If you’re like me, you’ve heard your hoary haired brethren speak of the good ‘ol days when the whole town would gather for the season’s gospel meeting. What that must have been like! Standing room only inside, the men giving their seats up for the women leaning on the walls listening carefully. The women fanning themselves in the pew, the air thick with the presence of so many bodies come to hear God’s word spoken. Families even crowded outside the church building with their ears pressed to the open windows to hear the preaching of Jesus. The singing was spirited and loud. Sometimes the meetings went on for several weeks at a time. The enthusiasm for God’s word was palpable among brethren and neighbors.
We hear those stories told by the older generation and can’t help thinking, “What happened? Where is the fire, the enthusiasm, the love for God?” Indeed, the lack of interest from our neighbors to hear God’s word taught is an indicator of a changed society. It certainly isn’t the ‘50’s anymore. We have more visiting brethren than we do visitors from the community, and some of us are asking the question, “Are gospel meetings still relevant?” In a word, absolutely.
- God’s people should never be discouraged by the wavering hearts of society. We see example after example of God’s people speaking God’s message and doing God’s will in the face of opposition, outright persecution and, like today, simple apathy. Isaiah was sent to a sin-sick nation who substituted evil for good and good for evil (Isa. 5:20). “From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is nothing sound in it…” (Isa. 1:6). Judah needed healing and God’s word was the balm that would bring them back into favor with God (Isa. 1:18-19). So God asked, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” To which Isaiah promptly replied, “Here I am. Send me” (Isa. 6:8). Ezekiel was sent to a rebellious house, “who should listen to you; yet the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, since they are not willing to listen to me” (Ezek. 3:6-7). Ezekiel wasn’t held responsible for Israel’s response but whether or not he spoke the life-giving message. And so it is with us. Society is in great need of a watchman. And God has called each one of us by the gospel to do our part to warn our neighbors.
- The gospel is still the power of God unto salvation. Just because we don’t have lines out the door this week doesn’t mean we haven’t been successful. Elijah was the minority. Noah and his family were the minority. The Christians in the first century were the minority. Never mistake society’s acceptance as God’s approval. The gospel is still powerfully at work in those who believe. God makes Christians by this word (1 Pet. 1:23) and His will cannot be thwarted. So Paul would tell Timothy, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season…” (2Tim. 4:2). Even in a Roman prison, Paul understood that the messenger could be in chains but not the message (Phil. 1:12-14). God’s word is going to have the effect that God desires (Isa. 55:10-11).
- The surrounding darkness is all the more reason to shine our light. Meetings are a great time to evangelize our neighbors. Even though our Hallsville neighbors are warm and friendly, that doesn’t mean they aren’t carrying the great burden of their sin. We invited almost every household in town to hear the truth of God’s word. Jesus says the truth sets us free from the bondage of sin (John 8:31-36). Just by a simple invitation we are giving our friends and neighbors the opportunity to respond to the tender words of Christ: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28). Our friends and neighbors are living in darkness. It is God’s will that we might shine our light as beacons of hope.
- We have the opportunity to grow in knowledge, fellowship and love with each other and with God. Gospel meetings are a time for us to grow individually in the faith but they also promote congregational growth. Growth in love, unity and strength is the inevitable effect of feasting on God’s word and worshiping together. Not only that, but we have a chance to see brethren from surrounding communities; God’s subtle reminder that we are not alone in the good fight of faith.
Gospel meetings are a time for us to rejoice, invite, reflect, and show our love for God and one another. The fact is the public preaching of the gospel will be relevant so long as this world continues to turn. May God bless our efforts in His service.
Paul sets forth the theme of his letter to the Roman Christians in the statement, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (1:16). This is the foundation upon which he continues to build throughout the book. There is only one message that has the power to justify anyone before God and Paul says it is the gospel message. He tells the Corinthians the basics of the gospel, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). This is the gospel distilled, the powerful effect of salvation that the righteous life and death of Jesus brings to us.
His argument in Romans comes to a head at the end of chapter 3 and into chapter 4. He has thoroughly established that it doesn’t matter whether you are Jewish or Greek, all are “under sin” (3:9), all have “sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). So if you are going to be justified (declared just/right in the eyes of God), it’s going to be because of what Jesus did for you and your obedience to the gospel message as opposed to keeping the Law of Moses. To illustrate that justification does not come from the Law, Paul uses a great example in Abraham.
Abraham was a man who was “justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (3:28). His justification came before the Law of Moses existed and was credited to him even before the sign of circumcision (4:9-12). This made him the father of the circumcision (Jews) and the uncircumcision (Greeks). This makes him such a fitting example of how both Jews and Greeks, indeed everyone who believes this gospel message, are justified today.
So why is Paul spending so much time explaining these concepts to the Roman Christians? One of the biggest problems for the church in the first century was Jewish Christians trying to bind portions of the Law of Moses on Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians. Throughout the book of Acts we see attempts by the Jews to circumcise the Gentiles. Paul is saying physical circumcision was an Old Covenant principle that is no longer in effect. It was a stipulation of the Law of Moses and even then, it was not efficacious unto salvation. The purpose of the Law was never to save, but to ultimately bring us to faith in Christ (Gal. 3:23-29).
What about the works mentioned in Romans 4? People want to make a big deal out of verses 4 and 5 and say that works do not save us. That’s true; we are saved by the grace of God through faith (Eph. 2:8-9). God isn’t paying us back for our labors (Rom. 4:4), just as David wasn’t earning God’s forgiveness in Psalm 32 (Rom. 4:5-8). David’s works were evil, his adultery with Bathsheba, yet when he begged for God’s forgiveness and for God to create in him a clean heart (Psa. 51), God counted him righteous. So, is Romans 4 Paul’s grand treatise stating, “God’s grace is going to save you even if you don’t listen to God or do what He says?” I’m afraid not. The book of Romans is Paul’s grand treatise of how God saves those who are faithful. Paul is not pitting obedience to God against faith. He is instead pitting the Law of Moses against the gospel. Why else would he begin and end his masterpiece with his desire to bring about “the obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5; 16:26)?
Just as Abraham was obedient to God’s promise so we too must be obedient to God’s call of grace. James outlined this in the second chapter of his letter. Grace has no power to save us unless it is met with true obedient faith. Belief alone is not sufficient (Jas. 2:19-20) and even after being saved by grace it is possible for a child of God to “fall from grace” by not keeping the faith. Justification depends on faith! Paul rebukes the Galatians for their acceptance of circumcision as the means by which they were attempting to be justified by the Law (Gal. 5:4).
James 2 and Romans 4 are not at odds, they are both true, looking at two sides of the same coin. James and Paul use the same example in Abraham to describe justification by faith. He was justified in God’s sight apart from the Law of Moses, before circumcision, and on account of his trust of God’s promise. That trust manifested itself in his careful obedience to God’s word. Faith and obedience are not synonymous but they are always found together throughout the Scriptures.
As God created Adam from the dust of the ground, breathed life (spirit) into his body making him to bear God’s image (Gen. 1:27; 2:7) we can certainly say man is God’s child. David, in Psalm 139, commented on the wonders of the creative power of God in forming him. He expressed his reverence and gratitude when he marveled, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (v.14). Mankind is special in that we bear God’s image, a unique trait from all other beasts of the earth. But just because God created us in His image does not mean that relationally, “we’re all God’s children.” Here’s why.
We were made for a relationship with God. That is our eternal purpose. God placed Adam in the garden and, by Genesis 2:2, God rested on the seventh day. What are the implications of that? God’s rest from creation indicates that He was finished doing what He wanted to do. In the perfect judgment of God the Creator, everything He made was “good” (used 7 times in Genesis 1). Man was set in the Garden to dwell with, walk with, and communicate with God. God’s rest from creation indicates that He had accomplished that
But then something happened that was distinctly not good. It was the opposite of “good.” Adam brought something foreign into the mix of his fellowship with God: SIN. And sin doesn’t mix with God’s holiness. Isaiah 59:1-2 explains to us why Adam and Eve were banished from God’s presence; “…your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God…” God promised Adam that if he transgressed His law he would “surely die” (Gen. 2:17). God is light and “in Him there is no darkness” (1 Jn. 1:5). For God to maintain His holiness, purity, and light it meant He could no longer have fellowship with His ruined creation. So Adam and Eve were forced to leave the Garden and God’s presence. The consequence of sin is separation from God resulting in death (Rom. 5:12; 6:23). In other words, Adam severed his relationship with God by his own choice. But not only has Adam lost the privilege of fellowship with God. “…Death spread to all men because all sinned… even those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam…” (Rom. 5:12,14).
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Each one of us has failed in our purpose. Each one of us has lost his right to be called a “child of God.” Paul says, by obeying sin we have become “slaves of sin… free in regard to righteousness” (Rom. 6:20). The solution is to be set free from sin by dying to sin and becoming “slaves of righteousness.” This happens when we “become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed” (Rom. 6:17) which necessitates the old man of sin being crucified in order for us to be “born again” (Jn. 3:5) in “the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). This process of conversion to Christ is the same as “receiving him” to which the apostle John says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12). Only those who have been baptized into Christ are called “sons of God through faith” (Gal. 3:26-29). Only a Christian can call on God as Father, being not a slave but an adopted son and heir (Gal. 4:6-7).
A “temporal provincial” describes someone who is ignorant of the past and proud of it. Those who hold this view are convinced that the present time is the only time that matters and that anything that occurred earlier can be safely ignored. Today is shiny, new, exciting. Yesterday has no bearing on the present. To those suffering from temporal provincialism, studying history is as pointless as learning Morse code; that takes learning, patience, and a great deal of time to decipher sentences, and it has no bearing on the present. Hey, I've got a smartphone, that's instant, that's better, that's now.
In the temporal provincial mindset, the only thing that really matters is what's going on right now. The clearest example of this today is the media's news cycle. The turnover rate of most stories is so fast that we forget the news of yesterday. The 24-hour ticker at the bottom of the news screen steadily scrolls by even when there is nothing substantial to report. In this world of immediacy we have to be up to date. Up to date with our phones, with our news, with our Facebook status, because we have to know what's going on right now because we believe that is the most important thing.
There is really nothing wrong with wanting to be on top of current events but the tragedy comes when all we care about is stuffing our brains with information that we're all going to forget tomorrow. Nothing simmers, nothing is analyzed, no lessons are learned, no wisdom is gained. Why not carefully gather the facts, weigh the information, draw your own conclusions, and test what you've found? Because that's Morse code, that’s yesterday. That takes learning, patience, and a great deal of time and mental effort.
That is the provincial view of studying the Bible. The Scriptures are old, therefore that must mean they are out-of-date. Romans 15:14 and 1 Corinthians 10:11 both have the same message: there is inherent value in understanding and applying the lessons of history (particularly Israel's history). Even to the 1st century audience, the Scriptures of the Old Covenant were at least 400 years old, yet Paul commands Timothy to immerse himself in them (1 Tim. 4:15), and continue studying them that he might be “a worker approved by God” (2 Tim. 2:15).
Studying history, especially Biblical history, can only help us. In fact, that is the very reason they have been preserved (Gal. 3:24; 1 Pet. 1:3; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). What God did for us in the past has a profound effect on our future. It has been said that those who don't know history are leaves who don't even know they are part of a tree.
Last week I was studying at the building and I went to straighten up the rugs and tidy up a bit before Sunday. Various things are left about the building throughout the week. Bulletins, bookmarks, pens, small crusty toys (Simon and Nora, ahem) are strewn about or shoved into the back of the pews with reckless abandon. But there was one lonely wrinkled paper I found that lifted my heart.
It was one of the outlines that I try to provide for each lesson on Sunday. At its heading was "Amos pt7," an expository lesson on the 8th chapter of the minor prophet. All the blanks were filled in correctly with loopy cursive and, floating among Scripture references to gloomy prophecies of judgment, were drawn little hearts.
Here are three reasons why this paper is a treasure.
First of all, the paper was evidence that this particular young lady (a leap of judgment by the cursive and the hearts) was listening with purpose to a lesson on a somewhat obscure prophet who spoke 2800 years ago. “God’s word is living and active…” says Hebrews 4:12, and so is God’s word with our children. It speaks with the same power of discernment now as it ever did. The lessons of the Old Testament are just as relevant and instructive today (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11) because, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Secondly, the little hearts caught me off guard. Here I am expounding on God’s harsh denunciation of Israel while a certain young lady is drawing hearts. Floaty hearts next to words like “sin,” “famine,” and “bitter wailing” is, at the very least, an odd juxtaposition. But were not God’s warnings to Israel motivated by His love for His people? Does not God bring healing and restoration after He brings destruction? Do not God’s prophets prophesy both judgment and healing? Perhaps she understood the Messianic messages in chapter 8 and the prophecy of God’s kingdom that would come in chapter 9. Perhaps not, but nevertheless, the hearts were there and they reminded me of God’s love.
Lastly, there are few things that bring me more joy and encouragement than to see young people interested in God. One of the saddest verses in all the Bible is Judges 2:10, "And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel."
The Lord leaves us responsible for teaching our children about Him. What a tragedy and injustice it would be for us to have tasted the Lord’s forgiving goodness only to leave our children ignorant and lost without God. Sadly that is what we are faced with in the Lord’s church; one generation knowing and appreciating God only to fail the next. Brethren, we can do better. Our children deserve better. They deserve our time and energy that they might know Jesus and the power of his resurrection (Phil. 3:10).
I hope to see more of these crumpled papers lying about; they reminds me of the hope of the future of this congregation.