Celebrating Advent

Most of us lament the over-commercialization of Christmas and the reality that the true meaning of Christmas is lost amid the noise and hype of Christmas trees, Santa Claus, reindeer, parades, and “Black Friday.”  Even the traditional Christmas Nativity programs at church have morphed into “spectaculars,” that look more like Hollywood than Bethlehem.

I remember years ago as a young pastor, I wanted to do something to help my church and my family keep Christ at the center of Christmas.  I looked for something to help my small children, and the children in my church keep their focus on the reason we celebrate Christmas – the birth of the Messiah–Jesus.  I found what I was looking for in the Advent Wreath, with its simple purple and rose-colored candles.  Children love lighting candles, no one more than my youngest child.  All children love the stories about the shepherds, the angels, the Magi, and the birth of a very special child in Bethlehem.

The Advent Wreath helped us keep our focus on the “coming” of the Messiah, and how His first Advent anticipates and prepares for His Second Advent.  The lighting of the candles each night during the four weeks prior to Christmas provided the opportunity to repeat the stories, and focus on the central themes of Christmas:  hope, love, joy and peace.

I grew up in a Christian tradition that did not celebrate Advent.  In fact, I had never heard of the Advent season until I attended seminary, and even then, I did not really appreciate the value of this tradition as a teaching tool.  Since introducing this tradition to our family, we have made it a central part of the Christmas season, and we treasure these experiences as much, or more than the Christmas tree and decorations.

If this is not a tradition in your family, I encourage you to try it this season.  This past Sunday, December 1st was the first Sunday of Advent this year, and during this week we light the first candle in our Advent Wreath, the candle of Hope.  We read passages from the prophets like Isaiah and Micah, who predicted the coming of the Messiah, and proclaimed hope for the people of God, and for the entire world.  We also talk about what it means to have hope, and how God is our only source of true hope for the future.

The word “Advent” means, “anticipated coming” or “expected arrival.”  My prayer for you and your family is you would discover what 1 Peter 1:3 describes, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In His great mercy, He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade away – kept in heaven for you…”

May the hope He brought through His first coming fill your heart with great anticipation of His second coming!

The Power of a Simple “Thank You”

There is incredible power in a simple “thank you.”  It is perhaps the most uncomplicated form of recognition and praise, and yet it is something every person longs to hear.  The season of Thanksgiving provides us an opportunity express appreciation to others by using this basic phrase.

Research from the Gallup organization reveals only four out of ten people say they “strongly agree” with this statement, “In the last month, I have received recognition or praise from someone in my church.”  How tragic!  Of all places, the church should be the one place people feel appreciated and valued.  And, according to Scripture, gratitude is one of the core values of people who follow Christ. (Colossians 3:17)

We all want to feel appreciated and valued!  In fact, every human being is wired for attention!  We need feedback and positive responses from others.  No one likes to be ignored!  A simple, sincere “thank you” is all it takes to bring a ray of sunshine into someone’s life, and create a sense of self-worth and value.   Expressing genuine appreciation and gratitude doesn’t cost a thing, but its value and benefits are enormous.  This is especially true for churches and faith communities.

Perhaps, we need to ask ourselves these questions:  During the course of an average week, how many of us are made to feel appreciated in our work, our families, or our church?  Most importantly, what are we doing each week to help others in our work place, our family, and our church, feel appreciated? What about our thanksgiving toward God and others?  What are we doing on a daily basis to express appreciation and gratitude?  How can we do it better?

Giving thanks and expressing appreciation and gratitude have other benefits. These expressions have a reciprocal impact on the person expressing the gratitude.  A story in the life of Jesus illustrates this truth.  In Luke 17, Jesus healed ten lepers.  He tells them to go and show themselves to the priests in the Temple according to the customs of that day.  As they were on their way to the Temple, they were healed.  Only one of the ten returned to thank Jesus.  Jesus then spoke to the one who returned, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine-where are they? Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.”

Although all ten were cleansed, only one was “made whole.”  Wholeness is more than being set free from something.  It is being transformed to the core, “made whole” in the totality of life.

Lives without thankfulness may be cleansed, set free from the shackles of sin, but until our heart returns to God in praise and thanksgiving, we will never be completely whole!

And, I would add, until we cultivate a culture of gratitude in our churches we will never be all that God designed us to be as His Church, the Body of Christ!

Go Home and Tell

Did you know Jesus actually told someone NOT to follow Him?  This intriguing story is found Luke 8:26-39. In fact, the story is so important that it is found in three of the four Gospels. The setting is the graveyard in an area known as the Gerasenes, or Decapolis, literally, “Ten Cities.”

The story sounds like something you might see in a fictional movie. An unnamed man, possessed by a number of demons, lived near Gerasenes. The community tried to bind him with chains because he was so dangerous and uncontrollable. When that didn’t work, they drove him out of the community to live among the tombs and graves.

As Jesus and His disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee and landed near this graveyard, the demons who possessed this man recognized the power of God in the person of Jesus. The possessed man came running out to meet Jesus, and the demons yelled out, “Why have you come to torment us?”  The demons knew Jesus had power and authority over them.  They were afraid, and begged Him to allow them to leave the man and enter into a nearby herd of pigs.  Jesus agreed, and ordered the demons to come out of the man, and enter the pigs.  When they did, the entire herd of pigs ran over a cliff into the sea, and drowned. The man was healed.

As you can imagine, word of this spread quickly. When the townspeople heard what happened, they came to see for themselves.  When they arrived, they found the man sitting at Jesus’ feet, completely free of the demons.  Fear gripped the townspeople and they demanded Jesus leave their area, and return to Galilee.

Jesus complied, and He and His disciples started toward their boats to leave.  The healed man asked Jesus if he could come with Him. Jesus’ response may surprise us, but in His response is a powerful lesson. Jesus was indeed very concerned about this man, but He was equally concerned about the condition of the hearts of the people in Decapolis. Jesus could see the big picture.  He could see beyond the miracle of casting out a legion of demons, and setting one man free.  His plan, however, included more than just the transformation of one life. He wanted to set them all free from the “demons” in their lives. He wanted to heal them all.

Knowing all this, Jesus said to the healed man, “No, I don’t want you to come with us. I want you to go back home, back to Decapolis, and tell everyone what God has done for you.”

You see, Jesus knew He would return to that place soon, and the best way to break down the barriers of fear, the best way to show the grace and mercy of God, and the most effective way to communicate the Gospel to these people would be through one of their own– the man He had freed from his demon possession.  This man was the link, the bridge, the connection between Jesus and the people of the region.  He was, in a real sense, the key to reaching the entire community of Decapolis with the Gospel.

What a powerful story!  Amazingly, the story didn’t end there.  In the chapter that follows, Jesus did return, and the people welcomed him. The man who had been demon-possessed did exactly what Jesus told him to do.  Because of this, Jesus performed even greater miracles, and the message of God’s love, and God’s grace spread throughout the Ten Cities.  But, it started with this one man.  The man to whom Jesus said, “No, you can’t come with us.  Go home and tell what great things God has done for you.”

This is the great commission in living color.  Go home and tell.  Go to the people in your sphere of influence, to your family, your friends, your co-workers and your neighbors, and tell them about the great things God has done for you.

When was the last time you and I did this?  What keeps us from doing it?  God’s plan is to enter their lives, their homes, and their communities. His plan is for you and I to be the bridge into their world.  Just as the people in the Ten Cities were afraid and did not understand who Jesus was, many people around us, those in our circles of influence, do not understand who Jesus is, and they too are afraid.  We can be the bridge for them to see and know the Jesus we follow.  But first, we must go home and tell about the great things God has done for us.

Will we “go home and tell?”

The Real Problem

After more than 40 years of ministry in local churches and service on the mission field, my heart continues to be broken over what Greg Ogden, in his book Transforming Discipleship, calls – the discipleship deficit!  It is like the “elephant in the room” we don’t know what to do with.  Like the television commercial for a particular brand of lung function medication – the discipleship deficit elephant is sitting on the chest of the churches, crushing the life out of them. We have been somewhat successful in making good church members, good choir members, good committee members, and to some degree, regular attendees to our church services.

However, we are woefully lacking when it comes to making disciples, who in turn, make disciples, who in turn, make more disciples.  The bottom line is we are not making disciples according to the pattern found in the New Testament.

The discipleship deficit is not the real problem, however.

As I struggled over the past several years trying to find a way to help churches address this discipleship deficit, I discovered that in addition to the discipleship deficit, we have a serious Gospel deficiency in our churches as well.

What do I mean by “Gospel deficiency?”  We are good at telling people what they should do, what they should not do, and what they should believe; but what they need more than anything else is to simply hear the Gospel and apply it to their lives.  Because of our sinful nature, we need a Gospel-saturated diet.  Every day we need to remind each other of the Gospel, and help each other apply the Gospel to our lives.  As we fight sin and its effects in our lives, we need the Gospel.  The problem is, we are not getting enough Gospel, and our churches suffer from “GDA” Gospel Deficiency Anemia!

In my quest for a solution to our discipleship and Gospel deficiencies, I discovered an even more serious problem – a failure to give God the glory He deserves.  When our focus is on what we “do” or “don’t do” as a follower of Christ, it is easy to forget the one thing were created to do – glorify God!

Failing to making disciples is a matter of great concern.  Not focusing on the Gospel is a grave problem.  More serious than either of these deficits, however, is our failure to glorify the Father.

Glorifying God is the heart and soul of everything we do!  It is the reason we exist!  It is the primary purpose of the church!  It is the lens through which we see and serve our world.  Glorifying God is the filter through which every decision, every goal, and every strategy must pass.

Is God honored by our choices, and by the decisions we make every day?  Is His greatness revealed in the way we serve each other?  Do we magnify Him in the way we love those around us?

The Apostle Peter said, “But  you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  (1 Peter 2:9 NIV)

Nothing else matters if we fail to glorify God! Our lack of glorifying God is a real problem, and it is in need of immediate action.

Larry  Doyle 

Following Christ in a “Just Do It” Culture

From 1988 to 1998, Nike, an American company known worldwide for its footwear and sports apparel, increased its share of the domestic sport-shoe business from a respectable18% to a whopping 43%.  A major reason for this growth was the successful advertising campaign built around the phrase, “Just Do It.”  The slogan not only increased the popularity of Nike’s product line, it also became one of the top two tag lines of the 20th century.

In the American culture, “Just Do It” is more than just a slogan.  It reflects our innate desire to win, to succeed, and to find a sense of accomplishment.  No one loves a loser, and no one sets out to become a loser.  We love the challenge of overcoming the odds, and getting things done. People with strong activating talents can identify with “Just Do It.” For them, it is a battle cry, a motto, a life-long mantra.  While the “Just Do It” person may appreciate analyzing, evaluating and strategizing; he or she is only fully satisfied when tasks are accomplished.

Contemporary American culture places a high value on action. The advertising-saturated mass media constantly reaffirms our bias for action over reflection.  Too much planning and thinking comes across as indecisiveness.  We do not like rules that hinder or impede the progress of accomplishment. From an early age we are taught things like:  “action is the path to success,” “actions speak louder than words,” and “talk is cheap.” The conclusion to all of this is, “Don’t think about it, just do it!”

Does the “Just Do It” culture influence the way we live as Christians?  If so, does it help or hinder our goal of glorifying God, and advancing His Kingdom? Does it make us more like Christ, or does it conform us to the molds of this world?  Is a “”just do it” attitude a blessing or a curse?  Actually, it can be both. In some ways it is a help, but in many other ways, it is a hindrance.

On one hand, the Bible tells us to put our faith into action. Jesus said, “If you love me you will obey my commandments.” (John 14:15 ESV) James said, “Faith without works is dead.”  (James 2:17)  In addition, John the Apostle said, “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” (1 John 3:18 NIV) The Bible is full of action.  Jesus called His followers to leave everything and follow Him. Speaking of His own ministry, Jesus said, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” (John 9:4 ESV)

Conversely, everything Jesus did, and everything He called His disciples to do, was mapped out by God as part of a plan designed before “the foundation of the world.” (Ephesians 1:4) From His birth to His crucifixion, Jesus followed His Father’s plan and purpose. Before choosing His twelve disciples, He spent the night in prayer, seeking His Father’s face. In fact, Jesus often retreated from the busy and hectic schedule of teaching and healing, to spend time alone with His Father, and to meditate in the plans His Father had in store for Him.

The early disciples followed His example.  From the Day of Pentecost forward; every sermon, every miracle, every ministry, and every missionary journey carried out by the first century believers was accomplished according to God’s plan and under the direction of His Spirit.

Therefore, the “Just Do It” slogan may sound good in our culture, and it may sell a lot of shoes and sports apparel; but it is not the way God wants us to pursue His purpose for our lives. Furthermore, a “Just Do It” mind-set can be detrimental and dangerous for the follower of Christ.

It is vitally important for us to learn to “wait upon the Lord” and seek His guidance.

“Just do it” folks tend to get the cart before the horse. Too often, their way of getting things done is “Ready. . . Shoot . . . Aim.”  Failing to seek God’s wisdom and the guidance of His Spirit often results in shooting before aiming.  Not only do they miss the mark, they actually hinder the advancement of God’s Kingdom.  This is why God’s Word tells us to “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;” (Psalms 37:7 KJV), and to “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near.”  (Psalms 55:6 ESV) As we wait and seek His face, we must also listen for His voice.  Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27 ESV)

Only through waiting on Him, seeking Him, and listening to His voice can we truly know Him and understand His purpose for our lives.  Knowing Him leads to glorifying Him, and when we glorify Him we bring honor to His name.

An added benefit to waiting on the Lord is the spiritual nourishment we receive from Him. Isaiah said, “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”  (Isaiah 40:31 ESV)

“Just Do It” may be a good slogan for selling tennis shoes, but following Christ requires much more.  Do not allow the culture’s bias for action lead you to act or react without seeking God’s wisdom and guidance.  Don’t allow the pragmatism of the “Just Do It” culture to hinder or hurt your walk with God just because you feel you need to get things done.  Nothing is as important as your relationship with the Father, and nothing can replace waiting on the Lord and seeking His face.

Larry Doyle

“Scratch and Sniff”

Recently, we received an advertisement in the mail for a brand of perfume. On the flyer was a place where you could scratch and smell the fragrance.  The purpose of the “scratch and sniff” sample was to make you want to purchase the product.  We scratched and smelled, then threw the sample in the garbage.  We were not impressed!

As followers of Christ, there are “scratch and sniff” opportunities every day.   In the normal rhythms of life, we touch the lives of those who do not know Christ – those who have never experienced God’s love and forgiveness through Christ.  These touches are opportunities for our neighbors, co-workers, fellow students, business partners, and team members to sample the “fragrance” of knowing and following Christ.  In other words, every conversation, business dealing, community event, and any social encounter is a “scratch and smell” opportunity to reveal the aroma of the Kingdom of God.

The question is, what kind of “scratch and sniff” experience do others have when they rub up against us outside of our church buildings, away from our worship services and Bible studies.  Does the fragrance of our lives remind them of sacrificial, unconditional love – the kind of love that led God to send His only Son to die on a cross for our sins?

What do others smell when they get close to us?  Do our attitudes and behavior give off an odor of self-serving arrogance and pride?  Do others smell the stench of materialism and consumerism so prevalent in today’s culture?  Worse, is it possible they smell nothing at all because our apathy, fear or lack of concern keeps everyone at a distance?

These “scratch and sniff” opportunities are important for the church’s testimony to the world.  They are more important than budgets, buildings and programs combined.  They have a greater impact than mission projects, revivals and special offerings.  The day-to-day encounters will either negate or validate what we say we believe.  Further, when our actions and lifestyle during the week are not consistent with what we preach on Sunday, the testimony of the church is lost.  Even worse, the Kingdom of God is maligned.

On the other hand, the aroma of the Kingdom of God is the beautiful fragrance of love.  When Christians truly and consistently love one another, they give off the scent of God’s character, and His unconditional love.  Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.”  (John 13:35)

This was very important to Jesus. He called this love for one another a “new commandment.” Earlier in His ministry, He said the first and greatest commandment is to “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind . . . And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”   So, what is new about the commandment in John 13:35?  We are to love each other as He loves us!  The new standard for loving others is Jesus!  This is the fragrance and aroma of God’s Kingdom.

What kind of “scratch and sniff” experience do others have when they “bump” up against us?  Do we give off an aroma of love, forgiveness, and compassion? Is the encounter memorable and pleasant?  Or, is the aroma one that pushes them away? May we strive to be the sweet smell of Jesus in the community God has placed us.

Larry Doyle

The “Scratch & Dent” Department

I love the “Scratch and Dent” department or isle.  It is usually the first place my wife and I visit when shopping in stores that sell housewares, home goods and home decorations.  I think the reason is we love finding a bargain.  However, my wife has an exceptionally good eye for decorating and an unusual talent for restoring things.  With few exceptions, if something has decorative value, she will find a way to fix and repurpose it.

There is usually a sign somewhere in the “Scratch and Dent” department informing the buyer of the conditions of the sale.  Sometimes you will see the phrase, “As Is.”  You may also see something like,”No refunds or exchanges.”  Usually the sign will include, “All sales are final!”  What you see is what you get.  You cannot return it.  If you buy it, it is yours forever!

Actually, our lives are like the things in the scratch and dent department.  We too are broken and flawed; some, more so that others.  No one knows this better that our Heavenly Father.  He created us, and He knows the bumps, bruises and crashes we have experienced in our journey.  In fact, He knows us better than we know ourselves.

In spite of this, He sent His Son into the “Scratch and Dent Department” of this world to pay the price of our redemption.  Even more amazing is the fact that He knew what He was buying with the precious blood of His Son.   The Bible says:

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  (Romans 5:6-8 ESV)

This was the epitome of an “as is” transaction.  Charlotte Elliot expressed this truth beautifully when she penned these familiar words, “Just as I am, without one plea; but that thy blood was shed for me.  O Lamb of God, I come.”  Christ died for us just as we are, and we come to Him just as we are.  However, the good news is He will not allow us to remain just as we are! The scratched, dented and broken people Jesus died for on the cross are in the hands of the Father who will restore and repurpose them according to His sovereign will.  Paul, the Apostle expressed it this way:  “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”   (Philippians 1:6 ESV)

In addition, He has no plans for refunds or exchanges.  He made this purchase with eternity in mind. Paul also said, “For I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12 NASB)  And Peter, writing about our eternal inheritance, wrote: “to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven. . .” (1 Peter 1:4 NASB) In other words, you are “a keeper” as far as God is concerned!

Best of all, “All Sales Are Final!”  There is no need for another purchase, and there is nothing else to pay.  As He hung on the cross, suffering unbelievable anguish and pain, He declared, “It is finished!”(John 19:30 KJV)

Here is another amazing fact; Unlike the discounted prices we pay for items purchased off the “scratch & dent” shelf at the store, the Heavenly Father paid full price for the damaged, and broken lives He redeemed at Calvary’s Cross.  That price was the precious blood of His son, our Savior, Jesus the Messiah.

It is difficult for us to understand the magnitude of what God did for us through the death of Jesus on the cross.  In this one act, the holy and righteous God reconciled to himself a rebellious and broken humanity, and made possible the restoration of all creation in and through His Son.

Regardless of how scratched or dented your life is right now, remember, God sent His Son to purchase and restore you to His original design.  I hope you know this life-changing truth, and I pray you rest, and live in it every day.

Larry Doyle

A Purpose Beyond Our Pain

His death was, to say the least, unexpected. He was young, and had just recently become a follower of Jesus.  The church leaders had recognized his dedication and commitment, and had asked him to take care of the widows’ ministry.  Of all people, why did God allow this happen to him?

He was very dedicated, and his ministry did not stop with serving food to the widows.  He was faithful to share the Gospel of Jesus everywhere.  God used him and blessed him, and even gave him some miraculous powers. He became known as a man full of faith, and full of the Holy Spirit.  He was a great young leader in the struggling church.

Yet, his life was suddenly and tragically cut short.  Because of his strong faith and his powerful witness, he had become a target of a group of men who hated Christians who were looking for a way to stop the spread of the Gospel in Jerusalem.  These men picked a fight with Stephen.  When they could not stand against his wisdom, they arranged for some false witnesses to go before the religious authorities and accuse Stephen of blasphemy.

The men agitated the crowd, and when they turned violent, the religious leaders gave orders to have Stephen stoned to death.  As he died, he looked up to heaven and cried,“Father, do not hold this sin against them.” 

The first question usually asked in the wake of a tragedy is, “Why?” In Stephen’s case, the answer is simple. God used his death to bring others to the saving knowledge of Jesus. Stephen’s death affected Christianity in profound, world-changing ways.

First, in the crowd that day, were many people who hated Christians. One particular young man, did not throw stones, but watched, with the tormentors’ robes at his feet, in complete favor of the incident. That young man’s name was Saul. That same Saul took a journey later, intending to arrest and kill more Christians, but had a life-changing conversion while traveling on the road to Damascus.  It is easy to imagine the words of Stephen impacting the conscience of Saul that day – ” Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” and “Lord do not hold this sin against them.”

Second and perhaps most importantly, was what happened to the entire church as a direct result of Stephen’s death.  Up until that point,  the church did not go outside of Jerusalem to share the message of the Gospel – even though Jesus told them they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the remotest parts of the earth, they had not left Jerusalem.  Stephen’s death changed everything.  In Acts 11:19 says, “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch . . .”

Antioch became the missionary center of the first century church.  It was from here Paul, Barnabas, Silas and John Mark would begin their church planting journeys.

God used the death of Stephen to scatter the church.  His death was not in vain. Other than the resurrection of Christ, no other event helped to shape the character and direction of the churches in the first century.

Historical evidence seems to indicate that the church experiences more growth during times persecution and martyrdom than in times of peace and prosperity.  Today, the church is growing exponentially in the parts of the world where opposition and persecution are the greatest.

James the Apostle said, “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 nothing.”  (James 1:2-4)

In those moments when you ask why, or when you feel God has allowed you to suffer unjustly, remember every experience in life is an opportunity to learn more about your Heavenly Father, more about yourself, and more about His plan for your life.

We must remember, God’s purpose for our lives has little or nothing to do with our personal safety or comfort.  In fact, Paul reveals in his letter to the Philippians that suffering is part of our calling in Christ.  “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.”(Philippians 1:29)

Larry Doyle

The Feud Is Over!

No feud is more a part of American history than the legendary feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys.  It has even become a part of pop-culture, with appearances of the descendants of both clans in an episode of the Family Feud game show. The a phenomenally popular mini-series, The Hatfields and The McCoys, featuring Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton, also brought the infamous feud to small screen.

The animosity between the families began shortly after the Civil War, when Asa McCoy, who fought for the Union, returned home from the war, and was murdered by a band of ex-Confederate soldiers led by a Hatfield.

The feud heated up in 1878, when Randolph McCoy accused a Hatfield of stealing one of his hogs.  The Hatfields said the hog was theirs, since they found the animal on their land. The McCoys claimed the pig had their family’s markings on its ear, making it theirs.  The situation became so tense that violence erupted, and Ellison Hatfield was shot to death.  Retaliation led to more violence, and over the next ten years, a dozen people died, including men, women and children.   Since that time, not as much bloodshed has occurred, but the feud has carried over for years in lawsuits, and court battles over land rights, and burial sites.

It may not have made many headlines, but after 125 years, the feud was officially and legally over on June 14th, 2003.  On that day, the descendants of the original clans met in Pikeville, Kentucky to sign an official end to more than a century of hostility.

The Bible speaks of another kind of hostility that separated many people in the time of Jesus.  This two-millennium-long hatred between Jews and Gentiles did not end as the result of a treaty signed in black ink in some remote courthouse.  It ended on a lonely hill called Golgotha, in a covenant signed in blood – the innocent and precious blood of Jesus Christ.

Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians said, ” For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”  (Ephesians 2:11-16)

The walls of separation between Jews and Gentiles pervaded every area of life in the first century, and the

same is still true today!  Nearly every day we see it in the news.   The most persistent aspect of human nature is our tendency to fear and mistrust people who are different.  Whether it is racism, sexism, or ageism, like the Hatfields and the McCoys, all it takes is a spark for prejudice and bigotry to spill over into hatred and violence.  Additionally, many of us are extremely good at building walls to keep out those with whom we do not wish to associate.

However, there is good news!  In Jesus Christ, there is no longer a dividing wall, and we can become brothers and sisters in the family of God through His sacrificial death on the cross. Jesus didn’t die for just one group of sinners. He died for all sinners, regardless of their surname or the color of their skin. As His followers, we are to love as He loved.  Furthermore, we are to love those who reject our love, and even those who hate us.

Jesus said, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27)

Only the death of Jesus Christ will bring down the impenetrable walls of hostility between people, and bring about healing and restoration.  The Apostle Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

In Christ, there are no walls of separation! The Gospel is an inclusive message of hope for all people. Therefore, we must guard against putting up walls of our own making, and whenever possible tear down the walls put up by society and culture.

We must embrace our mission to spread this message everywhere.  Paul stated, “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself, and has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation, namely that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:19)

Let us end the feud by embracing and proclaiming the transforming truth that through Jesus’ death and resurrection the walls that divide us can be broken down.

Larry Doyle

  • This article was adapted from a story written by my son, Steve Doyle, pastor of Harbins Community Baptist Church, Dacula, Georgia.

One, Two, Three . . . Eyes on Me!

The children were each in their own world.  Some were talking. Others were playing games. A couple of others were picking at each other.  The noise level had steadily increased several decibels over the last few minutes.  All of the sudden, the teacher’s voice could be heard over everything else, “One, two, three, eyes on me!”  In a split second, the children responded, almost in unison, “One, two, look’n at you!”  The games stopped. The talking ceased and all eyes were on the teacher.  As an observer, I was in awe of the command the teacher had over a group of second graders.  It was incredible!

The teacher was my wife Becky.  I knew she was an amazing teacher, and I knew she was totally dedicated to helping those kids learn English as a second language; however, I had never watched her in action. What I saw in the classroom that day was an amazing ability to get the attention of twenty-seven second graders in a matter of seconds.

I think Christians are sometimes a lot like second graders.  We get so busy doing our religious things in our different circles we lose contact with the One who called us to follow Him.  The “noise” of our activities and conversations gets so loud we are no longer in tune with the Lord.  It is at these moments we need to hear God say to us, “One, two three, eyes on me!”

The children in my wife’s class knew who was speaking to them, and they knew how they were supposed to respond. To an observer it may have appeared to be a game, but to my wife it was critically important.  She knew how important it was to get the attention of the children, and to keep control of the classroom.  Almost instinctively, she knew when and how to get their attention.

The same is true with God.  He knows when our lives are getting out of control and He knows how to get our attention.  He does not need our attention, but He wants it, and expects it.  In contrast, we desperately need to put our eyes on Him.  We need to give Him our undivided attention in order to hear what He is saying, and know where He is leading.

According to the writer of Hebrews, if we hope to “run the race set before us” we must fix our eyes on Jesus, “the author and perfecter of faith . . .” (Hebrews 12:2 NASB).  There is an old Gospel song that says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus; look full in His wonderful face; and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”

How does God get your attention?  When was the last time He used something in your life to say, “One, two, three … eyes on me?”  For Simon Peter, it was the crowing of the rooster (John 18:27).  For Thomas, it was the sight of the nail prints in Jesus’ hands (John 20:27-28).  For Elijah, it was the “still small voice” (I Kings 19:13).  For Paul, it was a blinding light on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:3).  God wants our undivided attention!  One way or another, and sooner or later, He will get it!

Does God have your full attention right now?  What will it take for you to hear God say, “One, two, three . . . eyes on me”?  In other words, what needs to take place in your life to bring you into an awareness of God’s glory?