Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Good Reason to Stay Home

Lately here in Cookeville many hours have been spent indoors. The schools have been closed for more days than I can ever remember. The bitter cold and wintry mixes have kept county roads unsafe for carefree travel. The flu has been spreading, and some of our younger people in our community have even died from it. Nobody wants to visit our local hospital for fear of infectious disease. Besides all of this, it has just been plain cold! Even our dog has been living in the garage most evenings. You have to talk yourself into going outside and tell yourself that whatever you are doing is worth it.

Now imagine, if you will, an even better reason for staying at home. Imagine that leaving your house meant certain death! When the Israelites invaded Jericho after the famous destruction of the city walls, they were given these instructions by Joshua, their courageous leader, "Now the city shall be doomed by the Lord to destruction, it and all who are in it" (Joshua 6:17a). To be a Gentile in Jericho on that day was bad news. It was a death sentence decreed by God Himself. Not only was there a proclamation, there was ample power to execute.

But Rahab and her household were the exception, for Joshua also said, "Only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all who are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent" (Joshua 6:17b). Rahab had been moved with godly fear to help the Israelite spies hide safely when they first came to the city. In exchange for her assistance she made them promise to save her and all of her family when they came to destroy Jericho. The spies agreed, upon the condition of her both gathering all of her family under her one roof, and marking her house with a scarlet chord which would be seen hanging from her outer window. They also added the following arrangement - "So it shall be that whoever goes outside the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we will be guiltless. And whoever is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head if a hand is laid on him" (Joshua 2:19).

When it comes to the principle of staying at home for safety's sake, there is a great lesson here. Everyone outside of Noah's ark perished (Genesis 7:23). Every Gentile outside of Rahab's house died. Every person outside of the Lord's body, the church, will also perish (Ephesians 1:22-23; 5:23). The church is the true "ark" of the covenant. The church is the true house of safety. It is not just about getting in the house in time, as some are willing to do, but it is about staying there! There is a reason God wants us to be at home. Danger lurks outside, and the devil will take our lives from us right in the middle of the street! This is why God has designed salvation such that it is only available for those who will be found faithfully serving in His household when Jesus comes again (Matthew 10:22).

We need to be wise. It shouldn't take but a small peak out our window for us to see what is going on in the world. What some call "choices" and "expression" and "opportunity" could just as easily be called spears and swords and daggers. We can watch from inside the house and see that those things are killing people spiritually everyday. Don't be fooled. We don't have to leave the house and participate in order to find out.

If you are a Christian, please realize you have come to the mountain of Zion and the city and fortress of the living God! Nothing can touch you in here! If you are not a Christian, please understand that the walls have fallen, the water is rising, the enemy is present, and you need to go home to God immediately. When you get there, STAY THERE! The possibility of an eternity in hell is a good reason to stay home!

"Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie." ~ Revelation 22:14-15

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A State of National Repentance

Judah had faltered. Like the northern nation of Israel, characterized by years of wickedness and self-seeking leadership, the two southern tribes eventually gave way to idolatry and were also taken captive. As the Babylonian exile drew to a close and the Persian empire gained control, Cyrus began to allow the Jews to go back to their homeland. First it was Zerubbabel leading the charge, then Esther's courage to defend her people, followed by Ezra, who led another return as the temple was rebuilt in Jerusalem. Finally came Nehemiah, the Persian King's cupbearer - an Israelite who shed tears for his people and his homeland.

But Nehemiah's sadness led to Israel's gladness. Not only was the Jerusalem wall reconstructed in less than two months (Neh. 6:15), but a national repentance and revival took place among the Hebrews. Paul wrote to the Corinthians to remind them that, "...godly sorrow leads to repentance unto salvation, not to be regretted..." (2 Cor. 7:10). The reforms of the days of Josiah had come to Judah because of his heartbreak, and the blessings from Nehemiah's tears are also a firm reminder that sometimes people, and even nations need to have a good cry. They need to look in the mirror and have a reality check. They need to not like what they see and make a change. Some of the greatest of spiritual awakenings can happen once hearts are broken.

In chapter 8 of Nehemiah, several inspirational events take place on a national level:

1. The people gather together as one man in the open square (8:1).
2. All of the people old enough to understand, both men and women, listen attentively to Ezra's public reading of God's law, which lasts all day (8:2-3).
3. When Ezra opens the book of the law in the sight of all the people, godly fear and reverence comes over the multitude and all the people stand up (8:5).
4. As Ezra pronounces blessings and honor to Jehovah, the people shout, "Amen." They then bow down with their faces to the ground and worship God (8:6).
5. While Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites teach the people the meaning of the law, the people begin to weep (8:9).
6. Nehemiah encourages to people not to cry, but rather to wipe their tears and rejoice, because God has made known unto them His law, and because, "The Lord your God is your strength" (8:10-11).
7. The people rejoice in festivities of thanksgiving, because they have been made to understand God's will for them (8:12).
8. The Israelites observe the feast of booths when they discover it in the reading. They keep the feast for seven days, the book of the law being read to them each day, and on the eighth day they hold a solemn assembly according to the commandment (8:18).

One cannot read the book of Nehemiah without being moved by the reaction of the people to God's word. This book is a humbling reminder that God's Israel, the church, ought to be in a state of national repentance whenever His word is publicly presented.

Wouldn't it be nice to think of our coming together in the assembly as a weekly practice of national repentance and rededication before God? Shouldn't we have the same respect and awe for the power of His word, the same tears for our failings, and the same joy for God's willingness to communicate and our ability to understand? Every time we come together, if our hearts are broken, great spiritual awakenings can take place.

This is what the unveiling of God's word and the response of Christian worship are all about.

"Hearken unto me now therefore, O ye children, and attend to the words of my mouth." ~ Proverbs 7:24

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


There are some people who can simply not be reached with the gospel of Christ. It is not for the lack of effort that has been spent to reach them. It is not for their lack of ability to learn or to change. It is not for the lack of God's desire to reach them - consider what all He has done - what else is left for Him to do? It is not for their lack of opportunity to hear the message and respond.  The basic reason some people are unreachable is because they do not want to be reached.

As the years pass in my ministry I am learning this reality more and more. I look out to a group of about 450 people a week and realize that there are some of them who have put up road-blocks, allowing no transformation to take place. Some people attend church services with their spouses, but have no desire to ever become a member of the church of the Bible. Some people have denominational backgrounds, and they refuse to leave the religion of their family. Some have been raised in the church, but they have decided for so many years not to obey the gospel that they will likely die outside of Christ. And even for those who are in the Lord's church, there are pieces of themselves and certain freedoms they enjoy that they have still held in reserve, not willing to give them over to the one who bled and died for them. Now - I have only listed some of the people who actually come to worship!

I am not cynical, mind you, but it does pay at times to be realistic. There is no heart so hard that it cannot be melted by the love of Christ and the true and powerful message of the gospel (Rom. 1:16). Realizing that you are more interested in the salvation of some people than they are themselves can help your ministry. If you are pressing too hard, this will tell you to back off. It will keep you at times from casting your pearls in the wrong places. It is also good to be reminded that you, yourself really have nothing to do with it. Every person will have to decide on their own how to live and where they want to spend eternity. Your job is just to try and aid them in the process of making the right decisions along the way.

The unreachable can be very frustrating to some Christians. I only say some Christians because a good number of Christians never try to be evangelistic. They think it is the preacher's job, or at least that evangelism is only for those who are naturally charismatic. They have never considered that maybe the people who are evangelistic have the same fears and concerns and limitations that they do, but that the only difference is that some Christians just love people too much to say or do nothing. For the Christian who doesn't want to bring people to Jesus, the unreachable people bring them comfort - somehow it doesn't make them feel so accountable or negligent. But this does not make their tree any less bare.

So why am I writing this article? And why is it going on the front page of the church bulletin? Here's why. Because I am not giving up. I am going to let the unreachable people remain unreachable only by their own choice - not mine. I will continue to preach the gospel so that I can potentially save myself and them. If they hate me for it, that is ok. If they disagree with what I teach, they have the right to do so. If they misunderstand me, I will try harder to be understood. If they need space, I will give it to them. But if at some point they crack the door of their heart in even the slightest sense to let the true gospel in, I plan to be standing there ready to fill the gap.

The only thing that was ever worth doing was the thing that they said couldn't be done. I have a plan. My plan is to reach the unreachable. Will you join me?

"Then Jesus said to His disciples, 'Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.' When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, 'Who then can be saved?' But Jesus looked at them and said to them, 'With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'” ~ Matthew 19:23-26

Monday, January 6, 2014

Banana Pudding

For some people, it was just another morning. But for one family, it was a life-changing morning. I had only been at the office for a few minutes that Thursday, when one of our elders called me to tell me his mother had unexpectedly passed away. I had undergone a similar experience with my father on a Sunday morning just a little over a year earlier, and like my good friend and brother, Larry, I was also trying to get to my remaining parent as quickly as possible. In both cases our parents lived a couple hours away by car, and no other family members were close by.

As the morning continued, we met and drove together to his parents' home. In some ways it seemed like minutes, and in other ways hours. Family members and friends were being notified. Loved ones immediately began to travel and make appropriate arrangements. The emotions one goes through during this time are unexplainable. Unless you have lost a parent or close family member in this manner, it is hard to understand the experience. But you just do what has to be done. You switch your setting to auto-pilot and deal with the grief later when you have time. There are so many things to take in and you just have to help your family. The need to assist your grieving parent is your number one priority.

While we rode along in the car I remained somewhat quiet. I did not want to say anything that might add to the weight of the burden that my friend had so quickly been forced to bear. There were many things discussed and for some periods there was just silence. The blessing of a Christian life that had been lived and the certainty of heaven was an overwhelming comfort in this process. But one thing in particular that Larry said as we traveled has been in my mind ever since. I have thought about it every day since December 19. The holidays were upon us. Christmas was now less than a week away. And Larry mentioned, "She was going to make me some banana pudding."

The amazing power found only in love cannot have its full impact unless adequately expressed. I thought immediately to myself how blessed my friend had been to have had a mother who loved him so much! A mother who expressed her love through service and devotion to her family. A mother, who in her sixties still made banana pudding for a son who was in his forties. When we lose someone so close to us, the separation can be truly overwhelming. Their presence in our lives is so important to our comfort and happiness and security. I am finding that it is not the huge expressions or sacrifices that make the greatest impact in our relationships, but rather, the seemingly smaller expressions that make up the actual majority of the lives we share together.

It is waking up knowing that your wife has already made the coffee. It is understanding that your husband already made sure to insulate the outside pipes before the bitter cold arrived. It is looking on the ironing board and seeing that she has pressed your dress-shirt for you. It is walking to the counter to pick up the stack of mail that he brought back from the mailbox. It is banana pudding made just for you by mom at Christmas time.

Look within your heart and ask your yourself how much you appreciate the little things people do for you because they love you. These are not underrated. In fact, they may just be the sweetest and dearest things in life.

"I will gladly spend myself and all I have for you..." ~ 2 Corinthians 12:15