- New converts cannot digest meat.
- Christians must mature and grow from milk to meat.
- There is spiritually a time and place for both.
Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength
In the waning days of the last millennium, I happened to catch a program on public television about a dance competition held by Native Americans in rural Connecticut. If you are wondering why I still remember that show some 20 years later, it was because of the responses given by some of those interviewed. The dancers participating expressed the idea that their dance was an outward expression of their inward spirituality. The master of ceremonies echoed their sentiments as he explained spirituality needs to find expression. Ponder that last part with me for a moment; spirituality needs to find expression. Indeed.
I’m not suggesting that we incorporate carnal expressions of our spirituality in our worship of God, like dancing to a beating drum. Yet, if we are spiritual, shouldn’t there be an outward expression of it? Christians have a magnificent treasure stored within themselves (cf. 2 Corinthians 4.7). Sometimes, though, observation of Christians suggests otherwise. We who are blessed still covet for more. We who are given joy from within have sour attitudes. We allow ourselves to become filled with anxiety. Our brethren anger us, rather than receiving our love. Those without the church may think we are sad rather than happy. We who serve the One owning all withhold the bounty of that Providence and Wisdom of His Revelation from those needing it. We fail to be lights shining in a dark world as we are commanded (Matthew 5.14-16).
Yes, spirituality needs to find its expression. Can you recall the depth of emotion you felt when you first realized you were in love? You wanted to proclaim your love in loud tones to any who would listen. Do you remember the joy and zeal that was yours when you put on Christ in baptism? You wanted to proclaim the praises of Him Who had brought change to your life. Why don’t we allow our faith to find its expression today through the sharing of the Gospel? Why not do good to all, especially to those of the household of faith, as we have the opportunity? (Galatians 6.10) Lastly, let us worship God in spirit and truth without being begged to do so by elders, preachers, and Bible class teachers. If we do these things, no one will doubt the spirituality we claim to possess.
Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
We sometimes have a tendency to give up when we mess up spiritually. We’ll think, “Guess I blew it, there’s no point in trying now.” Guilt or frustration over the difficulty of living for God and falling short is a powerful Achilles Heel of ours. Paul describes our struggle with sin as combat with self (Romans 7).
A Christian who is fighting to follow God is still going to sin at some point. We sometimes allow the loss of that battle to drag us into a pattern of sinning solely because we’ve become discouraged that we even allowed that sin to happen.
I’d like to point out that we aren’t alone in that struggle. Consider Job 38.7: angels – who do not need faith because they live in the presence of God – were up close and personal to the creation of our incredible universe. They watched in awe as God fabricated the stars. They heard those stars sing, which means that they were amazed by the sheer power and majesty of what we can only hear as obscure signals. They were right there!
Some of those same angels were caught up in sin (II Peter 2.4ff; Jude 6-9). Satan currently has followers who were at one time up close and personal to the Power behind our existence (Romans 12.7ff; Matthew 25:41).
If an angel, a being who does not serve God based on a mere belief in His existence, but because they were originally created for the sole purpose of carrying out His will, and who are eyewitnesses to His existence and unlimited power, can be tempted to the extent that they are willing to abandon the presence of God and forfeit ever seeing His face again, who are we to think that our struggle is that defeating?
God does not have a salvation plan for angelic beings (II Peter 2.4). When they breach their boundaries, that’s it. The moment they act outside of God’s will is the moment they forfeit the presence of God for eternity.
We are lower than angels on the creation totem pole (Psalm 8.5), yet we have Jesus as a mediator defending us before God (I John 2.1) and constantly making us sinless in God’s eyes when we’re doing our best to live for Him (I John 1.7). We have a gift that angels do not enjoy: we get extra chances. As long as we are willing to wage war with our sinful desires, as long as we are striving to be like Him, and as long as we are trying to incorporate the word of God into our lives, we have grace.
We’re stepping out of the concrete and into conjecture, but there is at least some evidence that lust (Genesis 6; II Peter 2; Jude 6-9) and perhaps tragedy (Matthew 18.10) are enough to make an angel forfeit their home. Again, this is pure conjecture but it has, at the very least, some scriptural evidence to suggest legitimacy.
When we sin, we need to take a step back and get some perspective. We must not brush off sin as being inconsequential, but we also must avoid allowing a mistake to send us into a dysfunctional pattern just because we think, “I’ve blown it, there’s no point in trying now” or, “This struggle is too great for me.” If angels aren’t immune, why on earth would we think that we are supposed to be?
The beauty of Christianity is found in God’s grace. It is understandable, seeing how some have abused the subject, to want to avoid the topic altogether. How many, though, have found themselves trapped in sin because they did not understand or believe in the power of God’s continual forgiveness?
Understanding what we have when we make a concerted effort to follow God is of the highest importance. We will sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are liar and there is no truth in us (I John 1.8). When we do sin, let’s remember that not only can we have forgiveness if we’re walking in light, we’re not especially awful just because we find ourselves falling short. If even God’s angels can be tempted to the point of leaving His presence forever, so can we who have not seen His face. And let that cause us to seek His face with even more enthusiasm than before!
I Corinthians 10.13
II Peter 3.9
Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
Growing up, I heard my dad preach a sermon comparing different type of shoes to various people’s religious attitudes. You can imagine the application of such shoe types as the slipper, the loafer, the work boot, the Sunday shoe, the combat boot, etc. It was a clever illustration to encourage everyone to live a faithful Christian life and avoid a mentality that hurts the church.
Do you have a favorite kind of shoe? I’d venture to guess that you even have a favorite pair or couple of pairs of shoes. Usually, you’ll find me either in a pair of cowboy boots or in a pair of running shoes. What goes into why you favor a pair of shoes? Quality? Style? Comfort?
To make a spiritual point by referring to footwear is more ancient than my dad’s efforts to do so. No less than the apostle Paul referred to “having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15). Indirectly, Isaiah and Paul give attention to this very idea by complimenting the “beautiful feet” of those who bring good news of good things (Isa. 52:7; Rom. 10:15).
You would think, to borrow dad’s analogy, that some “shoes,” figuratively, shouldn’t be adorned as part of our Christian armor. Flip-flops aren’t good (Jas. 1:8). Neither are skate shoes (Rom. 12:11; Col. 3:23). Camouflage boots can be a liability (Rom. 12:2). It would seem counterproductive for a preacher or teacher to favor tap dancing shoes (2 Tim. 4:3), since our responsibility is to stand firm (Eph. 6:11,13,14).
Staying with the analogy, some shoes are excellent if used according to their design. Running shoes are essential to running the Christian race (1 Cor. 9:24,26; Heb. 12:1), but not to run in vain (Gal. 2:2; Phil. 2:16), run with sinners to sin (1 Pet. 4:4), or run after false teachers (Luke 17:23). Work boots can be misused in prioritizing occupation and career over the kingdom, but when used in the exercise of our talents and resources to grow the kingdom they are worn well (Mat. 5:16; 9:37-38).
You get the idea, and you can no doubt add to the analogy with your own ideas. But, spiritually, what is your favorite pair of shoes? John the Baptist suggests that Jesus, like most all others of His day, wore sandals (Mark 1:7). John felt unworthy to even untie them. Yet, Peter, later on, would say “follow in His steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). Jesus’ shoes carried Him to Samaria to minister to the woman at the well. They presumably walked on water. They took Him to Lazarus’ tomb. He doubtless wore them as He ascended the mountain to preach the greatest sermon ever delivered. Was He permitted to wear them as He carried His cross to Calvary?
We aren’t qualified and worthy to be in His shoes, but, as the song suggests, we must be “trying to walk in the steps of the Savior.” Another hymn avers, “Where He leads me, I will follow.” Our favorite shoes should be the ones revealing the footsteps of Jesus. We follow Him and anyone can follow us (1 Cor. 11:1). They will help us walk in good works (Eph. 2:10), in a worthy manner (Eph. 4:1), in love (Eph. 5:2), and carefully (Eph. 5:15).
God’s people around our nation are praying for our brethren at the West Freeway church of Christ outside Fort Worth, Texas. Most congregations I know have long since devised church security solutions, including security cameras, personnel to watch at entrances, and procedures for handling potential threats. In likely every congregation, there are a number of individuals both with concealed and visible firearms. Though this is a politically divisive issue, the fact that a gunman disrupted the most sacred moment of worship makes this preeminently relevant. You likely feel very strongly about this matter, regardless of where you stand on it.
Whatever your position on the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution, did you know that the Bible commands us to be armed? Consider what the Holy Spirit through various writers has to say regarding something that transcends time and earth. Wherever we go, we must not be without these weapons for our spiritual warfare.
–“Be armed with the purpose of suffering” (1 Peter 4:1). This word means to take up arms. It is in the context of suffering righteously for Christ’s sake. In a world filled with people who are aimless, Christians have the ultimate purpose. In fulfilling that purpose, we will be opposed, threatened, and tempted to quit. Only by preparing ourselves for the Christ-life will we survive whoever or whatever attempts to destroy our faith.
–“Be armed with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left” (2 Cor. 6:7). Paul did not want Corinth to receive the grace of God in vain. That is, He wanted the sacrifice of Jesus and the hope of heaven to benefit these Christians. Part of that required them to live lives which didn’t discredit their ministry (3) and commended themselves as servants of God (4). One of several ways they could do that was by being armed with the weapons of righteousness. What are these? Well, Paul will address that in 2 Corinthians 10:1ff as well as in his writing to the church at Ephesus (6:10ff). In simplest terms, righteousness itself is a powerful weapon. We are made right (5:21) to do right (6:7). In a world of darkness, light stands out. In a world going wrong, doing right and being right is powerful!
–“Be armed with divinely powerful weapons for the destruction of fortresses … against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Paul contrasts the flesh and spirit, identifying this as the ultimate battlefield. How do you win against such frightening foes and forces? Arm yourself with the only weapon that is divine and destructive. What it destroys is what stands against God. Don’t think fleshly (or bodily). This goes beyond that.
I fear that the gun rights-gun control debate will rage on in the culture of politics and the politics of culture. But, do not be distracted! There is an eternal war going on which requires every one of us to be equipped. Do not dare be unarmed for that fight!
What the child is always doing, despite evidence to the contrary (“nothing”). What is wrong with one’s spouse who sits nearby, quietly and tightlippedly fuming (“nothing”). What the interrupted person was going to say (“nothing”). The word which defines itself is “nothing.” The Bible teaches, “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Gal. 6:4).
Those low in self-esteem think of themselves as nothing. Children and spouses who are constantly told so think of themselves as nothing. Those not as wealthy as their friends or neighbors often conclude themselves to be nothing. Those unrecognized for their accomplishments can feel like they are nothing. But the inspired apostle refers to some who think themselves to be something who are actually “nothing.” The Bible makes mention of that arrogant family, The “Nothings.” They are a haughty, proud, self-involved, earthly-minded crew.
Meet The Nothings.
There Are The “Good For Nothings.” Jeremiah introduces them. He says, “This evil people, which refuse to hear my words, which walk in the imagination of their heart, and walk after other gods, to serve them, and to worship them, shall even be as this girdle, which is good for nothing” (Jer. 13:10). They were unaware of problems they had. They were evil, spiritually deaf, selfish, and idolatrous. He compares them to a good for nothing, straight from a hole in the ground, dirt-soiled belt!
No one is inherently worthless, but we can choose a lifestyle that is wicked, lukewarm, or indistinct (cf. Mat. 5:13). Christians, by our distinctive nature, are of great value to God (1 Pet. 2:9). Yet, by surrendering our Christian influence, we can become “good for nothing.”
There Are The “Brought To Nothings.” After referring to the danger of making decisions based solely on human reasoning, Jeremiah prays that God will not bring him to nothing (Jer. 10:23-24). God will rename some the Brought to Nothings, those who believe man’s ideas over God’s facts. Paul warns that God will “destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent” (1 Cor. 1:19; Isa. 29:14). The wisest and most scholarly man who discounts God’s Word will be a regretful member of the Brought To Nothings someday.
There Are The “Need Of Nothings.” These are the overly comfortable, spiritually out of shape members of the Nothings clan. They live their lives saying, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and they do not know that they “are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17). They aren’t really bad people, but they aren’t all that good either. They’re just quite satisfied with what they have done for Christ, which isn’t all that great and not too bad. They merely yawn through their spiritually lives, only occasionally stirring from spiritual sleep (cf. Eph. 5:14). They half-heartedly do just enough to deceive themselves into thinking they’re pleasing the Lord.
Unrelated to these Nothings are some good folks, like the Ashamed In Nothings (Phil. 1:20), Terrified By Nothings (Phil. 1:28), Anxious For Nothings (Phil. 4:6), and the Wavering In Nothings (Jas. 1:6, KJV). But the Nothings family mentioned above are black sheep in God’s family. No one should want to “take after” them.
Open Table, a company that facilitates reservations at better restaurants, sent a quiz today to test my familiarity with some of the more sophisticated menu terms one encounters. I made 40%, and at least a few of my right answers were lucky guesses. Truly, I’ve never heard of “okonomiyaki,” “Harissa,” “gochujang,” or “crudo.” These and others were foreign words, in the literal and culinary sense. Certainly, chefs, maitre d’s, refined diners, and the otherwise alimentary literate folks know these terms, but most of us are proud to differentiate between la fork and la spoon. We also do not like to be made to feel less than intelligent by the more informed foodie.
The more we try to be soul-conscious and truly sensitive to the visitors who attend our services, the more thoughtfully we should consider especially the terms we use and even take for granted. We’ve used them so long that maybe we assume everybody knows them. But, these visitors may be sitting there, despite their intelligence and capability, feeling ignorant or uninitiated as we pepper them with “expediency,” “hermeneutics,” “extend the invitation,” “conversion,” “denominational,” “redemption,” and other terms that require the context of our learned church culture. Other terms, not at all hard to define, are terms that mean something specific to us but that mean something else to those without our “background”: sin, salvation, repentance, worship, born again, holy, works, grace, etc. On many occasions, I’ve looked at some of the lyrics in our songbook and have found, especially in older songs where words have inevitably changed or fallen into disuse, we press on without defining or explaining these words to our youth, new Christians, or non-Christian attendees. “Could my zeal no respite know?” “His garment too were in cassia dipped?” “Heavenly portals loud with hosannas ring?” Many, many more examples of such lines could be produced!
My point is not to be critical. There is no way we can define every word a visitor or newcomer may encounter in our worship services, but we do have so many who do not have our grasp of our unique terms. We have a serious obligation to them (cf. 1 Cor. 14:22-25). If we took some time to define the words of our songs, sermons, and even prayers, we would be helping those several groups who may not “get” it otherwise—teens and pre-teens, some of our young adults, a lot of our first-generation Christians, new converts, and those valuable visitors who may be termed “unchurched.” It will help the rest of us, too, to break down our rote and memorized sentences and think about what some of those “ten-cent” theological terms really mean. God desires worship that involves our heart (cf. John 4:24), and clear comprehension is a key to achieving that. May we deliberate on this when we assemble together this Lord’s Day!
His coach, Jay Wright, and teammates expected and wanted him to take the last shot in the 2016 NCAA basketball championship game. The senior point guard had intentions of doing so, too, but at almost the literal last second he turned and delivered a short pass to Junior Kris Jenkins who sank a three-pointer just before the final buzzer. It was the game-winning shot, lifting Villanova over North Carolina for the Pennsylvania school’s first championship since their legendary victory in 1985. Ryan Arcidiacono, who grew up 20 miles from campus and constantly dreamed of hitting a game-winning shot for the championship, will be remembered, as much as Jenkins, for delivering one of the most exciting games in college basketball history—Jenkins for his beautiful shot and Arcidiacono for his unselfish pass.
For those who know coach Wright’s philosophy, this turn of events is absolutely no surprise. Google “Jay Wright unselfish” and a multitude of articles come up talking about how the coach drills the idea of putting everybody else above yourself from the time kids enter his program. Players earn his trust and confidence by proving themselves converts to his selfless style of play. It is heartwarming to see such values being instilled in impressionable young people.
The local church must adopt the philosophy of its leader, Christ. He modeled it (Ph. 2:5-11) and mandated His followers do the same (Ph. 2:3-4). An atmosphere of unselfishness cultivates spiritual and numerical growth, just as selfishness inhibits such growth. Selfless service is most often bypassed by the world, though most deeply appreciate seeing demonstrations of it. Deference to others is a mark of distinctiveness that must be found in disciples. The better we do this, the brighter the light of Christ can shine through us!
Positively traumatic. I don’t know another way to describe it. Sure, I knew about the gentle receding of hair on my forehead—or “sixhead,” as my good friend Dean Murphy recently called it. However, nothing prepared me for “the picture.” Sure, I’ve had people, even recently, noting the thinning of my hair on top. I found the noting of that irritating and even, at times, amusing. But, the stark, unflinching, and brutally honest photo was utterly convicting. There, in living color, was my immutably glabrous cranium. OK. My bald spot. I have no idea how long I’ve walked around sporting this condensed coif, but I can see it now… every time I look at that picture.
That blind spot was more vain than dangerous. There are situations in life where a blind spot can be more serious. Driving down the highway, we may miss another vehicle that is in our blind spot—not visible in our rearview mirrors but still most definitely there. But the far more common blind spots of our lives have to do with what we cannot, do not, or choose not to see.
It is easy for us to see the faults of others, their sins of attitude, speech, and action. We marvel that they seem oblivious to them. After all, we see it all so clearly. Yet, in our own lives, we may not be seeing clearly. We do not realize how unfriendly we appear to others, how self-promoting, how braggadocios, how sarcastic, how unhelpful, how harsh, or how suggestive our words and deeds appear to others. Solomon notes that “all the ways of a man are clean in his own sight” (Prov. 16:2a). Relying on others to tell us is really not fair to them. After all, they must navigate around and through their own blind spots on the commutes of their daily lives.
Paul helps us identify these social and spiritual blindspots. He writes, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5). The best way to actively view our lives is through the mirror of God’s Word (cf. Jas. 1:23). As we look closely and carefully into it, we see ourselves better. How vital that we get a better view of how our own lives impact others, for good or ill! This is about more than vanity. This has more serious far-reaching implications. May the Lord give us the courage to see our blind spots and the strength to eliminate them.
On a slightly different life’s path, Kathy could easily be a world-famous, wealthy celebrity on Food Network. Her culinary skills and creativity in the kitchen has yielded some incredible dishes that would cave the iron-willed. Incredibly, she has learned through the years to make things that are good for you not simply palatable but tasty!
In 1 Peter 2, Peter urges Christians, facing an ultimate inheritance from a God who wanted them though impeded by persecution by a world who did not want them, “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (1-3).
Peter urges them to purge from their spiritual diet those dangerous additives of attitudes in verse one. They are more than malnourishing; they are poisonous! Instead, he calls for them to hanker for the pure milk of God’s Word. What would heighten their craving was having tasted the Lord’s graciousness.
May I suggest that this is a cyclical process. In other words, we must be willing to begin feeding on the word. For most, this is an acquired taste. But from the first serving, the reader gets a taste of God’s good food. It nourishes and satisfies. It illuminates the soul. It is practical in daily application. It helps forge a closeness with God. It gives strength in a difficult world. The blessings of Scripture are multifarious, endless, and inexhaustible. The very experience of all of this by the consumer drives him or her right back into the Word for more!
Are you addicted to the sweet savor of Scripture? If you are not partaking, you are starving your soul! Those hunger pangs you feel cannot be satisfied by adulterated alternatives. Let us say with the ancient patriarch Job, “I have not departed from the commandment of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (23:12).