It answers the biggest mysteries of this life that so baffle humanity.
It reveals the plan of the Creator of everything.
We are accountable to it.
It tells us where we are going.
It will give us a guide we can have confidence in as we head to the future.
We cannot refuse to follow it.
We should share it with as many people as we possibly can.
It is not on a par with other books; it is superior to all of them.
He disapproves of religious division.
There is a right way to worship Him.
We can know the truth.
We discover some great, precious and exciting truths and promises.
The New Testament church is eternally important.
We should read and study it faithfully.
Investigate the Bible and explore its origin and the book as it is today. God’s Word is not afraid of investigation. It has been more scrutinized than any other book ever written, and it still stands. It is a foundation we can confidently build our lives upon. It is a guide that can safely lead us now and forever. Have you been in the book of books today?
If I have a favorite chapter of the Bible, it would have to be 2 Timothy 4. Yes, I love the first eight verses, but that alone is not what cinches this chapter as dearest to me. It’s Paul’s personal remarks starting in verse nine. There’s his longing to see his spiritual son, Timothy. Twice he implores Timothy to come see him (9, 21). He’s in prison, persecuted for preaching the Prince of Peace. He longs for Christian companionship. Then, he shares his dejection over the abandonment of certain fellow-workers (10). He wants to see cohorts with whom he has done spiritual battle (11). He has personal needs and wants (13). He warns Timothy of a spiritual troublemaker (14-15). Then, he shares personal feelings of isolation and loneliness, a time when he needed a Christian brother by his side but had none (16). Bold, risk-taking Paul, who would stand up to any opposition, the epitome of true manliness, was now in undoubtedly dire, dank conditions, the smell of squalor in the air. Whatever he saw, heard, and felt as he wrote, Paul scratched out these words: “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (16-18). These words aren’t the end of the letter, but they are the end of the matter!
This faithful Christian was deserted by men, but he felt God’s presence and power:
The Lord stood with him.
The Lord strengthened him.
The Lord spoke through him.
The Lord saved him.
The Lord was steering him.
You and I cannot fathom the price Paul paid for proclaiming Jesus. But even if we were ever to face privation, punishment and pain for our faith, what was true for this apostle will be true of us. He promised to be with us always (Mat. 28:20) and never forsake us (Heb. 13:5). Even if you ever feel physically alone, you will have the spiritual assistance Paul speaks of in 2 Timothy 4. Through it all, you can say with Paul, “To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen!”
We were living in Cairo, Georgia, and I was in the third grade. It was during a game of kickball on the playground and I was the “pitcher.” A kid kicked it hard and I caught it. As the ball hit me in the gut, I felt a sharp pain. Something wasn’t right. My parents took me that week to see the local doctor. He thought it might be a hernia. Exploratory surgery in Thomasville instead revealed a tumor on my liver. My parents and I flew to Atlanta, Georgia, where I was checked into Egleston Children’s Hospital. Extensive testing there and Emory Hospital, the general campus for Egleston, led my team of doctors to the same conclusion. It was cancerous. They tried to prepare my parents for how slim my chance of survival was. Even if their diagnosis was wrong, surgery and attending blood loss may well be more than I could stand. My parents maintained great faith, and my dad solicited prayers from congregations all over the place. Dr. Gerald Zwiren, who led a team of highly-skilled doctors, brought the news to my parents that I survived the surgery and later shared the oncology report that my tumor was benign. That was close to 40 years ago and to this point I have never had further complications. I certainly received a second chance.
Periodically, I ponder at length what I have done with that second chance. The scar I bear from that surgery has long since become invisible to my daily view. I suffer no lingering consequences. That event is certainly not why I chose to become a preacher, as if to try and pay a debt to God for saving me. Sadly, despite His mercy in sparing me, I have sinned in ways great and small that reveal, in addition to all else, a failure to appreciate that blessing. Spiritually, whether as a preacher, husband, father, or Christian, I am saddled with the realization of how far I have to go. With the help of His Word, His providence, and His strength, I continue to try to make the most of this extra time He gave me back in 1979.
All of us who are New Testament Christians face the same spiritual situation. We suffered the terminal condition of lostness in sin. By all human calculations and efforts, nothing could be done to save us. Yet, when we responded to His grace by believing, repenting, and being baptized (cf. Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38), He gave us all a “second chance.” We passed from death to life. More than that, God gave us a way to continually receive the benefits of the blood and grace of His Son as we strive to walk in His light (1 Jn. 1:7-10). You may have messed things up badly in your life. You may feel that it is impossible for God to love and forgive you. Friend, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). God is the God of the second chance! His diagnosis is perfect, and His is the only one that counts! Trust in the Great Physician. He has never lost a patient who followed His prescription!
It happened on October 16, 1912, the eighth (*) and deciding game of the World Series. In the bottom of the 10th, with his New York Giants winning by a run, Clyde Engle sent a lazy pop fly to centerfield. Fred Snodgrass, an average hitter and dependable fielder, settled under it and ultimately dropped it. A lot of other things happened. Snodgrass made a spectacular catch on the next play. Hall of Fame pitcher walked the next batter. Tris Speaker, before driving in the winning run with a single, hit a pop foul that both Fred Merkle (aka “Bonehead Merkle,” but that’s a story for another day) and Chief Meyers failed to catch. Snodgrass’ blunder was the scapegoat for the Giants’ series loss to the Boston Red Sox. Fred would go on to be successful in business as a banker, an appliance merchant, and a rancher, was elected mayor of Oxnard, California, and served on the City Council for three terms. There was so much more to Fred Snodgrass than a single unfortunate moment in time, but even his obituary read: “Fred Snodgrass, 86, Dead; Ball Player Muffed 1912 Fly.” In a 1940 interview, Fred spoke of how that fated fly ball would come up as he met or spoke with people (info via sabr.org and history.com).
Isn’t it interesting how a mistake or sin committed in a moment can have such lasting implications, bringing infamy and an enormous challenge of trying to live it down? But doesn’t Snodgrass also prove that we do not have to be defined by our failures? Maybe our blunder is not played out with such renown and infamy, but it can still stay with us and dog our continued steps.
Have you dropped the ball with something? Maybe you let down somebody you loved or somebody that was really counting on you. Maybe you hurt someone special to you. It might have been a foolish or ungodly word or deed when someone was watching. The bigger the blunder, the heavier that burden of guilt might be in your heart. There’s no excusing it. But what will you do now? Will you let it keep you down or will you refuse to be defined by it? The writer of Hebrews urges us, “Let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1b). The focal point must be what’s before us, not what’s behind us. So said Paul (Phil. 3:13).
Dust yourself off. Regroup. Get ready for what’s next! Focus on what’s next, not on what’s over and done.
(*) Game 2 was called on account of “impending darkness”
It boomed when “copper was king” and owed its thriving existence to shell casings made for the Union Army in the far-away Civil War. Fittingly, her downtown streets were Union, Grant, Lincoln, and Sherman. There were 90 businesses in “Copper City” from 1865-1867. The extraction and production of copper ore found in such strikes as at Gopher Ridge, Quail Hill, and Hog Hill made Copperopolis a boom town for a short time. A huge fire in the center of town, in 1867, coupled with the enormous drop in demand for copper following the end of the Civil War, left the community a virtual ghost town. So, despite a few modest copper mining rebounds periodically through World War II, Copperopolis, which yielded $12 million in copper from 1861 to 1946, is a shell of its former self. It is a resort and recreation area today, a modest little town who once entertained the likes of Mark Twain, Nikola Tesla, and “Black Bart” (Charles Boles)(mymotherlode.com, calaverashistory.org/copperopolis).
History is fascinating, with its “rags to riches,” “riches to rags,” and even “rags to riches to rags” stories. Family histories play out the same way. So can the rise and fall of nations. The history of the church, wherever she has existed, may follow the same trajectory. The Jerusalem church of Christ, where it all began, once boasted thousands of members. In time, due to persecution and the introduction of false doctrines, the church there faded from view. Today, it has only a modest presence. The same could be said of other congregations we read about in the New Testament. Our congregation is somewhere on its course from the past to the future. Where will it be in 10 years? 50 years?
Then, I look at my own life. I have been a Christian for over 30 years. I have preached for over 25 years. There have been Bible studies with non-Christians and new Christians. There have been efforts to try and influence others with the gospel. My three sons are all nearly grown and on their own. My wife and I have labored together to serve Christ. But, each day, I must look and sincerely investigate what my spiritual trajectory is. Am I growing nearer to Christ, acting more like Christ? Am I bearing more or less fruit? Are my best days in His kingdom behind me or in front of me? The good news is that, to a great degree, that lies within the scope of my free will and deliberate choices. With God’s help and to His glory, I can make today, tomorrow, and beyond the brightest days of service to Him.
Look at your life. What legacy are you building? You will help determine that by what you do today. Paul says, “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16).
Soon, we’ll have lived in our current home for two years. We are enjoying the house, the location, the neighborhood, and most of the neighbors. However, one that lives pretty nearby has proven less than pleasant. His wife is an officer in our neighborhood HOA, and each month’s newsletter is a new posting of the hierarchy’s “95 theses.” Hardly anyone can keep from committing at least one infraction—certainly not us. They’ve had very little communication with us except when the husband complained that our compost pile was too close to the fence (on the other side of which were his garbage cans). Recently, while seeking our permission to re-paint their house, he took the opportunity to inspect the state of cleanliness of our garage. I share his desire that we keep our homes and yards in good shape, as property values are riding on our collective interest in such. The problem for them is that they have spurned our efforts at a relationship and they have done nothing to create one themselves. Thus, we tolerate and peacefully co-exist. But, there is no relationship.
Have you thought about how vital relationships are to our lives? Think about how ineffective we are with people without them. At best, we are mere associates. At worst, we become antagonists. Think of how vital the entity of relationship is to:
Marriage (1 Pet. 3:7).
Parenting (Deu. 6:1ff).
A congregation (1 Th. 5:11).
Shepherding (John 10:4-5).
Church discipline (2 Cor. 2:6-8).
Restoring the erring (Gal. 6:1-2).
Preaching (2 Tim. 2:24-26; 4:2).
Church works (Eph. 4:16).
Deacons’ work (Acts 6:7).
Soul-winning (Col. 4:2-6).
Friendship (Prov. 18:24b).
Taking the time to build rapport may be mentally and emotionally exhausting at times. The best of relationships will have their downs as well as their ups. But God created us social beings not meant for isolation (Gen. 2:18). Joel O’Steen is shallow and superficial in his “preaching,” but tens of thousands of people are drawn to him because they find him relatable. His message is deadly, but his method is engaging. Some who consider themselves the staunchest “defenders of the faith” are virtual porcupines with their quills primed to stick those in their proximity. Surely those of us striving to follow New Testament Christianity can strive to build relationships while we steadfastly teach and follow the truth. How much more effective will we be as we conquer this principle every day?
My brother and fellow preacher, Brent Pollard, finds the most interesting historical facts—an ability which makes his preaching illustrations most interesting. He sent me an article about the Oise-Aigne Cemetery in northern France. Though I have actually visited that cemetery, I had no idea about the existence of an auxiliary burial plot known as “Plot E.” While the 6012 military personnel buried in the four main burial plots lost their lives in World War I, the 94 interred in Plot E are infamous, disgraced soldiers who died for their crimes during or after World War II. These men either murdered fellow soldiers or raped and/or murdered 71 people in England, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Algeria. “No US flag is permitted to fly over the section, and the numbered graves literally lie with their backs turned to the main cemetery on the other side of the road” (warhistoryonline.com).
These men were supposed to be fighting for the freedoms and rights of American citizens, but instead they were most dramatically undermining the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness of the unfortunate ones who crossed their paths. For their crimes, they not only paid the ultimate penalty but were buried in disgrace and immortalized with infamy. They are remembered as “the dishonorable dead.”
The book of Revelation refers to the “book of life” (20:12), implying that it is possible for one’s name to be blotted out of it (3:5). However, those whose names are not found in that book will be “cast into the lake of fire” (20:15). Those who take away from the words of this revelation—and by application any other (cf. Gal. 1:6-9)—“God shall take away his part of out of the book of life” (22:19). More specifically, John says, “And nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27). For the ungodly and disobedient, John lays out in apocalyptic terms how unthinkably horrible it will be to die unfaithful to Christ. He says, “He also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night…” (14:10-11a).
Everyone will stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). The faithful will receive glory and honor and reward (Mat. 25:34-40). The unrighteous, however, will go away into everlasting punishment (Mat. 25:46). No one will deserve heaven, but will go there thanks to God’s amazing grace and his or her conscious effort to walk in the light (1 John 1:7-10). Those who know not and obey not the gospel will endure something eternally worse than a firing squad, a hangman’s noose, or blameworthy burial (2 Th. 1:8-9). Though the world may believe less and less in the reality of hell, the Bible’s position on the matter has not changed. Knowing the terror of the Lord, may we persuade others and, ourselves, be persuaded (2 Cor. 5:11).