Category Archives: Volume – 59

Worldly Fear

Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his first inaugural address to a nation in the throes of economic depression.  In this first speech FDR proclaimed, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  From a spiritual perspective, his words are not entirely accurate.  There are some fears that are legitimate and necessary.  However, FDR did identify one of the greatest impediments to improving the human condition.  God commands His people over three hundred times to “fear not.”  The frequency of the command indicates the far-reaching consequences of a life led by improper fear, what one might call “worldly fear.”

The list of worldly fears is long.  We fear for our safety or the safety of those we love. Many of us fear how we will die and some fear what will happen after death.  The fear of a meaningless life drives some to overwork, destructive sacrifices and selfish ambition.  Some of us fear that we will be alone or unloved while others are afraid that they will fall in love and thereby increase the probability of pain.  Fear crops up when we want something, but we know we may not receive it.   When we realize that we cannot control an outcome for those that we love, our fear of losing them overwhelms good judgment.  Our politicians – both from the left and right – capitalize on fear to motivate their constituents.   In some families, fear is passed from generation to generation like blue eyes or curly hair.  Far too often, far too many of us are controlled by worldly fears.

No one wants to admit that they are afraid.   We prefer to think of ourselves as courageous, calm, and in control.  In what we would count as honest moments, we acknowledge our “insecurities.”   But is not “insecurity” simply a euphemism for fear?  Sometimes we say precisely what we mean in spite of ourselves.

A common thread connects worldly fears:  they reside in the unknown, nourished by an overactive imagination.  To put it another way, worldly fears fixate on what might happen.  Consider, for example, the children of Israel.  As the children of Israel were poised to invade the land of Canaan one year after their exodus from Egypt, they received an unfavorable report from ten of their twelve spies.  Formidable armies protected this abundant and rich land.  The inhabitants fortified their major cities.  The prospect of victory seemed slim; total annihilation seemed much more likely.  It was this story filled with worldly appraisals lacking faith that Israel chose to believe.  Israel forgot the plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea, the manna in the wilderness, and the terrifying glory of God on Mount Sinai.  Facts, you see, are the natural enemies of worldly fear.  Israel chose instead to accept the narrative of the ten spies and their resolve withered in the face of worldly fear.  If we allow it, worldly fear tells us wild stories about what might be happening now or what might happen in the future.

The first example of worldly fear in Scripture appears after Adam’s sin.  The father and mother of the human race hid themselves from God because they were afraid.  Their sin awakened fear which, in turn, compelled Adam and Eve to conceal themselves.  Worldly fear, you see, cowers behind secrecy.  We conceal because we fear what God, or others, might think about our transgressions or our faults or our flaws.  We also hide our sins because we fear the sacrifices that may be required to right our wrongs.  It hurts to change, so we bury the sin and practice it in secret.

Not only is worldly fear inclined to conceal, but it is also inclined to delay.  Adam and Eve did not seek out God to throw themselves on His mercy.  They attempted to avoid Him.  Like Felix’s reaction to Paul, worldly fear urges us to wait for a more convenient day: “I will do this one more time and then tomorrow I will fix it.”  Since it dwells in the realm of imagination, worldly fear always believes there is more time.  A delay might briefly release the grip of fear, but the relief is temporary.  With the next sin, fear awakens like a hibernating beast, waiting to be fed.

Worldly fear is an effective deceiver:  it cannot abide either the pain of public knowledge or the pain of personal sacrifice, yet our sin accumulates the pain of guilt and shame. In Psalm 38:1-11, David describes in poetic language the burden and consequences of hidden sin.  Harboring our sin out of worldly fear does not avoid pain, it increases our guilt and shame and thereby increases our suffering.

As we suffocate under the weight of unforgiven sin, a sense of hopelessness settles in.  Worldly fear tells us that we have wandered beyond hope.  The possibility for change seems unattainable.  Death looms like a specter and our fear of it ensnares, imprisons and enslaves.  Convinced there is no escape, we become spiritually incapacitated, overwhelmed by a sense of apathy and isolation.  Oh, wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Truth is our greatest weapon against the enemy of worldly fear: “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).  Godly fear moved Noah to build an ark because he was persuaded that the consequences for disobedience were very real (Hebrews 11:7).  Even though he had never seen a drop of rain, Noah saw the rampant wickedness of his generation and trusted that the Creator was capable of the cataclysms He forecasted.  Unlike worldly fear, godly fear is grounded in truth.

Fear tells us stories and stories lead us to feel.  In moments when fear either begins to creep in or seizes control, analyze what those fears tell you.  Do they talk of what might happen or what might be happening?  How do your fears look in the light of cold, hard facts?  Do they stand up to the scrutiny of God’s word?

Godly fear, like godly sorrow, leads to action. Like Noah, we work out our salvation by godly fear, knowing that our God is both a consuming fire and an impartial judge (Philippians 2:12, Hebrews 12:25-29, 1 Peter 1:17).  To conquer worldly fear, we must consider what we will gain with repentance.  Godly fear frees us from guilt and shame.  While temporary consequences for sin may remain, God’s mercy and grace empowers us to face them by faith.  Growing in our love for God and our brethren overwhelms and expels worldly fear, instilling confidence as we approach the day of judgment (see 1 John 4:7-21, especially verses 17-18).  As the biblical poets say, godly fear is clean, and it is the beginning of wisdom.

~ Wade Stanley

Laying Down Our Lives

From the moment God breathed into man’s nostrils (Genesis 2:7), it has been readily apparent that there is something sacred and precious about life.  This fact has been consistently reflected and protected in the laws, institutions and instructions that God has given His people.  Well before the Law of Moses, we find examples and commands highlighting this truth.  When God confronts Cain for murdering his brother, in Genesis 4, Cain seems to immediately grasp the implications of God telling him, “the voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground.”  Upon receiving his sentence, Cain states the following, in verses 13 and 14: “My punishment is greater than I can bear! … I shall be hidden from Your face; I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, and it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me.”  While capital punishment is never mentioned anywhere in God’s judgment, I find it interesting that Cain considers himself as good as dead.  Despite being the first recorded instance of a man taking the life of another; the inherent value of life, and the consequences for abusing it, seem to already be firmly understood and established.

A few chapters later, in Genesis 9, Noah and his family emerge from the ark after the flood to receive a blessing and enter into a covenant with God.  Included in this blessing is God giving mankind all things — every animal and every green herb, alike — for sustenance.  Then, in verse 4, God makes what seems to be a rather strange prohibition when He says, “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”  God goes on to say in subsequent verses: “Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning…Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man.”  Here is another clear indication of the value God has placed on man’s life and how seriously He views what’s done with it.

God included similar statutes in the law He delivered to Israel several hundred years later.  Leviticus 17 is largely focused on instilling in Israel an understanding of the sanctity of blood and, in turn, the sanctity of life.  God cared how Israel esteemed, valued, respected life.  It mattered to Him what they did with the life He gave them — to whom and what they devoted it.  Failure to bring a sacrifice and its blood to the proper place, to be presented by the proper person, for the proper purpose resulted in that person being cut off from the people.  To misuse or misappropriate the blood was serious business to God.  Verse 11 of Leviticus 17 seems to provide insight on why that was: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.”  Not only does this passage foreshadow the atonement and propitiation provided by the blood of Christ, but it also seems to provide instruction as to what life is really all about.  God gives life for the good and benefit of the soul.  Based on what I can gather from God’s word, any other use is a misuse — and something God will demand a reckoning for.

Sadly, man’s inclination is often to expend and exhaust precious, God-given life pursuing our own pleasure and the gratification of our flesh.  Countless lives are absolutely wasted and consumed by selfish ambition.  Millions of others, each year, are simply snuffed out because they are deemed inconvenient or unwanted.  When God is not recognized and honored in His rightful place, life becomes just another commodity, something to consume at our own discretion and for our own pleasure.  This is a fact clearly demonstrated by Israel in the time of Ezekiel, where in chapter 34 we see just how far their idolatry had taken them from God by their corrupt and distorted view of life.  Their departure from the Lord wasn’t just evident in their participation in forbidden pagan rituals (drinking blood), but in how they treated one another.  It had made them blood-thirsty and brutal.  Even their shepherds — those who were supposed to be leaders, nurturers, and protectors — were exploiting the flock for their own profit: eating their fat, clothing themselves with their wool, ruling with force and cruelty.  All the while they neglected their responsibilities to feed the flock, strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the broken, bring back those driven away, and seek the lost.  As a result, precious lives were lost.  The sheep were scattered.  They became prey for the wild beasts.

That would be an extremely sad and depressing end to Israel/mankind’s story if God didn’t go on in that same chapter and promise the coming of the good shepherd who would seek out the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken, and heal the sick, who would lay down His life for the sheep.  How wonderful to know that God loves us and values our souls to the point of redeeming them with the precious blood of Christ!  And how sobering to know that we are called to love one another as He loved us, to follow His example in laying down our lives for one another.

Like Peter, our first impression of this concept may be jumping on the grenade or going down in a blaze of glory — some dramatic and heroic feat.  After Jesus commands his disciples, in John 13:34, to love one another as He had loved them, Peter is convinced he is ready to lay down his life for the sake of Christ and to die with him.  Not only does Peter soon learn he was not ready to follow through on that commitment, but that was not what Christ was asking him to do at all.  When Christ later appears to His disciples by the sea for breakfast in John 21, Jesus asks Peter three times (the same number of times he betrayed Him) “do you love me?”  When Peter answers in the affirmative each time, Jesus tells Him: “feed My sheep … tend My lambs.”  While Jesus later reveals that Peter would, indeed, glorify God by dying for Him when he is old, he was to prepare in the meantime by loving and laying down his life by caring for the flock.

This seems to be at the heart of what laying down our life is all about.  Laying down our lives is not merely a theoretical or theological concept with little room for application.  It’s as practical and important as it gets.  It’s sharing our worldly goods to meet brethren’s needs (1 John 3:16-18).  It’s a husband’s loving and caring for their wives as Christ does the church (Ephesians 5:25).  It’s mothers devoting enormous amounts of time, energy, and affection toward training and nurturing children to know and love the Lord.  It’s seeking to be a benefit and blessing to souls.  While the world may view such lives as wasted potential, unambitious, unfulfilling, and unsuccessful, a life laid down for the brethren and the wellbeing of souls is a life well spent.

~ Zach Crane

God’s Grace and Our Works

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).  I fully believe in the truth of this verse, but to my shame I have not talked about this verse as much as I should.  I am saved solely by the grace of God.  My sins have severed my connection with God and corrupted my soul.  By itself, confession in God will not save me.  By itself, faith in God will not save me.  By itself, baptism will not save me.  None of these things on their own will ever be sufficient for me to obtain salvation.  Those acts alone, and even collectively, are not a sufficient price to cover the cost of my sins.  The forgiveness of sins is only possible because God chooses, for his own name’s sake, to extend grace to men and women.

But, God’s grace and therefore God’s salvation, is not unconditional.  If it were, then all people would be saved.  We know that’s not true.  There are conditions which we must meet before we can hope to experience God’s grace.  Faith, as described in Ephesians 2:8, is one of those conditions.  If we lack faith, we cannot expect to experience God’s grace.  This has always been the case, regardless of the law men and women served under.  Romans 9:30-32 says the Jews failed to attain righteousness because they lacked faith.

I also believe the following statement is true – We are not saved by works.  That phrase is completely supported by scriptures, Ephesians 2:9 being one of them (“not of works”).  Does that mean we access God’s grace by faith only?  No.  The phrase “faith only” is found just one time in the scriptures and it is in the negative.  “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (James 2:24).  When reading the context of these verses we see the faith which justifies, the faith which saves, is an active faith.  It is a faith which is expressed in actions – works.  But those works, by themselves, do not save.

So what is a “work?”  Without getting into the Greek, the word “work” means exactly what we assume it would mean – something a person does.  Giving money is a work.  Helping someone whose car has broken down is a work.  Providing medical help to an injured person is a work.  And yes, baptism, because it is “something a person does,” is technically a work.

“So that settles it, right?  If baptism is a work and works don’t save then baptism can’t be essential for salvation.”  This line of reasoning is wrong because it has unexpected consequences.  Confession is also technically a work because it is something a person does; however, confession is specifically mentioned by God as something which is part of the salvation process.  Romans 10:10, “with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”  To continue, consider John 6:28 and 29“Then they said to him, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he sent.’”  In this passage, belief in Jesus – faith – is specifically called a work.  If we apply the reasoning that anything which is a work cannot be considered essential for salvation because “works don’t’ save,” then we are forced to conclude faith is not essential.  The point being made is a blanket statement like “anything called a work can’t be essential for salvation” has serious scriptural flaws.

What is often lost in the discussion about works and salvation is the specific reason why works don’t save.  Too often the “why” is glossed over or completely ignored in the discussion.  One side quotes Ephesians 2:9, the other side quotes James 2:24, and a stalemate results.  As often is the case, figuring out the “why” leads to greater clarity in the matter.  God gives us two reasons why works don’t save.

One of the reasons is found in the back half of Ephesians 2:9: “not of works, lest anyone should boast.”  If works saved, then a person would have a reason to boast about what they had accomplished.  This same theme is echoed in Romans.  Romans 3:28 is often quoted about works and salvation.  “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.”  The “therefore” should turn our eyes to the previous verse which says, “Where is boasting?  It is excluded.  By what law?  Of works?  No, but by the law of faith.”  This theme is continued in Romans 4:2, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.”

This makes sense.  If my works brought salvation, I could brag, and in doing so, I would take glory away from God.  Consider words of the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14“I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.”  This man was bragging to God about all he had done and how this made him a better man compared to the tax collector next to him.  I could fall into the trap of comparing my works to those of others.  “Well, what you did for the Lord was good, but I’ve done a whole lot more.  I give twenty percent in my tithes rather than ten percent.”

We are tempted to boast about many things.  Boasting about works leads to a sense of having earned out salvation.  This is the second reason why works don’t save.  We cannot say we have earned our salvation or we deserve salvation because of what we’ve done.  Look at Romans 4:4, “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.”  If works saved, then we could get to the point where we could say we have paid off the debt of sin.  We have earned our salvation and God must grant it to us.

This may have been the mindset of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-22.  Look at this part of the conversation:

“’Good teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?’ So Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good?  No one is good but one, that is God.  But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder.  You shall not commit adultery.  You shall not steal.  You shall not bear false witness.  Honor your father and mother.  And, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  The young man said to him, ‘All these things I have kept from my youth.  What do I still lack?’” 

This man was trying to earn his salvation.  It’s not specifically stated, but there’s a good chance he was hoping Jesus would say, “Sounds like you’ve done everything.  You have eternal life.”

Once we understand the reasons why works don’t save, we can then properly evaluate the role, if there even is one, of things we do when it comes to our salvation.  Look at the wording in Ephesians 2:9 again.  “Not of works, lest anyone should boast.”  We are not saved by our works, but this doesn’t exclude works from being part of the process.  This is an extremely important distinction and makes sense with what we previously read in James 2.  We are not saved by our works; however, works are still part of the salvation process.

In fact, works have always been part of the process.  We have always had to do something to access God’s grace through our faith.  Abraham’s faith, which was “accounted to him as righteousness” had to be shown.  How?  By offering up the son of promise as a sacrifice.  If the Israelites wanted atonement for their sins, they had to do something.  They had to bring the appropriate gift to God as a sacrifice.  Yes, the atonement from God was ultimately from his grace; however, without the Israelite doing something, there was no opportunity for God’s grace.  Look at the story of Naaman in II Kings 5.  Was it actually the waters of the Jordan river which cleansed his leprosy?  No.  It was the power of God; yet, Naaman had to do something to access that gracious healing power of God.  If he did not go to the river and dip seven times there would not have been any healing.  The work didn’t heal him, but a work was still an essential part of the process.

It therefore stands to reason the same principle holds true today.  While we are saved by God’s grace, it is up to us to find the means to access this grace – “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).  We believe in God, we accept responsibility for our actions and resolve to changes our ways, we confess our convictions, and we follow our Lord into the grave through baptism.

Much more could be said about grace and works and much more needs to be said regarding the power of God’s grace in our lives.  Our works, including the moment we obeyed the gospel and submitted to baptism, have no power at all were it not for God’s grace.  May the Lord God be magnified in our lives and in all the earth.

~ Jeremy Morris

iCare

We at the Old Lamine church of Christ have subjects assigned for each month.  Each speaker then takes the subject assigned and gives a lesson on that subject.  A couple of months ago, one of our members set up the subject for the month and it was titled iTruths for an iGeneration.  The subject that was assigned to me was iGive.  Being the old computer person that I am, I picked up on the “i” implications being related to iPhone, iPod, iPad etc.  We had quite a discussion about the differences between the Apple products and, my favorite, the Android products.   When it came my turn to speak of course I had to make some comments about the “i” series.

As I prepared for my lesson, iGive, I got to thinking about a part of iGive being iCareiCare is an important part of our lives.  We can look at the “i” part in two different ways.  As we know we have become an ‘I’ generation.  It is all about me.  We see so much of that in the world today, and I am afraid that we as Christians are somewhat guilty of thinking only of ourselves too.

As most of you already know, I am having a battle with Cancer.  After the initial shock, I have come to accept the fact that first of all God is helping me through this.  I also feel blessed that I have learned much from all of the treatments.  It has helped me to understand what others have to go through when they acquire this disease.   Hopefully I can give others encouragement and assistance in their bout with Cancer.  I think the greatest lesson I have learned is the iCare of others.

 I want to say a big “Thank You” to all of those when have sent cards, texts, given words of encouragement, and above all have told me they are keeping me in their prayers.  This has meant so much to me because it has opened my eyes to the fact that I have so many brothers and sisters who do care for me and I am sure they pass this same level of iCare along to others as well.

We tend to be discouraged when we look around us and see so many falling away from the grace of Jesus, and sometimes we almost feel we are in a very small group of believers.  This reminds me of what God said to Elijah in 1 Kings 19:18 and mentioned again in Romans 11:4 of how there were still seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal.  It has also given me an opportunity to talk to others about Christ, telling them that whatever happens to me is in God’s hand.  This has inspired many of my friends, not all members of the church of Christ, to tell me that they are keeping me in their prayers.  I am also reminded of Paul in Philippians 1:21 where he says, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  These are wonderful words of encouragement to all of us as we look forward to being with Christ in eternity.

~ Doug Weekley

Let Them Sing!

What if you went to church this Sunday, and after hearing the song leader announce the first number, turned to that page in your songbook only to find yourself looking at words written in Spanish?  What if, then, you and the congregation (who don’t know Spanish well…or in some cases, at all) went on to sing not only that song, but several others in Spanish?  What if the only songbook you had to sing from was in Spanish?

      What impact would that have on your worship?  Would it be edifying?  Instructive?  Would you be “singing with the understanding,” as Paul taught? (1 Corinthians 14:15).

      This scenario is actually reality for thousands of our Filipino brethren.  Over the years, well-meaning Americans have made English hymnals (e.g. Sacred Selections) available to the churches in the Philippines, and the Filipinos, unable to do any better, accepted the gift and made the best use of it they could.  But the consequences have not been good.  Singing in an unknown (or too little known) tongue, brethren have been making melody with their mouths, but not always with their hearts.  They have been singing without the understanding.  Consider the following information shared with me by our brother Roger Wanasen when asked about this:

•    “In a remote churches they don’t understand English at all.”

•    “Some brethren can read English word but they don’t understand the meaning of the word.”

•    “For example, “Toiling on” in the Ilokano language means ‘can’t hear.’”

•    “In the Visayan language, when they sing the word ‘Christ was crucified’ their understanding is ‘Christ committed suicide’….”

•    “…and many more.  Those are only few example….”

•    And some understand the word with right meaning, but they don´t understand the message of the song.”

•    “There is some occasion that when I brought songbooks in their local dialect.  I can see the joy of their singing because they understood what they are singing for.”

It would be wonderful if we could help them always understand what they are singing.

      At my request, Brother Roger has supplied the following information concerning present hymnal needs among Filipino congregations.  Three different language groups are in need of songbooks, at this time, and in the following numbers:  (1) Visayan: 1000 books; (2) Ilokano: 1000 books; (3) Tagalog: 500 books (this is lower in priority, however).

      Songbooks in these languages are already available for use if the funds were available to purchase them.  The books are hardback, published in the Philippines, vary in length (Visayan- 224 songs, Ilokano- 312 songs, Tagolog- 583 songs), and are less expensive than the songbooks we use here in America.  After doing some research, the best prices I found for new copies of our most common hymnals were:  Sacred Selections ($12.50); Special Sacred Selections ($14.25); Songs of Faith and Praise ($12.49).  These prices included any discounts for purchasing in large quantities.  By contrast, the prices for Filipino hymnals are:

•    Visayan: $3/book (per 1,000)

•    Ilokano: $3/book (per 1,000)

•    Tagalog: $12/book (per 500) (larger book)

         At these prices, if all 2,500 songbooks were purchased, the total cost would be $12,000.  Excluding the lower-priority Tagalog hymnals, the cost would be $6,000.  A great deal of money, either way, admittedly.  So large a sum, in fact, that I was tempted to not follow through with my plan for writing this article.  But would it not be money well spent, brethren?  Either amount is far less than we put toward paving our parking lots, and it would be for something of far greater value in the eyes of God.

      So although it feels a bit awkward to do so, I am writing to ask if members of the Lord’s body would be willing to help fund the purchase of some or all of these songbooks.  Perhaps, we who have two or three different hymnals in our native tongue to choose from on any given Sunday could help our Filipino brethren have one.

      Brother Joshua Riggins has agreed to help with this endeavor.  As many of you know, Joshua is a banker by profession (as Paul was a tentmaker), and has for some time, now, been facilitating the distribution of donated funds to our brethren in the Philippines.  Through his work (overseen by the elders of the Bloomfield, Indiana congregation), and that of his predecessor, Charles Biery, a time-tested means for secure, accountable, and trustworthy transmission of funds is already in place.  For this effort, there seems no reason to reinvent the wheel.

Any individual or congregation who would like to help make it possible for our brethren in the Philippines to sing with the understanding can do so by sending contributions to:

church of Christ- Philippines
P. O. Box 342
Bloomfield, IN 47424

Please specify on the check, or by accompanying letter, that the funds are intended for Filipino songbooks, so that Joshua can make certain they are used exclusively for that purpose.  If/when sufficient funds have been collected for the most-needed songbooks—the 2,000 Visayan and Ilokano hymnals ($6,000)—I will make an announcement in The Gospel Message and via social media.  Should enough be donated to also enable the purchase of the 500 additional Tagalog books ($6,000), I will announce that, as well.  I will also gladly communicate privately with any individual or congregation who requests it.  All of this, of course, if God permits.  Additionally, Joshua and/or his elders can be contacted directly for information.

God has given us so much material wealth in this country.  No nation in the history of the world has ever seen the like.  Perhaps we can use some of it to help our Filipino brothers and sisters who give us such a good example in spiritual things.

•    “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).

•    “And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35).

~ John Morris

Zacchaeus and Public Opinion

“Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he.” I was introduced to this odd little song with accompanying gestures somewhere between my twenty-third and twenty-eighth birthday. I had never heard children’s songs like this. What a fascinating character, this wee little man.

Zacchaeus “was a chief tax collector, and he was rich” (Luke 19:2). Here was a target for public opinion to heap its scorn. He collected taxes from his countrymen for an occupying nation, the Roman Empire. He was a chief tax collector, a man with underlings to do his bidding. Being rich probably was an incentive for people to stir their scorn with envy. And, oh yes, “he was of short stature” (Luke 19:3).  When people feel powerless in the face of a grinding bureaucracy, it is tempting to seize upon any seeming advantage. Surely, it was no different in those days. A wee little man was he.

This object of public hatred had many honorable characteristics. The first one recounted in the Bible is “he sought to see who Jesus was” (Luke 19:3).  Many people are like the wayside where seed was sown. Jesus depicted this in the parable of the sower. They have no interest in Jesus. Thus, “the birds of the air came and devoured it” (Mark 4:4).  Zacchaeus, on the other hand, exerted himself to see Jesus. He compensated for being short. He climbed a tree. We can fairly say his interest in seeing Jesus was more important to him than the humiliating commentary surely generated by such a spectacle. Zacchaeus had the humility to set aside his dignity in favor of seeing Jesus. When Jesus told him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house,” Zacchaeus rejoiced. This was more than passing curiosity. He was looking for the hope of Israel.

The crowd complained about Jesus: “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner” (Luke 19:7). Zacchaeus must have felt compelled to explain himself: “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold” (Luke 19:8). Public opinion paints with a broad brushstroke. How easy it is to be blinded to the good that may exist in areas where we think that it cannot.

Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector working on behalf of an occupying nation and he was rich. On the surface, it would appear he was traitorous, rapacious, and a scoundrel. Think of the Facebook memes people would generate about him if such circumstances existed in our time. How many of us would give a “like” to such a meme? In Jesus’s time, the crowd did not acknowledge that somebody had to do the dirty work of collecting taxes for Rome. How many people were spared the iron fist of the Empire because Zacchaeus was fair? He also must have governed the collectors under him in a fair manner. The fourfold restoration he spoke about would not have been for himself alone, but also for those whom he supervised. Also, with his profit, he helped to lighten the burden of the poor. The public, on the other hand, was blinded to these things. Even if they did not have access to the details of Zacchaeus’ decency, their evil speaking made it impossible to consider anything but their own opinions.

These were voices of murmuring, discontent, reviling, and fear, malleable voices able to be bent to wicked schemes: “the chief priests stirred up the crowd, so that he (Pilate) should rather release Barabbas to them” (Mark 15:11). Undoubtedly, it was opinions like those voiced against Zacchaeus which gave strength to the future rebellion against Rome. Jerusalem was destroyed, and of the temple, not one stone was left upon another.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’” (Luke 13:34-35).

And again: “For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?” (Luke 23:31).

Jesus spoke to Zacchaeus for the sake of those who scorned: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9). Jesus began His work among His own, the Jews. Among the Jews there were those like Zacchaeus, decent and honorable, yet scorned. Probably, there were among the scorners lost sheep who, in other areas, were decent and honorable. For the sake of Zacchaeus and the crowd, Jesus concluded, “for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

It is often quoted, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Yet, this truth can be undermined by public opinion. It is a big voice of generalities playing to our sense of indignation and yes, helplessness. Public opinion can blind us to this fact:  the way of Jesus is strong, not helpless. We have been given the power and the message of overcoming the world. Through Jesus, we can become like Him, the Lamb of God. There is a bigger picture than our worldly concerns: resurrection, redemption, salvation, transformation, the judgment day, the new and heavenly Jerusalem. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

~ Louis Garbi

Save the Children

What are the chances that your children and grandchildren will remain faithful in the church? Not that good.

It’s a disturbing reality, but the facts are hard to deny. Academic studies on denominational churches show that about 70% of all young people will quit attending church within 2 years of leaving the home. In the churches of Christ, it might take a little longer and the percent loss might be a little better, but the facts are nonetheless alarming. Take a moment to consider the faithfulness of children raised in your congregation. In the congregations with which I am most familiar, about 50% of children leave the church soon after leaving the home.

What’s going wrong?

There’s no need to distribute blame, except to acknowledge that the responsibility of raising faithful children belongs to parents. Not the schools. Not the community. Not even the church.

The church should support the work of the parents, enable parents, educate and encourage parents. However, the church should not and cannot replace the work that God gives parents to do. This idea is evident in Malachi 2:15: “But did He not make them one [in marriage], Having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one [in marriage]? He seeks godly offspring.” Procreating and raising godly children is the work of parents. We live in a world which would have you believe that raising children is everyone’s job. You’ve heard the phrase, “It takes a village.” Certainly, I appreciate the idea that everyone can make meaningful contributions to the development of children, but the village can’t take the place of parents.

The church and the community can support the work of parents but they cannot assume the responsibility of parents and cannot absolve the parents of accountability when something goes awry. An example is Nehemiah 13:23-26:

“In those days I also saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke according to the language of one or the other people. So I contended with them and cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, ‘You shall not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves…”

Who was ultimately responsible for this failure? Nehemiah didn’t blame the priests. He didn’t call out the community leaders. It wasn’t a failure of the government. The task of teaching children to serve the Lord was the responsibility of the parents. It was the parents who failed to teach them the Hebrew language and the laws of their God. The Jewish leaders deserved some blame, but still the parents were accountable.

So what should we do?

First, we must acknowledge the root of the problem. In a survey of college students who dropped out of church, about 50% said they did so because of “lack of belief.” Essentially, children leave the church because they aren’t fully persuaded in the first place. They spend 18 years in their parent’s home attending their parent’s church, but their parent’s faith never really becomes their faith.

This lack of faith manifests itself in various ways – like decreased church attendance, marrying outside of the church, and substance abuse – but the end result is the same. The child leaves the church for an alternate religious experience or just leaves religion altogether.

This is a well-defined problem and fortunately it has a biblical solution: teaching.

As a father of one young child, I’m no expert on the subtleties of successful parenting, but anyone can see the message for parents in the Bible. Raising a faithful child starts with biblical teaching in the home. Love and discipline are also essential, but teaching must be at the core. Deuteronomy 6:5-8 is a familiar passage on this topic:

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.”

Spiritual topics should be a constant conversation in your home. Help your children to understand that everything in life relates back to God. When you’re eating, talk about how God created the foods that they’re enjoying. When your child notices the trees changing colors in the fall, talk about how God made them that way just so we’d remember to think about him. Teach them that God made the child in a mother’s womb. Teach them that God put the stars in the sky. Teach them God loves them, and that he’s listening to them when they pray. As a child gets older, your spiritual conversations should mature with them. Talk with them about temptation and sin. Talk with them about love, forgiveness, and God’s plan of salvation. Talk with them about how they can glorify Jesus around their friends. Talk with them about who they should marry and where they should go to church. Talk with them about who you want them to be when you’re dead and gone.

If it doesn’t come naturally, then make plans for it. Write down questions you’ll ask your child. Plan time to read the Bible. When a child has spiritual questions, give them your undivided attention. Nothing you might be doing in life could be more important than helping them to learn about God. Whatever you do, keep on teaching.

~ Tad Morris

Teach Them to Observe All Things

Just before Jesus ascended to His Father, He spoke to them the words in the title above (Matthew 28:18-20).  He was handing His authority over to His apostles who would take the leadership role in establishing the remainder of the foundation for His church.  His apostles would be leading the new church in teaching the gospel and teaching Christ’s will to the Christians who would submit to that gospel.  It has been noted by many that Jesus did not choose to give this authority to the rich and powerful of this world, nor to well-spoken orators, nor even to the highly educated.  He gave this authority to very simple men whose only claim to the Lord was as humble servants.  And of His apostles, the only one who was well educated, discounted his education and considered himself to be the least of the apostles.

Now certainly, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to inspire these simple men as they would teach this new message of salvation to the world and help the early church to become grounded in the truths Jesus had in mind for His body.  However, this inspiration would only last until the last apostle died.  And it is worth noting that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, some of the Lord’s Christians would have such divine inspiration as well to help them teach the Lord’s truths.  However, it is also clear in the New Testament that when the last of this generation of Christians died (those who had the apostles’ hands laid upon them for this purpose) there would no longer be such divine inspiration through living men.  However, there would be no need for such, for in the first century the Holy Spirit would inspire some of these apostles as well as some New Testament prophets to write the Lord’s truths so that men and women could not only know them for themselves, but especially so they could teach these truths.  These inspired writings have become part of what we have today which we know as the Bible.  We have been blessed with such writings for the past 2,100 years, so that we do not need any further divinely inspired writers.

What I have written until now in this article has simply been an introduction to the primary point I wish to make.  Just as the Lord Jesus’ will was that His message would go through ordinary men, it is also the Lord’s will throughout these centuries that ordinary men would teach these same truths to others.  It was always the Lord’s intent the NT gospel as well as the NT doctrines be taught by ordinary men (as well as women in an informal manner).

We can see this principle throughout the book of Acts as only Christians taught the Lord’s will.  In other words, even in Acts 2 the gospel was preached through the mouths of men!  Surely the Holy Spirit could have chosen to preach this message thunderously from the Old Testament temple or any other location if He had chosen, but it was not the Lord’s will that this happen.  He spoke through the apostles.  When the gospel was preached to the Eunuch in Acts 8, it was preached through Philip.  Yes, an angel told Philip where to go, but Philip did the teaching.  In Acts 9, Jesus spoke to the Pharisee, Saul, and sent him to Damascus, but he sent a Christian named Ananias to preach the gospel to Saul.  Certainly, Jesus could have spoken this message to Saul when He spoke to him on that road, but He did not.  He left it to a man!  One final example is Cornelius in Acts 10.  An angel told Cornelius to send for the apostle Peter while the Lord gave to Peter the vision of the animals upon the sheet.  The angel and the Lord could have easily spoken to Cornelius of the gospel, but it was the Lord’s will that a man, Peter, preach that gospel to Cornelius.  There is not one example in Acts of an angel, the Lord, or His Spirit or any other means for the gospel to be preached.  It was always done by a man!

This principle continues to this day that ordinary men and women teach the Lord’s truths based on the NT Scriptures.  This is consistent with Paul’s words in Ephesians 3:10, “to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.”  We see this throughout His congregations as ordinary men teach the Lord’s truths to one another.  The Lord uses fallible men like you and me to teach His truths to those in the world and to His people.  Let us never take this privilege for granted, and let us always take this divinely given responsibly seriously and reverently.  May God be glorified through what we teach!

“Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another” (Romans 15:14).

~ Jay Graham

Changing Times

I was recently reminded of a notable event that occurred in Lyons, Indiana, during the late fall of 1934. The church of Christ contracted with Brother E. M. Zerr to conduct a twelve-week Bible reading at a cost of $400. Two hour classes were held each afternoon and evening on week days. The entire Bible was read and commented on during that study. This is notable because of the length of the study, the cost during the depression and the size of the congregation. I have a picture of the attendees that was taken on the steps of the church building. Additionally, this occurred during the cold part of the year and the cars were not heated very well and they traveled on gravel roads that were very rough.

When I was in grade school, Brother Zerr held a Bible reading at the church in Vincennes for two weeks. There were no special classes for the children, but we all took notes like the adults. Upon the urging of many church members, Brother Zerr published commentaries of the entire Bible based on the notes he used in the studies. He was very reluctant to do so because he did not want the members to quote him as an authority but to use the books as a tool. Unfortunately, many have disregarded his wishes.

The title of this article is “Changing Times’” and the above paragraphs serve as an introduction to how times have changed through the years (and not necessarily for the good).  It was common for churches to have two week meetings more than once a year. This practice was gradually reduced to one week meetings once or twice each year. As time has progressed, churches began having Saturday and Sunday meetings several times a year but when attendance dropped off, so have the meetings.

The purpose of this article is not to sound like doom and gloom but rather that each of us will look at our priorities and see if they have shifted too far toward the world and the “enjoyment” that it affords. It is more serious than many will admit, but our preparation for heaven may be falling very short. When we read the book of Revelations, we read that those who are there are singing and praising God all of the time. All too often, we hear the complaint that “church is boring.”  If so, will it also be boring in heaven?

We are often reminded that we are to seek the kingdom of heaven first and all the necessities of life will be available for us. Do we really believe this or are we so intent upon providing these necessities that we put God in a distant second place?

What lesson do you get from the parable of the great supper? Many were invited but some gave excuses such as marriage, purchase of land and purchase of oxen so that they could not attend. The one who had made the great feast was angry that these had turned down his offer and told his servants to go out and gather people off the streets so that the food was not wasted (Luke 14:15-24).  By comparison, how do you think God feels when we choose so many things to do instead of meeting with the church?

Why is church so boring? It is the same or even better than it was when I was a child. A big difference between the “olden days” and now is what Satan has made to offer us. The decline in church attendance and interest can probably be measured with the increase in sports, electronic entertainment by radio, TV and games plus the cellphones. With the advent of all these devices, asking people to attend and sit through a service seems unreasonable to many.

We need to ask ourselves a very important question. What is our reason for a lack of interest in worshiping God? Is it family activities like the man who married a wife? Or is it a boat or travel trailer that we need to use because of our money invested in it? Or are we hooked on sports at any level from peewee league to professional? Let each of us examine ourselves and determine to be more attentive to the worship of God.

~ Glen Owens

Predestination

At the recent Eminence campout, I came upon a chance conversation with three younger men. We shall call them by their initials: A, R and C. During the course of our conversation, predestination came up. One of the young men grabbed his Bible and we looked at passages in Romans 8 and Ephesians 1. I left that conversation impressed with their study and thinking. Since I was thinking about what to contribute in this issue of The Gospel Message, I thought, here it is, my topic.

Predestination is often a difficult subject partly because of the many false teachings that surround it and partly because God’s ways are far above ours. But even with that, all serious Bible students must accept that predestination is a biblical truth. Passages such as Romans 8:29-30 and Ephesians 1:4-5 firmly place it in sound doctrine. As Paul identifies some specific spiritual blessings in Ephesians, he says God “chose us…before the foundation of the world…having predestinated (or foreordained) us” (Ephesians 1:4-5).

The word translated “foreordained” (ASV) or “predestined” (KJV, et al.) is from the Greek term proorizo.  It literally means “to mark out before, to decide before, predetermine in advance” being a compound term (pro, before, horizo to mark out, to specify).

We see Paul addressing this also in Romans 8:29-30:

“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”  

The word foreknew in Romans 8:29 is from the Greek term proginosko which means “to know before.”

Clearly God “predestined” or “foreordained” the saved. But what is the nature of this predestination? Is it conditional or unconditional? What did the Father determine? Did He determine who would believe and who would not believe? What does it mean to be predestinated and what does it not mean? How does it work with free will?

The concept of Predestination has been explained in multiple ways:

1)         Individual- Some feel God has determined which individuals will be saved.

2)         Apostles- Others feel it was the Apostles who were predestinated and not all men.

3)         Destined-Some feel God predestined us to live on earth, predestined to eat and breathe as we do.

4)         Group- Others feel God predestined His people to be saved but not who would choose to be His people that is our choice.

 Calvinism holds at least to some extent to the first option. God has determined (predestinated) which individuals would be saved. This is a determinist view: God has predetermined who will be saved and therefore who will not. Our destiny is determined without our input or choice. It is certainly true that we are saved by God’s grace not our self-effort.

One of the arguments for this position is that God is Sovereign, therefore all that happens is guided by God. His will is always done. But is that true? What does man do the most? Sin. Is that God’s determined will for us? Of course not, He wants all to be saved, but we are told most will not be. Does this indicate a limitation on God’s sovereignty? No. God is sovereign. And in His sovereignty, He has given man choice or freewill. He has sovereignly delegated that to man. Only a sovereign (all powerful) being could delegate that ability to choose. God’s will is done in the sense that it is His will that we have choice. But our choice may not be in His will.

Even those who hold to the view that all that happens is God directed and that nothing we can do can change the outcome, still look before crossing the street. If all is already determined and nothing we do can change that, why look?

God wants our love and obedience but only voluntarily love and obedience have value. Only voluntary love and obedience give God true pleasure. He could have made us so that we had no choice but to love Him, but what kind of love would that be, certainly not “agape.” God forcing or predetermining people to be saved or condemned would go against His very nature. For God to override free will would be counterproductive for Him. God does not ravish or force, but rather He woos.

True love does not and cannot act coercively, only persuasively. A God of love cannot force people to love him. Paul spoke of things being done freely and not of compulsion, “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).  God does not want forced giving or forced obedience or forced love. Things that are forced are not authentic. Forced loved is not love at all.

The second option that predestination applied to the apostles has some merit, for the apostles truly were chosen by Christ. But even if one accepts the understanding that it refers to the apostles, it still negates the false teaching of universal individual predestination. But applying this understanding that it refers only to the apostles seems too limited. The Books of Romans and Ephesians were written to churches/Christians; therefore the references are best understood directed at the writer’s audience and not limited only to the apostles.

The third option, while true, places predestination within the physical realm while the context of scripture is clearly a reference to salvation and our spiritual relationship with God in the spiritual realm.

That leaves us with the fourth option which fits the text best. The predestination referred to in scripture is that God’s children are predestinated to salvation, but through free will we individually decide whether we will accept His gift of grace and be His children. Notice in Ephesians 1:4 “He chose us in Him. Being in Christ is the key.  God has therefore predestined the kind of people (His people, the church) which will be saved. God determined this before the foundations of the world, before creation. But each person must freely choose to obey and to be “in Him.”

When we hear teaching that God already knows who will be saved and who will be damned, and therefore anything we do is useless, we must remember four key biblical truths: God wants everyone (all) to be saved, no one is predestined to go to hell, Jesus died for everyone, and everyone has the opportunity to be saved.

God did not decide who would believe and who would disobey, though His foreknowledge has revealed that to Him. He did, however, determine that those who would believe and obey would be saved.

The Lord’s predestined plan does not negate the Lord’s gift of free will He has given each of us. God chose Christ (1 Peter 1:20; 2:4). But Christ exercised his own free will in offering Himself on the cross in the redemptive plan (John 10:17-18; Galatians 1:4). If we want to share in the glory God chose for the saved, we must submit to his conditions and enter His kingdom.

~ John Lee