Two Sides to Every Blessing

January 30, 2013 at 2:21 pm | Posted in Selected Psalms | 3 Comments
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In a previous lesson we learned two fundamental principles from Psalm 116:

1. God answers the prayers of His children.
2. God’s attributes tend toward rescue.

Here is another:

3. God’s affections are set on His children.

What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD.

Psalm 116:12-13

“What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me?” This question can be taken two ways. It can be seen as rhetorical. Obviously we can never pay the Lord back for all the benefits He has granted us. It can also be seen as practical. Although we can never pay the Lord back for what He has done for us, we certainly ought to be encouraged to serve Him out of gratitude.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.

Psalm 116:15

Again, this verse has a double application. First, God rewards those who die in the faith, and second, God is not indifferent when His saints are threatened with death.

To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner,

I Peter 2:4-7

God loves His Son, yet He gave His Son to die for us. Therefore, it stands to reason that He loves us deeply. He will not let us die until the appointed time.

4. God approves His own Covenant.

O LORD, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds.

Psalm 116:16

A “servant” is a “son of the Covenant.” God is faithful to keep His promises.

After God has rescued you, be sure to express gratitude. We cannot “buy” God’s blessings, but when we call for help in an emergency, it is only right that we thank Him, and keep whatever promises we made in the time of trouble.

What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows unto the LORD now in the presence of all his people.

Psalm 116:12-14

God knows our hearts, and He may overlook rash words and promises, but here is a good recipe for post-rescue gratitude:

1. Give a thank offering.
2. Pour out some highly-valued part of your life like wine on the altar. People are often afraid to pour out the sin and vanity in their lives because they are afraid it will leave them empty, but it won’t! The Lord will fill you with something better.
3. Set aside part of your offering for sharing with others, and publicly thank the Lord in front of them.
4. Keep the promises you made.

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The Man Who Fell out of Church (Application)

January 28, 2013 at 12:58 pm | Posted in Outcasts of Ministry | 4 Comments
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Eutychus was the young man in Acts Chapter 20 who literally fell out of church. This is not a lesson about staying away from window ledges at the local church where you attend, but there are some practical applications to be learned about the dangers that await us if we ever fall into the trap of becoming unfaithful in our church attendance.

1. If you fall out of church, you will fall into ignorance.

Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

Acts 2:41-42 (emphasis added)

“Stedfastly” means doing something regularly. If possible, Christians should attend church every week – hopefully three times per week if that is how often the church you belong to has services. “Doctrine” means a systematic study of God’s Word: “Bible study.” You can study the Bible on your own – and you should – but God’s plan is for believers to meet together for the reading and teaching of his Word. People are destroyed because of a lack of knowledge. When the flow of water was cut off from a city in Bible times, the inhabitants would get thirsty, dirty, and sick. Eventually they would die. The Bible talks about the washing of water by the Word.

2. If you fall out of church, you will fall into isolation.

And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

Acts 2:42 (emphasis added)

Another main function of the local church in edifying believers is fellowship. In the Book of Acts the early Christian church “broke bread” – they ate together. They also observed the Lord’s Supper, and prayed together. You can certainly eat alone, and you can pray alone, but God designed the local church so that believers could meet together. One of the reasons that God designed it this way is so that we can comfort one another in trials, temptations, and troubles. The local church is also designed for accountability.

Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.

Proverbs 27:17

People in general might ask you, “How was the game?” or “How’s your job?” but in church hopefully someone is asking you, “How’s your walk with the Lord?” God created a desire in us to want to be together with others. It is not good that man should be alone (Genesis 2:18).

Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

More than just being together, things really get accomplished when people come together in “one accord.” Christians should be unified – of one mind in Christ. The Apostle Paul was on a journey – a missionary journey – and the church at Troas didn’t hinder him. They could have said, “You need to stay here, you’re focusing too much energy on missions. We’ve got disputes that need to be settled.” Instead, they supported him, fed him, gave him a place to sleep, and helped him on his way.

3. If you fall out of church, you will fall into impotence.

[Disclaimer: Despite the vulgar connotation brought to mind by the ubiquitous pharmaceutical commercials on television these days, “impotence” is not a dirty word. “Impotent” is the opposite of “potent.” When something is powerful, we say, “Whew, that is some potent stuff!”]

And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead. And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him. When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed. And they brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted.

Acts 20:9-12

The Holy Spirit used Luke to write this portion of Scripture, and Luke was a medical doctor, so when Luke writes that “Eutychus was taken up dead” we may safely assume that he was actually dead, and that the Holy Ghost used the Apostle Paul to bring him back to life. Then they went back upstairs to continue having church. These were some powerful – some empowered – believers. There are some charismatic churches today which would say it’s okay if you fall asleep in church, fall down, and get hurt. They have modern-day apostles on standby, just waiting for the opportunity to heal you, but my advice is to stay awake in church. (As much coffee as folks drink at church these days, I don’t see how anyone could fall asleep anyway.)

Babies are not very powerful when they’re first born. They need help just to eat and wash. Someone has to take care of them. They have to be taught how to walk and talk and read and write, but eventually they learn how to feed themselves and and take care of themselves. You can be a Christian and not be faithful to church, but why would you not want to be involved in helping new believers survive and grow in the Lord? Where do you give your tithe? How do you know those who labor among you in the Lord, and obey those who have the rule over you? Some people “attend” church by watching church services on television or listening on the radio or internet, but a TV doesn’t pray with you when you have a death in the family. A radio doesn’t come visit you when you’re sick in the hospital.

A common objection to faithful church participation is the hypocrisy of current church members, but, if you feel like your local church if full of hypocrites, don’t let that stop you from coming – they always have room for one more! Besides, there are hypocrites present when you go to work, school, and the grocery store, and I doubt that stops you from going to those places.

Eutychus made a mistake when he fell out of church literally, but he didn’t make the mistake of falling out of church figuratively. He was injured when he fell, but, because he was living in the center of God’s will, his mistake wasn’t ultimately fatal. The local church is there to strengthen, build up, edify the believers, and to get unified so that evangelists and missionaries can be sent forth.

Don’t fall into ignorance, isolation, or impotence by falling out of church. You might be considered an outcast by some if you become actively involved in the local church to the point where you have less time to participate in all the vain and frivolous amusements of this world, but God will in no wise cast out His children.

Fortifying the Fulcrum

January 24, 2013 at 10:20 am | Posted in Ecclesiastes | 4 Comments
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Sometimes the key to wisdom is balancing competing interests. Good leaders place themselves at the fulcrum.

If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee, leave not thy place; for yielding pacifieth great offences.

Ecclesiastes 10:4 (emphasis added)

On one side is pride.

There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, as an error which proceedeth from the ruler: Folly is set in great dignity, and the rich sit in low place. I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth.

Ecclesiastes 10:5-7

Pliability is on the other side. Rulers must not be too proud, nor too pliable. They must be willing to listen to counsel, but not to be overcome by pressure.

Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.

Proverbs 11:14

Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.

Proverbs 27:5-6

Likewise, those who work under leaders must be balanced.

He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it; and whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him. Whoso removeth stones shall be hurt therewith; and he that cleaveth wood shall be endangered thereby.

Ecclesiastes 10:8-9

On the one hand, workers must be aware of their position. When you work it is important to consider where you “stand.” When we dig ditches or break through hedges or chop wood or pick up and move heavy rocks, we need to watch our step, but the same principle applies to the work of the ministry, which can be as dangerous spiritually as theses types of physical labor are dangerous literally. The work of the ministry does require some “heavy lifting” and “getting down into ditches” and poking around in people’s lives even though they might bite you like a serpent. But the Lord empowers us to do these things while we watch where we stand.

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

Psalm 1:1 (emphasis added)

We deal with sinners and with scorners, but we don’t “stand” in their “way” and we don’t sit in their “seat.”

If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct. Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler is no better.

Ecclesiastes 10:10-11

Workers balance position on one side and preparation on the other. Cutting wood with a dull ax is a problem of preparation, and so is trying to handle a snake that hasn’t yet been charmed. Talking to a babbler is like dealing with a deadly snake when it comes to spiritual matters. It requires preparation. Both of these dangers for workers can be balanced with precaution.

The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness; but of every one that is hasty only to want.

Proverbs 21:5

At work and in your Christian walk, take precautions. Be diligent. Think it through. Fools rush in where wise men fear to tread. Precaution will balance out your positioning and your preparation.

Another thing that must be balanced is our communication.

The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself.

Ecclesiastes 10:12

Communication can be destructive. Foolish words can hurt others, but here we learn that we can destroy ourselves with our own foolish words.

The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness: and the end of his talk is mischievous madness.

Ecclesiastes 10:13

In addition to being destructive, some communication is just downright dumb. In the Bible foolishness is often described as deadly, and “mischievous madness” is just dumb. Once you’ve talked yourself into a hole it’s better to shut your mouth than to try to talk your way out.

A fool also is full of words: a man cannot tell what shall be; and what shall be after him, who can tell him?

Ecclesiastes 10:14

Balanced on the other side of destructive and dumb communication is determined communication. Determination is a good thing, but it can also be a dangerous thing because sometimes it attracts pride. It is not bad to use words, but it is foolish to be “full of words,” especially when it comes to making bold assertions about the future.

The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because he knoweth not how to go to the city.

Ecclesiastes 10:15

“He knoweth not how to go to the city” was an ancient proverb for someone who was demanding – someone who was so busy bossing everybody around that he wore everyone out and missed the obvious signs about how to get to the city.

The balancing principle for dumb and destructive communication on the one hand, and determined and demanding communication on the other hand, is learning to be delicate. We want to be somewhat determined and demanding about truth, but we don’t want to tip over into being destructive or dumb.

Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.

Colossians 4:6

Salt is a little bit delicate. Too little, and the food will be bland; too much, and the food will be inedible.

A Concupiscible Marriage

January 21, 2013 at 12:19 pm | Posted in Biblical Marriage, I Corinthians | 8 Comments
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Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.

I Corinthians 7:2-5 (emphasis added)

In the continuing study of Satan’s attack on marriage, we have imagined our marriages as an enclosed area (Song of Solomon 4:12), surrounded by a perimeter or wall of fortification. Our duty is to protect the entire perimeter from the devil’s attacks, but we want to concentrate our protective resources where the attack is going to be most focused. We have established that his attack is going to be most concentrated in the area of sexual relations. Here are the four principles we have highlighted so far:

1. Don’t be ignorant. Satan is going to attack in this area.
2. Face up to the fact that his attack is going to be a fierce attack.
3. Realize that this attack could come at unexpected times and from unexpected angles.
4. Prepare to recognize an infiltrating spy.

Now, we will see that we must also:

5. Prepare to recognize attacks in the form of burrowing under the wall and popping up in the midst of your marriage.

Satan, in addition to trying to sneak his spies right through the wall protecting your marriage, will also send tunnelers to burrow under the wall. He does this when he attacks our thought life. I’m borrowing some of the ideas in this lesson from Thomas Aquinas, but only insofar as they line up with the Bible. We are fallen sinners, but Christians are redeemed fallen sinners. That means we have access to the grace of the Gospel. We are not “Gnostics.” We do not believe that only spiritual, non-physical things can be “good.” We believe that our souls have been redeemed and that our bodies have been redeemed (Romans 8:23), in the sense that they will one day be resurrected in a glorified form. The physical pleasures of the body – when viewed through Gospel redemption – are to be enjoyed in their set limits. But that’s only half the truth. The fuller-orbed reality is that, when true Christians enjoy these physical pleasures in their “set limits,” we actually have more freedom to enjoy them with more enjoyment. Do you see the tension? We think of “limits” as restricting freedom. But in God’s Gospel, His limitations actually “free” us up to be what He intended us to really be when He created us.

Now, here’s where Aquinas comes in, because he helps us to see the difference between our “concupiscible” appetites and our “irascible” appetites. For now, let’s leave aside the “irascible” (hopefully I’ll get to those in another session), and focus on the “concupiscible.”

Concupiscible appetites are mainly physical appetites which are very strong because of the physical pleasure they induce and (possibly) because of their ties to our vitality. Eating, drinking, and sex are things that almost all people have an appetite for, and they are all accompanied by sensations of strong physical pleasure. They also happen to be tied to the continuance of life (our “survival”).

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:

Colossians 3:5 (emphasis added)

The concupiscible appetite is not inherently evil, but it can become tainted by evil. It is not inherently evil because it was put in you by God. Adam and Eve needed to eat and drink before they sinned, and they were made in such a way that they would enjoy these things. Adam and Eve had a desire to procreate and to be sexual before they sinned, and they were made by God to enjoy the physical acts and sensations which lead to procreation. In the next lesson, I will identify a counter strategy to deal with Satan’s manipulation of our concupiscible appetites.

The Stones of Condemnation

January 18, 2013 at 11:01 am | Posted in The Stones that Don't Cry Out | 3 Comments
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One day Jesus was up early in the morning, teaching in the temple. The scribes and the Pharisees came bursting in, dragging a woman with them. “Look here, Master,” they said, “we’ve got this woman – caught in adultery – caught red-handed in the act! The Law says we should stone her and kill her. What do You say…?”

hand throwing stone

 

When you read the Gospel accounts, it seems like Jesus never did what the self-righteous hypocrites expected Him to do. Now He stooped down, and started writing with His finger in the dirt. This must have frustrated the Pharisees and scribes. He seemed to be ignoring them. They just kept asking and asking, and it was like He couldn’t even hear them!

So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.

John 8:7-8

I wonder what He wrote on the ground? There has been much speculation about this. Perhaps He wrote out the Ten Commandments? After all, His finger had written the originals. Perhaps He traced out a verse from one of the books of the prophets?

O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters.

Jeremiah 17:13

What if Jesus was quietly writing out the names of some of the Pharisees’ mistresses or girlfriends – women with whom they themselves were committing adultery? Whatever it was He was writing, it convicted their consciences.

And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

John 8:9

I can just see them… They are clutching stones in their fists – ready to hand one to Jesus in case He gave the word – or ready to start throwing themselves to show their hypocritical judgment against this woman’s sin… and then… one by one… with downcast eyes and slumped shoulders… they begin to drop their rocks in the dust and slink away…

https://i1.wp.com/us.cdn4.123rf.com/168nwm/lovleah/lovleah0801/lovleah080100039/2378770-symbolic-concept-of-man-dropping-a-stone-from-his-hand--concept-peace-mercy-pardon-forgiveness-compa.jpg

In this series of lessons we are using Jesus’s words from Luke 19:40 as a starting point to discuss how the silence of rocks can actually be quiet loud. I don’t know if rocks thudding in the dust around a frightened woman would actually make all that much noise, but, if you ever played little league or high school baseball, you may be able to draw something of an analogy. There you are in center field, glove wavering unsteadily as you wait for a high arcing fly ball to come down toward your face. The game is on the line. Tragically, though, it is a bright day in the mid-afternoon and the sun is right in your eyes. Temporarily blinded, you hear the baseball hit the dirt in front of your feet as the winning run rounds third and heads for home. If you have ever been in that situation, you know that sound – the thudding sound of condemnation.

The rocks that the scribes and Pharisees would have brought to the stoning did not end up “crying out” in the way they supposed when they arranged this challenge to tempt Jesus. Instead, the ones who sought to condemn were the ones who held their peace when Jesus reminded them of their own sin. As Christians we need to see to it that the stones of condemnation never cry out in hypocritical judgment. Instead, we should cry out in forgiving love. Jesus Himself is truly the only one with the right to condemn, and, to those for whom He shed His blood, He offers instead the same loving admonition: “Go… and sin no more.

Why do we find it so hard to forgive, after all the things for which He’s forgiven us? I know that someone will say, “But you don’t know my enemy. You don’t know what he’s done to me.” No one has done worse to us than we’ve done to Jesus. Yet He loves and forgives.

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

Matthew 5:43-44

Why I’m Not Proud to be an American

January 16, 2013 at 11:45 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments
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I was born in America, and most of the time I love it here. I suppose it’s possible that one day, when I don’t have anything better to do, I will sit in front of my computer all day and post conspiracy theories about the government on Facebook, and make pointed jabs at the President, and publish funny photos and links to nasty diatribes about whoever the currently elected officials are. But let me go on record right now as saying that I hope to avoid that if I can. Despite all the problems with our politicians and our political system, I can’t think of any place I would rather live (except Heaven, of course.)

But here’s the deal: I didn’t choose to be an American. It just so happened that God arranged it so I would be born here. I didn’t have to work hard to earn my citizenship. I didn’t have to swim across a river, sail across an ocean, hike through a forest, or even pass a written exam. Being American – like everything else in my life – is a blessing I did not deserve.

Just now, my favorite search engine counted the word “pride” 46 times in my King James Bible, and, the best I can tell, it’s always a bad thing. “Proud” is in there 47 times, “haughty” 10, and “puffed up” 6. Have you ever done a Biblical word study on how God feels about pride? It might knock the wind out of your sails.

Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise [man] glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty [man] glory in his might, let not the rich [man] glory in his riches:

Jeremiah 9:23

If even the wise, the mighty, and the rich are not supposed to boast about their accomplishments, achievements, or advancements, then how in the world can I be “proud” of the nation in which I happen to live? Look, I’m not the theological language police, but I would like to see all of us Christians clean up our vocabulary a little bit. When our kids get good grades, do well in sports, or perform well at a recital, my wife and I try to say that we’re “thankful” for them. That seems much more God-glorifying than saying we’re “proud” of them. I feel the same way about America. I am not proud to be an American, but I am thankful to the Lord that He made me one. And if you really feel like you just have to express pride about something, try this one on for size:

But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I [am] the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these [things] I delight, saith the LORD.

Jeremiah 9:24

The Great Rescuer

January 14, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Posted in Selected Psalms | 11 Comments
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Psalm 116 is about being thankful to the Lord after we have called on Him in a time of great danger and He has rescued us.

Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee.

Psalm 116:7

The psalmist had been at rest, but then trouble came.

I said in my haste, All men are liars.

Psalm 116:11

Men he trusted had lied about him.

The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. Then called I upon the name of the LORD; O LORD, I beseech thee, deliver my soul.

Psalm 116:3-4

They almost caused his death, but He called on the Lord, and the Lord rescued him.

I love the LORD, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live.

Psalm 116:1-2

This Psalm is probably from a testimony given in the Sanctuary. It contains parts of Psalm 56, other Psalms, and parts of Isaiah.

Let’s identify two of four main principles found in Psalm 116:

1. God answers the prayers of His children.

I love the LORD, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications.

Psalm 116:1

Whenever you find yourself in danger, call on the Lord. New, first-time parents will be keenly aware of this principle. Dad is at the far corner of his yard, perhaps on the top of a ladder, pruning a tree. Or mom is carrying a scalding hot pot of boiling water from the stove to the sink. Suddenly their new-born infant lets out a shriek of pain from his crib. Dad leaps from the ladder like a reckless school-boy! Mom instantly drops the pot of water! They race for the baby’s room without any regard for their own safety. Why? Because they love their child, and it sounds like the child is trouble. If wicked, sinful, intrinsically selfish, fallen mortals react this way when their child cries out in distress, how much more will our loving Heavenly Father (Who loves with a perfect love) come to the aid of His children when they – being in real danger – cry out for help?

Have you ever known of a situation where one child called on a parent for help, but the parent didn’t or couldn’t come help because he or she was already busy helping another child? This can’t happen with God. He is never “too busy” to hear or to come to the aid of one of His children. We should trust God in all types of troubles, and there are some troubles that are obviously hopeless unless we are rescued.

The Holy Spirit applied the plea of Psalm 116:3 to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in Acts 2:24.

The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.

Psalm 116:3

Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.

Acts 2:24

2. God’s attributes tend toward rescue.

Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful.

Psalm 116:5

Grace is when God gives us what we do not deserve. Mercy is when God withholds from us what we do deserve. Any time we are in danger, we are experiencing what we deserve. Rescue is what we do not deserve. However, God delights in grace and mercy.

The LORD preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me.

Psalm 116:6

We have a tendency to respond to God’s grace like spoiled children. First, we are amazed by grace. Then, we start to assume grace. Pretty soon, we are demanding grace. When is the last time you simply and uncritically just believed that God does what He says He will do because He is God?

Next time, we will take a look at two more principles from Psalm 116.

The Man Who Fell out of Church (Narrative)

January 11, 2013 at 11:50 am | Posted in Outcasts of Ministry | 6 Comments
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This is a continuation of a series of lessons entitled Outcasts of Ministry: The Addict, the Slave, and the Man Who Fell Out of Church.

The Man Who Fell Out of Church

God’s people were being called outcasts.

For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the LORD; because they called thee an Outcast, saying, This is Zion, whom no man seeketh after.

Jeremiah 30:17

One of the promises God made to the people of Israel was that one day their “congregation” would be established: their organized meetings for worship, and the business of church government.

Their children also shall be as aforetime, and their congregation shall be established before me, and I will punish all that oppress them.

Jeremiah 30:20

They were a people who had been punished, persecuted, and enslaved. They had become addicted to sin, and they had fallen out of the habit of going to church – of meeting together in a congregation. You may know someone right now who has gotten out of the habit of going to church, or you may be tottering on the edge of faithful church attendance yourself, about to fall out of church. You may have gone through a period in your life when you did in fact “fall out of church.”

In Acts Chapter 20 we find the true historical account of a meeting of the early church.

And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.

Acts 20:7

These events occurred a place called Troas. The Apostle Paul was on his way to Jerusalem. He was trying to make it there for the celebration of Pentecost, and it was a very important missionary journey. He was planning to depart on the “morrow” – the next day – and this was the last time he was going to see these friends – these fellow-servants of Jesus. There were things he had to tell them.

They met together on the first day of the week – “the Lord’s Day” – which was their custom, although certainly Sundays were not the only days they met, worshiped, or ministered.

Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:

Colossians 2:16

Acts 20:7 says they broke bread – which probably means they observed the Lord’s Supper – and had fellowship. Then the Apostle Paul preached until midnight. I have been in some long church services, but preaching until midnight..?! Paul knew he was going to be leaving, and he had a lot to say.

And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together. And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead.

Acts 20:8-9

https://swimthedeepend.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/firespeakseutychus.jpg?w=291

A young man named Eutychus came to church to hear the Apostle Paul preach. They were meeting up on the third floor of a building, and he sat in the window, fell asleep, fell out of the window, and died! Have you ever wondered if the Holy Spirit put some stories in the Bible for a a little comic relief? Like Balaam’s talking donkey or Samson tying together the tails of 300 foxes, we can’t help but laugh even though something serious is happening. Even funnier is the meaning of Eutychus’s name: “Eutychus” meant “fortunate” or lucky.”

I have heard this passage of Scripture preached on before in church, and the theme was the folly of falling asleep in church, but I don’t think we should be too hard on Eutychus. First of all it was late. There is a good chance that Eutychus was a slave or a servant, and he would have been tired from working all day. That may even be the reason why this meeting took place at night – the first Christians were not able to skip work on Sundays like many of us can. Eutychus did make it to church. Additionally, if the weather was warm, it would have been very stuffy up there in the third loft. It’s not like they could turn on the A.C. Furthermore, verse 8 says there were many lights burning in the upper chamber, which would have produced fumes, and would have burned up much of the oxygen. Have you ever tried to stay awake and alert in an extremely stuffy room? This may be why Eutychus was sitting by the window, but, if so, it certainly backfired on him! So, for whatever reason, Eutychus ended up being “the man who fell out of church” – literally.

It is very important for Christians to attend church faithfully, and to be involved in church ministry activities. God doesn’t “need” me at church – but He knows I need to be there. The Church is the body of Christ. As Christians, we are the body and He is the head. It is incongruous for someone to love the Head, but hate the body. The Church is also the bride of Christ, and, likewise, it makes little sense to love a person, but hate that person’s spouse. When you become a Christian you become part of the capital “C” Church – the universal Church consisting of all born-again believers everywhere – but it is crucial for you to be a part of a local body of believers, too.

The main purpose of the local church is the edification of the saints.

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

Ephesians 4:11-16

The Lord uses the local church to help believers to grow and to get stronger. If you are trying to decide on a local church to join right now, pray about it. Search the Scriptures. Listen to the Holy Spirit. God wants you to be attending and serving somewhere.

Next time, we will look at some of the dangers and consequences of falling out of church.

A Little Bird Told Me

January 9, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Posted in Common Expressions, Ecclesiastes | 3 Comments
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When I first started teaching Sunday School, the plan was to take a book of the Bible, and just teach through it sequentially each week. That, for the most part, is what I’ve done. However, I also wanted to mix in some variety, and, as I began to study the Bible more comprehensively, I was surprised to find how many common idioms came from the pages of Scripture, or at least were brought to mind by certain verses. I started calling these “common expressions,” and I would try to cover a new one each week. “The handwriting on the wall” and “the blind leading the blind” were two easy examples. My thinking was that when the students heard these expressions in everyday life, they would be reminded of Biblical principles, and possibly even seize an opportunity to steer the conversation toward the Gospel – especially those students who weren’t comfortable just blurting out, “If you died today where would you spend eternity?

As time went by it became harder and harder to come up with new common expressions, but during a time when we were studying the Book of Ecclesiastes, I discovered that Ecclesiastes Chapter 10 contains a relative cornucopia of “common expressions.” So far, I have written about “a fly in the ointment” and “his heart was in the right place.”

Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler is no better.

Ecclesiastes 10:11

The Bible frequently warns of the danger of running off at the mouth. As a Christian, I need to let the Holy Spirit control my tongue, and I need to analyze what I’m going to say before I blurt out whatever is on my mind. Is what I’m about to say going to hurt someone? Is it just going to be vanity? Or is it going to build someone up – encourage or edify them?

Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.

Ecclesiastes 10:20

Here’s the third common expression from Ecclesiastes Chapter 10: “A little bird told me.” This is what people say when they are sharing a juicy bit of gossip about a common acquaintance and don’t want to admit the source. There’s no wisdom in talking about anyone behind his or her back – but especially someone in a position of leadership over you. In the “under the sun” world of competitiveness, selfishness, and manipulation, it’s foolish to think that what I tell a co-worker about our boss won’t get back to the boss. This applies in church, families, and and other organizations as well. There are certainly more spiritual reasons to avoid gossip, but the Bible doesn’t ignore the practical reality that it will probably come back to bite you even in an unspiritual context.

Marital Espionage

January 7, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Posted in Biblical Marriage | 6 Comments
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In a previous lesson I listed the first three fortifications that Christian married couples should build up at the key point of Satan’s attack against marriages: physical intimacy. These three fortifications had to do with recognizing the attack, not underestimating the attack, taking the attack seriously.

1. Don’t be ignorant. Satan is going to attack in this area.
2. Face up to the fact that his attack is going to be a fierce attack.
3. Realize that this attack could come at unexpected times and from unexpected angles.

Here is the fourth fortification:

4. Prepare to recognize an infiltrating spy.

Satan sends “infiltrators” which are “copies:” perversions of what God intended. Sexual relations must not be separated from Scripture. The command to be “frequent” must be taken seriously. The “desire” part of it must not be disregarded or discounted. Satan has made a number of fakes – and they are good fakes because he works in enough “partial truths” to make them look like real truth. When we recognize these infiltrators trying to sneak through the wall of sexual relations in marriage, we can confront them, confine them, and kill them with Scriptural ammunition.

Fake: Different sex drives can be an excuse for infrequency.

Confrontation with Truth: In mutual service, frequent for one has to be frequent for both.

Ammunition: “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;” (I Thesalonians 4:3-4, emphasis added)

Both spouses are to cooperate in the frequency.

Fake: You have to wait for the “right time.” In other words, the mood has to be just right.

Confrontation with Truth: The right time must be made. “Moods” are feelings which often need to be brought into subjection to Christ’s commands.

Ammunition: “That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;” (I Thessalonians 4:4, emphasis added)

“To possess” is a present tense verb. It indicates that this is an ongoing thing. The devil’s lie is that routine is always boring. God’s truth is that He has granted you imagination and the ability to plan, and that routine in and of itself can be a form of obedience which is not boring.

These are just some of the ways that Satan tries to “slip by” our defenses or impersonate a friendly ally. They are espionage techniques that he uses, but with diligent vigilance (I Thessalonians 5:5-6) and with the supernatural wisdom of God’s Spirit empowering us (James 1:5), we can spot and summarily execute these spies on the spot.

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