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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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).
I think we have all had that Sunday morning. You sleep through your alarm; your clothes aren’t ironed, the kids are hungry, but all you have for breakfast is some protein powder and a head of lettuce. Then, right as you’re walking out the door, you realize that you haven’t turned off the coffee pot. You get in the car and remember that your Bible is on the kitchen table, but you’re already so late that you have to just leave it. Forget about Bible class. Now you’re driving like a maniac just to make it in time for worship. You get to the building halfway through the first song and while you are scrambling to get seated, the kids start asking for gum. Finally you get sat down, but by this time the Lord’s Supper has begun. You desperately inhale the bread and juice because you forgot to eat breakfast. The offering basket arrives just as you finish signing your check. Then, the song leader gets up again, but you have no idea what song is being lead because you have to distribute pens and paper to the kids if you want them to remain calm. Finally, the preacher stands up to speak, but you are so exhausted from the full days worth of activities you’ve managed to cram in the last 90 minutes, you can’t even begin to focus. Finally, he’s done. All you have to do is survive the closing prayer (please don’t be a long one) and you’re free to recuperate and try again this evening.
This has happened more times to my family than I care to admit. It is not something that I boast by any means, but it has happened. When we adopted our middle son right after our youngest was born, my wife and I were a wreck. We went from 1 kid to 3 over the course of 10 days and worship is what suffered the most. Finally, we sat down and made a plan to make sure that this didn’t happen anymore. Granted, we have had the occasional off week here and there, but the following tips have helped tremendously.
1. Saturday Night = School Night. The first thing we do, to set our kids and ourselves up to succeed, is treat Saturday night like a school night. We don’t make big plans or stay up too late on Saturday. Why? Because, Sunday is a workday. It is the Lord’s Day. We wouldn’t let our kids go to school on 6 hours of sleep and expect them to function and we certainly wouldn’t do that with our jobs. We try and get to bed at a decent hour so when Sunday morning rolls around, we are ready to go. Side note: This is also the perfect time to write your contribution check.
2. Wardrobe is a Saturday Night Venture. This is simple, and you know it makes sense. Saturday night, everyone’s clothes are picked out and ironed if needed. This means everything. How many times have you wasted time on Sunday morning looking for that one shoe, tie, earing, belt? Get it ALL together on Saturday. You’ll be glad you did.
3. On Time = Late. You know as well as I do that when you arrive at the building, there will be hands to shake and things to sort out. This is true regardless of when you arrive. Get there early enough to do all of that before class starts. This way, when it is time to begin, you can be in your seat ready to engage. Remember why you are there to begin with. This is God’s time. Be respectful of that. Again, do you show up in the parking lot of your workplace or kid’s school when the day is supposed to begin? No. You arrive a bit early so you can be prepared to begin on time.
4. Preparation is Key. Come to the building ready to go. Have your Bible lesson read. Make sure the kids have done theirs as well. Spend some time in prayer before you get there. If you want, you can listen to your Bible lesson and/or pray in the car. I don’t advise the driver to close his/her eyes during this prayer, but it can be done. This is a perfect time to get your mind right, even if you are running a bit late.
5. When You’re Here, You’re Here. Be present. Once you arrive at the building, there is nothing you can do about what happened this morning. In the immortal words of Elsa, “Let it go!” Resolve, to focus on God, and only on God. Everything else (lunch, bills, homework, ball games, personal issues, money, the coming week) can wait.
There is no such thing as a perfect Sunday morning, but these are some tips that should be able to help make the most of the time we set aside to collectively worship our God. If there is something that I did not mention that is a vital part of you’re Sunday morning routine. Share it in the comments below.
One day, this past week, my wife went to pick up our kids from school and as they were getting in the Swagger Wagon (minivan), my middle son (age 5) started telling my wife how they had spent time at school that day practicing getting under their desks to hide from “a bad man.” My oldest (age 8) added his experience, which involved finding a place to hide in the classroom and being very quiet. They obviously didn’t understand fully what they were doing, but upon hearing this, names like Sandy Hook and Columbine instantly invaded my mind, and to be honest, my heart sank. Then I got to thinking about the election and the future of the nation in which my kids will grow up. My heart sank deeper. Then, I started thinking about the social climate of the country and all of the animosity that is so present today. My heart hit the floor.
Why is there so much hate, anger, and evil and how are we supposed to endure it? How am I, as a Christian trying my best to remain faithful, supposed to be able to finish my race, love my wife, and lead my family to God in a time and culture that seems to be working against me every moment of every day? Here are a few things I thought of and I hope they help you as well.
1. Remember that this is not the first time Christians have been opposed by society. We often want to start our sentences with “well in today’s time…” The truth is, though, the world has always been bad. Since the flood, God’s people have always been outnumbered. Noah was one of 8 to escape the flood (Genesis 7:13). Only a remnant of God’s people survived the captivity (Ezra 9:15), and narrow is the way that leads to salvation (Matthew 7:13-14). What we are experiencing is not new. The circumstances might be different, but the struggle is the same.
2. Remember that hardship gives you the opportunity to rely on God more. I’m sure it was lousy for the Israelites to have to eat manna every day for 40 years. I’m sure it was hard on them to have to collect food each day without being able to store up and take ownership of their own well-being. While that might have been hard, it sure taught them how to rely on God because they didn’t have another option. Maybe the uncertain nature of our lives on this earth is meant to cultivate a strong dependence on God and an anticipation for the life to come. Trials have value (James 1:2). The question is: will you let them be valuable to you?
3. Remember that this world is not your home. We work hard to make our lives on earth pleasurable. We work hard in school, get jobs, and cultivate relationships. It is hard not to constantly strive toward the goal of earthly happiness. The problem here is that this life is not our endgame. Whether you are among the righteous who will be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) or the wicked who will suffer His judgment (2 Thessalonians 1:8), you are not staying here! This makes it easier to rely less on what this world has to offer whether it be good or bad. Our citizenship lies elsewhere.
4. Remember that a pleasant life is not promised. Perhaps we think that it is a given that if we work hard, make good choices, treat people with kindness, and are good people that we will be rewarded with a happy and pleasurable life. Where does it say that in the Bible? It doesn’t. In fact, it is more likely that as Christians, we will suffer more than we will enjoy peace. (John 15:19; Luke 12:53). If we expect life to be fair, we will always be disappointed. That is not to say that our lives can’t be enjoyable, but there are no guarantees.
5. Remember God is in control! When the Israelites were dragged off in chains, God was in control. When Isaac was on the altar, God was in control. When the world was flooded, God was in control. When Nero, Hitler, Bin Laden and every other political leader in history rose to power, God was in control. When the Messiah was broken and bloodied on the cross, God. Was in. Control. That is not about to change. It is not the responsibility of the world, the government, or the goodness of man to ensure that we get to heaven. God does that. “Choose for yourselves this day, whom you will serve.” Will it be that which will be destroyed (2 Peter 3:10) or He who created?
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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.
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.