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The Work of the Father Today

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

As I said last week, based on a suggestion, I’m currently preaching a series on the work of God today.  This week’s lesson, then, is going to be about the Father and the work that He does today. 

If I were willing to reach back to the Old Testament especially, I could probably preach for the rest of the year on this subject.  There is so, so much material to cover, and I only have 25 minutes to cover it, so necessarily, a lot gets left on the cutting-room floor!

For instance, I’m not going to discuss the Father’s work in controlling the course of human history.  I believe that just as He did thousands of years ago, He continues to guide the rise and fall of nations today, and that He will bless righteous nations and humble wicked ones.  Nonetheless, that’s another sermon for another time.

Instead, I’m going to focus this morning on what the Father does for each one of us personally.  None of us are beneath His notice; indeed, He is every bit as concerned with us as we are.  In this regard, then, let’s consider the work of the Father today.

First, the Scripture teaches us that the Father PROVIDES FOR US.  This is pretty plain in James 1:16-17.  In context, James is attacking the idea that the Father might tempt us to sin.  Instead, everything that the Father sends us is good, and everything in our lives that is good comes from Him.

This should call us first of all to be thankful.  Every morning when we get out of bed and take that first deep breath, it’s a gift from the Father.  Every meal we eat, we receive from His hand. 

This is true not only for His faithful people, but also for the ones who reject Him.  God provides for the hard-hearted sinner.  He provides for the atheist.  Their lack of gratitude hurts Him, but it does not diminish His goodness nor His willingness to provide.  We know better than those people do, so we ought to do better.  Let’s make sure that we pause continually throughout the day to thank our Father for His good gifts.

Additionally, we should remember the Father’s provision when times aren’t so good.  Much of the time, when life isn’t going their way, people are quick to blame God for it.  Really, this is reverse blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.  It is attributing the works of the devil to God.  Besides, no matter how awful our lives might be right now, the good that God has done us far outweighs our current suffering.  None of us have any reason to complain about our treatment at His hands!

Second, the Father PROTECTS US.  Let’s reflect for a moment on a familiar passage, 1 Corinthians 10:13.  This is one I can remember from childhood, along with the idea that, when tempted, I should look for the way of escape that God provides.

Before we get that far, though, let’s think about what it means that the Father (I think “God” in 1 Corinthians 10 is the Father) does not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability.  That is certainly not a goal of the devil, who is not a sporting old chap.  I am quite confident that if he were allowed to have his own way, Satan would happily crush us with temptation far beyond our ability.

In fact, I think Satan often does exactly that.  Notice that the protection of God only extends to “us”.  Contextually, Paul isn’t talking about human beings generally.  He’s talking about himself and the brethren of the church in Corinth.  He’s talking about Christians.  I do not think this promise extends to people who are not Christians.  They have chosen to live in the dominion of darkness, and they are fair game for the roaring lion. 

However, for those of us who are in the kingdom of the beloved Son instead, this means that God is constantly intervening in our lives, constantly interposing Himself between us and the devil in ways that we can neither perceive nor understand, so that Satan’s desires to ruin us are constantly frustrated.  Sadly, I too often stumble even when I am not tempted beyond my ability, but I am thankful that God is constantly watching out for me and protecting me from the worst.

Third, the Father ANSWERS PRAYER.  Look at the words of the Lord in Matthew 6:6.  Here, Jesus urges us not to pray like the hypocrites, who prayed not because they were concerned about God, but because they wanted to impress other people.  Instead, we are to seek the Father in prayer, and He will reward us.

Obviously, in real life, things are more complicated than that.  All of us have had the experience of asking the Father for things that we did not receive.  Sometimes, this is because free will intervenes.  We might pray for God to soften the heart of an unrepentant loved one, and yet they go on being unrepentant.  Well, that’s how free will works.

Sometimes, though, it seems like our prayers are not answered the way we want simply because God doesn’t want to.  At times, this can be frustrating or even crushing.  However, once we take a step back and think about it, we have to acknowledge that that’s how we want things.  We want God to protect us from the limitations of our own wisdom.

For instance, I got married fairly late and dated a lot before I got married.  There were several times when I prayed that I might get to marry a particular woman.  Obviously, God only granted one of those prayers.  At the time, I was not happy when things didn’t work out, but in retrospect, I should not have married any of the others. 

I didn’t know what was best, but God did.  More generally, all of us need to accept that we usually don’t know what is best, but God always does.  We have to trust Him.

Finally, the Father FORGIVES.  Ephesians 4:32 tells the story.  Here, we see Paul urging the Ephesians to forgive one another as God in Christ forgave them.  That doesn’t mean grudgingly and incompletely.  It means totally, entirely, and forever.

What a precious thought this is!  Sometimes, I hear folks complaining that the Bible has too many rules in it.  The implication is that the God of the Bible is unfair.  You know what?  I think that’s exactly right.  God is incredibly unfair in His treatment of me. 

If God treated me fairly, if He gave me what I deserved, I still would be dead in my sins and headed for eternal death in hell.  Instead, God gives me what is not fair and what I do not deserve.  He has poured out so much of His mercy on me that I am completely clean.  God be praised for that!

It’s incredible to me that God wanted to forgive me so much that He sent His Son to die in my place.  Arguably, it’s equally incredible that after so much mercy and forgiveness, people still complain about His expectations.  Let’s not make that mistake.  Let’s seek to do God’s will, but above all, let’s glory in His forgiveness!

The Work of God Today

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

 

Sometimes, I think brethren tend to a kind of Christian deism.  They talk like God did all of this amazing stuff thousands of years ago, but since the completion of the written word, He has backed off and left the world to its own devices.  Now, there’s some truth to this.  I don’t think any of us should expect to see miraculous signs today.  However, it doesn’t consider all of the other things that aren’t miracles that God still does.

It’s important for Christians to understand this.  I was talking to Billy Tanner a few weeks back, he suggested that we would all benefit from a study of the topic, and I agreed.  By the way, as always, if you want teaching on some topic, let me know, and I’ll do my best to work it in.  I envision four sermons in this series, one each for the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, but I’d thought I’d kick things off by considering the works that all the persons of the Godhead are involved in.  With this in mind, let’s look at the work of God today.

The first of these works that I want to examine is that GOD KNOWS US.  Let’s read from Psalm 139:1-3.  This is hard for our limited minds to understand.  Because God is everywhere and knows everything, He constantly is with us, and He knows everything that we do, say, and even think. He knows us better than our parents.  He knows us better than our spouses.  He knows us better than anybody.

If we truly understand this, it can be a source of tremendous comfort for us.  It means that if we need something, He knows all about our needs before we even ask.  When we are in the middle of temptation, He is right there in the middle of it with us, and He surely will strengthen us if we ask Him.  When we are lonely, we never truly are alone.  When we spend years or decades fighting to do the right thing, even when it’s hard, He knows our struggles, and He is pleased with our desire to be faithful.  When we are suffering, He is there to share and ease our pain.  On and on and on—every blessing we can know comes from the presence of God in our lives.

Of course, these blessings are for the righteous, and if we are not living righteously, then God’s perfect understanding of us is a source not of comfort, but of terror.  He sees the evil we do in public, but He also sees our secret sin.  It is impossible for us to hide the tiniest trace of evil from Him.  When Judas plotted to betray His Lord, Jesus knew it all.  When Ananias and Sapphira lied to make themselves look good, they quickly found that they were lying not to men, but to the Holy Spirit. 

It’s vital that we understand all this, because God’s perfect knowledge tells us everything we need to know about how we should live our lives.  Do you want to go through life constantly being terrified because God is watching?  Me neither!  On the other hand, if we are willing only to live for Him, His presence will become the source of unfailing joy.

Second, GOD CALLS US TO HIMSELF.  Here, let’s look at a familiar text, Acts 2:38-39.  I want to focus, though, not on the baptism part, but on the promise-of-salvation-and-life part.  Peter says that this promise is for those who are near, the Jews, and for those who are far off, the Gentiles.  Indeed, the promise is for everyone whom God calls to Himself.  Whom does God call?  Everybody!

To me, this is one of the most beautiful things about Christianity.  The expression of God’s love is universal.  We could be a no-counter in the world’s eyes.  Doesn’t matter.  God loves us.  We could be poor.  Doesn’t matter.  God loves us.  We could be the most wretched, vile sinner under heaven.  Doesn’t matter.  God loves us. 

That’s easy to say.  I can tell somebody, “I love you,” yet have a heart filled with indifference and contempt.  That’s not how the love of God is.  Instead, He has proven His love for us by inviting us to live with Him forever.  Jesus offered Himself to make that possible.  I think the idea that the Bible is a love letter can be carried too far, but it is nonetheless true that everything that the Holy Spirit ever has revealed proclaims God’s love and the good news of His invitation to us. 

This too is something that ought to change our lives once we understand it.  The world assigns value to us and offers meaning to our lives only to the extent that we are useful.  If you can hit a ball over a fence or shoot another ball through a hoop, the world will throw millions of dollars at you.  Then, once your career is over, the world doesn’t care if you end up sleeping on a heating grate.

Not so with God.  Every one of us is intrinsically precious in His sight.  He wants all of us to live with Him so that He can cherish us for eternity, and that is the definitive statement of what a human being is worth.

Finally, HE INDWELLS US today.  Turn with me to Romans 8:9-11.  For some reason, discussion of indwelling tends to center around the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but this text makes it clear that all three persons of the Godhead are involved.  In v. 9, we’ve got the Spirit of God, generally identified as the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit of Christ.  Then, in v. 11, we’ve got the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead, and that’s the Father.  There are also plenty of other passages that talk about the Father and the Son abiding in us.

So. . . what does this mean?  I think the key to understanding any kind of spiritual indwelling is to go back a chapter and look at Paul’s discussion of the indwelling of sin in Romans 7.  When he says that sin indwelt him, he doesn’t mean that he had a little sin demon that lived inside his head.  Instead, he means that sin dominated, controlled, and enslaved him.

That’s what the indwelling of the Spirit, whichever Spirit you pick, is about too.  It is about God having control and dominion in our hearts.  Everybody is either indwelt by sin or indwelt by God.  There is no third way.  One of the two is always going to be controlling us.

Obviously, one of the means that God uses to exert His influence and control is the word.  Through the word, He instructs us in righteousness and motivates us to obey.  Anyone who does not seek God in His word will not be indwelt by Him.

It may be that God operates on our hearts in other ways as well.  For instance, in James 1, James promises that God will give us wisdom if we pray for it in faith.  Is that prayer answered only as we study the word?  I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t think the answer to the question is that important.  So long as I can be confident that God will answer my prayers, I’m not concerned with how He does it. 

Self-Defense and the Christian

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

 

Last week, I did something I’ve never done before.  I bought a firearm.  There were many reasons why I did this, but ultimately, it was because of my desire to protect my family if the need arose.

In making this decision, I had to reckon with the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:38-41.  For centuries, people have understood this passage to mean that it is wrong for Christians to use violence, even if they are defending themselves.  If that’s what the test requires, brethren, that’s what we have to do.  We can’t pretend like this passage doesn’t exist and do what we want anyway.  If we defend ourselves, and it’s against the will of Jesus, we are no different from anyone else who chooses to defy His will.

However, before we reach that point, we have to decide whether that is, in fact, what the text is saying.  Just a few verses up in Matthew 5, Jesus tells us to tear out our sinful eyes and cut off our sinful hands.  We know that isn’t meant to be literal, and it may well be that turning the other cheek doesn’t mean what it appears to mean either.  Let’s explore this issue as we consider self-defense and the Christian.

It’s appropriate to open this exploration by looking at some PROBLEMS WITH THE LITERAL READING.  Why shouldn’t we understand this text as a general prohibition of self-defense?  I see three issues with that reading, and the first of these is that it doesn’t correct the way that the Jews were misreading Scripture.

“An eye for an eye,” after all, is taken from the Law of Moses in Exodus 21:24, and in that context, it’s not about self-defense or even personal revenge at all.  Instead, it’s a standard for determining the severity of judicial punishment.  The Jews of Jesus’ time are taking this judicial standard and saying, “We have the right to dish out punishment ourselves.”  If “Turn the other cheek” is about self-defense, it does not correct this misreading of Scripture.  Instead, it is introducing an entirely new topic, and for Jesus, that would be extremely sloppy logic.

Second, this reading doesn’t fit with the rest of Jesus’ answer.  In Matthew 5, He spells out three ways that His disciples are not to resist evil:  by turning the other cheek, by not fighting lawsuits, and by going the second mile.  Of these three, the second two are about state action.  Famously, Roman soldiers had the right to compel peasants to carry their gear for one mile.  Similarly, lawsuits are part of the machinery of government, and just as they do today, rich people in Jesus’ time commonly used them to oppress the poor.  If the last two parts of Jesus’ answer concern the government in some way, that should at least leave us open to the possibility that turning the other cheek is about the government too.

Third, much of the rest of Jesus’ teaching presumes that people will defend themselves.  Look, for instance, at Luke 11:21-22.  This parable, of course, is not about self-defense, but it does reflect a cultural assumption that a strong man will fight to protect his home.  Jesus does not describe him negatively for doing this, as opposed to the unrighteous steward and the unjust judge in other parables.  Instead, He takes the strong man’s action for granted.

If the obvious reading is untenable, we need to look for A STRONGER READING instead.  A passage that will get us going in the right direction is Lamentations 3:25-30.  In context, of course, Jeremiah is mourning the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and the people being led off into captivity.  In that situation, his inspired advice is to submit to the Babylonians and wait for God to have mercy.  That’s what v. 27 is talking about when it says that it’s good for a man to bear the yoke.  As part of that, Jeremiah says, the Jews need to give their cheeks to those who are smiting them—the same idea that Jesus is promoting in Matthew 5. 

In fact, I believe that in Matthew 5, Jesus is quoting Lamentations 3.  He’s telling the Jews of His day to submit to an unjust Roman government in the same way that Jeremiah told the Jews of his day to submit to the unjust Babylonians.  “Turn the other cheek” is about submitting to the government.

This reading resolves all of the problems we identified earlier.  First, under this reading, Jesus is correcting the Jewish misunderstanding of Exodus 21.  He’s saying, “Don’t take the law into your own hands.  Honor the government, even when it is oppressive.”  Second, “Turn the other cheek,” now fits thematically with “Let them have your coat,” and “Go the second mile.”  All three now concern the disciple’s responsibilities to the government.  Finally, it does not call into question the accepted practice of defending one’s family and property from criminals.

Additionally, this ties into one of the major themes of Jesus’ ministry.  Among other reasons, God sent Jesus when He did as a last-ditch attempt to turn the Jews aside from a disastrous rebellion against Rome.  Jesus warns them repeatedly to seek a heavenly, not an earthly, kingdom.  If “Turn the other cheek,” is a warning against rebellion too, that fits perfectly.

This leaves us with THREE APPLICATIONS.  First, just as the Jews were not allowed to take revenge into their own hands and justify it by misapplying the Law, we aren’t allowed to take revenge into our own hands either.  Christians are supposed to be merciful and forgiving rather than vengeful.  If we have opportunity, we are to do good even to those who have done evil to us.  Punishing wrongdoing is God’s job and the government’s job, not ours.

Second, like God’s people in the first century, we are to submit to the government.  We are to honor the laws and pay our taxes, even when we believe those laws are unjust and the taxes are oppressive.  Certainly, our brethren 2000 years ago faced unjust laws and oppressive taxes to a degree we can hardly imagine, but they never took up arms against Roman tyranny. 

Sometimes, I hear people arguing that in our country, the Constitution is the true government, so we have the right to rebel against a government that has gone beyond the bounds of the Constitution.  Frankly, I think that’s sophistry.  As Peter says in 1 Peter 2, we are not merely to honor the law.  We are to honor the emperor.  The godly obey the man in charge, even if he’s as crazy and evil as Nero.  Of course, this is not true when the law directly contradicts the commandment of God.  Then, our responsibility is to obey God rather than men.

Finally, we have to make up our own minds about gun ownership and self-defense.  If Matthew 5 does not offer a clear command on the subject, we must be guided by our own conscience.  There’s no reason to criticize the Christian who resolves that they can never take life, no matter what, nor is there reason to criticize the Christian who is willing to kill to protect the life of another.  This is a decision that we must make thoughtfully and prayerfully, but if we do, whatever we choose will be to the glory of God.    

Doing All Things Through Christ

Friday, July 05, 2019

 

There are some texts of Scripture that it seems nearly everyone knows.  They’ve made the leap to become part of popular culture.  One such text is the punch line to Philippians 4:11-13.  Our society idolizes success, and Philippians 4:13 appears to promise success in everything because Jesus will help.  I can remember my high school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes putting Philippians 4:13 on T-shirts.  My wife’s childbirth-class instructor suggested that women might want to repeat Philippians 4:13 when they were in labor, and so on.

All of that was very inspiring, no doubt, but is it really what the passage is about?  Is Paul telling us that Jesus is the gateway to achieving our earthly goals, or is his point different?  Here, as always, we need to tune out the cultural noise and ask what the Scriptures truly are saying.  Let’s turn our attention, then, to some passages that will help us understand what it means to do all things through Christ.

When we are determining whether Philippians 4:13 applies to what we are doing, we first must EVALUATE OUR GOAL.  Paul offers us a useful template for so doing in Colossians 3:1-2.  Notice that the distinction here isn’t between setting our minds on righteous things instead of things that are sinful.  It’s between setting our minds on things above instead of things that are on the earth.  This is important because it tells us that there are goals that aren’t sinful that are still earthly.  It’s OK for Christians to have goals like that, but they shouldn’t be where our minds are set.

This is the problem with applying Philippians 4:13 to scoring touchdowns or delivering children.  Contextually, the passage isn’t about being able to do whatever we want to because Jesus gives us superpowers.  It’s about doing what He wants us to do through the strength that He provides. 

In context in Philippians 4, Paul is not being given the strength to succeed.  He’s being given the strength to endure.  Jesus is helping him to be content despite not even having enough money to eat so that he can go on spreading the gospel.  That’s not something that most Americans would recognize as a success, but it was something that brought Paul closer to Christ.

So too for us.  Again, it’s fine for Christians to pursue earthly achievements, but those things should not be the pursuit of our lives.  Athletic success is fine, but not important.  Career success is fine, but not important. 

Instead, we ought to be concerned with the triumphs of the spirit.  How am I doing in my battle against secret sin?  Am I becoming more compassionate and merciful in my dealings with others?  Am I, like Paul, patiently enduring suffering for the Lord’s sake?  Those are the things that we should be looking to accomplish through the strength that Christ gives us.  They never will shine on our resumes, but they are the kinds of things that get recorded in the book of life.

Second, we ought to PRAY FOR BOLDNESS.  Consider the example of the apostles in Acts 4:29-31.  Contextually, this is impressive.  In the previous chapter, Peter and John had been arrested for healing a lame man—for doing good!  They have been released from custody only after the leaders of their nation have warned them that if they continue to proclaim Jesus, they will suffer for it.  What do they do?  They come together with their friends and pray for boldness to continue preaching.

Here, I think we come to the difference between FCA-style leaning on Jesus and Bible-style leaning on Jesus.  Usually, the pop-culture version of Philippians 4:13 is about ability.  God, help me run faster.  God, help me make better business decisions. 

By contrast, the Bible version of Philippians 4:13 tends to be about commitment to Christ.  We know what we should do.  We have the physical and mental abilities to do it.  However, there is some part of us that is afraid, so we need Christ’s help to do it.

This is obvious when it comes to serving the Lord—with evangelism, for instance.  We know how fear can cripple us then, can keep us from doing what we know is right.  However, the same is often true of our struggles against sin.  If there is some sin that is constantly present in our lives, be it porn, alcoholism, or gossip, we physically could quit.  However, we’re afraid to.  We are comfortable in our sin, and we allow our minds to dwell on how unpleasant life would be without it.

In both of these cases, prayers for boldness are the answer.  We don’t need stronger quadriceps or stronger brains.  We need stronger hearts.  We need the Lord’s help to do what we know we need to do. 

Once we recognize that need, we should ask for help constantly.  Prayer is not supposed to be a one-and-done thing.  It is supposed to be a constant thing, especially in the times when we are tempted to be less than we should be.  If we turn to Jesus, He will make us strong.

Finally, we must BE STRONG AND ACT.  Look at the exhortation recorded in Ezra 10:2-4.  Again, this is significant in context.  Ezra has only just arrived in Jerusalem.  Immediately, though, he has been confronted with a spiritual disaster of epic proportions.  The Jews again have begun intermarrying with foreign women, even though that was one of those things that got them carried off into captivity in the first place!  Worse still, the leaders of the people, those who were supposed to be leading them in righteousness, instead have been foremost in sin. 

Somebody has to do something, and that somebody is Ezra.  Nobody else has the same understanding of the Law that Ezra does.  Nobody else is in the same elevated position.  If he does not act, it may be that the Jews will be carried off into another captivity, never to return to the land.

The same holds true for us.  There will be times in our lives when we are called on to take a stand.  The stand could be in private, a defiant declaration that we are not going to practice that secret sin ever again.  It could be in the context of our families, when somebody isn’t living right.  It could be in our workplaces or even our churches. 

However, wherever it takes place, the stand will be lonely.  That’s what it means to take a stand.  Rather than looking around sideways to see what everybody else is going to do, we do what we know we must and leave it to others to follow.

What Jesus wants us to know, though, is that when we are taking that stand, no matter how lonely it may feel, we never will be alone.  He will be with us, and when we act with His strength, we will be certain to fully accomplish His will.  Maybe the earthly results won’t be what we wanted, but in the spiritual realm, God will be glorified, and that’s what matters.

Why Care About Teaching Our Children?

Monday, July 01, 2019

 

For our congregation, this is the time of year when we pay the most attention to teaching our children.  There have been women meeting in the building for weeks working on various aspects of our upcoming vacation Bible school, and the week after that, we’ve got a quarter change coming up, with all the work that entails.

All this is quite demanding for those involved.  It’s demanding for our teachers and resource-preppers, and it’s demanding for our parents too.  Parents are the ones who have to clear their schedules to get their kids here for every night of VBS.  Parents are the one who have to get their kids up early on Sunday morning and put them to bed late on Wednesday evening so they can be here for Bible class.  We all know very well that given these stresses, it would be much easier not to help and participate.

Why should we participate anyway?  What is it about the result that makes all this effort and stress worthwhile?  In short, why should we care about teaching our children?

There are several Biblical answers to this question.  The first, and in some ways the most important, reason that I want us to consider has more to do with us than it does with our kids.  We should care about teaching them because IT REVEALS WHO WE ARE.  Here, let’s look at Deuteronomy 6:4-9.  This is a familiar text, but I must admit that until recently, I didn’t understand it as fully as I should have.  I read it flatly, as a list of commandments.  Commandment One was to love God.  Commandment Two was to keep these words in our heart.  Commandment Three was to teach them diligently.  And so on.

However, that doesn’t reckon with Jesus’ statement in Matthew 22 that the whole Law depends on this commandment, along with the commandment to love our neighbor.  We can’t understand Deuteronomy 6 as a laundry list of commandments.  Instead, we need to connect every other commandment in this reading back to the commandment to love the Lord, and we need to understand each one as an expression of that love.

In other words, if we truly love the Lord with all our heart and soul and might, we won’t have to go down two verses and say, “Oops!  Now we need to remember to diligently teach our children!”  Instead, we will be diligently teaching our children already, because diligently teaching children is one of the things that people who love the Lord do. 

To put things a different way, our devotion to teaching children is a litmus test for our devotion to God.  If we don’t care about it, if we are unconcerned with telling the young about Him, that’s a serious heart problem, and it indicates the presence of a much more serious heart problem.  Conversely, if we are filled with love for teaching children about God, it indicates a love for God too.  Deuteronomy 6 does not allow us to separate those things, either in our families or in our churches.  If we are the people we ought to be, teaching children will be important to us.

Additionally, this is an important matter because IT GUARDS AGAINST APOSTASY.  Consider the sad tale of Judges 2:6-7, 9-11.  This is the story of three generations.  The first generation consisted of those who stood with Joshua and conquered Canaan with God’s help.  The second generation was made up of those who were children at the time and saw all of God’s great work.  The third generation, though, comprised those who had no direct experience of God’s deliverance.  Once the elders who did have that direct experience died, the third generation that did not know God began to serve the Baals instead.

It’s interesting to note that since the Restoration, trouble has arisen in the Lord’s church on about this same time scale.  70 years after the Restoration, about the turn of the 20th century, a brotherhood-wide split occurred over the issues of instrumental music and missionary societies.

I don’t think this is coincidence.  Instead, I think it’s the same pattern repeating itself.  You have a generation that goes through some great conflict, a second generation that doesn’t participate much but sees it happen, and then a third generation without direct experience.  The founders are faithful; their heirs are apostate.

The only cure for the disease is to make sure that children know the Lord.  Even now, I see signs of failure in this.  There are all too many young people around the country who are “raised in the church” who don’t know why we do what we do.  They assume it’s a matter of human tradition rather than divine commandment.  They don’t understand the importance of doing all in the name of the Lord because they have not been brought to encounter Jesus as Lord.  Unless we are diligent to teach them with all the passion that Deuteronomy 6 implies, either history will repeat itself, or something even worse will happen.

Finally, investing ourselves in teaching matters because IT GLORIFIES GOD.  We see how we ought to conduct ourselves when serving the Lord in 1 Peter 4:10-11.  Whatever we have been given, we are to use it to serve one another, and we are to use it as well as we can.  Only then will God receive the glory that He deserves.

Among other things, this should warn us against the dangers of apathy.  It’s all too easy for us to go through the motions of doing the right thing without truly investing ourselves in it. 

We see this problem unfolding in the first chapter of Malachi.  There, the returned exiles are offering to God blemished sacrifices that they never would dare to give to their governor.  In response, God expresses the wish that someone would shut the doors of the temple rather than allowing such halfhearted service to go on.

Today, we know all too well what it looks like when parents and Bible-class teachers are going through the motions rather than giving their best.  In situations like this, no one is prepared.  The children haven’t done their lessons, and the teacher is frantically rummaging around in bins in the resource room 15 minutes before class starts trying to piece together a craft. 

No adults involved have put much thought into the class.  They’ve acted like it’s not important, and from this, the children involved will draw the conclusion that it shouldn’t be important to them either.

That, brethren, is what a blemished sacrifice in the classroom looks like.  Sure, the lights are on and everybody’s there, but the zeal that should animate each participant is absent.  In a time as troubled as ours is, our children need more from us than that.  In any time, God deserves better from His people than that. 

If we want our classes to be effective, we have to give them our best.  This doesn’t mean that every Bible-class teacher has to be the most wonderful teacher in the world.  We all have our limits.  It does mean, though, that we will be pushing those limits.  If we do, our effort will communicate the importance of God to the children we teach more clearly than anything we say.

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