Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
For a small child, having an open space park just outside your neighborhood was a dream come true. My younger brother and I would spend entire summers exploring, building forts, and fishing in that beautiful place. One day, as we were playing in the creek, we found a beaver laying in the middle of the water— it wasn’t moving. Without getting too graphic, we made several plans for this new prize find. We could make a hat out of the skin, or perhaps stuff it and put it in our room. The only problem was, mom would never allow us to drag this fifty pound beaver into the house. Besides this, the house was almost a mile away. In order to preserve our trophy we decided that the safest option would be to string the beaver up by the tail and hoist it up over the branch of a near by tree. That branch sagged under the weight of the beast while water dripped from it’s wet coat and onto the bike trail directly below. Without thinking about the terrible location we had chosen, Carl and I gave a high-five and began the long walk back to the house. We were beaming with pride and excitement because this was our little secret. A few weeks later, we returned to the spot and were outraged to find that someone had cut our swinging beaver down! Looking back, we still laugh as we think about the many bikers and joggers that ran down that path only to be surprised and confused by this animal carcass hanging over the path.
The church is a wonderful place to be, especially when you find yourself a member of a healthy congregation. When the church is functioning in accordance with scripture, the impact She can make is endless. One aspect of keeping God’s family healthy on the inside is keeping sin on the outside. Sadly, there are some congregations that have blatantly accepted the sinful lifestyles of individuals. It’s as if there were dead beavers hanging in their midst, but instead of cutting it down they choose to turn a blind eye. The longer it stays, the stinkier it becomes. This is a gruesome, but appropriate description of sin. Paul spends two letters rebuking the church at Corinth because they had allowed several horrific sins to divide and erode the Body there. They didn’t sever the hanging carcass, and as a result the stench of sin provoked Paul to write some of the harshest words to be penned in the New Testament.
Paul will give them five commands in chapter sixteen that we would do well to apply to our own lives as well. He says, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all you do be done in love” (I Corinthians 16:13-14). With these two short verses you can backpedal through the letter and see how these five imperatives would have saved them from not only a harsh rebuke, but many heartaches that were also consequences of their sins. They were stricken with disease and death in both the physical and spiritual sense. The apostle commands them, through inspiration, to be aware of their surroundings. Be alert. He reminds them to firmly stand on the truth of the gospel. He bluntly tells them to act like men, because they were acting like children. Then he tells them to be strong, but in a different sense. This strength is that inner strength that it takes to conquer temptation and carry on righteously in the midst of evil. These four commands are then to be carried out with love. A sacrificial love for one another means having the willingness to confront sin problems that are damaging the Bride of Christ. Not out of anger, but out love for His church and for the soul of the guilty member. This is the recipe for a healthy congregation through every age. It worked in Corinth, and it works today.
If there’s a beaver hanging in your congregation, the best thing to do is to cut it down!
It was my privilege last week to spend an hour or more visiting in my office with Bill Page, a longtime member at Lehman Avenue. He wanted to tell me about his interest and involvement in athletics, and he brought some pictures (including one of him below) to illustrate his interesting stories. There was a theme to everything this 88-year-old Korean War veteran shared with me. It was about routine.
He spoke of how important routine is in his life. Every day, despite being a widower who lives alone, he follows a strict routine from how and when he gets up to his workout regimen to his social calendar. It is not just that he has a routine, but he feels that it is essential to his functioning well physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. He carries that ethic of keeping a routine into sharing his faith with his neighbors, studying the Bible, and teaching as he is given the opportunity. Though he is modest and unassuming, he has lived anything but a routine life.
He played college basketball at Georgia Southern (then, Georgia Teachers College). Then, he was a marine who stayed to play in Japan and Korea in the mid-1950s. His civilian career was as a school administrator, where he served in public schools locally in addition to many years working with Christian high schools in Houston, Texas, and Miami, Florida. He also maintained his love for sports, coaching basketball. But, as a lifelong member of the church, his routine has almost always included teaching, preaching, and sharing his faith with the non-Christians he has built relationships with.
I could say much more about the great attitude and outlook Bill has, but it’s that commitment to consistency that is so remarkable. What is the road to greatness and achievement? It necessitates a certain amount of talent and knowing what that talent is, but the difference is almost always made by those who have sticktoitiveness. The unwillingness to give up and to keep plugging away is such a difference-maker in success and failure.
Solomon said, “Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, But the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Prov. 10:4). Likewise, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty” (Prov. 21:5). Again, “In all labor there is profit, But mere talk leads only to poverty” (Prov. 14:23). Over and over, Scripture lauds this ethic of steadfastness. Yet, the area where it is most important is the spiritual (Acts 2:42; 2 Tim. 2:15).
Do you want to be an exceptional Bible student, servant of Christ, person of prayer, spiritual leader, soul winner, etc.? Establish a routine and stay with it. It will lead you to extraordinary results! Thanks for the reminder and the example, Bill!
Four people were ushered into eternity in a horrible way, ten people were injured, 28 vehicles were wrecked–some burned down to the engine block, and one young man’s life is forever changed as he bears the guilt of causing the horrific crash just a few miles north of our church building. Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos, just 23 years old, barreled into the vehicles, already at a standstill because of another accident further east on I-70 in Lakewood near Golden. At this time, no official reason has been given for the crash. However, the young truck driver has been charged with four counts of vehicular homicide. Witnesses say his semi was barreling out of control moments before colliding with the others. We have no idea how remorseful this young man is, but it is most likely that he would like to have those moments back. It was tragic, senseless, and, by all counts, preventable.
Scripture has several illustrations to portray the tragedy of a lack of self-control. Solomon likens a man who has no control over his spirit to a city broken into and without walls (Prov. 25:28). A woman who cannot restrain her argumentative ways is easier to control than a person can hold onto the wind or grasp oil with his hand (Prov. 27:15-16). James compares an out of control tongue to a rudderless ship, an unbridled horse, and a forest fire started by a small fire (3:2ff).
Just one person’s lack of self-control in sexual desire has destroyed marriages, harmed families, ravaged congregations, and the like through fornication, pornography, and adultery. Just one person’s lack of self-control in speech has split churches, ended relationships, revealed destructive secrets, and condemned souls. Just one person’s lack of self-control in attitude has caused impressible people to stumble, provided a horrible example which others followed, and brought about a shameful family legacy through learned behavior. Just one person’s lack of self-control of his or her thoughts has wrought “fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22).
We may influence others, but we can only hope to control ourselves. The best way to do that is to allow the love of Christ to control us (2 Cor. 5:14). If we can appreciate the damage caused by others’ loss of control, let us be motivated never to allow such in our own lives! We may not be able to foresee what we cause, but we know it could be far more than we imagine.
Two weeks ago today, Wes Autrey and I decided to hold each other accountable for eating better and losing some pounds. The daily check in that accompanies this requires me to pay attention to how much and what I eat and pushes me to make sure I go work out. The single most difficult element of this challenge is the discipline.
It’s interesting that the word translated “discipline” in 1 Timothy 4:7-8 literally means “to train.” The Greek word is the one from which we get our English word “gymnasium.” The adjective form is translated “naked,” the figurative sense meaning “manifest” or “unconcealed” (Kittel-Bromiley 133). While the Greeks would exercise naked, the verb form came to mean “to concentrate” (ibid.). So when Paul says, “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (4:7), he is calling for utmost concentration and conscious training in order to achieve godliness. Louw-Nida remind us that godliness refers to “appropriate beliefs and devout practice of obligations relating to supernatural persons and powers” (530). It is driven by a profound respect for God because of who He is and what He deserves.
The motivation Paul gives the Christian for exercising godliness is the unsurpassed value it gives us. He contrasts the value of godliness with bodily exercise. I do not believe Paul is saying it’s a total waste of time to exercise. After all, it does do “a little good.” It helps us function and feel better for a good while in these bodies God gave us. But by comparison, godliness is far superlative. People can look at our lives and see the fruit of it while we live on this earth, but it also leads us to eternal life.
Godliness is the goal, the motivation. Discipline is the means to that end. In context, Paul calls for discipline to be built through proper diet (“being nourished on the words of faith and of…sound doctrine,” 4:6), proper exercise (“labor and strive,” 4:10), proper focus (“we have fixed our hope,” 4:10), and consistency (“show yourself an example,” 4:12; “give attention,” 4:13; etc.).
Wes and I hope that the results of our herculean efforts “will be evident to all” (cf. 4:15). It will require us to “take pains” and to “be absorbed” in our goal (cf. 4:15). Certainly, it means paying close attention to ourselves (4:16). Much more than that, you and I must direct our attention to the proper beliefs and practices that will get us to heaven and influence those who are around us (4:16). Remember that discipline is about training, a process that must be repeated, perfected, and continued. But, the payoffs cannot be matched! How’s your discipline?
It’s just the way we are. We bristle at cold, heartless interference from the seemingly disinterested party. But we are open and receptive to people who take the time to get to know, understand, and care about us. The same thing said the same way will make a big difference, depending on the presence or absence of a relationship. We would do well to strive to build more and better relationships, especially if we desire to help people grow closer to Christ and go to heaven. May we first work on the connection before we attempt the correction.
We are blessed to have quite a few young children in our congregation. Little boys and little girls, with unexpected observations, expressive faces, and humorous behaviors, make sure there is not a dull moment when they are around. Inspired writers use terms like “inheritance” (Prov. 13:22) and “gift” (Psa. 127:3) to impress us with their value. Jesus demands imitation of them (Mat. 18:3). Parents get so proud of their children, displaying their cuteness in pictures on social media. While so many kids reflect the good looks of their parents, it’s not looks that most make children adorable. What makes children adorable?
The qualities above reflect an attractiveness of godly parenting and an appreciation for biblical principles of conduct that will make them adorable adults one day. It reflects the “others before self” mentality Christ wants to see in God’s children (Phil. 2:1-4). It reflects the humility and service that causes greatness in His Kingdom (Mat. 20:25-28). It reflects the thoughtful consideration that ought to typify Christians (Col. 3:12; Rom. 15:1ff). It reflects the spiritual mindset necessary to be winsome, attractive ambassadors for Him (cf. 2 Cor. 5:20; Rom. 12:17ff; etc.). Sometimes, much greater emphasis is given to the style of their clothes than to the strength of their character. We cannot put fashion before faith, image over integrity, or sophistication above spirituality.
I want to thank so many parents who get this ideal and are striving toward it. No one’s children are perfect, just like none of their parents (or critical adults) are. But, parents who are trying to instill quality inner qualities in their children deserve highest honor! Keep rearing adorable children. You’ll have a lifetime to be grateful that you did.
Years ago, for a school project, I was asked to trace my ancestry and make a family tree. In the process I learned some things I did not know about my heritage. Some of that made me proud, and some of it did not. I also learned that a family tree is always living and growing. Now that I am a husband and father, I appreciate that my children (and, one day, grandchildren) will be affected by how I lead my family.
You are nourishing your family tree, too. How are you caring for it? That is called a legacy. It will affect those who live after you are gone. Consider some things every family tree has, and ask yourself what kind of tree you are growing in your home.
Your family tree has…
With the high profile case of an NFL star putting the idea of spanking in the spotlight, it is proper to examine this practice more closely. A sweet young mother asks a couple of questions about the practice of spanking in light of Proverbs 13:24. First, “Is Proverbs 13:24 literal, meaning we are to physically discipline our children, or is it figurative meaning we are to discipline in general?” Second, “If it is literal, does it literally mean to use an implement such as a rod, belt, etc rather than our hands to inflict the physical discipline?” These are vital questions young parents like her have to grapple with in light of a desire to properly train and mold the heritage given them by God, but do so in a world less accepting of biblical truth in general and passages like Proverbs 13:24 specifically. To address this, let’s break the matter into three component parts.
Spanking and society. Due to the prevalence of physical child abuse, society has reacted to any type of corporal punishment (i.e., punishment of or relating to the physical body; spanking). While the principle of spanking is more widely approved than we may be led to believe (a recent ABCNEWS poll found 65% of all parents approve of it, abcnews.com, and a 2013 Harris Interactive poll with a sample size twice as large found that 81% consider spanking their children sometimes appropriate, harrisinteractive.com), the politically correct wing of society so often in charge of media and education most often rail against it in any form. There are three revised statutes in Colorado, one civil and two criminal, that address spanking in Colorado (kidjacked.com includes the laws of all 50 states). While the statutes are eerily vague, here is what they permit: “Parent/guardian/ person with care and supervision of minor can use reasonable and appropriate physical force, if it is reasonably necessary and appropriate to maintain or promote welfare of child” (Colorado Code Section 18-1-703). The greater concern would be judicial interpretation or further revisions in the law that forbad corporal punishment altogether.
Spanking and scripture. With our youngest now 16 years old, we are beyond the timeframe where spanking holds sway as a primary means of discipline. When our boys were of that age (from toddlerhood up to the beginning of the teen years), we would resort to spanking (usually with the hand or a paddle). This was undoubtedly the result of practices learned from our own parents’ regimen of discipline, but also our conviction (as it was our parents’) that scripture taught the necessity of this under circumstances where mere words did not remedy misbehavior. The Bible clearly teaches it as an integral part of disciplining—Proverbs 13:24, 22:15, 23:13-14, and 29:15. Hopefully, we will never find ourselves in a place where our civil government absolutely forbids corporal punishment of our children, but if it does we would be compelled to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).
Spanking and sensibility. Let us get to common sense issues, though. This is especially the “how” but also the “where” and “when.” Consider these suggestions for effective discipline—
Obviously, personal judgment and discretion are essential. Yet, inasmuch as the concept originates in scripture, our good sense as citizen of the society will govern us as we prayerfully attempt to raise children that please and follow God.
It is not an interjection or obscure, Cowboy euphemism. It is one of the latest weapons in the fight for weight loss. In fact, it was approved a few years ago by the FDA to be used in the treatment of especially type two diabetes. The drug, exenatide, contains a chemical that is found is the saliva of the poisonous Gila monster. There are chemical explanations for why the reptile’s oral emission is effective in weight loss, but the result is that a growing number are clamoring for it to be made available for use in the battle of the bulge. To curb enthusiasm, one might want to consider the long-term effects of exenatide as there have been several reports of pancreatitis among users of the drug (for more info on this, see http://www.wgal.com/health/).
It is human nature to look for shortcuts and substitutes. Often, this can be a good thing as we look to be more efficient, better time managers, or discoverers of that which contributes to better quality of life. However, it can also betray a tendency to look for the easy way out rather than choosing a path that leads to the best, long-term solution. Whether it is in matters relating to finance, weight-loss, work productivity, or spirituality, the quick fix or easy substitute is not usually the best choice. In fact, it can even prove counterproductive.
Lizard spit in shot form might be easier than diet and exercise, but it does not sound like a good first choice. Getting “our Bible” only from the preacher is not a viable substitute for personal study. Letting man tell us that some other way leads to salvation will not take the place of obeying what the Lord says in His word about how to be saved. Self-reliance is no stand-in for prayer. Instant gratification is not the same as self-denial, whatever excuse or rationalization we make. No matter if it’s the old proverbial peddler of “snake oil” or the new medical expert promoting lizard spit, it is much the same. Remember that the path of least resistance is the quickest way to erosion. Do not accept substitutes!