Where are “we” going?

A bumper sticker reads: “Don’t follow me. I’m lost too.” Motion does not always mean purpose. Be very careful if you follow the crowd, for they may not know where they are going.

SOURCE: Green, M. P. (Ed.). (1989). Illustrations for Biblical Preaching: Over 1500 sermon illustrations arranged by topic and indexed exhaustively (Revised edition of: The expositor’s illustration file). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

Mirror, Mirror …

On The Use Of Mirrors

The mirrors used in Roman antiquity were slightly convex disks of metal, either bronze, tin or silver, that reflected light when the surfaces were highly polished.

There are about four references to mirrors in the Bible (Job 37:18; 1 Cor. 13:12; 2 Cor. 3:18 and Jas. 1:23). In ancient times, mirrors might be used for a variety of secondary purposes (some suggest in military battle, mirrors may have been used to send signals or confuse the enemy). While the idea is intriguing, there is no solid evidence that the Roman chariots were equipped with rear view mirrors!

The primary use, however, was the popular current use: to see what you look like. To see if your face is dirty; to apply make-up or jewelry; to arrange hair.

Here’s something self-evident: To use a mirror and find something that needs attention, then do nothing about it, is futile. The point is totally uncomplicated, and finds ready application: To use the Word of God and find something that needs attention in your life, but do nothing is futile.

Why read the Bible, if you’re not going to do what it says? Why come to a Bible class and learn truth for a good life, then make no effort to apply it in your life? Why listen to Bible preaching, then ignore that teaching in the way you live?

Or as James said – “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does,” (Jas. 1:23-25).

I Love You

Did you hear about the old farmer and his wife? Having marital trouble, they went to see the preacher who was a young fellow; no experience in marriage counseling at all. He listened to the couple for an hour or so; couldn’t think of any profound or powerful solution to their problem. So, he decided to use a dramatic approach. He said to the old farmer: “Brother, in order for your marriage to improve – here’s what needs to happen.” The young preacher got up – walked around the desk and gave the farmer’s wife a hug and kiss and said, “I love you.”

The preacher sat down and said, “Now that needs to happen at least three times a week.” The farmer said, “Fine. You want me to bring her in on Monday, Wed. and Friday, or Tues., Thurs. and Saturday??”

Some men would do almost anything to keep from saying these words: “I love you!” I heard of a husband who said to his wife: “I told you I loved you when we got married … If I ever change my mind I’ll let you know.”

That’s about how we are sometimes. Yet one of the greatest things we can do for people we love is TO SHOW THEM, AND TELL THEM AND REASSURE THEM OF OUR LOVE. And I know some who hear this are ready to say THAT’S NOTHING BUT SENTIMENT AND EMOTION; there is no strength and substance to it. Really?

Let me tell you about a man we all know. He was a Christian, who lived many years ago; he was so faithful and bold and strong HE PREACHED THE GOSPEL, LIVED THE GOSPEL AND DIED BECAUSE OF IT!! He stood face to face with sinners and false teachers and rebuked them. He walked in among brethren who were in error and told them what they needed to hear. He was pursued by Satan and Satan’s men everywhere he went. His name was Paul, and over and over in his letters to brethren he said: “I love you!”

Biblical love is capable of being displayed by deeds and by words; and there is nothing weak or embarrassing or inappropriate in saying to the people you love: “I love you.” I’m persuaded – if we have real, biblical love in our hearts, we will find it only natural to speak, to express that love. {1 Cor. 13}.

The Holy Spirit and Context

The Holy Spirit And Context

In one of our Bible classes, we came to Acts chapter ten. Peter, after misgivings were answered by God, took the gospel to the house of a Gentile, Cornelius. It is an account loaded with historical significance and great practical benefit for us. Cornelius and his household respond to the gospel as all sinners are directed and there is rejoicing over this “break-through” event.

Here’s something that came up in our class discussion I’ll share. When you come to a passage in the New Testament that refers to the Holy Spirit, always pay good attention to the context before drawing conclusions and making applications.

That’s illustrated in Acts chapter ten. As Peter is preaching, he proclaims that Christ was the “God anointed” Messiah, with these words: “…how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power,” (v.38).* Then later in chapter ten, as a sign that God approved of this conversion of Gentiles, “the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word,” (v.44).

Simple question: Are these two manifestations of the Holy Spirit the same? They are not the same. Jesus was anointed by God in an exclusive and singular way nobody else was ever or will ever be anointed. The manifestation of the Holy Spirit over the Cornelius event was not the same. It was to show clearly God’s approval of the gospel being taken to the Gentiles.

This little exercise in Acts ten goes to the point of never drawing a conclusion about the Holy Spirit, apart from the context in which He is mentioned. There is – in modern religion – a tendency to read every passage about the Holy Spirit as an emotional, direct operation that should be sought today. But the Holy Spirit in Scripture manifest Himself and causes various things to happen in different circumstances, relationships or contexts.

I should not assume, therefore, that everything I read in the New Testament about the Holy Spirit is something I should seek in my life today.

“What then,” one might inquire, “should we seek?” Here’s an example.

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:16-24

*When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended on Him and the voice from heaven was, “You are My beloved Son, in Whom I am well-pleased,” (Luke 3:21-22). Later, Jesus began His work “in the power of the Spirit,” (Luke 4:14).

Forgetting What Lies Behind

Blog Post, Jan. 1

FORGETTING WHAT LIES BEHIND

Let me start here: I’m praying with all of God’s people that the new year will be new in specific ways that need not be explained in detail.

Leaving 2020 we are emotionally spent, uncertain and yet hopeful that this year will see a removal of the pandemic conditions. I’ve known several to catch the dreaded virus and yet do well with a quick recovery. I’ve known others who were extremely serious but recovered (some with residue consequences). Sadly, I’ve known five who have passed away, all of those either elders or preachers.

Let’s be safe, physically and most important, spiritually. May our prayers continue, not just about the virus. Praise God for His power, providence and rich provision for us in Christ. And may those prayers be accompanied by lives that likewise express our reverence for God.

Paula and I have been in a state of transition for several weeks now. We are selling our house and are in the process of finding something smaller. We are downsizing. (Interesting Note – the Realtor wrote up the ad for our house and said, “perfect for people who want to downsize.”) The move is physically draining, but we will be fine.  

Here are three things I’m doing this year. (1) I’m reading through Gary Henry’s new book, OBEYING THE GOSPEL. Gary is a master at writing “day books,” with a page to read each day of the year. I couldn’t wait till today, so I started back in December. This is an excellent book for people who have obeyed the gospel and people who have not. I want to recommend that readers of my blog get this book and get started. It will take you to some good places (the gospel is good news). But may also provoke you to consider some bad places you have visited (the gospel calls upon hearers to repent). Here is the link to order Gary’s book (click here).

(2) In my work as elder and preacher for the Laurel Heights church of Christ, I’m developing sermons around our goals for 2021. Based on Philippians – that our love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment (1:9); doing all things without grumbling and disputing (2:14); forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead (3:13) and practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (4:9). I believe this will help each of us move away from the sadness of 2020 and press on faithfully in 2021.

(3) I’m going to make a concerted effort to do more writing, on this blog and perhaps in other places. When the Covid crisis hit in the spring, I was overwhelmed with learning technology, getting video and recorded content out to members, spreading the gospel in new ways – and that increase in my workload required I back away some from the blog and podcasting. I am intending to get back into those disciplines this year, at least once a week. Maybe you can go with me? Straining forward to what lies ahead!

Peace of God, 3 of 3 (final)

Part 3

“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you,” Phil. 4:9.

I don’t remember when or where I picked this up (I’ve had so many good teachers). At some point I got onto this: If you read something in a verse of Scripture that is attractive, that you want and need – – look back into that passage to discover how you receive that promise.

For example, the remission of sins in Acts 2:38. You need that? Look back into the passage to see what you need to do. Repent and be baptized.

So, looking at Phil. 4:9, if I want the God of peace to be with me, what is necessary? Practice these things. Do these things. What things? Those things revealed through the apostles of Christ.

And this has occurred to me. We have a history of talking to people about the primitive pattern of the early church. We speak to people about authority and being scriptural.

Sometimes people will respond, “well, where do you get this?” “What leads you to believe we need to do what the apostles revealed?”

Here’s one place: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

You want “the peace of God?” “Do these things.”

Conclusion

There is that familiar yearning for peace. Not just the absence of conflict and hostility – but a way to live with the Creator, in harmony with Him – through the cross of Jesus Christ. That has ultimate eternal peace.

Peace of God, 2 of 3

Part 2

The peace of God  – continued …

 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Phil. 4:8

In my first real “contact” with this verse, I adopted a rather juvenile approach to this. I would separate out of the text “whatever is true,” and I would spend a few minutes thinking about true things. Then I would move on to the next part, “whatever is honorable,” and concentrate on that, etc.  What I missed was – Paul is not giving us a five minute exercise. He is telling us what ought to be the ongoing content of our minds.

These words should describe the ongoing content of my mind, of your mind. If the content of my mind (attitude, thought patterns, perspectives) fall outside of this, I need to wash my mind out; renew my thought patterns according to the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5).

I need to make certain what I allow and what I hold in my mind – is as described in Phil. 4:8. This is a vital component of joyful living and essential to embrace the peace God offers in Christ.

AND, Make this verse your internet and social media filter! The Internet (web, Interweb, social media) has become a streaming discharge of what is toxic, lewd, ill-conceived, hateful, false and

nauseating.

I understand that modern technology can be used for good (hopefully that is happening now as you read). But the challenge is to use digital technology to receive only what is good and dispense the same.

If you dive into social media without the discipline this verse is teaching, when you log off, you’ve torn away some fabric from your character. And you have exposed your self to further decay.

The peace of God through Jesus Christ means – we let heaven guard our hearts and minds, with Phil. 4:8 as our filter.

The Peace of God, 1 of 3

The Peace of God

Phil. 4:4-9

Part 1

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” Phil. 4:7

The peace of God is absence of conflict, therefore harmony with the Creator. In our relationship with God, the conflict is singularly identified as sin (Rom. 1:18-3:23). I cannot craft a way to remove that conflict. God’s plan is the way, and His plan is Jesus Christ. In my informed response of faith to Him, the conflict is resolved. That begins a relationship with the Creator that is amicable. So amicable it “surpasses all understanding.” This is peace in the highest sense, beyond what men might conceive and advance. Not only is this perfect peace, it guards us so long as we live “in Christ Jesus.”

What I said of this peace? How do I embrace this? Paul teaches us.

“Do not be anxious about anything.” (v.6)

This may remind us of what the Lord said back in Matthew. Do you remember? “Do not worry!” Here’s what we may do with this. (I’ve been guilty of this).

We underscore those words, “anxiety,” “anxious” or “worry.” We conveniently define those terms defensively. Here’s what I mean.

We craft self-serving definitions. We say to ourselves, The Lord condemns worry – but that’s not what I do!

No. What we do isn’t the “worry” forbidden in Scripture. What we do is “legitimate concern.” It is “planning … foresight … wisely considering contingencies.” You see what is happening? We know we are guilty (or suspect we might). But rather than penitent confessions and change, we define words so that what we do isn’t included. We define the words for our comfort, and that’s dangerous because it takes us away from application. And takes us  away from joyful living and growing in Christ.

What we need to do is leave off all the self-serving analysis and self-justifying rationale and just do what Paul said to do. “…in everything by prayer, and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

“Concern, grief, foresight, contingency, plotting, fear, paranoia…,” whatever you want to call it – stop it and pray! However you describe your stress, worry or “contingency plotting,” just do what Paul said to do, which amounts to trusting the Lord.

You know – in some of the jobs you have, many occupations – there is stuff you don’t worry about, because there are people upstairs who deal with that. A problem comes up and your response is, “not my problem … this goes upstairs.” “My boss takes these kinds of problems at his level.”

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Heb. 4:14-16.

Let it be on His desk.

 “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

–More Next–