Songs of Thanksgiving
As I listened to the beginning of the football game last week, the announcer called for a moment of silence to remember the people wounded and killed in the terrorist attack in Paris. In a past era, there would have been a call for prayer, but today, to respect those who have no God, we just call for silence. This week, people all over the country will sit down and share a meal that represents the land of plenty and opportunity. For some there will be an awkward pause before the meal, because they have nothing or nobody to thank; except themselves, and they realize that would be vain and empty.
People of faith have a unique perspective because they are inclined to be thankful in all circumstances (see 1 Thessalonians 5:18). People of faith are content and at peace because they know that they are a part of something greater than themselves. What they have is not dependent on their ability to hold on to it. It is not at the mercy of the stock market, or which political party is in power.
What we possess has endured since the beginning of time and will be ours until the end. It is what people were intended to experience. The Psalm written below is a song of Thanksgiving. It is a song that explains what we have. It is a song we could sing every day.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Last Sunday we had an extended discussion that focused around the question, “Does acceptance of the person mean acceptance of the behavior?” Many made good comments addressing both sides of the issue. It seems that our gut answer to that question is, yes. Therefore, I will not accept the person. I will pronounce judgment and withhold basic kindness, but many expressed the realization that my acceptance doesn’t really affect the behaviors of others. If we separate ourselves from the sin and the sinner, then we have no opportunity to influence. That is our mission; to be salt and light. Salt doesn’t mean rubbing it in a wound and light doesn’t mean we blind them. It takes more thought and innovation than we often are willing to give.
Our response to the sinner is caring; the operative word is love. Love consistently is the default virtue Jesus expressed towards sinners. In the story of the rich young ruler, Jesus lovingly confronts a materialistic, self-centered man (Mark 10:21). The passage reads, “Then, looking at him, Jesus loved him and said to him…” His initial response to the man was not judgment, correcting or rebuking. It was love.
To be sure, Jesus did offer truth and a correcting action to take, but His first thought was to love the man and love directed His action. Love is not a feeling, but it is an act of the will. It is the ability to act in the best interest of another. This idea of love enables us to accept a person but not agree with them. It asks the question, how can I help them, and what course of action do I take to be a positive influence? The truth and the action that Jesus shared with this man were directly related to where the man was. It was defined by his best interest. It was creative and innovative in its potential to re-direct the person’s life.
Whose situation is more dire; the self-absorbed materialist or the person who acts on same sex attraction? Both are heading in the same direction. Both deserve respect and kindness. Both deserve my best effort to help them re-direct their lives. If they walk away, they walk away; It is their decision. Hopefully they walk away sad and not angry.
The Essential Church by Don Russell
The decline is obvious, whether it is our fellowship at Lakeview or any number of congregations one might choose to visit throughout this nation. Additionally, we have seen the demographics continue to migrate from a mixture of old and young believers to a gradual graying as estimates of 70 – 80% of all 16 to 27 year olds steadily walk away from the church. The exodus isn’t to other churches of Christ, nor is it to the denominations that surround us. No, those who are leaving no longer see the need to attend a formal gathering to worship God. Church is not essential to their lives.” What is the significance of the church being “essential”? Consider the instructions of Paul to the church at Corinth who was dealing with sexual immorality in their fellowship.
1 Corinthians 5:1-5…It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
Paul’s instruction was to “hand this man over to Satan” in an effort to save him. The second letter Paul writes to the church of Corinth indicates the effectiveness of this action.
2 Corinthians 2:5-10 - If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us; for we are not unaware of his schemes.
Why was the action of the church effective in restoring this man? Their action had the desired effect because the church to him was essential. The church had become such a vital part of his life that neglecting the fellowship of believers (whether by his choice or that of the church) was not a painless option. When we help others to understand and discover church as essential their response will be the same as this man, a desire to fellowship.
More Than Meets The Eye
I was thinking about a Bible study I had with an individual, that took an interesting detour about halfway through the session. We were talking about the activity of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. He paused and asked me, “Do you believe in ghosts?” He told me of a strange series of circumstances surrounding a house he bought. The story freaked me out and I really didn’t have a reply. It did make me think of Ephesians 6:12, where after Paul strongly exhorts Christians to fully prepare for spiritual battle, he says this; “For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.” I told him I do accept the existence of spiritual beings that somehow exercise an influence on the events and activities of humans.
Several times over the last few Wednesday nights, as we have discussed things related to surrendering our lives to God, someone has mentioned the activity of the enemy in our circumstances. If you are facing a challenge and resistance, you just might be experiencing “more than meets the eye.” That is why Paul tells us to put on the full armor of God. If we are going to stand, we have to fight a spiritual battle with spiritual weapons. We also have to realize we have back-up and we are not alone. The Hebrews writer states, “Are they (angels) not all ministering spirits sent out to serve those who are going to inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:14).”
Never lose sight of the enemy that is unseen. Satan, by his own choice, in his pride and arrogance became the enemy of God and His people. He is the originator of sin, and he led our first parents into sin and now rules as "the god of this world." Scripture states he was judged at the cross and that ultimately he will be cast into the Lake of Fire (Hebrews 2:14; Revelation 20:10). But for now he makes war. His hate and malice is great. He uses deception and lies as his primary weapons. He is committed to one goal (Revelation 12:17). But he is not greater than the One who is in us (1 John 4:4).
I still don’t know about ghosts, but I suppose it is in the realm of possibility. There is more to this world than meets the eye. We should not be ignorant of that truth. We should not think that we are immune to the enemy’s schemes. We should pay attention to all our actions and weigh them against the lifestyle of faith. Pray for one another as we desire boldness to be faithful in the place where God positions us.
Motivation for Baptism
When I served as Youth Minister, I was blessed to spend time with young people, sharing God’s Word and directing them to the Savior. Many times that included studies and discussions about baptism. Often they were trying to decide if they should take the plunge. Many times, the reasons given for being baptized included the avoidance of hell, the promise of heaven, or the hope of release from guilt. None of these are biblical motivations. The most common reason given in scripture is found in Acts 2:36-41. It is also weaved through all the stories of conversion. The motivation is to be right with God, or as it is worded in step one of AA, “We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.”
This statement speaks to the need for redemption and salvation. It is hard to get to this point. The people Peter addressed in Acts 2 had a hands-on role when it came to the crucifixion of Jesus. Peter’s message helped them see how far they had strayed as humans.
In light of the fact that they were religious, and probably members in good standing in their religious communities, they were not at a place where they could see the God they claimed to honor at work among them. Paul said had they known the wisdom of God, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:6-8).
F. LaGard Smith states that this wrong motivation for being baptized has directly led to people leaving the church when they become adults (cf. p. 179, Baptism: The Believer’s Wedding Ceremony). His point is that young people made the decision (often under pressure) to be baptized, but because the motivation was wrong, the conversion was not genuine; they never really committed to the lifestyle of the cross.
If we are going to be a church that Speaks where the Bible speaks… we must start with baptism, which of course is the first step into the Christian life. From there, we are to “make every effort to confirm your calling and election, because if you do these things you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly supplied to you.” (2 Peter 1:10-11)
Lately, I have been thinking about the word, altruism. One friend defined it as, “doing things to benefit others.” This is a concise definition. While we acknowledge that acting with an unselfish regard for others doesn't always come easily, we have a feeling it is part of being human. It is, perhaps a part that has been minimized by corrupted society. One statement that interested me comes from the perspective of one who believes in the process of natural selection as an explanation for origins. The statement is that humans are “hard-wired for empathy.” This cooperative element allowed our ancestors to survive under harsh conditions. However, the belief is contradictory if your basic assumption is survival of the fittest. Survivor instincts and genuine altruism are opposites and they contend for the place of priority.
The fact is, when you believe that humans evolved through the process of natural selection, true caring about others is way down on your list of priorities. Isn’t that the core of the human dilemma? Selfish actions that benefit me, regardless of how they affect others? In natural selection, there is no “we” gene, but there is a WIIFM gene. Have you heard of this? WIIFM is an acronym that stands for, “What’s In It For Me?”
These two dynamics compete for the first place in our hearts…It’s either me or them. WIIFM is a motivation for a person to engage in social movements, but not for the sake of benefiting others. We may accomplish something, but the accomplishment is empty, and we become weary and unmotivated.
On the other hand, most of us realize that when we make the effort to give without expectations of reciprocity, we feel fulfilled and energized. We indeed are “hard-wired” for empathy, but it is not because of natural selection…that would have been bred out long ago, because it does not advance the cause of self. The “hard-wired” for empathy is by design. It is part of being created in the image of God.
Why are you a follower of Jesus? What motivates you? Is it WIIFM or altruism? Which character trait looks more like the actions of Jesus? WIIFM in the body of Christ leads to apathy and immobility. Altruism leads to satisfaction and life. It stems from trust and contentment. When you know who you are, altruism becomes your highest objective and your righteousness endures forever (Psalm 112:5-9).
A different approach to life.
In our class on Wednesday night, we discussed that the blenders (Those who typically represent a cultural faith), are often thought of as being progressive. The point was made that sometimes, a cultural Christian can represent a more conservative view. The problem with cultural Christians, whatever their orientation to the standard, is that they are reflective to the old forms of life.
There are two Greek words that are translated with the English word “necw” in the New Testament; Kainos and Neos. Kainos is new in kind, in contrast to what previously existed. It takes the place of what went before. Neos is new, with no relation to what came before.
It is Kainos that we find in Romans 6:4, which explains some of struggle with the new life. It is contrasted and influenced by the old life. The habits and influences do not end when we embark on the new light. This reality places on Paul the responsibility to remind us that we have a new life that is supposed to be drastically different from the old.
An interesting use of both words is found in Luke 5:36-39. In this passage, Jesus is discouraging the idea that the traditions from the Jewish religion are what moves forward as the new expression of faith. The phrase, “new wine” (Neos) highlights the fact that what is new is not like what has gone on in the past. It is drastically different and looks ahead. The “new wineskins” (Kainos) communicates the idea of the new life. The intent behind the new wineskins is to suggest that what moves forward is something that is entirely different and takes the place of what existed prior.
When a person is baptized, they are committed to a course that is new and different. It is not like the old, but the old can have an influence, if we let it. Paul tells us in Romans 6:4 that in regards to the old life, there needs to be a burial. But perhaps the challenge comes in when we forget the memorial service for the one who has passed. Sometimes at memorial services, the preacher struggles to make the deceased person look good. We should not think this is necessary for the memorial service for our old life. Recognize it for what it is, bury it and allow the new life to rise and assume its place.
The Servant of All
As we consider new leadership for the Lakeview congregation, several have responded enthusiastically to the messages given by Ben and me (Dennis). In a discussion, Dan Fitzsimmons made a good point about the definition of the words used to describe the role of Elder. Today’s CrossTalk is an article that Dan has written that contributes much to our understanding of the qualities of Elders and leaders fir the church.
“According to the apostle Matthew, Jesus spoke of “building” His church. When He did, He gave different people different gifts or roles. Among them were men given names that translate into English as “shepherd”, “elder”, and “overseer”. These terms are all used for the same people in the book of Acts, and in other books of the New Testament.
Words in different languages usually have different colors and associations, and that is true of these three words as well.
“Shepherd”, or “pastor”, is not just someone who raises a certain kind of animal. A “shepherd” develops a relationship with those animals. He earns their trust enough that they follow him without fully understanding the plan. They spend so much time around him that they know his voice, and that he always does good for them.
“Elder” is closely connected to the word for a man above the age of 50. However, it was regularly used of government officers who were given the authority to speak for someone higher in authority than themselves. Even if they were young, they were expected to be worthy of the respect that was normal for a man that age.
“Overseer” is maybe the most obscure to us in English. The word does literally mean “a man who looks over something or someone”, but what is obscure to us is the reason why he is looking. The English word “overseer” is vaguely threatening, but the Greek word that the Bible actually uses is comforting. James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote that “Religion that is pure and unblemished with the God and Father is this – to OVERSEE orphans and widows in their suffering, and for a man to keep himself protected from stain from the world.” Jesus’ idea of an “overseer” is someone who looks AFTER someone else, to care for them.
As we lift up new and existing leaders in prayer, these words remind us that in God’s mind, “the greatest among you will be the servant of all”.
Small Bible Studies – Mosaic
It is important for us to be thinking about how we can let our light shine and how we can be salt in our world. Perhaps we all can’t be formal leaders, but we can all lead. I am going to say it is imperative that we all lead in some way. We are all in different places in life and it is where we are that God expects us to fulfill the mission. Everyone has a role in the great commission.
One way that everyone could be involved in sharing the message of Christ is to start or participate in a small group bible study. It could be in a home where individuals share the responsibilities. Roles in a HBS include hosts (usually two couples who prepare snacks and refreshments), a leader couple (who leads the Bible discussion). Participants (couples or individuals who engage in the study and help create the positive dynamic of the study). You could also have a bible study in a “third space” like a coffee shop, place of business or restaurant. This would, by nature, be a smaller venue but can be a very visible expression of faith in the public eye.
All who are involved in the study have the responsibility to prepare through REAP (a personal Bible study process) and by inviting friends. These two elements are crucial to a successful study.
Tonight after evening services, there will be a short interest meeting for those who want to consider this idea as a way to engage our world with the message of hope. Several groups met last year (concluding in May or June) and had various levels of success. Let me know if you have any questions.
The daily struggle of Christians is dealing with temptations. We think of James 1:14, when we think about temptations. In that verse we learn that temptations come from our own evil desires. Were the temptations of Jesus from His evil desires? No. The temptations of a believer are different from the unbeliever. Jesus lived His life for the things of God. It was those things that Satan, the adversary, was trying to steal away. “Temptation means a test of the possessions held within the inner, spiritual part of our being by a power outside us and foreign to us.” When Jesus was tempted with the things He possessed as the Son of God, He met them with truth and spiritual power. They went away and the angels attended to Him.
For the believer, a follower of Jesus, when we are baptized we are born again into a new life; we are lifted to another realm. We are given different priorities. Through regeneration, the Son of God is formed in us (see Galatians 4:19), and in our physical life He has the same setting that He had on earth. Satan does not tempt us just to make us do wrong things— he tempts us to make us lose what God has put into us through regeneration, namely, the possibility of being of value to God. He does not come to us on the premise of tempting us to sin, but on the premise of shifting our point of view, and only the Spirit of God can detect this as a temptation of the devil.
Satan will tempt us with our gifts, our circumstance, our relationships and our place in life. He knew where to hit Jesus and he knows where to hit us. His goal is to get us to give up our most significant possession; our value to God. He did not succeed with Jesus and he will not succeed with you if you follow the pattern of Christ and allow Christ to be formed in you (Galatians 4:19). “Jesus ‘was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness’ (Matthew 4:1) and into the testing devices of the devil. Yet He did not become weary or exhausted. He went through the temptation ‘without sin,’ and He retained all the possessions of His spiritual nature completely intact.”