Two days from now, my wife, Linda and I will have been married for fifty-five years. Being back home in Vernon, Alabama this past week for a few days it was interesting how many people we saw that had gone to high school with us and had gotten married around the same time we did and were still living happily together after all these years. Now, it wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say that some of the people we had gone to school with and married someone that we know from school, had long since called it quits and moved on to either live single or to marry someone else. But when I think about the number of marriages just in our class who have stuck together through the years, it makes me wonder what the differences are? Why do some marriages hold tightly together so that getting a divorce and finding another person never enters their minds. It certainly isn’t because they don’t face problems, challenges, and disagreements. I don’t think it is possible for any two people to live together day in and day out for over fifty years and not have some strong disagreements. I don’t think it’s possible not to have some times when you are angry at the other and just believe the other one is being unreasonable. So why do we stay together and work out the problems instead of cutting the cord and going another way?

It certainly makes a huge difference when you are both committed to God and doing HIs will. Just to know that God loves me when I’m not lovable and that he is willing to forgive and give me a new start when I turn from the sin back to him makes a difference. The truth is, as long as we are walking in the light of God the blood of Jesus just continues on cleansing us so that the sin is never marked up against us at all (I John 1:5-10). I know that God made marriage to be permanent. His decree is “What God has joined together, let no one separate.” To think that God looked at our marriages and said they were a picture of the marriage between Christ and the church is absolutely amazing. Do you ever wonder, how Christ can keep loving the church in spite of all our failures? It should be easy for us as the church to love him back since he never leaves or forsakes us and is there as our helper and friend at all times. But the very picture of God loving and caring for us in the tough times should give us hope for a life of lasting love. One thing that stands out when Paul said for husbands to love their wives like Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her that he might sanctify and cleanse her by the washing of water by the word that he might present it to himself as a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing but that she should be holy and acceptable in love. His loving relationship with us makes us better. He is about making us more holy, pure and ready for an eternal relationship with him all the time.

When we think about our marriages to each other and we look back on where we have been, what we have come through, the joys and blessings we have shared and the hard things we have helped each other make it through, then it is easy to see how the love grows a little deeper every year. When we look down the line and see the days ahead when we will need each other to help and walk beside us each step the love becomes more intense than ever.

I hear people say, they no longer love their wife or husband because they have changed and aren’t like the person they married. The reality is we all change and none of us are the same we were at the time of marriage. Love means a commitment that we will love each other through the changes of life and see how each change makes us better and moves us closer to God’s will for us, it will make a difference in life.

I suspect I’ve heard a thousand times from couples who did give up and divorce and go their separate ways, as years pass and they look back and see what all they missed in life with family, friends, grandchildren and life as a whole, “If I had known what it would really do to break up the marriage to the rest of my life, I would have done a lot more to keep things together.”

When divorce has happened, God is still ready to forgive and give a fresh start so we can make the best of the situation we can. But if you are struggling in your marriage, let me remind you that your marriage is worth fighting for and God will help you forgive, be there for each other and rebuild the relationship even when we have fallen miserably. Love that last is an amazing thing and you truly feel more as “One flesh” all along. I thank God for the 55 years Linda and I have shared so far. I’m expecting many more to follow.

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The first I ever heard of a bucket list was when we went to see the movie by that title and featured two guys laying in the hospital and one kept talking about his bucket list of things he wanted to do before he died. It was an excellent movie that had some fun things that two old, sick men were able to do together to fulfill the bucket list.

Since that time I seem to always be hearing someone say that something is on their bucket list. Well, what are some things that are important enough in your mind that you want to make certain to do them before you die? I’ve met people that were so into adventure that they had fulfilled their list and were now making a new one so they could keep up with all they wanted to do.

One of the biggest things I’ve had on my bucket list has been to see all my children grow up, have good marriages, and all the grandchildren be devoted to God to bring up their own children in the Lord. It just seems to me if you can look out on your family and know that they are all trying to do God’s will in their lives and to bring up their families to do the same, that there couldn’t be much that was better than that.

Sure there are things I’ve had on the list that I would like to see in this world before I leave this life, some of which has been accomplished and some haven’t, but maybe some more of it will be fulfilled before life is over on this earth. It has aways been exciting to cross things off that I wanted to do or see such as seeing the Grand Canyon or spending some time in Sedona, Arizona. Probably the most exciting place to visit for me outside this country was Athens, Greece and the areas around it where the apostle Paul had preached the gospel and established churches.

As time has gone by, there are things that I’ve crossed off the list that just don’t excite me anymore and things that have been added to it that are meaningful to me now. Strangely, as time moves on the bucket list changes in its focus. Suddenly, it’s not nearly as much about things that relate to me and much more about things that relate to someone else and how I might be helpful to them. I’ve also, noticed that a whole lot of the list relates to things I just want to understand, much of it to do with Scripture or the creation of God that I don’t comprehend yet. My list has a lot to do with family, with things that my wife wants to do and with the church and some things I want to see accomplished in God’s church before I leave this world. I know that all of that is in God’s hands but I pray to see them happen anyway.

Ultimately, my bucket list today has tons more to do with the next life than with this one. I am anxious to see Jesus face to face and to see what kinds of bodies we will have in glory. I’m excited to think of what it will really be like to be in the presence of God and to have the God of heaven wipe away all tears from my eyes, to be in a place where there is no more pain, suffering, death, or separation.

The truth is if our bucket lists don’t have as a priority being right with God and ready to face him in judgment to hear his say, “Well done, you are a good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many. Enter into the joys of your lord” then all the other things I may see or do that are on the list are of no value at all. Only what will last beyond the grave is ultimately worth anything at all.

I think it would be a great idea for everyone to not just make a bucket list of things you want to accomplish before you die, but to make certain what is on the list looks at the things that last beyond this life into eternity. Otherwise it has all be a waste of time and effort.

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Antagonism toward church of all kinds seems to grow all the time. It is common to hear those who have grown up going to church and participating in the worship and activities of the church as they grow up, decide that it is no longer for them and to wonder out loud why their parents or friends continue to go. Some question the teaching, others the sincerity of the people, some the work that is being done or the failure to do the work they think they should be doing. Many seem to just wonder what the whole reason is behind getting your family ready on Sunday to get to church services? Is it to be with friends, to study in classes, to make new bonds, to worship God or hear the preaching of his word. The truth is there are lots of people that believe each of these and in their minds that is the one reason they are there. If their friends move away, they are no longer there. It was the friends who were the glue that kept them involved in the work.

Why can’t we just get together as a family and have our own worship time and ignore this whole thing of an assembly or congregation of people? While there are times and places where that is often the best people can do since there aren’t other Christians around them, meeting together and worshiping God together. But under normal circumstances, it is God’s plan that the church meets together as a body of believers to worship Him. At the very beginning of the church in Acts 2, right after telling the story of Peter preaching the gospel to the people and 3,000 of them making a commitment to Christ that led them to be baptized to have their sins forgiven and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, Luke adds this powerful verse “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles teaching, in fellowship, in breaking of bread, and in prayer.” The result of that action was the Lord was adding to their numbers every day.

Notice God’s explanation of the why of coming together in this first statement about their gathering. It was to grow in their understanding of the teaching that was coming from these apostles as ones sent from God. It was that they might break bread or commune together in partaking of the Lord’s Supper in memory of Jesus on the cross. It was in order to fellowship with each other that involved treating each other as family, sharing with each other and giving of what they were able to the Lord. Then they were to spend time in prayer together as the church for the benefit of all and to turn their attention toward God. These kinds of gatherings led to joy in getting to know each other and helping each other deal with needs in life, but it meant their growing toward God all the time.

In I Corinthians 11 when Paul discussed the church coming together in one place it was to break bread in communion and he reminded them it was what he had learned from Jesus about taking bread to remind them of Jesus, dying on the cross for us and drinking the fruit of the vine to remind of the blood he poured out on our behalf. They were to think of one another and do things that would help each other share that communion with the Lord.

In I Corinthians 14 when Paul spoke of the church gathering in one place for worship he taught them many things about doing the things that would build up one another in the body of Christ. He warned that some came just to show off what they could do and that wasn’t the purpose. Everything was to be done to the building up of the body of believers.

Probably the best known verses in the Bible about churches meeting together for worship to God is found in Hebrews 10:24-25. After a long series of “Let us” passages in which the writer pleads with them as Christians to get involved and help each other grow in their faith and commitment to God he comes to these words” And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” One reason we gather as a church is to spur one another one to love and good works. You may say, I can spur myself and family along at home, yes but what about all the others that need your encouragement that are being left without that encouragement. Sometimes we can focus so much on ourselves that we forget God put us here on a mission and life isn’t just about us.

Finally, we must always remember the church gathers as the family of God to worship God, praise the Lord for all he has done for us and ask for His guidance and blessings in our life. Jesus said, the true worshiper worships the Father in Spirit and in truth and that the Father is always seeking for such to worship him.

You may think of a thousand reasons to stay at home and not gather with God’s people in church on Sunday, but there is no reason that outweighs the reasons God gives us to be there and be both blessed and a blessing to others as we worship God together.

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On more than one occasion I’ve been part of a sports team where the coach or someone that he had chosen was called in to lead a prayer with us before we went out to play the game. Most of the times the prayers were pretty standard and about people not getting hurt and everyone being a good sport. But I remember a few occasions when the one praying would really get into his prayer and would pray that we would beat the other team badly. I even remember one when the one praying said, “Lord, I know you are on our side in this game to help us to play like the winners you have made us to be.” Even as a teenager, I will a little uneasy with that prayer. I just couldn’t imagine God caring who won the high school ball game. As adults we take it to a whole new level and often pray for victory in wars or disagreements with other nations as though we were his chosen nation and he didn’t love and care for the other nation the same as he does us. Bringing it down lower than that when we get into disagreements personally or even in churches or between Christians, it is easy to assume God is on our side and that he is out to hurt or destroy the ones we are disagreeing with. I suspect in the judgment God will open our eyes to see that we were actually different family members hurting each other and doing harm to the whole body of Christ in our actions.

In spite of all of that, “God is for us”. Look at Romans 8:31-35 ” What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” There is no question God is for us when we are his people and living for him. He paid the highest price so we can be forgiven of our sins and live in a close relationship with him every day. But notice that our having God on our side meant that nothing could separate us from his love, it didn’t mean that as Christians we wouldn’t go through trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness or danger or sword. When we are going through tough times and think that God has turned his back on us we need to realize he was the one who gave his Son so we can be forgiven. He loved the apostles, but 11 of the 12 died as martyrs and the 12th was exiled for his preaching of the gospel.

Here is the thing that should stand out in our minds, “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are MORE THAN CONQUERORS THROUGH HIM WHO LOVED US. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present not the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:36-39). God is on our side as his children. But it doesn’t mean we won’t be attacked by the devil, it means he will give us a way of escape and give us help in overcoming it. It doesn’t mean we won’t die, but that death will not be the end of it all for us that there is life beyond the grave that never ends. It doesn’t mean we won’t face the powers of this dark world, but that God can overcome and changes the powers of the world through our prayers and trust in him.

God is for you in that he is ready to save, forgive, offer grace and give you a new start anytime. He is ready to make you clean so you can start a whole new life for him in this world. But, do remember he is just as much for the other Christians who are serving him and part of his family. If we expect God to get into our family fusses and destroy those who aren’t saying what we want to hear, we are expecting something God never promised. He loves his church so much he gave his son to die on the cross to redeem her and he longs to present her to himself as a glorious church without spot or wrinkle or any such thing but that we should be holy and blameless in him.

Praise the Lord, God is on our side!

Leon Barnes

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What sin is your greatest challenge? What is that one thing that you know is wrong but have the hardest time not doing? Let’s face it we are all very different. Some things that might bother me a whole lot may seem like nothing to you and some things that seem like they weigh you down all the time, may seem like nothing to be bothered by, in my life. In Hebrews 12:-1-2 is one of the greatest passages in Scripture with regard to our life for God. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every thing that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The scene being pictured here can only be recognized by reading the chapter before it where he talked about great people of faith that had lived in the past and were heroes of faith in the Lord. He pictures these, who endured so much for God in order to be able to live in glory with God, as seated in the arena yelling for us as we live the Christian life and are running the race that is set before us. God doesn’t ask the same thing from every person so the race marked out for each may be different. But in spite of the race God calls us to run there are some things that are always true.

We must lay aside every thing that hinders us from running the race. Imagine yourself as a young person being challenged to race someone else your same age. Suppose you were wearing boots and a heavy coat when you were challenged and the other person was wearing tennis shoes and a light outfit. Would you try to race them in the heavy coat and boots or would you say, let me change clothes and get on something more appropriate and then I am ready to race you? In the life for the Lord there are many things that aren’t wrong in and of themselves but that hinder us from living the life God calls us to live. It could be habits, friendships, recreation you enjoy or even a job. The thing is, there are things in all our lives that are hindrances to us really living the life of faith and commitment to God that I know I should be living. God calls on us to lay those aside so we can run the race set before us.

But notice there is more to the point that he made. He said we needed to throw off the sin that so easily entangles us. Think for a moment of people you know and love and think of the sin that seems to always pull them down when they are trying to do what they know God wants them to do. It is so often easier to see that sin in the life of people we know and love than to see it in our own life. We can see it when a friend always has an excuse for not doing things that are good, even though they may have excitedly planned to do so the day before. We may see their pull toward some addiction that is hard to break. We may see that they constantly put themselves down and can’t even see all the ways God blesses them and open doors he gives them. It may be a sin like gossip that never quite seems wrong when I’m doing it about someone else, but is suddenly an awful sin when the gossip is about me and I find one I trusted told it.

It is extremely important that I know my sin that so easily entangles me so I can lay it aside and not allow it to take over my life. It could even be some pain that I deal with all the time but can work through and actually do most of the things I really want to do. But if something comes up I don’t really want to do, then my pain is suddenly too bad to go.

Listen, stop today looking for the other person’s sin that entangles them unless they asked you to help them. But go on a mad search in your life to see what it is that so easily pulls you into wrong words, wrong actions, wrong thoughts and the failure to do what is right. When I see what it is and can put it off, then I can run with perseverance the race God has set before me with my eyes set on Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

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You’ve heard the children’s song many times. “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” It is a great song. If you changed the words from children to adults or people it is still just as true. “God so loved the world that the gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” You can’t find a race or color of people that God didn’t love so much that he was will to allow Jesus to take their sins upon him and be punished for their sins so that they could be totally forgiven and live in a close, personal relationship with Him.

No wonder Jesus’ invitation was “Come unto me all of you who are weary and burdened down and I will give you rest for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me for I am gentle and lowly of heart and you will find rest to your souls” is s powerful. You never met a group of people who were more racist than the Jews of that day. They were certain they were God’s chosen people and that God really only cared about them. They hated Gentiles, Samaritans and anyone else that you could fit in that didn’t have a Jewish background. Yet Jesus came on the scene, going to Samaria and teaching a Samaritan woman the gospel and when she brought the whole town out to meet him he taught them, staying two extra days to tell them the good news of salvation in him. He healed the son and servant of Gentile soldiers. He went into the Gentile areas to cast out the demons from a man known as legion and then turned him into a missionary to the area by saying, “Go back home and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you.”

When he was giving the great commission to the disciples it was “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved. He who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). Matthew’s account is literally, “All authority is given to me in heaven and on earth, as you go therefore into all the world, make disciples of every ethnic group, baptizing them into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you and I will be with you always even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus died on the cross for every person according to Hebrews 2:9. You could go all over the world and find every kind of person imaginable and one thing I can guarantee is that you won’t find a single person God doesn’t love and Jesus didn’t die to save.

What does that have to do with me? Well if I am calling myself a Christian and I am not interested in people of every race and background coming to know Christ then I have missed the very biggest point of Jesus coming into the world. I don’t have the heart of Jesus at all. When you consider that we all originated from one man and that we are all made in the image and likeness of God there is absolutely no place for racism of any kind among those who claim to follow Christ.

My greatest longing for every person is that they would come to know Jesus Christ and believe in him to submit their lives to him obediently for the salvation of their souls. You can be a murderer like Saul of Tarsus that Jesus not only saved but turned into the great apostle Paul. You can be a denier like Simon Peter and turn into the great preacher that would lead thousands to Jesus. You can be a prostitute like Mary Magdalene out of whom Jesus cast seven demons and be converted and become a close friend with Jesus and the first to see him after his resurrection from the dead.

Jesus doesn’t care at all about the color of your skin, but about the condition of your heart. When our hearts are changed and formed by Christ it begins to take on his way of seeing things and way of feeling about things and people. It changes my whole way of looking at life. Suddenly the most important thing in the world to me is how can I live and act in a way that would help another person, no matter their background to come to know Jesus as their savior and Lord. You will then attempt to do those things in your every day life so you can be the salt of the earth and the light of the world that can lead one more to the Savior.

People talk about “White supremacy” or “Black lives matter” or who knows what all else. There is no superior race. We become part of the chosen generation, royal priesthood, holy nation, and God’s own special people when we give our lives to Christ and begin to influence others for him. Of course, black lives matter, because every life matters and when people feel that they have been put down and no one cares about them, no wonder they would come up with a slogan to say “we matter” in the world. Every life matters to God and had better matter to us if we wish to be like him in our daily lives. Just think today as you head home that every person you meet is of great importance to God and he is depending on you as a Christian to reach out to them to show them the way to change and live for him.

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One of the most difficult things for a church, business or even a family is to stay on mission. Mission drift has led to the failure of tons of businesses that have at times been great companies doing business all over the world. Too often a business in one area that they know well and are very successful in will suddenly turn around and purchase a business that has no relationship to what they are doing and what they really know a lot about. More times and not that business will become a drain on the business that had been succeeding well as long as they knew their mission and stayed on the mission.

How many times have you watched or even participated in a family where the marriage was going well and there was a great family as long as they understood what the family was all about and what was really important for the family, until there became a drift from the real mission. Suddenly, God and worship to God became less important than trips, vacations, sports or business and the family begins to drift first away from God and the church, but it isn’t long before you begin to see the drift inside the family itself. The mission of being devoted Christians who put God first in their life and were determined to bring up their family with the same devotion has slipped and now life turns around things, money, the kids fitting in and a long list of other things. One day someone in the family realizes we have drifted apart and things aren’t what they used to be. God stated the mission for the family well in Malachi 2 as he described the reason for his making two people one, “So that they may raise up a godly seed.” There is a world of difference between God’s mission and one of bringing our children up to be successful, powerful, popular or star players on some team. Can one do both? Yes, but only if the real mission is held clearly in front and all decisions rise from the godly mission.

In many ways it seems to me that the church of all three stands in the greatest danger of losing it’s mission to accomplish other things that are seen as being of great value. One reason Jesus was so successful in accomplishing everything God sent him to do on the earth was that he kept his sense of mission clearly in front of him at all times. In the early days of his ministry, in Capernaum, he healed lots of people with all kinds of sickness and diseases and cast out many demons. The next morning he arose a long while before day and went out to a solitary place to pray. The disciples came looking for him saying everyone was looking for him to come back to heal more people. Jesus response was “Let us go somewhere else – to near villages – so I can preach there also. THAT IS WHY I CAME.” In Luke 19 when Jesus came to Jericho and a tax collector, named Zaccheus lived there who was hated by most of the people who considered him a cheat and a traitor to the nation. He was short so he ran ahead of the people and climbed a tree to get to see Jesus. When Jesus got there he stopped and told him to come down from the tree that he was going to dine at his house today. The people couldn’t understand, but Zaccheus changed his whole life. He promised to give half his goods to the poor and if he had taken anything falsely to return it four times over. Jesus said salvation had come to this house, then stated his purpose or mission as “The Son of man has come to seek and save the lost.”

The church as the body of Christ shares that same mission in the world. We are to be witnesses from where we are now to the areas around us to the ends of the earth for Jesus. Our mission is to go to every ethnic group making disciples for Jesus, baptizing them into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that he commands and he promises to be with us all days when we are on that mission. But mission drift happens in church when we move from the goal of bearing witness for Jesus, of making disciples for him and seeking and saving the lost. We usually move to very good things as people wanted Jesus to do. They wanted him to focus on healing all their sickness and diseases. We determine it is our place to solve all the social problems of the world or to get involved in political issues of the day. We decide there is some issue in the Bible that we must put the focus on to make sure is done right. Often in the efforts to accomplish good things, Satan moves in to tell us how right we are in what we are doing and to stand firm on it no matter what it does to our mission or the unity of the church. One day we wake up to see a divided church, focused on what is wrong with each other and suspicious of everything that is done or said.

Let me plead with you that whatever we do that pulls us from the mission God gives us and leads to division rather than unity that leads people to believe in Jesus, that causes us to stop loving each other as Christ loved us so the world can see that we are disciples of Jesus, is off mission and headed in the wrong direction. I believe it is right to re-think and re-study every issue in the word of God. But my interpretation of the Scripture shouldn’t lead the church from what God meant us to be, ever!

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