Common Faith Network

Common Faith Network

Morning Companion

True Friends Are Tough Friends

Once during batting practice back in my softball days, I was fielding ground balls at third base when the batter hit a line shot one-hopper that took a bad hop and hit me square in the nose. The next thing I remember was coming to with my teammates around me and a pool of blood on the infield dripping from a very sore proboscis.

We did get the bleeding stopped after a few minutes, and (whether wise or not) I went back out and took my position at third base.

That's when I learned that I had a real friend. The guy taking batting practice did something that only a real friend would do. He looked at me, made sure we made eye contact, and proceeded to hit the next three or four balls in my direction, doing the best he could to get those balls on the ground and directly hit at me.

That might not sound like a friendly thing to do given that just a few minutes before I was prostrate face down in the infield dirt. But I took it for the gesture it was meant to be. We both understood what he was doing, and neither of us had to explain it to the other.

A number of years later I was recounting this incident to him, and in his Oklahoma-style way he nailed the theory. "You needed to get back up on that horse." We both understood. The best thing to do in that situation was to face the same challenge again and succeed at it before I had a chance to think about it. 

Bucked off the horse? Get right back on and ride some more.



Morning Companion

Why Them and Why Now?

With so many people I care about suffering these days, the inevitable question is, “Lord, why them, and why now? Can’t you intervene and let it slide for a more convenient time? Like, age 95?”

The Apostle Paul asked a similar question, and the answer he received was no more satisfying: “My grace is sufficient for you”. 

I don’t know the answer to these questions, and maybe I don’t need to know. As C.S. Lewis in one of his Narnia books quotes the Lion, “I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own.” 

True, and the “why” of our own stories is often not known until we look back on them. It is only then, after the moment, that we will be able to understand the “why”.



Morning Companion

The Unjust Steward: What Could This Parable Possibly Mean?

If there is one parable that causes constant head-scratching, it is The Parable of the Unjust Steward. In this parable Jesus seems to praise a man who goes out of his way to defraud his employer.  We know that can't be right, so I am going to submit a theory of my own.

First, a little background. The parable is found in Luke 16:1-13. The text tells us there were Pharisees listening in (verse 14), but his primary audience was his disciples (verse 1). For the public at large many of his parables were by design obscure, but he told his disciples that even though the general public saw many of these parables as mysteries, the disciples themselves were given to understanding (Matthew 13:11-17).  This Parable of the Unjust Steward was something he expected his disciples to take to heart, especially given a hidden corruption that was lurking in his inner circle.

I am going to offer here that this parable, while directed to all the disciples, was directed at one of them specifically.  This parable, I think, was given as a warning to Judas Iscariot.

Let's take a look at this parable and see how Judas might have heard it in his own head. Remember as you read this that Judas was the treasurer of Jesus' Band of Twelve, and as such he was pilfering from the money bag (John 12:6). If there was ever an unjust steward, it was Judas Iscariot.

Here is how Judas head might have interpreted Jesus' words: 

There was a rich man who had a treasurer, and this treasurer was reported to him as an embezzler.

Are you listening, everybody? 

And he called the treasurer and said to him, ‘Judas, what is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be treasurer.’ The treasurer said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my boss is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I'm ashamed to beg. I know what I'll do! If I act now, when I am removed from management people will welcome me into their homes!’
And he summoned each one of his boss’s debtors, and he began saying to the first, ‘How much do you owe my boss?’ And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and give me a mere 30 pieces of silver.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ And he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and give me another 30 pieces of silver.’
I have to give this unrighteous treasurer some credit because he acted shrewdly. The people of this world are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.
I am giving you permission, Judas, to make friends for yourself by means of the wealth of unrighteousness.  You are going to fail here. When you do, you'll need a place to live. You will need to find a benefactor who will be willing to give you a place to stay because the road you are going down won't get you an eternal dwelling with me.
I'm giving you permission to resign your position and walk away.
Listen to me, Judas. He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much. He who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, my friend, who will entrust the true riches to you?
Judas, I'm putting you on notice. You are failing the test. If you have not been faithful in the use of money that belongs to someone else, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You need to make a choice, my friend. You are getting mighty close to the edge. Which will it be: God or mammon?
I realize that Jesus' audience and the depth of his teachings applied to more than just Judas. But Jesus was a a subtle teacher. He knew that each of us have our own needs and will hear his teachings in light of those needs. When we read his parables, do we take them to heart as instruction given in love? Or are we like Judas, hearing but not heeding?



Morning Companion

It Could Have Been Sold for a Year's Wages!

At first glance an event recorded in John 12 and an event recorded in Mark 14 appear to be the same event. A deeper reading, however, reveals some striking differences.

In John 12:1-8 the event takes place six days before Passover. In Mark 14:1-9 it happens two days before the Passover.

John 12 takes place in Lazarus' house. In Mark 14 it occurs in the house of Simon the Leper.

In John 12 the woman anoints Jesus feet. In Mark 14  Mary pours the ointment over his head. 

In John 12 only Judas complains about the wasting of a valuable commodity.  In Mark 14 many of the disciples complain.

These differences could indicate one of two things. Either John contradicts the accounts given by Mark and Matthew (Matthew 26), or these are two different events that occur only a few days apart. 

If these are two separate events, they illustrate the impact one person can have on the attitude of the whole. These two events take place during the week before Jesus' death and resurrection. Among the disciples tension is high, as Messianic expectations are filling Jerusalem, and Jesus seems to be right in the middle of it. In both Mark and John Jesus bursts the Messianic bubble by talking about his own burial rather than a triumphant entry into Jerusalem and driving out the occupying Romans.

By this time Judas, wrapped in the roots of bitterness and in the grasp of greed, blusters out the accusatory question, "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages!" (John 12:5)

Now fast forward four days to Mark's account. The woman anoints Jesus, and notice in verse 4 who it is that complains about the "waste": "Some of those present were saying, 'Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year's wages and the money given to the poor.' And they rebuked her harshly." (Verse 4 & 5).

So in John, six days before the Passover, only Judas complains. In Mark, four days later, many of them complain. Do we see how the attitude and actions of one can influence the attitude of many? We might not always recognize that our attitudes can negatively impact the thinking of others. If we spend our time griping and complaining, or we invent scandals in an attempt to get our own way, we very well could create disenchantment among our peers. This might score us the political points we wish to score, but in the process of sowing discord we can hamper or destroy group cohesion, and that bitterness can spread throughout the body.

Your words and actions will have an impact, for good or for ill. For Judas the root of bitterness was strong. It had the potential to destroy the loyalty of the other disciples. 

Mark tells us that immediately following Jesus' rebuke of the disciples, Judas went to the authorities, promising them to find an opportunity to betray Jesus. His bitterness became his own destruction, and his reputation has been tarnished forever.

For the others, they all came to see Judas for what he was. They changed their attitudes and went on to turn the world upside down. 



How To Love The Lord Your God

Jesus told us “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment” (Mark. 12:29-30). Even though […]



Church of God Cincinnati

One-Hundred Forty-Four Thousand by Jim OBrien


Church of God Cincinnati

Letter from the Pastor of COG Cincinnati


From Jim O'Brien
December 30, 2016

Hi Friend,

The Worst Books Ever Written

The pen is mightier than the sword-and sometimes more cruel. Books have changed the course of mankind in dramatic ways for both good and evil. Recently an article crossed my desk regarding the 10 worst books ever written which piqued my interest.

How does one determine that a book is bad? A panel of scholars was asked to submit a list of books written within the 19th and 20th centuries that have caused the most suffering. Seems a reasonable assessment for evaluation. Jesus said "Judge them by their fruits" which is still the gold standard of judgment.

Adolph Hitler is the benchmark of evil for the 20th century, so it's reasonable to look at the books that influenced him. What books had the greatest influence on Hitler's thinking? He kept by his bedside "Das Kapital" by Karl Marx, "The Prince" by Machiavelli and Charles Darwin's "Origin of the Species." In spite of that, many American educators embrace these books today.

Darwin's concept of "survival of the fittest" convinced Hitler that many humans are inferior. The solution was to exterminate eleven million people.

American history essentially ignores that American doctors and other scientists were involved with and supported Nazi experimentation. Why not? They all drank the same Darwinian wine that still flows liberally through our educational system.

Another author admired by Nazis was Friedrich Nietzsche whose book
"Beyond Good and Evil" started the "God is Dead" craze, which still has its fingerprint on modern theological institutions. Following his death a piece of graffiti was often seen on walls announcing,

"God is dead-Nietzsche"

"Nietzsche is dead-God".

The educational system has been deeply influenced by another of the "10 worst" books-"Democracy and Education" by John Dewey. Both men rejected God and changed the course of academics.

Another "worst book" to make the list is "General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money" by John Maynard Keynes. He advocated ever-expanding government and deficit spending which lengthened the Great Depression under Roosevelt and created long gas lines under Richard Nixon, both of whom believed in Keynesian economics.

In contrast to the books that have caused so much human suffering, there is one book that has changed the world for the better. The main book used by the founding fathers of our country was the Bible. The two books George Washington kept on his bedstead were the Bible and Addison's "The Life of Cato." George Washington was great in large degree because he rejected opportunities for unilateral control, a principle he learned from studying the Bible. That principle is not found in either "The Prince" or "Das Kapital."

If a person is tempted to wonder about the Christian influence on the founding of our country, ask the question: What if Napoleon or Hitler had founded America? Would our nation have survived?

But many men and women were involved in founding this country. A generation of people were schooled and grounded in THE book that influenced citizens to support leaders of character. Men like Hitler and Napoleon existed in America but they could not come to power because people schooled in the Bible rejected their ideas.

The old truth yet prevails. People deserve the kind of leaders they get. People who believe the things taught by Machiavelli, Nietzsche, Marx, Darwin or Mohammad get a Hitler or Stalin. Choose a man who believes the Bible and you get a Washington or Lincoln.

An interesting common denominator among authors of the "worst books" is the rejection of God. They wrote books that changed the world leaving it worse than before. The words written by the Psalmist 3,000 years ago still ring true, "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.'" (Psalm 14:1)

What we believe determines what we become. As the Psalmist wrote, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, The people He has chosen as His own inheritance." (Psalm 33:12)

Until next time,

Jim O'Brien



Church of God Rocky Mount

I was wrong

At this time of the year, many people are very concerned with their new year's resolution. Yet many times our resolutions fall by the wayside. There may be a reason why we fail to make real and lasting changes in our lives. The reason is quite simple, we fail to say the three words God desires the most.

Cast: David Freeman

Tags: I was wrong, Is That Really In The Bible, David Freeman, sermon, bible, God, Jesus, truth, study, teaching, ministry, church, you've been lied to about the bi, religion, Church of God, Church of God Rocky Mount and what you think is in the bible i