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King Me or King Jesus?

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

 

A few weeks ago, I realized something interesting about my preaching.  Growing up, I heard many sermons about the authority of the Bible.  Today, I frequently preach about the authority of Jesus.

I think this is a significant switch.  The justification for the first tends to be, “Follow the rules ‘cause they’re the rules.”  Frankly, that leaves me a little cold.  By nature, I’m not a rule-follower.  I gain no satisfaction from doing something because the rules said I should do it.

On the other hand, doing something because Jesus said to do it is very different to me.  Jesus loved me before I ever existed.  He left the glories of heaven to come to earth and shed His blood for me.  Without my Savior, I would be dead in my sins.  I owe Him everything, and that makes me want to honor Him in everything.  Every little scrap of Bible that tells me anything to do that would make Jesus happy, that’s what I want to do.  That’s what the authority of King Jesus means to me.

Lots of people claim they honor Jesus like that.  I hope everyone here would make that claim.  However, the way we handle the Scriptures and order our lives reveals the truth about us.  With a tip of the cap to my wife, who came up with the title for this one, let’s consider whether we’re honoring King Me or King Jesus.

The first step in this analysis is to ask whether we are TWISTING THE SCRIPTURES OR SEEKING THE TRUTH.  Consider what Peter says about this in 2 Peter 3:16-18.  I think it’s kind of funny that Peter starts out by saying something about the writing of Paul that most of us would agree with—some of it’s hard to understand!  Some will take those hard parts of Paul’s writing and twist and distort them.  They get something out of them that the Holy Spirit didn’t put in.  However, the result of this twisting process is not salvation but destruction.

We certainly see examples of this in the denominational world.  One of the most glaring is the way that many handle 1 Peter 3:21.  The verse says, “Baptism now saves you,” but by the time they’re done twisting it, the verse comes out meaning, “Baptism does not now save you.”  That’s a lie, and everyone who believes that lie will lose their souls over it.

We must be aware, though, that we ourselves can twist the Scriptures in ways that are every bit as dangerous.  I think the key question is this:  When we come to the word, do we come in wanting to find something and then finding it?  Or, instead, do we come to the Bible with silence in our hearts, eager to do whatever Jesus wants, desiring only to figure out what that is? 

Let me tell you:  If you want to lie to yourself about what the Bible says, if you want to slide around the hard truths of Scripture, the devil will be delighted to help you do it.  He’ll feed you those sweet, sweet lies about marriage, divorce, and remarriage, the practice of homosexuality, women’s roles in the church, and so on.  Believing those lies might reassure us, but it will not give us eternal life.  For that, only the truth will do.

Second, we must ask ourselves whether we are FOLLOWING TRADITION OR HONORING THE WORD.  We see this distinction in the words of the Lord Himself, in Matthew 15:7-9.  Some brethren read this passage as saying that human traditions are bad.  That’s not true.  There is nothing wrong with traditions per se.  We have human traditions in this church right now, and we always will.  That’s not the problem. 

The problem is when we elevate human tradition to the same level as the word of God.  Again, there are obvious examples of this in other religious groups.  Every church out there that’s got a catechism or a creed book, guess what they’re doing?  They’re teaching as doctrine the commandments of men! 

We don’t have any creed books here, but that does not mean that we have dodged the problem.  Let me tell you what I’m afraid of.  I’m afraid that too many members of churches of Christ do not honor the word of Christ.  Instead, they follow “Church of Christ” traditions.

Let me explain.  Brethren like this, they don’t know much at all about the word.  If you handed them a Bible and asked them to explain the first-century pattern of worship, they couldn’t do it. 

Instead, they come to church and follow that pattern not because they understand it, but because it’s what they’ve always done.  If that’s all they know—that the right way to do things is what they see—they won’t be able to distinguish between tradition and the word.  If the traditions of the church change so that the word of Christ is no longer honored, the religion of these Christians will change right along with the tradition.

Brethren, ignorance and tradition-following is a breeding ground for apostasy.  Sheep who can no longer distinguish the voice of the Shepherd are going to go astray.  The only way for us to avoid the problem is to continually seek Jesus in His word.  We must love Him enough that we can tell His will for us from anything else.

Finally, the truth about our relationship with King Jesus will be revealed by our GIVING UP SOME OR SURRENDERING ALL.  Let’s look here at 2 Corinthians 10:4-5.  Paul doesn’t say here that his work is to take some or even most thoughts captive to obey Christ.  Instead, it is to take every thought captive.  King Jesus wants everything in our minds and in our lives to belong to Him.

Of course, all of us know people outside these walls whose every thought has not been taken captive by Jesus.  On the one hand, they spend a lot of time crying out, “Lord, Lord!”  On the other, though, they live however they want.  Really, they serve themselves, not Him.

The problem is that this sad story can be about us too.  We must beware the temptation of shunning only the sins we don’t care for.  For instance, I myself never have drunk a drop of alcohol, and I’m not likely ever to do so.  It’s no temptation to me.

Does that mean, though, that I’m righteous?  Not hardly.  I can go through my life never having had any alcohol, much less getting drunk, and still go straight to hell!  I can give the sins I don’t care about to Jesus while keeping the sins I do care about for myself, and that is not surrendering to Him.

If we want to know the truth about how we feel about our Lord, all we have to do is look at our performance in the areas where we are tempted.  How am I doing when it comes to gossip?  How about loving my unlovable brother in Christ?  How about generosity to the poor?  We don’t have to be winning all the time in those difficult areas, but we need to be fighting.  If we aren’t trying to surrender everything to Jesus, it shows that we already have surrendered to the devil.

Psalm Summaries, Psalms 16-20

Monday, March 04, 2019

 

Psalm 16 describes how meaningful God is to David.  He has no protection apart from God.  He loves those who seek God and rejects idolaters.  God, rather than some patch of dirt in Palestine, is his true inheritance.  God gives him wisdom.  Finally, in 16:8-11, David trusts in God to stand beside him, protect him from death, and give him eternal joy.  This section of the psalm is quoted in Acts 2:26-28, where Peter by inspiration applies it to Jesus.  It is a prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection, that even though He died, He would not undergo corruption or be abandoned to Sheol.

Psalm 17 is a plea from David to God for justice.  In 17:3-5, David engages in spiritual self-analysis.  He insists that his words and actions have been righteous.  Next, he expresses his confidence that because God is filled with steadfast love, He will hear him.  Because of this, he asks God to preserve him from wicked people.  They are going to attack David like lions, and only God can defeat them.  David concludes the psalm by contrasting his hope with the hope of the wicked.  They look for fulfillment in this life, in riches and children, but David’s hope is to awaken to see the face of God.  This reveals David’s belief that God would raise him from the dead.

Psalm 18, which also appears in 2 Samuel 22, expresses David’s joy at God delivering him from Saul.  Our praise song “I Will Call Upon the Lord” is taken from 18:3, 46.  18:4-5 describes David’s peril.  Vs. 6-15 poetically describes the passion and power of God’s reaction.  In 18:16-24, David presents the good things that God’s deliverance accomplished.  Vs. 25-30 relates this to the goodness of God’s nature.  16:31-45 goes into greater detail about God’s goodness to David and severity to David’s enemies.  The Psalm concludes in vs. 46-50 with another expression of praise.

Psalm 19 is about two main ways of coming to know God.  The first is through the physical creation.  Vs. 1-6 point out that even though the sun, the moon, and the stars don’t actually talk, when we look up at them, they declare the glory of the One who created them.  19:7-11 discusses the other great way God reveals Himself, which is through His word.  Here, David examines the perfection and goodness of God’s law.  The lyrics of the hymn “The Law of the Lord” are nothing more than this section of Scripture.  Vs. 12-14 describes David’s reaction to these things.  He asks God to examine his spirit and keep him from evil.

Psalm 20 asks God’s blessing on the king of Israel.  Presumably, David wrote this either about Saul or about himself.  In either case, it asks God to protect the king, receive his sacrifices, and bless his plans.  20:6-7 explains the reason for this confidence.  It is that God hears His anointed.  As a result, unlike the kings of the surrounding nations, who trust in chariots and horses, Israel’s king can trust in God. 

Social Security, Abortion, and the Fruits of Evil

Friday, March 01, 2019

 

Most Americans who follow politics are aware that Social Security is going to run out of money.  To be more precise, in 2034, the Social Security Trust Fund will be depleted, and it will only be able to pay out about 75 percent of benefits that retirees have accrued.  Similar problems beset Medicare.

In both cases, the problem is the same.  We live in a country with an aging population.  In order for the population of a country to sustain itself, the “replacement level” of live births is about 2.1 per woman.  Currently, the live-birth rate in the US is about 1.8 per woman.  Without immigration, our population would be in decline.

There are many reasons for this demographic crisis, but one of the most important, and one of the least talked-about, is abortion.  Since 1973, more than 61 million American babies have been aborted.  Not all of those babies would have become productive members of society who paid into Social Security and Medicare, but most of them would have.  Their contributions surely would have kept the American social-insurance system afloat for a few more decades, perhaps indefinitely, without the need for hard political choices.

This is bitterly ironic.  The same people who are the champions of the welfare state in the US are also the champions of abortion on demand.  Their insistence on the second has rendered the first demographically unsustainable.  They have undone their own designs.

I point this out for two main reasons.  First, I am adamantly opposed to abortion, and I will muster whatever arguments I can against it.  Perhaps someone who cannot see that it is immoral will accept that it is unwise.

Second, I think it illustrates one of the primary this-life problems with evil.  Even though sin appears to offer advantages to the sinner (Don’t we sin because we think it’s going to benefit us in some way?), over time, those advantages often prove to be illusory.  Psalm 94:23 points out that God brings the iniquity of the wicked back on them.  As a result, when we sin, we commonly sow the seeds of our own destruction.

It’s important for us to recognize this pattern in the consequences of others’ sins, but it’s vital for us to acknowledge it when we are tempted.  For instance, consider the married man or woman who seeks sexual fulfillment in pornography.  Admittedly, their sin probably will supply them with some measure of satisfaction.

However, it also will create two problems.  First, immorality never can do more than provide a counterfeit of the joys of marital intimacy as described in Proverbs 5.  In the words of Jeremiah 2:13, the sinner is trading a fountain of living water for a broken cistern.  Second, once their spouse finds out (which will happen sooner or later), the revelation cannot help but damage the trust on which the marital relationship is based.  The quest for fulfillment in porn is self-defeating and doomed.

It is good for us to be wise about such things, but it is better for us to be trusting.  God’s commandments are for our good, and that remains true whether we see the good or not.  Doing the right thing will often lead us to blessings that we do not expect.  Evil, by contrast, is a weapon that will turn in the hands of those who wield it, and none of us are exempt from its consequences.

How Are Women to Keep Silent in the Churches?

Thursday, February 28, 2019

 

A week or two ago, one of my Facebook friends posted a link to this blog.  Among other things, one of the author’s main goals appears to be insisting that women should be allowed to speak in the assemblies of churches of Christ.  This post is representative of his arguments.

The post is, quite honestly, very long, and I don’t have space to respond to everything in it that I think is mistaken (not without turning this into the 1 Corinthians 14 blog, at least!).  However, I think it’s worthwhile to address one of the author’s primary arguments—that no church of Christ is consistent in applying 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 because in none of them are women absolutely silent.  He writes, “Hardly a single woman remains silent in the churches.  Women sing.  They greet people.  They say ‘good morning’ and ‘Amen.’  They make comments in Sunday School.  They give confession to the assembly before baptism.”

What the author describes is true, so far as it goes.  However, it’s not in conflict with the plain meaning of 1 Corinthians 14.  First of all, this text applies to times “when the whole church is assembled together”—what we would call worship services rather than Bible classes (though I think that churches need to apply 1 Corinthians 14 to their Bible classes if said classes are an assembly of the whole.  The label we assign an activity is less important than the reality of what we’re doing.). 

Second, though we tend to focus on women, sisters in Christ are not the only group in the chapter that Paul instructs to be silent.  In 1 Corinthians 14:28, he tells men with the gift of tongues to keep silent if there is no interpreter present.  In 1 Corinthians 14:30, he tells prophets to keep silent if a revelation has been given to another prophet. 

In these passages, it’s clear that “silent” isn’t contrasted with making a sound.  Otherwise, gifted men under these conditions would have been barred from singing, saying “Amen”, and otherwise participating in public worship.  That interpretation can’t be supported from the text, particularly when Paul urges brethren to earnestly desire spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 14:1.  Why desire something that could bar you from worshiping?

Instead, “silent” in 1 Corinthians 14 is contrasted with being the speaker.  Tongue-speakers and prophets in these circumstances were free to participate in public worship.  They were not free, however, to claim center stage for themselves.

The same rule applies to women.  They too are free to say the “Amen” if they agree, as per 1 Corinthians 14:16.  They too are free to obey the exhortation of Romans 15:6 and join in glorifying God with one voice.  They are not free, however, to become the speaker.

There were circumstances in which tongue-speakers and prophets could become the speaker in an assembly.  Tongue-speakers were permitted to do so in the presence of an interpreter.  Prophets were permitted to do so (one by one, two or three at most per assembly) in the absence of another revelation.  However, there are no circumstances in which the text permits women to do the same.  Paul’s prohibition is absolute, even to the point of forbidding women to ask questions in such circumstances. 

Such a commandment is opposed to the spirit of our time.  That’s not in question.  The question is if we are willing to defy the spirit of our time to follow the Spirit of God.  Honoring His word will not find favor with our culture, but it will find favor with Him.

The Kingdom of Jesus

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

 

As we’ve been going through the gospel of Mark in our neighborhood Bible study, I’ve been reminded of what a sneaky writer Mark is.  Let’s say that Paul, for instance, has four things that he wants to say to you.  They might be complicated things, but Paul is going to give them to you straight:  here’s the first thing, here’s the second thing, and so on. 

Mark isn’t like that.  Instead, if he’s got four things to say to you, he’s going to tell you four stories about Jesus, expect you to see the point of all four stories, and expect you to see the way that those four things fit together.  Often, there will only be the tiniest clue that he’s up to something.

Let me give you an example.  Let’s read together from Mark 1:14-15.  Here, we learn that Jesus is proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom.  We might think that this is only a random comment.  After all, the word “kingdom” doesn’t appear again in the whole first chapter of Mark.  However, a closer examination reveals that the kingdom is the theme of much of the rest of the chapter.  Let’s consider, then, what Mark has to say about the kingdom of Jesus.

First, we see that the kingdom has to do with FISHING FOR MEN.  Consider the story of Mark 1:16-20.  This story contains a double contrast with the wisdom of the world.  First, this is a kingdom that is going to advance with words, not with swords.  Jesus isn’t recruiting soldiers.  He’s recruiting disciples. 

Second, these disciples aren’t the kind of people that worldly wisdom would expect Jesus to call.  These aren’t philosophers.  These aren’t lawyers.  These aren’t scribes.  Instead, they’re fishermen, uneducated men from the middle of nowhere who probably never have made a speech in their lives.  Yet Jesus says, “These are the people I want telling others about Me.”

How heartening this is for all of us!  If we want to serve the Lord, we don’t have to go kill somebody for Him.  We don’t have to be experts in the Bible who know every Scripture forward and backward.  Instead, we get to be us.  We can be ordinary, flawed people because Jesus has chosen ordinary, flawed people from the beginning. 

We don’t have to do great things.  All we have to do is reveal the greatness of Jesus in our words and our lives.  All we have to do is follow Him as the people we really are.  In Him, that will be enough.

Next, Jesus reveals that the kingdom involves TEACHING WITH AUTHORITY.  Look at Mark 1:21-22.  Remember, Jesus is a Capernaum resident.  At this point, He still owns a home in Capernaum.  Probably, everybody in town thinks of Him as good old Jesus, the carpenter. 

Now, He pops up in the local synagogue one Sabbath, and He starts teaching with authority.  The natives react with astonishment, likely both at the authority of His teaching and that a carpenter could be teaching so authoritatively.  However, if Jesus’ teaching isn’t authoritative, He isn’t really proclaiming the kingdom.  A kingdom with no authority is no kingdom at all.

Today, we still have to remember that the kingdom of Jesus consists of His authoritative teaching.  Lots of people want to call that into question.  They deny that Jesus and His chosen messengers speak with authority when it comes to the practice of homosexuality, or to marriage, divorce, and remarriage.  They deny that Jesus needs to be King in the work and worship of the church.  Instead, they claim that we get to do whatever we want, and Jesus—if He even exists—doesn’t care much one way or the other.  However, denying the authority of Jesus doesn’t make it so.  Either we hear His authoritative teaching, or we will face His authoritative displeasure.

After this, we see that the kingdom includes POWER OVER THE SPIRIT WORLD.  Let’s keep going in Mark 1:23-28.  In this case, the illustration is provided by a demon-possessed man who helpfully shows up in the middle of Jesus’ teaching.  Jesus immediately demonstrates that His kingly authority isn’t limited to teaching.  Instead, He sends the demon right back to Hades.

Imagine for a moment that you are in the synagogue on this day and you see Jesus cast out the demon.  What are you going to think?  Judging from the Scriptures, demon possession was common in Galilee during the Lord’s ministry, but there was nothing anybody could do about it.  How can a human being fight a demon?  Jesus, though, proves that through His power, He can fight demons and win.  This one act gave a lot of suffering people hope that they had never had before.

Thankfully, we don’t have to deal with unclean spirits today, but it is still true for us that our worst enemies reside in the spirit world.  Ephesians mentions rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of darkness.  Over them all, of course, is Satan himself. 

None of us can see these enemies, though their handiwork is obvious, and if we have to fight them on our own, we will certainly lose.  Jesus, though, defeated them.  Indeed, through His death He defeated even the devil!   We can’t fight the evil rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers in the heavenly places, but we don’t have to.  Once we are in the kingdom of Jesus, we are safe from their hatred.

Finally, Jesus reveals His kingdom in His POWER OVER ILLNESS AND DEATH.  Our last story for the evening appears in Mark 1:29-31.  I suspect that most brethren pay attention to this story because it proves that rather than being celibate, the supposed first pope was married. 

However, once we read it through the lens of the kingdom of Jesus, we see that there’s a lot more going on than that.  Jesus is not limited to casting out demons.  Instead, He also has the power to go to someone with a serious illness and heal them completely and instantaneously.  Sickness cannot stand against the authority of Jesus.

Even that, though, is not the final point.  As I was studying this, I was struck by Mark saying that Jesus took Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand and lifted her up.  I thought to myself, “That sounds like a sneak preview of resurrection!”  I checked, and in fact, the Greek word translated here as “lift” is the same word used for raising someone from the dead.  Mark is implying that Jesus is not merely in the healing business.  He’s in the resurrection business too.

For now, death has not yet been defeated.  Even the faithful still get sick and die.  However, the day will come when the final victory of Jesus’ kingdom will be revealed.  On that day, He will say the word, and everyone who died in Him will rise from the dead in Him.  Death will be no match for the authority of King Jesus!

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