Going straight to the Cross

Ashamed of the Name

by Tim Hall

A story carried by Reuter's Press on February 2, 2005 tells of a dilemma facing an exclusive prep school in the Boston area. The school, Governor Dummer Academy, is considering changing its name. Some fear that the school's name is the basis of wise cracks, and a marketing firm has advised that a name change would help student recruitment.

Not everyone agrees. After all, the school has been in existence for 242 years and the name honors the man whose donations helped begin the school. Wouldn't it be an act of disrespect to change the name simply because it leads some to snicker?

A similar situation has occurred among religious groups in our country. For many years, preachers among churches of Christ have charged that denominations wear unscriptural names. Instead of honoring Christ, these names point to influential founders or tout a doctrine the group considers paramount. In almost all of these cases, the names are nowhere to be found in the Bible.

It is true that the New Testament does not assign a name to the church. "Church of God," "churches of Christ," "church of the firstborn" and other such Biblical phrases are descriptive in nature. Besides, why even assign a name to (denominate) the church if the Lord had only one church in mind? That Jesus intended only one church is undeniable when considering the words of His prayer: "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in me through their word; that they all may be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you; that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me" (John 17:20,21, NKJV). No name has been assigned to the sun above us because there is only one. Why should the Lord's church need a name?

But because man has proliferated religious organizations, there must of necessity be some way to identify the Lord's church in the midst of all others. If an identifying label must be used, shouldn't it be one that is both Biblical and also honors the founder?

The religious world has now gone a step further. Afraid that the word "church" will conjure up negative images of structure, formality, and rigidity, many are moving away from that word. A quick glance at my local Yellow Pages under the heading of "Nondenominational Churches" reveals names like "Common Ground," "Joyful Praise Ministries," "Loving Faith Fellowship," and "Believers Family Worship Center." Names that avoid references to "church" will be more attractive, it is believed.

Whose idea was it to use the word "church" in the first place? (Hint: Read Matthew 16:18.) Doesn't that word mean something significant? What are we saying when we decide to abandon terms given to us by God in favor of labels human wisdom deems preferable?

Some scholars speculate that the name "Christian" was coined by unbelievers as a form of ridicule. Shall we change that name, too, since many associate abuse and exploitation with it?

"For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38).

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The Higher View

by Tim Hall

An officer once visited the hospital where soldiers lay wounded from battle. He offered sympathy to one young man for the loss of his leg. "Sir," the soldier replied, "I did not lose my leg. I consider it an honor to have given it for my country."

There is a decided difference between those two viewpoints. What one considers a tragic loss, another looks upon as a gift for a noble ideal. One must choose the vantage point from which they will view life's trials.

Some might consider Paul's losses as significant. When he decided to abandon his alliance with the rabbis and Pharisees, a door to a promising future was shut. But consider the view of those "sacrifices" Paul chose: "But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him ..." (Philippians 3:7-9, NKJV).

Some focus on what has been given up and look back longingly on the past. At a moment of weakness, they may choose to reclaim what was once theirs. But those who look upon their sacrifices as gifts to their Lord feel no desire to go back. Their faces are set toward the prize of heaven. They are happy to give up whatever must be given.

Here is the key to becoming what God wants us to be –- cheerful givers. "So let each of you give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7). As the check is dropped into the collection plate, do we think of what those dollars might have purchased? Do we consider the act a net loss financially? From a purely financial perspective it is a loss. But when properly motivated –- when the cause of God's kingdom is the choice we make -– the money in the tray has not been lost. It has been given.

All gifts to God must begin in the heart: "as he purposes in his heart." Otherwise the world's attitude will prevail and we will only grudgingly release our grip on whatever we give.

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Stay Longer

by Tim Hall

Television camera crews are packing up and heading for home. Newspaper reporters are checking out of their hotel rooms. The story of the tsunami disaster is old news and no longer occupies the front page. Only a few will remain behind to help those whose lives have been uprooted. These are the ones whose care is deep and genuine.

It happens hundreds of times each day on a smaller scale. Homes are visited by death and lives are ripped asunder. For a few days, a flurry of activity takes place. Friends call, visit, prepare meals, order flowers, and even attend the funeral. But when the deceased is laid to rest, then what? Have all of the needs been provided for? Or will someone still come by a week or a month later to bring comfort to a lonely widow? Those whose care is genuine will be there.

On the road to Emmaus, two disciples were comforted by the wise words of the stranger they had met. He opened to them the words of Moses and all the prophets in ways they had not considered. But their hearts yearned for more. "Abide with us," they pleaded, "for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent" (Luke 24:29, NKJV). And, true to his nature, Jesus "went in to stay with them."

People can be so thoughtless, so shallow with their concern. Yes, we appreciate their visit at the funeral home, but how we need their companionship weeks later! Is there no one who will stay longer?

"If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him" (John 14:23). What a friend we have in Jesus! Brief pop-in visits are not his style; he prefers to move in to be our constant companion. He is there when the first wave of disaster strikes, and he will be there as we mop up our lives. "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).

If we have benefited from the abiding presence of Jesus in our lives, should we not also strive to model that to those around us? When they see our Lord moving us to unexpected kindness and faithfulness, will they not see his glory?

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Standing Like Janus

by Tim Hall

New Year's Eve marks a sober vantage point for many of us. It is a summit from which we view the year that is almost past, and from which we faintly see the year before us. That new year comes with January, a month named for the mythical Roman god Janus. This legendary being was said to have two faces: one which looked back while the other looked ahead. That's what we try to do as we prepare to greet another year.

It's harder to look forward than it is to look back. After all, the past is familiar; we lived in it. The future, however, is unknown to all. We hope certain things will take place in the months ahead, but there's no way to be sure. In some ways, it's more comfortable to live in the past than it is to face the future.

We're more like the Israelites of old than we care to admit. In Numbers 11:4-6 they revealed their restless hearts: "Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: 'Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!'" (NKJV)

"We remember . . ." That's a refrain sung often by the Jews in the wilderness. It meant that they considered the things of the past better than what they were enduring on their journey. They actually urged Moses to take them back to Egypt! Janus was not among the majority of this group. They only had faces for the past.

Do we do better than these wanderers? Or do we often follow their example by yielding to craving for things which pull us away from God? Are we willing to set our faces to the future, believing the promises of God are better than anything this world can offer?

If we don't work to prevent it, our past will become our prison.

As we prepare to cross from one year to the next, let us recall the admonition of Paul in Colossians 3:1-3: "If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God."

The church is that number who have been called out of this world. We can't help but remember how things used to be. Some things from which we were called were things we enjoyed. But we must not look only to the past. We must determine to fix our focus on the future, the glorious future God has promised to all who love and follow his Son.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17).

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Silent Cries

by Tim Hall

The couple was separated by 600 miles. They had met in college, fallen in love and planned to marry in the spring. His graduate studies took him to a distant state, but they kept in close touch. When he received the phone call earlier this month from her mother, it seemed like a terrible dream. His fiancé had been murdered by an intruder, stabbed several times in her apartment.

Anyone could understand the overwhelming grief the young man must have felt upon hearing the news. A passing neighbor heard his cries and stopped to see what was wrong. According to the story in the newspaper, this neighbor (he doesn't even know her last name) helped him pack a suitcase, drove him to the airport and assisted him in booking his flight. A law school student should be able to do those things for himself. But when grief is blinding, help is needed. He said he'll never forget the help this woman gave in his moment of greatest need.

Does this true story have a familiar ring? To me, it sounds much the same as one told twenty centuries ago. Jesus began by telling of the misfortune that befell a traveler; he was beaten, robbed and left for dead. After two "religious" men passed by without helping, "A certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion on him" (Luke 10:33, NKJV). The rest of the story is well known. The Samaritan spent time and personal resources to attend to the man's needs. At the end, Jesus instructed his audience to "Go and do likewise" (Luke 10:37).

Most of us would respond similarly if confronted by an obvious crisis. There is good within the human breast that almost always comes out in times of great need. But what about times when needs are not as obvious? Who will come to help when our sobbing can't be heard?

One solution given by our heavenly father is found in Hebrews 10:24: "And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works." "Consider" is translated from a Greek word which connotes careful study and observance. [In Acts 27:39, sailors desperate for refuge from a great storm "discovered" (KJV) a bay where they hoped to safely land their ship.] Christians who follow this admonition will keep their antennas raised, looking for signs of distress among their sisters and brothers.

My times of suffering are not always revealed by audible moans or words. But for those who care to look, there are almost always visible clues written on my face, in my posture, in my overall demeanor. Those who know me can usually tell when I'm down -- and they want to find out why.

Our Lord knew the thoughts of men's hearts without having to ask (John 2:24,25). His followers are not endowed with such abilities. But by cultivating the art of closely observing one another, we'll learn to spot the signs of unspoken trials. When discovered, those with the compassion of Jesus will reach out to do whatever needs to be done.

Blinding grief will come to most of us. When it does, we'll thank God if someone hears our cries, even though silent. "And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise" (Luke 6:31).

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Forthright Magazine continues, more dynamic than ever! We have groups created for FMag on Facebook and the Churches of Christ Network. Announcement blog is up and going on Preachers Files. Email lists about FMag and FPress are available both on Yahoo and GoogleGroups. And, to top it all off, we're twittering for both on Twitter.com.
by randal @ 1/20/09, 11:55 AM

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by diane amberg @ 5/18/05, 4:56 AM
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