Fixating on What’s Important: Priorities

by Bill Fix

Approximately 17 months ago, we were told that a virus was so horrible and devastating that we needed to drastically change our everyday lives to avoid getting sick. Entire industries deemed “nonessential” were shut down, and many couldn’t go to work. Schools closed their doors for the rest of the school year and reopened with virtual options the following year. Restaurants closed their dining rooms but offered more family dinners with takeout and delivery options. Churches closed and figured out ways to worship while still practicing “social distancing.”

In March 2020, did we still expect to experience the inconveniences of a global pandemic a year and a half later? Regardless, here we are with more threats of rising active cases, variants, and shutdowns on the horizon. In the midst of all this, what do you consider “essential”? If one is sick or has a compromised immune system, such a person should take every precaution and stay home to protect oneself and others. But what if we have no issue with getting out to the grocery store, restaurants, concerts, and football games, yet keep our distance from the local church that meets to worship God? Does that exhibit faith or a willingness to follow God’s commands?

I ask these questions because I hear that many communities are looking to reinstate various restrictions again, that some churches still aren’t meeting, and some Christians use this as an ongoing excuse not to attend worship. Sometimes we face hard decisions pitting government regulations, daily necessities, love for others, and responsibilities to God against one another. But regardless of the circumstances, Christians must always seek to strengthen their faith and “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt. 22:37). How can one do that effectively if we use the pandemic as an excuse not to assemble, yet freely attend other public activities that are available? The early church didn’t allow great persecution to shut it down, but instead, they “went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:1, 4). How are your priorities?

Fixating on What’s Important: Salvation By (Fire)Works…

By Bill Fix

A large church in Knoxville hosted its annual “boom bash” yesterday, advertised as its “family event of the year.” The attraction included the following:  free food, family carnival fun zone, music, classic car cruise-in, and a firework show. Hey, I enjoy fun as much as the next person, but it seems like something is missing here…

I didn’t even know about this event until I saw someone ask about the firework show in a community post on Facebook. Amidst the answers naming the organization, one person commented, “They feed folks, have fun entertainment for children, and a beautiful firework show. It’s a great way to show stewardship in my opinion” (emphasis added).

To what lengths should a church go to attract people? I’ve read the book of Acts a few times, and I don’t recall reading where Peter, John, or Paul ever tried to draw a crowd with fireworks, classic cars, carnival games, or free food. The approach for many religious groups today appears to be one of luring people in with some type of entertainment or a meal, and while they’re present, let’s throw some informal preaching at them. Is there something wrong with the gospel 2,000 years later? Is that not enough of a draw on its own?

When Paul traveled from city to city, he first went wherever he could find spiritually minded people to teach. This was often in a synagogue (Acts 13:5, 14; 14:1; 17;1-2), but he also found a “prayer meeting” by the riverside in Philippi (Acts 16:13) and an audience at the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17:17-19). His sole purpose was teaching people the truth and trying to save souls. He was not concerned with entertainment.

Diluting the work of the church is not “a great way to show stewardship” —it’s the exact opposite. Let the county fairs organize carnivals, and let local governments or civic organizations shoot fireworks. The church must “make disciples” (Mt. 28:19), and if the church doesn’t, who will? “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Mt. 7:21-23).

Some Things That May Surprise You About the Church of Christ

by Ernest A. Finley (Truth Magazine, Jan. 28, 1971)

1. It may come as a surprise to you that every one in the assembly is invited to participate in the worship in song. No choirs, special groups or solos are featured. All music is a cappella (as the New Testament indicates it was in apostolic days Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Contrary to what you may have heard, the singing is good singing, soul stirring and uplifting.

2. The size of the regular weekly contribution as reported on the record board may surprise you. This is done without any demands in the form of “dues” or “assessments.” Free-will giving on the basis of other New Testament principles is impressed as the plan of scriptural giving. No pie-suppers, raffles, cake-walks or the like supplement the members’ giving (I Cor. 16:1, 2; 2 Cor. 9:6, 7). We do not bum or beg from those outside the Lord’s own family. All contributions, if the Lord’s Will is, respected, are freely given.

3. No hyper-emotional appeal is made. You will not be urged to act or move in response to the invitation of the Lord until you have sufficient knowledge of the Truth to serve as a basis for your faith (Jno. 20:3031; Acts 16:32).

4. You may be surprised at the high percentage of Christians who attend every assembly of the church and who do it because they want to, because they enjoy it, and because they recognize this as a vital means to their spiritual growth and development (Acts 2:42; Heb. 10:25).

5. You may he surprised to learn that we have no ready-made prayer-book, no church authorized discipline or creed, no ritualistic worship (2 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).

6. The manner in which services are conducted may come as somewhat of a .surprise to you. You will hear no shouting, screaming or any other manifestation of unbridled emotions. No one will fall away in a faint, roll on the floor, froth at the mouth, or walk on the backs of the benches. No one will act in any abnormal fashion. The admonition of Paul that all things should “be done decently and in order” (I Cor. 14:40) is sincerely observed.

7. That the service is not conducted by a man claiming to be a part of a special priesthood may come as a surprise to you. But since the Lord is our High Priest and all Christians now constitute a general priesthood and can themselves approach God and offer their prayers and sacrifices, it should be evident that no special earthly priesthood is now necessary (I Pet. 2:5, 9; Heb. 4:14-16).

8. With virtually all denominations having an earthly headquarters, it may he a bit difficult, at first, for you to accept the fact that the church of Christ has neither earthly headquarters nor an earthly head. Christ alone is head of His body (Col. 1: 18; Eph. 1: 22, 23) and the church’s headquarters is in heaven where Christ now sits and rules in supreme authority (Phil. 3:20-21).

9. Contrary to what you may have heard, it may surprise you to learn that the church of Christ is not intent on sending everybody to Hell, but invites all to come to our Lord in obedient faith, in faithful service and worship and in godly living, that they may enjoy His grace (Tit. 2:11,12).

10. It may surprise you to learn that the Lord’s church is neither Catholic nor Protestant. It is neither sectarian nor denominational. The Lord’s church in the beginning was quite obviously none of these. If we are correct in our claim that we follow His Word alone (admitting that not all churches calling themselves “churches of Christ” can honestly make this claim) and in every way seek to be simple, New Testament Christians, then the church is the same as it was 1900 years ago. Being the same in headship, doctrine, and practice, it must be the same body the Lord purchased or built (Acts 20:28; Matt. 16:18) and therefore ante-dates both Catholicism and modern protestant denominationalism.

We very much desire unity, even as the Lord prayed (Jno. 17:20, 21), but we believe that unity is to be found only in Christ. Both Catholicism and denominational sectarianism stand as obstacles to this unity. We must stand upon the Word of our Lord alone, respecting His authority, and speaking only as He directs us (Matt. 28:18; 1 Pet. 4: 11) if we would “all be one” in Christ as He so fervently prayed.

Fixating on What’s Important: Persisting thru Pressure

By Bill Fix

One aspect I have usually enjoyed about watching the Olympics on tv is seeing the inspirational stories of the athletes—how these individuals overcame poverty, disabilities, fears, etc. to push themselves beyond physical limitations to achieve excellence in their respective sports. A new wrinkle has been added this year, however, as arguably the face of the U.S. Olympic team pulled out of the team and individual competitions for her mental health. While some lambast her for “quitting on her team,” others are holding her up as a hero for not risking injury so she can focus on getting herself right…

Simone Biles, U.S.A. gymnast

I don’t have the appropriate qualifications to diagnose whether she made the right call or not. Although I have experienced pressure-packed moments in my life, I don’t know that any of mine compare to having billions of eyes watching while competing under the modern gymnastics microscope, where the slightest flinch or waver can result in a deduction of precious points. On the other hand, are the Olympics more pressure than a potential game-winning drive in the last two minutes of the Super Bowl? And would we ever see a starting QB voluntarily step aside in that moment under similar circumstances?

On a spiritual level, Christians must be prepared and vigilant. I believe that Paul’s encouragement to Timothy “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7) wasn’t specifically just for him, but that all Christians should generally have the same confidence and sound mind. We have a responsibility to teach others about Jesus, and that is impossible to do with a “spirit of fear”—yet sometimes we might need a Paul or Barnabas (“Son of Encouragement”) to tell us we can. Unfortunately, some Christians may grow tired or weary, but we must press on. Paul writes later in the same chapter, “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13). Sticking to these sound words will guard our sounds minds, in faith and love. Furthermore, “…Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…” (Heb. 12:1-2).

Word of the Week: Growing

By Ken Weliever (The Preacher’s Word, July 12, 2021)

What do we have in common with a lobster?

Nothing, you may think, except that the tasty crustacean provides for us a delicious and expensive dinner.

Eda LeShan, the late author, counselor, educator, and one-time host of the PBS show “How Do Your Children Grow,” would disagree.

LeShan tells about attending a dinner party and being seated next to an Oceanographer. She wondered, what will we talk about? Almost immediately the gentleman turned to ask her, “Do you know how a lobster is able to grow bigger when its shell is so hard?”

Eda admitted that learning how lobsters grow had not been high on her list of priorities. But now that he had mentioned it, she was curious.

The oceanographer explained that the only way for a lobster to grow is to shed its shell at regular intervals. When its body begins to feel cramped inside the shell, the lobster instinctively looks for a reasonably safe spot to rest while the hard shell comes off, and the pink membrane just inside forms the basis of the next shell. But no matter where a lobster goes for this shedding process, it is very vulnerable. It can get tossed against a coral reef or eaten by a fish. In other words, a lobster has to risk its life in order to grow.

LeShan said she found herself preoccupied with the lobster story for days after hearing it. As a result, the lobster story has found its way into numerous magazines, books, and blogs through the years.

Christian discipleship demands that we continue to shed our shells throughout our lives to keep growing.

In Paul’s letter to the Colossian brethren, he said that their faith and hope were known through the Roman world, and through them, the gospel was bearing fruit and growing since they first became Christians. Thus, his prayer for them.

“And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10).

To the Thessalonians, Paul said their faith was “growing abundantly” and their love for one another was “increasing” (2 Ths. 1:3).

The apostle Peter instructs us with this direct command, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). Clinton Hamilton points out in his commentary on this verse that the verb “grow” in the Greek language is the present active imperative. The idea is continuance. Thus, some Bible translations render this “keep on growing.”

Growing demands that we get out of our comfort zone. Become vulnerable. Change. Take risks. And accept new challenges.

In life, we can get in a rut of doing the same thing over and over again to the point of boredom or even depression. Life can lose its zest. Our love can grow stale. Our passion can wane. The fire that once burned brightly can fizzle. To keep that from occurring, we must keep on growing.

Here are a few questions for self-examination to see if you are still growing.

  • Do you need to grow in knowledge and understanding of scripture? (2 Tim. 2:15)
  • Do you need better judgment in applying what you already know? (Phil 1:9)
  • Do you need to develop deeper convictions? (1 Tim 1:12)
  • Do you need to make greater commitments to developing your skills, gifts, and abilities in service to the Lord? (1 Pet 4:10)
  • Do you need to become more servant-minded? (Matt 20:26-28)
  • Do you need to add to your faith areas where you’re lacking in virtue? (2 Pet 1:5-11)
  • Do you need to be more engaged in opportunities to do good? (Gal. 6:10)
  • Do you need to be a more devoted husband? Wife? Parent?
  • Do you need a better, deeper, stronger love? For God? For your neighbor? For your brethren?

Have you quit growing? Progressing? And improving? Are you just surviving instead of thriving? Is your shell getting too tight? Do you need to shed it?

As we grow older chronologically it is easy to become complacent. To feel self-satisfied. To become over-confident. And settle for a certain spiritual plateau.

Finally, in the words of William S. Burroughs, “When you stop growing you start dying.”

Fixating on What’s Important: Biblical Understanding

By Bill Fix

brown wooden beach dock under cloudy sky
Photo by Zuzana Ruttkayova on Pexels.com

When reading or studying the Bible, it is helpful to consider the context and primary audience for a particular text. Sometimes we might be able to take a text with a specific meaning and extrapolate that out to make a more general application, but we must always be cautious to let the text speak for itself and not twist the scriptures to fit our own thoughts. For example, people today absolutely miss the point if we take a prophecy intended for Israelites 2,500 years ago and try to apply it to current events. Let us seek wisdom from above as Paul encouraged: “Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things” (2 Tim. 2:7).

(As an aside, no reasonable person would read that Judas “went and hanged himself” (Mt. 27:5), add that to Jesus’ directive “Go and do likewise” (Lk. 10:37), and then for good measure, “What you do, do quickly” (Jn. 13:27), and come away with the idea that Jesus wants us all to commit suicide.)

To highlight the importance of context, John’s epistle has a far different purpose and audience as compared to Revelation. As a result, different language is used throughout, and John specifies distinct objectives. For instance, his epistle was written “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:31); whereas Revelation was recorded “to show His servants things which must shortly take place” (Rev. 1:1). Someone who is not one of “His servants” should first read John’s epistle and become a believer before reading Revelation (and then understand that many of the signs and symbols depicted therein likely occurred “shortly” after John penned it).

With this in mind, I want to share with you the following idea I read this past week. Doy Moyer is a preacher in Alabama, and he highlighted an important distinction about baptism that I had previously not noticed. Read his point and prayerfully consider the message:

One of the most significant arguments for baptism that I believe is under-utilized is the fact that the epistles, written to those who are already Christians, assume that the believers were all baptized. Look at passages like Romans 6:3-6; 1 Corinthians 1:13; 12:13, Galatians 3:27, Colossians 2:10-13, etc. These are not written to unbelievers to try to persuade them to be baptized. These were written to those who already were baptized, reminding them of what they did and what it meant when they were baptized. If baptism were not expected, necessary, or the norm for all Christians then, why is there a pervasive indication that all the believers in these churches were baptized? There is no distinction being made in the epistles between baptized saints and unbaptized saints. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…” In other words, the epistles were not written to the unbaptized.

But let’s not lose sight of this: again, these were written to remind believers of the significance of their baptism and how that should affect their living for the Lord.

How is your baptism affecting your walk with the Lord?

Fixating on What’s Important: Obedience

By Bill Fix

Over the last few weeks, my wife and I have noticed our son asking a lot of questions. Maybe it’s the dog days of summer or perhaps it’s just the age he is now, but some days he’s challenging our very sanity with so many inquiries. So I told him that for him to really learn some of the things about which he’s asking, he should look up the answer, and I found the perfect opportunity…

“Dad, were there bugs on the ark?”

I turned a Bible to Genesis 6 and had him read. When he got to verse 20 that mentioned birds, animals, and “creeping things,” I asked him what he thought creeping things were. We assume that term would include insects, spiders, scorpions, and perhaps reptiles also. To circumvent the inevitable question about specific types of bugs, birds, or animals, I then asked him if God told Noah to take two of every type of bird, did God really need to specify that they needed two eagles, two hawks, two hummingbirds, etc.? He understood that “two of every sort” included the whole category.

Seeing the wheels turning in his mind, I then used Noah’s obedience to God’s instructions as an example for him. (Normally, our son Thomas is an excellent listener, especially in school and large groups. But at home, he’s often argues or complains if he doesn’t want to do what he is told.) So I pointed out to him all the specific instructions God gave Noah in Gen. 6:14-16. What if Noah had made the ark out of cedar instead of gopherwood? What if Noah made the ark two stories instead of three? What if Noah hadn’t covered the inside and outside with pitch? Would he and his family still have been saved from the flood had he not followed God’s instructions exactly?

Then I had Thomas read Gen. 6:22: “Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did.” Noah didn’t negotiate with God. He didn’t complain that a three-story ark was too hard to build. Or that he needed power tools to adequately build the ark. Or that the skunks stunk too badly to come on board. He didn’t say he had other priorities he had to place above building the ark. He followed God’s instructions.

The lesson for my son was if Mom or Dad gave him an instruction, I wanted to be able to say, “Thus Thomas did; according to all that Mom commanded him, so he did.” He understood my point.

On a much larger scale, the same principle still applies to mankind today. When God provides specific instructions, He expects us to listen (2 Tim. 3:16-17), not invent our own doctrines (Col. 2:20-23; Mt. 15:8-9). This pertains to the day Christians meet to observe the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7), the type of music in worship (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), and the role of baptism in salvation (Gal. 3:26-27; Rom. 6:3-4), etc.

Whatever God’s instruction is, let it be said of us: “Thus Christians did; according to all that God commanded them, so they did.”

Fixating on What’s Important: Wisdom

By Bill Fix

The other day, my son asked what wisdom was, and I explained to him the difference between knowledge and wisdom. That distinction might be deep for a six-year-old, but I know he at least understood how to use his knowledge to protect himself from harm—like not touching a hot stove.

Sometimes though, we often do stupid things when we should know better. And since I just mentioned the hot stove, I can remember my older brother (who was in high school at the time) burning his hand because he touched multiple burners on the stove “to find out which one was hot…” Too often, we hear about people today getting mixed up in illegal drugs, alcoholism, prescription drug abuse, extramarital affairs, domestic violence, and various other ill-advised decisions when they “should know better.” Or maybe it’s less egregious activities—like gossip, envy, white lies, or a lack of love toward others. The fact is we all know better—we just fail to exercise sound judgment and wisdom at times.

When James cautions us that “to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (Jm. 4:17), it is a strong warning that failing to exercise wisdom is sin. And this warning follows another admonition about making plans without considering God: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow, we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’” (Jm. 4:13-15).

We should exercise patience in all facets of our lives. Doing so will give us more time to think, helping us better apply our knowledge to whatever situation we’re in—thus exercising wisdom. “But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (Jm. 1:4-5).

Fixating on What’s Important: Freedom

By Bill Fix

At this time of year (Independence Day), we often remember the sacrifices others have made for us to enjoy the freedoms we share in the USA. We recently saw a decorative sign in a home décor store that read, “Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you:  Jesus Christ and the American G.I. One died for your soul; the other for your freedom.” However, some major differences exist between the sacrifices made by soldiers and our Savior:

  • Soldiers endure many hardships: training, absence from family and friends, mental trauma, and risk of injury & death. (See 2 Tim. 2:3)
    • Jesus endured hardships unlike what anyone else ever faced, including direct temptation from Satan after a 40-day fast (Mt. 4:1-11), homelessness (Lk. 9:58), betrayal by one of his closest friends (Mt. 26:21-25; Lk. 22:47-48), and a criminal’s execution (Lk. 23:32-33). “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:14-15).
  • All Americans benefit from the service of our soldiers who fought to gain and keep our independence, even if some choose to protest it.
    • While Christ died for all mankind (2 Pet. 3:9), only those “who are in Christ Jesus” and walk “according to the Spirit” will have the benefit of “no condemnation” (Rom. 8:1).
  • We frequently recognize active duty military members and veterans for their service. This common courtesy shows respect for them, especially since many made a conscious decision to enlist.
    • How often do we express gratitude for the sacrifice of Jesus? “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28).

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” — Jn. 15:13-14

Queries and Answers

By Robert F. Turner, April 1965

When one congregation is disciplining a brother who is in sin, what is the responsibility of neighboring congregations? Should they receive one who is rejected by the first congregation?

Reply: Common sense, and respect for the actions of brethren whom we hold to be sound in the faith, should make a church wary of one who is disciplined by another church. It seems reasonable that the “home” church would be better able to determine the light or darkness of his course than others.

However, it is error to consider the rulings of one congregation binding upon all others. Fellowship is hinged upon truth (God’s word), not upon the actions of any congregation (1 Jn. 1:3-7; 2 Cor.10:12). Sometimes men keep fellowship with one who has walked in darkness and is no longer in fellowship with God (1 Cor. 5). It is also possible for men to refuse fellowship with some—putting them out of the church—whom God continues to fellowship (3 Jn. 9-10).

Disfellowship calls for collective action (Mt. 18:17; 1 Cor. 5:4), and the organizational structure of the church is limited to that of a single congregation. One church cannot take disciplinary action for another, any more than it can take any other action on behalf of another. Each must make an independent decision as to whom they receive into their number, with a view to pleasing God, according to His word. Any other standard will denominationalize the church.