MONDAY’S COLUMN: NEAL AT THE CROSS
In the wake of James Polk’s vision for “manifest destiny,” the United States purchased and/or fought for the territory that gave us the current boundaries of our nation. To maintain and protect this newfound territory, one of the military strategies included the building of forts throughout the west to protect settlers from especially the Native American tribes who were reacting to the invasion of their ancestral home. Kit Carson, former fur trapper, explorer, and extraordinary tracker, was a civilian ultimately urged into serving out west in a military stretched thin back east by the Civil War. He was appointed by General James Carleton to round up 9000 Navajo and 500 Mescalero Apache and place them in a reservation Carleton dreamed up. From the time he visited there, he was enamored with the terrain, trees, and beauty of the place. So the nearly 10,000 Native Americans were detained and displaced and forced to settle at Bosque Redondo.
While it was a disaster on paper, it was even worse in real life. Neither the Navajo nor Apache were agrarian people, but both were forced to farm. They were enemies of one another, but they were forced to live together at Bosque Redondo. The crops were destroyed by cut worms and hail storms, and the army rations inadequate. The water was alkaline, making them sick. Smallpox decimated their numbers. Winters were bitterly cold and the inhabitants were ill-prepared and ill-equipped. They were forced laborers, slaves ironically settled at this reservation by the U.S. Government and President Lincoln the very year of the Emancipation Proclamation. It was as much a failure for the government. It was an exorbitantly expensive venture, costly to start and even more to maintain. Beyond the inhumanity and immorality of the venture, it was inept and inane. Carlton envisioned paradise, but delivered purgatory (information a summary of content in Hampton Side’s book, Blood And Thunder).
Bosque Redondo is but one example of the disaster which follow’s man’s attempt to create what he vainly sees as either utopian or idyllic. Contrast that with some of God’s plans. First, He put man and woman in a perfect paradise wherein He supplied their every need (Gen. 2:8-14). Later, after they sinned and were expelled from there, God promised a land which flowed with milk and honey. It was a good and spacious land (Exo. 3:8). While sin tainted their existence there and ultimately cost them ownership, the provision was not the problem.
Along the way, God promised the creation of a domain unlike any other. It would be for all nations (Gen. 22:18; Isa. 2:2). It would never be destroyed, nor left to other peoples (Dan. 2:44). It was the result of the eternal planning and purpose of God (Eph. 3:9-11). God left a perfect blueprint for its creation and for the citizens’ conduct (Isa. 2:3; Mic. 4:2). We know it as the church (Eph. 1:22-23; 4:4). It is described in that epistle: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (2:19-22).
In this divine institution, God has brought together people diverse and unlike each other and united them through His Son. He has taken spiritual slaves and gave them freedom. He has taken those poor and emaciated by sin and made them rich (Eph. 2:7; Phil. 4:19). He has given them boundless blessings by His Son (Eph. 1:3). His church is right in design, discharge, and destiny. Far from a blunder, His body is a bountiful blessing! Only God could take a people besieged by sin and dysfunction and give us something infinitely better. Just imagine what our eternal home is going to be (Rev. 21-22)!
Thursday’s Column: Carlnormous Comments
- God loved me enough to establish it.
- Jesus loves the Church.
- The Church loves Jesus.
- The Church is a family.
- The Church is filled with true friendships.
- The Church is a source of encouragement.
- I’ve seen firsthand the comfort that the Church provides.
- The Church is considerate of others.
- The Church is a place for the broken.
- The Church is a place for the weak.
- In the Church I belong to God.
- The Church has perfected potlucks.
- Jesus is the Head of the Church.
- The Church is the unified body of Christ.
- The Church helps me to be a better Christian.
- The Church helps to show me my purpose in life.
- I’ve met people that have changed my life.
- The Church helps me love God more.
- The Church is motivated.
- The Church reminds me that this world is not my home.
- The Church shows me the power of song.
- The Church shows me the power of the Gospel.
- The Church creates a bond that is impossible to find anywhere else.
- The Church shows me how amazing grace really is.
- The Church is a place of spiritual support.
- The Church is a place of physical comfort.
- The Church is a place of emotional healing.
- I leave every service feeling renewed.
- The Church helps me interact better with people.
- The Church at times helps me practice patience.
- The Church is a reminder that we are equal in Christ.
- The Church is a place filled with servants.
- The Church helps bring out the best in me.
- I want to go to Heaven.
- The Church helps me glorify God.
- The Church is the family I worship God with.
- The Church is exciting!
- The Church is where I belong.
- I can’t imagine a life without the Church.
- The Church puts my focus where it belongs; on God, and other people.
- The Church is selfless.
- The Church is life changing.
- God wants me to love the Church.
- The Church makes you feel needed.
- The Church makes me more considerate of others.
- I want to be a part of God’s plan.
- The Church helps me be closer to my physical family.
- The Church gives me memories that will last a lifetime.
- The Church is filled with people that I will never have to say goodbye to.
- The Church of Christ helps me keep heaven in view.
I write this as someone who has spent his entire life in a preacher’s home. I grew up a preacher’s kid, whose dad was fired twice (once for baptizing a black woman and later for standing against the “New Hermeneutic”). I have been a full-time preacher for nearly thirty years myself. Now, my sons are devoting their lives full-time to preaching. To an extent, our family’s lives have revolved around preaching. Have there been hurts, disappointments, and occasions of mistreatment? Certainly. Of course, plumbers, lawyers, accountants, engineers, and builders will tell you the same. But, we work with Christians, who should know better? That’s true, but they are still humans constantly struggling with the battle of self.
My dad has always spoken of the value and blessing of the church, even when dealing with personal hurts. He loves the Lord and His church. As we grew up in the home, he taught us to have a high esteem for the precious bride of Christ. In college, I had one teacher who especially counseled us to look at the church–and the people who make it up–with hopeful, optimistic eyes. We generally find what we are looking for. If we are looking for injustices, offenses, and disappointments, we’ll see an endless supply of it whether we’re looking at elders, deacons, long-time members, or new or weak Christians. If we can view the foibles of others with patience, compassion, and empathy, we are likely to help each other grow and transform. We will definitely steer away from an “us versus them” mentality.
If you are in full-time ministry for any length of time, you will have some stories to tell. Some will be full of joy and excitement. Share these generously. They will encourage and edify. Some will be unbelievable, but not in a good way. Use wisdom and discretion about how, who and if you tell those. What are we hoping to accomplish by such sharing?
Preaching is not lucrative business. It’s not paradise on earth. It’s not easy and not everyone can (or should) do it. But, it’s the greatest work in the world! It constantly impacts eternity in seen and unseen ways, in a way that perhaps nothing else can match. There will be some lumps and bumps. Ask Paul (2 Cor. 11:23ff). But, listen to Paul, too. In prison, he wrote of rejoicing about preaching despite its various pitfalls (Phil. 1:14-24). Some seem bitter about how they have been treated in preaching, and I hope they can work through it. But, I love this life so much, and I just can’t share their bitterness!
- The New Testament claims to be the source of authority for all we do of eternal importance, no matter when or where we live (Col. 3:17; 2 Pet. 1:3,20-21; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).
- The New Testament will not share authority with any other book or “revelation” (Gal. 1:6-9; Jude 3).
- The New Testament reveals how a person becomes a Christian (Acts 2:37-47; Eph. 4:4-6).
- The New Testament teaches us that the Lord adds Christians to His church (Acts 2:47).
- The New Testament shows us how that church is organized and led (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 3:1-12; Phil. 1:1; 1 Pet. 5:1-4).
- The New Testament gives us the day the Christians met to worship (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2).
- The New Testament clarifies for us the various roles and responsibilities God has given to each gender of Christians in the work and worship of His church (1 Tim. 2:8-15).
- The New Testament teaches the Christian how God wants to be worshipped (John 4:24).
- The New Testament outlines the Christian’s purpose and work (Eph. 4:11-16).
- The New Testament is dedicated to showing how one, as a faithful Christian, has eternal life and the hope of heaven (Ti. 1:2; Rev. 2:10; ch. 21-22).
- The New Testament helps one understand how God wants marriage and family to function, to build Christian homes (Mat. 19:1-12; Eph. 5:22-6:4; 1 Pet. 3:1-7).
- The New Testament urges Christian growth and thoroughly teaches how that is accomplished (2 Pet. 3:18; Ti. 2:11-14; John 15:1ff; etc.).
- The New Testament constantly speaks of how the Christian needs to and benefits from developing an intimate relationship with the Godhead (1 Th. 5:17; 2 Tim. 2:15; John 15:14; Mat. 22:36-40).
- The New Testament teaches that Christians prove to others their discipleship to Christ by loving one another (John 13:34-35).
- The New Testament reveals that Christians are tasked with duplicating themselves by teaching the gospel to those outside of Christ (Mat. 28:18-20; Acts 8:4; Col. 1:23).
- The New Testament asserts itself as the unfailing, universal guide regarding anything that will ultimately matter (2 Pet. 1:3; John 14:26; 16:13; etc.).
If what we are after is divine guidance for who a Christian is, what he or she does, and how God wants one to live, where else would we turn but to the New Testament? A God who engineered us for eternity and tells us we have but two eternal dwelling places would be cruel and unloving if He did not give us clear, thorough answers to any matter that is important to Him. How loving and faithful for God to give us such an unambiguous guide.
Kathy and I visited the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, in February of 2006. It is an ornate, historic building. It dates to the 1100s, surviving the threats of many wars including World War I and World War II. But, it has been dilapidating for some time. Earlier today, a fire inside the spire caused it and one of its towers to collapse. Now, officials are saying that the whole frame is burning and will not survive. Whether or not they rebuild this Catholic Church building, this 900 year edifice will be gone.
There are buildings that have been around millennia before New Testament Days on most of the continents. If they continue until the Second Coming of Christ, they will cease to exist that day (2 Pet. 3:10). King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream over 500 years before Christ, and God helped Daniel understand its meaning (Dan. 2:28). The colossal figure he saw in that dream was a vision about the coming Kingdom of Christ. Daniel says, “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever” (Dan. 2:44).
A careful study of unfolding history reveals this particular kingdom to be the church of our Lord, a Kingdom Jesus said would be established during the lifetime of some of His disciples (Mat. 16:28). It would come with power (Mark 9:1), a promise Jesus reiterates in Acts 1:8-11. That power came by way of the Holy Spirit’s coming upon the apostles on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Through this means, the Lord’s church was established in Jerusalem that day (Acts 2:37-47). The Roman Empire, which ruled the earth that day, eventually collapsed. No nation or empire can rival the spiritual Kingdom of Christ. His church will stand forever (Heb. 12:28). Nothing can overtake or overpower it (Mat. 16:18).
Assaults against the church have been ongoing for twenty centuries. At times, it has been invisible to recorded history, but it continues to stand. Her members have been assaulted many times throughout the centuries. Property has been destroyed. Possessions have been taken. Lives have been lost. But, still she stands! This Kingdom shall stand forever! A Divine promise encircles it. This confidence is fire proof!
In a recent question and answer session, it became apparent what’s really on the hearts and minds of our teens. You could see the depth and conviction of the questions and concerns filling the hearts of our teens. They want to know more about how to share their faith, what to say and how to say it. They want to know how to be a bigger influence on the world around them. They want to know what the Bible says about a wide variety of matters.
It’s hard for our teenagers to live in this world. They are facing challenges we never even imagined could be a reality. The world’s worldview is drifting and dangerous, yet these courageous young people have a David-like heart of faith and are showing dauntless daring to do what’s right. I have no idea what they’ll ask or how they’ll drive our conversation for the next couple of days, but I look forward to it based on what I’ve already seen. They are from all over the country, facing problems and pressures that in some cases are based on their region of the country and, thanks to mediums like social media, some things in common with every other teen in the room with them. As BJ remarked, the more things change the more they stay the same. In broad principle, there is nothing new under the sun. But, I’m encouraged to see how God’s people of this generation are embracing the challenge with a desire to know what God has to say about it. We’d appreciate your prayers as we seek to encourage so many teens who have already encouraged us greatly!
I’m not sure where the phrase, “handle with care,” originated. It’s usually reserved for advice regarding that which is fragile or even volatile. It really is applicable to those who visit our assemblies because of their value and importance. They came through the doors of our church building intentionally and with a purpose. Initially, we cannot know why or how sincere their purpose. That process of discovery could not be more important. Consider some reasons why we should handle every visitor with care:
- Each has an eternal soul (cf. Mat. 25:46).
- God could not love that visitor any more than He does (John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:6).
- God loves that visitor as much as He loves you and me (Acts 10:34-35).
- That visitor is likely seeking spiritual guidance (cf. Mat. 7:7).
- Each visitor is subjected to a first impression, being left by you and me.
- That visitor is going to make judgments about the church, the Bible and Christ based on what he or she sees (or fails to see) from you and me.
- The smallest gesture of kindness toward such a one could lead to the salvation of a soul.
- We cannot know what anyone else is doing to make their first visit a good one.
- Each one is being exposed to the Bible and to New Testament worship, and follow up can lead to further interest.
- That soul is connected to many others, who might subsequently be reached (2 Tim. 2:2).
- You and I are official ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20).
- The Golden Rule should prompt our warmth, helpfulness, and sensitivity (Luke 6:31).
- We are each part of a team, trying to connect each of them with what only Christ can offer them (1 Cor. 12:18; John 14:6).
- There is no guarantee that there will be a next time (Prov. 27:1).
- Statistics tell us that most visitors find the churches they visit to be unfriendly toward “outsiders” (see, for example: Thom Rainer).
- Loving others is commanded, and visitors are included in “others” (Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14; Jas. 2:8; etc.).
- Visitors constitute perhaps the easiest inroad to developing interest in a Bible study, as such have reached out to us by attending.
- Our excuses (“I’m shy,” “That’s not my job,” “I’m not good at it,” “I’m busy”) ring hollow when carefully examined.
- We love the church and believe in its relevance and importance.
- Each contact is a valuable way you and I can contribute service for our Servant-Savior (cf. John 13:12ff; Mat. 20:28).
The list is far from exhaustive. I am convinced that none of us neglects a visitor out of contempt or even indifference. Yet, it is good for you and I to encourage each other, to “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” especially as it pertains to assembly-related matters (Heb. 10:24-25). Wouldn’t it be exciting to be the friendliest church around, especially if our message and practice is faithful to God’s Word? What a powerful combination! Let’s help each other earn such a reputation, for reasons such as the above.
I make a notation “GM” along with the date and place on the paper copy of my sermons to indicate that I preached that sermon in a gospel meeting. It is one of my homemade preacher shorthand notations. Growing up a “PK” (“preacher’s kid,” of course), I’ve got a lot of GM memories. I would not trade anything for them, especially the indelible imprint they made on me in shaping the adult I have become. Let me encourage you to bring your children and yourselves to our gospel meetings for what they will mean to your faith and for the part of you they will forever become. To me, the GM of gospel meeting stands for a few other things, too.
• Great Memories. When James Watkins held a meeting for us in 1984 in Franklin, Ga., I led singing that Sunday night. I was 14, and this participation was a big deal to me. I led, “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah” and in verse three mistakenly bellowed out, “All ye fruitless trees and cedars.” Once when the air conditioner was out, we opened the side doors on either side of the pulpit for relief in that muggy July, west Georgia heat. This was an open invitation for the horse fly that landed on the calf of my leg during the chorus of “the song before our opening prayer,” which bit mercilessly until I could swat it during said prayer (which was by no means a quiet slap).
I remember attending a meeting in Carrollton, Georgia, and being jolted by Bobby Duncan’s dramatic cries of “the boy is home!” in his powerful telling of the story of the prodigal son. I remember, though, I was no more than 5 or 6, the smell of hay and watching members set up a portable baptistery for a tent meeting my dad preached in Aragon, Ga. I remember the family car rides when we rode to others’ meetings. I remember the baptisms, restorations, preaching, and fellowship so much a part of these special times.
• Giant Men. Through this venue I first became acquainted with men who became my heroes: Frank Chesser, Perry Cotham, Howard Swann, James Watkins, Bobby Duncan, Truman Cobb, Franklin Camp, Winfred Clark, Wendell Winkler, Glen Posey, Ken Thomas, V.P. Black and others. I remember playing basketball with Ken Thomas, who had to play in his socks and still took us all to school (he also demolished me in a game of “punt, pass, and kick”). I recall having me heart stirred and being convicted of sin by the penetrating preaching of Frank Chesser.
I vividly recall being amazed by Perry Cotham, who seemed to me even three decades ago to be a very old preacher (I saw him preach in California when he was in his late 90s). I will never forget being touched by Franklin Camp’s tender heart as he told the story of Christ’s crucifixion. I was wowed by J.J. Turner’s ability to turn a phrase. There was the time when I walked by James Watkins’ hotel room and saw him diligently studying his Bible in the middle of the afternoon. These men were spiritual giants to me.
• Gospel Message. Even as a child, I learned so much from the sermons I heard. I saw things in a new way because every preacher has his own unique style, history of study, and method of delivery. I was challenged by the Bible-centered approach these men faithfully took. I got my first glimpse at sermon organization, taking crude notes and main points from sermonic masterpieces. Meeting after meeting, year after year turned my heart and mind more and more to the Bible. Even then, I saw, at least to a juvenile degree, the effectiveness of this method of evangelism and edification.
Give your children, your mate, your non-Christian friends and neighbors, and yourself the pleasure of experiencing these unparalleled joys. The Godhead and the heavenly host pay particular interest to each service of every gospel meeting. Let us join them there and grow from hearing anew the wonderful story of love. It will stay with you for a lifetime.
- Where you can build relationships with some of finest, most enjoyable people on earth.
- Where the world gets smaller and mutual connections are usually a conversation away.
- Where God’s Word is honored and imperfect people try to follow it.
- Where Christ is at the heart of every idea, program, and plan, but also every class period and worship assembly.
- Where you connect with people throughout the week, from thoughts and prayers to cards, calls, messages, and visits.
- Where hope is always vibrant whatever in the world is happening, where joy is always possible however gloomy the forecast.
- Where there’s always room for more members to be added to the family.
- Where young and old, rich and poor, educated and uneducated blend together in a harmony that cannot be found anywhere else on earth.
- Where we literally get a foretaste of glory divine.
- Where you feel a part of something so truly profound in purpose and exciting in destiny that sometimes you have to pinch yourself to make sure it’s real. And it is.
- Where you have clarity and grounding in the midst of chaos and confusion.
- Where you have heritage and history, but just as much hope and hankering.
- Where truth is honored, and the way, though difficult, is clear.
A couple of closing caveats. No, I do not think the church, from the human side, is perfect. We have our foibles, fragility, and faults, but our foundation is flawless. No, the church is not a place, it is a people. “Where” indicates that the church, as a body, is a place where I can fit, belong, and function. No, this is not a Pollyanna-like, rose-colored glasses view of the church that glosses over or is ignorant of times when God’s people do not behave like they ought. But, when too often the diatribe is “what’s wrong with the church” and the mantra is, with negative and sarcastic spin, “that’s the church for you,” maybe it’s time we take a moment to count some of the blessings and perks of membership in the institution bought with the life and blood of Jesus (Acts 20:28). Obviously, there are other items to be added to the list. Feel free to do so! Generously.