We get an interesting glimpse into the life of the early church in Acts 2.44-47. While it is not practical for us to live in that same way, there is one principle that we should examine. The early church spent a great deal of time together outside of their worship on the first day of the week. Acts 2.46 says, “And day by day, they were devoted to the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all of the people.” What’s going on here? The members of the church dedicated time every day to growing in their relationships with one another. To them, “church” was so much more than just showing up for worship every time the doors were open. It was the Monday through Saturday relationships that fortified their faith. What was the result of this dedication? “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2.47). Are we likely to live for a faith we have not invested in? Are we likely to stand up under trials if we do not have a sense of community in the church? Are we likely to resist temptation without strong ties in God’s family? The early church faced trials we could never understand, yet they remained faithful because of their strong relationships and resulting faith. The early church relied on constant contact with one another to help them build their faith. Nothing builds a Christian’s faith more than being around a group of people who want the same thing (to live like Christ), genuinely care for one another, and share a common goal (heaven).
They are mentioned throughout the Old Testament, pagan shrines Israel and Judah put up typically to worship idols. Moses warns about them as early as Leviticus (26:30) and Numbers (22:41). This was the unrighteous practice of the Canaanites (Numbers 33:52), but it was adopted early and often by God’s people. Solomon appears to be the first king to lead the people into this, part of the evil influence of his pagan wives (1 Kings 11:7).It would become one of the reasons the northern kingdom is destroyed and the southern kingdom is taken into captivity (Psalm 78:58). It seems that this was one of the harder vices for God’s people to remove, even when times were at a relatively spiritual high. During the righteous reigns of Joash (2 Kings 12:3), Amaziah (2 Kings 14:4), Uzziah (2 Kings 15:4), Jotham (2 Kings 15:35), and others, this was an exception to their righteous rule.Occasionally, a king was thorough enough to remove these (2 Chronicles 14:3), but soon they were rebuilt and the people went right back to using them.Calvin explains that it was through these high places“that the service of God would be perverted and contaminated, unless they were regulated in every part of it by the Divine Word” (Commentary on the Book of Psalms, Vol. 3, Logos).
God had a place to be worshipped and a way to be worshipped. The high place was a concession or accommodation that became a stumbling block to the people’s spiritual health. The temptation arose through it to change the object of worship and to see the high place as a convenient substitute for the tabernacle and the temple. But, the worst of all religious practices ultimately occurred there (Jeremiah 19:5). Only in Josiah’s reign, just a few decades before Babylonian Captivity, were they finally destroyed (2 Kings 23:4-20).
Is it possible for me to construct my own high place, a shrine or altar to something that becomes a hindrance to serving God faithfully? It might be a vice, a habit, or a secret sin, something I retreat to as an indulgence or allow myself to participate in. It might be an attitude, disposition, or character trait that is the exception to my spiritual rule. It might be an unhealthy relationship or person I allow to unduly sway me. I might say, “It’s just this one thing or area of my life. What’s the big deal?”
Maybe that’s how the Israelites looked at the high places. But, nothing can be allowed to occupy mental and spiritual space that belongs only to God. I cannot rationale or compartmentalize something as my self-made exception to God’s rule. Sin grows and expands when it is not dealt with and rooted out. I must regularly examine myself (2 Corinthians 13:5) to make sure only Christ is seated upon the throne of my heart. Jesus challenges me, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, emphasis mine). I must be vigilant to take that challenge most seriously!
Life has dramatically changed for us on a daily basis. Whether it be liberties that have been restricted or routines that have been disrupted, we have experienced significant upheaval. Some of it has been dramatically better, as for many we have been given a slower pace that has produced much more time with family and projects done together that we will always treasure. There is vast potential for much better marriage and family habits to come from this experience, as well as a reshuffling of priorities on the other side of this quarantine.
Of course, for many this will be remembered as a season of trial. We are hearing of members of the church who have contracted and even died with this deadly virus. Church families around the nation have members who are part of the at least ten percent of those who have lost their jobs or been laid off. How many parents, grandparents, and other loved ones are in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospitals, and residences where we cannot have physical contact with them for their safety’s sake? As devastating as anything, though, is the dreadful disruption to “church life” because we cannot assemble together for church services, fellowship activities, devotionals, seminars and workshops, and the like. There will be permanent, far-reaching impacts physically, economically, and socially, but what about spiritually?
Guard Against Social Disconnection
For the time being, we are more or less forced into social distancing. Hopefully, this can be modified soon and ultimately return to pre-virus levels. It will be important to return to the physical dimension of contact with each other provided uniquely through our assemblies. My prayer is that we will treasure fellowship like never before. We will zealously obey the command to consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds through our assemblies (Heb. 10:24-25), being “devoted to one another in brotherly love” and to “give preference to one another in honor” (Rom. 12:10) between our scheduled services (Acts 2:46). Don’t let the devil use this to form a permanent social wedge between you and the church.
Guard Against Stress And Anxiety
There are no psychological studies to measure the effects of mass isolation and sheltering in place on a scale like this has caused. No doubt, the more functional and stable the home environment and the more emotional support available to a person, the better he or she will fare. How many cut off from their normal routines are also constantly feeding themselves a steady diet of the news, which none can rightly classify as edifying? Conspiracy theories aside, there are the stressors like the ones mentioned above. Fears can eclipse faith and worry can lead to weakness. This trial is an excellent opportunity to build trust (Psa. 37:3-6), endurance (Jas. 1:3), righteousness (Heb. 12:11), hope (Job 13:15), and more.
Guard Against Spiritual Doldrums And Self-Absorption
This has tested our time management skills. Having more time on our hands does not automatically translate into “making the most of the opportunity” (Col. 4:5). Will we have done more binge-watching or Bible reading through this? Will we have tended more to self-care or finding ways to serve (phone calls, texts, emails, cards, etc., to spiritual family and others we might influence and encourage)? Will we have focused more on how this has impacted us or how we can impact others?
The good news is that, for all of us, this is a story whose last chapters have not been written. Each day is an opportunity for spiritual growth and improvement. None of us would have wished something like this to happen, but each of us chooses what we will make of it. Let’s remain vigilant. Certainly, Satan would like to take advantage of us (2 Cor. 2:11), and he could use our current circumstances to dislodge us from faithfulness. Yet, Scripture promises something that we can count on: “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (Jas. 4:7-8a). May that be the end result for us all!
I know I’m not old enough to say this, but when I was younger I used to lay in bed at night and try to imagine what God looked like. I would try to put a face to Him, I’d wonder what He was doing, and I would ask myself if God knew that I was thinking about Him. I still ask those same questions to this day. I’m sure that most if not all of you who are reading this believe that there is a God, and that He does see and hear all that we say. So the question I’d like to ask is, “since there is a God that has all power, why do we sometimes have difficulty following the commands that we find in the Bible?” I’d like to look at a verse that may help us realize the importance of following what God has told us to do as Christians.
Jeremiah 10:12 says, “It is He who made the earth by His power, who established the world by His wisdom; and by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens.”
God has ALL power. There isn’t an area that He is lacking power in. He controls the weather, He created us, and, as Jeremiah 10:12 said, He made this earth that we live on. I believe that we sometimes forget just how powerful God truly is. Since God has all power, shouldn’t we be following what the Creator of everything has told us to do? In seven days He thought of everything we see around us. Think of it this way. We’ve never had an original thought. For example, I could say that I’m the only person to have ever thought about a pink Aardvark. But before I thought of pink Aardvarks, there was such thing as the color pink, and there were Aardvarks before I thought of them. So what I’m actually doing is taking two things that God created and putting them together. God has given us specific commands to do as Christians. Since God has given us rules on how to live, we shouldn’t have a problem following them. They may be difficult, but God knows how to take care of His creation. The thought of the God of the universe watching out and guiding me through life is a great comfort to me!
But what if we aren’t following what God has told us to do? There’s a saying that we all have heard that says, “Actions speak louder than words.” Our actions are a direct window to how we truly feel. If I don’t do what God has commanded, then that’s like us saying to God, “I don’t truly believe that there are consequences to my actions.” But that is a deadly place for us to be, because God IS real and there ARE consequences to our actions. God is real and the consequences of our actions are very real! In the end, it comes down to this: Not obeying what God has said is a reflection of how real we make God out to be. If we truly believe He is real, then we shouldn’t have a problem doing what He tells us to do. As Christians, we serve the one true God, and He is very real. I pray that this fact will push us to obey the commands He has given us because our God is alive and we all have an eternity with Him if we do what He tells us to do.
Looking back at when I was younger, I’ve realized that I asked the right question, but the most important part of those questions is how I answer them. Will I show through my actions that I truly believe He is alive? Or do I doubt the reality of God by not taking His commands seriously? Let’s try to always prove God is alive by following what He has told us to do!
One of the hamstrings of most every church is a lack of dependable Christians. When Christians do show themselves undependable, they contribute so much to a church—much frustration, disappointment, and friction. We should all be dependable. You probably know little about Shelemiah, Zadok, Pedaiah and Hanon. Little is said about them. But listen to what is said. They were placed in charge of the storehouses because “they were considered reliable” (Neh. 13:13).
What a glowing epitaph. One the other hand, David wrote of some wicked individuals, of whom he said, “There is nothing reliable in what they say” (Psa. 5:9). Too many otherwise good people are leaving such a reputation for themselves. In frustration, sometimes elders may join Solomon in asking, “Who can find a trustworthy man?” (Prov. 20:6). But, good news! We can all be dependable. Why?
First, we are ABLE. God blesses us with talents, time, and treasure. With them, we can (as good stewards) use our resources to God’s glory. If something hinders us from doing our duty, we can let others know and cover for us. But, whenever and wherever and however we can, we use ourselves as workers in the kingdom (Mat. 9:37).
Second, we are DEPENDENT. God pours blessings into our lives (Eph. 1:3; Js. 1:17). Without Him, we are nobody! Except God provided all our needs, we would be nowhere and have nothing. We are obligated, and our best efforts could never earn or repay God’s graciousness (Lk. 17:10). But, surely, appreciating His grace, we will be workmen (Eph. 2:8-10). When needs are made known by our elders or other church members—food or teachers or folks to visit or calls to make or new Christians to aid or missions to encourage or elderly, shut-ins to help—let us remember our dependence upon God and be dependable for those dependent folks around us.
Finally, you are thereby DEEPENED. When we do what we can in the kingdom, giving it our best, we are enriched and strengthened thereby. Our relationship with Christ is deepened, for we are imitating Him. Our appreciation for God’s blessings is deepened when we sacrifice and extend ourselves. Our faith is deepened by our interaction with those in need and by our participation in what needs doing. Our joy is deepened by being active and involved in the Lord’s work.
One song in our song book asks, “Can he depend on you?” If He has no hands but our hands to do His work today, shall we allow our hands to sit idle? Christianity is a commitment. It’s a wonderful commitment, but commitment nonetheless. Let us take it seriously and be a brother or sister upon whom our brethren and our God can rely!
This past May, I began my twenty-second year of running. In that time, I’ve logged thousands of miles. At 49, I am happy to say that my knees are doing fine but time may change that. One of the risks of running, to listen to some, is wearing out places like knees and hips. But, I’m hoping I’m prolonging my life and helping vital organs through exercise.
Spiritually, I put my “knees” to the test, too. The challenge to protect my knees is a daily struggle that I confess I am still working on. I do not want to wear those knees out through:
“Knee-Jerk Reactions.” This one is hard for me. I’m prone to these when I’m subjected to frivolous or petty criticisms. I’m equally prone when I’m undisciplined enough to act impulsively through impatience or my own misunderstanding. When I fail to think through things, prayerfully and deliberately, I can unleash something that can be hard to unsay or undo. Usually, it means I have not studied, prayed, and reflected enough before spouting off. I can really wear my knees out that way. I benefit from principles like those found in Proverbs 15:2, 25:28, 26:4-5, and a multitude of similar passages.
“Feeble Knees.” As a child of God whom He loves, I will undergo discipline at His omnipotent, but omni-benevolent hands. It can be unpleasant, but it is always beneficial (Heb. 12:11). But, when I’m in the midst of it, it can cause my knees to buckle. The writer of Hebrews follows up this discussion about divine discipline, saying, “Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble…” (12:12). When I’m tempted to give up, discouraged, worried, afraid, or lonely, I need to double up on my spiritual conditioning to strengthen those tested knees. I must trust God’s guidance and love, especially in adverse conditions.
So, then, how should I wear out those knees?
In prayer (Dan. 6:10; Acts 7:60; 21:5; Eph. 3:14). It’s not about the posture of the body, but of the heart. I can always be praying more (1 Th. 5:17). I can never pray enough.
In worship (Psalm 95:6). Again, it’s not that I need to show off that posture in the assemblies or in my private devotions, but even the very definition of worship includes the idea, at least figuratively, of falling down before and prostrating oneself. It’s a big reason I try to never miss a single service of the church. I owe Him my all, and I love Him for all He is and has done. He wants me in the assembly, and I want to do what He wants.
In submission to God’s will (Luke 22:42). When Jesus knelt to pray, He was also actively submitting to the Father’s will. He faced something dreadful and that He did not want to do, but His attitude was of total surrender to what God wanted. Oh, what a challenge to me! How often do I put my knees to the test by giving up what I want for what He wants. But, I must!
Paul says we’re running a race that we must win (1 Cor. 9:24-27). I’m going to need healthy knees to do that. That may mean wearing them out in ways like those just mentioned while avoiding behaviors like those mentioned before them. At times, spiritually, I’ve needed not knee replacement but a replacement of what I do with those knees. May I never forget to brace those knees with the resources God has given to me!
How many household conversations begin, “Where is my?” Women leave purses in restaurants, men leave their wallets in the other pants pocket, and kids are apt to leave just about anything anywhere. How many vacations begin with the family wondering where some vital item is, fearing that it is sitting at home and not packed in the suitcases?
The disciples had just heard Jesus deliver some powerful lessons (Luke 8:10- 21) and now they were heading across the lake from Galilee to the country of the Gerasenes. En route, while Jesus slept, a fierce windstorm descends and rocks their little boat. In a panic, they awaken Jesus, pleading, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” (Luke 8:24). Jesus calms the storm and subsequently their fears, but He admonishes them, “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:26).
That is a fair question. They had just heard the Master teacher doing His usual, masterful job (Luke 7:22-28, 31-36; etc.) and seen Him do some incredible miracles (Luke 7:1-10; 11-15; etc.). Between disembarking and the present distress, where did their faith go? The question Jesus asked His disciples is a fair question for each of us today. “Where is your faith?”
IS IT LOST (Luke 18:1ff)? Jesus positively teaches a parable about this in His story about the widow and the unjust judge. The woman was persistent and the judge, who feared neither God nor man, granted her petition due to her tenacious pursuit. Jesus makes application by asking, “When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). It is possible for any one of us to lose our faith. The parable of the sower and the soils shows that people can lose their faith as a consequence of both good times and bad times (cf. Luke 8:11ff). It is equally tragic to see people lose their faith just a few steps into their spiritual journey, several miles down the road, or especially near the end of the road!
IS IT HIDDEN (Luke 8:16)? Jesus demonstrates how ludicrous a view hidden faith is from heaven’s vantage point by illustrating it this way: “No one, when he has lit a lamp, covers it with a vessel or puts it under a bed” (Luke 8:16a). His point is that light is not doing its job when it is covered, and our faith is not doing its job when it is covered. There will be many settings throughout life when being a Christian and standing up for the Lord will not be popular, admired, or congratulated. What will we do with our faith in such circumstances?
IS IT MISPLACED (Luke 18:9ff)? Everybody puts their trust in someone or some thing. The Bible says that people trust in their own power and might (Psalm 44:6), their wealth and riches (Psalm 49:6), their national leaders (Psalm 146:3), their own hearts (Proverbs 28:26), their idols (Isaiah 42:17), mankind (Jeremiah 17:5), their own achievements (Jeremiah 48:7), or their physical beauty (Ezekiel 16:15). Many of these attributes can serve us in properly placing our faith in God, but far too many are resting all they are or hope to be on those rather than God. In Luke 18:9, Jesus speaks a parable in warning against those who “trust in themselves.” Despite a culture that preaches the preeminent idea of “believing in yourself,” God makes that subservient to trusting in Him.
IS IT VISIBLE (Luke 7:9)? A centurion whose servant was dying was humble, devoted and perceptive in his approach to Jesus, pleading with Him to heal that dear one for him. Jesus marveled aloud, “I have not found such great faith, even in Israel!” The Centurion did not have to wear a badge or button that said, “I believe in the Lord.” People are watching us every day, our speech, decisions, attitudes, actions, and reactions. While it is nice when someone asks, “Are you a Christian?,” how much better for them not to have to ask?
May 14, 2004, was the day I preached my maternal grandfather’s funeral. It was a signal honor to do so. He had passed away early on Wednesday morning, May 12. The morning he passed, I wrote this about him:
Within you today are a temper and trends
A view toward the unfolding tomorrow
Have you stopped to question on what that depends
From what spiritual bank you do borrow?
Though each person forges his own internal road
Based on unique decisions and conscience
Before him to help pave it is an influence to goad
A role model, an example bestowed.
For those so endowed with a godly loved one
One righteous, driven by the Giver of grace.
To see their own faith is to look at one done
A journeyman who victoriously ran his own race.
I know one like that, a follower of Him
Who led much family both of flesh and of faith
Who shaped hearts and lives in times good and times grim
Who laid course that to follow was safe.
When we all get to heaven and give praises unending
Who knows what will be or how we’ll appear?
I know that for anyone in that Paradise spending
That all who shaped our faith will be clear.
Everyone that knew Harold Edward Mitchell, Sr., was closer to heaven because of his influence. He lived over 90 years, converting from denominationalism in young adulthood and ultimately serving decades as an elder. At his funeral, I shared five facts about my “Papaw Mitchell.”
He loved his family. He wasn’t gregarious, but rather reserved. Yet, he taught his family the right way to live and how to face death, to know what ultimately counts, what was right and what was wrong.
He had a sense of adventure. From semipro baseball as a teen to seeing the entire country in retirement, a lifelong cotton farmer had a wider view of the world. He came of age in the depression and endured some terrible grief, but no one could remember hearing him complain.
He worked hard. He wasn’t a waster of resources, least of all time. He was up with the sun and down with the sunset. He instilled that work ethic in his children and grandchildren.
He put Christ above all else. As a Christian, he took what the Bible guided him to do and be in life at face value. His life went beyond mere rule-keeping. He kept the rules, but he loved the rule-maker. You could see Jesus living in him.
He was ready to die. That’s the most important thing any of us could have said of us.
I saw grandpa the Monday night before he passed away. He was able to talk, but it was the first time I saw him that I felt he might not live forever in that earthly body he took such good care of. It was probably the first time I thought seriously about my own mortality. Our spirits are engineered for eternity, but our bodies of clay wind down more each day. In the fifteen years that have passed since then, I am more aware of that than I was even then. Our pilgrimage here won’t go on indefinitely, though we’ll live as long as God lives.
Examples like my Papaw motivate me to clear the hurdles from my path and stay dependent upon God to help me, like him, to finish my face. To die faithful and prepared means to live faithfully and make preparation. One day, someone will speak at your funeral and mine. What can they honestly say about the example and influence we will have left on others?
I met him 20 years ago, the man with the twinkling eyes
He and his wife opened their home to me, and I could recognize
Their love for Christ and Christians, and how well they’d harmonize
Those loves in all their actions, it was there in those twinkling eyes
He shepherded me for several years, the man with twinkling eyes
He had a tenderness so deep, he’d often maximize,
His laugh infectious, his insight savvy, so tough to criticize,
He loved Bear Valley with all of himself, this man with twinkling eyes
I visited many members here with the man with twinkling eyes
Spent hours in meetings and planning, trying God’s will to realize
He was youthful and spry for his age, his resources he’d optimize
A steward of stewards in every way, the man with twinkling eyes
A servant’s heart with savvy hands, the man with the twinkling eyes
Involved and willing, helpful and hopeful, we couldn’t help but idolize
When hearing and memory faded, you still could characterize
This man of God, through ups and downs, by those twinkling eyes
I saw him last week, he greeted me with joyful, twinkling eyes
So hard to believe this morning he gained his heavenly prize
While his long life is fresh in my memory, I’ll try hard to memorize
As kind a face and heart as I’ve seen, the man with the twinkling eyes
A woman in Woodbridge, Virginia, saw a rarity in her front yard: a two-headed copperhead snake. The snake only has one heart and one set of lungs, but each head has its own brain. This produces multiple problems. Both heads want to eat, and since eating takes time the snake is vulnerable to predators for twice as long. Second, each snake wants to go its own way. That means they can’t respond very quickly when under attack. Even getting water can be precarious, as one head can drag the other down when drinking. An expert at the Wildlife Center of Virginia said, “Based on the anatomy, it would be better for the right head to eat, but it may be a challenge since the left head appears more dominant” (Dana Hedgpeth, The Washington Post, 9/24/18). Experts also say that these internal conflicts prevent these rare “dual-cephalic” creatures from living very long.
James tells us that the double-minded man is unstable in all his ways (1:7) and implies that double-mindedness reflects impurity of heart (4:8). The first instance of the word relates trusting God or doubting in times of trials, and the second relates to following a spiritual leader, whether the devil and the world or God. It is hard to run with the devil and walk with God. So often, there’s the temptation to try to do both. But, this conflict is so basic and so contradictory that it will contribute to our spiritual death. It makes us vulnerable to attack.
What this requires is decisiveness. Jesus taught, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Mat. 6:24). We must choose who we will listen to (Josh. 24:15). Otherwise, we will remain in peril and we will ultimately, spiritually die. Paul put it this way, that “they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Rom. 8:5-6). The struggle is real, but the problem must be overcome. We must strive to be singleminded in our dedication and devotion. That means we can’t live for the world and the Lord. It is an either/or proposition. Jesus says, “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters” (Luke 11:23). Let’s make the right choice and simplify everything. Let’s honor one head and make it the right one (cf. Eph. 1:22).