Tuesday, December 27, 2011

It All Depends on What You Can See

The King of Syria was perplexed. How was Israel's King outsmarting him? Israel continually avoided attack. Syria's king soon realized that the prophet Elisha was helping. So he sent spies to capture Elisha in the town of Dothan.

As morning came and Elisha's servant went outside, he saw the entire Syrian army encamped around the house. There were horses and chariots, a great host, so with terrific fear the servant ran inside and cried to Elisha, "What shall we do?"

Elisha's reply was surprising - "Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them" (2 Kings 6:16). The servant did not understand, so Elijah then prayed, "Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see." "Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha" (2 Kings 6:17).

God brought victory and deliverance to Elisha and Israel that day. God's armies were always there with Elisha, but it took faith to see them, to know that God was near.

2012 has arrived. Our future is renewed and yet unknown. There will be both good and difficult days, victories and defeats, gains and losses.

But God is with us! Therefore, anything is possible. Although we may be weak, God is omnipotent! Our only true limitation is the degree of our inability to believe in what God can do. The vision we need is not what human eyes can view. It is our inward faith in God that guides us and makes the unthinkable a reality. It all depends on what we choose to see.

We can change the world this year if we want to. God is here, He is alive, He is poweful, and He is active. Make no mistake. It is not God we are waiting for. We are really waiting for ourselves.

"Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things..." ~ Psalm 119:18

Monday, December 19, 2011

Convenience

This is a difficult article to write. I have been wanting to express this thought, but it is so hard to find the correct words. This needs to be understood. But I want to be loving and kind.

We live in a time of convenience. Products are more consumer friendly than they have ever been. Technology has advanced to the point that you don't even have to do anything anymore to get things done - you can just talk to it or touch it with the end of your finger and it an instant - whalah!

Life has become so convenient that people don't know how to be incovenienced. Two minutes in line is too long. Waiting for your computer to go to the next screen better not take more than a second or you will want to throw the whole thing out the window. Our cars have heated seats and dual temperature controls. I am not even scratching the surface here...

All of these blessings also pose a great danger. We allow our attitudes to be changed from those of charitable work and service to the need to be served. Our approach to God as a society is changing. We want the church to serve us, and we will be at worship and love God as long as He doesn't ask too much.

On Sunday, December 25th, 2011, there will be churches all over the country who will be more concerned about what is convenient than what is commanded. Some will not even have worship, because they don't want to make it a "hardship" for people on Christmas Day.

How ironic that people are so concerned about how Christmas falling on Sunday may effect their plans! It was not convenient for Jesus to leave heaven and come to earth. It was not convenient for Him to be born in a manger. It was not convenient for Him to die on a cross. God has done everything for us - going so far beyond what was convenient to save our sinlful, wretched souls. This was an act of love, for love not only know how to be inconvenienced, but it endures and sacrifices without limits.

In the midst of this Sunday holiday, I wish for all of you the happiest and healthiest season together. Love God enough to show Him that you are not going to do things at your convenience. Love God enough to honor His commandments.

"Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, 'Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.'" ~ Acts 24:25

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Pure Joy

Joy is defined by Webster as "intense gladness." I like to think of it as an irremovable smile. Sometimes that smile is outward, but it is even better when it remains inward. Joy is the unmatchable feeling of happiness that comes from a spiritual understanding within our hearts that lies beyond expression.

When you think of what brings pure joy, isn't it interesting that it rarely has anything to do with yourself? Pure joy is seeing your young children laughing and singing and dancing. Pure joy is watching people who are less fortunate have the greatest Christmas of their lives. Pure joy is witnessing a husband and wife obey the gospel together and change the entire spiritual future for themselves and for their family.

What brings God joy? He rejoices over us for good, to bless us (Deut. 30:9). He rejoices in His perfect works (Psa. 104:31). He rejoices when sinners repent (Luke 15:7, 10). He rejoices when we know and do His will and thus have joy in ourselves (John 15:11). When we begin to rejoice about the right things we can acknowledge that we truly have been transformed to be more like the God who made us.

Simply put, to have the love of God is to feel the joy that is experienced in causing and witnessing the happiness and prosperity of others. There is no joy that can compare with the joy we receive from changing lives. This is what God did for us. How great is our God, who has decided to share with us this ministry, which brings into our hearts and into our lives - pure and eternal joy!

"I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth." ~ 3 John 1:4

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Reason for the Season

As I was growing up, whenever I saw the phrase, "Jesus is the Reason for the Season", my first thought was that this must be a denominational person or group who has posted this message. After all, I knew that December 25 was just another day, and it was not likely that this was the birthday of Jesus. I knew the church that Jesus established never celebrated His birth. I knew that the only day the Bible teaches Christians to commemorate is the first day of every week.

If you were raised like me, this holiday season has always been about Christmas trees, presents, Santa Claus, and getting together with friends and family. It is not a religious holiday. I am confident that this is as it should be, for we have no authority to make December 25 a holy day. I urge you to do some study on the origin of the holiday before deciding for yourself and your family on this issue.

But regardless of how people choose to celebrate Christmas, I have to admit that for a preacher this is a pretty sweet time. I am trying my best to get non-beleivers to believe in God. I am constantly urging believers to think about Christ and the church. I am striving to get the wayward members to come home to God. And this is the one time of year, that nearly everyone in our country and many around the world recognize that Jesus is real. Not only do they regonize Him, but they extol Him and give glory and praise to God for the gift of His Son.

It is always interesting to get Christmas cards from members of the church. Some are religious cards and some are not. Based on the cards I can see how they celebrate or think about Christmas. It reminds me that we need to educate ourselves regarding what we should believe and practice. It also reminds me that people are generally good and kind and thoughtful, and they really want to be this way all of the time. Christmas just gives them a reason to remember how they should be.

At the end of it all, I know Jesus is the reason for every season! After all, He made the world and everything in it! And I admit unashamedly that I am glad to hear so many people unafraid to acknowledge Him every December - even if it is only for a short period of time.

"For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." ~ Luke 2:11

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Door is Still Open

In Dewayne Bryant's last sermon here at Willow, he read an excerpt from a manuscript he is working on that is extremely thought provoking. He discussed how Noah and his family must have felt toward those people who were outside of the ark once God shut the door. It was not a feeling of vindication or celebration that Noah's preaching had proven to be correct. Rather, it was a feeling of thanksgiving mixed with sadness and concern for those who were scratching at the ark from the outside. People were desiring salvation but it was too late. In terror, one by one, they all slipped beneath the surface of the waters and were lost. The apostle Peter later noted that God was longsuffering in the days of Noah while the ark was being made ready, but finally God's just wrath for man's sin was satisfied (1 Pet. 3:20-21; 2 Pet. 3:4-10).

Whether the human race accepts it or not, God has set a time for the closing of the door. It could be today, tomorrow, or a million years away. Mock it as man will, the moment that door is closed everyone will want to be inside. In today's Christian age, it is the same as saying: 1. Everyone will want to be a Christian. 2. Everyone will want to be a member of the Lord's church. 3. Everyone will want to be found faithful.

When the door closes there will be no time to debate about whether or not baptism is essential for salvation, what is true and acceptable worship, or who is and who isn't a part of the church. All that will matter is whether or not we have obeyed the word of God and whether or not we are practicing what it teaches.

When the door closes there will be no time for getting around to asking people to worship. There will be no time for knocking doors or setting up potential Bible studies. There will be no time for someday maturing enough to where we are comfortable enough with ourselves to share our faith in Christ with others.

We should not wait for the door to close before we feel remorse for not being evangelistic. We should not wait for the door to close before we get in the boat ourselves. We should not wait for the door to close before we become salt and light in a world of death and darkness. The door is still open! And even if people aren't yet scratching to get in...they will be!

Brethren, they will be!

"So those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the Lord shut him in." ~ Genesis 7:16

Monday, November 21, 2011

What Are You Afraid Of?

In February of 2008, the associated press reported a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, relying on interviews with more than 35,000 adults to document a diverse and dynamic U.S. religious population.

The results of this study found that many American adults have left the faith of their childhood for another religion or no religion at all. Factoring in moves from one stream or denomination of Protestantism to another, the number of people who change their religious affiliation is 44 percent.

How fascinating that nearly half of the people in our country who consider themselves "Christians" make such a big change! But really, it should be an even greater number. The percentage should be 100%. Let's face it, as we grow in our knowledge of the Bible, each of us has the responsibility to change what we believe when it is in conflict with the holy Scriptures.

Every day I talk to people who have either stopped worshiping anywhere, or who have done nothing more than just stay in the denomination in which they were raised. I want to challenge them to question what they believe and engage in a study of God's Word. I am not afraid of any question they have. I am not afraid of their background. I am not afraid of being rejected or being judged. Why? Because I know the Bible will do what needs to be done to make all of us simply Christians and members of the body of Christ.

Now I ask you, friend - when it comes to questioning what you believe, or doing something different than you have ever done, what are you afraid of? Saul had to change. Simon Peter had to change. All of the people in the first century had to change when Christianity was first offered. We all have to change in order to be what God requires. Don't be afraid! Embrace the wondrous working of the will of God in your life! Study the Bible and let it change your life every day! I hope to see you Sunday!

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." ~ 2 Timothy 1:7

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Giving and Sharing

My four-year-old daughter taught me two lessons this week just by being herself. The first was on sharing and the second was on giving:

1. When she found out that her little friend, Kyla Adams, was coming on Friday to stay overnight with her and spend most of Saturday at our house, she was very excited. Many times when we find out people are coming over, we are also wanting to know when they are going to leave. But not Lyssa. In fact she said to me, "I cannot wait for Kyla to come and stay with us, because I am going to play with her and share all of my toys with her." She was looking forward to Kyla getting to play with her toys. I am confident that she would be willing to let her friend even take some of her toys indefinitely.

2. On Sunday morning, Lyssa was acting up in worship just before it was time for the offering. Amber had to take her out and discipline her. When they got back, the plates had already been passed. Our kids enjoy giving their money to God. When Lyssa found out that she had missed her opportunity to give, she began to cry. It was very difficult to console her, and we thought we might need to take her out again because she was so upset. She wanted to give her money and was crying because that moment had slipped from her grasp. I couldn't help but think, on the flip side, how adults cry about giving because they don't want to. How easy it becomes for adults to hold back from God!

Amber and I are thankful for our children for at least 1,000 reasons. But we may be most thankful for the lessons we learn from them about faith. Adults struggle with sharing and giving. Satan changes open, childlike hearts into closed, cynical, seflish hearts if we let him.

Let's remember during this season of thanksgiving and of doing for others, that God has from His heart given us everything so freely, even the blood of His Son. May God help us to share and to give like little children. May God help us to love unconditionally, to forgive completely, and to embrace our relationship with Him an with one another.

"But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." ~ Hebrews 13:16

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Man with the Four Dollar Soul

This may not be the most appropriate title. But as you read you will understand. Monday evening I was getting gas for my truck when a man approached me from the other side of the pump. He was unkempt and unshaven, his clothes were worn and his face revealed a man who had been beaten down by the cares of the world.

He was with three others in a small blue car which looked like it had only a few blocks left in it. He begged me for some gas. He said he was on his way to a Nashville hospital and nobody else would help them. I had already payed inside and I was about to pump my own gas, but I gave him the only money I had in my wallet - four dollars. He waved to his friends as if to say, put gas in the car, then he went inside.

Since I had already payed, I just started the pump and followed about 30 seconds behind him. He did not go to the counter to pay, but instead he had gone in looking for something. I followed at a distance, but he recognized me, did a loop through the store and exited quickly. I asked the cashier if he had given her any money for gas. She said, "No." As I went back outside they were pulling off and waved as if to say, "Thanks." They had not pumped any gas, they were simply running away. I am glad I hadn't given him twenty.

I am not sad about this incident for me. I am glad, that when I was asked to help someone in need, I did not wimp out, turn him away, or just keep what I had for myself. I am sad about this incident for this man and his friends. He was scamming people for cash to buy something other than what he said he needed.

This man's soul is worth more than four dollars. Jesus said our individual souls are of more value than gaining the whole world. But we sell our souls for far less than four dollars every day by the sins we are willing to commit when Satan tempts us. You might not have the guts to cheat people for a few pennies, but face the reality that you often are willing to boldly sin against your Creator and Judge to please your own whims and desires.

Your soul is worth so much more than what you are selling it for. Think it over. Repent. Save your soul.

"For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" ~ Matthew 16:26

Monday, October 31, 2011

Rainy Days

Not every day is filled with sunshine. There are foggy days, days of clouded skies, and some days…it just rains. Our lives happen on a day to day basis. The challenges we wake up to meet today may be different than the struggles of tomorrow. In His sermon on the mount Jesus said, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt. 6:34).

In our spiritual lives, sometimes we have rainy days. We are not always as strong as we want to be. Paul pointed out to the brethren at Galatia, “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Gal. 5:17). We don’t always live up to expectations. As Christ said, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). When King David was confronted with his own sin, he mentioned just how heartbreaking and difficult it could be. He said, “I am weary from my crying; my throat is dry; My eyes fail while I wait for my God” (Psalm 69:3). His consolation came from the land of cloudless day – “But as for me, my prayer is to You, O Lord, in the acceptable time; O God, in the multitude of Your mercy, hear me in the truth of Your salvation” (Psalm 69:13).

Our God is an awesome God. His power is unlimited, His kindness is available, and His longsuffering amounts to our salvation (2 Pet. 3:15). Even so, how is it that we can find consolation when we are having such a bad day that nothing seems to matter?

One of my friends once wrote these lyrics that I believe explains it:
Why am I so sinful? Why am I so weak?
Why am I so tempted? How can I be your child?
I’ve hurt you far too many times, why should you stay?
My life is a storm raging within.
Jesus I wonder, how can you love me on my rainy days?
How can you love me on my rainy days?
Help me to be like Jesus. Help me to build faith.
Help me to see your glory. I want to be your child.
I’ve hurt you far too many times. Why should you stay?
My life is a storm raging within.
Jesus I wonder how can you love me on my rainy days?
How can you love me on my rainy days?
~ John Farber

The fact is, Jesus still loves us on our rainy days. When everybody else moves out, He moves in. When we doubt ourselves, He continually believes. That’s what makes Him special. That’s what makes us seek Him. Only His true love can get us through our stormy Galilee! Only Jesus can say on our rainy days, “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:39).

Monday, October 17, 2011

Church at Home?

A common question concerning the church goes something like this, "Is it permissable to be a part of a church family, even if it is limited to your own home?"

The answer to this question is simply, "Yes." But the answer is yes only under certain conditions.

1. It would be right to be a part of a home church, if you were limited to that structure based on financial reasons - perhaps the local church had no public place to meet.

2. It would be right to be a part of a home church, if you were limited to that structure based on the absence of any local congregation that was scripturally organized.

3. It would be right to be a part of a home church, if you were limited to that structure based on the absence of sound teaching in a local congregation of the Lord's people.

4. It would be right to be a part of a home church, if you were limited to that structure because you were working to plant the church in an area where no body of Christ currently existed, and the home church was the beginning of evangelistic work in your area.

But some have limited themselves to a home church for reasons that are not biblical. Perhaps they could not get along with other churches. Perhaps they did not want to submit to an eldership, or saw no need to place membership in a local church. Or perhaps, they just felt like they would rather stay at home for personal reasons. There are times when a "home church" can actually be sinful. People who are against organized religion are against God's plan for religion. God has organized religion, and its name is the "church"!

My one question to those who want to stay at home, when a local body, scripturally organized and sound in doctrine exists is straight and to the point - "If you stay at home, then what are you doing with the gospel of Christ?"

The church's mission is to bring the saving message of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. We cannot do this by leaving it inside four walls, whether at home, or in the local church building.

"To the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places." ~ Ephesians 3:10

Monday, September 26, 2011

"They're 'Church of Christ.'"

(The following article is one I wrote a few years ago - but I like to repost it now and then because it is important).

Misconceptions arise from various sources and are often difficult to eliminate. One such example is that of the common phrase used by so many when describing those who abide by the doctrine of Christ and are a part of His church.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, “Well I was raised (fill in denomination hear), but my spouse was raised ‘Church of Christ.” Or perhaps it goes something like, “She’s (fill in denomination here), but her husband is ‘Church of Christ.’”

Though many don’t know it, and perhaps they’re just not thinking about it, they are trivializing God’s divine institution when they use such conversation. It plants the church of our Lord into a denominational genre, and therefore applies to the church a social bond with other bodies of belief that are not of God.

Jesus came to build His church, and did so according to the eternal plan of God (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 1:22, 23). When we speak of the church of which we are a part, we recognize it as the one body Jesus bought with blood, established at Pentecost, still in existence today (Eph. 4:4-6; Acts 20:28). There is no universal title for the church outside of the Biblical titles to which we see it ascribed. God inspired men to call it by its proper name, as the church of Christ (Rom. 16:16), the church of the Firstborn (Heb. 12:23), the church of God (1 Cor. 1:2), or even just “the church” (Eph. 5:23).

But followers of Jesus are not “Church of Christ” or “Church of Christers.” When we say someone is “Church of Christ”, we go beyond the description allowed in the Bible for those who are in the church. We are to be called simply “Christians” (Acts 11:26; 1 Pet. 4:16), or “saints” (Rom. 1:7). A true Christian is one who is in the church and belongs to Christ, the One who is Head of the body (Col. 1:18).

It will prove difficult for us to spread the true message about the church if we do not choose to be careful to honor its Biblical representation. The church of Christ does not have a doctrine, the Bible is doctrine. The church of Christ does not have a position, the Bible is the position. The church of Christ does not believe…, the Bible teaches... When we come into a proper appreciation for these simple ideas, we will help ourselves and others become obedient to Christ in a unified fashion and exalt the name of God and His church.

There is no greater institution on the earth than the church of Christ. It is the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). It is the body of the saved (1 Cor. 1:18). It is the family of God (Eph. 3:15). May we always strive to love our God and the church He sent the Son to establish! May we always properly represent this sacred body of sanctified people!

– “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly that all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generation, forever and ever. Amen” – (Eph. 3:20, 21).

Monday, September 19, 2011

"It Was God's Will"

For some time I have struggled with a comment that is often used but ill-advised. I know that it is said with a strong desire to comfort people when they are grieving, but I am confident that it is not the correct thing to say. In fact, it may simply be incorrect. I am talking about when, after someone dies, a griever is told, "It was God's will."

Years ago, in an article written to "Dear Abbey", a woman whose 14-year-old son had recently been killed in a tragic accident, lamented over several of the things people attempted to say in order to console her. One of the things she heard over and over was, "It was God's will." Consider her response, "I am no more (or less) religious than the average person. But if it was "God's will" to take may son at 14 and end his young life, then I want no part of a God who could be so cruel."

I've had this article in my possession for years. I have thought about it many times when trying to help others who were grieving. I used to be bothered by the part of her statement that said, "I want no part of a God who could be so cruel." But over the years I have learned that what she meant (whether she knew it or not) was - "I want no part of your misrepresentation of God."

I figured something out last week that to me is a real breakthrough. I know it has been in my mind a long time, but this is the first time I have been able to express it in the right way. This one fact alone, I believe, is the reason why you should never say to anyone who has just lost a loved one, "It was God's will.":

DEATH IS NOT GOD'S WILL! Death is Satan's will! It is God's will that you live forever. It was that way in the Garden of Eden. It was that way as the scheme of redemption unfolded. It was that way when Jesus died, was buried, and rose again. It has been that way ever since.

Death is a part of life. This is not God's fault, it is our fault (Ez. 18:20; Rom. 6:23). If you are lost and dead spiritually, this is not what God wants. It is God's will that you be saved and live.

I can only think of one person ever, who could have been told that the death of her child was God's will. But that was nearly 2000 years ago. I believe her name was Mary...

"Who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father" ~ Gal. 1:4

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Some Things are Just Worth Keeping

"Then the Lord said to Cain, 'Where is Abel your brother?' He said, 'I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?'" ~ Genesis 4:9

Everyone who is familiar with the historical account of the first murder in human history is also familiar with this verse. It was a tragic end to Abel's faithful life. It happened because Cain's attitude was wrong and it multiplied into something hard to imagine. Take a moment and really think about it. A man killed his own brother, violently, because of jealousy and hatred. How many other friends did Cain have? How many other brothers?

Before we point fingers at Cain, please search your heart and consider how we kill our own brothers from week to week:

1. We kill our brothers by not knowing where they are. Like Cain, we say as to their whereabouts, "I do not know?" Many people are leaving the church. Many who used to sit in our section or on our pew are waiting for us to call them, encourage them, and care about them. It makes me sick to think about how many of us, who are members of God's family, simply won't take enough time at services to notice who is missing and do something about it.

2. We kill our brothers by not caring where they are. Like Cain, who knew where his brother was, we say, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Apathy is worse than ignorance! Whether we are in large or small congregations we have no excuse when it comes to members slipping away. More brethren means more caretakers of the church. Everybody needs to care.

3. We kill our brothers by being happy to see them leave. If you are happy when someone leaves the congregation where you attend, you'd better pray to God for forgiveness. Being a part of a family means dealing with each other's weaknesses and personality issues. How would we feel if Jesus decided not to die for some of us because we got on his nerves?

4. We kill our brothers by allowing our own weaknesses to get the best of us. Cain did what he felt like doing. He felt like doing it because he allowed Satan to take camp in his mind and change his heart. It is hard for me to understand how people can hold hatred in their heart for others and still call themselves Christians. You can be sure that any hatred you store up will at some point find a landing place.

We owe God's highest creation love, respect, forgiveness, and commitment. We need to keep our brethren. Some things are just worth keeping!

"If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?" ~ 1 John 4:20

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

William Woodson Tribute: "Our People"

This coming Sunday will be the one year anniversary of the passing of our dear Brother William Woodson. I wrote this article last year, and I would like to repost it in his memory. I was his preacher for nearly 8 years, but more importantly, we were friends and I had so much respect for him on every level. I am praying that God will give us more men in the church like William Woodson. He made the church better, and heaven will be better with him as an eternal friend...

I met Brother William Woodson formally while preaching in Kentucky several years ago. I had listened to him during various lectureships and meetings. I had read many of his writings and certainly had a good knowledge of his influence in the brotherhood for decades. Over the past 8 years I have come to know him as a mentor and a close friend.

It would be impossible to state in this brief article, my appreciation for all that I have learned from this gentleman from Walker County. But there is one phrase, that in my mind, has meant a great deal to me over the past few years. It is a phrase I have often heard him use in the pulpit or in a Bible class. I have read it many of his writings.

Brother Woodson affectionately liked to refer to the church, as "Our People." I think this concept, though somewhat simplistic, is actually in reality quite profound and extremely fascinating. Here are a few reasons why:

1. It proclaims our identity as God's people, the church. Brother Woodson understood what it meant to be a child of God. He knew everything there was to know about various groups within the world's concept of "Christendom." He knew the difference between Biblical, undenominational Christianity, and everything else. There is a great distinction between "our people", of which Brother Woodson himself became a part, and the rest of the people. This phrase explained how much it meant to him to be a member of the church that belongs to Christ.

2. It couples us with our predecessors. I have always respected William Woodson a great deal for his loyalty to great leaders of the past. He found out what made the people of the restoration great. He not only defended their efforts, but he sought to imitate their greatness and pass it down to the rest of us. He knew more about the development of the churches of Christ then perhaps anyone else living. The more he studied, the more he was convinced that those who helped us find our way back to the New Testament church had it exactly right.

3. It states that we are brethren. It was more important for William Woodson to be in God's family, than to be in any other family, group, or organization. He truly loved his brothers and sisters in Christ with a love that surpasses any other. I believe that he served his whole life in the church out of sincere humility, and also with tremendous pride. His humility was found in his diligent service and labor of love to his Creator and the church. His pride was the confidence of his own salvation, and the blessings he knew were his because of the knowledge of the truth.

I love William Woodson dearly. He was, and still is, and will always be, a great friend. I love him most for his love for God and the church. I could think of no greater honor than to carry on an understanding of this wonderful phrase, and be identified along with him throughout eternity, as one of "Our People."

"We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren." ~ 1 John 3:14

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Missing Out

I could not hold my tears back. I tried. But they were from my heart and they represented everything I believe and dream and think. So when Kent O'Donnell was finishing his presentation at Willow this past Sunday night - as he ended with the picture of he and his family, I cried.

People may not understand this, but when you work as a preacher you share a close bond with all preachers and their families. You are on the same team. You understand the sacrifices. You have the same goals and dreams for the church and for every soul in the world. You know there is someone else out there that wants other people to be saved so badly, they are willing to make it their life's mission.

I honestly feel deeply sorry for any Christian who cannot sympathize with at least part of what I am talking about. You see, in order to get to have these feelings, you have to put something into your realtionship with God and the church. If you have never been on a mission trip, there are some things you cannot understand. If you have never been a worker in the church, there are some things you cannot understand. If you have never allowed youself to get close to God's people, there are some things you cannot understand.

As Christians, we know that the greatest joy is having a relationship with God, being a part of the kingdom, and knowing we are among the saved because God loves us and has forgiven us at great cost. But second, and I am telling you it is right close to the first - is the joy that comes from a very close personal relationship and love for the people of God.

If you cannot cry from time to time, with appreciation for some of these relationships, then you are truly missing out.

"We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren..." ~ 1 John 3:14

Monday, August 15, 2011

Let Jesus Do What He Came To Do

Two verses from the gospel of John have recently made me ask the question, "Why are so many people keeping Jesus from doing what he came to earth to do?"

Here they are:

John 3:17 - "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved."

John 12:47 - "If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world."

Without taking what is said by Jesus in these two verses out of context, let's simply understand the basic themes of these two passages. Jesus came to save the world! He came to redeem every sinner and provide an avenue of forgiveness. He came to do the will of God and teach the human race how to live. He came so that we all could live in heaven with God eternally.

It is also very apparent from these two passages, that Jesus has no pleasure in the thought of having to condemn even one person to hell. This does no mean that Jesus will not judge every soul and divide the sheep from the goats (Matt. 25:32). But it does mean that Jesus didn't leave heaven and die on a cross so that one day he could sentence us to everlasting punishment. He made the sacrifice to save our souls.

It seems so strange to me that many people think of God as being so harsh; as nothing but a rule-making, law-enforcing Master. The wrath of God is just, due to our rejection of the Savior. The justice of God is perfect because he is a loving, impartial, gracious and merciful Father.

Look at your life and ask yourself whether or not you are living in such a way that allows Jesus to do what he came to the earth to do! He died to save you, not to condemn you. He loves you and wants you to be forgivien and to have the best life possible for both now and eternity.

A close and honest examination of the Scriptures should lead you to this simple conclusion: If heaven is not your final and eternal destination, it is not because God desires such. If you remain unsaved, you have nobody to blame but yourself.

"For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." ~ 1 Tim. 2:3-4

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Nameless

Last Saturday I was treated to a country breakfast in the middle of nowhere. Actually, it was in a little town that prefers to remain nameless - Nameless, TN. I remember while at Freed-Hardeman, Dr. Dowell Flatt used to speak of being from Nameless. He went to school there. I never knew that years later I would be invited to breakfast at the old general store next to where one of my mentors grew up.

How did Nameless get it's name - or how did it become Nameless? One version of the name's origin holds that when residents applied for a post office, the place for a name on the application was left blank, and the U.S. Post Office Department returned the application with "Nameless" stamped on the form. Another explanation was that residents there decided to call it "nameless" after one of them said "This here’s a nameless place if I ever seen one, so leave it be." Bill Flatt, Dowell's brother, was once told that there were three families that wanted to run the store and post office, but they all wanted it to be named after their own family. So the compromise was to give the store and the town no name at all. In any event, that little stopping post in Jackson County will probably remain forever, "Nameless."

When it comes to the human population, God chose to give us a name. It was to be an everlasting name, better than that of sons and daughters (Isa. 56:5). It was to be a new name, for both Jew and Gentile, coming directly from the mouth of God (Isa. 62:2). The Father of spirits had a plan to adopt every human being into His spiritual family. He does not want us to be homeless, hopeless, or nameless.

Therefore, how sad it is that many within the realm of religion prefer to remain nameless! Sadder still is the fact that many of God's people, though blood bought and gospel taught, never choose to tell others about the glorious name by which they are called. It is not nostaligic for Christians to remain nameless. Such is left only for quaint country stores in the heartland of America. The church is not a museum! It is the living, breathing, body of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

Thank you, Lord, for giving us a name that is above every other name! Be patient with us, Lord, to do everything in your name and for your name, giving glory and honor to You!

"And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch." ~ Acts 11:26



Monday, August 1, 2011

Goad Kicking

Certain problems demand the proper tools in order to fix them. Not every solution is easy or pleasurable. Sometimes, we just need to be prodded.

The "goad" or "oxgoad" was a traditional farming implement used to spur and guide livestock. It was useful in rounding up cattle, as well as motivating any animals pulling a load. The device goes all the way back to ancient Egypt, and has become iconic as a way of explaining any needful urging that one may receive in life - the prick of your own conscience, your mate's constant nagging, or any wise words that you might not want to hear in the short term. According to Thayer's Greek Lexicon, to "kick agaist the goads" means to "offer vain and perilous or ruinous resistance."

In the book of Acts, Saul learned a valuable lesson about goads - "As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?' And he said, 'Who are You, Lord?' Then the Lord said, 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads'" (Acts 9:3-5). Saul found out that in rejecting Jesus he was hurting his only chance for solving the answers to all of life's problems. In presecuting the church, Saul was doing more than just turning a deaf ear to Christ. He was shaking his fist at God! He was kicking against the goads!

How many of us kick against the goads? When your spouse sees something lacking in your attitude or behavior, how do you respond to their advice? When a friend shows concern for the path on which you are traveling, do you appreciate it, or do you think about "unfriending?" When the preacher states clearly from the Bible that sin is sin, do you ignore it when it applies to you? Let's face it, we all do some goad kicking. But the goad is still needed, and all we are doing in kicking is hurting ourselves.

The next time you hear something that is true, that you don't like to hear, that may call for a change in your life, act accordingly. Don't get mad at the messenger. Don't despise the truth. Realize that goad kicking is to be left to the uneducated, unwise, untamed beasts. It is not an activity that is characteristic of a child of God. It is hard for you to kick against the goads!

"The words of the wise are like goads, and the words of scholars are like well-driven nails, given by one Shepherd." ~ Ecclesiates 12:11

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Eggs and Rice

This past Sunday evening at Willow we were treated to a mission report from India by Brother Ratnam and his grandson. Although it took an extra effort to understand their accents and sometimes we did not hear every word, the words that we did hear were powerful. It is important for us to be reminded that we are in the mission field all of the time.

One thing in particular that stood out to me was what Brother Ratnam's grandson said about the people in India and their giving. When they had no money to give to the Lord, they still gave something. If it was only a bag of rice, they gave it. If their chicken layed an egg, they gave it. Even though they were hungry, and they could have eaten the rice, and they wanted the egg, they said, "No, we are giving this rice and this egg to the Lord!"

The attitude displayed in this type of giving exemplifies what it truly means to be a child of God. Once Jesus is Lord, he is Lord of all. He is not just Lord of Sundays. He is not just Lord of our free time. He is not just Lord of what we have that we do not need. Jesus is Lord of every breath we take, every thought we think, every feeling we feel, and every deed we do.

The giving of eggs and rice also reminded me of the fact that the church should be first in everything. Christians must put their own selfish concerns aside and constantly think about what is best for the kingdom of God. When we put the church first unity is accomplished, God is glorified, and souls are obedient to the will of God. We should all come to an understanding that the best decision we can make for our own personal interests is to put ourselves last.

This Sunday, when the offering plates are passed, I will be thinking of eggs and rice. I will give cheerfully and thankfully to my God, who has given me everything - not even sparing his only Son for my soul.

"...and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" ~ 2 Corinthians 10:5

Monday, July 18, 2011

An Exemplary Church

When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about the offering that was being gathered by the churches for the struggling saints in Judea, he used the Macedonian churches as an example - "Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God" (2 Cor. 8:1-5).

This is one of my favorite texts in the New Testament. The reason is simple: It is obvious that Christianity was real and was being acted out by some of the churches in an extraordinary way. Paul felt the need to implore some churches to be like other churches, when other churches excelled in areas where the church he was addressing was obviously weak. I have thought about this many times and used it in preaching. I will continue to do so. I like to make comparisons between the local church of which I am a member and minister, and other churches in the brotherhood.

For example, this week I have been preaching a gospel meeting at the Bethlehem church of Christ in Henry County, TN. Although their regular attendance is around 30 on Sunday morning, we had 64 yesterday morning for the first day of the gospel meeting. Sunday night we had about 80. In my opinion, this is extraordinary. This little congregation, located way out in the country, has taken their meeting seriously. How many of our churches merely get a speaker and put an ad in the paper and that is it? How many of our churches attend the gospel meeting better than they do regular worship services? How many of our churches double the attendance of Sunday morning for every night of the meeting? This does not happen by accident. The Bethelehem congregation has served as an example to me this week, and to other churches, as to how the preaching of the glorious gospel of Christ should be a priority to the children of God.

One question for you, today: If your local congregation were to serve as an example to other churches, for what would it be known? Would Paul use other churches to stir your congregation up, or could he use you as an example to the brethren to stir them up? The example you choose to set as a church for the saints and for the world is entirely up to you.

"Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen." ~ Eph. 3:20-21

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What it Takes to Win the Race

There are many references in the Bible to winning the race, obtaining the prize, achieving the goal - we are talking about heaven of course. We must run to obtain (1 Cor 9:24); we must run with confidence (1 Cor. 9:26); we must not run in vain (Gal. 2:2); but we must run well (Gal. 5:7). But I think there is one factor in running to win that is most important - endurance.

What is lacking in the spiritual race most people are running today is effort. People want the road to be easy. They want the sacrifices to be minimal. They want the stress to be less. They want to get there, but they just don't want to try very hard.

Jesus said about the way that leads to eternal life - "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matt. 7:13-14). The way to heaven is not easy. It is a difficult way. It is going to take sacrifice, effort, endurance, hardship, pain, faith, patience, and much more.

Unless you have been a runner, you may never understand what it means to run in such a way that you may obtain the prize. Since I started running a few years ago, my running has helped me to spiritually see what the Bible has been trying to teach me all of this time. Every time I run, there are bad spots that I have to push through. Every time I run, it is difficult, and there are times when I want to quit. Every time I run, it would be easier to do something else. Every time I run, it takes patience, endurance, effort, pain, and faith in myself and my Creator.

Last Sunday night, at about 9:30, I headed out my door to run. My friends could not go, so I ran alone. I was tired from preaching and church work that lasted all day long - I had not gone home all day. I had to wait until the kids were asleep, and it was not blazing hot outside. But I ran my 5 miles, and as I was running I was reminded of what it really takes to win the race.

You see, friend, it just takes wanting it enough to make the sacrifices necessary to be successful. Every runner has thought to themselves at some point, "You know this is crazy. It would be easier not to run or work so hard." But every runner, when the race is over, feels the satisfaction of victory. They would do it all again: No matter how difficult the journey, no matter how many others were running, no matter the sacrifices that had to be made.

Heaven is a goal we can all achieve. It will not be easy, but it will be worth it. It is a race you must finish, regardless of the cost. We have this great consolation: Our Savior is running with us, and our God is cheering us on at the finish line.

"...and let us run with patience the race that is set before us" ~ Hebrews 12:1

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"Put Your Finger on the Verse."

Shortly after I came to Lawrence County, Tennessee, I met an older preacher named Fulton Smith. Fulton was a man with a lot of experience. He really loved the Bible and he loved the souls of men. What impressed me most about the times I was able to spend with him was his passion for preaching the truth. He was very plain in his preaching - no minced words. He was not going to negotiate. His message was Biblical, lots of verses, not too many poems or stories or time wasted on "warm and bubbly" religion. If you just wanted a man to tell you the truth about the doctrine, and give it to you straight, Fulton Smith was the man to see and hear.

He and his wife, Jo Ann, loved to go to Friday night singings everywhere. They had a great marriage and she was fully dedicated to his work. Most of the time I spent with him was when we would share duties for a funeral. I always appreciated working with him. He respected me even though I was young and inexperienced. I think he allowed for my mistakes because he looked past my inadequecies and saw where my heart was. Younger preachers need older preachers. They need to be told by the older generation that their preaching is sound, that their heart is pure, and that their work is effective. Fulton Smith did that for me. Fulton passed from this life in 2010. He was a great man.

A week ago I was back in Lawrence County for a funeral. While there I went to the nursing home to see a good friend, Bob Belew, who is brother-in-law to Fulton's wife Jo Ann. Jo Ann and her sister, Martha Belew, were also there, and the four of us had a good visit. We talked some about Fulton. In a few minutes Jo Ann went to the car and returned with a very special gift. It was a copy of Fulton's sermons, which she had typed out this year and put into print in his memory. The title of the book is, "Put Your Finger on the Verse." This was a phrase coined by Fulton that he used in his sermons. The emphasis was simply, if you can't find it in the Bible, if you can't put your finger on the verse, then why practice it? There is great wisdom in this approach when it comes to us and our relationship with God.

We need to be a people who know what the Bible actually teaches. We need to be a people who practice what the Bible actually teaches. We need to be a people who preach and teach what the Bible actually teaches. We need to be a people who will not just sit on a pew and let the preacher preach to us without opening our Bibles. We need to be a people who will put our fingers on the verse.

"If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen." ~ 1 Peter 4:11

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

One More Sermon to Preach

Message found on a note in an aging preacher's office:
"One of the great joys of my life - Preaching! As for 'talent' I don't even compare to some! (But) as for 'appreciation' - No one is more grateful than I! God blessed me and I'm thankful! God's allowed me to preach 35 years, found a place for me in service, used me..."

This note belonged to Charles K. Burgess, a preacher in the church for the last 50 years. He gave his life in service to the Herren's Chapel church of Christ for the last 42 years. As I attended his funeral today, I thought about how I want to be remembered. I thought about what type of life I want to lead. I thought about faith, family, and fellowship within the kingdom of God.

But above all, I thought about one person's deep and endless love and devotion to God. Those who are not preachers may not know it, but preaching the gospel is really nothing more than a person's public celebration of their relationship with God. Although I was never blessed to personally know Charles Burgess, I feel like I do know him in a very personal way. We share the same goals, dreams, and wishes for here and eternity. He loved God and the church, so do I. He loved his family, so do I. He loved the lost, so do I. He had a passion for preaching, so do I. He prayed Hezekiah's prayer when he first contracted cancer, so did I.

The litmus test for a person's love for God is their life's work. I think it is safe to say that if you simply looked at the life of Charles K. Burgess, the most natural reponse would be, "That man loved the Lord." And after all, when all is said and done, what could be better? Jesus said this is the first and greatest commandment (Matt. 22:37).

This Lord's day morning, I am honored to preach one of the great sermons first preached by Charles Burgess. This is his outline, but the words and ideas belong to our God. I know I can't preach it like Charles could. But I believe he and I share the same passion for the message, and hope for the results.

My favorite point in his outline, is the last one. It is the one I truly want to share from my heart to yours today. It is powerful if you will receive it, and I think that as we honor Brother Burgess, we can see the benefits of its message:

"We have but one life to live; how are we living it?"

"...through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks." ~ Heb. 11:4

Monday, June 20, 2011

Jars of Clay

This week I am a counselor at Short Mountain Bible Camp. I have the new campers, ten-year-old boys. Yes, it has already been a very interesting experience. I am here primarily because this is my oldest son's first time at camp. I have not been back in years. Being here, although work, is a great blessing.

My campers need me. They are lost up here. It is quite overwhelming at times. As I look at these young, innocent boys, I think about how fragile they are and how much potential they have. At this point in their lives they can still fall either way. I recognize the burden upon all of those who will impact their lives in the short term to raise them up to be children of God.

One verse that I have noticed up here on the mountain over and over again is found in Matt. 19:14, Mark 10:14, and Luke 18:16 - "But Jesus called them to Him and said, 'Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.'" I recall this being painted on the wall of the orphanage we visited in Ascuncion, Paraguay. Every child is so special to God. Jesus knew how to have a pure and peaceful relationship with children. His kindness to them was natural, and His affection for them was real. I think I have seen a little bit of what Jesus sees, while I have been looking at these children this week. It makes me feel better about myself, both in heart and in mind.

Our kids need us. They need a relationship with us and with God. Let's not forget it. They are clay, waiting to be molded by our hands and by the hands of our Father. Take some time out of your life to make a difference in the life of the child. I think I am beginning to understand, that to do so would be the most Christ-like thing any person could ever do.


"But now, O LORD, You are our Father; We are the clay, and You our potter; And all we are the work of Your hand." ~ Isaiah 64:8

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Father Time

Upon initial glance at the title, one might think they are about to read of the mythical person, elderly and bearded, dressed in a robe, and carrying a scythe and an hourglass. But this article is not referencing the abstract symbol of the constant one way direction in which time is moving. It is however, a reminder of 1. The brevity of life, and 2. The small amount of time we have to make an impact on our children.

One of my favorite illustrations on parenting comes from Silas Shotwell, written in the periodical Homemade, September, 1987: "Charles Francis Adams, the 19th century political figure and diplomat, kept a diary. One day he entered: "Went fishing with my son today--a day wasted." His son, Brook Adams, also kept a diary, which is still in existence. On that same day, Brook Adams made this entry: "Went fishing with my father--the most wonderful day of my life!" The father thought he was wasting his time while fishing with his son, but his son saw it as an investment of time. The only way to tell the difference between wasting and investing is to know one's ultimate purpose in life and to judge accordingly."

This Father's Day, I am thankful for the great blessing God has afforded me to be able to hear the words, "Dad" and "Daddy" from my three sweet, wonderful children. No minute I have ever spent with them in my lifetime has ever been wasted. Time and experience in family counseling has also taught me that the most important thing that you can give your children is your time. If you couple this with the natural, affectionate love all parents should have for their children, and finish it off with the gift of knowledge concerning their heavenly Father, then you have done everything that God expects a parent to do for a child.

According to Dr. George Rekers, a well known minister and psychologist, "A positive and continuous relationship to one's father has been found to be associated with a good self-concept, higher self- esteem, higher self-confidence in personal and social interaction, higher moral maturity, reduced rates of unwed teen pregnancy, greater internal control and higher career aspirations. Fathers who are affectionate, nurturing and actively involved in child-rearing are more likely to have well- adjusted children."

Beyond all of this. I know why I want to spend time with my kids. Because they not only make me a better person, but they give me more satisfaction than anything I could do alone. Second only to salvation, children are the greatest gift any person can receive.

As a Father, I know how much I love my children. It is one of the simplest truths in my life. I have a heavenly Father who feels the same about me. He wants to spend time with me. He gave His only Son to prove it.

"And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord." ~ Eph. 6:4

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Make A Difference

Dear Brethren,

Greetings and blessings in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. May God continually bless you in the good things you do for the church in His name.

As briefly as I can, I want to make you aware of a situation in the church that needs some urgent attention. Last year I preached a gospel meeting at the Marshalltown church of Christ in Marshalltown, Iowa. This is a church I have been associated with for about 12 years. It is a mission point that leans heavily on the aid from churches all over the United States.

One of the deacons, Reggie Holt, from the Pulaski St. congregation in Lawrenceburg, TN accompanied me on the trip last year. He is an electrician for the Lawrenceburg Utility System. As we looked at the building they are about to purchase, we saw that they needed a new heating and air-conditioning unit. They are going to buy the building for a song if we can get the heat and air fixed. When I preached the meeting last June, we met each night in 95-98 degree weather with no cooling system. They have found a way to worship in these conditions for over a year now. How many of our members here would show up if we had to do the same? How could we grow the kingdom in such a situation?

If we can raise $15,000.00 through every contact we have, they will be able to get a new system and also buy the building. It is on the main drag in town, and will make them a viable church in their community. There are over 50 counties in Iowa that no longer have a church of Christ in them. The group in Marshalltown is the most faithful, hard-working, dedicated group of Christians I have met. We need to help them.

We are asking for 150 people to give $100 each. We will take any assistance from any church or individual we can get. When the money is raised we will not ask for a dime over $15,000.00. If you can help in any way in this special effort, we would appreciate it so much. If you have any questions about anything concerning this work I am more than happy to tell you everything I know. I have visited and worked with the church there on many occasions over the last 12 years. Please help!

This is not for us. This is for souls. This is for Christ. This is for our God.

In the love of Christ,


Jeremiah Tatum
Work: 931-432-2333 Cell: 931-629-5585 Fax: 931-432-2338
Email: jeremiahtatum@bellsouth.net
Websites: www.backtothebible.blogspot.com, www.willowcoc.com

Please make your check payable to:

Marshalltown church of Christ
23 ½ South Center St.
Marshalltown, IA 50158

You can memo the check A/C Unit

If you want to send via paypal, you can send it to jeremiahtatum@bellsouth.net and I will deliver the funds (this method was suggested by a friend who pledged some money for this cause).

PLEASE LET ME KNOW YOUR NAME AND HOW MUCH YOU CAN DO SO I CAN KEEP TRACK UNTIL WE RAISE THE TOTAL AMOUNT!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Unfinished Symphony

George McDonald writes in his book, Restoring Your Spiritual Passion - "It is said of one of the famous composers that he had a rebellious son who used to come in late at night after his father and mother had gone to bed. And before going to his own room, he would go to his father's piano and slowly, as well as loudly, play a simple scale, all but the final note. Then leaving the scale uncompleted, he would retire to his room. Meanwhile the father, hearing the scale minus the final note, would writhe on his bed, his mind unable to relax because the scale was unresolved. Finally, in consternation, he would stumble down the stairs and hit the previously unstruck note. Only then would his mind surrender to sleep once again."

Our Father in heaven is not only the Father of spirits, and the Father of creation, He is the master composer of the music of our lives. I cannot but think sometimes about how He wants to make our lives beautiful, but be because of our own rebellion, we refuse to allow some of the necessary notes He has written to be played. The parts of His will we leave out disrupt the direction and flow of the music. Before long our lives scarcely resemble anything worthy of admiration. Rather than being a soothing source of comfort to our Father, our lives becomes a source of His frustration. His patience and mercy keep Him from intervening, but because of His nature He eventually will have to make an adjustment.

Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 8 in B minor is commonly known as the "Unfinished Symphony." People have searched for the remaining portions of this musical work for nearly 200 years. It has been debated that some of his other works were actually the completion of the symphony, but no evidence can support this for sure. What can be said without a doubt is simply this - the music is incomplete, and nobody knows why!

Take a look today at the song of your life. Are there notes God has written that you refuse to play? Is there something missing in the music, because you are leaving out the section that will make it complete? The power and beauty of your life is wholly dependent upon the finishing touch. Nobody will complete your song like Jesus. For those who truly love God, the Savior is the last line of the symphony. Christ Jesus is the strength of their song.

"Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation." ~ Isaiah 12:2

Friday, May 20, 2011

My Friend, Thomas

Funeral for Thomas Monroe
(written by Jeremiah Tatum and read by Shane Hughes)

Let me begin by saying that I am heartbroken that I cannot be here in person on this occasion. Thomas is one of my very closest personal friends. I made a solemn commitment, that along with Andy Brown, I would conduct his funeral if God’s will allowed for it. I love Thomas and I would do anything for him. Every time I have visited him over the past few months, he has reminded me that he wanted me to do is funeral, and to make sure to get Andy, too. When I have come back to Lawrenceburg since moving to Cookeville, going to see Thomas was as important to me as going to see my own parents. As I am away for two weeks in New Zealand on a mission trip, this letter is the only way I can keep my promise. Of all the funerals I have conducted over the last 15 years, there is none I am more honored to be involved in than this one. There is only one Thomas Monroe.

I was not just Thomas’s preacher over the last 8 years. I was his companion. We counseled each other. We went fishing together. We ate breakfast quite often. We sat and visited all the time. He taught me about commitment, kindness, patience, goodness, honesty, hard-work – and just about everything that involves the fruits of the spirit.

Thomas would talk about his wife of more than 40 years. He told me about how when they got married they had a bed that was made from straw they had gathered and put together on their wedding night. Times were tough and they had to make due. But they loved each other and they were totally committed to each other. They worked hard and gave their children the best life they could. He loved her so much. When she passed so suddenly it was the toughest moment of his life.

He would talk about Iva Dean, to whom he was married after his first wife’s death. When I first met Thomas, his life consisted of getting up and going to see Iva Dean in the hospital. She was suffering from Alzheimer’s. He would go in the morning and brush her teeth and hair. He would feed her. He would sit with her. He would go home for lunch and return and take care of her until the evening came. He took care of her that way every single day for 5 years until she passed away. It never bothered him because he loved her no matter what. When she passed away I still remember all of the nurses that came from NHC Brink to see him. They loved Thomas and they saw his love for his wife every day. They respected him.

I remember a couple of my favorite stories from early on in his life. When he was about 15 (during the depression) he went to a music contest down at a little crossroads between Lawrenceburg and Pulaski. It was opened to the public with the grand prize going to the winner. He played his harmonica. He made it sing and the people loved it. He won the grand prize! – It was a brand new pair of socks! He was very proud of them at the time. He was probably the only person anywhere around during those difficult times who had new socks!

A few years later when he was playing in a band with some of his friends, they played for a big shindig and got paid $10 (not each but the whole group). That was so much money. They all bought new clothes, and ate at a nice restaurant, and had money left over. They thought they had hit the big-time.

No man worked harder than Thomas Monroe. He took extra jobs. He traveled for jobs. He picked cotton and worked the fields for years. No man could stand a chance of picking more bushels of apples in one day than Thomas. He could climb the tops of trees and pick apples just like a monkey. I am convinced that his longevity had a lot to do with all of his years of honest labor and honest living. He did not smoke. He did not drink. His words were pure and good and seasoned with salt. If he borrowed something, he would return it back sooner than he promise and in better shape than when he borrowed it. If he owed any rent he would pay it early and he would track you down to make sure you got it on time. If you wanted to model yourself after a good man, if you wanted to see Christ in a man, you need look no further than Thomas Monroe.

We had a lot religious conversations. We talked a good deal about the Bible. Thomas knew about the true church, the plan of salvation, and what it meant to be a Christian. He had become a Christian the way the Bible says. He worshiped the way the Bible says. He lived the way the Bible says. He especially loved the New Testament. Over the last few years of his life he read through the New Testament several times. I remember one visit where he told me he was feeling really bad about his spiritual life because at that time he had not been reading the Bible like he should. He asked me to pray with him that God would forgive him for that and so I did. He recommitted himself to reading it. He was 89 at that time. I was reminded to be recommitted myself. If an 89 year-old Christian still understood that he had more to learn, and that he could be closer to God than he already was, then certainly a 34 year-old preacher could do the same.

As I write this from Wellington, New Zealand it is 5:49 PM on Friday here. I am thinking about something very personal that would like to share with all of you. What brought Thomas into my life, is the same thing that keeps me from being present today at his funeral. And this is why I am literally half-way across the world. It is not enough in life just to be kind to people, you have to truly love them with all of your heart. It is not enough just to wish the best for people, you have to love their soul enough to make a difference in their eternity. So what I am saying is don’t afraid to extend yourself and don’t be afraid to build close personal relationships with people. Thomas and I became knit together life David and Jonathan. We shared things together that only people with a very close relationship can share. We will keep special things between each other that nobody can understand or know. Thomas allowed me to have a friend like no other friend I have ever had. I know what to means to be his friend, and how honored that we both felt to be special friends to each other.

Thomas, I am sorry cannot be there today. I can assure you that you have been here with me. I have shed many tears over the last several days. I know I still have many more to shed because I will miss you. I want to say thank you for making every visit not be church work – but instead it was a pleasure and I always looked forward to seeing you. Thank you for exhorting me and encouraging me as a preacher. Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for the very special way that you trusted in me. Thank you for laughing with me when we talked about life and for telling me stories. Thank you for crying with me when things were not going so well for one of us. Thank you for showing me how to treat others like Jesus would. Thank you for showing me that the greatest and most noble life involves hard-work, humility, and commitment. Thank you for mornings at Hardees and Taste of the Town. Thank you for going fishing with me. Thank you for always being at worship even when you didn’t feel like it. Thank you for sweet words and smiles whenever you talked about my wife and kids. Thank you most of all Thomas, for being the very best friend a young man could ever have. I love you and I will miss you very much. But by the grace of God I know I will see you soon.

I could think of 1000 verses of Scripture that could capture something about the kind of man Thomas Monroe was, but one verse I believe sums it up the best. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, And He delights in his way” (Psalm 37:23).

Heaven is going to be sweeter because Thomas Monroe will meet me there. Thomas was not just a good man, he was a good Christian man. And he was not just good, but I think ------he was great!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Coming Home

This Sunday marks our first ever "Coming Home" at the Willow Avenue church of Christ. The idea originates from my grandfather, who has been preaching the gospel for 62 years. He saw the need, whenever he began a new work, to invite back all of the people who once worshiped in the church where he had recently become a minister.

In a local congregation things are going to change. People may leave and go to other churches. They move away for jobs or for school. Sometimes they leave and go into a false hope. Sometimes they just allow life to get in the way and they find themselves not going anywhere anymore.

This "Coming Home" is happening for a reason. It is an opportunity for our members to invite their family and friends to worship. It is an opportunity for the church to welcome back all of those who were once members who are not with us anymore. But above all, it is a reminder that God loves us and wants to be our God. Like parents whose children have grown up and moved on with their lives, nothing makes Him happier than to see His family together.

I may not know your current spiritual situation, but I do know one thing. I know that I love you, and that I want you to enjoy the life God has given you and the life He wants to give you eternally. I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that I believe the Willow Avenue church loves you, and wants you to be a part of this family.

We are not perfect, but we are cleansed by the blood of Jesus. We are simply trying every day to learn and live and teach what the Bible truly teaches. We want to know what it says. We want to live what it says. We want to be a blessing to others. We want to glorify God.

A great gospel preacher I knew used to say, "In order to go to heaven I must..."

1. Become a Christian like the Bible says
2. Worship like the Bible says
3. Live like the Bible says

I believe this. This approach glorifies God and it allows us to sincerely be His people.

I want to thank you, today, for coming home. God loves you. He sent His Son to die for you. He was raised so that you could come home forever. May we ever have as our most sincere and earnest possession, a heart that longs to be at home with God.

"And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him." ~ Luke 15:20

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

How Should A Christian Respond?

Osama Bin Laden is dead. He was a terrorist of the worst kind. He was a murderer. He was a plotter. He was a deceiver. He was enemy number one to America and arguably the majority of the world for the last ten years. His execution was warranted. His demise was a blessing. But in the midst of it all, how should people who wear the name of Jesus respond?

1. The initial reaction should be relief. When Nero died, I imagine this is how early Christians felt. He opposed God and the church. He wanted to kill every person who exalted the name of Christ. He lit his gardens at night with burning Christians. There can be no doubt that early members of the Lord's church were relieved when this terrorist in their lives was no longer able to hurt them or their families anymore.

2. The secondary response should be sadness. Osama Bin Laden died outside of Christ. Even worse, he made himself an enemy of God. The first Scripture that came to my mind, when I saw people dancing in the streets in Washington D.C. was Ezekiel 33:11 - "'As I live,' says the Lord GOD, 'I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live'..." I found other friends of mine soon writing about and thinking about this exact verse. There is nothing wrong with people who are in the military, or who have family in the military, or who have lost someone on 9/11 being jubilant over a victory that has cost them so much. But when common people, who regularly show their disdain for America and sometimes for God, decide to party at the death of a person who has lost his soul, how can our loving and merciful Father be pleased? How can such a reaction show the world that we are a people who love souls and desire peace?

3. The third feeling should be that of thanksgiving. This thanksgiving should not be misplaced. We should primarily be thankful to God, who has proven once again that He will destroy every work of darkness and work by His providence in our lives. We should next be thankful to the people in our military, who sacrifice a normal existence, are separated from their families, and who daily put their lives on the line so we can be free. No politics, please. No Christian will ever seek an advantage at the cost of another. If we are ever to boast in any death, let it be in the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I will admit it. I am so thankful that Bin Laden is gone. But I pray to God that my reasons for these feelings are pleasing to Him. I know that the real enemies we face are the spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places (Eph. 6:12). I know that other terrorists abound.

May God help us to be a people of love, joy, and peace.

"But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." ~ Galatians 6:14

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Marvelous Faith

The words "marvel", "marveled", or "marvelous" are found 66 times in the Bible. The root word refers to something that causes amazement, or that is striking, extraordinary, or surprising. The works of God are "marvelous" (Psalm 9:1). Men often "marveled" at the miracles of Jesus (Matt. 9:33). When early Christians began to turn from the pure gospel to false teaching it caused Paul to "marvel" (Gal. 1:6).

Jesus, during his earthly ministry, also marveled. Upon entering Capernaum, he met a centurion who had a servant who was paralyzed. The centurion came and pleaded with Christ to heal him. But rather than have Jesus come to his home, the centurion said, "Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it" (Matt. 8:8-9). Verse 10 continues, "When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, 'Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!'"

What a great statement! It is hard to believe that there could be something a man could do that would amaze the Son of God. But our faith can be surprising, striking, and even extraordinary. When we allow our spiritual man to dominate our thinking and behavior it is marvelous in the eyes of our God.

But Jesus also marveled because of man's lack of faith. Jesus was not accepted in Nazareth, his home town. "Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief. Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching" (Mark 6:5-6). How tragic that "He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him" (John 1:1)! People who do not believe in Jesus or his work are wasting his sacrifice. They are limiting the impact he can have on their lives. Those to whom Jesus has appeared who remain unbelieving, unhappy, and unsaved have nobody to blame but themselves.

The life and works of Jesus Christ are undeniable. He is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. Our response to Christ can cause him amazement. When Jesus sees your life, does he marvel at your faith, or your unbelief?

"But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." ~ 1 Peter 2:9

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Greatest Event in History

There are good days and there are bad days. One may contemplate what they consider the greatest day or the worst day of their life. Personal experience will determine what was the best or worst day for each person.

Historically, a debate could also be waged concerning the most significant event since the world began. Was the best event creation? Was the worst event the great flood? Was the best event the birth of Jesus? Was the worst event when the first atomic bomb exploded? Arguments could be made and some good evidence could support whatever event was being proposed for whatever reason. But can there be any doubt, that God Himself trumped every argument when by His power Jesus was raised from the dead?

In the movie City Slickers, Mitch asked Ed, "What was your best day?" Ed replied, "I'm 14 and my mother and father are fighting again... y'know, because she caught him again. Caught him... this time the girl drove by the house to pick him up. And I finally realized, he wasn't just cheating on my mother, he was cheating us. So I told him, I said, "You're bad to us. We don't love you. I'll take care of my mother and my sister. We don't need you any more." And he made like he was gonna hit me, but I didn't budge. And he turned around and he left. He never bothered us again. Well, I took care of my mother and my sister from that day on. That's my best day." Then Ed was asked by another character named Phil, "What was your worst day?" Ed replied, "Same day."

The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus was both the worst event and the best event in human history. It thus became the greatest event of all time. It is an event that demands a response. It is an event that makes life after death possible. It is an event in which we can all rejoice in the manifestation of the power of God and the love of God.

Your best day ever has already been determined by the greatest event in history. Christ's resurrection has prepared you for your own. Jesus was raised from an earthly tomb so that you could be raised from the watery grave of baptism. Have you had your best day ever? If not, then may I ask, "What are you waiting for?"

"Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection" ~ Rom. 6:4-5

Monday, April 11, 2011

Apt To Teach

"A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach" (1 Tim. 3:2 - KJV).

"And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient" (2 Tim. 2:24 - KJV).

I like these two verses. It is not just because they are inspired by God. I like them because they remind me that there are certain things God expects from elders and preachers - and really from all men who want to serve in His kingdom. The common thread for preachers and elders in these two passages - that they be "apt (or able) to teach." Paul explained to Timothy, "And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:2).

Christianity is a learned religion. It must be communicated. The only way people can know what they need to know about God is through His communication to man and our relaying of the same message.

I think it is obvious to us why it is that preachers need to be able to teach. I mean, that is what they do, right? That being said, some wonder why it is that elders must also be apt to teach. Let me give you a few reasons why it is absolutely crucial for elders to be teachers in the church:

1. They need to know what the Bible says, in order to properly serve in their God-given role.
2. They need to be able to defend the Bible and the church from those who wish to attack from the outside.
3. They need to know how to both exhort and rebuke people in the right way and with the right tools.
4. They must be able to determine whether or not what the preacher is preaching to the congregation is God's pure and true gospel.

I could come up with a multitude of additional reasons, but I would like to emphasize one more: 5. Elders need to be teaching classes so that their lives stay in the Word! Too many elders have retreated to only "business matters." When elders don't spend enough time in God's book, they lose their way. Many elders have forgotten what shepherding is, and have forgotten what the members need. There is no better way to be in tune with the needs of the church than to constantly refer to the only book that God used to talk about it.

I encourage all of us to be "apt to teach." The world needs the gospel.

Daniel Webster observed - "If we work on marble it will perish. If we work on brass, time will efface it. If we rear temples, they will crumble to dust. But if we work on men's immortal minds, if we imbue them with high principles, with just fear of God and love of their fellow-men, we engrave on those tablets something which time cannot efface, and which will brighten and brighten to all eternity."

"holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict." ~ Titus 1:9