Tuesday, October 30, 2018

How Does This Help Me Grow?

Events can consume us at this time of year. Halloween is this week. Races, parties, and even houses and yards testify to its theme. Sometimes it is difficult to remember that it literally is All Hallow’s Eve, the night before All Saints Day for many who profess to follow Christ. As we contemplate the trappings of Halloween, with its costumes, candy, and occasional trickery, we pause to ask, “How does this help me grow as a Christian? What good do I accomplish with this decision?” An election quickly follows Halloween this year. Some cynics might argue that that proximity is appropriate, given that politicians sometimes are accused of disguising their real motives and beliefs. However, elections give citizens an opportunity to voice their concerns and to dialogue with civic leaders during a time when those leaders have reason to listen. Some Christians insist that Christians should not vote, and that no politicians should be trusted. However, biblical prophets both advised and rebuked kings. John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul spoke truth to rulers; Jesus spent an evening with Nicodemus discussing the love of God. As we contemplate the election, we consider the character of the candidate (How does she treat people? Does he tell the truth?), but we also consider the morality and the social impact of the issues they advocate. We ask again, “How does this help me grow as a Christian? What good do I accomplish with this decision?” Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away. We breathe a sigh of relief: a holiday without controversy. It’s all about giving thanks and that is a very Christian thing to do. It is, but sometimes thankfulness gets shoved out the door as we focus on food, decorations, football, and travel. Commercial stores almost seem to lose this holiday. Thanksgiving gives us remarkable opportunities to show hospitality, to reconcile with estranged friends and family members, to reflect on all the good in our lives, and to thank God. As we prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, we ask once more, “How does this help me grow as a Christian? What good do I accomplish with this decision?” At this time of year, many of us realize that it’s time to plan for 2019. We review what we accomplished this year. We contemplate what our focus should be next year. We will reflect how our practice of prayer, Bible study, hospitality, generosity, and other spiritual disciplines helps us to be more like Christ. And we will ask, “How does this help me grow as a Christian? What good do I accomplish with this decision?”

Friday, October 12, 2018

A Secure Path

While we live, even though the world is in the power of the evil one, we have hope God who gives life and can empower us to overcome. We have a firm foundation and we have an anchor that will secure no matter how intense the storms of life may be. We can sing: “We have an anchor..” “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols”(1 John 5:20-21). At Rock City Gardens near Chattanooga, Tennessee, a swinging bridge provides a path across a deep chasm between two bluffs. As I followed my children across the bridge, my daughter froze. She wanted a firm foundation; she sensed no security. Only my presence and coaching gave her the confidence to trust the bridge and reach the other side. We crave safety and predictability in our relationships. We don’t want a swinging bridge. We don’t want to navigate the swamps of depression and fear. We want firm ground, preferably concrete pavement, underneath our feet in our relationship with family, with friends, and with God. Though the cables strain, they are secured by the Savior’s hand. He coaches us and he guides toward safety; he demonstrates concrete love. Will you keep yourselves from idols? Will you trust the true God and eternal life? Will you say yes to the concrete love of Christ?

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Baptism and the Survival of Fish

As I ate my cinnamon biscuit at a fast food restaurant near Nashville, Tennessee recently, I listened to a group of men reminisce. One spoke of growing up in a small Texas town, where new converts for the Church of Christ he attended were baptized in a nearby pond. After hearing that a man with less than stellar reputation would be baptized, he said, a man in the small town had protested that the church must not baptize the convert in the pond. He insisted that all the fish would die if the other man’s body entered the water. Sin corrupts our influence in the world, but rarely does it affect the environment. Although prospective visitors to church services have confessed fears of the church building ceiling cracking when they entered, I have yet to see such happen. I have seen a person’s appearance deteriorate markedly in a five-year period when he abused drugs and engaged in other criminal behavior. Choosing unethical or immoral behavior has destroyed relationships and ended employment. The greatest impact of sin, however, is on the sinner’s soul. “Wickedness burns like a fire,” the prophet Isaiah wrote, “it consumes briers and thorns; it kindles the thickets of the forest, and they roll upward in a column of smoke” (Isaiah 9:18 ESV). The symbolic language of the prophet describes how rebellion against God consumes and destroys. Sin will rarely destroy literal fish (The exception would be if someone intentionally poisoned a lake.); it does destroy dreams and relationships. If we turn from sin and confess our faith through baptism, God cleanses us and equips us for work he has prepared for us to do (Acts 22:16; Ephesians 2:10). No fish die; no roofs collapse. Scars remain, but as we continue to obey God, they too begin to heal. Turn to the Lord today.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Reacting to Tragic News

News stories evoke visceral reactions. Sometimes the headlines intend to provoke attention to or against an agenda and steer us toward a desired reaction. If we read deeply into the article, our reaction may change or become more intense. A police officer shot and killed a black immigrant in Dallas last Thursday night. Your reaction as you read those words would probably differ from what you would have felt if you had read that an accountant who was a great song leader at his church and a graduate of a private Christian university had been killed in his apartment by an intruder. Yet both sentences describe the same event that occurred this past week in Dallas, Texas. Here is a link to an article about that event.As we read or watch news media, as we interact on social media, as we talk with friends, we will react to what we see or hear. Our challenge is to read or listen carefully, and to seek to learn what actually is the case before we react too strongly. As the case described above unfolds, we will learn more about what transpired and why it happened. In the meantime, a Christian family in the Caribbean island of St. Lucia and the Churches of Christ throughout the Caribbean who knew the young man who was killed as one of their own and a song leader at regional lectureships, will cope with their grief. I know how it feels to lose a loved one to death without warning. I don’t know what exactly they feel, but I know how I felt when my son died from an aneurysm three years ago. We need to pray for them as they grieve, for the officer who killed him and for her family (she and they will have to come to terms with what she did, however the investigation ends), and for friends of Botham Jean, our brother in Christ, as they respond to their new reality. We need to pray for ourselves, that we may overcome prejudices and fear as we learn to love one another. Let us seek peace and pursue it. Let us love truth, however harshly it may grate against what we desire. Let us be gentle with one another. Pray hard, my friends. (A previous version of this blog appeared in the bulletin of Leavenworth (KS) Church of Christ on September 9, 2018).s

Saturday, August 25, 2018

August Attire

The month of August these days ushers in thoughts of school and academic requirements, professional sports and the appropriate attire to match team allegiance, hot weather and working air conditioning. Recently at the church where preach, as we discussed 1 Timothy chapter 2, we considered what Christians should do and what we should wear as we seek to live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity. The first consideration was to pray, to worship, with “holy hands,” backing up our claims about Jesus and our efforts on his behalf with a lifestyle and attitude that demonstrate dedication to him. Pray, the apostle wrote, without arguing and disputing. The second consideration was to attire oneself with “good works,” not because they save you, but because God has prepared good works for Christians to do (Ephesians 2:10). Be known for dressing modestly in this way, rather than wearing jewelry, expensive clothes, or wearing braided hair. Strangely, we tend not to describe jewelry and expensive clothes as being immodest. We are more likely to describe them as “church clothes.” What Paul is pointing out in 1 Timothy is that wearing of clothing for attracting attention, whether attracting sexual attention or identifying with idolatrous or immoral causes, distracts us and others from serving Christ and one another. Christian women (and men, too) should be known for what they do for Christ more than for what they wear (or don’t). The Bible doesn’t provide us a detailed dress code by providing approved hem lengths for women or grooming procedures for men. The way we dress does send a message, and we can send messages that confuse others about what we believe by what we wear, but the Bible focuses more on our attitudes and our actions as we serve Jesus. So, as you engage in your August activities, how will people know that you follow Christ? Do your activities communicate that you are dresses in appropriate Christian August attire?

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Reflection on My Parents' Anniversary

This past Friday would have been my parent’s sixty-seventh wedding anniversary. When they married in 1951, an elder’s nineteen-year-old son and the preacher’s twenty-one-year-old daughter, they promised to stay together until death separated them. They kept that promise until my father died from pancreatic cancer in 2005. Their paths to their wedding had differed. My father’s family had migrated from Tennessee to Indiana when he was a child, seeking better work opportunity during the Depression of the 1930s. His father established his own construction company and build houses. He also helped establish the Central Church of Christ in Muncie, Indiana, sometimes preaching and eventually serving as an elder. My father would gain a brother and two sisters. My mother’s mother died when my mother was three weeks old. She would be reared by her father’s parents and move about every two years as her grandfather, a preacher himself, moved to another congregation, and sometimes another state, to preach. Like her father, she would be an only child. She would attend Christian colleges in Tennessee and Florida before moving to live with her father for the first time at the age of twenty, a move prompted by the opportunity of employment to help her raise money to go back to college. She arrived on a Sunday afternoon and received her first impression of my father, a negative one, that evening when he and some friends walked noisily and late into the evening worship service. He won her heart, however, quite quickly. Among the factors that she liked about him was that he was not a preacher. Ironically, six years later, after two years in the Army and several years working for Kroger, just after my birth two years after the death of my older brother and after the purchase of a house and car, he announced to her that he wanted to go to Freed-Hardeman College to study to be a preacher. They would have two more sons. Dad would preach for forty-eight years. For twenty-five years, they celebrated almost all their wedding anniversaries while working with teenagers at austere Christian campgrounds. My mother’s grandmother would live with us for five years and my parents took in a foster child after I left for college. They served the Lord; they loved their children and the congregations where my father preached. They kept their promise. Their shared faith in Christ made that achievement much easier. Neither was perfect, but people knew that they were Christians because of their love and faithfulness. My prayer is that each of us also may live lives of committed love and service that will inspire others to follow Christ.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Pentecost

Many followers of Jesus will observe May 20th this year as Pentecost. Jewish worshipers will observe Shavuot (Feast of Weeks) from sundown on May 19th through sundown on May 21st. The Feast of Weeks was one of three major festivals for Jewish worshipers under the Mosaic law. This past week, Jews continued its observance. It originally had agricultural significance (Worshipers brought a grain offering as well as animals to be sacrificed.), but came to be associated also with the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, an association that remains today. In the New Testament, it is called by a Greek name – Pentecost. Pentecost has great meaning for Christians who have studied the book of Acts. As the giving of the Law ushered in a new era in God’s covenants with humanity, so the falling of the Holy Spirit on the disciples and the preaching of the Gospel by Peter marked the beginning of the church. Instructions regarding the Feast of Weeks in Leviticus 23 included a command to leave grain in the fields for the poor and the sojourner. The book of Acts notes continued care for the poor in the aftermath of Pentecost. The beginning of Christ’s church also marked the teaching of God’s word to ever-widening circles of people – now all ethnicities could celebrate together the abundant gifts from our Creator and God. Peter’s message on Pentecost also noted individual responsibility to God to obey his will. After preaching about how God had made Jesus, whom they had crucified, both Lord and Christ, Peter instructed his hearers to “repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ of the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Today individuals begin their identification as Christians with obedience to those same words, and like those early Christians, we still devote ourselves “to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).