Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
Tuesday Column: Dale Mail
There is so much debate out there as to what Heaven will actually be like. Some make the argument that we just can’t know for sure. We know that there will be no tears in Heaven, so since that is the case there will definitely be blackened catfish there. Because in a place where there is no blackened catfish present, I would cry. Now with that out of the way, let’s look at three quick promises about Heaven.
First there is the promise of “fellowship” In Revelation 21:3 it says, “He will dwell among us…” Not just any fellowship, but fellowship with Jesus Christ. The second promise is that of “Relief.” In the very next verse it says, “God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” How many of us can’t wait for that day? Now the third promise is one that is pulled from a verse that many people do not like to read. In Revelation 21:8 we see that there is a promise of “seclusion” You see, Heaven is going to be so great because of who will not be there. After we get a glimpse of what is promised to those who love Him (James 1:12), we see what is promised to those that don’t. Yet even here we see a blessing. Heaven is going to be place that is absent of, “…the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars…” Heaven is going to be a place filled with family. The faithful Church family. I’m going to Heaven! It’s a choice. It’s a choice to live right and follow Christ no matter what. You have the ability to say it confidently and you should never have to wonder if you’re going to Heaven. It’s a promise! Take hold of that promise, because it’s the only thing that matters.
My dad was holding a gospel meeting somewhere in the Carolinas and he asked me to preach the Sunday evening sermon of the week he was gone. It was April 12, 1987, and I was a Junior at Bradwell Institute (high school) in Hinesville, Georgia. He gave me one of his sermons and I basically, with little change, got up and preached it. I remember being scared out of my mind. I had no formal training (which is obvious from the grammar and pronunciation). Afterward, the congregation flooded me with compliments, which says everything about them and nothing about my abilities. But, it encouraged me. It helped solidify my desire to preach and became the foundation for my willingness to go preach around the area over the next year-plus (preaching in such places as Glennville, Jesup, and Brunswick, GA). It led me to choose Faulkner University, to major in Bible and meet great preachers and teachers like Wendell Winkler, Ken Randolph, Carl Cheatham, Leonard Johnson, Eris Benson, Donnie Hilliard, and others. My family led me to believe that gospel preaching was an honorable, important occupation. So did the Hinesville church of Christ, on that occasion and subsequent ones. So did brethren in those places where I filled in.
What an important lesson for families and congregations today! Paul asks some questions of eternal consequence: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!” (Romans 10:14-15). I pray that more adults will send a clear message to young men: preaching is important, respectable, and valuable! It should be considered as an option exercised by normal and even talented and intelligent individuals.
We’ve been engaged in full-time ministry for 28-plus years, and it has blessed our lives tremendously! It’s thrilling to watch our three sons giving themselves to that life, too. Let’s send more preachers!
(It’s hard for me to listen to, but it should encourage anyone who says, “I don’t have any talent for preaching!”)
Monday’s Column: “Neal At The Cross”
In 1960, Otho Jones and Homer L. Sewell wrote a song made popular by Flatt and Scruggs. It’s a song written from the point of view of a man’s oldest son, a son who felt he was old enough to be on his own and leave home. He describes his father as simple and not filled with a formal education, but also as one very devout and the spiritual leader of his home. He describes himself as “young and foolish.” When I listen to this song, I think about the way I could be as a teenager and how I tried my parents’ patience. My dad, a gospel preacher since 1964, has always been a diligent praying man. While I never heard him say these words in my presence, I wonder if he ever prayed them about me in my younger days.
“Our gracious heavenly father we all gathered here today
To give the things for blessings so humble we pray
My oldest son is leaving but I’m sure he knows what’s best
But just in case would you stand by and help him stand the test
Lord he’s awful neglectful about church on Sunday morn
And if he gets with a wrong crowd would you let him hold your arm
And if he flies too high would you clip his wings
But don’t let him fall too hard, I’m sure you can handle things
I’ve tried my best from day to day to teach him right from wrong
And he’s grown to be a fine young man and he always blessed our home
We pray dear Lord for guidance that he won’t build upon the sand
But I won’t worry half as much if I know he’s in your hands
And oh yes Lord it won’t be long till I’ll be coming home
Don’t make me wait too long
We pray dear Lord for guidance please cleanse us from our sins
So we can all be together in heaven in Jesus name amen.”
Those words are neither perfectly autobiographical nor an apt description of my dad (who has much more formal education than I do). But I think a lot of parents who continue to labor over their children in prayer, concerned for their safety as they turn them loose in this world. However large the physical or financial threats may be, what should concern us most are the spiritual ones. We will never outgrow our concern for them. We should never stop being the right kind of example to them. May we never sin against them by failing to pray for them. They need us to be the type of Christians described by James, of whom he writes, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (Jas. 5:16).
Pew Research Center recently revealed that “Four in ten millennials (those, according to this source, currently between 23 and 38) now say they are religiously unaffiliated”(fivethirtyeight.com). The data seems to indicate that “today’s younger generations may be leaving religion for good” (ibid.). A contemporary study put out by the American Enterprise Institute reveals at least three reasons why: (1) They didn’t have strong religious ties growing up, (2) Their spouses are more likely to be nonreligious, and (3) They feel religious institutions are not relevant for shaping the morality and religion (or nonreligion) of their children. Parental example, dating choices, and biblical literacy and faith, then, are major drivers in this discussion.
Those polled revealed their thinking. A majority felt that religious people are less tolerant of others, less informed or even intelligent than their secular counterparts, and less necessary for shaping their family’s moral viewpoints. At least, reading this one study and the authors’ interpretation, it seems that leaving church is a deliberate lifestyle choice of people who at least sometimes are encouraged out the door by poor examples of faith.
Notice the startling closing paragraph of the article, which states,
Of course, millennials’ religious trajectory isn’t set in stone — they may yet become more religious as they age. But it’s easier to return to something familiar later in life than to try something completely new. And if millennials don’t return to religion and instead begin raising a new generation with no religious background, the gulf between religious and secular America may grow even deeper (“Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back,” 12/12/19, Cox, Daniel, and Amelia Thompson-DeVeaux).
I found it important to share those findings for these reasons:
- It is a matter of crisis. People abandoning God’s Word and will is foreboding (Judges 2:10ff; 2 Timothy 3:1ff; 4:3-4; 2 Peter 3:3ff). It is happening, and it must matter to us. It does to God.
- It is a matter of correction. The home can change course if it is on the broad way. Individual Christians can improve their ethics and morality in public (Ephesians 4:25ff). Soul-conscious Christians can make the most of our opportunities to share Jesus in Christlike fashion (2 Timothy 2:24-26). We must change what we can change.
- It is a matter of consequence. A culture does not get where ours currently is as the result of sincere devotion to Christ and His Word. Hosea 4:6 is incredibly relevant. The law of sowing and reaping is immutable, for good and bad (Galatians 6:7-8). Whatever we exalt as guide is leading us somewhere.
- It is a matter of courage. The only way I can see for this to change is for you and me to not just believe something or hold a conviction. The early Christians didn’t confine their faith to the holy huddles of the assemblies. They stood up for Jesus every day and every way.
Two of my three sons are millennials and the third is only a couple of years too young to qualify. This is, largely, their generation. They and their faithful Christian peers are faced with reaching them, and they need our help. Talk to them and have honest conversation about how to raise your effectiveness together in stopping and reversing this exodus. This is not about preserving a comfortable lifestyle, which is threatened by sin (Proverbs 14:34). This is about preserving souls, which will face Jesus some day (Matthew 25:31ff).
Several of our classes have assistants to the Bible class teacher. She (or perhaps in select cases “he”) serves in a support role, helping students do handwork, find Bible verses, or occasionally keep order. These are vital roles, and often a teacher’s aid later actually becomes a teacher. Teachers’ aids are part of a great team and education system that benefits everyone in the classroom.
There is a constant, pressing need for more teachers’ aids. I don’t mean in the actual classroom during the “Bible class hour.” These aids are needed Sunday afternoons, late Wednesdays, Saturday afternoons, and/or opportune moments between these times. These aids have even more power than those helping the teacher in the classroom. They are the parents and care-givers of the students. There are several ways they can “aid” the teachers who put in hours of preparation time and tons of energy and emotion into the task of teaching.
Aid teachers by making sure your children do their homework. Most teachers give homework, memory work or activity sheets. This is a vital supplement to the actual lesson taught in class. When children come to class with their homework done, teachers are elated and made to feel that their efforts are appreciated. They feel that their students take the class as seriously as they do.
Aid teachers by asking about what they have learned. Ask your children what they talked about in class that day. Ask them to review as much as they can. Ask them what they learned and how they can make application from the class. What better topic of conversation can parents and children discuss on the way home from services?
Aid teachers by making sure they feel appreciated. One way to do this is by making sure you practice the first two suggestions. However, having the child send a thank you note or by personally thanking your child’s teacher, you are aiding through the means of encouragement. Everyone likes to feel appreciated. Teachers are no different.
The qualifications are simple enough. To be this type of teacher’s aid, simply do all you can to partner with the efforts of your children’s teachers. Your child, your home, and your child’s teacher all will be blessed by it.
This time of year our minds go back
To days gone by, down memory’s track
Of laughter, stories, food and walks
Singing, sharing family history and talks
Some who once were in our clannish stable
Have left our banquets for the heavenly table
Childhood recollections may be larger than life
And death or loss may cut like the proverbial knife
Football played on the lawn or watched on the screen
Presents opened and distant relatives seen
For the blessed, much spiritual guidance and contemplation
And talk of our hope and our common anticipation
Do you miss those times of hearth or home?
Or revel in its prospect, when kids and kin soon will come?
Are you in the company of those Scripture upholds?
Those who desire a better country, with streets of clear gold?
Who are longing for a room in the Father’s house?
To bask in the Light that no tears can ever douse?
To stroll the banks by the gentle River Of Life,
A place of happiness, joy, peace, but no strife.
A place full of family, both known or which we meet
Of those we met in Scripture or those who made our lives sweet?
Are you longing for something far better than here,
Where sight replaces faith, where peace tramples fear?
Is your life centered around new heavens, new earth
Where righteousness dwells, only those of the new birth?
Do you long for what happens after being put in the ground
The home of the soul where eternity is found?
Let’s long for and live for that heavenly land
Where we’ll see God’s dear face and hold Jesus’ hand.
She was used by pro-abortion and pro-life groups, but in fairness nobody outdid Norma McCorvey at trying to use others for personal advantage. Her effort to abort her third child, in Texas in 1970, was the case used to go to the Supreme Court. By the time the appeals process wound up in legalizing abortion at the federal level, her baby was almost three years old and in the home of adoptive parents. She was the product of neglect and horrible abuse, was promiscuous, bisexual—though mostly lesbian, and was known to try to make her way by hook or crook for most of her life. She tried to leverage her infamy into financial advantage or at least a living wage.
It’s wonderful to see that this tormented woman publicly changed her position regarding the right and sanctity of the unborn, but her home life and adult life symbolize the growing immorality stemming from a breakdown in the home. A father fairly well abandoned his role in the home. Alcohol and drugs complicated and clouded the decisions and thinking within the home. Sexual immorality created multiple problems. Sin was perpetuated from poor examples there (The Washington Post, Emily Langer, 2/18/17).
Pew Research found that 46% of “U.S. kids younger than 18 years of age are living in a home with two married heterosexual parents in their first marriage. This is a marked change from 1960, when 73% of children fit this description, and 1980, when 61% did” (Gretchen Livingston, 12/22/14). This is only part of the story. I know of several scripturally divorced and remarried couples, with blended families, who have raised righteous, believing children. But, the general breakdown of the home is at the heart of so many of society’s woes.
The foregoing is far from revelatory. Sermons, articles, and Bible classes have trumpeted it for years. What I see in our broken society is endless opportunity. It will require patience, time, and lots of love, but homes like the one McCorvey grew up in and the one she attempted herself are craving what only Christ can supply—fulfillment, joy, peace, and direction. That is where you and I come in. Let us remember what we’ve been told by God: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). Let’s be shining!
Paul especially urges a particular quality that seems rarer these days. However, this is not a trait disappearing only with those in the world, but one that seems harder for us who claim to be disciples of Christ. He uses a word in Galatians 5:23, Ephesians 4:2, Colossians 3:12, and 1 Timothy 6:11, among others—James does, too (1:21; 3:13). The word, πραΰτης, means “gentleness of attitude and behavior, in contrast with harshness in one’s dealings with others” (Louw-Nida, Greek-English Lexicon, 1996, n. pag.). They suggest the word includes “always speaking softly to or not raising one’s voice” (ibid.). Another Lexicon, in defining the word, speaks to what may prevent one demonstrating gentleness, namely “…being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance” (Arndt, Danker, et al, 2000, n. pag.). Yet, surely there are other impediments to our bearing the fruit of gentleness.
We struggle to be gentle, don’t we?
- With our children’s weaknesses and mistakes.
- When responding to our spouse, whether in impatience or aggravation.
- With rude fellow-shoppers, incompetent cashiers, or pokey or inattentive drivers.
- Being at odds with a brother or sister in Christ in a clash of personalities or purposes.
- Having thoughtless or rude neighbors.
- Engaging in a disagreement with a faceless, nominal acquaintance on social media.
- Dealing with customer service, especially if we get an ESL representative.
This is just a sampling of situations which tempt us to abandon a gentle spirit. Aristotle called this quality “the middle standing between two extremes, getting angry without reason…and not getting angry at all” (Zhodiates, Dictionary, 2000, n. pag.). The New Testament does not tell the Christian that we cannot defend ourselves, protect our rights, or get what we pay for, for example. But, in addressing concerns, needs, and problems, how we do this makes all the difference.
For many of us, gentleness needs to be intentional. It doesn’t come naturally. We need to pray about it, prepare ourselves for it, and practice it. Our passion needs to be harnessed. Our speech needs to be tempered. Just making the need for gentleness a conscious priority in our lives will greatly improve our performance, with family, friends, brethren, and strangers. It is a powerful tool to win hearts and shape lives, beginning with our own.
Brooklin Yazzle, a Mesa, Arizona, wife and mother, apparently handed out her wedding ring with the Halloween candy last week. She had taken off her ring and put it in a candy jar to help her children carve pumpkins. Later, things got hectic and she absentmindedly dumped her ring along with the candy into a candy bag to give to children. Complicating things, among her treats were plastic rings. She has made an appeal through the news to get it back, stating that while it isn’t worth much monetarily it has great sentimental value (FOX News).
Many of us can relate to such a mindless blunder. To my everlasting chagrin, I lost my wife’s High School class ring back while we were dating (she married me anyway!). It is not uncommon for a person to remove their wedding ring to work or play, but removing it in such cases is to protect it from harm or loss.
The American Community Survey and the Daily Beast collaborated to provide a list of the “Divorce Capitals of the U.S.” The ignominious top ten list, from “top” to bottom, is: (1) Panama City, FL, (2) Sierra Vista, AZ, (3) Charleston, WV, (4) Medford, OR, (5) Reno, NV, (6) Deltona, FL, (7) Pueblo, CO, (8) Palm Bay, FL, (9) Jacksonville, FL, and (10) Grand Junction, CO. In six states, the divorce rate is between 12.64-14.35% per 1,000 people, age 15 and older (Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Kentucky, Maine, and Oklahoma). Yet, the best of states still average 6.05-7.65% (Ashley Reich, The Huffington Post, 11/4/13).
This survey is but an example of a trend that is only tempered by a falling marriage rate, as more and more couples are living together without the sanctity of marriage. It shows that the dissolution of marriage is not confined to one area of the country, or more like in a “Red” or “Blue” state. Are there steps we can take to keep our wedding rings?
- Spend time together.
- Have shared interests.
- Focus on pleasing your spouse more than being pleased by him/her.
- Make marriage a priority, not an afterthought or a “no thought.”
- Make spiritual investments together (devotions, prayer, serving, etc.).
- Spend time with couples whose marriages are healthy and happy.
- Practice hospitality together.
- Keep romance alive.
- Keep Christ King of your home.
- Avoid pettiness.
This list is not exhaustive, but it already gives all of us areas to work on and improve in. We should remember God’s feelings, who said, “I hate divorce” (Mal. 2:16). Let’s hold on to our wedding rings!