Looking Forward to Looking Back

Every year around the middle of April, Andrea and I would return to the United States from Paraguay in order to visit our brethren here at Margaret Street church of Christ and present our annual Furlough Mission Report. Each year, I would begin our report by citing Acts 14:26,27. Year after year, as we returned to our home congregation, I could easily empathize with the words I read in that verse, “From there they sailed to … where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed,” (v26). An entire year had passed of working in the Lord’s kingdom since we had last seen our brethren and now we were back together. Much had happened since we had last departed. Because of those experiences, I could clearly imagine the excitement that Paul and Barnabas must have felt – to have been received by warm embraces and smiles of their beloved brethren in returning home to Antioch. The church at Antioch must have been abuzz with joyful chatter as the news of their returning missionaries had made the rounds and then even more joyfulness was brought about by their report of “how God had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” (v27). That’s how we felt returning home to Milton!

We experienced this same emotion when our Margaret Street brethren would respond with much joy to the Paraguay Mission report. In all of this, there was a sense of great satisfaction felt by everyone, knowing that all that was happening was to glorify God! His people were rejoicing because His kingdom had expanded and His Son was being exalted! It was the end result of substantial planning, much prayer, a great deal of labor, inexhaustible faith, and of God giving the increase.

This is the same end result for which we are hoping and praying to see with the new church plant!

Acts 14:24-28 is written in past tense; the writer was looking back upon something that had already taken place. Likewise, we look forward to the day when we can look back and see how much God’s kingdom has grown. We look forward to when our brethren, who are about to be commended to the work for a new church plant in Avalon, will return and report to us all that God has done by adding more souls to His church! We look forward to that joyful day and that same feeling of satisfaction that our efforts had been for God’s glory! Today, we may be saying “farewell and Godspeed” to some of our beloved brethren, knowing that while it may be difficult and painful in many ways, it is, ultimately, for a greater good and purpose. It is for God’s glory! It is the result of substantial planning and much prayer. Now, as the labor begins, our faith will be tested. Now, we must keep our focus on things above and allow God to give the increase – that is what trusting in God is all about, that is true faith. We hope to look back upon this day, this congregational event, this leap of faith, and rejoice because His kingdom will have expanded and His Son will have been being exalted!
Link to Church Bulletin:

Fasting, Praying, Commending

By Troy Spradlin
In one week our brethren who have dedicated themselves to the new church plant effort will be worshiping with us for the last time as members of the Margaret Street church of Christ. The following week, November 5th, they will be gathering to worship as a new congregation, the Avalon church of Christ. This is the culmination of several years of planning, prayer, and effort. It is a pinnacle moment for this congregation – in fact, for any congregation of the Lord’s body – a moment when a church grows to the spiritually mature level of propagating more churches, just as is seen in the New Testament pattern (Acts 1:8; 8:4; 13:3; 1 Corinthians 3:6). Let us all rejoice! Saying “Farewell” is never easy, but just remember this, in two weeks there will be another church of Christ in this area! The darkness will be penetrated even deeper by another ray of light! That is something in which we can all rejoice! In addition, let us now do our part in appealing to God to ensure the success of this effort. Let’s do more than just say “Farewell.” Let’s do what the church of Christ at Antioch did some 2000 years ago. Let’s follow their biblical example of “having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away,” (Acts 13:3).
Let us fast for the new church plant.
The Antioch church fasted before sending off their missionaries. So, pick a day, a half a day, a sunrise to sunset, or any amount of time that involves a measure of sacrifice on your part and dedicate it to fasting. Allow that sacrifice, that hunger pang to remind you of how important this effort truly is and that we’re asking for God’s hand to be upon those who are embarking upon this evangelistic endeavor. Don’t forget to consider Matthew 6:16-18.
Let us pray for the new church plant.
Spend several hours in prayer this week. Pray about it every day, or every morning, every evening, or as often as you possibly can. Pray that the brethren have much success in making contacts and leading lost souls to Jesus. Pray that they remain strong and don’t become discouraged. Pray that they grow, both spiritually and numerically, and that God gives the increase. Appeal to God that all is done according to His will, His Word, and to His glory.
Let us commend our brethren to the work of the new church plant
Acts 14:26 says they Paul and Barnabas had been “commended” to the work (NKJV, ESV, NASB; or “committed” NIV, ASV). This happened when the brethren at Antioch laid their hands on them and sent them away. It wasn’t anything miraculous or a special ordination, it was simply a recognition of setting those dedicated disciples apart for the work which they were about to undertake. Next Sunday, we will have a special luncheon after morning services in the church plant team’s honor. We will take this opportunity to say “Farewell” to our brethren, pray over them, and then commend them to the work.
Link to Church Bulletin:

Datebook and Checkbook

  After watching the latest episode of “TNT: Teens-N-Truth,” I got to thinking about the topic of their broadcast, “Priorities.” What are our real priorities in life? Where do we spend most our time and energy? The point of their show was that we often say we love God and that He is the most important thing in our lives, but then we don’t demonstrate it because we put other things before Him. So, is He the most important priority in our life, or not? There is an old saying that has stuck with me through the years, “You can tell what is most important to someone just by looking at their datebook and their checkbook.” In other words, where you spend most of your time and most of your money is a strong indicator of what your priorities in life really are. Like to play golf? Like to travel? Like to go shopping? Your datebook and checkbook will reflect that. Are your children and their activities your priority? Your datebook and checkbook will reflect that. In fact, pick anything as a priority and it will most likely be reflected in the amount of time and money you spend. Now, just to clarify, there is nothing inherently wrong or sinful with any of those material things, or even having activities we like to do (unless, of course, they result in harm to you, another person, or are illegal – that’s a different matter).
  However, the question simply becomes, “Where does God fit into all of that?” Where is God among your other priorities? Do you honor God with your lips, but your heart is actually far from Him? (Matthew 15:8) Or, does your time and money you spend reflect your true priorities? Is God really a priority in your life? Take a look at your datebook and checkbook, it will likely reveal the definitive answer. Someone who truly loves God will be at worship services every opportunity available (Hebrews 10:25). They will participate in fellowship activities with their brethren as often as possible (Acts 2:42). If God is a priority, then giving to the church liberally of both one’s time (2 Corinthians 8:5) and one’s money (2 Corinthians 9:7) comes naturally. Someone who truly loves God might also give to the poor, visit the elderly, comfort the sick, support missions, or whatever they purpose in their heart. Their priority is simply to serve God and His kingdom in anyway and as often as they possibly can. Be careful with your priorities for they can affect your eternal destiny! Remember what Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon,” (Matthew 6:24). Make God your true priority. (By the way, if you haven’t seen any episodes yet of “TNT: Teen-N-Truth” on Facebook, starring our resident celebrities Jack Webb and Stephen English, then you should check them out real soon. They’re doing a great job!)
Link to Church Bulletin:

Show Me the “Book, Chapter, and Verse”

Many of us have become accustomed to receiving news or new information daily via the Internet, television, or other media sources and we receive a lot of it. However, despite having instant access to news from all over the globe, we still often do not believe everything we read or hear. There are times when we have to confirm what we have heard before we accept it as truth. That is a good habit to have! The same thing should be true for spiritual matters. There are times when we hear things religiously affiliated that prompt us to check whether it is true or not. Biblical doctrines and theological teachings are something we should always take very seriously and we need to be absolutely certain regarding what we are willing to accept as true. To do this, there is a very simple test that can be used to confirm if something is true. Simply say, “Show me the book, chapter and verse.” Let’s call it the “BCV Test.” Most of the time, this simple test will erase doubt and expose error.Here is and example: some teach that salvation from one’s sins can be obtained by quoting a simple prayer and Jesus will then enter one’s heart as a “personal savior.” Is this true, or not? Let’s apply the “BCV Test” to determine if it is so. Upon careful examination, we find no verse in any chapter or book that affirms, or supports, this erroneous belief. This teaching includes the so called “Sinner’s Prayer,” however, it is also not found anywhere in the Bible. There exists no example in the Bible of anyone ever praying such a prayer and then receiving salvation. Neither do the words “personal savior” appear in any verse. While it is true that Jesus did, in fact, die for you and me, we still do not find the words that support that doctrine anywhere in the text. This teaching fails the “BCV Test.”So then, if a verse does not exist in the Bible to support a certain doctrinal teaching, why do people keep following it? The Bible answers that question also. Paul explained to the young preacher, Timothy, that this was going to happen (
2 Timothy 4:3-4). Man certainly has a tendency to invent his own form of spiritual enlightenment and to carve out his own religious path (Proverbs 14:12; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13). But that does not make it right, or in accordance to the will of God.Matthew 7:21-23 is a very powerful verse that every Christian should memorize. It reads, “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven.” Bear in mind that Jesus says “not everyone.” This implies that many will arrive there, but not all will enter into heaven. There are many who call themselves Christians who are doing many good things “in the name of the Lord” and believe they are going to heaven. But according to this verse, not everyone who calls himself a “Christian” will be allowed to enter. Why? Because they did not meet the requirement of “doing the will of the Father.” In other words, only those that obey the commandments of God will enter. God has revealed His will through His Son (Hebrews 1: 1,2) and through His inspired writers, (2 Peter 1: 19-21, 1 Cor. 2:13), in the form of the Bible. There, we can find all that pertains to life and godliness (2 Peter 1: 3) and understand what we have to do to gain eternal life (1 Timothy 6: 18-19
). For this reason it is important to confirm every word we hear regarding spiritual matters with what the Bible says; we confirm it with “the book, chapter and verse.”

What Must I Do to be Saved?

There exist no question more important than to ask “What must I do to be saved?” There is nothing more important in life than the salvation of one’s soul! The hope of eternal life is a gift that Jesus offers to everyone who desires it (John 10:10; Matthew 11:28). Through the sacrifice of Jesus, God has done His part in providing that gift, a means for man to return to Him, and now man has to do his own part in order to receive the gift. Understanding where to obtain that precious gift of salvation is paramount. But again, God provided the answer, in the Bible. So, where does one find salvation? Hopefully, this chart will serve as a useful Bible study tool for your spiritual walk, or help you to assist someone else with their’s, by providing some of the key passages for discovering the truth of God’s plan for saving man in that path of obedience (Romans 6:17,18; Hebrews 5:9). 
Remember, we must consider ALL that the Bible has to say on a subject, not just pick and choose verses as a proof text. The Bible tells us, “The SUM of thy word is Truth” (Psalm 119:160). Therefore, it is our responsibility to search the Scriptures diligently, just like the Bereans (Acts 17:11), in order to correctly discern the truth on any subject.

Not Even an Hour for God?

We are all busy! Nobody can deny that. Even though we have numerous modern conveniences, that are supposed to make our lives easier, we seem to be busier than ever before. When Sunday morning rolls around to go to church, we’re still pressed for time and often thinking about the things we need to get done or want to do. Are you like that? How often do you bring that mindset into worship? You may be sitting in the pew and be thinking about all kinds of things, instead of giving your full attention to God. If not that, then we often allow things to distract us, such as our cellphone.

While technology has certainly created easier access to the Bible and study tools through our digital devices (which is a good a thing), how often do we just “quickly check our Facebook wall” or respond to that incoming email, or text? Have you ever noticed someone browsing the Internet during worship? It happens and it happens way more often than it should! Please understand a very important aspect of worship; God is the audience, not us. We are to render adoration to Him. While we certainly receive a benefit for being in worship, we need to realize it’s not for our entertainment, nor is it about us, it is all for and about God. He is expecting our full attention as we fulfill our duty to Him. Are we not robbing God of what is due Him by allowing ourselves to be so distracted? What would your reaction be if the actors of a play (or a movie) stopped performing for a moment so they could check the latest beep on their smartphone? Or, what if a waiter stopped in the middle of fulfilling your order so they could engage in a Twitter exchange? Wouldn’t you be outraged? Wouldn’t you demand their full attention, because after all, you are paying for their services? While these are woefully inadequate examples in comparison to the seriousness and sanctity of worship and the fact that God purchased us through the blood of His Son, I hope they will at least help you to see the point.

We should give our full attention to God and focus our thoughts on Him during the worship hour, including the Bible study hour. Think about it from a little different perspective. If Jesus were to return at that very moment, during the time of services or study, what would you be holding in your hand? Will you be holding a copy of God’s word, full of notes and markings, as you study to know His will? Will you be holding the hand of a loved one as you sing praises to God? Will you have your offering ready, about to put it in the plate? Will you be holding the cup, which represents Christ’s blood shed on the cross? Or, will you be holding a smartphone and surfing the Internet? Will you have just written “LOL” or “OMG!” to a crude joke someone just texted you? Will you be hitting the “Like” button on something that is, perhaps, inappropriate for a Christian? Think about that for a minute! Worship is serious business! We all have busy lives and we may have amazing technology at our fingertips (neither of which is sinful, in and of themselves), but let us not allow them to distract us from our true purpose on this earth. The Bible teaches us to, “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Can we not give God at least an hour or two of our time during the week to fully focus on Him? – TS