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The Head & The Heart

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Someone once said the longest bridge the Christian must span is from his head to his heart. Those 18 inches may not seem like much but they make up the longest distance in the world and the most crucial spiritual journey we will ever make. The import of bridging that span is found in the difference between knowing in the mind and believing in the heart.


On one side is the intellect. What we believe in our heart must make sense in our mind. This is true. Biblical faith is based on the solid truth of God’s promises, what the Hebrew writer connects to our hope, calling it “an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast” (Heb. 6:19). This is why faith is described as the “substance of things hoped for” (Heb. 11:1) which offers a great word picture. Faith stands under, as a supporting structure, our hope. This is why hope based on faith in God’s promises will never put us to shame (Rom. 10:11). What we believe in our heart must make sense in our mind. The Creator made us intellectual creatures and so gives us assurance in His word.

 

For instance, we know intellectually certain things to be true. “By faith we understand that the world's were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (Heb. 11:3). We look around at the ordered, beautiful universe in which we live and God expects us to make that intellectual necessary inference: “I AM.” When confronted with creation the logical thinking mind will be driven to the only plausible explanation. This is precisely Paul’s point in Romans 1 in his indictment of the Gentile world. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes,  His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). He goes onto say that they refused to acknowledge what the evidence proved and received the due penalty for their error (Rom. 1:21-32).

 

But faith is not merely intellectual inasmuch as God has also created us as emotional beings. And so, many people struggle with the reverse: what I know in my mind must also make sense in my heart. Emotional intelligence and intellectual intelligence are both necessary parts in our turning to the Lord. Some people may have a tendency to amputate the emotion from the intellect and take a purely cerebral approach to faith in Jesus. But the resulting faith is weak because obedience to God springs only from a mind that knows. But obedience must also spring from a heart that loves.

 

So God doesn’t simply confront us with evidence on the front of intellectualism but just as convincing and of equal import in our turning to Him is His assault on our heart’s emotions. One of the most profound statements in Scripture is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” This is an appeal to our heart. To plumb the depths of God’s love for sinners would take an eternity to comprehend with our minds but our hearts can be dominated by it without fully understanding it. Paul prayed that Christians would be able to “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19).

 

Knowledge influences affection and vise versa (Phil. 1:9). A person cannot be converted to the Lord with purely intellectual arguments any more than he can with purely emotional appeals. In Scripture the two come together to form a spear of love and logic that penetrates both heart and mind (Heb. 4:12). Until we learn to bridge that gap in our lives our devotion to God will suffer. God wants us to love Him with all our mind and with all our heart (Mt. 22:37).

 

Modesty in the Summer

Sunday, July 31, 2016

It’s hot outside. What am I going to wear? This is good question with a faulty premise. It should be: I belong to Jesus Christ... and it’s hot outside. What am I going to wear? Do you see what happened there? The same question filtered through the lens of the gospel suddenly comes into sober focus. Friends, we must never remove Jesus from His rightful place: the authoritative throne of our decision making called the “heart”.

 

If we allow other considerations to usurp Christ’s authoritative position over our lives then we that Jesus is not really our Lord. Scripture teaches that every aspect of who we are ought to be informed on a fundamental level by the person of Jesus, what He has done, is doing, and promises yet to do for us in the future.

 

How we choose to clothe ourselves broadcasts a message to those around us. Clothing is a visual indicator of an invisible characteristic. How we dress says something about us. If the gospel is the seed that is planted within the invisible heart then modesty is one visual fruit it will produce. What message are we sending with our dress? If Christ is our King then that message must not get in the way with our bodies being a sanctified temple in which the thrice holy God is pleased to dwell.

 

Some say, “Amen! Amen!... except if I go swimming, because then it is socially acceptable to be seen publicly in the waterproof equivalent of underwear.”

 

Obviously this logic will drive us away from the relationship God desires to have with us. We must not allow the shifting societal norms and increasingly immoral standards of the world to crowd out what God has plainly revealed about the proper use of our bodies: “...your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God... You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20) Bathing suits are acceptable by today’s societal standards. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 is acceptable by God in heaven. Jesus cleansed the temple of our body so that God could take up His residence within us. This means that what we do with our physical bodies matters to God.

 

We understand this principle of modesty reaches far beyond the realm of sexually immoral dress. “Modesty” (Grk. ‘aidous’) means a sense of shame or honour, bashfulness, reverence, regard for others, respect. Modesty is an attitude of heart. It follows, therefore, that the modest woman refuses to dress in a way that draws worldly attention to herself. This does not have to be overtly sexual. It could be any attention that does not befit godliness, a respect for herself or others, or reverence toward God.

 

This is how Paul used the word in 1 Timothy 2:9-10, “...women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness-- with good works.”

 

Even though Peter doesn’t use the word “modesty” he speaks in the same way when he instructs wives with unbelieving husbands to show their “respectful and pure conduct” in 1 Peter 3:3-4, “Do not let your adorning be external-- the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear-- but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious.”

 

So our dress isn’t the thing that ought to cause people to see godliness in us but rather our behavior. In both passages dress is downplayed (what does that say about priestly garments, crosses or other ‘religious’ attire that garners attention?). “Don’t dress to draw attention to yourself but live in such a way that others would see Christ” seems to be the thrust of their message. Even though dress is downplayed, immodest dress would undermine this whole principle.

 

The profession of godliness must be met with dress that reflects that profession or, at the very least,  does no harm to that profession. Anything less is hypocritical. The apostles didn’t write this to make women angry or to demonize fashion. Their primary concern was to point their audience to the cross for their spiritual well being. However, if their audience did feel a sense of shame by their immodest dress choice then, all the better; they were beginning to develop a modest heart. Remember that modesty is a “sense of shame,” the ability to blush. And despite what the world says this is a good thing.

 

It is true that women cannot control the thoughts and desires of the men around them. However, they can influence them by their behavior and choices, not least of which is dress. To dress without regard for your brother or neighbor and to say, “I’m not responsible for stirring up that man’s lustful desires” is as unloving, wicked and foolish an attitude as the man who lustfully looks at another woman and says, “I’m not responsible for the lustful desires her immodest dress stirs within me.”

 

We are charged to help people get to heaven by preaching and living the gospel. If my immodest dress, which not only compromises my own personal holiness, causes another to stumble I will be held accountable for both in the judgment. Those of us who have children must plant the seed of modesty by first being modest ourselves and second teaching them at an early age what constitutes a modest heart.

 

The next time you reach into your wardrobe this summer make sure to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” (Rom. 13:14)

 

Have more than thou showest, Speak less than thou knowest--from Shakespeare's ‘King Lear’

Integrity

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The word integrity or soundness comes from a Greek word that means indestructible, incorruptible, or immortal. The same word is used to describe our resurrection body (1 Cor. 15:42) that is made to withstand the glories of heaven and eternity. In a similar way, a ship’s hull is sometimes described by engineers as being sound or maintaining its structural integrity. I can’t help but think of Star Trek’s Scotty reporting to Captain Kirk on the Starship Enterprise’s integrity in the midst of some intense scene: “She can’t take much more of this Captain!” The idea is that the ship is beginning to break apart, it is losing integrity, much like the stern of the Alexandrian vessel Paul was aboard that was headed for Rome (Acts 26:41).


But the word can also be used figuratively to mean genuineness, soundness or even sincerity and can be applied to a person’s morality. Someone who has integrity adheres to a moral standard and is honest or true to himself. Like a ship’s structural integrity our moral integrity is tried every day. How are we bearing up under pressure?

 

We can lose our integrity when we compromise our beliefs and teachings to accommodate others. Paul urged the young men of Crete to be “sensible; in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified” (Titus 2:7). The word “purity” is the same word for “soundness” literally “uncorruptness” or “integrity.” In certain company do we have a tendency to corrupt the purity of our beliefs or do we maintain the gospel’s integrity?

 

When we are surrounded by unbelievers how does our moral integrity hold up? Peer pressure is the billowing wave that threatens the integrity of our faith. Ungodly influence is the powerful pressure of the atmosphere on an aircraft’s fuselage. Is it strong enough to bear up or will it be crushed like a tin can? Do we have enough moral integrity to bear up against the pressure of the world? Even though the word is not used here, Peter’s exhortation serves as an accurate picture of what it means to have integrity; “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Pet. 2:11-12).

 

Integrity is Christian virtue Peter calls “moral excellence” (2 Pet. 1:5) that must be increasing in our lives if we are to make our calling and election sure (2 Pet. 1:10). Can we pray with David, “Vindicate me, O LORD, according to my righteousness and my integrity that is in me” (Psa. 7:8; cf. 26:1)? When our life is crumbling around us and those closest to us accuse us do we maintain our integrity like Job (Job 2:3, 9)? Do we have the integrity of Daniel who would not defile himself with the king’s food (Dan. 1:8)? Do we have Daniel’s faithful resolve to continue to pray to God even when it was unlawful in man’s eyes to do so (Dan. 6:10)?

 

The gospel empowers us bear up under the pressure of the world. It can be done. It has been done. Hebrews chapter 11 is a list of those who maintained integrity in the face of danger. They act as a “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1) cheering us on to do the same. But there is no better example of integrity and moral character as “Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb. 12:2). Jesus kept doing His Father’s will despite the most trying circumstances. When we walk in His footsteps we can too.

 

Godly Work Ethic

Sunday, May 29, 2016

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”  (Col. 3:23-24)

 

As followers of Jesus Christ we are commanded to have a strong work ethic. The New Testament Scriptures touch on this topic in a number of places (Eph. 4:28; Col. 3:22-24; 1 Thess. 4:11). We should receive a fair wage, a physical reward for our labors (1 Cor. 9:7-10). But more than that, the Holy Spirit emphasizes that when we do a good job at work we are honoring God which is far better than any amount of money.

 

You could say we were created to have a strong work ethic. After all, Adam and Eve were expected to “cultivate and to keep” the Garden of Eden before they were ejected for their disobedience (Gen. 2:15). The expectation of man to provide for himself continues in the Mosaic Law and is stated in summary fashion in the Ten Commandments to be elaborated upon later (Ex. 20:9).

 

This makes sense because God and Jesus work hard! “By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done” (Gen. 2:2). Why did God “rest” on the seventh day? Was He too tired to go on? Obviously not! God completed His work of creation in six days and rested on the seventh day to establish a pattern by which His covenant people would learn from later (the Sabbath rest).

 

Although God’s physically creative work was finished by the seventh day He continued to work hard throughout the ages. When Jesus was healing people on the Sabbath it stoked the ire of many a Jew. Jesus’ answer to their outrage on one occasion went like this: “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (Jn. 5:17). God never really stopped working! He continued to work throughout history, orchestrating events in order to bring about the “fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4) so that He could send forth His Son. Once His Son came into the world He was hard at work accomplishing the will of the Father.

 

But even Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, was not beneath manual labor. Jesus was known in his hometown of Nazareth as “the carpenter” (Mk. 6:3). I like to think about our Lord making benches and tables and houses out of wood. I would guess any house or piece of furniture Jesus, the Designer and Creator of all things seen and unseen, built would have been rather sturdy. I just can’t imagine Jesus slapping something together and pawning it off to the highest bidder only to fall apart in a month. Jesus did “all things well” (Mk. 7:37).

 

His apostles followed His example of a strong work ethic. Paul worked his hands to the bone to provide for himself, presumably making tents (Acts 18:2-3; 20:34-35; 1 Thess. 2:9; 2 Thess. 3:7-8), not to mention the countless hours of labor he and the other apostles exerted to preach the gospel to every creature. This was their primary labor.

 

The first century church lived in a culture that understood and practiced a strong work ethic. The Jewish people had a saying, “He who does not teach his son a trade, teaches him to steal.” It comes as no surprise then that God condemns laziness throughout the ages (Prov. 6:6-9; 10:26; 15:19; 19:24; 20:4; 21:25; 22:13; 24:30; 26:13-16; 2 Thess. 3:10) and expects people who love and serve Him to be good providers to their families and the less fortunate (Acts 20:35; Eph. 4:28; 1 Tim. 5:8). Are you a light at the workplace? Do others see that you labor for the Lord and not after men? Hopefully, our salt has not lost its saltiness by Friday afternoon!

 

But there are others who go to the opposite extreme and allow their work to eclipse their service to God and duty to others. As disciples of Jesus, we have to strike the Biblical balance. Just as laziness is ungodly it is also ungodly to be consumed by work. Solomon had pursued every avenue man deemed worth pursuing under the sun and came to the conclusion that it was all empty if it is pursued without reference to God.

 

God has to come first in all things (Mt. 6:33). It is God’s will to work hard but it is also God’s will to enjoy the fruit of that work with a spirit of thanksgiving (Ecc. 2:24). We are expected to prioritize our lives by the gospel of Christ. He comes first. Anything before Him becomes our idol. Keeping ourselves from this form of idolatry (1 Jn. 5:21) might mean spending less time at work and more time with your spiritual family all the while having faith that God will take care of your needs.

2 Shunnamite Women

Sunday, May 08, 2016

As far as I can tell, there are only two instances in Scripture of Shunammites included in God’s story of redemption. They are both of women from the area of Shunem, a territory allotted to Issachar in Joshua 19:18. Years apart, these two women are both used: one to fulfill a plan of man’s design to failure and disgrace, another to fulfill God’s plan to victory and honor.

The first instance comes at the end of David’s life in 1 Kings 1. God had made a promise to king David through Nathan the prophet that He would raise up one of his sons and establish his kingdom forever (2 Sam. 7:12-13). As David grew older, the question became how was God going to fulfill that promise with both Adonijah and Solomon living? Adonijah, the fourth and oldest surviving son of David, took matters into his own hands and set himself up as king. This account (1 Kgs. 1:5-10) comes immediately after David’s servants tried to solve the issue their way:

Now King David was old and advanced in years. And although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm. Therefore his servants said to him, "Let a young woman be sought for my lord the king, and let her wait on the king and be in his service. Let her lie in your arms, that my lord the king may be warm." So they sought for a beautiful young woman throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king. The young woman was very beautiful, and she was of service to the king and attended to him, but the king knew her not. (1 Kings 1:1-4)

Imagine being the most beautiful woman in “all the territory of Israel”! Abishag must have possessed incredible outward beauty for David’s servants to have chosen her. But the purpose Abishag was to serve was demeaning. She would be little more than a blanket and a bedfellow for the king. The Hebrew expression “wait” appears in Lev. 18:23 as “give herself,” which tells us their intention was for Abishag to make herself available sexually to David. Another phrase, “lie in your arms,” has sexual undertones (Gen. 16:5; 2 Sam. 12:8; Mic. 7:5). This may have been a calculated move to solve the problem of the crown by producing another heir to the throne.

Abishag was used as a pawn to entice David and reproduce. But the king’s impotence (“the King knew her not”) was perhaps what sparked Adonijah’s rebellion in the following verses. There is nothing in the text that suggests Abishag had any choice in the matter. She was simply removed from her village and expected to do the bidding of others. She was a functioning cog in the machinations of men that resulted in failure and to her shame.

Furthermore, after Adonijah’s rebellion is quelled and Solomon establishes his reign, Adonijah asks Bathsheba to “give me Abishag the Shunammite as my wife” (1 Kgs. 1:13-18) as a kind of consolation prize. This impertinent request cost Adonijah his life (1:19-25). Poor Abishag, being blessed (cursed?) with physical beauty by God, was only viewed as a possession by others. Her story is not concluded and we are left to wonder what happens to her.

The only other occurrence of a woman from Shunem in Scripture is much more refreshing. It comes years later during the tenure of Elisha the prophet in 2 Kings 4. She was a “wealthy woman” (2 Kgs. 4:8) with a beautiful spirit. She isn’t given a name like Abishag, nor is her physical appearance described. We are left to remember her only for her hospitality and her faith (cf. 1 Pet. 3:3-4).

She noticed Elisha traveling through Shunem so she invited him in to eat (2 Kgs. 4:8). She recognized him as a “holy man of God” and consulted with her husband to make an apartment for Elisha to stay on a semi-permanent basis (4:9-10). Receiving such loving hospitality, Elisha wanted to thank this woman in a special way. He asked her if there was anything he could do for her (4:12-13) but she seemed to need no gift of thanks.

Elisha, in loving consideration of this woman, found out that she had “no son and her husband is old,” and so he called her in to tell the news that “about this time next year, you shall embrace a son.” Stunned, she thought the prophet was playing some sick joke but, sure as God’s word, “the woman conceived, and she bore a son about that time the following spring, as Elisha had said to her.” (2 Kgs. 4:12-17)

Years passed and the child had grown. He was helping his father in the fields when he felt a pain in his head. Not long after, the boy tragically died in his mother’s arms. It seemed to her like Elisha’s gift had turned out to really be a cruel joke after all. She took hold the prophet’s leg and cried out to him. Through a lengthy process, a failed attempt on the part of Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, and much prayer, Elisha, in a vivid picture, resurrected the child in an extraordinary way (2 Kgs. 4:32-37).

Unlike Abishag’s story, the wealthy Shunammite’s story of Elisha’s day ends with satisfactory closure. Two women from the same area years apart. One’s story is an illustration of man’s twisted plans and how one girl, cursed by her beauty, was caught in the middle and suffered for it innocently. The other’s story is an illustration of how God can use a woman through love, hospitality and working faith for His glory. Abishag was used as man’s instrument in an unrighteous way. The wealthy Shunammite of Elisha’s day was truly God’s “instrument of righteousness” (Rom. 6:13).

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