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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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.
This past weekend, my mom and sister came for a visit, and during the course of that visit, my sister and I had a great conversation about the importance of being challenged and the painful element of growth in general. Granted, it was a short discussion as it happened in the car on the way to get something to drink, but it has stayed in my head these past few days.
We often speak of the preacher “stepping on our toes” if we found the lesson particularly convicting, and I must say that, as a preacher, this is one of the most encouraging things to hear after a sermon. This isn’t because I want my audience to feel bad or beat up on, but because it lets me know that they are being introspective and hopefully considering some change in their lives based on what the Bible teaches.
Sadly, it is the custom of some to surround themselves with only those who will compliment and congratulate them in everything they do. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with encouragement, but there should also be some conviction added into the mix. The same voice that is so generous with praise should also be forthcoming with correction and guidance that challenges us to do better. The problem, however, is that growth is never painless.
The following are a few reasons why it is so important to have our toes stepped on:
1. It sharpens you. One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Proverbs 27:17. However, there is no sharpening that takes place if we are not challenged. The iron must change its shape in order to become sharp. It must lose part of itself to be transformed from a raw element into a tool with a higher purpose. Do you allow yourself to be sharpened even if it means you have to change?
2. It yields the fruit of righteousness. In Hebrews 12, the writer talks about the discipline of the Lord and how it yields in us the fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11). One common mistake we make with this passage is that we assume that discipline is punishment for wrongdoing. In reality though, the concept of discipline is more akin to shaping or molding. Sure a father will discipline his child when the child does wrong, but the reason for that is usually to teach, guide and ultimately mold that child. The same thing is true for us. When we are disciplined…by God…through His Word…via someone in our lives, we are molded into that which gets us closer to being worthy of the presence of the Father.
3. It is better than flattery. Sure, it feels good when someone is willing to overlook our shortcomings and congratulate us on being superb human beings. However, as enjoyable as it is, is it truly helpful? The Bible teaches us that there is great danger in flattery (Proverbs 29:5). Think of it this way, would we appreciate the doctor who refused to point out our ailments because he didn’t want to offend us? Would we value a teacher who marked “A” on everything we turned in regardless of the quality of the work? Then why are we so keen to find people who will not challenge us to be better, even if it means the truth they tell is sometimes painful?
4. It is an act of love. Not tough love. Just love. I don’t make my kids get shots because I want to see them in pain. It’s because I love them. I don’t yell their names, as they are about to touch a hot surface, to hurt their feelings. I do it to protect them. We have got to stop assuming that speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) means a soft tone of voice and a smile. Correction. Is. Love. As long as it is done in the best interest of the people involved. Don’t be the fool and hate being corrected (Proverbs 12:1). See it for what it is, regardless of how uncomfortable it may be. After all, what kind of person would risk hurting your feelings to help save your soul? The kind you want in your life! “Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (Proverbs 27:5).
Do you want to grow? Then you need to be ready to hurt. Consider your surroundings and ask yourself if you despise correction or appreciate it. Still mad at someone for pointing out the truth to you? Get over it and reconcile the relationship because those are the kinds of people you need in your life. He might not have “said” it right, but that doesn’t mean it was not an act of love.
Over Thanksgiving, the whole family went to see the newest Disney movie, Moana. The movie is about a Polynesian girl who is charged with the task of crossing the ocean to deliver a stone in order to save her people and her island. Just imagine Lord of the Rings with a lot more water, coconuts and the expected Disney music and magic. Anyway, my kids are obsessed with it. In fact, we had to buy the soundtrack of which they now know just about every word both English and Samoan. Car rides are super fun now.
More to the point, there is a song entitled “We Know the Way” (click here to hear it) which talks about the navigation style of the Polynesians of that era who managed to explore and discover hundreds of islands over hundreds of thousands of square miles of ocean within the Polynesian triangle which spans from New Zeland to the Hawaiian islands to Easter Island (source). They did all of this without a compass, sextant, gps or any other device that could even be considered relatively modern. Their method involved reading the stars, understand the currents and temperature of the ocean and keeping their island in their mind…literally.
What they managed to do was nothing short of amazing. In order to know where they were out on the ocean, these Polynesian navigators had to be aware of where their home island was in reference to their current position. Still, this concept serves as a beautiful double metaphor. While they had to literally keep the location of their home in their thoughts, they also chose to remember where they came from culturally as the Polynesian culture was spread throughout this vast area.
So this may be a stretch, but I can help but think about how this mindset applies to Christians as well. The idea of remembering where we come from, not in a literal sense necessarily, but spiritually.
- Children are referred to as heritage from the Lord (Psalm 127:3-5). We belong to God as we all came from God.
- This world is not our home. We are travelers on this earth and there is no place here that we are intended to call our final destination (1 Peter 2:11-12).
- We are to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus as He is the One who will guide us to our home in heaven (Hebrews 12:2; John 14:6).
While I don’t think it was the point of Moana to encourage people to follow Jesus, it is certainly something I have taken away from seeing the movie…and listening to the soundtrack for hundreds of hours. In remembering who we are and where we come from, we are better able to find our way home. Its a beautiful parallel to our journey as Christians who are navigating this world all the while trying to reach that Home in Heaven that has been prepared for us.
Do with this what you will, these are just some of my thoughts. I hope it helps you to remember who you are, where you come from, and most importantly, where you are trying end up.
It sneaks up on you, doesn’t it. You didn’t plan it, and you certainly don’t feel good about it. Nevertheless, you have that moment when you stop, look around at your life, and realize that you are the spiritual equivalent of a saltine that has been left out overnight. Stale, lacking utility, and the farthest thing from exciting. But, how did you get here? Where was the warning? The following are signs that you might be devolving into a spiritual coma.
1. You are in the middle, or on the other side of a stressful time in your life. Maybe you’ve suffered a loss, moved to a new house, survived another semester of school, had a child, gotten sick or experienced anything else that is the equivalent of getting hammered in the face by life. Chances are, if this is the case, you have been focusing on that more than God. Keep in mind that this is an observation and not a criticism as it happens to all of us. Still, life stuff tends to draw our minds away from God stuff. Solution: Read Matthew 6:25-34 and refocus your priorities.
2. You are spending more time in Bible-ish books than in the actual Bible. Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of good books out there. Daily devotionals, books on Christian living, and topical studies are widely available. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with this per se, but don’t forget that there is only one Word. Reading about the Bible is not the same thing and reading your Bible. A devo consisting of 3 verses and then 2 pages of author’s comments is not Bible study. Solution: Read. Your. Bible. In fact, start with Hebrews 4:12-13.
3. You find yourself complaining or criticizing. When you have a bad day at work it’s because your co-workers are crazy. If you have a bad day at school, it’s because your teachers are unfair. Whether it’s money, people, the weather, the government, or life in general; there is always something wrong. Fun fact about complaining: it is impossible to be thankful when your mind is set on criticism. Solution: Read 1 Thessalonians 5:12-18 and find reasons to be thankful.
4. You feel you have done the work already. Maybe you’re not the one who needs to grow. Maybe you have gotten to a point in your spiritual growth and feel that others are just struggling to catch up with you. Chances are if you find yourself on the moral high ground above just about everyone else, then it is actually you who needs to get to work. Solution: Read Luke 18:9-14 and challenge yourself to keep going.
5. You’re not going to worship. I’m not talking about the occasional work or illness related absence. I am talking about the times when you just don’t feel like it or schedule something unnecessary during the time you have set aside for God. We can argue to no end about the “extra” services like Sunday nights and Wednesday evenings being non-essential. The fact is, though, they’re not. When you’re not there, you miss out. Being with our brethren keeps us strong. If you’re not growing, this could be why. Solution: Read Hebrews 10:23-25 and then resolve to be with God’s people more.
6. Your emotions are what keep you close to God. First off, let me say that an emotional connection to God is wonderful. However, when that’s all there is, it is a recipe for disaster. Our emotions change and are easily influenced by, well…by everything. There needs to be more. There needs to be a resolve based on the knowledge of His Word. Faith is not produced by tearful moments of happiness. Solution: Read Romans 10:14-17 and rely on His Word more than your feelings.
7. You haven't been uncomfortable recently. I know, I know. What could possibly be wrong with being comfortable. Nothing, I guess, except that growth is uncomfortable. If you’ve ever rubbed the legs of a small child due to growing pains, then you know exactly what I mean. Comfort and complacency is a great way for the devil to keep the Lord’s army incapacitated. Solution: Read 1 Timothy 1:7 and do something that challenges your comfort today.
Perhaps you can think of other signs that indicate a lack of spiritual growth. If so, leave a comment below.
Last week my son had a moment of weakness. In his second grade math class, there was a test going on. After he finished, instead of sitting and reading at his desk like he was told to do, he got out of his seat, walked over to another student’s seat and adjusted it while that student was up handing in his test paper. When the other kid came back to his chair, he didn’t realize that it had been moved and when he went to sit down, he missed the chair, fell backwards and hit his head. Notes were sent home. Calls were made, and my oldest (8) found himself in the very unusual position of being at fault.
My son said he did not mean for his classmate to fall or get hurt. He said he was just trying to fix his chair. Regardless, a mistake was made and he was the guilty party. He should not have been out of his chair. His good intentions did not excuse him from disregarding his instructions to be at his desk reading. As a result, he was scolded at school, lost privileges at home, and had to write apologies both to his teacher and the other student to be given at school when he went back. On top of everything else his tearful shame was a prolonged experience as this all happened on a Friday and school didn’t resume until the following Tuesday.
Last night, after the apologies were written, my son held his head low and seemed to be very sad. When I asked him what was wrong he said he was scared about school the following day and did not want to have to deliver these apologies. As we talked, I explained to him a few things that the Bible teaches us about mistakes, repentance, and forgiveness.
- Everyone makes mistakes. Even though this is no excuse for wrongdoing, it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person (Romans 3:23).
- When we feel sad after doing wrong, it is a good thing and it’s God’s way of bringing us to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10).
- Repentance is more than saying you’re sorry. It is also a decision to cease from the wrongdoing.
- When we repent, God forgives us. Other people may not, but God always does (1 John 1:9).
After explaining all of this to him the best I could in such a way that his young mind could understand it, he asked me to pray with him. Toward the end of the prayer, though, he took over. As I heard his tiny, timid voice ask his God to forgive him and ask for strength to make good choices in the future, I felt so grateful…grateful for many things. I was grateful for my son and his sweet heart. I was grateful for God’s Word which provided wisdom in this moment of trial, but I was most of all grateful for my Jesus, who made it possible for my baby boy to petition the Father in his time of weakness and ensure the mercy that our souls so desperately crave.
I know this seems simple, but I hope that we, in our weakness, never forget that forgiveness is always possible for us so long as we resolve to point our hearts to God and humbly sacrifice ourselves in His service.