Good Desires (Part Three)

img_37002 Chronicles 17:1-19

Jehoshaphat had a desire to teach his people (17:7-9). This desire caused him to take action. He did not simply have a dream, but he took practical steps to see it become a reality. A lot of local churches have dreams to reach people with the gospel. But they rarely see much accomplished. There are many reasons for this failure, but one is that there far more talk (in board meetings, committee meetings, and business meetings – I think there is a recurring noun there) than action. And if something doesn’t immediately “work”, they have more meetings to discuss the need for a new plan! Jehoshaphat did not fall into a swamp of inactivity. He acted.

  • He sent a team of teachers (five officials, nine Levites, and two priests) on an extensive tour throughout Judah. At least part of this plan came from the Torah (Leviticus 10:11). Ezra later followed this plan. Priests were to be the source of spiritual instruction (cf. Malachi 2:7). Who are the priests today? Believers in Jesus Christ are priests (1 Peter 2:5; etc.) under Jesus our Great High Priest. So then, you and I need to be the source of wisdom and knowledge of God and the gospel to those around us. Don’t try to wiggle out of this. Yes, you can do it. You have the Holy Spirit and God’s Word, the Bible. Most of you reading this blog have heard many messages and Bible lessons. You ought to be able to open the Gospel of Mark or the letter to the Romans and explain Christ and the good news to others. If you think you can’t, contact me and we’ll talk about this, okay?
  • Jehoshaphat knew that people need to have God’s message explained to them. People usually really learn through some kind of conversation, and I’m not downplaying the formal teaching and preaching of the Word. I’m teaching now. We all need general, public instruction. Every local assembly needs this to keep a unified vision. But we also need a place to ask questions and bounce our ideas about what we’re hearing off of others. His team of teachers would be able to meet that practical, spiritual need. They could gather people together in a circle around a fire or a basket of bread and so teach and answer their questions.

Comment: Your small group ought to function this way. The purpose of a small group is not to be a “Bible study” doing a mad dash through a book or topic, just to say that they finished the material. The time you cover just one question or one verse, discussing it together in love, might be the most effective learning situation you have ever had. If people are asking good, meaningful questions and receiving the same kind of answers, not just yakking or gossiping about something, then keep in step with what the Spirit is doing. Everyone in a gospel community must have a sense of spiritual flexibility.

  • They took the word with them. The Book of the Law means at least Deuteronomy or the entire Torah, and perhaps other Scripture then available. From God’s Word, they could present the central story of God’s glory, the need for a Redeemer, and his amazing grace for sinners who repent and believe. Learn the main story line of the Bible, and be able to apply it to the walk of faith. Remember it is about Jesus Christ (Luke 24:44-47).

God honored Jehoshaphat for his devotion (17:5, 10). God sticks to his purposes, or as is usually said, he keeps his promises. Consider 1 Samuel 2:30. God has revealed that about himself. He honors those who honor him. Jehoshaphat did, and so God honored him. Jehoshaphat sought to keep the law covenant, so the Lord protected him and his people during his reign (Deuteronomy 28). At this point, we must understand that we relate to God through the new covenant. During this life, he does not promise his adult sons and daughters physical prosperity, but he does promise his presence and the help of the Holy Spirit to fulfill our heavenly calling. This is one reason the new covenant is the better covenant!

Remember that Jehoshaphat could not do it alone (17:7-9). He formed a team to help him in the work. Each of us in our local assemblies must work together in gospel partnership in the areas God has placed us. Followers of Christ do mission together. How can you join with others to expand the ministry of the word where you live?

The most important factor was that the Lord was with Jehoshaphat (17:3). Anything accomplished that is truly godly and lasting comes from the action of the Spirit of the Lord. The Holy Spirit lives in God’s people today. Those who know the Lord can say, “the Lord is with us”. That is something to rejoice about! We have what the early church had: The Spirit and the Word. Let’s seek out new opportunities to act for the Lord this week!

Grace and peace, David

Meeting Together

DSCN0604Hebrews 10:25

Not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching

Traditionally, western churches (gatherings of believers) have met in buildings that they own. Over a period of seventeen hundred years, a local church has been very identified with its building, so much so that to talk about “meeting together” became synonymous with going to the church building. For ease of reference, we will call these “edifice churches”. Much of the people, time and monetary resources of edifice churches is consumed by the building. I know this firsthand, because I grew up in such churches, trained for the ministry in edifice churches, and was the pastor in two of them. I mention this because most people think that “meeting together” equals “attendance in the church building at its regular services”.

I say all this to address an attitude difficulty about this verse. Please don’t think of it as a text that a pastor uses to beat his people to attend services in a building. Please don’t think, “Oh no! I know just what he’s going to say, and I’m not going to listen!” Frankly, I am not your judge, and I think we can both give thanks for that! Jesus Christ is your Lord, and he alone must be the Lord of your conscience.

  • If you think that this text is a weapon to clobber you, then I think you misunderstand the nature of a new covenant ministry and of many pastors and teachers who love you. (Sadly I admit that there are many pastors and teachers that are legalists and look for Bible verses to control people who they’re supposed to be serving in love.)
  • If you view any texts of Scripture as clubs, then I think you have been taught about the Bible incorrectly or might have a serious spiritual problem (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Why are you hiding from what God the Holy Spirit says to you in his word?
  • If in this text you hear the voice of the local leaders of your gathering instead of the Lord’s, then I think that you need to reconsider your accountability to the Lord. When I was a pastor of an edifice church, I said the following many times. “If your reason for missing a service is good enough for the Lord, then it had better be good enough for me. But is it good enough for the Lord?”

Now that hopefully we have cleared some of the bogeymen away, let’s listen to what the Holy Spirit says in this Biblical text.

The writer of Hebrews confronts a grievous problem. Some were in the habit of staying away from the gatherings of God’s people. They were giving up meeting together.

Let’s consider a couple possible explanations for their conduct.

  • Fear of suffering because of persecution: Across the world many followers of Jesus Christ constantly live with this fear.
  • Spiritual laziness: the cares of this life have a greater importance than the values of the spiritual life, including loving one’s brothers and sisters in Christ
  • Unbelief (Hebrews 3:12) – this is secret at first but gradually becomes known; someone looks like a convert, but they have not been changed. Spurgeon told of such a person in his autobiography, the converted “wild man”. He looked good at first, but he had never counted the cost (Luke 14:25-33). Soon, he was absent from God’s people.

What is the special concern of this text? It is not dealing with the questions of when and how often. It says nothing about which day of the week that Christians should have for our gatherings. It also says nothing about the number of times that we should meet in any given time period. It clearly says nothing about going to a meeting in a building to fulfill some sort of an obligation to God.

Instead, the text is directly speaking to the issue of forsaking the assembling of Christ’s people, period. “Some people are not among your gatherings; don’t follow their wrong example.”

Here are some additional clarifications:

  • This verse has nothing to say about what may or may not be valid reasons for not attending any particular meeting. Everyone wants to start asking questions at this point. Illness? Death in the family? Employment? Distance? Vacation? Old age? Something else? You are adult sons and daughters in God’s family, and your Father in heaven expects you to figure this out without a direct word from your local leaders.
  • Instead, this passage refers to those who abandon meeting with the other followers of Christ. The person knows that their local assembly is meeting. He or she could be here if he or she wanted to be, but he or she doesn’t. Something else is more important to him or her than public worship and mutual fellowship. One thing that I have learned over the years is that people basically do what they want to do. To those who forsake meeting with your brothers and sisters in Christ, I would simply ask, “Why don’t you want to be with them?”

Next time in this passage, we’ll talk more about what this means in a positive sense. But for now, think about how important it is for you to be with other followers of the Lord Jesus on a regular basis. You need to be opening your heart and sharing your life with them. Are you?

Grace and peace, David

Ready and Engaged

20130214_184424Romans 12:3-8

Although Sunday is Valentine’s Day, this article is not about desiring marriage and committing to marry someone. Instead, it is about us, brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, and the relationship of love that we ought to have with the Lord and each other. On Thursday of this week, Sharon and I were able to attend a public rehearsal of the Philadelphia Orchestra through the generosity of a brother in Christ. The conductor was Vladimir Jurowski, and the orchestra practiced Symphony No. 10 by Miaskovsky and Taras Bulba by Janacek. We enjoyed the performance very much, though it was only a rehearsal. The music was dynamic, stimulating, and pleasing.

As I watched the rehearsal, I noticed how intently involved the conductor and every member of the orchestra was in this run through. When they played, they played with emotion. They gave themselves to the music. Not everyone was playing at the same time, but even when they were waiting, they were emotionally involved in the music. Their eyes were on the conductor and each wave of his baton or hand, summoning louder or softer sound, guiding the tempo, and drawing forth the impact that he desired the music to have. They were not distracted. When they had opportunity, they would make notes on their copy of the score. They would ask questions of the conductor. Since this was a practice, the conductor would occasionally halt the orchestra, make a couple comments, and then start fresh. One time, someone made a glaring mistake, apparent to the conductor and everyone in the orchestra, I guess. The conductor stopped them, and the person said, “My bad.” And the conductor replied, “Yes, your bad.” But then they resumed the practice. The error was corrected, and they continued. All were working together to achieve a beautiful presentation.

This made me think of Christ’s people the church. He is the composer, the conductor, and the giver of each one’s abilities and gifts by the Holy Spirit. He is directing his church in a presentation of the gospel story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. He wants this “symphony” to show God’s surpassing brilliance and ultimate worth to the whole universe. He sends his Spirit to breathe upon us that we might be able to let our lights shine for the glory of the Father. Christ works in and through us to make this production succeed.

But he also works “with us”. Each one is responsible and significant. The cello players in the orchestra did not become disinterested and careless when the horns took the lead. A couple times the lead violinist was the brief centerpiece, but all others kept involved. Oh that the church was also ready and engaged. Yet how often individual members wander off to please themselves, forgetting their fellow members—and worse, Christ, the head of the body! How often we all fail. We are not ready to do our part or emotionally engaged in what is happening. We want rest and personal pleasure, instead of denying ourselves to follow the Lord (Mark 8:34). We’re not into the “song”, whether it is worship, reading the word, prayer, serving one another in love, or spreading the word. We need to admit, “My bad”, receive the Lord’s rebuke, and get involved in our heavenly calling afresh.

Listen my friends, the Lord knows who and what you are; he knows everything about you! Yet his grace to you and desire for you is always new. The Lord Jesus wants to work with each and every one of us for the glory of God. My plea is that we are all ready and engaged. Read our opening text from Romans and meditate upon it. Think about how you are in Christ and so part of the body, and your resultant obligations to the Lord and to your brothers and sisters. Consider how you have gifts that are needed by all and be intent in using them. Be ready and engaged.

Grace and peace, David

Christ’s Goal for His People

Isaiah 42:3a-b

IMG_0022The Lord Christ brings us from weakness to strength. Bruised reeds become flourishing olive trees in the house of the Lord (Psalm 52:8) and fruitful branches connected to the true vine bearing fruit (John 15). Smoldering wicks become the light of the world (Matthew 5:14) as we carry his light to the nations for their salvation (Acts 13:47). Even more, we shine like stars in the sky (Philippians 2:15). The Lord wants us to understand his purposes for us, and to lay hold of his strength to live them. He does not want you to waste your life as a smoldering wick. He expects us to be a town on the hill that can’t be hidden (Matthew 5:15-16). This purpose requires us to get out of depressed cave and to go out together onto the hills of this world (John 17:18). Each gathering of believers is to be making plans and carrying them out concerning what hills they will shine with their light. For example, plan a gathering like a game and movie night and invite people from outside your group to join you. But this will require winsome boldness!

The Lord Messiah makes us more than conquerors (Romans 8:37).   Notice very, very carefully that this does not mean that Christians live in some imaginary bubble of protection that keeps us from problems and suffering! Not at all! Read the context of this verse (8:18-39). There are many enemies and painful, stress-filled situations that we must live through. Conquerors conquer on a battlefield.

Yet, we are hyper-conquerors through Christ who loved us. Our total conquest happens through him.  One day Christ’s bride will stand triumphant with him, beautifully dressed and shining with the glory of the Lord and reigning with him forever in peace and joy (Revelation 21-22)! Each former bruised reed and smoldering wick will be part of that eternal city where the living God floods it with his pure, satisfying light. You might appear to be a bruised reed or a smoldering wick now, but look at your destiny. You actually are more than a conqueror. So then, let us together go out bravely into the battlefield of this world, trusting in the power of his love. Live boldly for the glory of the Lord. But you can only reach this goal if Jesus Christ is your Savior and Lord. Come to him, having a real change of mind about God, yourself, sin, and Christ, and have sincere faith in Christ alone.

Grace and peace, David