Friday’s Column: Brent’s Biblical Bytes
The folks at Merriam-Webster define “common courtesy” as “politeness that people can usually be expected to show.” 1 One notes that courtesy doesn’t seem as ordinary as it once was, at least in the West. In the more collectivist societies of the East, people prize social harmony more than individualism. When you have millions of people packed into a metropolis, I suppose such a mindset is essential for survival. However, it translates into an attitude that suggests that I take great care not to upset or inconvenience the people around me.
I got to thinking about common courtesy as I was driving along a stretch of U.S. 129/U.S. 19 in the northeast Georgia mountains. Since slower traffic is expected, especially during tourist season, planners provided periodic passing lanes to allow for those conducting everyday business to pass the leaf-gawkers. For the spaces in between, these planners likewise added pull-offs for slower vehicles to pull off and let the faster traffic get by. Most of the time, this traffic arrangement works out nicely. However, you do encounter the occasional driver who lacks the aforementioned common courtesy, as I did when recently getting stuck behind a truck pulling a horse trailer hauling several horses.
As Christians, we are to extend courtesy as a matter of faith. Paul tells us that we are to esteem others before self and be as mindful of them as ourselves (Philippians 2.3-4). As lovely as that is when taking an earthly journey, we see how the mindset also benefits the heavenly journey. No, I am not saying that the act of utilizing a pull-off will win a lost soul to Christ. What I am suggesting, though, is that people take notice of how we conduct ourselves. As Edgar Guest famously stated, people desire sermons they can see. Since a courteous person is already mindful of others, it is but an extra step for him or her to adopt a servant’s heart. Note that following his admonition to esteem others first, Paul transitions to telling us about needing the servant-mind of Christ (Philippians 2.5-8).
With whom are you more likely to strike up a conversation? A rude person or a courteous one? Through the extension of common courtesy, you make yourself more amiable to others. And since common courtesy is no longer so common, you stand a better chance of making yourself stand out in a crowd. So, go the extra mile (cf. Matthew 5.38-42). Develop habits contributing to becoming more courteous and foster the heart of a servant within you.
1 “Common courtesy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/common%20courtesy. Accessed 1 Oct. 2020.
Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail
Some times it can feel like our life is a ship on the verge of breaking apart in a violent storm. Maybe we placed too much trust in the now creaking wooden planks that buckle and groan over dark turbulent waters. In a last stitch effort to stay afloat, we madly rush about throwing any non-essentials overboard.
At times we turn to anything or anyone in an attempt to discover some lifesaving advice— perhaps a miracle? If you’re a child of God, you’ve got access to salvation even in the storms. Jonah 1:4-5 depicts chaos, panic, and overwhelming fear. Those sailors on the boat with Jonah had no idea where they should turn for their salvation. With each passing moment their ship threatened to burst into splinters and “each one cried out to his god” (v. 5).
But Jonah? He’s asleep. He has some kind of knowledge and relationship with the Creator, but he doesn’t fully understand how powerful his God really is.
The application, then, is humbling. Today our communities are filled with people whose lives are rocked and they’re looking for a savior with lifesaving power. They turn to the things in which they’ve placed their trust, and to no avail. How many of us hold the answers they need, but at times find ourselves spiritually sleeping— selfishly keeping this message to ourselves?
Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
While many today have no idea who Jesse Roper Mohorovic is, he was a celebrity from the moment of his birth on March 30, 1942, off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The United States had entered World War II only a few months before, and German U-Boats “prowled the Atlantic sea lanes, and the waters off the Virginia-Carolina coast were ‘the most dangerous on earth'” (C. Brian Kelly, Military History, 9/05, 74). In fact, the Germans killed twice as many seamen in their U-boat campaign off the east coast than died at Pearl Harbor.
Jesse’s mother, Desanka, was 8 1/2 months pregnant, traveling on a passenger freighter that was torpedoed. She faced peril after peril, from getting out of her cabin to the harrowing escape in a lifeboat to an overnight storm. In the middle of all of it, the freighter sunk and her doctor injured in their dramatic escape, she gave birth in Lifeboat #4 to a baby boy at 2:30 A.M. Two days later, they were rescued by the Navy destroyer Jesse Roper.
The media covered many of the early milestones of his life, and even documented his interests and favorite baseball team. He later appeared on the TV shows To Tell The Truth and I’ve Got A Secret. He earned a law degree, served in the Navy, and had a career in marketing. He died of lung cancer about two years after his 2003 retirement (via JOC.com).
It is no wonder that “The Lifeboat Baby” would become such a sensation, especially given the real drama behind his birth. Perhaps he would have been part of anonymous tragedy if he and his mother had been among the 5000 who perished, but his birth and life became a symbol of hope and victory. Indeed, “Newspapers heralded Jesse as living proof the Allies could not be defeated” (Kelly).
We live in increasingly grim times. Our current battle is spiritual in nature, as sin and immorality seem to have the upper hand. Souls are perishing in infinitely greater numbers (cf. Mat. 7:13-14). While we cannot save them all, we need to be in search of those we can reach with the gospel. We must muster greater courage to share the good news and help those searching reach safety. They need to know there is hope and victory possible, and that Christ will ultimately win (1 John 5:4-5; 1 Cor. 15:24-25). These babes in Christ are unlikely to capture the attention of the media, but each of them have the rapt attention of heaven. God is counting on you and me helping to deliver them, regardless of how stormy things may be. Each individual matters to God. How wonderful that we might partner with God and His Word, and help a soul be one whose name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev. 21:27)!
Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
Writing to a church filled with multiple ethnic groups, Paul has a broad goal in mind in writing the Roman epistle. Having dedicated himself to “world-wide” evangelism, as Acts and his letters show, his heart was on more than winning Jews in one small part of the world.
In Romans ten, Paul is reaching the crescendo of the doctrinal argument he makes in Romans 1:15-17 about salvation through faith in Christ. In the middle of the chapter, he states some principles that are worthy of our attention. Consider briefly Romans 10:5-17.
Here, we have the message expressed (5-10). It is the message Paul has been stressing throughout the letter, a message of “righteousness based on faith” (6). It is a word of faith (8), one emphasizing what the scriptures say (Paul quotes Deut. 30:12, 14, 21, Psa. 19:4, Isa. 28:16, 52:7, 53:1, 65:1-2, and Joel 2:32 just from Rom. 10:6-21), and a message meant to touch the heart (8) and lead one to eternal salvation (9-10). Thankfully, the same word that tells us to “make disciples” tells us to do that through the divine message of scripture.
We also have the men envisioned (11-13). Twice, Paul says that “whoever” (11,13) calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. The Lord’s riches are for “all who call on Him” (12). He makes no distinction between Jew and Greek (12). That underscores the biblical idea that God wants all men everywhere to be saved (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4).
We have the means executed (14-16). Paul exalts preaching and preachers. This is honorable work requiring honorable people. They are an indispensable part of God’s soul-winning plan (14). They are divinely sent (15). They are positively described (15b). They dispense good news (16). As Paul writes Corinth, preaching is God’s medium for saving men’s souls (1 Cor. 1:18).
Finally, we have the mission embodied (17). The word of Christ must be heard, and faith results by hearing that word. People do not teach themselves. Societies are not won accidentally or incidentally. There must be deliberate, often sacrificial, activity—preaching, planting seed, and perseverant persistence—to fulfill that mission.
We have mission work to do right here. We have it to do daily at our jobs and in our more immediate communities and neighborhoods. Whether you are going across the street or around the world, fulfill your mission!
Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail
COVID19 may be a serious problem, but the real damage is the affect it has had on congregations who are tempted to just throw in the towel. These congregations are just hoping that next year will be a better one. It’s this mindset that makes some feel like God has somehow lost control over this year— is God smaller or weaker than the virus? Absolutely not.
Here are TEN creative congregations that have decided to adapt and overcome some of the challenges of 2020— and they’re working! Who’s to say it won’t work for your church family?
- The Hebron church of Christ in Grant, Alabama, despite a smaller building, bought new microphone equipment so that they are able to have drive-in services and members are able to listen through their car radios. An un-intimidating way for visitors to be able to drive up and hear the gospel preached from the comfort of their own vehicles. Many other churches are also doing this, bringing people from the community to hear the gospel preached.
- The Chase Park church in Huntsville, Alabama, has implemented the local police force to help people exit in and out of the building in an orderly fashion. This has developed a great relationship with the police officers who have shown interest in the church after meeting some of the loving members.
- The Farley church in South Huntsville, Alabama, had a food drive for those in the community who have fallen on hard times. Gloves and masks were worn to load the groceries up in people’s cars. Some church pamphlets were given, emails and phone numbers were written down, along with any prayer requests they might have. It has resulted in several local contacts.
- Many of the Lehman Avenue church members in Bowling Green, Kentucky, led by the elders, have been driving around every Sunday afternoon to visit shut-ins. They deliver bread, sing, and pray with them. It has made a great impact on the morale within the body there.
- The Wisconsin Avenue church in Huron, South Dakota, have come up with a creative way to reach out to the community by building what they call a “Blessing Box” in front of the building. In this box the locals have access food and Bible study material.
- The preacher of the LaFollete church, Ben Shafer, in Tennessee, has been producing daily devotional videos to help the members stay connected and in the Word. This is also being done by Bud Woodall, the preacher for the Northeast congregation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Andy Miller, a minister for the Southern Hills church in Franklin, Tennessee, and in countless other congregations.
- The hispanic minister, Chase Turner, at the Jackson Street church in Monroe, Louisiana, has discovered that posting videos/messages in Facebook groups that locals are a part of is a great way to get people interested in spiritual conversations. It has proven to be very effective!
- Colt Mahana, who ministers at the Dahlonega church in Georgia, has started a daily college Bible study over Zoom. This daily study has made the college group there more engaged than they were before the pandemic.
- Dr. Bob Turner had this to say about a church in Mannford Oklahoma: “I visited with several elders from numerous congregations over the last few months…I wanted to share what an eldership in Mannford, Oklahoma, has done over this period of time. While they do their classes over Facebook live, they have done additional things to help the congregation. First, they spend their Wednesday night time for prayer. Instead of teaching a class, they invited people from the community to submit prayer requests and they spend Wednesday evening praying for all the requests they receive. Second, they make special use of each holiday. For example, at Easter, since they could not host an Easter Egg hunt at the park with a potluck, the elders and wives stuffed eggs and the elders went to every home with children in the congregation and hide eggs for all the kids to have their own hunt at home. For Mother’s Day, they made a customized card and personally wrote a note and signed each card for every mother in the congregation. These are a few of the areas they have been creative to do and help members know they are cared for, thought about, and prayed over during this time. They have also emphasized that when they get back together, they want to do it right in order to make a good impression on anyone that might visit. They have constantly communicated with everyone in the congregation each week to make sure they have opportunity to share anything they might be dealing with.”
- Chuck Ramseur is working with a congregation in Virginia Beach, Virginia. This church family set up the Marco Polo app and encouraged everyone to share anything and everything going on during the day in their lives. It has helped them stay connected daily. Another area they took up working on is helping with the Crisis Pregnancy Center (alternative for woman thinking about abortion).This ministry has been one of the best outreach programs for the church. They’ve also planned services in the park on Sundays when they could not meet in the building, but could meet with social distancing in an open area.
So, there’s the proof! God is bigger than COVID19.
Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail
This post is for the lady across the street. She works at the gas station. This post is for Charles. That’s the guy we always call when the office printer breaks down or a leaky roof needs repaired. This article is for my family. My family means the world to me and if my life can help ensure an eternal future together (and I mean every one of them) then I have accomplished something truly great. This post is for my wife. My wife will be in heaven with me— she must be! The truth is, this post is for the faithful child of God, the disgruntled member in the pew, the discouraged elder, and frustrated preacher— this post is for people. It’s for the new child of God that is still dripping wet from the waters of baptism, to the battle-hardened Christian with years of faithful service. God drew a line in the sand long ago after humans fell from grace and separated ourselves from Him. On one side of that line you have the lost. Their sheer abundance in our communities and the world has caused many congregations to become numb to their horrific eternal state. Still, on the other side of that line you have the faithful. No, not the uncommitted pew-warmers, but the faithful. Sadly there are those inside the church that are on the wrong side of the Divine line. Often they blend in with the faithful because they look and act like the faithful do. This is nothing new, but elderships still scratch their heads over stunted growth and disappearing members. Preachers lose their voices as they pound evangelism and outreach from the pulpit. The reservoirs are being depleted by years of drought.
You’ll hear a lot of this kind of talk in some men’s meetings as the guys will sit around the table. After drinking coffee and filling their bellies with biscuits and gravy, it’s common for them to kick back and discuss what’s going on in the church. Obviously there are some big issues! So, who’s to blame? In an attempt to unmask the villain, one middle aged man exclaims, “if the leaders would _______”. A couple of his friends, who have clearly visited this topic a few times, nod their heads in approval. Another gentleman, with a white mustache, grunts as he repositions himself in his tin folding chair. Talk like this is uncomfortable, and it’s exhausting for many of them. The head hog at the trough clears his throat to let the others know he’s about to offer his respected opinion. He squints his eyes, leans back, then makes this statement. “It’s really society, you know. People just don’t go to church like they did when I was growing up!” Following this declaration, most of them will give their affirming “Mmm”’s and “exactly rights.” It’s at this point the tragic generational blame game begins. The wheels spin for a while, then everyone gets up and goes back to their homes to enjoy the rest of their Saturday. Tomorrow morning they dress up in their suits and ties and drive to worship. At worship they sit in the same spot, as the service carries on in it’s usual order.
In a world full of people intent on destroying and demonizing one another, the church needs to be the church— now more than ever. Our communities, friends, family, and nation need us to be the church. That starts with you and me. Paul said, “Encourage and build one another up…” in 1 Thessalonians 5:11. We can’t do this enough, and we can’t overstate it’s importance. Who have you encouraged and built up this week? How will you do it today? The church is God’s way of improving people, and the church is God’s perfect project— for people.
Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength
I convinced my parents to watch a show I enjoyed with me. I doubt I converted them to watching the same kind of programs as I like but I was happy they enjoyed what we watched together. I was acting as an evangelist, wasn’t I? I told them about something that I felt fervently about, convinced them to look into it themselves, and then encouraged them to commit to following through with it. As I enjoyed the afterglow of the moment, I was hit by a realization. Why is it easy for us to tell others about a book or movie but not about the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
I suppose one answer is fear. If a friend thinks my movie suggestion is stupid, then he will just think I have bad taste in movies. At worst, he won’t ask me my opinion about movies again. The Gospel is different, though. We’re putting ourselves out there. What we present doesn’t just require the forfeiture of an hour and a half, but a lifelong commitment. What we fear is the loss of that companion since we feel as if we are requiring something great from them. The truth, however, is that it is not we who put forth the requirement. God does. We merely relay the information. Thus, regardless of a negative reaction, if we’ve spoken the truth in love (Ephesians 4.15) we’ve done what we are supposed to do in letting them hear what God requires of them (Ezekiel 3.17-19).
I suppose another answer is shame. I don’t fear what my friend thinks about my secular choices. However, I am reminded of the adage that one never publicly discuss religion and politics. Certainly, we have seen with the latter how divisive of a subject it can be. People unfriended me following the last Presidential election simply because they knew I supported the candidate for whom they didn’t vote! Imagine how that person will take the news that the cherished religion of his grandmother was not one that was true to the teaching of the New Testament? The Thessalonians felt their world had been turned upside down (Acts 17.5-8), and I am sure that my friend would feel the same way too.
Yet, that is not the truth, either. I have no power to condemn any grandmother to hell or grant her access to Heaven. God’s Word is truth (John 17.17). If the truth turns one’s world upside down, the fault lies within the worldview that was turned the wrong way, to begin with. As brother Keeble used to say to such a one bothered by the fate of grandmother, “If she had been taught what you’ve been taught, how do you suppose she would have reacted?” Just the fact that discussing religion in polite company is frowned upon is insufficient to dissuade the one genuinely loving his neighbor.
The next time you find yourself excitedly chattering on about something you’re zealous about to a friend, remember that it is possible to talk with them about Jesus that way as well. The only reason that we don’t is that we feel that we cannot. Love casts out fear (1 John 4.18). And if we deny Him before men, He will deny us before the Father (Matthew 10.32-33). Hobbies are great, but may we not find ourselves more energized by them than by the Living God.
Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
Someone once said, “Excuses are tools of the incompetent, and those who specialize in them seldom go far.” Ben Franklin is quoted saying, “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.”
Jeremiah had a complete list of excuses ready when God called on him to be a prophet to the people of Israel. Many times the excuses of Jeremiah become ours when we are called on to proclaim God’s Word to this world. We see that with every excuse Jeremiah made, God gave promises in return.
First, Jeremiah said, “the task ahead is difficult.” Jeremiah 1:5 says, ““Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” This is God speaking to Jeremiah, and notice what He says, “I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” The task ahead is difficult, so Jeremiah gives off a list of excuses for why he isn’t the one for this job. God gives a promise for Jeremiah’s excuses. He says, “before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” God knew that Jeremiah was the one for the job, even if Jeremiah didn’t think so.
Second, Jeremiah said, “I don’t have the talent.” Jeremiah 1:6 says, “Then I said, “Alas, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth.” Many times people blame their cowardice on a lack of talent. They say that it isn’t natural to them, that there are others more suited for the job. But God knows Jeremiah and the great good he can accomplish. In Jeremiah 1:9, God promises that He would put His words in Jeremiah’s mouth.
As Christians today we have these same promises for our worries and excuses. Let’s not blame our cowardice on a lack of talent or the difficulty of the task. That isn’t a good excuse to God. Nothing is. He has promised that He will be with us, and we have HIS Word to teach to others. Let’s trust in that.