Sunday, August 28, 2022

The Game of Life

By David A. Sargent


    Steve Higginbotham asks, “Have you ever played Milton Bradley's, ‘The Game of LIFE?’  Probably you have at some point.  This game has been around a long time -- since 1860!  The object of this game is to cause its players to make several important ‘life decisions’ and teach them several important ‘life lessons,’ while having fun all at the same time.  Some of those decisions and lessons were:

  • ·       Whether to go straight to work, or go to college first.
  • ·       Paydays are typically better for those who go to college.
  • ·       Whether to buy or not to buy health/life insurance.
  • ·       Having children can bring benefits as well as liabilities.

Life has many unexpected setbacks, as well as serendipitous blessings. And ultimately, the decisions you make in life will determine whether you will wind up in a "Millionaire's Mansion" or the "Poor House."

    Then Higginbotham points out an important lesson that one can learn from the game even though it’s not found in the game’s instructions: “But one lesson this game didn't teach us; in fact, the most important lesson of all is this...

When the game is over, everything goes back in the box!

No matter how good you were at this game; no matter how much money you were able to accumulate; no matter whom you were able to beat; at the end of the game, you had to put everything you had accumulated back in the box.” *

    Higginbotham’s observations illustrate the truthfulness of this passage:

“For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” – 1 Timothy 6:7

No matter what you're able to accomplish in life; no matter how much money you are able to earn in your lifetime; no matter how many people you competed against and over which you were victorious; when your life is over, it all goes ‘back in the box.’  You take none of it with you.  Then you'll stand before your Maker.” – Steve Higginbotham

    If we’ve spent all of our time, energy, and focus on things that “go back into the box,” we will perish and miss out on the greatest, ETERNAL blessings that God wants to give to us.  Please read Matthew 6:19-21.

    Our sins condemn us (Romans 6:23), but God loves us so much that He gave His Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins so that we might receive forgiveness and the gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23).

    God will save those who place their faith and trust in Christ (Acts 16:30-31), turn from their sins in repentance (Acts 17:30-31), confess Jesus before men (Romans 10:9-10), and be baptized (immersed) into Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38).  He will continue to cleanse those who continue to place their focus on eternal things by following Jesus and obeying His Word (1 John 1:7).

    In the end, life isn’t a game!  But “The Game of Life” can remind us to think “outside the box” about those things which ARE eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).

    Won’t YOU accept God’s offer of forgiveness and eternal life by trusting and obeying Jesus?
- David A. Sargent, minister for the Church of Christ at Creekwood in Mobile, Alabama, is also the editor of an electronic devotional entitled "Living Water." To learn more about this excellent resource contact David via their website:
* “The Game of Life” by Steve Higginbotham in MercEmail (7/21/14), a Weekly Devotional from Steve Higginbotham.  See Steve’s blog at

My Neighborhood

By Al Behel


    I liked “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Millions of children around the world sat at his feet and marveled at the simple things. Fred Rogers received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. When he received the award he wore his usual sweater and tie. Reporters expected him to talk about his infamous television program. Instead, he talked with them about why we are on this earth – not to amass fortunes or to make a big name for ourselves. According to Mister Rogers the important things are the little things, the small acts of kindness that make our world a better place.

    In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus taught that a real neighbor is not identified by credentials or religious ideologies, but by the simple acts one does toward those in need. According to Jesus, the world is our neighborhood and everyone in it is our neighbor. Our challenge is to do small acts of kindness to each person we meet. It’s the simple things that make the difference.

    How many times each day do we meet a “neighbor”, someone to whom we can show kindness? How many opportunities do we miss because we have other commitments, or because that neighbor is different from us and we are not moved to action? Scripture tells us that Jesus “went about doing good.” Every day He touched lives with simple acts of kindness. He spoke kind words to social and moral outcasts. He held children in his arms, went home with tax collectors and sinners, and encouraged the hearts of the down-trodden. He told the disciples that to see Him was to see God. And that’s how others see God in us.

    We are often stalled by our belief that God is looking for big things in us. Sure, there are big challenges we must meet, but most of life is not about big things. It’s the little things we routinely do to others that opens their hearts and shows the beauty of God’s grace in us.

- Al Behel served the Great Smoky Mountains Church of Christ in Pigeon Forge, TN, for many years prior to this death in April 2022. The congregation may be contacted through their website -

Unpardonable Sins – Sins unto Death (Matthew 12:31-32, 1 John 5:16)

By Gerald Cowan   


    The idea that there is a sin which, once committed, can never be forgiven is terrifying, but often misunderstood. There is a similarity but a significant difference in “sin unto death” and “unpardonable sin.” There are a few facts and principles that must be recognized if we are to arrive at the truth in dealing with any sin and about the consequences of failing to deal with it properly.



    One of the most interesting (puzzling to some) things about the Greek language is that although there is a definite article there is no indefinite article.  In English and in most languages both definite (the) and indefinite (a, an) articles are used. When a particular or stipulated one is intended the article the is used to specify it and separate it from all others. When an indefinite article is expected, the syntax of the Greek sentence just gives the noun itself without the definite article. It is up to the translator to supply the indefinite article or to leave it out, depending upon the context.

    The definite article never appears with regard to unpardonable sin or sin unto death. In 1 John 5:16 we read, “If anyone sees his brother sin a (any) sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and He [God] shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.” The ASV translates the last part of this verse as follows: “There is a sin unto death: not concerning this do I say that he should make request.” It makes better sense to leave out the article in this case. Even to say a sin unto to death is to imply that there is one, a specific one. To say “there is sin not unto death” and “sin unto death” indicates that there is a kind or category of sin that is forgivable and a kind that is not forgivable. Many sins may fall into either of the categories but the category is not limited to that or any other particular sin. In Matthew 12:31-32 (parallel in Mark 3:28-29) we read that any and all sins and blasphemies can be forgiven except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit – that particular sin shall not be forgiven either in the present world or the world to come, but brings eternal condemnation.



    There is no sin that does not lead to spiritual death. The idea of irrelevant or unimportant sins – venial sins and mortal sins, big sins and little sins; sins automatically forgiven and sins that require confession and repentance for specific forgiveness – is not true. The whole concept is invalid. The wages of any and all sins is death (Rom. 6:23).  Any sin, when it is finished, brings forth death. According to James, any temptation can lead to sin and death (James 1:14-15). The death due to sin is spiritual – separation of the soul from God – not physical. In fact there may be many sins that do not cause physical death at all, ever. But any and every sin causes a separation from God until it is acknowledged and repented, and forgiveness is obtained.  The question is, how can one avoid that result? How can one escape the death that is justly due to his own sin, whatever it is?



    The idea that sins committed by Christians are not counted against them is false. There is not one shred of biblical evidence for that. Name any sin – lying, stealing, adultery, idolatry, sins of commission or omission – all sin is sin no matter who the guilty person is. Ignorant sin is still sin. Many sin inadvertently, not knowingly or willingly, but because they do not know at the time that the matter is wrong.

    Relationship of grace to forgiveness: Although it is not the point of the present lesson, it must be noted that grace covers inadvertent sin for those who are consciously striving to be faithful but who miss some part of the standard of God without knowing or intending it.  However, when the sin becomes known repentance and correction are required for forgiveness, just as it would be in deliberate and willing sin (1 John 1:7-9).



    Logically, one cannot repent of anything he does not acknowledge or confess. All manner of sins and blasphemies can be forgiven -- if confessed; if repented, if one quits doing it. Unconfessed or unrepented sin will not be forgiven (1 John 1:8-9, Luke 13:3, 5. Acts 2:38, Acts 3:19).  One cannot continue in a sin and expect that it will be forgiven (1 John 3:9). It is not that a Christian cannot sin, or that nothing a Christians does will be called sin. Sin is sin, no matter who the guilty person is (1 John 1:8, James 5:16). The “cannot sin” in 1 John 3:9 is a continuing action participle. It means one cannot be forgiven if he continues in sin. Compare Rom. 6:1. How shall we who died to sin live/continue any longer in it?     

    Any sin that one commits and continues in, does not repent and receive forgiveness for, is a sin that results in spiritual death. If sin is not forgiven during one’s life it becomes an eternal sin – it will never be forgiven, not in this world or what comes after. When a sin is forgiven it is no longer a sin unto death, a sin that brings spiritual death. How can one avoid sinning a sin unto death? Confess it, repent it and pray for forgiveness from God – fulfill all other requirements God may impose, such as restitution in some cases. When we know one does not repent or confess a sin, that sin is “unto death” and we cannot ask God to forgive it. Only if one repents can we pray that God will grant spiritual life.



    It is called blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. It is not simply saying something derogatory against the Holy Spirit. This may be done in ignorance (1 Tim. 1:12-13). It is not simply insulting or slandering the Holy Spirit – showing disrespect or spite against the Spirit of grace (Heb. 10:29).  It is not ignorantly or mistakenly attributing the works of the Spirit to the devil, as in the context of both references. Nor is it attributing the works of the devil to the Holy Spirit, which some actually do – claiming tongues and other miraculous powers, for example. See 2 Thess. 2:8-10 (claiming a gift or power the Holy Spirit denies is a blasphemy against the Spirit of God).  As Jesus implies (notice the context carefully), the unforgivable blasphemy is steadfastly maintaining an erroneous charge against the Holy Spirit when one knows it is not and cannot be true. In the context he shows them that their contention that he works for and by the devil is illogical, unreasonable, and impossible.  Note: some people never let logic or rationality deter them from what they want to believe or practice, and an irrational position is often the excuse for refusing to believe and accept and do what one does not want. But even blasphemy, whether ignorant or deliberate, can be forgiven if one can and will repent. It is possible that maintaining a blasphemy can so harden one that he cannot repent.  In that case the sin becomes permanently and eternally unforgivable (Heb. 6:4-6). We too are admonished: Today, if you hear his voice, harden not your heart (Heb. 3:7-8, 4:7b).



    The lesson is simple: listen and learn while you can still hear; repent while you still can; obey while you still can. The time is coming at death and beyond, when one will want to obey and will not be able, will not be allowed to do so. The time may come during life when one will want to say yes, but not be able.  The time may come when one will not be able to repent and change – one may actually be in an unsaved and unsavable condition. If you will not or cannot repent and obey, no matter how much you know and believe of the truth of God, then you cannot and will not be saved.  Hear the word of the Lord; believe it and confess it. If you can and do call upon Him in obedient penitent faith, you will be saved. Rom. 10:13

- Gerald Cowan, a longtime preacher and missionary, is retired from full-time pulpit preaching. Gerald publishes an e-mail newsletter entitled GERALD COWAN’S PERSONAL PERIODICAL WRITINGS. He is available for Gospel Meetings and he may be contacted at

God’s Sovereign Will and the Gentiles

By Kevin Rutherford

    The Jews were given many special blessings by God so that they could be the nation through whom the Messiah would come, and so that they would be prepared for such a coming. Paul lists those blessings in Romans 9:4-5 as adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service, and the promises. Yet, this special place given to the Jews and the special blessings provided for them by God did not in any way remove their free-will regarding personal responsibility, accountability, and salvation. Though they were chosen and elected by God to be the nation through which the Christ would come, they could still choose to reject God and consequently be lost. In fact, many of them did. It is because they made this choice to reject Christ that Paul had great sorrow and continual grief in his heart (Romans 9:1-5). Despite their blessings and despite their religious zeal for God they were lost because they chose of their own free-will to reject Christ (Romans 10:1-4).
    “But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel (Romans 9:6).” In other words, the Gospel has had an effect upon the Gentiles. Those Gentiles who have chosen of their own free-will to humbly submit themselves to the will of God are the true seed of Abraham and the true children of promise (Romans 9:6-8). Whether Jew or Gentile only those who believe in Jesus Christ are true Israel. “That is those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed (Romans 9:8).”
    Is it right for God to have mercy upon the Gentiles? It seems some would challenge this right. In making such a challenge against the sovereign authority of God one is charging God with unrighteousness, but God is never guilty of such (Romans 9:14-15). God has the right to have mercy on whomever He will have mercy and compassion on whomever He will have compassion. The point of this statement is not indicate one is chosen by God to either be saved or lost and man has no free-will in the matter. The point of this is to address the issue of the context which is God showing mercy to the Gentiles by giving them the opportunity for salvation. God has every right to act within His perfect character, and by His sovereign will to make all upon whom the word of God has had an effect the true seed of Abraham. God has chosen to include the Gentiles who obey Him. He has every right to do so. His sovereign will in this matter is not to be questioned.
    God has shown His ability to act within His sovereign will to make choices despite what people may think He should do. Before Jacob and Esau were born, God determined Esau was going to serve Jacob. Esau was going to be the oldest of the twins and so one would expect Jacob to serve him, but God wanted it to be the other way around. God in His sovereign will has every right to choose which should serve the other. So Jacob was favored over Esau, but this choice was not regarding their salvation. God did not choose Esau to be lost and Jacob to be saved in such a way that they could not exercise free-will in regard to their salvation. This choice was as to which would serve the other not as to which was going to be saved. Jacob would be the one through whom the Messianic seed-line (ancestry) would continue.
    Just as God had the sovereign right and authority to choose Esau to serve Jacob, so He has every right to offer salvation to the Gentiles. As Paul wrote the book of Romans many Jews were rejecting Christ, even as Gentiles were beginning to accept the Messiah. The church had become true Israel under the New Covenant, and Christians are the true spiritual descendants of Abraham no matter their national background and heritage.
- Kevin V. Rutherford, formerly of Warners Chapel church of Christ in Clemmons, NC (Currently an instructor at Memphis School of Preaching in Memphis, TN). The congregation may be contacted through their website:

To Join a Church

By Ron Bartanen


    Imagine yourself to have lived in the days shortly following the beginning of the church. Jesus has been crucified at Passover after a preaching ministry of approximately 3 ½ years.  His body had been placed in a borrowed tomb, its stone-entrance sealed with a Roman seal.  His enemies thought they were rid of Him, surely confident that they would no longer cringe at the mention of His name   He would surely soon be forgotten.  Then there came the disturbing news that Jesus’ tomb was mysteriously empty.  And then, less then 6 weeks later, on the day of Pentecost everything changed.  The once-fearful disciples begin boldly proclaiming a risen-Christ, testifying that for a period of 40 days they had seen and companied with Him.  All efforts to silence them were futile, as they were charged with having “filled Jerusalem with your doctrine” (Acts 5:28).  The church Jesus promised to build (Matthew 16:18) was now a reality!

    On that Pentecost Sunday on which the church had its birth, the apostle Peter proclaimed the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, as recorded in Acts 2.  At the conclusion there was no appeal to the crowd gathered to “join the church of your choice,” or, for that matter, to join any church.  Instead, they are called upon to believe that the crucified Jesus was now “Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).  Convicted believers were then commanded to “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (v. 38), with the promise of the Holy Spirit.  Not a word is said about joining a church.  However, the Lord, not men, did something as people were baptized.  He “added to them (\to the disciples)” (v. 41), and later, “the Lord added to the church daily those that were being saved” (v. 47).  The Lord, who knows the hearts of all, adds to the church. He alone “knows those who are His” (2 Timothy 2:19).  When individuals comply from the heart to the standards He has set (cf. Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; Rom. 6:1-4, 17-18), they may have confidence that the Lord will be faithful to His promises.

    One may join denominations, which originate with men, but the Lord alone determines who are members of “the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27).  Denominationalism and sectarianism, both of which are contrary to God’s plans for His church, divide those who would be followers of Christ.  How shameful that believers are in a situation that contradicts Jesus’ prayer: “that they all may be one….” (John 17:21).

    If you lived in those days you would have found no denomination to join.  There would be no denominational creeds or rules to be learned and submitted to.  You would simply find local congregations, undivided by different standards and names.  Believers were simply Christians, followers of Christ, submissive to His word as revealed by the Holy Spirit to His apostles.  If we believe and practice only what they believed and practiced in that day, would we not be what they were—Christians only? Why should it be otherwise today?
- Ronald Bartanen is a retired minister who for many years served the Lord's church in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee. He may be contacted at:

Sunday, August 21, 2022

The Hall of Fame of Faith

By David R. Ferguson


    Hebrews 11:1-2 [ESV] reads as follows: 1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. So begins this wondrous chapter in God’s word, a chapter which has been aptly named the Hall of Fame of Faith.

    A life spent learning to obey God is like a journey with a starting point, a route and a destination or ending point. For Abraham that journey began when he left his home in Ur of the Chaldees to travel wherever God would lead him. He didn’t always know what route that journey would take. But he learned through faith to trust in God to direct his steps.

    We can all be encouraged by these examples we read of in the Book of Genesis from the life of the father of the faithful, Abraham. Just like Abraham, one doesn’t learn to live by faith all at once. It does not come naturally. You must learn and, as you learn, you will make mistakes. But those mistakes need not cut you off from God. He’s a patient, compassionate and merciful teacher. He’s a gracious, loving Father! And for those who do follow God in faith, there’s the absolute promise given to us by Jesus Christ: "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5 [ESV]).

    Without faith we cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6), yet faith only will not save us, either, as can be seen in Numbers 20:7-12 [ESV]. Moses obviously had faith in God, but he was disobedient when it came to him not speaking to the rock as God had commanded, and he struck it instead. His disobedience cost him from entering into the Promised Land.

    And for further proof that faith alone doesn’t save us, listen to what James writes: “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24 [ESV]). It doesn’t get any clearer than that.

    There is but one true faith. And you and I must examine ourselves and prove ourselves on this point, whether we be in "the faith” as Paul refers to it in 2 Corinthians 13:5 and Jude does in Jude 1:3. By being in “the faith,” we can walk in the light of the Lord and bring others to Christ!

- David R. Ferguson preaches for the Mentor Church of Christ in Mentor, OH.  He may be contacted through the congregation's website: or

Failing to Smell Like Sheep (Acts 6)

By Ron Thomas


    As one reads in Acts 5, so here in Acts 6 – there was a problem in the midst of the local congregation. In chapter 5, it was a matter of a husband/wife thinking they could deceive the brethren and get away with it, but in thinking this way, they failed to realize the Lord took notice of their way of thinking and action. In chapter 6, it was a matter of the brethren being in need and feeling they were neglected.

    The problems were different, so they had to be dealt with differently. Regarding Ananias and Sapphira, the Lord made clear what was to be done. In chapter 6, the Lord’s apostles called on the brethren to help in the solution. Here is what they did. They called upon the brethren to identify seven godly men from their midst; these seven men would then be appointed over the task of tending to those in need, in this case, the daily distribution of food, perhaps other items.

    Why men, and not women? That’s the Lord’s doing, not ours. There were, no doubt, godly women more than capable of giving adequate attention to this as effectively as the men that were chosen, but the Lord chose men for this position, not the women. This is a good reminder for us, that when the Lord set up His holy institution, the church, what He said is not to be compromised for the social acceptance in western society.

    Seven men were chosen, as then presented to the congregation. These men not only had a work to do, but in their leadership, they had authority to get it accomplished. This is important for us to keep in mind. When the local church elders appoint men to a work, those men in that work are exhibiting leadership toward the accomplishment of that work or assignment. Thus, it is a tremendous mistake when someone makes a statement along this line,” Deacons have no leadership role and, thus, no authority.” Why would this be said? Perhaps a number of reasons might be given, but I would suggest only one: it’s a failure to understand authority and how it effectively operates. The local police have authority in their enforcement of the laws, but their authority does not exceed that barrier. Deacons have authority to accomplish their task / tasks, but not their authority does not correspond to that which resides in the elders.

    These men were given a work as godly men prepared to defend the honor of the Lord’s cause. This is illustrated in chapter 7 when attention is given to Stephen, one of the seven men chosen. There is another powerful lesson to not lose sight of. The apostles of the church saw the assignment in front of them as tremendously important, but not so important they were to lessen their responsibilities associated with the spiritual priorities of saving souls. Too many elders fail to do so when they sit in ivory towers and make decisions, failing to “smell like sheep.”

- Ron Thomas preacher for the Sunrush Church of Christ, Chillicothe, OH. He may be contacted through the congregation's website.

Focus On God’s House, Not Yours

By Joe Slater


    Good stewards take care of whatever has been entrusted to them. If God has entrusted you with home ownership, you certainly ought to maintain that home sensibly and reasonably. But what about God’s house? (No, not the physical structure in which we assemble, but the Lord’s church!)

    Unlike today when God’s house is a spiritual edifice, the prophet Haggai wrote during the Mosaic age when God’s house was a physical temple in Jerusalem. Haggai’s people had begun to rebuild the temple shortly after their return from captivity, but political and religious enemies had conned the Persian king into forcing them to halt construction. Through the years they had become content to leave the project on the back burner.

    Meanwhile the people built their own fine homes and went about their business as usual. Through His prophet the Lord asked them, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?” (Haggai 1:4).

    The problem wasn’t that the Jews’ homes were too ornate. It was that their zeal for God’s house had cooled to the point of total disinterest. “This people says, ‘The time has not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built’” (1:2).

    How often do we use similar excuses to justify our neglect of God’s work while we focus on ourselves? “It just isn’t a good time!” (Really? When will the time be right?)

    God has entrusted us with the spread of Christ’s gospel and the building up of the church. Are we being good stewards?


[Seed thought via Joseph Lewis (Flower Mound)]

- Joe Slater serves as minister of the Church of Christ in Justin, TX. He may be contacted through the congregation's website:

Trampoline Warnings

By Joe Chesser


    I remember helping put a trampoline together a few years ago for some of my grandkids.  I was tempted to tell them, “Take this thing back to the store.  It’s too dangerous to have in your yard!”  It wasn’t because I didn’t want my grandkids to have fun.  Jumping on a trampoline is a lot of fun (especially if you add friends and a water hose)!

    No, the reason I thought about taking it back to the store was because of all the warnings!  According to the packaging, trampolines are probably the most dangerous thing in the world.  When I opened the box, a laminated sign was the first thing I saw.  The sign came with a zip tie so the warning could be prominently placed so that every kid who got on the trampoline could (theoretically) stop and read how dangerous trampolines are.  On the trampoline mat itself were four (4) more warning labels for the kids to read and follow, along with instructions on how to jump safely (don’t plan to land on your head if you attempt a flip; no more than one on the trampoline at a time, etc.).

    Despite all of these warnings, we decided to go ahead put the thing together.  So, I got out the instruction manual to find out where each part goes.  Wouldn’t you know it, before I got to the instructions there were four or more pages of warnings (in fine print!).  But like a good grandpa, I quickly skipped all the warnings and just put the trampoline together.  Before long, the kids are jumping 6-8 at a time and having a blast!

    What’s the point of all of this?  Warnings, and how we react to them.  We all know that there is an element of danger in playing on trampolines … or playing football … or driving a car … or getting out of bed.  There is an element of risk in just about everything we do, even in doing nothing at all!  So we compare the risk against the reward and decide what to do.  And we get along pretty well doing this.

    But what most people fail to consider is the risk factor regarding their souls. God has given us plenty of warnings about the dangers of life outside of Christ.  And He has given us plenty of warnings about not being fully committed in Christ.  But like the trampoline warnings, most of God’s warnings are ignored.  Most of us go about life any way we choose, and pretend that there are no dangers in the way we live.  Most people are “jumping” down the broad road enjoying the thrills of life while ignoring the warnings of destruction ahead (Matthew 7:13).  They’re convinced that, like jumping on a trampoline, the dangers are imagined, not real, and certainly don’t apply to them.  Even many of those who have recognized the dangers of the “broad road,” have obeyed the gospel and have begun walking down the “narrow” road, but later lost their focus and the commitment required to protect themselves from the dangers of sin and negligence (Matthew 7:14, Matthew 6:33, Luke 9:23).  What’s the point? Warnings can be ignored, but is the risk worth it?

- Joe Chesser preaches for the Fruitland Church of Christ, Fruitland, MO.  He may be contacted at

An Introduction to the Letters to Timothy and Titus.

By Jeff Arnette


    As far as New Testament letters go, first and second Timothy and Titus have probably dominated more of my time and study than any other books. To be perfectly honest, I’m not entirely certain why I’ve had such a fascination with these letters. Perhaps it’s because they were written to young preachers struggling to adapt to new towns, churches, and still faithfully deal with the struggles and challenges associated with ministry. To that I can relate. Not that I haven’t loved it with my whole life and heart, but it has been challenging to say the least.

    Early in the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas referred to these letters as letters that provide something of a pastoral role in the church. This idea stuck and in the 18th century a man named Anton called them the “Pastoral Epistles.” The title “Pastoral Epistles” is a term that you need to remember since most modern writers will refer to them as such.

    Now, we know that Timothy and Titus were not pastors in the same way Scripture refers to pastors. In scripture, a pastor (Titus 1:7; Eph. 4:11) is simply another term describing his work in “overseeing” the congregation entrusted to him by the Lord. I believe that some men can use the title provided they are elders appointed by the congregation for the leading and teaching of the congregation. Despite this, the title “pastoral epistles” has been good for the letters in some ways. Mostly because it has helped them to be seen as a group or set of letters.

    For the most part, the consensus has been that Paul wrote all three letters (1 Tim. 1:1; 2 Tim. 1:1; Titus 1:1). If you’re like me and accept Scripture as the primary authority on such things, then there is no question to their authenticity and authorship since Paul is called the author at the very beginning of each letter. There have been times in Christian history when scholars and academics questioned this, but the average Christian was never really swayed by such things. We simply take God at his word and move on to more important matters like the meaning.

    Several topics are present in these small letters but at their core they are practical letters. In some respects, each letter is an occasional letter, but the theme of a sincere and faithful Christian life still lies at their core. In each letter you will see that Paul is addressing issues that have arose due to some group within the church that is focused on the wrong things and get caught up in an inordinate focus on self. In each letter, Paul quickly reminds them that the goal of the faith is “a love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). For Paul, like Jesus himself, the goal of the faith is about creating a people who love God first and others as themselves (Matt. 22:36-40).

- Jeff Arnette preaches for the Central Haywood church of Christ, Clyde, NC.  He may be contacted through the congregation's website:

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Lord Make Me Good – Period

By Edd Sterchi


    Many people who want a relationship with God often add qualifiers to the mix. They want the Lord to make them good, but with a stipulation added. Here are a couple of examples:

* “Lord, make me good, but not yet.” These people want to live in sin as long as possible. They want to be able to sow their “wild oats” and then for God to save them before they die.

* “Lord, make me good, but not completely.” These folks want to have the “best of both worlds”. They want to be saved, but also still want to hang on to certain sins.

    But we should simply say to God “Lord, make me good.” (Notice the period at the end.) We should say that with no modifiers and with the attitude of doing what God wants us to do and fully trusting Him to make us good and righteous. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21)

- Edd Sterchi preaches for the Broadway Church of Christ in Campbellsville, KY. He may be contacted through the congregation's website:

Recognizing Jesus

By David R. Ferguson


    In John 3, we have recorded the event of Nicodemus, “a ruler of the Jews” (John 3:1), coming to visit Jesus “by night” (John 3:2). Nicodemus treats Jesus respectfully, addressing Him as “Rabbi” (John 3:2), which is quite an honorific given to a Man Who had not attended any of the prestigious rabbinical schools which were operating at that time.

    Nicodemus also states, “We know that You are a teacher Who has come from God. For no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). This is a very astute (and accurate, I might add) observation Nicodemus makes.

    Just whom the “we” are who rightly believed that Jesus was a Man Who had been sent by God we don’t know for sure, but an educated guess would seem to indicate that at least Joseph of Arimathea would be in this group, for John tells us in John 19:38, “Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus,” and Pilate granted him this request. John then tells us that Nicodemus was also there with Joseph, and it was Nicodemus who purchased the 75-pound mixture of myrrh and aloes to anoint the body of Jesus as they prepared it for burial (John 19:39) in the tomb which belonged to Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:60).

    Nicodemus was a seeker. He sought truth from Jesus, and Jesus gave it to him, hitting Nicodemus right between the eyes by proclaiming that for one to obtain eternal life and “see the Kingdom of God,” one must be “born again” (John 3:3). Jesus speaks to Nicodemus prophetically of Jesus’ eventual crucifixion, saying to Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

    Although Nicodemus knew that Jesus was a “rabbi,” a “teacher Who has come from God” (John 3:2), Jesus let him know He was much more than that. He was also the “only begotten Son” (John 3:16) sent by the Father to save, not condemn, the world (John 3:17).

- David R. Ferguson preaches for the Mentor Church of Christ in Mentor, OH.  He may be contacted through the congregation's website: or

I Am the True Vine

By Brian Mitchell


    In OT times Israel was regarded as God’s true vine. God used the nation of Israel to accomplish His purposes in the world. They were His vine and He thus cared for them, pruned them, and cut off all unfruitful branches making them more capable of producing fruit (Is.5:1-7). God had done all that He could have possibly done to enable Israel to bear much fruit and yet she produced less and less.

    Thus, as a result of her unfruitfulness, God ceased blessing and protecting Israel and she was eventually taken into captivity. Israel was a vivid illustration of the tragic consequences of unfruitfulness which leads us to our lesson in this article. Since Israel as a nation ceased to bear fruit, God needed a new vine through which those connected could receive His blessings. That vine, as we see in the gospel of John, is Jesus Christ (Jn.15:1).

    What does it mean to be a part of the vine? Perhaps a better question to ask is; what does it mean to be a part of Christ, since He is the vine? It means that we are a part of His body, which is the church (Eph.1:22-23). One can not be connected to the vine (Christ) without being a part of His body. Only those who have put on Christ in baptism are a part of His church and thus connected to the vine (Gal.3:26-27). One other question of significance is: what is the significance of being a part of the vine? In other words; why do men need to be in Christ? God’s means of accounting men righteous is identifying them with His Son, who is righteous. Therefore, it is only by being in Christ, where all spiritual blessings are (Eph.1:3), that men can be righteous in the sight of God.

    What are the obligations of those who are a part of the vine? In short those who a part of the vine must bear much fruit (Jn.15:5, 8). But what does it mean to bear fruit? “Fruit bearing includes every activity of the Christian. It includes, but is not limited to, acts of love and Christian charity. It embraces every act which Christ if present would do, but being absent, must depend on His followers to do for Him” (Guy Woods). The Bible discusses a number of activities which are identified with the Christian’s bearing of fruit. They include, but are not limited to, soul winning (Rom.1:13), living lives of holiness (Rom.6:20-22), singing praises to God (Heb.13:15), and engaging in general good works (Col.1:10).

    What happens when those in the vine don’t fulfill their obligations? Jesus reveals that there are some branches that are simply unfruitful and thus are removed from the vine and cast out to wither (Jn.15:2, 6). This, of course, poses an insurmountable obstacle for those religious groups which teach the impossibility of apostasy or once saved always saved. These fruitless branches are Christians, as Jesus shows, “they are in Him.” The problem with those who are cast out is not that they were never Christians, as some suppose, the problem is that they bore not fruit as Christians and thus served no useful purpose.

    Jesus is the true vine and those in Him have life and thus have the responsibility to bear much fruit in the name of Him who gave them life. God wants Christians to bear much fruit and it is in fact through doing so that we glorify God (Jn.15:8). The key to bearing fruit is abiding in Jesus. The key to abiding in Jesus is obeying His words. The key to obeying His words is loving Him. The key to loving Him is knowing Him. Thus the more we know and love Jesus, the more obedient we will be to Him. That only leaves one question; Are You a Part of the Vine?

- Brian Mitchell serves as a minister with the Jackson Church of Christ in Jackson, MO. He may be contacted through the congregation's website at

Saved to Serve

By Ron Bartanen


    Jesus said, “I must work the works of Him that sent me while it is day: the night cometh when no man can work” (John 9:4).

    We who, by the grace of God, are the saved in Christ, were saved not just that we might go to heaven, but that also we might work the works of God.  A believer’s life should be of use to God and man.  Time and again the Scriptures emphasize that we are saved to serve, and that God condemns, as much as any sin, the sin of doing nothing!

    Why, then, are we usually so lax in our Christian service? Why are so many inactive? Why does it take so long for so many Christians to reach so few persons with the Gospel of Christ? We want to point out that there are barriers to service which we need to emphasize and break down in order that we be effective laborers for Christ.

    SELFISHNESS is probably the number one barrier to effective Christian service.  We are basically selfish and are more concerned about our own problems than about anyone else’s.  My ingrown toenail will possibly cause me more concern than my neighbor’s cancer.  My needs always seem much more pressing than the needs of anyone else.  Often, what God wants done must take second place to what I want done.  It is easier to sing “King of my life, I crown Thee now” than it is to crucify self and enthrone Christ in my life.  Lord, deliver me from SELF; help me tear down the barrier of selfishness in my life.

    PRIDE is another barrier to Christian service.  The thankless, often behind-the-scenes job in the Lord’s vineyard often goes begging.  Anyone can serve amidst recognition and praise.  It takes a true servant of Christ to serve when man does not see and man does not care.  There would be no limit to what the church could accomplish if we didn’t care who got the credit.  The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier teaches a great lesson—a nation’s victories are mostly won by the blood of nameless men.  So, also, in the kingdom of God, the real heroes are the humble, unheralded saints who serve tirelessly simply because they love the Lord.

    PROCRASTINATION is possibly one of the most common barriers to service.  All true Christians want to serve the Lord, but too frequently it is something that we regard as preferably done tomorrow.  From experience I know that I have lost opportunities because I delayed too long.  How quickly the night comes when no longer will work be possible.  How quickly the harvest season will be past!

    May the Lord, in His grace, give power to break down the barriers such as selfishness, pride and procrastination that we may get on with the Master’s work.

- Ronald Bartanen is a retired minister who for many years served the Lord's church in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee. He may be contacted at:

Introduction to 1 & 2 Thessalonians

By Jeff Arnette


    Most know Paul wrote 1 &2 Thessalonians, but many forget that Timothy and Silas are also named as authors (1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1).

     Something that’s interesting is that most people agree that the letter to the Thessalonians is the oldest letter in the New Testament.

     Thessalonica was the capital of Macedonian. Acts 17:19 tells us the story of Paul’s visit to the city. It appears that after he left Philippi, traveling along the Via Egnatia, he comes to the Capital. This was basically a Greek city with a strong Jewish population and synagogue. The local Greek response to Paul’s preaching caused the Jews to be jealous and formed a mob hoping to stop Paul.

     The reason for the first letter seems to be that Paul and his companions had to leave the city quickly due to the fierce Jewish opposition. This meant that the new converts would also face severe persecution and they were unprepared for it being new Christians. As such, Paul needed to teach them how to handle it. As soon as possible he sent timothy back to the city to see how they were doing (Acts 18.5).

     The reason for the second letter was that Paul had heard about some misunderstandings in the church that needed to be corrected. Apparently, some of the Thessalonians had started believing that the second coming was so close that they needed to prepare for it. Therefore, they quit their jobs, stopped doing anything required for daily life, and was depending on the church to support them.

     The teaching of both letter’s gives us a clear window into the lines and beliefs of Christians who lived around 20 to 30 years after Jesus’ ascension. Just as importantly it gives us real insights into the heart of the apostle Paul. Both letters deal with Eschatology (the study of the end times) and should be extremely relevant for today’s church that is also struggling with the same topics. Let me encourage you to take some time and study these great letters. It will be worth your time and effort.

- Jeff Arnette preaches for the Central Haywood church of Christ, Clyde, NC.  He may be contacted through the congregation's website:

Sunday, August 7, 2022

The Influence of Jesus

By Ron Thomas


    From Acts 2 and 3, we read of the Lord’s saints (apostles) proclaiming His message on the day of Pentecost, a significant day that generated, I am sure, curiosity. In chapter 4 we start learning a little more about the forces of resistance beginning to brew. Fresh in the minds of the Jewish religious leaders was the life, teaching, and rebuke suffered by them from the Lord. Aggravated as they were by Jesus, they were determined to put Him death. This they did, thinking they were able to put a stop to His influence. However, though they thought to put a stop to Jesus’ influence, they were now experiencing the ramifications of Jesus’ teaching with His disciples; they focused their attention on them.

    The Sanhedrin (a very significant source of civil and religious authority among the Jews) decided to take a stand against the apostles, but this was not before there was, at least, an additional 2,000 people who had committed to the Gospel message of the Lord. They asked them, in effect, “Who are you and by what authority are you doing these things?” The apostles were happy to give attention to this question; it gave them the opening they desired to talk about Jesus, and this they did (4:8-12).

    That is an important question to consider. “By whose authority do we do the things we do?”

    In conjunction with this, Peter made it very clear that of all the names given among men living under the banner of the heavens, there is no other name than Jesus, the only name by which any can and will be saved (Acts 4:12). What this means in practical terms is this: there is no acceptable religious devotion from any of the people of any community who rejects Jesus. This applies to all the so-called “great” religions of the world. If one does not submit to the Lord Jesus, then all necessarily submit to the adversary of the Lord’s people, the devil.

    After hearing the apostles, the Sanhedrin forbade them from speaking any further in the name of Jesus. To most, this would have been a sufficient reason to stop. Peter and John, however, thought differently. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it is right in the sight of God to hearken unto you rather than unto God, judge ye: for we cannot but speak the things which we saw and heard (Acts 4:19-20, ASV). The force of the resistance that opposed Jesus was beginning to throw its might against them, never considering that the force of the Almighty is on the side of those preaching the message of the Gospel.

    Some lessons to learn. First, regarding salvation, no one is saved before the Almighty without a positive, obedient response to the Lord Jesus. Second, the religiously oriented and highly educated Jewish community does not make one religiously right in the Lord’s sight. Whatever devotion they may have had, to reject the Lord’s Servant is to reject Him. Let that be a reminder to each of us that it is not only one’s sincerity and devotion that makes one pleasing to the Lord, but it includes accurate knowledge and obedience to that which is learned from the Lord. Knowledge contributes to one’s holiness, but the heart’s response to that knowledge in obedience to the holy will of God is equally important. Third, when you talk about Jesus do not speculate on things to which the Holy Spirit never gave any attention (cf. 4:20); only talk about those things you know (cf. Rom. 15:18). If you’re uncertain about something, take time to study and look for another day to converse. Fourth, the Lord’s church will grow when all who love the Lord are under His banner, not trying to take the lead on their own.

- Ron Thomas preacher for the Sunrush Church of Christ, Chillicothe, OH. He may be contacted through the congregation's website.

No Divisions Among You

By Joe Chesser


            Satan is a most vicious and subtle adversary, especially with those who are not fully in his camp.  He doesn’t have to be overly sneaky with them – he’s already got them and they aren’t going anywhere.  But for those of us who believe in Jesus and have the desire to live for and die with Him, Satan’s cunning is creative and devious.  He’ll twist the scriptures and make promises he can’t possibly deliver (Matt. 4:1-11).  He’ll hunt you down like a lion (1 Peter 5:8).  He’ll attack you like an enemy (Eph. 6:10-18).  He’ll even alter his appearance to seem trustworthy, like an “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14).

            He’ll make you feel good about your choices, yet all the while encouraging you to sin in other ways.  For example, he allowed the Corinthian Christians to enjoy listening to the preaching of Peter, Apollos, and Paul, while subtly encouraging them to divide into splinter groups preferring Peter or Paul or Apollos. He had quietly diverted their attention away from the message and on to the messenger, turning something good into something evil.  That’s why Paul had to sternly appeal to them in the name of Jesus, “that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you” (1 Cor. 1:10).  There’s nothing wrong with different preaching styles, or even with preferring certain styles or methods over others. Peter, Apollos and Paul differed in their preaching styles due to their experiences, education and personalities.  But even though they each taught the same gospel, Satan convinced the Christians to begin quarreling and dividing among themselves over these preachers.  They all loved Jesus, but when their love for each other eroded into fights and quarrels, Satan was happy.  Among the other things Paul listed as acts of the flesh (sinful nature) are “hatred, discord … dissensions, factions …” and he concluded, “those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal.5:19-21). Satan wins when Christians quarrel and divide. Keeping some, while breaking others, still makes you a lawbreaker (James 2:8-11).  Jesus prayed for unity (John 17:20-21).

            Of course, it’s not just over preacher preferences that Satan gets Christians to divide; it can be over any preference or optional matter.  It could be …

                        … politics (Republican/Democrat/Independent – liberal/conservative)

                        … worship styles (traditional/contemporary – lively/meditative)

                        … race (black/white/oriental/Hispanic)

                        … education (Vo-Tech/State University/Christian College)

                        … holidays (how to observe Christmas/Easter)

                        … church programs (missions/Bible classes/visitation/worship times)

            When it comes to doctrine, we must all take a firm stand to turn neither to the left nor to the right (Josh. 23:6-7; Rev. 22:19), but be submissively obedient.  However, personal views and opinions must never be the cause of division.  It’s OK to have preferences.  It’s not OK to divide the body of Christ over them.  Prayerfully read Romans 14.

- Joe Chesser preaches for the Fruitland Church of Christ, Fruitland, MO.  He may be contacted at

What We Can Learn From the Preacher

By Kevin Rutherford


    Solomon began his writing of the book of Ecclesiastes by saying the contents of the book are “the words of the preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem (Ecclesiastes 1.1).” The title of the book comes from this opening statement. The word, “ecclesiastes” refers to “the one who addresses the assembly.” Thus, the preacher. The preacher (King Solomon) is very depressed as he describes view of life throughout the book called, “The Preacher.” However, he ends the book on a positive note with an excellent conclusion telling us what life is all about. Let’s skim through the book of Ecclesiastes and see what we can learn from the preacher.

    One thing we can learn from the preacher is that seeking meaning and purpose in life apart from God is vain and discouraging (Ecclesiastes 1& 2). Solomon wanted to figure it all out by virtue of his wisdom and apart from God (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18). Solomon experimented with laughter and pleasure as his purpose in life for a time, but only to find “this is also vanity,” and to ask in despair, “what does it accomplish?” Next, Solomon tries to figure out how he can “gratify his flesh with wine, while guiding [his] heart with wisdom.” That didn’t work too well so he turned to landscaping and building, then collecting possessions, then taking whatever he wanted, then devoting himself to labor, and then concluding, “all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun.”

    The preacher just became more depressed. After looking for lasting transcendent contentment and purpose in all the wrong goals and activities Solomon said, “I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind (Ecclesiastes 2:17).” Solomon despaired of all the labor that is done under the sun and said, “For what has a man for all his labor, and for the striving of his heart with which he has toiled under the sun? For all his days are sorrowful, and his work burdensome; even in the night his heart takes no rest. This also is vanity (Ecclesiastes 2:22-23) So, what can we learn from the preacher up to this point? Well, at least this: We need something more than our labor to bring lasting peace and fulfillment to our lives.

    King Solomon the preacher also devoted time to a study of suffering (Ecclesiastes 4). He saw power on the side of those who became oppressors and tears on the part of those who were oppressed and considered it better to not even be born than to suffer oppression (Ecclesiastes 4:1-3). Solomon spoke of the envy a neighbor has for a one who displayed skill in his work. He spoke of one being lonely with no companion because he works too hard for wealth. This Solomon calls “vanity and grave misfortune,” as he begins to describe the importance of companionship. In chapter five Solomon spoke of the oppression of the poor and the violent oppression of the righteous, then describes the foolish covetousness that motivates all of that oppression and says, “this is also vanity.” What can we learn from the preacher’s descriptions of suffering? There must be something more to life than this.

    The preacher then drew some contrasts between the wealthy man who lives in luxurious abundance and the laboring man. The preacher said, “the sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eats little or much; but the abundance of the rich will not permit him to sleep (Ecclesiastes 5:12).” After that Solomon went to talk about how riches can hurt their owner and his children. He discussed the reality that the wealthy cannot take any of their wealth with them when they die.

    There is a lot packed into the book of Ecclesiastes including so many lessons that can be learned from the preacher. Solomon the preacher became weary with all of his writing and abruptly jumped to the conclusion. The preacher writing this article is running out of space and must abruptly jump to the conclusion which is actually the conclusion Solomon drew. That is “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).” What can we learn from the preacher? That everything else is kept in perspective when we put God first, and putting God first is the only way to finding true lasting contentment, meaning, and purpose in life.

- Kevin V. Rutherford, formerly of Warners Chapel church of Christ in Clemmons, NC (Currently an instructor at Memphis School of Preaching in Memphis, TN). The congregation may be contacted through their website: