Preacher's Blog

Preacher's Blog

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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Preacher Life

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Misconceptions About the church of Christ

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

It has happened too many times to count. I am in a conversation with someone, and then it comes out that I attend a local congregation of the church of Christ. The once pleasant exchange soon devolves into a big, soupy mess of awkwardness, and people have actually responded to this news with an apology as if they anticipate being scolded or reprimanded by me. This makes me wonder if people have a bad taste in their mouths about members of the church of Christ. If so, that makes me sad.

My intention in this blog is to try and clarify some of the misconceptions people may have when they hear the words “church of Christ.” However, this is a tricky one. It’s tricky because I can’t speak for everyone who claims to be a member of the church of Christ. However, I can speak for myself, and I feel confident that I can speak, at least from a general perspective, for those members who are closest to me. So here goes. Here are a few of the things I wish the average person knew about the church of Christ.

1. We are more than just the folks who don’t use instruments in worship. Come on. Let’s face it. This is one thing that most people seem to know about the church of Christ. We’re the ones who don’t have a piano, organ, guitar or ANYTHING, for that matter, playing when we sing during worship. However, that is not all there is to us. We are Christians striving to be more like Jesus with each passing day. We are men and women who struggle daily with sin and temptation. We are families trying to raise our children in the training and the admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). We are people who want to honor God and encourage those around us to do the same.

2.  We do not think we are better than anyone else. Few things have stung more than hearing this being insinuated in a conversation. I don’t know any member of the church of Christ who thinks he/she is better than anyone. We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We all need the same Jesus if we are to be together in heaven one day (John 14:6), and to think that I somehow have an edge over another person simply because of the name on the building in which I worship is the farthest thing from the truth.

3. We are not “ultra-conservative.” I’m not a fan of terms like “conservative” and “liberal.” The reason for this is because both of the terms are completely based on comparison. What is conservative to one, might be liberal to another. I would like to think that as a Christian, I am neither. I would like to think the same of any other member of the church of Christ. We are not liberal or conservative. We are biblical. At least, that is what we strive to be. Every Christian I know tries his or her best to serve and worship God based upon the pattern that is laid out for us in the New Testament. That is the reason for the lack of instrumental music. The New Testament (which contains the instruction for worship under the law of Christ) tells us to sing (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). So, that is what we do.

4. We do not think we’re the only ones going to heaven. I’m about to get myself in trouble here, but it is important that everyone knows that it is NOT what is written on the building that determines salvation. Jesus made it clear that the one who does the will of God will inherit salvation (Matthew 7:21). That is the standard. Nothing else! While I, and others around me, are striving to seek out the will of God in everything we do, it is not done for us just because we are members of the church of Christ. The Bible tells us what a person needs to do in order to get to heaven; and nowhere in the Bible will we find evidence to support that simply being a member of a church of Christ is what God expects from us. “Whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17).

Again, let me point out that I am only speaking from my perspective here and to be frank, if these misconceptions are as common as I suspect they are, then they had to come from somewhere. I encourage you all to ask questions, start conversations, study your Bibles, and do everything we can to know God better. Lastly, let us strive less to be disciples of the name on the door and strive more to be disciples of Jesus Christ.

If you have any thoughts or questions about this blog, please feel free to comment below.

Please Help Me! From a Christian Parent to the Congregation

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

In 2011, when my wife and I went from 1 kid to 3 within a timespan of 10 days, there were times when I wasn’t sure how we were going to make it. As a preacher, I was obviously no help during worship because I wasn’t even sitting in our pew to help my wife wrangle the rugrats during worship. It didn’t take long before various members of the congregation swooped in and grabbed a kid so that they were all taken care of and also so that my wife could have a chance to worship.

I have never been with a congregation who didn’t love the kiddos. As a parent, that is amazing. As a preacher and a parent, it is a blessing. However, there are days that I leave worship so frustrated I can’t even think. My kids act up from time to time, but that’s not the cause of the frustration. After all, they’re kids. My frustration comes from a place of guilt and shame because I feel that your worship has been compromised because of my kids’ behavior. On those days I am sad because I feel like you have been cheated out of your opportunity to focus on our Heavenly Father and worship Him. I know you love my kids, and I am so grateful that you do. I know you think they’re adorable and funny. I do too. So please know that the following requests are not because you have done something wrong. I ask them of you because I love you, because I don’t want to rob you of your worship, and because I am trying to teach my little critters to love and serve the Lord. All I am asking is that you please help me.

Please help me by ignoring their questions. I know it sounds harsh, but it is the best way to teach them not to be disruptive. I feel that they need to see that during worship, God get’s all of our attention. If they whisper a question to me during a prayer, I do not answer. My communication with God is more important than the piece of gum they are requesting.  If they talk during the sermon, I try to ignore it because that is my opportunity to grow and I hope that by modeling proper respect during the assembly, they will see its importance and imitate it. There are always exceptions, I know, but this is the standard we are trying to establish.

Please help me by not laughing at them. I know, believe me, this is hard. When a 3-year-old is imitating the song leader or sticking a finger in the nose of his parents, it’s funny. When my 4-year-old waited for the quietest point of the service to shout, “I have to pee!” it’s funny. However, when they hear laughter, it reinforces that behavior. If they learn that acting out during worship elicits a positive response from people they love, they will never stop acting out. Remember, my first priority is to follow’s God’s guidance in raising my kids (Ephesians 6:4).

Please help me by being on my side. When one of my kids has to be taken out because of repeated bad behavior, I need you to be on my side. When I get the “you’re a mean parent” stare or “that poor baby” frown, it feels like my efforts are being undermined. I am not the bad guy. I am the one who is trying to cultivate a love for God in tiny hearts. Sometimes, that means there are consequences for bad behavior. My consistency and resolve is preparing them to serve a God who will never tolerate sin, regardless of how cute the sinner may be.

My kids are a blessing to our congregation. I know that, and you know that. However, they are terrible at being God. Therefore, they do not deserve your attention during a time that has been set aside for the Lord beyond what is necessary to ensure their needs are being met. That time is for you and our Heavenly Father. I hope you know that I don’t write this in an attempt to tell you what to do, or to make you afraid to engage with my kids at the church building. I just wanted you to know what it’s like from my perspective. I know there are days when I don’t follow my own rules and all of these sentiments go up in flames. However my goal, always, is to do what I can to point those around me to Jesus, even if it means looking past my own children.

The Struggle of Keeping God First in Our Lives

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

I’ll be honest with you all. I am not feeling it today. My head is congested. I am tired. My last semester of Grad School seems to want nothing more than to destroy me. I am trying to sell a house. And, to top it off, today is my youngest son’s Birthday. So in the midst of all this chaos, I am trying to make today a special one for him. Then I remembered today is Tuesday. Blog day. So if I am being perfectly real with you, I have no idea where this post is going because I am just making it up as I go along. I don’t even have a title for it yet.

Oh yeah. I almost forgot that the Chicago Cubs, my all-time favorite baseball team is in the World Series for the first time since 1945! They play game one tonight. I guess I say all of this to convey the point that the last few days have been filled with all sorts of distractions, both good and bad. I find myself here frequently and have to really be aware of where my priorities are. As much as I hate to admit it, there are times when my Bible Study and prayer life can really suffer. So today I think I want to talk about how we prioritize our lives and the importance of keeping God first in our lives, even when we are distracted.

Take this head cold for example. I am always thinking about it, because it is driving me crazy. I remember to take my medicine when it’s time so what I am seeing is that it is occupying a lot of my attention. What I am remembering now, however,  is that I have suffered from a much more severe illness. Sin. So today, whenever I start feeling bad because my nose and head seem to be malfunctioning, I will make the effort to remember that I have already been cured in the best way possible (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Our house not selling is a huge burden on us right now. It is definitely trying our patience and causing some stress in my life. Every time I think about it, I feel that ache in the pit of my stomach. Doubt. Fear. Anxiety. Not today, though. Today I am going to make an effort to remember that every struggle has value and that it will make me stronger if I let it (James 1:2).

Grad School. Ugh. So much to do. So much pressure. So many demands. Well, not today. Today I am going to be grateful that I have the opportunity to study something I love and that this will better enable me to be a stronger husband, father, and Christian. Today I will just give thanks (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Then there’s the birthday boy. This little tasmanian devil disguised as a blond haired and blue eyed cherub. He’s not a baby any more and he is intent on making sure that his mama and I know it. While he demands a lot of my attention, which can also be stressful at times (especially on birthday’s), today I am just going to focus on the fact that my number one job is to point him to Jesus and help him get to heaven. Today, I will be a godly father (Ephesians 6:4).

And now on to the Cubbies. For the last month, I have been obsessed. Watching games, wearing my favorite cubs t-shirt until it became a health hazard, and cheering them on to their first World Series in 71 years has been a big part of my life. I love my Cubbies. I will watch them play tonight and I really REALLY want them to win. But, today, they will occupy their proper place in my life. Before the game I will read my Bible, spend some time in prayer and try to encourage some of my brethren. I will honor God first (Matthew 6:33). Period.

I am not sure if this is helpful or nothing more than a cold-medicine induced rambling. I don’t even know if I will feel the same way tomorrow. However, today, I am going to focus on today (Matthew 6:34). I am going to focus on what I can control in this moment. I am certainly not saying that you have to do what I do, but I hope that you can find some value in this post and maybe even some encouragement to focus on the present. Even if you haven’t been living right or putting God first, please know that you can start right now. Do one thing at a time, point yourself toward Jesus, and you’ll finish the race (Hebrews 12:2).

A Letter from the Preacher to Parents of Small Children

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Dear parents of small children in church (you know who you are),

When I was a kid, the church I went to was fairly small. One Sunday, we were at services and during the sermon, a baby started crying. It wasn’t terribly loud although it was noticeable. Then the preacher very calmly stated that he would wait a moment while [mom’s name] took [baby’s name] out of the auditorium to the nursery. Whoah! I mean, I guess this guy was nice about it, but at the same time, he sort of kicked this mom out because the baby was making noise. While part of me understands, especially as a preacher, that it can be difficult to preach (and listen to a lesson) with a baby on the front row trying to nail down his air raid siren impression, it seemed a bit harsh to me that this poor mom was banished from the auditorium because her baby was being vocal.

Now, I am the preacher, and we are blessed to have several babies/toddlers in our congregation. While I will still maintain that they are perfect and can do no wrong, it is possible that some of you parents might disagree and suggest that they can be disruptive in worship from time to time. However, this is what I love about this congregation. When the little ones start to get noisy, you don’t run, panicked from the auditorium to some dungeon that’s decorated with animal wallpaper. You. Stand. Up. You stand up and walk to the back of the auditorium so you can administer that patented parent bouncy-sway maneuver and sooth your unruly critters without having to isolate until the child is quieter. I love this! I love looking to the back of the auditorium and seeing parents, with their kids, still engaging in worship. In all fairness, there are those times when it is appropriate to take your child out of worship and if a parent feels that is best, then so be it. You should know, however, I hope you never feel pressured to take your child out of worship by me and here’s why:

1. Worship should be done together. On the first day of the week Christians gather together (Acts 20:7) to worship God. We do this because the Bible tells us to, but there is also something that is very encouraging about being together, in the same room, and worshiping God collectively (Colossians 3:16). We should take advantage of that as much as we possibly can and I don’t want you to feel like you can’t participate with the rest of the congregation because your baby makes noise.

2. Kids learn by doing. Years back, I heard someone say that a child can’t be expected to sit through worship, they just don’t know how. Ya think? Of course they don’t know how. That is why we teach them. Do you have any idea how many MMA style submission holds my wife has done on my boys to keep them from carrying on in worship? Granted, it doesn’t always work, but it is important to give them a chance to learn to be in the worship service without immediately defaulting to the seclusion of the nursery. Part of raising these little monsters is preparing them for their work in God’s kingdom one day (Ephesians 6:4).

3. Parents need to worship too. I know I know. We have the sermon piped into the nursery via a $40 set of baby monitors, but there is no way you can tell me that experience is the same as being with your brothers and sisters, in the same room, worshiping God together. If you taking your baby to the back and holding them through the whole sermon is what you need to do in order to make sure you get to participate, then so be it. I know our children demand a lot of our attention and I understand that some Sunday’s you spend more time making sure the Cheerio supply doesn’t deplete too quickly than actually listening to the sermon, and that’s ok. I just want you to know that your worship is important to me and I want to do whatever I can to make sure you are able to honor God the way He expects us to (John 4:24).

This post might seem silly to some, but as a parent I know how difficult it can be on Sundays. It is a big day for families and there is never anything simple about it. For those of you who struggle every week, please know it will get easier…someday. For those of you standing in the back swaying with a sleeping toddler for 40 minutes so you don’t have to leave. You’re awesome! Keep it up, and thanks for sticking around.

Christians and Their Comfort Zones

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

This past Sunday I preached a lesson on the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32). A big portion of the lesson was focused on the potential growth of God’s kingdom in comparison to the tiny mustard seed that grows into a tree large enough for birds to take refuge. As I was preaching, I couldn’t help but realize that this is an area, in my life, that needs some serious improvement. What am I doing, beyond my job, to increase the numbers of God’s kingdom? Later, the Sunday evening exhaustion set in and I didn’t think about it again.

Then Monday rolled around. My wife and I were at Wal-Mart with our youngest son buying supplies so he could paint. In hindsight, we could have picked a less disastrous art project, but more on that later. We happened to run into another mother there who was doing something similar. We started visiting and after a few minutes, I had the urge to invite her to church and I resisted. What in the world is wrong with me? I just preached about this and now, here I am, chickening out when I have the opportunity to LITERALLY practice what I preached. I don’t know why I got so scared ,but I did. Then, I decided to go for it. I invited her to come worship with us, and this lead into a wonderful conversation about her and her family who were new to Lubbock and looking for a place to worship. She gave me her card and I later texted her information about Hub City and now, she and her family are planning to come visit. I. FELT. GREAT!

Then, this morning, I got an email from one of the members here encouraging me for my work and letting me know that she too has struggled with putting herself out there the way she feels she needs to. So all of this got me thinking about our comfort zones and why they can be so tough to break out of. Why are we scared even though we know there is nothing to really be scared of? I don’t have the answer for that, but I do have a few things for us to remember in getting past those invisible barriers that can sometimes keep us from serving God to our full potential.

1. You are not responsible for the soul of every person you approach. It can sometimes be intimidating to approach someone with the Gospel. Especially if we feel that we are now committed to bring them from their introduction to the Gospel to their baptism. We feel ill-equipped for that big of a job. The good news is that evangelism is never a one-person job. Paul shows us this in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 3:6).

2. Think small at first. This goes along with the previous point. You do not have to have a whole speech memorized or be prepared for every question that might come up during that initial conversation. All you have to do is say, “Hey, I attend _______________ and we would love to have you worship with us some time.” BOOM! That’s it! This is not to say that you should 100% avoid deeper conversations/study, but a simple invitation is still something.

3. Set a goal. Decide on Monday that you are going to approach at least _____ people this week. Maybe that number is 50 and maybe that number is 2. Either way, goals provide intentionality to a task that might otherwise fade into the background with all of the other things you plan to get around to doing.

4.  All you need is God’s Word. You do not have to be persuasive or even articulate. Moses sure wasn’t (Exodus 4:10). Besides, even Jesus relied solely on God’s Word in His responses to the devil when He was being tempted (Matthew 4:1-11). I have said it before and I’ll say it again. The Gospel does not need your talent. It just needs your voice (Romans 10:14).

5. You have not been designed to be afraid. God is with us. He has perfectly created us and empowered us with everything we need to please Him. He has not made us to be afraid. He has made us to win (2 Timothy 1:7). So when you are given the opportunity to talk to someone about God and you feel that twinge of fear, remember, that is the devil trying to mess you up. Then, punch him in the face by pushing through your nerves and proclaim Jesus to someone!

I hope these help, and I hope that you will work hard with me so we can get out of our comfort zones this week.

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