When I Grow Up

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”  It is a question every child hears many times when they are young.  I remember, when I was little, thoughts of being an astronaut or a professional baseball player would often fill my dreams.  Around the time I entered high school, my thoughts had shifted to the possibility of being an engineer.  However, when I realized that I love the Lord and His Word a lot more than I did math and science, it became clear to me that preaching was what I was going to do.

I don’t know about you, but there are a lot of times when I still don’t really feel “grown up.”  I suppose that as a Christian, I still have a lot of growing to do, as do all who walk in Christ. We know that we should be striving to grow in Christ every day.  Perhaps as Christians, we don’t fully “grow up” until we attain the resurrection from the dead that Paul talks about in Philippians 3:11-12. The Apostle wrote:

 

that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Php 3:11-12 ESV)

 

With that thought in mind, when I “grow up,” I want to be like the angels in heaven.  After all, that is what Jesus says about the resurrection when answering the Sadducees in Matthew 22, stating in verse 30 that “in the resurrection they…are like angels in heaven.”  Humans are currently “a little lower than the angels (Heb. 2:6-7), but Christ promises a day coming when we will be like them.

When I “grow up,” I want to be like Christ is.  As a Christian I strive to imitate Christ every day, and be like him as much as possible in everything that I do, but there is an even greater sense of being “like Christ” that I aspire to.  Again in Philippians 3, Paul wrote in verse 20-21:

 

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Php 3:20-21 ESV)

 

Yes, I still have a lot of growing to do.  And I know I will not reach my goal until that day when I am raised to be with the Lord forever (1 Thess. 4:17).  Meanwhile, I’ll keep doing my best to grow, and be more like Christ in this life, so that one day I may be resurrected to be like him in glory.

Clear Vision in 2020

I am certainly not the first, neither will I be the last person to make a vision pun in this new year of 2020.  I can’t even promise that this will be these last time I will make such a reference over the next 12 months. I can say for certain that I think having a clearer spiritual vision could be an excellent goal for each and every Christian as we traverse this new journey around our sun.

If we are going to have clearer vision in 2020, we must have our eyes fixed in the right direction. We are all running this race called life, and if we want to run with endurance, we must have our eyes trained on what we are running toward.  The writer of Hebrews wrote that “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to (fixing our eyes on) Jesus, the founder and perfected of our faith…” (Heb. 12:1-2a).  If we are going to run this race, we must keep our eyes on the one who goes before us, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

Clearer vision in 2020 will requires us to have a heavenly focus. Paul wrote to the church in Colossae to “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”  While there are things on earth that require our attention (work, school, family, health, etc.), our ultimate focus must be on those things which have an eternal purpose, rather than a temporal one.

If we hope to have clearer vision in 2020, then it will require us to have adequate light in our lives.  You can’t see properly when in the dark, but shed some light on the situation, and all things will become much clearer.  The Psalmist wrote that the Word of God is “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).  There is simply no substitute for regular Bible reading and study.  It is God’s light for our lives in a world that is full of darkness.  If we take it and use it, we will have light for our path, and we will be able to see more clearly in the year ahead.

May we all strive to have clearer vision in 2020 through fixing our eyes on Jesus, focusing on heavenly things, and letting the light of God’s word illuminate our path.

For the Joy Set Before Him

The Hebrew writer tells us in Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (All quotations from the English Standard Version of the Bible)

We might think that the “joy set before him” is directly connected to his being seated at the right hand of God once he ascended to heaven, and that probably is a factor.  Perhaps, however, we should consider other possible reasons that there was joy to look forward to beyond the cross.

One possible reason for the Lord’s joy beyond the cross is the opportunity to send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit of Truth, to his people. As Jesus was instructing his disciples regarding the coming of the Holy Spirit, he stated in John 16:7, “…it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”  It pleased the Lord to send the Holy Spirit to his people, in whom, still today, we have the guarantee of our inheritance (Eph. 1:14)

It might also be said that it pleased the Lord to be in the position to be the mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5).  He himself said that He was the only way to the Father (John 14:6).  If we would come to the Father, we can only do it in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12).  Going to the cross, being raised on the third day, and ascending to the Father placed Jesus in position to be that mediator between God and man.

Lastly, there was joy beyond the cross because it is through the cross that we are able to repent of our sins and be saved.  Jesus, in three parables in Luke 15, noted how much joy there is in heaven whenever a sinner repents of his sin and turns to God.  He even states in Luke 15:7 that there is “more joy in heaven over on sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Jesus is seated on his throne at the right hand of God.  He is awaiting the coming day when we can be with him where he is (John 14:3) (another possible reason for joy, knowing that the day is coming).  But until that day, there is joy in heaven knowing that the path to the Father is clear.  One who believes in Christ must confess that belief (Rom. 10:9-10), repent of sins and be baptized for the forgiveness of those sins, after which he will receive the promised Holy Spirit, (Acts 2:38) which Christ sent as our Helper. And each time that happens, there is great rejoicing in Heaven.

A Mother’s Example

This Mother’s Day, throughout the church there will be special sermons that are designed to honor those wonderful women who wear the name “mother.” No doubt, many lessons will focus around mothers that we read about in Scripture.  Many will preach lessons from the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Others may look to Hannah, or Ruth, or perhaps Lois and Eunice (Timothy’s mother and grandmother).  No doubt there are other mothers who will be considered as God’s Word is proclaimed today.

Consider for just a moment one mother who is barely mentioned in Scripture, and whose role and example, because it is small, may be overlooked.  Mary, the mother of John Mark, should be considered an example for her hospitality and her dedication to Christ’s church. In Acts 12, though the focus is on Peter, his imprisonment, and his subsequent release, Mary’s role cannot be ignored.  While Peter was in prison, it was in the house of Mary that the church had gathered together and were praying (Acts 12:12). We might assume that they were praying for Peter’s situation (Acts 12:5).

One cannot help but consider what kind of impact this mother, and her love for God’s church, may have had on her son.  It was Mark who departed from Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:13), and because of him Paul and Barnabas were divided, and went their separate ways at the start of the second journey (Acts  15:36-40). Later, however, we read of Mark being considering useful in the work of ministry (2 Tim. 4:11), and to Peter, Mark was considered a son in the faith (1 Peter 5:13).  Mark’s connection with Peter is well known in the history of the church, and it is often understood that much of Mark’s gospel account is based on testimony that he had received from Peter.

It is impossible to say with certainty how much influence Mary had in her son’s faithfulness. There is no doubt, however, that Mark’s mother set an example for him, to love the brethren and be available to serve God’s family in whatever capacity one is able. Thank God for Godly mothers.

 “When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.” – Acts 12:12 ESV

Why Bother With the Old Testament?

There are a number of questions people ask when they find out you are a member of the church of Christ.  The questions about music or weekly observance are almost always near the top of the list.  Another charge I sometimes hear is that we do not believe in the Old Testament.  While it is true that we do not believe that Old Covenant is still binding (Col 2:14), that does not mean we completely disregard the Old Testament.  Here are just a few reasons why that is the case.

First, we believe that just like the New Testament, the Old Testament is inspired of God.  Paul wrote that ALL Scripture is God-breathed in 2 Tim. 3:16, and Peter, speaking specifically of the prophecies of the Old Testament, says in 2 Peter 1:21 that “no prophecy of Scripture was every produced by the will of men, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

A second reason that we believe the Old Testament is still worth our study is because Jesus himself taught from it.  In Luke 4, after reading from the book of Isaiah in the synagogue, Jesus took the opportunity in verse 21 to teach the people that “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  In a number of places he refers to the Old Testament in his teaching, such as making references to the “sign of Jonah” in predicting his resurrection from the dead (Mt. 12:38-42) and references to Daniel’s prophecy when standing trial before the Council (Mk. 14:62 cf. Dan. 7:13-14).

A third reason that we do not ignore the Old Testament is because the other New Testament writers taught from it as well. Paul quoted from and made references the Old Testament in his letters (Rom 3:10-18, 9:6-33; Gal. 3). One might say that the key to understanding the book of Hebrews lies in understanding the Old Testament, especially the books of Moses.  Additionally, we could consider examples of Peter and other writers making reference to Old Testament passages (James 2:23-26; 1 Pet. 2:6-8)

Finally, the express words of Paul in Romans 15:4 give us a good reason to not neglect our study of the Old Testament.  He wrote, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction…” In my opinion, this was easily seen in our recent Wednesday night series covering the book of Ruth.  There was much we could learn from what we usually thought of as simply a beautiful love story.

There is considerable benefit in studying God’s first 39 books of revelation in addition to continuing to deeply study the 27 books given specifically to the church in the New Testament. Let’s not neglect more than half of God’s inspired word just because we are no longer bound by it’s laws.  Study the Old Testament.  All of God’s people would be better for it.

 

When You Are Not Here

It is likely that most members of the Lord’s church are at least familiar with the words of Hebrews 10:25, and many can probably quote the verse.

“…not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more as ye see the day drawing night” (Heb. 10:25 ASV)

The verse is so well known, and has been spoken about so many times from our pulpits, that many Christians have come up with excuses to explain how this verse doesn’t apply to them.  It is often said that the “forsaking” of the assembly involves completely abandoning the church, and does not refer to those who still attend some of the services of the church.  It seems to be believed that it is ok to neglect to meet together with the saints on some occasions, so long as we do not completely abandon the assembly.

However, the admonitions surrounding that charge in the first part of verse 25 begs to differ with that position.  In the latter part of the verse, rather than forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, we are expected to exhort (encourage, edify) one another.  And in the preceding verse, the Word of God reads,

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…” (Heb. 10:24 ESV)

Again, it seems clear that there is an expectation that we ought to be doing whatever we can to encourage our brethren.

When a person willingly chooses not to gather together with the saints, they are missing that encouragement.  A person cannot be encouraged by their brethren if they are not surrounded by their brethren.  Likewise, a person cannot be an encouragement to the church unless he is actively participating in the body. In a third place, what does it say about one’s dedication to the Lord and His church when we willingly choose to be doing something else rather than gathering with the saints?  Jesus warned of the dangers of being “lukewarm” in Revelation 3:15-16.  To the church in Laodicea he said:

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:15-16 ESV)

Many translations use the word “vomit” instead of spit in verse 16.  That paints a pretty disgusting image, but a lukewarm church is disgusting to the Lord. When we choose to be absent from the assembly, what does that say about us?  Let’s seek to always be an encouragement to our brethren, and to show that we are not lukewarm in our love for the Lord.

When Faith and Obedience Collide

Recently I preached a sermon on the relationship between faith, works, and salvation. And as we study that topic, we should be able to understand from James Chapter 2 that faith without works is dead, that one is only justified when, because of his or her faith, they obey God. In fact, James says, quite clearly, that we cannot be saved by faith alone. This same principle is echoed throughout Scripture, in a number of places where the faith and obedience are brought together.

Take for example John 3:36. John writes:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36) (all quotations from ESV unless otherwise noted)

First of all, understand that some older translations like the KJV have the word “believe” in place of “obey” in the latter part of the verse, but the better manuscripts support the use of the word “obey.” Notice how John brings the two ideas together. If belief equals eternal life, then unbelief equals no eternal life. On the other side, if disobedience equals no eternal life, then obedience must equal eternal life. If belief equals eternal life, and obedience equals eternal life, then belief equals obedience. Faith is not just saying “I believe in Christ,” but faith involves everything that is involved in obeying him as well.
Consider another place where these two ideas are brought together.

In 1 Peter 2:7-8 we read:

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. (1 Pet. 2:7-8, emphasis added)

Peter marries the idea of belief and obedience together in much the same way that John did. Look at another example in Hebrews 3:

And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. (Heb. 3:18-19)

In fact, if we were to look later in Hebrews, in that great chapter on faith, Hebrews 11, we would find that those who are commended for their faith, are commended because of action that the took (works) that were based in their faith.

We cannot ignore plain Bible teaching. Faith and obedience cannot be separated from one another. Without obedience, faith is empty, even dead, according to James. Without faith, obedience is meaningless, as there is no basis for the obedience. The two must come together.