Singing, Making Music, and Dancing

Oh, sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord, all the earth! (Psalm 96:1, N.K.J.V.)

Question: “How many years have to pass before a Baptist church sings a new song?” Answer: “It’s a trick question; Baptists never sing new songs.” Okay, okay, I’ll admit that’s an exaggeration. Even the songs we Baptists do sing had to be new at some point, right? That’s the thing about music — it’s all contemporary when it is first written, whether that happens in 1821 or 2021.

We read the Psalms as if we are reading poetry, but in reality they were songs. That’s why the book of Psalms has been called “Israel’s hymn book.” There is no heading over Psalm 96 to tell us precisely who wrote it, but our best guess is that the author was David. Many scholars and commentators belief that he wrote it as part of a collection of songs he wrote to commemorate the Ark of the Covenant being brought into Jerusalem (1 Chronicles chapters 15 and 16).

From ancient times, singing has been used as a prime means by which to praise God. According to the Biblical record, the playing of the harp and the flute — and presumably the creating of those instruments — goes all the way back to a man named Jubal. He was one of Cain’s descendants and is said to have been “the father of all those who play the harp and flute” (Genesis 4:21, N.K.J.V.). But the first actual song, complete with words and singing, that is mentioned in scripture doesn’t crop up until Exodus chapter 15. The Israelites have just crossed over the Red Sea on dry ground and watched as God has drowned Egypt’s army in that same sea. It is then that the men and women of Israel break out into that song.

The bulk of the first section of that 15th chapter of Exodus features Moses leading the Israelites in the singing of the words that are recorded in verses 1-18. Then, in verses 20 and 21, Moses’ sister Miriam and all the other women play their timbrels as Miriam sings her response to Moses’ song. That response is: “Sing to the Lord, For He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!” I should also mention that Miriam and those other woman also dance about as a part of the celebration.

Singing a new song? Playing musical instruments? Dancing unto the Lord? My goodness, it kind of makes us wonder what heaven will be like! Along those lines, I think about Christ’s story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). In that story, when the younger son returns home from sowing his wild oats in the far country, the father throws a great celebration for him. When the older son comes in from working in the field, he hears that celebration taking place. And do you know what the Bible specifically says that he hears? He hears “music and dancing” (Luke 15:25, N.K.J.V.).

Now let me tell you what that little detail has to do with heaven. According to the symbolism of that story, the father represents God the Father and the father’s house represents heaven. By putting everything together, we can conclude that heaven is a place where music (and surely that includes singing) and dancing can be heard. Revelation 5:8-13 confirms all this, as it says that the 24 elders (who represent the entirety of the church) will each have a harp in heaven and will sing the following new song to Jesus:

You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For you were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue. And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10, N.K.J.V.).

Christian, your proper response to all this is to do your best to get in practice for it here on earth. Can you singing the classic hymns of the faith be a part of that practicing? Sure. But you should also sing some new songs as evidence that God isn’t forevermore trapped in the past. As for playing musical instruments and dancing, well, if you are like me, you’ll probably have to get to heaven before you start up with all that. As a matter of fact, now that I think about it, whenever I’m handed that harp in heaven, somebody had better also teach me how to play it. Hopefully, my musical abilities will be brought up to par in glory, but they sure do leave a lot to be desired right now.

Posted in Church, Eternity, Heaven, Music, Praise, Talents, Worship | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lord Opened Lydia’s Heart

Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. (Acts 16:14, N.K.J.V.)

Roman emperors organized colonies/cities at strategic sites throughout the sprawling empire and ordered selected Roman citizens, especially retired military personnel, to live in these places. This was done in order to ensure that there were strong Roman settlements strategically dotting the map of the empire. As a reward for leaving their homes in Italy and settling down in these foreign lands, Roman citizens were granted certain privileges. In particular, they were made exempt from having to pay taxes.

The city of Philippi, which was located in the Roman colony of Macedonia in Greece, was one of these cities. As such, everyone who lived there was expected to be loyal to Rome. That meant obeying Roman laws and giving honor to the Roman emperor. Paul, Silas, Luke, and Timothy visited Philippi as part of what we now call Paul’s second missionary journey. The historical significance of this group coming to Philippi is that this was the gospel’s initial entrance into Europe. It was also Paul being true to “the Macedonian Call” vision he had recently experienced (Acts 16:6-10).

Paul’s usual method for beginning his evangelism in a city was to go to the city’s synagogue on the Sabbath and share the gospel with the Jews in attendance. In Gentile cities such as Philippi, however, there wasn’t a synagogue because Jewish custom required at least ten Jewish men to organize one. That meant that Paul and his group had to find another way to begin sharing the gospel at Philippi.

Somehow they learned that some of Philippi’s citizens regularly offered up prayers at a certain spot on the riverbank just outside the city. When Paul, Silas, Luke, and Timothy arrived at the site on the Sabbath day, they found a group of women meeting there and struck up a conversation with them (Acts 16:13). A woman named Lydia, who was originally from the city of Thyatira but now lived in Philippi, was one of that group. Since Philippi was the leading city of that part of Macedonia, she made a good living there by selling the expensive dyed purple cloth that her home city of Thyatira was famous for producing.

Luke (the writer of the book of Acts) says that Lydia, a Gentile, “worshiped God.” Evidently, that group of women who met to pray at the riverbank was a mixture of Jewish women and Gentile converts to Judaism. Why else would they have met for prayer each Sabbath day?

We might say that these women were doing the best they could to serve God by way of the limited spiritual light they had. Presumably, the Jewish women in the group knew the Old Testament, and we can logically assume that they had taught what they knew to Lydia and the other Gentile converts to Judaism. But none of the women knew anything about Christ’s life, death, burial, and resurrection. Those events had happened in another part of the empire, and the news hadn’t reached Philippi yet even though some twenty years had now passed. Therefore, what those women needed most was someone to tell them the story of Jesus. That’s where Paul, Silas, Luke, and Timothy entered into the picture.

You see, each of those women was an example of a worshiper/seeker. A worshiper/seeker was someone who was right with God as far as their revelation of Him had taken them. Such people did the best they could in obeying the limited spiritual light they had, but someone had to share the gospel of Christ with them if they were going to become all that God wanted them to be.

The book of Acts features several examples of such worshipers/seekers. The Ethiopian eunuch whom Philip led to Christ was such a person (Acts 8:26-39). The Bible says that he had come to Jerusalem to worship. Cornelius, a Gentile from Caesarea whom Peter led to Christ, was another such man (Acts 10:1-8). The Bible describes him as a devout man who feared God, prayed to God always, and gave alms generously to people. Apollos, an Alexandrian man who was learned in theology ranging from the Old Testament scriptures to the baptizing that John the Baptist had done, was another such man (Acts 18:24-28). It was the husband-and-wife team of Aquila and Priscilla who took him aside, explained the gospel to him, and led him to Christ.

As for Lydia, the Bible says that she worshiped God even before Paul and his group hit town (Acts 16:14). The capital “G” in the passage’s use of the word “God” clearly shows that she worshiped the true and living God (the God of Judaism, the God of the Old Testament). So, even though she was a Gentile, she had the right God. What she needed to hear was the story of how that God had left heaven, lived 33+ sinless years on the earth, died on a cross for the sins of the human race, and resurrected.

A good question to ask is, “If the Ethiopian eunuch, Cornelius, Apollos, Lydia, and those other women in Philippi had died before hearing about Jesus and having a chance to believe in Him, would they have gone into the afterlife as saved people?” Frankly, that answer takes us into some hazy territory spiritually. I suppose a case could be made for either answering “Yes” or “No” to the question, and I’m more than happy to leave the verdict to God. Fortunately, in each of these instances, the individuals did receive the help they needed to move from being a sincere but ill-informed worshiper/seeker to being a full-fledged born-again Christian.

What I will say is that Lydia, like those other worshipers/seekers in Acts, wasn’t stubbornly refusing to believe in Jesus as Savior. To the contrary, like them, her sincere desire to know God and to worship God had her primed and ready to embrace Jesus as Savior as soon as she heard about Him. When Acts 16:14 says the Lord opened her heart, it’s not like He had to march right over the top of her freewill and take her from one extreme — being dead set against Jesus — to the other extreme — believing in Him as Savior. That’s why Lydia can’t be presented as a piece of slam-dunk evidence to support Calvinism’s doctrine of unconditional election in regards to salvation.

As a matter of fact, the same Greek word (dianoigo) that is translated as “opened” in Acts 16:14 is used in Luke 24:45 in reference to how Jesus opened the understanding of His apostles in order that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Those men, significantly, were already saved when Jesus did that opening. That might mean that Lydia was already saved when the Lord opened her heart to a fuller understanding of salvation. If she was, her salvation would be placed in the same category as that of the Old Testament era believers who were saved apart from a full knowledge of Jesus.

Whatever the exact details of Lydia’s salvation experience were, we do know that she beautifully evidenced her salvation in the wake of responding to Paul’s presentation of the gospel. For one thing, she got baptized. For another, her entire household got baptized. (Perhaps that refers to her family, but some commentators suggest that it refers to her household servants). For yet another, she insisted that Paul, Silas, Luke, and Timothy stay at her house while they were in Philippi.

Another thing we know is that the church of Philippi sprang from those humble beginnings of Paul and his group meeting with those woman at that riverbank. That church, for the record, was one of the best of the early churches. It was definitely one of Paul’s favorites, as even a casual reading of the book of Philippians will attest. And just think, that church’s roots could be traced back to a conversation that Paul, Silas, Luke, and Timothy had one Saturday with a group of women who had met on a riverbank to pray. It just goes to show that great things can come from small beginnings. All it takes are people who are hungering and thirsting to worship God and do His will, and a God who will open hearts to bring those people into the fullest possible revelation of Him and what He wants to do in their lives.

Posted in Calvinism, Evangelism, God's Work, Missions, Salvation, The Heart, Witnessing, Worship | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Women & Spiritual Discernment

If you come to me and say in a nice way, “Russell, sometimes you have a problem with your temper,” you will be telling me the truth. (My wife and sons will vouch for that.) You will also, in a sense, be doing me a favor. It is a favor because you will be telling me the truth about a deficiency in myself, and once I see that area as a deficiency, hopefully I can improve on it.

With this in mind, I want to tell you ladies the truth about a deficiency that is commonly found in your gender. It is a deficiency in the area of spiritual discernment. You say, “Russell, what makes you think that your opinion on womanhood is all that important anyway?” Well, I don’t think that my opinion is all that important. But God’s opinion is important, and the reason why I say that women tend to be weaker than men in the area of spiritual discernment is because three passages in God’s word indicate it.

The first passage is 1 Timothy 2:11-14, where Paul says:

Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. (N.K.J.V.)

These words deal with a woman’s role in the church service, and Paul is very clear that her role is to be different than the man’s. It should be understood, of course, that the churches of Paul’s day did not have Sunday School classes, choirs, committees, or business meetings. That makes comparing the way we do church to the way they did church almost like comparing apples to oranges. Nevertheless, the point Paul is making is an important one. The God-inspired reason for limiting the woman’s role in the church service goes back to the fact that it was Eve, not Adam, who was deceived by Satan (who was inside the serpent) in the Garden of Eden.

We might ask, “If Adam wasn’t deceived by Satan, why did he eat the fruit?” The truth is, no one can say for sure. But one thing we can say for sure is that it was Eve (the woman) who was deceived, not Adam (the man). I don’t even think we stretch things too far to say that Satan approached Eve with the temptation because he knew that he had a better shot with her than he did with Adam.

The second passage is 2 Timothy 3:1-6, where Paul says:

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts…(N.K.J.V.)

We see here that Paul specifically singles out the women for a direct word of warning about letting spiritual charlatans into the home. Does this mean that men never come under the spell of religious charlatans? No, it doesn’t. Let us admit, though, that this passage provides us with a highly specific word about how easily women can be duped by sinful people.

The third passage takes us to the little epistle of 2 John. The opening words of that one-chapter book say:

The ELDER, To the elect lady and her children…(N.K.J.V.)

“The ELDER” is the title the apostle John, the man who wrote this short letter, gave to himself. But who is “the elect lady” to whom he wrote? She was a Christian woman who had children. By studying the entirety of the letter, we learn that this woman had gotten herself into sin by opening up her home to anyone who knocked on her door, claimed to be a God-called teacher of the word, and asked for lodging.

A little context here will help. Inns were scarce in those days, and we wouldn’t even call most of them inns according to our modern definition of the word. They were little more than animal shelters where you could house your animal in a stall, throw down your bed roll, and make camp for a night. Such “inns” were typically crowded, dirty, flea-infested, and overpriced.

Because of this a great need arose for Christian hospitality. When a traveling Christian would come into a town, he or she would oftentimes stay in the home of a fellow Christian. That is how the apostles usually operated as they moved about from place to place.

The problem with this woman was that she wasn’t showing any spiritual discernment in regards to who she was allowing to stay in her home. False teachers had been knocking on her door, and she had been giving them food and shelter. In doing so, she had been, as John says in verse 11, sharing in their evil deeds. You see, it is highly significant that the book of 2 John, which is probably the only book in the Bible to be written specifically to a woman, holds within it a rebuke for the woman’s lack of spiritual discernment. That rebuke is found in verses 10-11 of the book, where John says to her:

If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds. (N.K.J.V.)

So, the teaching found in all three of these references is that women, generally speaking, can oftentimes have problems in situations where spiritual discernment is required. Men can as well, for that matter, but these passages deal exclusively with women. I trust that these references are enough to make the point I’m trying to make in this post, but I can also cite what the Bible teaches about leadership in the home, the church, and the nation. Here goes.

First, the Bible teaches that the husbands (the men) should be the leaders of the homes. We find this is Colossians 3:18, 1 Corinthians 11:3, Genesis 3:16, and Ephesians 5:22-24, which says:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord, For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. (N.K.J.V.)

Second, the Bible teaches that the men should be the leaders in the churches. This is the plain teaching of 1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9, Acts 6:1-7, 1 Corinthians 11:1-16, and 1 Timothy 2:11-14. Another passage is 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, which says:

Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is shameful for women to speak in church. (N.K.J.V.)

Third, the Bible teaches that the men should be the leaders of the nation. A good passage here is Isaiah 3:11-12. In those verses, God is describing the time of national judgment that He is going to bring upon the people of Judah because of their sins. And would you believe that bringing the people to the lowly state of having children and women serve as their rulers is listed as a part of that judgment? God says:

Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him, For the reward of his hands shall be given him. As for My people, children are their oppressors, And women rule over them. O my people! Those who lead you cause you to err, And destroy the way of your paths. (N.K.J.V.)    

As for additional passages that teach that men should serve as national rulers, I could pretty much list the entire Old Testament. I say that because the Old Testament is dominated by kings, not queens. This applies especially to Israel, the nation God chose for Himself in Old Testament times. The book of Proverbs, in particular, has many passages that speak of how God expects kings to conduct themselves.

Of course, there is so much more than could be said about the men being the leaders in the homes, the churches, and the nation. For example, when God established Israel’s order of priests in the Old Testament, He deemed that only males could serve as priests. Also, when Jesus chose His twelve apostles, He chose twelve men. Hopefully, though, I’ve said enough to prove the case. Again ladies, I’m not trying to hurt your feelings or make you mad. All I’m trying to do is take the Bible and show you a potential trouble spot in your life and teach you what it has to do with you serving in leadership positions in the home, the church, and the nation. As for how you accept it and what you do with it, well, I guess I’ll just have to leave that between you and God.

Posted in Church, Deacons, Discernment, Family, Fatherhood, God's Will, God's Word, God's Work, Headship, Husbands, Leadership, Marriage, Motherhood, Pastors, Politics, Preaching, Service, Submission, Uncategorized, Wives, Worship | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Do You Really Believe All of It?

But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets. (Acts 24:14, N.K.J.V.)

As part of his defense before the Roman governor Felix, Paul unashamedly proclaimed that he believed all the things that were written in the Law and in the Prophets. This meant that he believed everything written in the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), and it also meant that he believed everything that was written in the books from the various prophets of the Old Testament era. Even more than that, since the term “The Law and the Prophets” can be used to refer to the entirety of the Old Testament (Matthew 7:12), Paul believed everything written in the “wisdom” books (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon) too.

And just what is it that believing all of the Old Testament entails? Oh, not much. You just have to believe a whole bunch of things that a whole bunch of people call utterly unbelievable. Here is a list of 20 such things to get you started:

  • God created all of creation in six 24-hour days (days with an evening and a morning).
  • Adam and Eve were real people who ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.
  • God once flooded the entire earth with water that covered the highest mountain peaks worldwide.
  • God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone because of the rampant homosexuality that was pervasive in those cities.
  • God spoke to Moses out of a burning bush.
  • God struck Egypt with ten devastating plagues.
  • God parted the waters of the Red Sea so the Israelites could walk through on dry ground.
  • God made a donkey talk to the prophet Balaam.
  • God parted the waters of the Jordan River so the Israelites could walk through on dry ground.
  • God made the sun stand still for Joshua.
  • Samson killed 1,000 Philistines in one day using only the jawbone of a donkey as a weapon.
  • David killed a giant named Goliath, who was almost ten-feet tall.
  • At the word of the prophet Elijah, it didn’t rain in Israel for three-and-a-half years.
  • Elijah didn’t physically die but was instead taken up into heaven by way of a chariot of fire.
  • The prophet Elisha raised the son of a Shunamite woman from the dead.
  • The Angel of the Lord killed 185,000 soldiers in one night as they slept.
  • The prophet Daniel survived being cast into a den of ravenous lions.
  • Daniel’s three friends (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) survived being cast into a fiery furnace.
  • The story of Jonah is literally true, even the part about him living inside the belly of the great fish/whale/sea monster.
  • All the prophecies from the Old Testament prophets about a coming Messianic kingdom upon the earth will one day come to pass.

The fact is that scientists who dogmatically hold to the theory of evolution can’t get past the first item on that list. Liberal preachers who think the story of the Garden of Eden is some type of mythical allegory can’t get past the second item. Archaeologists who think the flood of Noah was merely a localized catastrophe can’t get past the third item. Anyone who thinks that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle in the eyes of God can’t get past the fourth item. Agnostics can’t get past the fifth item. You get the idea. Just name your Old Testament story, and there’s someone out there who doesn’t believe it as written.

This is to say nothing, of course, of believing the entirety of the New Testament as well. Certain academic types question that Jesus ever lived, let alone that He performed miracles, died on the cross for the sins of the world, and arose from the dead. Liberal theologians doubt the virgin birth. Feminists don’t believe all those passages in which Paul says that the wife should be submitted to the husband. Pacifists don’t believe Romans 13:1-5, a text that describes where capital punishment fits into God’s plan for government. Racists don’t believe all the verses that say that God is no respecter of persons and shows no partiality. Satanists don’t believe Revelation 20:10, which promises that Satan will spend eternity in the lake of fire. Atheists don’t believe the passages that describe heaven and hell. Legalists don’t believe that salvation comes simply by grace through faith in Jesus. Women preachers don’t believe 1 Timothy 2:11-15, 1 Timothy 3:1-7, and Titus 1:5-9, three passages that plainly teach that only men should serve as pastors.

How sad it is that so many people attempt to treat the Bible like a buffet line at a restaurant. They pick and choose the stuff they like, what they can accept as being believable truth, and then refuse to accept the rest of the book as being of the same ilk. Speaking as a preacher, I can’t imagine operating that way. If I had to figure out which passages I was going to believe and which ones I wasn’t, I’d just quit preaching altogether. Like Paul said in his day about the Old Testament, I believe all the things that are written in the book. Show me a preacher who doesn’t, and I’ll show you a man who should quit the ministry. For that matter, show me a supposed Christian who doesn’t, and I’ll show you a person who has good reason to doubt that he or she is even saved at all.

Posted in Atheism, Capital Punishment, Christ's Second Coming, Christ's Birth, Christ's Death, Christ's Miracles, Christ's Resurrection, Christ's Return, Creation, Favoritism, Government, Grace, Headship, Heaven, Hell, Homosexuality, Husbands, Ministry, Pastors, Preaching, Prophecy, Salvation, Satan, Scripture, Submission, The Bible, The Devil, The Old Testament Law, Truth, Virgin Birth, Wives | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

When Church Work Becomes a Burden

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, N.K.J.V.)

To rightly understand what Jesus is saying here, you have to know what a yoke is. For starters, it has nothing to do with the inside of an egg. That is a yolk (y-o-l-k); this is a yoke (y-o-k-e). A yoke is a harness device that binds two animals (usually two oxen) together for the purpose of working. Basically, it’s a wooden board that sits across the necks of the two animals. The board has two u-shaped harnesses that hang down from each side of its bottom. One animal’s head goes into one of the harnesses, and the other animal’s head goes into the other. The amazing thing about this illustration is that Jesus speaks of Himself as being one of the oxen in the yoke. He is saying, “I have My head in one of the harnesses and am ready to do My part of the work.”

Obviously, being in a yoke is a very humble and lowly position because a yoke certainly isn’t a device for showcasing an animal. To see an animal in a yoke is almost to hear that animal say, “I am submitted to another. I am broken. I don’t do my own bidding. I do the bidding of another.” This causes us to ask, “Who is Jesus submitted to? Whose bidding does He do? Who owns the yoke in which He has placed Himself?” The answer to all of these questions is: God the Father.

So, the players involved in the symbolism of Jesus’ illustration aren’t hard to identify. First, God the Father is the farmer who has work that He wants done, work that requires that two be yoked together. Second, Jesus, God the Son, has already taken His place inside God the Father’s yoke, which means that He has already submitted to do the work of God the Father. Third, Jesus extends the invitation to each of us to join Him inside that yoke.

Any individual who voluntarily becomes the other half of that yoke is saying, “I am now dead to my own work, goals, aspirations, ideas, plans, schemes, and priorities, and I am now going to do God the Father’s will and work.” And, amazingly, Jesus promises that doing God the Father’s will and work will actually allow the individual to find rest for the soul and a burden that is light. Admittedly, this whole deal seems paradoxical, but if Jesus said it, we ought to believe it.

But can we just admit something? Can we admit that understanding this illustration raises a certain question in the minds of a lot of church workers? That question is: “If I am in yoke with Jesus, and if that yoke is supposed to bring rest to my soul and make my burden light, why do I feel like I’m about to either fly apart from stress or just drop to the floor from exhaustion?”

This disconnect between what Jesus promised and what many church workers experience is the result of too much “busyness” in regards to church work. I know this for a fact because this “busyness” is part and parcel to my job. I’ve been a pastor for 28 years now, and that means that I’ve been there for all the Sunday morning services, the Sunday night services, and the Wednesday night services. I’ve taught my share of Sunday School classes. I’ve sat in on the meetings of: the deacon board, the youth committee, the budget and finance committee, the building and grounds committee, the kitchen committee, the nominating committee, etc.

I’ve stayed for choir practice at the close of many a Sunday night service or a Wednesday night service. I’ve gone with youth groups on youth trips and senior citizens on senior-citizen trips. I’ve been there for the youth pizza parties, the Fall Festival/Halleluiah (Halloween) parties, and the youth lock-ins. I’ve worked in helping decorate the church for Bible school. I’ve gotten up between 4:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. every Easter Sunday morning so that I could not only lead the Sunrise Service but also help with the fellowship breakfast that followed the service.

I’ve attended the Thanksgiving and Christmas fellowship meals. I’ve attended the Christmas Eve services. I’ve attended the Valentine’s Day spaghetti suppers, the “poor-man’s supper” fundraising meals, and the potluck fellowship meals. I’ve not only attended but also scheduled the singings and the revival services. I’ve worked in the Brotherhood work days. I’ve written the bulletin and had my wife Tonya run off the copies of it. I’ve decorated the Christmas trees in the sanctuary, and I’ve taken the decorations off the Christmas trees in the sanctuary.

With all this in mind, I trust that you will understand when I say that there have been times when I have actually dreaded going to church. I will never forget one Sunday afternoon, some 15 or so years ago now. Royce, my son who didn’t come with a built-in filter for his mouth, was around 5 years old, and he was having a grand old time playing in his bedroom floor. He had some of his toys out and was in his own little world playing with them. As I stood in the doorway to his room, about to tell him it was time to get ready for Sunday night service, I couldn’t help but feel sad that I had to interrupt that perfect little scene of a five-year-old playing in his bedroom. But I had to do my job as a daddy/pastor, and so I looked at the little fellow and said, “Royce, you are going to have to start getting ready for church tonight.” And how did he respond to that? With all the perfectly innocent and blameless honesty that a little boy could muster, he said, “Oh, NOT AGAIN!!!” As for how I responded to his response, I couldn’t help but laugh and think, “I’m with you, son. I’m with you.”

Yes, I really do understand why I’ve had some faithful church workers come up to me over the years and say, “I’m fried. I’ve got to have a break. I’m going to step down from church work for a while.” In most of those instances, rather than get upset at those people, what I wanted to say to them was, “Can I go with you? I need a break too.”

So, as the close to this post, let me offer at least one answer to the question, “If Christ’s yoke being easy and His burden being light doesn’t mean that you (as a church worker) will never experience any fatigue or frustrations in doing the work, what exactly does it mean?” Well, among other things, it means that you don’t have to come up with all the answers. You see, when you are genuinely dead to self and seeking only to do God the Father’s will and work, that takes the pressure off of you because all you have to do is listen to the Lord and do whatever He tells you to do.

In this way, you making that one decision to fully surrender and get in yoke with Jesus takes care of all your other decisions. You can rest in the fact that God is incapable of making a mistake. You can rest in the fact that He knows the future. You can rest in the fact that He knows more about you and your situation than you do. You can rest in the fact that He knows what He wants to do in you, for you, and through you. And you can rest in the fact that He knows your needs before you even realize they are needs. Even if one of those needs involves you stepping down from some church work, He will not only burden you to do that but give you an undeniable peace about doing it. Just don’t expect your pastor to be thrilled when you inform him of your decision. Remember, no church has an ample supply of willing workers, and he probably needs a break himself.

Posted in Christmas, Christmas Traditions, Church, Church Attendance, Deacons, Easter, Easter Traditions, Elderly, God's Work, Ministry, Personal, Service, Sunday School, Trusting In God | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Worship Is Both an Act and a Lifestyle

Famed radio announcer Ted Malone hosted an early-morning radio show. One day he received a note that had been written by a sheepherder in Idaho. The note said, “Will you, on your broadcast, strike the note ‘A’? I’m a sheepherder way out here on a ranch, far away from a piano. The only comfort I have is my old violin. It’s all out of tune. Would you strike ‘A’ so that I might get in tune?” Malone honored the request and later received a “thank you” note from that sheepherder. The note said, “Now I’m in tune.”

Do you know what it is that keeps you in tune with God? It is something called worship. True worship is not playing church. It is not going through the formal motions of religion. It is not praying a “canned” prayer that is filled with old clichés and worn-out lines. It is not begrudgingly dropping a few bucks into an offering plate. It is not enduring a sermon while you think about what you are going to do after church. It is not listening to a choir special or a solo and picking apart the quality of the singing or the playing. It is not robotically mouthing the words to a hymn while you inwardly yawn. It is not reading your Bible with one eye on the page and the other eye on the television, the cell phone, or the computer screen. It is not resisting the temptation to commit some sin simply because you are afraid that you will get caught if you commit it. Actually, true worship is both an act and a lifestyle.

An act of worship is an singular deed that ascribes praise, honor, and obedience to God. It is church done in the right way. It is a prayer prayed the way a prayer should be prayed. It is cheerfully making a monetary contribution to the Lord’s earthly work. It is mentally interacting with a sermon in a manner that allows you to hear God speaking through the text and the preacher. It is doing the same with a choir special or a solo. It is singing a hymn from the heart, focusing especially on the words you are singing, and not worrying about how you sound doing it. It is reading your Bible with a attentive focus worthy of reading the written word of God. It is resisting the temptation to commit a sin, not because you fear getting caught but because you don’t want to disappoint God.

On the other hand, true worship is also a lifestyle. As someone has said, it is going where God says go, being what God says be, doing what God says do, and giving what God says give. It is to serve God by means of whatever you happen to be doing at any given time. In this way, you turn everything you do — even those acts that we don’t normally think of as worship — into a spiritual exercise.

This lifestyle of worship is what Paul had in mind when he said, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31), “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17). Paul’s words remind me of that old illustration about the woman who had a little sign that hung on the wall in front of the sink in which she washed her dishes. The sign read: “Divine service rendered here three times a day.” Going back to my opening illustration about that sheepherder, to live out such a lifestyle is to bring your entire life into tune with God’s key.

It has often been noted that the term “worship” is akin to the term “worth-ship.” To worship someone or something is to see that person or that thing as being “worthy.” I especially like the idea that to worship is to classify that person or thing as being “worth it” to the ultimate degree.

Christian, it should be your life’s pursuit to see God as being “worth it” in regards to giving Him your obedience, your devotion, your passion, your time, your energy, your talents, etc. Just start right where you are by performing a singular act of worship to Him, and then keep stringing those singular acts together until you have developed a lifestyle of worship. According to Jesus, God is seeking people who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). I guess the only question, then, that is left to be asked is, “Will you and I be such people?”

Posted in Commitment, Discipleship, Faithfulness, Obedience, Priorities, Sanctification, Service, Spiritual Gifts, Submission, Talents, Worship | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Be an Andrew

The apostle Andrew was the brother of the apostle Peter. Being the brother of a frontrunner like Peter automatically consigned Andrew to a lesser status in terms of history. That does not mean, however, that his service to Christ was lacking. Much to the contrary, Andrew is famous in his own right for one thing in particular. Do you know what it was? Whenever the gospels talk about him, he is usually bringing someone to Jesus.

Scripturally speaking, Andrew’s story begins with the events of John 1:29-42. There we learn that he was a disciple of John the Baptist. Presumably, he was an eyewitness to John the Baptist baptizing Jesus and calling Jesus, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29-34). The next day Andrew and an unnamed disciple of John the Baptist — the unnamed disciple was probably John, the modest writer of the gospel — listened to Jesus speak and followed Him when He walked away from the scene (1:35-37). At some point, Jesus turned around and asked them, “What do you seek?” to which they answered, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Jesus’ answer was simply, “Come and see.” John tells us it was 10:00 a.m. when Jesus extended that invitation to Andrew and John, and the three spent the rest of that day together (1:38-39).

Sometime shortly after all that, the Bible says that Andrew brought his brother Peter to Jesus. John 1:41-42 says:

He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah (which is translated, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas” (which is translated, A Stone). (N.K.J.V.)

The second instance of Andrew bringing someone to Jesus is found in John 6:1-14. That’s John’s account of Jesus using a young lad’s lunch of five barley loaves and two small fish to feed 5,000 men and an unreported number of women and children. Who was it that brought that young lad to Jesus? You guessed it. It was Andrew. John 6:8-9 says:

One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” (N.K.J.V.)

The third instance of Andrew bringing someone to Jesus is found in John 12:20-26. In that story, a certain group of Greeks approach the apostle Philip and ask for an audience with Jesus. Rather than take the request straight to Jesus, Philip tells Andrew about it because, evidently, he wants to get a second opinion on the matter. Andrew and Philip then go together and present the request to Jesus. As John 12:22 says:

Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus. (N.K.J.V.)

Concerning Andrew, M.R. DeHaan, that famous preacher of another day, said this:

He was not known for his oratory, his literary ability, his unusual personality or popularity. He had no degrees that we know of. He could not sway a crowd, but he could convince a soul. He never wrote a book, but in the Book of Life are the names of precious souls brought to Jesus by Andrew. Give us a few more soul winners like Andrew and we can begin praising God for revival instead of praying for it.

I ask you, Christian, how much “Andrew” do you have about it? Do you bring others to Jesus? Do you point others toward Him? Like M.R. DeHaan said, you don’t have to have a great oratory ability or literary ability to do it. You don’t need an unusual personality that makes you wildly popular. Neither having a seminary degree or being able to sway a crowd is a requirement. If you know the basics of the plan of salvation, if you have a personal testimony, if you are willing to make an effort, Jesus can use you to bring others to Him. Even if you think of your evangelistic abilities as being as small as that young lad’s lunch, Jesus can use you to bless thousands if you will give those abilities to Him and say, “Here I am, Lord. Use me.” Perhaps you’ll never become famous like Peter, but even the Peters of the world need Andrews to get them started with Jesus.

Posted in Evangelism, God's Work, The Gospel, Witnessing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

You Can’t Fool Jesus

Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man. (John 2:23-25, N.K.J.V.)

This passage doesn’t seem to align with the rest of the New Testament’s teaching. It seems to be an exception, an outlier, an anomaly. The Greek verb translated as “believed” in the description of what these people did is pisteuo. That’s the classic Greek word that is used over 200 times in the New Testament’s original Greek in reference to how a person gets saved. It’s even the word that is used in the next chapter, John 3:16, in the Bible’s most famous verse on the subject. Despite this, however, the indication is that these people did not experience salvation.

John, the writer of the gospel, provides us with the reason. He says that Jesus didn’t commit Himself to these people because He knew what was inside them. That means that Jesus knew their belief was the product of them being impressed by His miracles rather than His message. They were all aboard for giving their lives to a miracle-working Messiah. Giving them to a Messiah who was going to die on a cross and ask them to pick up their own crosses each day (Luke 9:23) and stick with Him during times of persecution, sickness, and struggle was a different matter entirely. Interestingly, the Greek word translated in the passage as “commit” — “Jesus did not commit Himself to them — is also pisteuo. This has led many commentators to correctly assert, “These people believed in Jesus, but He did not believe in them.”

I will admit that there are some commentators who interpret the passage to mean that those people did actually experience salvation. The majority of commentators, however, do not read the passage that way. For example, Warren Wiersbe calls the people “unsaved believers.” Likewise, Matthew Henry calls them “false coverts.” J. Vernon McGee says their faith was not a saving faith, and Alfred Martin calls their belief, “only a superficial acquiescence in what they saw, not the true belief of wholehearted acceptance.” Herschel Hobbs compares those peoples’ belief to the false belief of Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:9-25).

Actually, John records a similar story in chapter 6 of his gospel. After Jesus had miraculously fed a crowd of 5,000 men (plus an unreported number of women and children) with five barley loaves and two small fish (6:1-14), that large crowd was ready to take Him by force and make Him their king (6:15). Jesus escaped that foolish attempt at a coronation by commanding His chosen 12 apostles to take a boat to the opposite shore of the Sea of Galilee while He went up to a mountainside to pray (6:15-17). Later that night, after a great windstorm had prevented the apostles from reaching the opposite shore, Jesus came walking on the water to them (6:18-21).

The following day many of the same crowd from the previous day made their way once again to where Jesus was. But Jesus wasn’t impressed by their determination to follow Him wherever He went. Instead, He said to them, “You seek Me because I filled your stomachs” (6:22-27). He also told them, “You have seen Me, and yet you do not believe” (6:36). He then launched into a strange teaching in which He said to them, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” (6:53). In the wake of that difficult teaching, many of those followers left Him and followed Him no more (6:66).

Did those people lose their salvation? No, they had never had any to lose. They wanted Jesus as an earthly king, not an eternal Savior. They wanted a miracle worker who could keep them fed, not a God who required their deepest commitment. In this sense, they were the same type of “believers” that John describes at the close of chapter 2 of his gospel.

Our takeaway from all this is that we can’t fool Jesus. He knows whose belief in Him is the right kind, and He knows who is just giving Him lip service. He knows whose faith in Him can get them into heaven, and He knows whose faith in Him can only get them into church. He knows who has an inner relationship with Him, and He knows who merely has an outward religion about Him. Therefore, let each of us make sure that our belief/faith in Him is the genuine article, the kind that produces salvation. In other words, let’s make sure that He believes in us as much as we believe in Him.

Posted in Belief, Christ's Miracles, Discernment, Faith, God's Omniscience, Salvation | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Apples of Gold in Settings of Silver

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold In settings of silver. (Proverbs 25:11, N.K.J.V.)

Ed Young Sr., using this verse as the text for a daily devotion, writes the following:

In ancient times, when an oriental king gave a banquet and wanted to show how rich he was, he would take apples and cover them with gold, place them in silver baskets, and distribute them to his guests. “Take a golden apple with you,” he said, and these golden apples became prized possessions.

Since the text verse is part of a chapter that begins with the words “These also are proverbs of Solomon,” we might assume that King Solomon knew all about this kingly custom. Perhaps he even practiced it himself. If that was indeed the case, it would explain why he used the custom as an illustration of the wonder and beauty of a word fitly spoken.

I do appreciate the fact that Solomon doesn’t attach a precise definition to the phrase “a word fitly spoken.” I say that because such a word can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. For example, one translation translates the phrase as “a ruling rightly given.” Another translates it as “timely advice.” Others translate it as “a word spoken at the right time” or “a word spoken in right circumstances.”

Certainly such a word can be a word of encouragement spoken to someone who is filled with anxiety. As Proverbs 12:25 says: “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, But a good word makes glad” (N.K.J.V.). By contrast, such a word can also be a word of rebuke. As Proverbs 28:23 says: “He who rebukes a man will find more favor afterward Than he who flatters with the tongue” (N.K.J.V.). The point is that the word is not only spoken at just the right moment, it is appropriate for the moment. The moment is like a setting of silver, and the word is like the golden apple sitting in the setting. The word and the setting go together like a matched pair.

It takes wise discernment to know when to encourage and when to rebuke. For that matter, it takes wise discernment to know when to say anything at all. Whereas a wrong word spoken at a time when something should be said will not produce a desirable effect, neither will a right word spoken at a time when silence is the best course of action. Isn’t it amazing just how complicated this whole verbal communication thing can be?

Think back over some of your recent conversations, Christian, and be honest with yourself. Have you been handing out any apples of gold? If so, have you been handing them out in appropriate settings of silver? If you can answer, “Yes” to both of those questions, good for you. May your tribe increase! But if you have been using your speech to either hand out ugly apples or hand out beautiful apples during times when they can’t be properly appreciated, you should ask the Lord to help you use your speech more effectively in His service. This much is for sure: The world can always use more people who know what to say and when to say it, and you can be such a person if you will learn how to place your apples of gold in their settings of silver.

Posted in Communication, Criticism, Discernment, Encouragement, God's Work, Influence, Leadership, Service, The Tongue | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Do You Know Jesus as Savior? Or Do You Just Know About Him?

I subscribe to a certain Christian publication that recently featured an old sermon from Oswald J. Smith. Smith was a Canadian pastor/church planter/author who is probably best known for founding The Peoples Church in Toronto and serving as the church’s pastor for almost thirty years. When he died in 1986, his close friend Billy Graham said of him, “There was no equal.”

I thought I’d incorporate a few selected quotes from Smith’s sermon into this post. As you read them, you’ll see what a powerful communicator Smith was. On the subject of salvation, he said:

You are not a sinner because you sin. You sin because you are a sinner. An apple tree is not an apple tree because it bears apples. It bears apples because it is an apple tree. If you were not a sinner, you would not sin. It is because you are a sinner that you do sin. Some people merely lop off the branches. They fail to recognize that the tree itself is bad. They pick off the sour apples, but next year there are more than ever.

It is not reformation that you need, but regeneration, a new life. Your old Adamic nature is bad throughout. You are a sinner and a sinner needs a Savior. God put it this way: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6)…..Note God’s comparison. He does not compare us to dogs or horses; they can find their way home again. He compares us to sheep. When a sheep is lost, it is lost. When it strays away, it can never find its way back. Someone must go out in search of it. The shepherd must find it and bring it home.

A knowledge of God’s salvation will not save you any more than a knowledge of food will save you from starvation. You must partake of it if you are to be saved. A knowledge of water will not quench your thirst: you must drink it. A knowledge of medicine will not cure you: you must take it. You may know all the teachings of the Bible and still be lost. A knowledge of God’s redemption and an understanding of His plan do not mean that you are a Christian. There must be a response on your part, a turning to God, an acceptance of His provision.

I especially like that last quote about how merely having a knowledge of salvation won’t save you. This, in my opinion, is the fatal flaw in what many professing (professing as opposed to authentic) Christians call their salvation. Oh, sure, they’ve heard the story of Jesus, and they even believe the facts of it. But they’ve never actually bowed the knee and submitted to Jesus as Savior. As Smith correctly described the situation, there has been no inner regeneration, no impartation of a new life by way of the indwelling Holy Spirit creating the new birth inside the person. Therefore, because of the lack of spiritual life, all the person’s attempts at church attendance, Bible study, prayer, repentance, etc. must be classified as attempts to produce salvation by works of reformation rather than as salvation’s fruits that will earn heavenly reward in the afterlife.

I pastor in a rural county of about 15,000 people. We are located in the mountains of western North Carolina, mountains that are part of the Appalachian Mountain chain. We are solidly in the “Bible belt” region of the United States, and we have a church on every corner and up every “holler” to prove it. As such, it’s hard to find anyone around here who hasn’t heard the story of Jesus. For that matter, it’s hard to find anyone who will look you straight in the eye and say, “I’m a lost sinner who has never accepted Jesus as my personal Savior.” Everybody in these parts has been to church at least a few times. Most people attended a local Bible school when they were young. Most have been baptized and have their name on a church roll somewhere in the county. But have their eternal destinies, daily lives, typical deeds, ingrained opinions, and obvious priorities been changed? Well, that’s another story, and in many cases the answer would have to be, “No.”

Look, I’m not trying to play eternal judge, jury, and executioner here, and I’m not trying to promote some kind of Christianized sinless perfection, either. For one thing, there really is such a thing as a babe in Christ (Hebrews 5:12-14), and babies don’t always do what they should do. For another, there really is such a thing as a carnal Christian (1 Corinthians 1:1-3), and carnal Christians definitely don’t always do what they should do. For yet another, there really is such a thing as a backslidden Christian (1 John 5:16), even one whose sinful behavior merits excommunication from the church congregation (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13). And frankly, I’ve always had difficulty differentiating the babes in Christ, the carnal Christians, and the backslidden Christians from the normal lost people. That’s why I leave that assignment to God.

What I’m saying, though, is that it is obvious that there are a whole lot of people walking around out there who honestly think they are Christians, when in reality they are not. I might not have an exact list of their names, but I don’t doubt for one second that such people exist. That’s why I would advise anyone, even the professing Christian, to take the apostle Paul’s advice by examining one’s self to see whether or not he or she is truly in the Christian faith (2 Corinthians 13:5; 1 Corinthians 11:28). If your salvation is genuine, it ought to be able to pass such an examination, and if it isn’t, that’s obviously something you need to recognize and take measures to fix right away.

Posted in Assurance of Salvation, Backsliding, Baptism, Belief, Church, Church Attendance, Church Discipline, Evangelism, Heaven, Repentance, Salvation, Witnessing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment