All posts by Jon Mitchell

Out On The Fringes – Roy Knight

(Brother Knight submitted the following in two parts.  We have combined them into one article so that readers can follow all his points.)

The room was painted.  The crib was put into place close enough to the window where there would be enough light but not enough to be directly on the new born.  The rocker was placed in the corner with a small stand to the right that would hold the mother’s drink and any other needed supplies during the long nights.  The changing table was decked out with enough diapers to last the first six months.  No detail had been overlooked.  The “nest” had been prepared to perfection.  Excitement could be felt throughout the house during the final week.  Then came the big day!  The baby, the pictures, the visits, what a wonderful experience!  After three days in the hospital, proud dad, glowing mom and precious baby come home.

After a week and a half of recovery, she returns to church, sits down on her pew and gets ready for worship.  People look at her puzzled and one finally asks, “Where is the baby?”  “Oh, I put him in the room we prepared for him a week and a half ago, closed the door and we haven’t heard from him since.”

Understandably, this story makes no sense.  Yet, this may be what we do in the church sometimes with our new converts.  We prepare programs, arrange door knocking campaigns and send out flyers.  We spend lots of money and time spreading the word and then one day there is one who says, “I too want to be a Christian.  What hinders me from being baptized?”  We are all excited.  The preacher rushed to put on his waders.  The congregation begins to sing “Oh, Happy Day.”  The confession is made and before long the baptism is finished.  There are smiles and some tears.  There are hugs and handshakes.  There are words of encouragement and promised support.  Then we all get in our cars and go home.

The next service there is an announcement or PowerPoint slide that says that Mr. or Mrs. Blank has been added to the body of Christ and some words of how glad we are to have them.  Then after six months, folks begin to look around and ask one another, “I wonder where they are?”  “You know I haven’t seen them for several months.”  “If they don’t come back soon we’ll have to withdraw fellowship from them.”

This doesn’t make any more sense than the first story, but in many ways they are the same.  We need to realize that whether physical or spiritual babies, we need to take care of them.  Too often we allow them to sit out on the fringes, that mysterious space that exists between being a non-member and a member in full standing.  There they feel like a bug under a glass, stared at to see what they will do.  Some lend a few kind but uncommitted words while others speculate how long it will be before they fall away.  How sad!

In order to keep a new convert the whole congregation must do its utmost to reach out to that new babe in Christ, not just the preacher or the one who studied with them but the whole congregation.  Studies have shown that unless the new convert makes three to four good friendships in the first year there is almost a one hundred percent chance they will leave the fold.  Who wants to stay where they are not wanted or loved?  Then we have the audacity to say, “I just knew they were not going to stay long.”  “I had doubts about them from the beginning.”  Yet, did we do anything to help them stay?

If we are going to pull those fringe Christians into the “inner circle,” we must give a little of our precious time to get to know them, to understand who they are, their stories, their aspiration and their needs.  We must befriend them, not look at them and smile as if they were a sack of potatoes.  We need to take them out for lunch and let them know that they are special and of a great value to us and to the Lord.  We need to spend time on their couch and they on ours talking and getting to know one another.  Not just one person but many strong Christians must work together as a safety net trying to keep the new convert from falling back out into the world.

How many of our “Oh, Happy Days” will fall flat because they did not finish the race?  How many of them could have made it through the Pearly Gate had we stuck with them, befriended them, encouraged them and bore their burdens?  I would speculate that there are several new babes sitting on the fringe right now crying for attention in our congregations.  What are we going to do about it?

Roy’s Happy Story

I was never a “fringe member.”

A fringe member is one who sits in the space between being lost and truly being incorporated into the Body of Christ.  O, yes, they have made the good confession; they have been baptized; they have had their sins washed away and there they sit asking themselves, “What next?”  They look at people passing them by, some nodding, and some stopping to make small talk about weather.

They come into the congregation and see things working like a well oiled machine: The preacher getting ready for his class, Bible teachers getting things ready for their classes and children and adults going to their classes.  Everyone seems to have a part to play and a place to be, except for them.  They sit down by themselves and smile at others around them and they smile back but very few words are spoken.

When the class is over, the machine begins to work again and people move with purpose:  Elders to their tasks; the preacher to his; the song leader to his and Christians to their spots to sin and to listen to God’s word.  Yet this person sits, looks around, participates but never feels like he or she is truly a part of the congregation.  Over time they mysteriously vanish, yet the machine keeps running as it always had except for an occasional question, “I wonder what ever happened to Brother or Sister ___________.”

I was never this person and I tell you why.  I had people walking me and some times dragging me every step of the way.  As a student at the College of Charleston, my roommate Ivan Adams invited and invited me to go to worship.  He patiently studied the Bible with me.  He put me in contact with Frank Shepard at the student ministry building.  We studied for months.  Every Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night the van was there to pick us up for worship and Bible study at the North Charleston congregation.  There folks (strangers) came up to me, talked with me, gave me hugs (I thought that was strange since I did not know them and they didn’t really know me but I got used to it).  They invited me to stay for fellowship meals and many times I went with them to their homes.  To make a long story short, after a period of months and hard fought spiritual battles I became a Christian.

It did not stop there.  The van kept coming, my roommate kept encouraging me and the congregation kept spoiling me.  I’d go over to Ivan’s house on the weekends.  Other weekends, I’d be invited to Richard and Karen McWilliams’ for lunch.  The young adults would often get together at Frank and Jane’s house.  One time, the whole youth group went up to Palmetto bible Camp for a weekend.  Other times we practiced together for the Bible Bowl.  The list goes on and on.  That eventually led me to Freed-Hardeman University and to the East Tennessee School of Preaching.  Today, I am a full-time preacher and have been at it for 16 years.  During that time I have shared the gospel with many folks and a few of them I have baptized and still see their faces every Sunday morning.

I share this story with you to let you know that we cannot afford to have fringe people walking about in our midst.  We must reach out to them and pull them in.  We must give them every opportunity to see what the family of Christ is all about and to help them find their place in the church where they can feel a part and be a blessing to others.

rknight@homesc.com

An Encouraging Note

We appreciate the many encouraging notes we receive from our readers.  Most simply thank us for the articles and express their support for the paper’s stand for Bible truth.  Here is one that especially touched our hearts.

“Thank you for your articles of truth.  My husband and I look forward to every issue.  He is blind in his left eye and losing vision in his right eye, but he takes off his glasses and holds the articles about 4” away from his eyes.  It takes him some time to read everything, but every article gets read.”

Keeping New Life In Christ Alive And Growing – Burl Curtis

It is firmly established that there is new life in Christ.  Jesus told Nicodemus, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).  Paul wrote, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).  But whether it is plant or animal just beginning a new life is not the goal.  A farmer may plant a field of wheat; he will be glad when it comes up a good stand; but he will be very disappointed if it stands there and doesn’t grow and instead withers and dies.  He will have no grain to make bread.  The same is true of a dairy calf.  If it doesn’t stay alive and grow he will have no cow to produce milk.

The one who has new life in Christ must keep it alive and growing.  In fact Peter said, “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.  For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Pet. 2:20-21).

Need to have a good start.  Are you truly sorry for the sins you have committed?  Do you strongly determine to never sin again and stay true to the new life you have received?  Whether you stay alive and grow will depend largely on how much you want to.  When people do not remain faithful, “they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (Heb. 6:6b).  If you have a great love for Jesus you certainly would not want to crucify Him again and put Him to open shame.

To keep the new life alive and growing we must keep the lines of communication open and in use.  We might have the latest communication device but if we don’t use it, we can’t stay in touch with our friends.  God keeps in touch with us through the Bible and we stay in touch with Him through prayer.  To keep the new life in Christ alive and growing we need to read the Bible and pray.  Paul told Timothy, “Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:13).  He also told the Thessalonians, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).

Choose a congregation that teaches the truth and become a member of it.  Attend faithfully and get involved in the work.  We need the encouragement of our brethren.  Barnabas was a great example of this.  When “Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5), stayed in Jerusalem longer than they had intended to, Joses (Barnabas) sold land and laid the money at the apostles’ feet to take care of them and the widows (Acts 4:36-37; 6:1).  After his shipwreck on his way to Rome, Paul received encouragement when he saw the brethren coming out to meet him and his companions “as far as Appii Forum and Three Inns.  When Paul saw them he thanked God and took courage” (Acts 28:15).  This is a strong reason we should not “forsake the assembling of ourselves together” for it is in the assembly that we “stir up love and good works” (Heb. 10:24-25).

Pick companions who will help you stay alive and grow.  Paul said, “Do not be deceived, ‘Evil company corrupts good habits.’” (1 Cor. 15:33).  If you start running with a crowd who spends all their time playing video games, watching TV, talking on and watching smart phones, you will find you have no time to remember God or keep your new life in Christ alive.

Choose a husband or wife who will help you remain a faithful worker for the Lord.  Sometimes family members will not support your new life; this makes it much harder but you must love the Lord more.  Jesus commanded “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:37).

Know your gifts.  God has given everyone gifts that may be used in service to Him.  Knowing your gifts is not enough.  You must use those gifts and become more skilled in using them (Matt. 25:14-30).

Keep good reading materials, DVDs, and tapes in your home.  These items are good if they teach the truth.  To keep the new life in Christ alive and growing you must have your “senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:14).  All sermons, Bible teaching materials, religious articles and TV programs must be checked by the Scriptures.  Gospel publications try to teach the truth, but the articles are written by men and are subject to error.  So check everything by the Holy Scriptures.

Keep your heart humble.  Over and over God’s people in the O.T. forgot God and were lifted up with pride.  They sinned and aroused God’s anger and suffered defeat.  Like Jesus, we must remain “meek (gentle) and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29).

burlcurtis@yahoo.com

Worth Remembering – Franklin Camp

Crowds followed Christ.  He could have used the crowds that followed Him to have thrown Jerusalem and Palestine into a turmoil.  But Christ would not sacrifice truth and righteousness for a crowd.  When Christ saw that the crowds were following Him for what they could get, that their motives were wrong, and that they were not seeing the truth that he was preaching, He challenged them with a question that shook them up and thinned the crowd.  He said, “Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.”  He then urged them, “To work not for the meat that perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you” (John 6:26, 27).  He then gave His discourse on the “bread of life” and many of the crowd lost interest.  Even some of those who had committed themselves as His disciples were numbered among the crowd which “went back and walked no more with him.”  When Christ began to sound the real depth of His message and the meaning of discipleship, He lost the crowd.  Let us not deceive ourselves in thinking that we can succeed where the Lord could not.  Christ would not sacrifice truth for a crowd and neither will we if we love the Lord and the souls of men. – Franklin Camp (deceased), Old Truths in New Robes, Vol. III. as reprinted in Good News, White Oak Church of Christ, Chattanooga, TN.

Editor’s Page, May/June 2013 Issue – David R. Pharr

Since death comes to all men, regardless of nationality, color, education or rank, every thoughtful person knows that, even at best, he cannot stay here very long…With the exceptions of Enoch and Elijah, the mortality rate has been the same the world over – one death per person.

Gus Nichols, 1973

 

What stand does your congregation take in regard to various moral issues that are at the forefront of American society?  Yes, I am confident that those who read this – preachers, elders, strong members – know and believe what the Bible teaches relative to abortion, homosexual conduct, gay marriage, drugs and alcohol, racism, divorce, living together outside of marriage, etc.  But the question is how firmly and how specifically is the truth being taught on such matters?  And, how confident are we that attendees and the community around us know we hold an unwavering position?

The world (and maybe some in the church) does not consider it “politically correct” to be dogmatically against things that have become acceptable to society.  The pernicious bullying tactics of the gay rights movement, for an example, seek to label any who oppose their perversions as being backward, bigoted, and hateful.  The front cover of the April 8 issue of Time magazine says:  “Gay Marriage Already Won.  The Supreme Court hasn’t made up its mind – but America has.”  Though we are persuaded that the majority of Americans do not favor gay marriage, it appears media and political bullies are being successful in suppressing opposition.  Schools teach toleration in respect to the feelings of gays, but are intolerant toward those who want to uphold their Christian convictions.  Some religious leaders have openly endorsed sodomy (though they would be offended by the frank use of the term).  The AARP website features a link favorable to gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals, and transgenders (LGBT).  Situation comedies on TV portray everything turning out well for those who pursue the homosexual lifestyle.  Major retail corporations give financial support to so-called gay rights organizations.

We expect that older and mature Christians have their minds settled on this and other moral issues.  We have to be concerned, however, with what philosophies have been impressed into the minds of rising generations.  Public schools will not uphold righteousness.  It seems obvious that movies, TV, music, and the internet are the dominant forces for shaping American concepts of right and wrong.  In a culture of ever loosening standards we cannot expect children and youth to learn godly conviction by associations with their peers.  It must begin with parents.  And the church as a God-given mandate to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all longsuffering [great patience] and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2).

As the above text continues, some “will not endure sound doctrine.”  When the church takes a bold stand there will be people offended.  Some visitors will not come back.  There might be members who decide to leave.  The church may get a reputation of backwardness and bigotry.  There may be charges of “hate speech” and lawsuits.  We can even imagine protesters marching in front of our buildings.  Eventually the tax free status of churches may be taken away from those who insist on biblical morality.

Certainly our opposition should not be hateful, but it must be frank.  It is one thing to say in general that we agree with Bible teaching.  It is more to the point to present actual texts, to give the sense of what they say, and to declare that is wherein we stand.

Will God Always Bless America? – David R. Pharr

When the representatives of thirteen original American colonies met together in the Continental Congress trying to devise a plan for a strong union of the states, Benjamin Franklin addressed George Washington, who was presiding: “I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live the more convincing proof I see of this truth: that God rules in the affairs of men.  If a sparrow cannot fall without his notice, is it possible that an empire can rise without his aid?”  The founders of this country sought to establish a “nation under God.”  It used to be popular to sing:  God bless America, land that I love; Stand beside her, and guide her, Through the night, with the light from above.  (John Gipson)

That God has blessed America can hardly be questioned.  But will God always bless America?

Three Irrefutable Truths

God does indeed rule in the affairs of men.  “Blessed is that nation whose God is the Lord…The Lord looketh from heaven, he beholdeth all the sons of men” and Jeremiah reminds of God’s power to “speak concerning a nation…to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it…” and of his speaking “concerning a nation…to build and to plant it” (Psa. 33:12f; Jere. 18:7ff).

Men are of limited capabilities.  The best diplomacy of statesmen and the keenest judgment of rulers cannot themselves guarantee the survival of nations.  The further men try to go without God the more helpless they are.  “It is not in man that walketh to direct his own steps” (Jere. 10:23).

Righteousness is a nation’s hope for survival.  “Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Prov. 14:34).

Destructive Trends

The trend in America is away from belief in a Supreme Being.

State and secular colleges and universities teach atheistic infidelity in many departments.  Amazingly, this is also the case of many religious institutions.  The wide spread teaching of evolution as if it were scientific fact is undermining trust in the Scriptures among an entire generation.

The United States Constitution mentions the “Supreme Being” four times.  No doubt, however, if it were being written now such references would be omitted.  As a public document, if it were not itself the Constitution, the courts would declare such references as “unconstitutional.”

Patrick Henry, the American patriot who is famous for saying, “Give me liberty or give me death,” also said: “It is impossible that a nation of infidels should be a nation of free men; it is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains.”  Those Communist governments, which have a national policy against religion, make slaves of their people.

The trend away from belief in God fuels the growing emphasis on materialism to the exclusion of spiritual values.  Worldly wisdom assumes that if there is no God, no judgment, no heaven or hell, all that matters are the “cares and riches and pleasures of this life.”  Is it not a great irony that a nation that stamps “In God we trust” on its money in reality stamps “in money we trust” on its heart.  Theodore Roosevelt warned:  “The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living and the get-rich-quick theory of life.”

Another writer has observed that, by and large, the objectives of America today are success, status, and security, followed closely by self-indulgence, pleasure, and comfort.

This is to the neglect of spiritual values.  Paul wrote of those who are “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:4), and of those who “seek their own, not the things that are Jesus Christ’s” (Phi. 1:21).  Will God always bless a people who covet more of His goodness while ignoring moral and spiritual responsibility?

Freedom and Duty

The freedom of the citizenry is a precious heritage and ought to be used as the freedom to do what is right.  Today freedom is widely interpreted to mean license to almost anything without regard for what is right, leading to excesses of sensuality.  The liberty our forefathers intended was not a casting away of moral restraint, but that is how it has come to be interpreted.

“Choice” has become the rallying cry for hateful abominations.  Millions of infants are slaughtered on the altar of “a woman’s right to choose.”  The blood of innocents drips from the hands of abortionists, while courts and congress and society are complicate in the crime.  A “right” granted by courts and Congress does not make wrong right!

We do hear voices of national concern over such things as alcohol, illicit sex, and drug abuse, but the emphasis seems more for health concerns.  Moral implications are largely ignored.  It is right, certainly, to be alarmed about harm to the mind and body, but should it not also be urgent to guard the soul?

Arnold Toynbee, the famous historian, said, “Of the twenty-one civilizations fallen, eighteen of them have fallen by the time their moral standards had reached those of America today.”

Nation’s Strength

Where is a nation’s strength?  It is not in the size of its armies.  Joab reminded David of this when the king decided to number (measure the strength) of his people (2 Sam. 24:2f).  It is not in the strength of its weapons.  “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6).

It is not in its prosperity and resources.  “The Lord maketh poor, maketh rich: he bringeth low and lifteth up” (1 Sam. 2:7).

It is not in scientific achievement.  Someone said recently that unless the United States gives greater prestige to science we might as well “write this country off the books.”  But if science is all we have to trust in, this country is already “off the books.”

It is not alone in our freedom.  Our free choices can either save us or destroy us.  Only when freedom chooses to do right is there strength in freedom.

What, then, is a nation’s strength?  The right kind of people is the greatest strength a nation can have.  “Righteousness exalteth a nation…”  The Frenchman de Toqueville is reported to have said, “America is great because she is good; when America is no longer good she will no longer be great.”  Another writer said, “A nation’s greatness is found in the quotient of its goodness.”  Historians have noted that most civilizations have decayed from within and that the outward manifestations of their decay were drunkenness, idleness, and immorality.  Virile civilizations have been characterized by sobriety, industry, and clean moral living.

We do not understand God’s specific purpose and plans for our nation, or any other.  We do not pretend to know, for example, why God allows some extremely evil powers to continue as long as they do.  But we do understand that men and nations are blessed who seek the favor of their Creator.

(No originality is claimed for these observations.  They are from notes from various sources that I had collected for a sermon. – David Pharr)