Let Your Light Shine, Even in a Pandemic

I know that by now, many people are probably getting a little weary of hearing about COVID-19, otherwise known as coronavirus.   It’s basically all anyone can talk about, and it’s affected all of us in one way or another. Some of us are just missing out on common leisure activities (such as sports being cancelled) but many people are being kept from working, and others are actually being infected, and some have died from this outbreak.

Of course, all of us have differing opinions about the matter, and many of us have reacted in different ways to everything that is happening around us.  In light of all of this, I’d like to offer a few things that those of us who wear the name of Christ should keep in mind.

Be Reasonable. God created us with the ability to reason for ourselves, and He expects us to use that reason (Isaiah 1:18).  When Jesus told his disciples to “be wise as serpents (Matt. 10:16),” surely part of that includes using our own, God-given, good sense as we are dealing with people and situations that arise.   Reasonable people will not be whipped up into hysterics by the things that are going on, but neither will reasonable people just discount everything that is happening as “propaganda.”  God gave you the ability to think and reason for yourself.  Use it!

Be Respectful.  If I’m being perfectly honest, I am becoming increasingly aggravated with some of my brethren on social media who are not shining the light of Jesus into the world with the way they are reacting to these recent events. We are all entitled to our opinions, and even the right to express those opinions.  But nowhere are we given the right to be rude and/or condescending toward other people in the expressing of those opinions.  Love is still kind and is not rude (1 Corinthians 13:4-5) The words of Colossians 4:6 still apply in the 21st century, even when we’re typing of clicking a “share” button.  Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Col 4:6 ESV)

Be Compassionate. Even as busy as the life of Jesus was, he always took time for compassion.  (see Mark 5:25-34).  A lot of people are suffering in one way or another right now.  Are we prepared to help those who may be put out of work, or who may need food or other supplies that they can’t find in the store right now?  I know we can’t help everyone, but let’s have an open heart to help meet a need when we are able, to do good to all men, and especially those who are of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10)

Trust in God. Above all, trust in God.  That doesn’t mean we should be reckless and not take necessary precautions to protect ourselves, thus putting God to the test (see Matthew 4:6-7).  But don’t forget that He is out refuge and our fortress (Psalm 46).  Don’t forget that God will not forsake his people (Heb. 13:5).  Make sure that whatever happens, you are covered by the blood of Christ, and prepared for that heavenly home.

By the way, all of these things will still be true a month or two from now when COVID-19 is all but forgotten by most people.  These things don’t apply to just one place or time, but are necessary for Christians to remember at all times, so that we may shine the light of the Son into this world.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Mat 5:16 ESV)

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.

A Lesson From Leaves

Friday, September 22, was officially the first day of Fall (or Autumn, if you prefer). Whatever you call it, it will still be about 90 degrees in South Carolina (where I live) for a while. But as I look outside, I do notice unmistakable signs that the Fall season is upon, namely, the leaves are beginning to change color.

You can usually recognize what time of the year it is by just looking at the leaves. As Autumn begins, the leaves begin to change and fall from the trees. In Winter, the leaves of many trees are gone. In Spring, different colored blossoms begin to appear, and as the Summer approaches, those different colors give way vibrant green.
Jesus used the changes of the seasons perceived in trees as an illustration in Mark 13:28:

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. (Mar 13:28-29)

In the context, Jesus was using this illustration to teach his followers to recognize the signs of the destruction of Jerusalem which would come in A.D. 70. According to uninspired tradition, Christians did recognize the signs and got out of the city when the Romans came.

Some, however, have taken Jesus words in those surrounding passages (and others throughout Scripture) to be signs of the end of time. You may have heard about one who predicted Saturday September 23 as the end of the world, due to the positions of certain constellations and their supposed correlation with passages out of Revelation. These predictions have come and gone over the years, and none has been right so far (“No man knows the day or hour” – Mk. 13:32).

But we would do well to remember that every day is the last day for someone. Scores of people draw their last breath every day. For them, it’s as if the end has come. They’re judgment is fixed; it cannot be changed at this point.

The Scripture tells us that any day could be the last for any of us, (James 4:14, 2 Pet. 3:10) and so we must be ready. Jesus’ illustration of the fig tree was to emphasize to his followers the importance of recognizing the signs and being ready. For us, however, there may be no signs that the end has drawn near, and so, today is the day to be ready. Are you ready?

Therefore, you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Mat 24:44)

Know Your Enemy

It is officially one of my favorite times of the year. College football season has begun. Saturday’s games will be here soon.  Players are currently preparing for their upcoming games in a couple of different ways.

They will prepare physically by getting out on the field and running drills and practicing plays, and many will get in the weight room to lift weights so that they can be stronger for the next challenge that they face.

One of the ways they will prepare mentally is by watching film. They will watch film of their own game, to see where they might be able to improve.  But they will also watch film of their upcoming opponent to learn how that team plays, what strategies they might use, and what kind of thing they need to be preparing for specifically to face that team.

There is great value on knowing your enemy, and not just on the football field. It is imperative that we in the church do all that we can to prepare for our ongoing fight against our adversary, the devil.  There are several things the Bible teaches us about Satan that we can be prepared to face.

He is a Deceiver.  Revelation 12:9 speaks of “the great dragon…the ancient serpent who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.” The deceiver of the whole world, the father of lies (John 8:44) has been doing what he does from the beginning.  He has been lying and deceiving humanity into turning away from God and committing sin.

He is a Disguiser.  Paul wrote in 2 Cor. 11:14 that “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”  I would expect nothing less from “the deceiver of the whole world.”  But he’s not working alone.  He has many servants in this world and they too are often disguised “as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:15).  Countless souls are being led away from the truth by these servants of Satan who look like (and make themselves out to be) servants of God.

He is a Devourer.  Many of us probably learned as children that “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).  My cat is certainly not a lion, but she maintains some of those same basic instincts that her much larger cousins possess.  Every now and then she decides to “kill” one of her toys by lowering herself into a pounce position, waiting for the perfect moment, and then, in a flash, pouncing on the unsuspecting “prey” and delivering the “killing” blow.  In many ways, it’s not that different than how a lion hunts on the African plains. And it’s not that different from how Satan hunts, watching us and waiting until that precise moment when the time is right to strike.  And he hunts to kill.

So be on your guard brethren.  Prepare yourself for battle (Eph. 6:10-18) and know your enemy.

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  (Eph. 6:11)