Wednesday’s Column: Third Words
Ephesians 4 describes some spiritual gifts. Their purpose is to allow the church to function as it should. A properly functioning church spends eternity with God. A functional church is on the same page (one mind), has spiritual depth, and is workable (more on that in a bit).
Ephesians 4.12ff is about members’ roles. What are they for? Everyone serves to equip saints. Saints are people who have pledged allegiance to God.
We train for morally good works and become stronger through encouragement (12,16). We work toward a unified mindset, knowing Jesus, spiritual maturity, and we pursue the highest standard (Jesus) (13,14).
We work to avoid immaturity and gullibility (14). We pursue maturity until our mindset emulates Christ’s (15). He is described (multiple times) as the standard we have to imitate. There’s no room for spiritual laziness here.
Jesus causes growth spiritually, but only if we’ve become soil that can be worked. If our minds aren’t mature, we aren’t workable. Elders are spiritual farmers, our hearts are the soil. If we use Jesus as our standard, we are workable. If not, we’re spiritually dead.
So, what can we do individually? Make the church strong by pursuing unity, by having spiritual depth, and by being workable. If we work on those things we will spend forever with God.
Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
Some have called it the “doom boom.” Before Covid, Digital Media Solutions estimated that there were some 3.7 million Americans who classified themselves as “survivalists” (source). From food to water, from clothing to shelter, a growing number of people are stockpiling, hoarding, or whatever term is most relevant to their situation. Actions range from accumulating ammunition, gasoline, and can goods to building high-end luxury apocalypse shelters. Whoever the perceived enemy is, shadow governments, foreign nations, social revolutionaries, or some combination thereof, people want to be ready! It helps them feel calm even as they have friends, neighbors, and family who seem to be doing nothing to prepare for such increasingly plausible scenarios.
Scripture does talk about the importance of preparation. True, the Bible talks about how the ant “prepares her food in the summer and gathers her provision in the harvest” (Prov. 6:8). But even greater emphasis is put on a different kind of preparation. God directs us in this readiness.
Are you prepping for every good work (2 Tim. 2:21)? Paul tells us how that’s done in context. We must “avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness” (16). Paul gives as an example of this people who upset the faith of others by saying the resurrection had past. He also says to “flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace” and “a pure heart” (22). Then, “refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels” (23; “split hairs,” 14). An untamed tongue (Js. 3:2ff), unholy craving (1 Cor. 10:6), and undisciplined mind (Prov. 4:23) can really keep us from being prepared to do the good works God designed us to walk in (cf. Eph. 2:10)? The aim, according to Paul, is to be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master” (21). Is what we do each day prepping us for that?
Are you prepping your mind for action (1 Pet. 1:13)? Peter writes this to a people facing persecution and spiritual adversity (6). In the first of a series of imperatives, Peter tells them to “prepare your minds for action” (literally, “gird the loins of your mind”). The word is only found in this verse, but “It is taken from the custom of the eastern nations who, when they had occasion to exert themselves (as in journeying, running, etc.), used to bind up their long–flowing garments by a girdle or belt about their hips” (Zodhiates, The complete word study dictionary, np). So, the idea is cinching up what’s loose. Peter says you prepare your mind for action by keeping sober in spirit. I find it interesting how often sober-mindedness is connected to preparing for the judgment (1 Th. 5:6,8; 2 Tim. 4:5; 1 Pet. 4:7; 5:8). Even in this passage, Peter follows this command up with the command, “fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” There’s the action now of living the faithful Christian life, even in the face of opposition. Then, there’s the action of fixing your hope on Christ’s coming. We prepare to live in the present while preparing for the end.
Are you prepping for the Lord (Lk. 1:17)? Luke tells us that John the Baptist was sent “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” We can read in the New Testament that he was success in helping some do that, while so many others thought he was crazy and still others so dangerous that they resisted him. Ultimately, a wicked man who already wanted to kill him but was afraid of the many who regarded John as a prophet, found occasion to take his life (Mat. 14:5ff). His mission ultimately succeeded (Luke 7:22-23). Of course, Jesus Himself is eventually killed, but that death was necessary to help prepare us for His second coming (Heb. 9:28). There is a song which admonishes us, “There’s a great day coming…when the saint and the sinner shall be parted right and left, are you ready for that day to come?” How tragic to be stockpiling for an armageddon but unprepared for the Judgment.
These may seem like dire days full of foreboding. Whether economic collapse, social unrest, or political corruption, we may be concerned about civil or national trouble ahead. Yet, that is not what Scripture emphasizes. Scripture emphasizes how God wants His people preparing to do good, think right, and be ready for eternity. All our “stuff” will be burned up in the end (2 Pet. 3:10). Our souls never die, and we will be somewhere eternally (Mat. 25:46). Each day is about prepping for that! May we encourage each other to get ready and stay ready!
Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent
Solomon cautioned, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Proverbs 16.18 NASB1995). I am sure we can think of many examples of this truth we have witnessed in our own lives. However, one that comes to my geeky mind is the downfall of Atari.
Atari was the video gaming console every child had to have from the late 1970s into the early 1980s. But then came along a glitchy game that nearly killed the video gaming console industry: “E.T. The Extraterrestrial.” Of course, we know of the movie by the same name. The film was a commercial success. “E.T.’s” director, Stephen Spielberg, wanted to capitalize on his movie’s success with a video game based on the titular character.
In addition, Spielberg wanted Atari to have the game ready for the Christmas season. Unfortunately, that timeframe only gave the developer requested by Spielberg about five months to complete the game. Spielberg’s request was not without precedent. The developer had previously worked on another game adapted from a Spielberg movie (Raiders of the Lost Ark). Nevertheless, the developer flying high atop Atari’s past success assured Spielberg that he could develop the game quickly.
The game did sell well, at first. But then the reviews came back from players. The game was confusing, tedious, and E.T. would routinely get stuck in a hole from which he could not extricate himself. Therefore, a quarter-million users returned the game to Atari, and Atari was stuck with over two million units that they could not move. This failure created a meltdown resulting in the breakup of Atari. Atari had lost over 500 million dollars. If not for the arrival of Nintendo’s video game console in the mid-1980s, introducing us to the lovable Italian plumber, Mario, one wonders if the gaming industry would be a billion-dollar industry today.
It may be that we can boast of many successes in life. Paul certainly could. Paul called himself a “Hebrew of Hebrews” (Philippians 3.4-6). Yet, Paul said he counted all his gains as loss, even rubbish, for the sake of Christ (Philippians 3.7-8). If you keep reading Philippians 3, you’ll note that Paul admits that he had not arrived at his destination but pressed onward so he could attain his eternal prize (Philippians 3.12-14). Paul then exhorts us to have a similar mindset (Philippians 3.15-16).
Yes, pride causes us to become blind to things like temptation. We become so full of ourselves that we have no room for the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. The Hebrews’ writer warns us about how easy it is to drift away (Hebrews 2.1-3). Therefore, we must be vigilant to watch our location relative to the Gospel. Paul writes: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Corinthians 10.12 NASB1995).
As we turn our attention back to Atari, we note that it was, at least, partly resurrected. It reported earnings of about 21 million in the fiscal year 2018. But what is 21 million compared to the half a billion dollars they lost in the early 1980s? Moreover, in the early twenty-teens, Atari filed for bankruptcy. Thus, Atari demonstrates that you cannot always get back on your feet after you stumble.
Fortunately, as Christians, we are showered by the riches of God’s grace (cf. Ephesians 1.7-8). Thus, if we will but “walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1.7 NASB1995). So, watch your feet and remember that pride goes before destruction.
Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
What is faith? I don’t have faith in my parkour abilities. My lack of faith comes from several factors: basic safety awareness, physique, and reality. Because of this, I have little or no confidence in my ability to scale walls. Faith is rational confidence. We’re confident about things we understand and have experience or proficiency with.
Faith in God is confidence. We’re confident that God exists. We’re confident that he made everything. We know he loves us. We know he’s coming back. We know that faithful people get to live with him.
A faithful Christian is a rationally confident Christian. When we’re doing our best to live moral lives, we’re confident in grace. We’re confident in our destination. We have reason to have confidence in God because we’ve worked on knowing him. We have the Bible and creation itself to help us know God. The more we know him, the more confidence we have.
What if I want more confidence in my parkour abilities? I’d have to hit the gym like crazy and somehow become graceful. I’d have to want to develop that skill. Confidence comes from experience and knowledge.
What if we need more faith? Get to know God more. Pay attention to all of the ways life points to a much higher power. Get close to other Christians. Get excited for heaven. No one can walk away from that without more confidence in our awesome God.
Tuesday Column: Dale Mail
(now the pulpit minister of the Tompkinsville church of Christ, Tompkinsville, KY)
With countless opinions and information out there, God is just another “option” and the Bible is just “good advice to follow.” Dave Mustaine summed up how many people feel when he said, “The Bible and several other self help or enlightenment books cite the Seven Deadly Sins. They are: pride, greed, lust, envy, wrath, sloth, and gluttony. That pretty much covers everything that we do, that is sinful… or fun for that matter.”
Is the Bible just an ancient “self-help” book that tells us not to do anything fun? Questioning God is not something new. Even Epicurus said, “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is He neither able nor willing? Then why call Him God?” I truly believe that you can understand who God is just based on scripture. When He gave that book to man, He gave us a piece of Himself.
God wants a relationship with us (I Peter 5:6-7). This is why He has purposefully informed us about Himself. People need God whether they know it or not. I’d encourage you, as an individual, to put the Bible on trial. Put the accuracy of its pages to the test. It has withstood hundreds of years of accusations and doubt. Often we are able to grow in our faith and belief as a result of seeking and searching. As His church, we have a responsibility to proclaim the excellence of our creator. We do it by our love for others, exposing the evidence of His existence, and introducing Jesus every opportunity we have.
Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
It’s hard to miss the unique tone of 2 Corinthians, a letter full of self-disclosure and self-defense and written in such an intimate way. Paul’s apostleship has been questioned and his extensive work with the Corinthians undermined. But, he was willing to “spend and be spent” for them (12:15). A man who has given so much for the cause of Christ chooses not to boast, but to humble himself in an effort to persuade and encourage these brethren in their spiritual progress.
Due to the “surpassing greatness of the revelations” (7) Paul had received (1-6), he was given a “thorn in the flesh.” It’s useless to speculate about what this specific “thorn” was–poor eyesight, physical pain from being stoned at Lystra, some unspecified temptation, etc. Perhaps it is better for us, not knowing exactly what it was, since many of us as Christians may have to wrestle a thorn in our own flesh. It’s interesting to note how Paul describes it: “humbling” (to keep me from exalting myself), “Satanic” (a messenger of Satan), “tormenting,” “persistent” (8), “perfecting” (9), and “empowering” (10). Is there some physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual struggle in your life that you might describe in some or all of these ways? Perhaps we’re quick to identify the negative aspects, but what about the potential positives that can come out of it? It can perfect and empower us to live a better Christian life and make us content with reverses suffered “for Christ’s sake” and say, with Paul, “when I am weak, then I am strong” (10).
Paul returns to a theme he has touched on several times throughout the letter (5:13; 11:16-19; 12:6). He resorted to defending his motives, position, decisions, and authority against the aforementioned charges. But, Paul points out that this was more for their “upbuilding” than for his own defense (19). He’s not some insecure preacher or missionary whose feelings have been hurt by some perceived slight; he’s fighting for the hearts and souls of relatively new Christians influenced by the culture and false teachers. He wants them to understand that neither he or his co-workers, like Titus, have taken advantage of them. They have loved and served the Corinthians, willing to bear insults, condescension, and rejection in order to help them be saved. As preaching is called “foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:21), those who preach and teach it must be willing to be thought fools for Christ.
It’s hard to find a man more courageous than Paul. What did he fear? First, he feared failure. The time and the teaching he had done would be wasted, if they were given over to “strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances” (20). Read through the two letters Paul wrote to them and notice how he addresses all these matters. Second, he feared emotional trauma (21). His mourning over their past sins would be compounded if they had not repented. Neither of these fears was irrational. Have you ever invested a lot of time, energy, and emotion into someone only to see them teetering on the ledge of apostasy and unfaithfulness?
God wants and needs faithful Christians who care about the church. He needs us to fully invest ourselves, to “spend and be spent” for others. The great news (and Paul not only understood this; He wrote about it) is that God gives strength for our weakness, wisdom for our folly, and courage for our fear. He will help pull us out of such figurative valleys as we hold onto His capable hands. Let us do our part and devote ourselves to one another.
Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent
One of the cherished tenets of Christianity is the High Priesthood of Christ. Therefore, we relish the Hebrew writer’s assurance that we have a sympathetic High Priest Who endured temptation without sin (Hebrews 4.14-15). Thus, I tend to hear the words of Jesus in Matthew 26.41 and Mark 14.38 a little differently: “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Unfortunately, I think many people take that as a rebuke. Yet, compassion is a word oft associated with Jesus in the Gospels. And Jesus knew the hearts of these men. He knew they had a desire to watch and pray but were physically exhausted.
Now, it is true that remaining diligent in watchfulness and prayer would have better served Peter, James, and John. However, these apostles were ultimately human and needed rest. There is a discernible difference between laziness and fatigue. If Peter, James, and John were sleeping because they were bored or took the situation lightly, would Jesus have credited them with having the willing spirit? Of course, not. Jesus recognized that they wanted to do as He told them.
Jesus knows well the limitations of the flesh. If you recall the Apostle Paul’s words, he says that Jesus emptied Himself, taking the likeness of man, to become a bondservant (Philippians 2.5-11). His obedience to His Father was so complete that He even tasted of death for every man (Hebrews 2.9). Hence, Jesus sometimes felt tired. So, where do we find Jesus after a day of performing signs and healing the sick in Matthew 8.24? He was sleeping on a boat. Yes, the disciples woke Him up because they feared the storm, but Jesus was resting. Do we think He went to sleep only to show His disciples proof of His Sonship?
The point here is that Jesus understands. Some saints may experience issues sidelining them from service. It could be one has a chronic illness, advanced age, military deployment, or employers who disregard his pleas to have Sundays and Wednesday nights off from work. I know that I beat myself up sometimes, thinking I should do more. But I’m not always honest with myself. In my mind, I can do anything I want. However, COPD and my current efforts to walk correctly again after prolonged hospitalization hamper me. In moments like this, I remind myself of how Jesus looked at the exhausted three in Gethsemane’s garden. His grace says, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Obviously, this is not something one abuses. Just because Jesus understands the human condition doesn’t mean we can willfully neglect our spiritual service (cf. Romans 12.1-2). As Paul reminds us, grace is not a license to sin (cf. Romans 6.1-2). But take heart when you feel that you are a failure. The Lord knows your heart. Yes, He may remind you of your duty through the Word, but He will acknowledge a willing spirit hindered by the flesh.
Thursday Column: Captain’s Blog