Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Unintended Messages

Unintended Messages

Bill Bagents

We know we must be exceedingly careful to avoid judgmentalism in all its forms. Because it flows from arrogance and/or fear, a condemning “gotcha” spirit is repeatedly rejected by Jesus (Matt 9:9–13, Matt 12:1–8, Luke 9:51–56, John 8:1–12). Scripture forbids judging others by a standard we don’t first apply to ourselves (Matt 7:1–5). It forbids judging by mere appearance (John 7:24). It forbids judging when it’s not our place to judge (Rom 14:1–13). I offer these warnings to myself in preparation for the thoughts that follow.

We know that practicing sound judgment is both virtuous and essential to healthy living. Sound judgment starts with healthy biblical self-evaluation (Matt 7:1–5, 2 Cor 13:5). It includes welcoming, verifying, and following God’s word (Acts 17:11).

We know it is far easier to evaluate actions and words than it is to discern the motives behind them. That commonsense statement gains support from both Matthew 7:15–20 and James 3:13–18. Still, we must watch our words (James 3:1–12). We often don’t say what we intend. We often send errant and confusing messages, even when we intend—or even think that we’ve expressed—the very opposite. Thus, we offer the list below of unintended messages that we must guard against.

We never want to say to others, “I’m better, smarter, or more important than you.” Such messages deny the truth of Genesis 1:26–27 and Romans 3:23. But that’s just the message we send if we bully, discount, or disrespect anyone made in God’s image. When we send mixed or contradictory messages, we impede communication. We open the door for those who hear us to choose the worst possible option and the pain that it brings.

We never want to say to others, “You have nothing to offer me. God can’t use you to bless me.” That contradicts the beautiful descriptions of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4:11–16. But, intended or not, that’s what we say when we listen poorly, don’t listen, or reject wise counsel. When our actions contradict our words, people strongly tend to believe the actions. Not only that, they often judge the words to be insincere or deceitful. Some will even conclude that the incongruence reveals our motive—“I know pride when I see it.”

We never want to say to others, “You’re not worthy of my help. You don’t count in my world.” That contradicts the loving teaching of Matthew 7:12, John 13:34–35, and Philippians 2:1–4. But, intended or not, that’s what we say when we fail to step up, lean in, and serve when God gives us opportunity to help others. Think of the priest and the Levite in Luke 10. Think of the rich man who did not bless poor Lazarus (Luke 16).

We never want to say to God, “I don’t need you today. I have life well in hand.” That contradicts the clear teaching of Acts 17:22–31 and Proverbs 3:5–6. That has us embracing the philosophy of the rich fool from Luke 12:16–21. But, intended or not, we tell God that we don’t need Him whenever we neglect prayer (Luke 18:1, 1 Thess 5:17). People left to their own wisdom do not fare well (Prov 16:25).

We never want to say to ourselves, “Just this once, this tiny sin won’t matter. God won’t notice—even if He does, He won’t care.” That contradicts both the strong warning of Romans 6:23 and the powerful encouragement of Colossians 3 and 1 Peter 1:13–15. It opens the door to being bound and blinded by sin (Rom 6:11–16). But, intended or not, any time we dabble in sin, we’ve said to God, “I don’t really believe You, my understanding of spiritual reality is superior to Yours, and I have not truly given You my heart.” What a fearsome, deluded message! What a stunning rejection of the first and great commandment (Matt 22:36–40)! The God who made us, sustains us, and gave His Son for us, deserves so much better!

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

On "Leading in Prayer"

Man Praying

On “Leading in Prayer”

by C. Philip Slate

The words “leading in prayer” are shorthand for one person’s voicing thoughts to which others assent, agree, or affirm. It is a biblical concept with a useful Old Testament backdrop and a New Testament example.

A Biblical Concept

When the ark of the covenant was brought from the house of Obed-Edom to the city of David and placed in the tent David had prepared for it, great celebration accompanied the procession. David directed Asaph and his brothers to sing a song of thanksgiving (1 Chron. 16:7). The song occupies twenty-nine verses in our Bibles (vs. 8-36). When they finished, the people said, “Amen!”, thus assenting to the words, approving what was sung. Thereby they participated in the thanksgiving. “Amen” is a transliteration of a Hebrew word by which people expressed agreement.

An interesting occurrence is found in Ps. 106:48. “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, ‘Amen!’ Praise the LORD!” The people were assenting to, affirming agreement or identify with the sentiments expressed. Similarly, in Deut. 27 a dozen curses are pronounced from the law, and in each case the listening Israelites affirmed them by saying “Amen” (vs. 15-24).

The word “Amen” has other uses in both Old and New Testaments, such as simply affirming a statement made by oneself, but the concern here is the manner in which one person voices statements which others may affirm or make their own. Often, one who leads prayer will begin appropriately by inviting the congregation to “pray with me.”

Paul urges the Corinthian believers to avoid “giving thanks” in a tongue without interpreting it since those who hear the verbal sounds would be unable to “say the ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying” (1 Cor. 14:16). One person expressed thanksgiving; others identified with it and made it their own by saying “Amen.” This “amen” could be uttered at any time and more than once; it was not the signal that the prayer has finished. How, then, may one who leads prayer thoughts do it well?

When One Leads Prayer . . .

Leading others: There is a difference between praying in the presence of others and leading others in prayer. I have heard men who were supposed to be leading a congregation in prayer to thank God for “my good family” or “my loving wife” or “my good health.” Everyone cannot engage in those expressions. One who leads prayer should voice sentiments with which most of the congregation can identify, to which they can say the “Amen.” It is appropriate to state at times, “Lord, some of us . . . . “ rather than putting everyone in the same position.

Categories: There are values in mentioning categories of prayer and then giving the congregation time to pray silently and personally. One might say, “Now let each of us ask our great God to help us with one problem with which we are dealing.” That suggests a category, but the problems will vary with the individual. The leader might suggest such categories as thanksgiving “for one person who has helped you in your Christian growth”, confessing a sin or some weakness, or requesting strength to carry out a righteous resolution you have made. Many people like to be reminded of such categories because they do not think of them when they pray.

Planning: It is advisable to know ahead of time when one is to lead a group in prayer, for then he (or she in appropriate cases) can plan the components of prayer. It is useful to make a list of things to mention in prayer. As early as 1807 writers were using the components of thanksgiving, confession, supplication, and praise; but there is a clear example of grouping those components by the acronym, ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. There are other dimensions of prayer, but these four are vital. In my experience among Christians, there is much more Thanksgiving and Supplication (requests) than Adoration and Confession. Adoration appears in several of our songs and hymns, and it means “praise”, “veneration”, “worship”. Of course, the Psalms are full of praise and adoration sentiments. Confession is an important element of maintaining relationship with God (1 Jn. 1:8-9). Read Nehemiah’s prayer of confession of Israel’s sins (Neh. 1:5-4-11). Each time we ask for forgiveness we are tacitly confessing we have transgressed in some way, but it is spiritually healthy to name some of those errors, things that we have committed or omitted, what we have wrongly done or neglected. People who follow you in prayer will appreciate you helping them to name errors of life, but it is likely best to say, “. . . some of us confess . . .” because everyone in the congregation is not in the same position. Be thoughtful about things for which you express Thanksgiving; mention items that are often neglected. We are in our right to make Supplications, requests (1 Tim. 2:1; Phil. 4:6; Eph. 6:18), because our heavenly Father cares about us and gives good gifts (Matt. 7:7-11).

Commonly, we do a lot of asking, requesting don’t we? In this regard it is important to remember “D.v.” Often our brothers and sisters in the British Isles will insert “(D.v.)” in their letters and articles at points where they are referring to plans and intentions for the future. Those two letters stand for the Latin, Deo volente, which mean “God willing.” Lest we be presumptive about life, and even our requests, James instructed that we should have a “D.v.” attitude (Jas. 4:13-17). That should be the case in our requests to God.

We Learn to Pray

People tend to pray the words they hear others using. Thus, when mature, thoughtful people lead us in prayer, they are also providing useful models for us. Jesus’ disciples asked him to “teach us to pray” (Lk. 11:1). He did. We can also learn from the prayers recorded in Paul’s epistles. Herbert Lockyer’s All the Prayers of the Bible provides a useful collection of prayers.

William Barclay, Scottish biblical scholar who wrote many popular books, was once interviewed by a writer for The British Weekly. “Professor Barclay, you have written many books,” the interviewer began. “Which of those has given you the greatest satisfaction?” Barclay replied, The Plain Man’s Book of Prayers.” He reported that in response to it he had heard from people all over the world, monarchs and inmates, wealthy and poor, well-educated and poorly educated—many types of people. “People don’t know how to pray,” Barclay observed. At least most of us can use some help. One who does a good job of preparing to “lead us in prayer” can both help us to pray and provide some useful models of how to go about it. Strive to do your best when asked to “lead the prayer” or “lead us in prayer”.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Fellow Workers

Fellow Workers

Joel Stephen Williams

Recently I purchased a beautifully preserved hardback Revised Standard Version New Testament in a used bookstore. My old favorite leather RSV NT had simply fallen apart many years ago, and I could not find a replacement like it anywhere. This hardback RSV NT has large, easily readable print for my poor eyesight, so I fell in love with it immediately. There was not a mark anywhere in it . . . except for a beautiful inscription in the front pages. Apparently one minister given it to another minister on behalf of a congregation in gratitude for his service on May 24, 1953.

May this token of love on behalf of the Church always find you supporting it by your prayers, presence, gifts, and your service. And may God use you in the establishment of His Kingdom – and bless your every creative endeavor.

What a wonderful sentiment and spirit of fellowship between two ministers of the gospel working in harmony together.

Fellow workers are united in a common cause. The church at Corinth was suffering from various divisions. One of the appeals the apostle Paul made to try to resolve these divisions was to show that he was a fellow worker with other godly servants like Apollos. It did not matter who did one part of the work or another part of the work, because it is God who makes it fruitful. God gives the increase. We are merely fellow workers in God’s vineyard who are privileged to serve (1 Cor. 3:1–9).

Fellow workers should commend and encourage one another. Paul commended Titus, Epaphroditus, Clement, Euodia and Synteche (even as he urged them to agree in the Lord), Epaphras, Tychicus, Aristarchus, Mark, Justus, Philemon, Apphia, Archippus, Demas, and Luke (2 Cor. 8:16–17, 23–24; Phil. 2:25; 4:2-3; Col. 1:6-7; 4:7; 10-11; Phile. 1:1-2, 23–24). The apostle John did the same (3 John 5-8). Likewise, as the minister encouraged another minister by giving him a Bible and writing the lovely note in it, as I mentioned above, all of us should encourage our fellow workers and commend their work to others so that good work may be supported by Christians everywhere.

Fellow workers hold their fellows accountable and encourage them to strive for excellence. We are fellow workers, but that does not mean we should look the other way when a brother or sister is wandering from the path of truth. Instead, we should urge others to strive for excellence in our service for Christ. The apostle Peter, as an elder himself, exhorted his fellow elders, “Tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 1:5-6).

The need for fellow workers is great. Missionaries are often working alone or as an isolated family. They need fellow workers to support their efforts, even if all you can do is write letters and pray. That alone will be a great encouragement. Many ministries in a large congregation need workers – for example, benevolence, ministry to widows or orphans, or World Bible School – and your help will make a difference. What do you enjoy doing? What is your godly passion? Find other workers with the same interest and join yourself to them as a fellow worker.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Evangelism? Where do We Go from Here?

Evangelism? Where Do We Go from Here?

By Roger Shepherd

America is paralyzed with great fear since 2020; however, some churches have maintained their evangelistic vision. Political strife and COVID–19 have produced doubt, unrest, and a loss of faith that God is in control. The preaching of the gospel can make America free. This is the significant work of evangelists. Therefore, there is a need to train preachers and evangelists. The Bible shaped the life and work of Patrick Henry, who realized that the gospel was shaping the identity of this new nation. His observation in 1765 before the Virginia House of Burgesses is valid: "It cannot be emphasized too clearly and too often that this nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religion, but the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason, people of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here" (Christopher Lensch, "A Christian Patriot," 2). Where do we go from here?

Jesus made disciples serving the community of Galilee. He sought the lost at weddings, fellowships, funerals, hospital beds, friends, prisons, homes, and fishing (John 2:1f; Mark 1: 14–17). We should evangelize like Jesus and his disciples. We cannot be a stiff and teach people. We must not have any strings attached. People must be comfortable with us, and then, we can teach.

The growing church has a ministry of intentional evangelism to "make disciples" in every ethnic group (Matt. 28:19). Jesus instructed disciples to "preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15) and "proclaim a message of forgiveness to every ethnic group" (Luke 24:47). God "sent Jesus" and then he sends Christians today (John 20:21-23). Jesus also taught the apostles the importance of wisdom in winning souls on the limited commission (Matt.10:5–16).

The personal teaching ministry of Jesus started in Cana of Galilee, where he performed his first miracle (John 2:1; 4:46). Cana is identified as Kana (place of needs) a place eight or nine miles north of Nazareth, which lies on the direct road to the Sea of Galilee and twelve miles in a direct course from Tiberias. It is called "Cana of Galilee" to distinguish it from "Cana of Asher" toward Sidon (Josh. 19:28). Galilee means "Country of Gentiles." It was the birthplace of Nathanael (21:2). Cana near Nazareth, a small village in the province of Galilee, was the home of Jesus and a Roman village with a Jewish population that declined considerably in the Late Roman period and finally abandoned in the Byzantine Period. At the time of Jesus, it was a quiet, rustic, peaceful little tranquil place. The region was known for being a hotbed of political activity violently ruled by one of Herod's sons with heavy taxes (biblestudytools.com/cana). Then, in this time, they needed JESUS!

Galilee was a venue for a good deal of Jesus's ministry, the heart and soul of Jewish learning from the first and second century onward, one of the most beautiful landscapes of the entire Middle East region. The Jordan rift is the primary north-south dividing line that goes to Mount Hermon in the northeastern corner of the land of Israel and is the northernmost border of Galilee. The major east-west route that divides upper and lower Galilee. It was populated with ordinary working people: A place of commerce in Jesus's time, some historians believe his father Joseph may have found carpentry work here. Jesus and his family worked to make their world better (Eric Meyers, pbs.org). Like, in the movie "The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl", Max had many dreams of how he could escape until he was taught to stay in the real world and make it better in his dream. Many desire to escape the real world; however, the world will only get better with Christians teaching salvation in Jesus. In Galilee, Jesus and his disciples performed three successful ministries of evangelism (Matt. 4:23–5:1). In the New Year, where do we go from here?

First, TEACHING to explain truth in the synagogues (Luke 4:14–37). The synagogues were an assembly for the community for teaching, worship, and study. They were also a community center, school, and to hold court. The early church worshipped here, also in the home, and continued the same practice of living and teaching as a community in private homes (Acts 2:42–47). The early disciples were busy "every day, in the temple, and from house to house, teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ" (Acts 5:42).

Second, "PROCLAMING the gospel of the kingdom" with conviction and persuasion; preach the gospel as the authority binding upon sinners (Rom. 1:16–17); a herald sent from God (Rom. 10:13–18) the act of gospelize to change lives (Rom. 6:23) bringing eternal accountability to all who hear (2 Cor. 5:10).

Third, "HEALING every kind of disease and sickness among the people." Healing is the word therapeuo that is the most common Greek word for healing. It is the word from which we get the word therapy. It also means to serve or do service to another person (Matt. 20:28); cure or restore to health (Matt. 9:1–8); relieve hunger, disease, heal, and cure (Matt. 8:16–17; 15:32); and causes great stress relief through worshipping God. We heal the hearts of people through an outreach ministry and proclamation of the gospel.

Evangelism is a personal Bible study with a person who is seeking salvation in Christ. We have learned from the COVID experience that it is successful for each one teaches one. Many from the pew have learned that they can discuss Jesus with a friend, family member, or neighbor. When this continues, the church will grow, and America can remain free.

The restoration of evangelism begins with the prophets. The greatest example is Ezekiel, who possessed a new spirit and heart for personal teaching, which God commissioned to restore in Israel a new heart and spirit for his work by teaching the lost and the unfaithful believers (Ezek. 3:18–22). He warned the leaders of Israel to shepherd the flock of God and seek the lost (Ezek. 34:1–16).

Evangelism has always been a significant part of the Restoration Movement. Cecil J. Sharp (1924) taught: "By evangelism, we do not mean merely the conduct of revival or protracted meetings by professional evangelists. By evangelism, we do mean the use of the Word of God by every Christian to win to Christ as nearly as possible everyone who is unsaved. The thought needs to be restored and reemphasized that every minister of the gospel is an evangelist first and that second, every Christian is capable of being, and therefore, ought to be, a winner of souls to for Christ. One advantage of the plea is that an ordinary soul can teach it plainly and effectively. It does not require a professional nor a profound theologian to teach the way of life as given in the New Testament" (Evangelism, 39–42).

What is the lesson application? David "proclaimed glad tidings, grace, the righteousness of God and truth" (Ps. 40:9–10). Jesus taught publicly and one-on-one evangelism, successfully gaining many disciples (Matt. 19: 16–26; John 3:1–5).

Friday, April 16, 2021

"Hooked on Classics" Revisited

conductor

“HOOKED ON CLASSICS” REVISITED[1]

C. Philip Slate

Over thirty years ago several people were listening to—and even doing their aerobics to—“Hooked on Classics,” a collection of popular excerpts from operas, symphonies, and other larger pieces of music.[2] The smaller pieces were strung together uninterruptedly without plot or structure, a patchwork of pleasant sounds held together only by a steady beat.

At the time, it occurred to me that listening to “Hooked on Classics” bore a resemblance to what can happen when listening to some topical/subject sermons as contrasted with those that involve the use of extended texts.

The Parallels

In “Hooked on Classics” one may hear a small section, the finale, of Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” and have no idea how it fits into the larger work. Indeed, over time the finale may become associated with something the composer never dreamed, something like the theme music for the Lone Ranger program. Evidence of that’s happening is found in the amusing but inaccurate definition of a “cultured person” as one who can listen to the finale without thinking of the Lone Ranger!

In “Hooked” a segment of “On the Trail” is heard, probably because it was popular as the theme melody for the “I Love Lucy” television program. The short piece is likely not heard as a part of the five-sectioned “Grand Canyon Suite” by American composer, Ferde GrofĂ©. Consequently, on hearing it one thinks primarily about Lucy and fails to hear the hee-hawing of the burros as they begin the journey down the canyon trail—fail to learn of other sections of the suite, such as “Sunrise,” “Painted Desert,” and “Cloudburst.”

Similar injustices, as music lovers would consider them, are done to Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Strauss, and others in “Hooked.” It is a musical version of quoting Dickens’ “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times” without understanding how the words fit into The Tale of Two Cities.

When the Stakes are Higher

I am confident that people can go to heaven without knowing that the Lone Ranger theme is part of the “William Tell Overture” or that the popular section of “The Triumphal March” is part of Verdi’s opera, “Aida.” The way of salvation does not involve our being classic music buffs. It is another matter, however, if we treat Scripture the way music is treated in “Hooked” since it would thwart accurately understanding the text.

It is quite possible to be “hooked” on select biblical texts and have little idea of the larger contexts that shape their intended meaning. Cases in point are “handle not, taste not, touch not” (Col. 2:21), God hears not the sinner’s prayer (Jn. 9:31), “No one born of God commits sin” (1 Jn. 3:9) and many others. The preacher who quotes them as single thoughts may know their contexts, but do his hearers? Does his method of preaching allow the hearers to perceive the meanings supplied by the contexts or get a glimpse into the thought of the narrative or epistle?

When in the sermon no reference is made to the larger picture which either shapes the meaning (as in Col. 2:21) or enhances it (as in 1 Sam. 16:7), the hearers are put in the position of listening to “Hooked on Classics”. Unless it is done well, topical/subject preaching can put the hearers in that position. Such patchwork hearing will often deprive the people of both the correct meaning and the desired punch of the biblical text.

It is one thing to quote Eph. 4:1 (“Walk worthily of your calling”) as an admonition. It is a different matter to show how that verse is a hinge of thought in the epistle and gives meaning to the entirety of chapters 4-6. It is one thing to preach the story of the lost boy (Lk. 15:11-32) without reference to the context, but the situation is different when one relates the story to its companion parables (vs. 3-10) and the two introductory verses (1-2). Listeners have a right to hear the Word of God expounded accurately and in keeping with the biblical author’s intentions.

The systematic presentation of biblical material on various topics/subjects is certainly appropriate, even necessary at times; but those lessons will be presented and heard better against a background of habitual exposure to lessons on larger texts. The word is to be preached, as Paul instructed Timothy to do (2 Tim.3:10-4:5). So the questions is not whether but how we should preach the Word for the spiritual health of the hearers.[3]

The Whole Bible Like the Book of Proverbs?

The sixty-six books of Scripture take several literary forms. Over 40% of the Old Testament is narrative in form. The Psalms and sections of other books are Hebrew poetry. In the New Testament there are epistolary, parabolic, narrative, and other forms. Those forms influence both the authors’ meanings and ways of creating emphasis. Thus, Scripture should not be treated as an expansion of the book of Proverbs in which context often plays no significant part in interpretation. Biblical chapters and verses, while useful in locating passages, are a creation of man. Paragraphs divisions are intended to group thoughts, but that cannot be said of verses.

Stories have meanings as stories. They are not to be treated like diamond mines where one must sift through tons of useless material to get a few gems here and there. The story is worth the telling in its own right. Along this line, Fee and Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth is still very valuable.[4]

Exposition of larger texts, or at least a well-defined unit of thought, is beneficial for both the hearers and the preacher. He will be less likely to misuse the text or intrude himself into the text or display his memory or knowledge (“No man can in the same sermon show both that he is great and God is wonderful.”). The hearers will learn more Scripture and be more likely to receive the author’s intended meaning and impact. Great benefit comes from handling Scripture correctly.

________________________________

[1] Adapted from my longer article that appeared in Image magazine as “Preaching: ‘Hooked on Classics,’” 6:3 (May/June 1990):24-5.

[2] Now available on YouTube where the larger piece of music is identified by subscripts.

[3] The Greek word translated commonly as “sound” is a health word, as in “sound in body and mind.” Sound preaching is the king that contributes to the spiritual health of the hearers.

So well did it serve people that the book has gone through several editions.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Fathers are Important!

Fathers are Beyond Important

C. Philip Slate

Recently, I came across the following item in a communication that came to my computer. The facts are there, and this is no surprise to those of us who take God’s way seriously. Father and mother both make distinctive contributions to the development of children. I care to make two disclaimers, however, lest some get the wrong impression.

It is one thing to be brought up in a fatherless home when father dies early in the child’s life. You and I likely know several people who lost their fathers to death. It is a very different matter when the father abandons the family; that hurts physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Even then, you and I likely know cases where that happened, and the strong, godly mother somehow led the children on paths of righteousness. I am thinking of a couple of wonderful men who came from that kind of situation, one a preacher who has also taught in one of our Christian universities.

The other disclaimer is that in the absence of the biological father some people have benefited immeasurably by a “substitute father.” A couple of years ago a man said to me, “Mr. Slate, if it hadn’t been for you, I’d likely be in prison by now.” I was surprised. I had done nothing special for him; he was a childhood friend of my sons who was frequently in our home. Yes, he went fishing with us a few times and a few other things, but nothing special. I had no idea what he was picking up. Had I been aware of it I could have done him even more good.

But the statistics are still there. The ideal, the God-intended arrangement is for children to grow up with both mother and father. With that in mind, note the sad statistics from fathersinthefield.com/resources/statistics:

  • 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes
  • 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes
  • 85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders are from fatherless homes
  • 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes
  • 75% of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes
  • 70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes.

Dads, you are beyond important! We are so grateful for all the amazing fathers and father-figures. Thank you for the sleepless nights, work-filled days, and sacrificial love!

Pass on the message! Do what you can to help married couples stay together, to the glory of God and for the welfare of their children. Men, be conscious of the ways in which you might be a “substitute father” to some little fellow.

Friday, March 19, 2021

A Passion for Souls

A Passion for Souls

by Joel Stephen Williams

And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus (Acts 5:42; ESV).

When I was young my home congregation supported several families as missionaries to Thailand. The missionaries often stayed in our home when they were back in America reporting on their work to their supporters. I listened with fascination to their many tales of life on the other side of the world in that exotic Asian land. One event stands out prominently in my memory. As a teenage boy I walked into the living room one morning and one of the missionaries was examining a book, an almanac. He said very excitedly: “Come here, Steve. Come here and look at this.” He was looking at population statistics for various cities around the world, especially in Asia. He would say: “This city has 100,000 people in it and there is no church there. And this city over here has...” On and on he went. I knew at the age of about fourteen or fifteen why he was willing to beg for support, to live on the other side of the world, and to learn a very difficult language. He had a passion for souls. One of those men and his wife are now in their late 80s and are still in Thailand. They have given sixty-two years of their lives to that work. That is a passion for teaching the gospel to those who need to hear about Jesus Christ and salvation from sin.

From one of my professors, I cannot remember which one, I heard a fascinating story many years ago. A young missionary was back in the States on furlough. His first Sunday at home he walked around the large, spacious church foyer where people were visiting with one another at the end of the worship assembly. He walked up to one man and said: “Hello. I am home on vacation, and I was wondering if you would be willing to take me with you this week as you make your visits or as you teach a home Bible study.” The man to whom he spoke was at a loss for words, but somehow, he broke off the conversation and got away from the young man as quickly as possible. Not one to be discouraged, the young missionary approached another man with the same question, only to get the same reaction. He was very lucky, though. The third individual he approached said: “Certainly. I have an appointment to meet with a family on Tuesday night. I would love for you to come with me.” That young man was a missionary on foreign soil, because he had a passion for winning lost souls no matter where he was. He was concerned about the lost before he went to the mission field and was still concerned about the lost while he was at home on vacation.

The point of these stories is evident and clear. The mission field is not necessarily over there somewhere in a distant land or over here in a large city. It is wherever the lost are – at school, at work, down the street, next door, or maybe at home. Also, the key ingredient to being evangelistic or being mission minded is attitude. We must have a love for lost souls and want to increase the population of heaven. Do we have a passion for souls?

Friday, February 26, 2021

God as the Benchmark

The More Excellent Way
Virtue, Goodness, and Integrity
Christian Moral Formation

Lesson #2: God as the Benchmark

by Joel Stephen Williams

There are many different types of ethical systems in the world. One key factor that distinguishes many of these ethical systems is the standard or and basis by which right and wrong are determined. This video will give a very brief review of utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue/character ethics. Then, a concise summary of biblical and Judeo-Christian ethics will be noted with a focus on the standard or the benchmark making ethical choices, which is the character or the nature of God, that is, his divine attributes.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Tree of Death

The Tree of Death

by Justin Imel

When my brothers and I had acted up at my grandparents' home, they gave us a choice--they could either spank us or they could call Santa Claus. Not necessarily an easy decision to make, but Mom and Dad could give us a choice because God created man with freewill.

In the Garden of Eden, God presented Adam and his wife with a choice--they could eat from the tree of life and live forever, or they could eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and sin against the I AM. Unfortunately, Adam and Eve chose poorly.

God gave Adam and Eve and all mankind freewill because he wants man to serve him of his own free volition. You and I have a choice to make--are we going to serve God, or are we going to serve self. As we face those decisions, we would do well to consider the consequences for our actions.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Battle the Burden of Expectations

“Battle the Burden of Expectations”

by Bill Bagents

I’m glad that titles can’t be copyrighted. This one came online and immediately caught my contrarian eye. Expectations aren’t inherently good or bad. “Expectation” is a neutral word like cold or hot. Cold ice cream seems so necessary as to be redundant. Most of us strongly prefer hot pizza.

Expectations have played a major role in my life. Overwhelmingly, that role has been positive. As we left home during the teenage years, Dad would say, “Remember who your mother is.” Message received: Don’t do anything that would embarrass, disappoint, or make her cry. We were expected to tell the truth and treat others with respect. We were expected to behave in school and to do well. We were expected to work and worship with passion. I can’t imagine a life without expectations.

Even at my advancing age, I’m still somewhat at war with my self-imposed perfectionist expectations. I’ve never yet done anything perfectly, but on some level, I still believe that I both can and should. To be fair, I got really close when Laura Lynn and I married. I’d be way worse without her.

I should not imply that the battle with perfectionism has been all bad. It’s kept me from being a lump who settles and surrenders at the first sign of challenge. It has helped fuel life-long learning. It has made me appreciate the people who can deal with me “warts and all.”

Especially in light of my advancing age, there’s a bigger and more dangerous battle with expectations. Inexplicably, I still expect the people around me to do right, be kind, act rationally, and live as if God’s judgment is certain. And that’s not all bad if I teach and live in a way that pulls them in those good directions.

You know where the bad comes. On weaker days, it makes for a short fuse, long sighs, and jerk-level judgmentalism. On the worst days, you can’t please me; I can’t even please myself. It’s a terrible choice to be ruled by unfair expectations.

What should this awareness lead me to do? How can God, scripture, and friends help me act better than I feel when that’s stunningly needed?

It’s a blessing to contemplate God’s expectations of us. All He wants is us—heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:28–31). If we give ourselves to Him, He opens unimaginable windows of blessing. That’s why Paul by inspiration calls the choice to be a “living sacrifice” our “spiritual worship” or “reasonable service” depending on translation (Rom 12:1–2). It makes no sense to save your life if saving it means losing it (Luke 9:23–25 and 17:33). Scripture is so good with paradox.

It’s a blessing to acknowledge and resist the STRONG human tendency to expect more of others than of self. Scripture speaks of it often (Matt 7:1–4 and 18:21–35; Luke 18:9–14, 19:1–10, and 20:45–47). Each time we acknowledge this terrible tendency, we remember Matthew 7:2, “For with the judgment you pronounce, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

It’s a blessing to show mercy every time mercy can be shown (Matt 5:7, 9:13, and 12:7). Think of Jesus with the compromised woman (John 8:1–11). Think of Jesus with Peter (Matt 16:21–23 and 26:31–35). Think of Jesus with Saul / Paul (Acts 9). Think of both the Father and Son with us (Rom 5:6–8).

In a nutshell, the Creator of the universe expects us to welcome His love and to love Him in return. There can be no higher or better expectation. If we find that good news to be a burden, MAJOR IMMEDIATE repentance is needed (Matt 11:28–30, 1 John 5:1–5).