by Robert F. Turner (excerpt from Stuff about Things, 1976, p. 56)

Stop making excuses

I like that Mark Twain story about not loaning his axe because he had to use it to eat his soup—or something like that. He said if he didn’t want to do a thing, one excuse was as good as another. Reminds me of some of my brethren’s reasons for not coming to worship, for not wanting to study some Bible subjects, for not wanting to be my brethren in the first place.

Some years ago, while preaching for a large and stable church in Phoenix, Arizona, I was driving down an Avenue and spotted a much-delinquent member walking in the park. I stopped to inquire about his frequent absence, and he looked at me with the greatest innocence and asked, “Are we still having church down there?”

With the current conservative/liberal struggle a hot issue, I very often talk with brethren who know the truth very well and know exactly how they ought to stand for things that have Bible authority but who are too weak spiritually to weather the criticism and name-calling a faithful Christian must endure. One brother who finally gave in to popular demand and left a sound church for one he freely acknowledged was in error, explained his move by saying, “Well, I just don’t like the songbooks we have been using.” Selah!

Then there was the lady who had attended many of our services and was well acquainted with such distinctive features as baptism, a cappella singing, weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper, etc. She seemed to like my preaching (ahem!), so I visited her and insisted that she obey the gospel to become a member of the Lord’s church. She said she would like to do this, but—(and here she became very disturbed)—there was a great problem in her life that kept her from doing so. Thinking perhaps she had shot her husband or something like that, I bravely offered my assistance in clearing up this problem. Finally she confided, “I just can’t stand grape juice.” So, back to the study!

Elders and preachers really have an unfair advantage over most excuse-makers. We have been hearing them for so many years we have most of them catalogued and classified and can even tell when one is “coming on.” I am very seldom surprised by the answers I receive to gospel solicitations except from a rare honest man who said, “I think I had rather go to Hell.” I fear he “had his druthers!”

Fixating on What’s Important: Scheduling

by Bill Fix

I saw a one-liner recently that the receptionist/scheduler at the dentist’s office will “look you dead in the eye and ask if you’re available for your next appointment in 6 months and one day from now.” Most of us aren’t scheduling a ton of things that far out so it’s easy to set a date and pencil it in. Booking the next dental cleaning as soon as we finish the current appointment helps ensure we actually make it back in and don’t forget to plan for it. Scheduling helps us stay on track for important priorities.

What things do you schedule? Lunch dates, workouts, entertainment? Do you set aside time in advance to pray or study your Bible?

Are you available next Sunday at 10 AM? If you’re not planning to join us for Bible study, why not? We’d love to have you.

Are you available next Sunday at 11? Are you planning to assemble with other Christians to worship God and take the Lord’s supper like the churches in the first century (Acts 20:7)? What could be more important?

Are you available for eternity? Most people don’t plan to fail; they just fail to plan…

A Bible App a Death Sentence?

by Max Dawson

That is the report coming out of Afghanistan—that a Bible app on your cell phone can be a death sentence. According to religionnews.com “reliable sources report that the Taliban demand people’s phones, and if they find a downloaded Bible on your device, they will kill you immediately.”

We are not surprised at this action because the Taliban are notorious for their bloodthirsty brutality. They are also notorious for their hatred of the gospel message. Wherever the Muslims get a stranglehold on any country, the religious freedom of Bible believers is quickly eliminated. There are many examples of that in Middle East Muslim countries.

Men ought to be free to study any and all religions. They ought to be able to weigh the evidence for one against the other. People ought to have the liberty to choose that which they believe to be from God. But when the Islamic faith comes into power, they immediately squelch that kind of choice. I think they have a religion that cannot stand the test and trial of examination. There is no evidence that the Islamic faith came from God. Nada. Zero. Zip. In talking with my Muslim friends, I ask them for evidence. It is something most of them have never thought about. They just tell me that to deny Mohammed as a prophet of God is a terrible sin! That’s not evidence.

The gospel alone offers evidence that it is from God. No other religion (aside from Old Testament Judaism) is confirmed by miracles, signs, and wonders. (See such passages as Jn. 20:30-31; Heb. 2:3-4; Ex. 4:1-10.)

Do you have any Bible apps on your phone? I have two. One from Olive Tree; the other from YouVersion. I use both of them regularly when I am out of my office. I am thankful for these apps. And I am thankful that I live in America where I am free to openly study the Bible—whether it is in digital format or in a traditional book form.

If you and I lived in Afghanistan this morning, we could be murdered for doing what we are openly free to do in America. Thank God for our liberty!

Are you studying your Bible regularly? Do you follow some kind of Bible reading plan? Bible reading is part of our lives as believers.

There are people in Afghanistan dying because they have a Bible on their phone. There are people in America who are dying spiritually because they have a Bible and never read it.

Fixating on What’s Important: Converts

by Bill Fix

The last six lessons I presented examined conversions from the book of Acts. Breaking down the Latin root words, vert meaning “turn” and con meaning “against,” we can understand how our English word means to change one’s religious beliefs. We studied how five individuals in Acts adapted their faith when presented with reasonable information they hadn’t heard before. Acts provides no indication that the Philippian jailer even believed in God prior to the events in chapter 16. His late-night conversion denotes a conscious change in his life from that very hour.

The other four converts, however, were already striving sincerely to please God, but this new information still elicited a change in them. Some did not know anything about Jesus while Saul (Paul) simply didn’t believe Jesus was the Christ. But upon believing and obeying, these new converts changed their lives to reflect their commitment to Christ.

Although King Agrippa believed the prophets (26:27), he did not obey or make any change. His example demonstrates the possibility that one can believe yet refuse to be converted. Luke recorded these details “that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed” (Lk. 1:4). But of what value is knowing such things if we fail to act on them and “save ourselves” (Acts 2:40)? Are you converted?

Fixating on What’s Important: Memorials

by Bill Fix

lest we forget tombstone
Photo by Eric Smart on Pexels.com

Every American around the age of 25 or older likely remembers September 11, 2001. We remember where we were, what we were doing, and whom we saw as we heard and watched the terrorist attacks unfold that day. We remember how we felt and the uncertainty of that week. I remember the stunning image of thick smoke constantly billowing out of the twin towers and the shock of people falling or jumping to their certain deaths from the top floors of the buildings…

On September 11 this year, why did we see various memorial events 20 years later? Memorials remind us of history and allow us to mourn a loss and celebrate those who acted heroically to save others. It’s difficult to watch the news footage from that day or listen to the voicemails victims left for their loved ones as they called from hijacked planes or burning buildings and not think of the families who suffered a permanent loss of a parent or spouse. We remember.

We see other memorials around us every day: statues, tombstones, roadside markers where a life was lost in an auto accident, etc. Memorials make sure we don’t forget.

On a spiritual level, we observe a memorial every Sunday to remind us of the sacrifice Jesus made for us. While we can’t watch a video recording of it, we can read detailed, vivid eyewitness accounts in the gospels of how Jesus suffered and died for our sins. Through it all, Jesus didn’t object or complain. Instead, he demonstrated compassion, love, and concern for others, making arrangements for his mother to be cared for (Jn. 19:25-27). “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Lk. 23:34). Our memorial today is the Lord’s Supper. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). Let us never forget the sacrifice our Lord made for us. Let’s not take this memorial lightly or observe it less frequently to “make it more meaningful…” Let’s examine ourselves when we partake (1 Cor. 11:27-29). Let’s reread those gospel accounts so we always keep the memory of our Savior’s sacrifice and love for us ever foremost in our minds.

Fixating on What’s Important: Grieving

By Bill Fix

I’m not sure the average age where one starts seeing longtime friends and old classmates deal with major health issues, but I’ve recently begun to notice (at age 42). It used to be that when I heard of a peer dying the cause was a suicide or accident, but getting older seems to be changing that. This past week, I saw that an elementary classmate passed away after a six-year battle with cancer. Over the last year, I’ve lost two cousins, and I know of several classmates presently dealing with heart attacks, early onset Parkinson’s, and various other major medical issues.

You may also have friends and family members struggling with health issues that threaten their mortality or have recently lost someone you hold dear. How should we feel, or what can we do when someone we know is in pain?

First, Jesus showed emotion in John 11 when Lazarus had died. He wept, more likely at seeing Mary’s reaction to her brother’s death (11:33-36), and it is certainly meaningful and helpful to grieve with family members and help them through tough times. It doesn’t take special training or great expense to be a friend and show compassion to people. Most of us are not healthcare providers who can diagnose or treat serious illnesses, and none of us today are miracle workers who can remove one’s disability like Peter did. “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you:  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk” (Acts 3:6). But what did Peter do?

As the lame man then began “walking, leaping, and praising God” (3:8), Peter used that opportunity to teach the gospel to the crowd that gathered and, apparently, to the man who was healed. While the text doesn’t specify much else about the lame man, don’t you believe that he responded to the gospel that day? Don’t you believe that he rejoiced in being able to walk AND in having remission of his sins? I believe illnesses and accidents are opportunities for people to act on their faith—whether in obedience to the gospel or in strengthening an already obedient faith. Either for the one who’s sick or the family and friends who may be present. Let’s seek opportunities in tough times, whether comforting people or sharing the gospel. “Whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another…” (1 Ths. 5:10-11).

Fixating on What’s Important: Adoption

by Bill Fix

Over the last week and a half, I helped complete a guardianship and an adoption case. While these two cases involved different circumstances, what they both shared is that a child needed responsible adults to care for them in the absence of parents, whether stepping in as the adoptive parents or legal guardians. These parents and guardians should be commended for their willingness to accept the sometimes thankless job of raising someone else’s child. I should think that if their motives or love for these children would ever be questioned that the answer is obvious—they have volunteered to take on additional responsibilities when it was not required of them. They have chosen to raise these children because that’s in the “best interests of the child.”

On a spiritual level, we all have the opportunity to become adopted children of God. It makes no difference our nationality, race, skin color, gender, background, religious upbringing, affluence, physical beauty, or family—if we wish to be children of God, we can choose that life, name, and reward for ourselves. “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Rom. 8:15-17).

Such an adoption is clearly in our best interests, as it entitles us to being heirs of God. But as adopted children, what is expected of us? “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Rom. 8:12-14). God’s children are led by Him, choosing to set aside our wants and preferences to be obedient.

Have you been adopted by God? If so, are you complying with the adoptee’s terms spelled out by Paul in Romans 8? We must allow God to lead us according to His complete will, not merely hand select certain provisions that we choose to honor and redefine our relationship with God on our own terms. What adoptive parent would let the child decide how he or she should be raised? Who would think that to be in the child’s best interests?

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.