Monday, April 27, 2009

Coming Home Again

Most of the time my blog articles end up being the articles on the front page of our church bulletin. But this is not the case this week. We have an advertisement for our "Coming Home Sunday" on the front page instead. Still, I thought it would be good to reflect a little on why we have this event each year.

My grandfather, Bill Watts, has been preaching the gospel for over 60 years. He is the kindest, gentlest, most Christlike man I have ever known. He is a worker in the kingdom. He is a true evangelist. He is a self-made Bible scholar. He is a missionary. He is a personal worker. He is a man with compassion for souls.

In every place Papa has gone to work over the years, when he first arrived he found that many members had lost their way and had stopped attending the worship. He had a goal to reclaim those he could for Christ. He knew that only some would come back. He understood that people made choices daily and that many factors are involved in the exodus of some individuals and families from the worship assembly.

He gave me the idea for a "Coming Home" rather than just a "Homecoming." Homecomings are often generic welcome backs for social clubs, schools, and organizations. But a coming home is a personal invitation to people to truly have a family in Christ all over again.

Why do people leave home in the first place? Some just move away for school or occupational reasons and never come back. Some get caught up in the world and simply stop putting God first. Some have marital troubles, or family problems and they fade into oblivion. Still, some get offended by something the preacher says, the teachers teach, or they just feel unloved, unwanted, and unappreciated.

If we are going to have a Coming Home Sunday, then it is our obligation to make the local congregation in which we reside a welcoming, loving residence. We must not be judgmental, hateful, jealous, impersonal, haughty, ignorant, careless, or trite. Instead we must be humble, sympathetic, thankful, happy, kind, affectionate, loving, and concerned. We must be friendly at ALL times. We must be happy to be home in the first place. We must remember that we did not get here on our own, but only through the power and love and grace of a merciful God, do we find ourselves in a place we can call "home."

Coming Home again is always a possibility with God. May we not be the older brother who resents the prodigal. May we instead, be the loving father, waiting, looking from a far off, ready to run and greet and rejoice with the one who was dead, but is now alive, who was lost, and now is found!

"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, April 21, 2009

Bearing Fruit

One of the great passages of Scripture that often gets overlooked is found in the fifteenth chapter of the gospel of John. Jesus gives to His disciples a well-known "I am" statement - "I am the vine" (John 15:5). Within these verses there are several instructions for the Christian: 1. Abide in the vine (v. 4). 2. Continue in My love (v.9). 3. Keep My commandments (v. 10). The reader could point out several more.

Perhaps the most important statement, at the heart of the passage, is found on verse eight - "By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples." A major problem with Christians is idleness. Bearing fruit is an essential part of living the Christian life. It makes absolutely zero sense when Christians do not want to work in the church. Our work is an extension of our love for Christ, and our thankfulness for God's grace that leads to our salvation. Fruit bearing is just the result of loving God back (1 John 4:19).

An oft used excuse for not bearing fruit to God is discouragement. The way we often measure success is very different than the standard God uses. People disappoint us. They question our motives. They criticize our activity. They call us judgmental when we stand for the Bible. They do not consider the work and effort and guts and hope and everything else that goes in to sowing seed. When we see a lack of results we give up prematurely. We stop abiding in the vine. We stop producing. We try to "cruise-control" to heaven. Jesus said this approach leads to withering branches that are good for nothing except being cut off and cast into the fire (John 15:6).

If you have ever done any sowing at all in the kingdom, let me remind you to think about the difference you have made. One soul. One teaching. One person growing closer to God. One life changed. One problem resolved. If all of your work has resulted in any of these things, every effort you have made has been worth it. If nothing has been accomplished in people, know that your efforts have been pleasing in the sight of God!

Bearing fruit is demanding. I have come to learn that we are going to be rejected more than accepted. I have come to learn that we will be criticized more than complimented. I have come to learn that we will be unpopular with the majority, accused, ridiculed, and challenged until we find out whether or not we really believe in God and His church.

But I have also come to learn, that when we bear fruit to God, it is the greatest human experience we can ever know. When you see the child raised outside of Christ who becomes a preacher...when you see a marriage saved...when you see a troubled young single girl with children raise leaders in the church...when you help an elderly person keep their faith on their death bed...when you see that kind of fruit the rest does not matter at all.

May 3rd is our "Coming Home Sunday." Our goal is 500! This day will be a good opportunity to bear some fruit to God. Encourage, invite, exhort, challenge, and love others like Christ loved us. Abide in vine brethren. Abide in the vine!

"Lead me to some soul today, O teach me, Lord, just what to say; Friends of mine are lost in sin, And cannot find their way. Few there are who seem to care, And few there are who pray; Melt my heart, and fill my life, Give me one soul today." ~ Will Houghton (1936)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Your Way of Life

There is an expression sometimes used by people to explain behavior that goes something like this - "That is just the way I am" or "That is just the way he/she is." People do have a a way. Billy Joel even wrote these lyrics, " She's got a way about her, don't know what it is, but I just know I can't live without her." Everybody is unique and every person has a certain way they go about living their life.

But one thing each individual should keep in mind is that they are not locked into a certain lifestyle. The liar doesn't have to lie just because he has always been a liar. The same could be said for any other sin - homosexuality, hatred, drunkenness, stealing, et cetera. The fact is that we choose our way of living. We make a decision about who we are and what we believe every single day.

Since such is the case, then we can also change the way we practice our Christianity. We don't have to be Sunday morning only Christians, even if that is all we have ever been. We don't have to keep from being more involved in the work of the church, just because we have never been involved in the past. We don't have to lack zeal for evangelism, just because in our former days we have lacked the nerve necessary to save a lost soul.

What we need to do is really very simple. We need to pray earnestly that God will change our hearts and make us aware of our spiritual shortcomings. Then we need to follow up by changing our behavior and making a habit of doing the things we have always wanted to do for Christ. You can change your way of life! You can do things differently than you have done them in the past!

Peter wrote about the importance of no longer living the rest of our time in the flesh for the sake of sin, but instead, living for the will of God (1 Pet. 4:2). The point is that God has the power to not only save us from death, He has the power to change our life for today. That is a very exciting proposition! We don't have to wait until Jesus comes again to be blessed. We can be blessed immediately by simply making the choices to live for God today.

Stop making excuses for your lack of involvement in the kingdom. Stop saying to yourself that who you are and what you practice is good enough. Stop telling yourself that the way you live your Christian life is as good as you can do, because that is just the way you are.

Faithfulness is a way of life. Commitment is a way of life. Evangelism is a way of life. Humility is a way of life. Kindness is a way of life...

You can do anything you want to do. You can be anything you want to be. Nothing is impossible with God!

"For to me to live is Christ..." ~ Philippians 1:21

Monday, April 6, 2009

Running Your Race

This past week I participated in a 5k race in Columbia, TN. If you have never been to a race of this sort you are going to have to try attend one some time. Even if you do not choose to run, there are many things you can learn just by observing those who do. Here are some things I learned this week:

1. You need to run your own race.
Everybody has a different stride. The end goal is the same but how and when we cross the finish line is going to vary. It was neat to see 7 and 8 year-old children run. Their legs are shorter but they don't wear out as quickly. It was great to see people in their 70's running. They, along with the disabled who ran inspired me the most. Because we are all different, there is something about our individual performance that enhances the race itself. We can teach each other. We don't have to worry about measuring up to each other. We simply need to do our personal best.
Galatians 6:4,5 - "But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load."

2. You need to stay on the track.
After training for a while to run a race it would be a real bummer to be disqualified. How many times have you seen Olympic competitors ruin four years in four seconds by not obeying the rules? Every runner at sometime has imagined that they may miss a sign or go the wrong way or get out of bounds. A well organized race is replete with well marked boundaries. You must stay on course. As Christians our path is clearly marked by the pages of God's holy word. Jesus said that the way to life is narrow and difficult, and only a few enter thereby. All of the effort we exert to get to heaven will be negated by our unwillingness to stay on course.
1 Corinthians 9:26-27 - "Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified."

3. You must push your hardest to finish.
If you want to be inspired go to the finish line and watch people finish their race. You will see determination, effort, courage, endurance, and heart. Every distance race has moments of question. Can I even finish? Am I going to collapse? Should I just give up and forget it? Then, just around the last turn and over the rise you can see it. It is the finish line. When you see the finish line, you can will yourself to do more than you ever imagined. With great joy I have been blessed to see some of the greatest people I have ever known finish their race. When they come to the point when their goal is in sight, the person they become is the person God created them to be.
Philippians 3:13-14 - "Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

If we can do these three things then we can say what Paul once said...
1. Run your own race - "I have fought the good fight."
2. Stay on the track - "I have finished my course."
3. Push to finish - "I have kept the faith."

" ...let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith..." ~ Hebrews 12:1-2