We are just a few days away from the largest gift-giving season of the year. It is a time of excitement, joy, anxious anticipation, and sharing. There are many reasons why this time of year is among the favorites of many people. Some are privileged to witness a beautiful blanket of snow with redbirds and bluebirds foraging for food in the white treasure. Office buildings, houses, and town squares are beautifully decorated with tinsel and lights. Singing fills the air and television stations show touching movies that center around this holiday season.
While there are numerous positive things that can be said about this season, there are some things of which we need to be careful. For example, if we are not vigilant a materialistic attitude can be developed. Retail outlets often appeal to our desire for more material things, whether we need them or not. We tend to spend beyond our means, charging items that will take most of the next year to pay for. It is often the case that the hurried pace and pressing crowds leave us impatient and unkind. At a time when there are family gatherings, office parties, and friends getting together, there are many who feel lonely, guilty, and depressed. In fact, there are more suicides this time of year than at any other time of the year.
“’Tis the season of giving” is an expression often repeated, but, unfortunately, we usually limit it to material gifts. There are other things we can give that are more significant and meaningful. To a friend we can give loyalty and love, to an enemy forgiveness. To an employer, we can give service. To a child, we can give them a proper example. To a father we can give respect and to a mother, gratitude and devotion. To a spouse, we can give love and faithfulness. To all men, we can extend charity; and above all, we can give to God our life.
The psalmist asked a penetrating question, “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?” (Psalms 116:12). In our quest to purchase gifts for others, have we left God out? Only thoughtless and inconsiderate people pass through life receiving God’s blessings without giving thought to the Bountiful Giver who provided these blessings. We should possess the attitude of the Macedonians who “…first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God” (2 Corinthians 8:5). The prophet of God accused the Israelites of robbing God (Malachi 3:8) because they failed to do that. Are we guilty of robbing God because we fail to first give ourselves?
Occasionally I hear this question asked by someone who desires to know the church’s position on a certain issue. It is asked as if the church formulated a specific doctrine that addresses the querist’s concern. A better question would be, “What does the Bible teach?” The only position the church should take on any subject is that which is revealed in the Bible. The church has no authority to formulate doctrine. That belongs only to God.
Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Mt. 28:18, emphasis mine). We are told “…not to exceed what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6). The apostle Peter further exhorted, “Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God” (1 Pet. 4:11). The only way to accomplish that is to have a “thus saith the Lord” for everything that is taught.
The Lord’s church has no creed book that guides our actions or formulates our doctrines. If we did, we would be no different than denominations. That which distinguishes us from the religious world at large is our respect for and adherence to the Bible. We are not attempting to be different just for the sake of being different, but we are different because the Bible is different from man-made doctrine. Truth and error are no more compatible with each other than water and oil. It is God’s word that will be used to judge us at the Judgment (Jn. 12:48), not the words and doctrines of men. In the name of religion, man has devised many practices and teachings that are not approved of God. For example, adultery, alcoholism, instrumental music in worship, homosexuality, exorcism, and premillenialism are just a few that can be named.
The restoration leaders had the right idea when they said, “Speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent.” We believe what God says.
One of the most critical needs in the church today is that of leadership. Whether or not a congregation is able to effectively serve the Lord is largely dependent upon the leadership. Few congregations rise higher and accomplish more for the Lord than the leaders who serve them.
Leaders have always been used by God to accomplish his work. Moses, prophets in the Old Testament, and the apostles are just a few that should be mentioned. When the Grecian widows were being neglected in the daily ministration, seven men were chosen to see that this work was accomplished successfully (Acts 6). God wisely arranged for elders to guide and shepherd local congregations. Deacons are appointed to serve in special ways.> The qualifications of elders and deacons are listed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
I recently finished a book entitled, Lincoln on Leadership. It is interesting to observe that Abraham Lincoln, as well as others who serve in leadership positions, practice principles of leadership that God set forth in his holy word. Whether it is being an elder, deacon, preacher, Bible class teacher, personal worker, etc., there are some qualities that make good leaders in the church: (1) biblical knowledge is essential to maintaining doctrinal purity, (2) effective communication with the congregation so that everyone feels involved and excited about the work, (3) visionary oversight in order to provide future strength and direction for the congregation, (4) courage and boldness to successfully meet the challenges of the present, (5) a progressive attitude that allows for changes in this changing world without compromising the truth, and (6) compassionate shepherding on the part of elders so that every member is properly fed spiritual food and protected from the wiles of the evil one. My prayer is that the Lord's church will be served by effective leaders until Jesus comes.
When our daughters were small children and we were taking a trip, they would ask the proverbial question, "Are we there, yet?" Most of the time we were a long way from our destination, but they were either inquisitive or impatient. I don't know which. Naturally, we would give them an estimated time of arrival, but, since they had no concept of time, it didn't mean much to them because they would ask the same question a few minutes later. When children are small I guess it is a part of their learning process to ask questions. One of the most repeated questions asked by children is, "Why?" They will even prolong an explanation by repeatedly asking why to every response. Sometimes a matter can be easily explained and at other times it cannot. But, it is a good question. It seeks for a reason or motivation behind an action.
The word "why" occurs at least 284 times in the Bible. Here are some examples. "Why are you timid, you men of little faith" (Mt. 8:26)? "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord' and do not do what I say" (Lk. 6:46)? "And now why do you delay" (Acts 22:16)? "Why do you regard your brother with contempt" (Rom. 14:10)? These are just some samplings of this important question from the Bible.
I have a few "why" questions of my own. Why do people who wear the name Christian choose not to worship God on Sunday evening or study his word on Wednesday night? Why do people ruin their lives through needless worry when God has promised never to forsake his children (Heb. 13:5)? Why do people work so hard to get ahead materially when possessions do not really satisfy (Lk. 12:15)? Why do people think they're going to heaven even though they live ungodly lives (Rev. 21:27)? Why do people who know the truth not obey it? Why do people redeemed by Christ's blood choose not to serve him?
A few weeks ago I preached a sermon on the subject of reverence. There were several things shared in the sermon that were very plain spoken, but the lesson was well received. I trust it was helpful to everyone in being more considerate and respectful to God and our fellow worshippers. As a reminder, I wanted to share some of the thoughts expressed in that sermon.
1. Proper behavior is important to setting the right atmosphere for reverent worship. Talking, whispering, passing notes, chewing and popping gum, etc. is disrespectful of God and others who are trying to worship
2. Attention needs to be given to the care of children during the worship hour. Children are going to be children and sometimes they may misbehave. Everyone understands that, but they can be trained to recognize the solemnity of the occasion and conduct themselves accordingly. Depending on the age of the child, parents can train them by holding them in your lap, or sitting them next to you, or in the pew in front of you.
3. Visiting in the foyer during worship is being disrespectful of God and inconsiderate of those who are trying to worship.
4. It's distracting to be constantly walking up and down the aisle to use the rest room facilities. As much as possible use them between Bible class and worship.
5. Don't interrupt a worshipper during the time when the invitation is being extended or while the invitation song is being sung. Gathering clothing and other personal items, or talking to an individual during this time can be disruptive of their private thoughts regarding their need to respond to the invitation. Always remember that we assemble to worship God.
It has been widely publicized that the administration in the White House deceived the public regarding the benefits and costs of the Affordable Care Act in order to get it approved. I will leave that debate to the political pundits, but it has occurred to me that Satan has been doing that since the beginning of time.
He deceived Eve in getting her to eat the forbidden fruit (1 Tim. 2:14). Deceit is nothing more than a lie that is cloaked with the appearance of respectability. And that is exactly what Satan did in his approach to Eve. He covered the lie by giving it some religious overtones, a sense of respectability. He said that eating the fruit would open her eyes and she would become like God, knowing good and evil (Gen. 3:5). That sounded appealing to her. After all, who would not want to be like God? She swallowed the bait, hook, line, and sinker.
Satan has not changed his modus operandi to this day. He is still deceiving people in many ways, particularly in the realm of religion. Jesus said he "does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him…for he is a liar, and the father of lies" (Jn. 8:44). He even "disguises himself as an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14). And, he is pretty convincing in getting people to believe his lies to the eternal condemnation of their souls.
I was flipping through the TV channels and saw a preacher appeal to his viewing audience to send money as "miracle breakthrough seed." He said that if they do this, God will perform a miracle and correct whatever is wrong or lacking in their lives. The sad thing is that people will believe this nonsense before they will believe the gospel. A lie that is cloaked with respectability, appeals to the desires of a person, and takes advantage of his ignorance of truth is the method Satan still uses to dupe people today. Let us not be ignorant of his schemes (2 Cor. 2:11).
In the medical field some diseases have been designated as the "silent killers" because they gradually consume you without causing any serious symptoms in the early stages. Imperceptibly, they do their damage before the problem is even diagnosed. Some of these "silent killers" are hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, lung cancer, and colon cancer. Because of their "silent" nature, it is important to have regular medical examinations in order to diagnose a problem before it is too late.
Just as there are some "silent killers" of our physical body there are silent killers of our spiritual life as well. They do their insidious work almost imperceptibly until they destroy a meaningful relationship with God and our fellow man. They ruin our happiness and joy as Christians and render us ineffective in our service to God. They generate a cynical and critical attitude of just about everyone and everything around us, our family included.
Among these "silent killers" of our spirituality is ENVY. Solomon described envy as the "rottenness of the bones" (Prov. 14:30). This insidious killer of the spiritual life eats away at the heart and makes it impossible to have good will toward your fellow man.
Another is JEALOUSY. This killer is closely akin to envy. Paul said, "For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?"(1 Cor. 3:3, ESV).
LUKEWARMNESS is so despicable before God that he will spit out of his mouth those who are afflicted with this dreaded killer (Rev. 3:16). Silently, almost imperceptibly, it does its disastrous work.
MATERIALISM is so insidious that it convinces man that in his pursuit for earthly gain, he is serving God.
We would be wise to consult the Great Physician and examine ourselves (2 Cor. 13:5) lest we let these silent killers of the soul destroy us now and in eternity.
On one occasion the disciples of Jesus were discussing among themselves who was the greatest in the kingdom of Israel. Man tends to bask in his own self-importance, doesn't he? This tends to produce arrogance and a false sense of self-righteousness. Jesus set a child in the midst of his disciples and said, "Unless you turn and become like children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3-4).
Humility is not the only admirable trait children possess that needs to be emulated. There are many others. Particularly, there is the innocence of a child. There is nothing pretentious about children. They are as pure as the newly fallen snow. It is refreshing to be in their presence and to be surrounded by such innocence. It makes you feel purer yourself. Unfortunately, if we live long enough, we lose that purity and innocence because we become guilty of sin (Rom. 3:10, 23). However, we can become pure again by obeying the gospel and having our sins washed away (Acts 22:16). In so doing, we become pure and innocent in the eyes of God as if we had never committed one act of sin.
Having once been cleansed, we are to remain "…blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world" (Phil. 2:15). This is not to suggest that we are capable of living above sin once we become Christians, but our purity and innocence before God is maintained as long as "we walk in the light…" (1 Jn. 1:7). The reason for this is because the blood of Jesus keeps us clean (1 Jn. 1:7).
We ought to thank God every day for the marvelous gift of his Son (2 Cor. 9:15). In him we have victory and cleansing!
Forgiveness is a very difficult practice, especially when it comes to forgiving ourselves. The memory of past mistakes and having a guilty conscience about them contribute to the difficulty of forgiving ourselves. Yet, forgiveness is one of the most refreshing experiences of our lives.
I can remember how I felt when I was baptized at the age of 16. Realizing that all my past sins were forgiven when I came up out of the water was the most exhilarating experience of my life. I’m sure everyone who has been baptized has had the same emotion. I knew that forgiveness was made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. That’s the very reason why Jesus came to the earth and died so tragically. For the most part, all of us understand that. But, it’s the memory of past and present mistakes that keeps bothering us. They feel like heavy weights on our shoulders. They keep gnawing on our conscience and it is hard for us to believe that the slate is wiped clean and we are as innocent newborn babies before God. But, praise God, it is true!
There was a time during the old covenant when animal sacrifices were a constant reminder to man that he was a sinner. Those sacrifices could never take away sin (Heb. 10:3-4). However, God promised those Old Testament worthies the time was coming when he would “…remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more” (Heb. 10:17). That promise was fulfilled when Jesus shed his blood at Calvary.
If God, through his son, Jesus Christ, forgives us when we obey the gospel, it seems to me that we should be able to forgive ourselves also. We would do well to follow Paul’s example when he said, “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Phil. 3:13). The past is past and forgiven by a merciful God. We should leave the past behind, forgive ourselves, and serve God fervently.
This is a follow-up to the last article in which Susan Merrill wrote about what moms should teach their sons to look for in a girl. I have outlined what Ms. Merrill listed with comments of my own.
1. Look for a gentleman. Polite gestures reflect an inner dignity you will want in a husband. Impoliteness suggests a thoughtless and inconsiderate heart.
2. Look for honor. How does he treat his parents? If he does not honor them, chances are he will not honor you as his wife. Paul told children to honor their parents that it may be well with them (Eph. 6:3).
3. Look for respect. He will treasure you and your body as belonging to your future husband alone. A respectful man will treat "…older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, in all purity (1 Tim. 5:2).
4. Look for integrity. His morals mean something to him and he lives them out in his daily life and not just when you are around.
5. Look for responsibility. He isn't perfect and will make mistakes. When he does he will take responsibility for his actions.
6. Look for hard work. If a man does not work and provide for his family, he is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim. 5:8). An indolent person makes for a sorry husband and father.
7. Look for love. Genuine love is more than an emotion. It is an act of the will. He will show love not only by his words, but also by his actions. Read 1 Cor. 13:4-7 and insert his name where the word "love" is found. If he possesses these traits, then it is true love.
8. Look for faith. As mentioned in the previous article this is the most important. Choose a man who will lead you and your family spiritually that you may serve God together and inherit eternal life.