Scars tell a story. The resurrected body of Jesus had scars. It’s shocking and amazing that the signs of what killed him are still there. Thomas wanted to see and feel the scars. Jesus’ scars tell a story. They tell us that what happened to Him on the cross was real. Those nails and that spear were real. The suffering was real. The scars remind of the heartache of being betrayed by a friend. There are the unseen scars of being stripped, mocked, humiliated, slapped and spit on. Those scars tell us that Jesus really did die. Scars come after the wounds have healed. Jesus’ scars tell us that death is in the past and now He is alive!
Jesus showed his scars. Showing his scars told more of the story. For Thomas it became personal, “My Lord and my God.” It proved a point. God keeps His promises. God’s love is real. You can trust in God. All the promises of God will be fulfilled. Death is scary, but His scars tell us that we too will be resurrected. We too will overcome by His grace.
Do you have scars? We all have scars. Scars can be embarrassing. Some scars are the result of doing something stupid. However, some are the result of being a victim. Cancer, abuse, the carelessness of others can all leave scars too. The pain may have gone, the wound might be healed, but the memories still linger. Scars tell a story. There was something painful in the past that has been overcome.
Scars remind us that we have a past. Crucified with Christ. Buried with Christ and raised to newness of life. Our sins are forgiven, but the scars of sin are still there. Old wounds are healed, but scars of addiction, immorality, bitterness, indifference and the list goes on, are still there. What a wonderful story! Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future!
Like Jesus, sometimes we must show our scars. Not in a way that glories in our shame, but in humility to say, “I’ve been hurt like that too.” The person with the gaping wound, in pain, with little hope needs to know that you got through it and so can they. Scars can give reassurance. Remind them that the Great Physician now is here!
Your Gifts from God!
As a preacher I’ve felt it was my job to motivate Christians to use all their talents. Be the best you can be. Don’t be like the man who took his talent and buried it. Paul describes the church as a body where every individual part is essential. Recognize your talent and use it for God’s glory.
As we speak of using our talents, here are a few things to consider about your gifts from God.
Be content with your gifts. Be happy with where you are serving. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul uses the illustration of the body to describe jealousy over not having the gift you want. It can be a challenge to find the ministry where you belong. Some would rather do what someone else is doing. Paul says “If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body” (1 Cor. 12:15). Appreciate the gift or gifts God has given you. Our gifts are different. What would happen if we all had the same gift – what if the whole body were an eye?
Realize that you are part of the whole. Romans 12 is not unfamiliar to me. I’ve preached from it and through it on many occasions. Maybe I should have studied more. Something that was recently pointed out is that when Paul speaks of the body here it’s in the context of humility. Don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought. It’s not the one who’s not using their talent, but the one who thinks they can do it all. In a team everyone does their part. The quarterback doesn’t block, punt, or receive passes. Everyone on the team has their role to fill. The church is more than a team, it’s a body – we’re connected to one another.
Use your gifts. Be content with your gifts. Serve within those gifts.
What? Me Worry?
Jesus spent his life, not researching how to overcome stress and worry, but telling us how to live right with God. The Sermon on the Mount has some very practical principals for facing worry (Matthew 6:25-34). It’s as if Jesus said, “you chose God, now live as if He’s here.”
#1 – Decide What’s Worth Worrying About (vs. 25)
“Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” Later Jesus would ask, “what if you gain the whole world, but lose your own soul?”
#2 – Discover Your Worth (vs. 26)
“Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” It’s not that birds don’t work. No one works harder than your average bird. Jesus point is that they just don’t worry. They don’t fret about the future. Instead, they wake up every morning singing.
#3 – Worry Doesn’t Help (vs. 27)
“And who by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” Some may think that worry helps because most of the things we worry about never happen. Worry doesn’t pay one bill or solve one problem. Instead it gives us headaches, high blood pressure, ulcers and makes us miserable.
#4 – God Knows Our Needs (vs. 28-32)
“For your heavenly Father knows that you need all of these things.” Worry begins where faith ends.
#5 – Seek First His Kingdom and His Righteousness (vs. 33)
“And all of these things will be added to you.” Stay focused!
#6 – Concentrate on Today’s Problems (vs. 34)
“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Today I’m fine. Today my bills are paid. Today I’m healthy. Today. Today is all we have. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow is not here.
Trends in Churches of Christ - Part 2
Dale Jenkins has contact with churches of Christ as few others have. Here are his observations from interactions with over 1,500 churches and preachers. (edited from the original for length).
6. More liberal churches are shrinking.
It’s worth quoting his entire statement here: “I’ll state it clearly when a church says they have “restudied” instrumental music or women’s roles in the church and then announce they are changing what they have practiced for decades, they say they are making their decisions based on wanting to reach more people, but the decisions they are making are having the exact opposite effect. NOTE THIS: I have studied this extensively and have yet to find EVEN ONE church that experienced ANY significant new growth as a result of becoming more progressive on these and similar matters. They simply are not reaching more (people don’t come to church because of the music and if they did they’d find better music than yours), and they are running off people who will not be a part of IM churches or churches that go askew on the matter of leadership in worship.
7. Churches who are traditionalist are shrinking too.
“Churches that resist change seem to be on a rapid decline. That old saying “We’ve never done it that way before” is the reeks of decline and death. A church rooted in anti-change is in its essence no different than a church bent on change.” Jenkins continues, “Change resistance is resulting in a faster decline than ever before.”
8. Churches are taking longer to find ministers.
Whether its from a preacher shortage or from churches preceding more cautiously, this is the reality Jenkins observes.
9. More preachers seem to be exiting preaching than before.
Jenkins says, “Whether it is fatigue from the past 18 months, fear that churches are less stable than before, or that we have developed a soft generation of preachers, there does seem to be a shift going on. I dare not be an alarmist but of all of the trends mentioned above, this one concerns me the most.” He believes we must teach preachers entering the ministry about the realities of being a preacher. Preachers must be aware “That, like it or not, you have to have really REALLY thick skin to be effective in the work of the Lord.”
Trends in Churches of Christ - part 1
Few have as much contact with churches of Christ in the U.S. than Dale Jenkins who works with his brother Jeff at the Jenkins institute, a ministry to encourage preachers. From his interaction with over 1,500 churches and preachers, here are his observations (because of length, each point was edited from the original):
- Our churches are becoming YOUNGER.
A trend observed in the 1970s was the graying of the American church. Jenkins writes “I am almost always shocked when I visit rural churches at how many children and young families I see. It is more often than not that the church is full of babies and children.”
- Our churches are becoming more racially diverse.
Jenkins notes. “As our country is ablaze in racial tension, MOST of our churches are not playing along!” He says “in most of our medium to large cities, you will find churches with a moderate to high racial diversity. It is nothing rare to find many congregations who have historically been white to have black men in their leadership. There is nothing shocking here and nothing should be (Isaiah 2:2)!”
2. Our leaders are humble and generous.
Even during a difficult pandemic Jenkins says “Yes, there are some difficult leaders out there and a number of our congregations seem to be tormented with a single particular Diotrephes (see 3 John 1:9). But, while these bad leaders stand out, the overwhelming majority of our elders are very humble, very gentle, and very generous. 2020 was especially challenging for leaders in congregations, but throughout our talks with elders, we saw a shepherding spirit that showed through.”
3, Our leaders are becoming more optimistic and less restrictive and controlling.
He says, “Again, nothing scientific here and I’m not speaking for the whole church but it certainly feels like there is much more optimism than pessimism in the churches I am seeing. Churches are dreaming of what can be. Leaders are looking to move forward and aggressive to that end. “
4. Evangelism is on the upswing.
Jenkins states that more churches are looking for personal work ministers, ministers of evangelism or “connections ministers” to add to their staff.
(to be continued)
Are you hooked on entertainment? How often do you find yourself scrolling through your phone? Even at a restaurant, do you engage with the person across from you or do you pick up your phone? What about in a waiting room? Have moments of meditation and prayer been squeezed out? Even our cars have great entertainment packages. Have we become a generation hooked on distraction and entertainment?
Some come to worship with the expectation that it will be entertaining. No one is suggesting that worship should be boring. It’s a matter of focus. The aim of entertainment is much different than the aim of worship. Entertainment is offered to people for their amusement. Worship has a totally different focus. The focus of worship is God.
As worship began to be used as an outreach and evangelism tool by some, the question became “how can we bring in more people?” This is not something new. The 19th century Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon stated, “The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them.” It’s a noble desire to want to save the lost, but it has caused many to value entertainment over true worship.
As a teen I wondered why worship was called a “church service.” Service? Service is related to the word “serve.” It was a reminder that worship wasn’t about us, but the God we serve. We ascribe honor to God. Worship in Spirit and truth can be hard work, His word can even pierce our soul, but it transforms us, edifies us, and conforms us to the image of God in a way infinitely more powerful than any entertainment. As the 16th century preacher John Calvin cautioned, “The music must not turn the church into an audience enjoying the music but into a congregation singing the Lord’s praises in his presence.”
Slaying a Dragon
Daryl Davis shows us how to kill a dragon. Davis is an accomplished musician. He has played with Chuck Berry, B.B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis and Muddy Waters. More importantly Davis is a Christian.
Roger Kelly hated Davis because of the color of his skin. Kelly was the Grand Wizard of the KKK. Davis was determined to befriend Kelly. Davis wanted to find out how anyone can “hate me without knowing me.” He spent years building trust between them and laid the foundation of what became a friendship. They visited one another’s homes. Ate together. Davis went so far as to attend Klan rallies as Kelly’s guest.
Davis listened. He didn’t hate Kelly just because Kelly hated him. He listened to Kelly and eventually Kelly started listening to him. This led to the two realizing they had far more in common than not. Davis says, “ignorance breeds fear," and "If you don't keep that fear in check, that fear will breed hatred.”
In the end, Kelly denounced his ties with the KKK. He handed his hood and robe to Daryl Davis. Over the years Davis has seen over 200 Klan members walk away from the KKK. Over 25 have handed him their hoods and robes, including Bob White – Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.
How’s that for a way to kill a dragon? Love conquers hate. Davis is a remarkable man and shows us a remarkable way to overcome racism. By the way, his story was made into a documentary, “Accidental Courtesy.”
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 Jn. 4:7).
What is Truth?
Is there truth? Absolute truth? Objective truth? The majority of Americans (67%) say no. And, over half (52%) of those who call themselves “Christian” say no.
Life is hard. It can be confusing. What makes it work? We’re free to search for our own truth. Unfortunately, there are many paths with promise, but end in disappointment. A waste. This is the book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon’s search for meaning. For truth. He tried wealth, pleasure, education, he “denied himself nothing” and found nothing but emptiness and lies. We hear that your truth might not be my truth and my truth might not be your truth. What we’re saying is that we each think we’ve found the path to happiness. But there’s only one truth. At the end of a frustrating, empty search many broken souls beg to know as Pilate, “What is truth?”
Truth corresponds to reality. Solomon came to the conclusion that the ultimate truth is God. He is the ultimate reality. That’s where we are as Christians. We have seen the evidence and have come to the faith that God is ultimate truth.
The notorious infidel Robert Ingersoll persuaded General Lew Wallace to write a book exposing Jesus as merely human. Wallace accepted the challenged and did his due diligence of research. It ended with the book “Ben Hur” that depicts Jesus as the Son of God.
Christianity is objectively true. Truth is what it is whether I think so or not. Whether I find it so or not. Whether I feel it so or not. Jesus is the truth.
“All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isa. 53:6).
The Bible was written in a rural setting that some of us city folks have trouble understanding. Some of you, including myself, have found books like Phillip Keller’s “A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm” to be helpful. Keller is a shepherd. He explains why sheep need more attention and care than any other livestock.
If left to themselves sheep will follow the same trails until they become ruts. They will graze the same hills until they become a desert waste. They will pollute their own ground until it becomes corrupt with disease and parasites. They will paw roots out of the soil leading to erosion. They will literally ruin the land without a shepherd.
People display this same destructive self-determination. “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12). It never ceases to amaze me how many ways people have found to destroy their lives. Our culture is going out of their way to find ways to corrupt their lives. It makes you cringe to consider the consequences of calling “evil good and good evil” (Isa. 5:20). People live in the pollution they’ve created. They are “inventors of evil.” Everyone is wise in their own eyes.
Keller speaks of “cast” sheep. A sheep will lay down and will end up rolling over on their back. Their feet are in the air. They flail. They can’t get up. If it’s a hot day they can die in hours. They are helpless prey to buzzards, dogs, coyotes, cougars or other predators. If the shepherd doesn’t arrive their future is hopeless. Ironically, even the largest, strongest, fattest, healthiest sheep can be cast. “All of us”. “All we.” It gives us fuller understanding of Jesus’ perspective; “And seeing the multitudes, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt. 9:36).
How blessed to be sheep of the “great shepherd” (Heb. 13:20), “the good shepherd” (Jn. 10:14), Jesus Christ.
I’m not sure if I should clean up all the debris left from the storm or just wait to see if the locust plague will take care of it. After the year we’ve had, I don’t think any plague would surprise us.
After the death of broadcaster Larry King in January, they played a clip where he challenged a person of faith to answer how they can maintain faith in a good God or any God for that matter in light of all the natural disasters that cause thousands of innocent people to die. Mr. King joins the countless numbers who use pain, suffering and death to keep themselves from a faith in God.
Solomon had an interesting insight on suffering: “On the day of prosperity be happy, But on the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other So that a person will not discover anything that will come after him” (Eccl. 7:14). Solomon says we won’t discover anything new about pain and pleasure after we die. The Bible describes two destinies after death. One of pleasure in the presence of God and another of anguish separated from God. We couldn’t relate to the concept of an eternity of either pleasure or pain unless we experienced it some in this life. Without pain in this life it would come as a total shock and surprise after death. We hear people complain how unfair God is to allow pain, but if He didn’t, imagine the complaints of those separated from God who didn’t understand the concept of pain.
Revelation 8 tells us of the 7 trumpets that will sound. For the ancients a trumpet was to warn the community of danger. It made a statement. Get ready. Be prepared. Danger and disaster are on the way. In Revelation, the first 4 trumpets were natural disasters. Natural disasters remind us that life is fragile - life is brief. Are you prepared for the life to come after death? Get ready.
God in His goodness gives us a taste of what will come after death. There will be no surprises. He’s not trying to scare us. He’s just loving enough to tell us the truth. He’s fair enough to explain reality. Pleasure or pain awaits us. Then He powerfully warns us. Get ready. Be prepared. Choose God. Choose beauty. Choose pleasure. Without God nothing awaits us except for weeping and gnashing of teeth. Choose eternal life with God.