Created for Work

Created for Work
 
Did you know that you were created for work? I'm serious. As much as you may dislike a certain job or aspect of a job, you were created to work. Remember all the way back to the beginning of Genesis. When God created everything, including humanity, and all of creation was said to be perfect. God said, "It is very good." Part of what was very good was the fact that Adam and Eve were placed in that Garden paradise and expected to have dominion over it. They had tasks such as naming the animals and surely things like tending to the trees and vegetation as well as maintaining the rivers and streams. Work was a part of the original and wonderful creation. So, we can say that mankind was created to work hard and to be productive.

It is a good thing to be productive during the day, and it is a good thing to be tired when you go to bed, especially if you are doing this hard work for the glory of God. And, no; you do not have to be a vocational minister of a local church in order to work for the Lord. The Bible has a lot to say about the Christian's work ethic, and these things apply to all believers.

The Proverbs remind us of the practicality of work. We have to work to eat, and there is always a profit from hard work. A strong work ethic is also satisfying for the laborer, and there is great blessing in it. We are also exhorted in the Proverbs to "commit our work to the Lord."

In the New Testament there are important passages that give an even more solid theological underpinning for our work ethic. Whatever we do, we are to "do all to the glory of God." We are to "work heartily as to the Lord and not people." Hard work allows us to take care of our own needs as well as the needs of others because we are reminded that "It is more blessed to give than to receive."

So, when you punch in at work today, or you go out to tend to your garden, or you volunteer at a local ministry, remember to do everything as to the Lord and not to simply please people. Paychecks are important, but our motivation and heart is that much more important. Think of ways to use your job to glorify the Lord!

The Lord's Supper

The Lord’s Supper: Biblical Overview and Theological Reflections                            WC McCarter

NAMES

(1) Eucharistχαριστω): Matt 26:27; Mark 14:23; Luke 22:17, 19; 1 Cor 11:24
“17 [Jesus] took the cup, and gave thanks . . . . 19 And He took bread, gave thanks. . . .”

Not a title for the meal in the Bible but has become one, especially for Roman Catholics.

(2) Communion (κοινωνα): 1 Cor 10:16-17
“16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? 17 For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.”

Fellowship, sharing, communion. Here we find a description of the event of the meal, yet it has become a title in many traditions.

(3) Breaking of Bread κλσει το ρτου): Luke 24:35; Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7; 1 Cor 10:16
“7 Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.”

Most scholars, nearly universally, believe that this phrase refers to the Lord’s Supper. Remember, Jesus was known to the disciples “in the breaking of bread” after traveling the road to Emmaus. So, here, we have a biblical title for the meal.

(4) The Lord’s Table (τραπζης κυρου): 1 Cor 10:21
“21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord's table and of the table of demons.”

We are instructed to come to the Lord’s Table with sincerity and purity of heart and relationships. Here, we have another biblical title for the meal.

(5) The Lord’s Supper (κυριακν δεπνον): 1 Cor 11:20
“20 When you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper.”

Here, the meal is specifically referred to with this title, which is the most common of all the titles. The Corinthians were rebuked for making a mockery of the Lord’s Supper. They called it such, but they were actually getting drunk and eating their fill before others could make it to the gathering.

CONTEXT

(1) Passover: Beginning at Exodus. The Lord commanded the people to keep the Passover meal for generation after generation to remember their salvation from slavery in Egypt. There was a Passover Lamb, a blood sacrifice, and there was salvation.

(2) Last Supper: Passover Meal. Jesus took the position of the “head of household” and instituted a new covenant in His blood.

(3) NT Christians: Meal within the meal (agape love feast). They practiced this regularly, even weekly (devoted/continued steadfastly).

(4) Church History: As one dictionary says, “At first the ceremony was part of a larger meal . . . but, being a special part, it could be separated” (ZIBD). The dictionary article goes on to teach, Historically speaking, the Lord’s Supper was later separated and became the second part of the weekly worship time, the first being the ministry of the word (ZIBD). So, what the church had was two major pillars for the service around which was placed prayers and songs: the ministry of the word and the Lord’s Supper. For the first 300 years, it seems to be regularly practiced.

ELEMENTS

(1) Bread: “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”

(2) Cup: Blood of the new covenant poured out for many. The word wine is never used. Fruit of the vine. May have been unfermented grape juice.

MEANING

(1) Remember: There is no doubt that one of the chief purposes of the Supper is to remember. Jesus commanded, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” The Table is a memorial of the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ (Heb 7:27; 9:12), and, contrary to Catholicism, it is not a continual, active offering of a sacrifice. The Table serves to remind us of the one-time sacrifice. And, “Remembrance, biblically, involves a realization and appropriation in the present of what was done in the past” (source unknown). It is an active memory. We put ourselves back in time. We think of ourselves in the Upper Room. We think of ourselves at the cross. We imagine being present at the empty tomb and at the Lord’s ascension.

(2) Examine: The apostle instructs in 1 Cor 11:28-29, “28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.” The Lord’s Supper gives us a weekly opportunity to examine our own lives, our own souls to see if our motives are pure and if our minds are set on the Lord.

Let me point out that the “unworthy manner” here is specifically “not discerning the Lord’s body” which is, in the context, not considering your brothers and sisters in Christ. You see, the Lord’s Supper is not something you do alone. It is not just a fellowship of you and the Lord like you’re in a bubble or like a man on the moon. No, the Lord’s Supper is a fellowship of the whole church. You must think of the person in front of you, behind, beside, and across the room. The Lord died for each one of us. If there is ill-will between you and someone else, if there is conflict, if you are ignoring others, overlooking his/her needs, then you are eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner.

(3) Commune: Again, we have 1 Cor 10:16-17,
“16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? 17 For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.”

The word used is the word for fellowship. Of course, this piggybacks off of the last point. This is a communion that we share with one another and with the Lord Himself. This is the most important, the most special form of fellowship that the Christian has.

(4) Proclaim: The famous words of the apostle come in 1 Cor 11:26 when he says, “26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes.” We are making a statement. We are preaching to our own souls, to all those in the assembly, and to the whole world. We are heralding the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

(5) Pledge: Coming to the Lord’s Table and participating in His Supper is a pledge of loyalty to the Lord, a pledge of allegiance to Christ and His church. It is to come wholeheartedly and single-mindedly, focusing completely on the Lord and His purposes. One author says, “To eat at His table is to be committed to Him, identified with His people, and dedicated to the service of His cause in the world” (BEB, 1355).

(6) Anticipate: In each of the accounts of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, from Matthew, Mark, and Luke to Paul in 1 Corinthians, there is some form of hope for the future. When we partake, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. And, we will all one day participate in this meal with the Lord in the Father’s kingdom.

CONCLUSION

(1) Christians Only: With all these things in mind, one can see that it is assumed that this a meal for Christians only. Why would one want to participate if he/she does not believe?

(2) Weekly Meal: It appears that the Lord’s Supper was practiced weekly in the New Testament, but that is not conclusive. Early church history also shows a weekly participation in the Supper. There is no prescription, no commandment about frequency, but it was done regularly. So, we choose to make it part of our weekly worship time, much like the Bible lesson, the singing, the prayers, and the Scripture readings. It is our opportunity, each week, to be reminded of the Gospel message, to examine ourselves, to fellowship at the Lord’s Table, and to proclaim the Gospel to one another. We engage in this weekly because we cannot think of a reason not to do so. This is as important an activity as there is in the Christian life.

(3) Both And: The Lord's Supper should be both solemn and joyful at the same time, both serious and a celebration.



Do Not Hinder the Children, Part 2

Do Not Hinder the Children, Part 2

In last week’s brief midweek message, I was fairly hard on parents.  This week, I will lay a burden on the whole church.  Let me say, again, before we get started, that I am not wanting to cultivate some kind of legalistic approach to church attendance.  I am simply arguing that Christians need to gather with the church as much as possible in order to fend off the attacks of the evil one.

In part one, we quoted the words of Jesus when He said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.”  I described the current situation of our times and how parents are some of the main culprits of this act that displeases the Lord.  Many parents hinder their children from being introduced to Christ, experiencing a relationship with Him, and learning of Him simply by neglecting regular church attendance.  Yet, I do not want you do be deceived into thinking that I am only talking to parents with school-aged children.  No, the spiritual growth and discipleship of children is the responsibility of the entire congregation.  Yes, parents (and especially fathers) bear most of the responsibility, but the church bears some as well.

In a couple of recent sermons, the subject of mentoring has come up.  All Christians, according to New Testament norms, are expected to mentor others in the church.  Older men are to teach younger men.  Likewise, older women are to teach younger women.  Moreover, we should all be conscious of the example that we are setting for others, especially for those who are most impressionable—children. Similarly, the Great Commission is a wonderful passage (Matthew 28:16-20) and really gets at the heart of Christ’s purpose for the church in this age, and I would propose to you that if we are going to be obedient to that call to make disciples, then there are no better candidates than the kids that are running around us in the sanctuary.

Parents, this is your main job—discipling your children, and church, you should also take an active role in helping to raise up a godly generation.

Rendering to Caesar, Rendering to God (Matthew 22:21)

Rendering to Caesar

A little reminder of Jesus’ words about rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s may be beneficial for us as Tax Day arrives.  So often we are frustrated with the governing authorities: their taxation and their poor leadership.  The Jews of the first century were also frustrated with the occupying Empire.  They had many reasons to be upset with Rome, the greatest being a theological one: Rome occupied the Promised Land and oppressed God’s chosen people.

Heavy taxation was only part of the problem that the Jews had with the Romans, but it was a constant reminder of their own inferiority to a Gentile Empire.  Some of the Pharisees and Herodians, two groups of Jews, thought that they could set a trap for Jesus by getting Him to publicly speak ill of the authorities.  Yet, as usual, Jesus knew the wickedness in their hearts (yes, the ill will they had toward the Romans but, even more so, the ill will that they had toward Jesus).  So, how does Jesus respond?  Did He tell the people that they were right to rebel against the governing authorities?  Did He tell them to not give in to the tax demands and pay hard earned money to the filthy Gentiles?


Jesus, in a most clever fashion, tells His opponents to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.  He also told them to give to God what belongs to God (we may have to talk about this next week).  Is it hard to honor such corrupt American leadership like we have today?  Sure.  No one is denying that.  Is it difficult to send so much money to the government every year?  Yes, it is a hard pill to swallow.  Is it the right thing to do?  Honoring the governing authorities and paying our taxes is most certainly the right thing to do because the Lord has instructed us to do so.  He has commanded us on several occasions, Himself and through His apostles, to submit to the governing authorities and to honor the national leadership.  Part of living as a good citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven is living as a good citizen of the kingdoms is this world (in our case, the United States).  Let us stand for what is right despite how corrupt our culture or government may become.

Rendering to God

When we begin to ponder what Jesus meant by, “Render to God the things that are God’s,” we may feel a little guilty over the many compromises we have made when it comes to our Christian responsibilities.  One commentator has said, “The most significant part of life is that which belongs to God. . .” (Morris, 558).  And yet, we so often neglect this part of our lives.  We are blinded by the things of this world.  We are distracted by trivial pursuits.  We get wrapped up in things that do not last.  We often times do not use our energy, time, finances, minds, possessions, and the rest in service to God in the ways that we should.

This writer goes on to say, “We should be clear, too, that Jesus is not saying that we can divide life into separate compartments so that God has nothing to do with that section which belongs to Caesar.  The obligation to God covers all of life; we must serve Caesar in a way that is honoring to God” (Ibid.).  In reality, for the Christian, there is no divide between the sacred and the secular.  All of life is sacred.  Every part of our lives should be influenced and, often, directly determined by the Lord.  We like to think that Sunday is God’s day (if we even give Him that anymore) and the rest of the week is “mine.”  We like to think that 10% of our money should be “paid back” to God when, in fact, it all belongs to Him.  We like to think that we can serve a few minutes here and maybe an hour there, but God wants us to serve Him at all times (often by serving others).  We like to separate “sacred” and “secular” but there is no room for such thinking in the Christian life.

To use the idea of Caesar again: Caesar most certainly represents the worldly government, but he may also represent all of the things of this world.  The Christian realizes and submits to God’s Lordship above all others, the worldly government and all of the things of this world.  God is, therefore, sovereign over Caesar, the President, America, or any other.  We have obligations to the authorities and systems of this world; we also have obligations to our families, employers, and communities, but our greatest obligation is to the Lord Himself.  Let’s render unto God the things that are God’s, that is, the entirety of our lives.


Do Not Hinder the Children

Do Not Hinder the Children

In Philippians 3:12-16, we are exhorted to press forward in the Christian life.  One of the applications that I have given in response to that message has been to have our children in church.  Now, we could be legalistic about this issue, but I want to share with you the practical reasons for having our kids at church on a regular basis in this devotional and in next week’s.

The Lord Jesus famously said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.”  One thing that greatly displeases the Lord is keeping children away from Him. Ironically, some of the most common perpetrators of this expectation of our Lord are Christian parents.  For the sake of making our children “happy,” we often do anything but attend church on Sundays.  Whether it is going on trips, playing sports, or simply sleeping in, many of us are guilty of hindering our kids from going to the Lord.  Have we displeased the Lord if we take a couple vacations a year?  No, I don’t think so.  But we do offend the Lord if we do not usher our kids to the Lord on a regular basis. We feed them, bathe them, clothe them, educate them, and ensure that they have plenty of exercise all on a regular basis.  For that matter, we even make sure that they are entertained every day.  Yet, how often do we consider either the positive or negative impact of church attendance on the health and well-being of our children?

I have been convicted about this vital part of parenting, and I hope you are as well.  Maybe some of you have already raised your kids, but what about your grandkids and the other families in the church?  In a culture that has turned so hostile against Christianity, I am convinced that we do not need less of God, we need more.  We do not need less time in God’s Word, we need more.  We do not need poorer church attendance, we need near perfect attendance.  The same goes for adults and all of your family.  Let’s not neglect worship, prayer, learning, sharing, encouraging, and accountability.  Let’s not hinder our children from coming to the Lord.

All for God's Glory

All for God’s Glory

As a student of the Bible, you have to love a “therefore.”  When you see that word it is your signal to pay careful attention to what follows.  A “therefore” is a summary of all that has been taught, an exhortation to live godly based on the context, an application for your Christian walk.  1 Corinthians 10:31 is a great reminder of what our lives are supposed to accomplish. It is a wonderful thing to have purpose in life.  So many folks all around us have no clue what this life is all about.  Many struggle to make it through each day because they cannot find a reason to push forward.  As Christians, we know what this life is all about.  We have reason.  We have purpose.  We have a relationship with almighty God.  Our will is to do His will each day.  We want God to be glorified in all that we do.  From the time we leave church on Sundays until the time we return, we want God to be glorified in our weekly routines—in the mundane moments and the special ones.  Whether we are eating, or drinking, or talking on the phone, or driving to work, or sitting in a class—whatever we do, we do it for God’s glory.

The wonderful thing about God’s glory is that He is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.  I learned this from a man named John Piper and have taken great comfort in it ever since.  You do not have to be miserable so that God can be made glorious, neither do you need to satisfy your sinful desires in order to be happy.  God wants us to find our happiness, purpose, and satisfaction in Him!  What a fulfilling life you can live when you do everything for the glory of God! Treasure Him.  Pursue Him.  Trust Him.

Matthew 8:1-4 I Am Willing, Be Clean

Matthew 8:1-4        I Am Willing, Be Clean                               WC McCarter

Introduction
My favorite hymn, Victory in Jesus, has a second verse which states, “I heard about His healing, of His cleansing pow'r revealing; how He made the lame to walk again and caused the blind to see; and then I cried, ‘Dear Jesus, Come and heal my broken spirit,’ and somehow Jesus came and bro't to me the victory.”  This is the subject of today’s sermon and many of the passages we will encounter next as we enter a new section in the Gospel of Matthew.  I have entitled this series, “The Dominion and Demands of the King,” Matthew 8-9.

Today, we encounter a story that is recorded in all three synoptic Gospels, i.e. Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  They are called synoptic because they cover much of the same material.  They each tell this story in their own way, which gives us different perspectives.  Apparently this was a famous incident between the Lord and a leper.  In these four verses, Matthew points our attention to Christ.

READ Scripture- This is the Word of God

Multitudes Followed (1)
The Scripture says, “When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him.”  The mountain that He came down from must have been the one that he went up on in 5:1 and the multitudes that followed Him must have been the ones that prompted the occasion for the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus’ fame had spread over the entire region and great crowds followed Him everywhere He went.  Instead of giving the people what they wanted (i.e. a miracle), Jesus sat down and began to teach them.  He gave them what they needed.  Do you see the pattern that Jesus has set for us?  From time to time He will heal individuals and perform miracles, but His main objective is to teach all of His followers.  For the most part, the Christian life is one of slow and quiet progress in Christ which provides great joy.

Now, why were they following Him?  There may have been many in the crowds that followed Him because they wanted to see a miracle, but for a direct answer we can go back to 7:28-29.  Many are probably caught up in the excitement surrounding Jesus’ ministry, and there are certainly some folks who are intrigued by His teaching ministry.  What a lesson for us to consider.  Two questions may be asked: first, are you following Jesus, and second, why are you following Jesus?  I hope that you answer “yes” to the first, and “I trust Him” to the second.  What is so special about Jesus’ teaching?  He speaks like no one else!  His words are spirit, and they are life!  To whom else shall we go?  Jesus Christ has the words of eternal life, and He offers true atonement.

There is a difference in being intrigued by the message and actually submitting to the demands of Jesus’ teaching.  The response to Jesus' teaching was amazement, but the proper response is obedience.  Now we see in verse one that the crowds followed Him, but we are about to learn in chapters 8-9 what it really means to follow Jesus.  Jesus will complement His terrific teaching with marvelous miracles as signs of His all-encompassing dominion.  He will show His power over disease, demons, and death (to keep my D’s, we can include “da earth”) and also declare the demands of true discipleship.  Matthew shares some of these wonders with us beginning with three acts of healing.  The first of these healing miracles is what we are considering today, and it is actually couched in terms of ceremonial cleansing.

Leper: If You Are Willing (2)
The word "behold" (δο) is used often in narrative sections in the Bible, especially in the Gospels.  It is meant to grab the reader’s attention and to add interest and emphasis.  Also, the word is used to mark a scene change.  Apparently, the crowds are not present for the cleansing of the leper (based on the command to not tell anyone).

We cannot be sure what kind of “leprosy” this was.  The ancient term for leprosy covers a wider array of conditions than what we call leprosy today.  It certainly was an itchy or powdery thickening of the skin most prevalent in the spring and likely refers to a disease that causes the outer layer of skin to die and flake off, especially when scratched.  A leper was totally ostracized from society until he was declared cured (Lev 13:45-46).  So, the word is used of all sorts of skin diseases, but it most certainly was something that was considered incurable and horrific to the people.  In any case, it made this man ceremonially unclean in the eyes of all Jews.  He would not have been able to worship in the Temple or really have any kind of social interaction with others.  He was an outcast.  He came and knelt down before the Lord to seek mercy.  He knew that Christ had the authority and power to do a great miracle for him.  He only feared that he would be passed by.  Have you ever felt that way?  You knew that Christ could forgive you of your sins, but for some reason you felt like you may be passed by?  If so, listen closely to the rest of the story.  For this man to come to Jesus would have been bold and the normal response for a Jewish man like Jesus would have been to steer clear of him.  Anything but that reaction would have been extraordinary. 

The leper shows great respect for Jesus, he first kneels and then calls Him Lord, and Matthew only uses "Lord" of those who believe in Jesus; cf. 15:22; 17:15; 20:30–31).  He asserts Jesus’ power in the first place with “you can,” and then, in the second place, he asserts Jesus’ sovereignty “if you are willing.”

Application: All of us suffer with a variety of ailments; some worse than others; some earlier in life; some later in life.  If you live long enough on this earth, you will suffer at the hands of a fallen world.  God, according to His sovereign purposes, permits us to suffer these things for a time.  We may not know the reason, after all, we are not God, but we will experience the end results of His reasoning.  He will ultimately work through everything for our good.  And, it is precious to know the one who does have the power to cleanse the leper’s spots.  We may not experience relief now, but we will after a little while.  We must pray the words of the leper, “Lord, if you are willing, You can make me clean.”  These are words of bold faith and great confidence.  There is not a shadow of doubt in that statement as to the power of Christ for healing.  The only question was the willingness of Christ.  Christ may have withheld healing, not because He is stingy and hateful, but because, in His divine purposes, He may have had need to allow the suffering to continue for a while to bring about a greater good.  On this occasion, the man is “cleansed” of his leprosy.

Jesus: I Am Willing (3)
Jesus did something extraordinary!  He reached out!  He actually touched this man, who apparently did not come too close to Jesus.  This touch would have normally rendered Jesus ceremonially unclean (Lev 14:46; also Mishnah, m. Nega'im 3.1; 11.1; 12.1; 13.6-12), yet the man became clean when Jesus touched him.  "According to rabbinical practices, it was illegal even to greet a leper in an open place.  Priests often ran and hid themselves upon seeing a leper in the distance" (Mounce).

We know that He did not have to touch the man to heal him.  So, He must have intentionally done this to make a point.  Calvin said, “By His word alone He might have healed the leper; but He applied, at the same time, the touch of His hand, to express the feeling of compassion.”  Jesus reaches, and He speaks.  He says, “I am willing; be cleansed.”  The love of Christ extended to even the most outcast of society.  The mission of Jesus and the demands of love clearly took precedence, as one commentator put it (France).

I like this word that is used next: “immediately.”  Immediately the man was cleansed.  The word “immediately” (εὐθέως) is used frequently throughout Matthew to show the instantaneous and complete results of Jesus’ actions.

Go, Show, Offer (4)
Jesus wants the man to tell no one, most likely because it was not “His time.”  I have said many times before, Jesus was always aware of time during His life and ministry.  The man was not to tell anyone, but of course it would be made known to the priests who he presented himself before at the Temple.  This idea of keeping Jesus’ identity at bay is often referred to in biblical studies as the “Messianic Secret” (see also 9:30, 12:16, 16:20, and 17:9).  Part of this may also be Jesus’ precaution against the rapid rise of a movement that did not understand the nature of His Messiahship (Mounce).

To obey the command involved no small undertaking for the cleansed leper.  He would need to make the journey from near the Sea of Galilee to Jerusalem (something like 70 miles), and there offer the sacrifice required by Moses (see Lev 14:4–32).  Of course, another part of the reason for the command to tell no one may have been so that the healed person would first obey the Law before he became preoccupied with telling others about his healing (NKJVSB).

The last of verse four shows us that the Law points to Christ.  How does it demonstrate this?  What Jesus had just done would be confirmed by the priests who operated under the Law of Moses.  This act will give public proof that the leper is cured and may return into society.  Even those corrupt priests would not be able to deny or discount what Jesus had done for this man.  So, Jesus does what the religious leaders cannot.  He preaches and teaches with authority, and He heals those who are considered to be forever unclean.

Conclusion and Christian Application
One author has said that Matthew's account of Jesus' healing is so pruned of all auxiliary narrative details that the focus falls on the person's confidence in the power of Jesus and the words of Jesus in response.  This economy of detail is not because the Evangelist eschewed vividness but because He has a "distaste for technical details of miracles as such" and does not want the reader to be distracted by the technique and miss the significance of the person of Jesus (Hull in Garland).  Our focus is directed to Jesus.

The Lord is willing to cleanse you this morning.  Not every person receives a miracle of physical relief, but all are invited to come to him for spiritual cleansing, and none will be passed by.  He is more than willing to provide spiritual relief to those who are poor in spirit, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  Calvin said that Christ did not only stretch out His arm to us, but He descended from heaven.  His willingness took Him all the way to the cross of Calvary.  We may need physical healing (after all, if we live long enough, we will suffer), but, first and foremost, we need spiritual healing.

As we conclude, let me remind you again of that second verse of Victory in Jesus.  The hymn says, “I heard about His healing, of His cleansing pow'r revealing; how He made the lame to walk again and caused the blind to see; and then I cried, ‘Dear Jesus, Come and heal my broken spirit,’ and somehow Jesus came and bro't to me the victory.”  Notice that the hymn writer says that it was reading about Jesus' healing ministry in the Gospels that caused him to cry out for salvation.  The chorus goes on to say, “O victory in Jesus, my Savior, forever.  He sought me and bought me with His redeeming blood.  He loved me ere I knew Him, and all my love is due Him.  He plunged me to victory, beneath the cleansing flood.”  You see, the same Jesus who had the authority and power to cleanse the leper is the one who went to the cross to suffer the penalty for sin in your place.  God the Father raised Him from the dead to show His approval of that atoning sacrifice.  Through faith in Him, you can be plunged to victory, beneath the cleansing flood.  You can be wrapped in His righteousness and saved from yourself, this present wicked age, and the wrath to come.  You can “hear about His healing and His cleansing pow'r revealing,” and you can, like the leper, bow down and cry out to Him, “Lord, make me clean.”  If you have already done this, then rejoice in this Good News, and remember that His cleansing work is both definite and ongoing.  He is changing you from the inside-out.  If you have never done this, then do so today.  Call out to Him.  The Scripture says in multiple places, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”





Accountability

Accountability

There are certain words in the English language that do not sit well with those who belong to the American culture.  Americans have come to be so private and self-centered that they do not like words such as obedience, submission, abstaining, commitment, loyalty, and others. One word that is so vital to the Christian life but so repulsive to the calloused ears of Americans, even Christians in America, is the word, “Accountability.”  The New Testament Scriptures call for Christians to be accountable to/for one another.  As a matter of fact, we would not even have most of the books of the Bible, God’s holy word, if it was not for the concept of accountability.

Over and over again in the Scriptures, the apostles and their Gospel colleagues are calling into account Christians over their thinking, their behavior, their speech, their doctrine, and more.  There are many reasons for holding one another accountable, but let us simply consider two at this point.

First, Christians are to hold one another accountable because the Lord will hold each and everyone one of us accountable in the end.  The Scripture says, “So then each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom 14:12); and in another place, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor 5:10); and yet again, “They will give account of it in the day of judgment” (Matt 12:36).  We ought to hold one another accountable because if we judge ourselves now, we will not be judged later.  If we deal with our sins now, the Lord will not need to bring them to light later. Yes, we can examine ourselves, but there is no doubt that when we live our lives within the realm of the local church, with the comradeship of fellow believers, we are spurred on to faithful living, confession of sin, and good works.  If we hold one another accountable now, we will endure until the end by faith and be saved from the wrath of God which will be revealed on Judgment Day.

Second, Christians are to hold one another accountable because we need the motivation and encouragement to continue in the Faith.  We need to “stir up love and good works” (Heb 10:24); “comfort each other and edify one another” (1 Thess 5:11); “restore [sinning Christians] in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal 6:1); “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another” (Jas 5:16); “speak the truth with his neighbor” (Eph 4:25); and so much more. We have to hold one another accountable because, left to ourselves, we fall into sin without any checks and balances.

So, to conclude in a simple way the simple points that have been made here, let me say that to live within this kind of accountable lifestyle one must be devoted to the local church.  If the church is that building over thereor someorganization with which you are loosely affiliatedor those people, then you have not made yourself a part of it, and you are an island on your own.  Accountability is a healthy part of life in general but also of the Christian life.

How is Your Heart?

How is Your Heart?

So, how is it?  Have you taken a moment recently to check your own heart?  The Bible is full of reminders and even warnings concerning self-examination.  While our careers, schooling, household duties, and weekly routines are important, there is nothing more important than your spiritual state.  The Lord Jesus is the One who asked, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”

Let me show you some of those reminders I am talking about.  “Let us search out and examine our ways, and turn back to the Lord” (Lam 3:40).  “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves.  Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2 Cor 13:5).  “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Rom 8:9).  “But let each one examine his own work” (Gal 6:4).  “But let a man examine himself” (1 Cor 11:28).

Do you think that God finds it valuable that we check ourselves?  We are told to keep our hearts, as the verse in the graphic above displays.  So, the real question is, How is your heart? Have you checked it recently?  What do you find?  Is it full of love?  Is there joy there?  What about peace?  Is it full of the word of God?  I certainly hope that it is fully satisfied in Christ, but even if it is not—there is mercy and forgiveness available.  We are not perfect, not any of us.  The apostle John is a big help in this matter.  He said, “For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things” (1 John 3:20).  He also said, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  God is greater than our hearts and is able to cleanse it, even after we have become Christians, if we will only confess our sins to Him and repent.  We must slowly but surely rid ourselves of the corruptions of this present wicked age and trust Christ all the more.  By the power of the Holy Spirit we can do this.

Check your heart.  Confess your sins.  Treasure Christ.

Matthew 7:7-12 Ask, Seek, Knock

Matthew 7:7-12            Ask, Seek, Knock                             WC McCarter

Introduction
We can certainly state those things that are sins, and we should definitely help people who are struggling in sin.  The point that we made last week from Matt 7:1-6 was that we must not demean others.  We must not be fault-finding, severely critical, assuming a position of authority.

What happened in Orlando this past week gives us pause, and now is an appropriate time to consider our response and thought process concerning these things.  In the early hours of June 12, 2016 a “Gay Night Club” was struck by a hate-filled, Muslim terrorist who shot and killed 49 people and injured 53 others.  One thing is certain- This was an attack on America.  The shooter pledged allegiance to ISIS, and ISIS claimed the man as one of theirs.  Now, as Christians, we know that the Lord is not pleased with those who practice homosexuality.  Over and over again, that lifestyle is condemned in Scripture (Lev 18:22; Rom 1:26-32; 1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:9-10; Jude 7; et al.).  Marriage is raised as a beautiful union between a man and a woman from the opening chapters of the Bible to the closing chapters.  Of course, there are all kinds of sinful lifestyles which are condemned in the Scriptures.  However, in light of the circumstances surrounding the recent massacre, many are asking questions such as, Do you suppose that these calamities in Orlando happened because those folks were worse sinners than all other Americans?  Did they deserve what happened to them?  Jesus spoke to this same sort of issue in His own day in Luke 13:1-5.  Let me share His response.

Luke 13:1-5—There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.  And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things?  I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.  Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

On that occasion, Jesus said to repent.
During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said to pray.

You see, it is so easy for us to point the Pharisaic-finger at other people and make fun or say, They got what they deserved.  What if the Lord gave us what we deserve?  Ah, but we are perfect, are we not?  We are righteous in and of ourselves.  We do not sin.  The perfect, holy, righteous Creator-Judge of the universe will not find any moral failings in us, right?  I think we know better.  Jesus taught in Luke 13 for us to repent, in Matthew 7 He tells us to pray.

READ Scripture- This is the Word of God

Ask, Seek, Knock (7-8)
Last week, we were given three reasons to not demean others.  This week, we are given a three-fold description of prayer: ask, see, knock.  Instead of criticizing others, we are to pray for them.

Good Gifts (9-11)
An argument from the lesser to the greater: If mere mortals/evil people know how to give good things to their children, how much more so will our Heavenly Father know how to give us everything we need?

Illustration: So, the picture is of a child approaching his father with a request, especially a request in behalf of someone else.  I think of Aubrie playing with some of the little girls in our neighborhood.  They will run around, ride bikes/scooters, play on the swing-set, and other things, and Aubrie will soon come over to Bridget or me and ask for a popsicle.  But, she doesn’t ask just for herself, she will say something to the effect of, “Daddy, can we have popsicles; me and my friends.”  How can a parent say no to a request that is so loving and sincere?  She doesn’t just want good gifts for herself but also for her neighbors.

Application: The Jews rarely attributed this kind of power in prayer to anyone.  As one writer says, “Only a small number of sages were considered pious enough to have such power with God” (Keener, 245).  And yet, Jesus gives this promise to all of His disciples, all of God’s people.  We can all approach God in prayer expecting to receive, find, and have the door opened.  Why, then, would we not spend significant time in prayer for ourselves, our families, our church, and those around us who are struggling in sin?

The Golden Rule (12)
Verse 12 summarizes the big idea of verses 1-12 for us.  It is a lesson that should have been learned in childhood, but sadly it is not one that we have remembered: treat others the way you want to be treated.

Matthew 7:1-6 Do Not Judge

Matthew 7:1-6              Do Not Judge                                    WC McCarter

Introduction
There are many different perspectives on this week’s passage.
Society tells us to focus on verse one and to keep our mouths shut.
Fundamentalists tell us to focus on verse six and to speak out.
All I want to know is what Jesus said and what He meant when He said it.

READ Scripture- This is the Word of God

The Command: Do Not Judge Others (1)
Judge [κρίνετε] = Despise (Rom 14:3 [ξουθενείτω / κρινέτω]).
To hold in contempt.  To belittle.  To demean.
Do not be fault-finding, severely critical, assuming a position of authority.
Key Cross-References: (Gal 6:1; 1 John 3:16; 1 Pet 4:15).

Reason #1: The Principle of Reciprocity (2)
We could let the fact that Jesus commanded us not to judge stand as our first reason not to do so, but we will leave it as our heading and make verse two our first reason.  Jesus has already taught that we ought to forgive others if we want God to forgive us.  In much the same way, He now teaches that how we treat others will, in turn, help to provide a basis for God’s treatment of us.
*If we hold others in contempt, the Lord will hold us in contempt.

Illustration: Think of the story of Jonah.  The prophet thought so ill of the Ninevites and obviously held them in contempt.  So, how did the Lord respond?  He did not let Jonah off the hook.  He made it very hard on Jonah, and ultimately the Lord’s will was achieved.  (I personally believe that Jonah recorded his own story and left for us a negative example.  So then, in my hopeful view, Jonah learned the lesson that the Lord wanted to teach, although it could have been much less miserable).

Application: This is not to teach something like karma.  What it does teach is that we worship and serve a personal and sovereign God.  He sees all things and knows all things.  He is very much interested in our day-to-day lives and is involved in all of these different circumstances in which we find ourselves.
He will correct and teach those who belong to Him.

Reason #2: The Trap of Hypocrisy (3-5)
I know that I keep returning to this parable (that I’m about to share again) as an illustration for so much of the Sermon on the Mount, but, remember, Jesus is correcting the poor doctrines and practices of the hypocritical Pharisees (and the same is certainly true of this passage today).  So, let this image that Jesus shared in Luke 18 burn into your memory.


Illustration: Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised [ξουθενοντας] others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’  And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

We can think so much of ourselves that we become blind to our own sin.
This Pharisee in the parable was probably a fairly righteous man according to contemporary expectations, yet he became so puffed up that he did not even realize that he was looking down on others, that he was arrogant.
Do you see the trap of hypocrisy?  Splinter vs. Plank

Application: We must first deal with our own sins so that we can then gently and carefully help others in their times of need and struggle.

Reason #3: The Threat of Injury (6)
Dogs/Swine: The most common interpretation throughout church history has been to use this verse to deny others the Lord’s Supper (pearl = Lord’s Supper).  The common interpretation today, I think, is to say that enemies of the Gospel (persecutors/hostile) should be denied the Gospel (pearl = Gospel/evangelism). On a surface reading, without the context, it does seem to give permission to judge, doesn’t it?  Yet, can you think of any scenario in which the Lord would not want us to share the Good News with someone?  I can’t.

Thomas Bennett says, (1) Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine = do not judge; and (2) Lest they trample them under foot and turn to attack you = lest you be judged.  Bennett says that Jesus is borrowing the words of the hypocrites (Pharisees) and by doing so was actually condemning their use of the idea.

Illustration: I have shared this story with a few of you before, but it is fitting for this point.  There are certain churches in our community who still send folks out to go door-to-door and talk to people/leave a flyer.  One day another pastor friend of mine and I were standing outside in my driveway when three teenagers popped up from a particular church in our community and said, “Hey, do you guys go to church?”  We both grinned and said, “As a matter of fact. . . .”  One of the boys said, “What, are you preachers?”  (He was very perceptive).  We responded, “Yes, we are both preachers.”  He shot back, “Well, hopefully you are Baptist preachers.”  So, I sarcastically said (and I’m telling on myself, here), “No, neither one of us are Baptist preachers, and we don’t use the KJV either.”  They said nothing else and scurried off.

Now, what point can I be making by telling you this?  I have often thought since then that these folks go out into the community casting their little “pearls of wisdom” before the “swine,” but I can easily imagine a scenario where one of these guys smarts off to someone and they get cold-cocked (= turn and tear you in pieces), especially these young boys who are out there on their own.

*It is one thing to be persecuted because you are sharing the Good News with someone or simply because you are a Christian, but it is another thing to be attacked because you have verbally assaulted or shamed someone else.

Conclusion and Christian Application
*Sharing our little bits of so-called wisdom (our opinions, our judgments, our criticisms) is not sharing the Gospel, it is not effective, and Jesus gives us so many reasons to not do it: (1) He Commands to Not Judge; (2) He Shares the Principle of Reciprocity (God will Judge Us); (3) He Cautions of the Trap of Hypocrisy; and (4) He Warns of the Threat of Self-Induced Injury.

Do not criticize, but instead. . . (vv. 7-12).  Ask, seek, knock refers to prayer.  *So, instead of criticizing others, we should deal with our own short-comings, and we should pray for those around us who are not in the grace of the Lord. 


(We will return to this second part in verses 7-12 next week).

Conversation Starters for Evangelism

Conversation Starters for Evangelism

Recently, on Facebook, I have shared some thoughts about evangelism and linked folks to the articles on my website.  In this brief post, I would like to summarize the three suggestions I have made for an opportunity to begin a conversation with someone about the Gospel.

John Stott was a giant in the land of Christianity as he wrote books, Bible commentaries, and delivered powerful sermons in London and abroad for years.  His influence was great during his life and continues to this day.  In a small book titled The Preacher’s Portrait (a book about the New Testament’s view of the preacher and his task), Stott acknowledges in the preface that he was not writing the book to speak to the issues of preaching techniques, the craft of the sermon, or communication in general. He goes on to say, “I do not doubt that there are methods of preaching which need to be learned in our day, when the gulf between the church and the secular world is already so disastrously wide that few bridges are left by which the two remain in contact.”  The part I have used as a launching pad is what I have italicized in the quote.

Bridge #1: People Agree, There is Something Wrong in this World
The Bible calls this brokenness “sin.”  The Bible explains the problem, starting with Adam and going all the way through Old Testament history, and the Bible then gives the solution to the sin-problem, namely, Jesus Christ.  Christianity offers the one-of-a-kind Gospel of atonement through Christ.

Bridge #2: People Agree, They are Not Who They Want to Be
If we have not lived up to our own standards, then we certainly have not lived up to the standards of the holy and righteous God.  The Bible teaches that we need the Holy Spirit to dwell within us and change us from the inside-out in order to become all that we were meant to be. Only in Christ, can we really live up to our full potential.

Bridge #3: People Agree, They Hope there is Life After Death
Every religion promises some kind of afterlife, and even the irreligious have a deep sense of hope in something beyond this age.  Christianity is no different in that sense.  However, the Bible describes the new heaven and new earth in a unique way and offers a free (grace) way of getting there.  Ecclesiastes says that the Lord has put eternity into our hearts. We are created with a deep yearning for eternal life.  The Gospel guarantees eternal life to all who trust in Christ.

These are all “bridges” between the church and the secular world.  These are all offered as conversation starters.  I am confident that any and all of these “bridges” can begin a meaningful and, even, ongoing conversation about important things—eternal things.  Now, go talk with someone!

Activity Replacement (Ephesians 4:28)

Activity Replacement

Ephesians 4:28 is a wonderful verse that has several applications for Christians today.  This section in the epistle is about the Christian lifestyle, it is also about Christian transformation.  The specific point of verse 28 serves to illustrate what it will look like for a Christian to forsake his or her past behavior and pursue holy living.  The practical example is that of a thief who becomes a hard worker to make his own living.  Not only should he forsake his thievery, but he should replace that activity with the activity of working hard with his own hands.  Not only should he work hard to earn a paycheck for himself, but he should work hard to earn a paycheck so that he can be a charitable giver to those in need around him.  What a rich theology of the Christian’s transformation!  What a practical application for every believer!

The thing that I would like to stress at this point is the applicability of this principle to many areas of our lives.  I think it is completely appropriate for Christians to have practical ways of substituting godly habits for bad habits of which they want to rid themselves.  It may be something fairly extreme such as a thief who gives up thievery for a life of hard work with his own hands (Eph 4:28), or it may be a drunkard who no longer fills himself with alcohol but is filled in the spirit through speaking in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in his heart to the Lord and giving thanks always (Eph 5:18-20).  Maybe one of the most practical examples of this idea is the tobacco smoker who stops his bad habit and replaces it with chewing gum or peppermint.  From extreme examples to very simple ones, there is a theology here of activity replacement.

What activity is it in your life that you need to give up in order to replace it with holy, godly living?  God does not expect us to give up our bad habits cold-turkey.  He knows that our sanctification, that is, our holiness, is progressive; thus there is the idea of slowly but surely becoming more and more holy.  There is the idea of quitting one sinful activity and replacing it with a holy one.  The Holy Spirit will also help us to put to death the deeds of the flesh, meaning, the things of our “old person” (Rom 8:13).  So, pursue holiness by replacing sinful habits with holy ones and by trusting that God will help you all along the way by the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life.

Biblical Womanhood

Biblical Womanhood

This upcoming Sunday, we will celebrate the holiday known as Mother’s Day.  This day can be difficult for many because so many of us have already lost our mothers, mothers have lost children, families are estranged, and several women could never have a son or daughter.  We want to acknowledge these pains and struggles, but we also want to continue to celebrate womanhood as God has designed it.

In a culture that is doing its best to distort our gender identities and even merge the genders into a unisex, Christian people should rally all the more to celebrate the way that God has created mankind—both men and women made in His image.  The Bible, from Old Testament to New, gives clear teaching on gender roles and the glories of the differences between the two.  There is teaching on this subject in relation to society, the home, and the church.

Let’s be clear: Both men and women are created in God’s image and likeness and are equal in all things concerning capabilities, intellect, faith, and salvation.  There is no difference between men and women when it comes to the grace of God in Christ Jesus.  However, when it comes to gender roles, God has created us in differing and special ways. Women are nurturers, mothers, helpers, and caregivers.  While men try to do these things, on the whole, we are not as fit for these roles as women, just to name a few examples.  God has ordered creation this way.

While much can and should be said on this subject, let’s leave the discussion for now by acknowledging that Mother’s Day is a wonderful time to not only celebrate our biological mothers but all of the women in our lives who have been and still are motherly.  At the Rural Hall Christian Church, we want to celebrate womanhood as part of God’s beautiful and glorious design.

A Post-Easter Devotional

A Post-Easter Devotional

“He is not here; for He is risen, as He said.  Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (Matthew 28:6).

Let me encourage you to not let go of the Resurrection Celebration so quickly.  I know, Easter has passed; we are back to work; and the kids will soon be back to school.  Things will now go back to “normal” (whatever that is).

Yet, those of us who have surrendered to the saving work and lordship of Jesus Christ have been changed forever.  We do not live by resurrection power only on one day of the year.  We are encouraged to go forward with boldness and the power of the resurrection every day of our lives.  Yes, it is easy to fall into the mundane routine of things and to forget all of the benefits of what the Lord has done for us.  But, let’s make a point to battle.  Let’s resolve to fight against the urge to fall into mundanity.

We have so much for which to be thankful (almost sounds like a cliché, and yet it is true); we have spiritual comfort in this life; and we have great promises for the age to come. The very same Spirit who rose Jesus from the dead now dwells in us to give us life (Rom 8:11); to change us from the inside-out (Rom 8:13); to pour the love of God into our hearts (Rom 5:5); and to tell us that we are His children (Rom 8:16).  Move forward in the Spirit!  Christ was not in that tomb on the Third Day.  He is risen.  Likewise, we are no longer in the tomb.  We are not in the pit of despair.  We have been united with Him through baptism that just as He died and rose again, we, too, have been brought from death to life (Rom 6:5).

Now, let’s obey the Resurrection mandate to, “Go and tell.”  Go to work, go to school, go to the store, go to the post office—wherever you go—go forth in the power of the Spirit of Life, and tell others (whenever the opportunity arises) that they can experience the very same blessings.

A Post-Easter Devotional

A Post-Easter Devotional

“He is not here; for He is risen, as He said.  Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (Matthew 28:6).

Let me encourage you to not let go of the Resurrection Celebration so quickly.  I know, Easter has passed; we are back to work; and the kids will soon be back to school.  Things will now go back to “normal” (whatever that is).

Yet, those of us who have surrendered to the saving work and lordship of Jesus Christ have been changed forever.  We do not live by resurrection power only one day of the year.  We are encouraged to go forward with boldness and the power of the resurrection every day of our lives.  Yes, it is easy to fall into the mundane routine of things and to forget all of the benefits of what the Lord has done for us.  But, let's make a point to battle.  Let's resolve to fight against the urge to fall into mundanity.

We have so much for which to be thankful (almost sounds cliché, and yet it is true); we have spiritual comfort in this life; and we have great promises for the age to come.  The very same Spirit who rose Jesus from the dead now dwells in us to give us life (Rom 8:11); to transform us from the inside-out (Rom 8:13); to pour the love of God into our hearts (Rom 5:5); and to tell us that we are His children (Rom 8:16).  Move forward in the Spirit!  Christ was not in that tomb on the Third Day.  He is risen.  Likewise, we are no longer in the tomb.  We are not in the pit of despair.  We have been united with Christ through baptism that just as He died and rose again, we, too, have been brought from death into life (Rom 6:5).

Now, let’s obey the Resurrection mandate to, “Go and tell.”  Go to work, go to school, go to the store, go to the post office—wherever you go—go forth in the power of the Spirit of Life, and tell others (whenever the opportunity arises) that they can experience the very same blessings.



Joy in Believing

Joy in Believing

As many of you know, my slogan for ministry has been, “For Progress and Joy in Christ.”  This comes from Phil 1:25-26 where the apostle says, “And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all foryour progressand joyof faith, that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant inJesus Christby my coming to you again.” I have made it my mission to help the church (and however many Christians I can) to make progress in their faith.  I want to help believers to develop a stronger, more resilient faith; to make progress toward holiness; and to grow in their understanding of the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I also want the church to have joy in and through this progress in Christ.

Joy is all over the Bible.  During His farewell address on the night that He was betrayed, Jesus told His disciples, “Your sorrow will be turned into joy.”  He went on to say, “I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you;” as well as, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”  That same night He also said, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full;” and He prayed to the Father that His disciples, “may have [His] joy fulfilled in themselves.”  

The apostle commanded in Phil 4:4 and 1 Thess 5:16 that we rejoice in the Lord always, and he told us in Gal 5:22 that Spirit wills to produce joy in us.  He works in us what He requires from us.  The Proverbs instruct us that “the hope of the righteous brings joy” and that “a joyful heart is good medicine.”

All of this is written to provide a little context to what I would like to share next.  For whatever reason, I have been meditating on a particular thought for about a month now.  My thought has been, “There is joy in believing.”  I knew that there was a Scripture that stated this idea, but I did not know where it was until I looked it up.  The closest passage to this idea is actually a benediction from Rom 15:13 which encourages, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  The Lord has certainly filled me with joy in believing.  This idea/verse really helps me put a finger on these “feelings.”

There are so many important aspects to the Christian life.  For example, the Christian worldview is the only one that makes any sense to me; it answers all of the major life-questions.  Another example of the importance of Christianity is that there is no atonement for sin outside of the atoning work of Christ.  Yet, we can leave the conversation in simple terms by saying that there is joy in believing.  I know that many of you have this same mind in you.  From the time I was a child even until now, I have always had joy by being with the church; I have always had joy singing the hymns; I have always had joy in reading the Bible, hearing it taught, and teaching it myself.  I have always had joy in believing.  There is a joy that the Christian life offers that is not experienced anywhere else. There is joy in hope, peace, freedom, etc.  There are many reasons to grow in our knowledge of Christ and His Word—one of the big reasons is that we get so much joy out of the growth!  Let me encourage you to find your joy in Christ.  Bask in the joy of being united with Him, receiving His accomplishments as your own, getting to know Him better, and being with His people.  There is joy in believing!

Irreverent Babble (2 Timothy 2:16)

Irreverent Babble

2 Timothy 2:16 in the NKJV says, “But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness.” Doesn’t the image of a group of ducks fit this verse perfectly?  So many Christians spend their time going on and on about nonsense and ungodly things. Several subjects could fit into this category: coarse joking, gossiping, slandering, cursing, demeaning, and engaging in discussions that will only lead to a dead-end, etc.

More specifically, Timothy was faced in Ephesus with the challenge of avoiding irreverent babbling concerning doctrine. The Apostle Paul’s point was not that Christians should not teach, learn, and discuss doctrine.  His point was that Christians should not spend too much time discussing the peripheral subjects.  We should not spend all of our time debating things that we will not be able to resolve.  There were even some in Ephesus who were making up doctrines from obscure figures in the Old Testament genealogies (1 Tim 1:4).  Things had gotten out-of-hand, so Paul tells Timothy to avoid these kinds of people and these kinds of disputes.  Profane (idle, godless, irreverent) babble will only lead to more and more ungodliness.  We have to keep the first things as the first things and not set our hearts and minds on sideline issues.

Not only was this counsel important for Timothy in the first century, but it is also relevant for us in the twenty-first century.  How often are we tempted to jump into a conversation that is ultimately going to be pointless?  Especially now that we live in a social media world where we are tempted to reply to comments on Facebook and/or @reply to a tweet on Twitter, we must guard our own hearts and mouths (and thumbs) all the more vigorously.  Moreover, the same is true of something as simple as family get-togethers around the holidays.  How often have chats about marginal topics become heated debates around the dining room table?  It happens quite often.

Let us simply avoid irreverent babblings.  I like the older language that sounds more deliberate: Let us shun godless chatter.  In doing so, we will avoid the increase of ungodliness in our lives.

Fellowship in the Gospel (No. 7 in Series)

Fellowship in the Gospel

A Series on Church Membership

Do you have someone who has greatly influenced you?  Do you have someone who, when you think of them, you have to thank God for him/her?  Do you thank God for the gifts, the influence, the blessings, the love?  The Philippians were just that for the apostle Paul.  Every time Paul went to prayer he spoke up in behalf of the Philippians.  He wanted God to pour out mercies on them.  He wanted great spiritual blessings for them.
 
What was it that bound them together?  What was it that could cause great fellowship between people of very different life-situations?  The Gospel is our fellowship.  The Gospel is what unites us.  It has brought us together.  From the first day until that present, joy had filled their hearts, and it was centered on the Gospel.  We have the same bond.  We have the same fellowship.  God has poured out joy in our hearts because of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  The same joy fills each one of us.
 
This is a great motivator for church membership.  We have the same faith in the Gospel, and there is so much joy in finding a group of people to share that with in Christian fellowship.  We can celebrate the Gospel together.  We can thank the Lord together.  We can live out the Gospel together.
 
So, let us be charitable toward one another and, thus, motivate thanksgiving.  When other believers think of you, what do they think?  Is it positive or negative?  Are people thankful for you?  Now, not everything we do will receive a pat-on-the-back or a thank-you-card in return, but are you being charitable toward others and giving others a reason to be thankful for your presence in their life?
 

Also, be thankful for those around you.  Be specific when you go to God in prayer.  Who has been there for you in the hard times?  Who has supported you when you needed it most?  Who has gone out of their way to help you?  Name them to God, and like we said before, be one of those people for others.