The High Road

by F.L. Booth

The road I’ve traveled the past few years
Is broad and easy but full of tears.
It beckons gaily, yet brings no hope
For peace of mind or a way to cope.

It says so subtly, Come follow me,
I’ll take you places you want to see.
The road leads nowhere, and paved with lies,
Deceives the heart and destroys the prize.

Now over yonder there lies a road
That’s built with promise to ease the load.
The way is narrow and sometimes steep
Where mountains rise up from canyons deep.

There’s joy and blessings for those who dare
To tread its pathway each step with care.
The sun shines brightly and flowers bloom,
While birds sing sweetly dispelling gloom.

I’ll pray for courage to change my course,
The Lord forgives and provides the source.
My family beckons and points the way,
Their love will follow my steps each day.

I’ll chart the high road that winds above,
The Lord calls softly with tender love.
I’ll take the hand He holds out to me
And trust His wisdom to set me free.

Unity Based Upon The “Standard” Of God’s Truth

By Mike Riley2/25/2017

How do we know that there are 12 inches in one foot and three feet in one yard? It is because our society has a “standard” of measurement. Webster defines a standard as, “something established by authority, custom, or general consent as a model or example”.

The Need For Standards

In every facet of life, we recognize the need for standards. Go to the fabric shop and ask for a yard of material, they will give you 36 inches. If a shop is not giving a full 36 inches of material, then they are not selling a yard and are cheating their customers. Stop at the gas station to fill up your car and notice the stickers on the pumps signed by the state commissioner of agriculture. Those stickers say the pumps meet the standards of delivering gasoline by the gallon and metering the fractions of gallons correctly. Standards are important. Where no standard exists, confusion reigns. If the designers of a stadium decide to put first down markers every 12 yards instead of every 10, then teams playing in that stadium used to the 10 yard rule are at an extreme disadvantage and may become confused as to how they are doing in the game. If there were no standards for medicines, people would be overdosing or under-dosing, risking possible death. There must be a standard in order to achieve and maintain harmony and unity in our society.

The Need For A Standard In Religion

A standard must also exist in matters of religion. If there is no standard, any doctrine or practice could be considered legitimate, and that would lead to utter confusion. Many people in the religious world fail to recognize the “standard” God has put forth for pleasing Him. We are not talking about matters of judgment such as what color to paint the meeting place, whether or not to have a drinking fountain, a kitchen facility, or any such thing. What we are talking about is the doctrine which we practice. Paul told Timothy that, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We know that God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33), and as such gives man an infallible standard by which to conduct his manner of life (Philippians 1:27). The Corinthian brethren were given the admonition to “speak the same thing” (1 Corinthians 1:10). In this reading, Paul also points out that the result of not speaking the same thing leads to division, which is displeasing to God. The peace of God that is to rule in our hearts unites us in one body (Colossians 3:15) because we have the same standard which we can go by. When one rejects the the inspired standard, strife and division occurs.

Our Plea For Unity Based Upon God’s “Standard”

Often times, members of the church of Christ are accused of being divisive. However, the exact opposite is true. We believe in uniting men under one standard – the Bible. Our plea and prayer is for unity, but unity based upon the “standard” of God’s truth (John 17:17). If individuals will adhere to this inspired standard, peace and unity will reign. God does not base our service to Him on our opinions of what He likes or dislikes. He does not reveal one thing to one and something else to another. Rather, God has given us His “standard” for unity.

Conclusion

Some in the church today cry for unity, but do not accept God’s “standard”. The question is, who causes division when such is opposed? Is the “standard” governed by the one who believes there are 36 inches in a yard, or the one whose yardstick is only 30 inches? Brethren, let’s never stray from the “standard” of God’s inspired and infallible Word (1 Peter 4:11).

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Genesis 2:18-25

Genesis 2:18-25

By G. E. Watkins2/27/2017

God is the designer of society. He has declared his design to be that man is to be accompanied by a helper. This helper is not to be of the animal kingdom nor is it to be another man. God specially designed the right companion for man. He presented her to man and man called her woman. Verse 24 brings the reader to Moses‘ present. No doubt there were many perversions of human relations that the Israelites had encountered and were yet to. Fornication, adultery, , bestiality are all condemned by God here. All these are against God’s plan for man.

On the opposite extreme of loose sexual standards is the excessive shame put on by some parents, religious leaders and societies. For whatever reason there is the attempt made to make a couple feel that what is good and right in the marriage bed is illicit if for any other reason than to procreate. However, we read here that when God put the first couple together they were naked and were not ashamed. They were under God’s tutelage and God did not teach them to be ashamed.

A Gentle Whisper

I remembering hearing Francis Chan say (at the Tulsa Workshop) that he often wondered and asked God why he didn’t do great things in his life like he did with Elijah on Mt. Carmel.

I often wonder those same things. I believe in and worship the same God as Elijah. What makes him so special that he got the front row seat to an awesome spectacle like he did? I guess there’s probably a lot of answers to that question. Most I probably haven’t thought of.

But I want to change the subject just slightly. Even though I sometimes I feel like God isn’t doing the big stuff in my life, doesn’t mean he’s not doing some stuff in my life. You remember that movie on Mt. Carmel had a sequel. It was set on Mt. Horeb (aka Mt. Sinai). Elijah and God were the main characters again. But the plot was very different. I imagine that Elijah went to Mt. Horeb with some pretty big expectations of God; probably something like he just did on Carmel  or with Moses many years earlier. Instead what he got was God revealing himself through a gentle whisper. Not exactly the pyrotechnics he was looking for.

Still yet, I think there’s a profound message revealed from God in that gentle whisper. “Not only am I present in the big deal stuff that grabs all the headlines and attention. But I’m also here with you as we walk together through life each day.” Right after that God sent Elijah “back the way he came” to go and take care of some stuff that he had called him today.

You know, there’s something peaceful and yet at the same time powerful, to live in the moment with God walking by your side.

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Working with a Brand New Minister

Wade Hodges shared these comments recently on his blog. I appreciate his insight and candor. As a “younger” preacher, I appreciate his thoughts and am so grateful to work with a Church family that loves Christ and shows that love to my family and I every day. I am blessed and fortunate to work with Shepherds that value the little talent I have and have the patience and courage to let me run a little. I realize that some aren’t in the same position. In fact, I’ve been there. So I have a little more sensitivity to this topic. Talented young preachers represent the future growth of the Church. They need to be given the opportunity to serve now while their gifts are developed and sharpened. The congregations that take on this burden are providing a great blessing to the Church. Here’s his thoughts.

1. Please don’t continually remind him of how young he is. He knows this and is sensitive about it. He’s probably trying his hardest to get older every day. Look! It’s working. Starting every compliment with the phrase “For a young preacher” negates the compliment.

2. Please don’t use his age as an excuse to dismiss his ideas. Debate his ideas based on their merit, not his age. Old people have bad ideas too and their age has nothing to do with it.

3. Please don’t hold his age against him. It’s not his fault he’s young. Sometimes older people resent younger people because their energetic idealism reminds them of who they once were. They regret the kind of person they’ve become and they turn their pain on the youngster, taking it upon themselves to break him down. He’s not cynical yet. He’s not broken. He’s not yet been humiliated. Don’t worry, life will take care of this. I don’t think Jesus intended for the church to be the hammer used to beat down young ministers. (By the way, there is a difference between beating down someone and giving them loving feedback that can help him grow. See next point.)

4. Sometimes churches are willing to take a risk on a young preacher because he is a gifted communicator and they’re willing to put up with his youth because they’re mesmerized by his gift. If your young preacher is a gifted communicator, don’t cut him any slack because of his gift. Encourage him to develop the rest of his ministry skill set. The better speaker he is, the more likely he is to think he’ll be able to get by with his silver-tongue alone. He may be right. But trust me on this one, he’ll find long-term ministry more fulfilling if he learns to show love for others in ways beyond preparing and preaching great sermons.

5. It’s unlikely that a young preacher is going to spend his entire career with his first church. He’ll probably only be there for three to five years. Accept this fact without using it as an excuse to resist his ideas. Churches are sometimes hesitant to let a young preacher lead them anywhere because they assume he’s only going to be around for a few years. If that’s the case, then why bother hiring him in the first place? Let him start developing his leadership skills. Give him a chance to make a difference without giving him carte blanche.  What if more churches saw working with a young preacher as an opportunity to help develop a future leader for the good of the Kingdom, rather than just being determined to keep him from doing too much damage while he’s there?

6. Treat him the way you would want someone to treat your son or daughter in a similar situation. He’s got parents too and if you are too mean to him you run the risk of having his mom come and beat you up. (It might do a few churches some good if they had to answer to the parents of the young preachers they’ve mistreated.)

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A Sad Salvation Story

Rick’s salvation story is still being written. But thus far it is sad and disappointing . . . and completely unnecessary. I knew Rick well. He was dating one of the girls in our Church. She came from a strong Christian family. And it was because of her persistence and influence that Rick decided to come to worship and Bible class with her. He even came on a few of our overnight trips to youth rally’s with us. He’s a good kid who had already experienced tragedy in his life. Because of that tragedy, he had a lot of doubts and even more questions. But what he had more than both of those was faith. He knew that there is a God and that this God loved him. But he was still learning to understand what that meant. His faith was growing. He was spending time with the other kids in the youth group and really soaking up our Bible studies. But he still didn’t know what it mean to live what Jesus said in Matthew 22:37, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

Unfortunately, he wasn’t progressing quickly enough for some of the folks in our Church. They thought he should have been baptized and become a Christian by that point. So on a Wednesday evening one of the Elders pulled him out of Bible class and went into the office to study with Rick. Just as the bell rang and everyone was filing into the auditorium for the devotional time, Rick and the Elder emerged from the office. The Elder happily declared that Rick wanted to be baptized. That evening, Rick was baptized for the forgiveness of sins. And his sins were wiped away by the blood of Jesus Christ . . . I think.

Flash forward six months. Rick and his girlfriend (that was so influential in bringing him to worship) had broken up. It wasn’t silly and dramatic like some teenage break-ups can be. They remained friends. But we saw Rick less and less. Until eventually he had quit coming to Bible study, worship or the youth group events altogether. He would still say hi and take time to talk when I called. But, for the time at least, we had lost him.

Every time I think about that evening when Rick was baptized I get so frustrated, and sad. That Elder that pulled him out of class has a great heart, a sincere love of Jesus and pure motives – among the best I have ever seen. But he has a bad theology and a poor understanding of the Bible. You see, he treated baptism as the last component of a formula instead of the answer to a question. Here’s what I mean. For some who interpret the Bible with the rational and reasoning methods derived from the Baconian or Lockean influence, baptism is the fifth logical step in the five steps of salvation.

Hear + Believe + Repent + Confess + Baptism = Salvation

And on that evening, Rick completed the formula. The problem is that treating our salvation as something we must accomplish misses the point of grace, mercy and God’s divine plan. It seems to me, from a lot of experience, that we have skewed God’s plan and misplaced our faith. So now, instead of trusting God for our salvation, we trust in ourselves to complete the steps of a plan. That has naturally led us to misplace our focus as well as our faith. So now, instead of faith in God and focus on Christ, we have faith in the plan to save us and our focus on completing all of the steps.

That takes us back to Rick’s story. Instead of teaching him what it means to be a disciple of Christ, we lost our patience, taught him the plan and pushed him to complete it. Well, we ended up completing the plan. But at least for now, we’ve lost the man. Isn’t that what it’s really about – people giving their lives to Christ? It’s clear that, when he was baptized,  Rick hadn’t given his life to Christ. He was just pushed into a decision.

Take a look back at the first converts. Does it sound like they were taught a plan? Or that they had to be pushed into responding to what they heard?

“37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”  38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

They were told about Jesus and they were convicted. Then they wanted to know what they had to do – not the other way around.

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Are You Leaving?

I must pray to God to help me with my negativity. I am realizing after more than 30 years that so much of what I have thought is fundamentally wrong. That’s not to say that I have completely misunderstood everything. But for too long I’ve had a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Scriptures are, and just as importantly, what they are not. In many ways this has left me frustrated and disappointed. I feel like I am just now at a point in my spiritual development that I should have reached years ago. I also find myself frustrated at people who have the same ugly and divisive attitude that I used to have. Here’s some irony for you—some of those attitudes are being directed at me now.

I see many others who are in a similar position to me. They are hurt, upset and frustrated. Unfortunately, many have decided to give up on our heritage and leave the Churches of Christ. It’s not that I necessarily blame them. There’s nothing that is more holy about the Church of Christ. But, as I work through my own frustration, I am beginning to realize that leaving isn’t the answer. In fact, giving up and leaving is rarely the right answer. Love is the answer. Patience is the answer. Mercy is the answer. Grace is the answer. Leading is the answer. Aren’t these some of the things that you think are missing in your Church community; and that have upset you to the point that you’re considering leaving? Before you leave, just think about whether or not you’re ready to withhold from others the very thing you wish they would have more of.

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Christians and the VMA’s

It’s been years (and five kids) since I was hip. And even then . . . probably not so much. That the VMA’s came around without me knowing isn’t that big of a deal. But I digress.

Let me just ask, should Jesus’ followers really be watching that stuff? I mean, what does that do for your witness when you’re participating in the discussion (at work or school the next day) about what Miley Cyrus was wearing (or not wearing); or what Kanye West did or said to get more attention? Isn’t there greater integrity in being able to say, “nah, I didn’t see it. Not my thing.”

Brothers and sisters, at some point we really do need to put our foot in the sand when it comes to upholding the standards of living that brings the most positive attention to Jesus. I mean, that’s really what this is about. Will watching that, doing this, saying that or going there make Jesus look good when people find out that I am one of His? I’ve got to be able to answer that question honestly.

That’s a really good reason to hold yourself to a higher standard. But that’s not the only reason. So let’s say that you watched the VMA’s and whatever crazy outfit Miley Cyrus had on; are you more transformed into the image of Christ because of that? Or was that you conforming yourself to the behaviors and customs of the world?

I’ll leave you to wrestle with Paul. Soak in what he’s saying and maybe even spend a few minutes praying over the scripture. See if the Holy Spirit doesn’t have a word for you.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2

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The Reality of God’s Ultimate Authority

John’s account of Jesus’ death is so profound, meaningful and convicting. And each time I read it I seem to learn something new.

This morning I shared this passage with the folks at Sycamore Healthcare center.

1Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. 2 And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. 3They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. 4Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” 5So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” 6When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” 7The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” 8When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. 9 He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” 11Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” John 19:1-11

Many of the folks at Sycamore struggle with extremely difficult physical and/or mental circumstances. This morning I tried to encourage with the idea that through it all, God has the ultimate authority over their lives and they should try to rest in the peace of that reality.

Sometimes preachers can be pretty dense. I have been ignoring that reality when it comes to one specific part of my life. And because I have been avoiding accepting God’s total authority as reality, I have been robbing myself of peace.

Here’s what I am talking about. Ever since my last ministry, I have had a deep burden in my heart to unite and mend where we have separated and broken. I have tried to do that my changing peoples’ attitudes. Not their opinions or minds, just their attitudes.

Recently I have been getting so frustrated and discouraged by the way people attitudes have led them to act. In other words, I was starting to feel like I have not made a difference and the past three years have been a waste. Because of that, I have questioned God’s plan and why He has traveled us on our road. Sharing that passage today with my friends at Sycamore reminded me of my place and how significant I could be if I would only embrace how insignificant I actually was. Jesus understood and accepted the reality that all authority originates and resides with God. That’s why He was able to maintain such peace – even in the face of a terrible death.

God reminded me of this reality today. I will keep plugging away at changing people’s attitudes. But I have been reminded that God alone holds the key to every lock – particularly the ones that people use to guard their hearts. Is there a place in your life where you need to more firmly embrace the reality of God’s ultimate authority?

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