We Will Understand It All By And By

March 18, 2020

Last Sunday at Levy–for our first live-stream only worship due to COVID-19, I presented a message from Romans 8, centering around verse 18 which states:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 

Then this week I discovered an old article I had written also based in this text which I had totally forgotten (funny how God works like that). I am not sure when I wrote it, but it does demonstrate how, as long as we are in the world we will have trouble (to paraphrase Christ). In it I reference the old hymn, “Farther Along.” So, I thought I would share that article here.

Tempted and tried we are oft made to wonder why it should be thus all the day long. 

This song lyric echoes the thought many of us are having currently. With all of the world turmoil increasing daily and all of the domestic problems escalating, many do wonder. In some ways it has always been this way and always will be. The early church struggled through persecution and frustration to never-the-less expand the kingdom. Some gave their lives as a result. I am sure they likely wondered why things were so then, only now to understand better. One day we will have a broader understanding as well. As for now we are called to have faith–faith to trust in and rely on the blessings of God. Some of these blessings are shared with us in Romans 8:16-39. Blessings that are guaranteed to help us overcome and understand. If not now then by and by. Here is what we have in Christ:

  • Adoption–“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Think of that! We are the sons and daughters of God. He has adopted us (see also Ephesians 1:5) and put us into his family with our brother Christ. No matter how tough our world may get–no one can take this away.
  • Inheritance–“heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” We share equally with Christ in all of the vast treasure of heaven. Unfortunately, because of the fallen world, suffering is included, but just for now. This is how we can endure through the suffering because we know one day God has something new and much better in store.
  • Future Glory–“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” That wonderful verse again. It is the by and by part, which enables us to maybe understand a tad bit more. Whatever hardships we face now are minimal compared to this glory (see also 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Hope is found here–real hope–that should serve as an anchor for us to hold on to and endure. God has something renewing planned for his entire creation–including us and it will be glorious.
  • Victory–“Now in all these things we are more than conquerors.” In Christ we have heavenly resources that nothing can stop–not a war, not a recession, (not a virus!), not anything! Nothing will separate us from the love of God and the glory awaiting us in him.

Now with all of this in mind we can begin to view world events and domestic problems differently. God is still in control (vs 28). In him we have steadfast hope. And while things may not be as we like, don’t worry. We will understand it all by and by.

When we see Jesus coming in glory. When he comes from his home in the sky. Then we shall meet him in that bright mansion. We’ll understand it all by and by. 

 

 

 


Why Preaching?

October 28, 2019

This is the first in a series of articles in which I will consider the work of preaching and what it means to be a preacher based upon my own life and experiences. 

Occasionally someone will ask me why I am a preacher. Sometimes I am not sure if the question comes from a genuine desire to know and understand what makes me tick or from a “of all things, why in the world would you choose preaching?” point-of-view.

The question does typically make me reflect however. It takes me back years ago to Greenville, MS to a young man floundering with no direction, meeting Christ and doing what just seemed natural in the moment. Once I became a Christian, preaching to me, was the obvious next step. Prior to that it would have never even remotely occured to me, but then Christ happened which upended everything. The preacher at the South Main Church of Christ encouraged me to consider it and as it happens, a new nearby “preacher” school, Magnolia Bible College, was beginning its second year of operation. So I dove in with what little giftedness and knowledge I had and never really looked back.

I never looked back even though many where offering the “you-will-need-something-else-to-fall-back-on” advice (Thankfully I have not heard that in recent memory. I suppose after I reached a certain age, others thought it futile to suggest it). I did not hesitate even as my classwork became increasingly difficult. I never faltered even when my ten pages of notes only produced a seven-minute sermon on my first sad attempt in Belzoni, MS during my freshmen year. I never reconsidered even after a good brother called MBC’s board chairman to encourage him to discourage me from preaching because “he will never make a preacher.”

I just thought preaching was what I was supposed to do. I would have never been mistaken for a visionary. I did not gaze that far down the road; never contemplated earning potential or career arc; never had any kind of existential moment about it. I was honestly convinced this was God’s call for my life and that I could somehow make a kingdom difference by answering that call.

Some would say I was naïve and they would be right. I was blissfully unaware of the inner workings of congregations; of the stubbornness of entrenched traditions, customs and patterns within churches; of how to work within a church culture to get things accomplished; of the fact that good church folk would actually oppose my ideas; of how people would forever treat me slightly differently; of both the disappointments and blessings involved. I was simply ignorant of many aspects of being a “located” preacher. I just wanted to preach!

And preach I did–all throughout the state of Mississippi as the visiting young preacher boy. What a wonderful experience that was! Almost always I was met with support, encouragement and enthusiasm among the churches. It turned out to be a terrific incubator for my desire to preach and only fueled my passion even more.

I finally took that desire full-time to an unsuspecting little church in Delhi, LA who were desperate enough to offer me and my freshly minted B.A. in Bible the chance. I was passionate, brash, self-convinced, and at times unrelenting while simultaneously being undisciplined, nervous, unsure and insecure. Things took off and then they didn’t–and I began the long, slow, adventursome learning curve that I remain on even now–decades later.

But I still have not looked back (maybe even when it would have been easier to do so); I still love preaching and still have that desire to try to make a difference. The learning curve? It has been frustratingly fascinating produing both incredible joys and heartbreaking pain. (Come back for more on that. I will pick that up in articles to follow.)

Why a preacher? Well not much has changed as for an answer. It still seems simple, even with floodwaters having passed under the bridge by now. For better or worse (and there is both, believe me, but you know that already!) I believe it is just who God made me to be.

 


Five Things Preachers Would Like You to Know

February 10, 2014

preaching_cartoon_1*The following information is based on years of conversations with preachers; years of being a preacher; and a more focused dialogue I had with a select few preachers. It is not a scientific study, nor does it represent all preachers. 

Don’t you like when a disclaimer starts things off! It was necessary, however. Each preacher’s experience–while sharing many similarities–is also unique. Just like each church is unique. So, I am not pretending to speak for all preachers in this post. The five bullet points I share do, though, speak for many (including myself).

  1. Preaching is our calling. For most of us, preaching is not just a job. A job is usually something you can take or leave. It is necessary, of course, but not necessarily life-defining. Preaching is life-defining. It is not just what we do; it is who we are. Preaching knows no nine-to-five mentality. It is not something we can leave at the office. It is what we feel compelled by God to do. Ask your preacher about this. He will tell you.
  2. Our goal is to “preach Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). This is a part of our call. We must be faithful to Jesus; to preach him; to have a cross-centered message. It is not primarily about preaching church. It is first and foremost about preaching Christ. He is our main agenda. For some preachers this, unfortunately, has brought them into conflict with their churches–when other agendas developed within those churches. As preachers, we realize that ultimately it will be Christ who will hold us accountable for what we preach (James 3:1). So, our aim is to lift him up in order for all to be drawn unto him.
  3. We love the church. Most preachers of my acquaintance would do everything in their power not to bring harm or disunity to the church. It is the precious bride and body of Christ. Our desire is to see the church flourish and grow; to see it be relevant to its community; to witness spiritual lethargy turned into spiritual energy; to be a part of changing lives; of renewal; of revival. This is one reason why we do what we do.  Few things matter more to a preacher than the health of his church.
  4. We often feel insecure. Preachers feel vulnerable quite frequently. It seems to come with the territory. Whether it is connected to our own personal weaknesses; our own perceived feeble efforts in the huge responsibility of proclaiming the gospel; or the atmosphere and attitude within our congregations; preaching does not usually come with lots of job security. Most preachers agree that it is better than it used to be, but still insecurity lingers.
  5. We just want to be accepted as family. It may come as a surprise to non-preachers, but many preachers (and families) find it difficult to make friends. One preaching brother told me that one of his college professors (who had been a preacher) expressly told his class not to make friends where they preached! Even though I do not agree with that reasoning, I understand it. The best thing you can do for your preacher is make him feel at home. Get to know him. Spend time outside of the church building with him and his family. Trust me on this one.

God places an extremely high value on preaching and preachers:

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:13-15)

Value your preacher. Let him know you appreciate his efforts to preach “Christ and him crucified.”

 


We Are All in it Together

September 20, 2012

From the archives:

 

To say that the Corinthian church had problems would be more than a slight understatement. Even though they were God’s church, they weren’t acting much like it. They allowed personalities, noncritical issues, and jealousies to divide them. They forgot the wonderful and imperative principle of unity. They were splintered and hurting. They needed a strong dose of spiritual medicine and the Apostle Paul provided it.

In 12:12-26 he reminds them of a crucial and basic truth. It is all about unity. In essence his message to them was “We are all in this together.” We still are:

  • Everyone is Extremely Important. By using the human body to analogize, Paul demonstrates the essentiality of every member. The weak, the feeble, the struggling are just as significant and necessary as the strong and vibrant. The church cannot function in the fullest sense without any of them. Every single person is needed in God’s church. We don’t dare think otherwise. Instead of allowing our weaker parts to fall away, we should be fighting for their souls.
  • We are Not in Competition. Our eyes do not compete with our ears. They each have their place and function and both contribute vitally to the well being of the body. Shouldn’t it be this way in the church as well? Our ministry efforts should support one another. Each of us should be in the glorious business of encouraging one another. Why should anyone ever feel threatened by the good work of others? Rather we should be rejoicing and giving God all of the glory and praise for the fruitful labor of those in Christ’s body.
  • God Put Us Here. Just where he wanted us to be (vs. 18)! Who are we to question his wisdom? It is an arrogant act to bind where God has not bound and draw lines of fellowship and acceptance that have never existed. To mistreat or turn away from our brothers and sisters because of jealousies or pettiness (or any reason) is totally out of place in God’s church.
  • We Need Each Other. No one should ever be so presumptuous as to think or say otherwise. In this context Paul emphasizes that even the weakest  among us is “indispensable.” Yes, some among us will struggle and stumble, but God wants us to allow them space to grow and encourage that process within them. We will not make heaven alone. We need each other and we need to express it. Let’s love and encourage our brothers and sisters all along our journey together to heaven!
  • Let Division Never Be! This was Paul’s foundational message to Corinth. Division on every level is damaging. Are personalities, jealousies, pride, prejudice, and issues really worth the hurt and pain of division? The wounds and scars of division run deep and call for long recovery. It ought not ever be in God’s house. We are all one in Christ Jesus.

Christ paid the ultimate price for this unity. We do not have the right or authority to tamper with it. “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body” is how Paul states it in this text. We are all in it together. What a marvelous blessing. Let’s demonstrate it!


Endeavor to Keep the Unity!

February 22, 2011

Such was Paul’s divine mandate to the Ephesians (4:1-6). But the original source of this idea is even above Paul’s head. Remember Christ’s unity prayer in John 17:20-23? Unity is a precious biblical commodity. Division discredits the Christian message and disqualifies Christians as credible messengers of Christ. A unified people are a strong people. A unified church is a mighty force for God. Little wonder why Paul repeatedly emphasized it (see 1 Corinthians 1:10).

The Psalmist had it right, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity” (133:1)

Some points to consider about unity:

  • Unity Takes Effort.  This is why Paul instructs us to “make every effort” or to “endeavor.” Developing and maintaining unity among even people who have much in common often takes an intentional effort. To do it- our hearts must be filled with humility, gentleness, patience and love (4:2) and our focus must be upon what holds us together (In the text Paul’s provides” seven ones” around which we should unite).
  • There is Unity in Diversity. Actually it can’t be found any other way. Beyond the “seven ones” of the Ephesian text there was great diversity in New Testament churches. Even as Paul instructed the Corinthians to “speak the same thing” he allowed for differences on certain matters. Jewish Christians and Greek Christians came to Christ’s with vastly divergent backgrounds and expectations. In the book of Romans Paul teaches them how to find unity in this diversity.  It wasn’t easy. It takes a certain amount of  accepting each other just as we are. Remember unity takes effort- especially in diversity, but it is well worth it. We have an old saying about unity in Churches of Christ which states it well: “In matters of faith, unity; in matters of opinion, liberty; in all things, love.”
  • Unity is My Responsibility. I must do my part to maintain it. Never should I assume I have the right to tamper with it. God has clearly mandated that no division should exist within Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12:25).  It is in fact unity created by his Spirit and he absolutely “hates” it when this unity is threatened (Read Proverbs 6:16-19). If this unity is disturbed I am to make every effort- “in the bond of peace”- to restore it.
  • Unity Reflects Heaven. How can we be a credible witness for the unity of the Godhead and their mission to unify us to them through the blood of Jesus (Ephesians 2:14-18) if we are a divided people? Division, divisive attitudes, factions, fear, splits, continuousness, polarization do not reflect heaven. Seeking unity through peace, patience, grace, humility and the wisdom of God does.

There is nothing quite as beautiful and satisfying to the Father than to see his children working, worshipping, and living together united. By the way, there is nothing quite as threatening to Satan either.

So take up this “endeavor” and make every effort to promote unity and peace in and out of God’s church. Let’s all strive to be one as Christ and the Father are one.