Monday, December 30, 2013

Healing Power

It was another one of those typical Sundays. We were at morning services and the time had come for the Lord's Supper to be served. The first prayer for the unleavened bread had been offered. And at this particular point, as always, I was trying to wrap my head around what it really meant for Jesus to die on the cross. My little girl was sitting next to me on her mother's lap, and as I glanced at her face I saw it. It reminded me of what Jesus had truly come to do.

A day or so ago my daughter had come into the living room crying because our oldest son had accidentally scratched her on the face. The scratch left an abrasion that was going to take a few days to heal. As she sat next to me I saw the mark still there on her small, soft cheek. It had improved a little but still had a long way to go. I thought to myself, "How wonderful that God has made the human body with its own healing power!" I would be especially sad if every time one of my children scraped a knee or cut their hand or scratched their face that it would leave a mark that would never go away.

God is a healing God. He is the only one who has the power to heal. Our limited capacity for our physical bodies to heal themselves comes from God's design. When it comes to being able to heal from within, God still holds the key. Sometimes we need healing from the pains and disappointments and sad circumstances of life. Sometimes we need to heal from the wounds we have regretfully inflicted upon others. Sometimes we need to be healed from the sting of sin. This is why Jesus came to earth and died.

At that moment, I realized again the majesty and wonder of the plan of God. He chose to heal our lives through the scars of our sins that were cast upon His own Son. But he knew it would be alright. He knew His Son would recover. For an eternal and all-powerful God, who created the material universe and even time itself, the physical death of Jesus was no more than a scratch. He knew that the marks would eventually heal. After all, He is God, and it is God who takes the scratches away.

No matter what sins we may be dealing with, and no matter what wounds we may suffer in life, we have a God who can heal us completely. There is no scratch that the power of the cross cannot restore. In the blood of Christ there is matchless, unlimited power. Healing power.

Yes, I'm headed for a home built by God alone.
 Hallelujah, Praise the Lord I am.
Where the only thing there that's been made by man
Are the scars in the hands of Jesus.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

When We Cease to be Christians

This past Monday I travelled to Lawrenceburg, Tennessee for the sole purpose of spending a few hours with my grandparents, Bill and Barbara Watts. It was my Papa Bill's 85th birthday. It was a very special occasion for me, and I feel so blessed that I still have them with me, and that I can still be within driving distance and take them out to lunch.

As we were driving back to their home together I asked my Papa what he had learned in 85 years...what wisdom do you have for a 40 year-old preacher? (My Papa preached for 63 years before having to retire because of his health). He told me two things, one about preaching and one about life in general that I am saving to share at a later date. But as our conversation ended my grandmother added something that I want to share in this article.

My grandmother said, "Jeremy, everyone has a story. No matter where they have come from, no matter what they have done, the minute that we are no longer willing to reach out to others is the day when we cease to be Christians." After I said goodbye I had a long drive back home to think about all that had happened and all that had been said. While thinking about this particular statement from grandma, it occurred to me that my grandparents lives had been dedicated to accepting the truth of this statement and acting accordingly. I am so thankful for their example.

Everyone has a story. How true. God knows every page of every story and every letter of every word we will ever write in our book. He has chosen to know us so intimately that He pays attention to every detail of our lives individually. The ability He has to know us in this way and His willingness to do so is what makes Him God. When we begin to fathom the love that is displayed in His reading of our story and His desire to give it a joyous ending, how amazing the grace and mercy of God becomes! And this is where Christianity comes in. Once we realize what God has done for our story, it becomes our responsibility to care about the story of every man.

God created every individual with a purpose. To God, there is no person who is more beautiful than the next. Jesus came to die because this is what everyone needed. The contents of individual stories all have one thing in common, sin and a genuine and desperate need for redemption. And although we are so different in so many ways, our need for Christ is the central theme to every one of our stories.

If we are going to be the kind of people God created us to be, we will never forget that every person needs someone else to care about their story. If we will do this, we will truly be able to say that we are children of God. The day we stop caring about others will be the day when we cease to be Christians.

"Oh, satisfy us early with Your mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days!" - Psalm 90:14

Thursday, December 5, 2013

What Do Your Kids Want for Christmas?

It has been a humbling day in so many ways. But this last thing that just happened surpassed the rest of the day in humbling moments by a wide margin. There is a family from our community our congregation has been helping . Without going into details, I will simply tell you that unless we provide them a Christmas, they are not going to have one. I have a great job. Today I got to pick up a Christmas tree that was donated by a kind lady with new lights and ornaments and deliver it to the house of this needy family. It was nice to see them be excited about it. I had asked the parents to get the two children, (a girl and a boy), to write up a wish list for Christmas. They gave it to me as I left.

What do your kids want for Christmas this year? Is it X-Box or Playstation? What kind of electronics and toys are they expecting? What brands and types of clothes? My oldest son honestly said when put to the test, he would love to have an "I - anything." You know, ipad, ipod, iphone - anything that starts with "I." Good luck with that, son (dream big!)...Let's face it, our kids are pretty blessed, we might even say spoiled. But it is Christmas. It is easy for us to give to them. What parent doesn't want to give their children more than they had when they were the same age?

So now let me tell you what is on the list of this little girl and boy (5th and 3rd grade):

Pet Shops Littlest Pets
Dolls and Clothing
Hair-bows and Pony-tail clips
Coloring books and crayons
Books to read

Push cars
A track for the cars
Coloring books and crayons
Books to read

They both said they would also like some Legos so they can play together.

How does reading that list make you feel?

You see, our kids are conditioned to ask for expensive things because of what they already have! But what is going to make them happy? None of the "things." But an expression of love and something new and special will be enough. What a humbling list! It makes me think about the difference between what I want and what I need. It makes me wonder if some of my wants don't need to change.

What do I want for Christmas? I already know. I want to fill the list for both of these children. That will be enough for me.

What do you want for Christmas?

"I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’" - Acts 20:35 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

How to Overcome a Negative Label.

Sometimes people misunderstand you. Sometimes people misrepresent you. Sometimes they don't see what you want them to see. Christians are supposed to be salt and light to the world (Matt. 5:14-16). But what do we do when others label us as unloving, uncaring, or unfeeling? What do we do when the world sees us as close-minded, dogmatic, and legalistic?

The reputation of every Christian is so important to the work of the church. But let's face it, are Christians perfect? No. Do Christians still sin and make bad choices? Yes. It is in these moments of our humanity that Satan gets to work. He wants the world to see a different picture of us and the church than the picture that God has chosen to represent Him. How do we overcome our moments of weakness that allow others to shout, "hypocrite!"? How do we manage our broken hearts when we are depicted as "un-Christian"?

1. We must choose to be kind. Has someone accused you? Have they said evil things about you? Have they tried to hit you where it counts? Nothing hurts me more than a person saying to me that I am supposed to be a man of God, but in reality I am something else. I don't want the Lord's cause to be hurt by my mistakes. When people attempt to cut us down we must respond with the same kindness Jesus displayed when he was treated that way - "who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously" (1 Pet. 2:2:23). "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:21).

2. We must strive to be at peace and let it go. The devil wants us to hold a grudge. He loves that because he is the king of grudges. When others lash out at us the easiest thing to do is take it to heart and remember the pain that has been inflicted. But God wants us to let it go. He wants us to make every effort we can to make peace with others, and if they refuse our efforts He wants us to move on. It was while we were yet sinners, that in due time Christ died for the ungodly (Rom. 5:6-8). The people responsible for the greatest moment of God's pain were immediately offered forgiveness and entrance into God's family, the church. How amazing! Jesus said we should quickly agree with our adversary and move on with life (Matt. 5:25).

3. Let what God truly knows about you be enough. We are never going to be guaranteed that others will completely understand us. Even in some of our closest relationships, people may have opinions about us that don't represent our true selves. But God knows the secrets of the heart (Psalm 44:21). He knows our frame and He remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:14). At the end of the day, it is what God knows and understands about us that really matters. If we love Him with all of our heart, and if we are daily seeking His will and the best interest of others, we need to be satisfied with where we stand with God. There is no consolation or joy of hope that compares with knowing that we are pleasing to God.

I am thankful that the only One we really need to please in this life is the One who created us. He alone will judge us righteously. He alone loved us enough to offer His Son to make the Judgment Day a good day for His people.

"For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ." - Galatians 1:10

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Elders who are Brothers

One of the things I am most thankful for as a preacher are elders who are brothers...

I have served under elders in four different congregations since my earliest preaching days. I am thankful for every one of the men under whom I have worked. All of them made a great sacrifice to serve in such a capacity. All of them, in one way or another, caused me to grow as a man and minister.

Unfortunately, however, not every person who serves as an elder in the Lord's church wants to be a shepherd. Many churches have adopted the board of directors, corporation style of leadership. I have had an elder and an elder's wife where I was serving tell me more than once, "The church needs to be run like a business." In 15 years I have rarely directly and boldly disagreed with an elder face to face. But on that occasion, my reply was, "No it does not. The church should never been run like a business. The church needs to be run more like a hospital."

But, fortunately, and this is my true reason for writing, the majority of the elders under whom I have served have treated me like a brother. I feel sorry for every elder or preacher who has decided to have their relationship be merely that of business. When we are in the body of Christ, our relationships ought to have a capacity for growth that is greater than might exist in any other place in life except for marriage.

Over the years, some of the greatest spiritual blessings I have ever received have been because of my elders. I have been counseled. I have been prayed for. I have been befriended. I have been trusted. I have been loved. I have been told "take it to the grave" secrets. I have been in elders meetings and watched grown men cry for souls. I have been given second chances. I have been given the benefit of the doubt. I have been forgiven. I have been inspired. I have been encouraged. I have been supported and defended.

Over the years, some of the greatest physical blessings I have received have been because of my elders. I have been given raises. I have been given bonuses. I have been treated to dinner dozens of times. I have been given personal gifts. I have been given vacations. I have known without a doubt that my family was not going to be in need.

Before I came to my most recent work at Willow, I was asked by different elderships where I was interviewing, "What kind of relationship do you expect or want to have with the elders where you will serve?" On each occasion, this is what I told them:

"When I had my first cancer surgery in December of 2004, I woke up a day later surrounded by three men: Darrell Mathis, Bobby D. Osbron, and Bobby C. Stubblefield. When I saw them there I remembered how they felt about me. You see, these were not my current elders. They had driven two and half hours from New Providence, Kentucky to see me and to pray for me. I had left the congregation where they serve as elders for another work. I had been gone for nearly two years. But because we were brethren first, they came to me in my hour of need. We genuinely loved each other. We never had a business relationship. We had a mutual respect and admiration for each other because we were working side by side in the kingdom. The best interest of the universal church was always more important to all of us than our individual wants or needs. We preferred spending time together over spending time with almost anyone else. This is the kind of relationship I hope to have with my next eldership."

Looking back on that moment, to this day I believe that this was the greatest honor ever paid to me by any eldership. I will forever be indebted to them for what they did for me when I needed hope.

Brother William Woodson used to tell me that the greatest honor he had ever been given in life was the trust of elders who allowed him to stand behind the pulpit and preach the gospel. There is a great amount of responsibility elders are giving to us when souls are in our hands as preachers, and yet they know they are going to be held accountable for what is preached.

I am most thankful as a preacher for Biblical elders. Elders who shepherd. Elders who humbly serve. Elders who sacrifice their time. Elders who cry when people are hurting. Elders who treat preachers, not like employees, but like brothers.

"But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another." - 1 Thessalonians 4:9

Good Gifts

Well, it's here again, the shopping season (although I know a few people who honor this season 12 months a year). It used to be that "Black Friday" was the big day. If you wanted to see humanity at its lowest point, you could go to your local Walmart at midnight after Thanksgiving. But now there are stores wanting to beat the Friday rush and so they are opening on Thanksgiving! We live in a capitalistic society. It seems that our consumer friendly country is only encouraging our advance toward materialism year by year.

One of the ploys in the commercials involves getting that "perfect gift." They label such to be a car, diamonds, or the latest in electronic gadgets and gizmos. I have to say, watching some of these commercials is depressing. Here is this lady going through Best Buy and she is spending thousands of dollars on tablets, phones, and flat-screen TVs (this is depicted as normal, or something everyone should be doing). I mean, c'mon people, do we really need to spend that kind of money on all this stuff? And we wonder why our country is in debt!

I am reminded of what Jesus said in Matthew 7:9-11 - "Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!" Compared to the righteousness of God, we are evil. Yet we still want to bless our children with good gifts. But God really knows what gifts we need. He knows what good gifts really are! While we try to do our best to bless those around us, I believe that sometimes the gifts we choose to bestow upon those we love are not always the correct gifts or the gifts our children truly need.

What if you were to write down a Christmas wish list and give it to the Lord? Probably, you would begin by changing the things you'd ask for, because you would be concerned about asking for too many worldly things. But the more important question is, how would He respond? I think if we were all honest with ourselves, we would realize that the way He would choose to bless us might be very different than the way we often try to bless others. We should pattern our manner of blessing others after the manner in which God chooses to bless us.

Don't allow this holiday season to be about "stuff." Make it about family. Make it about time spent together. Make it about love and laughs, and memories. Make it about moments, not momentos.

I am thankful that we have a God who knows what we need and what will truly bless us. I am thankful for His merciful compassion for us even though we are often bent on evil. I am thankful that He chooses to bestow spiritual blessings first, while the needs we require of a physical nature are still important to Him. I am thankful for the love that exists in heaven toward sinful man that was demonstrated when it wrapped the most beautiful gift ever given in an unseemly human package. I am thankful for every one of God's good gifts to man, the pinnacle being the blood of the very Son of God to redeem our sinful souls!

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning." - James 1:17

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

How High is Jesus?

While studying for Bible class last week I read this passage, "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 Tim. 6:14-16).

While much could be said about this text, on this occasion one thing stood out to me. Notice within Paul's lengthy statement about the majesty of Jesus, this phrase, "dwelling in unapproachable light." I have read this verse dozens of times, but for the first time I thought of the Damascus road, the call of Saul of Tarsus, and the voice of Jesus coming down from heaven. This was the moment that changed Saul's (Paul's) life forever. This was the day he literally "saw the light."

Paul later commented, "And since I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of those who were with me, I came into Damascus" (Acts 22:11). No wonder why Paul had such a high view of Jesus! The Man he once blasphemed, the Jesus whom he once persecuted, was now shining as brightly in his mind and heart as He was when He appeared to him on the road. This was the Jesus that Paul chose to glorify in his own life by dying for His cause. This was the Jesus that Paul held in such high esteem that the holiness of His name, the headship of the church, and the hope of His promise could never and would never be compromised for any reason as long as Paul lived.

With the coming of the holiday season, I am reminded about how many people will be speaking of Jesus in the next few months. More than any other time of year, attention is drawn to our Savior - to His birth, to His life, to His purpose. Within this annual focus there often seems to be an improper view of Jesus. He sometimes even becomes trivialized as a part of our culture. I know over the next two months I will probably hear and see several things concerning Jesus that will be troubling to me, because people will not be holding Him up as high as He deserves.

It is my prayer, that every person will examine the Jesus that God's word has revealed for the world which now exists in a time when Jesus is not walking on it. Read about His eternal nature and His creation. Read about the promise of His first appearance on earth, His birth, His life, and His death. Read about His burial, His resurrection and His ascension. Read about His church and the promise of His judgment and the place He is preparing. Read about His love, His mercy, His majesty, His teachings, and His compassion for every human being, which led Him humbly to the cross.

An examination of the true Jesus, and not the Jesus our culture is presenting will be a life-changing experience. It will be our Damascus road, and it will exalt Jesus in our hearts and minds and lives to the place where He belongs to begin with.

How high is Jesus? He remains forever far above our feeble capacity to imagine. God help us understand.

"Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." - Philippians 2:9-11

Monday, November 11, 2013

Dealing with Divorce

I am not an expert on this topic. I am not experienced personally with this circumstance. I only have two things that can help me understand how to deal with divorce. I have the Bible. I have many friends both Christian and non-Christian who I have counseled through the divorce process.

I am writing about this today because it is highly relevant in our society. Anything that advances in our society also finds its way into the church. This article is not going to address the rights and wrongs of divorce. At the proper time classes and sermons will be able to deal with God's principles concerning marriage and how to obey them. Instead I would like to bring to your mind some important concepts concerning how every person can try to understand and properly associate with those who have been devastated by divorce. Hopefully this will help us all show the love of Christ for those in this situation.

First of all, nobody gets married to get divorced. To my knowledge, I have never met a couple who intended from the get-go for their marriage to eventually be dissolved. But divorce does happen. God never gave marriage to mankind so we could break the marriage covenant. Sin allows for divorce to become a reality. Understand that those who are or have been divorced never wanted it to happen in the first place.

Secondly, people who are divorced feel the stigma that is often attached. This is hard to discuss. Should there be a stigma? Have you been a perfect marriage partner? Let me help you - the answer is no. But marriage is a commitment and divorce is a conscious decision to break the commitment. Thus the stigma. At some point somebody didn't want to be married enough to keep their promise. Sometimes, it is merely a Biblical response to the concession allowed by Christ. Other times, a divorce takes place with no Biblical reason or support. Understand that whatever the reason, the divorced feel the stigma. It is a weight for them. They are going to need some help to carry that load.

Thirdly, with divorce there is grief. The grief process is similar to but different than experiencing the death of a loved one. The steps of grieving are the same but the reasons to grieve are different. The long-term effects of the loss are also different. We need to understand that people who have dealt with divorce are going to need to grieve. We should have as much if not more concern and care for them as we do a person who has lost their closest friend or family member.

Finally, there is life after divorce. Some people will have the right to remarry, and some will not. But either way, a second chance to make the best life possible still awaits. We all need forgiveness, mercy, grace, and unconditional love. Every day is a new day and the mercies of God are new every morning. His compassions fail not. God loves us more than we could ever know or imagine. When things do not turn out well for us, God's parental love for our best interests remains. Regardless of the circumstances, a true child of God will have compassion on any person who has gone through a divorce. If the person is in sin, we should worry about their soul and the changes that need to be made. If the person is living faithfully, we must weep with them that weep until the season of weeping is over. Our willingness to care for people who have experienced divorce should never be related to their level of guilt.

It is my prayer, that as a Christian, God will give me the ability to help those who have experienced divorce. It is my prayer, that His church will always reach out and express love to every person in every circumstance. This is what love does.

"The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: 'Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love;Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.'" - Jeremiah 31:3

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Universal Church

As you begin to read this short article, please do me a favor. Please do not think in any way that I believe that I know more than other people just because I have been out of the country. Please do not think that I am prejudiced against any person in this part of the country. Please understand that this article is being written out of a pure heart and sincere love for God and His people. With these things in mind, I would like to address some problems that exist in the minds and hearts of many Christians.

1. Unfortunately, there are many Christians who do not have a global view of the church. They may not even have a respect for the needs to establish the church on a national level. Sometimes we are limiting our focus to the local congregation. Although God has organized the local church, and has commanded us to be a part of it, we are supposed to have the best interest of the souls of all people in every country in the world in our hearts. I have heard many Christians over the last few years asking why we are still going into other countries with the gospel. The reason is simple: Jesus said, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature..." (Mark 16:15-16). He also said, "Go there and make disciples of all the nations..." (Matt. 28:19). The great commission has not changed. The entire world will always be in desperate need of the good news of Jesus Christ.

2. Unfortunately, there are many Christians who would be uncomfortable in the true church just because it might be in a different setting. While recently across the world, I was blessed to worship with people of different nationality, different skin color, different language, and different culture. Their social customs were not always easy to adjust to. The buildings they met in were not as comfortable. But I want to tell you that I was spiritually blessed beyond measure. To see the Bible being obeyed in the same manner by a group of individuals across the world is a reminder of the power of God and the truth of His Word. The building, the pews, the temperature, and all of the physical blessings are absolutely nothing more than facilitators. The core of the matter is the truth of the doctrine and the humility of the hearts that have assembled to obey it. If you have never worshiped with brethren across the globe - oh what you have missed!

3. Unfortunately, there are many Christians who are not concerned about the lost enough to say anything. If a truck were bearing down on you, about to run you over, at some point I would be forced to jump in and push you out of the way. I would have to hate you a great deal to do nothing. The road to hell is wide. But we don't want to offend anyone, so we are willing to let people who have been created in God's image travel on it. We ought to have the mind of Christ, who left the comfort of heaven and emptied Himself to die on the cross (Phil. 2:5-8). I have recently determined in my own life a recommitment to evangelism. I am going to take some risks in my relationships, because I love people too much to be popular with everyone by remaining silent.

People need the Lord. I am one of them. Whether in our community or across the world, without the blood of Jesus, there is not a person on this earth that will enter heaven. So for those who live next door and for those who see a different set of stars than I do, I am going to do my part.

"And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead." ~ Acts 10:42

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Truth Lies Between the Extremes

I was hired to preach at the New Providence church of Christ in Calloway County, Kentucky at the young age of 25. During the four years I spent in that work I learned more about preaching than any other period in my life. A mile or two from the preacher's home (which was next to the building) lived an older couple who became some of our best friends. Mr. Ewing and Mrs. Youlanda Stubblefield lived just around the corner on Calvin Wilson Rd., and to go spend time with them was just like going home.

Ewing had preached for nearly 30 years at the Bethlehem congregation in Tennessee, just on the other side of the state line. He was still preaching some and they attended there, even though he had grown up in the New Providence church. Ewing and Youlanda took us in, as if we were their own kids. Youlanda suffered from Parkinson's and Lupus, but she would get down and play on the floor with our young son. Ewing would have us over for breakfast, which he made himself from scratch, and he also routinely gave me all of his old Gospel Advocates and other outlines and ideas and advice. (Did I mention he also made the best fried apples pies in Kentucky?).

While Amber and Youlanda talked about being preacher's wives, Ewing and I would sit and talk about preaching. He would tell me stories of great preachers and lessons he had heard. He would tell of congregational situations and how they solved problems. He would talk of the debates he attended and the amazing ways of Foy E. Wallace. Mr. Ewing was an asset to this young preacher who did not know his right hand from his left. He was my friend.

More than once, when discussing a doctrinal matter I remember him saying, "Well, you know, (he always said 'you know'), the truth lies between the extremes." Over the last 15 years I have found this to be correct, not only in Biblical matters, but in life. Even within our brotherhood - preachers, elders, teachers, members, and individual congregations struggle with extremism. Some want to bind things that Christ and the apostles never bound, just because they want to stay sound. Others want to let anything go, just because they want to be loving. We need to be careful. Honest and sincere Bible study should lead us to a balanced view of what the Bible actually says, and away from what we want it to say.

In my personal studies and preparations for sermons, classes, and writing I have found that the truth lies between the extremes. My original intent to attack a subject or a text is usually reproved by the intent of the Holy Spirit in the text itself. God wants us to be able to approach the masses with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Extremism accomplishes nothing to that end. Even within the core of what we hold to be "things more surely believed," we can discover the correct way to teach and live God's truths if we will stay in the center.

I have also learned, that the best way to continue in my relationships with people, preachers, and even churches who have allowed themselves to stray from the Bible will be through the avoidance of extremism. I don't want to be labeled a liberal or a conservative (although people may choose to do so anyway), but I want to be Biblical. One of my mentors in preaching used to say, "We are conservative in doctrine, while being liberal in our giving and love for God and others." It has also been commonly said - "unity in necessary things; liberty in doubtful things; charity in all things."

About a month ago I went to visit my good friend, Ewing Stubblefield. Youlanda passed away several years ago, and my wife and I served as honorary pallbearers at her funeral. Ewing now suffers from dementia, and is at a local nursing home in Murray, Ky. As I approached him in his room and I asked him if he recognized me. "You are that young man that used to preach at Providence..." He was right about that, but for a man who once knew me so well, his mind had diminished to the point of only faint memories. I spent a few minutes with him, and I hugged him and thanked him again for being my friend. I hope to get to see him every time I go back to Murray.

Ewing Stubblefield probably doesn't know it, but the advice he gave me in my formative years in the pulpit has served me and will continue to serve me for the rest of my life. This is what fellowship among brethren in Christ is all about. Don't underestimate it. It is one of the greatest blessings of being a member of the Lord's church. I love Mr. Ewing and I thank God for faithful preachers like him who love younger preachers and the future of the kingdom enough to unselfishly serve as mentors.

He was right. The truth lies between the extremes.

"Therefore you shall be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left." ~ Deuteronomy 5:32

Monday, September 30, 2013

Do You Believe in Karma?

Recently when a well-known college football coach was terminated from the university where he was serving, I began reading and hearing from a good number of people that, "He got what he deserved." Other phrases like, "What goes around comes around," and "Poetic justice" were also used. Listening to the radio I heard one sports commentator say, "I am afraid to celebrate someone else's bad karma, because I believe in karma and I don't want to suffer from bad karma myself."

My first response to the whole situation over the firing of the coach is that I should never be glad over the failure of others. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, why should I ever glory in someone else's loss? This type of attitude develops a warped heart and mind. I want to be like Christ. Christ wept over Jerusalem. He died for His murderers. He lives to sanctify sinners. Lord, help me to be like You!

But I also want to address whether or not one should believe in karma. Karma has its roots in Hinduism, Buddhism, and other ancient eastern religions that are false. It is the idea that certain actions and deeds precipitate cause and effect. While some of these religions teach that the "cause and effect" of karma is independent from any involvement of deity, the theistic views expressed by others basically say that "God does not make one suffer for no reason nor does He make one happy for no reason. God is very fair and gives you exactly what you deserve."

The problem with karma is plain. The Bible teaches that God does NOT give us what we deserve. This is also known as grace. Although God is just and must punish the wicked in order to satisfy justice, God has extended His everlasting love through the opportunity of grace. While giving the Ten Commandments to Moses, God said about Himself, "...for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments" (Exodus 20:5-6).

There is no doubting the fact that actions have consequences. The Bible says clearly that, "Good understanding gains favor, but the way of transgressors is hard" (Proverbs 13:5), and, " sure your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23). We could list a hundred more verses that deal with the reality of actions and consequences. But the problem with believing in karma is two-fold. 1. We are embracing a doctrine that has no root in God. 2. We are speaking for God when we say He is doing something that He has not necessarily revealed.

I am thankful that there is no such thing as karma. I am thankful that I am not coming back as something else in "another life." I am thankful for grace. God reigns far above the religion and concepts that men have invented. His love is everlasting. His truth endures to all generations.

"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." - Romans 5:8

Monday, September 23, 2013

Was Lazarus Sad or Glad?

In John chapter eleven, the Bible gives us the historical account of Jesus raising His friend Lazarus from the dead. To this point in Jesus' ministry, it was His most wonderful and undeniable miracle. Because of Christ's mighty works, the plan for His execution was expedited (John 11:45-57). The chief priests even sought to kill Lazarus, since his resurrection at the hands of Jesus caused so many people to believe (John 12:9-11).

But there is something else here to consider. What happened to Lazarus when he died? Did he go to paradise (Abraham's bosom (Luke 16:22; 23:43)), or did he go to torments in Hades (Luke 16:23)? It could be speculated that he went to either of the two places. If he had been a faithful Jew, turned disciple of John the Baptist, now currently a disciple of Jesus - as most information leads one to believe, it is assumed he would have gone to paradise. On the other hand, if he had been simply listening to Jesus as a friend, and had not yet committed himself to the commands of God under the Mosaic system, it is possible, God knowing his heart, that he would have been sent to torments.

For a minute, consider the ramifications for Lazarus concerning his earthly resurrection:

1. We have heard for years about "near-death experiences." Nothing can be factually documented about the claims of these cases. But the facts surrounding Lazarus are quite different. He would have certainly learned something about the afterlife when he died. In Luke 16, Jesus taught that when the other Lazarus (the beggar) died, angels were waiting and accompanied his soul to Abraham's bosom. So immediately upon death, Lazarus of Bethany would have gone somewhere. Since his earthly remains had been in the tomb four days (John 11:17), he would have seen some things that others have not seen.

2. It may be that Lazarus could tell Jesus what to expect. Six days before the Passover, Jesus sat at the table with the risen Lazarus and talked (John 12:2). We know not of the content of that conversation. Could it be possible that Lazarus shared his experience with Jesus? Was he sad to be back here on earth because he had been in paradise, or was he glad to have a second chance to get his life right? Did he have comforting words for his friend, Jesus, concerning the place where Jesus had told His disciples He was about to go? Did he have discouraging words for his unfaithful and disobedient acquaintances about the horrors of death for those who know not God?

3. Lazarus had to get it right the second time, no matter what he had done the first time. Let's face it, the first time he died, he was finished. His opportunity to live a life that was pleasing to God had come and gone. This is true for all of us as we will all die and be judged (Heb. 9:27). We will be judged according to the deeds done in the body, whether good or evil (2 Cor. 5:10). When Lazarus was resurrected by Jesus, it was his second earthly life to which he was accountable. While it may be argued that it would be the accumulation of all his earthly time (from birth to his second visit to the tomb), we cannot understate the fact that he was once again called to be faithful until his second death, just as he was accountable to his first.

4. Imagine the kind of life Lazarus was determined to live had he gone to paradise! Imagine the kind of life Lazarus was determined to live had he gone to torments!

What an intriguing case, this resurrection of Lazarus! It reminds us that our God is powerful, and that our Savior has the power to raise us up to life, even from the grave. It also cautions us to be mindful of the judgment, and the importance of living a life that is pleasing to God.

When Lazarus was raised, was he sad or glad? We cannot know about his feelings for sure. We do know his family and friends were happy to see him. We also know Jesus said this was done "...for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified through it" (John 11:4).

Our own eventual resurrection will fulfill this same purpose.

"...that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead." ~ Philippians 3:10-11

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

When Satan Talks

Last Sunday after our worship service at Willow some of us went to the Philippi church for their Friends and Family Day. Jared West delivered an inspiring sermon on parenting that convicted me to make some changes. During some of his closing remarks I had decided that it would be best if I came forward during the invitation to ask for prayers. It was at that moment that Satan started talking. This is what he said:

"You don't really have a problem. This is just one sermon. The preacher has planted an idea in your head about yourself that isn't really true. Your silly mistakes and insignificant shortcomings are not bad enough to warrant repentance."

"You can handle this problem on your own. No need to tell anybody about it. After all, everybody in this building has similar problems (and worse) and you don't see them coming forward. This is just a little thing and there is no need to draw attention to yourself. Don't make it such a big deal."

"You are the preacher, don't show your weakness. Hey, buddy, don't let anybody know that you have a problem because you are supposed to be strong. If people need you to be a leader, they may not think that you can do the job when they see that you have issues."

"Don't interrupt the service. This is a friends and family day and the services are already going long. There is still a potluck that everyone is waiting for and a singing afterward. Don't let your own selfish needs hinder today's plans. There are many guests here and they probably don't want to stay longer than they were expecting."

"Do something about it later. This problem you think you have is probably going to get worse before it gets better. Why do something about it now when you know you are still struggling with it and you are going to keep struggling with it? Why not wait until you have really done something that would demand a public response?"

"You will not surely die (Gen. 3:4). This situation is not going to cost you your soul. So why bother?"

Satan kept on talking (by the way he was lying because if he is talking, this means he is lying). For about five minutes he wouldn't leave me alone. Through the first verse and into the second verse he kept on bothering me. But my heart finally told him to be quiet. I went forward and asked for prayers.

It is never a bad idea to let the Word convict you heart so that you respond and make a change in your life. Sometimes we have to make these things public for the sake of accountability. If we have never obeyed the gospel or if there is a habitual sin that has separated us from God we must act immediately and respond while we still have the opportunity.

It is right at the moment when you are in a place of making an important, life-changing, eternity-altering decision that Satan will talk the loudest. Don't let him win. Listen to your heart.

"...Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men." ~ Matthew 16:23

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Why I am not a "Church of Christ" Preacher

Now that I have your attention, please follow me through a Biblical line of reasoning. In order to do this, I would like you to forget everything you have ever heard or thought (if you can) and simply open up your Bible and see if the things that I say are true (Acts 17:11). The purpose of this statement is to challenge members of the Lord's church to understand how to communicate the truth about the church as God would have it. I would also like to appeal to any reader concerning what the Bible actually says about the church to examine their faith in light of the Scriptures.

People often try to put me in a box. I am a preacher, and they want to know what I teach and what I believe. If the answer to their question is anything other than the Bible, then I need to quit being a preacher and do something else...

1. I am not a "Church of Christ" preacher because the Bible does not tell me to be one. The Bible commands every Christian to spread the gospel (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 8:4). There are some who will make this their life's work, and receive wages for doing so (Eph. 4:11; 1 Cor. 9). I tell people I am a gospel preacher. I am not interested in any doctrine except the Bible.

2. I am not a "Church of Christ" preacher, because I do not want to give the false idea to the world that I am a part of a denomination. Everybody, I love you enough to say this to you, so listen to me. God is opposed to denominationalism. Jesus prayed for unity (John 17:20-26). That unity can only be found in the Bible and can only be realized in the one church that Jesus built (Matt. 16:18). If you are a part of a denominational church, you need to leave it and seek the church that Jesus built.

3. I am not a "Church of Christ" preacher, because I am not even supposed to be a "Church of Christ" person. I hear stuff like this all the time: "Well I was raised 'Baptist', my wife was raised 'Church of Christ.'" Such a statement is not based on any idea that is Scripturally accurate. The Bible does not authorize or teach a person to be "Catholic, Methodist, Mormon, Baptist, Church of Christ..." But we are told the first disciples were called "Christians" (Acts 11:26). They were also "saints" (Phil. 1:1), because they had been sanctified by the blood of Christ.

4. I am not a "Church of Christ" preacher, for the simple fact that some people would like to make me a denominationalist in order to try and justify there own decision to be one.

Some who read this article may get angry. This is not my intention. My intention is to challenge you to think and to study. There are others who will read out of this what they want and spin it to justify their own ideas about religion (They may be in a "non-denominational" church that accepts any and every doctrine). I cannot do anything about the condition of anyone's heart. But I do believe there might be a person out there who will read this and open their Bible and learn the truth about Jesus and the church. There is more I can say, and I am willing to discuss this with you readers anytime.

Let me end by saying that I am blessed to be a gospel preacher. By the grace of God and by my obedience to it, I am a member of the one church you can read about in your Bible (Eph. 4:5). This one church loves the Lord with all of its being (Matt. 22:37-38). This one church began on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). This one church follows the pattern of the apostles and the teaching of the New Testament (Acts 2:42). This one church teaches the true doctrine of Jesus Christ, knowing that just any doctrine will not do (2 John 9). This one church aims to please God alone and rejects the division that mankind has inserted in the religious realm. I am not a "Church of Christ" preacher - as some would like to label me. But thanks be to God I am a gospel preacher, and a member of the "church of Christ" (Rom. 16:16).

"...So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch." ~ Acts 11:26

"Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name." ~ 1 Pet. 4:16

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Preacher's Unfavorite Sermons

Sometimes preachers have to preach on topics that they don't want to talk about. For me, personally, the topics that I least like to discuss are these: 1. Church Contribution. 2. Smoking, Alcohol, Gambling, et cet. 3. Modesty. 4. Attendance. You may ask why I am not excited when I am called to talk about these issues? Two reasons: 1. Most of the time people view this type of preaching as negative. 2. Christian people (those who have obeyed the gospel and who call Jesus "Lord" and who follow the Bible) should not need a great deal of help on these issues.

This coming Sunday, the elders have asked me to speak on modest apparel. This is a timely topic, as some people have the tendency to take off way too many clothes when the weather is warm. It is apparent to me that people need to be reminded about modesty. Just look at social media. This week alone I have seen posted pictures on web pages of a number of our folks displaying way too much of their bodies for everyone to see. Whether it is a trip to the lake or guys with shirts off at football games, it seems as if nobody has a problem with being immodest and inappropriate in public.

Recently this simple observation was made by a preacher while I was up in Michigan - "The parts that clothes cover are supposed to be covered." Correct. While certain outdoor activities in the heat allow us to wear less clothing for comfort (I run and when I do I wear cooler clothing), we need to be mindful of the reality that God saw the need to clothe His children in the garden once sin entered the world. If we do not use common sense coupled with Biblical teaching on this or any other issue, we are going to put a stumbling block in the path of other people and become a distraction to their spiritual walk.

When it comes to what we might call "topics of behavior" - the reason why the preacher thinks long and hard about these sermons is because so many people have learned to accept different standards. Church attendance - some people really think once a week is fine, and will go to the grave thinking that way. Modesty - strapless dresses and short skirts and bikinis and guys going shirtless or shorts with underwear showing for some are "no big deal" (and their parents don't care). Alcohol, cigarettes - there are people who will drink socially and smoke their whole lives because there is not a verse that says verbatim "thou shalt not smoke tobacco" or "thou shalt not drink an alcoholic beverage." Giving to the Lord - our churches typically give 3-4% of our gross income - which is gross indeed - and the bottom line is that some people have never fully committed themselves to Christ. The preacher knows that his only plea is to call people to holiness and to make the appeal that Christians think spiritually rather than carnally.

I am so thankful that preaching is aimed at pleasing God. There are times when you get up in the pulpit and you realize that a lot of people are not going to like what you have to say. It is then that you realize that you love them more than they could ever know. Because you are doing what has to be done, even though it is not what you would like to talk about if you had the choice.

Jonah was told to go to Nineveh. He did not want to go. But the people needed him to go. God said when he got there, "...preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee" (Jon. 3:2). Amen to that.

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." ~ 1 Corinthians 1:18

Monday, August 19, 2013

10 Ways to Save the Lord's Church

After doing some research I have found that several sources on church statistics agree that about 4,000 congregations close their doors in America every year - never to reopen. Keep in mind that these statistics are regarding all the churches that exist in the world's definition of "Christendom." Also remember that with the rise of community churches, house churches, and other new non-traditional influences, it is true that many churches are being planted every year.

As a side note, those who love the Lord and His word are not going to be interested in saving, forming, or supporting those bodies which do not conform to God's Biblical pattern for the church. Jesus said, "Every plant which my Father has not planted will be uprooted" (Matt. 15:13). I am sure that the Lord looks down from heaven upon some religious institutions who claim to be His and would rather they not exist at all (this is food for thought for us isn't it?). This article has no intention of helping anyone who is not honoring God in their religious endeavor to save something that is already dead.

At the same time, if we are a part of a local body that has formed Biblically, is worshiping Biblically, and is teaching and practicing that which is in keeping with God's will for His church - not only do we need to continue to move forward, but we need to guard against the possibility that at some point we may cease to exist as a local congregation of the Lord's church. With this in mind, consider the following ways to save your local congregation if you are beginning to see signs of weakness and even death.

1. Attend every service. When an eldership decides that the church should come together, make sure that your life revolves around the times the church meets. We need to be built up spiritually and we need to exhort each other. We cannot worship too much. We cannot have too much prayer and Bible study.

2. Be on time. Let's be serious about our relationship with God. Being habitually late to worship is a choice. There will be circumstances that will force you at times to be late - in those cases, better late than never. But to be constantly late is really unacceptable. If you did that for work or school you would get fired or serve detention.

3. Be dedicated. Some only participate when it is convenient. Some check the weather forecast. Some shy away from any work or challenge. The only growth we experience spiritually will be outside of our comfort zone. Make the decision that nothing will deter you from your spiritual walk.

4. Encourage. Give people the benefit of the doubt. As sure as gossip will harm and kill a local congregation faster than anything, exhortation and praise between Christians will quickly provide an atmosphere where love and fellowship abound.

5. Take a leading role. Sign up for something that will cause you to be responsible for the growth of others. It pains me to see so many Christians so active in their communities, who will never take on such a role in the greatest institution on the planet. If you are going to make a difference, do so in the only kingdom that will not be shaken.

6. Humbly serve with no recognition. (This is in the middle on purpose. People who do this are the true heart of God's church).

7. Communicate. All relationships demand time spent together and fruitful communication. Most church problems arise from people not understanding each other. When we open up and extend our true feelings and kindly receive the thoughts and ideas of others we can live harmoniously and do great things together for God.

8. Go the extra mile. Jesus taught this. Your willingness to go beyond what is expected will cause others to do the same. Many times while running with a friend I have been ready to quit - but they wanted to go farther. I don't know exactly how, but every time I have found a way to join them for the extra mile.

9. Give sacrificially. If the only time or money you have given to your local church is what you have leftover, I feel sorry for you. Because this means you have never experienced the blessings that come from giving like Christ.

10. Be evangelistic. Evangelism is not a one-time door-knocking campaign. It is not the yearly "Bring-a-Friend Day." Evangelism is a way of life. We are here because we are standing on the shoulders of true evangelists. God help us to renew our plea to save the lost.

I love God. I love His church. I love you. We can do this together.

"For Christ, our dear redeemer, for Christ, who died to save, for the church his blood has purchased, Lord, make us pure and brave." ~ Eliza Hewitt (1890)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Youngest Christian there was Ninety-three

This past week when I was in Michigan an announcement was made about a ninety-three year-old lady who was attending the lectureship who was recently baptized into Christ. The speaker went on to say that she was "our youngest Christian in attendance." That thought led me to some other ideas that I think may be important for us to remember.

1. When a person obeys the gospel, they are truly starting over. (2 Cor. 5:17) - "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." The Bible tells us that baptism allows us to put on Christ (Gal. 3:27). Once we have made that decision, what a joy it is to begin our lives over in fellowship with God and with the blessings of continual forgiveness through the blood of Christ!

2. When a person obeys the gospel, they are still spiritually immature. While we all may have a different amount of experience and knowledge depending on our age, when we first come into Christ we still have much to learn. If we have just gained enough information to properly answer the call to salvation, chances are we still have need of a good and steady supply of the Christian doctrine. New Christians desperately need to keep studying. (1 Pet. 2:2) - "as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby."

3. When a person obeys the gospel, they need encouragement. New Christians especially need help from other Christians to avoid the possibility of falling back into the world. Young people need older people to mentor them in Christ. Those in their middle years need responsibilities in kingdom work and plenty of people to praise them while they are sacrificing their time and energy. Elderly Christians need to be remembered and visited when they become feeble and cannot always attend as they would like. I recently visited a lady who is almost ninety who told me she had never had a preacher come to her home before! People need to know that they are not alone as they walk this life in Christ. We are told, concerning Satan, "Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world" (1 Pet. 5:9).

4. Don't ever give up on anyone who has never obeyed. I have been privileged to baptize people in their 80's on several occasions. Sometimes, days before their death. Sometimes, we had to pick them up out of a bed or wheel chair in order to help them to get in and out of the water. Many of these people had refused the Lord's invitation literally thousands of times. When an elderly person obeys the gospel, we are reminded of the power of the Word to break even the hardest of hearts. There is a point at which the love of Christ constrains us (2 Cor. 5:14) to submit to the only perfect love that men will ever know, displayed in the cross of our Savior.

She may have been the oldest person in attendance, but she was the youngest Christian. What a blessing to be a child of God! At any age, it is the greatest honor any of us will ever know!

"Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!" ~ 1 John 3:1

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Powerball Jackpot

As I was pumping gas this morning I was subjected to an advertisement encouraging me to play the lottery. After all, the Powerball jackpot as of today is at 400 million! That is a good deal of money even after taxes. But I have never been tempted to play the lottery. I have never spent even one dollar on a lottery ticket. Here are several reasons why:

1. It is statistically the poorest decision you could make with your money. Experts have analyzed the true probability of you winning. The results? If you spend over $100 a week on Powerball tickets you will eventually win the lottery - once every 30,000 years!

2. My reputation is important. As a soldier in the army of God I need to live a life that is above reproach. I could make a good case for why it is not wrong to spend a few dollars here and there on the lottery. The bottom line is that some people would not respect me if I did. I can certainly abstain from something as trivial as a lottery ticket if it hurts my influence.

3. I need to be careful about having the attitude that I want something for nothing, especially something so BIG for literally no work or investment at all. "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" (Gal. 6:4-5). Also, "For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat" (2 Thes. 3:10). It is morally good to work and provide. It is morally evil to feel entitled. Constantly looking into getting something for nothing is a selfish way to live and it sets us up for more immoral choices and unbalanced priorities.

4. It is addictive. Let's be honest. It doesn't matter how good you think you are, or what a wonderful Christian you may be - you are also human. Human beings are weak and sinful. Solomon wrote about the lustful woman in Proverbs 7:26 - "For she has cast down many wounded,  and all who were slain by her were strong men." You may have never had an addiction. But gambling is one of the worst kinds of addictions and it can ruin your life and the lives of everyone else around you. You are not untouchable. So don't play with fire.

5. The feeling of winning is not genuine. One of the main thrusts of lottery advertising is the accentuation of the feeling that comes with victory. But face it. You didn't work for it. You didn't earn it. And if you had any kind of moral obligation to the needy how could you feel good about having so much when millions around the world starve to death everyday? On the other hand, there is nothing that compares with the feeling of providing for the ones you love by hard and honest work that has been well-earned through sweat, sacrifice, and dedication. To work so as to give will bring true rejoicing (Acts 20:35). This fulfills our purpose and makes all of the things we struggle through worth while.

These principles apply to more than just a senseless and temporal activity like the lottery. They translate to our entire Christian walk. I guess I will have to live with the fact that I will never have 400 million dollars. You know what? I think I am good with that.

"If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?" ~ Luke 16:11

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Gold from Fort Knox

Located adjacent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, is a vault used to store a large portion of the United States' official gold reserves. Also know as the United States Bullion Depository, this facility holds 4,578 metric tons of gold bullion (147.2 million oz. troy). According to some sources, this is about 3 percent of all the gold ever refined since the dawn of man. That's a lot of gold! But there is another Knox I know that holds more. His name is Knox Holder.

While I was preaching in Lawrenceburg, TN, I knew a couple named Knox and Marie Holder. They were kind and gentle people and they worshiped with us regularly, although Miss Marie's health prohibited her from attending a good portion of the time. This couple always reminded me that if the world were filled with such people, very few problems would exist. Knox was a skilled and hard-working man. He was very active in his old age, always compassionate, and constantly smiling. But in particular there has been one thing about Knox that for years has been his signature: his positive attitude. Anytime you would greet him and ask him how he was doing, he would say the very same encouraging thing. No matter the occasion or circumstance he would say was dependable, and you learned to count on it. To hear his greeting would certainly change your day for the better.

This past Saturday I was privileged to travel back to Lawrenceburg and perform a wedding ceremony for a young lady that Knox and Marie helped raise. Nearing the age of 94, Knox was not only in attendance, but he, with the help of this young lady's father - walked the bride down the aisle! I found out later that Knox had also driven himself to the building that day! And so, when I had come into the church building that morning, with great anticipation I approached him as he sat in one of the pews while the pre-wedding pictures were being taken. The greeting! It was coming, and I couldn't wait to hear those words once more.  So I said, "Knox, how ya' doin' this mornin'? It's been a long time and it's so go to see ya'!" And then the words I had been waiting for came through with the demeanor and delivery perfected by an artist who had spent his entire life on one beautiful portrait. With his indelible grin and humble and sweet tone he replied, "Well, ya' know I'm ashamed to admit it, but I believe I'm the best I've ever been..."

The meaning and direction of our lives are shaped by the things we value. Who we are is determined by what we think, what we say, how we act, and all of these things begin with what is in our hearts. There is a fortress I know of that holds a great treasure. You might even say that hidden within the walls of this fortress there is pure gold. But this gold does not come by weight. It cannot buy anything physical. And it will not be left behind for future generations to enjoy. Because Knox Holder will soon move on to where his treasure truly lies. And then for certain and for eternity, he will be the best he's ever been.

And if you ask me, that's worth more than all the gold in Fort Knox, Kentucky!

"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. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." ~ Matthew 6:19-21

Monday, July 22, 2013

Finishing His Work

I have this dream that won't go away. I have been having this dream over and over for years. I had this dream again last night. I am in college and I cannot graduate. I am always a course or two from graduating, and it is late in the semester and I have not been attending some of my required classes. I am destined to fail a class or two and therefore I cannot graduate. Sometimes the dream involves me coming to the end of the semester and realizing I did not take all the courses I needed to get my diploma. I have a term paper due immediately and I haven't started....or I missed some test days....I just can't get finished!

My dream is typical of life's experience on this soil. There is always another day of work, a new deadline, a different task or goal that must be addressed. If we have the perfect garden, new weeds will invade it. No matter how great our work situation is, problems that must be fixed will arise. Bills must be paid, mouths must be fed, and above all of this, people are lost without the gospel and they need the Lord. Sometimes it seems like we are just treading water.

It gives me great consolation to know that our Savior also felt this way. When one man came and pledged discipleship, Christ responded, "Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head" (Matt. 8:20). To the twelve Jesus once said, "I must work the works of Him while it is day, the night is coming when no one can work" (John 9:4). Jesus even reminded the Jews, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working" (John 5:17). Jesus came to the earth with the intention of finishing. He told the apostles, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work" (John 4:34).

Whenever I feel defeated and I just don't think I can go another step, I see Jesus. I see Him in that last recorded prayer to the Father before His crucifixion. I recall these words from that prayer, "I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do" (John 17:4). Somewhere between His birth and His death, Jesus finished the work God sent Him to do. John's gospel tells us the last words of Jesus on the cross before he bowed His head and died were simply, "It is finished!" (John 19:30).

Jesus finished. In the history of humanity, the Man who had the most difficult job of all - finished! I believe that no matter how difficult the task, and no matter how discouraging the process, if we are determined to keep on going, we will finish. We cannot stop in the middle. We must endure to the end. If we do not finish all is lost. And so I have decided to finish. The challenge of the work and the duration of the work have become immaterial. It is only a matter of time...

"...let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." ~ Hebrews 12:1a-2.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Another Reason to Abstain from Alcohol

Sometimes it is hard to understand why people do the things they do. I have never understood why any Christian would engage in social drinking. The Bible lists passage after passage about the foolishness and dangers involved with alcohol. I have countless personal stories I could share from my preaching career of families torn apart by alcoholism. Lives are ruined. Souls are lost. For me it is a no-brainer. I refuse to have anything to do with any intoxicating beverage.

Beyond the common sense arguments, the apostle Paul gives us another reason why Christians should not drink alcohol (Romans 14:21) - "It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak." First, note that Paul says we should do nothing which would make our brethren stumble (wine is not the only thing from which we should abstain). Second, understand that influence alone is reason enough not to engage in some things. Christians have places they will not go and things they will not do. This is just a part of holy living. This is what it means to be "called out" of the world and joined with Christ in His church.

The typical response to any discussion like this one from people who want to argue for participation is usually an argument from silence. The one contending for the right to partake of alconol will point out that there is no specific condemnation for having a drink. The Bible says clearly that drunkards will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:10). What make a person drunk? Alcohol. It is enough for me to decide that I am not going to flirt with anything that may lead to my eternal condemnation. It is not a matter of arguing about the degree of something. It is about living in such a way that I can know without a doubt I am pleasing to God.

This principal for holy living applies to every aspect of our lives. What kind of language will I use or allow myself to be exposed to? What content when it comes to entertainment will I permit? What type of attitude will I have towards the laws of my country? What will I put in my body (food or drink) since it is the temple of the Holy Spirit? The list can almost be endless. The pursuit of holiness is a daily and difficult endeavor. But Christians must be dedicated to it. We are supposed to be continually transformed by the renewing of our minds. This implies that for the rest of our lives we will allow ourselves to undergo the changing that Christ wants to accomplish in us.

I don't know about you, but I want to be different than the world. I did not become a Christian so that I could try to get away with worldly practices and attempt to use grace as the fallback plan. I obeyed the gospel not only to receive forgiveness - but in the hope that God would begin to work in me and make me more like Him. This is what we were created for in the first place.

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

Monday, July 8, 2013

Passed Over

Read your Bible. No, seriously, read it! There are so many treasures and truths you have passed over that you know nothing about yet. So you say you have read through the entire Bible in a year? Great! But guess what, you missed some things. I know it. I have been in the church and have been engaged in Bible study for right at 40 years, and some recent Bible readings exposed to me some spiritual blessings and helpful facts I had not yet known or understood. Some of these things I had just somehow overlooked.

For example, the final kingdom parable in Matthew 13:52. I bet you have never studied it and I bet you have never heard it taught in a Bible class. I won't tell you what it is. Look it up and enjoy it! And speaking of things "passed over" - did you know that when Josiah's reforms brought the Passover feast back, that no king of Israel, whether in the united or divided kingdom, had ever observed it before - not even David? (2 Chron. 35:18)! Had you just assumed that David faithfully kept the Passover?

Reading through the gospels, enjoy the different ways the four writers look at the life of Christ. Even a few different words used in similar accounts will reveal things to you that will help you know the Savior better! You will receive a glimpse through a first-century window into the moments when the Son of God visited men. You will see His wisdom, His humility, His reverence to God, and His gentle way of serving and teaching as He changed the world forever.

We watch our television programs and our movies. We spend time on facebook, twitter, and other social media. We listen to our ipods while we play games on our ipads. But friends, the precious Book Divine is getting passed over. None of these other things can prepare you for time and eternity. None of these other things will change you from the inside out. These other things are passing away, but the Bible will last forever, and it will judge us in the last day.

Let's be thankful for the Bible! It is the mind of God in human language! It is the good news! It is the power of God unto salvation! It is everlasting joy and peace!

"I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, As much as in all riches." ~ Psalm 119:14

Monday, June 24, 2013

Up In Smoke

July 4th is probably my favorite national holiday. I like hot weather - check. I like grilling out - check. I like fireworks - check. I like family vacation time in the summer to relax and do something outdoors - check. I like meaningful holidays for which I can truly be thankful - check. Our national day of independence is usually filled with memorable festivities and a multitude of blessings. I am especially thankful for the people and principles responsible for the founding of our country.

You have seen them now, the fireworks stands are in abundance. There is a great deal of money dedicated to celebrating with various explosions and spectacles of light. I have seen two fireworks shows at Major League Baseball parks this year. They were very enjoyable. They had the purpose of entertainment and they were impressive - it is amazing what they can do with fireworks these days.

Yet in all of this, I cannot help but wonder where the line must be drawn. What about those families who are barely making ends meet, who spend hundreds of dollars on one night of entertainment that literally goes up in smoke? I admit I have rarely spent any money on fireworks myself, because to me it was always a matter of stewardship. I just couldn't bare to see hard-earned money evaporate in a matter of seconds. This is just one example. I could provide a list of things that I will not spend money on because it is hard for my conscience to allow me to do so. It is not wrong to buy fireworks. Just like anything else, moderation is key.

This reminds me of another topic that is unpopular to speak on but needs to be addressed from time to time. People hold a stick of nicotine between there fingers and light it on fire all of the time. Forget about the entire argument to be made for taking care of your body as the temple of God, and strictly consider the expense and the bad stewardship. Almost 100% of the benevolence cases I have handled in the last fifteen years have been for cigarette smokers. I have often thought about the things those folks could do with their money if they were not wasting it on something that was taxing their families and that will most likely cost them their health in years to come.

So these are the questions for you and I to consider today. Are we being good stewards of the blessings God has given us? Or are we spending too much money on things that have no lasting value? Do we go to the restaurant too much? Do we spend too much on entertainment? Do we appreciate our blessings or do we waste what we have been given? Do we give to the Lord first, take care of our bills and obligations second, and then set some money aside for extras last? God is going to hold us accountable for the things we have been given. All blessings should be used to His glory. We need to remember to be making eternal investments, and not allow our physical blessings to simply go up in smoke.

"So he called him and said to him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship..." ~ Luke 16:2

Monday, June 10, 2013

What Makes a Father a Hero?

When I was growing up, I was always impressed with my father. He was my hero. He worked so hard and was so dedicated to our family. I cannot remember him ever doing anything for himself. Everything was about us. His vacation time = us. His work ethic = us. His frugality = us. His sacrifice of time, even personal time away from work = us. His work in the church  = God, others, and us.

There were other things that impressed me about my father. He was so strong. I was tall and skinny and he was shorter but more muscular. He was kind, everybody liked him and considered him their friend. He was loud, but not in the way you may think because he didn't speak often. When he was upset we knew it, and even though I loved him so much, I was afraid of what he could do if he needed to. I was impressed because he was more powerful and had authority over me and he wasn't afraid to punish me or let me know that he was still in charge. I would take ten spankings from mom over one from dad. But in all of these things I knew he loved me because of everything he did everyday.

To you fathers: On this Father's Day I want to remind you of what makes a father a hero to his children. Naturally, children want their fathers to be heroic. They may consider their father to be heroic just by his place in their lives, even if he doesn't prove to be. But what will make him the man they want to emulate? I think there are a few things...

1. Selflessness. True leadership is not wielding authority or proving you are in charge. Self-sacrifice and servant-leadership is respectable and people will naturally follow a leader who gives himself up for the benefit of those he is serving.

2. Humility. Many men allow their egos to turn them into people who have something to prove and then brag about later. When you allow your activity to do the talking and say nothing, what you do is much more impressive to those who are watching. It is better to talk less, listen more, and work hard, expecting nothing in return.

3. Time. Statistics show that most fathers spend less than seven minutes a day with their children. Shame on you if this is true about you. Get off the couch and out of the easy chair and spend as much time as you possibly can every day with your children. You can rest when they leave the house or when you are dead. The most important job you have is to raise your children. Your deepest regret in life will be what you wished you had done with them when they were at home. And by the way, you don't have to do anything grand while you are spending time with them. Just listen to them and do a lot of little things.

4. Be a Christian. Be the Bible's definition and not the world's definition of a Christian. Put God first. Don't miss worship, period. Prefer spiritual activities over physical ones. Be active in the work of the kingdom and let them know that the greatest thing a man can do is glorify God and help others get to heaven. You can do this in a variety of ways. Allow your God-given abilities to flourish in the kingdom over any place else. It doesn't matter how much money you make or how far you advance in your vocation. It does not matter how nice your boat or car is or how often you get to be in them. It does not matter how many ballgames you win or how far your kid makes it in sports. Those things will end. The souls of your children and the souls of the world are what matter.

You are already a hero to your child because you are their father. But being a father is not enough. Be a genuine hero. I am thankful that I had a father who lived up to and beyond my expectations. Do the same for your children! Fulfill your ministry!

"I write to you, fathers,  because you have known Him who is from the beginning." ~ 1 John 2:13

Monday, June 3, 2013

Is Your Arm Twisted or Raised?

There are some things we don't like doing. It is funny how that works. I don't like doing home improvements much, but my wife loves anything having to do with that. She would rather dust than vacuum, and I would rather vacuum than dust - so you can probably figure out who does what.

It is not wrong for us to have preferences. Our likes and dislikes are a large part of who we are. We have different personalities, and this brings a beautiful variety and flavor to the world. All three of our kids will want to do something different on their birthday - to go somewhere different. To eat somewhere different. To receive something that is different. We enjoy making each birthday memorable and special.

But there can be a point when we have to get over our dislikes and choose to do what is right. When it comes to the work of the church, is your arm twisted or raised? How hard does someone have to try in order to get you to do something that will serve God and bless others? We should not have to be made to feel guilty before we will put God first (if we serve out of guilt, is He really first?). Instead, we ought to be willing volunteers - happy and thankful to serve a God who willingly gave up His Son for each one of us.

The true church that belongs to Christ is filled with people who have chosen a life a service. We cannot be interested in presenting the church to the world as a group that is always here to fit the consumer's needs. Let the business world and the social clubs do that. We need to present the correct picture of the church that Jesus died to establish. The apostles did not sign up for an easy ride. They did not come into the church because of the programs that were available. Jesus told them they were all going to be persecuted and killed for the kingdom's sake. But the apostles were still motivated by the love of Christ to serve. Their hands were raised when Jesus asked, "Who will preach the gospel?"

Our world is becoming more self-centered and thus self-serving. We need to get back to being like Jesus. The world is passing away and the church of our Lord is its only hope. God needs you in His army. He is not going to draft you, but he is asking for your willing participation. He will not twist your arm. But He will accept your service if you volunteer.

"Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: 'Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?' Then I said, 'Here am I! Send me.'" ~ Isaiah 6:8