Monday, March 26, 2012

Positive Thinking

I want to encourage you today to think of the church and its people in a positive way. Preachers, elders, and even regular members often tend to look at the negative things that are going on in the church. Granted, it is not only appropriate to have concern, but we are commanded by God to protect the church and fight for the church. So please do not read this and think that I am saying that we should not be doctrinally sound. I am not saying we should not keep the church holy. I am not saying we should not be evangelsistic and build up a new generation of believers.

On a typical Sunday morning, I am looking all over the building to see who is and isn't present. I am interested some in numbers - always checking the attendance and the offering. If we have a special event, I am looking even closer at these things. Preachers want churches to grow, have spiritual revivals, see changes in people, and have positive results all of the time.

Because preachers are so results oriented, sometimes we only look for the outward signs of what we would consider a spiritually strong church. We may not be happy to see so few publicly respond to the invitation. We may be discouraged with poor attendance. We may even be ready to just give up when something we are planning falls apart. We are human. It is natural for us to have moments of dissappointment when it looks from the outside like nobody cares.

But I am here to tell you, people care and they care all the time. Meals are being cooked for people who need them. Homes and healthcare facilities are being visited. Those who have lost loved ones are being comforted and prayed for. Cards are being written. Words of encouragement are being spread. People are involved in various programs every week. On an individual level, Christians are considering their relationships with God daily and contemplating how they ought to walk with Christ. There are so many things that we cannot account for that people are doing. But God knows all of these things and I believe we tend to give people less credit than they deserve.

I believe in the church that Jesus built and I believe in the people who have submitted their lives to God in order to be a part of it. I believe in the fact that people can, will and do change. I believe that God is working on hearts, that His word is powerful, and this His way is best.

The church and its people are doing better than we often think. Praise God for the love He has given us, which binds us together and helps us to love God and one another!

"Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul..." ~ Acts 4:32

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Day the Cloud Moved

When the Israelites had made it to the banks of the Red Sea, they began to doubt and fret as they saw Pharaoh's army camp nearby. They begin to cry to Moses (Ex. 14:12), "Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, 'Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness."

Moses assured them of God's deliverance as he replied, "Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace" (Ex. 14:13-14).

Then God offered a further sign of hope that they were not expecting. "And the Angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud went from before them and stood behind them. So it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. Thus it was a cloud and darkness to the one, and it gave light by night to the other, so that the one did not come near the other all that night" (Ex. 14:19-20).

God taught several important lessons when He moved the cloud:

1. His presence is with His people, both in front and behind. God literally "has our back." He will not allow former enemies to overcome us when we trust in Him.

2. Egypt is no option. How soon we forget our chains! As soon as their faith was challenged, the Israelites began to think about living in Egypt again. We need to remember that the slavery of sin is no picnic. It would be better to die for the Lord than to live in Egypt.

3. In the presence of God, there is light and peace and eternal deliverance. Those who have obeyed God and who are being led by Him are walking in the light. The cloud represented more than God's providencial care for His people. It also revealed that for those who choose to deny God's existence and power - darkness and everlasting death will be their fate.

We need to trust in God. He will lead us to the promised land. When we doubt and begin to think about trying the old life, He will shield our backs with His cloud.

"Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea." ~ 1 Corinthians 10:1-2

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Phone Call for the Preacher

She called on a Sunday afternoon. It was about 4:00 p.m. I had come to my office at the Pulaski St. church of Christ to study my lesson for the evening worship. I have often wondered, if I had not been there, who would she have called? Maybe another church that did not teach the truth...maybe someone who could have helped her and her husband much better than I did. But she did not call somebody else. She called me.

She told me she needed help immediately. Her husband was sick and dying and she was also feeble. She wanted someone to come and pray with her and her husband. I told her I would be there immediately.

When I arrived, I learned more about her husband's terminal condition. He had a few days, maybe a week. No one had ever taught him the gospel. She had been exposed to the church over 50 years ago, but faded away from it. They were good, kind people, they just did not know the truth. We prayed together, and I taught them the plan of salvation. The next morning, Al and June Parkhill obeyed the gospel. We had to get help from the family, and a wheel chair and a special chair to baptize Mr. Parkhill. He passed away two days later. I conducted his funeral.

June immediately came to worship. Her physcial condition was poor at best. But she did all she could to come when she had the opportunity. She was very happy, even though she had to come in on her walker and it was hard for her to sit. One of the things she was very dedicated to was giving to the pantry. It always amazes me that the people who have the least often tend to give to things like the pantry the most. She insisted on people even coming to pick items up from time to time when she was unable to come on Sunday. It was not long before Mrs. Parkhill could not attend at all. She spent the remainder of her life shut-in. She appreciated every call from the church office she received, especially from David Pinckley. I regret not visiting her more.

This one phone call I received has caused me to reflect a great deal on my ministry. People need the Lord, and they expect to receive Him in some way from us. Are we doing enough? Are we handing out things but not going the extra mile? Would more people call us for help if we were more kind, more helpful, and more dependable?

My mother sent me a forwarded email this week that informed me that June Parkhill passed away on Tuesday. I have since left Lawrenceburg and will not be conducting her funeral. I am thankful for the good people at Pulaski St. and their good preacher there who will be there for this family. Although time and distance separate us, we are all linked together eternally in love and unity in the kingdom of God's dear Son. We will all be together in heaven.

I wish I could make one phone call today. I would call June Parkhill. I would thank her for the phone call she made on a Sunday afternoon. It changed her life. It changed mine.

"How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?" ~ Romans 10:14

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Standing Together

This past Sunday I had the privilege of worshiping with my grandparents at the Greenbrier church of Christ in Greenbrier, Arkansas. Sunday evening, the young men led the worship, and three of the young men spoke. The first of the boys spoke for a few minutes on being a servant. The next one discussed the sin of pride. The third gave a talk about being an example for Christ. He offered the invitation.

As the invitation song was sung, all three of the young men stood up together. They all had decided before hand that they would all be willing to stand up front to receive anyone who might respond. I thought this was extraordinary. It takes courage and maturity to make this kind of decision. It would be very encouraging to have three people there to greet you and help you if you were to respond to the invitation.

I have often thought about what the church could do better in different areas of worship and service. One of the things that could be better is the way we offer the invitation to respond to the gospel. People in the pews have become so unresponsive over the years. When the preacher winds down the sermon, people start shuffling. They start taking their song books out (unless they have the songs projected on the screen). When the church stands for the invitation, people mostly walk to the back of the building, not the front. So many things can distract a person from becoming a Christian or asking for prayers.

But what if three or four people were there up front to help you? What if the elders came forward or the ministers came forward every Sunday together, to stand and encourage anyone who needs to make a change? I think every congregation should consider this idea. I thought it was a very powerful example set by these young men, to stand together. It reminded me that we are really always standing together. We are all sinners and we all need help and we always need to be there for each other.

I believe more people will respond to the invitation, when preachers stop mailing in their sermons and they become more passionate, when elders impress upon the people their need to be obedient, and when the church as a whole becomes more loving, and inviting, and encouraging to those who respond. We have some work to do in this area. We need to stand together.

"Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel" ~ Philippians 1:27