Category Archives: struggle

What Do You Do With An Old Year?

In a few short days, this year will be put down in the books. The deeds you have done will be recorded in God’s book of remembrance and they all, but for one exception, cannot be erased. It is truly amazing, almost to the point of being breathtaking, how time seems to fly, especially as you get older! When you are young, you think you have forever, but as you get older time seems to speed up. Because of that, you may have many years under your belt. But what good is an old year anyway? What can you do with it?

First, I suggest, you can be thankful for it. Many people did not make it through last year. The odds are, you probably know someone very close to you who did not make it through the end of the year. The wise man said, “Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth” (Prov. 27:1). James, likewise, says we know not what shall be on the morrow (James 4:13-16). We don’t have the promise of tomorrow; this night our souls might be required of us (Luke 12:20). Our own experience should teach us this. As we are thankful in everything, let us not forget to give thanks for the passing year (I Thess. 5:18).

Another very important thing we can do with the old year is to learn from it. We know that sacred history was written for our learning (I Cor. 10:6,11; Rom. 15:4). Our own history can also be instructive as we face the new year, if we are willing to learn it’s lessons. The old saying is, those who forget the past are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Only a fool would refuse to learn from experience (Prov. 1:5-9). The new year will be far more pleasant for us if we allow ourselves to learn from the old.

In the third place, while we should learn from the past, we should also learn to forget some of the past. Paul wrote that in his efforts to live the Christian life, he tried diligently to forget those things which are behind and to press forward to those things which are before (Phil. 3:13). The emphasis should be upon things eternal. Some people live in the past, which, in and of itself is not a bad thing. But living in the past to the exclusion of the here and now and of the future can be detrimental. The children of Israel looked back to Egypt and lot’s wife looked back to Sodom. Lest s not make the same mistake. Jesus said no man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62). In order to plow a straight line, we cannot look back, but we must look to the Author and Finisher of our Faith (Heb. 12:1,2).

In the fourth place, however, I would suggest remembering the good times you enjoyed and the blessings you received this past year. Paul said that we should think on whatsoever things were true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report (Philippians 4:8). If you enjoyed a special moment with family or friends, cherish it. The time may come when you will not have those opportunities. Paul said he affectionately called to remembrance the unfeigned faith which dwelt in Timothy’s mother and grandmother (II Tim. 1:5). These moments we make together here in this life are the real treasures that are lasting!

Fifth, accept what you have done in the past year but don’t let it define you. If you have failed in some way in the past in your life or in your service to the Lord, come to terms with it. Peter had denied the Lord. Paul persecuted and killed Christians. Many New Testament Christians had previously engaged in the things of this world–adultery, fornication, effeminacy, thievery, drunkenness, etc.–but they had changed. Paul said “such were some of you” (I Cor. 6:9-11). They did not deny that they had done some these things, but they were not going to let those things define who they were. Jesus said if there were hindrances in the past, we should deal with them and move on (Matt. 5:23,24).

I mentioned earlier that all our deeds are recorded in God’s book of remembrance and cannot be removed, albeit with one exception. Our past can be removed if we submit ourselves to God’s will and accept His offer of pardon. Then, and only then, will He remove our record from His book of remembrance. He promises that when we obey His will, then our sins and our iniquities will He remember no more (Heb. 8:12). If we as Christians sin, the record of that transgression will be permanently removed if we confess our sins (I John 1:7-9; Acts 8:22). It is only in Christ that we truly can start anew. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (II Corinthians 5:17).

We come to the close of another year. Be thankful for it and use it to make the next year an even better one. It is my prayer that this year was a good one for you. If you have suffered in some way, I pray that you might find comfort in the days ahead. May the next year find you receiving abundant blessings from God.

Eric L. Padgett

100% Response To The Invitation, or, How not to be a struggling congregation!

Every time I preach, I get a 100% response to the invitation to obey the gospel by the alien sinner or by Christians to ask the Lord’s forgiveness. How do I do that? Actually, it’s not hard at all. You see, everyone automatically makes some kind of response. Some people respond to the Lord’s invitation by rejecting Him. Others respond with apathy and put off any immediate decision. Some are offended. Still others are interested enough to come back the next time. Some obey. When the word of God is preached and the invitation offered, there is always a 100% response to it. It may not always be what I want it to be, or what the Lord wants it to be, but there is always a 100% response.

I have had members of large congregations express to me the notion that because an individual is a member of a small congregation, he must not be doing something right, or, at the very least, those large congregations must be right with God or they would not be growing. They make a goal for themselves and a decided effort to make themselves likable to “their community.” And so they offer “programs” that appeal to their community and many times the community responds favorably to the “programs,” so long as those programs are offered.

I have heard others suggest that small congregations are by definition “struggling”. But this view is borne out of a misconception of the mission of the church. The great commission given by Jesus was to “teach all nations” and “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15,16; Matt. 28:18-20). Our job is not to make ourselves likable or to please men. Our job is not even to fill a building with people. Our job is to spread the seed, to preach the word. It is God’s part to give the increase (I Cor. 3:7).

Paul wanted to persuade individuals to obey the gospel. He wrote, “knowing therefore he terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (II Cor. 5:11). To “persuade” means to “convince by argument.” While a scriptural argument may be valid and sound, it may not always persuade someone, not because the argument is ineffectual but because the heart of the individual is not open or receptive. The heart of another individual is not something over which we ultimately have any control.

Paul’s preaching of the resurrection brought him ridicule (Acts 17:32). Even some of his own brethren felt he was more their enemy than anything else simply because he preached the truth to them (Gal.4:16). In some places Paul was driven out of town and beaten and left for dead by those who did not like what he said (Acts 14:19). Should we consider Paul a failure because his “message” was not universally accepted or because he was not universally loved?

Even with the ability to prove what He said was true by miracles, wonders and signs, not everyone was persuaded by Jesus’ teaching and mighty works. If personality and charisma could bring about universal acceptance of the truth, surely Jesus would have done so. But He did not. In fact, he was so “despised and rejected of men” that He was wounded and abused and afflicted by them (Is. 53). Should we conclude from the fact that Jesus was not liked very much that He was “struggling” as a teacher of God’s word?

How do we define success as a congregation of the Lord’s people or even as an individual Christian? Should we define it by how much we are liked by the world? Jesus said the world hated Him (John 15:18). Should we define by how big of a congregation we have? Jesus blessed the congregation of Philadelphia even though it had “little strength” (Rev. 3:8). Furthermore, many denominational churches would be counted faithful if this were the only criteria. Should we define success as having great wealth? Jesus said the church of Smyrna was financially poor, though spiritually rich (Rev. 2:8). Should we define success by how many programs we have instituted? Jesus said many that have done “many wonderful works” of their own creation will be cast into hell (Matt. 7:21-23).

Every Christian struggles to some degree in living the Christian life. It is difficult enough to control our own life much less the life and thoughts and actions of others. In truth, we really can’t control what others believe or how they will respond to the gospel. Some try to do this by manipulating others, or enticing them. The one thing we do have control over, however, is our own actions. If we live the truth and teach the truth and preach the truth, we will be successful in God’s eyes and that is all that matters.

Eric L. Padgett