Tag Archives: Evangelism

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Eleven)

ApostlesLogo

Paul’s Second Missionary Journey (part one)

The Conflict over John Mark

Paul, always concerned about the spiritual welfare of his brethren in Christ, approaches Barnabas one day with a great idea—Let’s go back and check on all the brethren in the cities we stopped at during our mission trip!  Barnabas was ready to go, and decided they should take John Mark.  Paul was incredulous.  Are you serious?  I’m not going to ask the church to help support someone untrustworthy like him. I know he’s your cousin, but we’re not taking him along!1 Paul was so adamant about not taking Mark along that he and Barnabas—who had been partners in the work for perhaps five years or more—stopped working together at all.2

After Barnabas left with Mark to Cyprus to strengthen the churches he and Paul had planted there, Paul chose Silas, a brother from Jerusalem who had accompanied him to Antioch with the letter from the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.  Together, with the aid and blessing of the church in Antioch, they went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the congregations.3

Circumcision

Traveling over land, Paul returned to Derbe and Lystra—the latter being the place where an angry mob stoned him nearly to death.  In Lystra, Paul found a young disciple named Timothy who was already well-known and well-respected in both Lystra and Iconium (both places where Paul was heavily persecuted).4  This young man would end up being one of Paul’s closest companions and friends for the rest of his life.

In a completely PR5 move, Paul took Timothy (a half-Jew) and circumcised him.  He did this so that Timothy could have more influence with the Jews, access to speaking in their synagogues, and to show Timothy’s respect for the Law of Moses.  But at the same time, Paul shared the letter from the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, saying that Gentiles had no obligation to submit to any part of the Law of Moses.  Because of the clear instructions and expectations for the Gentiles, and the show of respect to the Law for the Jews, Paul became all things to all men, and the church grew daily.6

The Macedonian Call

Paul, along with Silas, Timothy, and perhaps some others, traveled and preached through Phrygia7 and Galatia.8  He really wanted to go to the province of Asia (which included the massive city of Ephesus), but the Holy Spirit had other plans for him and told him not to go at that time.9 So instead, Paul heads north through the area of Mysia,10 and planned to enter the province of Bithynia, but again the Holy Spirit had other plans, and told him not to go there.11  So, instead, Paul and company went down toward the seaport city of Troas, where he met a doctor named Luke.12

While in Troas, Paul received a vision from the Lord: he saw a man from Macedonia begging him to “Come over into Macedonia and help us.”  Immediately, he described the vision to Silas, Timothy, and Luke, and they all agreed that this was what God wanted, so they made plans to sail to Macedonia to preach the gospel.13

Bradley S. Cobb

1 Colossians 4:10, NKJV.  The KJV says that Mark is “sister’s son,” or nephew to Barnabas, but the Greek work means “cousin,” and is so translated in every major translation of the past 150 years (ASV, NKJV, RSV, ESV, NASB, MLV, etc.).  The word eventually took on the sense of “nephew,” but not until many years after the New Testament was completed, according to Robertson, Vincent, B.W. Johnson, and others.

2 Acts 15:36-39.  They worked together for a year in Antioch before making the trip to Jerusalem with aid for the churches in Judea; upon returning (no length of time is given for this mission), they worked again in Antioch until they were sent on their missionary journey, which took at least a year (most estimate it as 1½ to 2 years); they came back to Antioch and remained there a “long time” before the circumcision controversy raised its ugly head; they went to Jerusalem, preaching along the way; they returned from Jerusalem, and “continued in Antioch”; and it was “some days” later that Paul made the suggestion of leaving.

3 On the first missionary journey, Paul had sailed to Cyprus, and then after crossing the island, sailed to Asia Minor.  On the second journey, since Barnabas had gone to Cyprus, Paul took the land route to Asia Minor, visiting congregations that he apparently planted, but which are not mentioned by Luke in the book of Acts.  Luke’s purpose in writing did not include giving Paul’s every movement, but to give the history of the establishment of the church and the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire, and perhaps also as an aid for Paul’s legal defense before Caesar, showing his innocence in the matters of which he was accused.  So it shouldn’t be a concern that no mention was made of Paul and Barnabas visiting cities in Cilicia and Syria and planting the church there.

4 Acts 16:1-2.  This indicates that Timothy had been working with the churches in both cities, probably preaching.

5 Public relations.

6 Acts 16:3-5.

7 Acts 16:6.  Phrygia is in Central Asia Minor.

8 Acts 16:6.  “Galatia” was used two ways in the first century.  One referred to the Roman province, and the other to a larger area describing the people who lived in that area, including the cities of Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe.  Luke is using “Galatia” to describe the Roman province, which was to the north.  This is certain because it was after leaving Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe (ethnic Galatia) that Luke records them visiting Galatia.

9 Acts 16:6.  It is important to note that Paul wasn’t forbidden to ever enter Asia—he did go there later on during this very missionary journey, and stayed there for three years.  For a more detailed discussion of this forbidding, see this author’s book, The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts, comments on this passage.

10 Acts 16:7.  Mysia is a Roman colony, never becoming an official province, that was at the north end of the province of Asia, along the Mediterranean Sea, and bordered the province of Bithynia.  Troas was the chief city in this region.  See Robertson’s Word Pictures on Acts 16:8.

11 Acts 16:7.  Bithynia was a Roman province in the northwestern corner of Asia Minor.  The Holy Spirit (some Greek manuscripts have “the Spirit of Jesus”) forbade Paul to go evangelize there, but it wasn’t because God didn’t want the gospel spread there.  1 Peter 1:1-2 shows that someone had gone to Bithynia and evangelized, and that many were converted.  In AD 110-115, Pliny became governor of Bithynia, and in a letter to the emperor Trajan, wrote that there were many Christians in the area, to the point where most of the heathen temples had been abandoned.  See International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Bithynia.”

12 The pronouns “they” and “them” are used until Paul arrives at Troas.  Once Paul is in Troas, Luke starts using the pronouns “we” and “us” (see Acts 16:10), showing that he is now part of their company.  The details of their first meeting and Luke’s conversion (most likely by Paul), we are not permitted to know, for this historian kept himself out of his writings as much as possible.  Luke is called “the beloved physician” in Colossians 4:14.  See the section in chapter one on the “Companions of Titus” for a fuller discussion of Luke.

13 Acts 16:10.  The phrase “assuredly gathering” (KJV) means they all came to the same conclusion.  Luke uses the pronoun “we,” showing that it was the group that came to the conclusion, and the group that made plans to leave for Macedonia.  Obviously, it was at Paul’s urging, but they were all in agreement.

Teaching About the Sower

The Text: Mark 4:1-20 – He began again to teach by the seaside; and a great multitude was gathered together with Him, so that He entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land.  And He taught them many things by parables, and said to them in His teaching:

“Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow [seed].  And it came to pass, while He sowed, [that] some fell by the roadside, and the birds of the air came and devoured it up.  And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much soil; and immediately it sprang up, because it didn’t have deep soil.  But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.  And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. And other [seed] fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased.  And [they] brought forth [fruit], some thirty, and some sixty, and some a hundred.”

And He said to them, “He that has ears to hear, let him hear.”

And when He was alone, those who were around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable.  And He said to them, “To you it’s given to know the mystery of the Kingdom of God, but to those who are outside, all [these] things are coming in parables.  So that ‘Seeing, they may see and not perceive; and hearing, they might hear and not understand; lest at any time they might be converted, and their sins might be forgiven them.’”

And He said to them, “Do you not perceive this parable?  And how, then, will you know all [these other] parables?

“The sower sows the word.  And these by the roadside are they where the seed is sown, but when they have heard, Satan comes in immediately, and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.  And likewise, these which are sown on stony ground are they who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and have no root in themselves, and so [they] endure only for a time.  Afterwards, when affliction or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they are caused to stumble.  And these which are sown among the thorns are they such as hear the word, and the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches and lusts of other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.  And these which are sown on good ground are they such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”

Introduction

The parable of the sower is one of the best-known of Jesus’ parables.  I don’t have any idea how many times I’ve heard some part of it referenced (often the “cares of this world” line), but it’s a lot.  It’s mentioned by Matthew (chapter 13), Mark (chapter 4), and Luke (chapter 8).  And though many people refer to it as the “parable of the soils,” Jesus called it “the parable of the sower” (Matthew 13:18).  Therefore, while Jesus spends a lot of time dealing with the different kinds of soils, His main emphasis is on the sower.

The Text, part 1 – The Setting (Mark 4:1-2)

[Jesus] began again to teach by the seaside.  And a great multitude gathered [together around] Him, so that He entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land.

Matthew 13:1 tells us that at first, Jesus sat to teach by the seaside (most likely next to the sea of Galilee).  But the crowds gathered, and Jesus stood up, walking to a ship that He could board so that He could teach the crowds without being mobbed.  Then, He sat down on the ship and began to teach the multitude that was on the shore.  This wouldn’t have been like a rowboat, but probably one of the fishing boats.  Jesus must have had a very strong voice to be able to teach this great crowd of people while sitting on this boat.

And He taught them many things by parables.

The word “parable” comes from the Greek parabole, which literally means “to throw beside.”  It’s the idea of putting two things side-by-side for comparison’s sake.  A parable is often described as “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning,” and quite often that is true.  I’d be more specific, and say that a parable is a story dealing with things that are known and understood in order to explain something that is not necessarily known or understood. Every parable that Jesus gave dealt with things that the listeners could identify with and understand, things like planting and harvesting, or losing something valuable and rejoicing when it is found (Luke 15).  And behind all these parables were deeper truths.  Some parables foretold the rejection of the Jews (Matthew 21:33-45), while others taught Godly attributes (like the Good Samaritan).

And in His teaching to them, He said “Listen.”

Jesus didn’t speak to waste His breath.  He expected those people who gathered around to pay attention to the things He was trying to teach them.  As followers of Jesus Christ today, we should respect the Lord enough to listen to Him and listen to His word being proclaimed.

The Text, part 2 – The Parable Given (Mark 4:3-8)

“Behold”

This word means not just to look, but to perceive, to comprehend.  So, as Jesus began to speak, He opens with the words, “Listen.  Perceive.”  In other words, Jesus is telling them that in order to understand His teaching, they would have to pay attention, and do some thinking.  He explains why a little later on.

“A sower went out to sow”

Literally, “the scattering one went to scatter.”  This kind of sowing is done by a person with a large bag, like a large purse, with the handle over his shoulder and neck.  He reaches inside the bag, grabs a handful of seeds, and then scatters them all across the field as he walks.  He knows ahead of time that not all the seeds will take root, but given the sheer number of seeds that he throws out there, he knows that some of them will produce the desired plant.

“Some [seed] fell by the road, and the birds of the air came and devoured it up.”

The road, whether it be rock or dirt, was packed down so hard that no seed could penetrate—so it just sat there, and was free food for the birds who gladly take advantage of it.

“Some [seed] fell on stony ground, where there was not much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil.”

You might imagine soil with lots of gravel or little rocks mixed in with it, but that’s not what Jesus is describing.  He’s describing ground where there is a very small layer of soil, and underneath that is just rock.  That’s why He says “it has no depth of soil [or earth].”  Anyone who has ever tried to plant a garden in this kind of soil knows that it is almost impossible to get much to grow and produce, because there’s simply not enough soil to support the plant.

“But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.”

When Luke records this statement, he says that the plant withered away because it “lacked moisture.”  The thin layer of dirt couldn’t hold on to the necessary moisture to sustain these plants, and the plants died as a result.

“Some [seed] fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit.”

These are weeds among which the seed fell.  These weeds, with thorns, stole moisture and nutrients from the soil, and worked to overtake the plant, keeping it from being able to produce any fruit.  This is why anyone who has much experience with gardening knows you’ve got to “weed” (or de-weed) your garden so that your crops can grow and produce.

“Other [seed] fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some a hundred.”

This here is the reason why the sower goes out and scatters the seed: because there is good soil out there, and if he scatters enough seed, some of it will land in that soil.  That seed will then sprout, take root, and produce a good harvest.

The person sowing the seed during those days wasn’t usually the land owner—at least not on the bigger fields.  It was someone working for the person who owned the field.  Usually, there were several working the fields at once, and they would scatter the seed all over the place, covering every possible area.  Some of it would land in bad soil, but some of it would land in good soil.  These workers oftentimes had no way of knowing what kinds of soil were all around them.  Their job was merely to scatter the seed.

The Text, part 3 – Hearing and Understanding (Mark 4:9-13)

He said to them, “He that has ears to hear, let him hear.”

This is something that Jesus said on more than one occasion.  He said it after telling His disciples that John the Immerser was the fulfillment of the prophecies about Elijah (Matthew 11:7-15); after asking them whether a candle should be hid under a bushel (Mark 4:21-23); after chastising the Pharisees for elevating their traditions over God’s word (Mark 7:1-16); after explaining the parable of the tares (Matthew 13:36-43); after instructing the multitude on the cost of discipleship (Luke 14:25-35); and at the conclusion of each of the letters to the seven churches in Asia (Revelation 2-3).

The phrase means that everyone (because they all have ears) is supposed to listen.  In fact, the phrase “let him hear” is the same as the word translated “Hearken” (KJV) or “Listen” that Jesus used back in verse 3.  It is a command to hear the message that is being presented.

But not everyone understood the message…

When He was alone, they that were around Him, with the twelve, asked Him about the parable.

Mark is the only one who gives us this piece of information, that is, that they waited until Jesus was alone to ask this question.  They apparently didn’t want to ask the question in front of the multitude, and they also didn’t want to interrupt Jesus’ teaching.  So, they waited until later.

Mark is also the only one who tells us that it was more than just the apostles asking this question.  Matthew and Luke simply say “the disciples,” which sometimes is a reference to just the twelve.  But this was the entire group of Jesus’ disciples, all the ones who were faithfully following Him—including the apostles.

It appears that none of them understood the deeper meaning behind Jesus’ parable of the sower.

He said to them, “To you, it’s given to know the mystery of the Kingdom of God, but to those who are outside, all these things are coming in parables.”

The disciples, including the apostles, were being taught about the Kingdom of God by Jesus.  He told them that it was “at hand,” and showed its power to them by casting out demons and healing the sick.  But there was more to it than just power.  The Kingdom of God included enduring rejection by the very people Jesus came to save.  The disciples needed to understand that the key to understanding Jesus’ parables was knowing about the Kingdom.  The Kingdom would be spread by sowing the word of God (as He will allude to momentarily) in the hearts of people.

But to those who don’t understand, who haven’t opened their eyes to the reality of Jesus spiritual kingdom, these parables would have no meaning—for they didn’t have the key.

The KJV says these things are “done” in parable, but literally, He says they are “coming” in parables.  That is, He’s presenting those things in parables to the masses.

“So that ‘Seeing, they might see, and not perceive; and hearing, they might hear, and not understand”

Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9, and applies it to His own teaching in parables—a definite claim that He is the Messiah.

The parables are spoken, according to Jesus, so that they would have the opportunity to see and perceive, to hear and understand—if they had the right heart and desire.  It isn’t made clear in English, but the verbs are in the subjunctive mood, showing possibility.  So, literally, Jesus is saying “Seeing, they might see, and might not perceive; and hearing, they might hear, and might not understand.  Some people have accused Jesus of intentionally hiding the truth from people so that they couldn’t understand it—but that’s not the case at all.  He’s teaching in a way that helps those who sincerely want to understand to put everything together.  In fact, the word translated “understand” is a compound word in Greek which means “bringing together.”

“‘Lest at any time they might be converted, and their sins might be forgiven them.’”

Again, these are conditional statements.  Some of the people did listen to Jesus, and some of them were converted, and did have their sins forgiven.  But the majority did not.  In Isaiah 6, where this statement came from, the Lord sent Isaiah to proclaim the truth that the people really didn’t want to hear—that their cities were going to be utterly wasted.  And the more they heard that they didn’t like, they more they ignored the prophet.

The same thing happened with Jesus (see John 6:66).  There were hard-hearted people who didn’t want the message of a spiritual kingdom that required godly living and evangelism and obedience.  So, Jesus spoke it to them in parables, keeping the true meaning just under the surface—those who were spiritually-minded would dig and find it, while those who weren’t interested would just think it was a story and shrug it off.

And He said to them, “Do you not perceive this parable?  How then will you perceive all [the other] parables?”

Jesus was kind (because He explains the parable to them), but at the same time, this statement expresses a disappointment in the disciples.  They, the ones who should be best equipped to understand the meaning, didn’t see it.  And you have to know that it stung a bit when Jesus quoted Isaiah 6:9, and then immediately afterwards asked them if they were among the ones who fit the description of “not perceiving.”

This parable is a fairly straight-forward one, and when we understand that it is about the kingdom of God, the rest of the pieces fall into place pretty easily.  And Jesus asks them how they could hope to understand His other parables if they didn’t understand this parable.  So many people want to jump headfirst into the deeper matters of the Bible without first having an understanding of some of the simpler parts.  If you can’t grasp the simple parts, you have no hope of understanding the more difficult ones!

The Text, part 4 – The Explanation (Mark 4:13-20)

“The sower sows the word.”

That statement is the key to the entire parable.  Luke records it as “the seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11).  Without this knowledge, the parable is hidden in a mist of confusion.  But when you know that “the seed is the word of God,” everything else makes sense.

“These by the road are they where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.”

The word of God makes no lasting penetration into these hearts.  Just like the birds eating seed off the hard ground, Satan has no trouble removing the word of God from the hearts and minds of this kind of people.  They aren’t really spiritually-minded to begin with, and so they don’t take in the word of God, they don’t treasure it.  It’s just there, ready to be forgotten at the first opportunity.

“Likewise, these which are sown on stony ground are they who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and they have no root in themselves, and so they endure but for a time.  Afterwards, when affliction or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately, they are caused to stumble.”

These are what you might call “shallow” Christians.  They want the salvation that comes through Christ, but they don’t have any roots, no depth to their faith, and so when things get tough, they simply fall away.

It’s interesting that in the parable, Jesus described the sun as part of the reason the plant died, and then he describes affliction and persecution as what causes a believer to die (spiritually).  But the sun has a very positive effect on plants which are properly planted; and persecution and affliction has a very positive effect on Christians who are properly planted in God (see James 1:2-4, Acts 5:40-41).

The word “offended” (KJV) or “stumble” (NKJV) is the Greek word scandalizo.  It’s where we get the word “scandal.”

“These which are sown among thorns are those, such as hear the word, and the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.”

In contrast to the previous people, these aren’t “shallow” Christians.  These are people who know the truth, believe the truth, and may have even at one time been very fruitful in the truth.  But they are the ones who have gotten caught up with cares of the world (friends, family, work, politics, fun, pleasure) and as a result, they’ve relegated God’s word to second place (or third or fourth or fifth…) in their lives.  These are the ones who have allowed the material things to become the focus of their lives (money, wealth, things).  Jesus adds that it’s also “the lusts of other things.”  It’s basically Jesus saying, “and other things like these.”

When those things become the focus, it chokes out the word of God in your life, and you become unfruitful.  Even if you were at one point in time an active, evangelistic, fruitful Christian, you can still fall—you can still get so tangled up in the cares of this world that you end up forgetting that this world isn’t our home, and we’ve got a better world awaiting us.

“These which are sown on good ground are those, such as hear the word and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”

These are active, faithful, working Christians.  These are those who are productive for the Lord.  There’s two different ways we can look at what this “fruit” is:

First, we could use the word “fruit” as John the Immerser did in Matthew 3:8, “Therefore, bring forth fruits suitable for repentance.”  By this, the “fruit” would have a reference to works (in our context, it would be good works).  Paul uses the phrase in a similar way in Romans 7:5-6.

Second, we could look at something God says about “fruit” in the creation account in Genesis 1:11: “And God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed is in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.”  Since the fruit has the seed inside it, and the seed is the word of God, then to “bring forth fruit” would be converting people to Christ.  Each person you convert to the Lord now has the word of God (the seed) inside them.

Ultimately, the two options are really two parts of the same thing.

Application

Preparing the Sower

Since Jesus called it the “parable of the sower,” He wanted His disciples to view it from that direction first.  In telling them this parable, He was preparing them for the different kinds of reactions that they would receive when they went about preaching the word.  We need to take the same lesson from it as well, and know ahead of time that there will be people who are so hard-hearted that the word of God won’t take hold in their heart.  We need to realize ahead of time that some people will accept it, but they will be shallow and fall away.  Some will accept it, and stick with it, but they won’t bear fruit because they’re too busy with the things of this life.  These things aren’t our fault—that is on them.  But we also need to know that there are people out there who will gladly receive the word of God and who will bear fruit.  That is the reason we need to keep trying to bring others to Christ, because these kind of people are out there!

Preparing the Soil

The secondary purpose of this parable is from the standpoint of the soils, or the heart.  What kind of heart do you have?  Is it a hard heart?  A shallow heart?  A rocky heart?  Or a good and pure heart?  As most of you are certainly aware, bad soil doesn’t have to stay bad soil.  It can be broken up, tilled, cared for, rocks removed, weeds removed, and it can become productive.  The same thing is true of your heart.  If you honestly look at your heart and discover that you are one of the first three, then you can do something about it!  You can cultivate your heart, be more conscious of where your focus is, on what is most important, and then you can start being fruitful for the Lord!

Invitation

Just possessing he seed isn’t enough.  Just tossing it on the ground isn’t enough.  In order for that seed to produce a plant, there’s something else that has to be present, and that’s water.  The same thing is true with the word of God.  Just having it isn’t enough to save you.  Just believing it isn’t enough to save you (for the demons believe and tremble, James 2:19).  It’s when you make the decision to repent of your rebellion to God, and add water—being baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of your sins—that you become a Christian.

Won’t you please become a fruitful follower of the Lord today?

-Bradley S. Cobb

Your brother needs your prayers

Less than two years ago, after helping a congregation get back on firm footing, grounded in the truth, James Sims, Sr., was asked to go to Florida to help a small congregation which was struggling with which direction they needed to follow.  After a year and a half of struggles, of extremely difficult work, and very little financial support, James decided he and his family needed to find another place to work.

He, along with many of his friends who also preach, have been praying that God would open a door of opportunity for him.  And God has thrown open the most unexpected door of all!  Let me tell you about it.

An Episcopal Church [that’s the American version of the Church of England] in another state decided to endorse homosexual marriage, in clear violation of the Bible’s description of marriage as between a male and a female.  As a result, several members there left and decided to start their own church.  Many of them live in the same community as one of James’ relatives.  This relative let them know that she had a preacher in the family, and they invited him to come speak to them for a week.

This is a group of people who obviously think that the Bible is God’s word, and that following it is important.  So this Lord’s Day (October 4th) James presented the pure gospel message to them, straight from the Bible.  Studies have been set up, and he has been requested to go over some of the material again with them.

What this brother needs right now is prayer.  Pray for his strength to speak God’s message.  Pray for the listeners to respond with open and honest hearts.  Pray for God to take that seed that has now been planted and “give the increase.”

Additionally, if you want to give him some words of encouragement, you can leave them in the comments section and he will see them.

Other people have been stepping up to help him with this endeavor.  One kind brother supplied several copies of the Modern Literal Version to give out to these truth-seekers. He also came prepared with several copies of a DVD called “Why Are There So Many Churches?”

Won’t you please pray for this brother in Christ who is being blessed with an absolutely amazing opportunity?

For God’s Sake, for Christ’s Sake, and for Pete’s Sake…

James says that “faith without works is dead, being alone.”  That is, the only real faith, the only living faith, is one that is working, that is doing, that is active.  Are you an active Christian?

I once heard a man say about his home congregation, “I like our church just the size it is.”  That’s one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard, because what that says is “None of these lost souls in my town matter to me,” or “I don’t feel like saving any souls,” or “I’m perfectly content to let them all go to hell.”

No matter how you want to phrase it, that attitude is wrong.  No matter how many people you have in the building on a Lord’s Day morning, it isn’t enough!  There are literally hundreds or thousands of people in your hometown who are alone, living without Jesus, without salvation, without hope.  And as Christians–active Christians, we need to start doing a better job of bringing them to Christ.

This week you have a certain amount of people in attendance.  Next week, top that number.  Be realistic, but do your part to plant the seed and trust in God to do His part.  “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gives the increase”!  When you do your part, God will do His and you’ll be amazed at the results.

An active Christian is one who is out doing the will of the Lord.  But why be an active Christian?

For God’s sake, be an active Christian.

Read John 3:16.  He sent Jesus Christ for your sake.  Read that verse again, but this time, instead of the phrase “the world,” put your own name there.  Read it out loud.  “For God so loved [your name] that He gave His only begotten Son…”  God did that for your sake.  And all He asks in return is that you serve Him and tell other people about Him and what He’s done for them.

Remember, you can put your name in that verse, but you also need to put other people’s name in that verse.  For God so loved Bob, my next-door neighbor, that he gave His only begotten Son.  For God so loved my teacher, or my cousin, or the cashier at the grocery store, that He gave His only begotten Son.

For God’s sake, be an active Christian.

For Christ’s sake, be an active Christian.

Jesus had you in mind when He was dying, hanging on the cross, blood dripping down, being mocked by the people around Him.  He was thinking about you.  “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

“Greater love has no man than this: that he should die for his friends.”  Jesus spoke those words the night before He died–the night before He died for you. John 15:13.

Since Jesus did that for your sake, is it really asking all that much for you to tell others about Him?

For Christ’s sake, be an active Christian.

For the church’s sake, be an active Christian.

Look, let’s be honest.  We need you.  Each and every person in the pews is needed.  Jesus said that the fields are ripe, ready to be harvested, but there’s a lack of workers.  Pray to the Father to send out workers! (Luke 10:2).  There are people out there, wanting to know the truth, ready to follow Jesus, but they need someone to tell them about Him.

I’ve been reading a book, written by a brother in Christ back in the 1960s.  In that book was a very thought-provoking line that … well, let’s just say it hit me pretty hard.

What would Jesus do if he were a member of the congregation where I worship?

Would Jesus leave any person of your acquaintance out of His efforts to save if He physically lived here on earth today?  If so, which person would He omit? (Ideas for Bible School Growth by Alan M. Bryan, page 10)

Of all the people you know, that you work with, that you live near, that you go to school with, that you’re related to, whatever the case may be–which ones do you think Jesus would ignore?  Which ones do you think Jesus would walk by without a word?  Which ones do you think Jesus would say, “He’s not worth my time”?

You know the answer to that question.  So, “Go ye and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).

For the church’s sake, be an active Christian.

For Pete’s sake, be an active Christian.

Every time I hear people say “for Pete’s sake,” I want to say, “I only know one person who goes by the name of Pete, and he lives in England.  So what exactly does he have to do with this?”

Thousands of lost souls are in this town, and we need to reach them all.  Let’s call them all Pete.  Not to their face, mind you, but let’s just think of each of the lost souls in this town as people in need of the gospel.  They are people who are in desperate need of an active Christian to touch their lives and help them come to Christ.

This helps bring people to Christ, but it also has the glorious side benefit of encouraging yourself and the whole congregation.  You make yourself happier, you bring joy to other Christians, you bring Pete to the Lord.  Really, the only one who loses in this whole scenario is Satan.

There are a lot of Pete’s in the world who are going to die without Christ, without hope unless someone teaches them about Jesus.  Be an active Christian for their sake.

For Pete’s sake, be an active Christian.

For your own sake, be an active Christian.

Faith without works is dead.  And a dead faith won’t get you very far when Jesus returns.

Who needs to come to Jesus?  It’s your friends.  It’s your neighbors.  It’s your co-workers.

Maybe it’s you.

“No,” you say.  “I’m good with Jesus.”  Are you really?  Are you certain?  Would Jesus agree with your assessment?

“Not all who say to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

Jesus said it requires doing God’s will.  It means being active and obeying God’s commands.  Jesus describes a judgment scene in Matthew 25, and if you’ll notice the judgment was based on who was active and who was not.

It’s a wonderful thing to serve the kind, merciful, loving God of heaven.  Don’t you think it’s time you get right with Him?

For your own sake, be an active Christian.

A growing church starts with you.

-Bradley S. Cobb

When Shovels Break (by Michael Shank) – A Review

I’ve known Michael Shank for the better part of a decade, and we both “cut our teeth” doing fill-in preaching for the same little congregation in Southern Illinois.  So, it was with great pleasure that I wrote the first real review of his first book, Muscle and a Shovel (you can read the review/article at BrotherhoodNews.com).  A few years have passed, and God has used Muscle and a Shovel in ways far beyond what I–or anyone else–could have imagined.

Soon after it began to spread through the brotherhood, Mike began work on his second book, When Shovels Break.  It has taken a few years, but it’s finally ready.

And let me tell you this: It is powerful.

While Muscle and a Shovel was written for the non-Christian, to help show them the biblical path to life in Christ, When Shovels Break was written for the struggling Christian, the wayward Christian, the unfaithful brother or sister in Christ.  It is a stirring testimony that no matter what you have done, no matter how far you have fallen away from Him, God is always ready to take you back and forgive you.

But there’s more to When Shovels Break than that–a LOT more.

wsb_cover_small

A Sequel

When Shovels Break acts as a sequel to Muscle and a Shovel in many respects.  It follows the life of Michael Shank and his wife where the previous book left off.

But it also introduces us to one of Mike’s oldest friends, a man named John.  John and Mike had a lot in common: both came to Christ around the same time (both converted by “Randal”), worked  in the same industry, lived in the same neighborhood, even liked the same kinds of food.  In fact, John and Mike were as close as two friends could be.

The book begins [and this isn’t much of a spoiler, since Mike posted the first chapter on Facebook months ago] with John distraught over his sinful life, absolutely certain that he’s lost forever, not seeing any way of hope, and Mike trying to help him.  Then John lifts the gun to his head.

What could bring a man–a baptized believer in Jesus Christ–to such desperation that he thinks the only way out is to kill himself?  Could God ever take him back after all the sins he’s committed?  After he’s insulted his Savior by going back headlong into a life of sin?

A Message for the Church

Muscle and a Shovel was written for non-Christians, but it became a great tool to teach faithful members of the Lord’s church that evangelism doesn’t have to be hard!  It gave a clear and simple method to help show others God’s path to salvation.  It served to energize once-inactive Christians into active service for their Lord.  It helped remind experienced brethren of what they were fighting for, and the Lord’s church has become stronger as a result of God’s use of that book.

When Shovels Break is also a great tool for members of the Lord’s church.  Throughout the story of Mike and John’s life, you will see very clearly the importance of having brothers and sisters in Christ who care.  You will see the damage that can be done through a brother’s (or a congregation’s) indifference and the discouragement it can cause others.

This new book is also an example of God’s providence.  In the later part of the story, we get to see how God worked so many unexpected (and sometimes frustrating) things out in Mike’s life to bring him to the point of writing and publishing Muscle and a Shovel.  That bit of information is a nice little bonus to those who like to know “the rest of the story.”

You’ll also probably chuckle as Mike tries to show the Jule Miller Filmstrips to a bunch of drunks.

The Road Back Home

I surprised Mike when I told him that I thought the final dozen or so chapters were just as good–if not even better–than the story itself.  But I stand by it.

After concluding the story itself, Mike dedicates several chapters to a straight-forward conversation with Christians.  He devotes time to showing wayward members the way back home, but he also writes to encourage brethren whose strength may be faltering.  He describes some of these chapters as “God’s plan to keep you from ever falling away again–ever.”

And they are good.

The Survey

I’m not a prophet, but I believe the part of the book that will have the most impact within the church is where Mike gives the results of a survey he conducted, interviewing 400 people who have left the church.  It is an eye-opener–and it shows that the church itself must take at least part of the blame for their departure.

Final Thoughts

Even though I was already privy to part of the story (a side benefit of being friends with Mike since before Muscle and a Shovel), I got goosebumps reading through it.  Mike writes with a clarity and emotional power that makes you instantly identify with his struggles.  You hurt when he hurts.  You get frustrated when he is frustrated.  And you rejoice when he rejoices.

And you will never look at the Ego Board the same way again.

[note: I was not asked to write a review, but I thought it needed to be done]

To get your own copy of When Shovels Break, you can order direct from Mike Shank (or if you want it in Kindle format, it’s available here).

“I think the sheriff has very little ability and no guts.”

These words were spoken by Major General Milton Foreman about Sheriff Melvin Thaxton of Williamson County, Illinois, back in 1922.

You see, for days, everyone knew tensions were rising in Herrin, IL, then the biggest city in the county.  One of the mines had brought in non-union men (“strikebreakers”) to work during the UMWA strike.  The mine had brought in hired guns as “guards” who terrorized people who drove down the roads that crossed over mine property.  The union miners had robbed stores of guns and ammunition, saying “charge it to the union” as they left.

The governor was receiving telegrams from concerned citizens about the events, but when the Major General of the Illinois National Guard contacted Sheriff Thaxton, the sheriff said, “I have everything well in hand.”  And he added that there was no need for troops to be sent.

Even as June 22, 1922 came, and literally thousands of union miners and sympathizers attacked the mine, took the miners and guards prisoner, dynamited the mine equipment, and led the men at gunpoint to the city, the Sheriff did nothing.  In fact, he was nowhere to be found, having gone to a neighboring county to investigate a shooting (which wasn’t even in his jurisdiction).

Even after reports surfaced of prisoners being dragged from behind cars, shot, stabbed, beaten, and hanged, the Sheriff told the national guard “I have everything under control.”

When Major General Foreman was asked what he thought of the Sheriff’s response, he replied “I think the sheriff has very little ability and no guts.”

See, the Sheriff knew what was going on and did nothing to stop it.  He either supported the actions (my personal guess) or he was to big of a wimp to stop it.

You might wonder at this point why I’m even mentioning all of this.  I’ve noticed (and I’m sure you have too) that there are many Christians who fit this same description.  They have very little ability to fulfill their role as Christ’s messengers and they have no guts.

I don’t say this to sound demeaning towards these people.  I really don’t.  I’m talking about people who have been Christians for years, but who couldn’t tell someone the plan of salvation and prove it from the Bible if their life depended on it.  I’ve heard of preachers who passed out a worksheet to the congregation asking for this exact information.  The overwhelming majority of the congregation couldn’t tell you where the Bible says to hear, or to believe, or repent, or confess, or be baptized.

These Christians have very little ability–because of their own choice.  The writer of Hebrews chastised people like this because they should have been able to teach others–instead, they needed someone to teach them again!

We’d think there was something wrong if a baby was born and 15 years later, he was still a baby, unable to walk, to talk, or to chew food.  But for some reason, we give people a pass when they remain spiritual babies for 5, 10, 15, or more years!  This ought not be!

Another great fault of many Christians is that they have no guts.  Obviously, the ones who don’t know how to even show something as basic as the plan of salvation have good reason to be afraid to engage in spiritual discussions with others.  But what about those who do know the Scriptures?

Have you noticed that in this modern age, many Christians are more concerned about how others will react than they are about their eternal judgment?  We see lost and dying souls everywhere we go, but we don’t want them to think that we’re “religious nuts” or “Jesus freaks.”  We don’t want to potentially hurt their feelings by pointing out that they’re going to hell because they’ve not obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We’ve got the greatest news in the history of mankind, yet we’re more willing to tell someone about low gas prices than we are to tell them about that which can save their soul!

In short, several Christians have no guts when it comes to spreading the gospel.

My friends, we’ve got a job to do.  Whether we feel prepared for it or not, we still have a job to do.  We can either go into the job completely unprepared and fail miserably, or we can prepare ourselves.  If we are unprepared; if we do not cultivate the ability to carry out the work of the Lord, it is our own fault.

It takes guts–it takes courage to show others that they are living in sin and what the consequences of their continued sin will be.  It takes guts to be active in the Lord’s work.  It may not be easy, but it still must be done.

When you stand before the Lord on Judgment Day, will He say “well done, good and faithful servant”?  Or will His words be more like “I think you have very little ability and no guts”?

-Bradley Cobb

Note: The above story is true, and the quotations come from an Associated Press story printed on June 24, 1922 in newspapers across the country.

Sermon Wednesday – Seeking The Lost

Seeking the Lost

A child is lost, alone, and starving on the side of a mountain. He doesn’t know how to get home. He doesn’t have anything. He needs help.  Would you try to help him? Would you make the effort and spend even just a day looking for him?

Now, imagine you’ve found him. What kind of effort would you put in bringing him home? Would you try to lead him by the hand? Would you carry him? Would you encourage him to come with you to safety? If he was unsure, would you lovingly, continually assure him that you are there to help him and that you know how he can get to safety?

Would you do the same thing for someone who is lost in sin, without Christ, and astray on the mountain of sin?

Today, we will be looking at the Biblical principles behind the song, “Seeking the Lost.”  Hopefully, this will help us to better sing with the understanding, but also encourage us to actually be out seeking the lost!

Verse 1

Most people aren’t just going to come knock on our door and say, “I want to know the gospel!”  No, we have to go find them.

Jesus Christ came to “seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).  We must follow His example, (trying to walk in the steps of the Savior, striving to follow our Savior and King…), and that includes seeking the lost.  We aren’t going to find them if we don’t go looking for them. (“seek and ye shall find” – Matthew 7:7).

It’s time to start Seeking the lost.

So many people have the idea that we need to beat people over the head with the Bible until they finally open their eyes to see the gospel truth.  But what we need to remember is that the word “gospel” means GOOD NEWS! We’re supposed to be out sharing good news!

If you find a little boy lost on the side of a mountain, you don’t grab your map or GPS and berate him for not following what the map said. Instead, you try to help him.  You can use the map or GPS to guide him back, but being harsh with him isn’t going to help, and isn’t going to make him want to follow you at all.

Love is kind (I Corinthians 13:4). And we are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Seeking the lost, yes kindly entreating wanderers on the mountain astray.

But when we find lost people, what are we supposed to say?  While our words are important, Jesus’ words are what matters.  Jesus is the one who invites all lost souls to come to Him. He says, “come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden [bearing a heavy burden] and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

We need to tell these lost souls that Jesus has an open invitation to them. He invites them to come to Him.  We need to let them know that there is safety awaiting them in Jesus.

“Come unto me,” His message repeating, words of the Master speaking today.

Verse 2

Far too often, Christians try to make evangelism about themselves instead of about JesusI don’t know what to say. I can’t evangelize. I might mess things up. I’m scared.  Or maybe we start giving our opinions about things in the Bible when what we should be doing is pointing to Jesus!

The good news isn’t that the church of Christ doesn’t use instruments; the good news is that Jesus died for our sins—for their sins!  The good news is that even though these people are lost, they can be led to safety and brought home!

There’s plenty of time to deal with doctrinal issues and how to worship God acceptably, but first we have to get them to Jesus!

Seeking the lost and pointing to Jesus

A lot of people have gone through some horrible times in their lives.  They’ve been betrayed, they’ve been hurt, they’ve struggled—and still do.  Many of them think that there’s no hope for them.  Many of them think that no one cares.  But it’s our responsibility to show them that we care because Christ cares!

souls that are weak and hearts that are sore.

When a person is lost, they want to know how to get somewhere.

A man comes across the lost boy on the mountain. The boy desperately wants to go home to his father. So, the man says, “keep heading up the mountain.” The problem is, the boy’s father doesn’t live up the mountain. He lives down in the valley.  That boy is going to boy overjoyed because he thinks he knows the way now. But eventually, he’ll find out that the man wasn’t telling the truth.

Oh, that man may have thought he was telling the truth, thought he knew what he was talking about, but the fact still remains that the little boy will never find his father that way.

How incredibly sad! And it makes it that much harder for someone else to find that little boy, because he’s headed in the wrong direction. And it makes it that much harder to convince the boy that he’s going the wrong way. And even if you beg and plead with him, the boy may decide not to trust anyone’s directions anymore because he was led astray.

My brethren, there are thousands of people who are out looking for lost people and then giving them wrong directions that take them even further from God.  They say, “Oh, the direction to Christ is the path called the Sinner’s Prayer.”

They say, “To get to God? Well, you can’t. You’ll just have to wait for Him to find you, and if He picked you, He’ll find you. If He didn’t pick you, you’re lost forever anyway.”

And that makes our job even more difficult. It’s not impossible to bring these misled people to Christ, but it’s difficult.  That’s why we need to be out there, actively looking for people. Showing them the right way—the Bible way—before someone else gets a hold of them and sends them the wrong direction!

The more work we do now, the easier it will be!

Leading them forth in ways of salvation, showing the path to life evermore.

Verse 3

Because we have good news, because we have been given a mission by Jesus Christ, because we know the Bible way of salvation, we must spread it!

We must take pity on people who are lost and help them.  We must show mercy to them, kindly showing them the error of their ways.  After all, this is what Jesus did. Those people who had been neglected and rejected by society were the ones that Jesus seemed to spend the most time teaching.

And we need to be the same way. We need to go to these people who know they need help, who know they need Jesus.

Thus I would go on missions of mercy, following Christ from day unto day.

We need to give people hope by showing them that Jesus died for them.  We need to show them that the gospel really is good news—it’s GREAT news.  And when we see Christians who have stumbled, we need to help them back up and help them on that glorious path to heaven above!

Cheering the faint and raising the fallen, pointing the lost to Jesus the way.

Chorus

Jesus gave a parable about a man who had 100 sheep, and one of them got lost.  That man left the other 99 sheep to go search for that one lost lamb.  We might say, “he’s still got 99% of his sheep, why worry about that one?” It’s because that one sheep is important. That one sheep is valuable.

We must realize that all people are important and are valuable. Until we take this seriously, we’ll never grow.

We have to be willing to go out of our way to seek the lost. We have to be willing to give up our comforts (and our comfort zone) to seek the lost.

If there really was a boy who was lost on a mountain, or in the woods, would you stop what you’re doing to help?  Then you should be willing to stop what you’re doing and try to help find the lost souls out there who are searching for home.  We need to find them, and guide them to Christ.

Going afar upon the mountain, bringing the wand’rer back again into the fold of my Redeemer: Jesus the Lamb for sinners slain.

Conclusion:

If you’re not a part of the body of Christ, having put Him on in baptism, then you are one of the lost.  Jesus died for your sins, and He wants you to come home to Him. He says “come to me, you weary ones. I’ll give you rest.”

The path to Jesus is easy, just believe in Him, leave your sins behind and confess Him as the Christ, being buried with Him in baptism, and being raised up from the waters as a new creature—saved!

Perhaps you’ve already followed that path, but somewhere along the way you’ve lost your footing and fallen off the trial to heaven. We beg you to come back now—we’ll help you!

-Bradley S. Cobb

The Church Used to Grow. So What?

I’m guilty.

I’ve been one of the hundreds of preachers who have tried to guilt people out of their spiritual lethargy by saying In the 50s and 60s, the Lord’s church was the fastest growing religious body in the United States.  (Not-so-subtly implying that they aren’t doing much for the Lord).

I’m one of the hundreds of preachers who have bemoaned the fact that the church isn’t growing across this country (and locally) like it did some five decades ago.

Usually, when that statistic is thrown out there, it’s used as evidence that members of the church (overall) have stopped caring about evangelism.  It’s used to show that the Lord’s church isn’t as dedicated as they once were.  It’s pretty much always used as a comparison.

And I think we’ve made a mistake by using it that way.

The fact is, we don’t live fifty years ago.  We live now.  It doesn’t matter today whether the church grew or shrank fifty years ago.  What matters today is what we as Christians are going to do now.

Bemoaning the fact that the church isn’t growing like it used to isn’t going to encourage growth today.

If we are going to use past growth as an example or a tool to help the church, we need to stop being so negative with it.

We say The church used to grow fifty years ago.  But what the members here is You guys are worthless compared to the Christians from fifty years ago.

We say The church was baptizing hundreds upon hundreds back in the 50s and 60s.  But the congregation starting thinking, What are you trying to say about us?

If you, as a preacher or a member, want to tell other members that the church used to grow five decades ago, then you need to use it in a positive way.

Consider the following:

  • The church experienced great growth in the United States in the 50s and 60s, so there’s no reason for us to get downhearted–it can be done!  Let’s get to work!
  • The church was the fastest growing religious group in the United States, and we can make that happen again!
  • The church grew by leaps and bounds, so we know that there are still people who will respond to the truth.  It’s time to go find them!

It’s high time we bring a positive message that growth is possible and then get out there and do it!

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to make the growth of the Lord’s church in the 50s and 60s look pitiful by comparison!  Let’s all work together and make it happen.  The Lord Jesus Christ deserves no less!

-Bradley S. Cobb

Restoration Moments – The Final Day of Knowles Shaw

“Oh, it is a grand thing to rally people to the Cross of Christ!”

Those were the final words of Knowles Shaw, a preacher and hymn-writer in the late 1800s.

We present to you now a Restoration Movement Moment that comes from The Life of Knowles Shaw, Singing Evangelist (by William Baxter), which is available as a free download from the Gravel Hill church of Christ website.

—–

[Knowles Shaw] telegraphed to the church at McKinney, that he and I would be there the next day. Early the next morning there was a tremendous rain-fall, lasting two or three hours. The brethren tried to prevail on him not to go to McKinney that morning, urging that the weather was so unfavorable that he could not have a meeting if he went, and insisted that he should remain in Dallas that day and rest. He replied, “No; we have telegraphed the brethren we would be there, and we must go; that there was no time for rest now; rest would come by and by.”

I met him at the depot about seven o’clock that morning, as lively and cheerful as I ever had seen him. He had bought his ticket and was ready to start. We took a seat in the car, and, in a few moments, were off. We conversed a few moments in regard to the work at McKinney. He then took up the morning paper and looked through it.

While thus engaged, I left him, and went forward to the front of the car, and was about to pass out to the coach ahead, when someone called me by name. I turned, and saw a Methodist minister, Mr. Malloy, whom I had known years before in Arkansas. I sat down by him, and spent some time in conversation. He asked me about our meeting in Dallas, and Brother Shaw. I told him that Mr. Shaw was on the train, and just at that moment caught his eye, and beckoned to him, and he came to where we were seated.

I introduced him to Rev. Mr. Malloy, and gave him my seat, and took the next one. Mr. Malloy asked him to tell him the secret of his success in protracted meetings, which Brother Shaw proceeded to do in a very earnest manner, saying he depended much on the power of a song-preached Christ.  He always kept Jesus before the people, made them feel that they were sinners, and needed just such a Savior as he preached. That he never became discouraged, had confidence in the gospel truth as the power of God, that he loved his work, and became wholly absorbed in it.

Then he added: “Oh, it is a grand thing to rally people to the Cross of Christ.”

At that moment, I turned to see if we were in sight of McKinney, and I felt the car was off the track, bouncing over the ties. I did not feel in any danger; did not know that we were on an embankment, and expected that we would check up in a moment or two. I saw Brother Shaw rise from his seat, and realized at once that the car was going over.

Not a word was spoken.

I saw Brother Shaw alive no more.

All became as dark as night. When I came to myself, the coach was at the bottom of the embankment, and I was its only occupant. I looked round, but all were gone. When I got out, I saw the passengers on the railroad track above me, and made my way up to them. The first one I met was Mr. Malloy, with whom Brother Shaw was seated at the time of the accident. I said to him, “Have you seen Brother Shaw?”

“NO,” said he, “I fear he is under the wreck; but he saved my life by pushing me from the position in which he himself fell.”

I waited to hear no more, but ran down to the wreck, looked in, and saw a man’s hand pointing upward out of the water. It was Brother Shaw’s hand. I called for help, and in about fifteen minutes he was taken lifeless from the water. Portions of the wreck had to be cut away with an ax before the body could be reached and removed. I had the body placed in the baggage-car, which had not been thrown from the track, and sent to McKinney, where it was taken charge of by the brethren and placed in the church. I sent a telegram to Dallas, telling the sad news.

In a short time, a deep gloom pervaded the whole city, as from house to house passed the sad words, “Brother Shaw is dead.” Quite a number were injured by the accident; some very severely. My own injuries were of a serious nature, much more so than I at first supposed. Such was Brother Shaw’s last day on earth.

What Have I Done?

She was a friend.  A very kind woman who always was willing to listen and just talk whenever I came by.  It didn’t matter that I was a little kid and she was in her 60s.  It didn’t matter that I was a teenager and she was in her 70s.  It didn’t matter that I was now grown up with a family and she was in her 80s.  Mrs. Smothers, the woman who lived next door to my parents, was always happy to see me.

I mowed her yard on occasion.  When  the snow came, I always shoveled her walk (and she’d always give me a couple 50-cent pieces for my trouble).  When I got a drum set and banged horribly around on it, she complimented my ability to keep a steady beat.  When she was on her porch, she always invited me to come over and just talk.  But we moved ten years ago, and the visits with Mrs. Smothers became very few and very far between.

We have been traveling the past couple weeks, and we stopped in Illinois to visit my parents.  But along the way there, Mrs. Smothers entered my thoughts.  I realized as we were heading that way that though we’d talked before about religion in general (mostly about the fact that I was going to be a preacher), I’d never talked with her seriously about her soul.

So, I made up my mind before we ever arrived that I was going to talk to Mrs. Smothers about her soul, about Jesus, and about eternity.  I had prayed for God to allow her a receptive heart to hear the truth and at the very least to consider it.  But shortly after arriving, I asked my mother about her, and this was the reply: “Oh, didn’t I tell you?  She passed away.”  Mrs. Smothers was gone.

And I never tried to reach her with the gospel.

I had made up my mind to do so, but by then it was too late.  To say I am sad is an understatement.  I am so upset with myself over it.  I am incredibly tormented knowing that she died having never obeyed the gospel.

At this point, there are voices coming at me, saying Brad, you haven’t lived in Illinois for a decade, as though that’s some kind of excuse.  Or Brad, there are plenty of other Christians that live in the same town she does and none of them talked to her about it either.  It doesn’t matter what someone else did or didn’t do.  The fact is, I had the opportunity many times over throughout the years to talk to her about it, yet I never did.

I know that the Bible teaches each person will be judged based on his or her own works.  So Mrs. Smothers will stand before the judgment seat of Christ to answer for her own actions.  But God only knows what a word from me–a serious attempt to show her the gospel–would have done.  It’s possible that she would have been willing to listen, become a Christian, and serve God faithfully the rest of her days.  It’s possible that as a result, other members of her family might have been converted to Christ as well.

But none of that happened, because I never took the time to talk to her about Jesus Christ.  I bear the blame myself, because I did not act when I had the opportunity.  And I ask myself What have I done?

Then the words of the song echo painfully in my mind.

When in a better land,
before the bar we stand
,
How deeply
grieved our souls will be,

If some poor lost one there,
Should
cry in deep despair,
You never mentioned Him to me.

You never mentioned Him to me,
You helped me not the light to see
You met me day by day,
And knew I was astray,

Yet never mentioned Him to me.

I know she can’t read this now, but the only thing I can say is:

I’m so sorry, Mrs. Smothers.

And I don’t want that to ever happen again.

-Bradley S. Cobb