Wineskins Archive

March 6, 2017

A Place for Me (Image Vol 12 No 1 – Jan/Feb 1996)

Filed under: — @ 5:04 pm and

By Tom Alexander

My coworker could see that I was dragging my heels as I prepared for another night of work. My mind was other places, my concerns on other people, and my emotions invested elsewhere.

“What’s wrong,” Shelly asked.

We were nurses who had worked closely together for the last five years in the same ICU. We had literally gone through life and death together many times – so hiding the problems brought to work from the outside was almost impossible.

“Oh, just things, you know.” I hoped she would let it go at that – but not Shelly. She was my friend, and so she waited for me to get whatever was bothering me off my chest.

“Well, it’s a ‘church thing,’ so you probably wouldn’t understand.” Boy, for someone who was trying to connect their non-churched friends with Jesus, that was a lousy line! “But okay,” I recanted (Besides, I thought, this could be interesting).

So, I proceeded to describe a church meeting I had just come from, in which we discussed whether or not some of our women could have a more public role in an upcoming special worship service. While some were very positive about the idea, others were indignant at even the suggestion.

It wasn’t long till you could cut the tension in the room with a knife. Feelings and viewpoints were expressed with great emotion. Some of the brothers (and sisters) even got kind of testy. While some challenged the traditions of our past, other questioned this new agenda for the future.

In the end, however, enough of the members were willing, for at least this one Sunday, to give it a try. But it was not a unanimous decision. When the meeting was adjourned, some left without even saying good-bye.

“Shelly,” I concluded, “that’s not what I wanted to happen. I initiated the idea of this special service because I wanted to bring us all together – not to tear us apart! I had simply hoped we could all experience a special Sunday morning worship, in which anyone who had a song, a prayer, or maybe a word of encouragement – whether a man or woman – could share it with the group.”

It had really seemed like a great idea and very much in keeping with the spirit and  tone of the early Christian assemblies.

Shelly now paused and had a very reflective look on her face. I could tell she was uncertain how to say what she obviously wanted to say. Finally, my unchurched friend spoke.

“Tom, if at your church, a woman can’t even read the Bible or say a prayer out loud with other Christians in worship to God, well…I don’t think I would want to go to your church. There’s no place for me, and I need a place for me.”

I had no response. I was speechless. Seriously, what do you say to that? Do you throw 1 Corinthians 14 or 1 Timothy 2 back at her? Come on – I wasn’t talking to a theologian or a Sunday School teacher or even an average Sunday morning churchgoer. I was talking to a tough, yet caring ICU nurse, who needed God in her life, and I had constantly sought ways to build a spiritual bridge to her.

Yet, she won’t even approach that bridge, because as she sees it, it’s a bridge that has a great big sign on it that says, “Men Only!” and there’s just no place for her on it.

We went to work and tried to give tender care to the patients entrusted to us. We quietly watched on person pass into eternity and managed to delay that trip for another. We talked about other things and got through the long hours of the night. But I have not forgotten Shelly’s words, and I doubt I ever will.

You see, I want very much to be biblical in my church, and I refuse to compromise that foundation. Yet, as I read the Scriptures, I see worship as not only a place for Tom, Bill and Steve, but for Shelly, Pam, and Theresa as well.

One day, maybe just one day, there will finally be a place for my friend Shelly, even in my church. I sure hope so.

February 27, 2017

A Gent For Change (Image Vol 12 No 4 – July/Aug 1996)

Filed under: — @ 12:41 pm and

By Mike Root
Ft. Worth, Texas

It was a bright Sunday morning in Troas, probably around 10:0 or 11:00, the traditional time for church. (It was actually Saturday evening, but it’s hard for us to identify with that.) After the opening prayer, they had communion – the koinonia feast – where they all together broke bread an drank grape juice, each one in his or her own private meditative world. Once the invitation song was announced, they all turned their attention to Paul, the visiting preacher, who obviously wasn’t worried about lunch or dinner since he preached until midnight (when it finally did become Sunday).

It was during this time that we come across the young whipper-snapper Eutychus. Now I know the Bible doesn’t say much about him, but it seems clear to me, and the evidence seems to indicate, that he was one of those “wild-eyed, liberal Change Agents.” Let’s look at what we know abou Euty form the facts in Scripture and things we can deduce (which we know are just as important as the facts).

First, he was clearly unspiritual. How else can you explain his “sinking into a deep sleep…as Paul kept on talking?” He obviously had no idea how important the event was. Clearly he hadn’t planned ahead by getting enough sleep so he would be in an alert state of mind. Actually, he was being hypocritical because he was present, but still “forsaking the assembly” in his heart and mind. Not only was he showing disrespect for Paul but also for God, because the Bible clearly says in 1 Corinthians 14:25 “that God is certainly among you” when you meet for worship. And what about Jesus? He’s there when “two or three are gathered in [his] name,” so old Euty was ignoring the presence of Christ! (Matt. 18:20).

Second, not only was he unspiritual, he was unscriptural. Where is the biblical authority for the addition of sleeping in the worship. The Bible is silent, so that settles it once and for all! And when we fell out of that their-story window, because of his selfish desire to do only what he wanted, he disrupted the entire worship service. The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 14:33, “For God is not a God of confusion,” and this guy was causing some serious confusion. Also, he violated the Scripture, “But let all things be done properly and in an orderly manner” (1 Cor. 14:40). Did he obey that Scripture? No! He grabbed all the attention, even though “God is not one to show partiality” (Acts 10:34).

Let everyone know and mark this man for what he was – a Change Agent. He did two things at the same time in the assembly, and he did a solo act, and he did it all before the closing prayer! Hand the Heretic!

I’m sure someone is saying that right now – not about Eutychus, but about Mike Root. Before you go for the rope, let me ask you one question: Do you have any idea how often what I’ve done is done to Acts 20:7-12 is done to a 1996 Sunday morning assembly? The judging, the accusing, the leaps in logic, the labeling, the name calling, and the misuse of Scripture? Once would be too much, but unfortunately it takes place in thousands of congregations across the country every Sunday. This kind of biblical butchery is preached from some of our pulpits and printed in a few of our publications. When something new in the realm of expediency is introduced into our worship service, too often, instead of simply expressing disapproval, we accuse the Changer of trashing tradition, bringing in “strange fire,” and threatening the whole fabric of New Testament Christianity. They don’t just have a preference for something different, they are unbiblical, liberal, uncaraing, antielderly, heritage-hating, change-for-change sake destroyers of the truth. Merely suggesting that God has given us the freedom to do something different in our assemblies than what was done fifty years ago is enough to get quickly labeled as a Change Agent.

We could solve all this by honestly answering one question: Was Jesus a Change Agent? Are you comfortable labeling him? Or maybe you don’t think he was a Change Agent. If that’s the case you’re very wrong. Still, I suspect that even the most hard core name callers recognize that Jesus instigated radical change. “But,” you may say, he’s Jesus, and we know his motives were pure.” Okay. But who gave you the right to assume that 1996 Change Agents have anything bur pure motives?

One recent brotherhood publication described today’s Change Agents as having a “loathing for and a repudiation of one’s own heritage.” Wow, and I thought only God could read the hearts of people. Did you ever stop to think that a deep love for our Restoration heritage is the reason some of us keep trying to help us be “simply and only a New Testament church”? When did we give up on that goal? When did we arrive and completely accomplish that task?

Some of us are getting a little tired of hearing about the richness of our traditions. It seems to me that it’s the height of pride to declare that being a defender of tradition is the same as being a defender of the truth. Sure, many great things come from traditions. I have family traditions, national traditions, and even congregational traditions; but the relationships they help bond are not dependent on them for survival. I don’t believe in change for change’s sake, but it’s not any worse than tradition for tradition’s sake. Yet today, A Faithful Preacher is one who upholds traditions, while a preacher who has a new idea is a Change Agent. What happened to being simply a gospel preacher, who becomes “all things to all people that [he] by all means might save some?”

More passion and energy is used to defend our traditions than to reach the lost. What are we defending? Are we proud of our declining or dying churches? Are we thrilled with our record of losing over half our young people before they reach adulthood? Are we happy about our tradition of divisiveness, intolerance, legalism, and guilt? If we had some track record of success to hold on to, I could understand the “fight-to-the-death” attitude about our traditions, but I don’t see that. And yet I continually hear, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Brethren, something is broken – souls, hearts, and a contract with God to hold up Jesus and Jesus only.

Life is constantly changing. Growth is change. Becoming Christ-like demands change. So what’s the problem with change? I understand fear of change, but how many ears does one need to be a Christian before “perfect love casts out fear?” I understand what it means to need the security of sameness; but how many years do people need to be Christian before their security is found in Christ who “is the same yesterday, today, and forever” and through whom we can do “all things”? I understand the value of our wonderful heritage, but I also understand that we are but strangers and sojourners in a strange land.

Please be careful when you feel tempted to malign the motives of those who want to see some changes. I have never suggested a change that was not first a serious heart struggle for me. I have preached hundreds more times on unity, peace and tolerance than I have on the need for change. I love the Word of God. My teachers twenty-five years ago impressed on  me the need to be accurate, consistent, and loyal to the Bible. I believe it’s important to speak where the Bible speaks, but I also believe i must speak all of it, and not just what makes me comfortable. The Restoration plea is alive and well in the hearts of those of us who were taught it decades ago. Maybe you taught it to us. Aren’t you glad we listened?

Personally, I don’t need change! I’m happy with God, I love my brethren, and I could stay comfortable in a 1950s style worship for the rest of my life. My faith and relationship with God doesn’t depend on one hour Sunday morning. I could be happy doing whatever kept my brethren happy and edified. What I can’t do is watch the next generation, including my three teenagers, dread coming to church – and maybe stop coming altogether. What I can’t do it ignore the lost souls in my community who see nothing relevant in our fifty-year-old style of worship. So I grieve, I pray, and I try my best to determine what God wants me to do, and sometimes it hurts. Brethren can be awfully mean, you know. like when they call me a Change Agent – not because I’m like Jesus – but because they feel threatened and need a name to call me.

I wonder what Paul would do about Change Agents? This is what he did about Eutychus: “Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘He’s alive!'” (Acts 20:10).

Change (Image Vol 12 No 4 – July/Aug 1996)

Filed under: — @ 11:30 am and

By Jack Exum
Lake City, Florida

This is more of a personal letter than an article. I have been a Christian since the age of twelve. My father was an elder and a business executive. Our family of nine grew up in the Central Church in Miami, Florida. J. Roy Vaughn was our minister. Over the course of fifty years I have been a preacher of the Gospel, a missionary, and an author. For the last twenty-one years, I have also been involved in the “Three Unusual Days” ministry. For the first time in all of those years, I have heard brethren seriously talk about change. Some positive, but many negative thoughts and ideas are being discussed. Buzz words like “change agent” are almost reminiscent of the old KGB. Issues come and go, but issues are really not the issues. Who you handle the issue is the real issue, and balance is the answer.

Articles (including this one), bulletins, and books headline the theme. Seminars declare it and lectureships include it. Reactions to it are many and varied. Our human traditions and methods have placed the church in stasis for decades; yet we have agreed, in principle, that traditions and methods do not save – Jesus saves! It was the Christ who said, “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18), and he continues to build it today and will do so till the end of time.

While I cannot speak for others (commending or condemning), I can speak in general for our local church family. We have changed and are continuing to change – here’s how:

When the Central congregation began many years ago (with thirteen members), and the leadership had a clear vision as to direction and destiny. They foresaw the church becoming a true spiritual family – every member serving under the leadership of Christ. Jesus would be the focus and center of our teaching, and each believer would find the freedom that the Holy Spirit brings in Christ (2 Cor. 3:17). Power, control, authority, prestige, place, and honor would be reserved for him who sits at the right hand of God (Rev. 5:12). In a way, we chose to get out of the “judging each other” business, believing that “the ground is all level at the foot of the cross.” This leveling process allowed each of us to “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might” (Eph. 6:10). This freedom to think, talk, ask questions, differ, hug, communicate, love with abandon, pray, sing and shout praises to God, and even verbalize the words like “Amen,” “Praise God,” and “Hallelujah” was not “allowed” or given; it was just accepted and received.

In these freedoms, we have now found the liberty to change. For one thing, we are learning to feel our emotions. Tears are often shed and laughter is wonderful. We are also growing in the understanding that every person is vital and needed. These changes have brought a peace and a joy that is difficult to explain. Our children see this and reflect it in their own personal lives. It’s contagious and powerful. Paul wrote, “And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7). This “peace of God” and change of heart has worked wonderful changes in our congregation.

Now when our family draws together each Lord’s day, we do so for the sole purpose of praising God in worship. No longer do we use that precious time to evangelize the world. We now believe that evangelism is done primarily outside of the church building, not inside, and that saints assemble to praise and worship God. So we lift our hearts to God, and they are filled with his Spirit and thus fueled to go out and bring others to Christ. Then they, too, can enjoy the marvelous experience of praising and worshiping God. We continue to have friends and other guests each week who return to learn more about this “undenominational Christianity” and to experience the beauty of worship. Many of our visitors have rejected the formal brand of religion, which is steeped in human regulations and traditions, and they are not impressed with names. What seems to attract them is rejoicing of saints who relish in the Word of God and who have bonded themselves together in “just loving” each other and any who come within their reach. This increased benevolence and new-found spontaneous enthusiasm is positive and powerful.

In a recent congregational meeting, when all the church was assembled, someone asked, “What does Central mean to you?” Come of the answers were, “Freedom,” “I look forward to every service,” “Joy,” “Jesus,” “Openness,” “A strong feeling of personal worth,” “Informal,” “Why can’t we meet every day?” “Loving,” “Caring,” “Accepted without question,” “Hugs,” and on and on they went. Experiencing these emotions and expressing them in words is a change for many of our people. The emotions were there all the time, waiting to be uncovered, enjoyed, and lived. “And he went on his way rejoicing” reflects the end result of our meetings (Acts 8:39). Paul admonished, “Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 6:23).

Since we believe that the New Testament expresses the principle of congregational autonomy, we simply pick and choose the methods and traditions that best serve the needs of our church family. What other congregations do or refuse to do is not our primary concern. The real question we have is, “What is best for us?” We have congregational meetings to discuss these matters, where we can all express ourselves freely. As this process continues, we continue to change and grow. This is the liberty expressed in “congregational autonomy.”

A year ago, we decided to dedicate ourselves to prayer. Of course we were already praying, but we felt a need to focus on and emphasize this power in our lives. Now we begin each Bible study on Sundays and Wednesday nights with a special period of prayer.

Specific prayer requests are taken. People, place, events, and problems fill a large blackboard, and specific prayers are offered. Knees are bent, tears are shed, and prayers are expressed openly and unashamedly. We want to be a praying people. Our new emphasis and effort have changed our group prayer time, and our personal prayer lives have been enlarged and advanced as well.

In 1995, the congregation learned one hundred new songs. They are contemporary, and unlike many of the grand old songs that speak of God in the third person, most of the new songs of praise speak to God in the first person. This change has made us far more conscious of his presence in our lives and in our assemblies. While we sing a combination of both old and new, learning these new songs has led us in a true revival of praise and worship. Additional time was added to our meetings to allow more songs to be sung. It is generally agreed that we feel closer to God in communal singing than in any other part of the service. The singing is powerful, the preaching is positive, and our penitent hearts than God for “so great a salvation.”

“How did we learn all those new songs?” you ask. We have a group of volunteer singers who meet after each Sunday and Wednesday night service for about an hour to learn and practice new songs. One of our members, who reads and knows music, works with this group. Then at the services, the groups stands and helps the congregation learn the new songs. Generally, eight are chosen fro the group, with two individuals singing each part, and the song leader directs them and the rest of the assembly in song. Our song services are challenging, thrilling, inspiring, and uplifting. Our singing has improved 1,000 percent. we still sing a cappella, but now the auditorium fills with a joy and praise we never has before.

Change in natural, inevitable, and imperative. It is based on positive leadership and education, and while it should come gradually, it is a must. In our congregation we have old timers, baby-boomers, baby-busters, young unmarrieds, divorcees, teenagers, and children. each group sees life from a different view. Each group has its own needs. Since it is literally impossible to fully meet the needs of any one group without neglecting the others, we try to provide an atmosphere of family, where ach person can feel free and secure. Physical families function in the same way – while no one in the family has all of his or her wants satisfied ideally, there is a silent equality and an overall joy that fills the home. The need to share and to feel loved, appreciated, and accepted are common to us all. Besides being met in our physical families, these needs should also be met within the functional family of God.

In 1996 we are dedicated to becoming better servants. At Central we do not fear change, we use it! While the Gospel of Christ is unchangeable and will always be the “power of God to save” (Rom. 1:16), methods and traditions are options for change. An abnormal fear (phobia) of change is just as damaging as changing without purpose or direction. What is best for us at Central is what will help us in our ongoing efforts to grow into the image of Jesus (2 Cor. 3:18).

Working Upriver (Image Vol 12 No 4 – July/Aug 1996

Filed under: — @ 10:52 am and

By Joe Beam

“Six out of ten,” he stated emphatically watching carefully for my reaction. I surprised him by giving a casual nod of assent.

“You accept that figure?”

“Yes, Dr. Harley. I don’t own three counseling clinics and have never done empirical studies like you have, but the stories I hear as I travel the nation back up your statistics.”

Dr. Willard Harley, author of best-selling His-Needs, Her Needs, was explaining to me how he came to write the book. He began his explanation with the question, “Joe, do you know how many marriages are affected by affairs?” Without waiting for my reply, he continued, “Six out of ten.” Later he added, “It’s not just people in the world who are affected. Experience in our clinics tells us that six out of ten Christian marriages will at some point involve a third person.”

Before you discount that, ask yourself how many Christian marriages you can name where a mate became involved in with another person. And those are just the ones we know about! It happens. But it doesn’t have to. Here are three thoughts to help you prevent these affairs from occurring in your church.

It Can Happen to Anyone

All of us are sinners (Rom. 3:10). Put in the right place at the right time with the right circumstances, any of us may do the wrong thing.

I vividly recall the elder who scowled that he would never understand how anyone could commit adultery. Three years later he sighed helplessly, “If I have to go to hell to have her, I will pay that price.”

Being an elder, minister, deacon, elder’s wife, minister’s wife, Bible class teacher, Christian college president, or internationally known evangelist doesn’t preclude a person from this or any other sin. I’ve personally helped churches across America make decisions and take actions to help them through the crisis when some church leader’s adultery took them by surprise. If it happens among our leaders, you know it happens among the membership! It shocks me that elderships are so shocked when they discover major marital discord in the marriages of their members.

Rather than despairing at these sad revelations, we should acknowledge Satan’s attack on marriages and proactively work to strengthen every marriage in our congregations! Quit thinking it can’t happen in your church. Buying that lie leads a church to inaction, giving Satanic forces time to carefully plan their seductions. Starting with our own marriages, church leaders should do what needs to be done to strengthen every Christian’s home.

Couples Need a Good Marriage System

Dr. Harley discovered that the divorce rates for couples who came for counseling in hi clinics and couples who never sought help at all were the same. “We finally admitted that the things they taught us in graduate school just didn’t work in saving marriages. That led me to find a system that does work – a system where each fulfills the other’s most important emotional needs. Getting couples to do that revolutionized our success in strengthening and saving marriages.

While courting, a couple will spend as much as fifteen hours together each week. With that much interaction, they inadvertently fulfill each other’s emotional needs. Since most married couples don’t pend that many hours with just each other they don’t inadvertently fulfill their mate’s needs. In marriage, fulfilling each other’s most important emotional needs take conscientious effort.

In the last year, over 1,500 couples completed the eight-week course I developed around Dr. Harley’s three books, His Needs, Her Needs; Love Busters; and 5 Steps to Romantic Love. These couples proved Harley right about four key points.

  1. Most couples aren’t fulfilling each other’s most important emotional needs, thus providing Satanic forces the crack in the spiritual armor they need to introduce powerful temptations. Satan’s strategy for destroying marriage usually keys on this lack of fulfillment.
  2. Most people don’t know or understand their spouses’ most important emotional needs. They simply don’t know how to fulfill each other.
  3. Unfulfilled spouses feel frustration because they can’t make their mate understand what they need emotionally. Frustration escalates into conflict. When that conflict has no satisfactory solution it often leads to the unfilfilled mate to emotionally withdraw from his or her spouse. Satan targets spouses who are emotionally withdrawn for temptation to adultery or divorce.
  4. When couples understand each other’s emotional needs and conscientiously fulfill them, their marriages reach new and wonderful levels of intimacy.

What do these four things tell a church?

These findings alert churches to the very real dangers that threaten couples who don’t understand each other’s needs and affirm that there is hope for crumbling marriages and that there are solutions through understanding each other’s emotional needs.

Teaching expository classes or preaching sermons on the sin of adultery will not solve the problem. People have to learn how to love each other at home (Titus 2:4), and that requires more than lectures. While Christian counseling is essential, it shouldn’t be the primary tool your church uses to bless families. Dr. Carl Breechen says that counseling couples already in trouble is “under-the-waterfall work.” It’s hard to save someone by trying to catch them as they come over the waterfall. We need to start before one or both mates go into withdrawal. We have to work upriver.

You can begin by training couples to fulfill each other. Teach them with classes led by older men and women whose marriages prove their understanding of what it takes to make a marriage work. Make sure these older Christians do more than just lecture. Through interaction and personal attention, they should guide couples into actively fulfilling each other. Powerful tools exist to help them do this.

Teach couples through family ministers, Christian counselors, or therapists. Teach them through motivated couples you send for training so they can come back and train others.

Just as a couple must make conscious efforts to make their marriage work, churches must make conscious efforts to train people for success in Christian marriage.

Weekend Seminars are not the Answer

Dr. Harley decided to work with Family Dynamics in strengthening families because of our time-lapse approach to working with couples. Weekend seminars that rely primarily on lectures give a lot of information and temporary motivation, but they have little lasting effect on marriages. Weekend marriage seminars that use a great deal of interaction and introspection open the door to many sensitive areas and then blithely send the couples home to work it out by themselves. Rather than getting better, their marriages often deteriorate from their increased frustration.

Churches should learn from that. Relationships aren’t built in a weekend, neither are they repaired in a weekend. Quit hoping for the quick cure, and take time in your church to do the work that needs to be done to bless and strengthen marriages.

We have great speakers in our brotherhood who say powerful things to propel couples into wanting to work on their marriages. The next time you have such a speaker in, have trained couples ready to begin classes immediately. Prepare interactive classes that last several weeks and that guide and adequately support couples as they learn to love and fulfill each other.

We who are shepherds in the Lord’s body must make it a top priority to do what needs to be done to save marriages.

Family Dynamics Institute is a nonprofit organization with much success in “upriver work,” and we’re willing to help. Call 1-800-650-9995.

February 21, 2017

Touches of What Church Ought to Be (Image Vol 12 No 6 – Nov/Dec 1996)

Filed under: — @ 3:55 pm and

Ron Rose
Fort Worth, Texas

We desperately need to hear more about the good that God is doing in his church and less about our ways of messing it up. We are overexposed to the bad and negative. Truth is, if we would get out of the way, turn loose of the controls, and trust God to be in charge of his church, unbelievable things would happen. As I travel from church to church, I get to see touches of what happens when God is at the controls. I get glimpses of what church ought to be.

Here are just a few of the recent experiences that give me hope. If you know any stories of “good news” in churches, please send me the details. I want to be a proclaimer of “good news” about God and his church. As I see it, he is still about the business of repossessing his church.

Sugar Grove church in Houston (formerly Sharpstown) – The elders prayed for wisdom and direction in making a decision to move from their old location and build new facilities. After their initial survey of available land, it seemed impossible. Either the land they wanted was unavailable, or it was just too expensive. So they took their frustration to a higher power – asking God to provide suitable land at the right price. And God heard their prayer.

Within days, a land owner came to them asking them if he could give them a special price on a portion of land he was selling. He offered what seemed to be a perfect track of land for one million dollars. The elders accepted the offer.

The old Sharpstown church property was put up for sale, pans for the new facilities were developed, and a fundraising campaign was scheduled. The elders and church staff were overwhelmed with the process and stress of it all.

The church property sold for enough money to pay off the land purchase, but the fundraising campaign did not produce the funds necessary to build what was needed without going into debt. All the doors that seemed so open before, now seemed closed and locked The elders, feeling a renewed need for God’s direction, placed the whole dream on the table.

They wished for a sign and prayed for wisdom and eyes to see God’s leading. After an evening of prayer, they decided to place the newly acquired “God-povided land” on the market. Something just wasn’t right. It was time to wait for God to act.

Within weeks they had a contract for $6.5 million on the land that had cost them $1 million and another track of land close to the original track came available for $1 million. God is still in the business of answering prayers. Now, because the leaders were willing to yield to God’s controls and surrender their personal powers, the Sugar Grove church will be able to build new facilities and move in debt free. That’s a touch of what church ought to be.

Southlake church in north, Texas – During the sermon, Toby, the local preacher, stopped a moment and demonstrated how to be a comforting church. He informed the congregation of the presence of a sister who had buried her father a few days ago. Toby asked the elders to get up from their seats and gather together around her. While Toby walked toward her, the elders encircled her and one of them led a special prayer of courage and comfort for her, right there in the middle  of church. Her grief was lifted by the sensitive support of the elders and the timely attention of the preacher. That’s a touch of what church ought to be.

White’s Ferry Road church in West Monroe – During the invitation song a series of unusual things happened. Several people responded that morning. When one would step out and walk down the aisle, two or three others would step out and join him or her. These supportive brothers and sisters were simply there for assurance and encouragement.

By the time the invitation song had ended, there were two dozen or so people crowded around the responders. Some sat on the pews, some on the floor, all of them packed close, as if to protect and affirm the responder.

That morning a couple came asking the elders to pray for God to protext them and guide them on their upcoming trip to Italy. The elders encircled the couple and prayed right then. A repentant brother confessed a recent night of alcohol abuse and unfaithfulness. One of the elders led a sensitive prayer that took this repentant husband, his wife and his family into the throne room of God. Another elder told of the needs of a teenager who came forward and another name was taken before the throne. A young single mother needed help and strength and still another elder prayed for her.

As I watched this healing moment, I felt drawn inside the soul of the congregation. I was privileged to be part of a gentle interweaving of confession, repentance forgiveness, and encouragement. I watched encouragers stand arm-in-arm with “encouragees.” It was another touch of what church ought to be.

Oak Hills church in San Antonio – It was “dream Sunday” – that day each year when this three-service congregation meets together in one assembly for the express purpose of thanking God for the year past and sharing their dreams for the year to come. What a glorious event it was For me, the most uplifting time was the affirmation of new Christians. Max began calling the names of people who had come to a personal faith in Jesus during the year just ended.

As he called the names, the new Christians got up from their seats and walked to the stage. The elders and their wives gathered on the stage and welcomed these brothers and sisters with outstretched arms. As each name was called, friends in the audience cheered or shouted. I was witnessing some thing I had never seen before, and I loved it. Once all the names were called, the elders and their wives symbolically surrounded the group and thanked God for new birth and the gift of Jesus who made these new lives possible.

After the prayer, a spontaneous standing ovation celebrated the moment. What an unforeseen blessing I received that day. Here too, was a touch of what church ought to be.

Duncanville church in the Dallas area – Chris, the local preacher, announced the birth of a new baby in the congregation. The new baby and parents were in the assembly. Chris asked them to bring the baby and come to the platform. When they got close enough, Chris took the baby and held it up in full view of the audience Chris talked for a moment about God’s gift of children,, encouraged the parents to raise this child for the Lord, and prayed for this new life.

What a wonderful moment. Not only was this unforgettable for the young couple, it was a marker event for every child in the audience. It taught the value of parents, church, God and family with greater impact than any lessons or pictures. It was, yet, another touch of what church ought to be.

It’s time for us to release our controls and let God lead us into his expressions of what church ought to be. It’s past time mto focus on finding the good. You can help by looking for the good in churches, beginning with your own.

Send your “good news” church stories to Ron Rose, Box 820971, Fort Worth, Texas, 76182.

Editorial: To Change or Not to Change (Image Vol 12 No 6 – Nov/Dec 1996)

Filed under: — @ 3:32 pm and

By Denny Boultinghouse

Amid all the confusion and talk of “change agents” and “change in the church,” let us make a few observations.

Of course, the church must not change. Everyone understands and believes this. The church must continue to accept the New Testament as the Word of God. For without the Word of God, we have no faith The church must always recognize that it is blood bought. We must not take the blood out of the equation. Without the blood of Jesus there is no church. The church must always affirm the miracles of Jesus: he either walked on water or he didn’t. He was either raised form the dead or he wasn’t. And the church must always center its faith on the resurrection of Christ. Without the resurrection, we have no system of belief. We would have no Christ to trust. Certain things about the church must never change.

Of course, the church must change. Everyone understands and believes this. How can the church not change? Is it to be trapped in a specific time frame? Must we really do everything just like the early church did? Do we think the apostle Paul would recognize what takes place in our assemblies? Most of what we do would be quite foreign to him. He wouldn’t be familiar with Sunday school, song leaders, evening services, a four-point sermon (illustrated with appropriate jokes), or pews with everyone facing toward the pulpit; and he certainly wouldn’t know to stand during the invitation song – that is a recent addition.

It would be absurd to take the position that we cannot change. The Bible demands change. God is a God of change. Yes, “Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow” – he does not change in nature and character; but he does want us to change. Growth, repentance, maturation, and study all demand change; thus change will always be present in the church.

It is clear that the church must change; it is equally clear that the church must not change. Really, everyone believes and practices this dichotomy. The real problem comes when we have to decide what cannot change and what can. This is where people begin to disagree.

There are certain matters of faith that most would agree cannot change. Most would agree that doctrine concerning God and his nature, and teachings that relate to redemption are matters of faith. But beyond these basics and their implications, there is much variation.

As necessary as change sometimes is, it often causes hurt among honest, God-loving believers. Long-time members sometimes feel compelled to leave churches they have invested their lives in because of changes they feel are inappropriate When this occurs, we must realize that these people experience real pain and struggle as they make their decisions. We must take their hurts and concerns very seriously. We must honestly hurt for those who resist change.

But the solution to this problem cannot be to avoid all change in order to avoid their hurt. Such a “solution” is nether biblical nor realistic. To bring a little perspective to their pain, let’s remember that pain and hurt also occur on the other side of the change fence. Some suffer when they hear the claim that the Bible is our only authority and then see us honor tradition over Scripture. Others hurt when they see the young people of our congregations leaving because we refuse to be relevant (in a biblical sense, of course!). Hurt and discomfort cannot be the major determiners of acceptance or rejection of change.

So how do we handle this tension between those who resist change and those who pursue change? While there are no simple answers, there are a few simple principles that can guide us.

Pray, pray, pray; and pray some more. Remember that every Christian is a child of God. Remind folks that the Bible is the authority – not culture, not tradition, not personal preference, and not the way we’ve always done it. Love everyone – even those who feel compelled to leave. Jesus loves people on both sides of these issues, and so should we. Respect the viewpoints of all, even if they appear silly to you. Treat others with the same kindness, courtesy, and fairness you desire.

Teach carefully and wisely. Communicate changes in the best possible way. Be wise and prayerful about the timing of change. Challenge each other constantly with Scripture. Remind your brothers and sisters that Scripture always demands change: growth is change; learning is change. Be clear about what can and cannot change – the Gospel message never changes. Invest in efforts to get to know one another. Encourage interaction and relationship-building. Remind each other that since we have been set free, we must allow respect and freedom of others – on both sides.

As we face the dilemma of what to change and what not to change, we must constantly remind ourselves that our ultimate desire is that the will of God be done. Let us face all such choices with humility, kindness, acceptance, and respect.

Regaining Lost Ground (Image Vol 12 No 4 – July/Aug 1996)

Filed under: — @ 3:12 pm and

By Carson Reed
Indianapolis, Indiana

On March 18-21, about 150 ministers and leader from a variety of church traditions gathered in Colorado to listen and dialogue about the trends in the church and in contemporary culture. Among the major presenters were Russell Chandler, journalist and author who writes about trends in America, and George Barna, president of Barna Research Group and prolific author of books from The Frog in the Kettle to Generation Next.

Major Shifts Are Occurring in Our Culture

Of course, much of what was said can be readily observed. American culture is fast-paced, overloaded, and stress-filled. Sexual upheaval and violence mar the landscape, and the definition of family is being radically redefined.

Perhaps less observable is that nearly 50 percent of Americans over eighteen years old are unmarried, and a growing number of suburban parents are shunning public schools and utilizing private or home schooling options. In fact, home schooling continues to grow at 15 to 20 percent a year, and most of that growth is among non-Christians concerned about academics and safety.

George Barna’s recent research on teenagers offers startling insights into the viewpoints. Current teens take the world quite seriously and experience significant stress. this stress is a result, in part, of distrust of older people and institutions and discouragement concerning their diminished prospects for success in the world. Believing themselves to be abandoned by society, today’s teens have adopted a “look out for yourself” philosophy of life. This resulting sense of self-reliance gives way to a growing openness to spirituality, but a spirituality that is indiscriminate in choosing its source. Hungry for relationships, current teens strive ot learn how to relate tho their peers, but often shy away from older generations, because, in the teens’ eyes, they lack credibility.

The Church is Losing Ground

The church is losing ground in American culture today. Though approximately one million people embraced Christianity last year, these new Christian’s merely replaced the one million Christians who died. Additionally, Barna notes that within the past year an exodus of boomer males and boomer leaders depleted many evangelical churches.

Not only does the church wrestle with declining numbers, it also wrestles with change. Currently, American culture changes completely every five years. Contrast that time frame with the average forty years that it takes churches to adapt to new models. This disparity alone is enough to convince Christian believers that they need to act.

Christians do need to act, but actions must be based on prayer and wise strategies. In contemporary culture, Christianity is no longer the main game in town. In fact, it is often misunderstood and misapplied. For example, 12 percent of Americans today believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. Even within the church, biblical illiteracy is rampant. Nearly 80 percent of American Christians are unable to identify the Great Commission. Just giving Bibles out is not enough, either. According to a recent government survey, 49 percent of all American’s are functionally illiterate.

What Can the Church Do?

So what is the church’s response? In a culture where competing worldviews clamor for attention and acceptance, what is the church to do? I would suggest four things.

The church must relearn the nature of the Christian faith. The Christian faith is more of a pilgrimage or journey than our staid American experience has led us to believe. The church is not an institution or organization, but the people of God. Renewed focus on the disciplines of prayer, fasting, meditation, and Bible study will bring us closer to mature faith. To sit back in our Lazy-Boy recliners and think we have arrived opens us up to the judgment of the prophets.

We must learn how to communicate our faith to others. According to Barna’s research, less than 10 percent of those who profess Christianity can identify key elements of the faith. If Christians cannot articulate their belief system, then how can they provide hope and guidance to others? Or to consider another angle, if Christians cannot tell the story, what good is lifestyle evangelism? The foundations of our belief must be taught and modeled in our churches.

We must unleash the leaders and visionaries in our churches to dream and to lead. The primary hindrance to the growth and health of churches today is their reluctance to allow God to accomplish his divine purpose thorough gifted men and women. We must identify , support, and equip godly leaders and let them lead us into the new millennium. Elders and ministers serve as “power switches” for leadership in their churches. Either they will allow the power of God to flow, inspiring and leading the church forward or they will shut off the flow. Appointed leaders must grow past issues of control and turf and learn to empower people for leadership and service.

The models of ministry must change. Much talk and action has taken place in recent years about worship. I affirm the need for worship renewal and believe that such renewal will help us meet this fourth challenge. But not only does our understanding of worship change as clear views of God emerge, but our view of church structure and ministry changes as we come to grips with God’s heart and the condition of the world we are called to save.

The coming millennium brings unprecedented opportunities for the church. But in order to take advantage of these opportunities, we must replace some old habits with some new directives. We must replace traditional structures with the opportunity to be salt and light to a decaying and darkened world. We must replace our comfortable inactivity with witnessing to our neighbors or swinging a hammer for Habitat for Humanity. We must replace “doing church” as we have known it with “being church” as God defines. The present is no time for a congregation and church leaders to bury their heads or hearts in the sane. Let’s go on the offensive and regain what Satan has stolen.

Streetwalker (Image Vol 12 No 4 – July/Aug 1996)

Filed under: — @ 12:29 pm and

By Victor Knowles
Joplin, Missouri

“The lady was a sinner.” For some, that’s an oxymoron. How can the two nouns describe the same person? But that’s what the book said: “The lady was a sinner.”

One day the lady heard through the grapevine that a prominent doctor was coming to the city. Mr. Simon – a leading citizen and top theologian to boot – was hosting a gala dinner party for the famous physician who was the grace their presence. How could the city be so lucky?

The lady would have given anything to meet the respected visitor. But in her guy, she knew she didn’t have even the slightest chance of being invited to the big bash. Others, leading citizens all, would receive impressive gilt-=edged invitations. But her?/ No way. Who would dream of inviting a…streetwalker? Unheard of. It would be look the White House inviting an X-rated porno star to dine with the First Family.

Day after day, however, the thought persisted. She could not get it out of her mind. How wonderful it would be if she could somehow manage to meet the notable guest. But how? Forge an invitation? Disguise herself as a servant? Feign illness at curbside? Finally she arrived at a simple but crude plan – she would “crash the gate.”

The eventful night came. Her mind made up, she hurried from her home to the other side of town – the good side of town, the respectable side. On impulse she turned into a shop that hadn’t yet closed, despite the lateness of the hour. It was the most expensive shop in town, but no matter.

“Can I help you?” The voice seemed to ooze from the oily face of the proprietor His pig-like eyes feasted on her shapely form. She seemed not to notice.

“Yes. That alabaster box, please.”

“But, madam. Did you not see the price? Surely…”

The woman interrupted the show owner in a voice that was firm, determined. “The cost does not concern me. I must have it. How much do I owe you?”

The deal struck, the lady found herself in the street once again – the street that had been so good to her, the street that had allowed her to make such an expensive purchase on this night of nights.

She hurried on, oblivious to the leers of lustful men, not even hearing their crude comments as she passed by. Even a mother’s disapproving clucks to her children did not deter the woman. She was on a mission.

But as she drew near the well-lit mansion where sounds of music and merriment could already be heard, she step faltered. She halted at the corner of the street. Light form an ope, second-story window, fell on her beautiful but troubled features. Her heart raced.

“What am I thinking of?” she said to herself. “Can I believe he would really want to have anything to do with me?”

The fear of being rejected was so great that she turned to leave. But then, like the note of a lark heard for but a moment, a thought came to her. “What have I got to lose? I’ve lost virtually everything else in life!” Emboldened by the sudden thought, she hurried across the street, passed through the open gate, crossed the empty courtyard, ascended the grand staircase, and paused in the arched doorway.

Immediately she saw him. Immediately they saw her. Their faces said it all. Surprise. Shock. Disapproval. Distaste. Disgust.

Undeterred, she went straight to the guest of honor. His eyes followed her all the way. Down the steps. To his table. And in his eyes there was neither lust nor disgust – only understanding, sympathy and love. And the love she saw in his eyes was not what passed for love in that day. This was pure, sweet, love – a love she had never known before. Never, ever.

Before she lost her nerve, the lady dropped to her knees and opened the mysterious alabaster box. Sweet perfume filled the night air. With something akin to reverence, she unloosed the man’s sandals. She had undressed me before…but never this way. Thinking of those countless nights of sordid shame, she began to weep – at first silently, then convulsively.

Her tears fell from her bowed head upon the bare feet of the stranger. He still had not made a move or spoken a word. Tenderly she wiped his feet dry with her long, dark hair. For a moment she laid her head on his feet, then kissed them.. You could have heard a pin drop. Finally, she anointed his feet with the costly perfume.

This final act was too much for Mr. Simon. He knew who this woman was. Oh, how he knew! Didn’t everyone here – all his “distinguished” guests – know who she was? After all, “men will be men.” He thought to himself, “This guy can’t be so great. Srely he knows what kind of woman this is! We sure do!”

And about that time a strange thing happened in the house of Simon. The guest of honor looked up, and his eyes seemed to cut to the core of Simon’s soul. IT was a though he had read the very thoughts of his host. He began to speak to him…and when he did, everyone in the room, even the statue-like waiters, listened. I mean, no one had ever talked to their boss like this! The ears of Mr. Simon began to burn as the guest rebuked his abominable thoughts. This was unheard of!

Then, even more unheard or, he spoke to the streetwalker. At last. Finally.

“Your sins are forgiven.”

What was this! Sins forgiven? Who could forgive sins but…but God!

Forgiven! The word that shocked the crowd thrilled the woman through and through. A feeling flooded her soul that she had never known before. A beautiful smile slowly spread across her tear-stained face. The mascara was nearly gone. Holiness was left in its place. Her skin glowed like it hadn’t in years – with the freshness of grace.

She rose to go. He smiled at her. A smile that was so…so…holy!

Again he spoke. Words sweeter than honey. “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

Salvation! Peace! Things the woman had never experienced in all her life. And how they filled her heart – wave after wave. It passed all understanding. She turned and left the room with a light step. She paused in the arched doorway and looked over her shoulder. His eyes were still on her. He smiled at her and nodded. She stepped out into the night. But it was now day.

For the sinner was a lady.

Men Keeping Promises (Image Vol 12 No 1 – Jan/Feb 1996)

Filed under: — @ 11:43 am and

By Denny  Boultinghouse

One of the more interesting developments over the last few years in our country has been the initiation and growth of the Promise Keepers movement. Promise Keepers, founded by Coach Bill McCartney, challenges men to keep their promises. Such things as a personal relationship with God, sexual faithfulness, racial reconciliation, and servanthood are promoted. They have affirmed a commitment to seven promises.

The promises are so good that it would seem impossible for any Christian to oppose this effort. Yet, some oppose any effort that does not fit into their small view of God’s working. These critics are quick to limit God’s work to their unbiblical view of the definition of a believer. Even in the first century, such narrow, sectarian views raised their heads. “‘Teacher, we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.’ ‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said. ‘No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything against me, for whoever is not against us is for us'” (Mark 9:38-40).

Earlier in Mark 9 the apostles had been unable to cast out a demon, yet they soon came upon a man who was casting out demons in the name of Jesus. They were quick to tell that man to stop his good work. Jesus was quick to affirm the man and to chastise the apostles. Surely Jesus would do the same today.

When you read an article against Promise Keepers, remember how Jesus stood against those who spoke against what was obviously good. Don’t listen to the critics; they are eaten up with the disease of sectarianism. Instead of listening to them, listen to Jesus when he says, “Do not stop those who do good work in my name.”

We have some preachers who are unable to do the work of God (in the sense of bringing about change in the men in their churches), yet the oppose those who are doing the work of God. Promise Keepers has a message and method that help men become spiritual leaders. Promise Keepers motivates men to serve their wives; it touches their heart so that they confess their sinfulness before God and man; it helps racially prejudiced men confront the sin of their racism; it helps men reaffirm their need to be sexually faithful to their wives. In other words, Promise Keepers helps men grow spiritually in just about every area a person should grow. Beware of those who would encourage you to oppose such good.

During 1995 I was able to be with Coach McCartney on several occasions, including a short personal visit. He is impressive. McCartney was the football coach of the number-one team in the nation and thus has all the accolades that the sports world gives, yet he admits that many of his past decisions were selfish. He has experienced many personal struggles. He is serious about men honoring God in their lives, and he is serious about God using men to heal some of the racial divisions in our country. I am grateful that God is using Coach McCartney.

Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper

  1. A Man and His God: A Promise Keeper is committed to honoring Jesus Christ through worship, prayer and obedience to God’s Word in the power of the Holy Spirit.
  2. A Man and His Mentors: A Promise Keeper is committed to pursuing vital relationships with a few other men, understanding that he needs brothers to help him keep his promises.
  3. A Man and His Integrity: A Promise Keeper is committed to practicing spiritual, moral, ethical, and sexual purity.
  4. A Man and His Family: A Promise Keeper is committed to building strong marriages and families through love, protection, and biblical values.
  5. A Man and His Church: A Promise Keeper is committed to supporting the mission of the church by honoring and praying for his pastor, and by actively giving his time and resources.
  6. A Man and His Brothers: A Promise Keeper is committed to reaching beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity.
  7. A Man and His World: A Promise Keeper is committed to influencing his world, being obedient to the Great Commandment (see Mark 12:30-31) and the Great Commission (see Matt. 28:19-20).

Editorial: Dear Brother (Image Vol 12 No 1 – Jan/Feb 1996)

Filed under: — @ 10:36 am and

By Denny Boultinghouse

Thanks so much for your recent letter. I was greatly moved as I read of your pain and gut-wrenching experience It is disheartening when a biblical, non-sectarian, grace-oriented message is met with such fierce opposition from tradition-bound brothers and sisters.

Weariness from “fighting the same issues that have divided our fellowship” has even driven you to wonder if perhaps you should leave the Church of Christ fellowship altogether and become part of some other fellowship of people. Some of our brothers and sisters could never understand how you could even ask such a question, but many understand exactly what you are feeling. My heart really hears what you are saying.

Many share your struggles. Sadly, I hear this same scenario over and over again. Many who actually try to practice what the Bible teaches instead of what our tradition says are being thrown out. Sometimes I hear from the wife of an elder who grew so tired of “Fighting” the negative elders that he finally gave up. Sometimes I hear form a preacher who has just been fired, or soon will be. While some of the details change, the basic story is the same: Many who are trying to be loyal to Christ are getting fired. The casualty numbers continue to increase.

I am glad that you have not turned against God. Too many come to a point where they want no part of a God who could produce such mean, vengeful people. They see the sickness of the people, and they think that GOd is the source of the sickness of the people (of course, he isn’t). I weep for those who have gone through so much garbage and hurt that they leave God altogether. My heart breaks for them.

Gratefully, you are not in that category. Instead of leaving God, you are wondering about serving him in a different fellowship. I am so grateful that you still remember enough about the Cross to continue walking in the Lord. Keep walking. Don’t let anyone discourage you.

Now let me respond more directly to the questions you posed.

“What is your view concerning the state of the Churches of Christ today?”

First, Churches of Christ are obviously going through some difficult and challenging times. We are in the midst of transition and change, and some of the changes, especially their speed, really scare some people. Some fear the changes because they think change suggests instability. But the reality is that the church has always been, and always will be, in flux. Thus the church of 2010 will not look just like the church of 1955, just as the church of 1955 did not look just like the church of 1900. I don’t know what the church of 2010 will look like, but I am certain it will be different.

But some churches refuse to exchange the cultural methodology of the ’50s for one that is adapted to the ’90s and beyond. (They call the transition “digression.”) Those churches will continue to solidify into a certain time’s cultural manifestation of the church. They have equated their cultural preferences and practices with Scripture, so they have painted themselves into a corner. And the sad reality is that those churches will continue to shrink. Some will die outright; others will merge and put off their eventual death. Still others continue to snort and paw the ground, but they will have less and less impact upon our fellowship.

Second, ties of social change inevitably result in casualties. Consider the casualties of the Civil Rights movement in our own country. Many people were beaten, tortured, maimed, and killed for the noble goal of giving legal rights to all citizens of American regardless of color. Was it worth it? Unquestionably yes! Are race relations in American now all they should be Not at all; in face, some attitudes are as bad as they ever were. But was the struggle to guarantee the right of blacks to vote worth the cost? Again, yes. But more than that, there was no real choice; moral responsibility demanded the pursuit of civil rights for all Americans. The struggle was essential to help America move closer to her ideals. Social change always comes at great cost. There are no gains without pain.

Amid all the transition, we too will suffer casualties. People will get hurt. Preachers will get fired. The sectarians within our fellowship will continue to fight to preserve their power base. In order to maintain their personal preferences, they will viciously oppose any change. Regardless of what Scripture says, they will fight to the death to keep the church like they want it. They don’t listen to reason because they are “standing for the old paths” (never mind that their old paths are only a few decades old). While they claim to be “conservative,” in reality, they are not, because allowing tradition to supersede Scripture is not conservative.

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