Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail
My girls recently modified the game of Slug Bug in order to make it more exciting and faster-paced. A couple of months ago, with the whole family in the car, we were introduced to it when we heard the words “gocery bag in a bush” shouted three times in rapid succession followed by “wow! three in a row” from one of the other girls.
The modification was simple. Instead of calling out VW Beetles, we all began to call out grocery bags that were snagged up in a bush alongside the road. We would also accept “tree.” A grocery bag caught in a tree was also acceptable. Turns out, “Grocery Bag In A Bush” is much more exciting and fun than Slug Bug. Tons more action! I’ve never seen so many grocery bags in my life! And you should hear the squeals and laughter when one was spotted so far up in a tree that we all knew that it wasn’t coming down until the tree did.
I’ve thought about Grocery Bag In A Bush many times since that day, and have made many observations about it. I’d like to share three of them.
The grocery bags have always been, and will always be, there. I just never “saw” them before. I don’t recall seeing a single slug bug while playing Grocery Bag In A Bush, even though they were probably there.
I will see that which I look for. Matthew 7:7-8 says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”
Grocery Bags don’t belong in a bush or a tree. It’s not what they were created for, but somehow they have found themselves hopelessly ensnared. They will most likely remain ensnared until someone cares enough to pick them up, or a violent storm rips them away from the unreachable limb where they are trapped. And if no one stops and picks them up, they will most likely drift away until they find themselves ensnared in another bush.
While we may excel at “stopping to say hello” when a brother is in the way, we should not let the business of “rolling our gospel chariots along” keep us from our responsibility to the lost to “stop and pick them up”.
We all financially support a vast army of sanitation workers through taxes and fees. We even personally pay for these services out of pocket so that they will come by our house each week to take our trash, and grocery bags, to where they belong. And yet, the grocery bags are everywhere.
Christianity cannot be outsoursed. It’s not enough to pay for, or support others, to do the work for us. This world is not our home, but it becomes a more beautiful place when each of us can see those around us who are ensnared in sin, and gently help them get to where they belong.
Feel free to make your own observations from this parable. It’s not perfect, and I’m certainly not equating those trapped in sin with trash. But before we start asking God to provide us with more opportunities, we might first ask ourselves if we are really in the game. Because once you know what to look for, the opportunities are everywhere.
[Scott Phillips serves as a deacon at the Bear Valley church of Christ. He and Tammi have a son and 7 daughters!]
The ship is breaking apart. The timbers of civility. Crack! The planks of morality. Splinter! The mast of critical thinking. Pop! As we hope to stay afloat, we cannot help but feel growing apprehension over the current state of our society. It’s not a matter of preserving or plastering over a past. It’s a matter of preserving peace in the present, but only if that means God’s people are serious about sharing the only possible remedy–Jesus! Yet, as it increasingly seems our country is ratcheted by prejudice, hatred, division, and rancor, we see the tranquility and calm from so many quarters threatened with the dark storms of violence and uncertainty.
In Acts 27, Paul was with 275 other passengers on a boat bound for Rome from Caesarea, and its captain decided to test the Mediterranean Sea at a turbulent time. A violent storm, known as Euraquilo, caught the ship and ultimately battered it to pieces. It must have been an apprehensive time for the passengers and crew. Luke says the wind was violent, the ship was driven, the sun and moon didn’t appear for days, violently storm-tossed, they incurred damage and loss, and that all hope of their being saved was gradually abandoned. I cannot imagine the helpless, vulnerable feeling they must have felt. At least not literally.
It would be easy to let our national unrest and storminess tempt us to act irrationally (like some on Paul’s ship were tempted) or to give in to fear. But, Paul did five things we should do as we try to respond to the current turbulence.
Instead of focusing on the frightful winds currently blowing, let’s focus on the One who can calm the storm. Let’s get others to join us in that focus. Whatever happens to our nation, we must save as many souls as possible!
Last month, Von Miller gathered some of the NFL’s elite sack specialists at Stanford University for what he called a “pass rush summit.” The participates were star defensive players from around the league, with several different teams represented. Addressing concerns that each man was sharing his trade secrets, Miller replied that it was more like sharing the wealth. He said, ““A sack is a sack. I’m going to get sacks, they’re going to get sacks. You really can’t stop that. You really benefit more from really just sharing that knowledge and just trying to be the best players that you can possibly be” (Denver Post, Nicki Jhabvala, 6/29/17). Do you find that surprisingly magnanimous and unselfish? Yet, don’t you find it refreshingly classy and helpful?
When I think about the spiritual battle God calls us to, I often think about the outposts God has in towns and cities throughout our state, country, and world. These individual congregations of the Lord’s church are facing struggles with a formidable foe (cf. 2 Cor. 10:2-4; 1 Pet. 5:8-9; Eph. 6:10-17). God has endowed us with a mission and purpose, reaching those outside of Christ, showing charity and compassion to the world, and helping to strengthen those already in Christ. We seek to achieve this through various ideas, ministries, programs, efforts, and events. We bring in speakers, host activities, organize, and create. When we find ways to be productive and get results, we should be ready to help. When he hear of such things, we should be eager to hear. At times, we may inadvertently develop a sense of competition rather than a spirit of cooperation. But this ought not to be so.
What is our goal with every benevolent outreach, every evangelistic attempt, and every edifying work? Isn’t it to get more people to heaven, to shine the light of Christ into a world of ever-deepening darkness? Why do we host camps, have lectureships, train preachers, hold fellowship activities in homes and at the building, reach out to our homeless community, stock pantries, build a robust youth program, minister to young professionals, young families, and seniors, do evangelism training, have marriage seminars, worship leadership training, and the like?
What about works our brothers and sisters are doing all over the country? Polishing the Pulpit, Focal Point, Fishers of Men, Gospel Broadcasting Network (GBN), Truth.fm, Mission Printing, World Video Bible School, Bear Valley Bible Institute’s Extension Program, World English Institute, House to House, Heart to Heart, and many, many others are what our larger church family are doing to grow the church and build its strength. Yet, there’s much more that could be done by so many more of us, working together to accomplish the mission. But we must see ourselves as cooperators rather than competitors. Obviously, there can be impediments making this impossible in specific situations, but as we acknowledge that are we missing opportunities. Meanwhile, countless souls are rushing toward eternity. Let’s band together to find out how to more effectively reach more of them. That will mean more saved souls and more glory to God!
The lost are convicted, too. Don’t let anybody say they’re not. Some of the strongest-held beliefs, some of the most fully-persuaded minds, and some of the most determined hearts are attached to lost individuals. Even in the Bible, one finds the deepest rooted convictions in the heart of the lost sinner. If one wants to find a people wholly dedicated, he should take a trip into Noah’s world (see Gen. 6:5). If one wants to find a people completely set in a given pursuit, he should visit with King Solomon about the sons of men (Ecc. 8:11).
We should abhor rather than admire the lifestyle of the lost. This statement, if it has ever been true, applies to the people who spread themselves around Pilate’s judgment seat. Grounded in their hatred and jealousy of Jesus, the chief priests, the elders, and the persuaded multitude had as their singular focus the destruction of Jesus. They wanted Him gone, and any way they could do it they were willing to try. The rulers of the people had tried to ridicule, embarrass, trap, frustrate, tempt and discourage Him, but they had failed. One would think that, after three years of trying, they would have given up on their task. But, they were convicted.
The mob who finally “got rid of Jesus” (actually, they fulfilled God’s eternal plan for their and our salvation, and they did not foresee the resurrection) was a crowd we could learn a few lessons.
THEY WERE UNITED (Mat. 27:22). Pilate asked them what he should do with Jesus. All of them said, “Let Him be crucified.” No dissension is recorded by Matthew. Together, they forced a governor to submit to their wishes. How unfortunately that they were united to do evil.
When the righteous are united under the proper standard (Eph. 4:13), “how good and how pleasant it is…” (Psa. 133:1). Think of the untold good Christ’s disciples can do under the banner of brotherly love (Heb. 13:1), outdone only by our love, devotion and obedience to the Lord (Heb. 5:9).
THEY WERE DECISIVE (Mat. 27:21,22). There were no long committee meetings. There were no endless business meetings. They did not vacillate in this moment of decision. Pilate knew who they wanted crucified and who they wanted released. Though iniquitous, their decision was most expedient for their stated goal.
The Lord’s church in most places does an adequate job of planning its local work. Alas, in some cases, their best laid plans get lost somewhere between the forming and fulfilling. No congregation wants to rashly enter any endeavor–whether it be picking up support of an extra missionary or the execution of a needed program or plan. Yet, at times, the church can be overcautious and ponderous in discharging their responsibilities. Surely God was thrilled at the decisive way the disciples in the early church mobilized, spread the gospel, and reached the lost. The book of Acts is the model of decisiveness for today’s church.
THEY ACCEPTED RESPONSIBILITY (Mat. 27:25). Pilate wanted to know who was going to take moral responsibility for killing the just Jesus (24). Seemingly without hesitation, “All the people…said, His blood be on us, and on our children.” They collectively pointed the finger of guilt at themselves. Later, when Peter’s Pentecost preaching pricked their hearts, in a different way they took responsibility for this heinous acts (Acts 2:36-37).
Every person must take responsibility for his actions. Everyone must reap what he, individually, has sown (Gal. 6:7-8). In the congregational setting, the eldership must accept responsibility for what goes on among its members. When congregations individually begin to accept responsibility for themselves, theretofore avoided subjects will again be addressed courageously and frequently by the pulpit, eldership, and classroom.
We do not admire those responsible for slaying the sinless Savior. They were callous-hearted wretches darkened by the night of sin. However, they teach us the power of a united people ready and eager to stand accountable for what they decided to do. Churches will grow who follow God’s blueprint for His kingdom with enthusiasm and conviction. Let us maintain our convictions in “well doing” (Gal. 6:9).
A “TD” is a touchdown, also known as “crossing the goal line,” “getting in the end zone,” and simply “scoring,” the TD is a measure–maybe the most emphasized measure–of a player’s success. Back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, a halfback from tiny California Lutheran College, all 5’10” and 200 pounds of him, played seven seasons with the San Diego Chargers. His name was Hank Bauer.
Most of his rushing statistics are quite forgettable. He ran the ball only 123 times for 377 yards, for an unimpressive 3.1 yards per rush. For the uninformed, those numbers will not get you into the Hall of Fame. It will land you on the practice squad. But, Hank Bauer was the ultimate opportunist. Running the ball, he broke the plane of the goal line eighteen times! 18 TDs in 123 carries is incredible! In 1978, he scored more rushing TDs than the great Franco Harris. He ran for more TDs than 1,000 yard rushers Terry Miller (Bills), Tony Reed (Chiefs), Tony Dorsett (Cowboys) and John Riggins (Redskins) did. In 1979, he ran for more TDs than Dorsett, Ottis Anderson (who ran for over 1,600 yards), Terry Bell (1,253 yards), and William Andrews (1,023 yards). Running for 1,000 yards is the watermark that determines success for running backs. But, Hank Bauer scored 8 TDs while carrying the ball 22 times for a whopping 28 yards! He also scored two TDs catching the ball, though he caught only 12 passes for a measly 97 yards in his career.
If you had trouble understanding the data above, Hank Bauer made the most of his limited opportunities. He came out of a tiny college, proving himself so important and dependable that he was given the ball whenever the Chargers were near the goal line. Twenty times, Bauer cashed in on his opportunities.
What about you? How much are you making of your opportunities? You were born in the wealthiest nation in the world, if you are in America. You have the world’s best healthcare, housing, food, raw materials, technology, water works, and standards of living. You also live in a nation that, by percentage, has more Christians than any other on the globe. It can be assumed that, since you are reading this article, you have also been exposed somewhere along the line to God’s plan of salvation (If not, here it is: Hear, Believe, Repent, Confess, and Be Baptized. Write me for more details). There is a pretty good chance you are a New Testament Christian.
Are you taking advantage of your opportunities? To pray? To attend worship services and Bible classes in a land fully granting you the freedom to do so? To study your Bible? To tell a lost soul about Jesus? To shine the light of Christ? To lead your family to heaven?
Pro football has had few Hank Bauers. On the other hand, a goodly number of Heisman Trophy winners (remember Larry Kelly, John Huarte, Gary Beban, Steve Owen, Pat Sullivan, Gino Torretta, Rahsaan Salaam, Eric Crouch, and Troy Smith?) fizzled out when given the opportunity to transform college immortality into professional greatness. I fear that too many of us squander our opportunities to use their time, money, energy, and abilities for God and good! Whether misplaced priorities or crippling sin habits or materialistic greed or simple apathy and inactivity or fear, too many of us are dropping the proverbial ball!
Make the most of your opportunities. Find folks to teach. Find time to develop your relationship with God. Find a way to defeat the sin in your life. Find the church building when the saints are meeting. Find out how good it feels to make the most of your opportunities for the Lord! In the end, you will find Heaven’s “Hall of Fame.”