Going straight to the Cross


by A. A. Neale

Places mean much to us. Where we were born. Where we got married. The first house we lived in as newlyweds. Where we were baptized. Where we had our first job.

Places of memories, of special moments, of important connections between people.

When the Jews sought to seize Jesus, he escaped from them to a special place.

"And He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was baptizing at first, and there He stayed" (John 10:40, NKJV).

This rugged, isolated place would have made it harder for the authorities to grab our Lord. And in these difficult moments, the place would have brought solace to a tired, harrassed man.

"Then many came to Him and said, 'John performed no sign, but all the things that John spoke about this Man were true'" (v. 41).

The masses followed Jesus out across the Jordan River. There, they recalled John's testimony about Jesus. "Behold! the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29).

The One whose shoes he was not worthy to stoop down and unlatch.

The One on whom had descended the Spirit of God.

The One God had approved by his voice from above.

John was no miracle worker, performed no great signs, but was a Truth Speaker par excellence. He told things like they were. Never minced words. Never flinched from telling every person what he needed to do. Fiery. Passionate. Zealous. Straight as an arrow.

And he was right about Jesus.

"And many believed in Him there" (John 10:42).

There, where John had preached and baptized. All the rich associations of the Baptizer's message came into focus upon the Man who was everything, who did everything, John said he was and would.

I want to go back there, too, to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Back to John's preaching. Back to simple sermons and clear messages. Back to rich associations, lots of Bible texts, plenty of explanation rising from the pages of Scripture.

I want to go back to fiery, zealous men of God proclaiming a straight-shooting gospel meant to convince and convert.

I want to go back to tears in the eye over the lost of the world, to urgent exhortations welling up from love of those condemned because of their sins, to passionate pleas to heed the promise of salvation procured at awful cost to the God of heaven.

I don't want to go back, necessarily, to little country churches with pot-bellied stoves in the winter and funeral fans in the summer. I'm no old fool who, late in life, reminisces over what was lost and how the world just isn't like it was in the old days. I like my conveniences, my 'puter, my modern life, such as it is.

Repine I do, however, over the loss of zeal for God, for the Son of God, for the Word of God.

So I think I'll go back beyond the Jordan where Jesus stayed. Where I can believe in Him there, with the echoes of God's saints in the hills, rocks, and trees.

Would you go with me?

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Better Bedside Manners

by A. A. Neale

Medical students in the U.S. must now take another test to get their licence to practice medicine. The National Board of Medical Examiners is giving the would-be doctors six chances to prove they have good bedside manners. The students are negotiating for ten. (Just kidding!)

As a professional class, doctors are lousy listeners. Maybe they're just reflecting the general population, but when I spill my litany of bodily ills, I want a doctor to be all ears.

I hail this move by the national board because too many doctors act like they are God and already know what you're problem is. They're all too ready to whack out a piece of your anatomy or write you off a prescription where they have stock in the company.

Speaking of which, my next recommendation is to give doctors penmanship classes and require they write so that an 8-year-old can read it. Preferably in block letters.

But back to the bedside manners. Here's what I would like to hear a doctor say once in my life:

  • "I don't know what you have."

  • "I would recommend you get a second opinion."

  • "I'll see you next Thursday promptly at 10:00 a.m. Don't make me wait."

  • "You look like a cover model for 'Men's Health Magazine.'"

  • "I'm going to knock 50% off your bill, because you're such a nice person."

OK, so I can dream, can't I?

But what I do want to see is every one of God's saints following this directive: "Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how to answer each one" (Colossians 4:6, NKJV).

A doctor may find it difficult to improve his bedside manners, but Christians work incessantly to better their interactions with others.

  • They cut out emotional static to listen intently (James 1:19).

  • They take into account where people are coming from (1 Corinthians 9:19-22).

  • They see in every person a soul saved by God's grace and serving in the Kingdom (ibid.).

  • They freely forgive those who are moving in the direction of God (Matthew 18:21-35; Colossians 3:13).

  • They develop a soft spot in their hearts for people, and especially for their brothers and sisters in Christ. They're "tender-hearted" to one another (Ephesians 5:32).

  • They judge actions and motives from a benevolent perspective, thinking the best of what people do and say (Matthew 7:1).

  • They encourage and praise others whenever possible (1 Corinthians 11:2).

Better bedside manners for doctors may be a lost cause, but Christians are the salt of the earth and show the love and gentleness of Christ in all they do. And I'm thankful for that.

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The Tally Tells

by A. A. Neale

Time to do some math: outside of meetings on Sundays and mid-week, and not counting your personal devotional time, how many hours do you spend a week in personal evangelism?

Count'em up. How many hours INVITING people to a Bible study -- public or personal; how much time discussing somebody's eternal destiny WITH THEM; how many hours in someone's living room or around their dining room table with an open Bible to bring them to a knowledge of salvation?

How many hours? Count'em up.

Now count how many hours you spent during the last week doing things like:

  • watching TV or movies: ____
  • playing sports or golf: ____
  • playing computer or video games: ____
  • surfing or chatting on the Internet: ____
  • reading novels, romances, sci-fi or adventure books: ____
  • other personal, recreational time: ____

How many hours? Count'em up.

Now compare the two numbers:

-> hours spent in evangelism: ____ -> hours spent in personal time: ____

What do the numbers tell you? Maybe that you need to repent. Maybe that your priorities are skewed. Maybe that some changes are in order.

Maybe not. Maybe your evangelism time is greater than your personal time. If so, congratulations. And know that you're an exception in this me-first world.

The tally tells. If you are a Christian, you have a single mission in life, that of glorifying God by preaching the gospel. Let us make sure we -- all of us, individually -- are fulfilling it. Woe to us if we don't!

If you're not a Christian, you may find in Christ a purpose to your life that will outlast time to stretch into eternity, a joy at knowing that your efforts will have permanent effects.

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19, NKJV).

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by A. A. Neale

I've done some piercing in my day. I've stapled my fingers a few times with a staple gun. A needle has pricked my thumb when I had to sew buttons on my shirt. A know-it-all doctor pierced my skin once with a scalpel, but I wasn't awake to feel that one.

Piercing in this day and age, in the way it's practiced now, was, and I suppose still is, another rebellious shake of the fist at authority. After all, you can only vary hair length by so much, and that gets old. So the up-and-coming generation has to think up something new to thumb its nose at parents and authority figures.

One type of piercing, though, isn't as much rebellion as it is the unhappy result of a lack of trust in the invisible God and confidence in the power of numbers. Spoken by a true politician full of his own power and arrogance, these words came from Jerusalem's aqueduct over its walls, beyond which the Assyrian army awaited battle:

"Now look! You are trusting in the staff of this broken reed, Egypt, on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him" (2 Kings 18:21, NKJV).

The description sought to shake Israel's confidence in Egypt as a power equal or superior to Assyria. Israel might make a treaty with Egypt, hoping to strike a political and military balance in the region. The Assyrian official hoped to prevent that and prompt the king to give it up.

To King Hezekiah's credit, he takes a letter written by the Rabshakeh, the same official from Assyria, into the temple to lay it before the Lord.

At that moment, Hezekiah avoided the piercing of Egypt.

Not all the kings were so trusting in God, however. And certainly not many of the people of Israel. They suffered multiple piercings because of their trust in false powers and impotent protection. These piercings were the results - not the signs - of Israel's rebellion against God, of their refusal to believe in the invisible Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies, to deliver them.

Maybe you like piercing your body as a statement. More pierce their souls when they depend upon material things to hold them up. I want to be careful to avoid such a piercing.

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Serves Them Right

by A. A. Neale

When the traffic light turned green in Allentown, Penn., Dwight Steidel watched the driver in front of him continue to chat with a pedestrian. Steidel rolled down his window and told him to move or pull over. "He immediately began to curse at me. I believe he did not know I was a police officer," Steidel said, since he was driving an unmarked police car. The officer pulled the man over. His driver's license had been suspended. And he was carrying cocaine and lots of cash. And he was driving a stolen car.

Bank officers called police in Hillsborough, N.C., about a suspect. Capt. Dexter Davis confronted him and asked him if he had a weapon. "He pulled his book bag off his shoulders. He opened the bag up and held it open to me," Davis said. No gun, but a note in clear view demanded, "I want $10,000 in $100 bills. Don't push no buttons, or I'll shot you." Davis laughed out loud. "I was looking for a weapon, but here was this note with nice large letters." The 42-year-old would-be bank robber was arrested.

Doesn't it give you just a little bit of satisfaction when somebody gets what's coming to them? Especially when the thief or perpetrator is rather dumb? Serves them right, don't we say?

If we do say or think such a thing, watch out! We may get what's coming to us.

So said the Lord to Edom:

"But you should not have gazed on the day of your brother In the day of his captivity; Nor should you have rejoiced over the children of Judah In the day of their destruction; Nor should you have spoken proudly In the day of distress" (Obad. 12, NKJV).

The Edomites even took advantage of the Israelites when the Lord punished them. So he tells Esau,

"For the day of the Lord upon all the nations is near; As you have done, it shall be done to you; Your reprisal shall return upon your own head" (Obad. 15).

The Lord punishes no one out of pleasure. "'Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?' says the Lord God, 'and not that he should turn from his ways and live?'" (Ezek. 18:23).

He doesn't want us to get our kicks from the wicked's downfall either. So says Proverbs:

"He who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished" (Prov. 17:5b).

"Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; Lest the Lord see it, and it displease Him, And He turn away His wrath from him" (Prov. 24:17-18).

As much as we hate the sin, and even, in Old Testament perspective, the sinner,* we always regard it a sad day when Satan claims another soul and the Lord must express his ire toward the rebellious.

Let's be sure that, when we smirk at the wicked's downfall, we're not being the dumb ones.

*Randal Matheny, "Hate the Sinner," Forthright, January 7, 2003, forthright.antville.org

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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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