Earthen Vessels Archives 2011

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All articles written by Dana Nolan unless otherwise stated. 

  • Rights or Relationships by Edwin Crozier
  • What Kind of Vessel Will You Be in 2011?
  • Bring Your Flowers to the Living
  • Stepping it Up
  • Becoming More Graceful in Our Speech
  • The Dangers of Social Media

Rights or Relationships

Edwin L. Crozier

I continue to struggle with the practical limits of Matthew 5:38-48. I imagine the struggle among brethren about self-defense or war will continue until Jesus returns. However, I do think I have finally figured something out about this text. An author of a parenting book offhandedly commented about dealing with our children. She pointed out that we should not spend so much time in defending our child’s right to a toy his sister has taken as we should helping him see the importance of the relationship he is to have with her.      
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It hit me. That is exactly what Jesus was talking about in His Sermon. We stand up for our rights. We fight tooth and toenail when somebody has wronged us. But what is that doing to our relationship with them? Is it helping us bring them to Jesus or helping them grow in Him?   
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When this hit me, I thought of an occurrence at Best Buy several years ago. I was standing in the customer service line. Ahead of me, a middle-aged couple complained. They complained about the line length. They complained about the number of people working at the counter. They complained about the number of people not working at the counter. When they finally got to the desk, they wanted to return an item. I don’t remember all the issues, but there was something about a restocking fee because they didn’t have the box even though the item didn’t work. The man and wife went ballistic. The customer service rep explained the policy. The man and wife jumped all over him. The rep called the manager, who explained the policy again. The man and wife pitched a fit. At one point, they even stopped looking at the manager and started looking at the people in line, indicating to me that they were no longer intent on persuading the manager but causing a scene and encouraging other customers to shop at Circuit City. 
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How many times have I been that couple, arguing vehemently for my rights and self-defense? A question popped in my head. Let’s assume the couple were Christians and the manager happened to attend an assembly with them the next Sunday. What would happen when he looked up to see whose outstretched hand was greeting him and found the face of the man who had humiliated him just days earlier?

Before defending our rights, let’s think about the relationships we want to maintain. Let’s ask ourselves what we want this person to think when we invite them to Bible class or an assembly. Let’s ask ourselves what we want them to think when they see us praying, reading our Bible or attending an assembly. What is more important? Getting to return the broken equipment without a restocking fee or having set an example that keeps the doors open to talk about Jesus with someone?

http://franklinchurchofchrist.com 

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What Kind of Vessel Will You Be in 2011? 

Dana Nolan

The editors of this online paper have kindly asked me if I would tend this "Earthen Vessels" page. I am quite happy to try and focus our thoughts towards the concept of being honorable vessels for God! There are countless lessons we can draw from the analogy of being earthen vessels, and I hope we can effectively study some of these in the coming months!  

"Vessel" is a word that is not as commonly used today as it once was. Webster's defines a vessel as "a container that holds something," or "a person into whom some quality (like grace) is infused." Whether we know it or not--and whether we accept it or not--we are all God's vessels! We were created by Him to be used in His service, yet He does not force that service upon us. We have the choice to be vessels for honor or dishonor to God. As far as I can see, there is no middle ground. We either live in such a way that we bring pleasure to our Maker, or we do not! So, as we begin a new year, and as we reflect on our lives before God, I would ask the question--what kinds of vessels will we be in 2011?  

The idea for this study came to me recently as I was reading a passage from Jeremiah 22:28. It states,

"Is this man Coniah a despised broken idol? Is he a vessel wherein is no pleasure? Wherefore are they cast out, he and his seed, and are cast into a land which they know not?" 

Coniah (also known by the names Jeconiah and Jehoiachin) was a king of Judah, who, as all kings did, had the power to turn the hearts of the people toward God. However, he ended up being a vessel of dishonor to God, who cursed him by saying that none of his descendants would ever sit on the throne of David again. Coniah did not turn from the iniquity of his fathers, and so God allowed the Babylonians to take him and the nation of Judah off into captivity.  

What would the commentary be on me if God was apprising my usefulness? Would He say that I am a vessel "wherein is no pleasure?" 

If you love to drink hot beverages, you know the value of a good "vessel!" I probably have thirty cups in the cabinet; yet, when I go to drink my morning coffee, I have two or three favorite ones which I especially love to use. What is it about these mugs that make me reach for them time and time again? The answer would be that they best serve the purpose for which I need them. My perfect mug is the right weight in my hand. The lip of the cup is smooth and assists me in delivering the coffee to my mouth (and not down my shirt) without being a distraction in any way. It is solid and hearty; it does not break or chip easily when I knock it off accidentally or plunk it into the sink a little roughly! It needs to be able to withstand high heat in the microwave and dishwasher. If a mug does not meet these basic qualifications, it is disqualified from being a useful vessel for me. 

Going a little further in this analogy, the cup that is best for me is not best for my mother. She is unable to lift the big, heavy mugs I like to use. She does not like to drink as much coffee as I like to drink, so she prefers a smaller, lighter cup. So, is her smaller vessel useful to me? The answer would be no, because it does not meet my needs, and it gives me no pleasure to use it. Who gets to determine the usefulness of the vessel? Obviously, the owner and user of that cup determines its value! 

God is clearly the Maker of all men, and He is clearly our Owner! In Isaiah 64:8 the prophet says:  

"Yet you, LORD, are our Father.

  We are the clay, you are the potter;

  we are all the work of your hand." 

The New Testament writer, Paul, also makes it clear that we are "owned!" I Cor. 6:19-20 says, 

  "Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s." 

Since God owns us, He inherently has the right to use us for His good pleasure! We are so blessed to serve a loving God who is merciful and understanding of our weaknesses and shortcomings! That gratitude for His grace and mercy should compel us to want to stand before Him as the cleanest, most useful vessels we can be! God does not care any more for a dirty vessel than we do! We understand the concept of eating off a dirty plate or drinking from a dirty cup. It is revolting! I don't know about you, but I will not even eat from a dirty plate that I know has been through the dishwasher and “sanitized!” Just think how much more disgusting the sin, which defiles our vessel, is to God! Yet, He takes us when we defile ourselves and cleanses us and returns us to service, because He loves us! 

I think that,  because we are citizens of the United States of America, our society today would have us to believe that we are completely free-- that we do not have to answer to anyone, including God Almighty! According to man, we can dress however we want, use whatever language we want, and we can determine for ourselves if, how, and when we want to worship God! The trouble with that concept is that it flies in the face of everything the Bible teaches about God, His character, and His expectations for His vessels! While we may have wonderful liberties in our earthly societies, we need to always keep in mind that we are citizens of a heavenly kingdom, whose ruler is God! (II Timothy 4:18; Hebrews 11:10) If we truly care about what God desires, we will honestly dig into His Word, and we will be committed to doing whatever it takes to allow God to say, "You are a vessel, wherein there IS pleasure!" No amount of denial on our parts will ever change eternal truths! We can choose to listen to what God has said to us and do it, without argument, alteration, or negotiation.(Isaiah 45:9) The only other alternative is to accept that God can, by virtue of being the One in control, pick up the vessels that give Him no pleasure and cast them far from His presence into a never-ending Hell!(Jeremiah 19:11; Luke 12:5) 

As we begin this new year, let us resolve to look honestly at ourselves and put away those sinful practices which may have crept into our lives as a result of influences in this world. We don't need to look around at “other folks” and decide that we are doing pretty well compared to them! Other men are not our measuring sticks, against which we measure our righteousness. Our standard needs to be the Word of God, and our role model needs to be Jesus Christ! (James 1:25; II Corinthians 3:18)  Let us do everything we can to make our Creator be pleased with us as our spirits reside in these earthen vessels!

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Bring Your Flowers to the Living

by Dana Nolan

Last month, we began thinking about what it means to be a "vessel" for God. We established that we all are God's vessels, put here to be useful to Him in His kingdom.  In this article, I would like to turn our thoughts a little bit towards service to others, for, in serving others, we serve God, and we please Him.  

Last year, I had a very moving experience which caused me to more deeply understand the value of service to others.  My father had called me to come and see about my mother.  Something was not right, he told me. Mom was in a great deal of pain, and it was growing more intense every hour.  I packed enough clothes for three days for my family and me, and we took off for their house, which was two hours south of us. 

When I walked into my parents' home through the sun porch, the first thing I noticed was that all my mother's beautiful flowers were dead or dying.  In the 47 years I had lived, I had never seen my mother's flowers in such a state.  She has the greenest thumb I know, but it was apparent her loving hands had not tended to these plants in some time.  In the back yard, the story was the same. Nothing was as it should be; Mom was very sick. 

The subsequent bad news hit me like a wall of falling rocks.   Tests revealed that Mom had lymphoma, and its type (T-cell) was vicious and aggressive.  It became the enemy we would fight the rest of the year.  I came prepared to stay three days; I ended up staying for close to seven months in all! The journey we made together was amazing, but that is not the real focus of this article.  I wanted to convey an important lesson I learned as we helped Mom fight the battle of her life. 

I want to acknowledge that God gets every bit of the praise and the glory for stretching out His mighty hand and giving my mother a merciful healing! (She is still in remission as of this writing in March, 2011.)    Nothing I did had any power to save her life. I was just one of the many tools in the Father's hand to provide comfort and support. The prayers of the saints did not cease to go up one day from the time Mom was diagnosed until the day she was pronounced in remission.  Prayers have continued for her since then as well. Those prayers have undoubtedly made a huge difference!  Yet, God also expects us to help ourselves as we go through the valleys of life.  He will walk beside us, but walk we must! When we cannot take another step, He will pick us up and carry us home!  

Mom had grit and determination, but I knew that her body would have the best chance of healing if she could have something to do--something to look forward to--to distract her from the seemingly endless cancer treatments, medicines, procedures, etc.  We quickly rallied as a family and came up with a plan.  My brother would take her to Nashville for her treatments every three weeks and stay with her until she could return home.  I would stay with our father, who also was not in good health and use the time when she was gone to work on the house and yard. I decided that we were going to do our best to make her a floral sanctuary, a place where she could flee to pray and to rejuvenate while her chemo did its work inside her.

During the first of six treatments, when Mom had to be away for two or three days, the kids, their cousins, and I set in making our retreat for Mom.  Old patio furniture was sanded and painted, flower beds were cleaned out, and we began planting new flowers.  Each time I went to the grocery store or Wal-Mart, I came home with a few more hanging baskets or trays of bedding plants.   Slowly but surely, the patio area began to take shape.  At first, Mom would just go out and collapse on a chaise lounge and just enjoy the outdoors.

As she began to get better, she could no longer sit and watch me ineptly try to nurture her flowers; I surely did not get the “green thumb” gene!  She once again began tending her garden, and she never looked back! Some days, all she could do was sit in a chair and pinch the dead leaves off the plants in baskets.  Under her loving care, the flowers thrived, and the magnificent colors and smells of God’s marvelous creation boosted all of our spirits!

A practical person might say, "Why buy those flowers? They are just going to die, after all!" Perhaps it was because I realized that flowers were the one thing that could make my mom push through her pain and suffering, get up, get going, and have the best chance of healing.  My dad commented near the end of my stay with them that he believed that having those flowers to tend had saved my mother's life.  Of course, none of us discounted God's hand in it all, but God, in His wisdom, did put the first man and woman in a garden to work in it and keep it prior to their fall and the subsequent curse (Genesis 2:15.)  My "epiphany" came when I realized that one can take flowers to the living, or they can carry flowers to the graveyard later. While there is nothing wrong with memorializing the dead, we realize that when they are gone, there is nothing more we can really do for them.  Is it not much better to have the memories of what we did for others while they were alive?

I think we can draw some spiritual lessons from this story. We "bring our flowers to the living" in many ways.  Here are a few that stand out to me:

We need to be encouragers! 

Some of us seem to be more talented at encouraging than others.  Yet, we can all work on growing in this area.  Joseph (or Joses) was renamed ‘Barnabas’ by the early disciples.  (Acts 4:36-37) Barnabas means "son of encouragement." These Christians gave him a new name which reflected how much of an encouragement he was to them! We see through the book of Acts what an important role Barnabas played in establishing new churches and constantly encouraging the saints, including the apostle Paul.  

Maybe you are a shut-in, or perhaps you suffer from poor health much of the time.  You cannot physically get out and do much for the kingdom of God.  But you CAN be an encourager!  Sometimes, when we focus on others, even when our own situation is grim, we better our own life and the lives of others! By making phone calls or writing notes of encouragement to other members, preachers who are laboring at your home congregation and far away, young people who are just starting their journey as a Christian, or the elderly who often grow discouraged by the trials of getting older, you send your flowers to the living! What a sweet aroma those acts of kindness give off to the recipient! If you can do nothing more than lie in a bed, yet do so with an attitude of cheerfulness and thankfulness for the blessings God has given you in life, you become an encouragement to others with your courage and faith! Encouragement comes in many forms!  It is up to each of us to determine how we can best encourage our brethren, whatever our state in life! 

I am reminded of a Christian who was the best encourager I have ever known!  If one was out sick from services, he or she got a note in a day or two from this lady!  If there was something important happening in someone's life, either good or bad, she sent a card. When each of my children were baptized, they got a special note of encouragement from her, urging them to never stray from the commitment they had made. Every birthday, there would be a card from her in the mailbox.  I don't know what this lady has spent on stationery and postage in her life, but I know that her "flowers" have filled my "vases" over and over!  She did not just write people; she visited nursing homes and hospitals and funeral homes, quietly offering to do what she could, even if it was just to give hugs. Still to this day, though we now attend different churches, notes still appear from time to time, with her words of comfort and wisdom and encouragement to keep pressing toward Heaven! 

I cannot say enough good about all the encouragement we received from brethren locally and all over the country during my mom’s illness.  In their many creative ways of showing love, they taught me a lot about the value of love and encouragement, especially among brethren.

We need to be doers!  

In this life, there are those who "do" and those who just talk about doing.  I am reminded of the passage in James 2:15-17 which says, "If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." 

How many times do our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and friends, and even strangers have needs that are abundantly clear, and we tell them, "Well, I sure hope your situation gets better soon!" Someone spends several minutes telling us how hard they have had it lately, and our eyes glaze over, and we excuse ourselves with a “Well, I sure hope you feel better soon! Bye!”  Our eyes, our ears, and our hearts tell us these people have legitimate needs, and yet we secretly hope someone else will go take care of those needs, because, after all, we just don’t have the time or the money. There are countless Christians who would never dream of missing a gathering of the Lord's church--who attend every service-- but constantly look at others and, in essence, say to them through their inaction, “Be warmed and filled." In this life, we prove our worth to God not by the social position, career or educational level, or financial bottom-line that we achieve, but rather by how effectively we get our hands dirty in the work of ministering to others.  The judgment scene depicted in Matthew 25:31-40 is one of the most sobering passages in the New Testament to me.  It reads:

 

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Yes, we bring our flowers to the living when we stop only thinking about doing good and actively work at doing meaningful things for those who are the most vulnerable in this life.  I am convinced our kids would be better people if we introduced them to the concept of working for others in much of the time we otherwise spend carting them from one extra-curricular activity to the other.  If we want to build true character in our kids, we will teach them early and often that a trip to the nursing home to visit the forgotten or a visit to the hospital to see someone who is suffering has much greater value than ______________ (Insert your favorite sport or extra-curricular activity.) I've known moms who had kids in three or four different sports/activities at the same time, and all the child “gained” from participation in these things was an expanded vocabulary of words they should not hear and seeing a lot of behavior from both adults and children that they should not imitate. Oftentimes, too, all these "activities" leave parents and children so exhausted that they have no more energy to devote to doing good for others.   How much better could the time have been spent doing something that actually made a difference in the community or the world? We truly better ourselves and please our Lord when we look to the needs of those who are unable to get themselves out of the holes into which life has thrown them. 

--It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.--Ecclesiastes 7:2

We always have choices! 

We can be purely hearers of the Word, and we will end up in the "Goat" line on the day of judgment, or we can be doers and take our place with the "Sheep" in the last day. Poverty will never be wiped out. Suffering will never cease on earth. We can, however, make our own personal dent in it, just as Jesus did during his ministry. 

In all of these things, we can adapt some basic attitudes which will allow us to deliver sweet-smelling flowers to the recipients! Humility is essential as we look to the needs of others. Vulnerable people often dwell in situations that are hard to look at, to smell, and in which to roll up the sleeves and work. I've heard Christians say that they just cannot stand to visit the nursing homes because it smells so badly there. To go in and clean the house of someone who has been sick for a while is often not pleasant, either. Once again, we can look to the example of Jesus, who was not too "high and mighty" to wash people's feet and to minister to the poor and sick of his day. I doubt they smelled good, either. James 4:10, Luke 14:11, Proverbs 3:34, and Matthew 18:4 are some passages which speak of the benefits of being humble before God. We would do well to heed these words. The alternative is to have many more of our senses offended in Hell someday! As in everything, God gives us the choice to make. 

We can also try to imitate the example of Jesus in loving one another. John 15:12-13 says, "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."  Very few times in this life are we put in a position where we may have to give up our life for another. Yet we are told that true love dictates we be willing to die for our friends! How much more, then should we be willing to give up some of our time for others? What about our money? Yes, sending flowers, whether literally or figuratively, is going to cost us something! Are we willing to bear those costs so that someone else's life is made better, and more importantly, so that the Lord is pleased? 

Send your flowers to the living, my friends! You won't regret it, and it is so much more fulfilling than dropping them on a grave. 

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Stepping It Up!
 
Dana Nolan

Many times throughout my life, I can remember someone giving me some gentle (and sometimes, not so gentle) prodding to "step it up!"  I was usually dragging my feet a little, and a parent, teacher,  or coach would urge me to give a bit more effort in whatever I was doing. Perhaps I was supposed to be dressing to go somewhere. Even though it was usually my brother who was the cow's tail, all five of us were urged at one time or another to "step it up!"  Now, I am a mother of five, and I find myself echoing the words my parents said so long ago!

Looking back, I realize that every authority figure who asked me to work a little harder toward meeting a goal usually had my best interest at heart. They knew that I had it in me to do better, and they wanted me to work harder and achieve better results. I can remember throwing what seemed like a million practice pitches in softball to perfect my technique. When I got weary or just lazy, there were those words again--"Step it up, Edwards!"

As vessels of God, sometimes we need to 'step it up' in spiritual things as well!  In II Peter 1:3-15, Peter urges his brethren to do just that! He is telling them that when they have gotten to one level with their Christianity that they need to exercise diligence (verses 5, 10) to move on to the next level. Diligence implies work that causes you to break a sweat! It is not just some kind of token effort!

"And besides this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to patience, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, charity."

Peter is saying that when they have obtained faith, then they need to work on adding virtue. Once virtuousness has become a part of their life, then they need to work on their knowledge. The last thing to be added is charity or love. We all know we could spend a lifetime figuring out better ways to love one another. Everything in these verses that falls between "faith" and "love" should be enough to challenge any Christian indefinitely, so we should never run out of ways to keep stepping  it up spiritually!

Notice what Peter then says in verses 12 and 13:

"Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth. Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance;"

Peter knows that each Christian has been taught what to do to be pleasing to God. Yet, he feels it necessary to stir them up a little so that they will not just grow stagnant and quit growing in the Lord. I believe he is saying, in effect, 'You know what you ought to be doing! Now take it up a step!'

I am convinced that stagnation is one of the greatest enemies of Christians of all generations. Sometimes, we think we are growing, and we are, but it is the wrong kind of growth!  Our hearts grow-- but they grow dull. (Acts 28:27).  Our love grows--but it grows cold. (Matthew 24:12). We grow---weary in well-doing! (Galatians 6:9) Finally, when we become stagnated in our walk with Christ, we begin to back-peddle and grow weak. (Heb. 5:12-6:1) Like a human deprived of solid food, we get to where we only crave a liquid diet, and in some cases, we even quit drinking the Milk of the Word, slip into a spiritual coma, and then completely die!

How do we go from being spiritually healthy to dead? It can begin with a slacking off of prayer, the absence of meaningful Bible study, and being satisfied with continually shallow gospel preaching which never fully gets into the meat of the Word! Then, there is usually sporadic attendance of the services of the church and some kind of self-justification which allows one to miss without any pangs of conscience.   If no one notices or cares enough to speak to us about our spiritual decline, we can begin to yield to all kinds of temptations and eventually fall away completely.

If you are taking the time to read this article, then you probably have a heart that wants to please God. You are hopefully looking for suggestions for practical application of these concepts. So what are some practical ways we can move to the next level in our Christianity?

1. We can start by working on being humble, and realize that there is always something to improve about our "vessel."  (II Timothy 2:21)  There is a great and very practical verse in II Chronicles 7:14 about how being humble can start us on a journey towards being acceptable to God. It reads,

" If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."

It takes true humility to admit we could do better at something. Pride is the opposite of humility, and we are more prone to be prideful unless we work on it daily. We can take our humility to the next level in countless ways. There is probably no more humbling role than that of a servant. Yet, that is the role our Lord would have us fill. (John 13:3-17).  By serving our fellow men with selflessness and sensitivity, and by making a conscious effort to always esteem others more highly than ourselves (Phil. 2:3), we can wax in humility while waning in prideful behavior. Once we become truly humble, we can start to grow in other areas.

2.  We can pray! As the above verse states, prayer is essential. Nothing about our spiritual lives is ever going to improve if our prayer life is virtually non-existent. We must make an effort to make time every day to talk to our Father, and it needs to be a meaningful, heart-felt conversation. (See also Luke 18:1; I Thess. 5:17) When we feel we are ready to step our prayer life up a level, we can follow the examples of men like Paul and Epaphrus who put some real effort (diligence) into praying for their brothers and sisters in Christ (Col. 4:12-13; Romans 1:9; II Tim. 1:3).

3. We can both self-examine AND be our brother's keeper! While it is true that we don't need to point out the faults of others until we have cleaned up our own acts (Matt. 7:1-5), we need to realize that we are never going to be perfect. If we wait to approach a drifting brother or sister until we feel we have achieved spiritual perfection, we will never reach out to save someone. This society has an almost compulsive obsession with privacy. As Christians, we've bought into the idea that we should just "live and let live." So when we notice that our brother or sister has started regularly missing the assemblies of the church, or that some couple's marriage is seemingly failing, or that one of our members has taken up some worldly behavior, and we just put on our blinders and ignore the situation out of concern for their privacy, we are not doing what God would have us to do. The Christian who wants to step it up in this area will realize that God has made us accountable for each other as well as our own soul.

James 5:19-20 says:

" Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins."

We are not doing anyone any favors when we ignore sin. In fact, if we know about sin in someone's life, and we don't say anything to him,  it as though we are giving silent assent to what he is doing. When we don't warn someone about an unlawful marriage he may be in, or we don't say anything to someone who consistently dresses immodestly, we are approving of his sin by default. When we gain the courage to go to someone humbly, out of a real concern for his soul, we are taking our Christianity to the next level. There is an art to approaching others and being successful in our appeals. If it is not done out of love, it will show to the ones we approach. It goes without saying that we don't need to be going to someone that we do not love. We need to work on our own hearts, and then seek to reach out to others.  The diligent Christian will work to hone this skill, always remembering to self-examine before approaching others.

There are countless ways to "step it up" in the kingdom of God which time and space will not allow us to discuss. However, I'm sure you can think of many other pertinent examples. I would love to hear from you! Do you have specific areas where you feel Christians could be taking it to the next level?  We need to always be finding ways to grow in every good work and in the grace of our Lord. Peter, Paul, John, and countless other Christians took great joy in seeing Christians who abounded in good deeds and were growing exceedingly in the faith. (II Thess. 1:3; II Pet. 3:18; II John 1:4)   We, too, can encourage our fellow Christians by always seeking to improve in every area of our spiritual lives, and more importantly, we will truly please God when we keep growing. I challenge you to pray and meditate on these scriptures, and then STEP IT UP!

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"Becoming More Graceful in Our Speech"

Dana Nolan

"A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver." (Proverbs 25:11) The writer of Proverbs knew the value of sweet words that come to the hearer at just the right moment.  Speech which edifies is becoming more and more scarce in this society in which we live, and sadly, in the Lord's church. With the advent of social media like Facebook, we not only have an over-abundance of unsound speech, but it also seems that there is no shame anymore in displaying that speech very publicly!

Ephesians 4:29 tells us, "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers."  The Greek word for "corrupt" (or "unwholesome") refers to that which is foul or rotten, like a piece of rotten fruit or a hunk of putrid meat. Most people think of foul language when they think of corrupt communication.  Foul language surely is one kind of corrupt speech.  However, sometimes, there can be speech which comes out of our mouths which is equally as rotten and certainly does not "minister grace to the hearers."

The speech to which I am referring is careless, rude, and insensitive talking which has no thought behind it.  It is the kind of speaking which often devastates the hearer, while the speaker may be oblivious to the pain she is inflicting. When our words are NOT fitly spoken, they are more like cheap jewelry which turns`skin green! They disappoint, wound, and sorely discourage the hearer.

Let me give you some examples.  Many of us in the Lord's church are blessed to have come from loving family units with a father, mother, and siblings who grew up serving the Lord.  Sometimes, we even have great extended families of uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents who are 3rd, 4th, or 5th generation Christians.  Many of us live in the same geographical area and  worship with our families.  It is hard for us, when we never have known anything else, to even realize that there are members of the church who have not had any of that. Perhaps they grew up in broken homes.  Maybe their parents, if they even had parents, were terribly worldly people--even abusive to their children. Maybe their parents, who were supposedly Christians, were living totally hypocritical lives!  These individuals who have no ties with earthly families have no one but fellow Christians in their lives.  So what do we do?  Do we recognize their unique situations and be sensitive to those things?

I am afraid that, oftentimes, we carelessly boast of our "wonderful" families in their hearing. We stand around with our family members at church planning the next family get-together while they stand alone nearby and listen to us happily making plans. These people know they will go home alone to a quiet house, without the laughter and love of an earthly family.  Does this mean that we should never speak of our loved ones in such a setting?  No, but we can temper our speech around those who may have such a situation.

It would be great if we could use our time before and after services to visit with those members we rarely speak to, instead of congregating with the same friends and family over and over. I've seen girlfriends, who already spend nearly every waking moment with each other,  get together after services to continue their never-ending conversation, to the exclusion of speaking to any other members!   We can  work harder on our attitudes to see the family of God in our local churches as the truly important family! Can you imagine planning a family reunion and then bringing your best friend to talk to the entire time, to the exclusion of all your family? That would be ridiculous!   When we see our fellow Christians as brothers  and sisters, we will work harder to edify them when we come together for worship and to include them often in our daily lives.

Holidays are often terrible times for our brethren for many reasons.  The parent who has lost a child will never see Mother's Day or Father's Day in the same way.  Those who have lost relatives will often struggle through Thanksgiving and Christmas, since those are traditionally family times.  Before we wish someone a Merry Christmas or a Happy Father's Day, we need to think if that would be an appropriate gesture.  While it seems quite benign to wish someone a "Happy" day, it can actually be a painful reminder of a lost loved one or a nightmarish situation they lived through.   When we are at a loss of something to say, "I love you" (said with meaning and accompanied by a hug if appropriate)  may be exactly what the hearer needs to hear. If these examples seem petty and trite to you, chances are that you may not have experienced these kinds of tragedies in your life.

A dear friend of mine recently lost her father.  He was not a Christian.  When I went to the funeral home, she shared that she and her family were struggling, trying to think of ways to bring some good out of a bad situation. She said she would like to write some sort of guide for how best to help our bereaved brethren.   She added that she would never again tell a grieving person that their loved one "was in a better place." Many well-meaning people had said this to her, but these are hard words to hear when your loved one seemingly has no hope of heaven.   In our zeal to comfort those who have lost someone,  we often say things that make the situation worse.  It is better to just remain quiet and simply lend our support to the person  if we cannot think of anything edifying to say.

One who has just experienced the death of a loved one, whether the death was expected or not, does not need us to explain the loss. Speaking of situations where we have no true knowledge of the facts will only serve to show our foolishness.   One brother told of the time he lost his job.  Another brother came to him and asked him what sin there was in his life which would cause him to lose his job!  Like Job, we will be falsely accused at times by those who do not understand how life on this earth is ordered by God.  God only knows how our lives are meant to go; our guessing about why some things have happened to others is unnecessary.

Ephesians 4:29 tells us that our speech needs to impart grace to the hearer.  What is this "grace?"  As used in this passage, it is defined as "that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness."  We need to run our words through a filter of sorts.  If what we are going to say to someone does not afford them joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm or loveliness, then we do not need to say those words.

Colossians 4:6 goes a little further--"Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer every man." Have you ever been on a salt-free diet?  You learn quickly that a little salt can make a big difference in how palatable your food is!  Our speech needs to have that little something extra!  Our words need to be carefully chosen and then salted a little so that the hearer is blessed "to the max" by those words!  When we don't take care with our words, they wound instead of bringing joy!

When we make careless and insensitive comments, we are surely not imparting grace to the hearer.   While preparing for this writing, another sister told me of a time when she was expecting her first baby.  She is a small lady, and although her baby only ended up weighing just over 5 lbs., she carried the baby "out front."  One day, a sister in Christ came up to her at services and said, "Wow, you are really fat, aren't you?"  This new mom-to-be was already feeling weary and blue, and her sister's words did nothing to edify her.  How much better would it have been if that lady had encouraged her that she was nearly through pregnancy, and that she would soon be holding that precious baby?

As we get older, we need to fight the temptation to just say what is on our minds in matters like these. Some people seem to believe that as long as what they say is true, they can say anything!   I don't know about you, but I don't go to church to have my brethren tell me that my dress really isn't flattering or that my hair color is a shade off !   I realize that senility can come into play sometimes, and that there are some people who not accountable for their thoughts and speech.  Children will often speak candidly, much to the embarrassment of their parents.   Many times, however, when some people speak,  it is just plain rudeness unrestrained. Those of us who are accountable,  whether we are young, old, or in-between, have an obligation to bridle our tongues. Perhaps one of the  reasons we need to be slow to speak (James 1:19) is that we need to stop and think carefully about what has just popped into our minds, give it the filter test,  and decide if it is really worth verbalizing.

James 1:26 says, "If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man's religion is vain."  Plainly put, we can show up at church every service, and we can think that we are some of the most sincere people around, but if we constantly exercise unrestrained tongues, our religion is a farce.

Our mouths often go into gear when we are at a loss for good words to say.  This is so dangerous!  Remember Peter at the transfiguration of Christ? (Luke 9:28-36)  It has been noted that  Peter did not get to author one of the four gospels! Would he have been tempted to edit out all the inappropriate things he said while Christ was on earth?  Peter had a problem with opening his mouth and saying the first thing that came out.  He would have been so much better off to just be quiet and learn from the great Teacher, Jesus! Fortunately, Peter grew spiritually and became a respected leader in the church! Peter eventually learned one of the secrets to a happy life which he expressed in I Peter 3:10: "For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile...."  We, too, always need to be growing in graceful speech!

There are countless situations where tact and wisdom are needed in our speech.  We have to be so careful of what we say and how we say it when we come together in the assemblies of the church. Coming together as the body of Christ should be the highlight of our week,  not a time to be dreaded.   There may be a mixture of Christians and non-Christians at any given time, and we want to make sure that our speech before, during, and after these assemblies does not discourage anyone because of our lack of sensitivity.   As ladies in a congregation, we will keep a meek and quiet spirit, use our tongues to do good things like encourage our elders, deacons, and preachers in the important work they are doing, and always be looking for ways that we can build up the body of Christ in both word and deed. In our daily lives, we need to carry that attitude out into the community and seek to lead others to Christ by being godly in every aspect of our lives, including our speech.

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The Dangers of Social Media

Dana Nolan

Last month, we reflected a bit on what it means to have graceful speech. We learned that we must be as modest in our speech as we are in our dress. Various conversations and events since our last issue have caused me to think more on this topic, so I thought that in this article, I would address a related topic which is very relevant for this generation. I would encourage you to read this article thoughtfully, with a Bible in hand to reference all the scriptures listed.

I have now been married for thirteen years, and it is hard for me to realize that it was just shortly before I married that I got my first home computer. Computers, and now mobile devices and "pads" of every kind are making communication something that we can do from virtually anywhere. Thirteen years ago, we were pretty much tied to our homes when we wished to look out the "window" of the Internet. Now, our window screen fits in the palm of our hands, and in many cases, the Internet is never more than a few inches away--24/7!

Keeping connected with friends and loved ones is made easier day by day, it seems. While this is mostly a good thing, there are times when being so connected has its down sides, too. All this typed and texted communication can set us up to get into situations in which a Christian should not find herself. I'd like to discuss a few dangers of something which has come to be known as “social media.”

Social media is defined by Wikipedia as “the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into an interactive dialogue." Plainly put, people have turned to electronic gadgetry to engage in collective and interactive conversations with one another. Conversations which used to be private by nature are now out there for all the world to hear and see. In many cases, they are preserved somewhere out there in "cyberspace" even when people think they have deleted all traces of content.

While some readers may not be familiar with some of the Internet places I am going to discuss, the principles applied will be relevant for all of us. Those in older generations may not have any desire to get into these modern "conveniences" with good reason. Yet, one can still have a knowledge of some of the pitfalls, so that she can be available to discuss these things intelligently when the situation may present itself.

Of course, one of the most popular Internet sites of our day is Facebook. Think of Facebook as a big, imaginary (virtual) house, into which you invite "friends." Your friends come into your virtual house and write messages on your "walls!" Owners of this virtual house and their friends fill up unlimited walls with written reflections, photographs, and other bits and pieces of their lives. Walls are like home base on these sites. You can venture off the main wall to photo albums of the user and sometimes to pages of longer "notes" they have written. Users can type to each other live in real time if you happen to be on the site at the same time. In most cases, if you are not a "friend," you are limited in what you can see on the walls of others. MySpace was once a very popular social media site, but it has given way to Facebook. Everyone who uses these types of sites is bound by loosely structured rules of "decency" which pretty much allow an "anything-goes" environment. As long as Facebook users don't post anything illegal, such as blatantly pornographic or copyrighted material, they can put anything they want on their pages.

As a Christian using Facebook and some other social media sites, it does not take long to learn that if you visit for any period of time, you are going to get shocked! Not only do you see the postings of your “friends” on Facebook, but you also see the postings of many of their ungodly friends. My greatest sadness is that many of my shocks have come, not from the ungodly friends, but from so-called Christians! Their words, their clothing, and their activities have left me speechless more than once. I cannot tell you how many times I have disabled my Facebook for a time, because I just got so disheartened. I expect worldly behavior from non-Christians, but I am constantly shocked by what Christians do and say which I was not expecting!

I have only kept Facebook because of the good things it offers. I am able to communicate with loved ones and my brethren on the other side of the world and keep up with their lives more efficiently than any other means will allow. News of a pressing nature can be passed quickly, allowing action to be taken swiftly when necessary. I am able to pray for different situations and individuals immediately when prayer is requested. When my mother was very ill last year, I was able to post updates and request prayers. I am able to find out quickly when a loved one has something discouraging going on in his or her life and act upon that news more quickly. In this day when people are often laid to rest a couple of days after they pass away, it is good to find out early on and be able to at least get to the funeral home. Facebook allows users to invite others to "events," so many use this tool to invite others to gospel meetings, singings, and other wholesome activities for Christians. Like so many things, social media can be used for good or evil, and to encourage or discourage. I hope I have encouraged others, and I know that I have been encouraged by many of my Facebook friends.

However, here are some brief thoughts on how Facebook can present a platform where some can go astray. We need to be aware of the dangers of using social media. Here are just a few of the ways I have thought about where we can get into trouble:

1. Social Media can perpetuate many sins of the tongue. Gossip is one which quickly comes to mind. (Proverbs 17:9; II Corinthians 12:20) It is easy to pass news which is really none of our business or about private matters which should not be revealed. There is much profanity and even more use of euphemisms which should not be spoken. The era of "texting" or sending short messages by cellphone has created a whole new dictionary of abbreviations which are short for things we should not say. For example, the "G" in "OMG" stands for God (and the OM stands for oh my). One who uses this expression is taking the Lord's name in vain. Many believe that, because they abbreviate it, this phrase is o.k. to use, or perhaps they have not thought through the meaning and just use the letters carelessly. Either way, we need to be more aware of what exactly it is that we are doing if we use these phrases or abbreviations. Sadly, there are many words and some awful abbreviations that don't impart grace to the hearer that are used on Facebook. Restraining our thoughts is just as important as restraining our tongues from speaking them. (Matthew 12:35-37)

    “I said, ‘I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence.’" Psalm 39:1

2. Viewing the lives of others on Facebook can perpetuate the sin of covetousness. Most people put their best face forward on Facebook. They put up pictures of their beautiful homes and possessions and even their beautiful families. When there is a constant stream of people's material possessions and blessings photographed and cataloged for all to see, some may look on those things and covet. (Acts 20:33; James 4:2) While it is not wrong for a man to have an attractive home and a beautiful wife, it is wrong for his neighbor to gaze on these things and covet them. If looking at the lives of others is causing me to covet what they have, maybe I need to turn my eyes back to my own home and family, mind my own business, and be grateful to God for what I have! If viewing a site like Facebook makes me dissatisfied with what I have, I need to quit looking at Facebook. (Hebrews 13:5)

    “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Colossians 3:5

3. Using social media exposes one to the potential sins associated with immodesty. If there is one thing I have learned on Facebook, it is that there is very little shame with immodesty anymore. I have seen more flesh than I ever cared to see in my life. The very saddest part is that most of my Facebook friends are professing Christians. While I try to avoid places where people do not dress properly in "real life," I do not have the luxury of screening photos posted on Facebook. There is no "immodesty filter." I have seen Christians in wedding dresses whose top portions left very little to the imagination. Why do we feel that all the rules we keep in dressing the rest of our lives can go out the window on our wedding day? I would guess that 8 out of every 10 brides I see on Facebook stood before a minister with their breasts, backs, and shoulders exposed as much as one can expose without just going topless. Usually, if the bride is immodest, so are the bridesmaids, because their dresses are usually of the same style.

Then, there are some Christians who I've never seen dressed immodestly elsewhere who will go to the beach, strip, and post their pictures for all to see. I have had to sadly remove some of my friends who continued to post immodest photos over and over. It is sad that some do not realize that they may cause others to lust if they are immodestly dressed. I understand that we see immodesty everywhere we go. However, it is our job to guard our hearts as much as we can, so if that means we eventually have to give up going to sites like Facebook because there is more bad than good there, then that is what we must do. (James 1:14-15)

    “In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing,” I Timothy 2:9

4. Social media is a time-stealer. Facebook can be time-consuming enough. By the time you have read through the daily updates of your 435 friends, wished 10 people "Happy Birthday," and answered the 5 notes you have in your inbox, many hours may have passed. Then, there are the games. Games like "Farmville" and "Mafia Wars" can suck you in, and before you know it, you have spent an entire day at the computer. Some of these games can be so addictive that people spend huge chunks of time on them for days on end. That means that housework, Bible study, and working in God's kingdom fall by the wayside. I'm convinced that Satan is making the greatest gains today, not by tempting us to commit awful sins, but by tempting us to waste all our time so that we do not do the things we should. We can miss getting to the goal line just as easily by being coerced to turn around and run the other way as we can by a hard tackle. Satan does not need to tackle us when he can effectively distract us to run right off the field of play! As with everything, we need to practice moderation. If too much time on the Internet keeps us from doing what we should be doing, then we need to just put social media aside.

    “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5:15-17

5. Similarly, when social media becomes our "life," our focus is off. Our lives should be in service to God first, and then to our fellowmen. (Matthew 22:37-38) It has gotten to the point in society now where we can see people sitting together at a dinner table, and each has his or her head down in a mobile device. People walk down the street and even drive their cars with their eyes on the screen of their phone. Conversation, if there is any, consists of short messages, texted in poor English and abbreviations from one phone to another. Most people can only go a few minutes between checks of email, texts, and tweets (short messages passed on a site called Twitter.) The art of conversation is being lost. We see it when two Christians cannot speak for over ten seconds at a time while looking at one another. I am seeing more and more, as I try to engage others in meaningful conversations, that their attention spans are dreadfully short. We need to learn how to get focus and hold it for much more than ten seconds. How can we bear one another's burdens when we cannot focus long enough to hear what those burdens are? (Galatians 6:2) We need to be able to be available to our brethren to listen to what they need to share with us, without interruptions or distractions.

Jesus taught that if a part of us is causing us to sin, it would be better to cut that part off than to keep it and go to hell. (Matthew 18:9; Mark 9:43-48) If there is something in our lives that is messing up our interpersonal relationships, stealing our time, or even causing us to sin in some way, we need to remove that obstacle from our lives. There is no pleasure in this life that is worth experiencing at the expense of our soul! (Mark 8:36) I am convinced that much of what is popular now may not even exist in five years, but Satan will never stop changing his tactics to try to ensnare us with earthly pleasures. Social media has many good uses, if we keep up our guard and always strive to keep our lives pure and in balance.

    “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” Philippians 4:8

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An additional thought or two from Pat:

I'm so thankful Dana wrote on the dangers of social media. While it is a blessing as Dana mentioned, including a blessing for the chronically ill as the computer may be the only source of social activity, there is a danger I would like to add to Dana's list: Vulnerability. We place ourselves in a vulnerable position when we post private information on our profile or when we post thoughts that later we wish we had kept private. But more importantly, our children are exposing themselves to all kinds of people they may not be aware of and parents need to monitor their online activity.

There are many "peeping toms" out there inthe virtual world who are looking for an opportunity to find naive, vulnerable children and teenagers. The privacy in chat rooms is not very private. Friends of friends may see posts as well as complete strangers may know how to access pages. And who is working for these companies such as Facebook?! As an example of how un-private these pages are, one day I had just opened my computer and had not signed into Facebook. I did a search and for some reason my Facebook page opened up and I hadn't logged in, nor had I logged in earlier.

There are three types of people that may see our page that we all need to be aware of when we post our thoughts and pictures, as well as what our children post.

(1) Strangers. Whether it be wicked immoral people who use social media for their wicked thoughts and actions or whether it be advertisers and even the government that the social media companies allow to view their user's pages (we are sold out to others you know), strangers may be (are) viewing our pages. Some post their addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses. I would recommend not doing so and making sure your children aren't posting their's. What if their address is posted and they mention on their wall that their parents are going to be out of town and they will be home alone? Let's all be aware nothing is private nowadays, nor will it be in the future.

(2) Worldy friends and family. What kind of example are we being to those outside Christ? As children and priest of God, we are a peculiar people because we are saints (set apart from the world). Are we teaching godliness and modesty on our Facebook (or other social media) page? Are we showing the world what it means to be a Christian or are we trying so hard to be accepted by the world? I recently saw a Christian who typed OMGosh instead of OMG on her post. Do we really have to get as close as we can to the world who has no respect for Almighty God and throw out His name (or a substitute for His name) as meaningless trash? PLEASE let's do better!

(3) Christians.Why do some Christians have no shame in posting immodest, immoral pictures on their Facebook page but would never dress immodestly in front of other Christians or use the type of language they use on their webpage? They ask and accept Christians as their Facebook friends but they seem to create two sets of rules being: (1)It's not OK to dress or speak improper in front of Christians but (2) it's OK to post immodest pictures and improper language in front of Christians. Do they not think? Do they not care? Do they like to shock Christians? Do they like to shock God? (God is not shocked, He knows our hearts.) And for those who refuse to accept Christians as Facebook friends because they are trying to hide their ungodliness, there is no hiding from God.

One more thing. If friends or family post immodest pictures or improper language on your page it is perfectly OK and the right thing to do to delete it. You have that choice. 




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September/October 2017