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          We’ve all heard the phrase “He lacks a few bricks having a full load”. “Her elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top”, is another. Regardless of which one you use, the message is basically the same: He-She-It lacks the necessary requirements to meet the current need. Most of the time, these gibes are uncalled for because the person in question knows they are falling short already. Adding to their discomfort only speaks to the shortcomings of the speaker just as much as the one who is struggling to live up to the expectations of others.

          However, there are times when our stubbornness and pride warrants such phrases if nothing more than an indication that a change is in order. When this happens one can only hope that we learn a positive lesson from the experience!

          These thoughts lend themselves to our Faith, as well. You see, we can not afford to come up short of the hope of salvation. The writer of the book of Hebrews writes: “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. 2 For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” Heb 4:1-2

          We can’t come up ‘a few bricks short’ and be acceptable to God. Either we are “in Christ Jesus” or we have fallen short of the high calling of God.

          Sadly, this is the state of most religious people today. There are a myriad of religions which seen to be ‘Christian’ but which fall far short of the standards of Scripture regarding the one true Faith. They say they are followers of Christ but do not or will not adhere to the commandments of our Lord. These issues fall into the categories of salvation as well as worship in God’s church. This is so because there are specific things required to have salvation as well as the commanded form and pattern of The Bride of Christ.

          When it comes to NT Christianity, one can not depend upon Man to guide our steps. Either we are completely subservient to our Lord or we are not. That is not to say we have to be perfect, but it does demand that we are willing to accept the clear and plain commandments of our Lord. It is possible to ‘come up short’. Only careful awareness of our ‘walk in life’ will assure that we don’t.

          So today, we will speak to the issue of Needing Six, but Giving Three.

 

How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach when feeling out of sight

For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.

I love thee to the level of everyday's

Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.

I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;

I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.

I love thee with a love I seeemed to lose

With my lost Saints! --- I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life!

And, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.

                                                      - Elizabeth Barrett Browning

                                                                              Sonnet 43 "Sonnets from the Portuguese"

 

     Sonnet 43 has been recognized as on of the greatest love poems ever written from a wife to her husband.  One would do well to take the time to 'Google' her name and get a brief history behind these words.  I will explain the richness of her feelings of love and gratitude which were written in secret and only revealed some years after her marriage to Robert Browning (who was himself, a renowned poet in his time).

     Works such as these tend to remind us of those attributes (in human life) which speak to the "Image of God", in each of us.  Love is surely one those attributes!  Additionally, the desire to express our love toward others never seems to grow old or to become tiresome to us.  (It even manifests itself with our pets as well.)

     Sharing our feelings towards our loved-ones is indeed, an attribute of Deity, because God is both loving as well as active in His affection toward us.  The fact is, Love is comforting.  Its very mention seems to warm us and lift up our lives.

     Studies show that all human beings need love to be well-balanced and to reach the full potential which God has placed in all of us.  And of course, abuse of this vital emotion in our lives, can lead to great tragedy in any relationship.

     This morning we will be speaking to the issue of loving from the heart.  Please take a moment and view the video on the sermons page titled "Giving God Our Heart."

I know that expressing myself openly to you may seem a bit risky since we are told you are a predatory enemy of the most vicious sort (I Peter 5:8). But we are also assured that to name you and defy you is to defeat you (James 4:7, I Peter 5:9), and that is what I intend to do with this letter - to name you, defy you, and encourage others to do so.

The pages of the Bible continue to remind us how clever and formidable you are, and we know that years of practice have only served to make you more sophisticated and efficient in leading us away from the narrow path of eternal life. We know that even when we feel we have defeated you, you may turn our triumph into pride, and by a sort of spiritual judo use our own momentum to defeat us. But we know well that your power is limited, that you are not invincible, that in Christ we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37). You are not perfect. I would like to remind you that Babylonian captivity ("a coup "you thought, I'm sure), resulted in a pure, powerful people of God. The savage persecution you leveled against the church for three centuries was certainly a great failure. I also have no doubt that the Saturday morning after Calvary you did your share of strutting around - but that was your death blow, wasn't it.

I strongly suspect that you are reveling in the fact that churches of Christ are debating the necessity of baptism for salvation. I certainly never thought any would doubt this essential Biblical doctrine. But here we are discussing it. Some ministers and leaders are marginalizing, and neglecting altogether the correct answer to the question "What must I do to be Saved?" You've lured so many by twisting their innocent desire for unity with people of shared moral values. You have used the name of Jesus Himself to bind some to the commands of Jesus. You've brought together great rallies, lots of media attention, even added a dose of pseudo-persecution to the mix to make your Trojan Horse more appealing. I'm sure you are very proud of yourself. But you've made a dumb move, Devil.

Your latest effort will only serve to make us stronger, and I will tell you why. First, baptism is an essential doctrine of the New Testament - frequently and clearly asserted. Your efforts have only focused us on what is essential. For so many decades you have kept us at bay by getting us to waste our time and reams of publicized matter rending each other over issues that have nothing to do with the essential doctrines of the New Testament. This fight is about something necessary. When we focus our attention and energies in discovering, and defending essential Biblical truth we can only become stronger. Surely we have lost a few who were never convinced of the essentials of New Testament doctrine, but if they were never convinced did we ever really have them anyway (I John 2:18-29)? Your getting us to focus on essentials now remind us how important it is to instruct and strengthen our infants in the faith - to ground them in first things.

Secondly, many of these men whom you feed a twisted gospel, are becoming better fathers and husbands by being exposed to the very scriptures you use to avert their gaze from salvation passages. The children who grow up in their homes will have a stronger sense of what it means to have a loving father - and thus will be easier to reach with the message about the Father in heaven. You may think you've warped us with your coalitions and rallies, but you've only made us stronger.

I worry, though, that your intent is even more insidious than that. Could it be you hope that in the fight we will let loose of our love for souls and each other. Getting us to do that has, too often, been easy for you. Perhaps your intent is that we end up like the congregation Ephesus - doctrinally pure but loveless - thus unrecognizable as a Christian congregation (Revelation 2:1-7). If so Devil, we commit ourselves to be ready to give our defense with gentleness and reverence (I Peter 3:15). But we are determined to remember you are our enemy, and that to stand and fight you is to win because He who is in us is greater than n you! (I John 4:4)

             Remember the first time you actually rode a bicycle? I’m sure you do. But here’s another question: Did you have ‘training wheels’ bolted to the back before you actually did it? If you are like most of us, you did. But here’s the thing: Did they really help you to learn enough balance to get the job done? Probably not.

            In effect, the help that some folks give us … really isn’t help. Now I admit that those extra wheels saved me some bruises, skinned elbows and knees, but keeping me from falling didn’t teach me to learn the fine art of riding a bicycle.

            Eventually, we took the training wheels off and I wobbled myself down the hill in the backyard until I crashed. But I was able to say “I rode my bike”! In the ensuing months I had a lot of mishaps but I can truthfully say I was able to continue my glorious career of traveling on two wheels.

            The point of all of this is couched in the fact that not all ‘help’, helps us. Those who love us often endeavor to diminish the natural risks which are incumbent in growing up, but some things can not be avoided. Some things just take ‘practice’ to get good at it.

            Living the Life of Christ is one of those things. When we first come to the Lord we have no foundation of habitual obedience because we haven’t practiced living how God wants us to live. As we endeavor to be what we know we should be, it is natural that we will make many mistakes along the way. And some times it can be very painful to us.

            Having a broken heart for those mistakes is part of the process of living less like our old person and more like Jesus. But there is something we need to be aware of, as we ‘practice’ the Life of Christ’. With failure there are two things which are basic to spiritual growth: 1) sorrow for the failure and an accompanying desire to do better and 2), a measure of discouragement over that failure. The first is a naturally healthy motivation to try harder. The second can be a tool in Satan’s hand to convince us that we will never be good enough, so we should quit trying, altogether. We should be aware that the solution to sin is repentance, not quitting.

            If Satan can convince us that we will never be acceptable to God, it is easier to convince us to go back to our former manner of life. ‘Giving Up’ is his goal, here. And what he is ever ‘helping’ us to center our lives back on self, rather than our Lord. Once it becomes ‘all about me’ again … it’s a done deal. He’s happy and God has seen one more child fall back into the darkness.

           Brethren, there is ‘help’ and then there is help. We need to understand that God has not put ‘training wheels’ on Christian Living. Just like the bike, sometimes we are going to get bruises and scrapes. It’s called Practice, and there is no substitute for the process. As a matter of fact, because He loves us He allows us to learn the fine art of spiritually by letting us grow, painful or not.

            So you see, God’s kind of Help teaches us lessons we will use in Eternity. And yes, sometimes it hurts. But we should always ‘get back on’ and learn from the experience, to His glory.

In that place between wakefulness and dreams, I found myself in the room. There were no distinguishing features except for one wall covered with small index card files. They were like the ones in libraries that list titles by author or subject in alphabetical order. But these files, which stretched from floor to ceiling and seemingly endlessly in either direction, had very different headings.

As I drew near the wall of files, the first to catch my attention was one that read "People I have Liked." I opened it and began flipping through the cards. I quickly shut it, shocked to realize that I recognized the names written on each one.

And then without being told, I knew exactly where I was. This lifeless room with its small files was a crude catalog system for my life. Here were written the actions of my every moment, big and small, in a detail my memory couldn't match.

A sense of wonder and curiosity, coupled with horror, stirred within me as I began randomly opening files and exploring their content. Some brought joy and sweet memories; others a sense of shame and regret so intense that I would look over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching. A file named "Friends" was next to one marked "Friends I have Betrayed."

The titles ranged from the mundane to the outright weird. "Books I have Read", "Lies I have Told," "Comfort I have Given," "Jokes I have Laughed At." Some were almost hilarious in the exactness: "Things I've Yelled at My Brothers." Others I couldn't laugh at: "Things I have Done in My Anger," "Things I have Muttered Under My Breath at my Parents." I never ceased to be surprised by the contents. Often there were many more cards than I expected. Sometimes fewer than I hoped.

I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the life I had lived. Could it be possible that I had the time in my short life to write each of these thousands or even millions of cards? But each card confirmed this truth. Each was written in my own handwriting. Each signed with my signature.

When I came to a file marked "Lustful Thoughts," I felt a chill run through my body. I pulled the file out only an inch, not willing to test its size, and drew out a card. I shuddered at its detailed content. I felt sick to think that such a moment had been recorded.

An almost animal rage broke on me. One thought dominated my mind: "No one must ever see these cards! No one must ever see this room! I have to destroy them!" In an insane frenzy, I yanked the file out. Its size didn't matter now. I had to empty and burn the cards. But as I took it at one end and began pounding it on the floor, I could not dislodge a single card. I became desperate and pulled out a card, only to find it as strong as steel when I tried to tear it.

Defeated and utterly helpless, I returned the file to its slot. Leaning on my forehead against the wall, I let out a long, self-pitying sigh. And then I saw it. The title bore "People I have Shared the Gospel With." The handles were brighter than those around it, newer, almost unused. I pulled on its handle and a small box not more than three inches long fell into my hands. I could count the cards it contained on one hand.

And then the tears came. I began to weep, sobs so deep that the hurt started in my stomach and shook through me. I fell on my knees and cried. I cried out of shame, from the overwhelming shame of it all. The rows of file shelves swirled in my tear-filled eyes. No one must ever know of this room. I must lock it up and hide the key.

But then as I pushed away the tears, I saw HIM. No, please not HIM, not here. Oh, anyone but Jesus. I watched helplessly as He began to open the files and read the cards. I couldn't bear to watch His response. And in the moments I could bring myself to look at His face, I saw sorrow deeper than my own. He seemed to intuitively go to the worst boxes. Why did He have to read every one?

Finally, He turned and looked at me from across the room. He looked at me with pity in His eyes. But this was a pity that didn't anger me. I dropped my head, covered my face with my hands and began to cry again. He walked over and put His arm around me. He could have said many things. But He didn't say a word. He just cried with

Then He got up and walked back to the wall of files. Starting at one end of the room, He took out a file and, one by one, began to sign His name over mine on each card. "No!" I shouted rushing to Him. All I could find to say was "No, no," as I pulled the card from Him. His name shouldn't be on these cards. But there it was, written in red so rich, so dark, so alive. The name of Jesus covered mine. It was written with His blood.

He gently took the card back. He smiled a sad smile and began to sign the cards. I don't think I'll ever understand how He did it so quickly, but the next instant it seemed I heard Him close that last file and walk back to my side. He placed His hand on my shoulder and said, "It is finished."

I stood up, and He led me out of the room. There was no lock on its door. There were still cards to be written.

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." I John 1:9 (NIV)

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New Bern Church of Christ
1340 South Glenburnie Road
New Bern, NC 28561

Phone (252) 249-2629

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