Thursday’s Column: Third’s Words
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?
So, there’s the proof! God is bigger than COVID19.
Walk with me through the crowd. At times, it will be frightening, heartbreaking, disgusting, even angering. Some are in masks. Some aren’t. You see far-left and far-right extremists, assaulting each other and maybe threatening you. Past the rioters, the protesters, the grief-stricken. You even see political activists posing as Christians spewing divisive rhetoric around–acting and reacting. There are racists of every color. Politicians. The lukewarm and apathetic. Some are jobless. Some homeless. Some wealthy and well-to-do. Many enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. They are from literally every walk of life. In many ways, this crowd is full of folks who are nothing alike or have little in common with others in it. But, in the way that counts most, they are so much alike.
You try to push through the enormous crowd full of the listless, the rudderless, the hopeless, the lonely, and the misunderstood. As you get back behind them, there’s the devil and his angels pouring over their playbook. He is the ruler of this world (John 12:31), unleashing the spiritual forces of wickedness (Eph. 6:12). There is a connection between this “prince of the power of the air” and “the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). He wants us all distracted from what he’s trying to hide behind him. He’s pushing the crowd further away from it. But look. You see bands of faithful, committed disciples at the foot of a rough hewn cross. You join them there and look up at your Savior. It was worth the effort to swim through the crowd and see through the devil at God’s answer. He is hanging there for that enormous crowd, to help them escape the clutches and curse of darkness. He offers light, love, grace, goodness, hope, forgiveness, reconciliation, and life. Contrast this with the carnage you have just sifted through.
Now, go back through that crowd and find someone else who needs Him, someone who realizes that for all the sin, evil, suffering, and problems they will not find the answers in that crowd. They certainly will not find it in the one who’s behind that crowd, inciting and inflaming it. Get them through the crowd to the cross (Mat. 7:13-14). Each one liberated from the crowd will be eternally grateful!
If you’re remotely religious, you’re familiar with the word “gospel.” It has a wide semantic range, describing everything from a genre of music (and a few sub-genres) to the trustworthiness of a statement (“gospel truth”) to an all-encompassing description of religious doctrine.
The word literally means, “God’s good news to humans,” from εὐαγγέλιον. It is mostly about the life and times of Jesus and the spiritual rewards we have when we accept that hope and follow God’s plan of salvation. It is so common and familiar to many of us that we sometimes overlook its importance.
We often hear about “spiritual blessings,” but the definitions we are given of them are sometimes (if not often) frustratingly ambiguous. Colossians 1:3-12 gives us a beautiful description of those blessings. One of them is the gospel! Here’s why:
1. The Gospel is Hope
A phenomenon so common to my generation (it’s immortalized in more than a few memes) is the idea of existential crisis. We ask questions like, “What am I doing? Why am I here? What’s my purpose? Why am I working this dead-end job?” We don’t like to think of where we’ll be in 20 years because that’s downright depressing. Will it be more of the same? The crushing weight of a meaningless existence is at the forefront of so many minds.
The good news we have is described in Colossians 1:5 as, “…the hope reserved for you in heaven…” That’s purpose! What kind of hope? What are we looking for? We have been given the means to live a life with purpose. It won’t be easy, but it guarantees a perfect existence after we’re gone. This hope for heaven is central to the gospel.
2. The Gospel Makes Us Better People
Once the Colossian Christians changed their lives, were immersed, and changed their lifestyles, they had a great love for each other and all of the other Christians (1:4). We can be friendly to others (even complete strangers), but Christianity promotes unconditional love for others. The world tries to achieve this artificially, but Christianity accomplishes this through unity and self-sacrifice based on guidance from scripture.
If we are as dedicated as we should be, it also gives us endurance and patience when we deal with difficulty (1:11, 12). Those who follow God’s will and are dedicated to serving Him are guaranteed a perfect and meaningful existence after this life (Colossians 1:5, 12).
We are confronted with our own mortality more often than we’d like (especially today). This has a whole lot of people questioning their purpose and their destiny. Christianity offers the greatest gift ever given: purpose and destiny. God has told us how to have both of those things; we can live a meaningful life here, no matter how difficult, and we can have a perfect life there. If you are looking for meaning and purpose in this life, look no further than the gospel – it is how we can be pure here, living a purposeful life with perfect hope for the next.
Last week we looked at how the world is desperate for guidance. They look in every direction for someone or something to tell them what to do. Most of the time they look to themselves for guidance and that leaves many things unsolved. Psalm 119 tells us what our guide should be. God’s word is what tells us how to live, how to act, and how to react in every situation. The world is desperate not only for guidance, but also for purpose (2 Pt. 1:3-8).
As Christians we can confidently say that we have purpose. There’s a reason to everything we do; but what about the world? Why do they wake up every day? For most, they wake up to go to work, to make money, serve self, and go to sleep.
To illustrate this, imagine going to the store without a grocery list. Without a list you end up forgetting most of the stuff you needed in the first place. You come back home and realize you forgot the milk. Without a purpose in life humans are lost. We go day to day knowing that there’s something we’re missing, but we don’t know what it is.
In 2 Peter 1, Peter is writing to them to encourage these Christians to confirm their Christianity. To be confident in their calling. Starting in verse 3 he says this,
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Because of God, we have a purpose in life. We have become partakers in eternal life. Because of this we must live a certain way. We have a goal. Peter gives us a list to build on: virtue, knowledge, self control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. If we are seeking for a purpose to life, work on this list and the end result is a knowledge of Christ that leads to eternal life.
We have escaped the corruption of the world, and now we have purpose. Peter was one who struggled with his purpose at first, he was unsure of Christ’s plan when he was on earth, and he didn’t even want to be associated with Christ after he was lead away to be crucified. He denied Christ, but after this we see his commitment and purpose in the book of Acts. His purpose is exactly like ours, he went around proclaiming Jesus and baptizing in His name. Not sure what your purpose is? Just look at how Peter lived his life, how he was committed to serving God.
My first job I ever had was when I was 13 years old. I built fences for a member at the Bear Valley Church of Christ. And talk about having no idea what you’re doing. For the longest time I’d show up every morning and have to ask how to do everything. I didn’t know how to mix concrete, how deep a fence post hole had to be dug, how to install gate hinges. I was clueless. For the average person, this is how they feel without Christ. They’re unsure, they have no purpose. Our job is to show them what life is about. This life is about getting ready for the next that is to come. Without this, we have nothing.
The world is desperate for purpose, so let’s show them the Truth.
Tim Gean has a 5/8 wrench that belonged to his dad, who is now deceased. He and his dad overhauled several cars together. His father owned that wrench for decades. Tim had his hands on that wrench countless times through the years. Several times, Tim was in a garage with his dad and his dad’s brother. They would sometimes argue over to whom a tool belonged. Finally, Tim’s dad decided to resolve this problem. He put a notch on his wrench. If you saw it in a yard sale, you would ask why that notch was there. But, Tim knows. It identified it as clearly belonging to his father.
Did you know that what was true of Tim’s father’s wrench is true of you and me? It certainly was true of the apostle Paul, who wrote, “From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus” (Gal. 6:17). “Brand-marks” is from the Greek word “stigma,” “to undergo experiences which mark one as the slave of some master” (Louw-Nida 808). Arndt, Danker, and Bauer adds, “Paul is most likely alluding to the wounds and scars which he received in the service of Jesus” (945). Whether literal, physical persecution or some other sort of experience that comes which serving Jesus, people should be able to look at us and know that we have been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).
Christians are sanctified people, people who give personal dedication to the interests of God (BDAG 10). Using the analogy of slavery, Paul writes, “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life” (Rom. 6:22). When we surrender our lives and will to Him, having been baptized into His Son (Rom. 6:1-6), we become “a people for God’s own possession” (1 Pet. 2:9). From that point forward, we have a new purpose. We are “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). We bear His mark, and others will know we belong to Him. What a source of joy and pride, to know that we are the Father’s and He uses us to accomplish His purpose!
Inasmuch as we don’t want laws or policies enacted that violate God’s Word and we want precious freedoms, especially religious ones, preserved and protected, we can really get into what is going on in Washington, from Capitol Hill to Pennsylvania Avenue. Many know that “D.C.” is an abbreviation for “District of Columbia,” an area of land created at about the time of our nation’s founding under the direct jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress that is not a state.
However, as politics has vied for sports and entertainment as an idol in our culture, it has become the source of unnecessary and even immoral strife between Christians. Blind support and allegiance for one major political party or the other can do more than make us inconsistent. It can make us a stumbling block. It seems to me that D.C. can stand for some dangerously different things.
Distracted Christians. Search high and low in your New Testaments, written during the time of the wicked, often unfair-to-Christians, Roman Empire. The disciples were about the business of evangelism (Acts 8:4) and growing the church (Acts 6:7). Can the rumblings and drama from the nation’s capitol get us so transfixed that we cannot see past it or through it to our individual and collective mission as God’s people? He has us here to get people into the Kingdom of His dear Son (Col. 1:13). Everything else is secondary.
Divided Churches. For as long as I’ve been preaching, I’ve seen politics come between brethren in the local church. Thankfully, it does not usually become significant enough to trouble the entire congregation but I have seen it do so. What’s more, I’ve seen brothers and sisters become so confrontational and flagrant about politics–especially through the relatively recent medium of social media–that it has been a stumbling block to new and weak Christians. Perhaps the political world in our country has never been so intensely divisive as it currently is, and what typically troubles the world troubles the church. But, when souls are negatively impacted, God will hold the offenders accountable.
Devil’s Cauldron. Please don’t misunderstand. Politics, like money, is a neutral matter. But, like money, it can become the root of all sorts of evil (cf. 1 Tim. 6:10)–enmities, strife, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, and factions (Gal. 5:20). Just prior to this list of activities that are the carrying out of the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16), Paul warns, “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:14-15). Who benefits when things like politics distract and divide Christians? It is not the lost, the church, or the Lord!
I can think of a least three godly, wonderful Christians who are public servants in political office and making a profound impact for good–Bill Reiboldt, Sheila Butt, and John DeBerry. They demonstrate that God’s people can devote themselves to politics without sacrificing their faith and example. For those of us “on the outside looking in,” in our love of country and freedom, may we never allow our attitude, words, or actions to betray our highest calling. The more effectively we reach lost souls, reflect the mind of Christ, and reveal the hope of the gospel, the better our nation (and world) will become. What will that make us? Disciples of Christ!
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!
In World War I, German intelligence was able to steal American plans at will. Tapping enemy lines was extremely easy, especially at night. Faced with such a dilemma, a regiment full of Choctaw Indians thought of a potential solution. The commander inquired into how many Choctaws knew their mother tongue. The men hesitated. The first English word some of them had learned was “soap.” In basic training, they were threatened with having their mouths washed out if caught speaking their native language. Now, their regimental leaders wanted them to speak it. The Choctaws were dispersed among the various divisions and attached to communications. From that point to the end of the war, all important orders were passed along in Choctaw. The Germans were stymied and finally caught off guard by the Americans’ war plans (from PBS’ American Experience: The Great War, Episode 3).
Today, our society does not want to hear us speak the message of Christ. Many find it offensive and restricting. They may even put great pressure on us to keep quiet. But, we cannot. These have been taken captive by the devil to do his will (2 Tim. 2:26). Especially when someone sees the spiritual crisis in his or her life, there will be a desperate desire for an answer. Where will they turn? If they have heard us speak of Christ and His way, they may need us to communicate the most important message ever spoken. Don’t keep quiet about Jesus, especially given the dire danger in this spiritual warfare (2 Cor. 10:3-5). God is counting on us to speak for Him, and so is a lost and dying world! Keep sharing Him.