the Lord.”  Suddenly the Lord shows up and punishes the people for their insolence and 14,700 died (16:41-49).  

Third, after Aaron is demonstrated to be the high priest with God’s approval and authority, the children of Israel complain and contend with Moses (20:3ff) about their lack of food and water.  Moses’ disregard for God’s instruction to speak to the rock to gain water leads to his striking the rock with his rod, which he had done previously, and that disobedience cost Moses the privilege of entering the Promised Land. 

How often do we, in spite of knowing the authority of God and the Word of God, choose to ignore it and go our own way, “do our own thing” and sin against God and against our fellow man?   How often do we allow our frustrations or our anger to cause us to sin?   We must always be reminding ourselves of the need for personal discipline and of the Lord's discipline (cf. Hebrews 12:5-6).  

May we be reminded by Korah and his relatives of the dangers to ourselves of ignoring God and rebelling against His authority.  May we be reminded that our own sins can have devastating effects on our families and neighbors and friends.  And may we be convicted in our hearts to pay attention to what is God’s Will—that which is good and right—so our own lives can be blessed and our world will be a better place in which to live. 

 

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A Tassel with Blue Cord

As I was re-reading the Book of Numbers today a line struck a chord with me.  God instructed Moses to tell the Israelites to put a tassel, some translations say “fringe,” on the corners of their garments and in that tassel to place a blue cord or thread.   They were to do this so that when they saw it=--which would have been almost always as they dealt with each other and their own dressing on a daily basis, they would remember to keep the commandments of God which He had given them.  

What is your “tassel with a blue thread” that reminds you to keep the commandments of God?  As I thought about that, a number of things occurred to me.

First, I am glad to live under a New Covenant and not the Law of Moses.  Although we live under a covenant which still demands obedience to God, we are not required to “wear our religion on our sleeve” if you will.  

Second, it occurred to me that my reminder to be obedient to God is really Jesus—He is the example of perfect obedience to God to Whom we look as an example and as a reminder of our responsibility to be obedient to God.  

Third, do I need a “touchstone” of remembrance, a physical/visual reminder to obey the commands of God?   God does not require that in the New Testament even though God gives us some such “touchstones.”   The weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper is such a reminder to us of what our sins cost God and that God forgives our sins because of the death of Jesus and the shedding of His blood.  I am reminded that my sins are cleansed by Jesus’ blood when I am united with Him in baptism initially, based on faith and repentance, and I am cleansed by His blood continually as I “walk in the light” (1 John 1:6-10).  

Fourth, I HAVE a touchstone—it is my Bible.  God’s Word is now in written form for me to put in my pocket either in print or electronically (I use my phone for reading the Bible as well as an iPad and a laptop computer) so at any time I can visually look at this reminder and then look within its pages to actually see what those commandments are.  

Fifth, as I see Jesus living in others I see the “tassel with the blue thread” in the righteous acts of His saints and I am reminded of my own need for such righteous living.  

Sixth, I remember that MY devotion to keeping the commands of God is my own “wearing” of the tassel with a blue thread so that I might benefit others.  Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify you.”   NO, that isn’t what Jesus said.  “Let your light shine before others that they may see your good works AND GLORIFY YOUR FATHER WHO IS IN HEAVEN.”   Then MY “tassel with the blue thread” is a true reminder to others of the importance of keeping the commandments of God.  What comes next in the text is absolutely frightening.  But that becomes another story.     Jimmy

 

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God Meant It For Good

It was no doubt a tense moment as Joseph’s brothers realize that now that their father has died, Joseph may just “take them out!”  As you read the end of Genesis 50, you can feel the angst and genuine fear these men had for their lives and those of their families.  They had wronged Joseph, they had been mean to him, they had talked of killing him, they had sold him into bondage and tricked their dad into believing he had been killed by wild beasts.  And now they are using everything they can to persuade Joseph to let them be slaves of his but to not kill them.  Remember, Joseph had an ability from God to interpret dreams, to see into the future, to discern things in ways that most people could not.  So when Joseph says, “You meant it for evil, God intended it for good.” Joseph is reviewing EVERYTHING that had happened and recognizing that God had a place for him in Egypt to save not only the Egyptians from starvation but that entire part of the world—and in the process to enrich the land of Egypt and its Pharaoh (remember, by the end of the famine, Pharaoh owned everything and everybody!).  

I mentioned this passage to my fellow chaplains with Anaheim Police Department and reminded them that our officers are regularly dealing with families and domestic situations where these kinds of things have occurred or are occurring.  And from time to time, any of us may become involved in such situations.  It is a valuable thing to remember that God can take what looks very bad and good may come from it.  In Romans 8:28 (NKJV)  Paul wrote, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called, according to His purpose.” God, in the beginning, brought order out of chaos.  He, from time to time, stepped into time to give correction—with Adam and Eve, with Cain, with mankind when evil grew so intense God destroyed all but Noah, who found grace in God’s sight, and God started over.  God intends good!  Sometimes we need correction in order for good to occur.   Man may thwart God’s plans but ultimately, God intends good and good will come!  We must decide if we want to be on the side of “good” or the side of bad or “evil.”  

May we recognize that all that is in the world can be used for evil or for good.  God intends all to be for good, for Him, for His glory.  We can either work with Him and be blessed or work against Him and suffer the consequences, now and for eternity.  May we decide to always live and work to be on His side, to do good, to be good, and to help others to be and do good as well!

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Taking the Offense (without being offensive)

You football fans know the benefit of having a good offense all the while recognizing that without a good defense you’ll be clobbered by the other team as they put more points on the board than your offense does.  In the life of the Christian, we need a good defense but we also need to be on offense—without being offensive.  As we live for the Lord, we want to let our lights shine that others will see our good works and glorify God (Matt. 5).  We want to properly “adorn” the doctrine of God—make God’s doctrines/teachings look good to others (Titus 2:10).  That’s us being on the offense.  Doing good things, presenting Christianity as we live it—using our lips as we have opportunity (Go into all the world and preach the gospel—Mark 16:15).

Having a good defense means that we know what we know and why we know it.  Paul said, “I am appointed for the defense of the gospel” (Phil. 1:16).  Peter, in 1 Peter 3:15, told believers to be prepared always “to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you.” The context here is similar to Paul’s later epistles and to Luke’s writings: non-Christians are slandering the behavior of Christians and threatening them with persecution (1 Pet. 3:13-17; 4:12-19). When challenged or even threatened, Christians are to behave lawfully, maintain a good conscience, and give a reasoned defense of what they believe to anyone who asks.  Why do you believe what you believe?  How well do you know the Word of God?   Is it True?  How do you demonstrate that to others?   Is it authoritative?   Do you—and shouldn’t others—obey it?   Preparing ourselves for these events is part of what draws us together in our assemblies for Bible study and worship.  We learn ourselves and we teach one another in those settings.  The upcoming "Defending the Faith" Conference this church is hosting is an excellent way to learn to be on the offense without being offensive.  

Defending THE Faith is something we are always to do; even “contend” for it (Jude 3).  That’s being on the offense.  Carry the ball–take the truth–to the world.  Engage the enemy (Satan) by knowing God’s Word and speaking it, teaching it to those who need it most.  As Paul said, “speaking the Truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

May God bless us and bless the lives of others as we live out His Word, as we teach that Word faithfully, and as we demonstrate His amazing love and mercy and grace in the process.

Jimmy E. Gaston

 

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TRUSTING GOD

One Sunday morning at a small southern church, the new

preacher called on one of his older deacons to lead in the opening prayer.

The deacon stood up, bowed his head and said, "Lord, I hate buttermilk."

The preacher, and a few others, opened one eye and wondered where this was going.

The deacon continued, "Lord, I hate lard." Now the preacher was totally perplexed.

The deacon continued, "Lord, I ain't too crazy about plain flour.

But after you mix 'em all together and bake 'em in a hot oven, I just love biscuits."

He paused, "Lord help us to realize when life gets hard, when things come up that we don't like,

whenever we don't understand what You are doing, that we need to

wait and see what You are making. After you get

through mixing and baking, it'll probably be something

even better than biscuits." Amen.

Trusting the Lord isn’t always an easy task, but it is absolutely essential for having the peace that passes all understanding. As the

older gentleman prayed, no doubt from living it, we don’t always understand all that God is doing but we trust Him to do what is

absolutely best. He doesn’t mind us expressing ourselves to Him in prayer, always with an attitude of “Thy Will be done.”

Trust in the Lord with all thy might!” Proverbs 3:5

Jimmy Gaston

I Love The Lord—He Has Been So Good to Me!

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is one I begin many Bible studies with: 2 Peter 1:3-4. This passage emphasizes that we have EVERYTHING we need for spiritual life and godly living—which means there are no latter day revelations or special messages being given by God today that some people claim to have— AND the wonderful blessings God provides. Listen carefully: God’s “divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”
Through our knowledge of Jesus—from the New Covenant/Testament—we have all that pertains to life and godliness. That doesn’t leave anything out, does it? If it’s about life in Christ—being saved—or godly living—remaining faithful to God—we have that in the New Testament and God’s POWER revealed that to us!
The benefit to us is that as we “escape the corruption in the world through evil desire” (that sounds like repentance, doesn’t it?) we partake of the divine nature (that sounds like a new birth, doesn’t it?) and as those who are “born again of the water and the Spirit” (John 3:5; Titus 3:5) we are given “exceedingly great and precious promises” (that sounds like “all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus”—Ephesians 1:3-7).
God is SO Good! He wants us to be SO blessed—God SO loved the world that He GAVE—exactly what was necessary so we could be saved. Amazing!   JG 

A Living Hope

1 Peter 1:3-5 (NKJV)   Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,  who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Hope is one of those words that is hard to define but we understand what it is to be hopeless–without purpose, without motivation, disturbed, despondent, depressed. . .
If we consider the opposite, Hope gives purpose, provides motivation, prevents our being disturbed, despondent and depressed!    It is to a “living hope” that God has caused us to be born again and that “hope” is through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead in anticipation of our own inheritance in heaven.   What an amazing promise of God, what a wonderful FACT!   As Christians, children of God, our place with God in Christ, is an absolute!   Not a mere wish, not an “I hope, I hope, I hope” but a genuine knowledge that as those who are begotten again–born of God–born of the water and the spirit–we possess an inheritance that God Himself holds for those who belong to Him.
And notice that this inheritance is reserved in heaven for those who are kept by God’s power.   How good is that?   How powerful is God?   He is omnipotent–all-powerful–amazingly strong, all authoritative, absolute in every way.  In a world that questions any “absolute” how comforting is it to know that God is absolute in every way?  Powerful  “to the max!”
Don’t overlook the importance of “faith” through which the child of God is protected or kept by God’s power.  We must believe in God, we must believe God, and based on that belief be obedient to God as we know Him and His will for us.
And the salvation that God has in store for His faithful children is “ready” to be revealed.  The term translated “ready” denotes immediacy–and the impression reminds me of a stage production.  Imagine God in heaven giving the command “Curtain!” and the division between the spiritual realm and the physical realm is removed all at once and the glory of heaven is revealed and the saved of earth are immediately transformed and transferred to that glorious realm.
A Living Hope!   Makes you want to be sure you are “in Christ” doesn’t it?  Submission to Jesus based on your absolute belief in Him as the Son of God is essential( John 12:48), turning away from sin–that which divides us from God(Isaiah 58:1-2)–is another.  Being baptized into Christ (Galatians 3:26-27), baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38) is part of the process of being saved.  No one could be saved without being cleansed of sin, could they?  Are you ready for God to draw time to a close and open the curtains and reveal heaven?   If not, submit yourself to Jesus by deciding to be obedient to Him and let God take away your sins when you are baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.  Then that “hope” that God has offered will truly “live” for and in you!
Jimmy E. Gaston

Whatever It Takes

In a community meeting about homelessness, I listened to a speaker imploring that all of us determine

what we can do to house the homeless, doing “what it takes.” I remember Andy Griffith on a Matlock

episode defending a client who was quoted as saying that she would get back at her husband “whatever

it takes.” Matlock was reminded of his own mother who said that she was going to get her son to clean

up his room “whatever it takes” and he said, “I don’t think she meant to kill me.”

“Whatever it Takes” is a fascinating phrase and it applies in so many areas of life. “I’m going to get my

husband to love me ‘whatever it takes’”! “You’re going to take better care of those kids ‘whatever it

takes’”! “I’ll get these employees to do their work well ‘whatever it takes’”! Examples are endless.

God’s love for the world and His knowledge that sin would enter the world and separate man from

Himself produced the “whatever it takes” for God—the ultimate sacrifice of His own Son, Jesus—God in

the flesh—who died on the cross for the sins of the world. God’s love for us was demonstrated in His

providing “what it takes” for us to have fellowship with Him, for us to be His children (cf. 1 John 3:1ff).

How much do we love God back? Would we not, in effect, commit to God that we will love Him back

“whatever it takes”? “Whatever it takes” to demonstrate love for God we will do because we love God

“because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

What DOES it take to demonstrate love for God? Isn’t worship a demonstration of love for God? The

entire process of bowing before the Lord Who loved us and is our King and Redeemer and Provider . . .

that is worship. And such worship is proper if we honor the way God said we should worship

Him—singing His praises, giving ourselves—time, money, talent, etc.—to Him, learning from His Word,

remembering the death of Jesus in partaking of the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week (Acts 20:7),

praying always with an attitude of thanks giving (Philippians 4:4-7).

Isn’t our obedience to God a demonstration of love for Him? Jesus said to His disciples, “Anyone who

loves Me will keep my Word/commands” (John 14:15). “And having been perfected, He (Jesus) became

the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9). One cannot love the Lord and not

obey Him. And one who is merely going through the motions of doing what the Lord says without love

isn’t truly demonstrating worship or obedience—because obedience to the Lord is part of our worship,

our honoring of Him (cf. 1 Corinthians 13).

“Whatever it Takes”—we will love the Lord and honor Him and encourage all others to do the same!

Jimmy Gaston‚Äč

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THE DISTANCES BETWEEN US

Distance is usually measured in miles and meters, inches and feet, but sometimes distance must be considered based on culture and societal factors. As we “go into all the world and preach the gospel” we are faced with an ever changing audience. There was a time when most people believed in God, had great respect for the Holy Bible, demonstrated respect for other people through common courtesies and expressions of respect—Mr. and Mrs. were common greetings, Sir and Ma’am were the ordinary. A gentleman opening or holding a door for a lady was appreciated and often expected. Foul language was not to be used, especially not used by men in the presence of a lady. Today most refer to others by first names or “hey you” and I’ve actually had ladies refuse to go through a door if I was holding it open for them. And foul language is so common I’m convinced that many people don’t know what foul language is! I should not have been surprised while visiting with a couple prior to a Bible Study we were having to hear the young woman talking about the kids downstairs whose language would have made a sailor blush! And then she came out with some expletives herself and she seemed to have no idea that what she said was absolutely repulsive. What a lack of teaching, avoid of example, has been experienced. A young woman, admitted agnostic, told me last week that she believed she was a good moral person even though she didn’t consider belief in God necessary for such morality. I asked her how she came to the point of having such morals or of even believing there were such things, and she had to admit it was because her society/family had taught her those things. If we are going to reach our “world” we are going to have to realize there is a distance between us—and REACH out to close that gap and bring to each one the blessed message of salvation in Jesus Christ. 

 

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