Thursday, June 30, 2011

Lessons Learned From Old Testament Israel

We have been taking full advantage of the warm, sunny afternoon/evenings in Northern Indiana over the past couple of weeks. That, coupled with me searching for new secular employment, church meetings, and pastoral responsibilities has greatly limited my time to write. Stay tuned for more to come in the future. I have a lot of thoughts whirling around in this head of mine.

Here are a few thoughts for today....

Sometimes we question the importance of the Old Testament in our lives. Does any of it apply to me today? Yes it does! We must remember that all of scripture is written FOR our benefit. However, not all is written TO us. Obviously, we are no longer required to enact the sacrificial system of the Old Testament times. Jesus was the once-for-all sacrifice for our sins. The Bible teaches us that he fulfilled the law to a jot and a tittle. But, we glean many doctrinal and practical truths from the OT and Israel.

Consider God's relationship with Israel. They were blessed of God when they obeyed the laws and commandments contained in the Mosaic Covenant:

Deuteronomy 28:1 - And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth:

All manner of blessings are contained in the above chapter. It included fertility for the Israelites personally as well as for their herds and crops, and it included the ability to defeat their neighboring enemies and to enjoy peace and prosperity. It also included other material and social blessings, as well as the enjoyment of an close spiritual relationship with God. Likewise, he also assured Israel that judgement would be cursed if they were disobedient:

Deuteronomy 28:15 - But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee:

Moses goes on to list a plethora of disasters that would befall God's chosen nation if they hardened their hearts to the commandments of the Lord. God's 'curse,'  would be barrenness, defeat, oppression, unfruitfulness and many other undesirable conditions. His expectations are clearly outlined in the early books of the Bible and the blessings/consequences are plainly manifest in the above chapter.

This warning was written to Israel of old. But we can see how this promise of blessings or curses is FOR God's people today. He still hearkens unto those that seek to honor Him in obedience. Notice what Paul writes in Hebrews:

Hebrews 11:6 - But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

God blesses those that obediently seek Him. When the regenerate elect turn to the Lord, He is pleased and bestows favor upon them. This characteristic of God permeates scripture. On the other hand, judgement comes when his people are disobedient. I encourage you to read through all of Deuteronomy 28, paying particular attention to the consequences of disobedience. Do we not see much of this in our own society? We were once a nation that feared God and enjoyed His favor. Today, not so much.
As we celebrate the independence of our great nation, let us remember what made us great. A government founded upon the principles of God's word and His people demonstrating a commitment to live their lives as the salt of the earth and lights in this world of sin and sorrow. God is still on His throne. He still blesses those that seek Him. May we learn from the history of Israel of old and strive not to repeat the mistakes that brought judgement upon them.
2 Chronicles 7:14 - If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Church Builders – 2

Keeping it Real

Another attribute of true church growth is genuine actions and godly sincerity. It seems as if much of modern day religion is more about a performance than pleasing God. Some institutions are actually utilizing the services of marketing experts to determine how they can appeal to the broadest variety of people in their community. My friends, this might be desirable if you are offering some type of worldly product or service. But that which is flesh pleasing and performance driven has no place in the New Testament church. Let us explore what scripture emphasizes:

2 Corinthians 1:12 - For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.

The Apostle Paul makes no mention of appealing to man’s flesh or staging elaborate productions in preaching the gospel to the church of Corinth. Notice that he rejoiced that his ministry was tempered with simplicity and godly sincerity. His approach was free of any pretense or hypocrisy. He also preached the sincere truth. In other words, Paul was keeping it real.

Our little congregations have labored throughout history to preserve the simple pattern of the New Testament church and adhere to the doctrine of grace. However, we must vigilantly strive to not make our worship and interactions with others merely a performance. If we are not careful the old flesh will try to usurp the glory that belongs to God. This involves both our ministry and members. Do you view worship as an experience or as a show Consider the following:

  • Undue pressure and 'looks' are directed towards those that disrupt our notion of church worship. Perhaps it is a mother struggling with young children. My wife and I have dealt with well-meaning, but inconsiderate folks in church that have rebuked us because our children were making noise during worship. Such rebukes are also thrown at some who may look different or don't fit into our perception of a proper congregant. This ought not be!

  • Extra emphasis placed on 'special meetings' and traveling to hear 'big preachers'. I enjoy annual/fellowship/associational meetings as well as the next person. But aren't the regularly scheduled meetings equally as important? Perhaps more so. This is the time that the pastor usually digs deep into the word to specifically minister to his flock. Yet, there are some who act like it is torture to go to regular worship. Let a special meeting roll around and they are the most zealous person there. Some think nothing of even forsaking the local assembly to travel to the 'big meetings'. This appeals to our flesh, but it is our spirits that need fed! Our first priority is the local church.

  • The gospel minister must also remember these truths and take care to guard against the flesh. Our job is not that of a church police officer, politician, comedian or public relations guru, but a preacher of the gospel. One who labors in the word and doctrine is indeed worthy of double honor (1 Timothy 5:17). But the laborer should not be actively seeking the accolades and attention of men. This takes away from the glory that rightfully belongs to God. We should strive to study the word, preach the gospel clearly to the best of our ability, and do everything within our power to get self out of the way. I also adjure those in the ministry who have committed themselves to serve as a pastor. Do not allow the local flock to languish and suffer at the expense of your ambitions to travel. Perhaps you are well-intentioned in accepting preaching appointments and many around the country appreciate your gift. But do not drag down the folks back home with your constant absence. If you truly have the burden to travel, give up pastoral responsibilities. It is healthy for us ministers to constantly assess why we do what we do in the church. This too is part of keeping it real. I believe that this is what Paul had in mind when he wrote about simplicity and godly sincerity. I pray that our ministry will heed the instruction of Peter as the gospel is proclaimed.
1 Peter 5:2-4 - Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
Those seeking the truth that visit amongst us can usually perceive whether or not we are sincere in our worship. By default we Primitive Baptists do not attract people that are looking for worldly entertainment. I believe that many are seeking to fellowship with those who sincerely worship the Lord in spirit and truth. May we search our hearts and constantly strive to 'keep it real' in the sense that we do not forget our purpose in gathering together as the Lord's people.
It ain't about the show! It is about humble obedience to the One who saved us!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Church Builders

Enough about the negative!

Once a problem has been identified the best course of action is to turn from an undesirable behavior/attitude to a more edifying one. This is also known as repentance. One of the glorious characteristics of our Lord is that he is forgiving. Don’t take my word for it! Read 2 Chronicles 7:14 and 1 John 1:9. I believe that both of these texts can be safely applied to the church body. In light of this truth, here are some attitudes and actions that lead to scripturally desirable church building.

Let’s just have church!

This is a simple yet profound statement when we consider it context of the gathering together of the Lord’s people. As Primitive Baptists we wave the banner of church simplicity, yet do we always practice what we preach? Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Outwardly, we might dot all of the i’s and cross all of the “t’s” of orthodoxy, but think about some of the inner workings that sometimes complicate things.

First, the glory of God should be the primary focus of corporate worship. Everything else should be checked at the door! I wonder how many times we have quenched the Spirit by dragging our ‘stuff’ into church. There is a time and a place for dealing with the drama that inevitably occurs when people are involved, but Sunday morning is not the place to hash it out. If the church is to be edified, Christ must be the central focus both outwardly and inwardly. Notice the following:

Colossians 1:16-18 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.

This passage emphatically declares that Christ is the head of the church. It also states that he is to have the preeminence in all things. Therefore, he is to be the primary focus of our public assemblies. Anything else is merely a distraction from our goal. Have you ever engaged in or witnessed the following:

  • Been physically present at a worship service yet been mentally disengaged because of some outside unrelated issue (problems at home/work, activities after church, etc.).
  • Attend church and worry about what others think about your physical appearance, dress, and demeanor and get offended because some do not give you the proper amount of attention.
  • Spend the assembly time finding fault in the preacher, building, and others people around you.
These things (and many more) are the inward additions that distract from glorifying the Lord in our worship. Sadly, all of us have likely been guilty of these actions (and others). Ministers can contribute to the problem as well.

  • Using the pulpit to ‘grind an axe’ over a particular doctrine or practical issue. The old timer theologians referred to this as ‘hobby horse’ preaching.
  • Causing the congregation to be distracted by abnormal mannerisms or theatrics.
  • Forgetting to make Christ the center of the gospel message and too much time speaking about personal opinions/experiences.
Lord help us ALL to examine ourselves before we come to His house for worship. If a church is going to prosper, Christ has to be at the forefront of every endeavor. When this attitude prevails, God’s word is more likely to be lovingly upheld. Folks will also be more inclined to love as He loves, forgive and He has forgive us, and zealously share the good news of the full, complete and finished work of our Redeemer. This is how a church experiences true, biblical growth. Paul wrote:

1 Corinthians 2:1-2 And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

This is not a limited subject for God’s people! It is an inexhaustible message of exhortation and encouragement. Let’s just have church the way it was intended. Preach the word, preach about Christ, and preach how we are to love as Christ in our relationships. When you come to church, be ready to listen, learn and apply the word of God to your life and grow from it! This is the foundation in which churches are built upon!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Life Turns on a Dime

This is the lesson that I have been learning over the past several weeks. It started with me being informed that the grant that has funded my position will be ending this summer. Time to polish up the ole resume :-) I have discovered that my experience (and the salary that schools are contractually obligated to provide a person of my experience) is working against me in these tough economic times. I can only imagine what my 40 and 50 something friends are going through as they seek employment to provide for their families. However, my struggles pale in comparison to other situations that some of my friends and acquaintances have been dealing with over the past couple of weeks.

A couple of weeks ago on of my co-workers started experiencing some unexplained headaches and had difficulty putting her words together. This was on a Monday. She worked Tuesday and went to her doctor Wednesday. To make a long story short, after several different tests it was determined that she has an inoperable brain tumor the size of a tennis ball and has been given 2-6 months to live. As far as we know, she did not have any prior symptoms. She is the age of my mother. Please pray for her and the family that will be operating as caregivers in the days to come.

I was also saddened to hear of the sudden passing of a fellow minister last week in an automobile accident. I did not know the brother personally, but have been inspired by the accounts given about others about this man’s ministry and love for the Lord’s people. I hope that I can leave such a legacy when my time on earth is done.

All of these events have served to remind me that life can change quickly. We do not know when we might breathe our last breath. One of the most eloquent statements to this effect can be found in the book of James:

Jam 4:13-15 Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what [shall be] on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.

At best, our life is like a wisp of air. We have 90 to 100 years on this earth at most. Knowing this truth, how are we spending our time? Are we focusing on what is important? How many words have gone unsaid? How many grudges and ill feelings do we harbor? The honest truth is that we should be living every day like it is possibly the last. Our times are ultimately in the Lord’s hands are they not? James believed that!

Today’s lesson is this:

1. Frequently tell your loved ones and friends how much you love them. Better yet, show them by your deeds!

2. Do not harbor grudges! I have counseled several heartbroken folks that neglected to mend fences and later regretted this decision when the other person passed away suddenly. Today is a good day to practice Ephesians 4:32.

3. Constantly assess your priorities. God first, then family/loved ones, and everything else falls into place somewhere behind. When your life is drawing to an end, you won’t be regretting not spending enough time working or playing. You will wish that you had taken advantage of more opportunities to engage in spiritual endeavors or had spent more time with your wife, children, cherished friends and loved ones.

Life indeed turns on a dime. I pray that we will make the most of our time on this earth. We all are not likely to make it out alive unless the Lord returns soon. Whatever the case, may we remember what is important!

Time, what an empty vapor 'tis!
And days, how swift they are!
Swift as an Indian arrow flies,
Or like a shooting star.

The present moments just appear,
Then slide away in haste,
That we can never say, "They're here,"
But only say, "They're past."

Our life is ever on the wing,
And death is ever nigh;
The moment when our lives begin
We all begin to die.

Yet, mighty God! our fleeting days
Thy lasting favors share,
Yet with the bounties of thy grace
Thou load'st the rolling year.

'Tis sovereign mercy finds us food,
And we are clothed with love;
While grace stands pointing out the road
That leads our souls above.

His goodness runs an endless round;
All glory to the Lord!
His mercy never knows a bound,
And be his name adored!

Thus we begin the lasting song;
And when we close our eyes,
Let the next age thy praise prolong,
Till time and nature dies.

The Psalms and Hymns of Isaac Watts, 1806

Have a great week!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Church Killers - 5

Love is just a word until someone comes along and gives it meaning. -Anonymous

In this article we will take a look at another attitude that is extremely destructive to our churches - forgetting our first love. You say, I love everyone in my church. Perhaps you do in word, but when we look at how the Bible defines love we quickly find out that we oftentimes forget this part of our daily walk with the Lord. This is precisely what happened at the church of Ephesus during the time of the writing of the book of Revelation. Notice the text in Revelation chapter 2:

Revelation 2:2-4 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.

Here is a church that would be considered orthodox by Bible standards. They patiently worked and labored in the kingdom of God. They diligently stood for doctrinal truth and were good  judges of the true intentions of men. Yet Jesus had a problem with them because they had left their first love. This was a serious indictment pronounced by the Lord. How exactly did they leave their first love? The text does not specifically say. However, in light of other scriptures we can ascertain the general attitude which the Lord rebuked in this passage and apply it to our current situation.

1 John chapter 4 deals with us loving our brother. Is love merely a word that is arbitrarily used to describe our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? No indeed! This passage deals with us loving our brother as Christ loved us.

1 John 4:19-20 We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?  

Love in this passage is translated from the Greek word, agapao which is aptly defined as a noble affection or concern for others. This attitude was expressly communicated to us (God's children) through Jesus Christ's self-sacrificing actions on the cross for our eternal salvation. Do you see how love extends infinitely beyond mere words and placation?

Here are a couple of scenarios for your consideration:

You are confronted with a new visitor to your church that does not fit the demographic (usually white, middle-aged, middle class) of the majority of others in the congregation. Perhaps they are black and you were raised to have a certain bias against people of color? Would you show them the same love and consideration as other congregants? Maybe some folks visit that are obviously destitute and you automatically assume that they must be lazy and are looking for a handout. Is this biblical love? These are important parts to ponder. Perhaps the church at Ephesus made distinctions between different races and socioeconomic groups, and this is why they were rebuked of the Lord.

Do you accept children as a part of your church? Throughout my time in the church I have been astonished at how some 'respected' members of the church treat children. Unfortunately, I have seen them marginalized and unfairly rebuked because they acted like kids. They should be loved and treated as respectfully as any other part of the congregation. Yes they can be loud. Yes they do make messes and can be rambunctious. So what! They are not only the future of the church, but the present as well. I love Jesus' teaching about children. It will do us well to constantly remember it when we find ourselves losing patience with the little ones around us.

Luke 18:16  But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.

My friends we must put aside our biases and annoyances for the sake of the church. ALL who make up our congregations come with baggage because ALL are sinners. If anyone had the authority and right to give up on others, it was the Lord. Yet he loved us. He still loves his church! Have you left off loving your brothers in sisters in Christ? If so, repent! If this attitude is allowed to continue, our churches will find themselves in the same situation as the church Ephesus of old.

Revelation 2:5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.

Lord help us to follow Christ's example of loving the church, differences and all!

Monday, June 06, 2011

Article Featured in "Faith" Section of the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette

Yesterday the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette published an article that I wrote about our responsibility as fathers. In light of Father's Day I thought it served as a good reminder of what is important in life and am humbled that they decided to print the article.

The editor (not me) took the liberty to give me the title of reverend. IMO, this title belongs to the Lord alone!

Psalms 111:9 - He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name.

I am sure that she added the designation as a sign of respect, but it still makes me cringe :-)

Have a great day!

Friday, June 03, 2011

Don’t Worry, It's Only Grass!

Sometimes we worry and obsess about the craziest things. I admit that somewhere between our move to Northern Indiana and the present, I developed an obsession with our lawn. Perhaps it is because of my rapidly approaching entrance into middle aged adulthood. Maybe it is the sheer awesomeness of the lush Kentucky bluegrass that sucked me in. I don’t know!

I have invested a great deal of time and resources to cultivating the perfect patch of grass around our dwelling. The weeds were removed. Bald areas reseeded. Total warfare has been waged on the dandelions. But to what end? I found myself overly concerned about the kids injuring the grass by trampling on it like a herd of cattle. I was even fretting to Sarah about them sullying up the backyard; their play area!

The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what the grass looks like. It is not that important in the big scheme of things. What are you obsessing about? An immaculate house? Business endeavors? Your appearance? There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these as long as they are placed in proper perspective.

It is far more important to make a few messes if it gives you an opportunity to build lasting memories with your children. Seeking the kingdom of God and edifying relationships with friends/loved ones should be top priority. How often to we get it all wrong. Notice the words of Jesus from Matthew 6:

Mat 6:19-21 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

I remember a father who lost a young child relating his experiences in this realm. He used to constantly scold his son about leaving crayons on the carpet and possibly causing stains. Some time after this the boy tragically drowned in the family pool. The father recalled seeing one of his son’s crayons on the floor. He crushed it under foot and grounded it into the carpet. To this day the stain is still on the floor. The father looks at it as a reminder of what is really important.

Lord help us to constantly assess our own priorities and remember what is really important in life!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Muddying the Waters

Perhaps I am getting more crotchety as I grow older. Whatever the case, I find myself having less patience and time for those who refuse to communicate their thoughts clearly.

Sometimes people will make the comment along the line of, "insert name here is so deep/intellectual that I cannot understand half of what he is talking about." I beg to differ with this opinion! In many instances, the speaker is either not communicating his message in the best manner possible or worse, intentionally trying to confuse his audience for his own personal agenda/gain.

Effective communication is essential for a harmonious marriage, successful career and and is essential to a healthy church environment. How many disagreements, hurt feelings, or misunderstandings could have been avoided if the parties involved would have effectively stated their needs/purposes?

In the realm of communicating our beliefs to others, clear communication is essential and desirable. Those who preach the gospel should always strive to not leave any of his congregates confused about what he believes. Granted, we are not infallible as ministers of the gospel. However, it should be our desire to speak about the doctrine and practical teachings of the Bible with as much clarity as possible. The sheep should never be more confused about a particular topic after the sermon than they were before. This is muddying the waters!

Here are some thoughts for ALL to consider when attempting to communicate with others:
Are you using "insider language" that newcomer might not understand. All my life I have heard ministers refer to dead alien sinners. What image does this conjure in the minds of those new to the faith?

Does this come to mind?

What about the term, Arminian? Several years ago I recall one particular gentleman that was concerned about a Primitive Baptist minister picking on the poor folks living west of Turkey.

Notice the spelling difference :-)

Do you see how folks can be confused? If we are not clear with our definitions, how can we expect God's people to be converted and embrace the truth that we hold dear? Jesus taught the importance of clarity when addressing the confusing language of religious elite of his day.

Matthew 5:37 - But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

This was also the expectation during the Old Testiment times:

Nehemiah 8:8 - So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.

In other words, don't muddy the waters! If a preacher (or any other person) is so deep that you cannot understand the point that he is making, it is not a sign of intellect but poor communication skills. Great communicators do not use their forum to show off or share everything that they know to the point of confusing their audience. They take great pains to make sure that listeners of all ages and ability levels can clearly understand the topic.

We must constantly remind ourselves that we are called to feed the sheep in God's kingdom. If we aim for feeding spiritual giraffes, then we miss the mark. Lord help us to say what we mean and mean what we say.