Tug of War

(This article was written by Frank Reed and was originally posted here)

“Tug of War” – again – when will we learn?

One of my favorite pictures is a picture of two tractors. One tractor is a John Deere G and the other is a Farmall Super M. They are chained drawbar-to-drawbar and trying to out-pull each other. Beneath the chain is a line someone has scratched in the dirt. Hanging directly above the scratched line is a white handkerchief tied to the chain.

Both tractors are obviously straining at their limits. The smoke is pouring from their stacks. Their rear tires are digging into the earth. Their drivers are leaning into their loads. Much energy is being expended. Neither tractor is going anywhere (except deeper).

Each machine has a cheering section. This contest of mettle has brought them together (and is keeping them apart). Each group seems to know which tractor should win (and which should lose). These groups are obviously losing no love on one another.

While much energy is being expended – no plowing is being done. No discing. No planting. No cultivating. No harvesting. Valuable fuel is being exhausted. Expensive tires are losing tread. Powerful engines are being stressed. Delicate gears overloaded. Useful life shortened.

Intriguing but convicting. Does it matter which tractor wins? Imagine how much work could be done if these powerful machines would return to their respective fields of labor. The operators, with a vision of a goal accomplished, could wave to one another across the fence row as they passed. If one had more power than the other, what would it matter? They could work together (albeit in different fields) to feed a hungry world.

Our churches have so much to offer the community and the world. It has become apparent that tensions have weakened our ministry and limited us to a debilitating degree. There is too much at stake to continue the struggle. Both “tractors” are being damaged while their mettle yet unproven.

Why can there not be an amiable agreement so that we can work together or so that we can work in separate fields? There appears to be huge open fields where all can find places to work. Certainly some of the persons involved in the present struggle would feel quite comfortable in some other, related fields of labor. Is it not possible that we could “unhook the chain” and employ energies in gainful, meaningful, productive accomplishment? In this way, we could finish the work without the damage and disruption which will be hurtful to us all.

Can we not “rather suffer wrong” if we feel that we or someone we are supporting has been wronged? Will not the polarization and escalation of present attitudes existing at all levels prove destructive to all? What about the people we are here to serve? They are the ones to whom we owe an apology. What are we teaching them? What are we demonstrating to them? Are we not hypocritical to teach the Bible while “biting and devouring” each other as our physical and emotional energies and our very spiritual lives are being consumed? Can we show the people that we are disciples by the way we love one another?

A peaceful resolution will certainly not be nearly as exciting as all the smoke, noise, and clamor of the “tug of war.” But it strikes me that a peaceful solution would be closer to what the LORD intended when He gave talents to each of us and told us to “occupy until He comes.” Then each of us will need to give account of how we used His talents. Are we working the fields or playing “tug of war?”

Frank Reed – Written in 1997. Published in 2013. Published in 2016.

Church Criteria

Many Christians seem to have difficulty settling into a church.  Here are two simple questions that can be asked to help a person evaluate the faithfulness of a church.

  1. Does it have worship?
  2. Does it have instruction?

Yearning After the Spirit

Death and condemnation to the church that is not yearning after the Spirit, and crying and groaning until the Spirit is wrought mightily in her midst. He is here; he has never gone back since he descended at Pentecost. He is often grieved and vexed, for he is peculiarly jealous and sensitive; and the one sin never forgiven has to do with his blessed person; therefore let us be tender towards him, walk humbly before him, wait earnestly on him and resolve that there should be nothing knowingly continued that would prevent him from working in our midst.

Brethren, if we do not have the Spirit of God, it would be better to shut the churches, to nail up the doors and put a black cross on them and say, “God have mercy on us!” If you ministers have not the Spirit of God, you had better not preach, and you people had better stay at home. I think I speak not too strongly when I say that the church in the land without the Spirit of God is rather a curse than a blessing. This is a solemn word: the Holy Spirit or nothing and worse than nothing.

The Holy Ghost is here,

Where saints in prayer agree;

As Jesus’ parting gift he’s near

Each pleading company.

Not far away is he,

To be by prayer brought nigh,

But here in present majesty

As in his courts most high.

He dwells within our soul,

An ever-welcome guest;

He reigns in absolute control

As monarch in our breast.

Our bodies are his shrine,

And he, indwelling Lord;

All hail, thou Comforter Divine,

Be evermore adored!

Obedient to thy will,

We want to feel thy power,

O Lord of life, our hopes fulfill,

And bless this hallowed hour.

(Charles Haddon Spurgeon)

A Cheap Substitute

“We may as well face it: the whole level of spirituality among us is low.  We have measured ourselves by our ourselves until the incentive to seek higher plateaus in the things of the Spirit is all but gone…[We] have imitated the world, sought popular favor, manufactured delights to substitute for the joy of the Lord and produced a cheap and synthetic power to substitute for the power of the Holy Ghost.”
(A.W. Tozer)

Communal Prayer

I have been doing some reflection on the value of communal prayer, or praying as a community.  We can note that the the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) is meant to be prayed in community.  It speaks of “us” rather than “me.”  It says give us our daily bread, forgive our debts, and lead us not into temptation.  In fact, it is even addressed to “our” Father rather than “my” Father.  You get the point.  The model prayer that Jesus gave us seems designed to be prayed in community.

Jesus said, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19, ESV).  He seems to be saying that there is a certain strength found when like-minded people pray together.

For an example of the power of communal power we could consider Acts 12.  Peter had been arrested by Herod.  Verse 5 says, “So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (ESV).  The night before Peter’s trial, he escaped from prison with the help of an angel.  Do you think there was a connection between the earnest prayers of the church and Peter’s subsequent escape?

Another relevant verse is found in Acts 1.  A group of believers was waiting for the Holy Spirit.  Verse 14 says of that group that “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (ESV).  They were devoted to prayer, which sounds like more than a once-a-month event.  That verse is a key to understanding the strength of the early church and the courage of the early Christians.

So why is communal prayer so important?  R.A. Torrey got to the heart of the matter when he wrote:  “If there is any real power in the church it is from God, and God has given it in answer to prayer. The prayer meeting is the real expression of the prayer life of the church.  Of course all the living members of the church are praying in private, but it is in the prayer meeting that they come together and pray as a church. God delights to honor the prayers of the church as a whole (Acts 12:5, Acts 1:14).  If the prayer meeting of a church runs down, it is practically certain that all the life of the church will run down, and its work prove a failure as far as accomplishing anything real and lasting for God is concerned.”

Public Worship Preparation

In the class on the book of Psalms that I am currently teaching, my students and I spent some time discussing how we can best prepare ourselves for church services.  Here are some of our thoughts.

  1. Do what you need to do to get to church on time.
  2. Make an effort to focus on God before you go to church (e.g., through singing or Scripture reading).
  3. Pray for peace and unity among God’s people.
  4. Do not exhaust yourself on Saturday.
  5. Prepare for the service by reading the Scripture related to Sunday School and/or the sermon, if possible.
  6. Pause and meditate before worship starts.
  7. Seek to release the stress of the past week or the next week so that you can focus on the Lord.
  8. Taking notes may help you stay focused during the service.
  9. Give proper consideration to your attire.  Dress does impact your attitude (sloppy clothes = sloppy attitude).  Dress in a way that shows proper respect to the Lord and does not draw attention to yourself.
  10. Your first priority in going to church is to worship God, not have your own needs met. As you focus on him he will meet your needs.

The True Church

THE TRUE SIGNS BY WHICH THE CHURCH OF CHRIST MAY BE KNOWN
As Stated by Menno Simons

I. By an unadulterated, pure doctrine, Deut. 4:6; 5:12; Isaiah 8:5; Matt. 28:20; Mark 16:15; John 8:52; Gal. 1.
II. By a scriptural use of the sacramental signs, Matt. 28:19; Mark 16; Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12; 1 Cor. 12:13; Tit. 3:5; 1 Pet. 3; Matt. 26:25; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:22, 23.
III. By obedience to the word, Matt. 7; Luke 11:28; John 7:18; 15:10; Jas. 1:22.
IV. By unfeigned, brotherly love, John 13:34; Rom. 13:8; 1 Cor. 13:1; 1 John 3:18; 4:7, 8.
V. An unreserved confession of God and Christ, Matt. 10:32; Mark 8:29; Rom. 10:9; 1 Tim. 6:13.
VI. By oppression and tribulation for the sake of the Lord’s word, Matt. 5:10; 10:39; 16:24; 24:9; Luke 6:28; John 15:20; 2 Tim. 2:9; 3:12; 1 Pet. 1:6; 3:14; 4:13; 5:10; 1 John 3:13.