Monthly Archives: November 2016

Chicken Little

Chicken Little  noun

  1. A confirmed pessimist, particularly one who warns of impending disaster.
  2. One who warns of or predicts calamity especially without justification

 [After a character in a story who is hit on the head by an acorn and believes the sky is falling.]

(Webster’s Dictionary)

Pessimism, expecting bad things, anticipating the worst, is a blight for God’s people. When God brought Israel out of Egypt, despite all the spectacle of God’s power in Egypt and at the Red Sea, and the fulfillment of his promises, the people repeatedly fell into a fearful expectation of calamity and grumbling. They accused Moses and God of bringing them into the desert to starve and to die of thirst (Exodus 16:3, 17:3, Numbers 20:4). The Exodus generation of Israel was afflicted with pessimism, which not only made them unhappy, but often motivated anger, contentiousness, and bad behavior, and ultimately separated them from enjoying God’s promises.

Generations after Moses’s time, when the Jewish rulers looked at Jesus, his ministry, his preaching, the good works he did, the many miracles (even including reviving a man who had been dead and buried four days), they were pessimistic about the outcome. They swept aside the good, ignoring the clear evidence of God’s hand at work. They refused to believe Jesus was bringing the promises of God to fulfillment, and instead convinced each other “the sky is falling.” Because they feared the future with Jesus alive and working, they chose to murder an innocent man, to avoid calamity (they thought), thus fulfilling prophecy but defying God.

Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.  “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” (John 11:47-48)

When the Jewish rulers anticipated the worst, that the Romans would come and destroy them, they chose to act on their pessimism by attacking Jesus. The unhappy irony is that while they did fulfill prophecy in rejecting the Christ, they also sealed the destiny of  “our place and our nation,” bringing upon themselves and their children the very destruction by the Romans that they feared (see Matthew 23:37-39).

What God has always wanted for his people is the optimism that comes, not from avoiding difficulties, but from trusting God in all circumstances. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances… I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Romans 8:31, Philippians 4:11-13). God has never assured his people that they/we would have carefree lives in this world, or that the world would not change around them/us. Rather he has promised his people that they/we can have confidence of his help to overcome every obstacle, including death itself.

Paul wrote that Christians are the children of Abraham and are blessed along with Abraham (Galatians 3:7-9).  Being descendants of Abraham, Christians can understand Isaiah 41:8-16 as promises fulfilled in the Lord’s church. God’s servant consists of people from all over the world, chosen by God, triumphant over every enemy, over all the nations. No matter what the momentary circumstance of those “who rage against you” or who it is that “wage war against you,” God’s promise persists. God’s people have no reason to ever be “Chicken Littles.”

~ Charles Fry

Ideally, Where Does it Start?

I was recently talking with a brother whose teenage son was immersed into the Lord two months ago.  He told me his son said his first public prayer in a church assembly just a week ago or so after having submitted to the Lord only recently.  I was not surprised, though I do not know the young teen more than by simple acquaintance.  However, I know this brother, and I know of his faith, and I know his wife, a sister also full of faith.  And therefore I was confident of their family life.  So, I was not surprised the young man was already immersing himself in the public assembly.  Praise God!

      Now to many religious institutions that are not of the Lord, this is not the normal.  Even among many churches of Christ this may not be the normal.  But among the congregations of the Lord’s people that practice and encourage the average brothers as the primary teachers of the body, this is certainly not uncommon.  Young men begin sometimes early in their life as public participants in the meetings of the saints.  They have watched their grandfathers, fathers, uncles, various brothers and even peers participate in active ways through prayers, song leading, public readings, serving the Lord’s Supper, and yes, even teaching and preaching.  This is common among the churches who practice such.

      Where does this spirit of service ideally begin?  Does it begin at the teen or young adult years?  Does it begin at the college level?  No!  Ideally it begins in the home.  It begins at the kitchen table or in the living or family rooms.  It begins in the privacy of their bedrooms as they study their lessons from the various classes in the assemblies.  Yes, ideally it begins in the homes.  I use the term “ideally” to point out there are exceptions.  There are certainly those who do not have the blessing of growing up within the body of believers.  They must learn these practices as adults, and they can certainly do so as they endeavor to serve in these public ways.  But ideally it begins in the home.

      It is worth noting that in some of the congregations I am trying to serve in my work this principle of mutual edification is new.  Many of them are doing so out of necessity, for perhaps they do not have the funds to hire a man to do the work of the brothers.  And there are certainly some congregations who have chosen to begin the work of the brothers publicly teaching and admonishing, and so they must start the process.  Starting such a process can be a difficult transition, for they do not have the advantage of growing up and watching the previous brothers while knowing and expecting their turns will come as a natural result of time.

            Yes, indeed, ideally this process begins in the home as fathers and mothers begin to groom their children for these responsibilities, even before birth.  I have read studies that show unborn children reacting to positive spiritual environments from such activities as singing or praying or simply the great contentment and pleasure of a mother carrying her child with joy.  What a great way to begin such training!  Yes, indeed, God knows how to teach us to teach!

~ Jay H. Graham

Take Up My Cross

In Jesus’ rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees as recorded by Matthew, it reads not all aspects of service to the Lord are equal.

 “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.  These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone” (Matthew 23:23).  

All parts of God’s covenant are to be respected and followed, but this does not mean they all have the same weight when it comes to salvation and fighting against the indulgence of the flesh.

I’ve probably spent too much of my time focusing on minor matters of being a child of God.  Perhaps many of us are guilty of this, to various degrees.  Standing up against false teaching, laying out the biblical case for baptism as an essential part of salvation, setting forth arguments against attempts to adulterate the simplicity of the worship services, and the list goes on.  But in all of this, I run a real risk of missing the point entirely regarding what Jesus has ultimately asked of me in this life.

“And he who does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38).

To borrow from Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13, if I can perfectly understand all knowledge and silence false teachers, but have left my cross behind, I am not worthy of my Lord.  If I give away all my goods to the poor, fast regularly, read daily, and pray often, but have not burdened myself with my cross, I am not worthy of the price Jesus paid at his cross.  My life has become unprofitable.

The point is emphasized and clarified a few chapters later when Jesus, after revealing his future sufferings and death to his disciples, said, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me”  (Matthew 16:24).  I cannot carry my cross in one hand and life’s trophies in the other.  I cannot shoulder my cross while still “bearing the weight of sin which so easily besets [me]” (Hebrews 12:1).  Before I can follow, I must pick up my cross.  Before I can pick up my cross, I must deny myself.

To do so means a complete and total commitment to Christ.  Peter and Andrew left their nets and their livelihoods to commit themselves to Jesus.  Will I do this?  James and John left their father’s side when the Lord called.  Can I walk away from family ties, if necessary?  Paul counted all of his past life’s accomplishments as rubbish so he might gain Jesus?  Will I do something less because temporal accomplishments are more important than pleasing my king?  While in chains, Paul reflected, “one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (Philippians 3:13).

My life must be a clear and complete commitment to Christ.  This means following the example of Jesus when he took off his divinity to put on his humanity.  As translated in the ESV, Jesus “emptied himself” and “took on the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7).  Jesus gave up his throne to take on a life in the flesh and then sacrificed this life so we might be free and have hope.  What will I do in light of his self-denial? If I still seek to satisfy the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life, I have not given up my life nor picked up my cross nor followed my Lord.  I am unworthy.

For immigrants to this country who wish to become citizens, the oath at naturalization reads, “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen…”  Newly naturalized citizens can no longer pledge allegiance to their past King, Queen, Chancellor, or President.  Through this oath they renounce all past ties – they publicly deny all former allegiances – and embrace allegiance to a new country and new President.  For me to follow Jesus, to be worthy of him, I must do the same to my former service to the flesh and its passions.

Failing in this critical point, this weighty matter of Christ’s covenant, is to miss out on everything.  “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” and “whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27, 33).

If I falter, the fix is not to go to church more.  The fix is not to simply convince myself that there is a God and his Son is Jesus Christ.  The fix is to admit I’ve been too caught up in trying to make something on my own of my life and in doing so my cross has been tossed aside and my feet have wandered away from my Lord.  I have become unworthy.

I can’t neglect the minor matters – those things which amount to tithing mint and anise and cumin – but the weightier matters, specifically the weight of the cross, must also be part of my walk with Christ.  My life for him, my trophies cast aside, my cross resting on my shoulders, and my mind set on things above where Christ is pressing forward to my upward call from God, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

~ Jeremy Morris