The Equipping Word

the blog of Dr. Benjamin M. Foxworth
pastor, Bethel Baptist Church, Vandalia, IL

The purpose of this blog is to equip the saints for the work of service (Eph. 4:12). This will not be a digital soap box in which I will offer political rants or hammer home personal opinions about topics in the news. This blog’s whole purpose is to use the word of God and personal reflections to encourage, equip, and edify the body of Christ – the church. Anything other would be to waste an opportunity afforded to me by the grace of God. May you be equipped to serve the Lord for His glory!

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The Bigger Picture

June 4, 2019  ●  19-29

1 Cor. 3:6: I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.

1 Cor. 3:9: For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

How many muscles does it take to pick up a glass of water? Quite a lot. According to one biology teacher you have muscles in the hand that are gripping muscles, muscles in the arm that are pulling and lifting muscles, and muscles in the shoulder and chest that are pulling and lifting muscles as well. All those different kinds of muscles are all involved in the simple task of picking up a glass of water. That’s how God has designed the human body, many different parts performing many different individual tasks to complete one overall task, such as simply picking up a glass of water.

The church functions in the same way as the human body in many respects: the church is made up of many members as the human body is made up of many different parts.

The church can perform many different ministries because of the contributions of its many members just as the human body is able to perform many different tasks because of the functions of its many parts.

The church is part of the bigger picture of God’s kingdom agenda much as the human body is part of a much bigger picture called life. When it comes to the church, the part I play and the part you play are equally important because God has placed us here for His purposes.

The church in the Greek city of Corinth had what we would call, “issues”. The book of 1 Corinthians is a letter that Paul wrote the church to address some of those issues. We know of these issues by how Paul addressed them in this letter: divisions in the church, immorality, improper relations between men and women, sacrificing to idols, the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, speaking in tongues, the gospel, and collecting money for missions. In the first nine verses of chapter 3, Paul gives us a great picture of what it means to be part of the bigger picture of God’s kingdom agenda. Every member of every Christian church is involved in the bigger picture of God’s kingdom agenda.

I. God expects us to grow as part
Go back for a minute and notice 1.10:

Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.

The church at Corinth was not a unified church, they had allowed divisions to separate them in the church. Notice what Paul wrote in v. 10: “that you all agree”. Now we don’t know how many people were in the church at Corinth but think about it. Let’s say there were 20 people in the church. How hard is it to get 20 people to all agree about something? On some issues probably not too hard, on other issues probably difficult. The problem at the church in Corinth is they were identifying with  certain people, possibly the teachings of certain people. Some were identifying with Peter, some with an apostle named Apollos, others with Paul, some were even trying to take the high road and identify with Christ as if they were the more spiritual ones. Look 1:14:

I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius.

Paul was tired of their divisions, he wanted them to be unified. That’s why in 3.1-3 he is giving them a hard time because they had not progressed in their faith, they were not moving to spiritual maturity. Notice v. 3: there was jealousy and strife among them. Paul was trying to get them to understand that as they grew in their relationship with Jesus Christ, issues such as jealousy and strife should be dealt with and not become an issue, but apparently, they were. Paul called them infants in Christ because they had not progressed in their faith. The writer of Hebrews gives us this same picture of believers that had not progressed in their faith when they should have progressed further:

Hebrews 5:12: For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.

Being part of God’s bigger picture means God has so designed us to grow, not to stay the way we are. So how do we grow? Through studying His Word, applying His Word, through prayer, worship, and service. God has given us everything we need to grow as mature believers in Jesus Christ because He has work for us to do. That work is part of His bigger picture.

II. God uses us as part of the bigger picture (vv. 4-6)

I want you to notice one very important word in v. 5: SERVANTS. Based on studies by scholars, this word is where we get our word DEACON from. Scholars write this word can also mean a person who renders helpful service, a minister in the church, or a waiter. You get the picture; a servant is someone who – serves. And notice how Paul described their service in v. 6:

I planted, Apollos watered.

All of us have a ministry to fulfill. The point is not what we are producing because we have not been called to produce results. Our call is to be obedient to what God has called us to do – and that is serve. God has called us to serve through prayer, through the gifts He has blessed us with, through sharing the gospel. We plant, we water, but it is God who blesses with results. What we do is not half as important as the fact that we are serving. And notice the very important statement of Paul at the end of v 6:

BUT GOD WAS CAUSING THE GROWTH.

That’s right – God causes growth. I can’t cause the growth and you can’t cause the growth. There are literally thousands of books on the market about how to, “grow your church”. But I want to remind you of a very important statement Jesus made in the Gospel of Matthew:

Matt. 16:18: I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

Two important statements by Jesus in this one verse:
1, He said it was HIS church, not mine or yours;
2. He said HE would grow it, not Lifeway, not the Southern Baptist Convention, not the latest and greatest church growth fad.

So, if the church belongs to the Lord and if He is the one responsible for building it, then what are we supposed to do?

1 COR. 12:18: But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.

You are here for God’s purposes, not yours. Think about a jigsaw puzzle with the pieces all on a table. As you work to put those pieces together, each piece forms a part of the finished puzzle. Each piece is shaped differently and has a part of the whole picture on it. This is the church. Regardless of whether you are a deacon, Sunday School teacher, VBS worker, or handing out bulletins or taking up the offering, you are part of God’s bigger picture. And it all counts.

Praying for someone for 30 days to trust Christ is part of God’s plan; teaching Sunday School is part of God’s plan; serving as a deacon is part of God’s plan; serving in VBS or TEAM KIDS is part of God’s plan. Don’t think that what you are doing for the Lord is not having any effect because it is. You don’t know how God is working and I don’t know how God is working. Just remember this:

PS. 121:3-4: He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

God is always at work, so while you may not always be able to trace His hand, you can always trust His heart.

III. God rewards us for our part in the bigger picture (vv. 7-8)
v. 7
Notice what Paul said about serving the Lord:
The part he played was no more important than the part Apollos played, and the part Apollos played was not less important than Paul’s part. Think about this for a minute: Paul was called to be a missionary and church planter. Paul planted churches throughout southwestern Turkey and in Greece. Paul discipled, Paul pastored, Paul proclaimed the gospel everywhere he went. But in Paul’s own words, what he did was no more important that what someone else was doing. Even towards the end of ministry as church planter and missionary, listen to how Paul viewed his life:

ACTS 20:24: But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.

Paul knew that what he did was no more important than what others were doing.
v. 8
HIS OWN REWARD: what is that reward? That’s God’s business, but I can tell you what some of those rewards are if you are serving the Lord:
1, Your faith has been increased;
2. You have been obedient to serve through the gift(s) God has blessed you with;
3. You may have had the opportunity to share the gospel;
4. You have been actively involved in the mission of your church;
5. You have proven the importance of a church united behind a common cause.

You and I are part of the bigger picture. That picture includes growing in our walk with the Lord, being servants of the Lord, and the privilege of God involving us in the bigger picture.

IV. God has designed us to be part of the bigger picture (v. 9)
Notice what scholars have written about the language Paul uses in this one verse to help us understand our part in the bigger picture:

FELLOW: someone who labors with another; a helper; or to work together. This word is where we get our English word ‘synergy’ from, which means to work together.

FIELD: literally it means cultivated land. What is the difference between pasture and cultivated land? Cultivated land is something you care for in terms of planting. A crop is planted in cultivated land, the farmer waters it and plants it and tends it so that it will produce a crop, so that it will produce something. The same is true of us. It is God who prepares us and cultivates us so that through the power of the Holy Spirit we will bear spiritual fruit for His glory.

The pasture is simply meant for grazing of livestock. The pasture serves a purpose just like the cultivated field serves a purpose. But here Paul likens us to the cultivated field that God is tending and watering and caring for so that fruit will be produced.

BUILDING: something made by God; something that is built up, with the emphasis on the building.

1 PET. 2:4-5: and coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stone, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

It is God who has put us together, filled us with His Spirit, works within us to produce spiritual fruit, and it is through us that God works for His glory. There are only two types of people who come to worship on Sundays:

1. Those who are part of what God is doing;
2. Those whom God wants to be part of what He is doing.

I am a part; you are a part; we are all part of the bigger picture of God’s kingdom agenda of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world.

I want to encourage you to allow God’s Word to equip you in understanding your part in the importance of serving God for His glory; Romans 12:4-8 / 1 Cor. 12:1-30 and Eph. 4:11-16 are great places to start.

A Word for the Graduates

May 17, 2019  ●  19-28

Hebrews. 12:1-2

If you are a graduating senior, here is your final test: count to five.
ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR-FIVE
Five seconds have passed.
In just five seconds1:

  • Dunkin’ Donuts sells more than 100 cups of freshly brewed coffee;
  • 23,000 tweets are posted;
  • Amazon sells nearly $7,000 worth of product;
  • About 21 babies are born in the world;
  • 80 million tons of water has evaporated from the Earth’s surface.

A lot of life can happen in 5 seconds. In graduations across the United States, whether they are high school or college, the lives of thousands of students will change in approximately five seconds. Five seconds is about how long it takes for a graduate to walk from one side of a platform to the other to receive their diploma or degree. And there is going to be a monumental change in that brief period of time that the graduates may not even realize. By the time the last graduate walks across that platform, freshmen become sophomores; sophomores become juniors; juniors become seniors; and seniors become – GRADUATES!

Graduate, in the four-year period that you have been either in high school or college, you have transitioned through three different groups of people:

CONFUSED – coming into the 9th grade, or as a freshmen in college, you were confronted with new schedules, new teachers, new subjects, new friends – it was all new and it took a bit of getting used to that first year.

CONFORMED. Finally you were not a freshman anymore, you were a sophomore, then a junior, and you were, “in the groove.” You developed a schedule, you made friends, you learned the system and you were on cruise control.

CONCERNED. And then came your senior year and were, and maybe still are, concerned about two key events:

1. Graduation. You want to graduate and you hope to graduate. Hey, that’s what it’s all about, right?

2. What’s next. College? Military? Job? Or simply don’t know? Don’t think you are the only one feeling a bit overwhelmed

Hebrews 12:
1. Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
2. Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before  Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

In Hebrews 12.1-2, the writer addresses where you are on graduation day, and more importantly, what happens AFTER graduation.

There are five important words for you as a graduate from these two verses of Scripture:

The first important word is: REMEMBER.

1. REMEMBER where you came from;
V. 1: GREAT CLOUD OF WITNESSES.
Hebrews 11 is called the roll call of faith. In that one chapter, 16 people are named, by name, as heroes of faith, and many others are referred to generally but not by name. The writer of Hebrews is reminding Jewish Christians they were following in the footsteps of hundreds that had a strong faith and served God faithfully, and now it was their turn. Here’s what that means:

Chances are, on graduation day, as you sit waiting to receive your diploma or degree, there are those sitting in the audience that sat where you are sitting; they ran their course in school and they received their diploma; they are your great cloud of witnesses. They have been right where you are, they know you might be a bit concerned, but they are present to celebrate your graduation and to encourage you as the next chapter in your life begins to unfold.

REMEMBER GRADUATION DAY. Never forget being there, being encouraged, never forget what you have learned, how folks encouraged you. You will always take your school and those memories with you no matter where you go, it’s part of who you are; be proud of it, thank God for it. Also never forget that God has placed you here for His purposes, and that’s the most important point.

The 2nd important word is: REMOVE.

2. REMOVE any hindrances that would slow you down;
v. 1: LET US ALSO – just like those who went before you, be as faithful as they were;

LAY ASIDE EVERY ENCUMBRANCE AND THE SIN WHICH SO EASILY ENTANGLES US:

What does that mean for you? God has given us the ability to make choices, and life is all about living with the choices we have made. You can make choices you will live the rest of your life paying for and regretting; you can make choices you will live the rest of your life celebrating and thanking God you made those choices.

The writer of Hebrews encouraged his readers to renounce and put away anything that would hinder their walk as Christians. The same is true of you as a graduate. Life is about decisions you make. The best decision you can make is to commit to staying away from anything that would hinder what God wants to do through you.

We live in world that is upside down on morals, ethics, decency, and the list goes on and on. There is only one way to live your life and that is for the glory of God. Anything else is going to drag you down and keep you from realizing the best God has for you.

The 3rd important word is: RUN.

3, RUN the race God has put before you;
We all have a race to run and it’s called life. This race called life, as defined in the Bible, is not a race to see who can finish first, but instead a race with the goal of finishing with a strong faith in Jesus Christ.

The 4th important word is: REMAIN.

4. REMAIN focused on Jesus at all times;
I received my Associate’s Degree in forestry. Attending one summer semester was a requirement for my degree. During that summer semester I spent a lot of time in the woods learning how to cruise timber. Part of timber cruising is learning how to read a compass, take a bearing, and walk through the woods in a straight line; it’s harder than you think. I was taught to take a bearing with my compass. Once I found my bearing I would look down that bearing and find a tree – and I would walk towards that tree. As long as I kept that tree in front of me, I would be walking in a straight line. The moment I took my eyes off that tree I would get off course quickly.

That’s what the first part of verse is all about. You and I have to have a bearing in life, something to focus on, a point or a goal to walk towards – and He is Jesus Christ. FIXING OUR EYES ON JESUS – pay attention, focus, don’t get distracted. Jesus is who you have to set your eyes on.

But what about success? What about that promotion? What about getting my degree? Aren’t those important? Sure they are but if they become more important than your relationship with Jesus, then you have missed the point.

WHY IS FIXING MY EYES ON JESUS SO IMPORTANT?
Because Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith. Jesus went to the cross, shed His blood to pay my sin penalty and yours, He died, He was buried, He was raised on the third day and if you would by faith trust and believe in Him you will be saved.

Life is all about knowing and honoring God. Jesus willingly endured the worst punishment known to man, death by crucifixion. He did it because we could not, He was not a victim, He was the victor. Crucifixion was a shameful death and yet Jesus endured it so we could be freed from the penalty of our sin.

My focus in life and your focus in life must be Jesus Christ. He makes life worthwhile. You need to trust and believe in Him for salvation and eternal life and I would love to talk with you about that.

Finally the 5th important word is: REFLECT.

5. REFLECT on the sacrifice of Christ that made this all possible
CONSIDER HIM: think about Him, never forget the price He paid on the cross of Calvary so you could be free from the guilt and shame of sin.

Seniors, REMEMBER where you came from, REMOVE anything in your life that is going to keep you from reaching the goal God has for you; RUN this race called life with every bit of energy and strength God gives you; REMAIN focused on Jesus, don’t take your eyes off him, and REFLECT on the price he paid for your salvation.

IN YOUR LIFE, IF YOU MAKE MUCH OF JESUS, HE WILL ACCOMPLISH MUCH THROUGH YOU.

Now the God of peace who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Heb. 13:20-21)

Seniors, God is going to do amazing things through you.
God bless you.

___________________

1 “50 shocking facts that happen every five seconds”, www.buzzfeed.com, March 23, 2014 (internet, accessed May
16, 2019).

Faith – Practice – Life

May 11, 2019  ●  19-27

1 John 2:29: If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.

1 John 3:4: everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness

1 John 3:7: Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as he is righteous.

1 John 3:8: the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.

1 John 3:9: No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

Last year, in Blog Post 18-8, I asked the following question:

“Is our relationship with Jesus Christ, our faith, something we “practice” or something we live?” And the answer is, “yes!” I went on to write, ‘Faith and life cannot be separated; the practice of our faith is life itself.’

Reading 1 John 2 & 3, we get a clear picture of the stark difference between the saved person (child of God) and the lost person (“of the devil”). The important word that separates the two is the word, “practices.”

Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon defines the word, ‘practice’ as, “to perform something worthy of a Christian.” To ‘practice’ is to do or to live. In other words, to practice righteousness, or right living, means to live a life that honors God. To ‘practice’ sin means to live a life that is characterized by sin.

1 JOHN 3:10: By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.

Practicing righteousness is not simply trying to live a good life, being a moral person, helping others out, being generous, and so on. Practicing righteousness is living a life that was modeled by Jesus, and the only way that can be done is through and by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. This is what it means to live the spirit-led life. Paul wrote about this matter of practicing righteousness this way:

GAL 5:16: walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.

GAL 5:25: if we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit

The bottom line for John, and indeed for us as Christians today, is simple:

If you have been saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, then live like it. This “practicing” is why discipleship is so important, learning how to live the life of the Christian. While we still have a sin nature, the whole point is to make sure sin does not dominate our lives. Earlier in 1 John 1, the apostle wrote that if we say we have no sin we are deceiving ourselves (1 John 1:8) and if we say we have never sinned we make God out to be a liar (1 John 1:10).

From the moment God saves us He begins to work in one area at a time in our lives. As each area of our lives is brought into conformity with His will, God continues to work on other areas as we live the lessons we have learned. As we walk with the Lord, He builds us up in the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Pet. 2:4-5).

I want to encourage you to allow God’s Word to equip you in understanding how important it is to, “practice righteousness.” Use the following verses of Scripture to help you as you grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ:

Deut. 6 / Psalm 119 / Matt. 5:48; 7:24-27 / Eph. 5:1-4 / Phil. 4:8-9 / Col. 3:12-17 / 1 Peter 1:13-16

Who Is the Jesus You Are Looking For?

April 24, 2019  ●  19-26

Mark 16:6: And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him.”

Several years ago when we were living in Jacksonville, FL, I went with a deacon to visit the home of someone who had recently visited the church I was a member of. The guest card that had been filled out indicated this visitor was a first-time guest in his 20s. We found the home, walked up on the front porch and rang the doorbell. When the door opened we were greeted by an older gentleman. We introduced ourselves and why we were there. The older gentleman laughed and said we were looking for his son who did not live there. He told us his son knew that many Baptist churches would pay him a visit because he filled out a guest card, so he put his dad’s home address on the guest card (why he even filled one out I have no idea!). We went looking for the guest that had visited and found his father instead.

In the three years of His earthly ministry, Jesus had many people following Him and looking for Him:
Some wanted to be healed so they were looking for the healing Jesus;
Some wanted to be fed so they were looking for the providing Jesus;
Some wanted a mighty warrior to kick the Romans out of Israel so they were looking for the conquering Jesus;
Some wanted a miracle so they were looking for the miracle working Jesus.
But what they found was the Jesus who ministered to those society would have nothing to do with;

They found the Jesus who said, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31);
They found the Jesus who said, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44);
They found the Jesus who said, “go and sell all you possess and give to the poor . . . and come, follow Me.” (Mark 10:21)
The Jesus they found was not the Jesus they were looking for.

The women who came to the tomb early on the first day of the week were looking for the crucified, dead, and buried Jesus.
The angel in the tomb told them what they wanted to hear, “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified.”
The other gospels record the experience at the tomb this way:

Matthew: “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here.” (Matt. 28:5-6a)

Luke: “Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but He is risen.” (Luke 24.5b-6a)

In the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene is confronted by the risen Lord Himself whom she did not recognize. Jesus asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping,? Whom are you seeking?” (John 15a)

The women who came to the tomb expected to find the body of Jesus just as it had been laid in the tomb by Joseph and Nicodemus, wrapped in funeral cloths.
They expected to be able to anoint the body of Jesus with spices;
They were not sure how the stone was going to be moved from the entrance of the tomb, but they had come expecting to see the crucified and dead Jesus.
And what they found was what they did not expect: THE EMPTY TOMB!

What about today, who is the Jesus you are looking for?

Are you looking for the Jesus who will tell you that if your faith is strong enough you will never have any problems in life?
Are you looking for the Jesus who will tell you that it really doesn’t matter what kind of life you live, just be a good person and everything will be ok?
Are you looking for the Jesus who understands how you are and that it’s ok to be a casual follower of Him if you can fit it into your schedule?
Are you looking for the Jesus who, in all reality, does not really let anyone go to a place of torment called hell?
Is this the kind of Jesus you are looking for?
If that’s the Jesus you are looking for, then you are not looking for the Jesus of the Bible.

The Jesus of the Bible said, “whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 15:27)
The Jesus of the Bible said, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)
The Jesus of the Bible said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17)
The Jesus of the Bible said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.” (Matt. 7:21)
The Jesus of the Bible said, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33)
The Jesus of the Bible said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

Regardless of who the Jesus is you are looking for, when you place your faith and trust in Him, you will find:
The Jesus who forgives without condition;
The Jesus who loves without exception;
The Jesus who saves for all eternity;
The Jesus who holds you in His hands securely;
The Jesus who will never leave you;
The Jesus who has already prepared a place for you in heaven

The Jesus of the Bible is the Jesus of today:
He is alive and is right now seated at the right hand of God the Father;
He is the Jesus who is the Savior of the world;
He is not the Jesus of religion, He is the Jesus of a personal relationship with God Himself;
He is the Jesus who is returning one day with power and in great glory.
This is the Jesus who walked out of that tomb on the first day of the week;
The conquering king;
The living savior;
This is the Jesus we celebrate on Easter Sunday morning and every day of the year.
This is the Jesus you are invited to trust and believe in for the salvation of your soul
This is the Jesus who forgives and gives life, life everlasting, and life more abundantly
This is the Jesus who paid your sin debt on the cross through His shed blood.
Trust this Jesus, believe in this Jesus, celebrate this Jesus.
THE JESUS YOU ARE LOOKING FOR IS THE JESUS WHO LIVES.

Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®. Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.