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From the desk of Taylor Pickup

"But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God." (1 Peter 2:20) 
Peter wrote these words in reference to the way servants should react to their masters. While we may not officially have masters, there are plenty of people in this life who rule over us. Peter is addressing the fact that many rulers and masters will inflict pain and suffering upon us, specifically because of the good we do as servants of Jesus. We often have to remind ourselves today that doing good can bring persecution. But the Christians in Peter’s day needed no such reminder. It was a given that persecution would occur because of obedience to Christ. They understood that, they expected that, and they experienced that.
However, Peter’s point is that enduring through the suffering is seen by God as a commendable thing. This radically changes how we should interpret the experience of suffering for Christ. Instead of seeing it as a negative side effect of our faith, Peter presents it as an opportunity to please God. It’s a way for us to display a “gracious thing” before the eyes of our Lord. When God witnesses that enemies of the cross are unable to tear apart our faith, He is glorified and we have favor with Him. 
Peter's next sentence adds even more magnitude to this concept. He says that suffering in the midst of righteousness is our purpose and it's what our Lord Himself accomplished: "For to this you have been called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps." (2:21) 


From the desk of Taylor Pickup

God desires for us to be comforted and encouraged by each other. God even desires for us to be comforted by the brethren we don’t know and may never meet. Consider the words of Peter:
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world." (1 Peter 5:8-9) 
Peter acknowledged that the devil is a dangerous enemy from whom we should be protecting ourselves. Obviously, the harm that Satan can do is serious. Resisting him is often frustrating and painful. Peter referred to it as “suffering.” But he also pointed out that we aren’t alone. There are Christians throughout the world who are involved in the same fight against the devil. They are suffering too as they fight to stand with Jesus and resist the roaring lion that wants to destroy the Lord’s people. We should be motivated by our fellow soldiers of Christ.
Peter went on to acknowledge that the comfort and endurance aren't in vain. He said, "after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you" (5:10). Our suffering will eventually be over and the Lord Himself will rectify all that is not as it should be. His people will not be the ones who suffer, but the ones who are united with Him as His victorious conquerors.   


From the desk of Steve Patton

"The Lord reigns forever; He has established his throne for judgment. He rules the world in righteousness and judges the peoples with equity."
                                -Psalm 9:7,8

Our November theme is We Believe Jesus Is Coming To Judge. The end of all things will climax with the return of our Lord "with His mighty angels in flaming fire inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus." 
Wednesday night Russ Bowman preached about fearing God. It fit in very well with our theme and our weekly readings (Psalms 7, 9 & 50). Judgment and punishment are not pleasant subjects. But the judgment of God is real and punishment will follow (as will reward). We must understand that judgment is a manifestation of God vindicating His own righteousness and the law He set forth by which we are to live. God has a right to punish the godless and disobedient. And we must understand that we, too, will be judged if we choose to disobey or forsake our Lord. Then the cleansing blood of Jesus will no longer cover our sins and we should fear judgment (Heb.10:26,27).
Psalm 9 also says, "The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you." As Christians cleansed by Christ's sacrifice, we do not fear as others fear. Our hope sustains us. We have confidence we are saved and we can exclaim with Paul, "Oh Lord Come!"

 


From the desk of Joshua Creel

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
Chances are, you’ve never experienced true poverty. Perhaps you think of the times when the balance in your bank account was perilously close to $0. Those are anxious times indeed, but even then you probably had a place to sleep and food to eat (even if you were down to ramen noodles and cereal). We probably don’t know what it’s like to be totally poor; to have nothing and to have no hope of having anything on our own.
But poor is what we must be if we desire the Kingdom. While the term is used in the Scriptures for physical poverty (see Luke 16.20-21), “here it is applied to the sinful emptiness of an absolute spiritual bankruptcy in which a person is compelled to plead for that which he is powerless to obtain (Jer 10.23) and to which he has no right (Luke 15.18–19; 18.13), but without which he cannot live. Begging comes hard to men (Luke 16.3)—especially proud, self-reliant Americans—but that is where our sinful ways have brought us and we will not see the kingdom of heaven until we face up to this reality with humble simplicity.” (Paul Earnhart. Invitation To A Spiritual Revolution. Page 8)
The poor typically hope for very little. Perhaps enough to get through the day, maybe a little more. But those who recognize their spiritual poverty have the wonderful promise of the Kingdom! In recognizing their spiritual emptiness they become filled! Blessed indeed are the poor in spirit.    


From the desk of Steve Patton

"...when I go to Spain...I hope to visit you when I pass through and that you will help me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while." (Romans 15.24)
Paul was looking forward to visiting the brethren in the capital city of the Roman Empire. No doubt it would be a great experience. But, for Paul, it was only a "layover" for his ultimate destination. He wanted to go as far west as anyone could go at that time - Spain - the end of the world. Paul wrote a few verses earlier, "I desire to preach where Christ has not been named." Paul wanted "to make disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28:19). There was no boundary for him. I know a friend who once jokingly said "I will go anywhere to preach the Gospel - as long as it is south of Nashville, north of Mobile, west of Atlanta, and east of the Mississippi." He jokingly expresses the heart of too many evangelists. In some ways I have felt I was not fit to spend years overseas preaching. It takes a very special person with a specific mindset and a deep faith to do that. I didn't have it. But other opportunities have been presented to be an influence overseas. The Lord has opened doors for me to preach in several European countries and, for the last 16 years, in Ethiopia and the island nation of the Seychelles. It has been a life changing experience. Amazing brethren are found far from my native South. 
But I could not go without the help of brethren who are willing to "help me on my journey there." You have done and continue to do that for me. You have a part in the amazing work your Ethiopian and Seychellois brethren are doing. I leave next weekend for a month long trip to these countries. Having other preachers at University has facilitated my ability to do this (including past trips with our own Bob Owen). But it is "not that I seek for the gift, but for the fruit that increases to your account" (Philippians 4:17). The greatest blessing accrues to the giver (Acts 20:35). I am grateful God gives us this opportunity to be so blessed. Pray for the success of our work and our safety as I travel with Bob's son, Scott Owen. I will be remembering you and the great blessing you are in this work.


2017 Bible Reading Plan

Commit to spending some time each week in 2017 paying attention to the message of the prophets! Download the Bible reading schedule here. This week's reading is Lamentations 1-5.

 

From the desk of Joshua Creel

It's Not A Sin If You Don't Act?
Being tempted isn't a sin. I've said that many times to many people. I've said it to people who were struggling with sin, seeking to encourage them that not acting on the temptation is itself a victory. And this is true... in part. After all, we know our Savior was "tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4.15). Being tempted isn't a sin.
However, we might have mistakenly lumped temptation in with desire. Temptation arises from an external stimulus and seeks to arouse our desire. And when our desire is sufficiently enticed, we sin (James 1.14-15). So, it's not just the actions that are wrong, but the condition of our heart which make those actions possible. This was Jesus' point in the sermon on the mount when He emphasized that true righteousness warns against more than the actions of murder and adultery, but must govern the hatred and lust within (Matthew 5.21-28). It is why He said our sinful actions proceed from the heart (Matthew 15.19).
We cannot prevent temptation from coming our way; the world is filled with them. But our aim is to condition our hearts so that not only do we refrain from acting on temptation, our hearts don't even desire to act! Then we will truly be "pure in heart" and have the hope of seeing God (Matthew 5.8).