Missouri Earthquakes

When we think of earthquakes, we think of California, but the most powerful earthquakes America ever experienced occurred in Missouri between December 1811 and March 1812. The strongest, a fantastic 8.8-magnitude, happened on February 7th, 1812.

Photo by Shefali Lincoln

“Church bells rang in Boston, thousands of miles away, from the shaking. Brick walls were toppled in Cincinnati. In the Mississippi River, water turned brown and whirlpools developed suddenly from the depressions created in the riverbed. Waterfalls were created in an instant; in one report, 30 boats were helplessly thrown over falls, killing the people on board. Many of the small islands in the middle of the river, often used as bases by river pirates, permanently disappeared. Large lakes, such as Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee and Big Lake at the Arkansas-Missouri border, were created by the earthquake as river water poured into new depressions.”[1]

Over 1,000 people died (although an accurate count is impossible to record). Residents began living in tents so the debris of a collapsing building wouldn’t harm them. During the February 7th trembler, the Mississippi River ran backward for several hours due to a fluvial tsunami!

There is something very eerie about an earthquake. We have learned to count on the earth being under our feet. We rely on it to be there, but earthquakes cause the earth to betray us. Some people develop seismophobia, “the extreme, often irrational fear of earthquakes.”[2]

On the other hand, Paul and Silas were rescued, and the Philippian Jailer became a Christian following an earthquake (Acts 16). Earthquakes herald the majesty of God throughout the book of Revelation (Revelation 6:12; 8:5; 11:13, 19; 16:18).

I am a firm believer that challenges are opportunities. Yes, I duck for cover during an earthquake, but perhaps earthquakes teach us the only One we can truly rely on is the Lord God Almighty!

[1] https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/earthquake-causes-fluvial-tsunami-in-mississippi

[2] https://www.fearof.net/fear-of-earthquakes-phobia-seismophobia/

Connecting the Dots

An opinion is different from a doctrine. Opinions are matters of personal interpretation, while doctrines demand obedience. Sadly, opinions are often elevated into doctrines that can be divisive when people demand everyone agrees with their interpretation.

Today, let’s think about another contributing factor that elevates matters of opinion to matters of doctrine: personalities. We all know Christians must treat others better than we treat ourselves (the Golden Rule). However, if someone is a false teacher or a heretic, some people believe we can boot them out of the church and say awful things about them. Thus, if you don’t want to be around Brother Different Opinion, just change his name to Brother Heretic – elevate a matter of opinion to a matter of doctrine.

How can you tell the difference between an opinion and something that is doctrinal? We don’t have time to go deeply into this issue but start with this example. Draw a point on a blank sheet of paper. Now ask someone to draw a straight line through that point. How do you know if that line is correct? You can’t. From one point, the line can go anywhere, north, south, east, or west! However, if you draw two points, there is only one line that will connect them. The more points you can establish, the more confident you are of the line. The same is true in Bible study. The interpretation of one point is an opinion. Two or more points can define a doctrine.

Here are two examples. The importance of baptism is without question. There are so many points of Scripture; the answer is sure: “Be baptized!” However, the “doctrine” that Jesus descended into hell and “preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago” is only based on 1 Peter 3:19. This “doctrine” became the basis for the “Harrowing of Hell” that “first appeared in fourth-century formulas and eventually was incorporated into the Apostles’, Athanasian, and Nicene Creeds.”[1] Where Jesus went and what he did while he was in the grave is uncertain at best. However, the benefits of his death though are widely celebrated, and we are on much firmer ground because so many different Scriptures discuss it.

It is much easier to make judgments than it is to be tolerant, but unity is what Jesus prayed for his disciples:

“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” (John 17:20 – 21).


 Be a Blessing,




 [1] Brueggemann, D. A. (2016). Descent into the Underworld, Critical Issues. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, L. Wentz, E. Ritzema, & W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Lexham Press.

photo by Nicole Michalou

I am looking for a new congregation to work with. In the process, I am almost always given a list of questions asking for my understanding of different issues. I know this is important for the sake of unity, and I don’t mind sharing my interpretations of the Scriptures. Still, some of the questions focus on matters that should be matters of opinion rather than doctrine. For example, one committee asked me, “What is your view on eating in the building?” I started to give them a smart Alec answer about how much I enjoy eating with anyone anywhere, but they were serious. They took two verses from 1 Corinthians 11: “Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” (v. 22), and “If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together, it may not result in judgment” (v. 34). From that, they created the Anti-kitchen doctrine. (If it was just an opinion, then you have a choice: to eat or not to eat. However, if this is a doctrine, then it becomes a matter of salvation: if you eat, you are disobeying the Lord!)

In context (and remember, “a text out of context is a pretext”), the apostle is talking about abuses of the Lord’s Supper. One of the Restoration Movement principles is to try and do “Bible things in Bible ways.” Thus, we use unleavened bread in the communion because we want to model our celebration on the original celebration. Likewise, the first Christians knew the first Lord’s Supper occurred during a meal, so they had communion following a meal they called the Agape or a “Love feast” (Jude 12). But in Corinth, the Love Feast was so badly abused (read chapter 11) that Paul told them to abandon the meal altogether. Does this mean potlucks are sinful? They can be.

One church I worked with had a terrible problem. One family had so many children that they couldn’t supervise them all properly as they went through the lunch line. The kids piled their plates high with all the fried chicken and deviled eggs. Then they would take two bites and throw the rest of the food into the trash before running outside to play. The other children began following their bad example. Those of us in the back of the line had to settle on a lunch of a few pretzels and celery stalks! I know it sounds silly. It wouldn’t have been an issue if the children were hungry, but they were rude and wasteful. Members began to grumble and resent the presence of the children. It became a problem. Then one wise old elder announced, “every child must go through the line with an adult.” Peace was restored, and everyone was happy. (The fried chicken was still gone by the time I went through the line, but at least it wasn’t in the trash.)

We’ll continue thinking about these things tomorrow. Please share your opinions with me, and if you are not going to stay for the potluck, can I have your deviled eggs?

Another Look at Patience

photo courtesy of Ekaterina Bolovtsova

“Lord, give me patience – and give it to me NOW.” The last of the Five Virtues that Paul encourages the Colossians to put on is patience:

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).

I think the apostle knew how much we struggle with this virtue, so he explains in the next verse that patience means: “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13).

Paul could have chosen from several Greek words for patience. My favorite is hypomone which describes “patience that endures.” In the Apocalypse, the Philadelphian Christians were commended for displaying this virtue: “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 3:10).

Paul told the Romans: “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame” (Romans 5:3 – 5).

The author of Hebrews encourages us to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1 – 3)

James wrote: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2 – 4).

However, this form of patience, hypomone, is never attributed to God. The Lord doesn’t need to endure because He is not tested, as are we. God’s patience is called makrothumia. The old translations call this virtue “long-suffering.” God bears with us. For example, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the Lord could have struck them down immediately (think poisoned apples). Instead, he patiently waited. He gave them another chance. Makrothumia is the type of patience Paul told the Colossians to put on in the Five Virtues.

Once in a sermon, I declared our God is a God of “second chances.” After services, a white-haired sister took me aside and told me I was wrong! But before I could defend myself, she explained. “Our God is a God of second, and third, and fourth, and fifth chances.” She was right, and if our Lord is like that, so should we be!

Marvin Milquetoast Misses the Mark

Caspar Milquetoast, a weak man for every season. H.T. WEBSTER/PUBLIC DOMAIN

Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5), but we still have problems thinking of meekness as a virtue. In the Atlantic, Rhoda Feng says, “If you overhear people discussing your meek temperament, you’re likely to infer that they don’t think too highly of you (‘spineless’ and ‘lacking in self-respect’ have become near-synonyms for the word).” [1]

The Christian viewpoint is very different. Moses was the “meekest man who ever lived” (Numbers 12:3), yet he confronted Pharaoh! Jesus was meek (2 Corinthians 10:1), but no more powerful man ever lived! The Biblical definition of meekness is “strength under control.” Alexander the Great’s horse, Bucephalus, a powerful warhorse, was described this way. He could carry Alexander into the heat of battle and yet was so “meek” a small child could safely sit on his back.

There is another quality of meekness to focus on today. The lexicon says meekness is “the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance, gentleness, humility, courtesy, considerateness, meekness.” [2]

On his way to Rome to face martyrdom, Ignatius of Antioch said of the bishop of Philadelphia: “I am impressed by his forbearance; he accomplishes more through silence than others do by talking.” [3] The bishop didn’t need to command obedience or impress people with his authority. Instead, he understood the value of meekness.

Have you been in a room full of “stuffed shirts”? (Men parading about trying to impress one another.) It’s no wonder this is the fourth of Paul’s Five Virtues that he encourages the Colossians to “put on.” Apostle Paul tells them to “put on the new self” (3:10). That includes: “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (3:12).

Feng summarizes an article by Glen Pettigrove, a lecturer of philosophy at the University of Auckland, entitled “Meekness and Moral Anger.” Pettigrove observes:

Self-control, however, is a necessary but insufficient condition for meekness. Philosophers have distinguished between 1) meekness and servility and 2) meekness and resignation. Those who are truly meek act out of both self-control and benevolence (attentiveness to the wellbeing of others), while those who are servile act out of fear of incurring punishment. We wouldn’t praise someone for merely acting meek when the true cause of his action is despair (e.g. indifference to the welfare of oneself or others). So we arrive at one definition of meekness: “Agent M manifests the virtue of meekness when he or she characteristically responds in a calm and kindly fashion to aggravating treatment.”

If we are going to be genuinely meek, that should describe our Christian behavior this week!

  [1] Rhoda Feng, The Atlantic, November 9, 2012

[2] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). In A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 861). University of Chicago Press.

[3] Ignatius to the Philadelphians. Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed., p. 177). Baker Books.

Humility

photo by Freddy Maddie

 
Humility isn’t always considered a virtue, but this is the third virtue the Apostle Paul tells the Colossian Christians to “put on.”
 
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (Colossians 3:12).
 
Even moderns fail to think about humility as a virtue. “To get ahead,” the advice goes, “you have to blow your own horn.” In the year Emperor Nero died, there was a scramble among his generals to become the next emperor. Galba was the first but was quickly put to death. Josephus says Galba “was accused by the soldiers as a pusillanimous person.”[1] Paul’s Greek word translated “humility” is used by Josephus to declare Galba “pusillanimous,” that is, “timid, lacking courage or determination.” [2]
 
The New Testament never uses humility in this derogatory sense. It is always a virtue. Paul told the Philippians, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).
 
Peter echoes Paul’s instructions: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” (1 Peter 5:5)
 
The opposite of humility is pride which Christians consider the first of the Seven Deadly Sins (Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Lust, Avarice, and Gluttony). Pride is the “inordinate assertion of self.” Pride is always aiming high – which isn’t always a sin. “Excellence” aims high, but the sin of pride is arrogant. It belittles others and inflates self. There is a falseness to pride. Of course, nothing stinks worse than false humility. The early Christian, Clement of Rome, warned: “The humble person should not testify to his own humility, but leave it to someone else to testify about him,” Clement (1 Clement 38:2). [3]
 
James Stalker gives this advice to anyone who wrestles with pride: “Anything that makes us think more of God or our neighbor is a remedy because, as I have said, the essence of pride is selfishness.” [4]
 
Finally, let’s close by considering the example of Jesus:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
     Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
     but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
     And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
     Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
     that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
     and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 1:6 – 11).

Kindness

photo by Nick Fewings

I started to write, “I like a good pun,” but many people would argue, “There is no such thing as a good pun.” However, here are three of my favorites:

  • What did the grape say when it got crushed? Nothing, it just let out a little wine.
  • I want to be cremated as it is my last hope for a smoking hot body.
  • Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

 Bad, aren’t they? Preachers seem to be especially fond of alliteration. Do you remember “God’s Garden”? The minister asks, “What do we find in God’s Garden? Lettuce. Let us pray. Let us sing. Let us … the list goes painfully on.”
 
Yesterday, we began looking at the Five Virtues the Apostle Paul told the Colossian Christians to “put on.” “Compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (3:12). Today, Tuesday, we’re going to focus on the second virtue: kindness. The ancient Greek preachers loved to preach about “Christos Chestos,” the “kindness of Christ.” Did you notice the one-letter difference between Christ and kindness? That makes this sermon a memorable pun.
 
The first definition of chestos, kindness, is “easy — that which causes no discomfort.” [1] For example, Jesus says, “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). The Lord was a carpenter, and if he made yokes for the oxen, I’m sure they weren’t mass-produced. I can see. Him lovingly crafting each one to custom fit each ox. The yokes were easy.
 
Serving Jesus is not a burden, and Paul says we shouldn’t be a burden to others either! Debbie Downer needs to learn this lesson. When Christians come into the room, they should come with a light. We don’t have time today to talk about the virtue of edification, but perhaps you’ll pull out your concordance and scan a few passages about it. We build people up!
 
The Greeks and the Jews also held up this virtue as an ideal. For them, it meant “being morally good and benevolent.” This person is “reputable” (1 Corinthians 15:33). They are “kind, loving, benevolent” (Ephesians 4:32; Luke 6:35).
 
So, today, “Lettuce be kind.”

Be a Blessing,



[1] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). In A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 1090). University of Chicago Press.

Dressing Your Heart

Photo courtesy of Mockup Graphics

  
I don’t know how you get dressed in the morning, but I start with a clean pair of socks. I like to get up before everyone else in the house, so I typically tiptoe over to the sock drawer in the dark and pull out a matched pair. (That’s easy! All my socks are the same brand, black, and matching.) Then the challenge is finding something to go with them: the jeans on the back of the chair and a clean shirt from the closet. The surprise comes when I turn on the hall light and discover what I’m wearing to the study today!
 
After telling the Colossian Christians to “strip off” (3: 9) “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth” (3:8), the Apostle Paul tells them to “put on the new self” (3:10). That includes: “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (3:12). There are five virtues there – one for every day of the week. Since today is Monday, let’s start with “compassionate hearts” (σπλάγχνα οἰκτιρμοῦ).
 
John Wycliffe translated the first English Bible. He called our first virtue: “entrailis of merci.” The King James Version altered that a little to “bowels of mercy.” This was in keeping with the belief that attached emotions to the various organs in our bodies. Moderns do the same thing when talking about the heart being the “seat and center of love.” The New Testament talks about various “heart” conditions.
 
Let’s begin by looking at “calloused hearts” (Matthew 13:15; 19:8; Acts 28:27; Hebrews 3:8; 4:7). Hard hearts will keep us from understanding the Gospel (Mark 8:17; 2 Corinthians 3:15; Ephesians 4:18). How do you know if your heart is in trouble? Jesus warns, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap” (Luke 21:34). 
 
Here are two simple, biblical tests for spiritual heart problems. First, pay attention to what is coming out of your mouth, for “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). Your tongue will betray you if your heart is full of bitterness and anger!
 
 Second, monitor your thoughts. Beware of “stinking’ thinking’.” Jesus explained, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:19). When I was teaching rock climbing, I encouraged my students to visualize themselves moving from one hold to the next before trying it. It’s always easier to do something the second time around. Likewise, if we fantasize about sin or daydream about things we shouldn’t, it shouldn’t surprise us if we fall into those sins! So pay attention to your thoughts!
 
Paul told young Timothy, “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). 
 
Don’t be surprised by what you’re wearing today. Turn on the light while you’re getting dressed!

Debby Downer Speaks Again

Why are American churches dying?

A Dead Church Above Digne, France — John McKeel

Churches are dying. Speaking of all churches, Wesley Granberg-Michaelson writes in the forward of Jack R. Reese’s important book, At the Blue Hole: Elegy for a Church on the Edge:

By best estimates, about 350,000 congregations are found in the United States. A majority are not thriving. Some experts say that in the next three decades between 30 percent and 40 percent are likely to close—around 100,000 congregations. The average age of those attending congregations has increased and the average size has decreased, with a majority dipping below one hundred members. These trends now show no theological discrimination: liberal and conservative, evangelical and mainline show similar patterns.

Wesley Granberg-Michaelson

These statistics hold true for churches of Christ as well. Best estimates predict we will decline from about a million members in 12,000 congregations today to “to as few as 250,000 members and 2,800 congregations in the next thirty years.” [1]

Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, correctly I believe, lists five reasons why this is so:

  1. Demography. We are “aging out.” Twenty percent of the population at large is between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four. I’m afraid that percentage is much lower in our congregations.
  1. Nones. The fastest-growing religion in America today is “none.” Why should this be so?
  1. Inward Focus. Granberg-Michaelson observes:

“Faced with threats of decline, many congregations become preoccupied with their internal life, struggling to attract more people through the doors in any way possible.”

  1. Impotent Witness. The Culture Wars focused on conspiracies, politics, “idolatrous nationalism, judgmental exclusivism, and implicit cultural superiority.”
  1. Shallow Spiritual Transformation. Without roots, commitment dies.

Before I begin pointing fingers, I need to remember four of those fingers are pointed back at me. I fear preachers are primarily responsible for our decline. For example, think of the use of gimmicks instead of the Gospel to attract people to God. The church calendar is filled with programs and activities. We are impotent witnesses “holding a form of godliness but denying its power” (Paul, 2 Timothy 2:5). We are preaching lessons that sound more at home on Oprah or Dr. Phil than in the pulpit.

But the greatest failing is failing to know the Lord. How would you answer Pharaoh’s question, “Who is the Lord?” (Exodus 5:2) Where is the fire in our souls?

What is the solution? I am not overly concerned about the church “aging out.”

America is now on the brink of an elderly boom, and the new projections illustrate its magnitude. Since the 1950s, the number of older people (those ages 65 and older) has been growing gradually, but it will increase sharply beginning in 2011 as the baby-boom generation (born between 1946 and 1964) begins to turn 65. Today, roughly one in eight Americans are older, up from roughly one in 10 in the 1950s. By 2030, when the entire baby-boom generation has reached age 65, older people are expected to include almost one in five people. This share resembles Florida’s population today. By 2050, the share will be slightly more than one in five. [2]

We’re not “aging out.” We should be reaching out to the fastest-growing segment of the American population! Yes, we need younger families, but we need to be deeply concerned about why we are not attracting more people of all generations!

  [1] Reese, Jack R. At the Blue Hole: Elegy for a Church on the Edge (p. 13). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition.

[2] https://www.prb.org/resources/u-s-growing-bigger-older-and-more-diverse/

Telephones and Websites

photo by Pixabay

My mother always told me, “Son, don’t work on Sundays. It’s the Lord’s Day.” Naturally, I became a preacher, and I’ve worked almost every Sunday ever since! Many of you know I am looking for a new church to work with right now, allowing me to visit many different congregations. Today, let’s think about visitors and the challenges they face.

The first challenge is just finding the building and learning the time for services. Believe it or not, many congregations don’t have a sign with that information posted. (You’ll get extra credit if it is large enough to read without getting out of the car.) I have also discovered that those churches with signs may not have a phone number printed! (You’ll get even more points if it is a cell phone number and not just a landline that rings and rings and rings.) So if you have a phone, does it have a voicemail inbox that at least announces the service times?

Of course, most people looking to visit your church will try to find it on the web first to learn more. If you have a website (and I’m sure you do, right?), has it been updated? Who cares about a potluck that was three months ago? Privacy is another consideration. The internet is open to anyone. “Prayer lists” are notoriously guilty. Health care professionals are very, very careful about guarding a patient’s confidential information. Still, we freely give out all the juicy details about Brother Smith’s colonoscopy (and often include phone numbers and addresses). At the very least, please don’t include last names! “Please pray for the Jones family, who will be out of town for the next three weeks (and the key is under the mat).” I’m sure you understand.

On the other hand, it has never been easier to create and maintain a beautiful website! There is no excuse for ugly, boring, static sites. (A great place to begin is on WordPress.org) Even if you have a beautiful site, how can you be sure visitors will find you using a search engine. Your visitors will probably use a Search Engine like Google to look for your webpage. Search engines aren’t logical. Try finding “St. John Church of Christ.” We’ve optimized our site (see articles about “Search Engine Optimization,” also called SEO), but we still don’t appear at the top of your search page! Imagine how hard it might be to find us on the net if we didn’t use SEO! (Andy Williams has a great resource that I highly recommend at https://ezseonews.com).

You’ve called or searched and found when and where the church will meet next week. So in our next devotional, let’s talk about what people expect when they visit. Meanwhile, take time today to pray for those who are searching. Lord, help us connect!