Monthly Archives: July 2012

A Soldier, an Athlete, and a Farmer

It sounds like the first line of another bad joke, but have you ever considered what a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer have in common? At a basic level of observation there does not seem to be anything of value that would coalesce these three with a sense of commonality. However, a deeper observation of Scripture finds there is one thing they all have in common: they are each used by the apostle Paul to describe aspects of Christianity.

Consider 2 Timothy 2:3-6:

Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully. The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits.

In this passage the apostle considers attributes from each of these types of people to make application to the Christian. Each one relates something different, but each attribute is equally vital to the survival of the servant of God.

No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier (Vs. 4). Part of the soldier’s responsibility is to not worry about what is happening around him, but to ensure that he does his job performing the orders of his commander. His duties are vital to his survival and that of his fellow soldiers; therefore he must be wholly focused on the task at hand.

The same holds true with Christianity. Christians are to have one focus in life: the fulfillment of the orders of our Lord and Commander. Those orders will penetrate every aspect of our lives and relationships, but in order to be accomplished acceptably our focus must remain on the task at hand. It is easy for Christians to get caught up in the petty things of this world; to become distracted or disheartened by the wicked deeds of others around them. Nevertheless, the Christian must remained focused on what the Lord commands, for only by maintaining that focus on truth and godliness can a man ensure his eternal survival and aid his fellow man.

And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully(Vs. 5). The athlete who desires to win in an event can only do so by striving for his goal according to the rules. The athlete who refuses to compete according to the rules will be denied the goal of winning the endeavor before him.

In Christianity, there is only one way for us to win the race that is set before us (Heb. 12:1), that is by running it according to the rules. There are no shortcuts in Christianity, there is no changing of the rules in the middle of the game, the same rules apply to all and will be equally applied across the board. Therefore, the only way for the Christian to win the race and receive the prize is if the individual has played by the rules.

The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits (Vs. 6). The farmer who works in the fields or vineyards is the first partaker of the fruit of his labor. He has worked diligently to plant and cultivate seed and to protect his crops from harm, therefore he is the first to enjoy the fruits of his labors.

In the life of the Christian the principle of sowing and reaping is often taught (Gal. 6:7-9; Mat. 6:19-21). As Christians, when we sow our spiritual fields with the word of God, when we live our lives according to his commands and teach others to do the same, we reap the rewards of our labors. The Christian is not sowing to gain physical wealth and crops, but is working with the desire of reaping a spiritual harvest of eternal rest for the righteous (Heb. 4:11).

As Christians we need to live and work having learned from the examples of the soldier, athlete, and farmer. We must remain focused on the orders of God, live according to the rules he has put in place, and labor toward the reaping of the final harvest. If we are willing to apply these attributes to our lives we will realize in eternity the truth of Paul’s statement later in the context, when he writes, “It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him” (2 Tim. 2:11).

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Moses: A True Leader

Outside of the Lord himself, there is no other individual within the pages of Scripture about whom we know more than Moses. There are four books of the Old Testament dedicated to his leadership (Exodus), his role as lawgiver (Leviticus), his “survival skills” (Numbers), and his speeches (Deuteronomy). Within the pages of these four books God reveals to man an individual who did not seek fame or personal glory. Nevertheless, Moses was exactly the type of leader the children of Israel needed.

It is interesting to note that one of the greatest leaders of Biblical record was not, at first, a willing participant; when God calls Moses to lead the Israelites out of bondage (Exo. 3:1-10), Moses responds by giving every possible excuse he can find as to why God has made a mistake. However, his caution and fear in taking the job showed that he was exactly the type of leader Israel needed.

God found in Moses an individual who understood that he could not lead these people by himself. Rather, he needed help, not just from God, but from those around him as well. Without the assistance of men such as Jethro, Aaron, and Joshua, Moses’ life as leader of God’s people would have been even more difficult. Moses was not self-centered, but instead was willing on a number of occasions to sacrifice himself for the people he led. Therefore, it is obvious that as Moses led the people of Israel he placed his trust, not in himself, but in God.

There is no greater time at which this is seen than the parting of the Red Sea as recorded in Exodus 14. It is here that Moses shows his true nature and leadership qualities. Most important of all is the emphatic way in which Moses maintains his trust in God.

In considering the context of Exodus 14 it is recorded that the armies of Pharaoh have been sent to stop the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt. God, leading the children of Israel by a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night, has brought them to the banks of the Red Sea. It is at this point which the armies of Pharaoh overtake the children of Israel, and the children of Israel show their lack of faith in God. They approach Moses and cry, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? Wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of the land of Egypt? Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness” (Exo. 14:11-12). However, Moses will show two vital attributes of his trust in God.

He trusts in God with confidence. He responds to the despondent Israelites by telling them, “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord which he will shew to you this day” (Exo. 14:13a). Moses has full confidence in the Lord, even though God has not yet told Moses what he will do, or what he expects Moses to do. Moses’ confidence rests in the fact that God has not forsaken them, nor brought them out here to die. Instead, he exudes his confidence by telling them to “stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.” Moses proves himself to be a true leader through his confidence in God instead of himself.

He trusts in God completely. Notice the complete nature of Moses’ reply to the people. He says, “For the Egyptians whom ye have seen today, ye shall see them again no more forever. The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace” (Exo. 14:13b-14). Moses tells the children of Israel that God will not only save them, but defeat the Egyptians as well. There is no wavering or sign of fear in the statement of Moses, but an utter and complete acknowledgment of the power of God to take care of His people. God will prove that Moses’ faith was not in vain and will give Israel a way of escape from their Egyptian pursuers.

This instance is only the beginning of the exhibits which could be brought forth of the leadership qualities of this faithful servant of God. However, it sets before us the final understanding which Moses had in all things: God is in control, and our faith must be in him. With that understanding, men of today can also be the leaders God would have them be.

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Poem – The Preacher’s Greatest Fear

“I crossed the world to tell lost souls
About the greatest of all goals.
To preach the message of Christ the Lord,
To help their lives to his example mold.

I spent my days in diligent study,
To ensure God’s Word I did not muddy.
Because I wanted to say what was right
I studied intently both day and night.

When I was not studying and preaching God’s Word
I was spending time caring for the people of the Lord.
Doing my best to see to their needs,
Never wanting others to question my deeds.

Sadly, there was one thing I forgot,
Though at the time it did not seem a possible plot.
For in all of my efforts to lead others to life,
I failed to remember my kids and my wife.

And now as I look back over the years,
I have found the pain of the preacher’s greatest fear.
That in my zeal to proclaim God’s Word,
I failed to keep my family with the Lord.”

Preachers face many challeges in life,
For there is always another question or strife.
But we must not forget in the midst of the war
That saving our families is our primary chore.

Lord, help me always to make time for my wife,
To train my kids and prepare them for life,
To lead them down the narrow way,
And not give them excuse to depart from the way.

Preachers must be mindful of the struggles of time on a daily basis. Let us keep our priorities straight, for there is no excuse for one ignoring the souls of one’s family.

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The Book Nobody Wants to Read

If you ever want to strike fear into the mind of the average church member or Bible student, tell them you are about to study the book of Numbers with them. The very name sends shudders as people think of list after list, mathematical equations with endless sets of numbers and groups, and comparisons that cannot possibly be of any real value to people today.

Notice I said that’s what people think… the reality of this wonderful book is very different. Everyone is so concerned about the title that they are scared away from its actual contents. Of the 36 chapters in this book, only 3 deal with the numbering of the people. In fact, the book’s original name was not Numbers, but carried a much more insightful title: In the Wilderness. The titling of this book as Numbers, which was done by the translators of the Greek Septuagint, is one of the greatest misnomers in man’s dealings with God’s Word. Calling this book”Numbers”because the first chapter deals with the numbering of the people makes about as much sense as naming the book of Matthew, “The Genealogy of Jesus” because of its beginning chapter; but such is what we currently have with this book, and generations have been scared to study it because of that singular fact.

However, this book is far more than census data for the Israelite nation; it is THE account of the 40-year wanderings in the wilderness. Without a study of the book of Numbers there is a vast gap in the knowledge and understanding of how the children of Israel came to possess the land of Canaan. The book’s record of the things that happened to the Israelites during those 40 years are intriguing, enlightening, and provide great applications for God’s people today. Unfortunately, most people do not have a clue the treasures that are found in this book, because they have never truly taken the time to study it.

Have you ever wondered how God dealt with those who tried to usurp the authority of Moses and Aaron? Read chapter 16.

Have you ever wondered why the children of Israel had to spend 40 years wandering in the wilderness? Read chapters 13-14.

Have you ever wondered why Moses was not allowed to enter the promised land? Read chapter 20.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus compared himself to a snake on a pole (John 3:14)? Read chapter 21:1-9

Have you ever wondered where you can find Balaam and that talking donkey? Read chapter 22.

Have you ever wondered why 2 and 1/2 tribes wound up on the other side of the Jordan River, when that land wasn’t actually part of Canaan? Read chapter 32.

Have you ever wondered who replaced Aaron as high priest? Read chapter 20:22-29

Have you ever heard God get so exasperated he said he would give Israel quail until it came out their noses? Read chapter 11.

Have you ever taken the time to really read the book of Numbers? It is not the type of book you think it will be. Yes, there are passages that deal with the numbering of the people and the travels of Israel, but there are also many timely and valuable lessons that the church needs to learn in today’s world. There are also the answers to many of the questions about the 40 years Israel spent in the wilderness. If only it wasn’t the book nobody wants to read…

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A Most Misapplied “Word”

All of my life I have heard preachers proclaim lessons about the value of the Scriptures and point to Hebrews 4:12 as a proof-text. Most people familiar with the New Testament are at least vaguely familiar with this verse as the writer proclaims, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” We have often heard lessons revealing what the writer meant when writing these things about the Scriptures and how they impact us. However, the more I have read and studied this passage, the more I am convinced we have been misapplying the emphasis of the passage and the one to whom it really relates. Let us make a deeper examination of the text and I believe you may come to a different conclusion than we have generally heard.

Consider the context. The context for the statement in Hebrews 4:12 goes all the way back to chapter 3:1-3. There the writer proclaims, “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus; Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house. For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house.” The writer then proclaims the necessity of following after the head of the house: Jesus (Vs. 6). He then gives a comparative example of the Israelites of Moses’ day and how they were not willing to remain with God, but because of their unbelief they were rejected from entry into the promised land. He concludes the point in chapter 4:11 when he writes, “Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.”

The context very clearly states this is a discussion about Jesus and our relationship with him; nowhere in the context are the Scriptures as a whole the primary emphasis.

Consider the descriptions. Verse 12 is, in reality, the answer to the question of why we need to labor and not fall into unbelief. “For,” the verse begins, meaning “reason given;” “the word of God is:” the following will be descriptions of the word of God. We know that there are other passages of Scripture (cf. John 1:1-3) wherein Jesus is referenced as “the Word.” Consider these descriptions and whether they better apply, both contextually and descriptively, to the Scriptures or Jesus.

The word of God is quick. The word translated “quick” is the Greek word zao meaning “alive, living.” The meaning is not that the word of God is fast, but alive. Many have argued that this is a description of the living nature of the Scriptures and that it is not a dead letter that is useless. While such arguments are valid from other passages of Scripture, remember the context is about Jesus our high priest (3:1; 4:14ff), the word made flesh (John 1:14). This description is a pertinent reminder about the living Christ. He is not dead, but has been raised from the dead and lives and reigns over his church (Phi. 2:8-11; Eph. 1:20-23).

The word of God is powerful. The word “powerful” is translated from the Greek word energes, from which we get our English word “energy,” and it means “to be active.” This has been used to teach that the Bible has the ability to be active in man’s life if he will let it. Such is true, but again does not fit the context of the discussion. Instead, it is a far better fit if it is understood to be teaching that the resurrected Savior is active with his people today. He is the High Priest, he is not just living, but working and taking an active part in the body he died to create. He is concerned, caring, and acting on behalf of his people.

The word of God is sharper than a two-edged sword. This is often applied to the sharpness of the Scriptures to convict man, and such it does. However, the description here is not of a sword (i.e. Eph. 6:17; Rev. 1:16), but that the word of God is “sharper than” a two-edged sword. It is a statement of comparison. Our Lord has the ability to cut us off spiritually, not just physically (see Mat. 10:28, 32-33).

The word of God is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. This aspect is probably the most problematic description of “the word” in trying to apply it to the Scriptures. The word “discerner” is from the Greek kritikos and means “capable of making a decision, discerning, able to judge” (Rogers and Rogers). This would then require that the Scriptures be actively able to judge our hearts. The text does not say that the word of God “reveals” our heart, but that it is capable of making a decision of judgment on the thoughts and intents of the heart. I know of no book that can make a judgment, but a living, decisive being can. Jesus is already shown to have such discerning power (John 2:24-25). It is he who will judge both our deeds and our hearts (Acts 17:31; 2 Cor. 5:10). Our Lord knows not just what we do, but our thoughts and intentions as we do them.

Consider the personal pronouns. In verse 13, the writer continues by stating: “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” Continuing his description of the “word” he says there is not any creature that can hide from his sight. The word for “creature” is from the Greek word meaning “creation.” There is nothing of his creation that is not seen by him. Notice, the word is not the neuter “its” as it would be if referencing a thing, but is the masculine “his” used in reference to masculinity. It is used, not once but twice in this verse, and the second time is even more enlightening. The ESV records the latter part of the verse this way, “but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” This is a better rendering of the original Greek text and emphasizes that the “word” is referencing “him to whom we must give account.”

The evidence is overwhelming that the writer of Hebrews was not intending to emphasize the Scriptures in verses 12-13, but instead the one who gave them; the high priest and Savior of mankind: The Word. Someone may ask why it really matters; the answer is quite simple. We are to handle God’s Word correctly (2 Tim. 2:15), we are to use it as intended and treat it with the respect it deserves because it is his book. Therefore, we must make every endeavor to ensure that we apply each passage as it was intended, placing the emphasis of Scripture where God placed it, so that we never leave room for any man to question our motives or our desire to use God’s Word correctly.

The principles concerning Scripture that we hear from this passage are biblical, and can be proven from multiple other texts throughout Scripture. Let us use those passages for their proper points, and not take out of context a passage that is not intended to teach those things. 

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The Blessings of Fearing God

In Psalm 128, the psalmist examines, by inspiration, the blessings benefitting the individual that fears the Lord and walks in his ways. The consideration of walking in his ways is one of lifestyle. It is not sporadic or periodic, but constant and consistent. The psalmist writes:

Blessed is every one that feareth the LORD; that walketh in his ways. For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee. Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table. Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the LORD. The LORD shall bless thee out of Zion: and thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life. Yea, thou shalt see thy children’s children, and peace upon Israel.

Consider some things the psalmist says are blessings to the righteous man.

A happy and productive life. The individual who fears God and walks in his ways is hardworking and industrious. As such, he is blessed with the ability to partake of the labor of his hands. Though this certainly has reference to those who work with crops, fields, or vineyards, it is equally applicable to those whose work makes it possible to provide food for the table by purchase. The labor of the hands is not avoided by the righteous man, it is anticipated. This also leads to a happy life. The individual who works hard, enjoys his work, and understands the blessings and benefits it provides will not be grumpy, hateful, and harsh about life. Instead he will be happy, gracious, and thankful. This certainly epitomizes Paul’s statement that, “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6).

A loving family. When one fears and follows God as he should, he treats others in a way that brings the best out of them. The man in this psalm is described as having a wife like a fruitful vine. Any vine that is fruitful has had care and love bestowed upon it. There has been time spent ensuring its welfare. Provision and protection have been assured with love and concern. The man who follows God will love his wife with the dedication and strength that both recognize her value and help her to be fruitful in her endeavors for the home and family.

The servant of God is also described as having children like olive plants around his table. The olive plant was considered to be a plant of luxury, it was something to be cherished and enjoyed. Such should be the consideration of children. In a society that increasingly sees children as a burden to one’s plans, hopes, and dreams, the righteous man will see his children as the greatest testament to the wealth and blessings bestowed by God. He will be pleased to have them at his table and thankful for the luxury and value they add to his life and happiness.

Goodness and peace. The man who is blessed of God will not be one striving for conflict and struggle. He will instead be one whose desire is the continued blessings of God and his family; to see his descendants grow and prosper in the blessings of God, and to see peace in his land among his people. These should be the thoughts, prayers, and endeavors of all men. If they were, the world would be a much better, safer, and godlier place.

May God continue to bless those who fear him and walk in his ways. Let us endeavor to live our lives and lead our families in such a way that the words of Psalm 128 are not just a dream of what could be, but a description of what is found in our lives and seen in our hearts.

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The Other Book You Need to Read

Certainly I would submit that the most important book an individual must read and study is the Bible, and it is not often that I read a book  I immediately want to pass on to everyone I know. However, every once in a while there is a book written that is so powerful, insightful, and valuable that it becomes the book you tell everyone they need to read. Michael Shank’s Muscle and a Shovel is just such a book.

Michael Shank is a gospel preacher in Metropolis, Illinois. The book is the true story of his conversion from a sinner’s prayer, once-saved-always-saved Baptist, to the Lord’s church by a co-worker named Randall. What makes this book so different is the way that the story is told. It is an easy read on a literature level, but shows the depths of emotion, investigation, and loving concern that brought about his conversion.

Mr. Shank brings you on the eight month journey with him. He pulls no punches about the life he led, the type of man he was, and the way he viewed life and salvation at that time. The descriptions of his reactions to the various studies and discussions suck you in and have you seeing things through his eyes. He shows how desperately he searched for anything that would prove what he was being taught was wrong; the numerous discussions with denominational preachers trying to get answers to the questions that tormented his current beliefs and practices, as he struggled between what he thought he knew and what he was learning through the teaching of Randall.

Additionally, the value of the book is enhanced by the immense volume of Scripture contained within its pages. It contains approximately 1,085 passages of Scripture, many of them fully quoted within the confines of the discussions and studies related in the book. Every passage is catalogued in the back of the book for quick reference, and their insertion within the text ensures that nobody reads the book without understanding exactly what is being discussed and why.

Mr. Shank has presented the church with, what this writer believes to be, the best evangelistic tool in the last number of years. It is a book that needs to be in every Christian’s home and digested into their hearts, for a heart-applied study of this book can do nothing but cause one to be better prepared, and have an increased desire, to proclaim the Gospel to others.

It is also a book that needs to find its way into the hands of every denominational friend with whom we can share it. It does not just deal with Baptist doctrine, but denominational doctrines across a wide spectrum to such a degree that a member of any denomination would benefit from it. He deals with the sinner’s prayer, baptism, the one true church, Calvinism, the “church of your choice” philosophy, and much more. There will be some who refuse to read it, some who will begin to read it and refuse to finish, but those who read it to the end cannot help but be affected by it. It will cause some to be angry, some to cry, some to shake their head in disbelief, and some to change their lives, but none will walk away from it unaffected.

Attached below are the links where the book can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and his website. Please buy a copy, read it, then pass it on to someone else; get copies for your elders, preachers, friends, and family. It is worth every penny.

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Muscle-Shovel-Michael-J-Shank/dp/0615474616

Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/muscle-and-a-shovel-michael-j-shank/1106625216

Michael Shank: http://michaelshankministries.com/

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