Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Kept Out of Heaven

Near the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus offered this scathing rebuke to some of the self-righteous who considered themselves religious - "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in" (Matt. 23:13). This brings to mind the reality that just as there were people keeping others out of heaven then, so some do today:

1. Hypocrites are keeping others out of heaven. Someone has said, "Being in a church building doesn't make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car." Faithful Christians WILL be found worshiping, but one's lifestyle may not well represent Christ and the church. Don't allow your activity to deter other people from the kingdom. If you are going to talk the talk then by all means walk the walk.

2. Complainers are keeping others out of heaven. Here is the scene: The worship service has concluded and the family is getting in the car. From the back seat the children hear their father complain about the service. Their mother rants about the preacher being long-winded. Somebody hurt somebody else's feelings....you get the picture. One day, when those children are not Christians, the parents wonder why. If all we ever do is complain about the kingdom, why would we think anyone else would ever want to be a part of it?

3. False teachers are keeping others out of heaven. Many people believe in their heart they are saved, when they have never met the Biblical conditions for salvation. You cannot merely "feel" you are saved. This may be the most common religious error of our time. You can KNOW you are saved (1 John 5:13). But this only comes through Bible study and complete submission to the doctrine and will of God. Many Bible reading, reilgious, teachers of the Word are not teaching all of it - and therefore they are keeping people from true salvation. If you are going to preach it, preach it all!

4. Church members are keeping non-Christians out of heaven. "This is my seat" are four words I never want to hear any church member say to a visitor. How disgusting! Brethren, we have not "arrived" (Phil. 3:13). By the grace of God we have been purchased by the precious blood of Christ. He loved us and died for us while we were yet sinners. Don't be a member of the church like you are a member of a social club. You have no status here. Consider yourself a slave in the kingdom.

5. Parents are keeping their own children out of heaven. This is the saddest reality of all. Children want to know Jesus, but their parents won't take them to worship, Bible class, or allow them other spiritual opportunities. Travel ball, extra-cirricular events, and cares of the world supercede the work of the church. Parents need to get their priorities straight. If your child does not know the Lord, and misses out on heaven, you have failed as a parent.

May God help us to be part of the reason others will go to heaven, and not part of the reason they are lost.

"But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea." Matthew 18:6

Monday, January 21, 2013

This is "My Church"

This Sunday morning is a day in which we recognize all of our newcomers. Over the last year, we have been blessed to see many restored, baptized, or added to our spiritual family by relocation. I want everyone of you to remind yourself today that you are a part of the church, the body of Christ. Jesus said, "I will build My church..." (Matt. 16:18).

Though Christ is the Head of the church, and we are merely the body, this is our church, too. We have no authority over the kingdom, because this is not a democracy - it's a monarchy! But we must remember that as members who comprise the body, there is a sense in which we can individually say about the Willow Avenue church of Christ - "This is my church!"

A good friend mine who preaches in middle Tennessee works for a congregation that believes in what they call, "The 7 O's." It is a part of their identity and vision as they seek to glorify God and build up the church. Briefly - here are the 7 O's as I would  interpret them...

One Book - this is seeking Biblical authority for all things spiritual
Oneness - endeavoring to keep the spirit of unity in the bind of peace
Openness - every member being willing to be transparent and honest
Outreach - loved for the lost; if evangelism is not at the center of a church, it will die
Opportunities for Service - everyone working, striving, growing, and being utilized
Outcome Oriented - you begin with goals, and you demand excellent results
Ownership - every last member of the body as a integral part and representative of Jesus Christ and the local family of believers.

Friend, what I am telling you today is that you matter. You matter to God. You matter to His universal church. You matter to the Willow Ave. church. You matter to me.

I will not rest or quit trying until every person in our church family sees Willow as "My church." Once you see it this way - you will be it this way!

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

Monday, January 14, 2013

Scattering the Roses

Recently my five-year-old daughter was asked to be in an upcoming wedding. She has attended a few weddings but this will be her first time participating. When I told her about the request for her involvement she was ecstatic. She immediately shouted, "I am going to be petal girl - who-hoo!" She assumed this was going to be what she was asked to do. I don't know if it is because she will feel important, or because roses are pretty, or because it would be an excuse to make a mess without repercussions - but she cannot wait to scatter those petals!

It brought to mind something I have thought about over the years that I believe is very important. We all ought to be scattering roses. There is so much negativity in our world. The media does nothing but talk of murder and strife among our people. And the world is so competitive that we have become selfish and self-centered and demanding. I believe these trends lead to too many thorns and not enough roses along the way.

A few years back I remember an elder in a local congregation who took a section of the church bulletin to include a column entitled, "Scattering the Roses." Every week he would pick a person or family in the congregation and write wonderful things about them and lift them up. Imagine the impact upon a church family where roses were scattered like that on a regular basis. People would feel appreciated. The church would get used to hearing positive things about its members. Those who scattered roses would have the joy of edifying individuals and in turn the whole body of Christ.

"Father in heaven, thank you for loving me the way you do. Thank you for the church. Thank you for surrounding me with so many wonderful people. Help me, Father, to be determined to scatter roses and not thorns along the pathways of my life. Help me to scatter roses and not thorns upon the paths of others. Thank you for Jesus, who was willing to bear the thorns when he deserved roses. I praise your name for all of your wonderful works. I praise your name for roses. Amen."

My little girl is right on target. We should all be excited to be "petal people."

"The flowers appear on the earth; The time of singing has come..." ~ Song of Songs 2:12

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Divine Time

At the beginning of the new year we think a great deal about time - past, present and future. This theme is discussed in great detail in God's word, because God wants us to make the very best use of the earthly time He has granted us (Eph. 5:16) - "...redeeming the time, because the days are evil." There are two words primarily used in the original text of the New Testament that deal with time.

"Chronos" is the word used to describe numerical, or chronological time. An email I received from a friend last week discussed how that in Greek mythology: "Chronos" is usually portrayed as an old, wise man with a long, gray beard, such as "Father Time". And some English words whose etymological root is chronos include chronology, chronometer, chronic, anachronism, synchronize, and chronicle.

"Chronos" is used in Scripture in places such as Galatians 4:4,5 - "But when the fullness of the time (chronos) had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons." This means that there was a specific time in human history in which God had planned to bring Christ into the world in order to redeem it. This is referring to physical time.

The other main Greek word for time in the New Testament is "kairos." This means, literally, "the right or opportune moment." It is a reference to metaphysical or divine time, and is qualitative, as opposed to quantitative. It is special in that it is not a physical time in human history, but rather a divine appointment. In other words, when this word is used, God is telling us to act, to receive, or move, because there is no longer any waiting period. It is a working of God.

"Kairos" is used in 2 Cor. 6:1-2, where Paul writes, "We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says: 'In an acceptable time (kairos) I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you.' Behold, now is the accepted time (kairos); behold, now is the day of salvation."

Paul's point by divine revelation is simple. God wants us to be saved right now. He is not talking about physical time. He is talking about the divine appointment that all must be saved. It is such a great appointment and opportunity, that there should be no delay. It is an absolute necessity for all people to be  saved immediately!

So here lies the question - Are you saved, or are you still lingering in the "chronos", not accepting the "kairos"? Don't delay. Tomorrow will be too late.

"For when we were still without strength, in due time (kairos) Christ died for the ungodly." ~ Romans 5:6

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Faith for Tomorrow

The coming of a new year causes every person to reflect upon the year that has just passed. For most, we not only look at the recent past but we examine our entire life on some level. With this reflection is the reminder that we have no idea what the future really holds. We look back and see how many things have happened that we could not expect or predict. We understand that 2013 will be full of more of these unforeseen moments.

I received an old bulletin article from a friend this week. It was actually published in our bulletin over 4 years ago. I have heard many definitions of faith over the years. But in this article there was one I had not heard before  - "Faith is the bird that sings in the darkest hours, sensing the dawn."

I thought about all those nights I have heard that bird near our window. Hours before light, sometimes a happy bird would sing under the pitch black sky. I have often wondered what that bird was doing. I wished someone would clue him in about what time it was because I wanted to get more sleep. I did not want to get out of a warm bed and go outside to quiet that bird. But many times I almost got up anyway.

I now realize what the bird's song was teaching. It is a song of anticipation and hope. It is a song about the brightness of the future. It is a song of faith and the joy of the dawning of tomorrow.

I do not know about 2013. I do not know what blessings and sorrows await us. I only know that I love God, I love my family, I love the church, I love people, and I love the blessing of life that God has given to us all. From my heart to yours, I hope that your faith will sing like that bird in the night, anticipating the dawn. I hope that God would grant you, according to His tender mercies, life and peace and joy and a hope that cannot be described with human words.

Whenever the dawn would come, that bird was no longer heard. I understood why. The anticipation had ended, the light had come, and the bird had taken wing. And so it is with us. 2013 has arrived. We cannot stay in the shelter of the evening nest. God has given us the dawn. This is our time. We must fly.

"Our soul has escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers; The snare is broken, and we have escaped." ~ Psalm 124:7