My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue.
~ Psalm 39:3

Hickory and oak smoke stuck to my hair and settled in the folds of my clothes. Eager kids had charred marshmallows and convinced themselves, “I like mine this way.” Sure Buddy, charcoal really goes best with chocolate and graham crackers. The kids had whole-swallowed their S’mores and deserted the scene for the darkness with their flashlights. I stayed by the fire with a couple of other dads. We sat and talked, and I heard something I had never heard before.

In a short time, we solved the world’s problems. We had pressed many hot buttons, like women preachers, the King James Version Bible, Southern Baptists, and Democrats and Republicans. Somehow, we got to eschatology, the study of end times. You know, things like the thousand years of peace Christians have been fighting about for two thousand years. We discussed some of the different schemes and systems of eschatology, and one man said, “I’m a pan-millennialist.”

What? I had never heard of this. My brain raced to place this among the millennial varieties. I had nothing, so I had to ask, “What is that?” He looked happy, “It’ll all pan out, so don’t worry about it.” He was joking. He was like that. We all laughed.

Why should I care?

Why does eschatology make so many eyes glaze over? I know many people don’t like controversy. Some think it’s just too hard to figure out. Some see no practical importance to it, because they think it doesn’t affect real life and whatever is going to happen is going to happen.

We should study and try to understand what the Bible teaches about the end times. For one thing, it is a part of the Scripture and “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable” (2 Timothy 3:16), so we should study all Scripture. The book of The Revelation twice pronounces blessing on those who study its prophecies (Revelation 1:3; 22:7). Paul wrote of Christ’s return as the “blessed hope” of the saved and that hope gives direction to our lives (Titus 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:13; 1 Corinthians 15:19). Understanding what has been revealed to us is important knowledge, but also important practically. The expectation of Jesus’ coming has nine important effects in the Christian life.

  1. Gives comfort in present turmoils (John 14:1)
  2. Sustains our faith in patience (John 14:1)
  3. Gives us assurance of the future (John 14:2)
  4. Gives us a firm hope in life (John 14:3)
  5. Stabilizes us for sustained endurance (Philippians 3:20-4:1)
  6. Energizes us for diligent service (2 Peter 3:12-14)
  7. Equips and provokes us to overcome sin (1 John 3:1-3; Colossians 3:1-6)
  8. Relieves the full sting of death and sorrow (2 Timothy 4:8; 1 Thessalonians 4:13)
  9. Lends urgency to our task in this present world (2 Timothy 4:1-2)

Start Here

If you’re confused by charts and graphs or extensive literary explanations where the Bible never means what it says in any concrete way, you need to stick with the text of Scripture and focus on first things first. Prophecy is difficult and even the Old Testament prophets themselves did not understand how all those things would be fulfilled, particularly the prophecies concerning the sufferings and the glories of the coming Messiah (1 Peter 1:10-12). You need to start with primary and clear teachings concerning the future. The first is the fact of Christ’s return.

Jesus Christ is coming again. There are hundreds of prophecies in the Bible about the coming of Christ and only about a third of those were fulfilled in his first coming when he was born of the virgin Mary, was crucified, buried, rose again, and ascended to the Father. Many passages of Scripture remain to tell us he is coming again. I want to give you seven witnesses that Jesus will come again to start you in this most serious and worthy study.

  1. Jesus himself spoke of his coming again (John 14:1-3; Matthew 23:37-39; Revelation 22:7, 12)
  2. Angels from heaven assured his apostles he would come again (Acts 1:9-11)
  3. Peter spoke of his return (Acts 3:19-21; 1 Peter 1:13; 5:4; 2 Peter 1:16)
  4. John spoke of his return (1 John 2:28; 3:2; Revelation 1:7)
  5. James wrote of his return (James 5:7-8)
  6. Paul wrote often of his coming again (1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 3:13; 4:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9)
  7. The author of Hebrews also wrote of his return (Hebrews 9:28; 10:37)

Realizing and understanding Christ’s return ought to humble us and move us to diligent faithfulness (Mark 13:33-37). Let us be as John, looking, watching, and waiting for his return.

He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
– Revelation 22:20

A Porsche, of Course

For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.
~ Romans 14:7

Because, like, you know, God’s, like, everywhere, you know.

I think I’ve heard it all. I’m still surprised sometimes, but I have heard a lot. Ask any pastor to tell you the best excuse he’s heard for someone not coming to church and he will probably give you a hundred without taking a breath. If a few pastors collaborated, they could publish an encyclopedia of excuses in a week. A man once told me he couldn’t come to church because his dog wasn’t housebroken. I heard a pastor say a woman told him she couldn’t come to church because it was too far to walk and too close to drive. A man once told me he was a member of the big church and so he didn’t need to join or attend any church. A woman once told me the only thing God requires of us is that we love everybody.

If you make any public post that people ought to join and attend church services, you had better brace yourself like when a doctor tells you you’re about to experience some pressure. It’s going to hurt. I haven’t kept a count through the years, but I think I’ve heard some variation of one excuse the most. “I can worship God anywhere.” If you think you don’t need to go to church because God is everywhere and you can worship him everywhere, you are right, mostly.

The Part That’s Right

The Bible clearly teaches God is everywhere, or he is omnipresent, if we want theological language. There is nowhere in this universe you can go where God is not there (Psalm 139:7-12). There is a day coming when God’s wrath will be revealed from Heaven and men’s misery will be multiplied because there is nowhere to go to hide from his presence (Revelation 6:14-17). You’re absolutely right about the fact that God is everywhere.

You’re also mostly right when you talk about worship. We could quibble over the difference between the hypothetical possibility of can and the objective reality of do, but I will leave that alone for now. I think what you mean by being able to worship God anywhere, is that there is no one particular place you have to be to worship God. You’re absolutely right about that. It doesn’t matter if you’re on Gerizim or Ebal, or anywhere else (Deuteronomy 11:29; John 4:19-24). There’s no special dirt, grass, or sawdust anywhere we have to have to worship God. There are no holy floorboards or holy carpet in a building that gives us access to God. If someone tries to tell you there’s a secret chamber where you have to go to meet Jesus, don’t believe it now and don’t believe it in the future (Matthew 24:26).

If God is everywhere, then he is everywhere, and everywhere you are, he is too. That’s about as sequitur as you can get and that reasoning is sound. In one way you’ve said a lot, but in another way, you ain’t said much. About all you’ve established is that a Porsche is a Porsche, of course. But the reality of the magnificent mechanical beast in your driveway and your hair blowing in the wind at 100 mph on the highway, are two different things. This is where i take issue with what you’ve said.

The Part That’s Not

Whether you can worship God all by yourself in a cabin in the woods has nothing whatever to do with why you should join and attend the services of a good church. The Bible does teach us to assemble together with other believers, but not because that is the only “place” where we can worship, praise, and pray to God (Hebrews 10:24-25). Pagans build little shrines so their gods will inhabit them and the worshipers can earn their gods’ favor. Christians have turned from all that and worship the true and living God, and so we know God doesn’t live in houses we build with sticks and stones (Ac 17:24-25; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).

A church is not a building we have put up for God to live in and so we can come visit him. A church is an assembly of people who are believers in Jesus Christ and have been joined together following their baptism (1 Corinthians 12:13, 27; Romans 12:5). You should join a true church and be faithful to assemble together because you need them. Yes, you need them. Need is the right word. This is what Paul said to the church at Corinth.

20 But now are they many members, yet but one body.
21 And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.
22 Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:
23 And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.
24 For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked:
25 That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.
26 And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.
– 1 Corinthians 12:20-26

A church in a location is the body of Jesus Christ. All the members are necessary and need one another. This point is emphasized by the distinction Paul made between higher and lower order members. The eye and the head are higher order members with greater position and capacity than lower order members like hands and feet. Paul’s point is that especially in this case, the eye cannot say he doesn’t need the hand, because he does.

When you say you can stay home and do just as well as going to church, you are saying you don’t need anyone else. You can read the Bible on your own. You can pray to God on your own. You can sing songs of praise to God on your own. You can do all kinds of things on your own, but you cannot fulfill 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 on your own. You cannot manifest the fruit of the Spirit on your own (Galatians 5:22-26). You cannot bear one another’s burdens on your own (Galatians 6:1-10). You cannot be forgiving and display brotherly love on your own (Ephesians 4:31-32; John 13:35). You also cannot come to the unity of faith and perfection of maturity on your own (Ephesians 4:1-16). I say again, you should join a good church because you need them.

To Hold a Baby Bird

But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children:
~ 1 Thessalonians 2:7

This article originally appeared in the Baptists for Liberty newsletter, June/July 2017 edition.

John Feinstein published his 1996 book on professional golf under the title: A Good Walk Spoiled. The phrase probably wasn’t original with him, but it is a great description of the game played in otherwise idyllic settings. I’ve personally experienced the spoiling of a good walk, particularly in my younger days. I continually sought advice on how to improve and get strokes off my game, but to give you the rest of the story; I will just say I’m not a professional golfer today, nor any sort of golfer, really, since I never play.

Golf is much like a lot of things in that you have to start somewhere. It’s unavoidable. Assuming you have the clubs, tees, and enough balls to Johnny Appleseed the woods and lakes of the course, the game of golf begins with the grip. Before you can address the ball or begin a swing, you have to hold the club in some fashion and gripping it like a Louisville Slugger isn’t going to do. The first grip I learned was the Vardon grip, though I later changed to the interlocking grip, which I think was made famous by Jack Nicklaus. I don’t think the change made a lot of difference for me, but I felt like I had done something.

The grip has two parts—the arrangement of the fingers and the pressure. I often heard the analogy that one should grip the club like they were holding a baby bird—firm enough so that the bird could not escape your hand, but not so firm that you crush the bird. This finer point of the grip is lost on most amateurs who white-knuckle the club like they are trying to wring the neck of a disagreeable chicken. While the amateur’s grip may be beneficial for Sunday dinner at the farm, it’s no good for splitting a fairway or finding greens in regulation.

The golf game begins with the grip. Aside from the tense muscles and coiling of the torso to unleash a monster drive down the middle, there must be gentleness to hold the baby bird and not kill it. You need enough pressure to hold the club but not all the pressure you can muster. To play golf, you must strike the ball. In order to strike the ball, you have to grip the club. In order to grip the club for striking accuracy, you have to use the right amount of gentleness in your grip pressure. So my philosophy all comes out to this: golf begins with gentleness.

I realize the readers of this newsletter did not come here for tips on keeping their ball in the short grass. My point is that most amateurs see the game as one of brute strength. They think most of the drive off the tee and how much distance they can get. While a towering drive on a par 5 can give you hopes of an eagle, golf is much more about finesse and delicacy. Accuracy is more important than length. Being farther in the woods is undesirable. This is probably why most amateurs don’t make much progress.

I once played in a foursome with a gentleman in his seventies. I outhit him all day. I consistently drove farther, though he was in the fairway and I was in the rough or trees. He would land on the green while I was over it. He two-putted most of the time and I easily doubled his effort. At the end of the round, his stroke count was also in the seventies and I had made a century. Had we been playing cricket, I would have been bucked up making a century, but it is an open-face shame in golf. It’s the sort of thing that causes many to put down the clubs and take up gardening or bird watching. Obviously, he understood the touch of gentleness the game requires and I nearly came out of my shoes every time I swung.

The Theme of Gentleness

Gentleness is the theme of this edition and this article’s design is to see something of how that theme works out in the life of a church. A church, of course, is a body of baptized, believing disciples who have been organized and joined together for the purpose of doing Jesus’s work on the earth until the end of this age. A church is made up of some number of people holding common membership and assembling together in a location for worship, instruction, and business.

Anyone who has been a part of two or more people trying to work together understands that such an arrangement has challenges. Different levels of maturity, skill, understanding, temperament, schedule, expectation, patience, sensitivity, and personal preference give opportunities for all sorts of problems. Unfortunately, many pastors and church members deal with the problems that pop up like an exuberant twelve-year-old boy playing Whack-A-Mole at the arcade. Mallet firmly in the hand, they bounce back and forth waiting for the next talpid head with beady eyes to pop-up. Then they whack it.

In the life of the church, our grip should begin with gentleness. Though there are times when we must use sharpness and severity, we should overall be characterized by gentleness, or meekness. This is a theme in Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth we call, Second Corinthians. In the general exhortation in the opening of the letter, Paul calls the church members to gentleness by reminding them of God’s comfort to us in tribulation, and having received comfort of God, Paul writes we are “able to comfort them which are in any trouble” (2 Corinthians 1:4). The necessary inference is that they should comfort those among them who are in any trouble.

Before Paul was deep in the letter, he pressed this application on the Corinthians in a specific case. A “punishment” was imposed on a “man” by the “many” (2 Corinthians 2:6). The word for punishment, epitimia, means a penalty. This is the only occurrence of the word in the New Testament. It was in common use, a word referring to a legal penalty imposed for some infraction against the city/state. It was a punishment for an infringement by one of his own rights of citizenship. The word used for many, pleionon, means the more part, or the greater number. It was used as we would say, majority. It is clear Paul was talking about a man who had been a member of the church who had discipline enacted on him by the church. Some suppose this was the man from 1 Corinthians 5, but that is not certain.

Paul said the punishment was “sufficient,” which meant the discipline had accomplished the purpose of bringing the man to repentance. Paul urged gentleness toward him so they would not increase his sorrow by their severity (2 Corinthians 2:7). He wrote they should “forgive … comfort … confirm … love toward him” (2 Corinthians 2:7-8). This is consistent with how he instructed the church at Galatia that they were to restore a repentant one “in a spirit of meekness” (Galatians 6:1).

Paul’s Gentle Example

Paul particularly taught ministers were to be marked by gentleness (2 Timothy 2:24-25; Titus 3:2). He also modeled gentleness in his ministry (1 Thessalonians 2:7). He likewise taught and modeled it to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 6:3-6, 10-11; 7:9). Paul was deliberate in his gentleness. It was his preferred manner (2 Corinthians 13:10). He could be severe when he believed he needed to be (2 Corinthians 13:2).

Paul was criticized in Corinth because of his gentleness. As is often the case, it was mistaken for weakness and he was put down because of it (2 Corinthians 10:1, 9-10). Paul could be so bold as to be gentle because he had confidence in the work of the Spirit in the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 1:15; 2:3; 7:16; 8:22; 10:2). He could speak to them the word of God in humility and meekness and have patience for the Spirit’s work. He set an example all ministers and church members should follow because we have confidence in the Spirit (Colossians 3:12-17; Ephesians 4:32).

Hold that Bird

Birds innumerable have met their end in the hands of many church members. Honest questions can be met with immediately hostile answers. The weak can be pushed down rather than helped. Like the Corinthians, we can be in danger of overloading sorrow on a repentant one. Sure, severity is needed at times, but remember it takes wisdom to use severity well. We should also remember that the true wisdom that comes from above is “pure … peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace” (James 3:17-18). May we manifest good “works with meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13). Don’t kill the bird. Start with gentleness. Be guided by wisdom.

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