Adventures in New Mexico

So it finally happened. I showed up to preach on Sunday only to find out I was at the wrong church!

We took a call in our office requesting that someone from Hope For Life, a Herald of Truth ministry, go speak at a church in New Mexico. The request was passed on to me, with a note that the caller was from Mora, New Mexico. I spoke with the man, arranged a time, and put it on the calendar. In all of our notes, we referred to Mora, New Mexico.

There’s not really a church in Mora. There’s one in nearby Cleveland which calls itself the Mora Valley Church of Christ. So I had an info sheet on that church, with the address of the church. Google Maps showed me precisely where the building was.

I flew to Albuquerque, then drove up to Taos to spend the night. On Saturday night, I got a funny feeling about the church. I searched for “church of Christ” around Mora and found several, but no addresses. I finally decided that I had the right place.

Sunday morning, when I went to my rental, I discovered a big dent on the back of the car. I spent a few minutes on the phone with Hertz, reported the incident to the hotel, then headed out. Fortunately, I had left myself plenty of time. I arrived about 9, confirmed that class was at 9:30 (as I had thought), then headed to Mora to find a bathroom. Noticed that the speed limit was 25; saw a highway patrolman in the convenience store; upon leaving the store, noticed he had stopped someone who was going faster than 25. That was a good reminder to watch my speed.

Headed back to the church. About 9:20, the preacher showed up. When I got out of the car, he noticed my shirt and tie (note: I despise ties), and said, “Are you a preacher?” That didn’t seem to be a good omen. I said yes, and told him that I had been invited for that day. I followed him in, then asked, “Let me clarify… does brother ____ go here?”

“He used to,” was the reply. “Now he goes somewhere else. Are you familiar with the area?” Uh, no. The preacher gave me directions when involved driving through Mora, going a few miles past, then taking a left “at the sharp turn.” Fortunately another man had arrived who gave me the highway number and mile marker where to turn.

I headed out, trying to hurry while not exceeding the speed limit. My friend in Mora had stopped another car, which reminded me that “late for church” probably wasn’t a good excuse for speeding.

After I made the turn, I found myself in open country. Farmland. Scattered houses. I drove 13 miles, thinking all the time: “I may have just made a long trip for nothing.” Fortunately, I found the church (in Ojo Feliz, New Mexico; the brother who called lives in Mora but worships in Ojo Feliz), the members were waiting for me, and we had an excellent time together.

They even had a lunch in my honor! I have a personal rule about avoiding beans when flying, but they had wonderful brisket and other fixings. I had no cell service, so I couldn’t call up Google Maps. I headed back to the main road, then guessed which way to go to head back to Albuquerque.

I wanted to get to the airport early because of the dent in my rental car. I had seen several gas stations near the airport, but couldn’t remember exactly where. I got off near the airport, with no stations in sight. Google identified one about 20 minutes away, which didn’t seem practical. I rarely use Siri, but I asked for her help. She found me something a mere 5 minutes away, much to my relief. However, when I got there, it was a vacant lot. I’m sure it used to be a gas station.

I finally found an old convenience store, parked by the pumps, and ran inside to use the bathroom. (Note a recurring theme? I’m a middle-aged man; what do you expect?) I told the clerk my mission, and he told me where to find the bathroom. I guess the distress was obvious on my face, because it wasn’t a public bathroom; it was only for employees. I didn’t care.

Did my business, filled up the tank, and headed to the airport. The guy at Hertz said, “Everything all right with the car?” I said, “Sure, except for that dent on the back.” He said, “Good thing it already has an inspection sticker on it. That was already there.” That’s right… I’d spent the day worrying about nothing!

Smooth sailing from there, and I made it home Sunday evening. But it was an eventful trip. How was your weekend?

Links To Go (August 18, 2017)

Most Americans Admit They’re Sinners

Two-thirds of Americans (67 percent) say they are sinners, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research. Most people aren’t too happy about it—only 5 percent say they’re fine with being sinners.

Why Self-Control is Deceptive

Godly self-control will also motivate us to live in a manner that brings him glory. Self-control means loving my neighbour more than my television. Self-control helps me attend worship services regularly and invest in the lives of other believers. Self-control helps me listen when my impulse is to react. Because self-control means knowing when to concede greater control of my life to God.

Why Many of Our Churches Are Still One Color

  1. Racism still exists.
  2. There is no intentionality.
  3. The leadership of the church is not diverse.
  4. Many church leaders and members do not know what takes place in their own communities.
  5. There is no planned effort to connect with the community.
  6. The current church members do not intentionally connect more deeply with the diverse members of the community.

Football: America’s Leading False god

I am concerned with how passionate people can become over a game—far more so than they are about the gospel and their service for the Lord. When 7 of the 10 Commandments are frequently broken on an average NFL game—we should take note. Consider the way football changes the lives of so many people throughout America—even those within the church who profess to be children of God.

‘Relig-Un’ puns aside, deity downgrade for North Korea’s Kim is a big story and UK media notice

This is not our usual media-bash since even The Sun does “get it” here: there appears to be evidence that the literal cult-of-personality surrounding the Kim family, where the current ruler’s father and grandfather were quite literally worshipped by the population or else, is showing some cracks.

Trump Is More In Touch Than You Think

Results of the new NPR/PBS Marist poll are pretty surprising for we who have relied on the media to accurately report on the mindset of the country. It’s not that the numbers are good for Trump; they’re not. It’s that it hasn’t been nearly the disaster you would have expected.

On being discovered

Instead of hoping that people will find you, the alternative is to become the sort of person these people will go looking for.

Back to the Basics (Summer blog tour)

Guest post by Ryan Lassiter

Over the next couple of months this blog will be hosting a series of posts by guest bloggers as we again participate in our annual Summer Blog Tour. I hope you follow along, check out each author’s personal blog, and find ways to unshackle your faith. You can download previous blog tours here.

As I think about this summer blog tour theme of “Faith Unshackled”, I have been thinking about what often shackles our faith. And sometimes, I think we have just made it too complicated. It is like we say, “It can’t be that simple!” and then start arguing doctrine, dogma, and Scripture to avoid the obvious.

I have been studying a great deal lately the greatest commandments. There are a few different versions of this in the gospels, but my favorite has become the one recorded in Mark 12. One of the scribes sees that Jesus is a legit teacher, so he asks him the big question. “Which commandment is the first of all?” In other words, what matters the most to God? Most of us know the story. Jesus says something like, “Love God with all you have, and love your neighbor as yourself.” But in Mark’s recording, the scribe gives Jesus a robust “Amen!” “You are right he says!” Then he goes on to repeat back essentially what Jesus has already said and the scribe tacks on, “this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices”. But here is the part I love. After the scribe says this, Jesus says, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Wait? Loving God and loving neighbor puts us in a place where Jesus basically says, “You’re getting it now. You’re getting closer. You’re discovering the way of the kingdom”?! Can that be?!

Overwhelmingly churches (mine included) give a list of core values and beliefs that are something like, “We believe in God, we believe in the Bible, we believe in salvation, we believe in baptism” and on and on. But for some reason, I have never seen a church say, “Our core belief is this: love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Then love your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you are near the kingdom of God.” That seems a bit too simple doesn’t it? Yet, that is more important than all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices. Or, if I might contextualize and paraphrase it a bit, that is more important than all of our “right beliefs”, “sound doctrine”, etc.

Then we have Matthew 25. I have heard multiple sermons and lessons on this text and how it teaches the reality of final judgment, which by the way I affirm. However, do we ever ponder the question, “What does Jesus say puts one on the wrong side?” If we do, the answer isn’t burnt offerings, sacrifices, correct doctrine, worship service attendance, reading the Bible, understanding baptism, etc. (though those are all REALLY important to talk about and do). Rather, the answer is those that gave food and drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, visited the prisoners, visited the sick, and welcomed the strangers. I think it would be fair to put that under the heading of “loving God and loving neighbor”.

So when I think about unshackled faith that lives for Jesus with reckless abandon, I think it is best we get back to the basics. The church has been like the football team that has come up with really great offensive and defensive schemes, but forgot to teach the basics of blocking and tackling.

My prayer is that we could continue the important discussions about doctrine, Scripture, and beliefs, but that we would not neglect the seemingly simple and most important. My prayer is that we would get back to the basics. Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. And by the way, I don’t think you can do one without the other. Maybe the best way to love God is to get back to the basics and go love a neighbor. Maybe then the kingdom of God will come near.

Ryan Lassiter is the husband of Sarah, and father of 3 (almost 4!) beautiful children. He is also the preaching minister at the Hunter Hills Church of Christ in Prattville AL. Prior to that he served as a minster at the Golf Course Road Church of Christ in Midland TX, and he and his wife Sarah have also spent time as missionaries. Ryan graduated with his masters in Missional Leadership from Rochester College and his passion is helping people join God in his mission of redemption and restoration. He blogs at

Trusting Faith (Summer Blog Tour)

Guest post by Scott Elliott

Over the next couple of months this blog will be hosting a series of posts by guest bloggers as we again participate in our annual Summer Blog Tour. I hope you follow along, check out each author’s personal blog, and find ways to unshackle your faith. You can download previous blog tours here.

Words do not stay the same. The definition or influence of a word can change over time. Sometimes they are overused and lose their power. Words that were once quite meaningful can become meaningless. Christianity is a religion that relies on certain words. The Bible is a story, and you cannot tell a story without words. Some of these words are essential to Christianity, and yet Christianity is a religion that has been around for many, many years. Christians have clung to important words while also dealing with an ever-changing world where the meaning of words can change.

Faith is one of the most significant words belonging to Christianity, but what does it mean? Over the years, many have equated it with belief. For these individuals, faith is the same as mental assent, but I believe a careful reading of the Bible will prove this definition to be inadequate. Certainly, belief is an element of faith, but it goes deeper than what a person may hold to be true.

Several times in the Gospel of Mark, faith is contrasted with fear (Mark 5:36). One of the most famous stories where this occurs is when Jesus calms a storm (Mark 4:35-41). You can imagine how frightening it would be to be on a small boat in the middle of a lake during a storm. Your boat could be capsized by the wind and waves. You would be susceptible to lightning strikes. You would essentially be helpless until you could reach shore. This is the situation that the disciples found themselves in. They were scared, and through it all Jesus slept. Finally, they decide to wake him. He calms the storm, and then says, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40).

If faith were merely belief, then fear would have no power over it. It’s possible to believe and at the same time be afraid. Faith is more closely related to trust. When we trust, fear goes away. This is what Jesus was looking for in the boat. The disciples were believers, but they did not have trusting faith. If they would have had faith in Jesus, then they would not have been afraid.

The contrast between faith and fear that Mark provides is helpful in evaluating our level of faith. It might be difficult for some to gauge their commitment to God adequately. We are great at critiquing others and not so great at self-criticism. However, if we think of fear as the opposite of faith, then it is much easier to identify areas where we are afraid. Wherever we find fear, we will likely also find a lack of faith. If we fear the political future of America, then we need to trust that God is sovereign over all. If we fear our neighbors who do not look like us, then we need to seek to love them all the more while trusting that God has created all people in his image. If we fear what will happen to the economy or where our next check will come from, then we need to trust that God will provide.

Radical faith is when we put our trust in God even when the future seems uncertain. We see this in story after story in the Bible beginning with Abraham. What we discover from Scripture is that God is always faithful. It would be difficult to trust in a chair that looks weak and fragile, and that has never been set in by you or someone you know. There would be no reason to trust the chair. However, if you saw a big sturdy chair that always provided a safe and secure seat for anyone who rested in it, then you would have no problem trusting the chair. God gives us every reason to trust him. We can always depend on God.

Scott Elliott is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Austin Graduate School of Theology. He lives in La Grange, TX and is the minister for the La Grange Church of Christ. He is married and has two sons. He enjoys writing about the Christian faith and posting the occasional film review. His articles and reviews have appeared in RELEVANT magazine, Englewood Review of Books, and other publications.

How not to impress me

If you want to try and impress me, don’t try and impress me. The person who comes to me and tells me how rich they are, how educated they are, what amazing insights they have into a given situation, or any other sort of boasting… that person will have to work hard to gain my respect.

A boss can gain my obedience; he’ll not get my loyalty. The self-proclaimed expert may get my attention; he’ll never capture my imagination. Someone who tells me how rich and powerful they are will only make me see how insecure they are.

Doesn’t that line up with things Jesus said? The first shall be last. The servant will be greatest. “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Show me that you are a learner. That you are a servant. That you are secure enough in yourself that you don’t have to tell me how wonderful you are. That you’re willing to wait for others to recognize what you have to offer.

Then I’ll be much more likely to respect and admire you.