Going straight to the Cross
 

Young Reminders

by J. Randal Matheny

My wife and I just returned from directing an entire week of Christian camp, with 35 young people between the ages of 14-17. It was a marvelous week, with one young lady accepting Christ through baptism. I taught the Total Transformation course, which was well received by the campers.

This week reminded me of several truths.

  1. Energy decreases over time.

I'm tired from camp, from keeping up with energetic youth, from questions and interaction and rain every single day! And I'm only 47! Think of how tired I'll be at 87 ...

If "the glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old," as Proverbs 20:29 tells us, I'm definitely tending toward the latter category (NIV).

But aren't we all? That's where our hope builds, as we slide toward the end of life.

  1. The energy of youth needs guidance and direction.

We had not a single major problem at camp. No one got expelled, and all the campers had great attitudes, even though the rain kept us inside most of the time. That didn't happen by accident. I had a terrific team of monitors and counsellors whose upbeat attitude and optimistic spirit infused the campers with joy and kept them from mutiny.

"Likewise, you that are younger be subject to the elders" (1 Peter 5:5a, RSV).

  1. Young people want and need meat and positive food.

On an evaluation form after the classes, I got comments like these -- remember, from 14-17 olds:

"I adored the course. It's very important to have classes geared not only to things that can remove us from the faith but also how to fortify our faith."

"Deep studies that call the Christian to his duties, but also call him to the love of Christ."

So Paul says in Ephesians 6:4, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."

Negative has its place, but positive teaching shows the way to go. And simple is good, but these young people have heard and seen everything in this world, and need to be challenged to think hard and long about life.

When a sudden cancellation opened up a teaching slot for the next camp session during Carnaval (a week away), I got invited to teach those 14 and up into their 20s. But I need a break (besides catching up on my work).

I'll let someone else get reminded of how to keep up with the energy of the young.

Excuse me, I hear a nap calling.

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Did God Drown in the Tsunami?

by J. Randal Matheny

When thousands of people perish in natural disasters like the tsunami that hit Asia on 26 December 2004, questions naturally arise. Why did this happen? Was this a direct punishment from God? If so, who was he punishing? And why? How could God allow such evil in the world as this, if he is loving and all-powerful? Does the presence of such bad things mean that God is not real?

For many centuries people have asked such questions. They are not new, although they become new to us when we see people suffer from natural disasters or when we ourselves are affected by them.

Our Assurance Is Shaken

Above all, such questions do not reflect badly upon the limits or deficiencies of God, but upon our own finiteness and inability to comprehend the greater issues of the universe. Science is helpless at such moments, human thoughts fail, man cannot even sense the arrival of the tsunami like so many animals that fled the low-lying areas hours before it made shore. For all our efforts, we are at the mercy of a world careening toward destruction. The movie that shows man saving his world from a meteor is not only fiction, but fantasy.

Many lives were lost in the tsunami, and we feel deeply ourselves our vulnerability, but God did not drown in the tsunami! What died in the waves were our assurance that life goes on as normal and our belief that today will be just like yesterday. We must confess that we do not know what will happen nor why many things happen. God's ways and purposes are beyond us. "The secret things belong to the Lord our God" (Deuteronomy 29:29, NASB). Through Isaiah, the Lord reminds us, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9).

But there is still sense to be made from the tsunami.

Sometimes God Explained

If God were to speak from Heaven and say, "I am doing this for this reason," we would know. Sometimes God did reveal that he was the immediate cause of a disaster. The Bible says that "the Lord hurled a great storm on the sea" when Jonah fled from his presence (Jonah 1:4). The Lord was directly behind the storm, with a specific purpose for causing it.

Likewise, through the prophecy of Joel, the Lord foretold that he would send a plague of locusts as punishment for the sins of Jerusalem and Judah (Joel 1:1-20). When God reveals his mind, then we may know! As the latter part of Deuteronomy 29:29 says, "... but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law."

But God rarely identifies a natural diaster or occurrence with a special purpose of his.

No Special Meaning

Jesus said that, among other things, "there will be famines and earthquakes" (Matthew 24:7), but that these would not be signs of the end or of any immediate activity of God which would deserve the attention of the disciples. "But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs" (v. 8). So "for Jesus all these things were merely preliminary" (Jack P. Lewis, The Gospel According to Matthew, Part II [Sweet, 1976], p. 122).

This means that Jesus' followers could not tie the famines and earthquakes to the direct action of God or to some purpose of his in history. Perhaps he was the immediate cause of a certain natural ocurrence, which had behind it a divine reason, but it was not something that humans could discern or with which they should be concerned, in terms of God's history of redemption.

How, then, should we consider the natural disasters that happen?

When We Suffer

If they happen to us, we should consider that the suffering and damage we have experienced are not a punishment from God, but they are a sign that this world has been injured by man's sin and our planet has been "subjected to futility" and "groans" in its present state (Romans 8:19-22). In this state, even innocents will suffer. The earth convulses because it will be destroyed, "being reserved for fire," ... "and the earth and its works will be burned up" (2 Peter 3:7,10).

Aside from the immediate physical and emotional needs that may arise from an earthquake, tsunami, volcano, flood, famine or other natural ocurrence, we must consider that the Earth is destined to be destroyed. The destruction we have witnessed, the suffering which we have experienced, is but a prelude to the final and definitive end of this world. We must prepare for eternity! If we live but for this world, woe to us! (Compare 1 Corinthians 15:19.)

If I have sought for God and obeyed his gospel, in the final day "this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality" (1 Corinthians 15:54). With faith in God and hope of receiving a "kingdom which cannot be shaken" (Hebrews 12:28), we may say with all confidence and courage:

"God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar and foam, Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride." (Psalm 46.1-3)

When Others Suffer

If they happen to others, our first concern should be to offer aid. This has been the response of many around the world, and this is right and proper. When Agabus prophesied in Antioch of a world-wide famine, that church, instead of debating the problem of evil or the why of natural disasters, immediately decided to help the Christians affected in Judea. "And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea" (Acts 11:29). So they fulfilled the spirit of Paul's exhortation, "So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith" (Galatians 6:10).

The greatest good we may do, of course, is to point others to the need for salvation beyond this life. Every opportunity should be taken to preach the gospel and share the blessed hope of eternal life with God. When the foundations of life are shaken, we may rightfully point to the arrival of the new heaven and new earth, where "there is no longer any sea" (Revelation 21:1). Every source of evil will be banished, and thus every reason for crying and sorrow will vanish (v. 4).

God did not drown in the tsunami, nor did the waves wash away our hope. On the contrary, it proved once again the brevity of life, the fragility of our world, and the solidity of our faith in the God who loves and offers much more in eternal bliss.

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The Whole Truth

by J. Randal Matheny

As I sat at the snack bar, the unwelcome noise of the television descended from the high corner where it was bolted to the ceiling.

"... I want the whole truth!"

I snapped my head around to see a soap opera in progress, a severe older man twisting a woman's arm.

The scene quickly lost my interest, but the phrase stuck with me.

When, like the woman with the flow of blood, I fall at the feet of Jesus and tell him the whole truth, I discover his forgiveness and receive his blessing (Mark 5:33).

With all the truth revealed by the Lord, I can walk as a child of the light and learn how to please the Lord (Ephesians 5:9).

When I have the whole truth, I stand in good position to rebuke sharply those whose characters need it, "that they may be sound in the faith" (Titus 1:13).

When I listen to the Spirit of truth who gave "all truth" to the apostles (who, with the prophets, gave us the New Testament), I can do like the Spirit does -- glorify Jesus (John 16:13-14).

Of course, I should not throw pearls to pigs (Matthew 7:6) and tell someone the whole truth of a matter, when they will use that to separate me from the power of God (Judges 16:17-18).

I want the whole truth, not half-truth(s), which are actually untruths, or lies. In the whole truth, there is no deception, no slants, no tendencies.

Though we shouldn't make too much of it, there was even a word for complete knowledge of God and his truth: "epignosis." An example of the word is in 1 Timothy 2:4, where God wants "all men to be saved, and to come to the full knowledge of the truth" (YLT). God wants people to repent in order to come "to the [full] knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 2:25).

Some have a bah-humbug attitude about the whole truth, the full truth, the complete truth, all truth. Perhaps they find something disconcerting in the whole truth. Something that doesn't tickle their ears.

I want the whole truth. The truth that frees.

Because life is no thirty-minute soap opera. It's for real. It's for eternity.

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Christ Accepts Me

by J. Randal Matheny

"Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God" (Romans 15:7, NASB).

"Just as I am." Christ accepts me just as I am, in order to make me what he wants me to be.

Just as I am, with all my hangups, problems, neuroses, and unresolved issues. And sins. Especially with all my sins.

After acceptance comes transformation, not before. "Thou wilt receive, Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve."

Christ never ignores, excuses, or overlooks my sins and all the rest of my ugliness. Never. But he takes me in, just as I am.

"Thy love unknown Has broken every barrier down." I am afraid, unsure, halting, uncertain. But his open arms assure me that when I take the first step, he will accept me.

"Now to be Thine, yea, Thine alone." Slowly he peels away the hardness, the scabs, the layers of hurt and resentment, the knots of pain and anger. He pours off the dregs of my darkness.

I am still in process. The sculpted image of God stands yet incomplete.

Wherever I am in this process, Christ still accepts me.

And as frustrated, discouraged, tired, as I may be with my progress or lack of it, Christ still accepts me.

And bids me accept myself, where I am, with the warts and wrinkles and worry lines. With the scars and cuts and bruises. Spots and all.

This is me. Much of it from long ago, still lingering, still limping, still aching. Just as I am.

"O Lamb of God, I come, I come!"

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The Belt of Truth

by J. Randal Matheny

"Stand firm therefore, by fastening the belt of truth around your waist." --Ephesians 6:14, NET Bible

In the Matrix movies, the star wears an overcoat in which he runs, fights, and comes out on top. It's a movie! The guy looks good in sunglasses and a black overcoat, but nobody wears such a piece of clothing and manages what he does.

In the ancient world, robes, tunics, and loose-flowing clothing got in the way of fast and furious activity. To keep it all from hindering, people used a cloth sash or leather belt to bind it up and permit vigorous action. Sometimes the tail of the long robe would be brought up between the legs and tucked into the belt, making a sort of pants.

So it was that Elijah "tucked his robe into his belt and ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel." (1 Kings 18:46, NET Bible).

Paul says an essential part of the Christian's armor is the belt of truth. This belt ties up the non-essential items, extraneous matter, and, especially, the harmful elements of life to permit one to fend off the evil one.

This belt is made up, not of physical cloth or animal leather, but of truth. Only by the truth can one identify and bind up that which would obstruct Christian progress.

Truth, then, does not restrict liberty, as some in the world think, but permits it! Another case of the truth setting free, as Jesus would say in another context (John 8:32).

Only a fantasy movie allows a person to wear a long flowing garment and still win. In real life, it just doesn't happen.

So gird yourself with the belt of truth and tuck up all that would impede your strenous activity in the Kingdom of God, so that you may overtake the evil one.

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Forthright Magazine continues, more dynamic than ever! We have groups created for FMag on Facebook and the Churches of Christ Network. Announcement blog is up and going on Preachers Files. Email lists about FMag and FPress are available both on Yahoo and GoogleGroups. And, to top it all off, we're twittering for both on Twitter.com.
by randal @ 1/20/09, 11:55 AM

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by diane amberg @ 5/18/05, 4:56 AM
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