Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tell it Anyway - August 30, 2011


Several years ago, the great black preacher, Humphrey Foutz, was preaching in a gospel meeting at the all-black Azalea DriveChurch of Christ in CharlestonSC.  One evening my brother (who preached for theEssex Village church in Charleston) and one of his deacons attended the Azalea Drive meeting.  Five or six hundred people were present.  Sid and Mac were ushered to the front pew where they were given choice seats, the only white folks in the building. 

Foutz is preaching powerfully – walking back and forth across the platform, sweating, shaking, whispering one moment, bellowing the next.  All the brothers and sisters are shouting "Amen," "Tell it," "Preach it, brother!"  Sitting on a metal folding chair just in front of Sid and Mac is a little black man in his 20s or 30s who is really into the sermon.  At a certain point, Foutz sort of winds down, gets real low and soft-spoken, and says, "Now brothers and sisters, you been "Amen-ing" everything I have been preaching.  You been right with me, agreeing with everything I have been saying.  But now I'm gonna tell you something you not gonna like…something you might not want to hear.  You may not 'amen' me or urge me to preach it or to tell it…"  At this point, the little black man in the folding chair, leaps to his feet, does a 360 degree turn, slaps his leg, and shouts, "Tell it anyway!  Tell it anyway!"

I love the black brother's spirit.  We need to listen to preaching that we like and agree with, but we also need to listen to preaching that we might not like or agree with at first.  Faithful gospel preaching is not designed to just confirm us in what we already know and believe; it is intended to stir and challenge us concerning matters that we may not yet know, believe, or faithfully practice. 

Someone said that preachers should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable!  The apostle Paul urged the young preacher Timothy to "Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (II Timothy 4:2, KJV).  Someone paraphrased that verse to mean: "Preach it when they like it and preach it when they don't like it."  Paul himself declared that "I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27).

In a day when people do not want their life-style disturbed or their beliefs challenged, faithful preachers of the gospel need to "tell it anyway."  Consider the following:

* That Christ established but one church. (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 4:4; Ephesians 1:22-23).

* That baptism is involved in one's salvation from sin.  (Mark 16:15-16; Acts2:38; Acts 22:16; I Peter 3:21).

* That baptism is a complete immersion in water of a repentant believer in Christ. (Acts 2:38; Acts 8:34-39; Romans 6:3-4).

* That when a person is saved from sins, he/she is added to the very church that Christ Himself established.  (Acts 2:47).

* That God must be worshiped in spirit and in truth.  (John 4:24).

* That Christians are not to forsake the assembling of themselves together for purposes of worship, fellowship, and encouragement in living a faithful Christian life.  (Hebrews 10:25).

* That Christians are not to be conformed to this world, but rather they are to be transformed by the renewing of their mind.  (Romans 12:2).

* That Christ gave but one reason for divorcing one's spouse and marrying someone else. (Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:9).

* That Christ alone is the authority in religion, and the only head of His church. (Matthew 28:18; Colossians 1:18).

* That those who transgress and go beyond the doctrine of Christ as set forth in the New Testament do not have God.  (II John 9).

* That Christians are to have the mind of Christ, produce the fruit of the Spirit, develop certain Christian graces, and make their calling and election sure. (Philippians 2:5; Galatians 5:22-26; II Peter 1:5-11).

Hugh Fulford
August 30, 2011

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Greenway, Arkansas August 23, 2011


Last week I preached in another gospel meeting (known as revivals by some who receive these "News & Views") in the littlevillage of GreenwayArkansas.  This was my eleventh meeting with the Lord's church in that community.  I first went there in 1973, and they have been kind enough to keep having me back every three or four years since then, though before this latest meeting I had not been there since 2005.  In reality, I have been going to ClayCountyArkansas since 1967, having conducted four meetings for the PleasantValley Church of Christ between 1967 and 1971.

The people of this section of our country can truly be described as "the salt of the earth."  They are "down to earth" farmers, ranchers, and small business owners. Greenway once was a thriving community, with several businesses, two banks, and a K-12 school around which community life revolved.  It still has its own Post Office, but it is on the list to have the office closed. As the years passed and the young people moved away, the population of the town gradually dwindled.  Today it is composed of several houses and three churches. According to the sign at the edge of town, Greenway has a population of 244.  Thechurch of Christ has been a strong presence in the community for many years. Greenway was the home of V. P. Wright, legendary gospel preacher of that area, and the father of several well-known preachers in the churches of Christ and professors in various ones of "our" Christian colleges. Included in this number are Cecil N. Wright, V. Ponder Wright, and Winfred O. Wright. 

The community still conducts the annual "Greenway Picnic," at which time many of the former residents and descendants of former residents return for "a family reunion," to renew old acquaintances, and to reconnect with their roots.  It is a big event, with an abundance of all kinds of food.  The church's annual gospel meeting must not be scheduled during or even near the time of this picnic!  The members are too busy either preparing for or cleaning up after the picnic, and need some time between it and the meeting "to rest from their labors."

Greenway is located just four miles from the town of Piggott.  I have always stayed in a motel in Piggott during my meetings at Greenway, but during the last two meetings the church has provided accommodations for me in a very nice "Bed and Breakfast" just off the Piggott downtown square.  The rooms in this establishment are inviting and comfortable and the breakfasts are bountiful.  Of course, the members at Greenway always have me in their homes or take me out for meals during my stay there.  The area boasts some of the best catfish to be found anywhere.  A meeting in Greenway is never complete without a trip to Paragould or KennettMissouri for a good catfish dinner!

Ernest Hemingway's second wife was from Piggott, and the world renowned novelist spent much time there during their thirteen year marriage.  It was during his Piggott years that Hemingway wrote A Farewell to Arms and parts of several other works.  The movie based on the novel made its world premiere at the Franklin Theater in Piggott in 1932.  The home where he lived is now a museum, owned and maintained by Arkansas State University in nearby Jonesboro.  It is a most interesting place to visit.

Through the years I have made a lot of friends at Greenway.  Many of them have passed on; others are advancing in age. Those who were just little fellows or teenagers when I first started going there are now grown, with children (and grandchildren) of their own.  The church is not as large membership-wise as when I first started going there, victim of the changing times in which we live.  But it is still strong in the faith and still shines as "a city that is set on a hill."  What a privilege to go there once again and tell "the old, old story of Jesus and His love," yet the story that, in reality, never grows old.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Stringbean and Good, Clean Fun - August 9, 2011

"Stringbean" (Dave Akeman) was a long-time performer on The Grand Ole Opry and the long-running TV program "Hee Haw."  I used to enjoy watching him perform. Since I can now get RFD-TV on cable TV, I am able to watch re-runs of the old "Hee Haw" shows and enjoy those fun-filled times all over again.  Stringbean not only was a master banjo picker, but he was an entertaining comedian.    His stage costume itself  was the height of hilarity, consisting of a long shirt that came down to about his knees and a short pair of pants that finished out the "get-up," all designed to emphasize his tall, lanky frame.  He and his wife Estelle were senselessly murdered nearly forty years ago. 
Stringbean said someone once asked him, "String, do you know what good, clean fun is?"  String replied, "Nah, what good is it?!"  This was just String's way of being funny.  I don't recall ever hearing him tell a dirty joke or an off-color story.  We need more Stringbeans in the world today.  
I try to go through life spreading a little "Hugh-mor." I love funny people and funny stories.  I am old enough to remember when the comics were called the "funny paper."  I read the "funny paper" every day.  I enjoy hearing a good, clean joke, and I enjoy sharing such with others. It is better to have a sense of humor than to have no sense at all!
I think an occasional well-placed humorous story in the pulpit can be effective. However, a sermon is not an after-dinner speech and preachers should not try to be standup comedians.  The gospel is too serious to be trivialized.  People should not go to church to be entertained or kept awake, but to be informed and inspired by a message from the word of God.  Some church-goers need to work on lengthening their attention span.
A preacher friend of mine said he had recently received two complaints about his preaching: 1) He needed to preach more hell-fire and brimstone, and 2) he ought not to tell so many jokes.  He said his daughter had come up with a sermon idea that might answer both criticisms: "All you people who are not Christians are going to hell, and that's no joke!" 
The following "eulogy" has been around for quite awhile and most of my readers have likely seen it.   It still evokes a chuckle from me. 
"It is with the saddest heart that I must pass on the following news: Please join me in remembering a great icon of the entertainment community.
"The Pillsbury Doughboy died yesterday of a yeast infection and complications from repeated pokes in the belly.  He was 71.
"Doughboy was buried in a lightly greased coffin.
"Dozens of celebrities turned out to pay their respects, including Mrs. Butterworth, Hungry Jack, the California Raisins, Betty Crocker, the Hostess Twinkies, and Captain Crunch.
"The grave site was piled high with flours.
"Aunt Jemima delivered the eulogy and lovingly described Doughboy as a man who never knew how much he was kneaded.
"Doughboy rose quickly in show business, but his later life was filled with turnovers. He was not considered a very smart cookie, wasting much of his dough on half-baked schemes.
"Despite being a little flaky at times, he still, as a crusty old man, was considered a roll model for millions.
"Doughboy is survived by his wife, Play Dough; two children John Dough and Jane Dough; plus they had one in the oven.
"He is also survived by his elderly father Pop Tart." 
The funeral was held at 3:50 for about 20 minutes."

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Hell yes or hell no? - August 2, 2011

Rob Bell, founding pastor of the Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has created something of a furor in the religious community with his book Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Has Ever Lived.  I have not read the book, and those who have seem to be divided over whether or not Bell is a universalist (one who believes that ultimately everybody will go to heaven). Bell, I understand, has not clearly stated whether or not he is a universalist, but many seem to believe that he is.

Various ones have weighed in on the book. One religion columnist says that Jesus in Matthew's Gospel warns "briefly" of everlasting fire.  The columnist reveals his lack of acquaintance with everything that Jesus said in Matthew or in the other gospel records about the doom of the wicked.  Too, apparently, what the apostles of Christ had to say about the subject matters little (never mind that they spoke and wrote by the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit [John16:13; I Corinthians 2:12-13]). 

The above mentioned columnist quotes a writer to the effect that "the risen Jesus while instructing his disciples saw no cause to mention hell or make further warning, even though he had visited the underworld after Good Friday."  I wonder, exactly, what that has to do with whether or not hell is real.  Did the crucifixion of Christ, His burial, and resurrection change what He had previously taught about the subject of hell? 

The columnist refers to Jesus' post-resurrection instructions for His apostles to "Go and make disciples of all nations." Why did Jesus give those instructions? What becomes of those who refuse to become His disciples?  The columnist said: "Love of God and neighbor should be so consuming (so interesting, challenging) that there's no time to fantasize fearfully about hell's location, temperature or occupancy rate."  He seems to have overlooked several statements Jesus made in Matthew's Gospel, including: "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (10:28).  In Matthew's Gospel, Christ said that "wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it" (7:13-14).  Later, He declared: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven" (7:21).  In Mark's Gospel, Jesus described hell as "the fire that shall never be quenched" (9:43), and then three times in rapid succession referred to it as the place where "their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched" (9:44, 46, 48).  All of these say something about "hell's location, temperature or occupancy rate"—if one is willing to believe what Jesus very plainly states about the matter.  Other inspired writers of the New Testament also weigh in on the matter in such passages as II Thessalonians 1:6-10; Revelation 21:8; et al.  We are not left to guess or surmise about hell and the punishment of the wicked and disobedient. 

The good news (gospel) is that no one has to go to hell.  The Lord is "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9).  He "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (II Timothy 2:4). Christ, by the grace of God, died for everyone (Hebrews 2:9).  But only those who obey Him will actually be saved (Hebrews 5:9).  In the language of the great theologian, Paul the apostle, God "will render to each one according to his deeds: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek…." (Romans 2:6-9).

It's pretty hard to miss the Bible's message concerning the destiny of both the good and the bad…the obedient and the disobedient.