Called To Be Sheep!

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By Bill Naron

Image courtesy University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

The other night, my wife and I began talking, and not just small talk. We were talking about the topic of service. I know, so typical, let’s talk about service the week going into Thanksgiving. Well, give me just a few moments to be super cliché. So, back to my wife (Sam) and my discussion, which went super late into the night. We talked about what it may look like to begin to try to infuse attitudes of service into the fabric of our family. So, wouldn’t you know that after this conversation my biblical character calendar would be talking about hospitality/service, and I would stumble upon a story in one of my favorite blogs about a family who began serving together. I just have not been able to stop thinking about this topic!

Mark 10:45 (KJV) says, “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” It says that Jesus Himself came to this earth to minister, or serve. He did not need to be served, but was sent to us to serve us people who were not worthy, people who were undeserving. He came to meet us in the place that we were in, no matter where that was. This makes me think of how every morning I drive down Portland Avenue, and it comes to a point where the road goes under an overpass of I-5. At this point, at any given point in time, there are numerous homeless people, and it just seems that more and more are filling the area day after day.

As a passionate follower of Jesus who desires to grow and change to be more and more like my Father and less like the world, I believe we must pull back the curtains and examine our hearts. I get the hindrances; there is just not enough time—we have soccer, piano, violin, and the list go on. Maybe we just do not feel called to do so, it is not in our ability, or maybe we feel it poses a lot of risk and danger. But Jesus Himself says that even He did not come to be served but to serve. And 1 Peter 4:10 says that with the gifts we received we should serve others.

If I am a passionate follower of Jesus, serving those around me is my calling, serving those in need is in my abilities, meeting people where they are at and serving and giving is something that is commanded of me! For Sam and me, the discussion has been, What would be a practical application of serving and a way that we can speak this core piece of the gospel to those around us? I believe that this is what needs to be done, especially if you have a family with small children. Find simple, practical things that can be done, such as making up care bags to keep in your car to give to those in need as you cross paths with them.

The next thing that was a huge epiphany for me was that I need to be willing to help and give to anyone who expresses a need, not expecting anything in return. It means that homeless guy on the side of the road. It does not matter what he does with what I give him; what matters is my heart in giving it to him. We are called to give and to serve and to not worry about receiving thanks or about whether they are really in need of it or not. Jesus served us, and we did not do anything to deserve it, and by that He set the example for how we are to serve.

In Matthew it talks about the Father separating the sheep from the goats in the end; He says to the sheep that when He was hungry, they fed Him, and when He was naked, they clothed Him, and when He was a stranger, they took Him in. To the goats He says to depart away from Him, for they did not do these things. And when the righteous asked when they had seen Him in these states, He said that what was done to the least of his brothers was done also to Him.

The challenge I see before us is this: if we view people through the eyes of a loving and caring Savior, then whatever service we do unto them, we are also doing unto Him, out of obedience to Him, and out of an abundance of love for our Father. So, the question is, Are we going to be sheep or are we going to be goats?

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One Dark Day in Texas

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By Larry Short
You may not recognize this wonderful couple, but they are your brother and sister in Christ, Bryan and Karla Holcombe. They and seven other members of their immediate family lost their lives Sunday in the mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs.

 

Joe and Claryce Holcombe are retired schoolteachers, now in their 80s, and are living in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Sunday they hosted a prayer meeting of nearby pastors and churchgoers at their home as they awaited details about the tragic shooting at the First Baptist Church nearby.

The news wasn’t good. The Holcombes’ only son, Bryan, was Associate Pastor there and was filling in for the church’s pastor that fateful day. As he walked up onto the stage to lead worship, a deranged gunman named Devin Kelley burst into the church sanctuary and began spraying automatic-weapon fire.

Bryan was killed, along with 26 other members of the small congregation. One of them was Bryan’s wife, the Holcombes’ daughter-in-law, Karla. The couple had been married nearly 40 years.

And the bad news didn’t end there. Bryan and Karla had two children (the Holcombes’ grandchildren), Marc Daniel and John. Marc Daniel was also killed. John, who was recording the service from the back, took shrapnel to the leg but survived.

But John’s wife, Crystal—who was pregnant with their sixth child—also died in the hail of bullets, along with her unborn child.

John and Crystal’s other five children were also in the service. Three of them—Emily, Megan, and Greg—were killed in the spree.

Marc Daniel and his wife had one child, Joe and Claryce’s sixth great-grandchild, one-year-old Noah. She, too, was killed in the gunfire, alongside her dad.

Joe and Claryce, a couple who love and trust the Lord, lost nine members of their immediate family in Sunday’s massacre: their only child and his wife; a grandson and the wife of another grandson; and five great-grandchildren, including one yet to be born.

The “family tree” below dramatically illustrates what I have just shared.

The enormity of Joe and Claryce’s loss is truly difficult, if not impossible, to grasp. I was therefore very interested to read what this couple—living a nightmare reminiscent of the heartbreaking tragedy that befell Job’s family thousands of years ago—had to share about their personal loss and tragedy.

“It’s of course going to be difficult,” Joe Holcombe said about the days ahead, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune.

But he said, “we are Christians, we have read the book. We know the ending, and it’s good.

“They’re in heaven,” he added. “And they’re a lot better off than we are.”

It Could Happen Here

As I reflected on this tragedy, I was confronted with the stark reality that something like this could easily happen in our own church. The First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs was really no different than we are, and only slightly smaller. They are a church where people learned about Jesus together, worshipped the Lord together, and simply lived life together, much as we do. None of them could have ever foreseen or anticipated the seemingly random violence that would tear through their congregation on this particular Sunday in November.

So, what should our response to all this be? Should we stay home, cower in fear?

Absolutely not! Like the Holcombes, we are Christian. We have read the book. We know how the story ends!

And we also know the Author of the book. He is the one who has told us, “Do not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another; and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” And, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”

We are called to be the light of the world, a city on a hill, shining God’s glory for all the world to see. And the world is seeing that glory, today, shining through the lives of people such as Joe and Claryce Holcombe and their surviving family members, who have suffered such unspeakable loss but still choose to trust God regardless.

They are truly our brothers and sisters, and we must pray for them—and for one another—during these dark days. For, as the author of Hebrews says, another Day is drawing near!

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The Ordinary Things

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By Brian Waple

As I sit here pondering what I’m going to write, it occurred to me that it is in the ordinary things that we find God. Now, this is not to say that God isn’t present in the spectacular and majestic and extraordinary—He most certainly is. But, as we go through our days, as routine as they are, we have opportunities to see God working. And we have the privilege of joining Him in those things, being present to what He is doing, and being a part of the blessing that comes from Him. And when we think about that, shouldn’t we be thankful?

I was having breakfast with my son the other day. We talked about some pretty nasty events going on in the world and how things seem to be verging on the chaotic and hopeless. As we were speaking, I was reminded that God is in all of that, the good and the bad, just as He is present in our conversation. And then it dawned on me like a lightbulb turning on—be thankful. Be thankful for the opportunity to spend the morning with my son and speak with him of things secular and spiritual; be thankful that he has a good, reliable car and is willing to do all the driving around Seattle on a wet Saturday morning (Praise God for that!); be thankful that he is happy with his life and is able to take care of himself and is respected for what he does; be thankful that Cindy and I have a weekly opportunity to spend the day with our granddaughter and be a part of her growing and developing; be thankful that she has parents who love each other; be thankful that there is no strife in my immediate family and that we get along really well. And be thankful that God loves me so much that He has blessed me with an incredible wife who cares about me, looks after me, and is willing to spend the rest of her life with me.

These are things I normally take for granted—these ordinary, some would say insignificant, non-Facebook worthy things. But they are moments when God speaks to us in the ordinary and shows us how much He loves us and how much we really are blessed. And our attitude should be one of thanks. In his book The Voice of Jesus, Gordon T. Smith writes, “Gratitude is fundamental for the Christian believer because through thanksgiving we open our hearts to the Spirit of God” (p. 85). Wouldn’t it be a shame to close our hearts off to the generous blessings of the Spirit of God simply because we refuse to be grateful?

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NLT). During your day, take a moment to think about how God is being present to you and blessing you in the ordinary things. And then take some time to give thanks.

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The Gospel Message

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By Tom Chase

As I sit to write this week’s Last Word, I am struggling to put into words what I believe He would have me write. In part, because I believe the message is still being formed in me. God is stirring in me a newer and greater concern for the lost. He is doing it in the following ways:

First, the Men’s Bible study group has just completed its study of the Book of John. He’s a guy that was with Jesus. He witnessed His life, His person, His death, and His resurrection, and he was and is totally convinced that Jesus is the Savior of the World, the Son of God! John writes:

We have seen his glory,
the glory of the one and only Son,
who came from the Father,
full of grace and truth.

(John 1:14b)

Reading through John, it is hard to miss his intent to communicate the truth about Jesus and to give evidence about the One whom he has heard and seen and touch and examined. All these things he didn’t keep to himself, but shared so others (me and you) might be convinced too. He proclaims his purpose in writing:

But these are written that you may believe
that Jesus is the Messiah,
the Son of God,
and that by believing
you may have life in his name.

(John 20:31)

Wow! I want to be that kind of guy, too, because I have heard and seen and touch (maybe in different ways) and examined (historically and evidentially) and am convinced that Jesus is the Christ, my Savior, and the Savior of the world!

Second, Brian Shape shared with the elders a video clip from Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller, a group that professionally perform illusions and sleight-of-hand magic. Penn is also an atheist and an advocate for atheism. In the video a “Gift of a Bible,” Penn shares a story of a man who gives him a Bible. Penn appears to be genuinely moved by a person, a rational someone, willing to go out of his way to communicate what he really believes for the benefit of another. His point—and I believe he is right—is that if we really believe Jesus is the Savior of the world and that if it is missed and not accepted, one dies and goes to Hell, it becomes paramount to tell others about that reality. Penn’s says, “how much do you have to hate someone to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell someone.”


Penn’s message is incredibly sobering. It makes me stop and think, What is it that has stopped me in the past? Is it because of social awkwardness or how it would make me look or feel? Is it that I don’t want to be pushy? I will not keep sharing if someone does not want to hear, but that presupposes that I have started the conversation!

I should be talking about the most important thing in my life. I should be consistent to proclaim what is real and true, in a respectful and genuine way. Penn says that one nice guy won’t change his belief that there is no God, which makes me wonder, How many would it take? Then I wonder why the church, as a whole, has been so defensive and less communicative. I cannot tell everyone, but I should be telling (talking about my God) to those in my sphere of influence. The guy Penn describes in the video takes this a step farther and includes a performer from a show he (the believer guy) was incidentally involved in. Lord, make me bolder. Lord, make this true in me, that I would start conversations about You! That all that I have heard and seen and touched and examined and am convinced about You in my life would naturally flow out of me! Lord please make it so!

Third, a close-up view inside the foster care system in our state and our community has revealed a system filled with great hurt and dysfunction. Our system is overloaded and overwhelmed. The truth is that our system is overloaded and overwhelmed because our society is broken, reeling in hurt and dysfunction, and in desperate need of a Savior. We know Someone who can change the heart of man—His name is Jesus. We do have the answer! But to give that answer will require boldness, conviction, and willingness to get involved in the messiness of life with others. Have we been called to do that?

Then Jesus came to them [passionate followers of Him] and said,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Therefore go and make disciples [passionate followers of Him] of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

(Matthew 28:18-20)

So, the answer for me is yes! He has called me to do that.

What about you? If while reading this, you, too, have been challenged with a renewed desire to reach those around you, then allow the Lord to develop within you habits to reach those around you!

I know the words of the following song, “Forgiveness” by Michael West reference forgiveness, that is, forgiveness we extend to others.


The Gospel message (sharing Jesus), though, is all about forgiveness, too—restoring one’s relationship with God the Creator. Our call is to love someone enough to share this life-changing reality and forgiveness that could be theirs if heard and accepted. My prayer is something like this:

Show me how to love the unlovable
Show me how to reach the unreachable
Help me now to do the impossible
Forgiveness [extended by Jesus]
I finally want to set it free
Show me how to see what your mercy sees
Help me now to give what you gave to me
Forgiveness [extended by Jesus]

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More Things in Heaven and Earth: When Materialistic Explanations Fail

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by Larry Short

“It just makes no sense. It’s like an asteroid.”

Stephen Paddock’s brother, Eric, stood in front of the media and groped for words as they asked him to explain why his brother had just unloaded a hail of thousands of bullets into a crowd of concertgoers in Las Vegas, killing at least 59 and injuring more than 500, in the United States’ worst mass shooting.

But asteroids are (more or less) random. People who kill dozens of people with guns and injure hundreds more are not. Reasons exist. Everyone knows this, so law enforcement and media are currently in something of a frenzy seeking to explain why a quiet, unassuming person such as Paddock would go off the deep end and do the unthinkably horrible thing that he did before taking his own life.

He was suicidal; that part’s clear. But it still doesn’t explain why a suicidal person would seek to take so many innocent people with him.

Like all of us, I think my first emotion upon hearing the news reports was a sickening sense of grief. How could such a thing happen? And my own emotions are compounded by knowing one of the victims, an LA County Sheriff deputy who worked with me at World Vision a number of years ago. (A bullet lodged very near his spine, and doctors are currently evaluating whether or not they can remove it safely. Please pray for Andrew and his family!)

The last time I remember feeling this way was in March 2015, when Germanwings Flight 9525 copilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately crashed his jetliner full of 149 innocent people and himself into a remote mountainside in France.

A Time for Reflection

I’ve learned to try to put the emotions associated with such events in a certain compartment in order to examine the facts as best I am able, interpreted by the media, of course, and from my rather inconvenient spot in my comfy chair here in front of my computer. But the importance of careful reflection on such events cannot be underestimated. I’m not talking about figuring out how to prevent such tragedies, which is not necessarily up to people like me, but rather, deeper questions. Questions such as: Why do seemingly “normal” people commit such horrific, senseless atrocities? If you eliminate the obvious possible motivations (such as terrorism, greed, anger, revenge, etc.), what are you left with?

One popular materialistic explanation is mental illness. He must have been insane. But in this case, there doesn’t seem to be any apparent history of mental illness. His friends and relatives all thought of Paddock as a “normal, regular guy. Just a guy.” And the methodical way he planned and executed his attack also is causing experts to question the mental illness hypothesis.

What then? The materialistic explanations are running out.

More Things in Heaven and Earth

And this is what should bother thinking people about the materialistic society in which we live. As Shakespeare famously penned, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

We don’t like to consider the possibility that there are dark spiritual forces at work among us. For many people, watching movies such as The Exorcist falls into the category of “entertainment.” I was fascinated by this introduction on the site Ranker, on their page listing “the best demonic possession movies”:

There’s nothing more horrifying than watching a movie about a person who’s possessed by a demon. What is it about the thought of demons, supernatural visitations, darkness, and evil that fascinates human beings so much? We must love it, as there are tons of wildly successful films where characters are possessed by demons.

I would suggest another explanation behind our fascination: it rings true. At Biola, I knew a professor of missions who had spent many years in South American countries. He had a reputation there (which surprisingly followed him to Southern California) as a (somewhat reluctant) exorcist. He was even called to one of the girls’ dorms at our college late one night, where he cast a demon or demons out of a student who was very troubled, changing the course of her life dramatically for the better. Darlene was a witness to this event, and as the campus newspaper editor, I did an extensive interview with Dr. Murphy in which he shared the details of many of his fascinating experiences with demonic forces both in South America and in the United States.

The challenge in this country, he acknowledged, was that in our materialistic society we oftentimes don’t believe that Satan or his demonic forces are real. Even in our churches, we frequently shy away from things such as this, things that transgress the boundaries of the “ordinary” into areas we can’t materialistically explain.

However, the Bible observes no such boundaries. Christ’s interactions with demonic forces were numerous and dramatic, as were those of the apostles who followed Him. The Bible certainly agrees with Shakespeare: “There are more things in heaven and earth . . .”


But Light Overcomes Darkness

And while we might find this truth frightening, if we reflect further and more deeply it should also be of great encouragement to us. For, if there are Evil Forces at work, there must also be forces at work for Good! And what do we apprehend (in faith) about those Forces for Good?

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:1-4)

There are a couple important things to note about the truths revealed in these verses. First, even though I have been speaking (as if I were Luke Skywalker) about “Evil Forces” and “Good Forces,” the truth is that there is a person (or persons) behind all such forces. Force is wielded by personality. And these persons (in this case, the “spirits” of whom John speaks) have goals.

The first goal John speaks of is to convince us to believe their narrative of truth. Our community group is currently studying C. S. Lewis’s brilliant work of fiction, The Screwtape Letters, which postulates what it would be like to be privy to a conversation between a senior tempter and his demonic trainee. Lewis offers this fascinating insight that highlights the demonic strategy:

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.

So, the demons themselves wish for us to either not believe in them at all (the materialistic viewpoint) or to believe in them wholeheartedly and fear them and structure our lives around that fear.

And, if you take the words of these verses (“for He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world”) out of the equation, it makes sense that so many nonmaterialistic societies have feared and worshiped demonic forces, for the primary goal of those forces is stated by Christ Himself, and it is bad news indeed:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they might have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

In Christ’s parable, “the thief,” of course, is the prince of demons himself, Satan. Satan exults in taking what is not his, in robbing God of His glory and creation, in killing, in destruction. Fearful power.

But juxtaposed against this fearful power is an even more awesome power wielded by Christ, the “greater is He that is in you,” the One who came that we might have life, and abundantly. While we mustn’t make the mistake of not believing in the existence of demonic forces, we must simultaneously hold a realistic view of their relative impotence. They can only go “thus far, and no further,” as God permitted Satan to afflict Job. They can only act in accordance with God’s permissive purposes, which are greater than we can possibly understand.

The Cross: The Ultimate Test of Power

And the foremost example of this is the Cross of Christ, the greatest tragedy of human history, sinful human beings unjustly condemning the sinless Son of God to an untimely, gruesome death. But then the pinnacle achievement of Satan, killing the very Son of God, was turned on its head by the power of God (manifested in the resurrection of Christ) into the pinnacle achievement of He who is greater than! This is the power of God. And it is a power we can be confident will overcome the very worst attacks of the evil one and his minions, be they Islamic terrorism or mass murder of innocents or the opioid epidemic or even the brutal slaughter of millions of innocent unborn.

None of us know, ultimately, how the actions of a person such as Stephen Paddock will be explained. But what we CAN know is this: while Satan is real, and powerful, and we are not unaware of his schemes, we have a God who is also real, and far more powerful, and has purposes that we will someday comprehend and that will cause us to drop down and worship Him!

So, I know it sounds trite to say, “Keep the faith!” at times like this … but I believe it is exactly what God would want us to do. In the face of immense tragedy and suffering, we must reflect on His greater purposes and keep the faith. Amen?

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The Flavors of Community

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By Bill Naron

Peer through this looking glass with me and take a look at the world. Do you see the hurt and confusion? People are searching for answers in the things this world has to offer, searching for happiness in earthly treasures. They are looking for fulfillment through any means possible. Life is hard in this world that is fallen and scarred by sin. It is easy to be discouraged, to give up hope, to just go with the flow, to give in to my selfish desires, and to seek my own will. After all, we are only human, right? I am only flesh and bone; how could I deny myself? I may go to church, but I am not dead.

This is the dilemma that we face as Christians, this is what we fight against. I have seen this happen to people I know, for example, when they forsake community and church altogether. They read their Bibles and they continue to try to live for Jesus, but it becomes very difficult. I believe that sometimes we tend to think that once we accept Jesus, things will be easy, and when they are not, it is easier to run away. We think, “Well, if this is going to be hard, that is not what I am signing up for! I do not want it to be difficult.” But is that what Jesus promised us? Nope. In fact, He says that in this life we will experience trouble, but He offers us hope, because He has overcome the world (John 16:33). I believe that this is why community is so important for Christians.

In community, we can grow much more than on our own. As Proverbs says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (27:17). I believe God uses the community to help grow us. See, as much as salvation and relationship with Christ happen on an individual level, I would argue that the vast majority of the process is community-driven. Be in fellowship, put yourself in proximity to others, as Martin and Brian both talked about a couple weeks ago. As a group, we are the light of the world, a city on a hill, a community of believers that possesses an amazing hope, refuge, and strength. This is something we should be sharing with the world, something that we should be living out.

Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth and that if salt loses it saltiness, it is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot (Matthew 5:13). We are the church and we have a mission. It is not an individual mission that just one person is called to—this is a mission that we are called to as a community. We are called to be tangible examples of lives that have been transformed by the Gospel. Like a savory seasoning, we are a group of people who give the world something to grasp with their senses. This community that we create gives us a tool with which we can draw those from the outside in, to come alongside new believers and nonbelievers. We can create space to practice the gospel in a relational way.

I was not raised with a pressing emphasis on the Idea of community, but I have grown to love the implications of it. You can find reasons to not try or to get out of joining in with a group. But when I joined a men’s group about two years ago, it was the best thing that I ever did. I finally realized that I was not the only one struggling, that I was not alone. I finally experienced people carrying burdens together, and that is what we are called to do—to bear one another’s burdens. I would encourage you, if you have not found a community group, women’s group, or men’s group, to find one and get involved. If you cannot find one, then start one and bring your friends with you. Through community, we can be a catalyst for change; we can show the world what it means to walk through messy, hard times. We can live out the example of Jesus Christ. So, get involved and don’t walk life alone—that is not what we were meant to do.

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