Friday Reflections (2-23-18)

I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, and a pretty severe case of it, in about 1991.  That means for the last 27 years I have slept with a strap around my head, and a mask that forced air up my nostrils.  This forced air keeps my air passages open, and doesn’t allow me to stop breathing.  With that to allow me to continue to sleep, I sleep really, really well.  Although it is not limited to overweight people, sleep apnea is pretty common for those that are.  Recently, I have been asked if I have tried to sleep without my c-pap machine, since I have lost so much weight.  No, I haven’t; and to be perfectly honest, I don’t know that I will!  You see, I have become so used to wearing that cumbersome mask and headgear, I don’t know that I could sleep without it.  You become so accustomed to doing something, you don’t function without it.

Routine and habit are two very important words to me.  I do much better at everything, if I can get into a routine.  From the time I get up, to the time I go to bed — I really sort of like being on a schedule, and I don’t function as well when my schedule gets out of sorts.

Having said all that, let me say that I have been “out of sorts” for the whole month of February.  My office at the church building has been enlarged to the point, that I get everything that I need in one place.  I told one of my elders, Ken Thomas, that this office has become the perfect “man-cave” for me.  If I were to design what I wanted for “MY” space, it would look a whole lot like this new office does (and I hope to have some pictures on here within the next couple of weeks).  But, it is not quite finished yet, and until it gets finished — I am going to continue to struggle functioning as I know that I need to.

It all started the last week of January, when I rearranged my morning schedule.  Instead of going to the gym just any time during the day, I started scheduling to go at 6:30 every morning.  I need, for my health’s sake, what I do at the gym; and needed to get it a steady rotation in my life. My goal is 5 days a week, and I am averaging about 4.  But, for today’s discussion — that change disrupted my mornings (most notably, the time that I wrote this blog).

But it did not intensify the changes until Friday morning, February 2.

That morning, I started “unloading” the office — books, desks, papers, computers, files, coffee pot, etc. — everything!  Two rooms had to be done, and they were completed on Saturday morning about 11:00.  Sunday, February 4, I left for Jackson, Tennessee; to attend the Freed Hardeman University Bible Lectures.  That Monday, Jimco construction started the remodeling project, with the intent to have it finished by Friday afternoon.  Well, I got back Thursday evening, and Friday they were still working, and Saturday, and Monday!  Well, Monday the were completed inside enough that I could start moving my books and over essential back into the office — enough, that I actually taught my Tuesday Bible class in the office.  But having all the stuff in the office is not having everything where you can find it and use it.  The whole week of February 12-16, I was in the process of organizing everything.  If you know me very well, I can get pretty obsessive about that kind of thing.  It was beginning to take shape, looking like it could be used.

This past week, February 19-23, I have been bringing books, file cabinets and miscellaneous items from home to put in the office.  That schedule was disrupted by a trip on Tuesday to Joplin.  I went to the “Preaching and Teaching Conference” at Ozark Christian College with Vance Eubanks (Senior Pastor at Prairie Grove Christian) and his brother-in-law (who is a translation missionary in New Guinea).  Had a wonderful trip, with lots of marvelous conversation, and heard two really outstanding speakers — Drew Moore (Be Strong and Trust) and David Rutherford (Be Strong and Obey).

Hopefully things are going to start settling down.  Just two more things to upset the apple cart:  (1) a trip to Florence, Alabama for the 50th Anniversary and alumni gathering for International Bible College (Heritage Christian University); and (2) start digging out the boxes in storage that have books, papers, and files in them.  About these two items, I have not been on campus of IBC (while it was in session), since about 1984.  I am really looking forward to attending this, and seeing friends that I have not seen in a long, long time.  As for the files, I might get through organizing them, some time this summer.

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In the last two days, I have received 3 new books (at least, new to me).  I am really excited about reading these books, so much so, that they have moved to the top of the “too read” stack.  In fact, I hope to have two of them

read within the next 10 days, and start writing reviews for them on this site.

First, and on top of the stack, is Karl Vaters’ new book Small Church Essentials.  In fact, this book is so new, that it has not be released yet.  I am on the launch team for the book, and I received a free copy early.  Let me be perfectly honest, all you had to do to be on the launch team was just ask.  I am thrilled to be able to do it, but anyone could have.  Vaters is someone that I really  enjoy reading.  He has done some really good work on his blog, PIVOT; and I know that this book is going to be really good.

Next, is a book that Vance Eubanks talked about on our trip, The Divine Mentor by Wayne Cordeiro.  Not only did Vance tell me about it, he gave me a copy of the book (two free books).  It is a book about developing a personal Bible study, that will help you grown and be more effective.  I have been looking for something that will help me to use my time wisely in the early morning hours (before going to the gym), and I hope that this will be the answer.  Want to do a review of this book from 2007 real soon.

The final book is by Steven J. Lawson, titled Famine in the Land.  This book is from 2003, and is about the compelling need for expository preaching.  I am a believer in expository preaching, and committed to getting better at my craft.  It is my plan to attend an intensive three day seminar in Conway with Dr. Lawson in August, and wanted to do some reading about his methods and mechanics.  This book has moved up in the stack, but it probably won’t get read until March, after I finish the February book on preaching (Why Johnny Can’t Preach).

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May the Lord answer you in a day of trouble; may the name of Jacob’s God protect you.  May he send you help from the sanctuary and sustain you from Zion.  May he remember all your offering and accept your burnt offerings.  (Psalm 20:1-3, CSB)

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“I Know Which Way to Go”

One of the greatest inventions ever, as far as most men are concerned, is the “Global Positioning System”.  They may not even know why, except that it is another piece of technology that they get to play with.  I am not saying that women don’t use it, or appreciate it; in fact, they may appreciate more than men.  But the women know exactly why they appreciate it.

You see, the GPS has relieved men of one of the great weaknesses that we have always been accused — not stopping to ask directions!  The GPS will direct us to where we need to go, go ballistic if we make a wrong turn, and it will often tell you of detours, accidents, and road construction on the road ahead.  So, unless you refuse to pay for the upgrades, forget to turn it on and program the trip, or ignore what it says — you will never have to stop and ask directions again.

I don’t know what it is about asking directions that bothers men so much.  I guess it is the fact that when you stop and ask directions, you are having to admit that you have got yourself into a situation that you can’t handle.  On top of that, generally when you got to the point that we would stop and ask directions; you ended up having to stop again, to be sure that you were following the first directions correctly.  Men, it’s true, we just have this terrible condition that we won’t ask for help until there is no other choice!

I was reminded of that condition this morning, as in my morning reading from the Psalms, I noticed that several times the writer is going to God in prayer, and it seems that he really has no other options — he is down to his last option.  Now I KNOW he should have started with God, but it seems obvious, from some of these verses, that they didn’t do that.

Psalm 141:1, O Lord, I call to you, come quickly to me. …

Psalm 142:6, Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me.

Psalm 143:1, O Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief.

Psalm 143:7, Answer me quickly, O Lord my spirit fails.  Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit.

So, one of the things that I took from the reading today (Psalm 140-145) is to stay in constant “contact” with God, always recognizing my constant need for His help.  I do not want to put in the position of thinking that He is all that I have left.  I want Him to be the starting point of every day, regardless of what my circumstances might be.

Now, if everything that has “some assembly required“, came with an app for my smart phone, telling me how to do the assembly … then I would not have to unfold some piece of paper with 5 different languages and a parts catalog.  Peace.

(This was first posted on Facebook, July 4, 2016; and is reposted here as a part of “Psalms for Saturday.”  It is my prayer that you are blessed by reading it.  Oh, by the way, since this written, I have found that youtube has assembly videos for many of the things that says “some assembly required”.  Bill)

“Sermon Design and Delivery” — Review

A tradition arose among the rural churches of North Alabama, that was in full operation when I preached in that area during the 1970’s.  It seemed as if every congregation scheduled a “gospel meeting” during the summer months, and scheduled it for the same week every year.  In fact, some of the churches called the summer meeting their “big” meeting.  Each church in the area had their own Sunday, and none tried to schedule for any other Sunday.  You always knew which churches were having meetings any particular week, because it was always the same every summer.  It was really a good idea, for the time, because you could generally expect visitors from other congregations to be in attendance.  Now, we don’t have “gospel” meetings (particularly during the summer), and, if we did, we would have great difficulty getting our own members to attend.

Another interesting facet to this tradition, was that each church wanted to get as “good” an evangelist as possible.  Of course, every church had their own definition of good, depending on their tastes in preaching.  But there was one preacher, that was seemingly always wanted, by almost every church — Tom Holland.  Tom had been raised in North Alabama, and probably preached as many week-long meetings during the summer, and weekend meetings during the school year; as any preacher among churches of Christ.  He was extremely hard to schedule, and it was a real coup for any church to have him on their schedule.  He was loved and appreciated by almost everyone — for his sweet and gentle spirit, being an excellent preacher, and being one of the founders and hosts of the all night “Diana Singing” in southern Tennessee.  If memory serves me correctly, his preaching was sort of a cross between the fiery evangelist and the smooth conversationalist.  He was very fluent, enunciated his words distinctly, was always well-prepared, and presented lessons that were always Biblically based.

It has always been interesting to me, the connection that I have had with Tom over the years.  My very first full-time local work was with the Cedar Grove church of Christ in Rogersville, Alabama.  That church was right on the Lauderdale county and Limestone county line, and it was the area where Tom had grown up.  I had not known that when I moved there, but Dan Holland, Tom’s nephew, became one of my very best friends in that church.  I preached the funeral of Noble Holland, Dan’s father, and Tom’s brother; and got closer to the family during that time.  About 4 years later after leaving North Alabama, I moved to west Texas to preach for the North Main church of Christ in Winters, Texas; and to work on a Masters degree in Biblical Studies at Abilene Christian University.  What I found out, after moving to Winters, was Tom had preached at that same church while pursuing a Masters in Communication at ACU.  To be perfectly honest, I don’t know which one of the two churches loved him the most.

As a part of my commitment to improve my preaching, I decided to read one book a month on the subject; beginning with Tom Holland’s Sermon Design and Delivery (1974, Holland Press, Henderson, Tennessee).  You see, not only was Tom Holland a great preacher, but he was also a good teacher of “Homiletics”.  This book is short (100 pages, 14 chapters) and attempts to cover the whole range of sermon preparation and presentation.  In the “Introduction” to the book, he explains what he is trying to do:

…One cannot make a homiletic mold and pour everyone into it.  Every preacher must find his own way to be effective in communicating God’s Word to men.  A sermon must grow out of the preacher’s knowledge of God’s Word, out of the depth of his conviction and out of the awareness of the acute spiritual needs of men.  However, it is advantageous to a preacher’s pulpit effectiveness if he understands the general principles which have recognized and recorded by effective preachers. …  (page 7).

What I would like to do in this short review is to tell you:  (1) what I liked about the book, (2) some problems I had with the book, and (3) my recommendations.

First, what I like about the book.  There are three or four items that stood out.  I like that the emphasis throughout the book is to “preach the word“.  Preaching is about relaying a message from and about God to men that need to hear it.  There is no better way of doing that, than by delivering a message based from the book that God has given us to reveal Himself and His ways.  I was also impressed by the breadth and range of the resources that Brother Holland used in this book.  His knowledge and research across the the various disciplines of communication, and the writings concerning the subject of preaching from various denominational groups is impressive.  His bibliography is pretty extensive, and left me with some titles on preaching that I would like to acquire for my collection of books on preaching.  It was also helpful to me, that Tom used examples to show the differences in types of sermons (subject, textual, and expository), and in how to develop a skeleton outline for a sermon.

Next, I need to address some of the problems I had with the book.  Let me say first, for me to criticize Tom Holland about the subject of preaching, is like a Little League shortstop telling the shortstop for the Yankees how to play the position.  On my best day, I am average at best.  But there are a couple of things that I need to say.  I am pretty sure that my copy of Sermon Design and Delivery is a first edition, and I don’t know if it has ever been updated — but, if it hasn’t, it really needs to be!  For example, chapter 13 is about the use of visual aids in preaching.  The visual aids that are discussed are chalkboards, painted chart sermons, flannel boards, and mimeographed handouts.  But, dating it even more than that, there is some terminology used, that is just not “politically correct” — and, I’m not sure that it was in 1974.  Another thing that struck me as unusual, Brother Holland is adamant in his opposition to someone using a “sermon outline” book to find a sermon late in the week to preach on Sunday.  I find that unusual, because one of his stated goals (to me personally) was to write a book of expository sermon outlines on all the books of the New Testament.  I just find those two ideas to be in opposition to each other.

Finally, would I recommend this book?  Yes, I would.  If you have been preaching for a while and have not thought about what you could do to improve in your craft, this book is a really good starting place.  I think I will create a file with a division for each one of the fourteen chapters; then as I read other volumes on preaching, things that I want to note and remember place in that file behind the appropriate subject.  If the book has been updated, or will be — I would recommend every beginning preacher to own and read this book.  They would be well served to see this overview on the subject of preaching.

I have always respected, appreciated, and loved Tom Holland; and I hope this review has done his volume justice.

My Week at the Freed Hardeman Lectures

February 4, immediately after the morning services, I left Prairie Grove and headed for west Tennessee.  About 7 hours later, I pulled into the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Jackson, Tennessee.  Jackson is about 25 miles north of Henderson, the home of Freed Hardeman University.  I suppose that the Bible Lectureship at FHU is one of the longest running, and largest, lectureship gatherings for members of the churches of Christ, east of the Mississippi river.  There are other lectureships that may be larger now, or have been larger in the past; but Freed Hardeman has combined longevity and attendance quite well.  This was the first lectureship at this school that I had attended since 1973.  I distinctly remember that year, as it was the winter before Max King and Gus Nichols debated on “Realized Eschatology” (although no one called it that in 1973) in Warren, Ohio the following summer.  Max King was on campus, and attended some of Gus Nichols’ sessions, where Brother Nichols was reviewing his book THE SPIRIT OF PROPHECY.   The approaching debate, the controversy on campus, and the question of how any one could believe something like that — made it a very interesting week.

About an hour after I got there, my college roommate and good friend, Jerry Edwards arrived from his home in Kentucky.  I went down to the exercise room and did a couple of miles on the the treadmill, while Jerry unpacked.  We started visiting, and I think it was after 11 before we called it a night.  Jerry does mission work in India, make 2 or 3, 6 week trips a year over there; and these lectureships are important to him.  They furnish him the opportunity to network, and make contacts with those that might be interested in supporting the work that he does.  This is the second lectureship that we have attended together, and are considering another one this fall.

One of the highlights of the week, as far as I was concerned, was the opportunity each morning to have breakfast with Randy Baker.  Randy preached for 10 years at the Cedar Grove church of Christ in Rogersville, Alabama; and now serves as one of their elders.  If that sounds familiar, that is the very first church that I did full-time local work.  So for about an hour every morning, for 4 mornings, we got to visit about the people that we both knew and loved.

The lectureship was interesting, and gave me the opportunity to hear some speakers that I had never had the opportunity to hear before.  As with all these kinds of gatherings, I didn’t agree with everything that I heard, but I would never grow if the only people that I listened to were ones that I agreed with.  But saying that, I didn’t disagree with a lot that I heard; and was blessed by most of the speakers that I had chosen to attend their session.  Some of the speakers that I heard were:  Denny Petrillo, Kevin Moore, Kerry Williams, Jerrie Barber, Cecil May, Dan Chambers, Jeff Jenkins, and Dale Jenkins.  There were a host of others that I would have liked to hear, but for one reason or another, was not able.

Let me tell you a few of the things that I really enjoyed about the Freed Hardeman lectures, and will consider going back again.

#1. Because of the proximity of Henderson, Tennessee to Florence, Alabama; I was able to visit with several preachers that I knew from years at International Bible College.  Some were men that I had attended school with, and others were preachers from that had been in that area.  People like Jerry, Randy, Wayne Kilpatrick, Robert Hall, Ellis Coats, Philip Hines, Charles Thompson, Jess Carter, Matthew Morine, Danny Pettus, and Cecil May.  I probably have forgotten someone, but that happens at my age.  It was also good to see a booth from Heritage Christian University (formerly International Bible College), and visit with the men that were representing the school.  The end of this month, they are celebrating their 50th year, with their annual “alumni days” gathering and lectureship.  It is my intention to attend that, and it will be the first time that I have been on campus since I graduated.

#2. It was a pleasure to attend the two luncheons that I attended.  On Monday, I attended “The Friends of the Restoration Movement” luncheon, where Hugh Fulford spoke on the use of “Mass Media” in the Restoration Movement.  It was obvious that Brother Fulford had done some homework on how our brethren had used radio to reach people with the gospel.  Wednesday, I went to luncheon for the “Search” program, and Phil Sanders brought everyone up to date on the successes and expansion of that television ministry.  One of the things, that made this particular luncheon inviting was that Chris Lyons and Roger Russell attended.  Not too many years ago, Chris attended the North Street congregation in Fayetteville; and is friends with many people in this area.  Of course, Roger preaches in Van Buren, and his daughter, Ashley, attends where I preach.

#3. After having attended other lectureships, that had numbered in the thousands in past years, and see that the numbers had shrunk to an almost embarassing amount; it was good to see that there was still a good crowd at Freed Hardeman.  I don’t know what the difference is, except that maybe Freed Hardeman has not forgotten who it is that comes to their programs.

#4. I like that Freed Hardeman still publishes a “lectureship” book!  It has full manuscripts of almost all the lectures (and classes) that were presented, and will come in handy for future use.  It also gave me the opportunity to read some of the classes and lectures that I did not get to attend.  I bought one, and it will go into the church library — available for all to use.

After 25 years of not being able to go to these types of events, I am really enjoying the opportunity to learn, be challenged to think, and enjoy the fellowship.  Will I go back to Freed Hardeman next year?  I don’t know, but I am thinking about it.  Peace.

 

“Freed Hardeman Lectureship — 2018”

About noon today, right after the morning assembly, I will be leaving for Jackson, Tennessee.  I will be staying in Jackson, while attending the annual Freed Hardeman Bible Lectureship.  The lectureship this year will be centered around I and II Timothy and Titus.  This will be the second Freed Hardeman lectures that I have ever attended, and the first one was 45 years ago.  I am looking forward to seeing friends that I have not seen in a long, long time.  It is exciting to think that I will be able to put a face, with people that I have just corresponded with through Facebook, and other social media platforms.  One of the things that I am really looking forward to is the “Friends of the Restoration” sessions on Monday morning.  There are going to be some men speaking that really have a great grasp of the history of the Stone-Campbell Movement.  I really enjoy attending these kind of events, much more that I did when I was younger.  It may be that I have (finally) matured, and recognize the need to keep the batteries charged and the blade sharp.  I want to thank Alan Bradley, Jack Scroggins, and Ken Thomas, the elders of the Prairie Grove church; for making this trip possible.

Said all of that to say, that as far as this blog is concerned, I will be out of pocket for most of the week (probably won’t post here again until Saturday).  It is my intention to post throughout the week on Twitter and Facebook, pictures and comments about my experiences during the week.  It is also my intention to do a full post on this blog about my experiences during the week, and an evaluation of the lecture.

I do request your prayers for my safety while traveling this week, and that the weather will stay “somewhat” good.  Bill.

“Mom’s Watching”

Mothers are special in a lot of different ways.  This morning I want to recognize the built-in radar system they all have.  It seems that they have this way of KNOWING when the kids are doing something that they shouldn’t.   Our oldest son would start confessing to everything he had ever done, if his mom looked at him with that “I know what you have been doing” look.  If he tried to hide it from her, by not telling the truth; she would know what he was doing.

Now, my mother didn’t just have eyes in the back of her head, she had them on both sides.  She could SEE everything!  I just knew that if I did anything wrong, she would catch me.  Of course, that usually did not stop me — but, it always seemed like I got caught.  I must confess, that I grew up with the idea that mom watched what I did — just to see if she could catch me doing something wrong.  As much as she caught me, that just had to be the truth.

Sadly, that thinking carried over into my view of God.  Preachers would talk about God “seeing” everything that I did, and that I could not hide my actions from God.  We would sing songs about the “all-seeing eye watching you“, and I just knew that God existed to catch me doing something that I shouldn’t.  That really shapes a warped view of God to build your life around.  Sadly, I think that many have turned away from God altogether, because this is the perception of God that they grew up believing.

When you get something ingrained into you like that, it is hard to get out.  This morning, I want to share some thoughts with you from Psalm 121:3-8 (NASB).

He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
The Lord will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul.
The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in
From this time forth and forever.
The Lord is watching me, watching me 24/7; not to catch me doing something wrong, but to protect me from falling.  He doesn’t relax, or leave me on my own — but He cares for me day and night.  Life gets a little simpler, knowing that when I am in need of help; I don’t have to explain to Him what is going on — He already knows!  Thank you, Lord, for caring about me!
Oh, by the way, I’m pretty sure that Mom took lessons from Him, because I know NOW, that is the reason she kept all her “eyes” on me.  Peace.
(This was first posted on Facebook on June 30, 2016, and has been reposted here as a part of the “Psalms on Saturday” series. It is my prayer that you will find helpful and encouraging.  Bill)

 

“The Gospel of Mark — Part 3”

OBSERVATIONS

If you were commissioned by God to send a letter of hope to a group of Christians facing a martyr’s death, what would YOU write?   Mark, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, answers this question by writing a “gospel” that demonstrates how to communicate with compassion, urgency, and hope to a people in need.

You see, the gospel of Mark is a story of concern.  It may very well be that we have read the “gospels”  in the wrong way; or, at the very least, failed to grasp what they are all about.  I believe, as do many scholars, that Mark would be surprised that we read his writing as a biography, or as history.  Each “gospel” (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) was shaped by specific cultural, social, and religious “happenings” — that affected them, and the ones that first read their writings.

The “gospel” of Mark is written as a story (and a very good story), with an economy of words and a very direct style.  It is not a story that can be labeled as fiction, because it happened.  It is the story about Jesus, the Son of God.  The story was written to encourage the Christians in Rome, during the persecution of Nero.  The key to the story is:  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45).

There is a relationship between Mark, and discipleship, that is often overlooked.  Mark presupposes that the best way to challenge the readers (his audience) to faithful discipleship is to tell them the story of Jesus.  He very clearly depicts that the way of Jesus, as the way that his disciples are called to follow.  Only a clear and correct understanding of Jesus, can produce a clear and correct understanding of what it means to be a disciple.

The intimate relationship between Jesus and his disciples, that is portrayed in Mark, forms the underlying structure for many passages.  It also provides a basic link between the ancient writing and our lives today.  This “gospel” is written for disciples of every age, and a concern for disciples permeates the entire gospel — from the call of the first four (1:16-20), to the final message (16:6-7, 15-18).  There is an open-endedness about this gospel that invites us to identify with those first disciples, and to follow in their footsteps, as they follow in his.

Mark is very relevant to our day, and our situation.  There are themes and counter themes that run through the book — power, conflict, suffering, misunderstandings.  Did you hear that:  POWER, CONFLICT, SUFFERING, MISUNDERSTANDING — that’s the stuff we read about every morning, and then hear on the evening news.

Mark’s emphasis on the costly service, suffering, rejection, and death of the Son of God (vindicated by his resurrection); serves as a healthy corrective to the idea of “cheap grace”, that seems to be so prevalent in our culture.  Being a Christian is not easy and simple!  Being a Christian involves serving and suffering — the way of the cross:  Then he called the crowd to him, along with his disciples, and said:  “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)

(It is m prayer, that the story of Persis and her life, tragedy, fears, hopelessness, and renewal through Mark’s gospel; help you to get a better understanding of what Mark’s gospel is all about.  May you read the book again with fresh eyes, and see the masterful story that Mark weaves for his audience.  Bill)

“The Gospel of Mark — Part 2”

The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God (1:1).  That first statement, caught Persis somewhat by surprise.  She had never heard anyone use the word “gospel” about anything that was written.  It had always been about something preached orally.

As the brother continued to read the letter from Mark, he said The time has come, he said.  The Kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news. (1:15).  Some kingdom Persis thought, a group of frightened people, meeting underground because they are afraid of being found.  She thought, look what believing the good news has brought to my life.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place where he prayed. (1:35).  It seemed strange that Jesus, the Son of God, needed to get off to a solitary place and pray to God.  Still, she remember how comforting prayer had been in her life, especially when she and Octavius prayed together.

Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (3:6).  Those words just sent cold chills up and down her spine.  Hatred, conflict, plotting — even in the days of Jesus.  Was it always going to be this way?

Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived.  Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him.  A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”  “Who are my mother and my brother?”  he asked.  Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and brothers!  Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (3:31-35).  People never had understood what Jesus was all about, then or now in Rome.  They hated Christians because they were different, and they didn’t understand why they were different.  They didn’t really know what Christians wanted to do, how they wanted to live, and what their dreams and goals were.

As the good brother continued to read, he told those marvelous stories that had always thrilled the hearts of all the disciples … the calming of the sea (4:35-41), and the healing of the sick woman and the raising of the dead girl (5:21-43).  Persis thoughts soared as she thought of all the power that the Lord had, and how he had demonstrated that power to demonstrate that he really was who he said he was.  Why, you could almost hear the preaching of Peter in the words of Mark.  As suddenly as her thoughts had soared, they had came crashing down!  Why couldn’t he use his power NOW, to save his people from this awful life they had?

“But what about you?” he asked.  “Who do you say I am?”  Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” (8:29).  Persis could not help but think, “That’s right, but look at what it cost you, Peter.”  Besides, she thought, it must have been easy to believe in Jesus in those days, with all the power he demonstrated in the miracles that he did.

It was at that point in the reading, that Persis noticed a change in what was being said, sort of like a change in emphasis; or, at least it seemed that way to her.  He ten began to teach them the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. (8:31)  She was sure of it, John Mark had found a new focus, a new emphasis, for the events and teachings in the life of the Lord.  Jesus is now teaching the disciples “the way of the cross” (8:34-38).  Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last, and the servant of all.” (9:35).  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (10:45).  Persis thought to herself, it’s as if he’s saying “I’ve shown you I have the power, but I control that power to serve my Father, and my disciples.  Serving even to the point of suffering and death!”

“While they were reclining at the table eating, he said “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me — one who is eating with me.”  (14:18).  That part of the reading shook Persis to the core of her very being, as she thought that may be Jesus really did know how they felt.  She had struggled with her feelings for a long time, since so many of their problems were caused by those from their own number, had (to protect their own lives) betrayed them; by revealing their locations to the Roman soldiers.

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today — yes, tonight — before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” (14:30).  Persis couldn’t help it, but she looked over at Demetrius, who had his bowed with tears streaming down is cheeks.  She thought, he has to be remembering when the Roman soldier placed the spear to his side, and threateningly asked “Lord Jesus, or Lord Caesar.”  In that moment, out of fear and weakness, he had replied “Lord Caesar.”  Since that time, Demetrius had never been able to hold his head up and look other Christians in the eye.  But, now he lifted it up, and she could not help but think of the comfort and reassurance that he must have felt.  He knew that Peter was an apostle, a preacher, and one of their elders; and he had been guilty of the same mistake he was; and just look how God had loved him, and used him.

As the brother read the story of the crucifixion (15:15-37), cold chills went up and down Persis’ spine.  The horror of what had happened to her family was vivid in her mind, as the listened to the words about the suffering of Jesus.  But, this is what Jesus said would happened to those that followed him.  Maybe Octavius, Gaius, and Athena knew this, and that is why they willingly gave their lives rather than to denounce the Lord.

And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God.” (15:39).  There it was again, that same confession, the one Peter had made earlier (8:37).  Yes, it was all worth it, because Jesus was the Son of God.  Don’t be alarmed,” he said, “you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.  He is not here.  See the place where they laid him.” (16:6).

Persis left that assembly stronger, her faith rejuvenated, her resolve to practice righteousness and trust in Gd and his power increased many times.  Jesus did understand her feelings:  the betrayal, the denial, the hurt, the loss, the separation, and the pain.  Her family had suffered and died, and she might also, serving “in the way of the cross”; but Jesus had suffered and died to provide that way for her.  She understood that Jesus had the power to reclaim their lives at his coming, in the resurrection; because there had been no grave that could hold him.

She resolved that day to spend the rest of her life, doing what Jesus had asked:  “…Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (16:15-16).

 

(I hope that this story about the reading of Mark is a blessing to you.  Part 1 was yesterday, and it will conclude tomorrow with Part 3.  Bill)

 

 

Book Review of”Captives of the Word”

Louis Cochran was a native of Mississippi, that had a multi-faceted working career:  English teacher and coach at 2 Mississippi high schools (Cleveland and Crenshaw), FBI agent, school superintendent, and also served in Army and Air Force intelligence.  He was also a writer, and had several works published, including:  The Lowly Gnome and Other Stories (1929), Flood Tides (1931), Black Earth (1935), Son of Haman (1937), Boss Man (1939), Row’s End (1954), Hallelujah Mississippi (1955), Fool of God: A Novel Based Upon the Life of Alexander Campbell (1958), Racoon John Smith: A Novel Based on the Life of the Famous Pioneer Kentucky Preacher (1963), Alexander Campbell: The Man and His Mission (1965), and FBI Man: A Personal History (1966).  Cochran and his wife, Bess White Cochran, were selected by Charles W. Ferguson, and Doubleday & Company, to author a volume on the history of the American Restoration Movement, as a part of the “Religion in America” series.

The inside of the dust jacket gives a really good overview of the book, that was published by Doubleday in 1969; and reprinted by College Press in 1987.  This is the description:

“The boldest Protest Reformation since the time of Martin Luther was born in a place called Bursh Run (misspelled on dust jacket, BH), Virginia, in 1811.  It spread across the frontier like wildfire, destined to be the most fascinating chapter in America’s religious history.

CAPTIVES OF THE WORD is the story of the Restoration Movement.  Its dramatic evolution took it from a congregation of thirty to 6 1/2 million communicants, leading to such divergent groups as  The Christian Church, The Churches of Christ and The Disciples of Christ.

The Movement which began with Thomas Campbell and his son Alexander was fully and unmistakably American.  It could only have been nurtured in the soil of a free country, among liberty-loving pioneers.  The heroes of the story, contemporaries and successors of the Campbells, including strong, crusty frontier characters.  They were men who devotion, whose evangelical fervor led them into pitched battles over issues such as the sinfulness of using organ music in church, in hot debates that could last as long as sixteen days and nights.

The movement and the enthusiasm it aroused, the animosities it created, and, above all, the remarkable people who devoted their lives to it, are all an important part of our unique religious heritage.

In a marvelously swift narrative Louis Cochran and his wife, Bess White Cochran, write of a strong slice of the American past.  Here is history with an added dimension — the story of great events told in terms of the personalities of the people involved.

It is my understanding that Cochran had his background in the Disciples of Christ, and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree in 1960 from Bethany College, Bethany, West Virginia — the school founded by Alexander Campbell.  Cochran’s wife, Bess White Cochran, was the editor of World Call, the international journal of the Christian Churches.   They have written a volume that is very easy to read, and extremely interesting.  I remember in the fall of 1965, the very first book I read about the history of the churches of Christ was The Fool of God.  The story it told captivated me, and the Cochrans did the same thing with this volume, in the way they made the story so personal in the lives of the people.

There are a few observations that I would like to make concerning the book.

#1. It is interesting to read material written by those with a different perspective.  Even history is open to interpretation, and it was obvious to me in reading this book.  I’m not saying that Cochran is wrong, and what I was taught is right; I’m just saying that two people, with different backgrounds, can look at the same historical event and have an entirely different viewpoint of what it means.  I have been challenged by some of the things that were said in this book, to go back and re-read some of the things that I have learned (and thought) over the years.  Just as an example, I posted a quote from Cochran on a preacher’s chat group about Walter Scott, and his five finger plan of salvation (the first to use such a simple formula, or exercise).  I was challenged about it, because it did not match the “five steps of salvation” as they have preached within churches of Christ in the last 50-60 years.  It would appear, at times, that we would like to shape history to meet our particular understanding in the present.

#2. When I was in graduate school in Abilene, I took a course called “Comparative Restoration Movements” taught by Dr. Richard Hughes and Dr. Leonard Allen.  It was there that I learned about the “spirit of primitivism”, or a “frontier spirit” that was searching for a simpler way, that was free from the restrictions of the present.  Let me share a paragraph from Cochran, that explains that feeling.

     “In the light of such a situation it is not surprising that conditions were ripe for Walter Scott’s offer of a Gospel which any man could understand, and of a salvation which any man could obtain merely by accepting it.  To the people his sermons were fresh waters flowing over arid, parched land, relieving their thirst for comfort and consolation.  They were hardy frontiersman who had conquered the land, and they were tired of hearing they were helpless in conquering the devil.  They were impatient with preachers who told them they were lost in a world of sin until, through the grace of God and at his pleasure, they might be rescued.  They were free people eager to stretch the wings of their freedom in the realm of the spirit as well as of the flesh, free moral agents entitled to make a choice regarding their salvation.  They had listened long enough to preaching which denied them this freedom, preaching which damned them to hell unless they were of the Elect.  And here was a man, a vivid, flaming evangelist named Walter Scott, who brought them a Gospel totally at variance with the Calvinistic, the Lutheran and the Augustinian doctrines which had entrenched themselves in the area.  It was essentially a rational doctrine, appealing to the intellect, but as it filtered through Scott’s peculiarly buoyant personality it became emotionally charged, and as intoxicating as heady wine.  He became God’s avenging angel.  As he brought the welcome news that salvation comes not by way of an ‘experience’ for which they must be resigned to wait, but by the simple process of hearing the word of God and believing it.  Walter Scott gave his temperamental nature full play.  Here in his extended hand was the Bible, it furnished all they needed to bring them a joyous life, here and now and for eternity.  They could read it for themselves, and interpret its passages according to the measure of their knowledge and understanding.”  (page 38)

#3. It is obvious that the Cochrans’ placed a lot of emphasis on the Civil War (and the question of slavery) and a urban-rural division after the Civil War, as mostly responsible for the division that occurred in 1906 between the Christian church and the churches of Christ.  There were also indications that the division could be traced to the affluent and the poor, the educated and uneducated.  All four of these, were concepts which I had heard before, and agree that, ultimately, they were all, at least partially, responsible for the division that became formalized in 1906.   But, he also mentioned this:

“…it took on the aspect of the visible symbol of the basic ‘poles apart’ attitude toward a question that had become vital among the brethren.  Did the silences of the Scripture bind them to abstain, or loose them to perform?  One group of men held that where was no prohibition there was no transgression.  Another group saw things differently.  Where there was no command to act there was no justification for action, and any step in that direction was a violation of God’s word.                                                                                                                  The long, dark tunnel of controversy over what constituted an ‘opinion,’ which any man was free to express and act upon, and what constituted ‘an addition to God’s plan for his church,’ and was therefore sinful, had been entered, and cast it spell over the children of God.”  (pages 159-160)

    I had thought about reading this book for a long time, and I am glad that I finally did.  It has only been printed twice (1969 and 1987), so the only copies that are available are usually found in used book offerings.  I found mine on Amazon about the first of December for $9.48.  As of yesterday (1-10-18) there were 5 copies of the Doubleday edition for sale, and they ranged in price from $7.99 to $40.00 (plus shipping).  The second edition by College Press is considerably more expensive, with 4 copies available beginning at $79.50.

     I would recommend this to anyone interested in Restoration history, even those that are just getting started in the study (but I would urge them not to stop with it).  It has motivated me to go back and re-read Cochran’s books on Campbell and Smith, and other biographies of leaders (particularly Walter Scott, Tolbert Fanning, Daniel Sommer, and Isaac Erret.  Many of the same thought process that are discussed (for example the quote from pages 159-160) are still questions that we are searching for answers.                                                                                                     

 

“2017 in the Rear View Mirror”

“2017 is now past. Learn from it, celebrate and honor it, but don’t focus on it. It is gone. Wholly embrace today and boldly enter 2018 with expectation of new successes, greater personal growth, and special moments with family and friends that await you.”
(Richard Blackaby)

On my Twitter feed I describe myself in this way — disciple, husband, father, grandfather, preacher — still green and growing.  I want that last phrase to be true about all phases of my life, and I want to do what it takes to make it happen.  I don’t believe that it will happen accidentally, that it will take purpose and planning.  This morning, I want to talk about my plans and goals for the coming year; and part of the reason is to put it in print — as a means of accountability (to myself and to others).  The other reason for this, is that as Richard Blackaby not only said the quote from above on Twitter, but he also said:

“Warning!  If you don’t make any adjustments to your attitude, skills, or habits in 2017; you are destined to be exactly the same person with the same results in 2018!  Aim for more!”

This post this morning, I will be challenging myself for growth as a preacher — and the things that I do to enhance my ministry at the Prairie Grove church.  I have broken it down in to four areas — reading, writing, preaching, and pastoral ministry.

READING

My goal this year is to read, at least, 78 books (not quite twice what I did last year).  This is going to be a real challenge, but it is one that I think I will enjoy.  Unlike a lot of my friends, I am not in to the real “heavy” theological readings (unless it is for a research project that I have undertaken).  These 78+ books will be works of fiction, history, devotional; and works that deal with doctrine, spiritual formation, ministry, preaching, etc.  I plan on reading Twitter on a regular basis (more on that later), and there are several blogs that I read quite often (Scot McKnight, Wes McDaniel, Steve Ridgell, Karl Vaters, Thom Rainer, Albert Mohler, Tim Challis, Richard Beck, John Mark Hicks, …).  I don’t always agree with everything I read, but I always like to be challenged to think.

WRITING

In 2017, I wrote 384 “tweets” to put on Twitter, and 265 entries to this blog “Hoot’s Musings”.  All of the “tweets” were new, and the majority of the “Hoot’s Musings” were also (except for the Saturday entries, “Psalms for Saturdays”).  For a small church preacher, in a small town, that for the last 25 years was a bi-vocational preacher — I am thrilled to have 366 followers on Twitter, and that this site had 9,993 views.  I know that those are insignificant numbers to most of those that are on Twitter, or have a blog — but they were fantastic to me!  It is my intention to not write as much new material this year for either site, and put more time and energy into other endeavors.  It is my intention to write 2 or 3 posts a week for this blog site; and some on Twitter, if I have anything worthwhile to say.  Let me say that I really enjoy Twitter, as I have about 800 people that I follow, after eliminating a bunch that were negative, argumentative, or just never posted.  I look at Twitter 2 or 3 times a day, and re-tweet things that I like, I can use, or an article that I want to read later.  I have written 384 “tweets”, but I have re-tweeted about 4,500.  In my opinion, my “retweets” are the best of the best — in a lot of different ways — and I want to keep doing that.

Most of the new writing endeavors, most of you already know about.  I am writing book reviews for a couple of different places, and have been asked to write 2, and may be 3, expository sermon series for a web site.  These are time consuming, and I am compelled to do them, AND do them right.  I solicit your prayers in these efforts.

PREACHING

In a sermon this past month (December ’17), I committed to the church at Prairie Grove that I was going to be a better preacher in December, 2018; than I was in December, 2017.  I have two expository series planned for all of 2018, and extending into 2019.  The first one begins on January 21, on Ephesians 6:10-18, and deals with the subject of Spiritual Warfare.  It is projected to take around 12 lessons to complete, but I won’t know that for sure, until I get into it.  The second series will begin 2 or 3 weeks after we finish that one, and it will be an expository series through the book of Acts.  I have no idea how long it will take to preach through Acts, but I am excited about it and looking forward to it.

In my commitment to be a better preacher, I am going to read one book a month on the subject of preaching.  The first book I began on Tuesday, and it will be a chapter a week book, titled One Year to Better Preaching “52 Exercises to Hone Your Skills.”  It is my plan to add one exercise a week, and I really like the first one (prayer support group for sermon preparation and delivery).  My plan is to read some new books on preaching, and go back and re-read some of the ones that I read years ago.  For the month of January, it is my intention to read is an older one by Tom Holland, Sermon Design and Delivery.

PASTORAL MINISTRY

I am not a pastor, and don’t want to be a pastor.  I am a preacher and a minister; and in doing that, there is pastoral ministry involved.  The Prairie Grove church of Christ makes all of what I do possible, and I am committed to doing a good job for them to the glory of God.  I want to pray for them regularly, and be involved in their lives on a regular basis.  Most of you already know, that I do have some characteristics of an introvert; so this is really challenging for me.  I covet your prayers that I may do this in a way that will be helpful to the people of this church, and that their faith and lives may be strengthened.

I have set the bar high, and I hope not too high.  But I want to continue to grow as a minister, and do a better job every day because of what Jesus has done for me!  There are a lot of perpendicular pronouns in this post, and I really shouldn’t talk about myself this much.  BUT, I wanted to get it out in front of me, that everyone would know what I want to do; and that this article will make me accountable to a lot of different people.

Peace, Bill.