Cafeteria Christianity

We are an extremely blessed country wherein one is able to choose from a lengthy list of options in almost every pursuit of happiness. It is rarely the case that we just have to do with what we have and what we have is insufficient to our needs; we possess well beyond the essentials of life and often take that for granted. Unfortunately, the amnesia that this opulence produces is not acceptable to God and can be detrimental to our spiritual health (Deuteronomy 6:10-15).

It is particularly unfortunate when this pick-and-choose mentality seeps into our religious life and is applied to our Christianity. The Bible’s directives are not to be taken as if they are options on a long list of possible lifestyle choices. God has always been, and is today, direct and specific concerning things critical to our relationship with Him. To assume that we can select divine statements, divinely approved examples, or divine implication on personal whim and disregard what we find distasteful or difficult is nothing more than cafeteria Christianity.

The psalmist stated: “The entirety of Your word is truth. And every one of your righteous judgments endures forever” (Psalm 119:160, NKJV). The ASV reads: “the sum of thy word,” both carrying the same meaning. It is not just a portion or part of God’s Word to which we can cling with confidence as the truth, it must be the acceptance and application of every single revelation of His will. When one chooses to negate, denigrate, belittle or disregard some portion of Holy Writ, one does so at peril of his or her soul.

Joshua’s final words to God’s children of Israel were: “But take careful heed to do the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Joshua 22:5). All His ways with all heart and soul. We would be wise to do likewise and leave the picking and choosing to the cafeteria.

JDS

 

*NOTE: Taken from the

July 6, 2014 Edifier.

 

Going Home

The anticipation of getting there is often unbearable. “Are we there yet” is not an expression limited to a child in the car-seat; many of the pleasurable experiences God has blessed us with in this life are intensified by the anticipation of their realization. I can still remember the excitement of driving under the horned scull of an Angora billy-goat wired above and between two massive cedar gateposts leading to Granny and Granddad’s home-place. All the fun a kid could imagine lay beyond that gate: building hideouts in the hay barn, cool and refreshing afternoons spent swimming in the Nueces River, and conversations on the front porch with Granddad about the mysteries of life.

Paul must have been brimming with anticipation when he penned a word of encouragement to his Philippian brethren, saying: “our citizenship is in heaven” (cf. Philippians 3:20-21). Someday, by the power of Jesus Christ, we are going home.

The journey, however, is another matter. There are those times when we are discouraged by the inevitable pit stops inherent in a long journey (Hebrews 12:1). They seem to delay progress but are as essential as they are inconvenient. Refueling is a necessity and without it, we faint (Hebrews 10:24-25). Then, there is the unfortunate detour, sometimes due to unexpected construction (Romans 8:28) and at other times because of that ugly old pride factor that foregoes the obvious: we ignore the map (Psalm 119:105). Even the natural discomfort and exhaustion that intensifies as the journey draws to a close can become oppressive (Ecclesiastes 12:1-7). But, knowing what awaits at journey’s end is worth the trip.

Paul was writing from prison to a church in the midst of a military town whose population was largely composed of members of that same Roman army enforcing his incarceration. Still he found courage and joy in the prospect of home: Heaven. He knew this was just one more minor pit stop along life’s road, an insignificant detour that offered scenery yet to be appreciated and used to the advantage of the Kingdom. And so he would preen about the advances he had made in Caesar’s very own backyard (Philippians 1:12). Where bondage limited his progress in one arena, he knew another door of opportunity would present itself in another (1 Corinthians 16:9). The fact that his work in the Gospel could not be stifled only elevated his sense of purpose and confidence in his final destination (2 Timothy 4:8).

“Our citizenship is in heaven,” Paul said. We are a part of a “family in heaven” (Ephesians 3:15). Our journey’s end is a place where joys and wonders transcend our wildest imaginations. How can we allow the trial of the journey to constitute an obstacle to eternal bliss? In lieu of fussing and worrying about the minutia of day-to-day struggles, we must focus on the big picture: we’re going home! Our Father beckons us from the front porch of Heaven, promising peace and comfort and consolation that comprise the essence of an eternity in bliss hitherto at best a dream… and the anticipation is barely bearable.

JDS

 

*NOTE: Taken from the

August 15, 2013 Edifier.

 

Thank You

There are not enough words to express the gratitude and thanksgiving Kelly and I feel for the Jacksboro church of Christ. We have enjoyed seven years of generosity, cooperation and encouragement. There will never be another church family as close as all of you have become.

Having said that, I wish to encourage you to continue on. Whereas no soul is expendable, no single person makes up the church. This church will thrive and reproduce seven-fold if we remember to “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).

Kelly and I leave stronger, more mature and closer to our heavenly goal and hope we have done the same for you in our work here. It is our fervent prayer that we have left you stronger in Christ than when we first came. We also hope that any real or perceived wrong you may hold against us can be remedied before we leave; we are going to Heaven together. And, we wish nothing but the best for your next preacher, that he and his family find the joy we did with you.

I know how often we make those wishful promises of maintaining contact, visiting occasionally and “keeping in touch” but I also know how goes life. What we must keep in mind is our goal, never forgetting that this weigh station we call life is temporary and our real reunion will be full of so much more joy than we can imagine, and it will be forever.

“If we never meet again this side of Heaven, I will meet you on that beautiful shore.” Kelly and I wish you bounty and grace from God and pray that He blesses you now and forever.

Jeff Sweeten

A Gracious Response

Paul closes out the teaching portion of his letter to the Colossian church with the following statement: “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Colossians 4:6). Notice several implications in Paul’s admonition.

First, our speech should always be “with grace.” Strong’s says charis comes from the idea of “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life.” Hence, our speech should always reflect the benefit and pleasure that God intends to convey in any message He would transmit. When we start interjecting our own ingenuity, we compromise our speech in the Lord’s service. “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11a).

Second, our speech should be “seasoned with salt.” Salt was commonly used as seasoning in sacrifices (Leviticus 2:13) and was especially desirable in flavoring meat (Job 6:6; cf. Matthew 5:13). Everyone appreciates kind words. “Like apples of gold in settings of silver Is a word spoken in right circumstances” (Proverbs 25:11, NASB). “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Our purpose in answering questions concerning our sanctification is not to assert superiority, but to invite the sinner to salvation. The “I’m right and you’re wrong” attitude has no place in the Christian’s heart and shouldn’t spill out in speech; “for as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7a).

Third, the reason for our “speech concern” is singular: knowing “how you ought to answer each one.” There are a couple of implications here. One is the fact that we should know how to answer questions asked by those who “may see your good works” (Matthew 5:16) and want to know about your convictions (1 Peter 3:15). The other is the fact that our good works are seen so visibly as unique and different (2 Corinthians 6:17). Christians are “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1 Corinthians 1:2). When we are so like the lost around us that there is no distinction, we have failed in our Christianity.

So, the next time someone asks you about your religion, or what church you go to, take it as a complement, an opportunity, and a privilege, “knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:24). Give a gracious response.

Jeff Sweeten

A Christian Camp

I remember the Fry Bible Camp. I anticipated it for 51 weeks, it flew by and then I geared up for the next year. The fellowship, the fun, the singing, and the scenery all mixed in a montage of memorable moments never to be forgotten. I remember a little guy named “Tadpole,” who became a defensive back for the Raiders football team (we now call him “Van” or “Sir”). I remember a “girlfriend” who complained because holding her hand caused it to perspire (sweaty palms were out back then). I remember Patsy and Pam deflating my ego on the ping-pong table. I remember the Flying Dutchman and all of those wonderful collisions. I remember the young folks, ages 12-18, singing songs that brought the hair on the back of your neck to attention. I remember the tearful repentance and obedient baptism of teenagers surrounded by loving peers, joyful over another saved soul. Yes, those memories are still as strong as the day they were made.

Most of all, I remember the great men and women who volunteered their valuable time. The fact that I now preach the Gospel, and the opportunities I have to guide souls to eternity in Heaven, will always be stars in their crown (and there was certainly considerable concern in my younger years as to what would become of me!). However, it might not have happened for me had it not been for the sacrifices of Christians like Roland and Mary Jean Fry, Woodrow Yates, Dorothy Doebler, and my own parents. These persevering saints were there to encourage, cajole, and occasionally shake their finger at me, and all that out of love.

I still think about the Fry Camp. I owe so much to those faithful souls who labored in love, and there is no way to repay the debt … except perhaps, to pass it on. A little kindness, a helping hand or a word fitly spoken may change the eternal destiny of a young soul. Just imagine how wonderful it would be to have a camper smile back at you from the Judgment Seat, remembering your sacrifice, as he/she hears those glorious words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: … enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:21). What a difference you can make.

Jeff Sweeten

Cultural Shades

A woman from Maine was visiting her family at Christmastime in a small town in the south. She was surprised to find in the town square a crèche with the Three Wise Men wearing firefighter’s helmets. At a nearby church, she stopped and asked the secretary why the Three Wise Men were wearing helmets. She said she couldn’t recall reading anything about firefighters in the Bible when Jesus was born. “You Yankees never read the Bible!” the women said, angrily. She took out a Bible, flipped through some pages, and pointed at a passage. “Look!” she said. “It says right here, ‘The Three Wise men came from afar.’” (Holy Hilarity, p. 21-22).

We Southerners appreciate the uniqueness of our language, even though it falls prey to puns now and again. Some have even taken it upon themselves to author books about “Speaking Southern” in order to clarify the confusion. It is ironic, though, that in attempting to clarify everything from “Ebonics” to “Southern Slang,” proper English is employed; implying, of course, that there is a correct way to convey verbal messages and that “standard” English is the standard.

Correct word-usage may be viewed by some as a minor detail in Christian doctrine, but more often, it is the defining distinction in religious divisions. Misunderstandings usually occur when a term or phrase is removed from its context and assigned a cultural or current meaning foreign to its Divine definition. Updating definitions to accommodate our cultural usage of a term can change the message of the Bible. Take for instance the story above: the term “church” has come to mean “building.” This definition is foreign to God’s Word. Did Jesus die for an architecturally designed pile of bricks (Acts 20:28)? This may seem petty but minor concessions quickly become major convictions. Adultery becomes “living together,” sodomy becomes an “alternate lifestyle,” infanticide becomes “planned parenthood,” drunkenness becomes a “disease,” and “codependency” excuses everything God defines as sin.

If we claim to be God’s people, we must speak “as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11). To do otherwise is to invite confusion, misunderstanding, false doctrine, and ultimately, damnation. In catering to the culture of redefinition, we become a flashback of Isaiah’s nightmare, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).

God said, “All the words of my mouth are in righteousness” (Proverbs 8:8). We won’t know “righteousness” unless we are willing to use His words; it’s hard to read through cultural shades.

Jeff Sweeten

When Tragedy Strikes

The burden of tragedies in life often presses us so heavily that we are given to doubt. One of the arrows in Satan’s quiver, which he often hurls at the Christian heart, is faith-crushing calamity. However, God has not left us to languish, wavering in uncertainty. There are at least two lines of defense in the holy arsenal to which we have access as soldiers of Christ.

First, there is the confidence in knowing that our God is not a spiteful God, anticipating our every sin so as to exercise His divine condemnation in human suffering. Sin has consequences but too often, and wrongly, God is given credit for catastrophes. As Jeremiah looked over a decimated Jerusalem, in his Lamentations, he still had the presence of mind to state, “For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:33). God is not willing that any should perish but is longsuffering (2 Peter 3:9). He finds no glee in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). He calls us to holy living and trust in His providential care (Romans 8:28).

Second, we have as protector and comforter, the mind of God in His revelation, the Bible. “Above all (Paul said), taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked” (Ephesians 6:16). Attacks on our faith are not unusual, but when we are in the weakened state of sorrow, it is often more than difficult to maintain spiritual strength. We don’t see the big picture like God does. We don’t know the eternal mind of God in His purposes. And, we certainly cannot transcend time to see the end of what may for the moment seem to be disaster. However, God knows, He cares, and He will see us through.

Thus Paul, amidst persecutions and trials, could say, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). When tragedy strikes, trust in God.

Jeff Sweeten

Food for Thought

Some years ago, a member of the church handed me an e-mail he had received. It’s food for thought.

A churchgoer wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to church every Sunday. He wrote:

“I’ve gone for 30 years now and in that time, I have heard something like 3,000 sermons. But, for the life of me, I can’t remember a single one of them. So, I think I’m wasting my time and the preachers are wasting theirs by giving sermons at all.”

This started a real controversy in the “Letters to the Editor” column, much to the delight of the editor. It went on for weeks until someone wrote this clincher:

“I’ve been married for 30 years now. In that time my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. Bur for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But, I do know this: They all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!”

Hopefully, we are not eating spiritually only once or twice per week, but the point is well taken. If we are to be healthy physically, we need regular, healthy, and proper sustenance. If our spiritual bodies are to grow, mature, and be healthy, we must eat spiritual food. Just as a steady diet of sweets would be damaging to the physical body, so also is the steady intake of the media’s brain candy detrimental to our spiritual body. Watch less TV and read more Bible. Then, watch the transforming difference it will make in your spiritual life. We need to hear the gospel preached, we need the fellowship of the saints and we need daily to feed on the milk and meat of the Word. In the absence of this vital nutrition, we will spiritually die! All things are ready, come to the feast.

Jeff Sweeten

Life’s Journey

Life is a journey and, with the Christian, has an end goal: Heaven. This being the case, we then need to be busy about plotting out our pilgrim journey and several concerns must be addressed.

As with any journey, we need to have a firm conviction concerning our destination. Without this contingency, we would wander aimlessly about, distracted by every sideshow along the way, and never reach a purposed destination. Let’s face it: few plan to go to Hell but we know that many will be there (Matthew 7:13-14) because they are “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14) and lose focus on the final destination (Philippians 3:13-14). Further, we need sufficient provisions to make the journey. It is a fool’s expedition that sets out on a pilgrimage with insufficient supplies. Our Christian life demands sustenance, and that spiritual food can only come from God’s word (Philippians 4:19). The unique feature about God’s provision for His pilgrim saints is that the load is light and easy (Matthew 11:28-30) and our strength will grow as our hunger grows (1 Peter 2:2-3); God’s groceries are never insufficient (Matthew 5:6). Finally, our journey requires a companion-leader. The wisdom of wise company is self-evident, for “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise” (Proverbs 13:20), but “if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matthew 15:14). Having someone to lead the expedition who has been there, knows the way and will keep you safe is paramount, therefore, the greatest companion-leader with whom we can journey is God’s Son. Eighteen times in the Gospels, Jesus said, “Follow me.” He not only knows the way, He IS the Way (John 14:6).

No matter where we go, we should ask if we are you packed for the journey and in the company of the those who follow the only qualified Leader. No matter where your journey takes you, you can travel with confidence. “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour” (John 12:26).

Jeff Sweeten

Rules of the Game

On January 20, 1892, a YMCA worker named James Naismith designed a game to keep the local hoodlums busy and encourage exercise, teamwork, and camaraderie. It went well beyond its intended purpose. Today, this game is a tool for international communication, a rallying point for countries during the Olympic Games, and a multi-billion-dollar marketing machine. Names like Jordan, James and “Magic” were made famous (and rich) in this sport and by mere virtue of their name, increase the value of a product four-fold. And, no matter where one comes from, basketball speaks a universal language that can be understood by nearly every country on the planet.
One thing that contributes to its universal appeal is the rules. Regardless of where you go, with only minor variations, the rules are the same. Of course, no game could be played without rules. It would be silly, even absurd, to decide that each basket one team makes counts two points, where the opposing team could make that same basket for three. Or, that the out of bounds lines only applied to one team, where the other team could dribble back and forth over those same lines with impunity. It is only fair that the rules apply equally to everyone. That’s what makes the competition fair and entertaining. If there were no rules, there would be no game.
Odd isn’t it, how simple (how insultingly simple) such a principle is; yet when religion becomes the issue, all bets are off. We understand what a double-dribble is because the rules are plain, but in religion, if one were to break the rules, it is assumed if one is sincere, it doesn’t matter; we’re “safe” because “God loves us and He wouldn’t send poor lil’ ol’ me to a nasty old Hell.” You see, we don’t have to answer to consequences since we’re “Christians.” If we believe ourselves to be saved, the rules don’t apply.
Well, that’s nonsense. The rules do apply to all and God will hold all responsible because He has rules, and His rules are fair, equitable, and reasonable. “For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14). Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). John reminds us, “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4). So, if we are going to win, we must play by the rules. If we play by the rules, we will win, for Christ said, “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Get on the winning team, play by the rules and you’re guaranteed a win!
Jeff Sweeten