Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
Friday’s Column: Brent’s Biblical Bytes
“But godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6.6 ESV).
Recently, the battery of our 2014 Chevrolet Impala died while I sat in the local hospital’s parking lot. Of course, we did not realize that it was “just” the battery at the time. The problem seemed worse. As my dad and I were in a difficult situation, stranded in the hospital parking lot, we had the car towed to our local mechanic. Luckily we thought to facilitate everything through our local auto insurance agent, including our car rental. That choice certainly made things smoother. While our mechanic repaired our Impala, we rented a 2020 Toyota Corolla. I will be honest. I really liked the Corolla. I was a little disappointed when the mechanic called to let us know we could pick up our car.
Isn’t that odd? There is nothing wrong with the 2014 Impala. Cosmetically, it looks good. It has low mileage. It is like one of those mythic cars that little old ladies only drove to church on Sunday. Yet, the Corolla had cool little bells and whistles. An alarm sounded if I drifted over the middle line or the line on the shoulder. (I heard that sound a lot, taking the many curves as I went over the mountain. It can be hard not to approach the middle or shoulder of the road when the road is curvier than it is straight.) The rental also had some driver-assist feature coupled with the cruise control that turned the wheel according to the road surface marking detected by its radar. Consequently, it handled curves well and had a good fuel economy. The only “negative’ was that road noise seemed more significant in this lighter automobile.
Here is the question. From whence did my sudden discontentment arise? It is not as if there is a need for a new automobile. Yet, driving a new car for a few days made me feel like I was missing out on something. It may be, too, that I was subconsciously acknowledging my desire to change something (anything) in my life. However, the problem with that thinking is that it reflects a lack of gratitude for my current blessings. Were I to go and buy a 2021 Corolla tomorrow, my happiness would be short-lived. Those elated feelings might last a few months or a year, but the pleasure would fade. What’s worse is that I would end up making myself more miserable by saddling myself with new debt as I paid off the car over several years. Indeed, discontentment is not a problem solved by material gain.
Our emotions are complex. Indulging the lust of the eyes and flesh and the boastful pride of life may act as a placebo, obscuring the underlying problem. Still, there is no cure for discontentment besides gratitude and acceptance. As Paul reminds us, God supplies our every need (Philippians 4.19). Thus, we should be content with food and covering (1 Timothy 6.8). Should God bless us with more, it is a sign He expects more from us (Luke 12.48). And we are to be looking out for the interests of others (Philippians 2.4). Therefore, “while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Galatians 6.10 NASB1995).
When you realize you are a citizen of another country and have your provisions as you make your way home, you, too, will feel contentment. It will certainly give you greater peace of mind. Then comes the realization that salvation and a loaf of bread are worth more than all the gold in Fort Knox. Yes, “godliness with contentment is great gain.”
Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
Yesterday was an emotional day. As expected, our attendance was a fraction of our normal size. The current threat is not yet over, but it was a stride toward what we pray is an imminent return of many more. Even from behind the masks and with the required social distancing, the joy and excitement was palpable. From preschool children to even a few octogenarians, our local brethren once again were able to do as God’s people have done for 2,000 years. We had others, mostly in higher risk categories or in daily contact with those who are high risk, who parked outside and tuned in via FM transmitter. They were in proximity with each other and able to fellowship with those around them and many on their way into and out of the building. A great many at home tuned in to the Live Stream and let us know of the hope and joy they feel that we’ve taken this step, several letting us know that as soon as is medically safe they will be there, too.
Our godly, wonderful shepherds have agonized over how to “return to normal” legally, wisely and safely. At the heart of most of their discussions and “church business” is how this “layoff” or separation or disruption will effect the faith and dedication of us sheep. Their hope is that we will view this situation as one that, for a time, made us a church full of “shut ins” that we could accommodate through virtual services (and later drive-in services) to help keep us connected rather than seeing this as the permanent arrangement or to excuse choosing other activities over assembling when there is no such crisis in place.
None of us knows the future, and it is hard to predict how every individual will respond post-pandemic. But, the heart of each of us will be at the heart of the matter as we prayerfully decide the timetable for our return. To shape and guide us on that spiritual journey, God has given us insight into the hearts of His saints through the centuries to influence our spiritual hunger. Here is but a sampling:
- David: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord'” (Psa. 122:1; notice also Psa. 27:4).
- Zechariah: “The inhabitants of one (city) will go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts; I will also go (some versions: “Let me go too!”)'” (8:21; the whole chapter is beautiful)
- Luke: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42; context shows them together day by day publicly and privately)
- Hebrews’ writer: “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (10:24, in the context of the assemblies).
But it’s the sons of Korah’s words in Psalm 84 that I want to close considering.
- He saw assembling as “lovely” (1)–Appealing!
- He saw assembling with “longing” (2)–Attractive!
- He saw assembling as “logical” (3)–Appropriate!
- He saw assembling as “lasting” (4,10)–Advantageous!
- He saw assembling as “lavishing” (note “how blessed” throughout)–Abundance!
The separation and disruption was not of our choosing, but it might have and adverse effect upon us and cause us to forget the blessings of being together in praise and worship to our God. May the inspired words from saints like these help us fortify our souls as we anticipate the time when we are able once again meet each other in His presence for worship!
Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength
You can learn much by observing nature. Not only can one know God by looking at nature (Romans 1.18-20), he can learn specific lessons on various topics by looking at specific aspects of God’s creation (e.g. ants teach industry, Proverbs 6.6-8). I was watching a humorous scene outside my office window recently and was reminded of this.
Our household, despite being full of “dog-people,” has cats for “pets.” Let’s just say that we feed the cats and provide them outdoor shelter for keeping mice, moles, and snakes away from the house. In many respects, they’re feral but become domesticated long enough to eat the kibble we put out. And, if they feel like initiating it, contact resembling petting may occur. If there is one thing I don’t like about cats, though, it is their murderous nature. Even though well-fed, cats will kill for sport. 1
This latter observation creates a conflict for someone who has always enjoyed feeding and watching birds as well. We had to give up putting out birdseed when the cats became a part of our household. At first, the birds avoided our house. Yet, kittens learn by watching adult cats. If adult cats don’t teach kittens how to hunt, they aren’t as successful at it. As the senior hunters have passed from disease and predation or gone fully feral, being chased off by other cats, the birds have begun coming back without our encouragement. Frankly, I think a few of those “birdbrains” must be rather smart.
One such smarty was teasing one of our cats the other day. He or she served as a good example of the tempter. As Angelo, a cat with a pattern of “angel’s wings” on his back, was slowly climbing up a budding, dogwood tree, the bird did not fly away. Instead, the avian adversary just side-stepped further to the right out on to thinner branches. The higher Angelo climbed, the thinner the branch on which the bird rested became. It seemed as if the bird knew that if Angelo tried to pounce on him or her, he would go crashing to the ground while he or she would just fly away. Angelo really thought about his situation. It took him several minutes, but he finally understood that despite his prowess, continuing towards his coveted prize would lead to his harm. Thus, to his chagrin, he slowly made his way back down the tree to the safety of the ground below.
Herein is the lesson from nature. The tempter will lure you out from “relative safety” in order to bring your desire close, only to ensure when you pounce on it, you will end up falling flat on your face (consider Romans 6.23). We must ensure we are aware of where we are (Hebrews 2.1-4). The branches upon which we make our way may grow thin quickly, depriving us of a solid foundation, and causing us to fall.
Of a truth, no one ever sets out to fall, he just fails to appreciate the gravity of the situation. Keep your eyes on what lies beneath your feet (1 Corinthians 10.12).
1 Traywick, Catherine. “Killer Kitties: Study Proves They’re Not as Innocent As They Look.” Time, Time, 9 Aug. 2012, newsfeed.time.com/2012/08/09/killer-kitties-study-proves-theyre-not-as-innocent-as-they-look/.
Quirky closer (a redundant statement) Sean Doolittle was interviewed last week right after the Washington Nationals clinched the city’s first trip to the World Series since FDR was first inaugurated there. Asked how they did it, Doolittle said, “I think once you start naming guys that stepped up in different ways, you’ll end up naming everybody on the team. We got so many contributions from different guys who had to embrace new roles. There are so many examples of that up and down this team” (MLB.COM). That’s frequently the testimonial of winners. It takes everybody pitching in and doing their part, All-Stars or role players, starters or reserves, veterans or rookies. However you distinguish between them, each person must step up and successful teams do just that!
Have you thought about how the church was designed to be that way? Congregations successful in executing the mission of Jesus are filled with members who step up in different ways, make contributions, embrace new roles, and exemplify team spirit. Paul tells us that “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:15-16). Notice the all-inclusive wording of Paul, pointing out what Jesus desires for His church. “Grow up in every way…” “From whom the whole body….” “Held together by every joint….” “When each part is working properly….”
God expects each of us to step forward, using our talents, opportunities, financial blessings, influence, time, energy, and intellect to reach lost souls, strengthen the church, and meet needs. A church filled with people stepping up and embracing Christ’s mission will stand out in a community and glorify God. We will grow and be built up.
In 1895, Vilfredo Pareto observed that society divided into what he called the “vital few” and the “trivial many.” There is a top 20% and a bottom 80%. From such a genesis, we ultimately got the 80/20 rule, that 20% of the people in an organization do 80% of the work (Explained here: FORBES.COM). Maybe, we’ve heard that so much that we’ve just resigned ourselves to it being a universal truth. Do not be content until you discuss the growth and work of this church, and by the time you’re done “you’ll end up naming everybody on the team.” That’s the goal! Let’s pursue it!
I suppose I have met more than a few elderly people, including some professing to be Christians, who could be described as “crusty,” “crotchety,” “contrary,” and “curmudgeonly.” These no doubt spent decades developing such a winning personality. But one of the greatest blessings I have received as a member of the church and minister of the gospel is my association and friendship with “senior saints.” Through the years, I have discussed with them the subject of worship. The most frequent topic of that is how precious that public time of communing is to them.
A godly widow recently told me she has spent the last two years focusing more intently on concentrating more on the song service, reflecting on the words and their meaning. Songs she has sung for decades, through this exercise, have become almost like new songs to her. Another older woman, married to an elder, talked about how she finds herself much more apt to be tearful in worship these days. She’s almost embarrassed at how emotional the experience of worship is making her. An elderly man who was a longtime elder and recently passed on to paradise, struggled to pray, sing, or publicly speak in worship without being choked with emotion. I could fill pages of writing about other godly Golden Agers who treasure assembling to worship God. Their hearts are full and their emotions engaged. Their voices may be softened and broken by age, but their spirits are stronger than ever.
When I think of these faithful, aged Christians, I am reminded of Paul’s words: “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18). Sometimes, the elderly are made scapegoats of alleged “lifeless” or habitual, but heartless worship. No doubt, there are likely Christians in that age range who struggle with and even fall prey to such (as there is in every other age category). But on the whole, these Christians have walked longer with God, know Him better, and value Him more than their younger counterparts. They are closer on the journey to the Father’s house and are anxious to see His face.
We are heirs of a heartfelt heritage handed to us by these holy hoary heads. To our seasoned brothers and sisters, we thank you for showing us how to walk with and love God as years turns into decades and the shadow of the grave looms larger. As we narrow the gap between our age and yours, we want worship and life in Christ to grow more precious to us, too. Thank you for your trembling lips, your tear-stained cheeks, and your tender hearts. They look great on you!
Well, it has been nearly a week. Can you remember what your resolutions were? The holidays are over and you’re back in your routine. Life happens and it can eclipse our view of the better self we intended to be. Hopefully, this can be a reminder to regroup and maybe rededicate yourself to those well-thought-out resolutions. One thing that can help is “hope.”
Hope in the Bible is “the looking forward to something with some reason for confidence respecting fulfillment” (BDAG 319). Now, with resolutions, we can have a hope that the goals we’ve established can be reached. But in harmony with an earlier reinforcement, we can have a hope grounded in God’s ability to strengthen us and providentially provide for every legitimate goal we have. If our resolutions will make us better Christians and servants in the kingdom, there’s great reason to have hope.
Make sure your goals are reasonable. Otherwise, you cannot have much hope of achieving them. If you have $100,000 in debt and your goal is to be debt-free next month, you won’t have hope to help you. Have intermediate goals that will get you from where you are now toward where you want to be.
You read about hope not only in both Testaments, but in all the different time periods of Bible history. Job longed for it during the early days of earth (Job 7:6). So did Naomi in the period of the Judges (Ruth 1:13). David spoke of it (1 Chronicles 29:15). Hundreds of years later, near the end of recorded Old Testament history, Ezra (10:2) and Esther (9:1) did, too. It features prominently in Israel’s song book (cf. Psa. 42:11). The New Testament frequently talks about it–some 73 times! It is a central driver in people’s lives. Lean on it to keep you on track and moving toward your goals. Don’t lose hope!
“To see the dull indifference, the negligent and thoughtless air that sits upon the faces of a whole assembly, while the psalm is upon their lips, might even tempt a charitable observer to suspect the fervency of their inward religion.” This quotation was from a man who observed lethargy and unenthusiastic engagement in congregational singing. He decried a lack of apparent passion and zeal for God and spiritual things in this act of worship that is meant to be profound and transforming. The observer, as far as is known, was not a New Testament Christian, but he was responsible for giving us “Joy to the World,” “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross,” and over 500 more hymns. He complained about the lifeless hymns being sung in his day, and his father, who would be jailed for dissenting from the Church of England, challenged him to come up with a solution. All those hymns, which he started writing in adolescence, was his answer. Isaac Watts can be considered an expert on religious hymns, and he revolutionized congregational singing for especially English speakers. The fact that we still sing some of his hymns demonstrates that.
But, his observation in later life about indifference, negligence, and thoughtlessness from those presumably worshipping is a fair challenge to each of us. Especially when we are singing songs so familiar to us, which we know by heart, we must guard against lips that say one thing and hearts which do not necessarily reflect those words. Is it possible to sing about Jesus’ death on the cross or God’s great love or the amazing hope of heaven or an examination of my Christian life and commitment without reflecting and contemplating? Could I be thinking about something while singing something else? The gamut might run from empty religion to understandable distraction, but we must challenge ourselves to keep our hearts and minds on the words and meaning of those psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (cf. Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19). Let us cultivate desire in the heart that bubbles from the lips as we praise God and encourage one another in our song service.
Do you want your marriage to flourish and grow?
Do you want to read through the Bible this year?
Do you want to lead someone the Savior to know?
Do you want to live life without worry and fear?
Do you want to lose weight and be healthy and fit?
Do you want to attain to more financial discipline?
Do you want self-confidence, courage, and grit?
Do you want to get better at caring and listening?
Do you want a closer place near the heart of God?
Do you want to trust Him when trouble finds you?
Do you want to have heaven after earth you’ve trod?
Then it all must begin with you wanting to want to! —NP
Call it desire, motivation, or willpower. Whatever you call it, it is central to succeeding at whatever your goals are. What does it take to become a Christian? Wanting to! What does it take to defeat the sin in your life? Wanting to! What does it take to break bad habits and repeated blown judgment calls? Wanting to! What does it take to be a stronger, more faithful Christian? Wanting to! That is not to minimize or ignore our dependence on God and the strength He provides. But He is not going to overwhelm or overtake our will and make us do or be something. He did not operate that way in the age of miracles.
What will be your motivation? There are so many potential incentives. There’s the love God has shown us (2 Cor. 5:14). There’s the fear of hell (Mat. 10:28). There’s the yearning for heaven (John 14:1-3). There’s the concern about how we influence other’s destiny (Mat. 5:14-16). There’s the love we have for God (1 Jn. 4:19). There’s the longing to be like Jesus (1 Jn. 3:2). For each of us, some motivations are more powerful than others. Whatever it takes to be more for God in this needy world, latch onto it and pursue it. You can do it because you won’t be doing it alone. God gave you the church, His Word, prayer, and a personal will to help arrive at the ultimate goal. Don’t let up. Don’t look back. Don’t lose hope. Want to want to!
Suddenly, it has become imperative that bathroom concessions be made for those who are struggling with gender identity issues. The comprehensively consuming coverage it has garnered, the blistering backlash against any opposing of this baffling blurring of the lines, and the preeminent priority this has become for a problem pestering a puny percentage of the population is actually not surprising. At least, it should not be.
The premise behind “transgender rights” is the same as that behind gay rights, but also the “right” to choose abortion, the “right” to become sexually active before marriage, the “right” to divorce and remarry at will—as well as the “right” to commit adultery. Neither does this clamor for rights reserve itself to matters identified in scripture as sexual sins. The watchwords of our culture include “feel,” “want,” “choose,” and the variants of “I,” “me,” and “my.” Self has been enthroned and each call to express, practice, and flaunt each co-opted right is expected to be not just tolerated by everyone else, but wholly embraced by them.
If you think our society lost its collective mind overnight, you have not been paying attention. If you think that this sickening syndrome was born in the 21st Century, you are likewise mistaken. We are seeing the spoiled fruit of sinister seed planted by mankind in every generation since the first generation. There is a moral ebb and flow in every civilization and generation, but the issue is ever-present. The majority succumb to the temptation to crown our desires and condemn the declarations of Deity.
It was an illuminating moment, looking at Mark 8:34-35 last night during Teens In The Word. Michael Hite pointed out a thread used by Mark that’s summed up in those two verses. Several times, Mark speaks of what individuals “want” or “desire.” Herodias wanted to kill John the Baptist (6:19). Her daughter wanted his head as payment for the dance which pleased Herod so much (6:25). Herod did not want to refuse her (6:26). People did whatever they wished with John the Baptist (9:13). Jesus speaks of those who desire to be first (9:35). James and John wanted a position of prominence (10:35). Jesus warns about those who desire greatness (10:43-44). But, if we desire to come after Jesus—to be His disciple—we must put self to death! This is a radical idea, one completely rejected by the world. Instead, the world says to keep moving the line to wherever you want it. You decide! You’re the boss. Discipleship acknowledges that God and His Word determine where the lines are drawn. We follow Jesus and stay behind His lines.
But Jesus does not ask us to do what He did not do to the greatest degree. Facing His imminent death on the cross, Jesus prayed in the garden, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will” (14:36). All these words, variously translated “desire,” “want,” and “will” in Mark’s gospel, are from a single Greek word meaning “to desire to have or experience something; wish to have” (Louw-Nida, BDAG). Jesus followed His Father’s will and denied His own. In essence, He says to us in Mark 8:34-35, if you want My salvation, you must do the same thing. The world doesn’t get that, but we must! This life is not about getting everything we want. It’s about self-denial, murdering self-will, and following Jesus. It’s about staying within His lines when it comes to everything. That’s a message we must gently share with a world bent on a self-destructive, self-guided journey!