Let Your Help Come From the Lord

I will lift up my eyes to the hills — From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2, N.K.J.V.)

The heading for Psalm 121 informs us that this Psalm is “A Song of Ascents” (N.K.J.V.). The Hebrew word translated as “ascents” can be defined as “a journey to a higher place.” The fifteen Psalms that receive this specialized heading are Psalms 120-134.

There are at least three possible interpretations as to when these specific Psalms (songs) were sung by the people of Israel. First, since the Hebrew word translated as “ascents” (N.K.J.V.) can rightly be translated as “steps,” these Psalms could have been sung by Israel’s priests as those priests, in order to offer sacrifices, ascended the steps that led up to the altar of the Jewish temple. Second, these Psalms could have been sung by Jewish worshipers who were making their way up to the city of Jerusalem to observe the Mosaic Law’s three prescribed annual feasts: Passover/Unleavened Bread, Pentecost (also known as “Weeks” or “Harvest”), and Tabernacles (also known as “Booths”) (Deuteronomy 16:16). Third, they could have been sung by the Jews returning to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon.

There is an honest debate among translators in regards to how verse 1 of this Psalm should be translated. The classic King James Version conveys the minority translation by rendering the verse:

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

This rendering conveys the idea that the help comes from the God who resides in the hills, specifically the hills surrounding Jerusalem. However, the potential problem with this idea is that those hills (i.e. “high places”) were the sites of idolatrous worship shrines when wicked kings ruled Judah (Israel’s southern kingdom). The prophet Jeremiah probably had these sites in mind when he expressed the polar opposite thought of his help coming from the hills:

Truly in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains: truly in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel. (Jeremiah 3:23, K.J.V.)

To eliminate the problem of a contradiction with Jeremiah 3:23, most translations of Psalm 121:1 insert a question mark after the words “from whence comes my help.”  The New King James Version’s rendering is a prime example of this:

I will lift up my eyes to the hills — From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2, N.K.J.V.)

You see, the insertion of the question mark places the help as coming from the Lord who lives somewhere other than the hills. It is as if the Psalmist is contrasting Israel’s false gods, the ones worshiped in the “high places” located in the hills surrounding Jerusalem, with the true God. Those false gods couldn’t provide any real help, but the true God could. The true God, after all, was far greater and loftier than any hills that He created.

While this particular translation is by far the majority one found in the various English translations of the Bible, there are some commentators who still favor the wording found in the classic King James Version. For example, William MacDonald, in his Believer’s Bible Commentary, says the following:

I still prefer the KJV here, and I’ll tell you why. The temple in Jerusalem was the dwelling place of God on earth. The glory cloud in the Holy of Holies signified the Lord’s presence among His people. The city of Jerusalem is situated on a mountain and is surrounded by mountains. So when a Jew in other parts of Israel needed divine help, he looked toward the hills. To him this was the same as looking to the Lord. Since the Creator’s dwelling was in the Jerusalem hills, there was a poetic sense in which all help came from the hills.

No matter which translation and interpretation of Psalm 121:1 is the correct one, there is certainly no mistaking the fundamental teaching of the opening two verses of the Psalm. The Psalmist wants everyone to know that his help comes from the Lord. And how much help can the Lord offer? Well, as the Psalmist is careful to mention, we’re talking about the God who created all creation. Needless to say, a God with that much power can provide any amount of help that anyone — and that includes you — could ever need. So, don’t hesitate to seek His help the next time you find yourself in need of it. You really can’t do any better.

Posted in Adversity, Comfort, Encouragement, Fear, God's Love, God's Omnipotence, God's Mercy, God's Provision, God's Sovereignty, Grace, Idolatry, Needs, Problems, Trusting In God, Worry | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Robert’s Trip to the Dentist’s Office

Psychologist James Dobson, the founder of the Focus on the Family ministry, tells a great story in his book Straight Talk to Men and Their Wives. The story comes from one of Dr. Dobson’s friends, Dr. William Slonecker. Dr. Slonecker was a pediatrician who had the unfortunate assignment of having a ten-year-old terror named Robert as one of his patients.

Dr. Slonecker and his staff dreaded the days when Robert would show up for appointments. During those visits the little hellion would run around grabbing instruments, files, telephones, or anything else that suited him. All the while, his passive mother would do little more than watch him go.

During one examination, Dr. Slonecker happened to notice that Robert’s teeth were in poor shape. Slonecker wasn’t a dentist, but even he could tell that Robert had several cavities. Clearly, a referral to a local dentist was in order. But which of Slonecker’s dentist friends would be granted the “pleasure” of receiving the new patient? It was a tough decision because Robert’s behavior was bad enough to possibly end a professional friendship. After some thought, Slonecker settled upon a certain dentist who had a reputation for doing well with children.

The appointment was made, and Robert arrived at the dentist’s office fully ready to conquer the new terrain. “Get in the chair, young man,” said the dentist. “No!” shot back Robert. “Son, I told you to get into that chair, and that’s what I intend for you to do,” the dentist answered sternly. Robert stared the man down for a moment and then threatened, “If you make me get in that chair, I will take off all my clothes.” Calmly, the dentist replied, “Okay, take ’em off.”

Robert was surprised that his threat didn’t have more of an impact, but he wasn’t done yet. Immediately, he set himself to the task of taking off his shirt, shoes, and socks. Once they were removed he defiantly looked at the dentist as if to say, “You didn’t think I would do it, did you?”

“All right,” said the dentist. “Now get in the chair.” With less confidence in his voice this time, Robert responded, “You didn’t hear me. I said if you make me get in that chair, I will take off all my clothes.” But the dentist still wasn’t phased. Again, he calmly said, “Okay, take ’em off.”

This left Robert with only one more card to play, and he played it by taking off his pants and shorts. Now he was standing buck naked in front of the dentist and the dentist’s assistant. Then the dentist once again repeated his familiar command, “Now, son, get in the chair.” This time Robert did as he was told and sat cooperatively through a difficult session as multiple cavities were filled.

At the close of the session, Robert told the dentist, “Give me my clothes.” The dentist, however, wouldn’t oblige. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Tell your mother that we’re going to keep your clothes tonight. She can pick them up tomorrow.” Robert, by now a thoroughly defeated former tough guy, meekly followed the assistant out the door and into the waiting room. There sat not only his mother but a room filled with other patients and parents. Imagine everybody’s surprise as a ten-year-old wearing no clothes was led by his mother out of the office, into the elevator, and out into the parking lot.

The next day, Robert’s mother returned to the dentist’s office to claim Robert’s clothes. The staff wasn’t one bit surprised when she asked to have a word with the dentist, but as it turned out she wasn’t there to rebuke him. To the contrary, she told him the following:

You don’t know how much I appreciate what happened here yesterday. Robert has been blackmailing me about his clothes for years. Whenever we are in a public place, such as a grocery store, he makes unreasonable demands of me. If I don’t immediately buy him what he wants, he threatens to take off all his clothes. You are the first person who has called his bluff, doctor, and the impact on Robert has been incredible!

Extreme situations sometimes call for extreme measures, and drastic problems sometimes call for drastic solutions. It could be that God is right now telling you to get radical regarding some situation or problem that has been plaguing you for a long time. If that’s the case, the only question left to be answered is: Are you willing to “go there” and do whatever it is that God is telling you to do? One day a dentist “went there” and a rebellious kid name Robert turned out all the better for it. That story proves that “outside the box” solutions can work. Obviously, you need to make certain that God is in your uncommon course of action, but if He is, then you should launch into it with confidence that He will stand behind you all the way.

Posted in Brokenness, Children, Choices, Decisions, Discipline, Disobedience, God's Will, Problems, Submission | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Mask of the Hypocrite

Popular pastor and author Chuck Swindoll tells the story of how his sister once bought him a gag gift for his birthday. The gift was a full-face rubber mask, the kind that you pull down over your entire head. She told him, “I’ll give you $10 if you will wear it into the pulpit one Sunday morning.” Chuck’s children loved the possibility of seeing him do that, and so they chipped in to raise the potential reward to $15.

While the idea of wearing the mask in a church service was a little too much for Chuck, he did get bold enough to wear it one night to a speaking engagement for which he was scheduled. Without offering any explanation for why he was wearing the mask, he simply walked to the podium and began his remarks. And what was his topic for that evening? Being authentic.

As you might expect, Chuck didn’t get too far into his comments before the entire room erupted with laughter. At that point he took off the mask and explained that the English word “hypocrite” is derived from a Greek word that referred to a stage actor in the plays from ancient Greece and Rome. It was customary for the actors in such plays to cover their faces with large masks that came complete with mechanical devices that were used to augment the actors’ voices. During the course of any given play one actor would portray multiple characters by donning multiple masks. Thus, the word “hypocrite” literally refers to someone who dons a mask of disguise in order to perform a fake role. The hypocrite isn’t authentic; he isn’t who he pretends to be.

In Matthew 7:3-5, Jesus says:

“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (N.K.J.V.)

Boy, Jesus sure loved hyperbolic illustrations. Imagine a person who has a plank sticking in his eye. Now imagine that same person peering intently into another person’s eye and saying, “Let me remove that speck for you.” The absurdity of such a scene isn’t hard to grasp. The person who has the plank sticking in his eye is merely playing a make-believe role. He’s not real. He’s not authentic. He’s appearing to care about objects sticking in peoples’ eyes when all the while he has a plank sticking in his own eye.

I suppose that we’ve all had times when we’ve played the role of hypocrites. We’ve fussed at our kids for texting while driving, but then we’ve hit the open road ourselves and started texting. We’ve complained when gossip was being spread about us, but we’ve had no problem spreading gossip about others. We’ve condemned people for not attending the Sunday morning worship service, but then we’ve thought nothing of skipping that week’s Wednesday night service. See how that works?

Perhaps now would be a good time for you to examine your own life and be honest about any masks you are wearing. Obviously, there is a certain level of authenticity that you’ll never be able to reach as long as you are keeping your true self hidden. Sure, you might be able to fool your friends and acquaintances. You might even be able to fool your family and friends if you are a talented enough actor. But one thing is for sure: you’ll never fool God. He always knows exactly who you are, and He wants all hypocrites to stop playing their fake roles, repent of their sins, and actually become the people they are pretending to be.

Posted in Backsliding, Character, Confession, God's Omniscience, Hypocrisy, Personal Holiness, Repentance, Sin, Truth | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

“The Disciple’s Road” Radio Broadcast

I’d like to use this post to pass along the word that this coming Sunday, July 19th, I’ll be starting a new radio broadcast through Wilkins Radio in Spartanburg, S.C. Wilkins has stations in several markets across the country and my thirty-minute broadcast, The Disciple’s Road, is going to be heard in four of them. The stations and weekly times are as follows:

  • KLNG (AM 1560/FM 101.5) Omaha, Nebraska: Sunday mornings at 8:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. (Central Standard Time) (that’s 9:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time)
  • WDZY (AM 1290/FM 103.3) Richmond, Virginia: Sunday afternoons at 2:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time)
  • WYYC (AM 1250/FM 98.1) York, Pennsylvania: Sunday nights at 9:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time)
  • WELP (AM 1360/104.3) Greenville, SC: Thursday nights at 8:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time)

Of course, I realize that most of us don’t live in Omaha, Richmond, York, or Greenville. The good news, though, is that each of the Wilkins stations can be streamed live online at wilkinsradio.com. To hear the broadcast all you’ll have to do is go to the Wilkins site, scroll over to “Our Stations,” and click on the station you want to start streaming. That will take you to a page for that station, and once you’re there all you’ll need to do is click on “Listen Live.” Also, you’ll see an option there to download a free mobile app. for your smartphone or tablet.

I’m excited about this new ministry. According to a recent survey by SOMA Communications, 34% of weekly listeners to Christian radio are not born-again Christians. Furthermore, for the month of June the Wilkins stations in total registered over 60,000 listening sessions worldwide on cellphones, computers, and laptops. Those numbers don’t even include the listeners who tuned in by way of home radio or car radio. So, the potential is there for the broadcast to not only edify a lot of believers but also help win some lost people to Christ.

The first several weeks of the broadcast will feature a sermon series I call “Back to Basics.” The “basics” I’ll be preaching about are the basics of Christianity, i.e. topics such as: “Salvation,” “Baptism,” Prayer,” “Bible Study,” “Church Attendance,” etc. For this week’s opening broadcast the sermon is entitled “Salvation.” That one is already in the can (so to speak) and sent to Wilkins for airing.

Doing a radio ministry is actually a return to my preaching roots. In my early days of pastoring I began broadcasting each Sunday on the two local stations — WKYK (Burnsville, NC) and WTOE (Spruce Pine, NC) — and continued those broadcasts for several years until I stopped doing them a few years ago. Now the Lord has opened this door for me to not only get back into that form of ministry but to do so on a larger scale. Like I said, I’m excited about that.

Please pray not only that God will bless this new ministry but also that I’ll prepare and preach sermons for it that He can bless. I honestly don’t know what to expect, but I have a great peace about the whole endeavor. Even more than that, I have a burden and a vision for it. As for how God uses the broadcasts, well, we’ll just have to wait and see. All I know is that He is leading me to walk with Him down this road. And that’s plenty enough to get the journey started. Thanks in advance for your prayers.

Posted in Personal, Preaching | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Little Boy & The Old Man

(The following story is my embellished version of the story “Twinkies and Root Beer” from an unknown author. The story was first published by Warner Press’ “Christian Art.” I started with the original, reworked it by adding quite a bit to it, and put my own application at the end of it.)  

One morning after breakfast a boy told his mother that he was going outside. Since that was a daily occurrence with the little fellow, the mother didn’t even look up from doing her housework. “Okay,” she said, “be careful.”

Unbeknownst to the mother, though, the little boy had decided to set out to find God that day. In preparation for the trip, he’d even loaded up his backpack with a box of Twinkies and a six-pack of root beer. He’d figured that he’d better pack plenty because he had no idea exactly where God lived and thought it might be a long trip.

The boy had only gone a couple of blocks when he saw an elderly gentleman sitting on a bench in the local park. Intrigued by the man, the boy walked over to him and sat down beside him without saying a word. Since the little fellow could no longer resist having at least one Twinkie and one root beer, he opened up his bag and pulled out the six-pack and the box. He took out one of each item for himself and was about to enjoy his meal when he noticed the old man watching him. He looked at the man and asked, “Do you want a Twinkie?” With a gleam in his eye, the old man smiled a big smile and said, “Yes, I would.”

After giving the man a Twinkie, the boy handed him a root beer and said, “Here, you’ll need a root beer, too.” The old man smiled that big smile again and enthusiastically took the bottle. Then both of them opened up their Twinkies, twisted the tops off their bottles, and proceeded to sit there on that park bench and partake of the feast. The two sat there for quite a while enjoying their meal, but they never said a word to each other. It was as if each had an unspoken bond with the other. No words were needed.

Finally, when they had finished the meal, the boy put everything back into his backpack and got up to leave. He was ready to return home now because he’d already figured out that the elderly gentlemen couldn’t be anybody else but God. Who else could have such a gleam in his eye? Who else could have such a warm smile? Who else would sit there like that with a little boy and enjoy a Twinkie and a root beer so much? So, he gave the old man a big hug, smiled at him the way only a little boy can, and raced off to get back home.

As the boy came walking up the street to his house, he saw his mother out in the yard. She was frantic with worry and was looking everywhere for him. When she saw him coming she raced to meet him, scooped him up in her arms, and exclaimed, “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? YOU HAD ME SCARED TO DEATH! I WAS ABOUT TO CALL THE POLICE TO HELP ME LOOK FOR YOU.” The boy said, “You shouldn’t have been worried, mom. I was with God.” “What?” she asked in disbelief. “I was with God,” he repeated. “And what makes you think you were with God?” she demanded. “It had to have been Him, mom. Nobody else has a smile like that.”

Meanwhile, along about the same time, a lonely old widower walked into the home of his adult son where the old man now resided. The son barely glanced up from watching the television but did manage to inquire, “Where have you been, dad?” The man answered, “I was down at the park having lunch with God.” That answer snapped the son to attention and he said through a chuckle, “Oh, really? And just exactly what does God look like?” Well,” said the old man, “He looks a lot younger than I thought He would, but you wouldn’t believe how much He enjoyed just spending time with an old codger like me. He even gave me a Twinkie and a root beer. And he’s got the warmest smile you’ve ever seen.”

The moral of this story is not that either the little boy or the old man was actually God. The moral is that God knows what each of us needs when we need it and is a master at sending along just the right person at just the right time to deliver it. Keep this in mind the next time you have a genuine need and ask God to meet it. Rather than merely noticing the met need itself, take the time to also notice the person through whom God gets it delivered to you. What you’ll find is that God can work through anybody, and I do mean ANYBODY, to get His work done.

Posted in Aging, Children, God's Love, God's Omnipotence, God's Timing, God's Provision, God's Work, Grace, Influence, Ministry, Needs, Service | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Prepare to Meet Your God

…Prepare to meet your God, O Israel! (Amos 4:12, N.K.J.V.)

Is there someone whom you’d just as soon never see again? Perhaps it’s someone from your past, maybe an ex-boyfriend or an ex-girlfriend. Perhaps it’s someone from your present, maybe an acquaintance or a coworker with whom you’ve had a few rounds of conflict. Whoever it is, it’s someone that causes you to cross to the other side of the street if you see them coming.

If you have someone like that in your life, you may or may not be able to avoid seeing them. Ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends stand a chance of consistently being ducked. Acquaintances stand less of a chance. But coworkers? The only way you’ll be able to pull that off is to find another job.

When the prophet Amos told the citizens of Israel’s northern kingdom, “Prepare to meet your God” he was warning them that they most certainly wouldn’t be able to keep avoiding God. A meeting date had already been set and neither God nor them would be late for it. While the prospect of meeting God should never sound threatening to the person who stands ready for the encounter, it should have struck serious fear into those citizens. Why? In the verses that precede our text verse, Amos provides a brief list of some of the sins that marked those peoples’ lives:

  • The land’s wealthy women were lazy, self-absorbed, demanding wives who oppressed the poor, crushed the needy, and spent too much time drinking wine (4:1).
  • The land’s clergy were masters of leading in sham “worship” services that Amos sarcastically mocked (4:4-5).
  • The land’s citizens had endured God’s chastisements in the forms of hunger (4:6), drought (4:7-8), locusts (4:9), plague (4:10), and death (4:10-11), and yet still hadn’t returned to God (4:11).

In light of the peoples’ continuing sins, all that was left for them was the complete and utter destruction of their kingdom. God’s chosen vessel for accomplishing that destruction was the Assyrian army which conquered Israel’s northern kingdom in 722 B.C. just a few decades after Amos’ prophesying. The Assyrians killed many of the land’s occupants but sadistically relocated and resettled most of them to various parts of the Assyrian empire. This relocating and resettling created what are commonly known as “the 10 lost tribes of Israel.”

Even the northern kingdom’s wealthy upper-class citizens were not immune from this treatment. Amos prophesies of this in Amos 4:2 when he talks about the wealthy women of Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom, one day being led out of the land by means of having fishhooks run through their jaws or lips. As verification of the accuracy of Amos’ prediction, Assyrian relief sculptures from that era do depict Assyrian captives being led by ropes attached to rings in their jaws or lips.

While Amos’ words “Prepare to meet your God” typically get preached in reference to eternity, it is easy to see that the actual context for the words has much more to do with impending judgment in this life rather than in the afterlife. Amos’ words meant that the citizens of the northern kingdom would soon be meeting God as nothing less than an enemy in battle. This explains Amos’ use of the title “The Lord God of hosts” in the very next verse, verse 13. Because the word “hosts” speaks of God’s angelic armies, the title “The Lord God of hosts” depicts God as a military conqueror who has His troops on the march.

This brings us to the application for your life. Rather than worrying about coming face to face with that certain person again, you should make sure that The Lord God of hosts isn’t coming to meet you in order to inflict judgment upon you. Actually, if you have already entered “Prepare to meet your God” mode, your chance for confessing your sins and repenting of them has already passed. All that is left for you now is your downfall, at least in terms of worldly matters. That is where those citizens of the northern kingdom found themselves in Amos’ day.

I realize that this characterization of God as being a God of judgment, not just in the afterlife but in this life, has fallen out of favor in our culture. It seems like nothing qualifies as sin anymore, does it? But the God of the Bible hasn’t changed and never will. Yes, He is loving, merciful, forgiving, patient, kind, and longsuffering. That’s all very much true. He does, however, have another side, the side that abhors sin and must deal with it. That, you see, is the God the citizens of Israel’s northern kingdom once met, and He’s the God who still shows up in the lives of sinful people today, including backslidden Christians, and brings His armies with Him. And needless to say, that’s not a God you ever want to meet.

Posted in Backsliding, Coming Judgment, God's Chastening, God's Holiness, God's Wrath, God's Judgment, Prophecy, Rebellion | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Transforming the Hardcore Sinner & the Addict

Hugh Price Hughes, an influential Methodist minister, was once challenged to a debate by Charles Bradlaugh, an atheistic political activist. Bradlaugh wanted Hughes to defend Christianity as being anything other than just a man-made religion based upon a fairy tale. Hughes agreed to the debate but only on one condition. He told Bradlaugh:

Most certainly; nothing would give me greater pleasure. But as conventional debates usually lead to nothing, let us have one on new lines. I will undertake to bring a hundred men and women of various sorts on the platform who will witness to the saving work of Christ in their lives. You can cross-examine them as much as you like. But you, on your part, are to bring a hundred men and women who have been redeemed from a sinful life by atheism.

Does it surprise you to learn that the debate was never held? This true story shines the spotlight on one of atheism’s greatest flaws: its inability to offer life-changing transformation to the hard-core sinner. I’m not talking about the upstanding citizen who pays his bills, treats others the way he wants to be treated, and never commits a sin that society would describe as egregious. Just about any system of belief — and even atheism itself is a system of belief — could add something to that person’s life, I suppose. No, I’m talking about the person who is a reprobate, a degenerate, a pervert, or a villain. Christianity has been transforming those types for 2,000 years. Atheism? Not so much.

Certainly when it comes to transforming the addict, atheism comes up small. Some of the areas in which addictions are currently occurring are the areas of: illegal drugs, prescription drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, pornography, cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, coffee, soft drinks, energy drinks, violence, greed, shopping, shoplifting, eating, working, sleeping, exercising, sports, watching t.v., surfing the internet, texting, and playing video games. Since atheism refuses to admit that God exists, the best it can offer the addict is some version of, “Physician, heal thyself.” Sure, this self-healing can benefit from the aid of doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, friends, family, and support groups, but God cannot be brought into the mix. In the world of atheism, He is the one help who is off limits.

Alcoholics Anonymous and Christianity aren’t what I would call mortal enemies, but A.A. isn’t a Christian organization, either. This is evidenced by the fact that A.A.’s 12-step program is careful to define God by using the phrase “God, as we understood Him.” That’s not the same as saying, “Jesus Christ” or even “The God of the Bible.” Still, though, the A.A. program does at least acknowledge that a divine power, a power outside the alcoholic’s self, is needed in order for the individual to conquer the addiction. Atheism, on the other hand, won’t condescend to even that simple admittance unless even the outside, higher “power” itself is humanistic.

What I love about Hugh Price Hughes’ idea for a debate is that it places the emphasis upon Christianity’s and atheism’s successes rather than upon their failures. As anyone who watches or reads the news knows, the millions of Christians who walk in moral integrity year after year never make the headlines, but the one Christian who murders someone, abuses his or her spouse, or embezzles money does. These are the examples who supposedly prove that Christianity doesn’t work, and as such they are the ones whom atheists love to present as case studies. This strategy doesn’t work so well, though, when large groups are required for the case studies. As Hughes knew full well, Christianity legitimately can produce those large numbers but atheism just can’t.

O Lord my God, I cried out to You. And You healed me, O Lord, You brought my soul up from the grave; You have kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit. (Psalm 30:2-3, N.K.J.V.)

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, And He saved them out of their distresses. He sent His word and healed them, And delivered them from their destructions. (Psalm 107:19-20, N.K.J.V.)

Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. (John 8:36, N.K.J.V.)  

Posted in Addiction, Atheism, Change, God's Love, God's Provision, Grace, Inner Peace, Needs, Personal Holiness, Problems, Sin, Temptation | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Go To Church or Watch Online?

I hope that none of my regular readers will be offended if I aim this post first and foremost at the good folks who are part of our Roan Mountain Baptist Church family. Even if you don’t attend our church, perhaps you’ll be able to glean something here that will help you decide what God wants you to do regarding attending your church in these confusing days of Covid-19. If nothing else, this post will give you some insight into what it’s been like to be the pastor of a smallish rural church in the mountains of western North Carolina for the past four months.

Following our church’s Sunday morning service on March 15th, 2020, the deacons and I made the decision to temporarily suspended indoors services at the church. I assure you that decision was not an easy one to make. We did, however, have two good reasons for making it.

First, the Coronavirus had everybody on red alert in those days, and so erring on the side of caution seemed prudent. Second, on March 14th, 2020, our state’s Governor, Roy Cooper, had issued an Executive Order that had closed the K-12 schools statewide until March 30th (ultimately, the schools ended up remaining closed for the rest of the school year), closed certain businesses that were deemed “non essential,” and banned mass gatherings of 100 or more. As a church that at that time was averaging approximately 100 people in attendance for our Sunday morning worship services, we chose to comply with Governor Cooper’s Order as a way of fulfilling our scriptural obligation to Romans 13:1 and 1 Peter 2:13, two passages that command Christians to submit themselves to the governing authorities because those authorities are appointed by (ordained by) God.

Our church’s decision to suspend indoors services prompted us to immediately step up our efforts in regards to online ministry. The following Wednesday night, March 18th, I walked into an empty sanctuary and preached the next message in our Wednesday-night series of studies from the book of Genesis. The only other person there that night was Mike Silver, who was manning the audio/video room and streaming the sermon to You Tube Live. That type of service became the only type our church would offer for the next few weeks.

Unfortunately, it took us a while to get all the kinks worked out of our You Tube Live stream. For example, Mike quickly decided that we needed to up our game in terms of the audio and video quality of our product. That required purchasing some new equipment. Also, there were times when we had trouble streaming live at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday mornings and 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday nights because the You Tube stream wouldn’t let us join at precisely those times. (Apparently, You Tube was overloaded with churches who were doing the same thing we were trying to do.) That’s when we started streaming about 30 minutes before I actually went to the pulpit and preached. We did that just to make sure that people could join us live at 11:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.

The next step in our Coronavirus evolution came on Easter Sunday morning, April 12th. That was the first Sunday that we offered the “drive-in church” option in addition to the You Tube Live option. While there are different variations for how to offer this option, the one we chose involved a short-distance radio transmitter that beamed our service out to the cars in the parking lot where the attendees could hear the signal by tuning their car radios to 87.9 F.M.

That same Sunday morning we also added singing to our worship service as our Minister of Music Ethan Thomas and our organist Cindy Burleson joined me in the sanctuary. Ethan sang what amounted to a couple of solos (unless people we couldn’t see were singing along with him in their cars or their homes), and he continued to do that for the next few Sundays, after which he started scheduling other singers to help in that endeavor. So, now we were doing about all we could do in terms of continuing to offer our church services as the pandemic kept rolling along throughout America.

I have to say, though, that as much as I was enjoying the good reports of how God was using the You Tube sermons, I was even more fond of the drive-in church option. That option, you see, allowed us to send out ushers (wearing masks and gloves) to not only take up Sunday-morning offerings but also to hand out bulletins that had prayer-request lists on the back. Furthermore, the option allowed those in attendance to fulfill the Hebrews 10:25 mandate about Christians not forsaking the assembling of themselves together. Yes, assembling ourselves together in cars in a church parking lot on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights counted for that!

Then came our Tuesday night deacons meeting on May 13th. During that meeting the deacons and I decided that the church would start meeting again for indoors services on June 7th, the first Sunday in June. We all felt good about that date and believed it was the direction in which the Lord was leading. Thankfully, our discernment regarding that decision received a high degree of confirmation the following Saturday, May 16th, when a North Carolina District Judge issued a 14-day temporary restraining order that prevented our state from taking any action against a church that defied Governor Cooper’s orders regarding mass gatherings. Those orders, by the way, had by then reduced the allowable number for an indoors gathering down to 10 or less.

With that restraining order in play, North Carolina churches were guaranteed a two-week window in which they could “legally” (for lack of a better word) meet indoors regardless of the size of the crowd. The original plan was that toward the end of the 14-day period the Judge would allow both sides to present their arguments for either revoking the restraining order or extending it. That part of the plan, however, became a moot point when Governor Cooper chose not to fight the order. In effect, that caused the status quo that had been set in place by the restraining order to became the new “legal” standard as churches were allowed to continue to meet if they wanted to do so.

As a result of the restraining order, on Sunday, May 17th, many North Carolina churches quickly evoked their right to meet for indoors services. Others waited a week or two and began indoors services on either May 24th or May 31st. As for Roan Mountain Baptist, the deacons and I still felt like God had given us a peace about June 7th, and so we stuck to that decision and waited until then to start offering inside services on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. We haven’t regretted that decision and right now we’re still conducting our Sunday morning and Wednesday night services inside, but we haven’t yet gotten our Sunday School classes or our Wednesday might fellowship meals back up and running.

We are also continuing to offer not only the You Tube Live streaming but also the drive-in church option for each service. Frankly, now that we have the systems in place to provide those options there is simply no reason to ever revert back to the time when we didn’t offer them. This, of course, is to say nothing of the fact that we want to show our support for our church regulars who are still hesitant about attending the indoors services.

This, then, brings me to where I’ve been headed with this post. First of all, in light of Covid-19’s refusal to show any signs of letting up, I want to assure each of our church folks that I understand anyone’s continuing apprehension about attending an indoors service. I watch the news a lot myself and am therefore not about to berate anyone for not wanting to join in with a fair-sized crowd of people, most of them not wearing masks.

Second, though, for those of you who still aren’t ready to attend an indoors service, I would like to encourage you to sincerely pray about taking advantage of our drive-in church option rather than just be content watching the service on You Tube. And if you’ll hear me out, I’ll list five of my reasons for suggesting this:

  1. The drive-in church option enables you, as a Christian, to keep God’s command about not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25). As I said earlier, even if your assembling only makes it as far as the church parking lot, God honors that. You’ve put in the effort to join your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ at church, and that is no small achievement in the eyes of God.
  2. The drive-in church option causes you to stay in the habit of keeping your regular scheduled church times on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. Yes, it’s true that you can stay in your habit somewhat if you watch the streamed services LIVE, but it’s also true that it’s very tempting to start sleeping late on Sunday mornings and watch the archived service at a later time. Needless to say, once you start down that road there might be services that you just never get around to watching.
  3. The drive-in church option helps you keep your church life as normal as it can be during this Coronavirus if you don’t feel good about attending the indoors service. By using that word “normal,” I’m referring to you getting up on Sunday mornings, eating breakfast, and getting cleaned up for church just like you used to do in the days before Covid-19. Any psychologist will tell you that there are great advantages that come with keeping your life as normal as possible during abnormal times.
  4. The drive-in church option allows you to actually see some of your brothers and sisters in Christ in person. Don’t worry, I’m not asking you to actually get out of the car. I’m simply pointing out that even if you do nothing but sit in your car and wave at some of your fellow church-goers, that’s more than you can do at home.
  5. The drive-in church option gets you out of the house and into God’s creation. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this much, but you just getting to enjoy the scenery that constitutes your drive to and from church is a major blessing. Taking that drive will help you realize that the beauty of God’s creation isn’t dampened in the least by the pandemic.

Finally, in closing, let me say a word to any of you out there who are using the Coronavirus as an excuse to skip church even as you continue to go to your workplace, the grocery store, Lowe’s, Walmart, restaurants, the golf course, your favorite fishing hole, vacation spots. etc. I’ll remind you that any church’s online ministry is primarily designed for those who legitimately can’t attend in person either by sitting in the sanctuary or sitting in their car. With this understood, can you honestly say that God is pleased with what you are doing about your church attendance? It’s an important question, so think long and hard about it.

You see, the thing is that God rewards the effort you put into getting to church almost as much as He rewards the actual act of worship itself. Keep this in mind the next time you are faced with the decision to choose the inside-the-building option, the drive-in church option, or the online viewing option. Truthfully, all three options have their place in God’s service right now, but only one is the option He has in mind for you each time Roan Mountain Baptist Church holds services. All I’ll ever ask you to do is seek His will and do whatever He tells you to do. I just don’t want you to get overly comfortable with choosing the online service when He might have you do a little more.

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God Saw That. He Really Did.

Consider the following passages from the Bible (all from the N.K.J.V.). Read them carefully and see if you can figure out the common theme that courses through each of them.

The eyes of the Lord are in every place. Keeping watch on the evil and the good. (Proverbs 15:3)

For His eyes are on the ways of man. (Job 34:21)

For My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from My face, nor is their iniquity hidden from My eyes. (Jeremiah 16:17)

For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, And He ponders all his paths. (Proverbs 5:21)

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him… (2 Chronicles 16:9)

You are great in counsel and mighty in work, for your eyes are open to all the ways of the sons of men, to give everyone according to his ways and according to the fruit of his doings. (Jeremiah 32:19)

And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:13)

The common theme is that each passage talks about the eyes of the Lord and how those eyes see everything that everybody does everywhere. God’s eyes see all the good and all the bad. They see all the sinless acts and all the sinful acts. They see all the instances of justice and all the instances of injustice. They don’t miss a thing.

There have been a few times in my life when someone did something awful enough to me or my family to cause me to literally look up to the sky and ask God either in my mind or out loud, “Did you see that?” That was my way of expressing to Him that I felt like He should have done something right then and there to punish the awfulness. In my way of thinking, the fact that a lightning bolt hadn’t immediately struck the guilty party must have meant that God hadn’t seen what had transpired.

Of course, in each of those instances God had no doubt seen what had happened. For one thing, the Bible teaches that He is omnipresent, which means that He, as a Spirit, is everywhere all at once. For another thing, the Bible teaches that He is omniscient, which means that He has all knowledge of all things. So, not only does God see everything, He knows every bit of backstory behind everything.

God seeing everything isn’t particularly comforting when we do wrong, is it? On the flip side, though, Him seeing everything when wrong is done to us is very comforting. Imagine a court case coming before a Judge. Both parties offer their accounts of what happened and the Judge has to decide who is in the right and who is in the wrong. Now imagine the Judge saying to both parties, “Before I render my ruling in this case, I want each of you know that I was a personal eyewitness to what happened.” Talk about evoking two very different reactions! A wave of terror would wash over the guilty party while a wave of confidence would wash over the innocent party. Well, such confidence is what you should feel anytime you know that you were in the right regarding a situation. You should rest in the assurance that God saw what happened and that He’s not going to make a mistake regarding the final outcome of the case.

Life can be hard, and there are few things harder than unjustly getting the shaft while the person who did you a wrong turn gets the goldmine. It’s times like those when you’ll feel like looking up to heaven and asking God, “Did you see that?” But anytime you are tempted to do that just remember that God did see it. That’s why you can leave the revenge to Him. As He says in Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19, and Hebrews 10:30, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” Granted, it’s hard to wait on God to do your avenging, but as you wait you can at least draw hope from the fact that He was an eyewitness to what happened, which means that He’s not buying the guilty person’s version of the story.

Posted in Adversity, Anger, Comfort, Disappointment, Doing Good, God's Omnipresence, God's Omniscience, Persecution, Revenge, Suffering, Trusting In God | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Are We “This Generation”?

“Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near — at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” (Matthew 24:32-34, N.K.J.V.)

These historic times in which find ourselves are causing many of us to ask, “Is Jesus about to return?” My answer is that I don’t know when He will return and neither does anyone else. With that understood, though, I’d like to use this post to address a certain interpretative issue that arises from biblical prophecy. That issue centers around Christ’s use of the term “this generation.”

Matthew chapters 24 and 25 give us Christ’s lengthiest teaching on the topic of prophecy. The teaching is known as “The Olivet Discourse” because Jesus gave it to His chosen 12 apostles while the group was resting atop the Mount of Olives that is located just outside Jerusalem. As part of that teaching, after describing some of the events of the coming tribulation period, Jesus said:

“Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matthew 24:30-31, N.K.J.V.)

That, ladies and gentlemen, is an indisputable reference to Christ’s Second Coming to walk the earth again and establish His kingdom upon it. Next, following those words, Jesus immediately launches into the words of our text passage as He chooses the example of a budding fig tree to illustrate His point. And what is that point? It is, “This generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” (Mark’s account of the statement is found in Mark 13:30, and Luke’s account is found in Luke 21:32.) Obviously, then, the correct identification of “this generation” is incalculably important.

One interpretation of “this generation” comes from those who hold to a preterist view of prophecy. Preterists believe that prophetic passages such as The Olivet Discourse and the entirety of the book of The Revelation have already been fulfilled by way of the Romans destroying Jerusalem, burning the Jewish temple, and killing millions of Jews in 70 A.D. In keeping with this line of interpretation, the preterists contend that “this generation” is a reference to Christ’s apostles (the men who were sitting in front of Him at the moment He used the term) as well as their contemporaries.

Of course, the great flaw in this interpretation is that it requires us to either thoroughly downplay or thoroughly spiritualize the literalness of: the sun being darkened (v.29), the moon not giving its light (v.29), the stars falling from heaven (v.29), the powers of the heavens being shaken (v.29), the sign of the Son of Man appearing in heaven (v.30), all the tribes of the earth seeing Jesus coming on the clouds of heaven (v.30), and Jesus sending out His angels to gather His elect from all corners of the earth (v.31). After all, none of these things literally happened in 70 A.D.

Furthermore, the preterist interpretation turns the kingdom that Jesus established at His supposed Second Coming in 70 A.D. into a mystical, spiritualized one in which He currently rules over the earth in an invisible way through His church. Needless to say, all this is just way too much downplaying and spiritualizing for most of us to consider legitimate, and so we must reject the preterist interpretation. Summing things up bluntly, “this generation” definitely does not refer to Christ’s apostles and their contemporaries.

A second interpretation was made popular by Hal Lindsey in his wildly popular book The Late Great Planet Earth, which was published in 1970 and became an international best- seller the New York Times newspaper crowned as the best-selling non-fiction book of the entire decade. In his book, Lindsey asserted that the key to understanding future prophetic events was the rebirth of Israel as a nation on May 14, 1948, in the aftermath of Hitler’s World War II Jewish Holocaust. According to Lindsey, Joel 1:7 proved that the budding fig tree in Christ’s illustration symbolized Israel, and that symbolism meant that the time period that Jesus described in The Olivet Discourse actually began in 1948. Thus, the generation that was alive in 1948 was the generation to which Jesus referred.

Continuing on with this interpretation, Lindsey stated that the Bible defined a generation as being “something like forty years,” which led him to conclude that there was a strong possibility that Jesus would return to establish His earthly kingdom sometime in 1988. Lindsey also taught that all Christians would be transported to heaven by way of yet another prophetic event, The Rapture (1 Corinthians 15:50-58; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), just prior to the beginning of the seven-year tribulation period. Therefore, since his math for Christ’s Second Coming added up to 1988, his math for The Rapture had to add up to 1981. As you can guess, a whole bunch of Christians were disappointed when 1981 came and went without any Rapture and 1988 came and went without any Second Coming.

One possible explanation for Hal Lindsey’s wrong prediction is that Jesus did not have Israel in mind at all when He used His fig tree illustration. Rather than symbolically using the fig tree in reference to Israel, Jesus could have been using the imagery in a general way to teach that it is possible to study current events and come to at least a fairly clear understanding of future events. If this was indeed the case, Lindsay’s whole idea of Israel’s rebirth in 1948 being the hinge event upon which everything else hangs sinks like a stone thrown into deep water.

Also, even if we assume for the sake of argument that Jesus really was talking about Israel’s 1948 rebirth when He made reference to the fig tree beginning to bloom, that still doesn’t mean that Lindsey’s biblical definition of a generation was correct. Yes, it’s true that God gave the land of Canaan to Israel’s younger generation by killing off the entire older generation as the nation wandered in the wilderness for 40 years (Numbers 14:1-38, specifically verse 33). However, there are other passages that define the length of a generation as being something other than 40 years. Consider the following examples:

  • In Genesis 15:13-16, God tells Abraham that Abraham’s descendants will be afflicted in a strange land (Egypt) for 400 years, but then He also tells him that they will leave Egypt and return to Canaan in the fourth generation. Dividing four generations by 400 years, that might mean that a biblical generation can be defined as 100 years.
  • In Psalm 90:10, the Bible says the days of our lives are seventy years, with some people being strong enough to live eighty years. This might be taken to mean that a biblical generation can be defined as 70 years. Bolstering this definition is the fact that 70 is the average between 40 and 100.
  • In Matthew 1:17, the Bible says there were 14 generations from Abraham to David, another 14 from David until Israel’s exile in Babylon, and another 14 from the Babylonian exile until the time of Christ. What’s significant about all this is that those these three eras in Israel’s history were not equal in length. This, then, might mean that there is no precise biblical definition assigned to a generation.

Just for fun, let’s apply the possible definitions of 70 years and 100 years to Hal Lindsey’s interpretation of 1948 as the linchpin year of future prophetic events. By doing so we find that 70 years still doesn’t fit because Jesus didn’t return to walk the Earth again in 2018 and the Rapture didn’t occur seven years prior in 2011. Admittedly, if we define a generation as 100 years, that does leave the year 2048 as a possible date for Christ’s Second Coming and the year 2041 as a possible date for the Rapture. But do we really want to put any confidence in either of these two predictions? I certainly don’t. If they do turn out to be correct, that’s fine with me. I’m just saying that I’m not going to bet the farm on them.

As for me, I agree with all the preachers, teachers, and commentators who favor a third interpretation of “this generation.” Under this interpretation, “this generation” will simply be the generation of people who are alive during the days — whenever those days are — when the events of the tribulation period begin. (Note that the beginning of the tribulation period has nothing to do with Israel’s rebirth as a nation in 1948.) Putting it another way, I and many others believe that Jesus’ use of the term “this generation” was merely His way of emphasizing that the entire tribulation period will play out in a time period short enough so that the generation of people who are alive on earth when the period begins will live to see Christ’s Second Coming at the end of the period. This interpretation, by the way, walks hand in hand perfectly with the book of Daniel’s teaching that the tribulation period will only last for seven years.

You ask, “But couldn’t we be that generation?” Yes, we could. Then again, that generation might not even be in their mothers’ wombs yet. You see, the truth is that Christians have been thinking they were living in the time in which Jesus would return for some 2,000 years now. Read the writings of the apostle Paul and you’ll find that even he believed that he was living in that time. And yet here we are in the year 2020 still waiting.

We should also keep in mind that even Jesus Himself, in that same Olivet Discourse, said of His return, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (Matthew 24:36, N.K.J.V.). So, while we might watch the nightly news and think, “How much worse can things get?” we should never attempt to set a date for either The Rapture or Christ’s Second Coming. Instead, we should live each day as if we might literally see Jesus, by way of The Rapture or by way of our own death, before that day ends. This holds true during times of pandemics, businesses being shut down, race marches, police investigations, monuments being torn down, political nastiness, and other times of upheaval and unrest, and it also holds true during all other times. That’s the way it’s been since the dawn of the church age and that’s how it will remain until God’s timing officially arrives.

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