Constant Reminders

PHOTO: Las Vegas Metropolitan Police in front of a sign for the Route 91 Harvest festival near the scene of the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest festival on Las Vegas Boulevard in Las Vegas, Oct. 2, 2017.

Aurora, Sandy Hook, Charleston, Chattanooga, San Bernardino, Orlando, and now Las Vegas. When I woke up Monday morning I was saddened to hear that once again a mass shooting had occurred in the country that I love.

Sunday evening, during the closing performance at the Route 91 Country Music Festival on the Las Vegas Strip, 64 –year –old Stephen Paddock opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. He murdered 58 people and injured 530 others. The horrible events of this day marked the deadliest mass shooting by a lone gunman in U.S. history.

With each mass shooting, we seem to be hearing more and more. We are given constant reminders which we need to think about seriously.

  • Each day could be our last. Death is one of the great equalizers in life (Hebrews 9:27). Tragic events like the one on Sunday, remind us that we really don’t when we are going to die. Do you think any of those 58 murdered people thought they were going to die at that concert? Do you think that any of them woke up that Sunday morning thinking that it would be their last day on earth? Those folks did not go to that concert to die, but rather to listen to music and have fun. Death was probably the last thing on their minds! And yet, it would be something they would experience before the night was over. Tragic events like this remind us of the words of the Lord’s brother in James 4:13-15. We don’t know what will happen to us each day. We don’t know when we are going go die. Compared to eternity, our lives are very short and we need to be prepared to leave this world any at moment.
  • There is a lot of evil in the world. People often ask, “Why does God allow people to do evil?” This question fails to consider that God made man in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). Part of being made in the image of God means that we have the ability to make choices. This is one of the things that makes us superior to anything else God has made. We are not programmed robots. We do not live off our instincts like animals. God made us free moral agents. We can choose to do good or evil. We can choose to love God or flat out reject Him (Joshua 24:15). If God intervened in every tragic case, He would be taking away man’s free will. He will not do that! Unfortunately, we live in a world where men often choose to do terrible, wicked things. Sometimes these wicked choices impact others in a negative way. This has been going on in the world since the time of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-8). The events of Sunday remind us that we live in a world where evil exists and men sometimes choose to do horrendous things.
  • This world is not our home. This world is not a perfect place. The only way we will escape the wickedness of this world is to go to heaven. In heaven there is no evil. There is no murder. There is no rape. There are no periods of mourning and tears. There is no death (Revelation 21:1-4). These are things that we have to deal with now on this earth, but not in heaven! Heaven is a perfect place with perfect happiness and security. It is a place where all the horrible things we see on the news will be absent! The events of Sunday remind us that this world is really a sad place and heaven should be what we are seeking above anything else (Matthew 6:19-21; Philippians 3:20; 2 Corinthians 5:8). They remind us of just how important it is to serve Jesus, because He is the ONLY way to heaven (John 14:1-6).

This will probably not be the last mass shooting we hear about. Living in a sin-filled world, there are sure to be other cases. But with each case we are confronted with, the same reminders are brought to the forefront of our minds. Will we heed them and take them seriously?

– Shawn Jeffries

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What About Other Baptisms?

Since the Restoration, members of the Lord’s church have grappled with the question of what to do with those we meet who have been immersed in water for some religious reason, but not for the forgiveness of sins.  For instance, there are those who teach that the purpose of baptism is to admit the already-saved believer to a particular denomination.  When we encounter someone like this, do they still need to obey the gospel (including the call to baptism for forgiveness of sins), or are they already a Christian by virtue of their earlier baptism, so that they need only to join a local church?

This is a question of great importance.  As with all matters that relate directly to salvation, our souls and the souls of others depend on us getting it right.  There’s certainly plenty of appeal to the second position.  None of us like having to say to somebody, “Um, you think you’re saved from your sins, but you’re actually not.”

However, this more comfortable view cannot be defended from Scripture.   To start with, we must recognize that obedience to God is often not a matter of merely doing the right thing.  Indeed, there are many places in the Bible when even a generalized desire to obey God is not enough to satisfy the mental aspects of a commandment.

Consider, for instance, the Lord’s Supper.  The outward form of obedience here is simple:  eat bread, drink cup.  However, sharing in the Lord’s Supper in a God-pleasing way requires a great deal more mental effort from us, and partaking only from a generic desire to please God doesn’t satisfy the Scriptural requirement.  Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 that as we eat, we must examine ourselves and discern the body (in context, the Lord’s body).  Anyone who doesn’t do this is eating and drinking judgment to themselves, and this is true even if they are thinking, “I’m doing this because God told me to.”

The same holds true for baptism.  As with the Lord’s Supper, satisfying God in this matter requires a specific mental intent from us.  Acts 2:38 doesn’t say “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, and you will receive the forgiveness of sins.”  If that were the case, the reason for baptism wouldn’t matter.

Instead, the text says, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (in context, the salvation of Acts 2:21)  This is a passage that requires specific mental intent.  If we wish to receive the gift of salvation, we must come to baptism with the purpose of seeking forgiveness of sins.

Of course, there are many other texts in Scripture that express the same idea in slightly different language.  The objective of baptism is variously described as entering the kingdom of God (John 3:5), washing away sins (Acts 22:16), walking in newness of life (Romans 6:4), putting on Christ (Galatians 3:27, and, most simply, salvation (1 Peter 3:21).  Even this is far from a complete list of the relevant passages, but all of them teach the same truth.  We must come to the water in search of salvation, and if we do not, we are not going to be saved by accident!  Those who are not seeking are not going to find.

At this point, it’s worth noting that many of the other rationales advanced for baptism do not appear in Scripture.  For instance, nothing in the New Testament ever says that we should be baptized to join a church.  That’s teaching as doctrine the commandments of men, plain and simple.

Similarly, the baptism of Jesus is not an example for us.  He was baptized with the baptism of John, and the narrative of Acts 19:1-5 reveals that the baptism of John is no longer sufficient.  The Ephesian disciples had experienced the same baptism that Jesus did, but they still had to be “re-baptized” in the name of Jesus.  In our baptisms, we must seek to be united with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, not with His baptism.

In Paul’s great list of the essentials of the faith in Ephesians 4:4-5, he includes “one baptism”.  If we wish to enjoy the unity of the Spirit with others, all of us must believe in and accept Bible baptism—baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  Spiritual unity, whether with God or with His people, is impossible without agreement on and obedience to this fundamental doctrine.

Teaching otherwise is extraordinarily dangerous.  There are few things more perilous to the soul than the false assurance of salvation.  If someone has not fulfilled all the Scriptural requirements for baptism, they remain in their sins, and this is true even when they incorrectly believe that they have been saved.  When we assure someone like this that they’re already in a right relationship with God, we are doing nothing less than encouraging their feet down the path to hell.

Souls have already been eternally lost and will continue to be lost because of this pernicious false teaching.  We dare not accept it.  Otherwise, in addition to imperiling the souls of others, we endanger our own.

– Matt Bassford

Choosing to Struggle

This morning, a friend of mine linked to this post http://www.artofmanliness.com/2012/11/30/so-you-want-my-job-master-penman/#.WRNVMGOH43w.facebook from the generally amusing and readable blog The Art of Manliness.  It’s about Jake Weidmann, one of only 11 people in the United States to hold the title of Master Penman.  He’s a calligrapher of awe-inspiring ability, and in the post, he details the massive amount of work and practice it took him to reach his current eminence.

Weidmann has a lot of interesting things to say (I’m particularly amused that his primary hobby is weightlifting), but one comment of his struck me as downright profound.  The AoM blogger asked him for life advice, and his first comment was, “Choose to struggle with something.”  He observes that most people in our society are impatient and lazy.  As a result, they’re unwilling to devote years to the patient development of true skill.

Choose to struggle.  That’s got some resonance to it!  Certainly, there are struggles in everyone’s lives, but choosing to struggle is not about enduring the crises that are forced upon us.  Choosing to struggle is about finding a mountain (whether literal or metaphorical), determining to climb it, and then doing so.  Nobody is making you climb the mountain, climbing the mountain isn’t going to be fun in the couch-potato sense of the word, but you climb the mountain anyway, for the sake of excellence.

This is an attitude with profound spiritual implications, and that’s true even outside of the Christian sphere.  For instance, I recently read a book called Shop Class as Soulcraft, by Matthew Crawford.  Crawford had a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and a prestigious job with a Washington think-tank, but he chucked it all to open a vintage motorcycle-repair shop.  He decided that the feeling of accomplishment, of overcoming challenges and expanding his hard-won skill, mattered more to him than money and prestige.  He’s not at all religious (so far as I could tell), but his intuitions accord well with the Bible’s observations about the emptiness of wealth and fame.

Of course, I am particularly concerned with the Christian sphere, and from a Scriptural perspective, choosing to struggle accomplishes several important goals:

It makes us useful.  Paul observes in 2 Timothy 2:20-23 that not all Christians are equally useful in the kingdom.  However, usefulness or its lack do not result from the gifts we have been given.  Instead, it results from our determination to be holy.  Christians who get caught up in youthful passions and don’t bother to develop virtue will never rise above a wood-and-clay level.  They will never be vessels that glorify God’s house.  However, Christians who struggle to master these things can attain to the silver-and-gold level, useful for every work that God needs done.

It builds our character.  In James 1:2-4, the Lord’s brother famously discusses the importance of trial in the development of spiritual maturity.  Unless we are tested, we will never grow.  This may be even truer of the testing we invite than of the testing that is forced upon us.

Here, I think we have an opportunity to learn about spiritual fitness by considering bodily fitness.  I have a life with a low to moderate amount of bodily testing, just as most Christians in the U.S. face a low to moderate amount of spiritual trial (as compared to, for instance, Stephen in Acts 7).  I have a lot of nervous energy and spend a fair amount of time every day pacing.  I shovel my driveway in winter, mow my yard in summer, and periodically take on various home-improvement projects.  All of that keeps me at a certain baseline level of fitness, but it doesn’t push me to my limits.

Instead, I bump up that baseline and push those limits by my choice to work out for half an hour a day, six days a week.  My increased fitness then makes me better able to handle the physical tests that are part of my normal existence.  For instance, I can help brethren move without worrying that I’m going to blow my back out because I know that my core is in good shape.

The same is true of spiritual self-discipline.  If I constantly work on increasing my usefulness to Christ, that spiritual struggle cannot help but benefit me in my striving against sin.  I can bear up more easily under spiritual hardship as well because I’m used to subjecting myself to it.

It honors God.  One of my favorite stories about David appears in 1 Chronicles 21.  To summarize, David disobeys God by ordering a census of Israel.  God punishes him by sending a pestilence.  He then instructs him to keep the pestilence away from Jerusalem by building an altar and offering sacrifices at the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite (where, incidentally, David’s son Solomon would build the temple).

Ornan is overawed by the coming of the king and offers to give him the wood and sacrifices for the offering without being paid.  However, in 21:24, David replies, “No, but I will buy them for the full price.  I will not take for the Lord what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”  He recognized that sacrifices (in the denotative sense) require sacrifice (in the connotative sense).

Sadly, all too many Christians want to get away with offering to the Lord that which costs them nothing.  In areas of service where skill is important, they don’t want to put in the time and effort that will allow them to excel.  As a result, there are an awful lot of mediocre worshipers, Bible students, song leaders, Bible-class teachers, and yes, even elders, deacons, and preachers in the Lord’s kingdom.

This is tragic.  God deserves better than lackluster results stemming from halfhearted effort.  His people ought to strive for excellence in His service.  Of course, we may never actually get to excellence because of the limitations imposed by our gifts.  I will never be an A+ song leader because I don’t have the voice for it.  There’s no shame in giving our best, no matter how good that best is.  However, when we don’t even know what our best is because we don’t try to reach it, that is a shame.

Next time:  areas of service where we can increase our usefulness by choosing to struggle!

– Matthew Bassford

Lessons From Harvey

The floods in southeast Texas have really been on my mind the last few days. I am actually from Texas. While I was raised by grandparents in Nacogdoches Texas, 90% of my family lives in the Houston area. I also trained to become an evangelist in Beaumont Texas.

In addition to my family, millions of people in southeast Texas have been hit hard by the effects of Hurricane Harvey. My aunt (who works in Harris County) finally was able to make it back home Monday. She was stuck at work for two full days! Since her car is almost under water, she decided to take a chance and walk home yesterday morning. Thankfully, a nice couple picked her up and drove her as far as they could. Once they reached a severely flooded area, she hopped out of the car and walked the rest of the way.

Several people in Houston, Beaumont, and Port Arthur are trapped in their homes. They have been waiting for days to be rescued. Due to constant rain and flooding, so many have lost their homes, cars, businesses, and some cases, even their lives!

Storms have a way of teaching us several lessons in life. Here are some I have been reminded of over the past few days.

  • Material possessions are temporary. They can be here today and gone tomorrow! This time last month, many people in southeast Texas were living comfortably in their homes. They had their cars to take them where they wanted to go. They had a nice bed to sleep in and a stove to cook their food on. Now, they don’t. They have been forced from their homes; their cars are under water; and they are currently sleeping in a shelter somewhere. The words of Jesus in Matthew 6:19 still hold true 2,000 years later! This is why we must always store up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20-21). Those treasures can never be destroyed.
  • There is only so much we can control. Storms have a way of reminding us of this. So often we think we have full control in our lives. That is faulty thinking! One thing we can never control is the weather. Sometimes in life, we are hit with catastrophes beyond our control. We can prepare for things the best we can, but the rest is in God’s hands.
  • There are still a lot of good people in the world. You wouldn’t know it if you had been watching the news prior to Harvey. Before Harvey, all we could hear on the news was people talking about racism and division. If you didn’t know any better, you might think that America was full of people who couldn’t stand one another! It took a storm, for people to stop talking about racism. Now the only thing that matters is human life. People of all races throughout southeast Texas are helping one another. Many are risking their lives and sacrificing their possessions to help others survive. That is the way people are supposed to be towards one another. We all need to love our neighbor and treat others like we want to be treated (Luke 10:30-37; Matthew 7:12).
  • Our problems must be put into perspective. So often, I act as though my problems are the worst in the world. If something small isn’t going my way, I complain and act as though it is the end of the world. This storm has reminded me of just how wrong I am. Now, I truly realize that my problems are minor compared to the problems of those in Texas at this time. I still have my home. I am not living in a shelter right now. I still have my car. My wife and children have soft beds to sleep in tonight. I am so blessed compared to so many suffering right now. In the big scheme of things, my problems are very small.
  • Prayer is important. Do you want to know what you can do right now for the people suffering from Hurricane Harvey? You can take a couple of minutes and pray for them right now. God always hears the prayers of His people and He is well able to help those in need (James 5:16b). The people in Texas being hurt by this storm need your prayers desperately.

Storms come and go in life. Soon this storm will be over, but God and His word will still remain (Hebrews 13:8; 1 Peter 1:23-25). When we always keep our minds focused on that, no matter what storms comes our way, we will be able to endure them and come out stronger than before.

– Shawn Jeffries

Contrasting Two Great Events

On Monday, “The Great American Eclipse” swept across the country. Throughout fourteen states (from Oregon to South Carolina) people could witness a total solar eclipse. This was the first time this type of eclipse could be seen across the contiguous United States since 1918.

While it was a really cool experience, it is interesting to consider the contrasts between it and the return of Jesus – the greatest event yet to come in human history.

  • Unlike with the eclipse, when Jesus returns, it will be sudden and unexpected. While we already have an idea of when the next total solar eclipse can be seen in the U.S (2024), it doesn’t work that way with the return of Christ. Before the Lord returns, we won’t get a couple of years, weeks, days, or even minutes heads up. Scientists won’t be able to concoct an accurate way to predict it. It won’t be something that we will be able to go to bed knowing is going to happen the next day. Instead it will be sudden and unexpected like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2)! Only God know precisely when it will occur (Matthew 24:36)!
  • Unlike with the eclipse, when Jesus returns, everyone will not be excited. As the total solar eclipse swept across the U.S for the first time in 99 years, everyone seemed every excited. People were literally traveling from all over the world to experience it. People flooded their social media pages with videos and pictures of how happy they were to experience what may be a once in a lifetime experience. Unfortunately, it won’t be that way when the Lord returns. In fact, when this grand event finally occurs, most will be frightened and full of regret because they will not have properly prepared for it (1 Thessalonians 5:3).
  • Unlike with the eclipse, when Jesus returns, life on this earth will not carry on. People won’t go back to work or school the next day. Instead the earth will be destroyed with fire, the dead will be raised, the Judgment Day will take place, and eternity for every person will begin in either heaven or hell (2 Peter 3:9-10; John 5:28-29; Matthew 25:31-46).
  • Unlike with the eclipse, when Jesus returns, the entire world will be impacted at once. It won’t be something that you have to travel to another part of the country to experience. It will occur right where you are!

While there is nothing wrong with hoping and even preparing to see the next total solar eclipse, don’t make the mistake of failing to prepare for the grandest event yet to come – the return of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Please understand that a failure to be prepared for His coming at any moment has eternal consequences (Matthew 25:46).

To be prepared for the return of Jesus, you don’t need a special pair of sunglasses, or a telescope. What you need, is to be dressed in righteousness and faithful to the Lord (Luke 12:35-40; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-11). Only then can you be eagerly looking forward to the greatest event yet to come!

– Shawn Jeffries

“Something Greater Than Solomon Is Here.”

Solomon is one of the more intriguing people to study in the Bible. He was born to King David through Bathsheba. Since he was a man of peace, once he became king, God would use him to build His temple (1 Chronicles 22:8-10). He was a very wise man. In fact, Solomon’s wisdom was so great that people from all over the world would come and ask him difficult questions (1 Kings 10). A great example of his wise judgment is found in 1 Kings 3:16-28.

Solomon was also an extremely wealthy man (2 Chronicles 1:17). He had much gold, silver, and many palaces, and chariots. He also had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Unfortunately, it would many of his wives who would lead him away from God (1 Kings 11:3-6).

Solomon is said to have told over 3,000 proverbs. A proverb is a wise saying or precept. Many of them are found in the book of Proverbs. Proverbs is a great book with much practical wisdom that can help people of any generation. It contains wisdom about parenting (13:24; 19:18), avoiding debt (22:7), how to pick good friends (17:17), the dangers of alcohol (23:29-35), and host of other things. When reading Proverbs, it is always important to remember that the source of Solomon’s great wisdom was God.  Like all of the other great Bible writers, the things written by Solomon in the Proverbs were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

While Solomon was indeed a great man who did much good in the cause of God, it is important to note that “something greater than Solomon is here.” These words were spoken by Jesus in Matthew 12:42 to the scribes and Pharisees while rebuking them for rejecting His wonderful work. With this statement, Jesus is expressing frustration because the Queen of the South traveled a great distance to hear Solomon’s great wisdom, but they had the Messiah right there in front of them and they constantly rejected Him. The Queen of the South knew there was something special about Solomon. Many of the scribes and Pharisees intentionally failed to see that in Jesus.

What makes Jesus “greater than Solomon?”

  • Solomon was wise, but Jesus is the source from which all wisdom flows. He was the full embodiment of God’s word (John 1:1). He contained perfect knowledge of the will of God because He came from God.
  • Solomon was a man of peace, but Jesus is the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). He is the source of peace between God and men (Romans 5:10). He is the King over a spiritual kingdom that doesn’t fight with guns and swords, but with the “the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15).
  • Solomon was led away from God through his many wives, but Jesus always remained true and faithful to God. He was perfectly holy and sinless (1 Peter 2:21-22). He was determined to do the will of God no matter what obstacles came His way (Matthew 4:1-11; 26:39).

Unfortunately, many of the religious leaders in the first century failed to see the contrasts that existed between Jesus and Solomon. What about you? Do you see them? If so, will you allow them to change your life?

It would be a shame if we read and applied the teaching of Proverbs but rejected the words of the gospel because with Jesus, “something greater than Solomon is here.”

– Shawn Jeffries

Are you smarter than salmon?

Three years ago, my family and I were able to visit the wonderful state of Washington for the first time. Among the many amazing things to see there, are the famous Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, Mount Saint Helens, and the Ballard Locks. The Ballard Locks was especially interesting. These locks sit at the west end of Salmon Bay, Seattle. Their purpose is to prevent the mixing of sea water with the fresh water of the lakes. They also serve as an elevator for boats travelling from the fresh water to the salt water (and vice versa).

Integrated in the locks is a fish ladder. This fish ladder helps with the migration of anadromous fish, notably salmon. The salmon hatch in lakes, rivers or streams; they then migrate to the sea, and then towards the end of their lives they return to the fresh water (where they were born) to spawn. Simply put, the fish ladder allows a way of passage for adult salmon to move from salt water to fresh water so they can continue their life cycle. If it wasn’t for the fish ladder, these salmon would eventually die off because they wouldn’t be able to go back home to reproduce.

At the Ballard Locks there is actually a place where you can view these fish as they pass through the ladder (the months of July and August are said to be the prime months to witness this). After spending much of their life in the sea, amazingly they are able to find their way to the ladder, pass through it, and return to where they were born. These salmon are so intelligent that they are able to remember their true home and even find their way back there before attempting to reproduce.

What about us? Are we as smart as salmon? Like salmon,  do we understand where we come from and where we are going? These are things that God expects us know.

1.   God expects us to know where we come from. He expects us to know that we are His creation. In fact, we are His greatest creation. Unlike salmon or any other animal, God created us in His image (Genesis 1:26-27).

Part of being made in the image of God means that we have eternity within us. It means that we have an eternal soul that will live on in eternity somewhere once it departs from this earthly body (Ecclesiastes 12:7; 2 Corinthians 5:1-10).

It also means that we have free-moral agency. Unlike animals we have the ability to choose right from wrong. We can either choose to serve God and enjoy His blessings or choose to rebel against God and experience terrible consequences (Joshua 24:14-15). The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was placed in the Garden of Eden so that the very first man and woman (Adam and Eve) could exercise this marvelous ability (Genesis 2:15-17).

All of this means that God made us special. He made us unique and superior to anything else. Do we appreciate this? If so, then we need to acknowledge it by living our lives everyday serving our Creator and bringing Him glory (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). God being our Creator means He has the inherent right to tell us what to do and we have an obligation to obey the instructions He has given.

2.  God also expects us to know where we are going after this life. Do you know this? The Bible says you can!

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God (1 John 5:13).

Notice how the Apostle John knew where he was going after this life. We can as well! When we obey the gospel we can KNOW that we are right with God and on the path to be with Him for eternity. Unlike salmon we are going to live on after this life. Unlike salmon we are pursuing something more than an earthly home (John 14:1-6).

While it was fascinating to see salmon travel through the fish ladder back to where they were born, unfortunately only a few ever make it that far. Of the hundreds and hundreds that spent their adult lives at sea, only a relatively small number make it back home. Most are eaten by predators or fall for the bait of fishermen. But hopefully we can learn from those who do make it back. Hopefully we can be at least as smart as they are and always remember who we are and where we are going.

– Shawn Jeffries