It’s special to receive a gift from someone who truly cares. You know why? Because they know you, and they know what you like. If someone got me a box of mushrooms for my birthday, I’d assume that person didn’t know me very well. Mushrooms are a fungus and should never be consumed— in my humble opinion.
Let’s take a moment to think about how well the average person in this world knows Jesus. Many people would say that Jesus was a great guy. Some would say that He was a good teacher, and still others would say that Jesus was an important figure in world history. All of those things are true. But, how well do they know Him?
Too often phrases like, “well the Bible says…” or “well Jesus said…” are thrown around thoughtlessly, but there’s no biblical backing behind the words spoken. It happens in the world, and truth be told it happens in the body of Christ. Usually it’s said when we’re trying to make a point or when we don’t or can’t remember where some scripture is, or maybe even what that particular scripture actually says. It’s as easy to declare “Jesus says” as “Simon says.” 1 John 17:3 it says, “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent…” Now, without ripping this out of context, you might notice the simple phrase, “that they may know…Jesus Christ.” There was a reason that Christ came. He came so that we might know Him. What are we doing in our daily lives that is helping us to know Jesus better?
Communicating with Him, and letting Him communicate with you is vital to a healthy and intimate relationship when it comes to your spouse and certainly— yourSavior.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17).
Without the proper understanding of the context, this verse can be taken to mean many different things. With a little bit of digging we can know what Paul is saying. In reference to the Jews who read the Old Law, Paul says that they had a veil over their hearts (15). What veil is he referring to? The Jews failed to see the Messiah in the Old Law. They had preconceived ideas about what He would look like, talk like, and His mission. They dreamed up a Messiah that was completely different from the One prophesied about.
These Jews read the Old Law with a veil over their eyes. They failed to see the Messiah. Their heart and mind was made up about Christ. It was so much so that they failed to see the true Messiah. Paul says all of this to make a point, “But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (2 Corinthians 3:16).
Those who turn to the Lord are able to see the Messiah for who He is. In Christ and being in the spirit of the Lord, we now have freedom from this veil. Rather than failing to see Christ, we can read and understand His Word for what it is, the Words of LIFE.
What happens when you wear glasses inside on a hot humid day? You can see just fine, but the second you step out of the AC and into the heat and humidity, the glasses fog up almost instantly. This is how the Jews read the Old Testament. With a pair of fogged over glasses. But those who are in Christ can see the story of the Bible. We can see the prophecies and their fulfillment. We can clearly see God’s plan for mankind, All of this is a direct result of the freedom God has given each one of us in His Son.
While we don’t have the same circumstances surrounding us today, we can still fall into a similar problem. Sometimes when we go to the Word we only search for the things we should or shouldn’t do. Instead of studying to learn more about our Savior, we get caught up in the rules and regulations of Christianity. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if we only see the Bible as a rule book we will never have a deeper relationship with God. Studying like this effectively places a veil over our hearts and keeps us from finding that true, meaningful and love-filled relationship that God longs for us to have.
The Jews had a veil over their hearts that kept them from seeing Christ and the New Covenant. And we can sometimes do the same thing by treating God’s Word as a rule book rather than a Book that gives us a connection with God the Father.
These rules and guidelines are important, but there’s a lot more to Christianity than this.
When it comes to sports, there are certain ways of playing. There are rules to follow, specific plays to make, and mistakes to avoid if a team wants to succeed. This same idea applies to our Christianity. In Joshua 1:5-9, we read of certain aspects needed in order to live life God’s way. By following these things we will reap the benefits that are found inside of Christ.
Joshua says that God’s way is conditional. In Joshua 1:7, we read, “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.” God gave Israel conditions to His being their God: be strong and courageous, do all according to the law of Moses, and do not turn from the right or to the left.
Thinking about our personal relationship with God we can still apply these same commands to our spiritual lives today. For example, the blessings we are promised are received by being strong and courageous in the work place, doing all according to the law we are under (the new covenant), and not wavering in our faith. If we want to live our lives according to God’s will we must understand that our relationship to Him is conditional. Our relationship is based on our willingness to listen to His word.
We must also understand that God’s way is a command, not a suggestion (1:7-8). He is the creator. He has the authority to create the way, He has the authority to make what He says a command. If we want the blessings of following His way, we must practice the commands He has given each one of us.
Just as the Israelites were given certain commands, we also are commanded to follow certain laws. Love the Lord our God with ALL of our heart, soul, mind and strength. We are commanded to love God with every aspect of our lives (Matt. 22:36-40). When we think about our lives, every decision should be based on the will of God. We must recognize that God’s way of living is a command.
If we want to live our lives God’s way we must recognize that the blessings we are promised are conditional, and the things we read in scripture are a command. But we should find joy in knowing that God’s way is comforting. Joshua 1:9 reads, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
There is absolutely no reason for us to tremble when the Creator is on our side. There is never a reason to be dismayed when the defeater of sin is with us. We have a loving God with us wherever we go in life. God’s way of living is best, and if we will let Him control our everyday lives we can find comfort, hope, and joy in Him.
Trevor Matich was being interviewed on ESPN radio, asked about why he thought that Clemson had built such a strong football program in the last few years. His quick response was, “They have built a strong sense of family.” He talked about how Head Coach Dabo Sweeney and his staff wanted players to see their coaches not just as coaches but also as husbands and fathers. Consequently, the coaches’ families spend a lot of time around the athletic facilities or hanging out with the players. They have intentionally built a strong family environment that doesn’t compartmentalize but rather coalesces. Recruits talk about sensing it when they make a visit, but, more importantly, players on the roster speak just as strongly about it.
How many teams make such an emphasis isn’t clear, but you don’t seem to hear that said often enough. While I find such human interest stories heartwarming, it makes me wonder, “Do people describe our congregation with similar terminology?” Are we creating, developing, and nurturing a strong sense of family?
The early church definitely majored in that priority. From the time the first church of our Savior was established, we find this emphasis (Acts 2:42-47). Often, New Testament writers spoke of the church with family terminology (Eph. 2:19; 3:15; 1 Tim. 3:15; 5:1-2; Ti. 2:1-8; etc.). The church exists as a sub-community within the broader community around them. People from that broader community are looking for greater intimacy and meaningful relationships. One place they often turn is to various churches. Whether through our efforts to evangelize or through their seeking that brings them within our walls, we have an opportunity to expose them to a “strong sense of family.”
But, by being faithful to New Testament teaching, we offer this in the context of truth rather than error. We cannot settle for simply offering truth, as eternally vital as that is. Along with it, we must love, embrace, and work to incorporate them into our family. God has His church designed to follow His written will in the context of a tight-knit, spiritual family. A true sense of family will draw them into a relationship with us. It will better open their hearts and minds to being drawn into a relationship with Christ. The net effect will be greater than a national championship. It will be many, many souls won to eternal life. We cannot afford to miss the opportunity to be spiritual family!
Late in 2010, Jason Good was surveying timber in Meigs County, Ohio, when he came upon a bizarre sight. Three huge whitetail deer were dead, floating in a creek with their antlers locked. It was an 11-pointer, a 10-pointer, and an 8-pointer. The landowner, Brien Burke, figured that two of them were fighting when the third came in on the opposite side. Then all three were so tightly locked together that they could not pull loose (Field & Stream, Steven Hill, 12/5/10, online ed.). How sad that three beautiful, majestic creatures got themselves tangled up so much in a fight that they fell into a creek and drowned. Fighting brought these deer to a tragic end.
The same thing can happen in our human relationships. James writes, “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (3:13-18).
Wise, understanding people prove such through gentle wisdom. The opposite have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in their hearts. James says that where this is, there is disorder and every evil thing. How often do we forfeit peace and gentleness due to a large dose of selfish ambition? We tangle with others and hurt them and often hurt ourselves. At its worst, we can inflict spiritual death. When that happens, we are in just as much trouble. What we need in our relationships with others is the wisdom from above, described in James 3:17. But we must sow peace to reap the fruit of it. Let’s be at peace with men and God!
A child scolded by an austere stranger may get frightened or bullied, but not persuaded or “reached.” A parent, grandparent, a sibling, or good friend will be much more effective.
A church member reprimanded by an aloof elder with none of the skill and instincts of a shepherd will get offended, hurt, and angered, but will likely ignore the admonition. A caring, involved elder, even if what he says is difficult and narrow, will prove much more effective. Jesus makes this clear in John 10:5.
A preacher who isolates himself from the members, though golden-tongued and 100% right, will cause rankling and roiling rather than remorse and repentance when dealing with sensitive, “hard” subjects. Yet, a man people know cares about them will be given a hearing on even “hot button” matters delivered in loving conviction. 2 Timothy 2:24-26 makes this clear.
A brother or sister bringing a criticism or dispensing blunt advice, who has done nothing to establish rapport and relationship with the object of their censure, will have zero impact for good and most likely widen the distance already existent between them. Galatians 6:1-2 implies one who has worn the yoke with the one approached about the trespass.
A “Facebook friend” or social media connection, who does a drive-by, verbal “shooting,” devoid of real life connection and bond, is seen as an obnoxious oaf at best and more likely as an impertinent intruder. That forum is not typically going to work for effective exhortation, especially if the dressing-down comes from one who has established no meaningful link. Remember, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:6). That’s a real friend; not a virtual one.
A neighbor who has taken no time to be a friend or neighborly delivers hollow requests, suggestions, or demands. Without benefit of time and shared experience, this is received as bad manners and bad form. One who takes the time to demonstrate care will be much better heard (cf. Prov. 11:12).
A co-worker or schoolmate will be unpersuaded by someone who makes no time for them or takes no time to get to know them but who gets in their business is wasting their time. But, one who proves genuine concern will much more likely get a thoughtful hearing.
It’s just the way we are. We bristle at cold, heartless interference from the seemingly disinterested party. But we are open and receptive to people who take the time to get to know, understand, and care about us. The same thing said the same way will make a big difference, depending on the presence or absence of a relationship. We would do well to strive to build more and better relationships, especially if we desire to help people grow closer to Christ and go to heaven. May we first work on the connection before we attempt the correction.
For several years while in Virginia, I enjoyed going out with a couple of dear Christian brothers to hunt for Civil War relics. Of course, hunting on federal property was a serious crime and was unthinkable. However, so many of the personal properties owned by residents in the Richmond area were treasure troves of those artifacts. Their woods and fields held bullets, shells, buckles, buttons, and the like. Dave Young, Jr., always followed the same procedure before our hunts. He would go see the homeowners where we wanted to hunt, people he had known, built friendships and done business with for years. If we got their permission—sometimes the thoughtless or unethical practices of other hunters made them inclined to refuse us—then we would go on their property and hunt for relics. It was their land and their right to permit or deny. If we had ever chosen to hunt one of those places without permission and got caught, it would have been a silly argument to say, “They did not tell us we couldn’t hunt here.”
This example is crude and imperfect, but I think it illustrates a principle most can understand. It is not natural to construe someone’s silence as permission. Yet, when it comes to matters of faith and practice in religion, we attempt that very approach.
When it comes to how we live and serve in this life, we have to have God’s approval for whatever we do (Col. 3:17). When He tells us what His will is on any matter, our response to that should be thoughtful, careful, and submissive. To be otherwise would be thoughtless, careless, and rebellious—with God’s stated desires. To think that God would give us physical life, generous physical blessings, incredible spiritual blessings, spiritual life, and powerful promises on a continuous basis and we could ever be callous or cavalier about what He wants reveals an unfathomable audacity. Frank Chesser once depicted such an attitude this way, saying, “It has no respect for either the sound or the silence of God’s voice. It only does what the Bible says in a given area because it happens to agree with the Bible on that point. At the first sign of conflict, it will have its own way ever time” (The Spirit of Liberalism 18).
Church music in worship often gets isolated from the larger principle. How we worship God in song, whether with or without mechanical instruments, is just one specific of a much broader principle. God has told us what He wants for church music (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Whatever we do must meet His expressed will. Projecting songs, using songbooks or shape notes, having a song leader, or singing in parts or four-part harmony still falls within the category of His command that we sing. But this same principle covers everything we do in worship as well as the specific commands He has for us regarding our work as a church, our response to His grace in order to have His salvation, and the like.
Our culture teaches us to ask, “Why can’t I?” It encourages us to say, “You didn’t say I couldn’t.” But, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). The humble spirit of a grateful, grace-receiving child of God, when viewing the will of God, should always be, “Do I have permission for that?” Such is neither cowering fear or abject slavery. It is adoration and reverence for a Lord who gave everything that we “may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Phil. 3:10).
While I am certain that there are those who will say that they are still seeing as many public responses in their assemblies as ever, most will observe what I have observed. As I think back to my childhood, public responses to the invitation were commonplace—nearly every service. When I first began preaching, public responses requesting baptism or public repentance by members very regularly occurred. Steadily, particularly in the last five to 10 years, such responses have declined. The burning question is, “Why?”
One might point to the growing influence of the world and its impact on the heart of hearers. One may point to weaker, less distinct preaching. One could talk about how potential responders will feel judged or condemned by the others present. One could speak of the philosophies and world views of the age, whether secularism, naturalism, postmodernism, or emergent theology.
Though these are no doubt factors, I am not fully satisfied with them. Weren’t these stumbling blocks in place in previous generations. The names of the philosophies may have changed, but they were there. Consider another theory. Are we losing the traditional, real social connection and fellowship of days gone by as we lose ourselves in the virtual world of social media (some of the same desensitizing factors could apply to TV and movies, too)? Before you dismiss this theory, consider some reasons why I promulgate it.
Some use social media as their “confessional” or front pew, where they confess their failings in marriage, attitude, speech, or actions.
On the other hand, social media outlets—particularly those having photos as part of their makeup—create an artificiality. We don’t post unflattering pictures (and may plead with those that tag us in them to delete them), don’t generally admit to weaknesses of character or anything that may make us seem inferior to others (financially, socially, intellectually, etc.). Image replaces integrity.
Increased time on social media, cultivating that virtual world and its relationships, may be robbing us of real-time, real-life relationships. We often neglect those in front of us for those we’re “visiting” by phone or tablet.
How might this impact public responses? Are we meeting the needs of James 5:16 and 1 John 1:9 via the virtual world? Are we afraid to show vulnerability, need, or weakness, lest we be deemed “inferior”? Have we desensitized ourselves, losing the ability to be “real”? There may be huge holes in my theory, but I suspect there is at least some truth to it.
What can we do to reverse the trend? Hopefully, giving it some serious thought is a start. We cannot reduce ourselves to mindless minions who are consumed with the superficial while disconnecting from the authentic. We must renew a dedication to fellowship and relationship, now more than ever! The people on Pentecost were disturbed enough by clear, divine teaching to make that known in the clearest terms (Acts 2:37). Let’s help the church be a place of real connections and relationships so we can help each other when spiritual needs exist.