Thursday, December 27, 2012

Pagan Temple Discovered

I just noticed on that archaeologists have discovered an ancient temple west of Jerusalem in a site known to archaeologists as "Tel Motza."
The term Tel refers to a "mound created by human occupation and abandonment of a geographical site over many centuries." Just as the leaves of autumn accumulate over the course of many years, forming compost and enriching the forest floor, so also did ancient cities, over time, accumulate debris and thus deeper foundations.
So Tel Motza is the archaeological site of an ancient city known now as Motza. Motza is connected to the biblical city of "Mozah" which is mentioned by name in Joshua 18:26 and that existed in the borderlands of the tribal allotment of Benjamin...not far from Jerusalem.
Having defined these terms, not only is this recent archaeological find interesting, it seems to provide evidence for the timeline of the Scriptures. Check it out...
King Solomon lived and reigned about 3,000 years ago, and during his reign (as well as prior to his reign), the people were dedicated wholly to the Lord and thus alternative religions and rituals were banned (1 Kings 8:54-61). While Solomon did turn to pagan worship towards the latter end of his 40-year reign, it's inferred that the Temple in Jerusalem remained the only formal temple in the land of Israel (1 Kings 12:26-27).
However, following Solomon's reign, there was an apostasy in the southern kingdom of Judah. Some good kings reigned, but overall, there was a decline in the moral and religious leanings of the southern kingdom. Later, kings Hezekiah, Josiah and Uzziah (especially Josiah) instituted radical religious reform, but it's during that gap between Solomon and Josiah that this temple in Mozah allegedly existed (and was destroyed). Archaeologists have dated this pagan temple to about 2,750 years ago. Again, Solomon reigned 3,000 years ago and Jerusalem fell almost 2,600 years ago, so the temple existed between those dates...during the time of apostasy and decline in Israel.
It's always interesting when new sites are discovered, but it's especially interesting when discoveries are made that seem to confirm the Scriptures in some way.
For more on this discovery, read the article here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Praise for the Lord!

Here at the Queen Way church of Christ, we have two sets of hymnals that we use, and we switch from one to the other every six months or so. We're in that time of transition now. The "Hymns for Worship" books will soon be packed away and the "Praise for the Lord!" hymnals will come out of storage.

I don't have the best voice in the world. I don't sing bass or tenor (although I try from time to time). I'm not a skilled song-leader. But I love to sing, especially when I'm able to blend my voice with those of my brethren in praise for the Lord! Despite the poor quality of my voice (and I'm sure there are other members of Queen Way who feel the same way about their own voice), when 100+ God-fearing saints sing together, it is truly beautiful...but more than that, not only is God praised by our efforts, we are spiritually uplifted.

I have to admit to you that one of my pet-peeves (in the context of worship) is when brethren sing halfheartedly. There are some who don't like to sing (in general). Others say that they just don't have a good voice. Not only must we set aside our own desires and/or preferences and sing because it's the right thing to do...we must, as the elect, learn to LOVE to worship, and to sing.
"Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant and praise is becoming" (Psalm 147:5).
And if you'd like to know WHY it's good to sing praises to our God...if you are in need of motivation, simply read the rest of Psalm 147 as the psalmist outlines reason after reason after reason for WHY God is worthy of our praise, and why, as humble servants of this INCREDIBLE God, we ought to relish any and all opportunities to praise His most holy name.

As we here at Queen Way begin to use the "Praise for the Lord!" hymnals, let's live up to the name of the hymnal itself. Let our singing not be cold and formal; let our singing praise the Lord!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Accepting God's will - a Personal Story

In Matthew 6:10, Jesus taught the disciples to humbly pray for God's will to be done on earth. While praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said, "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will" (Mt. 26:39). And John reaffirms this message in 1 John 5:15 when he writes, "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us."

A few years ago, I started my own publishing company, Silver Falls Publishing, and was thereby able to publish a series of Young Adult novels I had written called the "Silver Falls Series." The process was incredibly exciting, and I remember praying that God would bless me with success as an author. I even told God that I could use my success to glorify Him and to share my faith with new contacts. I reasoned that with more name recognition, I could distribute spiritual literature to a much larger audience and thus use my success to more effectively broadcast His truth. And I told God that if I could make my living as a writer, the churches who provided me with financial support could use that money to help other preachers the world over.

I prayed for success daily, but every prayer that I uttered along these lines  included the following disclaimer: "Your will be done!" And I meant it. If God wasn't going to bless me with success, I was willing to accept that and move on with my life.

Well...I opened my online bookstore and marketed my books using social media. I did a couple of book signings and even set up a booth at an annual festival in eastern Kentucky (where I lived at the time). I sold a few hundred books all the while continuing to write new books - eventually writing seven novels and publishing a total of ten books.

But my sales didn't increase as I had hoped. In fact, I was selling fewer and fewer books as the months ticked by. While I had initially planned to write 12 books in the Silver Falls Series, I decided based upon low sales that there would be just five books in the series (I plan on writing the 5th and final book early next year). A few days ago, I removed my online bookstore, and just this morning, I removed my publishing website.

Again, 2-3 years ago, I prayed for success...but was willing to submit to God's will if He chose not to give me success (as a writer). But over time, as it became more apparent to me that I wasn't the next J.K. Rowling, I began to feel discouraged. I was still willing to accept God's will...but it wasn't easy. I had really, really hoped for success, and I had really thought that God would grant that request. He hasn't...and that's okay with me...but I sure wish that things had gone differently.

We always need to follow up our petitions and prayers with "Your will be done." After all, God knows what's best for us, and He knows what will most likely bring Him the glory and honor He deserves. But don't deceive yourself into thinking that God's will is always easy to accept.

It's not. Trust me.

But also trust me when I say this: God's plan is better than your plan!

I may not be a successful author. I may not have book signings scheduled all over the United States. My name may not be a household name. But God HAS blessed me with an incredible ministry in Sparks, Nevada, and an amazing spiritual family in the Queen Way church of Christ. I have a strong marriage and five beautiful children. Who am I to complain?
"Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him! Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him. The young lions lack and suffer hunger; but those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing" (Ps. 34:8-10).

Friday, November 30, 2012

Whistle While You Work!

The other day, as I was studying in the book of Acts, I noticed something that I hadn't noticed before and made a note to write an article on that point. Just now, as I was reading 1 John 1-3, I noticed a similar point, and so today, I'd like to blend both of these thoughts, and I hope that this brief article will be of some encouragement to you.
In Acts 15:1-2, we find the familiar story of Paul's confrontation with the Judaizing teachers in Antioch. A lot of positive things had been happing at the church of Christ in Antioch, and so Paul and Barnabas must have been discouraged when the church was suddenly at the center of some heated controversy. The text says that Paul and Barnabas "had no small dissension and dispute with them." And the church was so bothered and perplexed by this debate that they decided to pursue an answer from the church in Jerusalem, which was the source of the false doctrine (vs. 24).
And yet as Paul and Barnabas set out on their journey from Antioch to Jerusalem, despite all that had just transpired in Antioch, the "negativity" didn't consume them...
"So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren" (Acts 15:3).
In the midst of confrontation and controversy, Paul and Barnabas were able to remain positive, and thus were able to bring joy to these other Christians along the way. After all, God had truly blessed them with a wonderful work in Antioch - so many doors had been opened and the church was strong. It's not as if this sudden conflict had erased all of their positive experiences. Instead of slumping their shoulders and hanging their heads, Paul and Barnabas chose to have a cheerful disposition.
There is a similar lesson for us in the book of 1 John. This is a book that contains many points that folks today might call "negative." John writes about worldliness (2:15-16), antichrists (3:18-23), deceivers (2:26), pretenders (2:19; 3:7-10), and unrighteous sinners (5:16-18). John admonished them to "test the spirits" (4:1) and to bear in mind the fact that "the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one" (5:19). And yet why did John write this book?
"And these things we write to you that your joy may be full" (1 John 1:4).
Controversies will occasionally break the pattern of peace and progress. Brethren will say and do things that cause trouble within the Lord's body. Error will be denounced from the pulpit and there will be what many call "negative preaching" (preaching against sin and false doctrine). And yet through all of this, we can and we must maintain joy. In fact, as 1 John teaches us, sometimes, we have to honestly and boldly confront sin and error in order to maintain joy.
As we move forward in the work of the Lord - and yes, our spiritual work can be challenging and strenuous at times - we need to whistle while we work. Stay positive. Let's keep our chins up.
No matter what!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Pet Heaven

Yesterday morning, in the adult Bible class at Queen Way, a comment was made in jest about "Pet Heaven" that elicited quite a few laughs not only in the Bible class, but also later during my sermon. And yet for many, the question of whether or not animals live on in the afterlife is not a joke. I remember as a child the movie "All Dogs Go to Heaven," which I'm sure reflected truth in the eyes of many viewers. Some have become so attached to a pet, or to animals in general, that they see in animals human characteristics, thus concluding that animals must also have an eternal soul.

And all of these thoughts were further enhanced by a recent reading of the following excerpt from the book of Ecclesiastes, written by the great King Solomon of old:
"For what happens to the sons of men also happens to animals; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other. Surely, they all have one breath; man has no advantage over animals, for all is vanity. All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust. Who knows the spirit of the sons of men, which goes upward, and the spirit of the animal, which goes down to the earth?" (Eccl. 3:19-21).
Upon reading this text, one might initially assume that man is not so different from animals after all. If man has an eternal soul, then animals also have an eternal soul. OR...if animals do NOT have an eternal soul, neither does man. Solomon does seem to place animals and mankind on the same plane, doesn't he?

I remember a conversation I had with a fellow Christian about eight years ago in which he argued that when Jesus commands us to "preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15), that He was literally commanding us to preach the gospel to animals as well as humans. This individual didn't cite the passage in Ecclesiastes as further evidence of "Pet Heaven," but perhaps he could have built an even more convincing case had he done so.

However, Solomon's point in Ecclesiastes is not that both animals and mankind have an eternal spirit, or that mankind has absolutely no advantage after death. Rather, Solomon very clearly is referring to the physical aspect of death. In that sense, man has no advantage. Just as all animals will die, so also will all men die. Just as all animals will eventually return to the dust, so also will all men return to the dust.

It is at this point in our brief study where it is important to take into account the whole context of Scripture. Back in Genesis 1-3, we find the account of creation. On day five of creation, God created the birds and fish (Gen. 1:20-23) and on day six, God created all other animals (Gen. 1:24-25). But of all the lifeforms that God created, man was given something very special...
"Then God said, 'Let us make man in Our image, according to our Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the air" (Gen. 1:26).
As much as we love our pets, this quality wasn't attributed to animals. Indeed, mankind is the pinnacle of God's creation; we are unique among all lifeforms on earth. How so? Because only we are made in the image of God, and because God is a spirit (John 4:24), we are unique from animals in that we have an eternal spirit. This point is confirmed by the countless references to heaven and to hell throughout the word of God. When we die, we are NOT "dead like Rover, dead all over." Like Rover, our physical body returns to the dust (Gen. 3:19), but our eternal body lives on.

Yes, we are physical beings, and in that sense, we have no advantage over animals. That's Solomon's point in Ecclesiastes 3. But unlike animals, we have an ETERNAL spirit that guarantees life and consciousness after death. Even Solomon makes this distinction when he says that our spirit goes upward while the animal goes down into the earth. Or as he says in Ecclesiastes 12:5-7, our spirit returns "to God who have it."

Animals serve a great purpose here on this earth, and pets certainly serve a great purpose in many individual's lives. They often provide us with companionship and devotion that is hard to find even among our fellow humans. Even still, there is no Pet least not that I find in God's word.

Besides, even though you might be able to preach the gospel to your cat, I don't think it's going to take too kindly to being baptized for the remission of its sins.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Be Serious!

"Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth" (Eccl. 7:2-4).
We live in a society of entitlement, and one thing to which we're "entitled" is pleasure. Yes, most of us work hard and have responsibilities, but we believe it is our right to have fun in life. We derive pleasure from sports and recreation, and the television shows and movies we watch allow us to escape from the realities of our humdrum lives. There are many Americans - perhaps most Americans - who shy away from any kind of serious discussion, and who prefer humor and fantasy over the moral, spiritual and eternal truths that are pressing against them (whether they realize it or not).
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a good joke and I'm NOT suggesting that a sense of humor is a character flaw. If you enjoy a television show or movie (assuming it's moral), that's fine. But in the passage cited above, Solomon says something that we as Americans should take to heart.
It's not that humor and fantasy are inherently wrong, but not only should our lives be rooted in reality, we must use the serious and somber moments of life to reflect upon spiritual lessons. A serious conversation about God's word is not something that we should avoid. Sharing in someone's grief is not only good for them, it's good for us as well. It is important to reflect upon the brevity of life, the inevitability of death, and the frailty of the human body relative to the incorruptibility and limitlessness of the Almighty God. It is at these moments that we draw closer to God.
A comedy-routine or an epic fantasy novel might be entertaining - and it's okay to be entertained - but Solomon, by inspiration, tells us that there is more to gain spiritually from being serious. Stop using Hollywood, music and sports to escape from reality - come back to the real world from time to time and be serious.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Even When You Don't Understand...

In Acts 12:7-12, we find the story of Peter's miraculous escape from jail. An angel severed the chains that bound the apostle, stood him up and led him out past the slumbering guards and through the gate. What's most amazing about this story is that all the while the angel is leading him to freedom, Peter believed it was a dream or vision. It's not until the angel departed from him outside the gate that he "came to himself" and realized he had actually been delivered by the Lord from jail.

There are a lot of people today who not only want to know the answer to every religious question, they want to know the reason behind the answer. There is nothing wrong with wanting to dig deeper into spiritual matters, nor is there anything inherently wrong in wanting to know "why" things are the way they are. At the same time, we can "overthink" the will of God and fall prey to this "intellectual" mindset that so often crosses the line from "questioning" God to challenging or even doubting God. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:25-26...
"Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called."
We see another great illustration of this in John 6. When Jesus told His disciples that they had to eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to have eternal life (vs. 54), we're told that "many of His disciples...said, 'This is a hard saying; who can understand it?'" (vs. 60). It was okay to be confused and to ask this question. However, when Jesus' answer didn't satisfy their intellectual minds, the text says that "many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more" (vs. 66).

Now we're going to come full-circle back to the apostle Peter...

After these disciples left Jesus, the Lord looked at the apostles and said,
"'Do you also want to go away?' But Simon Peter answered Him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.' Also we have come to believe and know that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.'" (vs. 67-69).
Peter didn't understand what was going on when the angel was leading him out of the prison - he thought it was a dream or vision - but he still obeyed the angel's instructions. Likewise, Peter didn't understand what the Lord meant when He instructed them to eat His flesh and drink His blood, but he wasn't dissuaded from following Jesus. Peter didn't always have to have all the answers. He didn't have to understand everything. He was humble enough, and he had such faith in Christ, that he was committed to following Christ no matter what.

Dear reader, serving Christ is about giving up control, and that requires a willingness to follow Christ even when we don't fully understand why He has said what He has said. Like Peter, we need to follow the Lord and obey Him...and TRUST that He, being the King of kings, knows what He's doing. Study God's word. Seek Bible answers for Bible questions. But when there is a concept that you struggle to grasp, don't give up on the Lord.

Follow Him even when you don't understand...

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Two Forms of Discouragement

In Numbers 13, Moses was instructed to "send men to spy out the land of Canaan" (vs. 2). These twelve men spent 40 days spying out the land (vs. 25). When they returned and gave their report to the congregation, they "showed them the fruit of the land...and said, 'We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit" (vs. 26-27). But then they went on to give a "bad report of the land which they had spied out" (vs. 32). Why? Because the cities of Canaan were well-fortified and the nations that resided in Canaan were strong...too strong for the Israelites to overcome.

Of course, it was God's plan for them to conquer the land of Canaan. After all, that's why Israel had been delivered from Egyptian bondage. This had been the plan all along! Which is why Joshua and Caleb, two of the twelve spies, pleaded with the people to "go up at once and take possession" (13:30) because "if the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us" (14:8). But the Israelites refused to enter the land; they refused to submit to the will of God...all because 10 of the 12 spies discouraged them with their pessimism.

Approximately 38 years later, God brought the congregation of Israel back to Canaan's edge. This time, they were ready to do what they should've done the first time. But as they prepared to begin their campaign, the tribes of Reuben and Gad (and later 1/2 the tribe of Manasseh) informed Moses that they were content to inhabit the land on this side of the Jordan. Notice Moses' response in Numbers 32:6-9...
"And Moses said to the children of Gad and to the children of Reuben: 'Shall your brethren go to war while you sit here? Now why will you discourage the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the Lord has given them? Thus your fathers did when I sent them away from Kadesh Barnea to see the land. For when they went up to the Valley of Eschol and saw the land, they discouraged the heart of the children of Israel, so that they did not go into the land which the Lord had given them."
On the two occasions that Israel approached Canaan's edge, the congregation was discouraged from entering, but these two instances of discouragement were quite different.

In the first instance, the spies discouraged their brethren by plainly telling them not to conquer the land. This was an overt form of discouragement. But in the second instance, the discouragement was more covert and subtle. The tribes of Reuben and Gad didn't tell their brethren not to conquer the land of Canaan, but by voicing their desire to remain on this side of the Jordan River, they were instilling doubt within the minds of their brethren. Thankfully, Moses solved the problem in Numbers 32 and everything worked out in the end, but there is still a powerful lesson for us today.

Most of us wouldn't openly discourage our brethren from doing the Lord's work, but if we're not careful, we can discourage our brethren simply by being inactive. Your inactivity, uninvolvment, and/or lack of enthusiasm for the Lord's work may very well discourage others from doing the Lord's work.

Think about how your words and actions may subtly discourage others in the church and from this point forward, commit to being as supportive and as helpful as you can be.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Accepting Others

I don't know that we have anything in 21st century America that really compares to the racial/ethnic circumstances of 1st century Israel. The Jews, as pious as they may have been, were sometimes cruel in their treatment of non-Jews. We know that they so hated the Samaritan "half-breeds" that when they journeyed from northern Israel (Galilee) to southern Israel (Judea), they would bypass the obvious route through Samaria. This is why the woman at the well in John 4 was so shocked that Jesus, a Jewish man, would even consider talking to her (John 4:9).

But their hatred of, or at least their condescension toward the Samaritans was equaled if not trumped by their low opinion of the Gentiles (non-Jews). In Acts 22, as Paul defended himself before his Jewish brethren, he relayed to them the story of his upbringing and of his conversion. The Jews listened to Paul's message until he informed them of how Christ sent him "far from here to the Gentiles" (Ac. 22:1). The text says in verse 22, "And they listened to him until this word, and they raised their voices and said, 'Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live.'" The notion that God had sent Paul to the Gentiles infuriated these pious Jews who believed that only they were "worthy" of God's favor.

That was the culture of 1st century Israel. Again, I don't know if we (especially my generation) can relate at all for we have never had to endure such racial, ethnic or social barriers. And so perhaps, in light of our ignorance, we've failed to grasp the real beauty of Acts 11:18.

Here's the context of Acts 11: the church was comprised only of Jews from Acts 2-9. However, in Acts 10, God created the circumstances for the apostle Peter to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to a group of Gentiles (i.e. the household of Cornelius, a centurion). God provided miraculous proof that He had accepted the Gentiles, and once Peter saw the evidence, he baptized Cornelius and the others. That's right, Gentiles were being baptized, and for the first time, granted access into the church...but more importantly, into a spiritual fellowship/institution that included Jews.

Guess what? The Jewish-Christians in Judea heard the news and were FURIOUS. Again, remember the culture into which these folks were born. This was their mindset. And so Peter, when he came to Jerusalem, had to explain to these enraged Jewish-Christians why he did what he did.

Now notice the beauty of Acts 11:18. After Peter explained the circumstances leading up to the conversion of the Gentiles, these Jewish-Christians in Jerusalem responded this way:
"When they heard these things, they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, 'Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.'"
 I've read this verse dozens of times, but it was just this morning that I came to appreciate what these Jewish-Christians their thinking was transformed completely. These men had always had a very low-opinion of the Gentiles and had perhaps even hated the Gentiles. But now, because of Christ, and because of the circumstances created by God, these men not only accepted the Gentiles, but "glorified God" that the Gentiles could now be saved. Amazing!

The first and most obvious application is to racial and ethnic barriers that may exist in the world today. In Christ, these barriers can be broken down (Eph. 2:13-15). We can transition from hating certain classes of people to having a love for ALL people.

But I think there's a more practical application...

There are sometimes PERSONAL barriers that are raised, even among brethren in the Lord's church. Disagreements arise. There are personality conflicts. We see weak Christians who fall hard to sins like adultery and public drunkenness. do we respond when these brethren repent or when they apologize to us for wrongs they've committed against us? Do we view them with doubt and suspicion? Or, like these Jewish brethren in Acts 11:18, do we have the strength and love to get excited and to embrace those who turn to matter what barriers may have previously existed?

Think about it.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Dull Ax of the Spirit

I'm sure you're familiar with Paul's description of the "armor of God" in Ephesians 6:11-17. Specifically, in verse 17, Paul urges us as soldiers of Christ to "take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." The Bible, or God's word, is called a "sword."

In Hebrews 4:12, this sword is described as being one of great power: "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."

Having established those fundamental points from the New Testament regarding the sword of the Spirit, consider with me this unlikely verse from Ecclesiastes...
"If the ax is dull, and one does not sharpen the edge, then he must use more strength; but wisdom brings success" (Eccl. 10:10).
In other words, if you try to chop wood with a dull ax, you're going to have to work twice as hard to get the job done. Even though it may take time to sharpen the blade, it'll make your work go twice as fast, and you'll have to use less strength to chop the wood.

Now here's the point...

Are we wielding a powerful two-edged sword or a dull ax?

There are many, many Christians who do not know how to study the Bible. They know that they should study, and so they open up God's word and read random chapters. There is a small feeling of accomplishment when a chapter is read or a book is finished, but in the end, such an approach to God's word yields few benefits.

Some folks fail to "rightly divide" the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). Others, perhaps because of their own ignorance, twist the Scriptures unto their own destruction (2 Pet. 3:16). Jesus spoke of those who were led away by false teachers and who were blind to the truth (Mt. 15:14). Paul wrote about those who are "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim. 3:7).

If you don't approach Bible study with the right mindset, and if you don't put in the time to really, truly study and analyze its content, then you're ultimately wielding, not a powerful, two-edged sword, but a dull ax. You'll have to work twice as hard to gain true knowledge and divine wisdom.

So "sharpen the blade." Learn HOW to study, memorize Scripture, cross-examine verses, take notes, check your progress, put your knowledge to use by teaching others, allow yourself to be taught (2 Tim. 2:2). Then you'll not only become that man of God, "thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:17), but your speech will be more seasoned with salt (Col. 4:6) and you'll be in a better position to give reasons for your faith (1 Pet. 3:15).

Which are you wielding? The sword of the Spirit? Or the dull ax of the Spirit?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Once and Again

"Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities" (Phil. 4:15-16).
Paul had a very special relationship with the church at Philippi. The whole book of Philippians illuminates this fact (see Phil. 1:3-5 for example), but here at the close of the book, the apostle gives us yet another example of their loving fellowship. You see, there weren't any churches who provided Paul with financial support while he preached the gospel, at least not in the early part of his ministry...except for the church at Philippi. They loved him dearly and were cognizant of his needs as he preached and ministered in other regions. 

Of course, we learn here that it is Scriptural for the local church to support evangelists abroad, but the point that I'd like to emphasize is in verse 16 where Paul adds that the Philippians sent him aid "once and again."

So often, when we hear of someone who is in need (whether it be physical or spiritual), we "send them aid" once and that's it. If it's a physical hardship, we may go and visit them in the hospital just once. If it's a financial hardship, we may send them a Wal-Mart gift card just once. If it's a spiritual hardship, we may call them and encourage them just once. But then we get swept away by the business of our own lives, and we tell ourselves that at least we reached out to them once.

But you know as well as I do that hardship is not always short-lived. Sometimes, folks will struggle, not just for a day or week, but for a month, or for several months. Don't forget about those who are in need. Remind yourself that they may be in constant need of encouragement and aid. Call them often. Visit them often. Regularly check in with them regarding their needs. In other words, do what the Philippians did to Paul almost 2,000 years ago - send them aid once and again.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Help Requested...and Denied

This is the image for the main article currently running on In case you don't know, this article is about the ongoing investigation regarding the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11th of this year. Four Americans were killed during this attack including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. This incident, and specifically the government's response to this incident, has been the source of much controversy in recent weeks. And if this foxnews article is any kind of indicator, the issue isn't going away. Now it's being asserted that the CIA annex in Benghazi sent three requests for military backup and were denied all three times. The point? Such an inadequate response to such a dangerous situation resulted in unnecessary deaths. At least, that's the charge.
On a spiritual level, I'm afraid that there are Christians among us who are really struggling, and even if they're not asking for help, they're in desperate need of our help. How should we respond to our brethren in their time of desparation? Should we ignore their requests? Should we pass over their subtle pleas for help? Should we close our eyes to their body gestures - the sadness in their eyes, the way they're beginning to isolate themselves, the missed services, the remarks on Facebook?
Or, when we see our brethren in need, should we rush to their aid?
Let the Scriptures speak for themselves...
"Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:1-2).
"If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?" (James 2:15-16).
I know that we're all busy. We have families that need us. We have full-time jobs. We have appointments scheduled, vacations planned and errands to run. But we need to make time to strengthen those among us who are weak and in need.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Does Acts 13:48 Support Calvinism?

Luke records in Acts 13:48: "And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed." This verse is often utilized by Calvinists to support the false doctrine of Predestination. This tenet of the TULIP doctrine (Calvinistic theology) says that before the world began, God foreordained who would eventually be saved and lost. Such a doctrine denies man's free-will and concludes that one's destiny is so fixed by God that it cannot possibly be altered. Does Acts 13:48 support this system of theology?

First of all, if we are going to understand Acts 13:48, we must examine it in light of its context. The same Gentiles mentioned in verse 48 are mentioned earlier in the chapter. Luke says in verse 42, "And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath." According to Calvinists, these Gentiles were, at this point, totally depraved and incapable of doing or even thinking anything positive. Yet the text says that they wanted to hear the gospel preached. Then, in the beginning of verse 47, prior to the Gentiles' "ordination," the inspired writer adds, "And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord." These Gentiles were interested in the gospel and desperately wanted to hear it. Then, when they heard about the promises that were available to them, they were spiritually-minded enough for this appeal to appeal to them. 

It doesn't appear to me, based on the context, that these Gentiles were totally depraved as the Calvinists would argue. Rather, these men were exhibiting free-will in seeking the benefits of the gospel of Christ.

Second, the entire Calvinistic argument here hinges on the word "ordained" in verse 48. They see this word and immediately conclude that these Gentiles were fore-ordained before the establishment of the world to be saved. But that's not the case here.

The word "foreordained" is used in 1 Peter 1:20 (in reference to the sacrifice of Jesus), but that is not the word used in Acts 13:48. Wesley's Commentary Notes says regarding this verse: "St. Luke does not say foreordained. He is not speaking of what was done from eternity, but of what was then done, through the preaching of the gospel. He is describing that ordination, and that only, which was at the very time of hearing it." Amen! There is a difference, in other words, between foreordained and ordained.

So what does the word "ordained" here mean? Sometimes it is helpful to see how the same word is used elsewhere in the Scriptures. Acts 15:2 says the Antioch church "determined that Paul and Barnabas..should go to Jerusalem." The word "determined" has the same Greek word behind it that "ordained" does in Acts 13:48. Did the Antioch church predetermine that Paul and Barnabas would go to Jerusalem? No. It was a decision they made at that time. 

Likewise, Paul sais in 1 Corinthians 16:15 that the house of Stephanas had "addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints." The Greek word tasso is translated as ordained, determined, and now, addicted. In this verse, there is no hint of predestination or foreordination. The idea here is that Stephanas was devoted to the work of benevolence.

With these things in mind, what does the word mean in Acts 13:48? Luke is telling us that the Gentiles greatly determined to be saved; once they heard the gospel, they were devoted to the concept of eternal life. Thus, they believed. Adam Clarke, in his commentary on Acts 13:48, says regarding the Greek word tasso, "hence it has been considered here as implying the disposition or readiness of mind of several persons in the congregation."

It should be evident to all of us that acts 13:48 doesn't support the human system of theology known as Calvinism. The context confirms this, as well as the actual meaning of verse 48. There's no reason for us to be frightened by this text!!!

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Kingdom Which Cannot Be Shaken

I absolutely LOVE the book of Hebrews as it not only informs us about Christ, but builds up our confidence in Christ, who, in every way, is superior. In this very brief article, notice one such contrast in Hebrews regarding the superiority of Christ and His Kingdom...
"Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear" (12:28).
"For here [on earth] we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come" (13:14). 
Do you see the contrast? The kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ "cannot be shaken." In other words, it is a "continuing city" (spiritually speaking, of course), a kingdom that has endured and will endure the test of time. As Daniel prophesied in Daniel 2:44...
"And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingsoms, and it shall stand forever."
So on the one hand, there is the everlasting kingdom of God, while on the other hand, there is no "continuing city" or everlasting kingdom here on earth (Heb. 13:14). Think about it. Even the most powerful kingdoms have fallen - Egypt, Babylon, Rome. The British empire is nothing like it once was. And yes, even America, as strong as it may seem now, will one day fall.
But not the kingdom of Christ. Again, it cannot be destroyed. It will continue until the Lord's return, whenever that may be, and even then, it will not truly end, but will simply be moved from earth to heaven (1 Cor. 15:24-25, 50-52).
Isn't this incredible? Doesn't this information bolster your confidence in the power and might of Jesus Christ, the Lord of lords and King of kings? Which is exactly why the Hebrews' writer goes on to say that in light of this information, "let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear." In other words, we should be so in awe of the supremacy and power of our King over all earthly kings and kingdoms that we should be naturally prompted to praise and worship Him...not just because we have to, but because we revere Him and want to give Him all the praise He deserves.
Those of us who are faithful Christians are citizens in a kingdom which cannot be shaken. Wow!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

An Observation From the Debate

I wasn't able to watch the second presidential debate last night between President Barack Obama and the Republican challenger Mitt Romney, but I did listen to some of it on the radio, and then watched a few highlights on TV later in the evening. Debates are often very interesting and lively, and this debate was no different. In fact, not only were both candidates lively, they were quite aggressive, and while the aggression didn't really bother me, many people were turned off by it - the way they interuppted one another, the snide remarks, and the general tone of disrespect. Of course, this shouldn't surprise any of us. It's election season, and politics can get ugly.
I've heard some religious people say that it's wrong to debate the Scriptures. I disagree...
"And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.' Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question" (Acts 15:1-2).
"As I urged you when I went into Macedonia - remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine" (1 Tim. 1:3).
"...I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).
Based on these and other verses, it is clear that God expects us to stand up for His truth. If that means disagreeing with someone, or responding to an attack on the Scriptures, or even "debating" spiritual matters with others, then so be it. It matters what we believe!
However, in our efforts to defend the truth, we ought not be reduced to squabbling children. We mustn't resort to unfair criticisms and personal attacks. In other words, we shouldn't debate the Scriptures as Obama and Romney debated politics last night.
"And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth..." (2 Tim. 2:24-25).
After all, it's not about who's right, it's about what's right. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Seasoned With Salt

"Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one" (Colossians 4:5-6).

Occasionally, I will meet someone who prefers tasteless food. I knew one individual who, for health reasons, couldn't eat any spiced and/or spicy food. But for the most part, we like to eat food that is spiced and flavorful, and salt is, without a doubt, the go-to spice. How many times have you reached for the salt-shaker after eating a bite of bland corn or dry meat?
Likewise, season your speech just as you would season your food. The word "seasoned" in the Greek literally means, "stimulate." So your speech - your words to the lost - ought to be stimulating and thought-provoking.
Folks, we need to take this seriously. Souls are at steak! Study and prepare yourself. Begin each day with prayer, and "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:17). Be alert for opportunities to share your faith, and make the most of those conversations. Ask stimulating questions. Offer thoughful answers when asked stimulating questions. Be patient and deliberate.
No one is saying that you have to be perfect in your presentation. All I'm suggesting, based on this verse in Colossians, is that you take this work seriously. To put this in food terms, don't resign yourself to Ramen noodles and Spaghetti-O's. Offer spiritual meals that will be so stimulating and tasty that people will come back for seconds...and thirds...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The King's Way

The blog formerly known as "Anchor of the Soul" has a new name and look. Welcome to "The King's Way at Queen Way," a blog that from this point forward will be tied to my new work and ministry at the Queen Way church of Christ in Sparks, Nevada.
And for those of you back east, it's Nev-ADD-uh, not Nev-odd-uh.
I moved here to the Silver State a week ago today and so far, I'm loving everything about this state, the people, and most importantly, the church of Christ at Queen Way. This is an incredible group of Christians who have a deep and profound love for one another as well as for Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords. And that brings me to the blog's new name.
The church of Christ is located at 520 Queen Way in Sparks, Nevada, and here at Queen Way, we're concerned about following the King's Way. Jesus Christ, of course, is our King.
"Jesus answered, 'My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now my kingdom is not from here.' Pilate therefore said to Him, 'Are you a king them?' Jesus answered, 'You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice" (John 18:36-37).
"He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love..." (Col. 1:13).
"I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ..." (Rev. 1:9).
So if you're a Christian, you're a citizen of the kingdom of Christ, which, according to Jesus, is a spiritual kingdom based, not on earth, but in heaven. And this kingdom will continue - in other words, Jesus will continue to reign - until He which point He will take the kingdom (His people) and deliver it to God the Father...
"Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death" (1 Cor. 15:24-25).
Now here's where all of this information makes a real difference in the way we think...
If Jesus is King, and if He is reigning now, then wouldn't that mean that we're subject to His law? Too many religious people want to view Jesus as their Savior - and He absolutely is our Savior - but if we only see Jesus as someone who offers us an escape from Hell, we've got a one-sided view of Him. He is our Savior, but He is also our King! In other words, we must humbly submit to Him. We must be concerned about the King's way!
"Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen" (1 Tim. 1:17).
"...that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ's appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords" (1 Tim. 6:14-15).
Here at the Queen Way church of Christ, we're not concerned about man's way. We don't follow the precepts of Martin Luther, John Wesley or the Pope. We don't have manmade creeds. We don't submit to some hierarchy somewhere. We don't attend conferences and synods where the leadership of our denomination tells us what to believe. In fact, we're undenominational. We're just Christians who meet in a building located on Queen Way in Sparks, Nevada who strive to follow the precepts and laws of the King, Jesus Christ. 
The purpose of this blog will be to deepen our knowledge of the King's way!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Dealing w/ Disagreements #5: Personal Disputes

First of all, I apologize for the ridiculously long title. I couldn't find a way to shorten it. 

Second, this is the fourth article in a series of articles on the different kinds of disagreements and divisions that might occur in the local church and how a different response ought to be implemented depending on the nature of the disagreement. In the first article, we studied how we ought to respond to those who advocate error in a divisive manner. In the second article, we studied how we ought to take a softer and more gentle approach towards those who are wrong, but innocent. In the third article, we studied how we ought to wisely discern between what is worth arguing about and what isn't worth arguing about. And in the fourth article, we discussed the importance of (1) recognizing issues of liberty and (2) having forbearance regarding differences in areas of liberty.

This article will be the fifth and final article in this series. In short, what should brethren do when they have disagreements that have NOTHING to do with the Bible (i.e. personal disputes)? It happens, you know. In fact, there are churches that have split simply because a handful of brethren won't get along. I have even heard of an extreme case where a church split wide-open because they couldn't agree on which color of carpet to install in the church building. No scriptures are cited. No biblical truths are at stake. No one is teaching error publically or privately...

Just pigheaded brethren huffin' and puffin' and blowing God's house down.

So how should we handle personal disputes? And yes, they come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Here is a list of recommendations from God's word. We'll start in Proverbs and end by citing a few New Testament principles.
  1.  "In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise" (Prov. 10:19). Don't react hastily to the comments and actions of others. As the old saying goes, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." Amen. How many ridiculous quarrels would be avoided if we'd just keep our mouths shut?
  2. On a similar note, "There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health" (Prov. 12:18). This message is echoed in James 3. Paul, in Ephesians 4:29, put it this way: "Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers." Watch what you say. Think of how your words will be heard and interpreted.
  3. "By pride comes nothing but strife, but with the well-advised is wisdom" (Prov. 13:10). The proud person reacts rashly to defend his "honor," but the wise person instead deliberates and seeks counsel. Instead of taking things personally and rushing to defend yourself, walk away and pray. 
  4. "He who is slow to wrath has great understanding..." (Prov. 14:29). Also, "He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city" (16:32). If you have a temper, conquer it, because temper-tantrums in the Lord's church are shameful and divisive.
  5. "He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, but he who heeds rebuke gets understanding" (Prov. 15:32). Sometimes, brethren rebuke brethren, and it's not always a matter of spiritual error. It may be a suggestion or an offering of advice regarding a parent's care of their unruly child. It may be a subtle rebuke in the form of a request, as in, "Could you modify your tone when you ask questions in Bible class so that you don't come across as angry or abrasive?" As a preacher, I have been asked at times to speak more slowly, or to speak more loudly so that my lessons could be more easily heard. I could have taken those comments personally, but knew that the suggestions were made in love. In other words, respond well to constructive criticism. 
  6. "A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates the best of friends" (Prov. 16:28). Gossip is incredibly destructive to the Lord's church. As Solomon here indicates, gossip only stirs up trouble and creates unnecessary division. This leads us into the New Testament...
  7. Follow the process of Matthew 18:15-17 if someone has wronged you. If you have a problem with someone - a serious problem - don't gossip about them...go to them. But should you confront people each and every time you are wronged? No...
  8. "Love suffers long" (1 Cor. 13:4). In other words, relationships are never easy. When you are mistreated, overlooked, neglected or shafted - be willing to suffer and endure the abuse. Earlier, Paul put it this way: "Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated?" (1 Cor. 6:7b). So if someone seriously wrongs you to the point that your relationship has been violated and/or severed, then go to them privately. At the same time, not every offense warrants a confrontation. In fact, the majority of offenses should probably be overlooked. We're all going to have bad days. We're all going to misspeak. We're all going to be jerks sometimes. If you suffer long with me and I suffer long with you, our relationship will not be so volatile.
I know that there are countless other principles that we could consider, but these eight principles, when applied, will go a long way in resolving so many of the personal disputes we have as brethren.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dealing w/ Disagreements #4: Matters of Judgment

First of all, I apologize for the ridiculously long title. I couldn't find a way to shorten it. 

Second, this is the fourth article in a series of articles on the different kinds of disagreements and divisions that might occur in the local church and how a different response ought to be implemented depending on the nature of the disagreement. In the first article, we studied how we ought to respond to those who advocate error in a divisive manner. In the second article, we studied how we ought to take a softer and more gentle approach towards those who are wrong, but innocent. In the third article, we studied how we ought to wisely discern between what is worth arguing about and what isn't worth arguing about.

In this fourth article, I'd like to address a fourth kind of disagreement. How should we react when we disagree on matters of personal judgment or opinion? This is a difficult question to answer for a number of reasons, and I must admit as I begin that I am ever growing in this area of my faith. In writing this article, I may be stepping on your toes, but believe me when I say that I am first and foremost stepping on my own toes.

First of all, what do I mean when I refer to "matters of personal judgment or opinion?"

There are, to be sure, rules and commandments in the New Testament that ought to be advocated, obeyed, and bound upon all. Just as Paul commanded Timothy to charge some that they teach no other doctrine (1 Tim. 1:3), so must we take a stand against false doctrine (Rom. 16:16-17; Gal. 1:6-10). We cannot accept any teachings and/or practices that contradict God's word (Ac. 17:11; 1 Cor. 5), whether it's an addition to God's word or a subtraction from God's word.

But at the same time, it is abundantly clear that there are choices that we must make, and things that we may do, that fall into the realm of personal judgment. These are areas where God's word is completely silent either way. In these areas, we are commanded to be tolerant.
"Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him" (Rom. 14:1-3).
What kind of issues are under consideration in this controversial chapter? We are first told that these are "doubtful things" (vs. 1), as opposed to things that God has clearly addressed. Second, we learn that these disagreements were between strong and weak brethren (vs. 1, 3; 15:1), not between faithful brethren and unfaithful brethren. So these were choices where sin wasn't committed either way. Third, these were matters of personal judgment (vs. 22-23) - choices that primarily impacted the one making the choice.

Paul's admonition in Romans 14 is that brethren be tolerant and patient in these areas. 

For example, it may be that a Catholic is converted to Christ, and yet they are not comfortable eating meat on Fridays (because it violates their conscience, vs. 23). There is nothing wrong with eating meat on Fridays, but neither is it wrong to NOT eat meat on be patient with them as they grow. Don't demand that they change, don't be harsh with them, and certainly don't invite them over for potroast on Friday.

And there are countless issues like this (that we take for granted) where tolerance must be shown.

The same basic message is taught by Paul in 1 Corinthians 8, where he deals with another sensitive issue: the eating of meat that had been offered to idols (vs. 4) and the eating of meat in the idol's temples (vs. 10). Neither action was inherently sinful, and yet Paul specifically addresses the mature Christians, admonishing them to give up their liberty in these areas if it was an issue (i.e. a stumblingblock) for other, weaker Christians. What I glean most from this passage is that I must not be quick to label something as sinful (and thus make it a point of contention) when it is merely unwise. It wasn't sinful to eat in the idol's temple, but as Paul says, it may not have been the wisest choice because of the impact it would have had on the weaker Christians. NOTE: I wonder what kind of sermon I would have preached on the topic of eating in the idol's temple had I lived and preached in the first century??? Would I have condemned it?

Connecting this to Romans 14, we must be tolerant of beliefs and actions that aren't sinful. Someone's position may be wrong. Their actions may be unwise and/or shortsighted. A brother may live more strictly or more loosely than do we. But it is vital that we display tolerance and forbearance in all matters of personal judgment.  

We tend to want to make everything "black and white." We want everything to be clear-cut, to be right or wrong...and such is convenient (for us), but that doesn't make it the right approach. Unity comes not when everyone else conforms to our ideas and opinions, but when we all conform to God's word, which requires a firm stand in some areas, and tolerance in others.

Click here to access the fifth and final article in this series.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Dealing w/ Disagreements #3: Nitpicking

First of all, I apologize for the ridiculously long title. I couldn't find a way to shorten it. 

Second, this is the third article in a series of articles on the different kinds of disagreements and divisions that might occur in the local church and how a different response ought to be implemented depending on the nature of the disagreement. Click here to access the first article, at the end of which is a link to the second article, and so forth.

Nitpicking is defined by the Encarta dictionary as "trivial, detailed, and often unjustified fault-finding," or more accurately (for our purposes in this article), "annoying criticisms about small unimportant details." The Bible portrays nitpicking (and it's effects) this way:
"As I urged you when I went into Macedonia - remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith" (1 Tim. 1:3-4).
"If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions..." (1 Tim. 6:3-4).
"Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers" (2 Tim. 2:14).
"But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless..." (Titus 3:9).
While we ought to always take a stand for the truth (Jude 3), the Scriptures consistently teach us that there are many things not worth arguing about. In the passages listed above, Paul says that we ought not argue about fables, endless genealogies, and strivings about the law. He also tells us not to engage in "arguments over words." Why? Because these types of debates have no spiritual benefit, are a waste of time, and do nothing but erect unnecessary barriers between otherwise like-minded brethren.

Have you ever experienced a Bible class where brethren argued to the point of contention about purely academic details? Have you ever seen two Christians clash over the intepretation of a word, or even a verse, all the while wondering why or how such a point is relevent? Have you ever heard someone object to a sermon, an invitation, or a prayer over some insignificant detail, or the phrasing of a point? Have you ever looked in hindsight at an argument and then thought, "Boy, was that silly"?

In other words, have you ever seen brethren "nitpick" at each other and at the Scriptures? If so (and I'm sure you have), then you've also probably seen the effects of such nitpicking; you've seen brethren get red in the face, raise their voices, rush to judgment, level accusations hastily, and divide...all over some small point that has little if any practical relevence. And you've probably also seen the new Christians, the young Christians, and even the mature, peace-loving Christians all discouraged by the ungodly quarreling between brethren who ought to know better.

Listen, the Bible is full of relevent information. Each page contains lessons for us. And yes, each verse is there for a reason. So I'm not suggesting that we sit by idly while brethren misinterpret parts of God's word. All I'm saying - all that Paul is saying - is that while some things are worth pursuing, other things are not worth pursuing; while some things are worth arguing about, other things are not worth arguing about.

And yes, to some extent, we have to use our judgment here (which requires wisdom).

And yes, we will sometimes disagree on what is and what isn't worth arguing about.

But let's have patience with one another. And when we disagree - if we disagree - let's do so with the right attitude. As Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:24...
"And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel, but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient."
Don't nitpick. Don't be argumentative. Don't raise trivial questions and pursue academic debates just for the thrill of it. Instead, have the wisdom to take a stand where you must, and to compromise and/or exhibit forbearance where you can.

Click here to access the fourth article in this series...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Dealing w/ Disagreements #2: Wrong But Innocent

First of all, I apologize for the ridiculously long title. I couldn't find a way to shorten it. 

Second, this is the second article in a series of articles on the different kinds of disagreements and divisions that might occur in the local church and how a different response ought to be implemented depending on the nature of the disagreement. Click here to access the first article which details our approach to those who spread error in a way that is divisive.

As we're going to see in this second article, while all unbiblical teachings (what I call "error") ought to be addressed, the manner in which we address the proponent of error depends on their character and attitude. When someone knowingly stirs up controversy by teaching a doctrine privately or publically, the Scriptures call them "divisive." Divisive men, like the Judaizing teachers in Acts 15, ought to be openly rebuked and, if need be, rejected (as we learned in our first article).

However, not everyone who incorrectly interprets a verse or misrepresents a Bible doctrine is divisive. Not everyone who utters a biblical inaccuracy deserves a harsh response from their brethren. Not everyone who expresses a non-traditional viewpoint should be publically addressed, marked and rejected.

The best example of this, of course, is that of Apollos in Acts 18:24-26...
"Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately."
One thing that is clear in this text is that although Apollos was wrong, he was sincere, and he was doing the best he could do with the information he had at the time. It's not that he knew the truth about baptism but was intentionally teaching the baptism of John. It's not that he had been confronted about this before, and yet had stubbornly persisted in his error. So not only was he not intentionally teaching error, he wasn't intentionally misleading people or dividing brethren. He was wrong, but he was innocent.

Aquila and Priscilla were two faithful Christians who knew that they had to confront Apollos about his error, but how did they do it? Did they call him out in the synagogue? No. Did they speak negatively of Apollos in private correspondence to churches, or to Paul? No. Did they label him a false teacher or a heretic? No. Instead, they took him aside and corrected his misunderstanding of baptism. And Apollos, being the sincere, honest man that he was responded with a good attitude, accepted the truth, and moved forward with the same zeal and passion that he had exhibited before.

How can we apply this lesson to situations that might arise in churches today?

We need to distinguish between those false teachers who are divisive and those who, like Apollos, are innocent and/or ignorant. Those who boldly proclaim error knowing the trouble it will cause in the church ought to be handled openly, roughly, and swiftly. However, those who are innocent and/or ignorant need to be handled with more care and consideration.

Think of the man who was recently converted and is giving his first invitation talk or leading his first prayer. He does not have the knowledge and experience that you might have, and as a result, he may misquote a verse, or misrepresent a whole passage or doctrine. Maybe he's simply taking a verse out of context, or maybe he's repeating something that he heard years ago in the denominational world that hasn't yet been corrected since his conversion. Certainly, we ought to bear with the weak (Rom. 15:1) and recognize that it's going to take time for new Christians to grow (Heb. 5:12-14).

It could be something as small as calling the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden an "apple," or the great fish of Jonah's story a "whale." Maybe he uses the term "miracle" too loosely. Perhaps he makes the point that there were three wise men who visited Jesus, even though the Bible doesn't specify a number. I remember grimacing when one gentleman, a former Episcopal, placed special emphasis on the Lord's Supper on "Easter Sunday," as if we were celebrating Easter.

But one thing I know, based on the story of Apollos in Acts 18, is that this softer approach is not limited to babes in Christ or to minor details of the Bible. Apollos was a very knowledgeable man, and the position he was misrepresenting was/is one of the biggest issues in the Bible - it had to do with salvation. So maybe it isn't a new Christian who says the wrong thing; maybe it's your full-time evangelist who misinterprets a Bible verse. And maybe it's an issue that is much more serious. 

The point is this: if you perceive that the one teaching the error is a good, honest man who is just sincerely wrong, don't treat him like you would treat the divisive man. Instead of calling him out or embarrassing him in front of the church, wait until services are over and take him aside. Or if it is determined that the error should be corrected before the church is dismissed, do so tactfully and gently. If there are elders, it would be wise to let the elders handle the situation as they deem fit. Praise him for his efforts, for the good things he said, and then clarify the error. And most of all, encourage the individual to not to be discouraged. Like Apollos, the individual should be encouraged to move forward, to grow, and to remain active in studying, teaching and evangelizing (Acts 18:27-28).

Finally, the fact is, there may be some things - maybe many things - that ought to be overlooked. In other words, not every misquoted verse warrants a public correction. We need to exercise good judgment and only say something when we feel it is necessary.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dealing w/ Disagreements #1: A Divisive Man

First of all, I apologize for the ridiculously long title. I couldn't find a way to shorten it. 

Second, this is going to be the beginning of a series of articles on the different kinds of disagreements and divisions that might occur in the local church and how a different response ought to be implemented depending on the nature of the disagreement.

In this article, we're going to consider the worst kind of disagreement or controversy - when an individual, or even a group within the church, pushes a false doctrine all the while knowing it's going to stir up controversy and possibly divide the church.

We see several instances of such disagreements in the New Testament...
"And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.' Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders about this question" (Acts 15:1-2).
Just as we have our hot topics today, the issue of circumcision was one of the most controversial issues in the first century churches. The Judaizing teachers from Judea knew that by teaching the necessity of circumcision, they were bringing an already emotionally-charged issue to the forefront. And what were these brethren doing in Antioch anyways? Clearly, their objective was to push their doctrine on the church in Antioch, even if it resulted in discouragement and division.

So how did Paul and Barnabas react? They openly and unashamedly debated these Judaizing teachers. Because this issue was being pushed openly, they responded openly. Because it was pushed forcibly on the church, the response merited equal force.

Paul had to deal with other false teachers, too, among whom were Alexander, Hymenaeus and Philetus...
"This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme" (1 Tim. 1:18-20).
"But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some" (2 Tim. 2:16-18).
Hymenaeus is the common denominator in both texts. Assuming it's the same person - I many men in the church were named Hymenaeus? - it appears that he was a constant problem in the church. He, along with Alexander and Philetus, were pushing a doctrine that was contrary to one of the core doctrines of Christianity; they were disputing the issue of the resurrection. We know that this was an issue in Corinth (read 1 Cor. 15) and even Thessalonica (1 Thess. 4). So like circumcision, this was another divisive issue in the first century churches, and yet that didn't stop these three men from spreading their error. As a result, many Christians were acting in an ungodly manner, and the faith of others had been destroyed!

In these few examples (and others could be cited), we learn that the false doctrines were not only controversial (and emotionally-charged), but also destructive, or at least potentially destructive. These were not mere academic squabbles; these were serious disagreements over issues that had an obvious impact on the early Christians.

And each time, we are told that Paul acted quickly and forcibly! He openly debated the Judaizing teachers in Antioch, and administered spiritual discipline to Alexander and Hymenaeus, openly withdrawing fellowship from them and marking them as servants of Satan (1 Tim. 1:20).

Also consider...
"Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple" (Romans 16:16-17).
"For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped..." (Titus 1:10-11).
"Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition" (Titus 3:10).
These three passages supplement what we've already learned by example. When there is someone in the church propagating error, whether privately ("subverting whole households") or publically (via sermons, Bible classes in the church), the church must be swift in implementing these steps.

If the error is being taught openly in the church by an individual who knows that he's stirring up conflict and controversy, there ought to be a public response. Men (ideally the elders) ought to stand up for the truth just as Paul and Barnabas did in Antioch. But whether the error is taught publically or privately, the divisive man ought to be warned twice, then publically marked as a false teacher (assuming he doesn't repent), and then finally rejected by the church.

It IS worth pointing out that in any conflict, both sides are going to feel justified. In other words, the divisive man may not see himself as a divisive man; the false teacher may not see himself as a false teacher. Perhaps the Judaizing teachers in Acts 15 felt truly convinced that circumcision was necessary, and saw themselves, not as false teachers dividing the church, but as brave proponents of truth. Maybe in their eyes, Paul and Barnabas were the false teachers. I don't know.

So what are we to do when both sides feel like they have the truth?

First of all, from the church's perspective, there needs to be a sense of conviction among the members, and certainly the leadership. Yes, we are all fallible, but we must diligently study the Scriptures, we should know what we believe, and we should be able to defend what we believe (1 Tim. 4:16; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 4:2; 1 Pet. 3:15). We cannot give ground to false teachers on the basis that we may be wrong

What if the church is wrong? Or what if an individual believes that the church is wrong, and he has a desire to guide the church to the truth? If we learn anything from these scriptures, it's not that disagreements can't be discussed - we should always be open-minded and willing to admit fault and/or reconsider our position on an issue (Acts 17:11) - it's that we ought to avoid handling our disagreements in a manner that is divisive. 

In other words, if you disagree with your church, instead of getting up in front of the church and preaching a lesson that you know is going to divide and splinter the church, and instead of dividing and conquering the church with your theory (even if you believe it's the truth), ask to study with the elders, or with the leading men in the congregation. Simply put, put the unity of the church before your agenda. If you have the truth, be patient, loving, and understand that it may take time for doors to open.

This article was a bit longer and more intensive, so thank you for your time and consideration.

Click here to read the second article in this series.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Does God NEED Us?

Does God need us? Does He need our prayers, our worship, our acts of kindness, our righteousness, our blessings? Is His essence sustained or depleted by what we do or don't do? The answer is found in Acts 17:24-25...
"God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things."
We should not be so arrogant as to think that our activities here on this earth somehow sustain God. He doesn't need our worship. He doesn't need our righteousness. He doesn't need our prayers. Instead, it is us who need Him, in both the physical and the spiritual sense. 

However, even though God doesn't need us, He absolutely wants us to realize our need for Him, to seek Him, and to obtain fellowship with Him.
"And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being..." (Ac. 17:27-28).
God is "longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).
"'Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,' says the Lord. 'Therefore, turn and live'" (Ezek. 18:31-32).
 "Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (Luke 15:10).
And of course, "For God so loved the world..." (John 3:16)
Isn't it amazing that even though God didn't need to create or save us, and even though He didn't have to create or save us, He did so...because He wanted to. Why would the Creator of the universe want anything to do with us? The easy answer is that He loved us. But then...why would He love us? Why should He, after all we've done? The easy answer, again, is "God is love" (1 John 4:8). But how and why is God love? therein lies the question that is at the center of the greatest mystery this world has ever known or will know. The truth is, I don't know. I cannot even begin to comprehend the depths of God's love or why He is the way He is, but I know God's love is real, and I know it has transformed my life, and therefore I am indescribably thankful.

God doesn't need us. He wants us.

But I need Him. Do you? 

Yes, of course you need Him. But do you realize it? I hope you will.