Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Eggs and Rice

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 18, 2011

An Exemplary Church

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What it Takes to Win the Race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"Put Your Finger on the Verse."

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

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

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

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

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