Monday, December 17, 2012

When the Problem Hits Home

This week there have been so many things written and said regarding the terrible event that took place in Newtown, Conneticut. I have been very slow to comment and very measured with my words out of respect for the victims and their families. I appreciate many of the points made by several preachers whom I respect, and there have also been some good reflections from others that have helped me to process this situation.

What I have witnessed the most from this tragedy is the compassion people have for children and families. The world should not be as it is, where the innocent are slain and people are left childless and devastated. Every prayer I have heard for these victims has caused the one saying the prayer to choke up, to pause and struggle as they talk to God about such a horrendous and unspeakable crime. This event has caused every parent to hug their child and not want to let go. Let's face it, this was every parent's nightmare. This really hits home.

And yet, home is the problem. I believe sincerely that the breakdown of the home in our scoiety is what leads to many of these issues for our teens. Divorce, latch-key children, parents who are too busy to look deeper into the lives of their children and address their problems - when the home breaks down society breaks down with it. The first institution God created to solidify a workable and manageable world was the home (Gen. 2:18ff). Let's given Satan the blame, for it is the darkness that he has introduced into this world that causes families and relationships to break down. These events are not of God, but they are devoid of Him in a world that is blackened by the sickness and death brought about by sin.

Where are you, parents, when your children are begging for your attention? Where are you, parents, when the weekend comes and your children go out and do what they want without supervision? Where are you, parents, when your children post whatever they want on facebook and twitter? Where are you, parents, when your children are picking friends? Where are you, parents, when your children simply want to spend time with you in the formative years of their life? Where are you, parents, when your children are sick mentally or physically and need your support?

I received a text this past Sunday morning before services from a family in our congregation that is doing it right. The text was asking if I was going to mention anything about the tragedy from the pulpit. This family has young children and they wanted to be there beforehand to prepare their kids for whatever might be said by their preacher. This is the answer: Parents who care so much about their children that they are dedicated above all other things to be there for them no matter the situation, and especially in a time of question or crisis.

The problem hits home. It is the home that God ordained that needs to be reestablished in our country and in our world. May God bless the families who have been torn apart by this terrible situation. We all know that we have no words that can truly express our emotions and our love for them at this time. May God bless every family and may we learn to respect His Lordship over our lives and over our homes and over our relationships. We need God's help! We need His guidance and care! We need Him in our homes!

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

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Mountain Moving Faith



“Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 14:18). This was the Lord’s answer to Abraham when Sarah laughed. The text reveals that Sarah was nearly 90, far passed the age of child bearing. Yet God promised that she would have a child. This promise came true in the birth of Isaac (Gen. 21:3).

Although we often recognize God as omnipotent, we rarely treat Him as such. We often forget that God can do whatever He wants whenever He wants. It is not that we do not live in an age of miracles. It is just that we do not live in an age where miracles are done by men. But God still is in the miracle business. Souls are saved. Healing occurs. Prayers are answered.

On at least one occasion, when miracles were still being done by men through the power of the Spirit, the apostles failed to cast a demon out of a child (Matt. 17:16). Jesus responded, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me.” (Matt. 17:17). After rebuking the demon, He continued, “…for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matt. 17:20).

This answer of Jesus to His disciples was in response to their question concerning why they had failed in casting out the demon. He told them they didn’t have enough faith (Matt. 17:20). We often find ourselves in a similar position. We must understand that faith believes in the seemingly unreal, unseen, unnatural impossibilities that are possible with God (Matt. 19:26).

A Biblical examination of the heroes of faith (Heb. 11) reveals some characteristics of these great people. One was their willingness to be obedient to God. Another was their decision to believe in God’s ability despite the conditions that stood in opposition to His promises. Noah built an ark though it had never rained. Abraham left his homeland for the land of promise which he had never seen, looking for his descendants though without an heir. Moses chose the slavery of Israel rather than life in a palace that ruled the world. They did these things because they believed in the power of God. They knew God could change current circumstances. They trusted that He loved them enough to change them.

Even Christians struggle to find mountain moving faith. When the doctors tell us the illness is terminal, or that our wives will never give birth, we need to remember God is in control. This is the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is the faith we seek. This is mountain moving faith. The answer to the question, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”….. “No!” 

"(as it is written, "I have made you a father of many nations") in the presence of Him whom he believed--God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, "So shall your descendants be." ~ (Romans 4:17-18)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Live Prisoners

If you were a prisoner of war, would you rather be eliminated by your enemy, or forced to do his bidding? It seems that if your are going to be killed anyway there would be less pain and anxiety in death than there would be in the torture that would come before it. Perhaps you are thinking that if you were alive, there might at least be some hope of release or escape.

When Paul wrote to Timothy concerning his ministry to the church, while he was giving him tips on how to be a gentle servant in the kingdom he included these verses - "in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will" (2 Tim. 2:25-26).

Pay special attention to the phrase, "Having been taken captive by him to do his will." The original language of this text expresses the fact that Satan is taking live prisoners! Many people think that the battle between God and the devil is being played out just between the two of them. They think that whatever influence the devil may have is only going to be seen in judgment.

But the devil is not waiting for judgment! He already knows he loses on that day. The devil's work is in lives that exist today. Paul is saying that most people don't realize that they are the devil's live prisoners. But Satan has them and they are doing what he wants them to do. The only way they can "come to their senses" or "escape" from their terrible situation is through the wonderful gospel of Jesus Christ which will bring them to repentance.

Satan is deceptive! He wants you to think that you are free when you are really his slave. He wants you to think that your life is really going fine when in actuality the life that you are living is full of problems which if not dealt with will eventually lead you to hell. The devil means business. Don't be foolish. He is working on you. He won't just kill you when he gets a hold of you. He has no interest in that. He wants to keep you alive so that you can serve him.

"But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness." ~ (Romans 6:17-18)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Wherever You Go

Today was "Grandfriends' Day" at the school where our children attend. We are living in a society that can no longer just have "Grandparents' Day" because the family has broken down so much from the traditional unit that a name to accomodate all situations had to be created. So just to be politically correct, we have "Grandfriends' Day."

Grandfriends' Day was specifically for the six grade class today, and comprised about an hour and a half of breakfast and other events, including a book fair. Luke knew that none of his grandparents lived in town, and that they could not go, so he had asked me if I would join him. I had a meeting early in the morning, but I stopped by for a few minutes to take him to the book fair. I did not feel too bad for not being able to be there for all of it, because I knew that Luke was still going to be taking a special guest.

Last night, when it was time for our devotional, Luke told me he had decided who he was going to take to Grandfriends' Day. Surprised, and knowing he had no grandparents close by, I asked who it was that he had decided to take. He said, "I am taking Poppie," and with that statement, he reached over to his bed-side table and took out a wallet size picture of my father. This was a picture taken of my dad when he worked for the school system several years ago. At some point, we had given this picture to Luke and he had kept it. For Luke, and for all of us, even though his Poppie is now gone, he is still always with us in a genuine sense.

Our relationship with our heavenly Father is similar. As Joshua took the reigns from Moses to lead Israel across the Jordan and into the promised land, God told him, "Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:7-9).

Whether it be by the things God has taught us in the Bible, or simply the relationship we have been able to develop with our Father in this lifetime, it is good to know that we are truly never alone. We have a loving Father who cares for us who has not chosen for us to ever be completely on our own. He gives us the courage and the power to tackle all of life's problems, but behind the scenes He is ever with us, loving us, guiding us, correcting us, and sustaining us. There is not a day or an event that takes place in this life that He is unwilling to be a part of - we just have to choose to take Him along.

As I left Grandfriends' Day this morning, I looked down at my son whom I love and admire so much, and I asked, "So, did you take Poppie with you today?" He looked at me, and smiled, "Yeah, he is in my pocket."

I could not think of a better place for him to be...

"...for He Himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.'" ~ Hebrews 13:5

Monday, November 12, 2012

Keep Looking

My mother lost her diamond solitaire 30 years ago. It was her engagement ring from my father. She used to take her rings off in the evening and set them on the arm of an expensive chair they had purchased for the house. One night the ring fell down into the chair. They tried to get it out but had no luck retrieving it. They didn't want to tear the chair apart, so they decided to look later. Over the years we have had unsuccessful attempts in locating the ring.

We moved in 1985 to a different house 5 hours north. In the move we discovered that the bottom of the chair had been torn. This made us lose all hope that we would ever find it. My parents moved again across the country 7 years ago - still no ring. I remember different times over the years we had searched for the ring in the chair. It was almost like a legend - that maybe one day a diamond ring might appear from a chair that was getting worn out and old. Maybe a complete destruction of the chair would produce a diamond - or something like that. I think sometimes you just hold on to a false reality because hope is powerful and you desperately need to hope in something.

With my father's recent passing, and my mother's decision to sell the house, a yard sale weekend commanded one last examination of the old chair. So my sister and my wife decided to completely tear the chair apart, even if it meant separating every piece of the chair. They tore and they busted and they ripped...and with a final rip an object flew from the chair across the room. It was my mother's engagement ring that my father had given to her many years ago. It was the reappearance of the legend!

My mother said that the immediate reaction of my wife and sister would be likened to that of two 13 year-old girls at a Justin Bieber concert. From a Bibilcal standpoint, it reminded me of what Jesus said about the reaction of the finder of the lost coin, or the treasure hidden in the field, or the pearl of great price. Jubilation!

One thing is certain. It is important in life for us to keep looking. If you have a dream, realize it. If you have a goal, reach it. If you have spiritual potential - fulfill it. If you have anything out there that is going to continue to make you work - then go and get it! This is God's will for us. This is hope. This is living. This is Christ in us.

We sold the chair in the yard sale - price: $5.00.

"Hey, Dad, you'll never guess what we found today..."

"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened." ~ Matthew 7:7-8

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Lay-ups Should Be Easy

You have seen it before. A player is all alone with the ball heading to the rim for a lay-up - they should make it. If they make it, no big deal. If they don't make it, it is replayed as a failure on the news. Lay-ups are supposed to be easy.

We have many lay-ups in life that we are supposed to make:
  • Love for God, His Word, and His church
  • Love and compassion for the human race
  • Love in our homes and for our families
  • Hard work
  • Fair treatment of others
  • Proper time management
  • Proper priorities
  • Patriotism and sacrifice
We are speaking in terms of our investments. Where are we putting our hopes and dreams and energy? Although the Bible does not use the word "invest" or "investment" - it does use the phrase - "Lay up." Our lay-ups speak volumes about our character and our long term goals. Many people are making investments that will provide little or no eternal returns. So please consider...

"Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes" - Deut. 11-18

"Receive, please, instruction from His mouth, and lay up His words in your heart." - Job 22:22

"The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near." - Prov. 10:14

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal." Matt. 6:19-20.

You are running down the court and the ball is in your hand. This is your moment. The team is depending on you. This is the most makeable shot you will ever take. It is a lay-up. It should be easy. It is a shot you cannot afford to miss.

"But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness..." - Matthew 6:33




Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Your Favorite Song

Please participate in this exercise. I want you to think of your favorite song. Now think of why you like it so much. Is it the tune, the beat, the lyrics? What is it about that song that makes it special to you? I have to be honest and say that when you thought of the song, I hope it was a spiritual song and not a secular one. Please take a moment to reflect with me on the impact of spiritual songs in the musical worship of the church.

Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 are two well known verses that describe the blessings of spiritual songs in worship. These verses remind us that God-authored, musical worship is:
1. Directed to God and for God.
2. Instructive and thought provoking.
3. Uplifting and admonishing.
4. An expression of the heart from the lips and mouth.

The most meaningful aspects of singing in worship involve what is on our mind and in our hearts. The notes and our abilitly to perform them are not very important. But what we think and how we feel while singing is an expression of our love and thanks and our appreciation as we relate to our God. While it makes sense that we would give our best effort as we sing, obedience and adoration are the keys to successful and inspirational worship to the Lord.

Having a favorite song is an additional example of the blessings that come with worship. You may not have one favorite, but I am sure you can think of some songs or lyrics that speak to you and help you spiritually to be comforted. My son recently told me that his new favorite song is "Living by faith." I decided to ask him why. He said it makes him feel safe. I think that is wonderful! This discussion reminded me how songs touch each one of us differently and how we can be strengthened by one another as we discuss the words that convey the spiritual ideas of the songs.

Be thankful today for the blessing of music. It is a gift from God. Sing to Him. It will change your attitude and bless your life. It will give you the resolve to live for the one who died for you.

"Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms." ~ James 5:13

"...from all harm safe, in His sheltering arm. I'm living by faith, and feel no alarm." ~ James S. Wells (1918)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Running Out of Time

Good news! The gospel is good news! That is a literal definition of "gospel." This being the case it would seem that our primary focus as God's people would be to spread the gospel all of the time. Who doesn't like to share good news?

If the church isn't growing it is completely and totally our fault. We cannot blame the times. We cannot blame the leadership. We cannot blame the devil. We cannot blame the preacher. We cannot blame the Bible. We cannot blame the ignorance of the world. We cannot blame the culture. We cannot blame our busy schedules. We cannot blame our families. We cannot blame our jobs. We cannot blame our intentions. We cannot blame our fears. We cannot blame our ignorance. WE CAN ONLY BLAME OURSELVES!

If you look at the attendance record each Sunday and you don't like what you see - then make a decision to positively change it. Invite someone to services. Ask your neighbors to worship. Start a Bible study with someone. Open up your church directory and call the people who have been missing lately. Realize that you are a difference maker and a link between people and God. This is what you have been called to do. This a role you must fulfill.

Growing churches are churches in which every member is committed to the spread of the gospel. Preachers may help inspire, and leaders may promote opportunities, but until every member of the church makes a decision to care for the lost souls of others, the desired growth in our individual congregations will not take place.

I would like to think that every week we are doing more than worshiping our God. I would like to think that every week we are doing more than studying and fellowshiping with our brethren. I would like to think that we are making a difference in our world and that people who would otherwise not go to heaven will indeed be going because of the efforts we are making.

My son Luke recently made an interesting statement just before his baptism in September. He had announced to us (his parents) that he wanted to become a Christian, and of course we asked him why he wanted to make that decision. Among the answers he gave us, one in particular stood out to me. He said, "Because I am running out of time." He was so correct.

Brethren, I love you, but I want to tell you that we are running out of time. I am concerned and heart-broken that anyone may miss out on heaven because I did not talk to them about it or at least invite them to consider such good news. I beg you to have more than good intentions. The gospel is too good not to share! What are you going to do about it?

"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel." ~ Mark 1:15

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Greeting Cards

Cards matter. Do you know what a great thing it is to send a card to someone? Sometimes you may think it is not that big of a deal to send or receive one. But I can tell you, at the lowest points in my own life it was often a card that helped me make it through.

I remember being so scared when I was diagnosed with cancer. But people sent cards. Hundreds of cards. Over the course of my treatments and surgeries I received over 2000 cards! Sometimes the words on the card were inspirational, and sometimes just knowing that a friend thought I mattered made such a huge difference! I received cards from church prayer groups, and from Christian ladies in their 90's who prayed for me every day. I received cards from children that were created in Bible classes. I received cards from people I hadn't heard from in years.

When I left the Pulaski St. church to come to Cookeville, I remember one special card I received from an older gentleman named Jess Springer. Sometimes when you reflect on your ministry you doubt yourself. The card he sent me made me realize that what I was doing for the Lord was a good thing, that I had made a difference. Sometimes I think that one card saved my preaching career.

Recently, my family has been showered by cards due to the loss of my father. People probably don't know how wonderful it has been for us to receive them. I wish I could write a card back to every person and thank them. One church, the West Sparta congregation, has sent me dozens of cards! When you are grieving, sometimes the one bright spot in your day is going to the mailbox and finding out that somebody else cares. I admit that I am sad that the cards will stop coming soon. This is a natural progression - and soon it will be time for someone else to receive cards. But it just reminds me that expressions of love, no matter how small they may seem, are the things that make life worth living.

Send a card. It is a beautiful thing to do. You are changing the world.

"No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted" ~ Aesop

"What is desired in a man is kindness..." ~ Proverbs 19:22

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Do You Know How He Would Do It?


Whenever we lose a loved one, there are certain duties we carry out in order to honor their wishes and preserve their memory. Sometimes the "Last Will and Testament" is there for us to help us know exactly what to do. The funeral arrangements may have been made already, and so all that has to be done is the work itself.

But on many other levels we find ourselves without written guidelines. It is by spending years with our loved ones that we still know what they would say or think or do in a given situation. Only through the depth of our personal relationship and association and time spent with them can we know just how they would react or perform in certain situations.

The Bible is God's last will and testament. We know what God wants us to do because it is written in His Word. When Jesus was on the earth, mankind had a bodily example of the way God would do things. When Jesus left, He gave the Holy Spirit to guide the apostles when He was not there. Now that God's will has been completely revealed in the Bible, the Scriptures alone exist as our way of understanding how God would have things to be done.

When we do not have the Bible with us, and when we cannot recall the specific verses or words, it is through our time spent with it that we will still generally know how to be and what to do. If we are not spending a good amount of our daily lives in the Scriptures, we will not behave as God would want, and we will not know how to carry out His will in our lives.

When we cannot be in the very presence of our departed loved ones, there is an immeasurable comfort of still being connected with them by simply knowing what they would do and think and say if they were here. When we act according to that knowledge, they live on in our lives and their influence passes on from generation to generation.

God set up the earthly family to exist as a heritage. He set up His Word through the spiritual family in the same way. When we draw close to Him we can think like He thinks, speak as He speaks, and live as He lives. In so doing, His eternal power and love and presence in our lives goes on forever...

"Your testimonies I have taken as a heritage forever, For they are the rejoicing of my heart." ~ Psalm 119:111


Monday, September 24, 2012

Disagreeing with the President

I disagree with the President of the United States. This has nothing to do with his political party, race, the upcoming election, or anything on the surface for that matter. This is not a political article, though some may try to make it so. I have written in the past about respecting the office of the president, no matter who is serving. I received some letters over that article, and I am sure I may get more letters for writing this one.

Let me go on record as saying that I do not care about the economy, so this article is not about that either. That may bother you, but if I seek first the kingdom, God will take care of me (Matt. 6:33). I have never cared about economics or physical things. This world is not my home.

I disagree with the president because I believe what the Bible teaches. I think it is safe to say, then, that I would disagree on some level with every president we have ever had or will have. I have the right to disagree. If I am living according to the Scriptures, when our leaders are not keeping them, I even have the responsibility to disagree.

The New Testament instructs every Christian to respect the rulers that God has allowed to be in office (Rom. 13:1-7). My disagreement is no militant rebellion. I understand that God is in control. Read Daniel 4 and you will be reminded of what God allows and disallows, and how He raises up kings and also removes them according to His own pleasure. So I recognize that God is working His perfect will in every generation, through every leader of every nation. Even those leaders who oppose God are actually in God's own way being used for His glory.

At the same time, Jesus himself found a way to submit to governing authorities, while at the same time disagreeing with their views. He was setting up a spiritual kingdom, and therefore his aim was not to overthrow the government. I am quite certain that the Christian's goal should be the same. We are members of the Lord's body, the church. It is a spiritual and eternal kingdom. We answer to God first. And everything is for God and Christ and through and with the Spirit we continually and faithfully defend the Bible.

So yes, I disagree with the president. I disagree with his views on marriage, abortion, religion, the church, and probably in this case 1,000 other things. Regardless of who the president is after Novemeber, I am going to disagree with him on some level.

My only aim in this life is to agree, and not disagree with God. He created me. He has a plan for me. He sent His Son to die for me. And He will judge me in the last day.

"that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ's appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen." ~ 1 Timothy 6:14-16

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why I Still Pick Up Pennies

There he was again, Abe Lincoln staring up at me from the grocery store parking lot. He wasn't as shiny as always. He was a little scuffed up. But he was still there, alone, unwanted, and as always, I picked him up and put him in my pocket. My Papa Tatum has always told me to only pick up the pennies that are face side up, because he says they are lucky and you will have bad luck if you don't. But I pick them all up, and there are several reasons why:

1. I pick up pennies because some people don't have any. My grandparents lived through the depression and they would have been happy to have them. Pennies still hold value, and in principle they are somewhat priceless. Stewardship and respect for hard work should cause people not to throw money away, no matter how small.

2. I pick up pennies because of what they say: "In God We Trust." I am thankful that our official national currency still has God's name on it. God is mentioned less and less in our society as time continues. I am happy to cling to those things that still honor God's name.

3. I pick up pennies because children have piggy banks. Don't ever cast away or overlook anything that a child may cherish. A penny may mean nothing to the common person, but give one to a child and they will smile and love you for it. You can build special relationships even with pennies.

4. I pick up pennies because the small things matter. Life is not a series of huge events, it is a daily walk with God and His creation. The little things define us. Our character is shaped by what we do in areas that may seem somewhat insignificant. Jesus said, "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much" (Luke 16:10).

5. I pick up pennies because that is what my father would do. My dad taught me to work hard. He taught me to be giving. He taught me to take good care of the things with which I have been entrusted. He taught me to live honorably. My dad would pick up every penny, because the accumulation of pennies will lead to a blessing for someone else. Jesus taught his disciples that the widow's two mites were of greater value than all the riches of the pharisees - not because of what they were worth, but because of what she did with them. I believe that if Jesus were on earth today, he would pick up every penny. He would use them to the glory of his Father.

Therefore, so will I.

"And the Lord said, 'Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season?'" ~ Luke 12:42

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Dealing With Grief by Hardeman Nichols


My father passed away Sunday morning suddenly while I was preaching. My sermon was stopped and I traveled to Lawrenceburg to meet my mother and see his body in the hospital before it was taken away. We had a family visitation Monday morning. I spoke at his memorial service yesterday.

Today I received a letter from a lady in our congregation who lost her husband at an early age. With it was an article that she has had for years that has helped her to deal with grief. She has passed it along to others. I would like to share it with you. If you are grieving in some way, I hope this will help the process. The author is a preacher and good friend.

DEALING WITH GRIEF

I have watched with great admiration and respect the courage that has borne many a saint through hours of sorrow. Here is practical advice I have seen others use in dealing with grief:
Express your emotions. It should not be considered a Christian virtue to be unmoved by the loss of a loved one. There is a difference in suppressing one's emotions and losing one's self-control. The Bible does not say, "Sorrow not"; but it says, "Sorrow not as others who have no hope" (1 Thess. 4:13).
Seek the aid of your friends. The very presence of friends is an encouragement. When Paul neared Rome, the brethren came to meet him and he "thanked God and took courage" (Acts 28:15).
Compel yourself to be with people. Your inclination may be to retreat into the refuge of privacy, but there is a greater need than one realizes to associate with others. David did (1 Sam. 12:19-23).
Express your feeling in words. Talking about it will help you to accept it. If this is done at the outset of bereavement, one will sooner be able to stabilize life.
Avail yourself to spiritual resources. Even though you may not have realized the importance of the Scriptures and their comfort, now these can help in building your faith. The power of God is a precious possession.
Don't brood over what might have been. Both Mary and Martha said, "If thou hadst been here my brother would not have died" (John 1:21, 32).
Actively pursue worthwhile tasks. Once the initial shock has been dealt with, get busy at other things. Resolve like Paul to "reach forth unto those things which are before" (Phil. 3:13).
Make careful and thoughful decisions. Many an individual jumps hastily into deciding the full scope of the future rather than waiting until he has regained a proper perspective of life. Don't get in a hurry. Make prayerful decisions.
Increase your trust in God. Those who have come through their sorrows with a deeper faith can verify that God who rules over all truly does make all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28).

~ Hardeman Nichols

It is my prayer that this will be a blessing to you. it has already blessed me. I will try to apply it. Hey, Dad...I am doing my best do to this the way you would do it.

Monday, September 10, 2012

"Hey, Dad..."

"Hey, Dad...wanna play catch?" "Yes, I will be there in a minute." "Thanks." "Good pitch son, do it again..."

"Hey, Dad...how do you use one of those open-spooled reels?" "Come here and I'll show you." "Ok, thanks!"

"Hey, Dad...do you think we will catch any fish today?" "Well, we are going to try, Jeremy. The weather looks pretty good. Maybe we will have good luck like last time."

"Hey, Dad...wanna go to lunch, we will go eat some barbeque?" "Yeah, that sounds good, let's go."

"Hey, Dad...this light came on in the car and I think we are having a problem, what should I do?" "Tell me what happened, Jeremy, and I will try to help, do you need me to come over?"

"Hey, Dad, I just got a nicer Willie Mays for our 59' Topps set, a real sweat one, pretty good price." "Oh, yeah, cool, bring it over and we will swap it out."

"Hey, Dad, I wanna talk to you about borrowing some money so I can get a truck." "Sure, what do you have in mind?"

"Hey, Dad, I killed a ten-pointer this morning! My first buck ever!" "Wow, really? How'd you get it?"

"Hey, Dad, I just broke my 5K time again. By a whole minute, in fact I actually won the race." "Wow, that's really good, Jeremy. That is pretty fast. You are really improving."

"Hey, Dad, what did you think about meeting Bill Cosby?" "You know I really had a good time, that guy talked for an hour and a half and it only seemed like a few minutes."

"Hey, Dad, thanks for always being there for me. I am glad you are my Dad. I love you." "I am proud of you, Son. I love you, too."

"Hey, Dad, what is it like over there? Is it peaceful? Is it amazing? Is it everything God promised it would be?..."





Monday, September 3, 2012

The Perfect Storm

This past Sunday night the greatest thing happened. I only wish it had happened on Sunday morning. This is just another good reason for you to consider coming to Sunday night services if you are not already coming. When you are not there, not only do you forsake the assembly, but you miss out on everything - worship, spiritual growth, fellowship, and more. So here's what happened...

The moment "Amen" was said the sky opened up and we had the perfect thunderstorm. It was raining too hard and the lightning was flashing too dangerously for anyone to go to their cars for a while. And so, a preacher's dream came true - everybody stayed and talked. It was like everybody actually would rather stay and fellowship than leave. To me - this is the church. It is a family of people who love each other, prefer each other, and grow closer together and closer to God by spending time with one another. The rainstorm reminded us of God's power and our common experience so far beneath Him. Everyone was smiling and laughing and enjoying the rain we so desperately needed.

Psalm 133 reminds us of the wonderful blessing of God ordained fellowship - "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments. It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion; For there the Lord commanded the blessing— Life forevermore."

The Israelites were given a covenant, and a high priest, and a relationship with God and one another - It was a heavenly blessing! We have been given a better covenant, a better High Priest, and a relationship with God and one another that is not temporary, but forever!

As the heavens brought the rain Sunday night I contemplated the wonderful blessings of being a member of the family of God, the church of Christ. Life is wonderful! I think I will start praying for a rainstorm at the end of every worship service...

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ." ~ Ephesians 1:3

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Message in a Bottle

I was mowing my yard yesterday, and as I came to one corner the sun's reflection hit my face from a piece of glass below my feet. In this particular corner of our property two streets come together at a stop sign. I reached down from the riding mower to find a glass bottle. This was not a familiar bottle to me. It was smaller, and only by reputation did I know what it must have once held. As I turned the bottle to read the label I learned that my initial notions were correct. It was hard liquor, a foreign label, and the smell from the alcohol was still strong.

Recently one of our members asked me to preach a lesson on the consumption of alcohol. I have not yet preached that lesson, but I believe that the message from this bottle could be more meaningful than any message that would come from me. People often use the Bible to attempt to justify their own behavior. Over the years, I have learned that people are going to do what they want to do, if they have not submitted to the will of God, regardless of what the Bible teaches. The recreational consumption alcohol is the perfect example of this reality.

What makes a person who is a Christian cast a positive vote for the sale of alcohol in their community? What makes a person attempt to use the Scriptures to argue a case for their own liberty to drink? What makes a person drink hard liquor and discard the container in a random person's yard? All of these people have at least one thing in common - they are allowing themselves to be mastered by something that is temporal and carnal.

When I see people on Sunday in services who post facebook pictures of themselves holding beer bottles on Saturday night...When I see people in the restaurant on Friday night who cannot have their meal without having some alcohol to go with it...When I get a negative response from members of the church on a sermon on the importance of abstaining from alcohol...When I get a phone call to come to the jail to see a person who has been arrested because of a DUI...When I watch families being ripped apart by one of the parent's alcoholism...When I come upon a bottle of hard liquor discarded in the corner of my yard...

I am simply reminded of the fact that people are in war with Satan that they are losing. And the biggest issue is not the practice of drinking itself. It is the lie they are believing, that anything good could ever come from something that holds nothing but sin, sorrow and shame.

I looked down in my yard and there was a message in a bottle, and the message was very clear.

"Wine is a mocker, Strong drink is a brawler, And whoever is led astray by it is not wise." ~ Proverbs 20:1

"as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God." ~ 1 Peter 2:16

Monday, August 20, 2012

"Into what then were you baptized?"

If I were walking along the beach and found a lamp and rubbed it and a genie popped out and gave me three wishes, I know for certain what one of them would be. Oh, how I wish that there were no denominations, varying doctrines, and differing baptisms within our current day religious world!

I am always very excited when a person wants to discuss the plan of salvation. I would rather talk about this topic than anything else. As these opportunities arrive I often find that an individual's exposure to innacurate teachings has become a hinderance to their proper, Biblical view of baptism.

But I should not feel discouraged, because even the apostle Paul encountered such challenges. In Acts 19, while in the city of Ephesus, he had a discussion with several men who had been not baptized into Jesus Christ for the remission of their sins. They had been baptized, just not with the proper teaching and understanding - therefore, the question Paul asked them in Acts 19:3 was very timely - "Into what then were you baptized?"

Perhaps we need to ask people this very same question as we discuss with others what the Bible actually does teach about baptism. There are so many people who have submitted to some form of baptism, who have NOT been Biblically baptized. The Bible simply teaches:
  • Baptism makes one a disciple of Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:19-20).
  • Baptism is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38).
  • Baptism brings a person into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13).
  • Baptism entitles a person to wear the name, "Christian" (Gal. 3:27).
  • Baptism is something we do in order to be saved (Mark 16:16).
  • Baptism is something that no believing person should delay (Acts 22:16).
The Bible does NOT teach that we are to be baptized into a denomination. It does NOT teach that baptism is non-essential, or simply just a good idea. The Bible does NOT teach that it is an outward sign of an inward grace. The Bible does NOT teach that baptism is something you do in order to show others what you already have received.

Friend, I want you to go to heaven. And just like the men in Acts 19, you may have submitted to some form of baptism in the past. I recognize that to this point, you have probably done all that you have known to do in order to be right with God. May God bless you, for your willingness to do all that you have ever known to do may be the very thing that will save you now. So please, let me ask, "Have you been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins, to be added by God to the church that Jesus built, in order to be a "Christian" and to receive the blessing of salvation?"

If not, into what then were you baptized?

"When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." ~ Acts 19:5

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What Happens When People Stop Repenting?

When Jesus commissioned his disciples to preach the gospel to the world, he explained the Old Testament theme of his coming death burial and resurrection (Luke 24:44-46). He then continued with this intended purpose - "and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47). Later, Paul explained, "Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30).

Repentance is a God-given command which is necessary for salvation (Acts 2:38). It is not a one time act, as some suppose and display, but rather an on-going change of mind and heart that results in being shaped and transformed by the will of God (Rom. 12:1-2). If Christians desire to receive remission of sins on a regular basis, the Bible teaches they must daily live for God - a relationship that involves a constant state of repentance and confession of sins (Luke 9:23; 1 John 1:9).

What happens, then, when people stop repenting?
  • People stop having a sense of sorrow for their sins.
  • People start feeling a false sense of eternal safety.
  • People justify sinful actions.
  • People crucify Jesus all over again.
  • People let their faith grow weak, their dedication diminish, and their relationships fail.
  • People harden their heart and become nearly untouchable when it comes to spiritual and eternal truths.
Nobody is immune to the reality of this problem. When Jonah preached to Nineveh, the whole country repented. But God allowed them to be destroyed a few years later - why? They stopped repenting! Strong Christian marriages fall apart after years of success - why? Because spouses stop being sorry for poor behavior and they stop forgiving each other. Aging, mature Christians leave the church - why? Because they cease to call upon their indebtedness to Christ. And YOU - well, YOU struggle in some areas of your faith - why? Because there are some things, even in this moment, for which you need to repent, but you have allowed satan to talk you out of it.

It is important to consider what Paul says in 2 Cor. 7:10 (KJV) - "For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of..." - In other words, don't repent of your repenting! Don't be sorry you were sorry! Don't change your changing! Allow God's love through Christ to continually shape your mind and heart and empower your life - and you will be saved!

Only bad things will happen when people stop repenting. The opportunity to repent is a great blessing from God! It is cleansing! It is transforming! It is eternal life!

Acts 11:18 - "When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, 'Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.'"

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Self Evident Truths

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." ~ Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence.

When the founders of the United States drafted documents to explain their purpose, they admitted that there were certain "self-evident" truths that all people should recognize. In other words, the human mind coupled with the moral conscience gives every person the ability to clearly understand that some things are absolutes. Here stated by Jefferson, the fact that 1) all men are created equal 2) all people have God-given rights and 3) that all people are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - are clearly evident to any person of sound mind who is dedicated to the objective of moral goodness.

The Bible as God's holy and divine word also claims certain truths to be self-evident. That is to say that some things should not need to be explained, for nature itself teaches that certain things are pure or morally right and good. For example:

1. The fact that man was made with a moral conscience (Rom. 2:14)
2. That God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34).
3. That the sexual relationship is meant for marriage only (Heb. 13:4).
4. That marriage is between a man and a woman (1 Cor. 11:7-9).
5. That it is a sin to engage in homosexual practices (Rom. 1:26).
6. That it is shameful for men to look like women and for women to look like men (1 Cor. 11:14).

This is a very short list...as there are literally hundreds of things that we should be able to observe as self-evident: Absolute truth. The reality of death. Actions have consequences...we could go on and on. But let us simply stop for a moment in a world of confusion and ambiguity and realize that the most important truths are still understandable and attainable if we have the heart and mind to seek them and let them speak for themselves.

Satan, the media, and even religiously based false-teachers are trying to muddy the water when it comes to those things which any rational human being should be able to see as clear and evident. God has given us a mind to think logically and a heart to consider morally what is naturally acceptable within the created world. Do not be deceived by the schemes of modern day imposters...

We hold these truths to be self-evident...

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



Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"Values"

The Chik-fil-A restaurant chain has been in the news a great deal lately because of their high moral standards, particularly when it comes to their support of the Biblical representation of the family unit. While not wanting to be involved in any political agenda, the company has been thrown into the spotlight, which has in effect subjected them to relentless attacks from the homosexual community.

One such attempted boycott of the business has come from college campuses desiring to block the company from setting up restaurants. Consider this statement recently given by James Castle, a law student at the University of Kansas, in his petition on Change.org, which was released in the press: “Because Chick-fil-A's stance on gay rights could create a hostile environment for queer youth and allies, having a Chick-fil-A on campus deeply conflicts with The University of Kansas Mission on Values and the Chancellor's and Provost's personal commitments to diversity at KU.”

It is beyond ironic that this young man has the audacity to use the word "values" in his statement. Webster defines a value as - (n) - "worth, that which renders anything useful or estimable, efficacy, importance, excellence." His statement attempts to point out that the university has a mission on values. My question is, "What is their mission?" A rational individual who will humbly and honestly look at the nature of the created world and truthfully examine the Biblical and God-given standard of moral excellence will seek to do what is right and have no agenda that promotes anything that rejects what is morally sound.

It is with statements such as these that Satan uses humanism to redefine words and ideas in our culture. How bad have things become, that supposed institutions of higher learning have turned into advocacy centers for foolish and base thinking? How terrible that people in positions of leadership would be willing to turn the truth upside down and respresent what is evil as good and morally excellent!

Let's face it, any person or group who attempts to support the homosexual lifestyle as something to be embraced has allowed themselves to become a device of wickedness. God loves every individual and he has sent his only Son to die for the sins of every person. But Jesus did not die on a cruel cross so that mankind could degrade themselves to the point of moral oblivion and then call such activities as homosexuality - "valuable."

Stand up for the Bible! Support individuals and groups and even businesses who will do God's will and accept his standards of morality! Our battle is not of flesh and blood, but of spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Pray that God will be patient with our country while we try to work this out. And no matter what happens, make an individual decision to fight the homosexual agenda which is fiercly and boastfully corrupting our country and our world!

"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." ~ Philippians 4:8

Monday, July 23, 2012

Shoes and Consequences

Today is my 39th birthday. I had planned on writing a different article, but then I opened my birthday card that my grandparents sent me in the mail. My grandmother said that she can hardly believe that I have grown to this age, because it seems like just yesterday I was the little kid who kicked his shoe in the pond. So now, I have to tell the story...

I was about 10 years old and it was Christmas in Arkansas. On Christmas Eve I had wanted to go fishing in my grandparents pond behind the house. It was cold, but the surface of the pond was not frozen. I caught several blue gill. They were all pretty small, because they had overpopulated the pond. I had decided to cast them up on the bank and feed the cranes.

On Christmas morning it was very cold. The surface of the pond had frozen. We finished opening our gifts and enjoying the morning festivities. I had received some new loafers for wearing on Sunday morning worship assemblies and other such occasions. I had foolishly decided to wear them and was "loafing around." Well, I got bored. So I decided to walk out by the pond in my new loafers without permission. When I got there I saw a frozen pond and a pile of frozen fish on the bank. What does a 10 year-old do with a secne like that? That's right, I begin to kick the fish across the pond. It was great fun watching them slide all the way across the ice to the other side. Everything was going splendidly until the loafer on my right foot came off...

Mid-kick it sailed up in the air high and far. It landed in the direct center of the pond. The impact of the shoe falling to earth coupled with weaknesses in the ice cracked the surface. And so I watched. The shoe backed up a little, and sank like the Titanic. I mean, it really looked like a boat sinking...slipping away. My mouth remained open, but no words came out. It was time to face the music. I went back inside and told my mom what I had done. She was not pleased (understatement).

As soon as the stores opened back up after the holiday, I went back to the store where the shoes were purchased and bought another pair (with my own money). My parents taught me that every action has consequences, and that there were no exceptions to the rule, not even on Christmas morning. It has served me well to realize that all relationships work this way, even when it comes to our relationship with God. There is always a price that must be paid for poor choices. But above all, I can constantly be sincerely and humbly thankful for the price that Jesus paid for the debt of sin that I, myself fully owed.

It has been nearly 30 years. To my grandmother, I am still that little boy that kicked his shoe into the pond. And like her, it is as vivid in my mind as if it happened yesterday. In all my weaknesses and mistakes, she still sees my innocence. I am thankful for that. And no matter how old I get, I believe I have a Father in heaven who also sees me that way - and I am sure that is what makes all the difference.

"Even a child is known by his deeds, Whether what he does is pure and right." ~ Proverbs 20:11 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

People of the Book

God has always wanted His people to be "people of the book." He had Moses write down the book of genealogy so that man could trace himself back to Adam and thus remember his Creator (Genesis 5:1). He had Moses read the book of the law to the Israelites so they would vow to keep every word (Exodus 24:7). Joshua also read the book of the law to God's people, including every blessing and every curse (Joshua 8:34). Providencially, God allowed Hilkiah, the priest, to find the book when it had been neglected and lost (2 Kings 22:8). Later, after the Jews had returned from captivity, the book was read once again to the whole congregation by Ezra, the scribe, instigating a national revival (Nehemiah 8:1).

In every circumstance, God required that his people take an oath that they would know the book. He made them promise to obey every word in the book. He promised himself that they would be blessed or cursed based on their keeping or not keeping the words of the book. Every step, every ounce of success for God's people was always directly related to the book. You can check the book itself.

The success or failure of mankind still rides on the knowledge of and keeping of the book. But in 2012, there are only a few people in existence today that are truly people of the book. Consider the facts:
  • Most people have never studied the Bible. I am not saying they haven't read the Bible, but rather, they have not studied it. There is a big difference.
  • Most people do not take Bible class seriously. They see it as optional, a bonus, or an unnecessary part of church participation that is for teachers and preachers.
  • Many people scan the Bible looking for answers to certain questions. They do not realize that the best answers are found through a balanced understanding of the entire work.
  • The world in general does not show the proper respect for the Bible. If they did, they would not talk about God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit as they do. If they did, they would not teach and practice religion the way they do.
  • Satan is keeping the world busy. Too busy with work, school, and recreation for people to spend time listening to what God has to say in the book.
This article is not meant to be harsh, judgmental, or cynical. Its purpose is to remind the reader of the great opportunity God's people have to be people of the book. When you are people of the book, you know the will of God. When you are people of the book, you can find heavenly answers to earthly struggles. When you are people of the book, you have the peace that comes with knowing that regardless of what you are dealing with, God will deliver you. When you are people of the book, you can do more than feel like or hope that heaven will be your home, you can know it. When you are people of the book, you think differently, act differently, and live differently - and it makes your life and the life of every person around you - better!

Every generation of people has the responsibility to be a people of the book. May we not forget!

"And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for one-fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the Lord their God." ~ Nehemiah 9:3


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Atheists and Words of Speech

Have you ever thought about how limited your speech would be if you were an Atheist? Let's face it, many of the phrases that we use in conversation to make a point come directly from the Bible. Consider a few:

"It is more blessed to give than to receive" - Acts 20:35
"The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" - Matthew 26:41
"Render therefore unto Caesar..." - Mark 12:17
"Turn the other cheek" - Matthew 5:39
"Do unto others..." - Matthew 7:12

This is very short list. Each of these phrases comes from the Son of God Himself. A deeper examination of the Biblical text would literally reveal hundreds if not thousands of phrases, words, and ideas that originate from holy Scripture. Think also of:

"The Good Samaritan"
"The Patience of Job"
"Cross Bearing"
"A House Divided"

and many more...but Atheists would not want to use these phrases, because in doing so they are admitting the validity of the source...

Atheists also have a hard time emphasizing anything they want to say. They may have no problem with swearing, because they are not worried about what the Bible teaches on the subject. But could they take God's name in vain, or swear by his name or anything created?

The Hebrew writer points out, "For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute." ~ Hebrews 6:16

An Atheist cannot really commit to an oath, because in doing so they would have to swear by something greater than self. To take God's name in vain or to swear by anything other than one's own self, is full acceptance of a higher power to whom all men must eternally answer.

Christians are very fortunate. They can simply tell the truth and live the truth and hold nothing back. They can speak and live freely in a world that functions as God would have it. But Atheists are severely limited. They simply don't have much to say.

"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God" ~ Deuteronomy 8:3

Monday, July 2, 2012

God's Instruments

Last week as I traveled to Huntingdon, TN, I stopped at a tiny little church house on Highway 22. Memories kept me from passing without stopping. It was over 100 degrees outside, and I was dressed for preaching (tie and all), but I got out of my car and went up to the front door of the building. It was 5 p.m. and nobody was there, as I expected. I removed a business card from my wallet. On the back I wrote this note and I attached it to the door:

"Thank you for helping me get started. You will never know how much you helped me. I would love to come and preach here again sometime. God bless all of you..."

I am not sure those were the exact words (verbatim), but that is pretty close.

When I came to Tennesse in the fall of 1996, I came to preach the gospel. I arrived at FHU in Henderson with that sole purpose. I had done some preaching off and on since I was 16, but now it was time to get serious about it. So I foresook all and fled. There was one thing above all that I needed most...someone to receive me.

After a few months of classes I began asking around to see if there were any churches that would let somebody like me preach: someone very green who was learning. My friend, Ben Jones, had been substitute preaching some for another friend, Tim Parrish, at the Holladay Chapel congregation. In the early spring of 1997, I preached my first sermon east of California for the Holladay Chapel church of Christ.

The first sermon my wife ever heard me preach was on Easter, 1997, at the Holladay Chapel church. We went back to Jackson, TN after services and ate at O' Charley's. We had just begun dating at that time. I took a regular preaching appointment not long afterwards at the Hickory Plains church on Highway 424. After a few months there I went on to Christian Chapel near Humboldt, TN - and the rest, as they say, is history. But I will never forget all of the little congregations who gave this young man an opportunity. For me, they were God's instruments to help me become a preacher of the gospel of Christ.

It is my firm belief, that what God has called us to through His word is ministry. For some, this means the public proclamation of the word of God. For others, it means something else. But I have determined that ministry is about allowing God to use you as His instrument. It is never and will never be about you. It is first about loving and pleasing God. Secondly, it is about helping others do the same.

There is nothing more comforting than knowing one's purpose. Our purpose is not as complicated as we think. Our purpose is to be used as instruments of God.

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

~ St. Francis of Assisi - 13th century

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Unconditional

When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were faced with an ultimatum, they did not flinch. Nebuchadnezzar gave them a choice. Worship the statue or burn. Their response was quite impressive - "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up." ~ Daniel 3:16-18.

This historical event reminds us that true, Biblical faith is unconditional. Circumstances do not determine whether or not God's people will do what God wants. Unconditional love produces unconditional faith. Jesus did not say to the Father that there were certain things He would not do. He did not say that there were only certain situations under which He would obey the Father's will. Jesus and the Father are, were, and always will be ONE (John 10:30). In order to be children of God, the same must be true for us.
Ask yourself if your love for God is conditional or unconditional. Ask yourself if your faith in practice is conditional or unconditional. Three Hebrew men in the book of Daniel taught by example that we have a long way to go before we can consider ourselves completely obedient. But they also taught us that it is possible to do what God wants regardless of the situation.

Remember that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord (Rom. 8:28). Remember that if God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom. 8:31).

"Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.
And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him." ~ Hebrews 5:8-9

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Standing Outside

While in a gospel meeting this past week at a country congregation I was standing in the foyer with some of the men as we talked about days gone by. I had been asking some about the history of their congregation. We were talking about attendance and gospel meetings...the normal conversation that takes place on such occasions. One of the older members mentioned that he remembered the time when they used to prop up the side windows of the building, even in the heat of summer, and how people would flock to the gospel meeting every night. He said there would be more people standing outside the building, trying to hear the gospel, than there would be people inside! The building just could not hold all the people who wanted to be there.

We all know how much things have changed. These days it is hard to fill any church building on any day. A friend of mine who preaches told me that one of the deacons at his congregation admitted that he would not attend a Monday night of a gospel meeting even if Paul, the apostle, was the speaker! I could write a whole book about what is wrong about that attitude, but I will abstain. I try to write encouraging articles with positive messages. I am not here to beat and batter people into submission to the will of God. (That method does not work).

The bottom line is that we have allowed differing forms of entertainment to become more important to us than hearing the gospel. What I am about to write is going to be very unpopular, but I promise it is with love and concern and much prayer and thought that this comes to you. Ball games and recitals and school programs cannot be compared to the importance of worship. I will take an evening at a gospel meeting with my family over any baseball game, concert, movie, or what have you. Your kids will grow up and the only thing that will matter is whether or not you taught them that God is more important than everything else.

Over the years, parents and grandparents have gotten offended at statements and articles and sermons directed at this topic. Please don't be! I don't always have my priorities in the right place either. Believe me, every sermon I preach and article I write is directed at me first. I have learned through the years, however, that these same parents and grandparents cry every Sunday and Wednesday when the gospel is preached because their kids and grandkids are no longer faithful to the church. They have either just stopped going or they are worshiping at congregations that are more "user friendly."

There was a time when we used to stand outside to hear the gospel. But today, too many people would rather stand outside and be entertained than sit inside to worship God. We need to be careful. Standing outside may eventually be an eternal problem.

Judgement is surely coming, coming to you and me
We'll be judged that morning for all eternity
Some will go to heaven, others will be denied
Will you be in that number standing outside?

~  J. A. McClung (1932)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A. F. Darrow

A few weeks ago I traveled to Ashland City on a Saturday to speak at a youth rally at a church out in the country. During one of our breaks, I walked behind the building to an old cemetery. I like to look at headstones. It is interesting to see how people wish to represent their lives in epitaphs. It is also quite telling to examine the years they lived in history, and to think about what that must have been like.

While examining different graves I came upon a very peculiar situation. A set of five headstones all in a row. Two of them were for the sons of A.F. Darrow. One was for the daughter of A.F. Darrow. One was for the wife of A.F. Darrow. The last one was a double stone for the parents of A.F. Darrow. But there was no stone for A. F. Darrow!

A closer look revealed that the two sons had died in infancy at the turn of the twentieth century. The daughter had died at the age of 8. The wife had passed in her twenties. Only the parents of A. F. Darrow had lived their life out to old age. Their deaths occured nearly 50 years after the passing of the daughter-in-law and grandchildren.

My first reaction was shock and sadness. I began to think about what A. F. Darrow, whoever he really was, had to endure at such a young age. I have two boys and one girl. I can't imagine losing both of my sons only days after their birth. And how could I possibly handle losing my young daughter after I had built a relationship with her that was so special? - especially in the wake of already losing two children. Then what if I lost my wife as well - my companion, the beautiful wife of my youth? I felt compassion for this man with no stone, this man who was not laid to rest with his family.

But then it hit me. My mind drifted to the Biblical account of the life of Job. When I thought about it I immediately had my answer. I knew why A. F. Darrow was not buried with the rest of his family. He was still a young man when all of these things happened to him. He still had a full life to live. Consider these words from the end of the book of Job - "Now the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; for he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand female donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters....In all the land were found no women so beautiful as the daughters of Job; and their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers. After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children and grandchildren for four generations. So Job died, old and full of days" (Job 42:12-13, 15-17).

I cannot prove it, but I believe A. F. Darrow remarried and lived a full life. He probably had more children. He is most likely buried with his second wife and her family, wherever they may be. We need to be reminded and encouraged that God allows for blue skies when storms of life pass. He holds us in the palm of His hand. Every good and perfect blessing still comes from Jehovah - the same God whose own Son not only rolled His stone away - but made every stone only temporary!

"The end of a thing is better than its beginning..." ~ Ecclesiastes 7:8

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The One Church

This Sunday morning, in the third week of our series on "Things Most Surely Believed" - I am preaching on the topic - "The One Church." I usually do not write articles on the same subject as the sermon, but I am making an exception.

Of all of the things in the religious world today - it may be that people are most confused about the church. Denominationalism is the main cause of this problem. Mix in a lack of Bible study, and the general notion that God is going to accept whatever we do as long as we are making an effort - and you have a perfect recipe for an absolute mess.

Young Christian families and even some older folks are leaving the one church in large numbers today for churches that appeal to the senses - "non-judgmental" - "fits our needs" - "always loving" churches in the community. People in the religious realm realize this so much that they are changing the names of their churches from denominaional or traditional names to names they feel are more open and inviting.

Along with the changes in name, they are changing doctrine as well. They would rather not take a stand on doctrine in order to increase their numbers. Homosexuality, adultery, wordliness, and the like will not be disciplined. Issues like worship, unity, and fellowship are so open to personal opinion that it does not seem to matter what is going on, as long as everybody is having a good time and feels like they experienced something when they attended.

There is nobody on this earth that wants people to go to heaven more than me. There is nobody on this earth that wants the church to grow more than me. There is nobody on this earth that wants people to enjoy being in the kingdom of God more than me. There is nobody on this earth that wants people to be loved and appreciated and accepted more than me. The Bible teaches that Jesus created an institution through His death, burial, resurrection, and commission that makes all of this a reality. It is called the church. It is His body. The Bible teaches that there is only one church.

Regardless as to what anybody says or does, what the culture dictates, or what people think - I know the truth and will preach the truth concerning the one church. If we love and respect God and want to obey Him we will not try to "do church" our way. There is a peace that comes with obedience and pleasing God that is greater than any "feeling" new churches offer.

I am so greatly blessed and humbly overjoyed to be a part of the church that Jesus built!

"And God put all things under Christ's feet, and gave Him to be Head over all things to the church, which is His body..." ~ Ephesians 1:22-23

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Second Chances

When Lazarus of Bethany died, it was a scene so heartbreaking that even Jesus wept (John 11:35). But Jesus also delivered his friend from the bonds of death, even though Lazarus had been dead for four days (John 11:39). His body healed and reanimated, the resurrected Lazarus was full proof of Jesus' deity (John 11:45).

Lazarus has to be on the shortlist of greatest possible interviews ever. I have often imagined the questions soon asked of him after Jesus raised him from the dead. "What was it like on the other side?" "How does it feel to experience death?" "What do you remember?"

The Bible does reveal some things about death. We know that Lazarus was still conscious after death. We know his soul left his body. We know he went into the Hadean realm. We know that he was unaware of the happenings of the world he left behind. We know he was in one of two places awaiting judgment, paradise or tartarus.

The Bible does not reveal which of the two places Lazarus went. If he went to Abraham's bosom (paradise), he was in a place of rest and peace, where faithful and godly people reside while waiting for the reality of heaven. If he went to torments (tartarus), then he was in a horrible place of punishment and pain, with no relief and no hope of any good thing, only the certainty of hell.

It occurs to me, that wherever Lazarus went - he must have been more motivated to be a disciple of Jesus than ever before. If he was able to get the smallest taste of the comforts only God's people can know, he would have known that being a child of God is worth every sacrifice on earth. And even though the Bible does not tell us, my assumption based on his friendship and support of Christ makes it seem more likely that he was in fact in paradise for this span.

On the other hand, if Lazarus went to tartarus, what a second chance to get his life right with God!

We will never get to experience what Lazarus did. No person has ever been dead for four days and come back to life except for him. But God does give us second chances. And if Lazarus were here, no doubt he could convince you what to do with yours!

"Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?" ~ Romans 2:4

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

You Can't Take it to the Bank

"If you had a bank that credited your account each morning with $86,000 that carried over no balance from day to day...allowed you to keep no cash in your account, and every evening cancelled whatever part of the amount you failed to use during the day, what would you do? Draw out every cent every day, of course, and use it to your advantage! Well, you have such a bank, and its name is TIME! Every morning it credits you with 86,400 seconds. Every night it rules off as lost whatever of this you failed to invest to good purpose. It carries over no balances, it allows no overdrafts. Each day it opens a new account with you. If you fail to use the day's deposits, the loss is yours. There is no going back. There is no drawing against tomorrow." ~ Source Unknown

We probably don't think of time like we do money. We live in a society of consumers and therefore in our minds the importance of money has increased. If we value time, for many of us it is only because we believe that "time is money."

We waste a lot of time! For example, statistics show that each day gamers spend over 200 million minutes playing "Angry Birds." Since the game's beginning a few years ago, the world has wasted over 200,000 years playing this simple little game. This is only one example. We can talk about facebook usage, or television hours, or smoking breaks...and then we can get into some real numbers concerning unproductive time.

It is not wrong to take a break and play games. It is not wrong to entertain oneself or to stop working for a few minutes. But if we are honest, we will admit that there are a few things we spend too much time doing, and a few things we do not spend enough time doing.

There are two things in particular that we all need to do more. These will never be a waste of our time. 1. We need to read God's word. This is how He talks to us. 2. We need to pray. This is how we talk to Him. You cannot build a relationship with God without spending some time with Him!

We have only one life to live. We only have so much time to get to know God before He judges this world. If we know about everything else, but we have no relationship with the One who created us, we have wasted the time we have been given.

Time must be used wisely, and it must be used today. You can't take it to the bank!

"...redeeming the time, because the days are evil." ~ Ephesians 5:16

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Kitchen Table

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you moms out there! We hope you have a wonderful day with family and friends. I imagine that some moms will go out to dinner with their families. I also know that there are some of those moms out there who will insist on cooking and having everybody at the house. This is the way it usually was in my family. It usually meant going to Grandma’s on Sunday afternoon following worship.
            During my growing up years I remember sitting around the kitchen table. We did this in the morning at breakfast and again when dad got home from work. I can recall the square oak table and where I was positioned most of the time. I remember laughing, crying (when I didn’t want to eat my peas), and discussing life’s events around the kitchen table. These are the old scenes of childhood. The kitchen table was a place of fellowship, communication, nourishment, and love. My mother made sure of it.
            A few years ago I read an article written by a preacher friend of mine from Texas. The article was asking the reader to imagine a well-balanced meal being provided and set before a family at the table. But the children didn’t come to the table. The youngest said he didn’t like what was being served. Two other children missed the meal for a ball game down the street. Whatever the reason, something else took precedence. How do you think that made the provider feel?
            Family relationships have been given to mankind by God in order to help us understand who He is and who we are. Family dynamics speak volumes about the function and growth of the family. We can compare personal family relationships with the relationships that exist within God’s family, the church, to see if we are measuring up to the standard God has set for each family.
            Now imagine again the table being made ready. The children have been told to assemble and “Do this in remembrance of Me.” The table represents God’s greatest provision. Love and fellowship are there. Mercy and grace are there. It would seem that gathering around this table would be a great honor. It would seem that one would never want to miss it. Now hear the comments some use to excuse themselves – “…had a ball game.” “…didn’t like the meal.” “…had other plans.”
            In our home, the children ask permission from the parents to be excused from the table. They do not excuse themselves. This is how it was while we were growing up. This is how it will be for our children. Honor is given to the provider. Appreciation is learned. Love is available to all.
            I am thankful to my mother for always setting the table for me with the love and consideration that only a parent can understand. I am thankful to the Godhead for the table set for me to begin every week of my life. There is nothing quite like this table. There is nothing quite like the communion to be shared with those you love.

“He invites us in to His banquet table and His banner over us is love…”