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REFLECTIONS

By Jim Roberts

 

 

Have you ever felt you had something truly meaningful to say, something that needed to be put on paper so others could read it at an opportune time? That’s how I feel at this very moment. It’s late at night and I should probably be in bed instead of planted in front of my computer screen playing “hunt ‘n peck” on my keyboard. There are, however, words rising up from deep within my inner being, trying to take shape in my mind; a message that our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ has put on my heart.
    
Several years ago, one of the adult groups in our congregation was treated to a brief workshop that dealt with a person’s legacy; i.e., what one hopes to leave behind. I didn’t arrive at any definitive conclusion about my own legacy after that workshop. These days I have more time on my hands and I’ve been giving it some thought. I believe what I would like to leave behind is the sum of what I have learned during my time here on this earth.

When I look back over the span of my life and remember major events that have impacted me, both positively and negatively, I’m surprised at how few seem to really matter. I recall the years of my youth, my time overseas serving in the military, my many years of corporate life, and numerous activities associated with fellow Christians within the Body of Christ…the Church.

I think about the successes I’ve had, the awards, recognitions and accolades so generously lavished upon me by well-meaning friends and colleagues. I remember the excitement and satisfaction associated with career accomplishments, promotions, significant salary increases, performance bonuses, and so many other things that accompany that elusive goal we call “success.”

Yet, all such things are fleeting. They fire up and glow for a while and then simply burn out and fade away.  Plaques and trophies lose their luster and begin to gather dust. Letters of commendation, which once meant so much, eventually get lost in some drawer or binder amidst the household’s seemingly endless paper shuffle. Money comes and money goes and accumulated assets of every kind deteriorate and literally fall apart with age.

As my mind manufactures such thoughts, I can’t help but hear Jesus saying, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where you treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21 NASB)

I have to ask myself, “Do I want a legacy comprised of stuff and things, or do I desire to leave behind a legacy of love?” Each of us will be remembered for what is represented by the dash etched into the headstone above our grave between the year of our birth and the year of our death. That dash will represent our time on this earth. When people look at that dash, what will they remember about us? That which they remember…will be our legacy.

I also ask myself, “How has my life impacted my wife, my daughter, my sons, my granddaughters, my sister and her family, my mother and my late father, my wife’s family, my friends, colleagues and co-workers of days gone by? What positive effect, if any, has my life had on those less fortunate than myself; the poor and needy, the disenfranchised, the lonely, the physically challenged and the spiritually lost?”

Remembering a strong assertion made by a brother in Christ, the late Calvin Monteilh, I’ve come to the conclusion he was correct in saying, “Only what we do for the Lord will last.” Yes,  I believe the only things that truly matter are those deeds we do and the words we say in accordance with the expressed will of Sovereign God Almighty.

With that in mind, I don’t want to be remembered as anything other than a disciple of Christ; one who loved others as he loved himself. I want my legacy to consist of what I shared with others about and did for others in the name of my Lord.

Quoting myself from one of my own books, WRITTEN WITNESS,  “The most convincing witness one can give is one’s life. If it is lived with and for Christ, it will speak for itself. The Lord convicts, comforts and saves. He always has the last word, even though He may choose to speak it through us. The thought I hope to share with you is simply this: Let your light shine so brightly that your life is your final testimony and say with St. Paul, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

“Jesus said it much better and with expanded meaning when He taught us:

‘You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.’” (Matthew 5:14-16)

All that I have learned, all by the grace of God that I have been allowed to become, and all that I wish to leave behind for others to ponder, can be summed up in the second verse of an old hymn, written by Eliza Edmunds Hewitt:

“More about Jesus let me learn,
More of His holy will discern;
Spirit of God, my teacher be,
Showing the things of Christ to me.”

Jim Roberts
November 24, 2008

 

“Somebody Hears Me”

By the time my maternal grandfather, Elmer Faulk, had reached his early seventies, he was stone deaf. A blockbuster firecracker could have gone off in his one-room cabin and he would not have heard it. Already suffering from a severe loss of hearing, a devastating bite from an unusually large Black Widow spider in Vista, California, left him unconscious for several days and served to complete his deafness.

Grandpa came to stay with our immediate family in a small logging town situated in Northern California. My Dad built Grandpa a one-room cabin in which to live right in our front yard. Grandpa ate his three squares a day with us in our kitchen.

One summer evening after dinner, my then six-year-old sister, Connie, said to Grandpa, mouthing before him so he could read her lips, “Grandpa, I sure do wish you could hear; I wish it real bad.”

“If my little angel (referring to Connie) were to pray for me, maybe I would hear,” he replied with a gentle smile.

Little Connie and I slept in the same room during those days; she was six and I was nearly twelve. Before going to sleep, she turned on her side and facing the wall, she prayed this simple prayer: “God, please, oh please give my Grandpa back his ears.” She remained in that position for a minute or two, then whispered, “Somebody hears me.” She then drifted off into slumber.

I was awakened the following morning by voices coming from the kitchen. My Dad was a bit upset because my Mom had made Grandpa’s breakfast first and Dad was concerned he would be late for work. I heard Grandpa’s muffled voice in the midst of the din, then my Mom’s scream of excitement and joy.

I jumped up out of bed and ran to the kitchen. Mom and Dad were hugging Grandpa. They were jumping up and down with tears streaming down their faces.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Your Grandpa can hear,” Mom exclaimed, still jumping around like a little girl at play. Grandpa heard their raised voices and had begun to apologize for eating first before realizing he was apologizing because he had heard them!

I went to get little Connie so she could share in this great news. She came in rubbing her eyes, wondering what all the fuss was about and upon learning what had happened simply said, “I knew somebody heard me; it was God. Can I have breakfast now, too?”

Grandpa could hear for the rest of his life, and just prior to his death, after a stroke had rendered him helpless, the only person he recognized was Connie, who he still called his “Little Angel.”

Was the restoration of Grandpa’s hearing an uncanny coincidence or a miracle? I know what I believe…how about you?    

 

 

THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST

 

While preaching recently, one of the pastors of our congregation said, “Church is not something we go to or something from which we return home.” Despite the existence of the term “churchgoer,” the good pastor was right.

The average collegiate dictionary defines “church” in one or more of the following ways:

  • A building for public Christian worship.

  • A religious service in a church.

  • Christendom or the whole body of Christian believers.

  • Any major division of this body, e.g., a denomination.

  • A Christian congregation.

  • An organized religion as distinguished from the state.

  • The Christian Church prior to the Reformation.

  • The Roman Catholic Church.

 

Only one of the above definitions tends to be in agreement with the Holy Bible, and even that definition is somewhat ambiguous. While the New Testament makes mention of “churches,” it is quite clear on its definition of the one true “Church.”

Before establishing what the Church of Jesus Christ is, let’s be sure we understand what it is not. The Church is not a building. It is not a denomination. It is not an organizational institution created by man. It is not a sect or cult. The Church is not an accumulation of customs, traditions, policies and procedures. It is not something we “join.” It is not imagery, symbolism, stained glass and polished pews. The Church of Jesus Christ is not in any way connected with dead formality or the lack of spiritual godliness and vital salvation. It represents no form of superstitious folly, ignorance or bondage. It is not an organization comprised of a massive membership that possesses a form of godliness, but denies the power thereof. Finally, the Church is not an arena wherein differing opinions battle to the finish like gladiators of old.

Let’s pause here for a moment and consider some of the things those who claim to be God’s people feud and fuss about…things that have separated them into opposing sects. They (we) differ on both the meaning and method(s) of Baptism. Instead of being seen as the greatest gift God has ever granted mankind, we argue over salvation and how it comes about. We debate the issue of Communion, who should administer it, how it should be administered, what it truly represents, and who should or should not receive it. We dispute what day of the week to set aside as the Sabbath and whether or not we should praise God using musical instruments. We get into horrendous philosophical melees concerning the Doctrine of the Trinity, the Second Advent, and how many Ordinances or Sacraments exist, as well as their proper nomenclature.

Observers describe “mainliners” as fanatical Pentecostals, hard shell Baptists, scripturally illiterate Catholics, laid back Lutherans, misguided Methodists, petty Presbyterians, etc., and often the members of these mainliners refuse to associate with one another. For example, when was the last time you saw a “holy roller” playing golf with Father Flannigan, or that woman who “speaks in tongues” sitting in on the same Bridge game with some of the ladies who identify with the local Episcopalian congregation?    

The church during apostolic times effectively avoided sectarianism by not making the mistake of “organizing” the church in the form of a human corporation, but instead it abided completely in the spiritual unity of the fellowship of Christ. It made no distinction between the visible and invisible church. In other words, the visible fellowship of local people consecrated to Christ was no different from that of invisible (non-local/unseen) believers all around the world who were part of the one Body of Christ.

The New Testament teaches and is solely based on one faith, one baptism, one body, one Church, one fold, one heart, one mind, and no division. All of Christ’s followers are to agree and be of the same mind and execute the same judgment (1 Corinthians 1:10). However, we have ignored the word of God and instead established more than 30,000 so-called “Christian” sects or denominations worldwide, to say nothing of the “cults” that have sprung up and which vaguely refer to Jesus Christ in some abstract and secondary manner.

The apostle Paul warned against dividing or segmenting Christ’s Church like the slicing up of a pie. Yet we can drive through even the smallest of towns and see a dozen or more steeples with people gathering beneath them on the Lord’s Day, professing to worship the same God. All the while the lost, who are witnessing this, are wondering where they should go, and asking, “Will the real Church please stand up?”

In the infant Church, the children of God…the followers of Christ, were all in one place and of one accord. They were unified, even unto a martyr’s death, and as new converts believed the gospel, the Lord added them to his Church daily as they were being saved (Acts 2:46-47).

While Catholicism lost its way long ago in a maze of man made doctrine, rules and regulations, Protestantism has presented division to those who seek life in Christ. Both are a problem as clearly described by Paul:

“I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause division and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep way from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people.” (Romans 16:17-18)

Try to picture a city within which the untarnished gospel of salvation is presented and 1,000 people are converted to Christ. They are joined in the same love and by the same Spirit to the Lord through salvation and made “members” of the true, universal Church of Jesus Christ, the Church HE continues to build; the Church over which the gates of hell shall not prevail. Their names are recorded in heaven. The Lord gifts and calls some of them to serve in roles of leadership and upon proving themselves, they are ordained by the laying on of hands by their brethren, and a local congregation of the true Church is established.

Some years pass and the Lord adds more persons to this local congregation of believers. Five sectarian “missionary evangelists,” sent by their respective denominations to build new churches, arrive. Each has completed his sectarian seminary training. Each promulgates a slightly different version of the gospel. Each approaches individuals who are part of the original church in that city, and each persuades some of those individuals to join his sect.

Now instead of more than 1,000 gathering together in one place with one doctrine, the original congregation has been segregated into a half-dozen different groups. Instead of one faith, now there are six. Now they are   divided on doctrine, salvation, Baptism, Communion, as new and different traditions capture their imagination. They are becoming scattered as sheep and all the while being led to believe they are doing God’s service.

This is not what the Lord had in mind when he raised up much-needed reformers throughout the centuries. This is hardly the goal Martin Luther envisioned when he nailed his “95 Theses” to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517 in open defiance of the institutionalized “church” and its ever-growing heap of man-made nonsense.

Christians have been organizing the Body of Christ into divisions or sects for centuries. At this point in history I can see no escape from such organized sectarianism. The obvious solution is to refuse to “organize,” but rather recognize the Church as a spiritual fellowship of believers in Christ everywhere; but I am confident this will not occur until Christ returns and gathers his people unto himself for eternity.

In the meantime, we are stuck with sectarianism. It is my hope, and the hope of many throughout the true Church, that the children of God will strive for unification in the gospel as it appears in the Scriptures, come to a full understanding of God’s New Covenant with his people, and adhere to the word of God with more gusto than with their denominational dogma.

If there will be no denominations in heaven, what purpose do they serve here on earth? If a child of God is not welcome in a specific sect, unless that’s sect’s requirements for admission or membership are met, that sect is not a part of the Church of Jesus Christ. In Christ’s Church there is freedom from bondage; freedom from guilt; freedom from shame…freedom indeed. In Christ’s Church there is no altering or watering down of his gospel, no pressure to comply with anything other than the demonstration of one’s faith in Jesus and his word.

What is the Church of Jesus Christ? It is the aggregate of every man, woman, boy and girl of every race and every walk of life in this world who has believed the gospel and who has confessed with the mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believed in their heart that God raised Him from the dead. The Church of Jesus Christ is the saved, all the joint heirs with Christ who already enjoy eternal life, whose names are written in the Book of Life, and who will inherit the Kingdom of God. The Church of Jesus Christ belongs only to Him, and has no allegiance to any man made sect or denomination.

In Christ’s Church all are welcome, for Christ Himself proclaims with open arms:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden,
and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you,
and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble
in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.
For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”
                                          (Matthew 11: 28-30)

 

A Full Life

 

After six years of university-level academics and having earned several impressive degrees, he landed one important position after another and amassed a fortune in cash, stocks, bonds, commodities, real estate and a stockpile of various material goods.
     “At last, I have it all. My goals have been met. Now I’ll enjoy the fruits of my labor and dwell in the luxury I deserve,” he said.
     Like a wealthy man depicted in one of Christ’s parables, God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself? This is how it will be with anyone who stores up, things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:19-21 NIV)
     If you were asked to describe your view of an abundant or full life, what would you say? How would you define it? I once reviewed the summary of a poll concerning this very subject. The results were quite revealing. Those polled ranked what they deemed as life’s most important elements in the following descending order:

  • Love Relationships (Physical/Earthly)

  • Career (Work/Job)

  • Money…Wealth

  • Parenthood

  • The Social Scene

  • Entertainment and Fun

  • Faith (Religion)

 

     How do your priorities compare with those expressed in this poll? Be honest with yourself. Do you rate your faith last? Is God on the throne in your life, or have you seated the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Creator of worlds without end…at the back of the bus?
     Am I saying it is wrong to be successful or wealthy? Absolutely not! It is, however, a fatal mistake to prioritize your life in such a manner as to consider your job or your personal entertainment more important than the cross of Christ, or to place material things and money (mammon) before God.
     Why does Jesus claim he came so that we might have life to the full? (John 10:10)
     It’s because Jesus offers us a new life; so much so that whoever believes in him becomes a new creature in him with old things passing away and all things becoming new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
     This is the life only Christ can give, a new birth, a spiritual birth, and a birth from above – a birth of imperishable seed. (! Peter 1:23)
     Once born again, our soul is empowered with God’s own heredity, and that heredity is indestructible.
     Let’s ensure that our primary goal in life is to keep our eyes on Jesus. Let us seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; then all other things will fall into place. In so doing, we will never become the slaves of our own possessions.
     The full life is the one that has been filled with the Holy Spirit, regardless of how the world views fulfillment or success. In that regard and in the light of that truth, a person the world deems as poor may be among the richest persons on earth.  

 

More Than We Know

What can be said about Jesus the Christ – that hasn’t been said already? Quite a bit it seems. Why do I say that? Well, frankly, I’m not saying it; but the Apostle John is. Listen to his words as they appear in the final verse of his rendition of the Gospel:  
Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25 NIV)
Is John exaggerating here? Do his words simply represent the emotional ranting of an enthusiastic and excitable follower of Jesus? Or is John endeavoring to convey the magnitude of what Christ has accomplished, without elaborating on every occurrence, every detail, and the staggering, positive impact of each deed?
Everywhere Jesus went people expected him to free them from the oppression brought upon them by disease, demon possession, bodily deformities, etc. Among the 107 ‘miracles’ mentioned in the Bible (excluding the Apocrypha), 37 are attributed to Jesus of Nazareth.  
Jesus touched the lives of multitudes, yet only a comparative few of such personal contacts include any specifics. Let’s look at just one   non-specific example as it unfolds in the writings of the Apostle Mark.
News of Jesus was spreading into all the districts surrounding Galilee. Coming from the synagogue, Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law was there and she was ill. Jesus immediately cured her. Later that same day…
That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was. (Mark 1:32-34 NIV)
The Apostle Luke writes of this same occurrence, and records it this way: When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. Moreover, demons came out of many people shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Christ. (Luke 4:40-41 NIV)
Try to imagine this sight and myriad others like it. No two healings are alike because no two human beings are exactly alike in every way, not even ‘identical’ twins. Yes, there are many, many stories of Jesus that have not been told already. But the story that counts most, the story that changes lives for eternity, the story of our loving God who for a brief time became one of us, allowed himself to be sacrificed on our behalf, died and rose again three days later, and won for every believer a place in his eternal kingdom, is explained in detail from Matthew thru Revelation. 
 

    

Getting Stuck!

Two little tots live next to us and they often spend their late afternoon time on our front lawn and our expanded concrete driveway. They have a fairly large (and loud) dog that serves them as both playmate and watchful guardian.

Each of these little ones operates a battery-powered sidewalk “vehicle” that propels them along at the breathtaking rate of one and one-half miles per hour. They roll back and forth wearing their miniature racing togs and colorful, plastic crash helmets. Naturally, we all must be especially watchful and careful while backing our automobiles down our driveways.

Recently, while walking past our kitchen window, I noticed these   two scooting around on our driveway and front sidewalk. Bounding across our front lawn was their faithful canine in typical faithful canine style.

Suddenly, the little boy, who is younger than his sister, got the rear wheels of his little car stuck in the edging space between the concrete of our driveway and the grass of our front lawn. His wheels were spinning feverously, but to no avail.

My initial impulse was to go outside and solve his problem, but I decided I’d wait and see how he handled the situation. He climbed out of his car and pushed it forward to a point where his rear wheels had barely cleared the edge of the concrete. He didn’t push the car far enough forward, however, and as soon as he was back in his seat the car rolled back into the “ditch.”

So, out he got again and repeated the process exactly as before with the same result.

Undaunted, and with his sister shouting instructions and encouragement from her car down on the sidewalk, the little guy got out again and this time shoved his car about two feet away from the driveway’s edge. Obviously proud of his accomplishment and spurred on by his sister’s squeals of approval, he climbed back into his driver’s seat and “floored” his accelerator pedal. Unfortunately his car was still in reverse and it promptly lurched right back into its original stuck position!

The urge to go out and help became stronger as I stood there laughing so hard it was beginning to hurt. Yet, I wanted to see if this determined little driver would eventually prevail. So I continued to watch and his sister continued to bark instructions. By this time even their dog had his nose in the space between the driveway and the lawn, trying to figure out what to do.

With frustration and dismay written all over his face, our hero climbed out of his driver’s seat once more and this time pushed his car clear into the middle of the driveway. Climbing into the seat I saw him “shift” into forward and away he and the dog went speeding down the driveway; but…he failed to negotiate a ninety degree turn to the right onto the sidewalk and wound up stuck again. This time his front wheels were lodged in the edging space between the sidewalk and the parking lawn that rests between the concrete sidewalk and the curb of the street.

I had seen enough. My evening’s entertainment was complete. As I started to go outside, the little boy’s daddy came along and saved the day; much to the glee of the dog who seemed more excited than either the little boy or his sister that the car had finally been liberated.

After watching this mini-drama unfold, I couldn’t help thinking of how we sometimes find ourselves bogged-down in the mire of our own doing. Upon our making wrong choices, negotiating wrong turns, doing certain things halfway or not at all, we end up “stuck” and unsure of what to do about it.

Oh we try to free ourselves alright, but our efforts don’t always get the job done and our Heavenly Father has to come to our rescue and bail us out of whatever it is we’ve gotten ourselves into.

Hopefully, our little friend will learn from his mistakes better than many of us have learned from ours.  

It’s good to know that our Lord will always come to our rescue just at the right moment. As the popular gospel song proclaims, Jesus “is an on-time God.”
       
 

   

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