I Still Remember
I grew up in a home with two non-Christian parents. My grandparents were faithful to the Lord and helped me to learn more about Him. I obeyed the Gospel when I was young and with the help and encouragement of my grandparents I have tried to remain faithful. I cannot begin to tell you how hard it was to see my mom and dad Sunday after Sunday not serving God. A lot of times I was compelled to quit with them and forget my relationship with the Lord. When I got older, I made mistakes and sometimes drifted, but I always remembered that teaching I got from my grandparents. But what if I hadn't gotten that teaching???
I would like to share with you a situation that happened to me as a minister a couple of years ago that will hopefully encourage all of our parents here, and our future parents one day, to teach our children about the Lord. One day a man called me on my cell phone. He was a Christian that had attended services and Bible classes when he was a child. He became a Christian as a teenager and was eager to serve the Lord and grow closer to him. But, sadly, soon that enthusiasm waned. As he grew older as a young adult, the pleasures of this world enticed him and, as Demas, he forsook the Lord because he loved the present world (2 Tim, 4:10). He told me on the phone that, as the years went by and he got into his 50's, his father, now in a wheelchair, wanted to continue serving the Lord so he called him and asked his son to take him to church services. The son was hesitant, but took his dad anyway. He sat with him in the pew, and, at each service, he grew more interested in what was going on, and more comfortable with his surroundings, but more uncomfortable with himself. He finally realized he needed to come back to the Lord.
He now attended services with joy. He read his Bible daily. He started telling everyone about what he had done, how it had made him feel and how they could have that same joy and peace that he was experiencing. He told his son what had happened and invited him to come to services. But the son would have nothing to do with it. He had his own life now. He had the responsibilities of job and family, and he had no interest in spiritual things. His father was heartbroken. He repeatedly tried to get his son interested in serving God, but it didn't work. Finally, his son let him know very plainly that he did not want to discuss the matter again. So that is why his father called me. His son lived in the same small town that I was preaching in, and he thought, maybe, I might be able to do what he could not get his son to: listen to his need for the gospel and Christ.
I was excited to get the son's number, and I contacted him several times and tried to help him the best I could. But I knew in my heart that the years when his son could have been easily touched by the gospel were past. Proverbs 19:18 says, "Discipline your son while there is hope." When he was under his father's control, his father neglected to teach him the ways of the Lord and set a bad example before him. Yes, the gospel still has its power to convert, but not in a heart that is hardened to it or in a person who sees no need for it. Proverbs 22:6 says, "Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it." Teaching needs to be done while children are young.
Parents, and future parents, please remember what you are doing. When we neglect serving the Lord, we are influencing our children. They will wonder why mommy and daddy or mom and dad don't go to church. They will wonder why you don't read your Bible or have prayers with them. It will scar them for life. I know because the memories and lack of instruction are still with me. Let us live up to our God-given duty and properly train our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Let us say today that this story will not be repeated in our own lives!!!
I Will Serve the Lord
Our world has become an increasingly violent society and scary place to live. The violence of man has been manifested once again in Washington D.C., where twelve people working in a secured work zone lost their lives to a crazed gunman, and in Nairobi, Kenya, where 10-15 terrorists have killed 67 people and injured 175 more while they were shopping in a city mall. The wickedness of mankind was demonstrated in the slaughter of the 1,400 innocent Syrian civilians, killed by chemical weapons used against them by their own government. Even beyond these incidents of mass killings and violence, there are the everyday shootings and murders that occur in our own counties, cities, and even neighborhoods. We have been made fearful of going to a movie, working on the job, or just walking at the park because of the violence and hatred that is manifested in our society. As our society becomes increasingly violent, could this also influence us to become fearful of teaching and preaching the gospel?
We live in a world that is journeying down a road that has already been traveled. In the days of Noah, we read of a world where wickedness was truly running rampant and the only way to describe this society was that “every intent and thought of their hearts were only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). It was a world where only one man and his immediate family found grace in the eyes of God and He promised to destroy by flood (Genesis 6:8; 7:23). Why does mankind not recognize their sinfulness and turn to their only source of forgiveness? Why will man not turn and be saved by the grace of their Savior?
No matter the situations that may confront us, we must always remember that we have a message for our world. It is a message that the world will often ridicule and demean, but it must be taught, especially in a world falling headlong into a pit of sinfulness and violence. The gospel is needed more today than yesterday, and will be even more tomorrow. It is the simple plan of salvation and the desire for all men to be saved from their sins that should motivate us in a violent world to reach those that are lost.
In a world corrupted with wickedness and evil thoughts continually, Noah was a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5). We can imagine there were times that Noah felt insufficient in his ability to proclaim the coming judgment of God, but it is never recorded that he stopped. The Hebrew writer captured the attitude of Noah in the building of the ark. Noah, while preparing for something he had never seen, built a boat and by his faithful obedience to God’s commands, he condemned the world that surrounded him (Hebrews 11:7). He was able to stand for the right, when there was no one else to stand with him.
In a religious society that was corrupt with human traditions and ideals, our Savior Jesus Christ came to preach the gospel of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 4:17). While Jesus must have grown weary from the hundreds of miracles He completed and the thousands that He spoke to, He never stopped trying to reach those that were lost. Jesus saw the Jews as they were, lost sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36). He felt compassion for them and even after long days He did not send them away empty, spiritually or physically (Mark 6:34, 40-42). In the end, after all His disciples had deserted Him, Jesus died alone to bring salvation to everyone.
In a world of hatred and vengeance, the disciples were sent to preach the gospel (Mark 16:15). Jesus had forewarned His disciples, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18). On multiple occasions, Jesus told the disciples that the world would hate them because of the message they were teaching (Matthew 10:16-23). The promise of martyrdom came true for everyone of the apostles, except possibly John. All of them served God to the death and were baptized with the same baptism as Christ (Mark 10:38-39). We do not know precisely every detail of each disciple’s demise, but we know at least Paul’s final thoughts. He said, “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me...But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me” (2 Timothy 4:16-17). At the end of his life, Paul’s teaching the gospel brought him loneliness physically and ultimately his death, but he was spiritually strengthened by the Lord.
What is one similar characteristic found in all three examples of preaching and carrying out God’s will? In each story, the similar characteristic was loneliness. While Noah did have his family, still only eight souls were saved through the flood and all the rest died. While Jesus had family at the cross, He alone suffered and died upon the tree. While Paul had no supporters, he forgave their absence and found his strength in the Lord. What can we learn from these examples?
Standing for the right and teaching the message of God’s truth to the lost can be a lonely task. We may at times be the only one standing for the right, but this must not change our attitudes or diminish our spirits, because we have faith that God stands with us no matter those that are against us (Hebrews 13:5-6). We must remember the words of Jesus to His disciples, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Fearing man and his never-ending quest of wickedness and violence must not stop our teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have been charged by God to teach, and only those that endure to the end will be saved (Matthew 10:22; 28:19-20).
With this in mind, I remember the words of Habakkuk. Habakkuk was prophesying in the 7th century prior to the capture of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans (Babylonians). Habakkuk did not understand God’s use of the wicked Babylonians to bring about judgment against the Israelites, but he had faith in the righteousness and justice of God. After God had answered all his questions, the final refrain of his book captures the mindset that we must always have as Christians. Habakkuk said: 16 I heard and my inward parts trembled, At the sound my lips quivered. Decay enters my bones, And in my place I tremble. Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress, For the people to arise who will invade us. 17 Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls, 18 Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. 19 The Lord God is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, And makes me walk on my high places. For the choir director, on my stringed instruments. (3:16-19)
No matter the surrounding situations or the forces that were coming against him, Habakkuk was going to praise the Lord and be strengthened by Him. May the same be said concerning us. The world around us may continue to fall deeper into sin and wickedness, but our faithfulness to God and our willingness to serve and teach His gospel must never waver. We are not promised tomorrow and have no idea what it may bring, but may each day we live bring fruitful harvest to the glory of our God.
Running from Scriptural Worship
I recently watched a video of a church service over the internet and its content was quite shocking. The preacher was teaching out of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and discussing the meaning of turning the other cheek (5:39). To demonstrate a “Christian’s proper response” he asked for a volunteer from the audience. Another man was asked to join him on stage and ultimately slap him across the face. The volunteer hesitated in the beginning, but eventually slapped the preacher across the right side of his face. Of course this brought a mixture of laughter and emotion from the audience and, after regaining his composer from the slap, the preacher began his response to such a hit. He began to talk to the man about his life, and how anger can take hold of your life and drive a person to do things that are inappropriate and harsh. This seemingly was a smash hit for the congregation and made its way onto Facebook, where I eventually saw the link.
While this method of teaching (physical demonstration) can be used to illustrate God’s Word, what is the real point behind the message? Why must a person slap another, even in the friendly confines of worship, in order for the audience to understand the meaning of Christ’s message? It seems that Jesus’ message was rather straight forward and can be easily understood by just a simple reading and explanation, but that would be just “too boring.” The physical demonstration of literally slapping someone on the face seems more for shock value than for teaching.
Some may say we cannot retain large numbers on Sunday mornings, evenings and midweek Bible studies by just reading and studying God’s Word. We need excitement and real-life dramas to capture the audience’s attention and draw them into a closer relationship with God’s message in the New Testament.
The concept of worship in the religious world has evidently come to include anything that is eye-catching and attention-retaining. It no longer matters if the act in worship ignores biblical standards as long as there is some biblical principle taught. The world would rather have a worship “experience,” than a biblically-driven worship that conforms to the pattern established throughout the Scriptures. The drawing card to a person’s heart and soul is no longer the gospel, but carnivals, fairs, bake sales, adventure groups, softball teams, concerts, etc. The world does not want to see a person dressed in a suit, reading Scripture, and convicting men of their sin through the means of preaching. The world would rather see a person in a t-shirt, jeans, wireless microphone, and talking to them about the love, joy, peace, and happiness of being a Christian, while only mentioning the Bible once in a thirty-minute discussion and certainly not convicting sinfulness in the flesh.
These things may be far from the atmosphere of our local worship services, but the mentality of running from “scriptural patterns” is affecting many local congregations, whether we like to acknowledge it or not. Those holding to this mentality are becoming exactly like the Pharisees and scribes. They are willing to neglect the will of God and invalidate His commands, because their desire is for something newer or better. The same words spoken then by Christ, remain immutable today: “This people who honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Mark 7:6-7). What is more important in your heart today -- the will of God or the new traditions of man?
Our task as Christians is rather simple. We must determine with every act of worship and Bible study whether it is authorized by God or not. Paul said simply, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17). Therefore, the determining factor regarding instrumental music, the social gospel, etc. is not whether it draws the largest numbers, but rather if we have authorization from the Bible to use them. We are not told to throw out the Bible because it’s the 21st century and things have changed, but rather hold on to its timeless truths (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Titus 2:1). Paul would never have stood for this, but said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). If anything other than the gospel is used to attract numbers, contribution, or attention, then the work and its results will be in vain, because the means are not justified by the end and the gospel is the means by which God intends to draw men.
One of the identifying characteristics of the Church from her inception has always been to preach the Word. When the disciples were thought to be drunk, but rather were endowed by the power of the Spirit, they stood up and preached the Word (Acts 2). When Philip was guided by the Spirit to an Ethiopian's chariot, he preached the Word (Acts 8). When Peter was brought to the house of Cornelius, he preached the Word (Acts 10). When Paul’s heart was troubled by the Athenians’ idolatry, he preached the Word (Acts 17). When Paul was about to die, he wrote Timothy and charged him in the presence of God and Christ Jesus to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:1-2). When we face a world desiring “worship experiences” and “new traditions,” we need to simply preach the Word.
In the past, I have witnessed and been a part of a church using social activities to gain members and/or retain members, but the outcome was always the same. If we publicized a pizza party or movie night, then people would come in droves, but any other night they were never found. The Lord’s church has been established upon Christ and His will and our duty is to uphold only what has been allowed through His Word. No matter the shifting winds of doctrine that surround us, our sails must always be set toward heaven and guided by the Word of God.
An Open Door for the Word
In Colossians 4:3 Paul asked the brethren to pray "that God would open to us a door for the word." It should not surprise us that Paul would ask for such opportunities. What may surprise us, however, are Paul's circumstances when writing this request. He is in prison in Rome (Col.4:3, 18). What open doors would be available to Paul while he is in prison?
At the end of his third journey, Paul returned to Jerusalem knowing that trouble would find him (Acts 21:10-14). As prophesied, Paul was arrested in the Temple. This arrest leads to the imprisonment during which he writes Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon. It would seem that Paul's opportunities for spreading the gospel are limited. Actually, he is about to be given several opportunities.
1. Paul is allowed to address the Jerusalem mob (Acts 22:1-21).
2. He was allowed to speak to the Jewish council (Acts 22:30-23:10).
3. He spoke with Felix, Festus, and Agrippa (Acts 24-26).
4. While travelling to Rome, he spoke with about 270 men on the ship (Acts 27:13-38).
5. He healed many of the sick on the island of Malta (Acts 28:7-10).
6. In Rome, he spoke to the Jewish leaders and many others who came to him (Acts 28:17-30).
7. Onesimus, a runaway slave from Colossae, somehow comes into contact with Paul and is converted. Paul sends him back to his master Philemon with a letter (Col.4:9, Phi.10).
8. Paul had considerable influence on the soldiers who were guarding him (Phil.1:12-14) and those in the house of Caesar (Phil.4:22).
9. Finally, the epistles that Paul wrote while in prison would also be effective.
Paul would be released from this imprisonment, but would later be arrested again. The details of his second imprisonment are largely unknown to us because the scriptures do not reveal them. We do know that at the writing of 2 Timothy, Paul is near death and has no expectation of being released. Once again, even in prison, Paul sees opportunities for the word.
"Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned." (2 Tim.2:8-9)
Despite Paul's imprisonment, the gospel of Jesus Christ continued to be effective. There are some lessons for us from these moments in the life of Paul.
1. God can open doors when doors seem to be shut. How many of us would have thought that imprisonment would lead to effective ministry? Most likely we would have wallowed in self-pity, lamented our deplorable circumstances, and made the assumption that the gospel could not be effective under such conditions. God can (and does) create opportunities for the word when opportunities seem unlikely.
2. We must pray in faith, asking God to give us opportunities. Paul asked the saints in Colossae to pray for open doors. Paul prayed for the same. We too must ask God to grant us open doors for the word. But we must ask in faith, without doubting (Jam.1:6). How easy it would have been to pray "God, please give me opportunities" but at the same time doubt that God could produce them due to his present circumstances. Paul knew better than to doubt the Lord. It was in prison in Philippi that Paul experienced an earthquake which led to the conversion of a pagan jailer. In Corinth Paul was resisted and threatened by the Jews, but the Lord spoke to him, comforted him, and Paul remained in the city for 18 months effectively teaching the word. When you pray for opportunities, pray in faith knowing that God can bring them to you.
3. "To everyone who has, more shall be given." In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus said these words (Matt. 25:29). The one-talent man did nothing with his opportunity, so the master took his talent from him and gave it to the man who had ten talents. Those who are faithful in what the Lord has given them will be given more. Paul was faithful in his mission, so the Lord gave him more opportunities. So it is with us. If we are faithful in the opportunities we have, more will come. This does not mean we must have success in every opportunity - Paul had many people refuse his message - but it means we are faithful in our attempt to spread the gospel.
Brethren, we must open our eyes and see the open doors God has placed before us!
Pierce My Ear
In the last half of the book of Exodus, after the Israelites escaped from the clutches of the Egyptians, we read about God enacting some of the first laws and principles of the Law of Moses. As we look deeper into these laws we can clearly see that the Law of Moses foreshadowed the principles behind the Law of Christ (Gal. 3; Heb. 10). In Exodus 21:1-6, we find one of God’s laws concerning the relationship between servants and their masters.
"Now these are the rules that you shall set before them. When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out alone. But if the slave plainly says, 'I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,' then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.”
Why would a slave pass up freedom and commit to staying with his master forever?! God knew “love” could cause one to do that. Now, this is not the concept of love that we are familiar with; most people only know a watered down perverted version of love. The popular idea of love would assume that the master must be paying the slave a six-figure income or providing him with a house as big as his own. This is the concept of love that drove Demas out of the service to God (II Tim. 4:10). Working with Paul for his Savior just wasn’t giving him the success and wealth he had hoped. Demas “loved” the world because it paid out just the way he wanted. Many people serve the world for this reason. Unfortunately, the Devil has them greatly deceived because they are receiving a reward that is not spiritually fulfilling and will soon vanish away (I Jn. 2:15-17).
No, here we find love in the true sense. This love developed out of six years of respectful, kind commanding from the master and zealous, committed obedience from the slave. Though the master knows the slave is his possession, he is very loving, merciful, understanding and considerate of the slave’s needs. When the slave recognizes all this about the master, he sees no better choice than committing to serve his master forever. The slave’s greatest desire becomes diligently completing all the things his master requires of him. When his ear is pierced, it means something: “I love my master… I will not go out free.”
If you are a Christian, what did it mean to you when you were baptized? If you’re thinking about becoming a Christian, truly contemplate what you will be committing to when you confess your faith and are baptized. Are you more concerned with what you can get out of your relationship with God or are you committed to your Master in gratitude for the forgiveness and hope He has provided through His Son (Jn. 3:16)? Are you even thankful for what He has done for you (Lk. 17:11-19)? Do you consider what your Master provides for you today and everyday (Lk. 12:22-31)? Who listens and cares for you more than He (I Pet. 5:6-7; Psalm 34)? Is being a Christian something that will only remain important as long as it fits into your schedule and plan in life (Jam. 4:13-15)? How do you respond to the things He asks you to do (Lk. 6:46)?
“Pierce my ear O Lord, My God. Take me to Your door this day, for I will serve no other God. Lord, I’m here to stay. For You have paid the price for me and with Your blood You ransomed me. A free man, I’ll never be.”
Steve Croft penned these words while pondering on this passage. Each day when we wake, may we consider the love of the Master and recommit ourselves to being a “living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1, 2) and “servants of God… in every way” (II Cor. 6:4-10), forever.
When the Waves Turn the Minutes Into Hours
On March 7th, there was a great northeaster along the eastern shores of America. The giant winter storm had begun to dump enormous amounts of snow upon all the eastern states, but more shocking was the level of the Atlantic Ocean during the storm. There were buoys in the ocean and different channels that recorded a sea level among the highest in recorded history. At one buoy the seas were recorded at a higher level than even during the giant hurricane, Sandy, this past fall.1 In the midst of this tumultuous sea was a fishing vessel named, Seafarer. The fishing vessel had become disabled and was taken under tow by another fishing vessel. As the two vessels were making their way back to shore, the storm grew in strength and the tow line was snapped. The Seafarer drifted away from the other vessel and eventually sent out an emergency signal that it was sinking. Upon arrival the Coast Guard was able to save the lone survivor, but the other two crewmen were lost at sea, and all further search was later suspended.2
Imagine the frightening scenes of being lost in the midst of the raging sea and finding ourselves all alone. Imagine the sense of complete helplessness and the struggle to fight for our own survival. Can we fathom that our shipmates will never be found, but will be lost at sea until eternity? It must be during this time fighting against the waves and wind that the minutes pass, but they feel like hours to one in harm’s way.
While this outcome or scenario may not be relevant in our own lives, have you ever felt lost and alone in the trials and tribulations of life? A visit to the doctor that brings horrible news or the phone call late at night that can automatically bring uneasy change in our lives. What about just the financial struggle that occurs from losing a job or desperately trying to find one? The waves of depression wash over our hearts with thoughts of inadequacy and helplessness. It seems that the world where we live is rich in trials and tribulations and far from the stories of success and victory. Our lives are surrounded by rogue waves desiring for us to succumb and yield to their ever present power. In these moments, the waves of distress in our lives turn the minutes into hours.
As alone and helpless as we may feel, in such moments, we must turn to the Commander of the seas. We must remember that Jesus has the power to save; all we must do is look to Him and ask. When Peter was walking on the water with Jesus, he allowed his eyes to see the wind, it frightened him and he began to sink. Then he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus, the Master of the seas, reached down and pulled Peter from the water and upon reaching the boat the wind stopped (Matthew 14:30-32).
On another occasion, the disciples were upon the Sea of Galilee and a storm arose and waves began to cover the boat. The disciples felt despair and awoke Jesus from His sleep crying out, “Save, us Lord; we are perishing!” Jesus arose and rebuked the waves and immediately the sea was calm. Surely this sight was one to behold, i.e., the power of the Lord, and the disciples marveled and asked, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” (Mark 4:35-41).
The hardest step to take during the time of trials is looking beyond the waves that are crashing down all around us, and looking up to Christ our Savior. The seas of life are full of rough and tumultuous waves, but we serve the Creator and Sustainer of all life; He is able to save us in every storm. There may be loved ones that are lost in moments of great distress and affliction, but we can find in Christ the strength and hope of our salvation. When the waves of our lives turn the minutes into hours, may an immovable faith and reliance upon Christ be rekindled in our hearts.
Dealing With Deception
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” These are words that many of us spoke when we were younger when someone said something hurtful to us or about us. If we were creative we followed it up by saying, “I’m rubber, you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.” These statements sound good and they appear to provide some relief, however, they are just a defense mechanism. The truth is that words do hurt and we are not really made out of rubber. In some ways it would be nice if these words were true, but they are not. It’s no wonder Solomon wrote, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Proverbs 18:21). Among the many forms hurtful words take, lies are some of the most painful, difficult, and destructive words to be forced to face.
Sadly, our society views deception as normal, excuses are made for it, and it is even glorified. If you must lie to prevent hurting someone’s feeling, our culture gives you the green light to lie. If being deceptive helps give you an advantage in your workplace or social circles, it is rationalized. If you need to lie to achieve what you want, our world has deemed it permissible. If avoiding the truth is necessary to sidestep painful or difficult consequences, others will be understanding of it. While God’s people will strive to be a people of total truthfulness (Ephesians 4:25), we cannot control what others say concerning us or to us. With the prevalence and acceptance of lying, we will have to face people lying, manipulating, and purposefully misleading us; however, we are not alone. Consider some important things we learn from people of faith in God’s word who also had to deal with deceptive people…
When Nehemiah was making great progress in the work of rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem, there were men who opposed him through the use of lies. Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem had tried their best to distract Nehemiah and upset the work he and God’s people were doing. When they realized nothing else would work, they turned to slander. Nehemiah 6:5-7 says, “In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. In it was written, ‘It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king.
And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, 'There is a king in Judah.' And now the king will hear of these reports. So now come and let us take counsel together.’” This message was sent by open letter which meant that anyone could read it. It named names and carried an official appearance, so many could have easily assumed the statements were true without doing any real investigation themselves. The letter contains lies about the goals of the people, the personal ambitions of Nehemiah, and their activity in Jerusalem. The lies in this letter were especially dangerous because they could have caused the people to rise up against Nehemiah and they could have caused the king to intervene and stop their work.
The lies had to hurt Nehemiah. It was an attack not only on the work he was doing, but it was personal. Nehemiah had laid his life on the line in order to do this work. He stepped up to make a difference when no one else was willing to do it. Nehemiah had given his heart and soul to building these walls. He had given himself fully to this work not just physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. He cared deeply about people and surely realized the threat this letter posed to everyone’s well being and work. Everything was on the line. Not only everything for which they had been laboring, but the spiritual and physical future of God’s people was on the line. Occasionally a person can keep silent when lies are spread, knowing the truth will eventually win out, but this was not one of those times. Nehemiah had to respond to the deception and manipulation being spread.
Next we read of Nehemiah’s response: “Then I sent to him, saying, ‘No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.’ For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.’ But now, O God, strengthen my hands” (Nehemiah 6:8-9). It’s amazing how few words Nehemiah needed in answering his opposition. He simply refutes the truthfulness of their statements. No evidence had to be given, no debate needed to take place, they were simply false. He also identifies the source of these lies. They made them up! They were inventions of the imaginations of his enemies. Perhaps Nehemiah was also indicating that the very things they were accusing Nehemiah of were true of themselves. They were the ones seeking personal glory and control. There was also a clear message for himself and those working with him. Those causing the opposition were trying to use fear tactics to get them to stop working. Nehemiah’s prayer shows his resilient attitude. He would not allow these evil men to make him give up. The next few verses show fear actually rising up within the hearts of those who opposed him and the wall was finished in a remarkable fifty-two days.
Like Nehemiah, there will be times in our lives in which we must face off with opposition that resorts to lies and manipulation to achieve their goal. Deceitful people will cause us problems with our jobs, in our community involvement, in our personal relationships, within our own families, and even in the spiritual work we do. It hurts, it is frustrating, and it challenges our self restraint. Do not allow evil to triumph by resorting to carnal warfare to win the battle. Learn from Nehemiah. Speak the truth in simple and clear honesty. Since truth is always consistent and lies are not, eventually the lies will be exposed. Identify the source of the deception. Perhaps it is gossip that has gone out of control, a personal grudge or vendetta, a person seeking self glory, or something else. There is a cause for the deceit and bringing that cause to light will help people see the truth. Above all, pray for strength and continue doing what is good. When good people give up because of opposition they surrender the victory to evil!
Remember the admonition of Paul as he too faced those who lied and manipulated situations to achieve a personal goal: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 1:7-9).
"Just Go In the Temple and Hide"
Nehemiah was in the process of rebuilding the walls of the temple (Nehemiah 6); in fact, he had it all done except for the doors being put on the gates. The enemies of Israel were not happy. They were actually plotting ways to delay or possibly attack Nehemiah and stop the work. They tried "friendly" meetings (6:1-4) and slander against Nehemiah (6:5-9). But I think the third way they tried to stop the work being done was the most interesting.
A secret informer was sent to Nehemiah in chapter 6:10-14; "Afterward I came to the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was a secret informer; and he said, 'Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you; indeed, at night they will come to kill you.'" The informer tried to persuade Nehemiah to go into the temple and hide because there were those trying to take his life. Can you imagine how tempting this would have been for Nehemiah? However, Nehemiah knew that only priests were allowed in the temple, and this would have violated God's word. In 2 Chronicles 26, King Uzziah - who was not a priest - went into the temple, and God instantly struck him with leprosy.
I believe there are two very good lessons in this story to be learned when we consider God's word today.
1. We can never compromise God's word because of fear.
Shemaiah tried to create fear in Nehemiah and tried to get him to disobey God based on this fear. Religion that compromises avoid persecution, which is exactly what Jesus said we would endure if we are faithful (Matthew 5:10). Being a true follower of God means we must decide whom we belong to in our heart and be ready to give an answer of the hope within us with meekness and fear (1 Peter 3:15).
We cannot compromise. “He seeks to persuade Nehemiah into an easy-going, compromising religion that will shirk persecution, that will carry no cross, and that is governed by fear of the opinions of other people (Redpath).”
Do we compromise or carry our cross? Jesus was also offered a way out of the cross from the devil - just worship him, and all the kingdoms of the world would be delivered to Him. Jesus would have none of it. Never compromise!!!
2. Religious talk can be deceptive. If Nehemiah believed Shemaiah’s religious talk, he would sin and give others something to find fault with and discredit him with. It was wrong to go in the temple… period. I hear things today like "that's your interpretation", or "that's the wrong hermeneutic", but the truth is, if God said it, then it came from Him; thus we must follow it (1 Peter 1:20-21, 2 Tim 3:16-17). We can call it whatever we want, but only God's word has the power of salvation (Rom 1:16). I also hear things like "God's grace will cover that" in reference to a sin. God's word teaches us that grace will not continue if we continue to sin (Romans 6:1). The fact is sin is transgression, and by the blood of Jesus we will be forgiven if as Christians we repent and make confession (1 Jn 1:9-10). We must be careful that we do not follow false religion or religious talk, (Matthew 7) and that we follow the teachers of God's word. According to Jesus’ own words, our love for Him is defined by our willingness to obey His teaching (John 14:15-23). And His teaching did not end with His death on the cross. After His death, the Spirit would return (John 14:15-23) and continue to reveal and teach God’s Truth through the apostles (John 16:12-14, 17:6-17).
Let us always see the importance of teaching only what Jesus Himself taught, whether in Person, or in the Spirit through His hand-picked apostles. (2nd Peter 1:3-12, Jude 3).
You Never Mentioned Him to Me!
The course of our lives carries us to and from work, home, and recreational activities. We enjoy the people that we meet and befriend because of their similarity to us. For example, we may be friends with a family that enjoys the same extracurricular activities: baseball, football, or music. Each family may enjoy the other’s taste in food, clothing or entertainment. The families are drawn together by the physical things of life, but we may never speak of church, the Bible, or Jesus. The other family attends the newest and greatest “church” down the street, while we may attend a small congregation of saints out in the county. The other family enjoys the social activities affiliated with the big church, while we simply want to follow the Word of God. Why will we not discuss our spiritual differences? Why will I not try to discuss spiritual matters with the other family, our friends? Is it that I am afraid of losing my friends and closest companions? The other family is misled and not grounded in the complete truth of God’s gospel; they need assistance and the love of a Christian to help them see, but we will continue to justify the truth not being spoken in fear of harming such a “loving” relationship.
The issues that are laid before us do not come from a book or play, but from everyday occurrences in our lives. We all possibly have friends and family that do not worship with the Lord’s church, and who may think that we are “sticks in the mud” concerning our doctrine. They understand there is a difference, but they have either chosen not to listen or have not been taught concerning these differences. Perhaps we have allowed days and months to grow into years and decades without teaching our friends the truth and our influence to bring about change has grown dim. This does not mean that we stop trying to teach them, even though this is the step often taken, but instead we battle against our presuppositions and teach the truth to those we love, not because we “think” they are wrong but because we truly love them and desire for them to be saved.
Our lives have become so intertwined with our friends that a feeling of indifference may have crept into our relationship. We understand completely by New Testament teaching that they are not saved, but “at least they are going to church.” The seed of indifference has possibly grown in our hearts and our feelings concerning the truth have begun to waver. Jesus did not give His life, His blood, to save men from the fires of hell so that we could grow indifferent and not tell others about Him. Jesus commanded His disciples to go and preach the gospel to every living creature (Mark 16:15). The command was given that all who believed were to be baptized and further taught all the commandments of Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20). If we have neglected these principles in our lives we must change and our hearts must be rekindled with the flames of the truth. We must imitate the attitude of Jeremiah: “9 But if I say, “I will not remember Him Or speak anymore in His name,” Then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire Shut up in my bones; And I am weary of holding it in, And I cannot endure it” (Jeremiah 20:9; emphasis mine, bcj).
Our neighbors, friends, and family must hear the Word of truth, and if no one else goes, I must. When God asked, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Isaiah replied, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8). We must realize that evangelism is not a choice to do or not, but it is a command from God. We have been given the grace and mercy that forgives all sins; this love ought to motivate us to tell everyone of the great God whom we serve. We may feel the burning within us, and the truth may be ever on the tip of our tongues, but until we try to teach, there is no excuse for silence. So often, in my own timidity and fear of rejection, I claim that there is “no one who will listen.” In these moments, my heart needs to be reminded of the faith of Ezekiel. Ezekiel was not given a glorious post of preaching the word of God, but was told to go to the “stubborn and obstinate” house of Israel that was not going to listen (Ezekiel 3:7). Why would God send the prophet to a people who were not going to listen?
Ezekiel was to warn the wicked, and if he did not warn the wicked of their folly, God would hold him accountable for their blood (Ezekiel 3:18). God loved His people, Israel, and in His long-suffering, He had tried numerous times to get them to repent and return to His fold. Ezekiel, nor God, were failures when the Israelites chose not to hear and believe, and the same principle remains true for us. Our task is to simply teach the lost the gospel of Christ and allow God to give the increase. If our friends withdraw from us because of our message, then we must remember that with God we have many more brothers, sisters, and mothers (Matthew 19:28-29).
Finally, it is not we who are being rejected but God. The old hymn mentions the bar at which we all stand and the grief that will be felt if one soul cries out, “You never mentioned Him to me. You never mentioned Him to me, You helped me not the light to see; You met me day by day and Knew I was astray, Yet never mentioned Him to me.” May this not be the cry of any person that I have encountered and influenced. May God grant us the strength to proclaim the truth to any and all that may hear. Our lives must be changed and our relationships with our friends and family must never become more important than the truth. The days of regularly allowing the truth to be crowded out because of other similarities and activities must end. Indifference has no part in a Christian’s life, because we must love all of mankind and be willing to do everything in our ability to help save them from an eternal hell.
Does Your Facebook Betray You?
It was a highly pressurized situation. Jesus had been arrested on the way out of the Garden of Gethsemane and was in the process of going through one of a series "kangaroo court" hearings. He had been mocked, spit upon, and struck with a staff on his head while wearing a crown of thorns. During the last of these illegal hearings held by the Jewish leaders, Peter was standing outside in the courtyard. He was there warming himself at the fire and was surrounded by a group of people who were hostile to Jesus. At that moment, people started asking Peter questions about whether or not he was one of Jesus' disciples.
He likely assumed if he was identified as a follower of Jesus that he too would be arrested, beaten, or even killed. At first Peter politely denies his association. Then Peter gets even more adamant in his denial of his relationship with Jesus. At this point Matthew records these words: "After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, 'Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you'" (Matthew 26:73). Sadly, Peter begins to curse and swear saying that he did not know Jesus. Perhaps Peter began to curse and swear because he was angry and afraid. Perhaps it was an added effort to cover up the fact that he really was one of the disciples of Jesus. Peter did tried to cover up who he was, but he could not hide the truth forever. Eventually it was his speech that gave him away.
Does Peter's behavior during the trials of Jesus shock you? Perhaps it should, but considering the behavior of those who profess to follow Christ today, the less surprising his actions are. When around the world, it is not uncommon for Christians to either hide their faith or to behave in such a way that their actions betray them. One place where such contradictory behavior and speech is common is the internet networking blog called Facebook. Facebook can be a useful tool to glorify the Lord and spiritual things. This is very refreshing, especially with the sinful garbage that dominates the internet. But sadly, the Facebook activity of some who are supposed to be Christians does more to glorify sin and this world. Some profess to be Christians, while their Facebook activity tells a much different story. Whether we realize it or not, what we do on Facebook speaks volumes about us. When you look at a person's profile, pictures, updates, and comments you learn much about their life – their family, job, hobbies, dislikes, food preferences, daily activities, goals, dreams, relationships, and so much more. So if a person is trying to please God, would that also not be evident in the things they do on Facebook? It must be! Paul writes, "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory" (Colossians 3:1-4). If this is true of us, Jesus will permeate all aspects of our life. This would certainly include what we do on Facebook.
Consider some ways people who profess to follow Christ can be betrayed by their Facebook activity. Some will post pictures of themselves and others in clothing that is immodest. Personally speaking, I have been saddened and even sickened by having to see way too much of some of my friends who are supposed to be Christians. Our clothing should be consistent with that of a person confessing godliness with good works (1 Timothy 2:10). Based on some people's pictures on Facebook, they are certainly professing something but it sure isn't godliness! Occasionally you will find posts to links for videos that are unrighteous in nature. Many times the video is supposed to be funny, but its humor comes from sinful behavior or speech. Have we forgotten the admonition, "Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good" (Romans 12:9)? It is also fairly common to see people using language that is ungodly. Sometimes it is suggestive words about a person's picture, sometimes it is a vulgar joke, and sometimes it is the use of profanity or euphemisms. Perhaps one wouldn't dare type a curse word or take God's name in vain, but they will use abbreviations like "omg" and even worse without a second thought. Paul writes, "Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving" (Ephesians 5:4). There are some who would not do any of these things, but they show their approval of those who do. On Facebook you can leave comments under people's posts and pictures as well as clicking that you "like" something posted. Perhaps what we really need is a "dislike" option! Remember how Peter's speech betrayed him, making it impossible to hide that he was really one of Jesus' disciples? Christians need to carefully consider if their Facebook activity betrays their confession of faith and fellowship with Jesus.
This Facebook problem is a reflection of the problem of conforming to the world. Romans 12:1 says, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." It is a great struggle to live in the world while still living above the world, but this is our duty and our goal.
Among the Heroes
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Moses, these were men who could see the unseen. They believed in God and in believing, they found approval. Enoch walked with God. Noah built the ark. Abraham offered his son of promise. Moses delivered the Law to the people. These men preformed deeds that all would remember. These stories were passed down from generation to generation as parents sought to teach their children of the importance of following God.
We still study these stories today. However, have you ever noticed how Hebrews 11 ends? “Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourging, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground” (Heb. 11:35-38). Have you ever wondered, who were these women? Who were these men? Why were their names not recorded and their stories not given equal time and recognition? Perhaps the answer is this: they didn’t have to be.
We have often recognized someone as a hero for some great and marvelous deed. However, these unnamed brethren were included among the heroes that we look to and preach about. They, even though unknown, were just as heroic. They were people who served as examples for all whose lives they touched.
Among the heroes are people of godly character. They are servants. They seek the Lord in humility. They understand Paul’s words in Romans 5:3-5, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Men and women of godly character rejoice in their tribulations and hold fast to their hope. They gird themselves with the armor of God and they contend earnestly for the faith. Day by day, those of godly character arise with a singular goal: “Lord, let me live like you.” Night by night, they beseech the Father: “Lord, help me to do better tomorrow.”
Among the heroes are people of quiet action. They do not live for recognition. The scribes and the Pharisees would practice their faith with the desire to be seen by men. They wanted to be recognized by all as great teachers - people to be admired. The scribes and Pharisees sought praise. They would fight against anything and anyone who threatened their status. From the mountain, Jesus warned those who would be His disciples to refrain from such pretense. He said, "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 6:1). Among the heroes are those who do right, because it is right. Their motivation is pure. People of quiet action know and understand that God is watching and the reward which He bestows is enough for them.
Among the heroes are people of rock solid faith. They look toward the promised land. In a world filled with doubt, pain, and trouble, these heroes are not shaken. They have confidence that they serve a benevolent Lord. They ask. They seek. They knock. These heroes leave examples to follow. Examples of people who stood for the truth in the face of opposition. They wander in deserts (Heb. 11:38), yet not without aim. Their focus, their aim, is on the Lord. They understand that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6).
Heroism is defined simply as having great bravery. Great bravery can be shown in many different ways. Moses displayed his bravery as he led the people out of Egypt. David’s bravery was seen as he battled the mighty giant. However, you need not preform some great deed or overcome a huge obstacle to be a hero. Be a hero to all those around you by quietly being an example of godly character and faith. This is the high calling to which we have all been called. If this calling leads you up mountains, be strong. If this calling leads you across the street, be ready. In doing so, your name will also be listed among the heroes in the Lamb’s book of Life.
“...and After This Comes Judgement.”
The prosecution rests. The accusations have been made. The defense offers rebuttal. All have been heard. Upon deliberation, a decision has been reached. The gavel slams and the sentence read.
Legal dramas are popular in today’s society. People want to see the right man punished for the evil deed and the innocent man set free. So they tune in to fantasy land with little thought of the day in which they themselves will stand before the Judge of all to give an account for their deeds.
The Spirit reveals throughout scripture that there will be a day in which all men will stand before the Lord and be judged. The writer of Hebrews said, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). This will be a day for which all must be prepared. How do we prepare? We search the scriptures.
First, the scriptures show that no one will be able to avoid the judgement. Paul told the Corinthian brethren, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). The courts of this land are reserved for those who are accused of a crime. Most people will live their lives in such a way so that they will never stand before a judge or jury. However, in death, all will stand before the Lord. There will be no avoiding this day. No hiding. No delaying. All will have their day before the Lord.
Second, the scriptures reveal that no one knows when this day of judgement will take place. Jesus said, "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Matt. 24:36). Those who delay their service to the Lord until a more convenient time must wait no longer. The Lord goes on to say, "Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming... For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will” (Matt. 24:42,44). The need for urgency in this preparation is clearly seen. There will be those who take Jesus’ admonition seriously and those who will take it lightly. There will be those who are prepared and there will be those who are not.
Third, this judgement will be based upon our deeds. The wise man said, “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Eccl. 12:13-14). The Lord clearly calls His followers to live in a certain way. This judgement will not be based upon what a person may intend to do, but rather the actions or inactions that a person takes. Paul reminds the Ephesian brethren, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph. 2:10) Those who work deeds of righteousness will be rewarded. Those who work the deeds of darkness will be punished.
Next, it should be understood that there is one standard by which judgement will take place. Jesus states, “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day” (John 12:48). Judgement will not be based off of human creeds. It will not be based upon what others say or do. Nor will it be based upon what people may think of you. Rather, judgement will be based upon what the Lord said and how you responded.
Finally, there will only be two results. For the faithful, there will be salvation. “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34). For the unfaithful, there will be eternal punishment. “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41).
Can you picture the scene? Standing before the Lord. He opens the book of life and it is time for you to give an account. How have spent your time? What has occupied your mind? Have you used the talents the Lord has blessed you with to follow Him fully? Will you hear the words “well done?” Are you ready for the judgement day?