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