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Monday, February 20, 2017

Red and Yellow, Black and White

Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world...

We all know it, we all sang it! They are precious in his sight! What we didn't sing and maybe what we didn't understand is that we are all the little children of the world. From birth to death, we are all God's children! So, why are we (for the most part) separated from each other on Sunday morning?

I know we live in the South and the South seems to be slow to move on many issues (and for the most part, I am ok with that). I remember being a 12 year old in Wilmington, NC when the public schools were integrated. It was scary times. Riots and firebombing were the daily discussion. I watched fights between blacks and whites and my belief system was informed. (sadly) I still struggle with feelings from those early years. I have come far, but still have a ways to go.

Our nation is divided in ways that I never imagined it could be. Women and men. Rich and poor. Black and White. Latino and Black. White and Latino. I don't even know how to reference the gender issues. On and on, the differences between us are being used to divide us. It isn't a question of who is dividing us. We know who is behind this. All Christians know who divides God's children.

The bigger question is, what will the Christian community do about it? Are we willing to sing the old song and welcome everyone as Jesus did? Are we willing to reach across the differences and tell the story of what unites us? We are all His children. We are all sinners. (Romans 3:23) We are all His! (Psalm 24:1) The quantity of melanin in our skin, the size of our bank accounts, the location of our birth... none of that makes us better or worse and none of that removes us from His family.

The Jew and the Gentile had the same issue in the Bible. They treated each other differently based on appearance and who their daddy was. Praise be to God that He dealt with the wall that separated His children...

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household,built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2: 13-22)

If there is a wall, it is our doing! If there is segregation on Sunday morning, it is our mess. The Wilkesboro church of Christ wants to be a place of peace for all people. Over the years we have been home to many races and cultures and I love that. If you are Black, please come and experience the love of Christ and be part of the body. If you are Indian, we want you in our congregation. If you are Asian, there is a place for you! If you are White, we welcome you to join us. It doesn't matter who you are or what you have done, Jesus extends His love and forgiveness to you! Red and Yellow, Black and White, they are precious in His sight! Jesus loves the little children of the world... and as His church, His body, we do too!

See you Sunday morning at 9:30 AM for Bible Study and 10:30 AM for Worship! I hope we have to bring in more chairs!!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Community and an Outsider

A Community and an Outsider

I have been spending more time reading lately than normal. Maybe not total time invested, but more regularly. Of late, one book in particular has occupied my time. It is the story of a community. A solid community that clearly has its' act together. They share their lives with each other. They eat together. The share gifts with each other. They come together to sing. It is a great community in every way.

The book also contains the story of an outsider that (for some unknown reason) doesn't like this community. We are not told of his past or why he detests their traditions and their lives together. Somewhere along the way, hate has taken over and he determines to harm them. He decides to visit their town and do damage to their lives.

He visits them late one night and breaks into home after home and steals the things he believes is the source of their community joy. It is a sad story. The morning arrives and the town wakes to the devastation that the outsider has unleashed during the night. He is waiting nearby to witness their reaction. He can't wait to hear their heartbreak.

Much to his surprise, the community comes together and instead of sadness and heartbreak, he hears sounds of joy. The stuff that he had taken was not the source of their strength. The source of their strength was the love they shared for one another. He was so moved that he came back to town and returned all that he had taken. And here's the best part... Are you ready? He was welcomed into the community. He was transformed by the love that he was shown!

I'm not sure what the Doctor had in mind when he wrote this book. Maybe I have it all wrong! To me it is the story of the church and it's mission. When a person is introduced to the life changing, transformative work of the Savior and His church, surely their heart grows a couple of sizes. When they are welcomed into the community that they sought to harm, the world sees a picture of grace like no other.

It has been a lot of years since I spent time with the good Dr., Dr. Seuss, too many in fact. His wisdom rolled up in wit is surely needed today. As I spend time reading these books to my granddaughter, I am reminded of the hours I spent reading the timeless tales to my children. They learned to count fish, not allow strays into our home, why brushing teeth is important and so many other life lessons that are still needed today. The story of the transformation of the Grinch is surely our story! Our hearts were enlarged as we encountered the love of Jesus and His people.

May we be the "Whos" that are needed to change the world and may our church's be the "Whovilles" that celebrate His love as we share our gifts, assemble around His table to share the Supper and sing songs of joy to our creator. Dig out the old Dr. Seuss books and have another read. There is more in there than you remember! Read to your kids and grandkids. It matters. Enjoy those moments when it is just you and her or him. Those a precious moments.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Church, the Christian and the Sinner

Ok, let's clear up one thing before we start, every Christian is a sinner. We are called to leave sin behind and grow into the likeness of Christ, so while we are still sinners, we are to be less sinful as the days/ years pass by. Knowing this, that we are all sinners, we should humbly eliminate all self-righteousness from our hearts when considering how we approach the sin of others.

The eighth chapter of John contains a story that might give us some insight into how we are to treat those "caught in sin". Let's read a bit... “The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.  John‬ ‭8:3-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I think it is important to understand two things as we read these verses and those that follow. The people that brought the woman to Jesus were not concerned about her, they were trying to harm Jesus. They had evil intentions! Secondly, the woman was caught in a sin and Jesus dealt with her and her sin.

Jesus recognized their intent and held up a mirror for them to examine themselves. They had no concern for the woman (and man) that had be caught in the act of adultery. (notice the man isn't there) Love demands that we care. Love demands that we demonstrate our compassion. As His followers, we are to be aware of other's intentions. (we often fail at this) Sometimes things sound good on the surface, but we are to examine not only the action, but also the intention. We can be taken in by smooth talkers with a message that is appealing.

We can be manipulated by those that have evil intentions. Jesus saw this and would have nothing to do with it. He bends down and writes something in the dirt. Many have speculated about what he wrote; but if it was important for us to know that, we would have been told. For me, it is the Creator playing with the material he used to make these people of evil intent.

He calls them out...“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” These "Bible thumpers" are called to consider their own sin as they judge others. Now understand this clearly, the God follower is to call sin, sin, whether in our own lives or in the lives of others. But, when it comes to judgment, that belongs to God. He is The Judge. The only Judge. When confronted with their own sinfulness, they retreat... At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.

There is certainly a lesson to be learned here. Our motives matter. Let me say that again, our motives matter. If we seek to diminish others in order to elevate ourselves... sin. If we use others with the intention of harming them or someone else... sin. Before we consider helping others "caught in sin", we should retreat. Retreat to pray, retreat to consider our motive, retreat to allow compassion to do its' work on our heart. That is about us and our motives, but what about the person caught in the sin? Should we speak? Should we care enough to tell them the truth? Or should we fear rejection and public shaming? (lots of that available today)

Jesus does not deal with the woman publicly. I think that is important. He waits until everyone is gone before he speaks to her. But He does speak to her! And when he speaks to her, He grants forgiveness. And He calls her to action! “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

It is important to remember that all sin has a penalty and it must be paid. Jesus knows this. He knows that He will one day pay for her sin, so He can forgive it today. Condemnation is God's business. Forgiveness is God's business. Our business is to point to the One that offers the unrepentant sinner, condemnation and to the person that confesses and follows, forgiveness. That is not the end of the matter in this story. He gives forgiveness and then He calls on her to change! He calls on her to change! “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

This is a critical point; no, this is the critical point. The church and the Christian are to speak truth about sin. If God calls something sin, then we (the church and the Christian) are to do the same. Of course we are to be compassionate about the person, because we were once that person. But, we can never call evil, good. Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Isaiah 5:20  Lying is a sin. Cheating is a sin. Adultery is a sin. Homosexuality is a sin. Gossip is a sin. Anything that goes against the will of God is sin. I cannot change that and the church cannot change that. The church cannot change that! (many are trying)

Jesus calls the woman caught in sin to "leave her life of sin". If she goes back to living a life of adultery, she will be condemned. I think I need to say that again so... If she goes back to living a life of adultery, she will be condemned! For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire that will consume the adversaries. When a church, when a Christian tells someone that they can continue to live a life "caught in sin", they are lying to them!! The liar must stop lying. The homosexual must stop their homosexual relationship. The adulterer must stop committing adultery. That is what Jesus called the woman to do and that is what the church and the Christian must do.

Our message is about forgiveness, yes; but it must contain the truth about condemnation. Any church that tells a person that they can continue to live in sin and still be in good standing with their Savior is misleading a person about eternity. Here is the message... Jesus died to pay for our sin, he calls us to believe in Him, place our trust in Him, repent of our sin (turn from sin to a life of righteousness), be immersed in water to demonstrate our faith and receive His forgiveness and live a life in subjection to His will. Jesus' message is clear and simple... “Go now and leave your life of sin.” It is our decision. Always has been, always will be. Our choices have consequences, always have, always will. That is the message the church is to offer. Forgiveness and condemnation... both are available. Which will you choose?

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Matthew 1-7

First Week In Matthew

(Matthew 1-7)
What an amazing way to enter the New Testament! The Apostle Matthew gives us the start we need if we want to get to know Jesus better or if we just want to get to know Him for the first time. In seven chapters, he takes us from the promise of the messiah in the Old Testament, the birth of Jesus, the beginning of His ministry and through the greatest sermon ever preached. Not bad for seven short chapters!

From Abraham to David to Jesus, Matthew demonstrates that God's promise to establish a kingdom and sit a ruler on the throne that would rule forever has been kept. Jesus is that fulfillment. J.C. Ryle put it this way, "Jesus came to fulfill the predictions of the prophets, who had long foretold that a Savior would one day appear. He came to fulfill the ceremonial law, by becoming the great sacrifice for sin, to which all the Old Testament offerings had ever pointed. He came to fulfill the moral law, by yielding to it a perfect obedience, which we could never have yielded - and by paying the penalty for our breaking of it with His atoning blood, which we could never have paid."

His baptism by John is an example for all of us as we choose to become disciples and follow Him. While He was sinless, He was still obedient to John's baptism. God, the Father recognized this by declaring, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus later in Matthew commands his followers to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." (Matt 28: 19-20)

His temptation is a great example to us that in our lives we will be confronted by Satan. He gives us the solution to this problem as He quotes scripture and is obedient to His Father's commands. Had He come to this earth and never suffered in His life and dealt with our weaknesses, we would question His ability to fully understand our struggles. As it is, He dealt with far more than we will ever face and He stands as our advocate before our Father. That is good news!

The Sermon on the Mount stands as the greatest single teaching in the history of mankind. Jesus deals with human weaknesses and gives us the answers to our questions. You want to find joy and happiness, Matthew 5: 2-11. Purpose in life, Matthew 5: 13-16. Relationship issues, Matthew 5: 21-47. And on and on.

Take the time to read the first 7 chapters of the gospel according to Matthew. It will take you less that 30 minutes. That's not a lot of time to find the treasure that is found in these chapters. You will grow in your knowledge and in your love and appreciation of a God that keeps His promises, sends His only son and provides us with teaching that enriches our lives. Good stuff? Great stuff!

Monday, June 29, 2015

A Call to Christian Unity

Unity is an interesting word. Webster defines it as "the state of being united or joined as a whole". In the Christian faith it means more than that... it encompasses the idea of oneness, of accepting differences and still being a single body.

The Christian church has struggled with this over the years ( a huge understatement). One only has to ride down any town street to see the different "brands" of Christianity. The last accounting of this that I read said that there are over 2000 "brands" out there in the USA and some 33,000 worldwide. (I won't use quotes around brand from here on) Each brand has its' particular differences that set it apart from the next. Some differences are minor, some are major... but what ever they are, they have caused each group to brand itself differently so as to market their particular set of beliefs.

Is this what God had in mind when He sent His Son to establish the church? Do these exist (as some argue) to meet the needs of all different types of people? Are these found in the Bible? Is that right? I believe to answer that question, one only needs to go back to the terminology found in scripture. "Church" isn't found in the scriptures, so the term "ekklesia" is what we are looking for and it is properly translated "community" or "congregation". Matthew 16:18 is the place most scholars turn to when asked for the first place "ekklesia" is used in scripture.

Christ tells Peter that it is upon the fact that He is the Christ that He will build His community, His congregation. So, first things first, it is His community! It belongs to Him! Secondly, the congregation has His "messiahship" (probably not a word) as it's foundation. Nothing else can substitute for Him as the foundation. Anything else makes that "church" an impostor. Jesus is LORD! Thirdly, the word is not plural... He came to build His ekklesia and it is one. One "church".

Secondly, the core beliefs of the congregation are to be those things that promote unity and we are blessed with the list... I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph 4:1-6)

These are not hard to understand; but some people work hard to make them hard to understand. Seven things that are to unit us all! One body, the body of Christ, the community of Christ... not 2000, one body. (1 Cor 12:27, and many other places) One Spirit, the Spirit of God that is given to every Christian at his/ her conversion (Acts 2:38ff and many other places). One hope, the hope of resurrection and eternal life with God only found in our relationship with Jesus (Romans 8:24,25 and many other places). One Lord, none other than Jesus the Christ (Acts 4:12 and many other places). One faith, that is a faith in Jesus as our Savior (Eph 2:8 and many other places). One baptism, the immersion in water for the forgiveness of sins ( Acts 2:38, Col 2:12, 1 Peter 3:21 and many other places. One God and Father, the God of the universe, the creator and sustainer of everything ( Gen 1 and following).

That seems pretty simple! Seven ones that make Christians one community. Not 2000 brands with their own names that they can market. Not 33,000 communities, one! One congregation of Gods' people that hold to these seven things and allow for individuals to have opinions on other topics. Unity is not uniformity! We don't have to believe everything the same. That would be nice, but it is unrealistic! That is why we have over 2000 denominations. It is the Burger King mentality... have it your way and if others don't want it the same, form your own group that do.

With all that this world is throwing at the Christian today, unity is needed. One voice speaking truth is needed. Our national motto is  E Pluribus Unum and means "from many, one". I believe that it is time for the "church" to claim that! Are we many, yes. Do we hold to lots of different beliefs, yes. Do we separate ourselves based on these beliefs, yes. Do we have pride in our own brands, yes. E Pluribus Unum demands that we put aside our differences and find common ground. E Pluribus Unum requires us to forget "brand" loyalty and take up loyalty to a new "brand", a brand that rests on the foundation of Jesus as Lord and Savior with the seven 'Ones" as the building blocks of unity.

Imagine what the community of believers could accomplish if we stood for one "brand", the community of Christ. Imagine the work that could be done is each "brand" wasn't competing with the others for the same market. Little ole Wilkes County has hundreds of communities that are competing with each other for the same souls. This division speaks loudly to those that we hope to reach with the gospel of Jesus, and that message isn't good!

Lastly, Jesus spent His last hour before His betrayal and crucifixion praying for our unity!  “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:20-23)

Our unity speaks to the world! When the world sees us stand together, it speaks to our oneness in Christ and the world will know that Jesus was sent and that He loves them. Our disunity tells them something too. It tells them that we can't get along. That our Bible can't be understood. That our own personal desires outweigh the greater good of the body.

May we lay down our "churches" created by humans and join the community of Christ. There was a little glimmer of this in the early 1800s. As people moved west, small towns couldn't support multiple denominations and people chose to abandon their denominational backgrounds and "melt" into the body of Christ. Let that spirit find its way back into the believers today! Baptist... nope! Methodist... nope! Presbyterian...nope! Lutheran... nope! Christian... yes!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What is Sin?

Is not your evil abundant? There is no end to your iniquities. For you have exacted pledges of your brothers for nothing and stripped the naked of their clothing. You have given no water to the weary to drink, and you have withheld bread from the hungry. The man with power possessed the land, and the favored man lived in it. You have sent widows away empty, and the arms of the fatherless were crushed. (Job 22:5-9)

When Job's friend begins to list Job's sins, he begins with a list that very much resembles the list given by Jesus in Matthew 25:41ff. We often get focused on the big sins, like murder, stealing, adultery, homosexuality... and on and on. I find it more than a little interesting that when it comes down to it, both Job and Matthew make sin about our daily lives and what we do towards others.

Is your evil abundant? You read that and think of the drug dealer or the cop killer. Nope... no water to the thirsty. No bread for the hungry. Widows without the things they need. Job seems to be telling us that the threshold for sin is very low. I see a person in need and have the ability to help and I don't... sin. He seems to telling us that inaction on our part is just as sinful as action. What we don't do matters!

In the Matthew listing, it seems that those who are confronted with this "sin" of inaction are caught off guard. "When did we not do these things?" Jesus tells them whenever they had the opportunity to help and didn't take advantage of it... they sinned. That is a standard that most of us have never lived by. Have I murdered someone? Nope. Have I robbed the convenience store? Nope. Have I slept with my neighbors spouse? Nope. Have I feed the hungry? Sometimes. Have I clothed the naked? Occasionally. Visited the sick? Now and then.

What's the point in all of this? God is calling His people to live differently. He is calling us to be the "light of the world". He expects us to fix what needs fixing as we has given the ability. He gives blessings and we are to use those to bless others. He provides for us and we provide for those that are hurting or are in need. In that way, His people glorify Him. We give food to the hungry and point to Him. We clothe the naked and tell them that it is all about God. Our actions for His glory.

We are to be world changers!! He placed us here with His purpose in mind. "Overcome evil with good", Paul tells the Romans in chapter 12. "Love your neighbor as yourself", Jesus tells the spiritual elite of His day in Matthew 22. Sometimes, we get the idea that to please God, we have to do something big. You know, save the world. Jesus breaks it down to much simpler terms. "Love your neighbor as yourself" and you will show others God and maybe, just maybe they will want to follow a God that cares for them.

Got water? Give it to those that thirst. Got clothing? Give it to those that are naked. Got a few minutes? Visit the sick or those in prison. It is in doing the little things that big things are accomplished. let me say that again, it is in doing the little things that big things are accomplished. A building isn't built in a day. It is the daily little efforts, dig the foundation, pour the footing, lay the block, place the floor joists... and on and on. Choose to do the little thing today and then the next little thing tomorrow and the next.

God will bless the effort. He will! Put Him to the test, you will not be disappointed. Point to Him in all you do. Glorify Him and you will see the building being built. Should I do a big thing? Sure, if the opportunity presents itself and God has given you the ability. But know that in doing the small things, He is pleased! In caring for others, we are caring for Him and His creation. Start small... but start! May God bless you in your doing of it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Few Days, Full of Trouble (Job 14)

“Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble." Job 14 (ESV)

Come on Job!! You are depressing all of us! Seriously, Thanks for reminding us that we don't get to live very long; but at least our short lives will be filled with problems. It is a fact that the human life is short... maybe 80 years, maybe a little longer. And, it is a fact that life is filled with problems. If that is all we dwell on, the psychiatrist' couch is waiting.

Job is certainly scraping the bottom of the hope barrel as he gives us insight into his desperation. Short life, filled with trouble. "He comes out like a flower and withers." "A man lies down and rises not again." "But the mountain falls and crumbles away, and the rock is removed from its place; the waters wear away the stones; the torrents wash away the soil of the earth; so you destroy the hope of man."

We have all been there. We question God. We want to know what He is thinking when our short lives are filled with trouble. "What is going on God?" We understand the facts of life. We know that everyone dies. We know that even those that seem to live charmed lives... don't get out unscathed. So, what's it all about? What is God trying to communicate to us through these chapters of pain and struggle?

At the very least, He is letting us know we are not alone in this. We all share in the same stuff. We all deal with death. We all live with problems. We all live with struggles. From King to servant, life is the same. From David to Onesimus, life is the same. That is good news if you think about it. Jesus suffered the same stuff we do. Family issues. Betrayal. Pain. Suffering. Heat. Cold. Hunger. Did I mention betrayal by a friend? We are all in the same boat.

Secondly, Job gives us hope in the next life... "If we humans die, will we live again? That’s my question. All through these difficult days I keep hoping, waiting for the final change—for resurrection! Homesick with longing for the creature you made, you’ll call—and I’ll answer! You’ll watch over every step I take, but you won’t keep track of my missteps. My sins will be stuffed in a sack and thrown into the sea—sunk in deep ocean." (The Message Vs 14-17)

Ahh, resurrection! Through this life of pain and sorrow, the hope of resurrection is to keep us going. I love his picture... God longs for His creation and will call to us in the grave. We will answer!! We Will Answer! I love that!! He has watched our steps in this life, but doesn't keep up with our missteps. Good news... nope, great news! My sin is bundled in a sack and sunk to the bottom of the ocean. He won't bring it up. It is down there to stay!

Isn't it amazing that in the hurricane of life, Job thinks about the life to come. While reeling from a punch to his gut, Job thinks about answering God's call and his exit from the grave. And, he reminds us of His benevolence towards us and our sinfulness. When the waves of troubles crash around us, may we remember Job's words. May we remember our Savior and His suffering... and His resurrection! May we remember that He will call us from our graves and we will join Him in the sky to be with Him for eternity. Good news? The best!