Some of you are familiar with Country magazine, where they hide an image of a needle somewhere in the pages of each issue for readers to find. Sometimes it is easy to spot, other times not. So let me get this off my chest up front: Like that hidden needle, there is a hidden flaw in this letter to you. I will reveal the flaw at the end, but my guess is that discerning readers will figure it out.
Mr. Richard Ames is famous for asking congregations for a show of hands of how many watched the latest telecast or read the latest magazine. After scanning the audience, he then announces the percentage of the crowd who raised their hands, using an impressive degree of precision, such as 38.4 percent. This usually brings a chuckle from those present, as a guess like this can never be so exact, but, sadly, the figure is often less than what we might hope it would be.
While I rarely ask for a show of hands at services, it is evident to me from conversations before and after services that this is indeed the situation. Many members do not watch the telecast and many do not read our literature. This is a curious phenomenon, as we find that some of these same members are well-versed in the literature of others. And it is evident that the problem is not lack of time, as people today spend loads of time on Facebook, snapchat, twitter, e-mail and/or television.
One must wonder why this is the case. Perhaps our writings are not compelling enough for members to read them or our Tomorrow's World telecasts fail to compete favorably with other options. If that is the case, we sincerely apologize. And please do not think this is a veiled request for compliments, encouraging faithful members to write supportive and encouraging letters. It is not. We know that there is great support and many prayers offered up to God for the telecast, our literature, and for us personally. Instead, this is an attempt to encourage all members to prioritize their lives so that they know the direction God is leading us. After all, either God is working through His servants or He is not!
The Bible is a compilation of historical books, poetry, compelling stories, genealogical records and letters. In the New Testament, we find the Apostles writing personal letters to congregations and individuals. Paul wrote 14 that are included in the New Testament. James, the brother of Christ, wrote a letter so powerful that Martin Luther wished it were not in the Bible. The Apostle Peter wrote two letters, and John wrote three. John also wrote a letter to be passed from one congregation to another in Asia Minor. We can read it in the Book of Revelation, chapters two and three.
In a broader sense, all of Revelation is a letter to the Church of God down through time. This is evident from the first four verses of the book. Verse one tells us it is for the servants of God. In verse four we find John sending the entire book to seven churches (or congregations) in Asia Minor. It is clear that the servants of God—the entire body of Christ—and the seven churches are synonymous. The context shows that the seven churches represent all of God's servants from the first century until Christ returns. John confirms this in verses 6 and 16 of the last chapter.
Some have suggested that the book of Acts is incomplete and that more history will be added to it after Christ returns, to fill in the story of the Church for the last two thousand years. However, this is pure speculation and should probably be labeled wishful thinking.
Regardless, the point is that churches, and individual Christians, had letters written to them, and only later did the Church realize their enduring importance. We know the apostles and others wrote books and letters not preserved as part of the Holy Scripture (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:9; 3 John 9; Jude 14). How could an early Christian discern what would become part of a lasting record, and what would not? Does this mean that other letters, written by these men, were somehow in error? Were they not important at the time? Should we take communications from the Church lightly? Or neglect them?
We often refer to Hebrews 10:25, where Paul admonishes us not to forsake assembling together, as some were doing even back then, especially as we see the return of Christ approaching. Do we know why? Part of the reason is found in the preceding verse: "And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works" (v. 24). This is one reason we attend services, even if the sermon is not "live." Verses 23 and 26 give further context. There is a danger of drifting away from our baptismal confession. We must remain faithful over the long haul, for it is possible to drift away and sin willfully, thus losing everything!
Jesus made a powerful statement in the Parable of the Sower that applies to all of us, especially those of us who have accepted His way of life. He gives four categories of seeds that are sown. The fact that you are reading this probably indicates that the category you should be most concerned about involves the seeds that fall among thorns. "Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful" (Matthew 13:22).
Has there ever been a more distracting age than the one in which we live? Too many—even of our brethren—are wrapped up in this world and tangled in its weeds. They (we) need to come to grips with what is happening and repent! My recent Tomorrow's World article "Tame the Social Media Monster" is important in this regard. When some of the very founders of social media are alarmed, we ought to take warning. They do not understand what we do about the ruler of this world, but they see danger (Ephesians 2:1–2; 2 Corinthians 4:3–4). Do we (Proverbs 22:3)?
Dr. Meredith's series on the Protestant Reformation is a major statement on religion that needs our attention. It shows in a profound way why the Bible refers to the Protestant churches as it does in Revelation 17:5. You may not remember all the details, but you will get the point! I personally came out of Protestantism and at one time thought that I was better than my Roman Catholic friends. This indicated a lack of understanding that I have long since overcome. Nevertheless, there is much that I did not know about the history of this movement.
It is important for all members to keep up to date with trends in the world, with why we believe what we do, and with encouragement to hold fast to the truth (Luke 21:36). Many members in the Worldwide Church, a church that many of us were once a part of, were not reading what that church was publishing. I was shocked at how few questions were asked when the God Is… booklet came out, teaching multiple heresies. I was equally shocked when leaders in that organization claimed that Mark 7 abolished the laws of clean and unclean meats, and how many members fell for that lie. Repetition of the truth is important, lest the weeds obscure and choke off our understanding. It is more important to read the Bible itself, but keeping up with Church publications is also vital to our salvation in an era full of distractions. They remind us of biblical doctrines, warn of current dangers in a corrupt age, and encourage us to hold fast to the truth.
I mentioned at the start of this letter that there is a flaw in it. Do you see it? It is, very simply, the fact that those who need this advice the most may never actually read it!