About the Author: I am Joshuah Ellis and I have been working, full time, with the Hub City church of Christ since June 1, 2016. I have never considered myself much of a writer. Perhaps that is why I like the blog format so much. For me, it feels like there is less pressure to be perfect with a blog as opposed to a more formal article In this blog, you will find personal stories, anecdotes, humor and maybe a bit of sarcasm, but the aim of each post will be the same: to encourage, inspire, and challenge the readers to dig deeper and work harder in their service to God. If you would like to offer feedback, leave a comment or contact me here.
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This past Sunday, during Bible class, we were discussing 1 Corinthians chapter 8. Of course, there are some meaty topics covered in that chapter (see what I did there?). However, there was one moment during the study of this chapter that stands out above the rest.
One of our members asked the question, regarding the conduct of the stronger brother toward the weaker (and I am paraphrasing):
Where do you draw the line? If you have one brother who is getting offended by ridiculous things or being overly demanding, or if you have another brother who is trying to be authoritarian, what do you do?
I loved this question as it forced me to consider some realities about the current church and do some hard thinking on some things. What I observe is that as Christians, we often want a formula, one formula that works in all situations. The problem with this is that any time you have 2 people trying to close the divisions among them, it is a truly unique situation for which there is no foolproof formula.
Thus, the topic of today’s blog. 3 things you need in order to make sure that every Bible study (in which there are opposing views) is a guaranteed success.
1. Love your brother. This should go without saying, but it doesn’t. Guys, if you plan to sit down with someone, open your Bibles in order to resolve and issue and your primary concern is being right or “winning” the argument, then you should just pack up your things and go home. So many times, in the Bible, we read about loving one another (John 13:34; 1 Peter 4:8; John 4:12-13; Ephesians 4:2-3; 1 Peter 3:8-9) and the list could go on. This is not about you and unless your attitude is right at the beginning of this encounter, then chances are you are about to do much more damage than good. Not to mention, the discussion is going to end in an argument and would thereby be unsuccessful.
2. Meekness. Again, it should go without saying but it doesn’t. This is another circumstance in which you must check your motives. Is this about you or about you being right? James tells us to receive God’s word with meekness (James 1:21). You can’t do that if you treat your Bible like a weapon that is to be used as nothing more than a proof text to show how clever or spiritual you are. That is not meekness? Both parties have to share this quality if the study is to be a guaranteed success.
3. Respect for God’s Word. Obviously, you are not going to get very far in your study if it devolves into a philosophical discussion as opposed to a biblical one. Again, we return to a similar fact. This is not about you, your ego, your intelligence, or your righteousness. This is about following God’s perfect Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17), wherever it may lead. Without this, there is no chance of a successful study.
So, there you go. 3 ingredients to a guaranteed successful Bible study and the answer to the question I was asked in Bible class. While there is no “one size fits all” answer for every situation, there is a pattern. When 2 people who love one another, show an attitude of meekness and have a real respect for God’s Word, sit down together to study, they will always end up where they need to be. Why? Certainly not because we are perfect, but because God is. Because His Word is. Because, when we choose to follow and submit, we can never be found wanting. God won’t let us.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
Parenting might be one of the hardest jobs on the planet. Do it right, and you will have raised a great human being who contributes to society and makes the world a better place. Do it wrong, and you will be responsible for the strange person who lives behind Wal-Mart in a house made of Popsicle sticks and old Tootsie Roll wrappers who barks at people as they walk by.
No pressure, right?
As Christians, our responsibilities go even further. Not only are we trying to mold our little monsters into functional people. We also want to make sure that they are fully equipped to serve the Lord and to get to heaven one day. I would love to be able to tell you that my kids epitomize everything on the forthcoming list. I can’t. I would also love to tell you that I am the master of teaching these elements. I can’t do that either. So, it is my hope that this blog will help us all as we strive to raise our children “in the training and admonition of the Lord.”
Here are some things you should NOT teach your children.
1. Do NOT teach them to obey you. Instead, teach them to honor you as their parent. Yes, of course, obedience is important, but the command to honor is much stronger. It was given by God (Exodus 20:12) and reinforced by Jesus (Matthew 19:19). So, what’s the difference? Obey means to be in compliance whereas honor is more about respect. Teach your kids to honor you, and they will absolutely obey you. If you focus ONLY on obedience, there is a greater chance that once your eyes are off of them, what you taught them will be out the window. This sets them up perfectly to serve a God whom they cannot see nor to whom they will answer immediately after each choice is made.
2. Do NOT teach them to sit quietly during services. Instead, teach them to worship! So often, I have seen kids (who are old enough to participate) drawing with their glitter pens while the rest of the congregation is singing or praying. As a preacher, I understand that the sermon might not be particularly stimulating for younger kids, but those babies can sing! They can bow their heads when we pray. The Hebrew writer said it well (Hebrews 12:28-29). What better way to set them up for service, than teaching them to participate when we worship. When it’s time for the sermon, then give them something to write or draw with. Just don’t rob them of a chance to learn how to praise our God.
3. Do NOT teach them to obey the Lord. Instead, teach them to love the Lord. No. I am not saying that they shouldn’t obey the Lord. However, if it is ONLY about obedience, what happens to them when they are weak? Adversity alters our perspectives, doesn’t it? The greatest command does not say “obey” the Lord. It says to “love” the Lord (Luke 10:27). Of course, when we love the Lord, we will naturally be inclined to obey Him (John 14:15). Teach your kids what to do, sure. But don’t forget, in the process, to teach them what the Lord has done for us!
Again, I would love to tell you that this list is perfect. I would love to tell you that I have mastered these items and that my kids perfectly represent them as well. I can’t do that. I can tell you that this is something we work on with our boys and that by focusing on better things to teach our children, we are confident that they will know who God is and as a byproduct of that, know what they must do in order to please Him. I hope this helps you as you work to get your babies to heaven.
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Hitting a Brick Wall
Several years back, I experienced burnout for the first time. I was sick of my job. Nothing I was doing seemed to be yielding any fruit. I didn’t feel that I was growing. I didn’t feel that any good was coming out of the effort that I was putting in and I became very frustrated. It seemed as if my lessons were going in one ear of the members where I preached and out the other. Why was I doing this? Why bother working on these lessons if they are not going to accomplish anything?
Unfortunately, as a byproduct of my mindset, I noticed myself becoming very frustrated with the membership of the church I was working with. My mind quickly moved from grace to criticism and decided to put down roots. Then, no effort on their part seemed good enough. My mind was made up and I hit a brick wall. After all, everything else to that point (at least in my mind) had failed. I am ashamed to admit it, but I had checked out.
I will venture a guess to say that I am not alone in this. As Christians, I wonder if we have all felt as if we have hit the proverbial brick wall in our service to God. Maybe we too have put forth effort in the Kingdom only to feel that it has translated to little or no real result. Unfortunately, that can really do a number on how we see other people. In my case, my mindset belonged to me exclusively. However, I projected my perspective, at least for a time, onto the people around me. Identifying this in ourselves is key, but what do we do afterward? How do we fix this?
The answer to this is simple. I wish I would have applied this to my situation much sooner than I did. The answer is love. See, God commands us to love (Matthew 23:37; John 13:34). The fact that this is a command for us tells us one very important thing: it is a choice. God doesn’t expect things from us that are out of our control. We are not told to feel a certain way by this command, but to behave a certain way. So how do you behave love? Paul gives us some insight into this in chapter 13 of his first letter to the Corinthians:
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
So if you find yourself feeling that you have exhausted your options and nothing seems to be working:
- I have invited my co-workers to worship and they refuse to come.
- The person I am supposed to be studying with keeps canceling on me.
- No one appreciates what I do for the church.
- I am kind to my peers and they are still hateful toward me.
Remember that when all else fails, love. Love by action and not by emotion. Take Paul’s advice and engage in behaviors you can control regardless of what others are doing. Be patient, kind, humble, polite, considerate, empathetic, encouraging, truthful, enduring, hopeful, and steadfast.
You can control that!
Finally, remember that our call is not to results, it is to faithfulness.
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First off, let me begin by saying that I have a deep love for small congregations. I have worked with congregations made up of less than 100 members for the vast majority of my career. There are many things that I love about smaller works. I love that everyone really gets to know everyone. There is an intimacy that can sometimes get lost among larger groups. Everyone really becomes like family to one another.
While all of these characteristics are positive and very encouraging, it is a bit naïve to ignore the challenges that come with being a part of smaller congregations. It is even possible to be so in love with the concept of a smaller congregation that biblical growth is hindered. The following are some of the challenges that I see in smaller congregations.
1. There are fewer people to “pick up the slack.” In a congregation of 200+ members, there is going to be no shortage of people who are willing and able to step up and do the work that needs to be done. If you decide that you do not want to participate, it’s no big deal because there are dozens of people who do. However, in a smaller group, you don’t really have that luxury. While no Christian should ever not be working (Romans 12:11), members in a smaller congregation have the added responsibility of stepping out of their comfort zones and seeing that the work gets done.
2. The “small congregation mentality” can be very toxic. When members of a small congregation accept that they are, and will always be, small; growth can be hindered. Even though the Bible is filled with passages, which teach us to spread the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20; John 4:35; etc…), members of a smaller work can easily shirk this responsibility. This is wrong! Some people might even oppose growth because to grow might mean to lose the small congregation feel that so many are fond of. Don’t forget what our goal is! It is not to be smitten with our own congregations. It is to get ourselves and as many people as we can to heaven.
3. There isn’t always enough money for exciting expedients. Maybe we visit other congregations and see the latest and greatest technology being used, or large, elaborate buildings. Then, next Sunday, we are back in our tiny building singing with 20 people all the while remembering how amazing it was to sing with 200 just 7 days prior. Don’t forget what God has done with modest resources. His own disciples were blue-collar workers (Matthew 4:18-22). Moses had a stutter (Exodus 4:10). The Messiah slept in a feeding trough (Luke 2:7). Remember, God can do anything with anything. Focus on serving Him and not on what you have to work with.
There may be more to discuss. However, I don’t want to give the impression that there is something wrong with smaller congregations any more than I am suggesting there is something wrong with larger congregations. Both have their fair share of challenges. I think the key here is to identify those challenges and then get busy working on them. At the end of the day, whether we shake 10 hands on Sunday or 500, our goal is the same.
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I’m definitely having one of those days. I have spent quite a bit of time today staring at a blinking curser on my computer screen and I have absolutely no idea what to blog about today. Normally, I have an idea several days in advance so when I sit down to write on Tuesday morning, I’m good to go. Not today. Today, I have a million things on my mind after a very busy week, last week, and it feels as if the well has gone dry.
So, I am just going to share some of the random thoughts that are bouncing around in my head this morning and hope that they are of some use to you today.
1. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Sometimes, I wonder if Christians are paralyzed by perfection. We feel that if we talk to someone about Jesus, we won’t have all the answers to the question that other person might have, so we keep silent. Maybe that’s why we don’t teach Bible classes, preach, lead singing/prayers as well. How many things do you shy away from in your life because you are afraid that it won’t be perfect? What a shame that is, especially when God has not created us to be afraid (2 Timothy 1:7). God doesn’t need you to be perfect. He just needs you to work. So, get to work.
2. When God creates something, it is awesome! Last week was a trying week for the congregation I work with. There were several things that happened that made it a tough week. However, what I saw in response to that was nothing short of amazing. I saw the body that Paul described (1 Corinthians 12:25-26). It reminded me that Christians will never be perfect, but when imperfect Christians follow God’s perfect plan, lives will change. God worked, through His design, in each of us last week in an amazing way. I encourage you, this week, to step into God’s plan and see what He can do through you.
3. We are weaker when we step away from God’s Word. I had a wonderful conversation with one of my brothers in Christ last week. Somehow, during that conversation we got to talking about daily Bible reading and I confessed how much more I feel I struggle when I get out of that habit, even if it is only for a day or two. There is a reason Moses taught the congregation of Israel to keep the word of the Lord in their minds (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). There is a reason that blessings follow the man who meditates on the Law of the Lord (Psalm 1:1-2). God’s Word makes us stronger, smarter, and readies us for everything that this life could throw at us (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
4. Failing to be present is a terrible waste. Part of my distraction is related to planning 2 of my sons’ birthday party. I have one turning 9 and one turning 6 this month. In addition to thinking about cupcakes and presents, I can’t help but think that watching your kids grow up is one of the cruelest and most amazing blessings one can experience. I am proud of who they are becoming and miss who they were all at the same time. Folks, our time truly is precious. It is a gift from God. It won’t last forever (James 4:14). Take some time today and truly appreciate the blessing of time that God has given you.
I know this blog is a bit disorganized, but so am I…at least today. I hope you find value in this though and I hope it helps you as you work to know God better and serve him more faithfully.
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