Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Mountain of Giants

One of the most well-known and beloved stories of the Old Testament is the story of David, a young shepherd boy, slaying the giant, Goliath, a seasoned warrior. This story is such an integral part of the Old Testament that it was included in "The Bible" mini-series on the History Channel.
However, there is an equally impressive story in Joshua 14. It may even be more impressive. And yet, sadly, there aren't many Christians who are familiar with this story.
In Joshua 14, as the Israelites were conquering and dividing the land of Canaan, Caleb came to Joshua with the following request:
"And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, as He has said, these 45 years, ever since the Lord spoke the word to Moses while Israel wandered in the wilderness; and now, here I am this day, 85 years old. As yet I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and for coming in. Now therefore, give me this mountain of which the Lord spoke in that day; for you heard in that day how the Anakim were there, and that the cities were great and fortified. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall be able to drive them out as the Lord said" (Josh. 14:10-12).
Now, the "anakim" were a race of giants (Num. 13:33). With that in mind, here we have an 85 year old man asking permission to conquer and possess a mountain of giants. David slew one giant with a sling and a stone, but Caleb was willing to take on a whole mountain of them. One might point out that the Anakim had diminished in number from the time that Caleb had first spotted them 40 years earlier, but we know that there were at least three of them left according to Joshua 15:14. So even still, you have a young man (David) taking on one giant versus an old man (Caleb) taking on multiple giants. That's pretty impressive!
Was it bravado or testosterone that motivated Caleb to take on such a task? Was it a desire for glory and fame? Was he seeking an adrenaline rush? Not at all! Based on verse 12, it was his unyielding faith in God. By way of contrast, the Israelites failed to utterly destroy all the inhabitants of the land, but here is one man - an older man - taking on a mountain of giants.
Dear reader, whether you're facing one giant or a mountain of giants, continue to press forward with your mind's eye trained on the power and might of your God! Nothing is impossible for Him.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Dress Lovingly NOT Lustily

According to the weather report, today's high was 70 and they're saying that it's going to be 75 tomorrow! If you ask me, that's perfect! While I enjoyed winter when I was growing up back east, I've long since abandoned any real sense of affection for cold weather. Yeah, I definitely prefer summertime! Even those of you who enjoy the cold weather and snow are probably looking forward to the warm-up.

As much as I love summertime, there is something about this time of year that I despise and abominate and that's the manner in which folks (even many Christians) remove the extra layers of clothing...to the point that they're not wearing much at all. Don't get me wrong, it's natural and even appropriate to wear less clothing when it's 90 degrees outside. Even I will wear shorts and a t-shirt on a good hot day. And I can't blame women for wearing less. But I'm sure we can ALL agree that there is a point at which a person just isn't wearing enough clothing.

At the Queen Way church of Christ, we've been focusing this month on LOVE, and so I'd like to take just a moment to apply this principle to our attire...

Biblical love (from the Greek word agape in most cases) is defined as "affection, benevolence" and encompasses both our attitude and our actions. In other words, we agape others when we actively serve them, putting their needs above our own. This is why in 1 Corinthians 13, the KJV renders agape as "charity." Of course, we see this attitude throughout the New Testament.

On the other hand, worldly love is more self-centered (1 John 2:15-16). Those who have embraced worldly rather than agape love are primarily interested in what feels best to them. How does this relationship benefit me? How does this activity make me happy? Generally, those who have this mindset are unwilling to pursue a course of action (or thought) that is inconvient, difficult...or that doesn't first and foremost benefit them in some way.

With this contrast in mind, consider with me the issue of dress...

As the weather warms up, the temptation is going to be to shed clothing. Again, this is okay to a point. However, I would encourage ALL of you (and myself) to dress lovingly not lustily.

If your choice of clothing is governed by agape love, you will always consider how your choices may impact others. If youre choice of clothing, however, is governed by worldly love, you will choose clothes that are the most comfortable and that make you look the best.

The short shorts, mini-skirts, revealing tops, bikinis and bathing suits will undoubtedly keep you cooler as the temperatures rise, but if these types of clothing are provocative or lust-enticing, agape love demands that you dress differently. Guys, you might be tempted to take off your shirt while you're playing basketball outside or mowing the grass, but agape love demands that you first think about the women who may be passing by.

Conversely, longer shorts and tops that adequately cover your upper body may not keep you quite as cool, but at least you're less likely to cause others to lust. Like Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:13, we need to be willing to give up the conveniences if and when others may be negatively impacted.

But really...when it's pushing 90 degrees, you're going to be hot either way, right? So you might as well be hot and modest.

Friday, March 8, 2013


What I'm about to say is going to sound ridiculous to many of you. Your first reaction is going to be, "What is he talking about?" and then your second question will be, "Why does this even matter?" Then you may begin to see me as some Pharisaical, narrow-minded, religious nutcase.

But then, of course, there are many of you who are either familiar with this issue or at least approach the Scriptures with the same level of diligence and care, and therefore will appreciate the message.

If you're in the first group, please know that I approach the Scriptures with the mindset that we need to do exactly what the New Testament authorizes us to do, nothing more and nothing less. Paul says that we're to do ALL things by the authority of Christ (Col. 3:17), and John says that if we fail to stay within the confines of the doctrine of Christ, we fall out of fellowship with God (2 John 9). Instead of justifying religious actions on the basis that "The Bible doesn't say NOT to," we instead ought to be asking, "Is it authorized?" After all, we're told to "Test all things; hold fast what is good" (1 Thess. 5:21). If an action isn't authorized, how do we know it's good? We don't, and that's the point.

With that in mind, consider with me the issue of "Institutionalism." This is a big word, isn't it? And it's not a word that we often use. So what is it? In the context of religion, it's when the local church uses human institutions to carry out the work that God designed the church to do.

For example, is the church authorized to support foreign evangelists? Absolutely! Paul, while working and ministering in Corinth, received "wages" from other churches (2 Cor. 11:8). In his letter to the Philippians, Paul thanked them for supporting him monetarily while he was preaching in Thessalonica (Phil. 4:15-16). So again, it's scriptural to support foreign evangelists (or preachers in other places). But would it be scriptural for the church to send that monetary support to a human institution (that receives monetary support from multiple churches) with the expectation that the human institution - in this case, a "missionary society" - would oversee the distribution of funds?

Consider another example with me. Is the church authorized to train men to teach and preach? Based on Paul's instructions in 2 Timothy 2:2, this is certainly permissible! But would it be okay for the church to instead send monetary support to a Bible college (institution) with the expectation that it would teach and train preachers?

One more example. Is the church authorized to engage in acts of benevolence? In other words, can the church help people financially or otherwise? Yes! However, scripturally speaking, this benevolent work should be limited to the NEEDS of CHRISTIANS. We see examples of this in Acts 2:44-45; 4:34-35; 11:28-30; Romans 15:25-26; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8:1-4; 9:1. In each case, the aid was given to needy Christians specifically. Clearly, this "limited benevolence" as we often call it is authorized. But is the church authorized to send that money to a human institution (which receives money from multiple churches) with the expectation that it will distribute those funds?

The answer to each of these three questions is "No!" While these specific works ARE authorized, the practice of institutionalism isn't. The fact is, there isn't a single instance in the New Testament where the church funneled its money through a human institution of any kind. We see no examples of churches organizing institutions to carry out its work. We read of no church-sponsored missionary societies, orphanages, hospitals or Bible colleges.

Instead, what we consistently find is the local church sending aid directly to the need.

In Acts 4:32-37, the local church in Jerusalem collected money and distributed that money to the needy saints in Jerusalem. In Acts 11:28-30, when the church in Antioch decided to send aid to the needy Christians in Judea, they sent the money directly to the elders in Judea (vs. 30). The churches in Macedonia and Achaia sent relief to these same needy brethren directly via Paul (Rom. 15:25-26). And likewise, the church in Philippi sent aid directly to Paul to satisfy Paul's needs as an evangelist (Phil. 4:16).

This may seem to be a minor point to you. But really it's quite simple. If there isn't any authority in the New Testament for churches to use human institutions to carry out the work that God designed the church to do, then we simply need to avoid the practice of institutionalism. Not only will this bring us into greater alignment with the New Testament pattern, it will force churches to be more personally involved in the works they're supporting.

This is an issue that not only separates "churches of Christ" from the majority of churches, but regrettably, this is an issue that also separates "churches of Christ" from one another. I hope and pray that this article will clarify my position on the matter of institionalism, will lead to conversations about the issue...and ideally, will result in greater unity among otherwise like-minded brethren.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Speak, Moses!

In Numbers 20, we find a startling story about a rare moment in Moses' life when he was at odds with the Lord. Yes, this incredible meek and faithful leader of Israel stumbled, and not only was God displeased with Moses' disobedience, He forbade Moses from entering the Promised Land. So what was it that warranted such a harsh response from the Lord?

Moses was in the unenviable position of leading the nation of Israel from Egypt to Canaan. These people complained constantly, and while there were times when Moses interceded for them and begged God for mercy on their behalf, there can be no question that these grumbling, moaning, shallow Hebrews occasionablly ruffled his feathers, too.

In Numbers 20:2-5, the Israelites complained yet again...and this was just following the death of his own sister. Of course, their ultimate complaint was against God, but they aimed their frustrations at the man, Moses. There was no water, and they said, "If only we had died when our brethren died before the Lord! Why have you brought up the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we and our animals should die here?"

No doubt, Moses was a little unnerved. But he and Aaron went to the Lord and received the following instructions: "Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 'Take the rod; you and your brother Aaron gather the congregation together. Speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water..." (vs. 7-8).

Simple enough, right?

Well, Moses took the rod and gathered the people together at the rock. "Hear now, you rebels!" he announced, his patience wearing thin. "Must we bring water for you out of this rock?" What happened next? What did God tell him to do? Speak to the rock! "Then Moses struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank" (vs. 11).

Did Moses obey God?

There are many religious people who will respond by saying, "Yes! After all, God didn't tell him NOT to strike the rock." Yes, but God told him to speak to the rock. Did God really have to give Moses a list of everything he couldn't do to the rock? Or was it sufficient to tell Moses what to do? I think you get the point. Moses disobeyed God by striking the rock when God told him to speak to it. As a result, he was rebuked by God and forbidden from entering Canaan (vs. 12).

What is the application today? When God commands us to do something, we need to follow His instructions exactly.

Take instrumental music in worship as an example. God commands us to sing (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; Heb. 2:12). Therefore we must sing! To play instruments is unauthorized in the New Testament. Can we say, "Well, God didn't say NOT to play intruments in worship!"? No more than Moses could have said to God, "You didn't say NOT to strike the rock!" Instead, let's just do what God has said.

Someone might argue that this story is from the Old Testament and that God was harsh and judgmental back then...but now He's a God of grace. Listen, God's character is unchanging (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8), and while we're no longer bound to the Old Testament law, it is there for our learning (Rom. 15:4). We STILL have the obligation to seek authority for what we do (Col. 3:17). So yes, it's valid to consider Moses' example in Numbers 20.

What do you think? Are you sure that you're doing exactly what God has instructed you to do? If you're unsure and have any questions, please let me know.