Tuesday
Aug162011

From Where I Stand: Addiction

After researching America’s problem with gambling compulsion for the last three months, a helpful news item recently dropped into my lap, courtesy of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Under the heading, “Addiction redefined as a chronic brain disease,” the reporter describes the conclusions drawn by Dr. Michael M. Miller of the American Society for Addiction Medicine. “Addiction is about a lot more than people behaving badly," he suggests. He and his colleagues believe that all addictive behavior – overeating, drug abuse, gambling, etc. – occurs when appropriate parts of the brain are hijacked. While the advances of neuroscience are impressive, however, it is counterproductive to remove entirely the moral component of addictive behavior, especially when guilt and self-control can be important tools in prevention and correction. Paul wrote about food and marital sex, for instance: “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything,” emphasizing the essentiality of learning self-control (First Corinthians 6:12, Galatians 5:23). Comparing enslavement to sinful and self-destructive behavior to physical disease tends to excuse the immorality and thwart the gospel’s potential to indicate a path of scriptural treatment.

Friday
Aug052011

From Where I Stand: Dog Days

The dog days are upon us as temperatures have soared into the triple digits for more than a month and rain has been nothing more than a distant rumor. Forecasters indicate a hint of relief is out there, but without any guarantees. These dog days of August can be a Sirius-ly miserable experience. We tend, however, to adore our pet dogs, but they had a far less noble reputation in Bible times. It was dogs who encompassed the psalmist (22:6), licked up the blood of King Ahab (First Kings 22:38), and refused to bark a warning when Israel was threatened (Isaiah 56:10). Jesus employed the canine metaphor as well, warning his disciples not to feed them holy morsels they could not digest (Matthew 7:6), nor to throw the children’s bread to the ones under the table (Matthew 15:6-27). In his story of the rich man and Lazarus, the dogs make a cameo appearance by licking sores (Luke 16:21). To the apostle Paul, dogs represented the habits of the false, Judaizing teachers (Philippians 3:2), and to John, they were symbolic of the ultimate outsider, having no access to the tree of life or the city itself (Revelation 22:15). If all dogs go to heaven, it will have to be by some other means. Five weeks until autumn!

Tuesday
Jul262011

From Where I Stand: When Rome Ruled 

When Rome Ruled is a series of documentaries airing on the National Geographic cable channel, that might be of interest to Bible students for the background, occasionally speculative and disputable, that it provides on the era of the early church. Of special significance is the episode on the Rise of Christianity, which describes the conditions and events that allowed an executed rebel from a minor province to become the founder of the world’s greatest religion. The historians’ perspective is decidedly agnostic and influenced by certain myths of the Roman church, but remains mostly respectful of what early believers courageously accomplished. In this portrayal, the church of Christ thrives under persecution and underground, appealing to the poor and downtrodden, but accepting the rich and powerful, male and female, all the same. Emperor Constantine’s dubious conversion validated the claims of Christ at the expense of centuries of Roman polytheism, but the resultant political influence upon the apostate church and its Pope widened the gap between Scripture and practice.

Tuesday
Jul262011

Lion

The Old Testament is rich with comparisons to the mighty king of the jungle, but nowhere more than when wisdom proclaims, “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1). Although life is filled with many difficulties and tense moments, the believer in Christ, armed and armored with faith and hope, is equipped to stare down every peril and emerge victorious (Ephesians 6:10-18). The wicked run away from spiritual challenges, allying with the tempter in a perverse compact of convenience and self-indulgence – the righteous resist him, firm in the faith and persuaded of eternity, falling prey neither to laziness nor selfish pride, but strengthened by the Lion of the tribe of Judah.

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Tuesday
Jul192011

Buried With Christ

Submitting to water baptism – or insisting upon its significance and essentiality – is not a denial of reliance upon grace, but a demonstration of trust in the power and authority of God (Colossians 2:12). There is nothing particularly meritorious about it – no cause to boast in being baptized when one’s sins required the son of God to die to begin with (Romans 3:27-28). At the same time, however, there is nothing very faithful about reading the New Testament and its voluminous discussions of baptism and then rejecting it as an offensive work or meaningless ritual. Jesus asked such an audience, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you” (Luke 6:46)? He likened the disobedient to those who build their houses upon the sand then suffer destruction when storms inevitably arise, but compared obedience to building upon the rock and weathering every tribulation.

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Friday
Jul152011

Shovel-Ready

Every one of us has an appointment at the judgment bar and a reservation for eternity, making it incumbent upon us that we strive to be shovel-ready, “for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44). Author's Note: This article is not intended as a discussion of the political policy involved in the stimulus plan. The author was careful not to express personal opinion regarding a matter that utterly pales in comparison to the subject addressed here -- being "shovel-ready" to die, be buried and face eternity.

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Tuesday
Jul122011

Mature in Christ

Spiritual maturity is the point at which resisting temptation feels better than indulging it. It is where the promise of Heaven is more meaningful and tangible than any earthly pleasure that would interfere with it (Second Corinthians 4:16-5:1). Like the apostle, we “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained” (Philippians 3:14-16).

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Tuesday
Jul122011

From Where I Stand: A Dry Heat  

Summer temperatures and drought conditions have been extreme across North Texas and much of the southern United States in 2011, provoking prayers for relief, threats of water and electricity rationing, and wistful recollections of that Super Bowl Ice Storm back in February. (Of course, many of us suffered through the inconvenience of power outages, then, as well.) Besides being conditioned to expect and endure such summery unpleasantness, we can take solace in our air conditioned cars and homes, and in the knowledge that, by Thanksgiving, coolness will prevail again. Surely, the rain will also begin to fall as the year wears on and the cracked soil around our houses will heal. The mighty Earth has a knack for adjusting and replenishing itself – it is, after all, the most enduring of all God’s creation. “A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever” (Ecclesiastes 1:4). Forever, though, is relative, for God has likewise promised eventually to be done with this planet, exposing it to a fiery finish, and subjecting every soul throughout history to final judgment. A minority will enjoy eternal life with him in Heaven; the majority will suffer a self-induced, everlasting heat wave in Hell’s fiery furnace. That’s a fall one can never be ready for.

Thursday
Jul072011

From Where I Stand: Music in Worship

Maybe you have heard that the churches of Christ are the ones without music. Of course, that is not true – it’s just that our musical worship is confined to a cappella singing and the lack of instrumental accompaniment is jarring to people who have enjoyed pianos and organs all their lives, or who crave a modern rock or R&B sound. Singing is music and an example of the fruit of our lips that God desires in worship, a setting that should be about honoring and pleasing him rather than entertaining ourselves (Hebrews 13:15). Personal preferences will tend toward one kind of music or another and contemporary worship fads will reflect that evolution, but the psalms, hymns and spiritual songs described by New Testament writers communicate praise verbally and scripturally (Colossians 3:16-17). When we follow the pattern of the early church, it is not because we lack imagination or initiative, but that we respect the authoritative nature of the new covenant – its commands, implications, prohibitions, examples and silence (First Peter 4:11). We simply want to please our savior because we love him and we know that the early Christians succeeded in doing that by singing praises and eschewing what Luther called “an ensign of Baal.”

Tuesday
Jun282011

From Where I Stand: Gossip

Gossip is the world’s foremost delicacy, a taste sensation that excites even the most discriminating palate, and one which is refused with the only the greatest exertion of willpower. The brother of the Lord wrote, “the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell” (James 3:6). Gossip is but one way that the tongue mars our discipleship, but it is among the most destructive. “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:14-15).  What is more unloving – more counter to the Golden Rule – than to gossip about someone, especially a brother or sister in Christ? To spread lies is slander, but gossip is occasionally true, but always reported with gleeful malice, with self-serving viciousness. Gossip has wreaked havoc on more than one church, where it ought to be thoroughly extinct. Stories are drafted, told and retold, growing as they go, until they so embarrass their subject that reconciliation becomes nearly impossible. What a damaging fire a little busybody’s spark can ignite!

Tuesday
Jun282011

He Told You What Is Good

Micah reports the self-serving proclamations of ignorance and frustration that emanate from people who really do not want to try to be faithful, who would prefer to give minimal effort and enjoy maximum benefits. They falsely claim to be incapable of figuring out God’s expectation, using passive aggressive hyperbole to make God seem unreasonable. Micah responds that God’s requirement is not confusing or excessive; certainly it is not even impossible to the one who is willing to pursue God’s favor with the diligence characteristic of Noah or Job.

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Wednesday
Jun222011

From Where I Stand: Independence

America has always had an independent spirit, dating certainly at least to its break with King George in the 1700s. That spirit has played a role in her ability to invent, to innovate, and to excel in science, manufacturing, and philosophy. It is also an important part of America’s Constitutional freedoms, contained within the Bill of Rights and explained in other founding documents. Most notable of those, for our purposes, is the freedom of religion that we enjoy and sometimes even exercise. In some twenty-first century nations, that freedom does not exist, and worshiping the God of the Bible is a perilous enterprise, but one which must be undertaken. Churches of Christ have long championed congregational independence as well, that is, local autonomy in establishing the leadership and operation of the individual church. This self-rule does not negate the authority of Christ over his church; rather it promotes it by preventing an unbiblical layer of denominational bureaucracy from developing at the regional, national, or even international level. Local congregational autonomy is rooted in the limitation of pastoral oversight to the lone church in which appointed bishops labor (First Peter 5:1-4, Acts 20:17-28).

Tuesday
Jun142011

From Where I Stand: Choirs

It is plainly evident that some are better at singing than others. Some, mostly because of inherent talent, are better equipped to raise their voices in a kind of praise that is pleasing to the ears of the people around them. With training, they can become even more skilled. What can be said of those whose talents lay elsewhere? The disparity in vocal quality is perhaps the leading reason that many churches of men appoint choirs to sing in the presence and place of the entire congregation, but such a policy is both carnal and misguided. It is without dispute that a choir can probably be assembled to produce superior sound, but no choir can ever replace the glory of congregational, participatory worship. God’s instructions through the pen of the apostle Paul made no exception for the unskilled singer, emphasizing that, regardless of the vocal quality, the sacrifice of the fruit of the lips provokes a blessed response from its divine recipient. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). No one, no matter how talented, can discharge that duty for you. The most professional choir among men pales in comparison to the zealous efforts of an assembly of the saints.

Friday
Jun102011

From Where I Stand: Father's Day

Naturally, it was Mother’s Day that came first, the brainchild of Julia Ward Howe, and later, Anna Jarvis in Grafton, West Virginia. The first Father’s Day was also celebrated in the Mountain State on July 5, 1908. To promote male parenting, Mrs. Grace Golden Clayton organized a community event following the Monongah mining disaster in which 210 dads perished. Both observances fall on Sundays, causing us to ponder the religious aspects of parenting and  what the Bible describes as “natural affection.” Throughout both testaments of the Bible, God has emphasized the parental duty to indoctrinate children in the ways of his faith, to give them a firm foundation of virtue and conviction, understanding that as they mature, their free will must be exercised to follow the path of belief or abandon it. To refuse to teach one’s children is to give the tempter a head start. As Christians and Americans celebrate Father’s Day, it is likewise important to remember that every first day of every week has special significance to our Father in Heaven, whose son died upon a cross for us on that day. It should be a day of contemplation, worship, and communication, borne out of the heart, even without the regulatory focus of the Sabbath.

Wednesday
Jun082011

Look Away

The effect that you can have upon the attire of others, through shame, rebuke, or compulsion, is extremely limited by others’ free will. The effect you can have on your own eyes and mind, however, is unlimited – because of your own free will, simply, to look away. Look away and take steps to avoid stumbling into the same imagery again.

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Thursday
Jun022011

From Where I Stand: Setting the Date

Harold Egbert Camping is awfully sorry. His most recent prediction of the end of the world was just a little off – in other words, it failed. Camping also failed as recently as 1988 and 1994 to predict the second coming of Christ, but with the advent of the Internet, his prophetic affection for May 21, 2011 was even more sensational. Loyal followers (and financial contributors to the tune of millions of dollars) spent that fateless Saturday waiting for his promised earthquake, rolling across the globe as the righteous took flight toward Paradise. Instead, nothing happened, except the blissful insouciance of billions was deepened. We laughed and mocked, but the hidden reality is that our neighbors are now less likely to take our own undated warnings of Judgment Day seriously. Camping, a glutton for attention at the tender age of 89, now promises big things for October 21. The reality is that Judgment Day will come, but the date is unknowable and no obvious signs will precede its arrival. “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).

Thursday
May192011

I Need

The Preacher eventually learned what all must: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). That forms a way of life that never goes out of style or demands an upgrade.

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Tuesday
Apr262011

From Where I Stand: Nameless

What is the name of your church? It’s a common enough question, but the answer is not necessarily so simple. First, if you have your own church, you are in direct competition with Jesus Christ, who also has his own church. We use that terminology very loosely to describe the church where we work or labor, but perhaps emphasizing Christ’s ownership would lead everyone to greater respect for his authority over the church. Second, throughout the first century of the ministry of Jesus and the early existence of the church he built, it had no recognizable proper name. The apostles lived in a time during which no denominations existed, no pope had yet been imagined or ordained, and the need for identifying nomenclature was absent. The New Testament describes churches without any sectarian signification. There were no Baptist or Methodist Churches, no St. Paul’s or St. Bartholomew's. Even when the congregations were described as “churches of Christ” or “churches of God,” there was no denominational intent, but only an acknowledgement of divine possession. The churches in Revelation were identified only by location. Their namelessness was a short-lived triumph over the divisive impulses of men.

Wednesday
Apr062011

Modesty and Moderation

Christians who extol the nobility of sharing and having compassion for others might find that their moralizing is drowned out as they indulge their cravings at the department store and compete to own the most expensive suits, dresses, rings and bracelets. Simultaneously, the garments are designed to draw attention to the sexual potential of the body, inviting leers and catcalls, producing lust and incivility (see Matthew 5:27-31).

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Tuesday
Apr052011

Creeping

Creeping is a sinister behavior, but one hardly limited to people who examine your online profile before meeting you in person. There are religious false teachers constantly trying to creep into your life and sell you a diluted version of God’s Truth. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (First John 4:1).

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