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Saturday, June 24, 2017

When You Worship


You may remember some time ago I referenced the writings of Robert Schnase from his book, "Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations."  Since I don't remember everything I covered in that blog article, some of what you read here today might touch on some things you have already read.  I recently picked up his book again when I was looking for some ideas on explaining the worship experience and found some input on the subject I wanted to share. 

Mr. Schnase states when he is called up to lead worship, his preparation is to aim the worship experience in two directions. One is to the intellect of those who attend the worship, and second, he wants to focus on the heart. 

When I mention the worship experience, you will understand the perspective from which I view worship carries with it the worship in the churches I have attended from my youth, and now into my old age. Make no mistake about it, if you are in the same church you were attending 50 years ago, there have been some changes.  Those who have moved to different towns and attended different churches will notice even more changes.

Those changes have also changed us. We may become less judgmental if we attend a church that is more forgiving when sins are brought to light.  We may rethink our position on miracles, or place more of an emphasis on missions, or we could even learn something we had never learned before that would change us.

Having said all that, think with me about how our worship experiences are aimed at our intellect.  You may then want to ask yourself what part of the worship has affected your intellect in any way?   Perhaps you will think of a verse from the Bible that opens your eyes to a new truth. Or it could be the testimony of someone which allowed you to realize your need to be more open to others about your feelings, your shortcomings, or your need for growth in knowledge.  Can you see how worship needs to touch us individually in this way?

The other focus is on the heart, and while invisible to us, the effects are more visible. Has an old hymn ever brought tears to your eyes during worship?  All of us will admit our hearts are moved with the reading of scriptures like the 23rd Psalm.  Baptism events bring smiles of love from us all.  Even patting your foot to the beat of a lively praise song can be a visible proof of worship affecting your heart. 

I want us to all be aware of the importance of intellect in worship as we learn and grow individually and as a church body.  I will be among the first to admit it's when the heart is touched, to the point of visibly noticing changed hearts, happy hearts, and excited hearts, that's when worship is changing us for the better. 

We are commanded to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord, Jesus Christ," and that sometimes begins with worship.  The experiential touching of one's heart and bringing him closer to God is one of the greatest accomplishments of our worship.  May God be praised; all glory belongs to Him. 

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Movement


I receive notices about lots of conferences.  I have been to some and those I attended have always been uplifting, encouraging, and a tremendous learning experience.  I could easily turn into a "conference freak," knowing there is always something to learn and always an upward direction in which I can grow. 

Today I learned about a conference being held in November in Canada.  My immediate reaction was one of questioning someone who would schedule a conference in Canada in November!  I never gave it a second thought because  it's too far, and bound to be in colder weather than South Texas. 

I did a little more reading and began to understand a sense of urgency from those putting on the conference, a sense of urgency to proclaim a message which is constantly on their hearts.  The conference is aimed primarily at the age group of 25-35, an age group which makes a good target audience for the conference presentations.   Here is the statement describing what attendees can expect.

 I read the paragraph a couple of times and could only think about how that needs to be a priority of every Christian.  Especially the final sentence which I want you to read aloud, spend some time in prayer, and make an effort to accelerate that type of momentum in your daily walk with Jesus. 

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Monday, June 19, 2017

I'm Frustrated

Frustrations are a normal part of life, and we have stories to tell to our friends about our frustrating circumstances. We get frustrated with Congress, with our spouse, with our kids, our boss, or just about anyone we come in contact with.  After all, some people just seem to be "called" to get under our skin and leave us frustrated. 

We often turn to the Bible to remind ourselves that we are to be people of patience, especially since patience is a virtue with biblical foundations. If you are like me, you read a few verses but still feel some frustration.  While there are things which frustrate us, there are a couple of things I want you to remember.  The first is a simple realization that each of us can be frustrating to others.  The second is a little more detailed, in that it identifies some negative results which happen if we are overcome with frustrations. 

Do you know someone that is a master of frustration?  Every time we see them all the bad things that could happen in a day has happened to them. A lot of the time, these people have been the cause of their own frustrations because of something called attitude!

The dangerous negative result of frustration is that it leads us to become judgmental of others. We know the Bible says,

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged...Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?...You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye…” (Matthew 7:1–3 & 5).

Jesus likens us to the Pharisees when we judge others with negative or cutting statements.  The Lord wants us to know before we can be the judge and jury for someone else, we need to examine our own lives.

This truth is further made real to us when we remember the Pharisees took a woman to Jesus, and this woman had been caught in adultery. These religious leaders were anxious to see the woman stoned to death because of her sin. They had judged her and brought her to Jesus to see how he would handle the situation. Jesus told those Pharisees, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

We may have frustrations that come our way, but the lesson for us to learn is one of loving others the way God loves us. That includes concern, forgiveness and compassion. Aren't we glad God doesn't throw stones when we deserve them?

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Test Me, Try Me


Vindicate me, Lord,
    for I have led a blameless life;
I have trusted in the Lord
    and have not faltered.
 Test me, Lord, and try me,
    examine my heart and my mind;
 for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love
    and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness.  
Psalm 26:1-3

First glance at this psalm might cause us to think David is writing these things from a boastful point of view.  Closer examination of the entire segment of scripture opens our eyes to the deeper meaning of integrity.  Who are the Christians at your church that you know to be people of integrity?  What is it about them that makes you classify them as such?

In the bold printed text above, David is establishing himself as a man who really desires to live according to the principles of God.  God's truth is primary to him and this has come about through David's total reliance on the faithfulness of God.  I often wonder if we would be as inviting as David when he asked the Lord to test him and examine his heart and his mind.  It takes a person of integrity to be that open. 

The verses which follow give us more information about David, all of which are points of reference for us to make similar evaluations about ourselves.  David briefly proclaims he is not going to be influenced by those who live lives of wickedness and hypocrisy.  Instead, he spends his time and focuses his influence on proclaiming the goodness of God and sharing the news about God's wonderful deeds. 

My favorite picture of David comes in the next section of the psalm where he says, "Lord, I love the house where you  live."  Now let's ask ourselves if we really know where God lives.  He isn't isolated to one place, he isn't limited by borders, and he isn't bound by pretty structures of bricks and wood.  When we come to fully understand that God dwells inside us, we then grasp the truth that where we are, God is.  In the form of His Spirit, God makes his abode in the hearts and lives of his people.  This carries tremendous connection to the Christian and worship.  Don't think this means God lives in the church building.  That building is just a building until the people of God assemble.  Then there is a multitude of hearts, filled with God, joining together to worship and praise him.

The two lines which end Psalm 26 are these:

  My feet stand on level ground;
    in the great congregation I will praise the Lord.  
Psalm 26:12

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Monday, June 12, 2017

At The River

Sometimes it's difficult for us to identify with Bible characters. I have confessed before my preference to study the teachings of Paul, and wouldn't it have been nice to actually witness the events of Peter preaching on Pentecost?  While we all have our favorites, we are separated from Bible characters by a couple thousand years at best, some even more than that.  They were people of different cultures, different backgrounds, different races....in fact, how can we relate to them when we have almost nothing in common?

It's Jesus that makes us related to them. The Christian family includes those we read about in the New Testament, as well as relating us to those who sit in the pew behind us at church. If, according to God's plan, we are one in Christ, then we actually do have a lot in common with the people we read about in the Bible. 

In Paul's travels, he bumped into people that he did not know, and simply by speaking the truth about Jesus, Paul was able to bring his hearers to become members of the spiritual family. Here is one such instance from Acts 17:

13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.   Acts 17:13-15.

Paul and his band of travelers went down by the river, hoping to find a quiet place to spend some time in prayer.  There were some women there so they struck up a conversation. One of the ladies present was Lydia, who made her living by selling purple cloth. She worshiped God, but the Bible says the Lord "opened her heart" and she responded to the Jesus message of Paul.  Lydia and her household were baptized and then she invited this traveling band of Christian servants to come stay at her house. 

Lydia's story is one which illustrates the Great Commission. Her story is an echo of God's plan for missions, a plan that has worked well over two thousand years. It's a story which makes some of us ashamed of our lack of efforts in reaching others. 

Paul saw the importance of his message. It was a message simple enough to share with some people he met at a river, but it's also a message complex enough to defeat Satan and the grave and bring us to an eternity of living in God's presence. When you connect all that with the love that Paul had for those who were lost, you find all the necessary ingredients for successful ministry. 

Is there a riverbank you need to visit?

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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Sunday Worship




Spiritual Sniffing


Any child which finds its roots in a Christian home where the Bible is front and center in all things, can probably tell you the story of Jonah.   I suppose most of us immediately think of Jonah and the time he spent in the belly of the big fish, but just like all the stories and events in the Old Testament, they have lessons to teach and truth to be believed, even for New Testament Christians.   Let's look at the story a little closer.

 "Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord."    Jonah 1:1-3

Jonah was a prophet now commissioned by God to deliver a sermon to the residents of Nineveh, to let them know God had issues with them because of their wicked and sinful lives.  Just how Jonah would accomplish this must have weighed heavy on his mind.  Put yourself in his shoes.  Suppose God told you to go into a city and start proclaiming to its residents, that they were sinners and viewed through the eyes of God as being totally wicked.  Jonah was no dummy.  He knew a message like that from someone unknown to the people of Nineveh would probably lead to his demise.  So he decided to do what we would probably do.  Go the opposite direction, away from Nineveh, in an attempt to hide from God. 

Jonah paid the fare for a trip on a boat headed for Tarshish.  Perhaps he could attempt to justify his decision by assuming he was saving his own life.  Like us in our unfaithfulness to God, Jonah could  feel safe if he just convinced himself he was doing the right thing. 

The verses that follow our text tell the story of Jonah running from God and the subsequent wind and storm that came up, the fear of the sailors, and how each one of them was crying out to their own gods for safety.   All the cargo was tossed overboard to lighten the load.  During all of this, Jonah found a comfortable place below the deck and went to sleep.  Ultimately lots were cast to determine who was responsible for the impending calamity.  The lot fell on Jonah.  This led to their questioning about Jonah, who he was, where he was from, who were his people? 

When Jonah revealed to them he was a Hebrew, and a follower of the Lord, the crew was terrified, because Jonah had already told them he was running from God.  Jonah then made the suggestion for them to toss him into the sea because he knew all this was happening because of him.  They tried rowing back to shore, but the waves were too great.  They then prayed for forgiveness for what they were about to do, and they threw Jonah overboard.  Verse 17 says, "Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights."
I don't know about Jonah's immediate reaction, but mine would have been, "It Stinks."  Fish smell bad enough on the outside, but I can only imagine how bad they smell on the inside.  And that teaches me, if I choose to run from God, and go in a direction opposite from the one he has chosen for me,  I can expect to know I am in the wrong place and living the wrong way because, "It Stinks."   Do a little spiritual "sniffing" in your life.   Learn the love of God as he directs your steps. 

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Friday, June 9, 2017

Fellowship With God


The joy of the Apostle John is made complete, as he opens 1 John with a discourse on the fellowship that exists between the believer and God the Father, and his Son, Jesus. John wants readers of this letter to be diligent and continue in the faith because the gospel message they have learned is real and true. 

John asks the question in chapter 2 that has become a question multitudes have asked, "How can we be sure we belong to Jesus?"  Do we wrestle with that?  Do we have any assurance that we really belong to him?  John answered his own question by letting us know the only real answer is this, "By obeying his commandments."  John continues to elaborate, "Those who say they live in God, should live their lives as Christ did."

Now look in the following verses, 1 John 2:7-8
 "Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard.  Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.  Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.  Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.
In the writings of Paul to the Colossians, he says that God has rescued us from darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.  That is an amazing way to describe the accomplishment of Jesus on the cross.  We have such a blessing in escaping the darkness of sin and instead, living with Jesus. 

But note, in the quoted passage above, we are commanded to love our brother. John says even those who claim to be in the light while hating their brother, are in reality still in darkness.  Of special note is his comment about the process of the darkness passing and the true light is already shining. There may be times when we are attempting to walk in the light, and a wrong decision or a sinful habit pulls us back toward the darkness.  John is showing us it is futile for us to attempt to be light, when the darkness of hatred toward each other shows its ugly head. 

The theme of the letter is to remain faithful, and that theme is echoed in the life of every Christian in today's world.  John wants us to know that we belong in the light, and tells us that assurance can be ours if we are obedient to God, and loving toward each other. 

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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Out of Control?


We've had some difficult and disappointing days in the past weeks.  Our country continues to be on alert for the terroristic threats which have become common.   Racial unrest is on the increase.  Let me mention just one more thing, and that is the decision of the highest court in our land to allow same-sex marriage, as outright hatred toward other people is becoming the norm.

I really appreciated the words of the preacher this past Sunday who pointed out to us that courts can rule on just about anything and often it decides things which are contrary to the traditional Christian values we have held all our lives. Those values have been threatened and from some viewpoints, have dealt morality a death blow.  None of that changes God's truth on the subject of marriage.

But all the bad things happening open many doors for Christians to make their stand on the Biblical truths which we hold dear.  My reading and research into the news accounts cause me to shake my head in disbelief, but let's look at some opportunities, too.

First of all, we have the chance to demonstrate  our love for others, even those with whom we disagree, to an ever growing extent.  While Bible truth has been trampled by those who would like nothing more than the elimination of Christian values, it's time for us to look beyond the words and actions which go against Christianity, and find that love Jesus called us to have in loving others as ourselves.

That can be so difficult for me sometimes, to actually love the sinner while hating his sin, but I am sure glad Jesus was willing to do that for me, and in so doing, continues to show me I should be as loving as he is.  In showing this kind of love toward my neighbors I continue to learn how much our Lord has loved us, even though we sin and disappoint him frequently.  The Bible still says, "while we were still sinners, Jesus died for us."

My other observation during these troubling times, carries my thoughts to the safety of my family and friends, and the safety of our country.  Things around the world seem to be going downhill in a hurry and I would be untruthful if I said those things didn't have me concerned.  As I think about the threats and how things seemingly change for the worse, I try to think of ways we can avoid being causalities to all the unrest.   

It's then I remember my vows of committing my life to God, and the lives of my children and grandchildren, and my closest friends and acquaintances.  In times like these, we all need a good dose of renewed commitment to the Lord.  We must never forget, as committed people, we are believing God loves us, cares for our well-being, and more than ever, we need to place our trust in Him.  HE is in control.  

Talk to God in prayer today about our country, asking him to be our strength and our hope.  He loves you and has promised to be with you always.  

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Come to the fountain...


We can learn a lot about God by the way he dealt with his chosen people in Old Testament times. The children of Israel had many of the same problems we have, in remaining faithful to the Heavenly Father. Most of the prophetic writings of the Old Testament not only give us glimpses of the coming Jesus, Messiah, but also let us see some very specific qualities of God that we might otherwise miss.

Jeremiah was the prophet chosen by God to proclaim messages which contained doom and destruction to the unfaithful, and messages which portrayed God as one who longed for his people to return to him, and seek his forgiveness for their disobedience.

We've looked at some of this before and noted Jeremiah's message from God to the people included the mentioning of the Israelites defiling the land, they followed after worthless idols, they did not seek God, and even their leaders, the teachers of the law, were in rebellion. 

Jeremiah 2 gives the message and the picture for Israel looks bleak. The people who had known of God's deliverance and his provision, were now turning their backs on God and practicing idolatry. God is so displeased with them he and lets them know about it.  He asks this question, "Has a nation ever changed its gods?" (Yet the gods they turn to are not really gods at all.)  We can sense the sorrow and sadness from the throne of God to the entirety of Israel.  And yet, through God's displeasure, he still wants to show his love and forgiveness to  every one of them. 

Through the sins of the people itemized to this point, we can understand why God expresses his displeasure. Further down in Jeremiah 2, God sums up the root of their problem.  Verse 13:

“My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me, the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water." 
Jeremiah 2:13

There are the two sins. They have forsaken God, the spring of living water, and they dug their own cisterns, that cannot hold water.  Both the Old and New Testaments have examples of the life giving source of spirituality illustrated by the provision of water. These people could have turned to God at any time and enjoyed an  awakening to the spiritual blessings from above.  Instead, he said they built their own cisterns that cannot hold water, a demonstration of their lack of trust and faith in God. 

Mankind still refuses to drink the water of life from God, the only sustaining source. We still like to call all the shots and make all the decisions.  We, like Israel in Jeremiah's day, need to learn the calamity that awaits when we choose our own way, our own abilities, our own strength.  The grace of God gives us the better perspective of knowing him, loving him, and following his direction. 

Come to the fountain, the source of the water of life, and drink from the spring of living water. 

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Monday, June 5, 2017

The Struggler


A man named Saul from the city of Tarsus had an extraordinary reputation for persecuting Christians and doing everything within his power to stop the spread of the early church. The very mention of his name would bring fear in the hearts of those who were followers of Jesus. In that day, if you were a believer which encountered Saul, you could count on being dragged off to prison or possibly face execution. 

Saul was traveling to Damascus with the intent of extending his work of doing away with Christians and had a very personal encounter with Jesus himself.  He was blinded and had to be helped into the city but while there was taught more about Jesus and was baptized.  From that day forward he was actively becoming a friend of Christians and preaching about Jesus. His name was now Paul, and he spent the rest of his life devoted to the Lord through missionary journeys, written instructions to churches, and even imprisonment for his faith. 

Think for a moment about Paul's conversion experience and the complete turn-around of his life. Think also about the difficulty other Christians might have had in accepting Paul into the community of the faithful. After all, these Christians had suffered at the hands of Paul, and we can understand their reluctance in accepting him. He had a reputation. He had been an enemy of the cross. He had been the author of chaos for many Christians and their families. 

Acts 9:27    But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.

Even the Jerusalem Christians were in no hurry to accept Paul. Opposition against him was so great he retreated back home to Tarsus for a time.  Then Barnabas took action again. 

Acts 11:25-26  Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul,  and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

Paul went on to be very instrumental in the development and growth of individual Christian lives and the spread of the church.  Thanks to Barnabas, who provided the encouragement and love toward a struggling brother, Paul got the nudge he needed to keep pressing forward. 

Do you know someone today that is struggling with acceptance in the church, perhaps due to a  bad reputation or a sinful lifestyle.  Is there a ministry for us, the imperfect yet forgiven, to share the example of God's love and grace toward those who are in such a struggle? It could be the very person you encourage and help that becomes a church planter, a leader, a ministry student, or a missionary.  I think every church has some of these "strugglers" which are searching for acceptance, encouragement, and love. 

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Friday, June 2, 2017

Focus on Jesus


I am often motivated to write in these blogs about the words we sing together as a church on Sunday mornings. There are countless beautiful melodies which seem to match so well with the words of some writer, and together blend into an inspiring message to the body of Christ.

Such is the case of a song I have selected for us to look at today. Read these words from the first verse and see if it hits close to home for you. 

1.  O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free! 

I do not have the ability to know life's situations and circumstances for those who read the blog on a daily basis. No doubt there are some that are weary and troubled, perhaps some who are not able to see the light because of all the spiritual darkness which surrounds them. The poet says, "There's light for a look at the Savior, And life more abundant and free!"

2. Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
O’er us sin no more hath dominion—
For more than conquerors we are!

That second verse describes how Jesus passed through death into everlasting life, and how we follow him in those steps. We are blessed to taste that life he gives because sin has no more dominion over us. Romans 8 promises we are "more than conquerors in Christ Jesus."

3. His Word shall not fail you—He promised;
Believe Him, and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!

The Word of God will never fail us. We have his promise. Use your faith to know that all is well when you are in Him, then go spread the message of salvation to all. 

The part of the song known as the refrain summarizes the entire point of the message and encourages us to stay focused on Jesus. The message is biblical. Its truth is powerful. Its application is universal. Memorize the refrain and if you know the tune, hum or sing it daily. Keep your eyes upon Jesus.

Refrain:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

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Thursday, June 1, 2017

When God Wasn't Pleased


It's been around 50 years since John E. Hunter wrote a book called LIMITING GOD.  After its release, Moody Monthly wrote about the book in their monthly magazine, "Moody Monthly."  Here is the quote:"

"A probing discussion of problems in Christian living which can become spiritual nooses choking a vital Christian life.  Some of these are unbelief, fear, disobedience, selfishness, pride and ignorance.  Read it for a revealing X-ray of your impotent Christian life. Along with spiritual diagnosis, a scriptural remedy is prescribed."

There is one chapter in Hunter's book which I have gone back to read several times.  If there is an act we do, or neglect to do, that actually limits God, the chapter about disobedience sends us clear evidence.  He begins with quoting the scriptures found in 1 Corinthians 10 where Paul is reminding his readers about the children of Israel in the wilderness.  "For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:1-4

We talk about unity in our churches, and do everything we can to practice unity, however the people Paul is describing are the picture of unity.  Read the verses again with special notation to Paul's use of the word "all."  Church leaders today would love to have such unity as described in those four verses.  

Then we come to verse 5....." 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them."

God was not pleased in spite of their unity and correctness of their spiritual experience.  Let's pay attention to this united band of followers of God, and see how the problems which plagued them are the problems which plague us today.  Problem number 1...Although united in spiritual things, they were guilty of wandering and complaining.  Sound familiar?   Problem number 2....The situation which caused God to be displeased with their lives was their personal disobedience.

Like us, the people Paul was describing from the wilderness days, spoke of how much they loved God and wanted to serve him, however they were guilty of idolatry.  What they needed more than anything else was repentance.  Joshua's pleadings with them were simple.  "Put away the strange gods which are among you and incline your heart unto the Lord God of Israel."

The message for us is to learn the same thing they were taught by Joshua.  If we are really inclined to be the children of God, we must come to him with the penitent heart, determined to be obedient his will.  This is why Paul, in writing to these Corinthians stated, "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new."

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