Under Pressure

It’s that time of year again when summer vacation comes to a screeching halt and our children head back to school. Back into the pressure cooker of studies, homework and sports. These are good pressures, but there’s another pressure they will face, peer pressure.

Peer pressure is not new, AND it’s not restricted to the school yard. Peer pressure continues throughout life. Don’t fool yourselves you big people, we all need to guard our hearts from the pressures of the world.

Before you can overcome peer pressure, you must become aware of it and from where it will come. Following are the 6 areas of pressure everyone faces.

THE 6 PRESSURES OF LIFE:

TO BE CONFORMED TO THE WORLD: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” [1John 2:15] (1Tim 2:9; 4:12; Rom 12:2; Jas 4:4)

Conformity — people acting like everyone else, without knowing why or what they are doing. Conformity is the opposite of COURAGE. It’s hard to go against the crowd, but that is the best way.

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.” [Mat 7:13]

TO GIVE UP THE FAITH: “And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.” [Mat 10:22] (2Tim 4:10; 1Cor 9:27)

In today’s world, true Christianity is frowned upon for its stance against sin and denominationalism. In many classrooms, our children are compelled to believe in humanism & evolution. But stand firm, for a reward awaits the faithful.

Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” [Rev 2:10]

TO BE DISHONEST: “Cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse:” [Prov 1:14] (Rom 12:17; Phil 4:8; 2Cor 13:7; Rev 21:8)

Honesty seems to be a lost art today.  In some cultures, religions and politics lying is an acceptable form of communication. We must guard ourselves from lies or we might end up believing some of them and that’s not good. [2Thess 2:10-11]

Now I pray to God that you do no evil,” [2Cor 13:7]

TO BE POPULAR: “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.” [Gal 1:10] (2Tim 4:3; John 12:42-43; 1Th 2:4)

Nobody likes to be isolated from others, but better to have just a few quality friends than to do what is necessary to have many friends. The compromises of your integrity are just not worth it.

For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” [Acts 4:20]

COMPROMISE THE TRUTH: “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” [John 8:32] (1Pet 1:22)

You may have noticed a subtle change in way people refer to truth. Listen carefully and you’ll hear people say, “your truth” or “my truth.” We live in a time when majority of people no longer believe in THE truth, but you must.

Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” [John 17:17]

TO BE LUKEWARM: “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.” [Mat 12:30] (Rev 3:15-16)

People don’t really care what you do so long as you don’t make them look bad doing it. Being a quality Christian is going to make folks look bad. People may become uncomfortable with you as you walk in the light. But this is God’s desire, that people see your good works and glorify Him by converting [1Pet 3:1-5; Mat 5:16].

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” [1Cor 15:58]

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The Strange Church

There’s a bittersweet scene in Ezra chapter 3 during the time when the exiles, returning from 70 years of captivity, were rebuilding the temple that had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar.

As they laid the foundation, all the younger folks, “…praised the Lord, because the foundation was laid.” But the older ones, the ones who had seen the first temple built by Solomon, “wept with a loud voice.” [Ezra 3:12; cf. Haggai 2:3]

Why such a disparity in the reaction between the two groups? It is the answer to this question about which I want to speak.

The reason for the weeping was that the older one’s could still remember how beautiful the first temple had been. They could remember the gold plating, the cedar paneling, the incredible beauty. The younger ones had no point of reference, therefore they rejoiced while the others wept.

POINT OF REFERENCE

The religious world is suffering from this same thing today. Many religious, churchgoing folks are looking for a church based upon their social programs, entertainment and food options. Why? It would be easy to just say that their stomachs have become their gods.

“Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.” [Philippians 3:19]

You would be mostly right. But let me suggest that another part of the reason this is so is since people have been separated from the truth about a sound church for so long they don’t even recognize one when they see it. There are some who have never even heard the truth on certain matters. They’ve never seen a sound church.

You may think I’m referring to denominationalism, but no sir. I’m speaking about the Lord’s church. The Lord’s body is suffering from this failure in having a sound POINT OF REFERENCE.

It is certainly true that denominations have ruined the truth about worship and the work of the church, Paul called it a perversion, and therefore many people of the world only think of the church as a benevolence or social welfare institution. They don’t even consider the church as a teaching organization.

The Strange Church

There was a time when Christians were thought of as strange. Peter said, “Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you” [1Peter 4:4]. He also said that members of the Lord’s body were, “a peculiar people” [1Peter 2:9].

Many of our ‘denominational’ minded brethren have never heard the truth on subjects like, institutionalism or the errors of the social gospel. Instead they’re rejoicing that they have ‘youth pastors’ & ‘children’s church’ and many other such perversions of the Gospel.

I know this to be true because I’ve asked of their members, “Do you know why we’re separate from you?” To a person they say no! One person was super excited to tell me the news that they found a ‘youth minister.’ I asked, “what is that, aren’t the biblical youth ministers the older people of the congregation?” [Titus 2:4] Yes, they think it strange.

Think about this; it was the strangeness of Christ that drew people to Him and His church. Strange in that He taught the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. [John 17:17]

He didn’t give His life on a cross to bring about an earthly kingdom and earthly bliss [Mat 10:34]. No Sir! He died to bring reconciliation between mankind and God. [1John 2:2]. This is not to say that joy cannot be found, it’s just not the work (responsibility) of the Lord’s church. Peace & Joy are blessings for people who, having put on Christ in baptism, are in Christ [Ephesians 1:3].

The Lord’s church is a teaching organization [1Timothy 3:15]. We are to reach out to the spiritually lost of this world with the Gospel message and baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Then we are to teach these Christians “to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” [Matthew 28:18-20]

“For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” [Romans 14:17]

You’re Rich

Ingratitude is one of the worst diseases of the mind one can have. It stems from failing to recognize the good that we enjoy, failing to appreciate (see the value of) the things we have received and failure to recognize from whom we received these good things.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” [James 1:17]

Another part of ingratitude is perspective. We tend to only see what’s missing in our lives without ever looking to see what is missing in another’s life. This narrow perspective warps our attitude and hinders our ability to be happy. More importantly, it hinders our ability to serve.

I came across this ‘test’ developed by Robert Heilbroner, who studies world conditions of the poor. He suggests we do the following 12 things to give us a better perspective about wealth:

  1. Take out all the furniture in your home except for one table and a couple of chairs. Use blankets and pads for beds.
  2. Take away all your clothing except for your oldest dress or suit, shirt, or blouse. Leave only one pair of shoes.
  3. Empty the pantry and refrigerator except for a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt, a few potatoes, some onions, and a dish of dried beans.
  4. Dismantle the bathrooms, shut off the running water, and remove all the electrical wiring in your house.
  5. Take away the house itself and move the family into the tool shed.
  6. Place your “house” in shantytown.
  7. Cancel all subscriptions to newspapers, magazines, and book clubs. This is no great loss, because none of you can read anyway.
  8. Leave only one radio for the whole shantytown.
  9. Throw away your bankbooks, stock certificates, pension plans, and insurance policies. Leave the family a cash hoard of ten dollars.
  10. Move the nearest hospital or clinic ten miles away and put a mid-wife in charge instead of a doctor.
  11. Give the head of the family a few acres to cultivate on which he can raise a few hundred dollars of cash crops, of which 1/3 will go to the landlord and a tenth to the money lenders.
  12. Lop off 25 years of life expectancy.

Pretty sobering, isn’t it? Made me want to sing the song “Count Your Blessings” over and over again.

 

COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,

When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,

Count your many blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?

Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?

Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,

And you will keep singing as the days go by.

Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,

Do not be discouraged, God is over all;

Count your many blessings, angels will attend,

Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Refrain:

Count your blessings, name them one by one,

Count your blessings, see what God has done!

Count your blessings, name them one by one,

Count your many blessings, see what God has done.

Johnson Oatman, Jr., pub.1897

Making the Best Choice!

“If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

 

“Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word. He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog’s neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine’s blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations. I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them; because when I called, none did answer; when I spake, they did not hear: but they did evil before mine eyes, and chose that in which I delighted not.” Isaiah 66:10

God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, was very angry with His people because of their poor choices. It wasn’t as if He hadn’t given them clear direction on making good choices. God gave them, and us, all that we need for life and godliness [2Peter 1:3]. Look at what He spoke to the children of Israel about repentance and turning back to Him.

DEUTERONOMY 30:1-20

1-10 God had given clear direction to the children of Israel before He brought them into the land. If they chose to obey His commands, He would have compassion on them, protect them from their enemies and give them prosperity.

11-14 He tells them that His commands are never too difficult, never too far away, but are accessible by all so that they can keep it.

15-20 Here He makes a contrast between the BEST CHOICE and the worst. To Love the Lord thy God is the BEST CHOICE, and to walk in His ways and to Keep His commandments, statutes and judgements. By this He gives a promise of blessing.

However, by making a BAD CHOICE, that is, to turn away from hearing His commands, to worship false gods, then He will DENOUNCE them, remove His protection and not allow them to keep the land.

In verses 19-20, He makes it clear about the two basic CHOICES. Life is to CHOOSE GOOD, which is serving Him, or CHOOSE BAD, which is death. Choosing wrong is a matter of life or death.

“Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them? for the ways of the LORD are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall fall therein.” [Hosea 14:9]

THESE 2 BASIC CHOICES ARE STILL BEFORE US. Peter said, “We ought to obey God rather than men” [Acts 5:29]. Jesus said, “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour” [John 12:26]. Do you see the connection of God’s blessing to the one who follows?

These TWO BASIC CHOICES, following God or turning away from Him, are before us in all our day to day decision making…

  • The WORK we choose to earn our living. Eph 4:28
  • The FRIENDS we choose to keep. 1Cor 5:6; Gal 6:7-9
  • Our choice of SPOUSE. 1Corinthians 7
  • In how we choose to spend our MONEY. 1Timothy 6:17-19
  • In the way we WORSHIP God. John 4:24
  • By the way we choose to spend our TIME. Eph 5:16; Col 4:5

Don’t be confused, all this is to point out that we have free will. Just because we have choice doesn’t mean that God will accept that choice when we go against His commands. We can choose to ignore them, and when we do, we will pay the consequence of our BAD CHOICE.

God is not, as some suppose, a micro manager. He isn’t deciding whether you go to a specific place or another. He is letting you make those decisions. Those TWO BASIC CHOICES are ever before you. To do GOOD or to do BAD.

“And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” [Colossians 3:17]

Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life [John 11:25; 14:6]. When He appears, this world of sin and doubt shall be dissolved. Since this is true, Peter asked, “what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness?” [2Peter 3:11]

“But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” [Romans 6:17-22]

Rock Bottom

Everyone has some trouble in their life, some more than others. It may be self-caused, natural causes or externally caused. Regardless of the source, living on this planet can be rough.

Another interesting fact about living on this planet; nothing stops when trouble comes. Bills keep arriving in the mail, landlords still want their rent and don’t get me started about what the grocery store wants when you load up a buggy full of food.

Just because the world keeps moving doesn’t mean that we’re not weeping with you in your sorrow, neither does it mean there’s no compassion.

Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.

[Romans 1:15]

Take, for example, Naomi. She was a young widow who was living with her widowed daughter-in-law Ruth. Back in those days it was very difficult for a woman without a husband. I can’t imagine that kind of sorrow, but we can study it and learn from it.

You see, Naomi was down, very down. You might say that she had hit rock bottom. We know she was down because of what she said to those back in Bethlehem;

“Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?” [Ruth 1:20-21]

Her sadness was so deep that she wanted to be called ‘bitter’ which is also translated as ‘grieved’ in verse 13. “for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD is gone out against me.” Can you imagine the depth of hurt that you would rather people call you bitter, grief or sadness? Her words conveyed no sense of hope. Is it any wonder she wanted her daughters-in-law to return to their father’s home? [1:8-14]

FACE THE FACTS

Naomi just presented them with the facts of the matter. That’s a good place to start I suppose. Many folks try to hide from the reality of their pain.

In another story, Joshua had to face the facts when Moses died. The Lord spoke to him and said, “Moses my servant is dead.” Yeah, Joshua knew that, they had mourned the death of Moses for 30 days [Deut 34:8]. So why did God tell him again? To face the facts. God had something for Joshua to do and it was time for him to get after it. God follows up His restating of the facts by saying to Joshua;

“now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel.” [Joshua 1:2]

Naomi, Ruth and Joshua were in mourning, but life was still moving forward. No one expected them to forget their loved ones, nor was anyone telling them to ‘get over it’ not even God does that. However, what He does expect from all of us, in particular those that are in sorrow, is to keep moving forward. He wants us to keep moving toward Him.

It’s when we understand this that we can have a better understanding of Matthew 6:27; “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” Christ then goes onto say;

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” [Mat 6:33]

He is saying, keep moving forward toward Him, and you will have the strength to discover joy again. This is what Paul learned with the trouble he faced while spreading the Gospel. He wrote to the Philippians;

Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

[Phil 4:11-13]

With the help of Ruth, Naomi was able to face the facts and move forward. God retold the promise of Abraham & Moses to Joshua as motivation to keep him moving, and Paul found peace and contentment when he heeded the Word of God.

“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” [Phil 4:6-7]

Keep moving forward.

LEGALISM

One of the most manipulative criticisms of the members of the Lord’s church is that they’re ‘legalists.’

Legalism is defined as “strict, literal or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code” (Webster’s Dictionary). Another way of saying it is, “one who follows the rules.”

What is unique about the definition of legalism is that it’s subjective. What does “excessive conformity” mean, who decides what is excessive and by what standard are they determining what constitutes excessive.

If you were to poll the denominations in a local area about what is a legalist, and pit their views on sin against one another, you’ll find that they would each think the other were legalists.

It’s really a made-up sin for people who want to continue in it. Paul addressed this in Romans chapter 6…

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” Romans 6:1-2

Here’s the rub, the workers of the devil have convinced people that NOT COMMITTING SIN IS A SIN! If you were to suggest that a legalist is a person who places their trust in the rule keeping ONLY, then of course that’s wrong. God clearly teaches an obedience through faith. Jesus condemned the Pharisee’s, not for keeping the law, rather for keeping it without their heart. I’ve met no one in the churches of Christ who believes or teaches salvation by works alone.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these OUGHT YE TO HAVE DONE, AND NOT TO LEAVE THE OTHER UNDONE.” [Mat 23:23] emphasis mine.

A careful reading of the New Testament will find commands like…

  • Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: Mat 28:18
  • By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name: Romans 1:5
  • …according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: Romans 16:26
  • For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things. 2Cor 2:9
  • If ye love me, keep my commandments. John 14:15
  • For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. 1John 5:3

I believe the confusion comes from a misunderstanding of passages that teach the keeping of the Law could not bring life [ie Gal 3:11; 5:1-4]. The context of these passages is speaking about the Law of Moses, not the Law of Christ. Later in Galatians 3:27 Paul wrote, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” In many places, the Inspired Writers and Apostles of Christ warned those, that still clung to the fulfilled Law of Moses, that it would lead to death. And nowhere will you find any similar condemnation of strictly following the commands of our Lord. Instead, they commend it.

Now, based on a poor understanding of Scripture, millions are being led astray believing that strict obedience to God is a sin called legalism. They’re being told that a faithful Christian is one who is not overly concerned with knowing or keeping God’s commandments. They will often cite 2Corinthians 3:6 as a proof text. However, when you examine the context (v7) you’ll find that what is under consideration is once again, the Law of Moses as it refers to “tablets of stone.”

Listen up, those who love God will keep His commandments [John 14:15]. What does it mean then if you refuse to keep His commandments? In his letters, John also wrote…

And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” [1John 2:3]

To love God, to truly know God, is to keep His commandments THROUGH FAITH for it also says in His divine word…

 

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” [Hebrews 11:6]

THAT’S SO FRUSTRATING!!

We all face frustrations in our lives. It’s a part of life for just about everyone. It comes because of unresolved problems or unfulfilled goals, desires, or needs. [These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. John 16:33] The definition of frustration is;

(n) the feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of inability to change or achieve something.

Frustration is often manifested by feelings of discouragement, anger, and annoyance. Since each of these is condemned by scripture, we need to learn how to handle frustrations in our lives.

I’d like to offer a modification to the current definition of frustration:

the feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because they DON’T KNOW HOW to change or achieve something.”

ANGER:  Col 3:8 But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.

DISCOURAGEMENT:  Ps 27:14 Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.

The regular definition has a feeling of inability, helplessness and hopelessness. That’s just not true. We DO HAVE ABILITY to do something about those things that frustrate us. There is hope.

OVERCOMING FRUSTRATION: Below are a few ways we can minimize or even eliminate frustration using the example of evangelism.

LEARN / GROW: Ask Yourself, “What Is Working?” Arguing with folks is very counterproductive. Has anyone ever been won over by an argument? Evangelism used to be frustrating when all I ever did was use conjecture without ever opening the Bible. When we study, we can turn to passages and show them to people. Their anger with us then becomes anger at the Bible and they know they can’t do that.

But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. [2Peter 3:18]

LOOK AHEAD: Many sorrows come upon us because we just don’t pay attention. When speaking with someone about salvation they often jump around from subject to subject. Knowing ahead of time about this, we can prepare ourselves to remain on the subject at hand.

See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, [Ephesians 5:15]

TRY AGAIN: We will face Mockers which can be very aggravating. However, it’s not new, Paul faced mockers when he preached [Acts 17:32]. What did he do? He kept on preaching, he just took those who wanted to hear and spoke with them.

So Paul departed from among them. Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed. [Acts 17:33-34a]

AUTOPILOT: Critics of the Lord’s church will use about 10 of the same arguments (i.e. thief on the cross, just love, the Roman road etc.). Rather then let that bother us, prepare an answer. If we’re going to get the same objections from most everyone we preach to, learn the answers. Now, instead of frustration, it makes me smile which always improves the interaction.

Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man. [Col 4:6]

STOP FIGHTING GOD: We often believe that just because we’re having a conversation with someone that we’re doing God’s will. Not so. When we face the mockers, the disinterested or the haters we end up in an argument and, fighting against God. Jesus explicitly told us not to do this.

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you. [Matthew 7:6]

REMAIN POSITIVE: We need to acknowledge that we can’t change people, they must want to change. Once we admit that the only way things will change is when we change, then we can have a new perspective about frustrations and recognize them as just challenges to overcome. Challenges are good and very rewarding. [Mat 5:10-12]

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. [John 14:27]

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:6-10]

A life of frustration is no way to live and can never glorify God because it contains no joy, it has no hope and it leads to sinful attitudes.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. [Galatians 5:22-23]

REBELLION

(Editor’s Note: Ricky was raised in the pews of the church of Christ. His parents were Godly people and worked hard to raise their children in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord [Eph 6:4] Ricky himself obeying the gospel as a young man and participated in the Lord’s church. However, Ricky fell into sin and found himself on death row at the Texas State Prison in Huntsville, Texas.

After eleven years on death row, Ricky was executed. He took responsibility for his actions and asked God for forgiveness. He wrote an open letter about his rebellion and subsequent repentance. This is that letter.)

Dear brothers and sisters,

I hope I may have a moment of your time. I am writing to you from prison, yes prison. In a way I hope to reach out in the way that Paul did while he was in prison, by letters. But I have a different reason for my letter, yet it is for the same purpose that Paul had, to help you live according to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

First, stop and think what it is that may or may not cause one of us to end up in prison. It is the same thing that can cause us to end up in HELL. What is that? SIN !!!

And one of the sins I want to speak about here today is: “REBELLION

Rebellion is what most of us don’t think about very much. Like not listening to our parents when they tell us something. Like not listening to God when He tells us something. Like not listening to Governing authorities. And one of the greatest and easiest things that cause this rebellion is your friends. Yes, your friends will try to get you to do something, and if you say “no’, often they will say; “come on, are you scared?”, or they’ll call you “chicken”. Then most people will jump right in and do whatever it is, for most people don’t like to be looked at like that by their friends. Or, you may only be running around with a crowd, and they do things that are not right. But consider this, if people see what they are like, and know that you run around with them, whether you partake of the things they do or not, people will think you are just as bad as they are. some say; “birds of a feather flock together”. If you don’t pick your friends, like some pick tomatoes, you may pick a bad one. And take it from me, someone who has been there, that can cost you more than I think you are willing to pay. I know what I am talking about, for all I have said so far, landed me on death row.

ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME ?????

Wild women, drugs, and fast living, was the road I took and look where it got me. Don’t think it cannot happen to you, for if you find yourself on any of these roads, you will sooner or later run into a situation that may hurt not only you, but your loved ones as well. And when you say, “Oh, I know what I am doing,” believe me, I said the very same thing, and see where I am.

I obeyed the gospel many many years ago and fell away, and now I have come home to the Lord again. I feel the Lord allowed me to end up here to wake me up from the sinful life I was living, for who knows, had I not ended up in here, I might still be living that fast life. When I obeyed the gospel, I was told through God’s word what to do, and I fell away. Jonah was told what to do also, but he didn’t do it, and ended up in the belly of a whale. If you have heard or read the story you know that he repented, and God had the whale spit him out on the beach. Now, I am not saying I will be spit out of this cement whale I call it, or that I will be digested in it, or will I live out my life to old age in here. But, PLEASE HEAR ME, clean up your life if you are in the wrong way of life. In the back of your mind you know who you are and the life you live. And if you say to yourself, like I said many times; “I know what I am doing”, the TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE, better known as TDC; has a number for you. Mine is 000893. I am only one of 340 some odd people on death row here in Texas. And if you run with the wrong people YOU could get the death penalty. For example; say you are riding around with a friend, and you pull into a gas station. Your friend goes in to pay for the gas and robs and kills the gas station attendant. You are only sitting in the car, but under Texas Law, a District Attorney can get a jury to give YOU a death sentence as well as the guy that did the killing. And Texas will execute people like that as if they were the one who did the crime. There is a man down here who was hitchhiking and got into the car with a guy that had just killed someone and stole their car. When he was caught, the hitchhiker was not only arrested, but got the death penalty also, because the killer did not tell them he was only a hitchhiker. So, he may die for something he did not do. Do you think you can say; “I know what I am doing” NOW???

It is my prayer that you will stop and think about your life, young and old, for we are all under a law, God’s law. If we obey the Lord, then we can have eternal life, even if life on earth throws us a curve, like it did me. But I was able to repent of my sins, but I also could have been dead before I had a chance to repent, and I know without a doubt, had I done so I would be bound for Hell. But I did repent, and have the chance to meet you in Heaven come Judgment Day. So please, let’s work for the goal together, OK?

Your brother in Christ Jesus,

 

Ricky Don Blackmon

FOLLOWING THE LEADER

Do you remember that childhood game, Follow the Leader, also called the “copycat game”? It’s where a leader is chosen who becomes the “head of the line,” then the rest of the children line up behind the leader. The leader then moves around the playground going over, through or around multiple obstacles (sometimes jumping, skipping & hopping) and all the followers must mimic the leader’s actions. Any player who fails to follow the leader is out of the game.

During play, if you were one of the kids towards the back of the line you couldn’t actually see what the leader was doing, so you had to watch and mimic the child immediately in front of you. All the while singing…

Following the leader,

the leader, the leader

I’m following the leader,

wherever he may go.

I hope kids are still playing some version of the game today. It’s games like these that can teach kids some very valuable lessons for when they get older and us too. Do you see the hidden truth in this game?

Children’s games with big lessons

As silly as it may sound, the FOLLOW THE LEADER game resembles our walk as Christians. We have our leader who is Christ….

Mt 10:32 Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.

And we follow Him in the Gospel, which is His death, burial & resurrection [1Cor 15:1-4]…

Romans 6:4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Then we continue to follow Him all through all the obstacles of life…

1Peter 2:21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:

However, since we are towards the back of the line, in a figure, we are to follow others who are following Him…

1Co 11:1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.

BE A FOLLOWER OF CHRIST

Following others who follow Christ is following Christ. “And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost:” [1Thess 1:6]. Paul also said to the Philippians, “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample” [Phil 3:17]. Paul is still urging us today, “Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me” [1Corinthians 4:16].

But we’re not to just follow someone who SAYS they’re following Christ, they must be actual followers whose actions can be compared to those things we learn from the Scriptures. “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you” [Phil 4:9; see also 2Thess 3:7].

In a mature church, there will be Elders who are following Christ, these we are also to follow. “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation” [Hebrews 13:7]. Not as leaders who make up new things to follow, rather as examples. “Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” [1Peter 5:3].

What are we to do if there are no good examples to follow? We can follow Christ and His righteousness because we have His word [1Thessalonians 1:6]. “But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness [1Timothy 6:11]. It was so important that Paul told it to Timothy again in his second letter. “Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” [2Timothy 2:22].

Some will make the excuse that the only folks they have aren’t very good examples. That’s no excuse. Peter asked Jesus about one of the other disciples. (the context is about sacrifice) Jesus replied, “what is that to you? You follow me” [John 21:21-22]. Whether the others in the church are walking right or not is no liberty for us to walk unworthily [cr. Eph 4:1; Col 1:10; 1Thess 2:12]. WE FOLLOW CHRIST regardless how the others are following.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: [John 10:27]

Being a follower of Christ is no game, but remembering a child’s game can remind us of mighty lessons. “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children” [Ephesians 5:1].

Besides, our LEADER wants us to be reminded of the purity of little children, “And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” [Matthew 18:3].

– Spencer

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

The weather is cooler, no longer are we suffering from the oppressive heat of our Texas summer. There’s excitement in the air, anticipation of the holiday.

The stores are filled with new and unique items found at no other time of the year. They’re offering deals and discounts to attract us to buy.

Happier greetings and if you’ll listen closely, you might hear a carol or two. I look forward to the mail this time of the year as cards with news and pictures arrive of family and friends from afar.

It’s the happiest season of the year, because folks are talking about Jesus. All the other times of the year, His Name is not to be uttered, anywhere. Every other time of the year, to speak of Jesus places you into the “bible thumper” category.

Of course, the conversations about Jesus are usually wrong, erroneous and flat out blasphemous. As you listen to people talk about the birthday of Jesus, you can’t help but think, “everything about that was wrong.” God didn’t reveal to us the date of our Savior’s birth.

At least they’re talking about Him. That’s why it’s a wonderful season. For a whole month, people won’t flinch when you mention His name. It’s a fabulous opportunity to have a conversation about Jesus. No, Christians don’t celebrate the day of His birth, we celebrate His death. Perhaps that’s where we can begin…

For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. [1Corinthians 11:26]