Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Why I Left the Baptist Church

by Larry Rouse

In the fall of 1973 I had no intention of leaving the church in which I was raised. On the contrary, I had recently publicly professed my faith in Jesus Christ and was baptized on the same day. I could well be described as “on fire” for the Lord. I was quickly received and surrounded by men and women who wanted with all their hearts to reach others with the gospel. Both in social settings and in door-to-door efforts I was taught and shown by example how to share my faith.

I began studying the Bible on my own for the first time in my life. I was greatly encouraged in this by others in the Baptist church who also expressed great confidence in the Bible as the perfect, complete word of God. They encouraged me to memorize scripture, to quote scripture, and, above all, to follow the scripture, even above what a man or a church might want. I truly had learned the nature of a living faith as expressed by Jesus when He said: “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

There were issues that I began considering as I looked at the current state of what was broadly called “Christianity.” Jesus clearly pointed to a definite, clear path for all of those who trust in Him to follow (Mt 7:13-14). Our Lord, in the very night He was to be betrayed, prayed to the Father about each of us that would later come to believe in Him. “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me (John 17:20-21). When I read the Lord’s words, uttered in the very shadow of the cross, I became determined that I would not be the one that would cause another to turn away from the Lord. These words plainly show that unity can come only from a complete commitment to the Lord.

Anyone who looks at the religious world can easily see that most of the effort of men in the name of God is done to be seen by men and out of loyalty to men and the denominations they build (Gal 1:10, Mt 15:13-14). While my knowledge of the Bible was limited, I decided to test my own practices and be open to new things by focusing on God’s word and not on men. “The Lord will not lead me wrong” was often in my thoughts as I looked at the scriptures. I was not afraid to be challenged by His word!

One Sunday morning, as I was driving from the Baptist College, Samford University, to my parent’s house, I heard a lesson from a preacher concerning the Lord’s Supper. While I was in the Baptist church, I had never partaken of this memorial of the Lord. The lesson on the radio described passages that I had read, concerning how Jesus instituted His supper and how He wanted every disciple to partake of it (Mt 26:26-28; 1 Cor 11:23-25). As the preacher continued, he showed the significance of Sunday, the first day of the week, in the regular assemblies of Christians (1 Cor 16:2). The Holy Spirit recorded how one church partook on the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 10:16). As I drove my car, I also wrote down these and other passages of scripture to examine later. I became convinced that I should partake of the Lord’s Supper on every first day of the week.

That very day I faced a dilemma. The Baptist church where I attended was not offering the Lord’s Supper that Sunday. How was I going to resolve this situation? Rather than point to inconsistencies of others, or make up some hypothetical situation to justify myself or “my church,” I simply tried to obey the Lord. That day I viewed the lunch I ate at my parent’s house as a private partaking of this supper of the Lord. I was soon to see that this sincere effort was not the way to follow these instructions of Jesus. It would not be long, however, before I would find a proper way to remember Jesus as He had instructed.

After attending a semester at Samford University, I had enrolled at the University of Alabama and was in the process of visiting several churches. On a Wednesday night I decided to visit the University church of Christ. I sat in the back of the auditorium and heard a class taught by their campus minister, Ron Gholston. This class would plant a seed that would change my life.

Brother Gholston began with the great commission of Jesus as recorded in the book of Mark. “And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). The teacher likened this verse to a math equation (1+1=2). He proceeded to make this point. “Suppose someone decided to be baptized but did not have a personal faith in Jesus. Would he be saved? It is like taking one of the “1’s” away from the equation. When that happens then you cannot have the proper result. A person who does not believe but is baptized cannot rightly expect salvation.”

I fully agreed with brother Gholston, but was surprised at the next point he made. “What about the person that believes but is not baptized?” He gave the same illustration with the equation (1+1=2) but then made a point that I had not considered. Was baptism an essential step in salvation?

Over the course of that class I came to see passages of scripture that I had never considered. The preacher made a similar point with the equation illustration (1+1=2) on another passage of scripture. Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). He began to make the point that whenever you find baptism and salvation (or forgiveness) in the same context, that baptism always precedes salvation (1 Pt 3:20-21). This point made a deep impression on me.

As a Baptist, I used the “4 Spiritual Laws” tract. In this tract I taught others to seek the forgiveness found in the blood of Jesus shed on the cross (Rom 3:23; 6:23). I urged them to receive Jesus as their Savior by saying the “sinner’s prayer,” being a fruit of genuine faith and repentance. This is what I had been taught and this was what I had seen practiced in the Baptist assemblies.

Brother Gholston continued in his class to give the example of the conversion of Paul. After the Lord had struck Paul blind, we find that Paul now came to believe in Jesus and obediently follow His instructions (Acts 9:1-6). I heard many sermons in the Baptist church describing how Paul was saved at that point. I could read in my Bible how Paul in Damascus was fervently praying and fasting before the Lord (Acts 9:7-11). I had considered Paul’s prayer as positive proof that he was now saved.

There was one more scripture to be presented in the class that would deeply move me and cause me to reconsider earlier teachings I had received as a Baptist. When Paul, in his own words, describes what Ananias said to him, it became crystal clear to me about the point in time that Paul was saved. “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Paul had prayed and fasted for three days and still was not forgiven! He needed to be baptized!

The next week I spent a considerable amount of time in Bible Study and reflection. I privately talked to brother Gholston and came to see that there were some real questions about my own baptism. From the Bible I learned that it is possible to be immersed in water for the wrong reason and, as a result, that baptism not be acceptable to God (Acts 19:1-6). Rather than be unsure about my stand, I was baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of my sins (Acts 2:38).

This was just the beginning of my journey with the Lord. I knew that I needed to stand for the undenominational Christianity that the Lord had prayed for (John 17:20). From that point on, I have sought to be a part of local churches that would stand with the Lord in keeping the great commission He gave (Mark 16:15-16; Mt 28:18-20).

Since that time I have continued the same process of examination and standing. I since have often thought about Paul and the reasons he left the religion in which he was raised (Phil 3:4-11). Are you standing in God’s righteousness alone?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Changes I Have Seen Since I Began Preaching

by Forrest D. Moyer

I began preaching in 1946. Some forty-seven years have gone by since I began. I have seen many changes both in the world and in the church. Means of travel and communications have drastically changed. People have even gone to the moon. Governments have toppled; new nations have begun. Standards of living have improved for millions. And yet poverty reigns in many nations. Crime has become the norm in most of our cities. A car is stolen every 42 minutes in Fresno. People are killed as they stand on the street corners; drug and alcohol use have become common even among teenagers. Violence, nudity and profanity are standard fare on television and in movies.

Homosexuality was one of the most disgraceful acts that one could think of when I was young. Now it is being heralded as being a normal lifestyle. Abortion was almost unheard of when I was a boy. Now millions of abortions are performed every year. We have an administration that endorses both homosexuality and abortion. Things have changed!

Changes in the Church

Not only have there been changes in the world, but we have seen many changes in the church of our Lord as well. Changes in such things as expedients might be most effective. Changes in God’s ordained worship, government, and work are always wrong. I have seen changes in both areas. With the coming of more efficient communications, we have been able to effectively teach more people. We have been able to sound forth the truth in radio and television as well as the printed page. I am happy to have been enabled to use such methods in gospel preaching.

I remember when I was young that tobacco use was quite common among members of the church. In fact, between Bible class and the assembly for worship, it was common to see dozens of men standing in the yard or on the steps smoking. We thought that anyone who said anything about such habits was a "fanatic" or "radical." Today most brethren have seen the danger in tobacco use. Here ... we see no one standing outside smoking.

When I was young, in every gospel meeting you would hear sermons on why we don’t use instrumental music or have choirs or groups singing in our worship. Today many churches are introducing choirs and groups. Some are even using instrumental music. Things have changed!

I have seen other changes that frighten me very much. When I began preaching, the Bible was accepted by all brethren to be the inspired word of God. Brethren everywhere demanded "book, chapter and verse" preaching. All preachers appealed to "command, example and necessary inference" as the way to establish Bible authority. The result was a united brotherhood. Today, it is different. Some brethren no longer regard the Bible as the truly inspired word of God. Even more have given up the demand for "book, chapter and verse" preaching and are calling for a "new hermeneutic" that rejects "command, example and necessary inference" as the way of determining God’s will for our lives. Max Lucado, a well known author and minister of the Oak Hills
church of Christ in San Antonio, Texas, says: "I have a gut feeling that we (the church of Christ) have approached the Bible as engineers, looking for a certain design or architectural code. And I think we find that everyone finds a different code ... There is no secret code. The Bible is a love letter as opposed to a blueprint. You don’t read a love letter the same way you read a blueprint" (quoted in Behold the Pattern, Goebel Music, p. 114). When brethren regard the Bible as a "love letter," they cease to "follow the pattern of sound words" (2 Tim. 1:13). Truly, things have changed.

When I began preaching, I never heard of such things as so-called "fellowship halls," "church kitchens," or "family centers with gymnasiums" among our brethren. When such things were first introduced, there was a hue and cry across the nation against such. Now such are commonplace among many brethren. Yes, things have changed.

If in our study of the word of God, we find that we are failing to do what God says or are doing what He does not say, then we need to change. But let us make sure that our changes are what God requires and not what we decide that would be pleasing to us.

Paul said to Timothy, "Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim.
1:13). Jesus Himself said that "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My word will never pass away." His message is an unchangeable message in the midst of a changing world. While we are involved in the changes of the modern world, it is gratifying to know that we can hold on to an unchanging God and to an unchanging message. Let us determine that we will never turn from the doctrine of Christ to any other message (2 John 9-10; Gal. 1:8-9). When the winds of change are blowing, we can latch on to the Rock of Ages and know that we are secure under the shelter of His wings. (1993)

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Foundation of Spirituality -- Honesty

by Larry Rouse

Why does the preaching of the gospel seem not to be effective in our society today? We know that God’s word has not changed, nor has its power (Rom 1:16). We are assured by God that His word will never return to Him void, but it will always accomplish the purpose for which He sent it (Isa 55:11). Today, with this present generation, as it has in past generations, the word of God is able to expose hearts and allow men to choose light or darkness (Jn 3:19-21). This choice depends upon the kind of heart a man possesses.

When Jesus described the kind of heart in which the word of God would be received and would prosper, He described it as “good and honest” (Lk 8:15 KJV). Will a man choose light or darkness, honesty or dishonesty? If a man decides that he “hates the light” then God will let him “believe a lie” and will not do anything further other than the presentation of His word (2 Thess 2:10-11).

We must fight the temptation to be dishonest

The battle for honesty lasts a lifetime. God emphatically warns the Christian to guard his heart and to keep it pure. “Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds” (Col 3:9). God has plainly told us: “He who works deceit shall not dwell within my house; He who tells lies shall not continue in my presence” (Psa 101:7).

The nature of man has not changed. Without continual exposure to the word of God, men’s hearts will be pulled back to self-justification and blindness (Prov 16:2; Jer 17:10-11). Why do men prefer dishonesty? Psychologists suggest that men tend to make up the reasons for their behaviors after they do them, and that their “reasons” and behavior usually have nothing to do with each other.

King Saul was a prime example of a good man who gave in to dishonesty to his own destruction. Do you remember the various explanations that he made to Samuel when he was confronted about his direct disobedience to God’s command (1 Sam 15:3, 15, 20-21)? “I was going to sacrifice them! No, wait, it was the people that did it!” Finally, after a spiritual wrestling match, Saul admits his sin, but without true repentance! Saul thought that his outward confession without a changed heart would put him right with God. In this he had deceived himself! This pattern would remain throughout Saul’s life.

We must recognize dishonesty

God’s love will lead us to look to the good in others. Indeed, we want to believe the best about others and not be quick to judge another’s actions without sufficient evidence. Nonetheless, the Bible is filled with warnings concerning those who would deliberately mislead us and the kind of tactics they will use to accomplish this task. “That we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (Eph 4:14). “These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage” (Jude 16).

It is a difficult thing for good and honest Christians to see the deceit and manipulation from those who have a hidden agenda to pull others into their circle. Flattery is first used to gain a closer association and trust. Then lies are told in secret to inflame emotions and close minds (Prov 18:19). Finally, these men succeed in having their new disciples cut off association with their former brethren without so much as talking about these newly discovered “differences” over an open Bible (Gal 4:16-17).

A commitment to honesty will keep us from these “closed door decisions” that result in one “cutting and running.” Instead we will openly discuss and test those who have beliefs that they say are of God (1 Jn 4:1). Also, we will not accept testimony about the personal actions of another without first giving that person a chance to defend himself (Prov 18:17; Mt 18:15-17)!

Pride always leads to dishonesty

Those who do not know God cannot stand to look at themselves honestly. The driving force behind pride is the desire to be recognized and have praise because we wish to appear to be something that we are not. “For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Gal 6:3). Those that follow this path must wear a mask. They must fight to “keep up appearances” and work to tear others down so that they can receive this vain and temporary recognition of men. There is a better way to live your life!

God’s forgiveness allows us to be honest

God sees me as I am, and, in spite of that, He loves me and seeks my best. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). God sees the darkness of my sin and has provided a sacrifice that will wash away my sins and restore my relationship with Him (Rom 3:23; 6:23). What do I need to do? I need to be honest! I must see my own sin and make no excuses. The love of God must move me to change my heart in repentance that will result in a changed life. I then will take the final step in water baptism, yielding my body to a burial and resurrection like the Lord’s (Rom 6:3-5). I now am the Lord’s, not because I am perfect, but because I am forgiven and have yielded my heart to Him (Acts 2:38-39).

The Christian life is characterized by the forgiveness of God. Rather than run from my shortcomings, I can now run to God for a greater sight and to seek His help in growing to be something more in His service. I come to love the truth, to love bold and honest preaching because it allows me to see what God already sees and what I need to know. Most of all, I am thankful that God’s word is able to penetrate my heart when it drifts into dishonesty and point me back to Him. “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Heb 4:12-13).

Be honest. Are you genuinely serving the Lord with all of your heart
(2 Cor 13:5)?

“He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Prov 28:13).

Other Articles by Larry Rouse
Fools are not Friends
David's Mighty Men
A People of Refuge

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Going Home

by F. Yater Tant

The summer's work has ended. After a long and lonely absence I am going back to Texas. Only a few hours ago I was speaking to a house filled with people in Sunnyvale, California. Now it is shortly after midnight, and I am nearly three miles above the Mojave Desert, flying almost six miles per minute in the direction of—home! There are eighty‑one of us in this monster of the skies, five crewmembers and seventy‑six passengers. We left Oakland airport an hour ago, and will set down at Love Field in Dallas about daybreak. One brief stop there to change planes, and by the middle of the morning I shall be home.

There are few words in any language that have the power to grip the heart and stir the emotions as does the word "home". All that is sacred and holy, all that is tender and loving clusters around the word. The memories of childhood, the smiles and tears of youthful years, the security of love and devotion, the hallowed associations of the past are wrapped up in the word. In early years home is the place of mother and father, perhaps brothers and sisters; in later years home is the place of husband or wife, and perhaps children. Bereft indeed is that poor soul who has no home. But infinitely more wretched is he who has never had a home!

Surely it is not without cause that Christ has pictured to us the Christian relationship in terms of home and family. God is our Father; we are his children. Christ is our brother, and we are brethren one to another. It was not to the Ephesians alone, but to all the faithful of every age that Paul wrote, "So then ye are no more strangers and sojourners, but ye are fellow‑citizens with the saints, and of the household of God." (Eph. 2:19)

Now we are over Nevada. The pulsing roar of the four mighty engines seems to make this leviathan of the air a living creature. The stars in the sky as I look out my window are big and luminous. Most of the passengers are sleeping. But I cannot sleep. I have been gone too long. The eagerness of "going home" is too great. Here and there I can make out the dim, crawling light of an automobile on the desert floor, thousands of feet below. There are not many; and they seem to move at a snail's pace. Perhaps some of these people are going home, too. The same eagerness and anticipation that fills my heart may be theirs. Likely it is so. For we are all of us cut from the same cloth. Our needs, our hopes, our fears, and our joys are pretty much of a pattern. And the God who made us knows what is best for us. He has made provision with loving and infinite care.

Mile after mile slips by in the darkness below. And every mile brings me closer home. Already we are in Arizona; and‑then we shall sail through the star‑studded skies of New Mexico, and on into Texas. My thoughts are nostalgic as we cross the miles. It was to New Mexico (Alamogordo, and then Hope) that my father brought his family when I was still too young to go to school—more than forty years ago. Indeed, my earliest memories are not of Tennessee, the state of my birth, but of the wild grandeur of the Sacramento Mountains and the then curious, but now famous White Sands. It was here in New Mexico that I had my first acquaintance with death. A beloved sister (oldest in the family) had stayed in Tennessee with her husband when the rest of us moved west. And now comes the fateful wire that tells us we shall see her face no more. My father does not weep; he can not. His misery is beyond tears. As I sit in this plane, high in the heavens, I can see him once again at his table upstairs, writing, writing, writing, endlessly writing. I approach to ask him about Davis, but I can not speak for the aching lump in my throat. He raises his head and sees me standing there in childish grief. He puts his pencil down and takes me up into his lap—a rare thing indeed for him, for he was a man of deep emotions, but inarticulate and undemonstrative concerning them. Finally, I realize he is weeping, and of course I weep too. He speaks one brief word, "Your sister has gone home to live with God."

Home! It won't be long now. It will only be a few hours until I sit at my desk and try to type down the thoughts that fill my heart at this moment. And it will only be a few years until I see once again those dear faces in that eternal home, where sorrow and death can never come. My honored sire has slept these fourteen years beneath the blue skies and bright stars of Texas He died in the Lord, and it was of such as he that John was told to write, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; for their works follow with them." (Rev 14:13) He has gone home. After the turmoil and strife of "life's fitful fever" has ended, what more blessed and glorious thought than to know that one is "going home."

And here is Dallas. Ever so gently the huge ship touches the earth. Thus far the journey has been safely accomplished. Only a few more miles now. And then, home. Is it possible that I am even closer to that heavenly home than to the familiar scenes of my own frame cottage? God knows. Any one of us may at any given moment be only one heart‑beat from eternity—an eternal home with God, or banishment forever from his presence. There is something terrifying about that, and yet something infinitely thrilling. May God grant to all of us that when our eyes shall close in death we may take that sweetest of all journeys—the path that leads to home. - Gospel Guardian, October 13, 1955

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Achan's Sin

by Edward O. Bragwell

Fresh on the heels of an astounding victory at Jericho, the young Israelite nation, under Joshua's leadership, focused on the next objective in their campaign to capture Canaan - the land promised by Jehovah. Ai, a small town, was next on the list. Upon their return, the men sent to spy out Ai advised Joshua to send only two or three thousand men against Ai "for the people of Ai are few" (Josh. 7:3). The men of Ai turned the battle into a rout, chasing the Israelites back to where they came from, striking down thirty-six men in the process, almost completely demoralizing Joshua and Israel.

Joshua could not understand why God would bring them over the Jordan only to be destroyed by the Amorites. He poured out his heart to the Lord about the matter. Then the Lord revealed the reason for this defeat. Achan had taken spoils from Jericho, which were forbidden of the Lord, and had hidden them among his stuff. This sin had to be corrected before God would permit Israel to continue her conquest of the promised land. Achan, his family, and his livestock were stoned and burned along with the rest his goods. What a price to pay for one sin.

After the matter was corrected, Israel, with the guidance and help of God, defeated Ai. (Read Joshua 7 and 8.)

Achan's case illustrates the power of sin. His sin caused a whole nation to suffer. "But, that was back then," says someone, "what about now?" The Hebrew writer compares sin back then and now: "For if the word spoken through angels (during the Old Testament era, see 1:1-eob) proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so a great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard him" (Heb. 2:2-3, read also Heb. 10:28,29).
The case of Achan refutes three popular myths about sin.

Myth: One sin won't hurt.

How often have you heard it said that it won't hurt to do it just this one time - "it," meaning whatever sin is under consideration at the time? Achan's one sin hurt him greatly, along with his family, his nation and the cause of his God.

One sin does hurt. "For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all" (Jas. 2:10). Eve's one sin brought death to the whole world. Moses' one sin caused him to miss Canaan (Num. 20:7-13). Nadab and Abihu's one sin cost them their lives (Lev. 10), as did Uzzah's (2 Sam. 6:1-8) and Ananias and Sapphira's (Acts 5). The rich young ruler only lacked one thing to inherit eternal life (Lk 18:22-23), but lacking that one thing caused him to go away sorrowful. Simon the Sorcerer was said to be "poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity" after committing one sin (Acts 8:23).

One who thinks that one sin will not hurt needs to be aware that one sin may very well be a launching pad for many other sins.

Joseph's brethren became envious of him. This fostered a hatred to the point they could not even speak peaceably to him. This was followed by conspiracy and bodily harm. They sold him into slavery; and, to cover up their crime, they lied to their father (Gen. 37).

David, a man after God's own heart, looked on a woman to lust after her. This led to fornication. Then, in a futile effort to cover his sin, he resorted to treachery and finally had the woman's husband killed (2 Sam. 11). Did his one sin hurt? He wrote, "My sin is always before me" (Psa. 51:3).

Apostasy from the Lord is taken one step at a time. Paul urges Timothy to preach so as to prevent apostasy, then explains why the urgency by showing how apostasy progresses. First, "they will not endure sound doctrine." Such people begin their downward slide into apostasy by becoming annoyed at sound preaching - preaching that truly reproves, rebukes and exhorts. Secondly, "they will heap up for themselves teachers" to scratch their itching ears. They will seek and find teachers to teach it their way - more pleasing to the car and less negative toward sin. Thirdly, they will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables. Going, going, gone! They have completed the plunge into apostasy. But, where did it start? When they took the first step of not enduring sound doctrine.

Each sin that one does weakens his resistance to the next one until he finally develops a seared conscience.

Myth: One's sin is nobody's business but his.

Achan's sin affected the entire nation. It hindered their progress in capturing Canaan. His sin caused all the children of Israel to be rebuked: "But the children of Israel committed a trespass regarding the accursed things" (Josh. 7:1); "Israel has sinned, and they have transgressed My covenant which I commanded them" (Josh. 7:11). This sin caused the whole nation to suffer defeat: "Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies" (Josh. 7:12). Achan's household was gravely affected by his sin (Josh. 7:24).

The fornicator of 1 Corinthians 5 affected the whole church. Paul asked, "Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?" While it may be true that some sins, because of their personal nature, only hurt the individual and his relationship to God, all too often an individual sin has a way of hindering the gospel of Christ and hurting other members of one's family and/or congregation.

Myth: One can keep sin hidden.

Achan probably thought that he had done a pretty good job of hiding his ill gotten gain. It was hidden in the earth in the midst of his tent - in the privacy and safety of his own home. God knew it all along and ultimately all Israel found out about it. Every diligent Bible reader today also knows about it.

Moses warned the children of Israel: "be sure your sin will find you out" (Num. 32:23). One can never sin and rightly feel secure in the belief that no one will ever know. There are too many ways for even secret sins to become known for one to depend on the protection of secrecy. We once heard the story of two preachers, traveling far away from home, stopping at a tavern and deciding to have a little drink. After all, they were so far away from anyone who knew them that their secret sin would never be known. Since no one knew them or that they were preachers no harm would be done. As they were about to leave they got into a mild argument about who would pay the bill. While they were discussing the matter, the bartender leans over and says, "That's all right fellows, we don't charge preachers in here." No, my friend, do not count on your sins remaining hidden.

Sin is never hidden from God: "And there is no creature hidden from his sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Heb. 4:13).

More often than we may realize our sin is not hidden from others. When Moses killed the Egyptian, "He looked this way and that way, and when he saw no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. " Still the thing was known (v. 14). We may be more transparent than we think. We may be seen when we are not aware of it. But, if no one on earth ever knows - God knows and will judge us according to the works done in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor. 5:10).

One sin, not repented of, can make a big difference. Let us not have any illusions about it. Just one sin does hurt. Just one sin may very well hurt someone else. Just one sin may very well be found out by others. It is already known by the Lord, for sure. Let us be careful. Strive to avoid even one sin. When we do sin, we need to correct it immediately, to minimize the damage it can do to ourselves and others.

Achan, his family, and all Israel suffered from a sin that Achan thought he had carefully concealed. We should not go and do likewise.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Leadership -- Human and Divine

by Homer Hailey

A casual study of the history of Christianity after the days of the apostles reveals that the two things from which the Lord's religion has suffered more than any other, are human philosophies and human leadership. Human leadership inevitably leads men into human errors. The prophet Jeremiah had no doubt seen enough of human leadership to have said what he did, even if he hadn't been inspired, when he said, "O Jehovah, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." (Jer. 10:23)

Sometimes we begin to reason: "What the church needs today is a great leader, one raised up to lead us out of the present confusion, and direct us in an aggressive campaign against our external foes." But on second thought this is the very last thing we need, for no religious movement built around human leadership has been successful in accomplishing the divine purpose. History is replete with illustrations. The great movements of the reformation, the Mormon church built around the leadership of Smith and Young, and even some modern movements within our own brotherhood.

It isn't "leadership" so much as "follow-ship" that the church needs. Jesus claimed to be the leader, when He declared Himself "the good shepherd," "the way," "the light of the world" to be followed; and announced to His disciples, if any man would come after me, let him deny himself... and follow me." It is not a leader," therefore that we need, for we have one, a divine one; but the need is for the disposition to follow where He leads.

A tendency is sometimes found today to glorify "boy preachers." Having just recently graduated from the class of "boy preachers" myself, it would be most unbecoming on my part to say anything disparagingly of them. The attitude of most of them is better than that of many of the older preachers. But when one of them is over-exalted he looks upon himself as "the leader," a modern Moses to lead the church out of Egypt and through the wilderness. In this he loses sight of his real mission, which is to point people to the Christ, the real leader. Trouble inevitably follows.

Other young preachers, and some older ones, feel that the first thing to be done when they go into a place is to "appoint elders" over the congregation. The argument is, "the church needs leaders." No, the need is not for leaders, it is for "elders." If a man is not qualified for the work of an elder, he is not what God wants in as an elder, regardless of how good a "leader" he may be. In fact, his ability to lead without the qualifications of an elder is the very point of danger. One function of an elder is to be an "ensample to the flock." He is an ensample worthy of being followed only as he follows Christ, and in his following leads others to follow Him. One who allows himself to be "appointed" without the necessary qualifications further disqualifies himself by that very thing. For in failing to respect the New Testament in the point of elder qualifications, he shows himself a poor ensample to be followed at all. It is "followers" not "leaders" that are most needed today.

Suppose we consider the challenge of sectarianism. Some of us think it would be fine if we had a good leader to guide us in the fight against these foes of truth. The fact is, we have such a leader. Jesus met the devil in debate soon after his baptism, which was not a spectacular affair before a large audience of people, but except for the possibility of heavenly on-lookers it was strictly private. Immediately afterward He began meeting the devil's children, the Pharisees, who were the sectaries of that day. He has opened the way and is leading. Christians need simply to follow the leader in carrying the attack to all sectarianism, in private discussions or with them in groups as opportunity affords. He is all the leader needed; we need to follow the example. God never left the work of "defending the faith once for all delivered unto the saints" solely for preachers and "leaders," but for all of His children.

Then there is the challenge of work, the work left to be done by the church. The cry made so often is, "We have no leaders to direct us, to tell us what to do." Why yes we have, there is the example of Christ, of whom Peter said, "Because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that ye should follow in his steps"; "who went about doing good." Every needy person whom He met, either in need of physical help or of spiritual help, was an opportunity. Every opportunity to serve was an opportunity in which to glorify His father by that service. What greater leader could one ask for than the Saviour?

It is not even a "leader" that we need to lead the church out of any difficulties and differences that arise within its own ranks, but rather the need is for a disposition on the part of all to follow the Christ, whose way is bound to lead all aright. Difficulties and differences are bound to eventually iron themselves out when the right disposition is manifested by all. Often Jesus looked upon lost humanity as "sheep having no shepherd;" a world suffering from human leadership. But this need not be true of us, for Christ is the Shepherd, and for one today to be the victim of human leadership is inexcusable.

Instead of talking "leadership" and "leaders" so much, as is being done in preacher's meetings and other similar places, let's put the emphasis on "following" for a while. No truly godly man wants to be "the leader of the church," nor does he want to "rule" it; he realizes that true greatness according to Christ's standard is to be realized in being a "servant of all." The truly great and godly is content to follow Christ, and simply insist on others following Him. It seems to me that the work of elders and preachers is not so much that of being "leaders," but it is that of instructing and guiding others to be followers of the Lord, as they themselves follow Him.
Just as surely as men learn that the need is for followers and not leaders, just that surely will the church be led in triumph from victory unto victory. Not only the church, but humanity will be led out of any chaos into which human leadership has brought it, either political, doctrinal, or moral. -- Bible Banner - October 1941

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Shimei, the Sympathizer of Saul

by Irvin Himmel

When David was old and about to go the way of all earth, he spoke to his son Solomon, the new king, about Shimei. When Shimei had blasphemed the Lord's anointed, that was a serious affair. David had spared his life under oath, but now the matter was in Solomon's hands. David advised Solomon not to regard him as guiltless, but to do with him according to what might be considered wise.

Following the death of Saul there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David. Abner, who had commanded Saul's army, made Saul's son, Ishbosheth, king as a rival of David. Eventually, David was recognized as the lawful ruler over all the tribes. Some resentment against David lingered.

The story of Shimei is told in 2 Samuel 16:5‑13; 19:16‑23; and 1 Kings 2:8‑9, 36‑46. This little‑known Bible character is a rather interesting man. His actions and the reactions by David and Solomon reflect the conditions in Israel in the days of the United Kingdom and remind us of problems confronting ancient monarchs. There are lessons for us as well.

Shimei the Slanderer

David and his loyal supporters found it necessary to flee Jerusalem during Absalom's rebellion. They made their way eastward to the Mount of Olives and on to the Jordan, eventually reaching Mahanaim. Not far from the Mount of Olives they came to Bahurim in Benjamite territory. It was there that Shimei, son of Gera, came forth and cursed David. He threw stones at David and his servants, yelling, "Come out, come out, thou bloody man, and thou man of Belial." Shimei asserted that the Lord had returned upon David the blood of the house of Saul. He felt that David was responsible for the overthrow of Saul's rule. He may have supposed that David had something to do with the deaths of Saul and his sons Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchishua, as well as the deaths of Ishbosheth and Abner. He further considered the rebellion of Absalom as a means of David's being taken in his own mischief. To the partisan mind of Shimei, David was a bloody man.

Abishai, David's nephew and one of his captains, asked the king, "Why should this dead dog curse my lord, the king?" He wanted to go over and lop off Shimei's head. David felt that this cursing might be a part of David's own punishment for the sins he had committed, so he said, "Behold, my son . . . seeketh my life: how much more now may this Benjamite do it? let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him." David felt that he must bear affliction, and he looked to the Lord to repay good for evil. So Shimei continued along the way, cursing as he went, throwing stones, and casting dust.

Shimei took advantage of David's humiliating situation. He vented his hatred for the king. He was of the family of the house of Saul, clearly in sympathy with Saul's house, angry that someone from the tribe of Judah was ruling, and happy that David's son Absalom was attempting to overthrow the king. David showed remarkable composure under these trying circumstances. Abishai would gladly have cut off Shimei's head if David had just given the word.

Shimei the Spared Sinner

After Absalom was killed and his revolt ended, David began the journey from Mahanaim, east of Jordan, back to Jerusalem. At the Jordan he was met by Shimei the Benjamite, and with him there were a thousand men of Benjamin. Shimei is not cursing and calling David ugly names, nor throwing stones and kicking up dust. He falls down before the king and pleads for mercy. He confesses, "I have sinned." Doubtless he wanted to impress David that he was a man of considerable influence by bringing a thousand men with him. He knows his life is in the hands of the king.

Abishai, brother of Joab, asks, "Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord's anointed?" Abishai and Joab were quick to settle all matters with the sword! David grew a bit weary with them at times.

At the moment David was more interested in healing and bringing the people together than he was in putting someone to death. He said to Shimei, "Thou shalt not die. And the king sware unto him." David had been through some very difficult days and longed for peace. He wanted his return to Jerusalem to be a time of rejoicing, not a day of vengeance.

Shimei the Self‑convicted

When David was old and about to go the way of all earth, he spoke to his son Solomon, the new king, about Shimei. When Shimei had blasphemed the Lord's anointed, that was a serious affair. David had spared his life under oath, but now the matter was in Solomon's hands. David advised Solomon not to regard him as guiltless, but to do with him according to what might be considered wise.

Solomon called for Shimei, instructed him to build himself a house in Jerusalem, and not to leave the city. This would keep him under surveillance and away from the other Benjamites. He was warned that if he left the city, "Thou shalt know for certain that thou shalt surely die: thy blood shall be upon shine own head." Shimei acknowledged, "The saying is good: as my lord the king hath said, so will thy servant do." Solomon was giving Shimei a place of refuge in the city that was Israel's pride. If Shimei would abide by the king's instructions, he could live out his days in peace.

Shimei dwelt in Jerusalem for three years. Then two of his servants ran away to Gath. Shimei did a very foolish thing. Instead of petitioning the king for permission to seek those servants, or arranging for someone else to being them back, he saddled his ass and went to Gath in person and brought back the servants. He risked his life for the sake of regaining two runaway slaves. Perhaps he thought that Solomon's oath would be forgotten after all this time. Maybe he supposed he could slip away, bring back his servants, and the king would never know about it. Before we judge him too harshly, let us be reminded that people act in an equally senseless manner today. Many throw off divine restraints and violate the will of God. They suppose that their deeds will go undetected by the King of heaven. They risk their souls for earthly possessions.

Solomon learned of Shimei's violation of his agreement. He reminded him that he had sworn by the Lord to remain in Jerusalem. "Why then hast thou not kept the oath of the Lord, and the commandment that I have charged thee with?" Solomon declared that "the Lord shall return thy wickedness upon shine own head." Shimei stood self‑condemned. He had admitted that Solomon's agreement with him was good. He had nothing to plead in self defense.

Acting upon orders from King Solomon, Benaiah fell upon Shimei that he died. Despite David's leniency toward him, and Solomon's allowing him to live in peace provided he would remain in Jerusalem, Shimei sealed his own fate. Many today are given marvelous opportunities by the mercy and grace of God, but they, like Shimei, play the fool.

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Membership in a Local Church

by Robert F. Turner

You became a member of the church that belongs to Christ when you were baptized into Christ (Gal. 3:26-27). The Lord added you to the number of His followers, metaphorically assembled, when you became obedient to the faith (Acts 2:36-41,47). As a member of the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23) you accepted certain obligations: to submit to His leadership revealed in His word; and to give yourself freely to the service of your Lord (Rom. 6:17-18; 1 Pet. 3:15). This is your status whether you become a member of a local church or not. But the Scriptures clearly teach you to work and worship with other brethren (Heb. 10:25). Their presence and accessibility, present both privilege and obligation to all who would be faithful to Christ.

Saints who have agreed to function as a team, under overseers and through servants, become a "church" in the local organized sense (Phil. 1:1; 4:15). This "church" is made up of members of the universal body of Christ, yet has some distinctive roles - is not to be confused with the whole body of Christ, nor with individual members thereof. Believers are to care for their widows, "and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed" (1 Tim. 5:16). A distinction is made between a plurality of saints engaged in a spiritual work, and "the church" (Matt. 18:17). Elders are to shepherd the flock "which is among you" - they have local church obligations (1 Pet. 5:1-3; Tit. 1:5; Acts 14:23). Letters to the seven churches of Asia (Rev. 2:3) show clearly the distinctive nature of local churches. In becoming a member of a local church you accept obligations there also. You should not enter into local church membership without understanding the obligations and responsibilities that go with that relationship.

Team Responsibilities

This means you give up some independence to function collectively. There could be no effective team work if each member operated with his own judgment, with no regard for the team effort. A local church must operate with a common mind, i.e., agreement in judgment. The elders lead in forming this judgment, and as a sheep you are to follow your shepherds (1 Thess. 5:12ff.). For a more current illustration: to play football as a team, each player must act in keeping with the play called by the quarterback or coach.

As much of the work done will be via some medium of exchange (money), you are obligated to bear your share of this load. The collection on the First Day of the week is a means of pooling resources so that team work can be done. When a planned program is announced, and you help finance that program, you are doing some share of that work - pulling with the team. But your participation also means you share in the responsibility for what is done. If you cannot conscientiously support your local church program you had better change it, or join a team you believe is serving the Lord faithfully (Rom. 14:22-23).

Mutual Assistance

Church members sometimes seem to think their presence at service and their contribution to the treasury is the whole of their relationship to the local church. This ignores a most vital reason for collective work. Hebrews 10:25 gives "exhorting one another" (encouraging) as the basic purpose for assembling. We must learn to think of the local church as a mutual encouragement society: brethren banded together to help one another go to heaven. In public worship we "teach and admonish" by our singing (Col. 3:16). We edify one another even as we pray (1 Cor. 14:14-17). The Lord's Supper recalls Christ's sacrifice in our behalf and we "show the Lord's death till he come" (11:23-26). Every member is told: "comfort yourselves together, and edify one another. . . " (1 Thess. 5:11).

And mutual assistance goes far beyond public worship. Fellow Christians enter into a pact to "bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2). This involves seeking to correct the errors of one another (v. 1). When you enter into covenant relationship with other brethren, you accept the obligation to correct and encourage others; and agree that they should correct and encourage you. You are to love your brethren, not in word only, but in deed and truth (1 Jn. 3:16-19). True love removes the chips from our shoulders. It suffers long and is kind, envies not, does not parade itself, is not puffed up, does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not easily provoked, etc. (See 1 Cor. 13). These things need to be remembered when correcting, and when being corrected. If you have missed this aspect of fellowship in a local church, you are depriving others, and yourself, of help every saint needs and has a right to expect.

People Are Different

Yes they are, and joining hands in the Lord's service does not remove all differences. Occupations, hobbies, financial status, regional customs, age, and many other personal differences will dictate friendships and associations. There is no reason to expect these differences to vanish when we become members of the same local church. But if we will concentrate on what we have in common: on our love for the Lord, and desire to do His will; we will not allow personal differences to destroy our more noble purpose. We may, in fact, learn to share with one another to such an extent that our differences only expand the field of our church work. We can help one another "fill out" what is lacking in each of us, so that our differences become our balance and our strength.

A very few, who "stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel" (Phil. 1:27), will be a mighty force for good. Remember the church at Smyrna, rich in God's sight (Rev. 2:8-11); and determine to do all possible to make the church where you are a member, a Christ-approved church.

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Ruthlessness of Satan

by Tom Roberts

Many do not like to watch "nature shows" on television wherein predators stalk, capture, and disembowel their prey even while they kick, struggle, and scream. The food chain has many links, but from the top down, each devours the other. As one commentator said, "There is neither vengeance nor remorse in the Kalahari.” Eating is simply a matter of survival and those high on the food chain are not angry or embittered at those whom they eat. Hunger motivates the chain, parents must feed their off‑spring to survive, and so the life and death struggle continues day after day, ageless millennia, from Eden until now.

However timid some may feel about the process, there is a fascination about watching a lion single out a lone animal from a huge herd, stalk it until the prey is within reach of a quick charge, then spring out and, without conscience or guilt, dispatch it ruthlessly. Once the prey is chosen, neither pity from the devourer nor terror from the one to be devoured changes anything. Remorseless, merciless, pitiless and unforgiving, the hunter takes the game.
There is a lesson in this about Satan that we often fail to appreciate.

"The Devil Is A Roaring Lion"

Among many of the descriptions of Satan, Peter spoke of him as a lion. We are the prey, and we are warned, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet. 5:8). When Peter uses an analogy to describe our enemy, it is for the very reason that Satan has features like a lion. But the analogy breaks down in that the real lion eats only to live while Satan destroys out of anger, vengeance, resentment, and bitterness. The Devil destroys for the sake of destruction.

The reason for this, the Scripture teaches, is because Satan has been cast down and seeks vengeance. "Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! For the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time" (Rev. 12:12). Knowing his doom, Satan seeks to drag us into eternal torment with him. He is a predator, seeking prey.

One of the more chilling things revealed in the Scripture is the statement that Jesus made to Peter just prior to Jesus' arrest. During the Supper, while the disciples argued about who was greatest, shortly before Peter betrayed Jesus, Jesus turned to him and said, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat" (Luke 22:31). What a terrible thought! Satan knew Sirnon Peter's name, his weaknesses, his closeness to Jesus and he wanted to "sift" Peter to see if he could withstand the test. This statement haunts me.
Does Satan know my name? Does he desire to sift me? You? Is Satan lying in wait and stalking us like a predator after prey? Who can deny it? Like the lion, Satan has no remorse nor conscience. There is no pity, no mercy, no fair rules of conduct. He is an "adversary" that is absolutely ruthless.

Do we need to be convinced as to Satan's ruthlessness? Look at his history among men.

We can only imagine the beauty of the Garden of Eden and the fellowship that existed between God and man. Sin ruined Eden and man's life has never been the same. Our lives have been corrupted, shameful sin has plagued us and death is our lot. Satan, knowing all this, lied without compassion and said, "You shalt not surely die" (Gen. 3:4). Did Satan care that we would loose fellowship with God, be exiled from the Garden, and die both physically and spiritually? No, he intended to do exactly what he did, to bring misery and destruction into the lives of mankind.
The broken trail of human error can be traced (due to Satan's influence) through Abel's death by the hand of his brother, the increase of sin until God sent the flood upon all the earth, the betrayal of Esau by Jacob, the sale of Joseph by his brothers, the cruel treatment of Israel in Egypt by Pharaohs, the cycle of sin among the Judges, the sins of the kings of Israel through idolatry, Israel's captivities among the nations, the slaughter of infants at Bethlehem, Jesus' death on the cross, the martyrdom of the saints, and, even to this present day, the turmoil of sin in society and our personal lives.

Never once has Satan said, "Enough, no more, I am satisfied." Not one time has the Devil wished for the salvation of a single individual. Not once has Satan allowed a sinner to go free out of pity. The torment of the rich man in Hades (Luke 16) did not assuage his appetite for more victims. Eight million Jews sent to their deaths by Hitler did not satiate.

But let's make this personal. Satan has no mercy, he is ruthless. Have you lost a dear relative to death unprepared for eternity? A son? A daughter? Do you know someone under the influence of alcohol or other, stronger drugs? The Devil devours the lost, even if it is your loved one. Are your grandchildren being led astray? Only the Devil rejoices, but he does rejoice. He has "asked to have them." He has "asked to have you." His hatred knows no limits.
Look at the havoc among churches by the evil action of Satan. Fellowship is destroyed, friendships are ruined, the cause of Christ is made a "hiss and a byword," and the Devil is happy! Denominations are in the grip of error, sin abounds. While time remains, the work of evil continues. I understand that nature has gone awry due to the curse of sin on the earth. The prey being taken by the predator is the result of Eden's loss. We will never see the Garden again and Satan is loose among us. The worst horror films from Hollywood cannot match the reality of the Demon from Hell that lies in wait for each of us.

Modernism says that the fear of Satan described above is paranoia, mental sickness, and schizophrenia. That, dear friend, would be a relief. But Satan is real, altogether, and very much at work on planet Earth.

It is only in Christ that we have any hope of winning this battle. Each of us has felt the power of Satan each time we sin. We all have been "wretched" as Paul was, under the curse of sin (Rom. 7:24), wondering "Who shall deliver me from this body of death?" This "roaring lion" has claimed us all as victims (Rom. 3:23). But Paul rejoiced in victory: "I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord" (v. 25).

By God's grace and man's obedient faith (Eph. 2:8-9), by the remedial power of the blood of Christ, Satan can be, and has been, conquered. All our life we have feared the Devil because of sin and death. Jesus changed all that by coming in the flesh, enduring temptation, overcoming sin and death, and setting us free. "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Heb. 2:14-15).

The hapless gazelle has little chance against the prowling lion, but we have Jesus on our side. When he warned Peter about Satan "desiring to have you," Jesus also said, "But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail, and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren' (v. 32).
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Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Consequence of Confusion

by Steven C. Harper

Have you ever had the occasion to be involved in a business operation that lacked real organization? I'm talking about those situations in which the operators have an idea about what they want to do and how to do it, but are not quite organized enough to the point that anything ever gets done. Most often, the problem is not that they do not have the capability to accomplish the tasks and goals, but that somewhere down the line, the tasks and goals have not been communicated effectively to all the employees, and more than a few are confused as to their proper role in the organization, with some just not knowing anything at all about what they should be doing. The consequence of the confusion is that nothing - or at least very little - gets done, and an organization that could have been successful fails.

Sad to say, such confusion is often the cause of many local churches not accomplishing much in the work they should be doing. Many members of local churches of Christ are confused as to their part in the work of the local church, and as a result, much work is being neglected and much is left undone. Part of the confusion has come about because individuals do not know the Scriptures well enough to know their part and their responsibilities, but some of the confusion has come about because those who are teaching and leading them have deceived them (either intentionally or unintentionally) by saying that whatever the individual Christian can do the church can do. The end result of that argument is that local churches have abrogated the individual's responsibilities by creating additional organizations, attaching it to the local body, and then going to great lengths to convince the members that the work they each should have been doing as individual Christians is now being accomplished through these unauthorized additions to the church Christ established.

Think about it for a minute: When your leaders tell you that you do not have to personally lift a finger (except to write a check or donate a sum of money) to accomplish some of the Christian's duties, how likely is it that the members will personally get involved in fulfilling those responsibilities? If I have been told all my life that "we" (the local church) are helping "widows and orphans" (vicariously, through another organization other than the local church itself, such as an orphans' home or "old folks" home), or if I am told "we" are bringing the gospel to the world (vicariously, through a missionary society), or if I am told "we" are feeding the hungry (vicariously, through a "food bank"), how likely will I be to help someone out when they come to me directly? The end result is that individuals have handed over their responsibilities to others to fulfill, and as long as they pay to have it done (no matter how small the amount they may actually contribute), they can rest at ease with the assurance they have "done their duty." This attitude is more common that what you may think, sad to say.

This is not a problem confined to the matter of human institutions, either. When it comes to hospitality, some apparently think the same way, for when they have an opportunity to show true hospitality, they will gladly point the needy one to a hotel, or, in some cases, literally take them by the arm to talk to the elders or to the preacher because they see it as "their job," not one of personal obligation. Especially for preachers who happen to be living in the house owned by the local church, they are often "expected" to accommodate any visiting preachers or Christians who just happen to be passing through. I am not making this up! I can explain this no other way than to say that those who act in this way no doubt believe that "they" are fulfilling their responsibilities because they have contributed money, either for the preacher's support or by monies that paid for the preacher's house, or because they believe the elders are acting "on behalf of the entire congregation."

And what about evangelism? This attitude is seen often when this subject arises. Though many will not come right out and say it, their actions belie their true feelings: that is "the preacher's job." Believing they have fulfilled their duty to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15), they sit back and wait for "the preacher" to do it, never thinking about their own inactivity in this field. Some are offended when others say they are lacking in their responsibility to teach the lost, and will unashamedly point to their monthly report about how much "they" are "paying the preacher" or how much "they" spent (as a local church) on advertising or tracts or Bible class material or radio ads or billboards or whatever source of communication to which "they" have contributed.

Brethren, it pains me to have to write this about us, but it is true, nonetheless. This is a shameful attitude that has prevented us from accomplishing the deeds that we, as individuals, should be doing and, worse, we believe we are actually doing it. While many Christians are out there taking this meaningful and urgent task upon themselves (as they should), many others are neglecting - shirking - their responsibilities and convincing themselves (and others) that "they" are really working hard to do all the things the Lord would have us do.

It saddens me when I hear such attitudes among my brethren - and not because I am a preacher. It saddens me because I see how much we could be doing and how many could benefit from the teaching and hospitality and benevolence and love for others. I think about the death of Jesus on the cross and how He died in my place, and I wonder how many people may be thinking, "I have paid for my sins," because He died for them. If they think "they" are doing all these other things, why would they not think such when they see our Lord on the cross? God forbid!

Let us not be confused as to our individual responsibilities, brethren. Not a one of us is going to get into heaven because someone else did what we were commanded to do or because we paid for them to do it. In the end, "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." (2 Cor. 5:10) We will be judged for what we, as individuals, have either done or left undone (cf. Matt. 25:31-46). The consequence of this confusion will be lost souls. So, what are you doing?

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Truths That Help When Facing Temptation

by R.J. Stevens

Life offers many good things. However, in the midst of this wonderful life we are confronted with the problem of temptation. From the beginning, God allowed the devil to put temptations in the paths of men. I am sure this is for our good or God would not have allowed it. Actually trials and temptations bring out the best in us when we react to such as we ought (Jas. 1:2-4).

Temptation is not sin but yielding is. God will not allow the devil to tempt us above what we can bear. In fact, God sends a way of escape for every temptation (1 Cor. 10:13). Isn't that wonderful to know? Yielding to temptation will bring a few moments of pleasure to the flesh but no pleasure to the spirit. And yielding to sin will have a devastating effect on our lives for years to come. Oh, if we could remember to ask ourselves, "Is this short-lived pleasure worth the years of regret that I will experience?" Most of the time when we are tempted, we don't have our heads on very well. If ever there was a time when we need to pray, it is when we are tempted to do something that we know we ought not do. Jesus said, "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matt. 26:41).

Note some truths that will help:

1. Consider The One Who Is Doing The Tempting: Satan is responsible for temptation and is, in fact, called the tempter (Matt. 4:1, 3). He is our worst enemy and if he can influence us to yield to him, he has accomplished what he wants to accomplish. He wants us to lose our souls. We have permission to abhor evil, "Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good" (Rom. 12:9). If I am to hate evil, then I must hate the source of evil, the devil. The word evil is of the "d" evil (Jn. 8:44; 1 Jn 3:8). When we are tempted, surely we don't want to yield to the one who introduced sin into the world, is a murderer, is the father of all deceit, and is the worst enemy we have.

Jas. 4:7 -- "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." In life, we have the choice of submitting to God and resisting the devil or resisting God and submitting to the devil. That's it! It is one or the other.

2. Realize That Each Of Us Has The Capacity To Sin: I once lost my temper on the golf course and the friend I was with put his arm around me and said, "R.J., Paul said in Eph. 4:26 - 'be ye angry and sin not' and you have the first part of that passage down really well." He was right because I was angry and sinned. It is easy to think something you ought not to think; say something you ought not to say; and do something you ought not to do.

God didn't make us sinners. But one of the essential things in overcoming temptation is to admit when we sin. If we are guilty of sin, then we have the capacity to sin. You don't have to be a Harvard graduate to understand that (1 Jn. 1:8-10). How strong you are today has nothing to do with the temptations you will face tomorrow. Don't think for a moment that you are too strong to yield to temptation. Some of the strongest people I have known have yielded to sin and fell completely away from God (1 Cor. 10:12).

The people of Israel thought they were strong but they yielded and it led to their destruction. If others have messed up their lives by yielding, I need to remember that I have the capacity to do the same. The wisest person is the one who learns from the mistakes of others. To realize that I can yield to temptation which leads to the loss of spiritual life here and the loss of eternal life in the world to come, will help me to think like I ought to think when confronted with temptation. There is nothing that is worth the loss of your soul.

3. We Must Remember That We Have A Merciful Father And Loving High Priest Who Are Willing To Forgive When We Repent: Christ left heaven to live on this earth, died on the cross, arose from the dead, and ascended to God's right hand to be our Mediator and Advocate. It will help us when we are confronted with temptation to remember how merciful God has been throughout our lives up to this present time. Our past sins have hurt Him enough. If I truly love Him, I don't want to hurt Him again.

It will help you when you are tempted to remember that temptation comes from the biggest enemy that man has ever known. It will help you when you are confronted with temptation to remember that you are not any stronger than David or Paul. We must admit that we are weak enough in the flesh to fall when we are influenced by the devil. However, let us remember that we are strong enough to stand against the wiles of the devil when influenced by the Lord. And when you are confronted with temptation remember that God loves you and wants you to come back home. He is willing to wipe the slate clean if you will repent. The hero of the parable of the two sons in Lk. 15 was neither of the sons; it was the loving father. Believing this and giving your life to the Lord is the best way to resist the devil (Eph. 4:27; 6:11).

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