“I Don’t Like Thy Kingdom Lord…”
What are we saying to our spouse, children, and other bystanders when we get into the habit of criticizing the worship, leadership, and fellow Christians? We’re ready to talk about all that’s wrong with our congregation and all we wished was better. What is a witness to our frustrations to think?
“I’m Not Part Of The Family…”
Cliques are abysmal things and none of us should be exclusive. But, sometimes, we contribute to the problem through misperception and assumption. Beware statements about the church that refer to her as “them” and “they” (or, “those people”) instead of “we,” “us,” and “me.” Such detachment and aloofness is spiritually dangerous, and it lets us off the hook regarding the responsibility we have within the family.
“Cursed Be The Tie That Binds…”
“After all, nobody calls me or comes by to visit me. Brother/Sister So N So hurt my feelings, ignored me, was rude to me, etc. They’ve broken my trust. They’re really mostly hypocrites.” I know it seems harsh to read those things in print, but how often have they been said? Matthew 25:31-46 reveals our responsibility to minister to each other and any others we can. Jesus’ words should convict all of us. We also have guidelines for how we treat one another, but also for how we resolve those matters. If we’ve lost sight of the blessings of “the fellowship of kindred minds…like to that above,” we must start by looking within.
We could add “We Are Not One In The Spirit,” “Angry Words, Oh Let Them Ever, From The Tongue Unbridled Slip,” “I Don’t Love You With The Love Of The Lord,” or “A Common Indifference,” but none of them are part of a spiritual hit parade. If we’ll stop and think about our words and attitudes, that people are listening to what we say and watching what we convey, it might align our words with beautiful songs like these. The Lord’s church should be prized above our highest joy. It is filled with imperfect people, but they are our people. More importantly, they are God’s people. May we always remember that, even when our guard and our hair is down!
Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail
The cost of leaving God’s presence is more than many fully realize.
It’s interesting how the phrase “away from the presence of the Lord” is used twice in Jonah 1:2-3.
Leading up to the second mention, the text states that Jonah “paid the fare.” In the very next verse we read of a terrible storm that would end with the beginning of Jonah’s three day stent in solitary confinement within the belly of a great fish.
He paid the fare— but the price was a little steeper than he thought. It’s expensive to flee from the presence of the Almighty. Too many Christians run away from the responsibilities that God has given us only to discover that the dark waters of sin and separation just aren’t worth it.
Some discover this when it’s too late, but others are fortunate enough to realize this truth and return to the safety of God’s presence. May we learn from Jonah to go where the Lord leads and not make our own alternative routes.
“But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.” Jonah 1:3
Monday’s Column: Neal at the Cross
I counted 96 people present for the singing at the Waddells’ home Friday night, sitting in our camping chairs in their beautiful backyard. Beyond the hospitality and tasty desserts, this was such a wonderful, needed time of fellowship and singing. There were babies up through senior saints, with a whole lot in between. It was exciting to see visitors, several who have been attending but have not yet placed membership, elders, deacons, and so many others. Though the air was surprisingly chilly, you could not help but feel the warmth and glow of brothers and sisters enjoying life together. It felt so first-century!
While it is extremely valuable for us to make as a goal improving our singing, from training our song leaders to becoming better, more attentive followers, it is even more important to understand what God is trying to do for us and through us in our singing. Notice just a few of the objectives God achieves through those who follow His will by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
- We communicate to one another in a special, spiritual way (Eph. 5:19).
- We teach and admonish one another with all wisdom (Col. 3:16).
- We express gratitude in our hearts to God (Col. 3:16; cf. Psa. 28:7).
- We proclaim God’s name to our brethren (Heb. 2:12).
- We praise God’s works and nature in a unique way (Rev. 15:3; cf. Exo. 15:1,21; Psa. 68:4).
- We offer up a sacrifice of praise by the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name (Heb. 13:15).
- We help others see and fear and trust in the Lord (Psa. 40:3).
Certainly, much more is implied concerning the power, effect, and blessings of saints singing together. But, it is helpful for us to consider the value of singing on its own. As a sacrifice of praise, singing is, of itself, worship. Worship is ” to express in attitude or gesture one’s complete dependence on or submission to a high authority figure” (BDAG 882). From “I Need Thee Every Hour” to “Holy, Holy, Holy” to “You Are My All In All” (and literally hundreds more), we prostrate ourselves before God as an act of reverence, fear, and supplication (Louw-Nida 217). Our Creator designed us to connect to words and their meanings in a unique way through singing. We memorize better when we set something to music. We connect music to events and people, forming deeply touching memories and recollections. We touch our own hearts and those of others in a crucial way through melody. It is not just “filler” between prayers and the Lord’s Supper. It is a profoundly meaningful act God purposed for us to help us grow and be strong. By doing it together, we are connecting our hearts and encouraging one another’s spiritual lives.
So, think about what you can do to make this act of worship so much more effective.
- Clear your mind and focus intently on the message of each word of each song.
- Focus on the people around you, deliberately trying to teach and admonish them.
- Sing out so that your teaching and admonishing can be heard (forgetting yourself and how you think you “sound” to others).
- Put forth effort, not just with your vocal cords but with your heart and mind.
- Do not be afraid to connect your singing with your feelings.
- Consciously work to communicate to God your praise and adoration each and every time you sing.
- Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly by your singing.
Do you remember when government mandates suggested that church goers not sing for fear that virus germs might be spread? Will you consider that God intends for something vital to be spread through our psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs? His Word! It should spread to our own hearts and to others. It should even reach the throne of God in heaven! Whether you are worshipping Him alone or with your physical family in song, assembled on the Lord’s Day, or gathered with saints in other places, let us sing!
Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength
Greek mythology is fascinating. So much so, in fact, that the Romans co-opted it as their own. As such, the Roman poet, Ovid, tells us the story of Narcissus and Echo within Metamorphoses. You likely recognize Narcissus’ name because of the mental disorder named for him. Narcissism. You may not have known that the phenomenon called an “echo” also derives its name from a mythic figure. Echo was a beautiful, but talkative, forest nymph. She cut off the goddess Juno so much during conversations that the peeved goddess cursed her with the capacity only to repeat the last words spoken by others.
Without delving too deeply into the mythology, suffice it to say Echo fell in love with the picky Narcissus, whose standard for a consort was so high that none could meet his expectations, including poor Echo. Already cursed, Echo was not able to convey her feelings to Narcissus. On one fateful day, however, Narcissus had sensed Echo’s presence and called out, “Is anyone there?” After she replied in the same, he said, “Come here!” Echo ran to Narcissus as she repeated his command. Echo’s actions repulsed Narcissus. He told her he would sooner die than allow her to enjoy his company. Echo was humiliated and ran away. Yet, she continued to love Narcissus. The vengeful goddess, Nemesis, saw Narcissus’ actions. She cursed him by making him fall deeply in love with his reflection.
There was no redemption for Narcissus and Echo. Narcissus lingered by the pool of water, looking longingly at his reflection. Echo persisted in her love for Narcissus. As the years passed, Echo’s beauty faded, and her body wasted away, leaving only her voice. Narcissus committed suicide, realizing his impossible love would remain unrequited. A flower bloomed where he killed himself. Yes, the narcissus.
It is easy to use Narcissus as an object lesson for us, spiritually. Both James and Peter quote Proverbs 3.34 from the Septuagint to remind us that God resists the proud (James 4.6; 1 Peter 5.5). A haughty look is something we know God hates (Proverbs 6.17). Our Lord went about doing good (Acts 10.38). Since He is our example (1 Peter 2.21), Paul tells us: “do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2.4 NASB)
But what lessons do we derive from Echo? Her tongue is what initially got her into trouble. Just because the tongue is an unruly member, per James 3, doesn’t mean that we should not seek to control it. There is the talk we must avoid (Ephesians 4.29; 5.4; Philippians 2.14). Besides this prohibited speech, there remains gossip and lying, which both Testaments condemn (Exodus 20.16; Psalm 15.1-3; Proverbs 6.19; 2 Corinthians 12.20; 1 Timothy 5.11-13; Titus 2.3).
Echo also squandered a precious commodity in her quixotic pursuit of Narcissus, time. We are supposed to take advantage of the time given to us (Ephesians 5.15-17). There comes the point where even preaching the Gospel to the hard-hearted equivalent of a brick wall is like casting “what is holy to dogs” and throwing “pearls before swine” (Matthew 7.6).
Lastly, Echo loved someone incapable of justifying the precious investment of her heart. The world is like Narcissus in that regard. John reminds us that the world with its lusts will one day pass away (1 John 2.15-17). Even so, how many have laid up treasure on the earth? (Matthew 6.19-21; Luke 12.33-34). We cannot pursue both God and mammon (“wealth” NASB— Matthew 6.24).
May it be that as you search your heart that you find no kindred spirit with Narcissus and Echo. Focus outwardly upon others’ needs, be mindful of the precious commodity of time, and give your heart—and tongue—to the One Who will best use and appreciate it (cf. Matthew 22.36-38).
Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
Eternity is a topic that many of us have heard taught many times. We have Sunday classes on eternity, and we hear sermons about heaven and hell. We learn about the life that comes after this one, but sometimes it doesn’t feel real. I’ve known about eternity for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t truly grasp this idea until later in my life. The extent of my knowledge was that heaven was where I wanted to go, and hell was for sinners.
It didn’t seem very real. I found myself thinking, “I have my entire life ahead of me, I’ll worry about it later down the road.” I saw eternity like any other young guy. It was a place that I knew was coming in the future, but failed to live with this knowledge in mind. Lately I’ve noticed a few things that need to be said.
Eternity is so much more than what I believed it to be. It can be an eternity filled with life, or an eternity filled with torment. John 5:24 says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” The Word of God has the ability to make our eternity be one that is filled with life and joy. But then we read verses like Romans 6:23 that say, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this verse before, but I was failing to grasp what Paul is really saying. We deserved punishment. We were lost and consumed with sin, and we should’ve been punished for what we had done. Instead of punishing us or giving us what we deserved, God offered us eternal life.
Paul describes eternal life as being a free gift. He uses the Greek word “charisma” which translated means “that which is freely and graciously given.” I have major trust issues when it comes to car dealerships. They say a bunch of words that they apparently don’t understand. Things like, “no interest” and “zero down” or “totally free.” But I have a hard time believing that something could be completely free with no strings attached. Eternal life was given to us. God wasn’t forced to do it. He wasn’t pressured into giving it, instead He chose to give it to us. No strings attached.
In the church, some have failed to see eternity for what it is; a place that is very real. It is a place that everyone will end up going to. If we live with eternity in view, we will begin to focus on what is truly important. Living with eternity in mind gives us the clarity we need to make the right choices, knowing that our actions will impact our final destination.
If we live with eternity in mind we will realize the importance of time. I’ve been preaching at the Hebron church of Christ in Grant, Alabama, for two years and it feels like I just moved here. Every year seems to slip away faster than the one before it. James 4:14 tells us that our life is a vapor. We weren’t meant to be here forever. When I was younger I failed to see how quickly life will pass by. Without eternity in mind we won’t see each day as an opportunity to share the Gospel or a chance to tell the world about a loving God that longs for everyone to be saved. We would find ourselves spending less time on the insignificant.
As a teen I was horrified at the thought of hell. And while hell is still very real, the longer I live, the less I fear hell, and the more I long for heaven. I long for the day when I will be in the presence of God. I long for the day when God will give me a comfort and peace so powerful that it will completely remove all sorrow and pain. I long for heaven because I’ll never have to say a painful goodbye, but instead I’ll be with faithful and likeminded men and women for all eternity. The longer we live the more pain and heartache we go through. The stronger our desire becomes to be with God in that perfect home.
Life has a way of changing our outlook on eternity. Let life’s issues be the motivation to reach eternity, and not the reason we lose eternal life.
Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
Patients’ information in the US is protected by HIPAA. Specifically, “The Rule requires appropriate safeguards to protect the privacy of personal health information, and sets limits and conditions on the uses and disclosures that may be made of such information without patient authorization. The Rule also gives patients rights over their health information, including rights to examine and obtain a copy of their health records, and to request corrections” (hhs.gov).
We expect and demand that our privacy be protected when it comes to healthcare (and personal information in general). If that trust is breached, we may consider taking legal action against the trust breaker.
When it comes to our marriages, do we extend that same courtesy to our spouses? Or do we vent our frustrations about them to anyone who listens?
When it comes to personal information shared in confidence, do we extend that same courtesy to our Christian family? Or do we share that info with those in our personal circle?
When it comes to sensitive information we may have about someone in the church (or anywhere!), do we treat them with the same level of respect and discretion that we expect from those in the medical field or information technology fields? There are some exceptions to this principle (as common sense dictates), but we sometimes find ourselves sharing or listening to information we have no business sharing or consuming.
In short, if we expect this level of respect and discretion from the professional world, should we not do the same for those in God’s family?
“Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler” (Prov. 20:19, ESV).
Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail
We would all like to improve in many ways, but many of us are also well aware of the flaws we feel are holding us back. Those shortcomings tend to get in the way, slow us down, or even prevent us from achieving the quality of life that we desire. While there is plenty of room for improvement in my life, I have found that there is a simple way to clearly envision where I am currently, and also plan for where I would like to be in the future.
It’s true that our burdens often come from our blessings. For example, the blessing of having a car may result in the burden of expensive bills that follow a mechanical issue.
I believe that there are five major buckets of blessings that we all must give our time and attention to. They are the five categories that if purposefully tended to, our lives can be wonderful. On the other hand, if neglected, we find ourselves in a head spinning spiral of worry and anxiety.
These buckets are:
- Mental maturity
- Physical health
If one of those buckets isn’t filled with the proper content, I’m sure you’re aware of the negative effects. If these crucial categories are filled correctly, our quality of life will only improve.
God is the Creator of life itself which makes Him the leading authority on the subject. Consider how He can help you in each of the five areas listed above.
By denying self, our focus is diverted away from our negative self- absorption. Putting God and others first can give you a better, fresh, and positive perspective.
When we seek to understand our own minds and what makes us tick, we’ll be able to identify where these negative thoughts and reactions originate.
Poor health habits like fast-food diets, lack of physical exercise, and sleep deprivation only make dealing with stress all the more difficult. God designed your body to function properly when properly taken care of.
Every kind of relationship, whether marriages, friendships, family, co-workers, or the church, has one thing in common—they were made by God. Thankfully, God wrote a book to help us understand who we are to be to each individual that make up those groups.
God built us to work— He expects us to. Some choose to be lazy and suffer. Others choose to constantly work to the neglect of the four other areas mentioned. There must be a balance, and God knows that.
While there’s a lot more to be said concerning these five categories, I hope this simplified things and helped you refocus on what really matters.
Hopefully, looking at life through His divine lens has reminded you of Who you should turn to for everything. He has given you the ultimate assurance— and He is willing to give you the ultimate assistance.
Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
Writing to a church filled with multiple ethnic groups, Paul has a broad goal in mind in writing the Roman epistle. Having dedicated himself to “world-wide” evangelism, as Acts and his letters show, his heart was on more than winning Jews in one small part of the world.
In Romans ten, Paul is reaching the crescendo of the doctrinal argument he makes in Romans 1:15-17 about salvation through faith in Christ. In the middle of the chapter, he states some principles that are worthy of our attention. Consider briefly Romans 10:5-17.
Here, we have the message expressed (5-10). It is the message Paul has been stressing throughout the letter, a message of “righteousness based on faith” (6). It is a word of faith (8), one emphasizing what the scriptures say (Paul quotes Deut. 30:12, 14, 21, Psa. 19:4, Isa. 28:16, 52:7, 53:1, 65:1-2, and Joel 2:32 just from Rom. 10:6-21), and a message meant to touch the heart (8) and lead one to eternal salvation (9-10). Thankfully, the same word that tells us to “make disciples” tells us to do that through the divine message of scripture.
We also have the men envisioned (11-13). Twice, Paul says that “whoever” (11,13) calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. The Lord’s riches are for “all who call on Him” (12). He makes no distinction between Jew and Greek (12). That underscores the biblical idea that God wants all men everywhere to be saved (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4).
We have the means executed (14-16). Paul exalts preaching and preachers. This is honorable work requiring honorable people. They are an indispensable part of God’s soul-winning plan (14). They are divinely sent (15). They are positively described (15b). They dispense good news (16). As Paul writes Corinth, preaching is God’s medium for saving men’s souls (1 Cor. 1:18).
Finally, we have the mission embodied (17). The word of Christ must be heard, and faith results by hearing that word. People do not teach themselves. Societies are not won accidentally or incidentally. There must be deliberate, often sacrificial, activity—preaching, planting seed, and perseverant persistence—to fulfill that mission.
We have mission work to do right here. We have it to do daily at our jobs and in our more immediate communities and neighborhoods. Whether you are going across the street or around the world, fulfill your mission!
Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength
I recall a decision in 1999 to take the “scenic route” home from the Richmond (Virginia) metropolitan area, where I had attended a lectureship, to my home in Coffee County, Tennessee. West Virginia and Kentucky indeed proved to be beautiful states, but I added about three hours to my trip. I was exhausted. I decided to stick to the fastest route in the future.
In New Testament times, there were many routinely taking the longer route. No, they were not enjoying the scenery. According to Charles F. Pfeifer, author of Baker’s Bible Atlas:
“Prejudice was so great that many Jews chose to detour across the Jordan and travel through Peraea, rather than go through the land of the despised Samaritan, when making trips from Galilee to Judah.” (Pfeifer 1)
It appears a trip through Peraea was more palatable since it was a district inhabited by Jews during New Testament times. I wonder how many hours this detour added to their journeys?
Jesus made a point by traveling through Samaria on this one occasion. What was that point? Everyone needs Him. I imagine this point seems less significant compared to the “meatier” portions of John 4. Typically, we focus on His discourse with the woman at the well. Yet, note verse 4. Translations vary in the wording, of course, but the gist is that Jesus had to travel through Samaria. (I do not deny that His rationale may have been logistical, to save time. Regardless of the exact reasoning, however, Jesus intended for the Samaritans to hear the Gospel. We see early Christians taking the Gospel there in Acts 8. Therefore, Jesus provides an example by speaking to the Samaritan woman, showing Samaritans deserve the Truth.
That the Gospel is for all was a hard lesson for even the Apostles to learn. Consider the example of Peter. The Lord chose Peter to preach to the first Gentile convert to the Faith (cf. Acts 10.9-15,28). Even so, Paul had to later rebuke Peter for avoiding the company of Gentiles for the Jews who had recently come from Jerusalem (cf. Galatians 2.11-14). Can this not also be a hard lesson for us? In our era of identity politics, it is easy to feel uncomfortable among those who do not share our demographic. Thus, we go out of our way to avoid others with whom we share less in common. We avoid others because they have more or less melanin in their skin. Socioeconomic difference likewise becomes a justification for avoidance. Maybe we don’t want to associate with someone less educated than ourselves. Whatever the reason, we may go out of our way to avoid such persons.
It is time for us to stop the unnecessary detours we take to avoid contacting those making us “uncomfortable.” Everybody needs Jesus. The Lord expects that you and I must go through Samaria too!
1 “New Testament Palestine.” Baker’s Bible Atlas, by Charles F. Pfeiffer, Baker Book House Co., 1961, pg. 191.