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.
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.
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.