- New converts cannot digest meat.
- Christians must mature and grow from milk to meat.
- There is spiritually a time and place for both.
Thursday’s Column: Carlnormous Comments
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.
Monday’s Column: “Neal At The Cross”
When examining a passage that we need to put into practice, one of the most important things we can do is to find the imperatives in that passage. For example, the Great Commission in Matthew 28 contains one imperative–“make disciples” (19). Two participles tell us how to do that: “baptizing” and “teaching” (19-20). Another example is Ephesians 5:18-21. There is a double imperative here: “Do not be drunk with wine” (18), but “be filled with the Spirit” (18). How do you obey the command to be filled with the Spirit? There are five ways, according to Paul. You are filled with the Spirit by “speaking,” “singing,” “making melody,” “giving thanks,” and “being subject to one another.”
In his closing appeal to the Romans, Paul is concerned about how church members are treating each other. There are apparent struggles among them over their diverse religious past. Paul pictures this as those “weak in faith” (14:1) and those who are “strong” (15:1). The strong is also called one who has faith (14:2). Apparently, God not only expects that congregations will have both categories of Christians, but He expects us to successfully work through situations that arise out of this fact.
Apparently, one of the most damaging ways we handle such differences is by “judging” one another (14:3-4,10,13). The way Paul uses that word here means to “pass an unfavorable judgment upon, criticize, find fault with, and condemn” (BDAG 567). The issues in their circumstance were things like eating meets offered to idols and observing special days (14:5-6). Those things seem strange, even trivial, to us today. But the church in every generation has their own petty problems to negotiate, things that are struggles of faith nonetheless (14:16-23). This clash of convictions and maturity levels must be successfully met and overcome. How?
That’s where we turn to Romans 15. Paul gives two imperatives that are at the heart of negotiating the prickly situations like those we are facing right now. They are “please your neighbor” (15:2) and “accept one another” (15:7). Those two commands can be the hardest thing to do when we disagree with how our brother (or sister) handles a matter, especially matters without clearcut instruction. To “please” is to accommodate others by meeting their needs and sacrificing self-interest. None of us wants to do that, but if you are strong (15:1) it’s what you do. It’s what Jesus did (15:3)! To “accept one another” is best defined by contrasting it with its opposite, which in this context is to “regard with contempt” (14:3). That’s reflected in a sinful attitude, dismissing, disdaining, judging, and looking down on.
Think about the difference when one obeys or disobeys these two God-given commands. If our mentality is to “please” and “accept,” how does that affect our relationship with those drawing different conclusions in matters of judgment? If we choose to please ourselves and reject our spiritual family based on their different conclusions, where do we wind up? According to Paul, it’s not a good place (14:12,15).
I have yet to hear of a congregation without at least “two sides” in negotiating all that’s involved in reacting to the current pandemic. Everything from masks to isolating versus assembling to rational versus irrational fear gets dragged into the conversation. It’s easy to dig our trenches deeper and draw our lines bolder. What is to govern us in these tedious, perilous times? At the heart of it all, we must obey our Lord’s instruction. “Please your neighbor for his good, to his edification” (15:2) and “accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God” (15:7). Never lose sight of this!
Inasmuch as we don’t want laws or policies enacted that violate God’s Word and we want precious freedoms, especially religious ones, preserved and protected, we can really get into what is going on in Washington, from Capitol Hill to Pennsylvania Avenue. Many know that “D.C.” is an abbreviation for “District of Columbia,” an area of land created at about the time of our nation’s founding under the direct jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress that is not a state.
However, as politics has vied for sports and entertainment as an idol in our culture, it has become the source of unnecessary and even immoral strife between Christians. Blind support and allegiance for one major political party or the other can do more than make us inconsistent. It can make us a stumbling block. It seems to me that D.C. can stand for some dangerously different things.
Distracted Christians. Search high and low in your New Testaments, written during the time of the wicked, often unfair-to-Christians, Roman Empire. The disciples were about the business of evangelism (Acts 8:4) and growing the church (Acts 6:7). Can the rumblings and drama from the nation’s capitol get us so transfixed that we cannot see past it or through it to our individual and collective mission as God’s people? He has us here to get people into the Kingdom of His dear Son (Col. 1:13). Everything else is secondary.
Divided Churches. For as long as I’ve been preaching, I’ve seen politics come between brethren in the local church. Thankfully, it does not usually become significant enough to trouble the entire congregation but I have seen it do so. What’s more, I’ve seen brothers and sisters become so confrontational and flagrant about politics–especially through the relatively recent medium of social media–that it has been a stumbling block to new and weak Christians. Perhaps the political world in our country has never been so intensely divisive as it currently is, and what typically troubles the world troubles the church. But, when souls are negatively impacted, God will hold the offenders accountable.
Devil’s Cauldron. Please don’t misunderstand. Politics, like money, is a neutral matter. But, like money, it can become the root of all sorts of evil (cf. 1 Tim. 6:10)–enmities, strife, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, and factions (Gal. 5:20). Just prior to this list of activities that are the carrying out of the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16), Paul warns, “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:14-15). Who benefits when things like politics distract and divide Christians? It is not the lost, the church, or the Lord!
I can think of a least three godly, wonderful Christians who are public servants in political office and making a profound impact for good–Bill Reiboldt, Sheila Butt, and John DeBerry. They demonstrate that God’s people can devote themselves to politics without sacrificing their faith and example. For those of us “on the outside looking in,” in our love of country and freedom, may we never allow our attitude, words, or actions to betray our highest calling. The more effectively we reach lost souls, reflect the mind of Christ, and reveal the hope of the gospel, the better our nation (and world) will become. What will that make us? Disciples of Christ!
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?
So, “Where is your faith?”
Several years ago, a fourteen-year-old girl named Shannon Smith was shot to death in her own back yard. A bullet lodged in her brain. Though already tragic and horrific, the story was made more tragic by the inexplicable nature of the shooting. Police, judging from the trajectory made by the entry would, concluded that the bullet fell from the sky. Somewhere nearby, some unknown person had fired a gun for no known reason. The bullet completed its path of travel inside an unsuspecting teenager. Tragic, indeed!
Who fired the gun and why? The action pales next to the consequence. Someone aimlessly fired a weapon. A child died and parents were left to mourn her loss. It was all so unnecessary and avoidable!
Christians are a special people, a God-possessed, holy group (1 Pet. 2:9). The world sees Christians (Matt. 5:16). They react to children of God, either “glorifying” (Matt. 5:16) or “blaspeming” (2 Sam. 12:14) Him. Christians are either transformed from worldliness or conformed to it (Rom. 12:2). Conformity carries tragic consequences.
Influence is an inevitable burden carried by every Christian. Others watch what we do, hear what we say, and evaluate our judgments. What we wear, how we talk, where we go, and with what we entertain ourselves may seem harmless or at least harmful only to us. Yet, we can aimlessly fire and eternally wound another’s soul by our influence.
The man or woman who fired that gun may not realize even now what they did with one “harmless” squeeze of a trigger. Maybe they will not know on this side of time. Just so, we may be shocked on that day to realize how many or exactly whom we influenced. We’re on a spiritual battlefield (Eph. 6). Let’s be careful not to shoot at the wrong side! We may wind up doing harm to the very people we’re commissioned to save. Let’s watch our aim!
- The preacher who dazzles with his insight, personality, influence, popularity, or following?
- The teacher who is the students’ favorite?
- The member who is “balling” (making a lot of money and having a lot of success in business)?
- The family with the biggest house and nicest automobiles?
- The one with the best academic pedigree, with the proverbial alphabet soup behind their name?
- The folks who are best known and most influential in our community?
- The ones who are incredibly fit and attractive?
- The greatest debater, philosopher, and reasoner we know?
- The elder who is most successful in his career?
- One who seems to combine a great many or even all of these attributes?
It could be one of these individuals, but despite and not because of the specifics just mentioned. But, we so easily fall into the trap that causes us to think that those criteria are what make one greatest. Such can cause us to vest blind trust in them or put them in a higher place than is right. Worse, we can try to be motivated to define and promote ourselves as greatest through these means.
The tendency is so fundamental. Jesus warned against it in places like Matthew 20:25-28 and 23:12. His disciples, like James (4:6-10), Peter (1 Pet. 3:8; 5:5-6), Paul (2 Cor. 10:12-18), Jude (16), and the rest, at least implicitly, address the same trap. We all fight the desire to be seen so as to be admired. We may do so through our marriages, our children’s accomplishments, our economic status, our apparent importance, our having it all together, our professional prowess, or any other asset we feel responsible for having. If we use these things to place ourselves above and/or push others below, we are disqualifying ourselves for greatness in the only way that matters—God’s way. False modesty isn’t the answer, either.
We must look at ourselves as dependent creatures. It’s all His and without Him we’d have nothing!
We must look at ourselves as devoted stewards. It’s all His and He expects us to use it wisely, on His behalf!
We must look at ourselves as divine instruments. It’s all His and He works through us to do His will!
We must look at ourselves as dutiful slaves. It’s all His and so are we, living and serving at and for His pleasure!
The warning and disclaimer is that this transformation must happen at heart-level, rooting out thoughts and attitudes that, while fleshly, are so easy to embrace. If the weeds of pride aren’t dislodged from deep within, this effort will prove impossible. But, if it could not be done, God would not have spent so much time instructing us to live and walk by the Spirit rather than by the desires of the flesh and mind. It is the old song, “None of self and all of Thee.” To the degree we adorn that mindset and make that transformation, to that degree we will achieve greatness God’s way!