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Here we are again, launching into another holiday season. Most likely, many of us will be spending time with relatives of various spiritual persuasions both this weekend, and over the Christmas holiday. Times with lost relatives can be tricky.

I remember one such situation with my French, atheist grandfather who passed away a few years ago. His name was Georges Lycan, and he spent most of his life as a carefree, pleasure-loving actor in France. That I know of, he appeared in over a dozen Broadway-like plays in France, several TV shows, and about 50 movies, probably the most well-known being his role as Sheriff Stone in the Charles Bronson Western, The Red Sun.

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For years, Brian Williams had told a story of incredible survival, but each time he told it grew in mythical status.

The first time he told the story it was probably the truth.

Thanksgiving DinnerHe went to Iraq to cover the war as a reporter for MSNBC and took a helicopter ride.  When he landed, he found out that a helicopter an hour ahead of his was shot at from the ground.

Over the next few years as he retold the story, the helicopters distance grew closer, until finally it was his helicopter that was the one that was shot at. At one point he even described seeing the shooter on the ground and described his emotional state as he saw his life flash before his eyes.

Eventually, some of the guys who had been there during the time couldn’t handle hearing him be introduced as a guy who was shot at in Iraq, and they told the truth about the story. Soon after that, Brian Williams lost his job and became the butt of every joke dealing with exaggerating stories.

As I have thought about Brian Williams, I’ve thought about the temptation in every heart to live incredible experiences. We all want to be able to tell stories of survival that would make us look good in the eyes of others around us. We’re all tempted to exaggerate stories and to make ourselves look better that we actually do.

And yet, as believers, we have a story that we can tell as often as we want that cannot be exaggerated. We have experienced something far greater, more unbelievable, and more supernatural than anything anyone can experience on earth. We have been given a new heart.

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November 21, 2016

Proof of Love

by Clint Archer

Private First Class John Eddington held his newborn daughter, Margret, in his arms shortly before he was deployed to liberate Europe from the Nazi occupation. The year was 1944. Before his departure he composed a poignant three page letter expressing his intense love for baby Peggy, as he called her.love-letter

Almost immediately upon arriving in Italy, PFC Eddington was killed in action.

His wife kept the precious letter in a box in the attic for the day Peggy would be old enough to read it for herself. But as time passed Mrs. Eddington forgot about the existence of the letter, and almost never mentioned her late husband. Consequently, Peggy grew up never knowing how much her father loved her.

But in 2014, someone rummaging through Peggy’s late mother’s possessions discovered the box containing a letter addressed to “My Darling Daughter.” The letter was delivered to its rightful recipient. When Peggy, now seventy years old, read the letter she learned for the first time what had been in her father’s heart when he got news that he was leaving for the war. He assured her that she would always be on his mind.

“I love you so much,” John had written. “Your mother and daddy … are going to give you everything we can. We will always give you all the love we have.” He concluded with the words: “I love you with all my heart and soul forever and forever. Your loving daddy.”

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On 7 November, 2007, Trevor Arnold was piloting a Boeing 737 from Cape Town to Johannesburg when it experienced some technical difficulty a few seconds after takeoff. To be exact, its right engine fell off.

engine-offMr. Arnold recalled from his training at flight school that it was a bad sign when engines start falling off your plane.

His job was simple: land the plane. But if it was just the engine that was gone, that would have been a relatively good day for Mr. Arnold.

During the incident, the aircraft also lost most of its hydraulics, meaning that brakes and steering were virtually non-existent. But that’s not all. The whole incident took place in stormy weather with dangerously strong crosswinds. The outcome? Arnold maintained his composure, harnessed his training and instincts, and successfully landed the Boeing without anyone on board sustaining any injuries.

Many people refused to fly with that airline again but I booked my next flight on that airline with great confidence. This was the only airline that I knew for certain had pilots who could handle a plane in freak, catastrophic conditions. I know all pilots have to go through training and simulations, and all claim to be able to handle emergencies. But the only person in the world I know for a fact can do it, is Trevor Arnold.

Why? Because only Trevor Arnold’s skills have been proven in real life.

Most passengers have no idea how well qualified their pilots are until their skill is proven in a trial by fire. And that’s what the Apostle Peter said about Christians. No one knows their faith is genuine until that faith has been exposed to intense conditions and shown to be true under fire.

Last week we looked at the grand design behind fiery trials; this week we examine the results of trials.

THREE RESULTS FIERY TRIALS HAVE ON OUR FAITH…

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Think of the most physical pain you have ever been in. Perhaps it was a broken bone, or a burn, or an abscess or migraine, or labor. Now I want you to be honest about whether you would choose that pain twice over when compared with what Mr. Sampson Parker endured.

gold-in-fireParker had been harvesting corn on his family farm when some stalks got stuck in a set of rollers. He reached into the (still-running) machine to yank out the obstruction when the rollers grabbed first his glove and then his hand. There was no one near enough to hear his desperate cries of agony. He managed to reach an iron bar and jam it into the chain-and-sprocket mechanism that drove the rollers. With his fingers growing numb he pulled out a small pocket knife and started to cut his own fingers off to free himself.

And if his ordeal had ended there, it would have been a good day for Parker, compared with what happened next.

More of his hand and wrist was pulled into the teeth of the mechanism and simultaneously the machine and the grass around Parker caught fire. He grimly realized he had to cut his arm off immediately or burn to death. So with a pocket knife he sawed off his own arm.

And if that was the end of it Parker would still have been having a good day, but the trial wasn’t over yet.

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Image result for five tulips

photo by Roger Meador

The “five points of Calvinism” are a mnemonic approach to understanding the complexity of our salvation. The doctrine of salvation can seem complicated because it incorporates hamartiology (the effects of sin on a person’s nature), Christology (the nature of Christ), theology proper (the sovereignty of God), and pneumatology (the work of the Holy Spirit). To put it another way, our salvation intersects with just about every major area of theology, and the five-points help us understand what exactly is going on when God saves us.

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humble-pieIn elementary school I was really bad at playing soccer. But my school tried to be inclusive and didn’t want any kid to feel left out, so they had as many teams as there were players.

The coveted “A team” was kitted out in glamorous, white, satin shirts and shorts with golden trim, while the rest of us had itchy yellow and brown shirts. But at least we got to play. I was too maladroit to qualify for the talented B or promising C team, or even the undaunted D team. No, I was cast down to the freakish menagerie of hopeless misfits known as the E team.

We seldom actually played games since few other schools even had an E team, but when we did, we played our uncoordinated hearts out!

The upside of being on a team—any team—was that you got to go on the annual soccer trip by train to play a rival school in the faraway shire of Greytown. When our E team arrived for our match there were no opponents to play; Greytown didn’t have an E team.  They quickly assembled a team to play us. I think they drafted the chess team who was there to spectate. After a grueling, dramatic game, we managed to beat the hodge-podge team by two goals.

I remember on the trip home the A team was pretty despondent because they had lost all their games. But our E team was in high spirits. We came, we saw, we conquered. And we let everyone know about it.

In hindsight, I cringe at the thought of how annoying our hollow boasting must have sounded to those with real athletic ability and undeniable talent. I sometimes still think of that spectacle of my utter lack of self-awareness whenever I am tempted to be puffed up in the presence of my Savior.

Here are three ingredients in the recipe for humble pie so you can cultivate humility in the presence of true greatness…

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My first job after college was as a high school Computer Science teacher. To further my usefulness to the school they paid for me to attend an advanced computer hardware course. About half way through the twelve-week course I was summoned to the headmaster’s office. He informed me that the lecturer of the hardware course happened to be a parent of a kid at our school. This dad had told the headmaster that the grade I had gotten on the first module of the course was the highest grade in the (four year) history of the computer school, namely 99%. I began basking in the proverbial pat on the back I presumed I was about to receive, when the whole experience took an unexpected turn.

the-theoryThe headmaster then held up two sheets of paper for me to inspect, and said, “I was wondering if you could explain this: here is one bill for your computer course tuition which we paid in full on your behalf. And here is another bill, payment pending, which has been authorized by you, for hiring an outside computer technician to install and repair the computer network in the school’s Computer Science lab.”

So that’s where this pat on the back was going! Blushing from embarrassment, I then had to explain that the first module, which I had aced, was the theory part of the course. It consisted only of facts and diagrams that had to be memorized.

I had regurgitated the text book and aced the exams, but I still had never actually seen the inside of a computer. I had never laid eyes on a network card, never installed a program, never as much as plugged in a monitor!

But I assured him that the following week we were starting the practical module where I would be taught how to install and repair the items I’d read about. (I barely passed that module, which was evident in my incompetency as a network administrator, and I was presently transferred to teach in the English department).

Often Christians score highly in the theory module of faith. We can memorize verses, recite creeds, debate deep theology, and explain complex doctrines. But unfortunately we frequently fail to actually apply what we learn to our own lives.

Doctrine must always produce practice.

3 parts of the practical module of the Christian life…

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about the need to discern between true and false repentance. Second Corinthians 7 teaches that not all tears of remorse flow from a truly repentant heart. Some cry because they were caught, and others cry because they offended God. Those two groups do not necessarily overlap.

In God’s providence there are a few examples given to us in Scripture that juxtapose these two types of repentance. The most obvious is Saul vs. David. Saul and David both sinned, were confronted by a prophet, and then acknowledged their sin. In fact, they both use almost the same words: “I have sinned against Yahweh” (1 Samuel 15:24; 2 Samuel 12:13).

But the narratives make clear that Saul’s “repentance” was superficial, while David’s was supernatural. The prophet did not extend forgiveness to Saul, while he did to David. Saul was concerned about what others thought, while David was concerned only with what Yahweh thought. And there are probably six or seven other contrasts as well.

A similar (but less known) juxtaposition is found in 2 Samuel 19. In that narrative, David had just been driven out of his kingdom by Absalom, who was latter dispatched by Joab. Now David was returning to Israel to retake his kingdom and to render justice. Certainly there were hundreds of people whom David dealt with in this process, but the narrator only focuses on two: Shimei and Mephibosheth.

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destinationSome time ago my wife and I flew to Europe from our home in South Africa. We first had to take a domestic flight from Durban to the international airport in Johannesburg. Everyone on that domestic flight was appropriately dressed for the blazing heat and oppressive humidity of midsummer—shorts, t-shirts, and sandals. We were wearing jeans, boots, long-sleeved tops, and were carrying sweaters and snow jackets.

We disembarked at the uncomfortably warm domestic terminal and we made our sticky, sweaty way to the international terminal. That’s when we started seeing more folk with the northern hemisphere in mind. It was easy to tell who was leaving and who was staying by their clothing. The travelers were not concerned about appearances at the airport because they would only be there for a few hours, and in a short while would be grateful for their warm clothes.

Why? Because they had set their minds on a European winter, not an African summer.

Can onlookers tell what your final destination is by the way you behave? Or do you live like this life is your final destination?

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