Monthly Archives: April 2012

What Would Nehemiah Say About Us?

The book of Nehemiah is one of my personal favorites in the Old Testament. It is the inspired diary of the man who oversaw the rebuilding of the wall in Jerusalem after the return from captivity. The rebuilding of the wall was a feat not often seen because of the ways and means by which it was accomplished. People from all walks of life were working on the project. In chapter 3 there is an extensive list of the builders of the wall. They were rulers and common men, priests and craftsmen, people of Jerusalem and families from the outlying towns and villages, men and women. All came together to work on this great project and the whole wall was built in a mere 52 days because the people had a mind to work (Neh. 4:6; 6:15).

However, within that list of workers in Nehemiah 3 there is one very interesting statement made by the author. He records in verse 5, “And next unto them the Tekoites repaired; but their nobles put not their necks to the work of their Lord.” Of all the people in the region, and all of those listed as physically assisting with this project, the Tekoite nobles are the only ones stated to have refused the work building the wall. The reasons for their actions could be many, but the excuses are not enumerated in the text. What is important is that when the time came for the work to be done, they were absent.

Seeing this particular statement causes me to consider another question: what if Nehemiah were to write about the works done in our congregations, laying out the individuals and families that were fulfilling the duties and works of the church in each location, what would he say about me and my family?

It has often been repeated that in most congregations 10% of the people do 90% of the work. While in my experience I have no doubt of the general truth of such a statement, such is not the way it should be. We have a responsibility to be working in the Kingdom of the Lord (John 9:4; Jam. 1:25). The Lord’s church is not the place for the lazy or self-absorbed, but for the servant and workman (Mat. 20:1-16, 27-28). Therefore, it should be the case in every congregation that 100% of the work is done by 100% of the people. It is understood that there are varying degrees of ability and areas of expertise, but there is always more than enough work to go around and always the need for more hands and hearts willing to devote themselves to the task.

If Nehemiah were to write about you and your congregation, what would he say? Would he write of you as he did of so many in his time; how they took of their time, energy, and resources to ensure that the work was accomplished to the best of their ability? Or would he write of you as he did of the Tekoite nobles; that while others worked around you, you did nothing but stand back and watch?

Let us always be willing to put our hands to the task. There will never be too many workers in the Kingdom of God, but there are often far less than there should be. We must respond to the Lord’s tasks in the same manner the people responded to Nehemiah: “Let us rise up and build” (Neh. 2:18).

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An Ambiguous God?

We live in a world which revels in ambiguity. Webster defines “ambiguous” as: “Having two or more meanings; doubtful; being of uncertain signification; susceptible of different interpretations; hence, obscure. It is applied to words and expressions.” Ambiguity revolves around uncertainty, making someone unsure of what should be done or why something is being done. It is specifically described as being applied to words and expressions, the things which we write and say.

Ambiguity has long been the politician’s best friend. They are able to make promises about anything they want, but never have to explain what they mean or how they intend to pay for all of these glorious additions to life and luxury. Unfortunately, many times, those who are ambiguous make things sound so good that many people do not even pick up on the ambiguity. They are happy to go along thinking they are following one thing, when in reality they are allowing something else entirely.

The most exasperating aspects of ambiguity are found in another area: religion. It has become commonplace in our religious society today to make everything Biblical ambiguous. There is no way to truly understand what God wanted to say to us because he was not intelligent enough to be able to give it in a way that we could understand it; or at least so the perceived argument goes. But is God really ambiguous in the Bible? Has God really given us double talk and unclear terminology of which we cannot come to a clear understanding? Certainly not. Man’s inventions have made it ambiguous, and man’s pride and arrogance have provided the foundation upon which such charges of ambiguity reside. Consider three vital areas where God has not been ambiguous.

God has not been ambiguous about salvation. Regardless of what many in the religious world profess, God has stated exactly what is expected of man in order to obtain eternal salvation. We must hear and understand the word of God (Rom. 10:17), believe in Jesus Christ and His promises (Heb. 11:6), repent of our sins (Acts 17:30), confess Christ before men (Rom. 10:9-10), and be immersed in water for the remission of our sins (Acts 22:16). These requirements are completely unambiguous, nor are they difficult to understand, unless you are one who does not want to believe them. Yet, God’s clarity does not end here.

God has not been ambiguous about worship. God has given to us very clearly what He expects out of our worship. We are to sing with the voice to teach and admonish one another in praise to God (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), we are to humbly bow ourselves in prayer to God (1 Tim. 2:1-8), we are to give from what God has so richly blessed us (1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 9:6-8), we are to partake of the Lord’s Supper on every first day of the week (Mat. 26:26-29; Acts 20:7), and we are to preach and teach to one another the Word of our Lord (Acts 20:7; 2 Tim. 4:2). These things are not difficult to understand or to carry out; but man’s hardened heart has stated that God’s unambiguous commands are not sufficient.

God has not been ambiguous about eternity. We live in an age where many people believe one of two ideas: either there is no eternity, or everyone is going to Heaven. Neither of these fit the Bible’s clear teaching. Heaven will be reserved for those who love God and keep his commandments (John 14:1-3; 1 The. 4:13-18; 2 Tim. 4:6-8). Hell has been reserved for those who refuse to follow through with the commandments of God and turn from him (2 The. 1:7-9; Rev. 21:8). These things are neither ambiguous nor hidden.

God, unlike man, is not ambiguous in what he says or expects. May it ever be our endeavor to be honest in our approach to God and his Word, that we might learn what is expected and reject those who will not proclaim it as it is.

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Gender Discrimination in Preaching

In our culture, we are used to hearing cries of discrimination in all facets and venues of life. It does not seem to matter what supposed wrong has occurred, someone is going to blast the horn of discrimination somewhere along the way. It has gotten to the point that I am not even sure we understand what the word means anymore.

Webster defines it as, “To distinguish; to observe the difference between; to separate; to select from others; to make a distinction between; to mark with notes of difference.” Therefore, discrimination is to make a distinction, or to distinguish (rightly or wrongly) between various things. We often view it from a negative perspective and such it often times can be. It is also the case that sometimes it is present without intent because it has not been considered appropriately.

There is an area religiously where I believe this holds true, and it is in the approaches of  preachers when it comes to genders. I have often seen it be the case that preachers will preach on topics of need and interest, but will direct the studies, in large part or whole, toward a single gender. Consider some areas where I believe preachers often show gender discrimination in preaching.

Gender Discrimination against Women 

Modesty. It has often been the case that when sermons are preached on the topic of modesty most, if not all, of the lesson is geared toward the women. While it is true that women need to hear and understand the impact their modesty, or lack thereof, has on the men around them, not to mention their own personal relationship with God, such should not be done to the exclusion of the men. Men need to learn the lessons of modesty as much as women. Whether it regards shirtless exposure of the upper body in public, pants hanging halfway down the rear end, or the shirt that is so short that every time a man bends over he exposes himself to those behind him: men need to understand the importance and necessity of modesty. God clothed both Adam and Eve after their sin in the garden (Gen. 3:21), obviously they both needed the lesson on how to dress. The preacher’s refusal or neglect to do so is unduly singling out the women to the neglect of the men.

Submission. Men are quick to point out the necessity of submission by their wives. Preachers have often emphasized, and correctly so, the importance of the godly wife’s submission to her husband as the head of the household (Eph.5:23). But what is often left unsaid is that the husband has the same level of responsibility to submit to Christ (1 Cor. 11:3). Therefore, the man has an equal role of submission to the laws and ordinances of his Lord as the woman does to the leadership of the man. This includes maintaining both physical and spiritual headship in the home (Gen. 18:19), submitting to the responsibilities of training and teaching his children (Eph. 6:4), and taking upon his shoulders the responsibility of provider for the family (Gen. 3:17-19; 1 Tim. 5:8). Submission is a topic that needs to be preached to men just as much as women, let us not discriminate.

Gender Discrimination against Men

Sexual sin. We live in a sex-crazed society. The sexual warfare being waged against our families involves women just as much as men, but often times the preaching on such issues is geared solely toward the men. We preach to men about adultery, yet I know of almost as many Christian wives who have cheated on their husbands as the reverse; and many is the occasion that a Christian man has cheated on his spouse with a Christian woman. We harp on David for committing adultery, yet we rarely ever focus on the married woman with him who cheated on her husband (2 Sam. 11:1-4). The dangers and temptations of adultery go both ways.

In like manner, we preach to men on the dangers of pornography. The dangers are undeniably vast and the effects grievous on the family and the church. Unfortunately, preachers have often portrayed men as the only observers of pornography, which is statistically false, and have absolutely ignored the steamy romance novels and soap operas that have been similar bait geared toward women for decades. These avenues can cause just as much “mental adultery” and are just as harmful to the soul and the marriage. Preachers need to be sure they preach about the sexual pitfalls for both men and women, not simply approach one side.

Work and Family. We live in a society with a large percentage of “deadbeat dads.” Men who are more than happy to direct their lives however they please with no thought or consideration for their families. But let’s be honest, our society has a lot of “deadbeat moms” too. There are many mothers who are far more enamored with the careers of the world than the responsibilities of the home. They would rather have the 30k in the bank instead of the 30 hours with the family. They would rather be out with the girls than home with their husbands, and they would rather be successful by society’s standards than faithful by God’s. Preachers need to be as honest and fair about the responsibilities of the mother in the home as they are the father. For too long, preachers have been trying to defend the woman’s right to work in the world instead of the woman’s right to work in the home (Tit 2:5). God’s standard will not allow us to call on dads to fulfill their responsibilities and neglect the requirements for mom.

Preachers have an amazingly difficult responsibility: to faithfully proclaim the whole counsel of God for all people everywhere. It is easy to get caught up in categories, to look at the statistics of the day, and to speak only to those to whom the topic “most applies.” Such an approach is not good enough. We cannot discriminate and fulfill our responsibilities. Let us speak the oracles of God, teach the precepts of righteousness, and present God’s Word for everyone.

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Do We Bless God?

It does not take a deep expedition into the pages of Scripture to find the promises of God’s blessings for obedience. Whether one is considering the life of Abraham, the promises to David, or the writings of Paul, the blessings of God are a consistent theme of the Bible. God blesses man in many ways, both physically and spiritually. His concern for our lives and welfare is amply demonstrated in every aspect of the commands that are given, so that we might live long, peaceable lives in his service (1 Tim. 2:2; Eph. 6:3).

Recognizing the blessings of God, there is a question that should follow in our minds: do we bless God? The word “bless” is defined by Webster as, “To make happy; to make successful; to prosper in temporal concerns; to set apart or consecrate to holy purposes; to make and pronounce holy; to praise; to glorify, for benefits received; etc.” In other words, to bless one means to give praise, to make happy and successful, and to separate from others.

As Christians, we give great attention to the blessings God has given us, but are we giving equal attention to the blessings we give God? Abraham is described as the friend of God (Jam.2:23), David as a man after God’s own heart (Acts13:22), and others are related in Hebrews 11. These men and women blessed God by their lives and deeds; they served him acceptably, devoted their lives to his commandments, and willingly engaged in his service wherever it led.

When God looks at our lives, is he blessed for our existence? Can God see who we are and what we have become with joy and happiness for the love and devotion directed toward him? Do we spend our days praising him and extolling his virtues or cursing him and negating his value?

Your life has the opportunity to be a blessing to everyone you meet. You can, through your attitude and actions make men happy to know you, thankful to have met you, and hopeful to see you again. But along with that you must remember two things: 1) that if your actions and attitudes are ungodly and immoral, it will have the opposite effect on those you meet; and 2) that God’s view of you can be affected by your actions the same as men’s.

Mankind is created in the image of God and he is an emotional being. He loves and hates. He feels joy and sorrow. His letters through the prophets portray the depth of his emotional involvement with his people on both an individual and collective level. Therefore, our actions and attitudes have a direct effect upon God. You can break God’s heart, or make his day; bring him joy, or cause him pain; let him accept you as a friend, or make him acknowledge you as an enemy.

With every decision we make and every direction we take, we impact the emotions of God. As we consider our lives, do we bless him? As we desire his blessings, do we impart the same? May God bless you, and may you bless him.

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What is Sacrifice?

One of the central principles of Scripture is sacrifice. It is the foundation upon which all service and godliness is built and fastened. Nevertheless, many people have different ideas about what sacrifice is and what role it plays in the lives of the servants of God. Some define sacrifice as being forced to do something you do not want or prefer to do. Others will define sacrifice as nothing more than a Biblical description of ancient cruelty to animals. The true significance and purpose to be found in sacrifice is utterly lost in such concepts. Therefore, it is worth our time and effort to understand what it means to sacrifice, and how the Bible uses this particular concept.

The term “sacrifice” is used over 200 times in the Bible. Though the majority of the passages are found in the Old Testament, there are 24 uses of the term in the New Testament as well. Webster defines this word as, “the offering of animal, plant, or human life or of some material possession to a deity, as in propitiation or homage; the person, animal, or thing so offered; the surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim; to surrender or give up, or permit injury or disadvantage to, for the sake of something else.” It is obvious that there are a variety of ways this word can be used; by the same token, the Bible uses the principle of sacrifice in multiple ways as well. As one considers the term in question, the definitions given fit perfectly with the use of Biblical sacrifice.

“The offering of animal, plant, or human life or of some material possession to a deity, as in propitiation or homage.” This is a summation of the sacrifices offered under the Old Testament laws. The offerings of the blood of animals on altars, though they could not remit sins, did have the power to roll the sins of man forward to the time when the ultimate sacrifice could be made for man in the person of Jesus Christ (Heb. 9:1-13; 10:2-4). These things were commanded by God in preparation for the coming of Christ and as a method of bringing man to obedience to the will of God.

“To surrender or give up, or permit injury or disadvantage to, for the sake of something else.” This is precisely the sort of sacrifice Christ made for mankind. Jesus Christ, the Word, the Son of God, permitted His life to be surrendered and sacrificed for us. It was not because of any wrong which He had done, or any desire He had to know what death was like, but in order to save His own creation (Col. 1:13-18). The sacrifice of Jesus was an act of selflessness unlike any which ever has, or ever will be, seen on the face of this earth. The Hebrews writer explains to us that this was the only way by which man could receive redemption (Heb. 9:23-28). Therefore, Christ permitted His body to be crucified to the cross of calvary for our sins.

“The surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim.” This is the type of sacrifice God requires of us today. If we are to be acceptable in the sight of God we must be willing to surrender and destroy the things which hold us within the grasps of worldly devices, and look toward that greater goal of Heaven (Rom. 12:1-2; Tit. 2:11-12; Heb. 12:1-2). Only by doing so can we take advantage of the blood of Christ which was offered on our behalf.

Our understanding of the principles of sacrifice as laid forth both in definition and practice can only serve to strengthen our ability to serve our Lord. However, we must be willing to put into practice the principles of sacrifice, lest we make the sacrifice of God of none effect.

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What About My Rights?

American society has become obsessed with the idea of “rights.” Everybody is always talking about their right to this or that. We hear of everything from human rights to animal rights, the right to health care to the right to broadband internet access. We talk about our “rights” in such broad terms that most people do not even know what the word means anymore, much less the far greater underlying admission of such a declaration.

Consider the meaning of the word “right.” If you were to look in a recent edition of Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, you would find 62 different definitions for the word. Some of them are old definitions not commonly used today; some are specific to certain fields of study or practice. However, in our discussion, the 20th of these definitions is the pertinent one; there the term is defined as, “that which is due to anyone by just claim, legal guarantees, moral principles, etc.” The definition continues with the example of freedom of speech in America being a right. A right is something that is due someone, something they are owed for any number of reasons.

When most people talk about a right, they mean that they are owed or deserve whatever is under discussion because of whom and what they are. But have you ever considered the declaration that is being made with such an argument?

On one hand we are being taught and force-fed the idea that there is no God, we are simply the product of billions of years of evolution. As such there are no moral or ethical standards to be upheld; mankind, as simply another animal, is left to his own devices to decide and determine what is right and wrong and the guidelines of the species.

On the other hand, the same people will then argue for their rights of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and their rights to pursue any lifestyle, philosophy, and course of action they desire. Nevertheless, something is missing: if all they are is another form of animal – they have no rights! A right is something that is due, owed, or deserved; yet, as nothing more than an animal, one would not deserve any more than they could take or another chose to give them. The “rights” of this country would be nothing more than the thoughts and ideals of other men and therefore can be removed at any time, by anyone who exerts the power and authority to do so. If evolution is true, I have no rights; there is no standard of right and wrong, or good and evil; and all the “rights” in the world are nothing but the useless prattle of previous generations and controlling interests that have no bearing on the direction taken from this day forward. Laws are meaningless and the only thing that matters is who has the power to dictate their will upon others.

But if there is a God and he is greater than I, with full authority and power; and he has made available to man certain rights, privileges, and a standard of law and righteousness, then by what means can I argue he does not exist? I could ignore him, as men did in the days of the judges when every man did what was right to him (Jud. 17:6); I could show disrespect for him as the Israelites did on the numerous occasions they went after other gods; but I could never deny him; because without him I have no rights, no guarantees, no protection, no guidance, and no hope. Give thanks to God that this nation was founded upon principles of belief in God, and the recognition of his Word. It is that foundation that has made this nation so much better than most in the world for the last 229 years.

So the next time someone comes up to you declaring their rights thank them for the admission of Divine authority and seek to show them what else that authority means for their life.

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Jotham’s Fable

Within the confines of Judges 9 is one of the most imaginative fables told by man. It reminds one of Aesop’s Fables in its vivid depictions and moral lessons. It is a wonderful example of the diversity of the Scriptures and its ability to connect with man on many different levels and through many different styles. It is the fable of Jotham; but before considering the fable, understand the background of it.

Abimelech, the son of the great judge Gideon, sought to be the king of Shechem. When approached with the possibility, the men of Shechem were more than willing to provide him with the arrogantly desired crown (Jud. 9:3-4). To secure his throne, Abimelech went and killed all 70 of his brothers, with the exception of Jotham who hid during the slaughter (Vs. 5).

When Abimelech formally became king, Jotham went to Mount Gerizim on the outskirts of Shechem and cried out to the men of Shechem:

Hearken unto me, ye men of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you.

The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us. But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?

And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, and reign over us. But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees?

Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us. And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?

Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us. And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.  (Vs. 7-15)

The moral of the lesson: sometimes the one who desires the position of power the most is the one who is least fit to hold it and will destroy even the mightiest of his opponents.

Jotham would then convict the men of Shechem of their betrayal of his father, Gideon, and all for which he stood (Vs. 16-20); he then fled the region while Abimelech reigned over the people of Shechem.

The fable of Jotham is an excellent illustration that needs to be remembered in our society today and taught to our children. Many still have not learned the lessons of Jotham’s fable; but it must be remembered, because there are many brambles ready and willing to destroy a willing people.

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