Gary Hampton tells the story of his first missionary trip, which he made in the 1980s—shortly after the “Jonestown Tragedy” and during a time of great national instability. He recalls soldiers lining both sides of the runway, armed to the teeth, and having his bags checked thoroughly by those whose friendliness was not exactly established. He says that there was nothing like being able to greet the local brethren on the other side of security, singing gospel songs with them en route to the town where they campaigned together. I have felt similar relief in coming into places that were strange, unfamiliar, and potentially menacing in different parts of the world.
Do you wonder what it was like for the apostle Paul, who had just survived a horrific shipwreck only to be bitten by a deadly snake on the island where he was stranded. Now, he had been on an Alexandrian ship once again bound for Rome, stopping at various cities along the way. At one of them, Puteoli, Paul, Luke, and the rest of his fellow travelers “found brethren, and were invited to stay with them seven days. And so we went toward Rome. And from there, when the brethren heard about us, they came from as far as Appii Forum and Three Inns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage” (Acts 28:14-15). Notice how the local Christians, however far from Paul’s hometown, made Paul feel—thankful and encouraged.
There is something special and unique about the church, by God’s divine design. Even brothers and sisters you meet in other countries, who speak different languages, and whose background and culture are different from your own, can have that effect on you. Worshipping with God’s people in different parts of the country so often has the same effect. I’ve heard stories (so have you) from families and individuals who remarked about how unfriendly the local church they visited was. I’ve had a few experiences where I didn’t feel the warmth I thought was proper, but that’s not nearly the norm. However, I don’t wait for the brethren to come to me. I’m anxious to see them! They are my family, even if we’ve never met.
As you count your blessings today, won’t you thank God for the transcendent blessing that is the spiritual family! The church was God’s eternal purpose (Eph. 3:9-11). How wonderful that it bolsters us in the brief period of time we exist between birth and eternity!
All the following are legitimate outlets, kept in proper perspective:
Social causes and needs.
Sports, recreation, leisure and fitness.
Wholesome forms of entertainment.
Socializing and fellowship with fellow Christians.
Addressing controversial issues and false teaching.
But our common struggle is allowing these to eclipse our purpose on this earth as Christians. Interestingly, they all can be utilized as part of our mission, but none were ever meant to replace it. These activities can easily hinder our faithfulness and usefulness to the cause. Will you pray for me to keep seeking and saving the lost at the top of my “to do” list of life? I will do the same for you, if you let me know. Let’s pray for courage, focus, discernment, resolve, and encouragement to take the gospel as we go about each day. This is what energized the church in its infancy (cf. Acts 8:4). They had access to the same distractions and diversions we do, but they could not be diverted from the prime objective. Consequently, we read throughout Acts of their exponential, if unlikely, growth. May we help each other imitate their spirit and service!
Every day Johnson Kell visits is a good day. Today was a good day. Though we were initially talking about some sad and depressing matters happening currently within churches of Christ and particularly a west coast university traditionally affiliated with the church, Johnson cannot help but talk about good and wonderful things he’s seen and experienced within God’s family. He told the true story of how one positive experience has made such a ripple effect within our wonderful brotherhood. It centers around a young man steeped in a denomination but dissatisfied with their teaching. He had a friend, a love interest, who was from Wyoming. She attended a funeral in Casper and was so impressed by what was said and done by the local church of Christ there that she was converted. She told this young man, who had moved to work on a golf course in Ventura, California, where Johnson and Dorothy was attending at the time, about the church. He visited. The Ventura preacher, Floyd Davis, studied with Ken, who obeyed the gospel. Ken went on to marry, not the Wyoming girl, but another young woman attending with him at Harding University. He went on to get his doctorate degree in Texas and has built a fine Christian home.
That story by itself shows the power of the gospel upon an honest and open heart. When someone is searching for truth, he or she will find it! If one has no interest in God’s truth, no amount of persuasion or argumentation may be enough. The gospel still works, however dark our world seems to be getting.
Yet, as beautiful as anything I’ve ever seen is a heart seasoned by decades of trial and triumph. As Johnson relayed this story to me, he choked up several times in his elation over the conversion of the young woman and the young man. Never have I known one as touched by the gospel and its positive effects on others as Johnson is. Get him to talk about the cross of Calvary, heaven’s plan of salvation, the joy of Christian fellowship, or any such similar subject and tender emotion will follow. Listen to him pray. Tap into his vast reservoir of memories of the church and you get a transparent view of beautiful faith. Spend any length of time with Johnson and you know he’s spent lengthy time with Jesus. Every time we part company, I pray, “Lord, let my faith shine like Johnson’s.” Hebrews 13:7 seems to be speaking of elders, but the principle applies to this former elder: “Considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” (7b). When it comes to Johnson’s life (and all those like him), that’s my advice!
It was a bit ironic to me as a stood up to preach on the subject of family that I had my parents and two of my children sitting and listening. How rare and wonderful that, normally separated by a couple of time zones and over a thousand miles, we were all able to be together in the same worship service! It makes me long for heaven, when we can be in the presence of God in eternal adoration of Him and sweet fellowship with one another. Being together with family is a blessing many of us take for granted and can maybe only fully appreciate when it tends more toward the exception than the rule.
One of the many incredible facets of God’s perfect design for the church is that He made us a family. Paul depicts us as fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters (Titus 2:1-4). He refers to it as God’s house (1 Timothy 3:15). Christ is the bond that brings us together, with all our diversities (skin, background, income, education, etc.), to be a spiritual family. The best attributes of family—love, acceptance, encouragement, motivation, understanding, heritage, leadership, unity, sympathy, assistance—come together in God’s family. This is what has always baffled me when I think of brothers and sisters who can stay away from their spiritual family for weeks, months, and years at a time. Who could sustain us and fill the vacuum caused by earthly life like God’s children, our spiritual siblings?
When you look at the church, you perceive it a certain way. I’m convinced you are either drawn to it or repelled by it. You long for her members or loathe them. Certainly, there are the indifferent, the lukewarm, and those who are essentially unfeeling toward other members. But these are steadily moving toward abandoning their family. Their hearts have already done so, if their bodies haven’t yet. The indifferent and hostile may blame the church for their attitude, but we choose our mindset. God puts us in this family (Acts 2:47), a plan He gave to help us successfully survive this life and obtain eternal life. It’s a sign of spiritual health to long to be around, grow closer to, and be in love with the church. Luke records, “And all those who had believed were together…” (Acts 2:44a). What a beautiful picture! We get to enjoy the same blessing today. May we never take it for granted, but relish it.
On Christmas Day in World War I, British and German soldiers called a ceasefire and shared food and other comforts. They were definitely still enemies, but were able to tolerate each other long enough to celebrate a holiday.
In keeping with the prominent theme of “walking” in the book of Ephesians, Paul says, “Always be humble and gentle, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love” (4:2). This word “tolerance” literally means “to endure something unpleasant or difficult” or “to permit the presence of something.”
I don’t like all of my Christian family. I love them all, but there are personality differences and thought processes and it’s hard to get along with them all. I like most of them! Talk to any member of the family of Christ, and they will agree, no one gets along with everyone.
According to Ephesians 4:2, we are required to put up with those who bother us or don’t get along with us or do things the way we do. We aren’t told to be their best friend, but we are going to be held accountable for how we treat those in the family of God.
Let’s be determined this week to be civil and deferential to everyone in the family of God and not think about our differences with them. Let’s remember that this is all done for the purpose of unity, which is vital to the health of the church (4:3,4). It will require effort – no one said it would be easy! But if it will help the church be healthy, it’s totally worth it.
It was Adolf Hitler who famously said, “When an opponent declares, ‘I will not come over to your side,’ I calmly say, ‘Your child belongs to us already… What are you? You will pass on. Your descendants, however, now stand in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing else but this new community’” (Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich). Recently, an AP article by Zeina Karam and Vivian Salama reports of ISIS militants luring children from Iraq and Syria to fight in the battles they are waging across the middle east. One photo shows two children posing with automatic weapons as an Islamic militant fighter has his hand affectionately on one of their shoulders (The Denver Post, 11/24/14, 13A). Lest our culture get too sanctimonious, ideologues in our educational, political, and media realms have long been indoctrinating our youth on matters like radical feminism, abortion, homosexuality, climate change, evolution, and the continuing list is lengthy. The world has long known that the way to effect and control philosophical change is by reaching the hearts of children.
Once, in the context of teaching about possessions and stewardship, Jesus made the observation that “the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8b). Have we, in the body of Christ, ever conceded to the spiritual enemy regarding our children? Do we let the world set the standard of right and wrong? Arrange their priorities? Set their moral compass and define their worldview?
At no time is the human heart more impressionable and moldable than in the days of youth. What can we do to reach the hearts of our children? Consider these areas:
Worship. To me, a most practical disadvantage of programs like “Children’s Church” is that it deprives children of the culture and environment of worship, where they not only practice engagement but also group participation. Since children are such quick and able learners, we can teach them so much about praise and adoration to God with each other in worship (cf. Psa. 95:6).
Acts of service. Rather than creating an atmosphere that caters to children’s desires, why not create opportunities that teach them the value and importance of service, unselfishness, and giving. By helping them serve, we open their eyes to the joy and fullness of heart that follows doing for others (cf. Acts 20:35).
Fellowship. Why not do more as a church and as individual families to emphasize the beauty and joy of Christians being together? Involve children in preparing for these times and making them an active part in times spent together with others—teaching them requisites like good manners, courtesy, thoughtfulness, and respect for adults. It will live and grow in them as they pass from childhood to adulthood (cf. 1 Th. 5:11).
Give thought to other areas where we can reach the hearts of our children, helping them to remember their Creator at their tender age (Ecc. 12:1). They are such a vital resource to the heart of God, so much that He calls them “a gift” (Psa. 127:1). May we not, by neglect, default, or shortsightedness, let the world shape and influence them. Through both the church and Christian homes, may we “recruit” our children to love and follow God with all they are (cf. Mat. 22:37).
I’ve heard this prayed my whole life: “Be with us as we go our separate ways.” I fully appreciate what is meant, but I lament a trend I’ve seen for many years. Too often, we go our separate ways until the “next appointed time.” We have no contact with one another. Instead, the bulk or totality of our contact is with worldly people with ungodly philosophies. While we need to be among the world to exert salt and light, perhaps we have neglected something else that first century Christians took full advantage of. Luke describes it this way, saying, “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46). As he had observed in verse 42, they were continually devoting themselves to fellowship. This created a close knit community that could not only weather some huge storms of opposition, but it helped them produce an attractive environment that thousands of people wanted to be a part of. Perhaps we discount or even overlook what a vital part of church growth that fellowship and time together had on the early church.
Today, we have our civic activities, our kids’ full slate of responsibilities, our work and overtime, our personal entertainment regimen, and similar time-consuming matters that are not inherently wrong but that can help create a dramatic separation from our spiritual family during the week. Where is the time allotment for getting together with other Christians during the week? Have we relegated or resigned ourselves to Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night? Are we losing the art of hospitality, of having spiritual family over to deepen Christian relationships?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to speak of each other and say that our hearts have “been knit together in love” (Col. 2:2)? In that same context of the church’s beginning mentioned earlier, Luke adds, “All those who had believed were together and had all things in common” (2:44). What will happen to the local church that becomes very intentional about this, not just with an exclusive few but in a way that includes new Christians, potential Christians, the otherwise disconnected, and those of different as well as similar demographics? Certainly, it requires time, effort, and even some expense, but what will it yield? A feeling of connection in the place of separation.