Category Archives: Encouragement

The Pitfalls of Being a “Self- Made” Man

James HJames Mom%20%26%20Jamesallmark is a good friend of mine…and I am proud to call him”friend.”  He is a pioneer in television in these parts beginning his work with KRBC when it was tiny studio up in the hills of the Callahan Divide overlooking Abilene.  We found we had a lot in common having both begun work when TV was just a kid.  I was on the “floor crew” at KMID, in 1960 moving cables and cameras around.  James was beginning his career as an announcer and doing voice over for commercials.  He has been responsible for telethons every year…hard, detailed work.  But best of all he is a strong, faithful, committed Christian.  He writes a great article nearly every week as you will find out when you read the post below

“He is a self-made man and worships his creator.” Someone once used these words to describe a man that he knew. Cutting but true! The world has convinced mankind that a self-motivated, self-serving lifestyle is his right and obligation. The self-worshipper is “full of himself” and thinks nothing of ignoring others and even God, if they stand in the way of his agenda and human nature’s desires. He deliberately keeps God and others at arm’s  length. The Apostle Paul described the self-driven lifestyle in these words: “And that means killing off everything connected  with this way of death: sexual promiscuity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like It, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. “That’s a life shaped by feelings and things instead of by God” (Colossians 3:7 MSG).

Let’s dig down deep and see if we can discover our spiritual enemy and how he has always worked his will in our lives. Let’s set aside the image of Satan as having horns, wearing a red suit (fire resistant I presume), and carrying a pitchfork. He is the general on the battlefield of our spiritual life, who dispatches his army of demons to torment us and take us as prisoners of war. Satan ensnares us by manipulating the man of flesh that resides deep within each of us. This man of sin is easy pickings for Satan and his hordes.

Self-control is the only weapon we have fight off the enemy. The problem that we have is that most of us don’t have sufficient ammunition to fight off the invaders. Their concept of self-control is that they, themselves, control our lives and actions. And, of course we as human beings excuse our bad behavior with the lame blaming that “after all we are only human”.   That leaves us holding the bag!

Self-control means that somehow we must exercise control of our choices. Let’s look in the mirror and see our ego-centric self is what we must overcome, and we have to be able to admit that it is out of control and uncontrollable without divine help. The truth of the matter is that until we can overcome the influence of our human nature that rules in our lives. our lives can only get worse…never better!

Several years ago I discovered that hyphenated words that start with “self” run up a red flag. I’m talking about words like self-indulgence, self-fulfillment, self-absorbed, self-motivated, self-love, self-driven, self-pity, self-centered, to mention just a few. I’m sure that others may come to mind. Our problem is that many of these appear to be good characteristics that we have been taught to nurture. Now, substitute “God” for “self” in each of these words and you may be surprised at the cleverness of our enemy. Replacing “self” with “God” brings into sharp focus the kind of live we are prone to live, left to our own devices, and the real life that God offers. It has been suggested to me that sin is a perversion of God-given. When our instincts for security cross an invisible line it can morph onto pride, greed, and envy and anger. Our human need for companionship can turn into lust and lust into sexual impurity. Our need for self-preservation can find expression in angry outbursts and gossip. It has occurred to me that all of my unacceptable behavior can be traced back to my self-centered distortion of legitimate human needs that are carried too far. My responsibility is to learn the difference between my “wants and “needs.” He leaves the choice with us. Do you want to be a self-made man or the Creator’s creation?

A few years ago, a commercial ran on national television that really caught my eye. It was a commercial for the Edward Jones financial people. It opened at a nurses’ station at a hospital. A doctor is on the phone with a patient, who is at home. Try to visualize this scene. The doctor is instructing his patient on how to do surgery on himself. The doctor said: “Now, make an incision about six inches long between your third and fourth rib.” The camera cuts to a very distraught man standing in his kitchen with shirt unbuttoned. In his hand is a butcher knife from the kitchen. He had broken out in a cold sweat, and muttered nervously: “Doc, shouldn’t you be doing this?” The spiritual surgery that must be performed to set a person free from himself is drastic and painful, but absolutely necessary. You must decide whether you want a scalpel, or do you want the Great Physician to take over?

Archbishop Fenelon was a spiritual advisor in the court of King Louis the XIV in France some three hundred years ago. He ministered to a small group of faithful Catholics and often wrote letters to them to encourage and instruct them. Here is an excerpt from one of the letters. “The death that God brings pierces deep within. Soul and spirit will be divided. He sees all in you that you cannot see. He knows exactly where the fatal blows should fall. He heads straight for that which you are most reluctant to give up. Pain is only felt where there is life. And in this situation is precisely the place where death is needed.”(The Seeking Heart-Fenelon, pg 5).

The Christian life was never meant to be a self-improvement program because it requires that we nail our old self to the cross of Christ. When we have carried out this self-crucifixion, God immediately goes to work recreating man in the image of his Son. As Peter wrote, “Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received! We were also given absolutely terrific promises to pass on to you—your tickets to participation in the life of God after you turned your back on a world corrupted by lust” (II Peter 3-4 MSG). Read Peter’s words again and absorb the significance of what they mean about the daily, intimate relationship that our supernatural God wants to have with each of us.

It boils down to choosing whom we will believe. We have to decide whether we will believe the lies of the father of lies, or take the word of the One who created the universe and mankind. Many years ago I put my trust in God, and have never regretted my decision. I have even begun to experience God working in my life, and that brings me peace, and hope that the world cannot comprehend. I am not willing to be a self-made man any longer, I much prefer becoming A God-fashioned man.

I am content to be the clay and put myself in the hands of the Master Potter to turn a pile of mud like me into something beautiful.

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Edify or Amplify?

eyeseeyou

The Case for Rejecting Instruments in the Assembly

Churches of Christ (the a cappella segment) seem to be becoming very different very quickly.  Several larger congregations and a number of smaller ones (I have no idea of the actual numbers) have opted for adding mechanical (as opposed to vocal) instruments to their assemblies (I absolutely refuse to call them “worship services” as that description of assemblies of the saints is nowhere to be found in Scripture – and, when you think about it, it betrays an ignorance of the meanings of both “worship” and “service”).  For over a century, one of the distinguishing marks of churches of Christ was strong opposition to the use of instruments in assemblies.  Countless debates, articles and divisions occurred with both sides remaining unconvinced.

It will not be my purpose here to pile more verbiage on the tons of arguments by taking one side or the other.  I’m not sure it would serve any purpose except to put me in one opposing camp or another.  No, my point will be something different.  I want us to take an honest look at our motives.  WHY are we ditching our a cappella tradition?

The most common reason given is some variation on the desire to attract a younger, hipper crowd into our buildings.  One group is currently remodeling their auditorium to add a stage for the musicians.  If we build it, they reason, they will come.  Sound familiar?  Put simply, it is an attempt to increase attendance at their “worship services.”

At this point let me ask a question that seldom seems asked: what are assemblies for?  No…not what do you WANT them for but what are they REALLY for?  By that I mean what does Scripture say they are for?

·         Are they for “seekers?”  Can you show me a passage for that?

·         Are they for the entertainment of the members?  Passage?

·         Are they for the excitement of the members?  Passage?

·         Are they for the encouragement of the members?  Bingo!

·         Are they for the edification of the members?  Score!

Our purpose for assemblies and our conduct during them seems to be the focus of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in chapters eleven and fourteen.  He deals with several subjects but his emphasis; especially in chapter fourteen is edification.  Edification has absolutely nothing to do with attracting a crowd and blowing them away with sanctified rock (make no mistake, I like to rock as much as anyone).  To edify is to instruct and improve especially in moral and religious knowledge…promoting the spiritual growth and development of character of believers, by teaching or by example.  Look it up.  Paul goes so far as to say, “…let all things be done for edification” (I Corinthians 14:26).

So.  How do we instruct and promote each other’s spiritual growth?  One of the most important and effective ways is by singing to one another (Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16).  Notice that our singing is for teaching and admonishing one another.  Sorry folks, well-choreographed and orchestrated performances accomplish nothing assembly is designed for.  In truth, they hinder the process.  Inevitably, the volume gets louder and louder.  How can we edify one another if we can’t hear the singing of the one standing next to us?  Read lips? Not likely!

Could this be the reason we are commanded to sing to one another?  Singing with thankfulness is not assisted by a groovy drummer, hot guitarist, deft keyboardist and a soloist who’s been listening to a lot of contemporary Christian radio.  Save all that for a concert.

Are there exceptions?  Of course.  Some of the new contemporary music conveys wonderful spiritual, edifying truths.  Even a cappella churches have adapted and incorporated some of these songs in our assemblies.  In my experience, however, the mechanical instruments overwhelm the potential edification as they play louder and louder.

Here is the crux of the problem as I see it: we have turned our assemblies into something they were never intended to be.  They are times of encouragement and edification.  When this is not accomplished, our assemblies are failures no matter how well choreographed they are.  When we leave behind principles and purposes taught by Scripture; when we replace them with innovations never envisioned by the Spirit; when edification and encouragement are no longer the focus of our assemblies; when synthetic externals take precedence over spiritual internals — we can expect to fail.  In the words of Hosea (8:7), we have sown the wind and are now reaping the whirlwind.

Here are a couple of articles that, while I don’t agree with everything they say, help make my point: http://churchformen.com/uncategorized/have-christians-stopped-singing/  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/afewgrownmen/2013/05/why-men-have-stopped-singing-in-church/

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Filed under "Worship Services", Assemblies, church, Church Buildings, Churches, discipleship, Edification, Ekklesia, Encouragement, History, Holy Spirit, Ignorance, Music, Restoration, Singing, Songs, Thankfulness

So What Can I Do?

eyeseeyouI have finally come to grips that I will not be a “mover and a shaker.”  The world, alas, is not clamoring for my opinions, my advice, my counsel, my pontifications.  The President and members of congress no longer call (man, could I give them an earful if they did!).  It has been some time since some anchor person contacted me to get my take on foreign or domestic events and developments.  Celebrities fail to call me for my thoughts on the directions their careers should take.  No one sends me scripts for potential movies or plays anymore.  Congress persists in passing bills without my input.

So what can I do to make the world a better place?  Jesus said we can do this by serving; by letting our light shine through our good works (Matthew 5:13,14).  Consider:

Think of your fellow man
lend him a helping hand
put a little love in your heart.
You see it’s getting late
oh please don’t hesitate
put a little love in your heart.
And the world will be a better place
and the world will be a better place
for you and me
you just wait and see.

–Jackie Deshannon

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Preaching as Position

 

Foxworthy Preacher

Photo from Randy Boyd via Levi Sisemore

Generally, I love the comedy of Jeff Foxworthy.  This time I am both laughing and crying.  I was a preacher for a long time and I know the pressures of the profession.  When the congregation is not growing/happy/interested/involved/etc., the preacher is the first one blamed and, very often, sent packing.  Maybe a new preacher will be more dynamic/younger/pretty/gregarious/educated/entertaining/etc.  Sorry, Jeff, that’s not really his job.

Most of this pressure is because we have become assembly-oriented.  “Going to church” is the expected and almost exclusive activity of the majority.  Because of this, it had better be well-orchestrated (maybe even have an orchestra).  If “going to church” is not interesting/exciting/ entertaining, then attendees will drift to a more appealing (I almost wrote, “appalling”) venue.  Consequently, all kinds of shenanigans are pulled to draw the crowds away from one congregation to another.

It never seems to cross our minds that our purpose is not to have the biggest congregation, but simply to follow Christ with the strength and wisdom that God provides.  It doesn’t seem to occur to us that assemblies are for edification and encouragement.  If we restore assemblies to their scriptural purpose, we won’t need smoke bombs, rock bands and a new preacher to keep folks coming back.

The light that we are commissioned to bring to all the world has nothing to do with electricity.  It has everything to do with letting the light of Jesus shine through our words, actions and attitudes, bringing glory to God.

Nowhere in the instructions of Jesus and the apostles is there even a hint of having preacher as a position, much less heaping upon him primary responsibility for the state of the congregation and the quality of the “worship service” (a term not found in Scripture).

With church affiliation declining across the denominational spectrum, it is high time to take a fresh look at Scripture.  Are we truly following Christ into the world or leaving him in the uncomfortable streets while we attend another comfortable “worship service” in our well-appointed “church buildings?”

May God forgive me (us) for participating so long in something so foreign to Scripture and deviant to our purpose.

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Filed under "Worship Services", Assemblies, Change Agent, Christlikeness, church, Church Buildings, Churches, discipleship, Edification, Encouragement, Evangelism, Jesus Christ, Kingdom Growth, Missions/Evangelism, Restoration

THANK YOU!

 

eyeseeyouI am thankful to God for so many things…primarily that He has loved me so much that He has made provision for my eternity through the gift of His Son and the Grace and truth He introduced into the world.  It is beyond possible to thank Him enough.

I also have multitudes of people to thank in this life.  If it were not for my late father-in-law, and his generosity life would have been very difficult in some of the early years of our marriage when medical bills threatened to sink our ship.  I don’t think we ever asked for his help, he was just tuned-in enough to know when it was needed.  I trust he is enjoying his heavenly reward.

Nearly every job I’ve had was the result of someone suggesting, recommending, pulling strings, pulling rank or vouching for me.  I can only think of a few times I was hired because I acted totally on my own.

The church has been the source of so many blessings.  Lake Highlands church in Dallas was my sponsoring congregation as Brenda and I did mission work in Australia.  Aside from their prayers and monetary support, they sent things to us that made our work easier.  North Davis church in Arlington literally saved us from being homeless and broke during a very difficult time.  Our present church home, University church in Abilene has overflowed with kindness toward us many times.

I don’t ever want to be guilty of forgetting those I cannot embarrass by naming here.  Brenda and I have been the recipient of gifts from many people in Australia and here at home.  Frequently those gifts have arrived at very critical times.  We have enjoyed the hospitality of wonderful Australian and New Zealand saints in our travels.  They have fed us, sheltered us and entertained us simply out of their love for Jesus.  Truly, God works through His people!

In my meditations I often review, with tears, the kindnesses and mercies of God and His people who have loved us, prayed for us and given to us.  I can only say from the depths of my heart, THANK YOU!

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10 Things Christians Must Do Now

Do we want to be taken seriously?  Do we want to overcome misconceptions about our faith and practice? Do we hope to ever fulfill our mission and make an impact on our culture?  Then here (in no particular order) are a few things I believe we must do:

  1. Refuse to let public lies (false teachings) stand publically unopposed.  When someone lies publically, someone needs to publically expose and oppose that lie and tell the truth no matter what it costs.  That is part of our job as the called-out of Christ.
  2. Refuse to be lulled into the toleration and acceptance of immorality.  Think about what we tolerate which would never have been accepted twenty years ago.  If it was truly wrong then, it is truly wrong today.  If it was ever a sin, it is a sin now.
  3. Ignore those who equate Christianity with established religious groups…no matter how ancient.  Foolish and ignorant critics will blame Christ-followers for the excesses of those who, over the centuries, falsely labeled themselves “Christians.”  True followers of Christ were never involved in the exploitation, suppression, torture and/or death of any person or group.
  4. Rise above the prevailing gloom and hopelessness of today’s culture.  We enjoy and offer the world a way of hope, abundant life, joy (not the same as “happiness”) and an eternal end of suffering.  We are “light-bringers.”
  5. Renounce materialism and greed.  We must recognize the love of money and “stuff” for what it is – the source of evil.  Christians must learn to be content with what is needed for life.  Food, clothing, shelter, healthcare and transportation are all we need.  The overflow needs to be shared.
  6. Combine good deeds with good news in holy symbiosis.  One without the other will not accomplish our mission.  Very few will be persuaded by a failure to combine these initiatives.  This is what Jesus did…this is what we must do.
  7. Renounce citizenship of a country in favor of citizenship in God’s kingdom.  Jesus’s kingdom is not of this world.  Political parties and their candidates have serious flaws and faults; the Kingdom is perfect and flawless.  We are not mere Americans, Germans, Poles, Russians, Australians, etc.  We are citizens of a nation with no boundaries, no racial, linguistic barriers.  Thy kingdom come!
  8. Get out of our meeting places and into the streets.  Quit expecting people to come to us and do what Jesus did: go to the people.  Do good deeds!  Proclaim Christ!
  9. Quit “going to church.”  Restore the true purpose of assemblies.  Assemblies are a means to an end, not an end.  “Faithfulness” is far more than attendance.  Assemblies are for edification and encouragement.  If they fail in that regard, they are useless.
  10. Think and act as the counter-culture we were meant to be.

“The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.” (Martin Luther King Jr.)

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Are You Lonely?

Ah, look at all the lonely people.

All the lonely people, where do they all come from?

All the lonely people, where do they all belong?

(“Eleanor Rigby” by John Lennon and Paul McCartney)

In the near future, it will be my honor to conduct a wedding ceremony.  In my remarks I nearly always quote the passage: “The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18).  If all goes as planned, this couple will grow old together.  They will experience work and play, sorrow and joy, love and heartache, victory and defeat.  Most likely one will die before the other and the one left behind will know (as they never could otherwise) what it means to be lonely.  Their years of togetherness will be a wonderful, glowing memory.

Humans were not created to be alone.  We are a “flocking animal.”  Some animals are “loners” by nature.  They wander solo through most of the year and only congregate with others of their species at mating season to reproduce.

Oh yes, a great number of our sort seem to seek the lonely life.  They live alone, eat alone and, aside from the occasional one-night-stand, sleep alone.  Even in a crowd they may seek to be alone.  But we humans were meant for deeper relationships.  When we keep things shallow we miss most of the richness and consolation of life.

Loneliness seldom works for long.  It seldom works well.  Early in my backpacking days I was warned to “…never hike alone.”  If you’ve seen the film, 127 Hours, you know what I’m talking about.  Too many things, some deadly, can happen – falls, snakebites, sprained ankles, encounters with unfriendly animals, getting lost, getting stuck and other situations and circumstances where companions become lifesavers.  We all need companions, comrades, confidantes, confessors…friends to share life’s joys, triumphs, sorrows and challenges.

There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother.
There was no end to his toil,  yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.
“For whom am I toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”
This too is meaningless— a miserable business!
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
(Ecclesiastes 4:8-12)

Are you lonely?  Are you trying to fly solo through an empty sky?  May I suggest a way to land safely?  In every community of size there’s a group of people who will eagerly befriend you.  They meet together one or more times a week to connect with their Creator and each other.  Oh, they’re not perfect (just like you) but they’re not lonely.  They’ll take you in and overlook your faults if you will theirs.  It is a safe place where God teaches us how to love Him and each other.  They pray together, sing together and seek guidance in God’s Word together.  And, every so often they will sing:

Blest be the tie that binds, / Our hearts in Christian love,
The fellowship of kindred minds / Is like to that above.
Before our Father’s throne, / We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one, / Our comforts and our cares.
We share our mutual woes / Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows / The sympathizing tear.

If you are seeking an end to loneliness, let me know where you live and I will do my best to help you find a group of friends who just might be seeking you.

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Filed under church, Community, Encouragement, Life, Loneliness, Love, Love and Marriage, Singing, Trust