Burned Out? Find Comfort in the Growth to Come!

The news continues to roll out of Gatlinburg. Stories of families searching for missing members only to find out they’re a part of the growing number of fatalities. Over 1,000 structures were damaged in the fire, one of which was the Gatlinburg church of Christ. Several members lost their homes as well. Thankfully, we haven’t heard of any lives lost among the brethren in Tennessee, but there are many in the area who cannot say the same.

For those who have visited the Smoky Mountains — particularly the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area — the beauty and majesty of the surrounding landscape is something that one rarely forgets. Seeing the images of fire ravaging the hillsides, entire cliffs glowing orange in the night, and the ashy aftermath is beyond words. “How could God allow this to happen to such a beautiful area,” a woman asked on one of the news reports I watched. The irony in her question is that God designed the forest ecosystem to benefit from fire. In fact, forests are made stronger and flourish in the aftermath of a fire. Through prayer and support from their community, businesses and families will heal as well. The emotional healing will likely take the longest.

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A small gallery of images from around the Gatlinburg area as fires swept through the area. At the time of this writing, the fires lead to the deaths of 13 people, injuring more than 100, destroying more than 1,000 structures and several acres of forest.

A small gallery of images from around the Gatlinburg area as fires raged, killing 13, injuring more than 100 and destroying more than 1,000 structures (at the time of this writing) and several acres of forest.

A person with experience in forestry and forest firefighting said that in 2-5 years, it will be hard for the untrained eye to tell the Gatlinburg area experienced such a blaze. It’s how the ecology works, apparently. According to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, fires are essential to the survival of such a large forest. “In the 1970s scientists started to notice that keeping the Great Smoky Mountains National Park completely fire free was having some unintended consequences. There are at least 12 native species of plants and animals in the Smokies that benefit from routine fires. For instance, the Table Mountain pine depends on the powerful heat of ground fires to open its sealed cones, which is how the tree spreads its seeds. Without periodic fires, the Table Mountain pine and other species would disappear from the park.”

Hearing that, I’m reminded of James 1:2-4 which reads, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Just like the forest fires, the trials and temptations we meet in life may be devastating at the time. They may cause our faith to be stretched. The true test comes in whether one allows the trial or temptation to stretch their faith to make it stronger, or allow it to break their faith.

Nature has God ruling over it, allowing and orchestrating the regrowth and build up after a fire. Man requires assistance to not allow their faith to be completely broken. That’s where the church comes in. As we’ll cover in our final lesson of the “Scripture Salad” sermon series this morning, our assembling together serves to encourage and stir up one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24). God’s perfect design for nature allows for regrowth and a thriving ecosystem after the “trial/temptation” of a fire. Christ’s perfect design for His church allows for the body to support and edify one another so the body can continue working together in perfect harmony (Eph. 4:16).

A Christian needs that encouragement and edification in order to mature spiritually. It cannot be done alone. Just like the Table Mountain pine relies on fires to flourish, the Christian needs to rely on the church and proper, biblical teaching to be the light they’re called to be in this dark world.

As always, if you have any questions about this, or if you’d like to learn more about how to become a Christian, feel free to email me at derek@duckdisciple.com.

–DD–

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Are you a pumpkin or a Christ-o-lantern?

A few years ago I heard the comparison made between making a jack-o-lantern and becoming a child of God. My wife reminded me a few weeks ago as I was tossing around topics for bulletin articles, so I thought this would be a good week to share my take on the comparison.

The journey to take a pumpkin and change it into a jack-o-lantern begins at the pumpkin patch. A whole field of pumpkins waiting to be chosen, waiting to serve a purpose. Then someone comes along and takes the time to inspect the fruit and pick it. Most freshly picked pumpkins will be a little dirty on the outside from the mud they’d been surrounded by in the field. Separating the pumpkin from the field, one must clean the dirt from the outside, truly separating the last remnants of the field from the pumpkin. When we repent of our sins, we separate ourselves from our life of sin and turn toward a clean walk of life in Christ. We’re “picked from the field” when we hear and believe the Gospel.

People and pumpkins have a lot in common. We both have an inside and an outside. The outside is what everyone sees – how we act, what we say and do, etc. The inside of a pumpkin is like our heart and soul. If a pumpkin is left in the field, it will slowly rot and die. The same thing goes for us. If we remain in the world, we eventually will die, with the hope of eternal life gone.

As you cut eyes into a pumpkin, you can see into the “heart and soul” of the pumpkin and it’s a mess. Just like our hearts and souls. “…the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead (Ecc. 9:3b).” So how do we get rid of the mess in our hearts?

God is the only one who can clean out our hearts, and the only way that can happen is if we humble ourselves with a child-like obedience to open ourselves up to His will. When we have heard the Gospel and believe, we confess that Jesus is the Son of the living God and open ourselves to His will. We then go down into the waters of baptism, and as Colossians 2:11-12, Paul details that in the waters of baptism God completes an operation separating the sinful man from the world and joining him with Christ. In this act God, through Christ’s sacrifice, reaches in and scoops out all the yucky stuff. This is my least favorite part of pumpkin carving, because I get messy as well. Jesus got messy for us. He took on our sins on the cross, and was beaten and humiliated, so that we could be reconciled to the Father. He got messy, so we could be clean.

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” – Ezekiel 36:25-27

If we did nothing after cleaning out the pumpkin, it would be hollow and empty. But as detailed in the verse above, the old is removed and the Spirit is placed inside. The carved pumpkin needs light to bring it to life. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12).” When we allow the light of Christ to dwell in us, it shines through into our life. Lighting a dark world, guiding them to the narrow path.

So you see, becoming a child of God is like becoming a jack-o-lantern. One who hears and believes the gospel that has been shared with them in some way has been picked from the field. Through repentance we change from a sinful life to a life for God’s purpose. We confess our belief and open ourselves to God’s will, allowing Him – through the waters of baptism – to clean out the mess of our hearts, filling us with the Spirit and the light of Christ, the light that we shine into all the world. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Mt. 5:16).”

If you have any questions, or desire to learn more about becoming a child of God according to the scriptures, please feel free to reach out to me here: derek@duckdisciple.com

Why Evangelism Matters

The “Great Commission” is a command for all disciples, then and now, to be evangelists – going into the world making disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all that Christ commands. But why is this so important to Jesus?

The importance of these commands cannot be emphasized enough. In the book of Daniel we learn of the coming Kingdom that would be established by a rock cut from a mountain, not by human hands. 

“And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. A great God has made known to the king what shall be after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure.” – Daniel 2:44-45 

In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream a few verses prior, Daniel details that when the King saw this rock in his dream it became a great mountain and it filled the whole earth (v. 35). The Great Commission, the call for all disciples to spread the Gospel to all nations, is important to fulfill this prophecy. The Kingdom Christ established on this earth, His church, needs to reach all nations. The world needs to hear the Gospel message as much now as they did back when the commission was first uttered. In order for the Kingdom to grow into a mountain covering the entire earth, the church must follow Christ’s command to GO (first and foremost), make new disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that Christ has commanded. New disciples means more members of God’s household (Eph. 2:19), members added to His church (Acts 2:41).

In 2015, the Pew Research Center did an extensive look into the religious atmosphere of America. In their search, they found church attendance was down across the board, no matter the denomination. More people were dying or falling away from faith than were being added. In fact, when you look at the statistics, the younger generations are less likely to be in attendance on a weekly basis. Thirty-four percent of Generation X (1965-1980), 27% of older Millennials (1981-1989) and 28% of younger Millennials (1990-1996) to be exact. 

Why are churches shrinking faster than they’re growing? Very simply, I feel churches have turned away from evangelistic outreach, and shifted their focus to creating programs that draw people in. They call these things “ministries,” but are they truly fulfilling the great & final commission of Christ? In the vast majority of the cases, I would posit, “No.” I think “programs” and break-off ministries can be beneficial, if done with the focus of evangelism and not socialization. If those ministries are teaching all to observe Christ’s commands, rebuking sin, and submitting to the authority of scripture, then they’ll find success. The problem is – outside of false doctrines being propagated – these programs are drawing from other churches, not from the lost (for the most part). The lost may be drawn in by the programs, but are they being taught to observe all of Christ’s commands, including His command for water baptism for the remission of sins? Drawing people in, waiting for them to walk in the doors to do all that Christ commands on their own accord is not equal to Christ’s command to “Go.” It’s a  bad plan for growth, to say the least.

It seems like today, the only way a church grows is if someone who is already a Christian moves into the area, or switches churches because of negative things happening at their former congregation, etc. This isn’t true at all places, but very bluntly, I see it more times than not here in the north. For some reason, churches in the south are better at getting out and evangelizing in their communities (side note: I hope to some day dig deeper into the great differences between churches in the north and south). It’s not true growth because it hasn’t expanded the mountain at all. A piece of the mountain simply changed position. In order to make that mountain grow, we need to be growing in the way Christ commands us… Going, teaching, and baptizing new disciples. Growing the church through evangelism.

Evangelism is a responsibility of every Christian united with Christ in baptism, not just the minister, elders and deacons. All disciples. It starts first in the church pews. Making disciples of those who are already in your church building, but aren’t getting the personal study they need. It starts at home with bringing family members to Christ. If you’re keeping all the commands of Christ, your friends likely know you’re a Christian, and they see something special in you. There’s an opportunity to make disciples in your circle of friends. If you’re reading this and you can list 1 or 2 (or more) people that you think you could evangelize to, I hope this encourages you to act on your impulse. Pray hard about the opportunity, that the truth will be shared, and the Gospel ultimately heard and obeyed.

If I can assist you in any way with this effort, please don’t hesitate to reach out. You can always email me at derek@duckdisciple.com.
Why are millennials flocking away from churches? That’s a topic for another article. But it all ties into evangelism. Do you have a topic you’d like to read about, or hear my take on? Submit your suggestions in the comments below or email me at the address listed above.

– DD –